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Parliament Square (Management) Bill [HL]

Volume 728: debated on Friday 1 July 2011

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In the 20 years that I have been deeply privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House, this is the first occasion on which I have put before your Lordships a Private Member’s Bill. It is a short and simple Bill. Its basic premise is that public protest and demonstration is a crucial element in democracy and that it should therefore be facilitated. Furthermore, as Parliament is the guardian of the people, their interests and their rights, it is often to Parliament that protesters should first speak. The people expect to be heard and seen by Parliament.

That is not always as it is in all democracies. Let us compare it with France, another democracy and a neighbouring country. There the people do not have the same faith in their parliament as protector of their rights. That is why protests in France so often rapidly become violent, with the mob taking to the streets. Because of the lack of faith in the French parliament, the people often support the mob as their surrogates. All too often in that country, the Government are faced with the choice of either giving in to a protest or sending in the CRS to break it up. That is not the British way, and it is why it is so important for people to have a recognised and convenient way to appeal to Parliament. There are several ways of doing this, including direct lobbying of the House or protesting.

I hope that we can all agree that Parliament Square is an ideal spot for protests and demonstration. However, it must be available to protesters. Its space must not be hogged by long-stay occupants who camp there, sometimes for months or even years. I think that we can all agree that the present situation is completely unsatisfactory and more or less out of control. I have over recent months—years, indeed—asked a number of Written Questions about Parliament Square. When the previous Government were in power, I asked for details of how many tenants there were and on what basis they had been authorised. I got a very full Written Answer. Last month, I asked the same Question again, because we all know that the situation has changed greatly. I was interested to receive from the Minister the Home Office's answer—I do not blame her for it—which stated:

“The Home Office does not hold this information. Section 134 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 sets out the criteria the Metropolitan Police would use for authorisation”.—[Official Report, 29/6/11; col. WA 445.]

When I last counted the number of tents, there were 28. The previous Written Answer referred to eight. This suggests a certain lack of grip. That is why the Government have brought forward their own proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

My very short Bill seeks in the simplest and least confrontational way to free up Parliament Square for protests, so that they can be vibrant, relevant, current and can have the maximum impact. Because there has been so much controversy about who is responsible for Parliament Square, the first clause sets up a committee; that will make it clear who is responsible. All those who are responsible at the moment, including Westminster City Council and representatives of the Metropolitan Police, would be part of that committee. The committee would be responsible for co-ordinating the work of its members to ensure that the controlled area is kept free of litter, detritus or other debris.

Clause 2 seeks to facilitate demonstrations: that is its primary purpose. It also provides for certain items to be removed from the square. I have listed most of the items that the Government put in their Bill, such as tents, other structures designed or adapted for sleeping or staying in a place, litter, detritus or any other debris. But how does one achieve the action that will be required? One wants an arrangement that is as liberal and free as possible, but is effective. My solution is very simple and, perhaps I might presume to say, elegant. It merely requires the committee, every night between midnight and 6 am, to clean up the square. That is a simple thing to do that would not impede protest. People would have 18 hours out of 24 to do any protesting that they wished. I hope that it is a better solution than the elaborate proposals included in the controversial Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. Therefore, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

My Lords, I welcome the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. He and I came to the House at the same time, so we have a special bond of affection. For me, too, this is the fourth or fifth time that I have spoken on this subject. I welcome the Bill because it treats Parliament Square as a particular unit and addresses the current fragmentation of authorities that have bits and pieces of control over the square. The Bill suggests a committee that would co-ordinate what happens in the square.

It is very interesting that Clause 3(b) states that Parliament Square includes,

“the footways that immediately adjoin the central garden of Parliament Square”.

Currently it is the footways that people are occupying: they are not occupying Parliament Square. Finally we have got to a situation where there are restrictions on demonstrating around Parliament Square and where people who want to demonstrate—as they have a perfect right to do—have been pushed to this very scary paved edge of the square. Some of the tents erected are very small, and the variety of protests is quite fascinating. It is not just the old Brian Haw protest about Iraq; there is something about Freemasons murdering somebody and all sorts of interesting things.

Whatever we do to organise Parliament Square, we must foster and encourage people's right to protest. I very much think that we ought not to use these various pieces of legislation as restrictions on people's right to demonstrate. It is a great tribute to our democracy that right across from Parliament people can support causes that often have nothing to do with Parliament but which they feel strongly about and want to bring to Parliament’s attention.

The noble Lord will remember that only three weeks ago we had a debate on this subject and some of us tried to make the distinction between a place of legitimate protest and a squalid encampment permanently defacing the square. It seems that the elegant solution of my noble friend meets both the noble Lord's concerns and my own.

My Lords, I am coming to that. My background is that of a demonstrator. I demonstrated in Grosvenor Square against the American war in Vietnam, I helped students occupy the LSE and I did various other things.

