House of Lords
Friday, 1 July 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
Devolution (Time) Bill [HL]
That the Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, I thank the Government for allowing time to debate the Second Reading of the Devolution (Time) Bill. I would like, with the leave of the House, to declare in full my interests and qualifications before moving this Private Member’s Bill, which would remove time from the reserved category in the Scottish and Welsh devolution legislation. First, I declare myself to be a Scot, who spent most of his early childhood in South Ayrshire and who, according to the speech references in this House of none other than the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was the only boy to wear the kilt at his prep school in Glenapp.
As this Bill is about the choice of maximising the period of daylight during the long winter months, it may be of interest to declare that, like most householders in south-west Scotland, we made our own electricity until 1951, when the grid eventually came to our glen. Before then, people in houses without an auxiliary generator used paraffin lamps to read and cook by and accumulator batteries to power the wireless sets. Later on in the 1950s and early 1960s, I fought three parliamentary by-elections as Liberal candidate for Galloway, which was, and still is, the largest Scottish farming constituency, of approximately 1,500 square miles. Therefore, I like to consider myself to be reasonably familiar with the problems connected to Scottish farming, and I can assure noble Lords that daylight saving to provide lighter evenings is definitely not one of them.
Secondly, my qualifications concerning time in general are based on my hobby as an amateur astronomer and horologist, for which I have been granted fellowships of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Horological Institute. Just for the record, I used these skills to design for the then Black Rod in the 1970s the first speech timer clock, which may not have been popular in some quarters when there was no timed limit to speeches. I was also personally responsible, as proprietor of the company which maintained the Great Clock in the Palace of Westminster, for switching the country from summer time to winter time, and vice versa.
The Devolution (Time) Bill is a very straightforward piece of legislation, perhaps one of the shortest to come before your Lordships for some time. Its primary purpose is simply to rectify the apparent anomaly included in the devolution Acts for Scotland and Wales, which keep time as a reserved subject for them, whereas Her Majesty’s Government have not considered it to be a reserved subject in the Northern Ireland devolution legislation. The Bill sets out to level the playing field for all parts of the United Kingdom, including England, with regard to all three devolved Governments having a choice of timescale best suited to the needs and geographical co-ordinates of their local electorates. It does not advocate any particular timescale.
I look forward to the Bill finding favour with both the coalition Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition in that it seems, on the face of it, to be well in keeping with the objectives of the current Localism Bill and the Scotland Bill that is soon to come before us. Both these Bills hand certain powers back to local people with the exception of a choice of a timescale by their devolved Governments. Therefore, I am puzzled that both the coalition Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition might apparently wish to oppose the Bill on the slightly absurd ground that it will, “break up the United Kingdom”. I will deal with that point later.
Meanwhile, it may be worth while for noble Lords to read in Hansard the differing political views on time as expressed on 3 December last year in the other place during the Second Reading of Rebecca Harris’s Private Member’s Bill, the Daylight Saving Bill. It will be seen that the Scottish National Party MP for the Western Isles even prophesied that daylight saving would plunge the Scottish people into darkness. However, he did not specify whether it was temporal or eternal. Nevertheless, the MP in question, Angus MacNeil, may have a point. We have all been fearful of the dark at one time or another since childhood and we are always susceptible to fears of this kind even as adults and especially during long winter power cuts in south-west Scotland.
However, we cannot complain when communities in more northern latitudes have to live through the winter without natural daylight. They do so in Norway and Sweden by having well-lit streets, flood-lit football pitches and indoor sports and farming facilities. Farming and forestry in Scotland also use modern indoor systems to maintain the livestock and forestry. Building operations are flood-lit. The dark is no longer a danger if modern lighting systems are in operation at the work site for postal workers, builders or rail track engineers who work only through the night. In fact, current health and safety regulations require that facility. In northern latitudes, there will always be many hours of darkness in the winter months during the working day, due to celestial mechanics over which we have no control. It has now been clearly established in the other place that political solutions cannot increase the hours of winter daylight; they can only adjust to them by choosing a timescale best suited to a local community and its geographical co-ordinates.
However, previous Private Members’ Bills, including my Lighter Evenings (Experiment) Bill, have foundered in the House of Commons on the political stance adopted by mainly Scottish MPs for no better reason than that their constituents might not accept a timescale imposed on them from south of the border, regardless of any facts that prove whether it would be beneficial to their constituents. I have no doubt, unless the coalition Government will support my Devolution (Time) Bill, that Rebecca Harris's Bill will suffer the same fate as previous Private Members’ Bills on the same subject for the same reasons.
However, if the coalition Government see fit to support the Bill before us, which imparts responsibility for the choice of timescale to the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales, I see that as a problem solved. In fact, the Devolution (Time) Bill is a prerequisite for the safe passage not only of the current Daylight Saving Bill but any future legislation on the subject. An interesting side-effect of the successful passage of the Bill before us is that it would specifically allow English electors to decide on a timescale best suited to their needs without suffering from mischievous political interference from Scottish or Welsh MPs, who would then have the responsibility to decide their own electorate’s timescale. However, as noble Lords well know, Members of the Westminster Parliament with Scottish or Welsh constituencies would still carry the right to vote on the issues. In this case, I would assume that the political party managers could ensure that they would abstain on any vote connected with a timescale relating purely to English constituencies. Perhaps the noble Baroness could confirm that, and that that would also apply to Northern Irish MPs under existing legislation.