My noble friend demonstrated in Grosvenor Square, he did not sleep in it. He is making a link between demonstrating and sleeping somewhere in a tent. That seems somewhat tenuous.

I am warming up to my solution to the problem. I said in your Lordships' House in a debate on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that very often people use the grounds of things being squalid, unruly or unkempt as a way of restricting the right to demonstrate. I am very keen to make quite sure that whatever we do does not restrict that right. The noble Lord has proposed his solution. However, one reason they do not want to go away is that they are afraid that if they do, they will not be allowed to come back the next day. That is very much the fear. They have a tenuous hold on a space in which to demonstrate and they fear losing it.

One thing which the Committee on the Bill could do is not only to accept what is in Clause 2(2)—which all seems terribly negative, not positive—but to allow people to lease rights, as it were, to come back to demonstrate day after day. They should have some sort of assurance that if they go away, they will be able to come back the next day and resume the demonstration. That is important, because all sorts of excuses are made by referring to all sorts of ancient Acts which can be used against people demonstrating.

One elegant solution which my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has proposed to me—it was in the Bishops’ Bar, if I may reveal such confidences—is that we should perhaps have a structure within the central garden where people can have stalls that they can book for a week or whatever. They could have their little display there and not on the precarious footpath surrounding Parliament Square. They could have the demonstration and keep their stuff neatly. They will be able to be seen but will have limited tenure in the structure. This was very much not my idea, but I like it very much. I suggest it to the noble Lord whose Bill this is because, in a sense, we want to make it possible for people to demonstrate but remove some of the uglier aspects of the scene. It will work fine if we can have this compromise whereby people have an assurance that they can come back day after day to demonstrate.

If I may go off from my central argument, one has to admire the determination of someone like Brian Haw who came back year after year to demonstrate for the things that he strongly believed in. We might not agree with him, and year after year the Government tried their best to remove him, but he always came back. One has to admire that sort of citizen, who is a valuable person in a democracy. Although I commend the noble Lord’s Bill very much, I hope that in Committee we can add some positive aspects to Clause 2(2). I wish him God-speed on his Bill.

My Lords, perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Marlesford is its distinguished ancestry. This House has debated the issues which the Bill addresses many times and at some length. It has even frequently debated these issues since the beginning of the year. Reading those debates from this and previous years leaves me with two strong impressions. The first is of the careful thought and the quality of the advocacy that has gone into these discussions, and here I have particularly in mind the contributions of my noble friends Lord Tyler, Lord Cormack, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and the noble Lord, Lord Desai—who spoke again a moment ago in his usual eloquent fashion. His speech reminded me that I also demonstrated in Grosvenor Square, without staying overnight.

The second strong impression I have is of Groundhog Day. We seem to have found it terribly difficult to put in place satisfactory measures for the proper management of the square, despite a fairly large measure of agreement about what that management should be. It is in this context that I very much welcome the clarity and simplicity of my noble friend’s Bill. It seems that the proper tests for any scheme of management for the square should be, first, that the management scheme makes proportionate and reasonable provision for visitors and workers, including parliamentarians, and for peaceful demonstrations; secondly, that the management regime recognises that the reasonable requirements of these groups should be assessed alongside the requirement to protect and even promote the historic nature of the square and its environs and its architectural and other visual appeals; and, thirdly, that the rules should be simple, unambiguous, short and easy to apply.

It seems obvious that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 did not meet these tests, above all in one critical respect. It instituted a management regime that was unreasonable and disproportionate in its treatment of certain peaceful demonstrations. Your Lordships will remember the case of Maya Evans and Milan Rai, who were arrested in 2005 for reading out the names of war dead at the Cenotaph. My noble friend Lord Tyler has rightly described this response as wholly disproportionate. In his Demonstrations in the Vicinity of Parliament (Removal of Authorisation Requirements) Bill, my noble friend proposed a simple repeal of the sections of the 2005 Act that dealt with Parliament Square.

Since then, however, we have had the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill presented to us, which contains provisions that would replace the SOCPA provisions for Parliament Square. These new government provisions run to five pages and go into considerable detail. The Government’s Bill starts by proposing, as my noble friend Lord Tyler did, the repeal of the relevant provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. On the whole, the Government’s proposed new provisions seem to pass the first test—they seem to make adequate provision for peaceful demonstration and would restore free access to the square to visitors and workers. By ending both the overnight and enduring occupation of the square and its pavements and the erection of temporary shelters, these provisions most definitely take account of the need to protect the historic nature of the square. They most definitely would also restore the visual appeal of the square, after such a long and occasionally rather squalid interlude.

I am doubtful whether the new government provisions altogether pass the third test and whether even the drafter of that Bill could call the text relating to Parliament Square simple, unambiguous and short. More importantly, it seems that these proposed new provisions have another, more general defect—namely, that they have missed the opportunity to be positive about the square and its environs. These new provisions are wholly negative; they all say what cannot be done. Given the importance and historical resonance of the square and the undeniable grandeur and beauty of its immediate environs, I should have liked to see a duty written in to promote the square and its environs and to encourage its general, uncontentious and peaceful use.

As for the Bill before us, it is immediately clear that its provisions are indeed simple, unambiguous, short and easy to apply. Yet I wonder whether in this case the present Bill may be a little too simple, a little too short and, simultaneously, in one sense, a little too complex. The Bill before us does not, as I understand it, repeal the provisions of SOCPA, but it would be highly desirable and easy to add that. Nor does it create a responsibility to promote the use of the square, which is a pity. However, it does seem to add yet another layer of management and yet another committee to an already rich mix of interested and responsible parties. I wonder whether that is really necessary. Finally, the Bill seems to be silent on music. I invite my noble friend to give consideration to these points.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford has done us all a significant service today with this Bill. He has shown us that simplicity and clarity can be achieved and has focused our minds on the need for action to resolve this astonishingly long-running problem. I very much welcome this initiative and encourage the Minister to think carefully about the merits of the construction of the Bill when it comes to consideration of the Government’s own proposals for the management of Parliament Square.

My Lords, I warmly welcome this Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and congratulate him on its brevity, clarity and good sense, which contrasts vividly with much of the legislation that has gone before on the subject of Parliament Square, not least Part 3 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill currently before your Lordships' House. I note with interest, as the noble Lord has already mentioned, that he has raised his proposal in the form of an amendment to that Bill, and that he seeks a more positive response to his proposal in this debate.

Unashamedly, I am going to suggest a somewhat military perspective on this for your Lordships’ consideration. I am sure that we all know the importance of first impressions in forming opinions about people and things. The late Field Marshal Lord Carver told me that whenever he visited a regiment for the first time, he always asked for what is called a quarter guard, which consists of a number of men or women turned out in their best kit, together with the ceremonial regalia, such as the colours. Good commanding officers invariably take trouble over the selection of the members of the guard, knowing that when spoken to they will not only speak up but will represent the regiment as they would like it to be thought of—bad ones being too unimaginative to realise the danger of not doing so. Later in my Army career when I was entitled to ask for a quarter guard I invariably followed his example—and how right he was. Pride may be a deadly sin, but it is not to be discouraged in any organisation which sets itself standards and of which standards are expected. I found the same with prisons: the way that you are greeted by the staff in reception tells you all that you need to know about the governor and whether the prison is decent and efficient or inhumane and badly run.

I mention this because Parliament Square is in some aspects the quarter guard or reception of Parliament. Although an entity in its own right, it is part of a whole that includes not only the incomparable buildings that house Parliament, but St Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey, the Supreme Court and other government buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and I are not the commanding officers of Parliament but his Bill demonstrates that he and I share the same view of how Parliament Square should be cared for, so that the impression it creates is more akin to the dignity of the surroundings than to accommodation areas at the Glastonbury festival. I must admit that I do not share the thrill felt by the noble Lord, Campbell-Savours, which he described in Committee on the police Bill, at seeing people camped on its pavement. I was interested in the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, about parliamentarians from other countries being impressed that permanent demonstrations are allowed to take place there. I am all for freedom of speech and support entirely the right of people to demonstrate and protest in front of Parliament. After all, many of their protests are addressed to those who work here and there is much value to be gained from being able to assess the strength of their feeling on certain issues, but marching, protesting and listening to speeches is one thing; living on site is another, particularly if the style of living interferes with public enjoyment of the whole. Any commanding officer of the site would want it cleared by the end of the working day so that it can be cleaned and prepared for presentation tomorrow.

I return to first impressions and presentation: earlier this year I was given a very clear description of how overseas visitors view the unsightly mess that we have been forced to walk or drive past for far too long, and the various messages that are inscribed on a variety of tatty boards or banners. One of my granddaughters, currently studying to be an architect, brought some of her fellow students to see the House, one of whom was a delightful young South Korean. He had been so taken by the position of Parliament Square that he had designed a most imaginative re-ordering of it to make it more people-friendly without in any way denigrating its importance. However, not only had he been unable to go into the middle to complete his drawings because of all the unsightly barriers but he simply could not understand how all that filth was allowed to remain in front of Parliament. It would not be allowed in South Korea.

In logic, what place do tents have on pavements anywhere, obstructing the passage of pedestrians, let alone in front of Parliament? At least the Army slept in double-decker buses, away from the main streets of Belfast, when military accommodation was short. What can visitors think of not being allowed on to the grass containing the statues of the great and the good, from which they can view the wonderful surroundings, because it has had to be barricaded off to prevent it being used for all manner of purposes for which it was not planted, by people who are abusing the freedoms for which so many have fought?

I am well aware that this is exactly how people imagine that retired generals think and speak, but I make no apology for doing so. I am very proud to be a Member of this House and this Parliament and I care about the impression that our buildings and surroundings make on those who visit them, for whatever purpose. What I like about the noble Lord’s Bill is that he introduces a commanding officer in the form of a committee, which does away with the plethora of authorities which proved so incapable of doing the sensible thing with the late Mr Haw and his encampment for too many minutes and hours, let alone days, months and years.

I remember when commanding the troops in Belfast that the rules for declared marches and demonstrations were abundantly clear. Declared marches to or from the city centre, which happened almost invariably every Sunday afternoon, started at about two so that they could be over by five, allowing time for the streets to be returned to normality by Monday morning. Undeclared marches or demonstrations were regarded as illegal and treated accordingly. If such pragmatism was possible in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, surely it cannot be impossible to maintain the dignity of Parliament Square in 2011.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on introducing this Bill and on his elegant exposition of it. The central aim of the Bill in setting up the committee is in my view an ingenious attempt to resolve this long-standing problem, which has so far defied every attempt to do so, precisely because it deals with the fracturing of responsibility which has so far enabled everyone with a little bit of responsibility to avoid taking all the responsibility for trying to resolve it. Incidentally, I welcome the provision for an annual report to Parliament, which is an attempt to ensure appropriate democratic accountability for the committee’s work. However, as the Bill makes progress—I hope that it will—I hope that the noble Lord might consider amending it to include a provision for the committee to have as part of its remit that it must, alongside maintaining the square’s environment, ensure that Parliament Square remains a forum for the lawful expression of political opinion. The noble Lord went to great pains to stress the importance that he attaches to this, and I am sure that all Members of the House share that view. However, amending the Bill in the way that I suggest would make the importance that Parliament attaches to such freedom of expression clearer than is currently the case. In my view, that is essential.

As this debate and previous discussions have shown over and again, perhaps the key reason for the intractability of this problem is the need to strike this balance between the imperative of securing freedom of expression and maintaining a heritage site that represents the best of our democracy. This balance is not always so easy to strike. I recognise the valiant attempts of many noble Lords to strike such a balance, but these distinctions are hard to pin down and will not always be the same in every case. It is very important to maintain an element of pragmatic flexibility. The noble Lord’s proposed committee would allow for such pragmatic flexibility provided the Bill was clearer about the importance that the committee should attach to freedom of expression.

The Bill may or may not turn out to be the key to unlocking a solution to this issue and I am sure that the Minister will shortly reveal the Government’s view on this. In the mean time, your Lordships’ House owes a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, just as it does to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for his attempt to resolve this issue a few weeks ago. The Bill has given Parliament another opportunity to try to resolve the issue, which really should have been resolved a very long time ago.

I rise in the gap to reinforce what I said in the Chamber during proceedings on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. I say again that I greatly welcome the contents of this Bill. However, since I spoke, I received a letter from Councillor Colin Barrow, the leader of Westminster City Council, and I think that I should draw it to the attention of the House. He says, on behalf at Westminster City Council:

“The council has concerns over the current wording of the bill”—

that is, the government Bill.

“Our chief concern is that the protesters would simply move to other parts of the square, requiring further prolonged and costly legal action. Fundamentally, we do not believe that the Bill”—

that is, the government Bill—

“as it currently stands will deliver a solution to the problem once and for all, and we are concerned that it will be a further example of poor legislation in this sensitive area.

At the Commons Committee stage we proposed a series of amendments, which would ensure that the Square can be properly managed, whilst protecting people's democratic right to protest ... Unfortunately these were not adopted by the government in the Commons. However, I remain convinced that these amendments are vital to ensuring the safe and fair and management of the Square”.

He then states:

“The Bill currently only affects the centre of the square, so protesters could simply decamp to the outer pavement”.

On structures, he states:

“The Bill addresses structures which are designed for sleeping but would not provide for the removal of many of the structures which are already in the square and which are used for storage”.

On the amplification of noise, he states:

“The Bill does seek to control loudspeakers, but does so in an overly convoluted way”.

He then states:

“We believe that, if the Bill became law in its current form, protesters would simply move requiring further lengthy and costly legal action. The opportunity presented by the Bill to deal with the problem of anti-social behaviour in the Square finally and effectively should not be squandered”.

In other words, the Government's Bill will not work, so we start with a blank piece of paper.

Unless the Government can convince Westminster City Council that their proposals will succeed, they should stop what they propose in their Bill. That is why we have to take the Marlesford Bill very seriously. Westminster City Council is indicating that it supports the approach being taken by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Why do Ministers not convene a meeting of Westminster City Council with Ministers in attendance, along with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to discuss his Bill as an alternative way forward? I do not put that case to the Government in any political context; I just believe that we have to make the new system work. If Westminster City Council is convinced that it will not work, we may well end up making a dog's dinner of legislation and have to reconsider it all at some stage.

I appeal to Ministers: please go back to the drawing board and consider this piece of prospective legislation very seriously.

I just want to say a few words in support of my noble friend’s Bill. I thoroughly agree with its purpose. It has for long seemed extraordinary to me that we should have allowed this virtually lawless situation to survive on the doorstep of the mother of Parliaments. It has surprised me almost as much as has the persistence of the situation with regard to Somali pirates—the world's powers seem incapable of acting to put an end to that challenge to their authority. Of course, the degree of villainy of the perpetrators in those two separate cases is not remotely comparable, but perhaps after he has cleaned up Parliament Square, my noble friend will apply his fertile brain to the solution to that problem.

On the one hand, the situation in Parliament Square has been quite attractive and almost amusing—an example of what our democracy can tolerate that must be bound to baffle outsiders, but I am not sure that it will have impressed them. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, described how, in his experience, it most certainly has not. For it has also been an ever mounting affront to decency, has gone on for far too long and signals, if not symbolises, the impotence of the Government. It is surely quite unacceptable that the grass square has to be fenced off in a makeshift manner to everyone. It has threatened to spawn popular heroes. Just as the Newbury bypass saga produced Swampy, so now we have had the gentleman whom the noble Lord, Lord Desai, mentioned several times, who also seems to be about to enter folklore.

I understand that my noble friend's initiative came before the Government decided to make new statutory provision in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, so I congratulate my noble friend. I also realise that his Bill appears as an amendment to that Bill. Following what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, amendment to that Bill seems absolutely necessary.

I like my noble friend's idea of a committee. On the other hand, he says nothing about the problem of sound amplification, alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. To me, that has to be one of the most intolerable features of the occupation by protesters of Parliament Square.

When demonstrations are permitted to take place, surely they should not be conducted at an unbearable noise level for passers-by. I look forward to what the Minister says and what my noble friend might say in reply about amending his Bill to include dealing with noise amplification.

I speak in the gap very briefly. First, I warmly commend my noble friend Lord Marlesford for his persistence in bringing this to the attention of this House and for the elegance of the Bill that he has introduced.

This is an extraordinary business. One reason why I can speak briefly is that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said everything that needed to be said quite correctly. The only thing that was missing was that he did not at that moment volunteer to be chairman of the committee. We would have much more confidence in getting the right result if he were to be chairman of the committee—in fact, we probably would not need any other members.

This is extraordinary, because there is no disagreement among all sides on this matter. We all agree that there has to be peaceful protest. We all agree, however, that what is going on is a squalid eyesore and an embarrassment to all of us who come here everyday, an embarrassment in the eyes of everyone else—in the eyes of overseas visitors in particular. This is a very limited problem. People might ask, if Parliament cannot deal with a problem as limited and circumscribed as this one—where there is really no difference among us about what is right and what is wrong, what freedoms have to be preserved but what unplaisances, as I think Stephen Potter called them, need to be done away with—my goodness, what can we deal with? We have far bigger problems to deal with.

I hope that the Government, who are obviously doing their best on this topic with the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, but equally obviously have failed, will take on board my noble friend’s Bill. The most elegant solution may be—I am sure that my noble friend will not mind being robbed of it—to have his Bill in place of the comparable clauses in the government Bill, as an amendment to the Bill. Then, at long last, after all these years, we may be able to get a solution to this problem which, as I said, is not merely a physical and visual embarrassment but a legislative embarrassment if we cannot deal with the issue.

I intervene very briefly not only to endorse the points just made by my noble friend but to refer to another point that came up during our debate three weeks ago on the measure proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. It is crucial that in tackling the problem of Parliament Square, we do not transfer that problem to Abingdon Green or to the green in front of the statue of George V—I was incorrectly interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and told that it is George VI, but it is, of course, George V—or any of the other adjacent areas. It is crucial that we tackle this problem properly, and I suggest that we tackle it in the clean and clinical way that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has suggested, which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, underlined in his notable speech.

My Lords, in my very short time in the House, I have never come across a debate in which we have had more people speaking in the gap than listed on the Order Paper; nor have we ever had the chance to have one or two excellent new points added during those gap speeches. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, for giving us a chair for our putative committee. It was an inspired guess, and I think he was right to pick up something that I was rather surprised to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham: that in his view, a committee could in some sense be a commanding officer. I thought the Army stood for one thing; it does not believe in committees but believes that individuals have to take control. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, kindly squared that circle for us.

We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on the important question of whether the statue is George V or George VI. I am glad that that has been resolved. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, gave us the context for this discussion by reminding us of other points, such as Somalia, that give us a sense of proportion.

This Bill is one of three opportunities we have to come back to an issue that has been distressing the House for some time. In a debate a few weeks ago, I reflected that if you wanted to list what your Lordships' House is most interested in, you would look at the range of Questions, the topics put down for debate and at Private Members' Bills. Clearly the future of our House is the thing we spend most of our time worrying about. It comes top of all lists, but there would probably be a place for dangerous dogs, which keep repeating themselves, and for summer time saving, which we discussed earlier this morning. Room would have to be found for the future of the Barnett formula, because that seems to come up a lot, but Parliament Square would certainly be there because we come back to it and it obviously needs to be resolved.

In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said that this is his first Private Member’s Bill. It is a feature of the way in which we operate in this House that when matters get serious between Back-Benchers and the Government, we get Bills that reflect that annoyance and concern. It is something that the Government need to take account of. When you get a rash of Bills of this nature, clearly you are in trouble.

The issues are very clear. We need some imaginative thinking about the relationship between Parliament, the abbey, the church, the public buildings and the public spaces around those buildings across the various dimensions that have been mentioned in this debate: security, access, traffic, tourism, history, heritage and, of course, demonstrations. The problem is that, as many noble Lords have said, these are not impossible issues to think about and discuss and to come up with proposals about, but we live in iconic buildings in a world heritage area with a world focus. It is something that people in our country want to regard as theirs and to use when they have issues that they wish to draw to our attention, and at the heart of this we are trying to balance rights on the one side and freedoms on the other, which is never easy.

That explains why this is all so difficult, but it does not really explain why it has taken so long. As a number of noble Lords have said, the good thing about this Bill, which was described as ingenious by a noble Lord, is that it has a laser-like focus on the key issues, which we welcome, and it allows, and indeed encourages, the main issues to become clear. We want to have vibrant and responsible demonstrations, but we do not want the square to be left in an impossible condition for people to use and enjoy for whatever purposes.

In a very positive contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, tried to add some points of detail to the proposals in the Bill, which most people would accept. It is admirable that it is very narrow in its focus, but it perhaps lacks some of the definition and additional points that will be required if it goes further. Those comments were very helpful because they give us an additional thought about that. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, also pointed out the contrast between this Bill and the other two Bills that we are also considering: the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which simply eliminates the current proposals from existing legislation, and the police Bill, which is, as he described it, extremely negative. It says what you cannot do in the square, but it does not try to build up what we want the square to be used for in all the dimensions that I have mentioned.

There are some questions about why we think a committee will be the right solution for what we are doing. A committee may well be the way in which processes need to operate, but we need to know a little bit more about ownership, the rights of those who have an interest in the square, how that is to be resolved, who is going to fund all this work and how it is going to be arranged. Although the Bill’s aspirations are good, we do not really have detail about how it will deliver to the standards that we all somehow understand we want out of this.

There are other contributions I want to mention. My noble friend Lord Desai indicated that he has form on this issue and mentioned that he had spoken on it four or five times. He also admitted quite freely that he has demonstrated in other places, including Grosvenor Square. On the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, those who were at Grosvenor Square—I think I was one—might not, of course, be able to remember whether they slept there because it was the 1960s and things were different then, but the point was well made.

We approach this from slightly different directions. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said that we do not disagree about the issues, and I think that is probably right, but there is a different hierarchy of concerns. When he was speaking, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, mentioned “Groundhog Day” as a film that he thought has resonance for this, but I think it is more like “Rashomon”; we all see slightly different things when we look at that square and we have a different order of priorities. When she responds, it will be important for the Minister to give us some sense of how she sees this hierarchy of need and of how the Government’s proposals fit with the views expressed today.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wills, said, and indeed said in earlier debates, this is something that the previous Labour Government grappled with. We would happily admit that we got it wrong in 2005 and we were sad that our proposals in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in 2010 could not be delivered because they fell in the wash-up period.

The sense that I take from our debate, and I leave it with the noble Baroness to respond, is that we all seem to want this to be resolved within legislation that will be effective in delivering the aims. The vehicle could be the police Bill because there are sufficient provisions in it to do that, but we are hearing from the noble Lord who proposed the Bill, and others, that the measures in it may not be sufficient to achieve the aspirations that are rightly high for this wonderful space. I therefore think that it falls to the Minister to take us forward on this matter and to explain how she will resolve the two different strands that are running here. She has clearly compromised because she has a Bill that she wants to get through and I hope that in the spirit that she has previously shown in debates on the Bill in Committee and now on Report she will consider taking further steps to bring into play what is now before her.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for tabling this Bill on an issue to which he and all in this House attach great importance—namely, the management of Parliament Square. I have listened with great interest to the noble Lord’s arguments and to all those who have contributed to the debate today. I am always heartened by the keenness with which these important issues are debated in this House. We have had some real gems of contributions today.

The Government are committed to restoring rights to non-violent protest. The Government are also committed to ensuring that everyone can enjoy our public spaces and do not consider it is acceptable for people to camp on the square. That is at the heart of the issue with Parliament Square. As my noble friend is aware, the Government have set out their commitment to restore rights to non-violent protest and have accordingly brought forward repeal of Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act and are in the process of introducing alternative measures to tackle disruptive activities in Parliament Square in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

I am sorry to interrupt but this is such an important issue and the distinctions are very important. The noble Baroness says that the Government are opposed to overnight encampments in the square and most people would agree with that as a general proposition. Does she see that there might be a distinction between that and, say, an overnight vigil by someone trying to make a specific political point? Does she see that there might be a difference between an encampment and a vigil?

My Lords, I do see that as a distinction, but perhaps I may continue my remarks. The focus of what we are trying to do in the government Bill is to get a sense of balance and proportionality. That is why, having moved from the legislation that has been on the statute book for some time to enhancing the powers of seizure, we are very much more focused on encampment and all that goes with overnight encampment than on the individual’s right to protest. The balance we have tried to strike is to preserve the individual’s right to protest but deal with what has been a very difficult issue for all Governments—the encampment and the materials associated with it not just on the green of Parliament Square Garden but on the paving areas around it. I will come on to displacement because I realise that that is a particular problem.

Parliament Square Garden is a World Heritage Site surrounded by important historic buildings, such as Westminster Abbey. Its location opposite the Houses of Parliament also makes it a focus for protests, and rightly so. But we need to remember, as noble Lords have already said in contributions today, that others come to Parliament Square for a number of reasons. My noble friend Lord Sharkey touched on this. Some come as tourists to see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey; others, as a cultural experience by visiting a World Heritage Site; or as individuals interested in the democratic process by seeing where Parliament is situated.

We all witnessed the occupation of Parliament Square Garden by the democracy village encampment last summer which prevented members of the public and visitors using and enjoying the garden. Noble Lords have also had experience of trying to access that part of the square themselves and seeing the monopoly that those particular protesters had on that piece of land. The courts have said that Parliament Square Garden is not a suitable area to be used for any sort of encampment. More recently the High Court has also said:

“Parliament Square Gardens is not a suitable location for prolonged camping; such camping is incompatible with the function, lawful use and character of Parliament Square Garden and it is also inconsistent with proper management of the area as a whole … members of the public have been and would be precluded from using the area occupied; the area in question is the area nearest to an important entrance to the Houses of Parliament”.

The Government and I think that we in this House and the other place would agree with the court’s findings.

The democracy village encampment caused significant damage to the garden, which has required considerable remedial works by the Greater London Authority, during which time nobody could enjoy this unique space. Others have drawn attention to the statues in the garden, which are important to our nation’s history, which the visitor to London would quite naturally wish to access, photograph and take a closer look at. The Government are clear that the same applies to the ongoing encampment on the footways adjoining Parliament Square Garden. It is not acceptable that a few individuals should trump the wider public enjoyment of this unique location, deter people from visiting the area and even deter others from protesting on the footway.

As noble Lords will know, there has been quite a monopoly on this area by key groups who have not only caused the problems I have just described to the public visiting the square, but have monopolised it in terms of other representative groups who also want the opportunity to protest peacefully and make their views known on a wide number of issues in the vicinity of Parliament. That is something which the Government’s Bill, which is before the House at the moment, does not seek to prohibit. The Government have brought forward measures to have a small controlled area in which certain activities—namely, erecting tents and the unauthorised use of loudhailers—are prohibited. We believe that this is a proportionate and targeted response, which is the minimum necessary to deal with the particular misuse of tents and structures on Parliament Square Garden and the footways.

Our approach is aimed at targeting specific problems on a small area of Parliament Square and empowering local authorities to take action by giving them the ability to enforce relevant by-laws more effectively. We have not tried to address the misuse of public space by changing the laws governing the right to protest. We think the same framework governing protest in the rest of the country should also govern protest around Parliament. People have the right to protest, but it is the encampment aspect of it that we have sought to address in the Government’s legislation. We have instead addressed the behaviours that we consider are unacceptable around Parliament and have applied the law to everyone, not picking out those exercising rights to protest. So if people want to protest for days, weeks and months, they can, which answers a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. What they cannot do is erect tents or construct permanent or semi-permanent encampments to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, described it as “living on site”, and that is what we have sought to address.

I appreciate my noble friend’s intention in bringing this Bill to Parliament—

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Can she help me a little with the point raised by her noble friend Lord Cormack? I thought he made a powerful case when he said that there is not much point in dealing only with Parliament Square because everything is going to transfer over to College Green, or the green where the statue of George V stands, or indeed any other area within the immediate environs of Parliament. Have the Government given this any consideration?

I was going to come on to that point, but I am happy to deal with it now, and to respond to the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Cormack. We have enhanced the powers of seizure in the by-laws for local authorities to deal with displacement activity around the square, but I have to tell noble Lords that we are still having discussions with lawyers on the consideration of particular areas around the House. Those are ongoing and I do not rule out the possibility of bringing forward further measures before the Bill completes its passage through this House. I do not think I can give more detail at the moment, but it certainly is a matter under consideration and the talks are ongoing.

The Government wholly agree that it is necessary for all enforcement agencies to work closely together if Parliament Square is going to be managed in a way that promotes its enjoyment and use by all. The Government are working with the Greater London Authority, Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police on effective enforcement protocols. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to a letter he has received from a councillor and he has kindly made it available to me. I had not had sight of it before he raised it. I hope that he will allow me to respond specifically to it, but I am aware that Westminster City Council has been involved in discussions about the proposed changes to the Government’s Bill because clearly the council is key, along with other enforcement strategies, to ensuring that when the new laws are on the statute book, it will be able to enforce them and thus resolve the problems I have identified.

If they say that the Government’s proposals will not work, will we then have a blank sheet of paper to work on?

I will not be drawn on a letter I have not had sight of, and I am not clear how representative it is. I am not familiar with the name of the councillor mentioned by the noble Lord.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. He will know that I am not over-familiar with London matters. I probably should have known that but I am afraid that my interest in politics over the years has been among the wild and beautiful parts of Devon rather than London. We will look carefully at that. I am concerned. I do not know whether the noble Lord received that letter recently—was it this week? I would hope that he might have copied it. I have not had sight of it and will make inquiries and look into it.

Coming back to my noble friend’s Bill before the House today, I fear that the proposals as tabled would not be effective in dealing with disruptive behaviours such as encampment, which is at the heart of the problem. It is likely that committee decision-making within this House would impact adversely on the swift and proportionate response that will be needed to tackle disruptive activities on the ground. In addition, the proposals are contrary to the Government’s position on the repeal of Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which was widely seen as stifling the right to non-violent protest by re-introducing a requirement for demonstrations in Parliament Square to be authorised.

I also have concerns about how the proposals would work in practice. For example, what happens if people do not move? Who has the power to move them on? On what grounds would they be moved? As tabled, my noble friend’s proposals would allow people to camp and are likely to require enforcement agencies forcibly to remove people every day. The purpose of the proposals in the Government’s Bill is to seek to act very quickly with the power of seizure, in order to prevent encampments becoming established. The Government’s proposals are focused on stopping people from camping there in the first place, recognising the problem of moving people once they are there, as seen with the democracy village. It is also unclear where legal and operational accountability would reside in my noble friend’s Bill as currently drafted.

While I have, regretfully, to inform my noble friend that the Government cannot support the Bill as it currently stands in the other place, the Government do welcome and urge continued debate around balancing competing rights, promoting the enjoyment of Parliament Square for all and, at the same time, protecting that right for peaceful demonstration and protest which is an extremely important part of our democracy and heritage. We have sought to do that in the context of the current provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords on every side of the House for the contributions that they have made to the debate. Virtually all the points made were sound. In as far as it may be necessary in my Bill to take account of them, I shall be very receptive to amendments that noble Lords wish to put down—or suggest that I should put down. I say that straight away. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, read a devastating statement from Westminster City Council, which is totally involved in this matter. I am surprised that the Government were not much more aware of that situation. Frankly, the idea of being able to go ahead in the face of such opposition is absurd. I know that everybody wants to have lunch and go home so I will not go into detail on what noble Lords said—except to be grateful and thank them—but I must deal a little with the Minister.

The problem is that one of these days the Home Office has to recognise that other people can have ideas which may be even better than its own. My noble friend was right when she said that camping is at the heart of the issue—and that is exactly what my Bill is about. The Government’s approach—not the Government’s; it is the Home Office’s approach—is seizure. The whole of Clause 147 of the Police and Social Responsibility Bill is about powers of seizure. My Bill is not about seizure. Seizure is confrontational.

Just for the record, there is no differentiation between me as a Home Office Minister and the Home Office. As a Minister, I have always taken full responsibility for any department I have had the pleasure to work in. The buck definitely stops with me. I assure my noble friend that this is not just about the Home Office. The matter is sitting on my desk.

My Lords, I accept that. It is axiomatic of our system of government. However, my point is that the solution put forward by my noble friend—let us forget the Home Office for the moment—is about seizure. The Minister asks why my Bill, if it were enacted, would prevent people camping, as they would be able to put up camps in the daytime. On the whole, people put up tents to sleep in them at night. If the tents had to be packed up every night, people would soon stop bringing them. It might take a matter of days or, at most, a few weeks. On enforcement, if a Westminster City Council van went around on the first night, there might have to be a certain police presence to encourage people either to walk away with the tent under their arm or to allow it to be put in the dustbin. However, that would be a very simple matter.

All I say is that my proposals are much simpler, less confrontational and more likely to work. I hope my noble friend will, when we debate the provisions in her Bill on Report, be much more sympathetic than she is being at the moment. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, that I believe in facilitating; Clause 2(1) of my Bill includes the phrase “facilitate lawful, authorised demonstration”. It is the job of the committee to encourage and allow what we need by way of democratic facilities. However, I am afraid that I am left with the strong conviction that my solution is a great deal better than that of the Government. Therefore, I ask the House to give my Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 1.07 pm.