It is necessary to emphasise again what the Bill is not about. It is not about devolved Governments arbitrarily changing the timescale in different parts of the United Kingdom. It is about only the right to do so if their electorates require it. No Government, devolved or otherwise, will take that decision lightly or unilaterally unless it is considered to be in the best interests of their electorate.
The Bill is not about supporting one particular timescale in preference to another. Nor will it create conditions to bring forward an independent Scotland, as is believed in some quarters. Does the noble Baroness agree that that can be decided only by referendum, not by a change in the timescale? However, I am pleased to report that I understand that this devolution Bill has the support of the Scottish National Party, for the democratic reasons that I have set out. In fact, the Scottish National Party is the only political party, as far as I am aware from my preparations for this debate, which seems to understand the importance and full implications of the Bill, and does not confuse it with a referendum for independence. I could not get any response from the Welsh nationalist party, whose telephone seems to speak only Welsh.
The coalition Government must surely be aware that, as the law stands, the Northern Ireland Assembly has the power to decide its own timescale unilaterally, without reference to Westminster. That is unlike Scotland and Wales. At first sight, it is difficult to foresee any internal circumstances which might cause that to happen, although, as I shall explain, there could be pressures from beyond its borders which might cause the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconsider its position. Does the noble Baroness agree that there could be a situation in which that power might be exercised, such as one where the Republic of Ireland decided to switch to Central European Time because it was thought that it might assist in relieving its current economic crisis? In those circumstances, is it not realistic to assume that Northern Ireland would follow suit by harmonising the timescale with their brethren south of the border?
Can the noble Baroness tell us whether there is any agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that would prevent such a timescale change taking place under those or any other circumstances, a change which united the north and south of Ireland in sharing a timescale different to the one in operation in England, Scotland and Wales? If that were to happen under existing law, would Her Majesty's Government decide to follow suit, thus forcing the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales to do likewise without prior consultation of their electorate? Alternatively, would Her Majesty's Government attempt to remake time a reserved item through amendments to the Northern Ireland devolution Act, thus preventing any change in the timescale of Northern Ireland without prior reference to Westminster? If a Devolution (Time) Bill were on the statute book, would the noble Baroness be content to let the English electorate and the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales switch to timescales of their own choice?
I accept that, if that situation arose, it might just tempt an opportunist Scottish nationalist Government to go it alone for political rather than horological reasons, despite the risks involved, but I am not sure that it would necessarily be advantageous for the Scottish people to remain on GMT plus one, which they seem to prefer today, when the rest of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland selected GMT plus one and two as their time, for many good reasons, including better trading links with countries inside the European Union and the saving of electricity.
In conclusion, can the noble Baroness confirm that, when power was originally granted to the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide its own timescale, the Bill in question was not considered as undermining the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom? If so, can she also confirm that therefore there can be no reasonable objection to granting precisely the same powers to the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales under the Devolution (Time) Bill.
The noble Lord has spoken powerfully as a Scottish astronomer with the support of the Scottish National Party. Has he had any indication of any interest from Wales, as half the Bill relates to Wales?
I am so pleased that the noble Lord asked that question. As I was saying just before we assembled in the Chamber, I have been trying for a week to get hold of a spokesman from the Welsh nationalist party. I could only get recordings on telephones in Welsh. I have tried the House of Commons and the Welsh Assembly. Either the Welsh nationalist party must improve its communications or it does not have any views whatsoever.
Let me just repeat where I had got to, as we lost the track there. If in fact it is all right for Northern Ireland to choose its own timescale and it was not considered to be destructive to the union, can the noble Baroness confirm that there can be no reasonable objection to granting precisely the same powers to the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales under the Devolution (Time) Bill before us this morning? Will she allow the Bill a safe passage through Committee in this House and on the Floor of the House of Commons for further consideration and debate? I beg to move.
I commence by immediately congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on the tenacity with which he has pursued for so long the cause that is at the heart of this Bill, although it is not directly covered by it. I fully understand that this Bill is a more sophisticated sub-clause of his main case. I do not share his pride in being Scottish. I am a quarter Scottish, a quarter Cornish and half Welsh, and I am proud of that, but I would not attempt to translate the case into Welsh for him. I will leave it on one side.
I wish to address primarily the cause that has been in the forefront of his campaign for daylight saving compatible with our joining the central European time zone. I am a little uneasy about how that prevailing central cause can be presented alongside the devolution case that he is making today. That cause is daylight saving allowing us to enjoy what we enjoyed for a brief period during World War II, namely sharing with our continental neighbours summer summer time and summer winter time. I confess that I can do that perhaps a little more easily than he can because we Welsh are more tolerant than the Scots of any inconvenience that might arise from having to share an English time zone. More seriously, I think there is a very strong case for avoiding the avoidable hazard of too much diversity within a community, not just on time but—I must be forgiven for making this point—on units of measurement as well.
The campaign that I seek to put forward with as much enthusiasm as the noble Lord puts forward daylight saving is the campaign for completing the metrication system in this country. I do that with a particular sense of guilt because I was the Minister for Metrication in the Heath Government, and we carried it forward successfully. When the Thatcher Government arrived in 1979, we predictably set out for a bonfire of quangos, and the Metrication Board had the unwisdom to say that it had almost completed its cause, so I gladly swept it on to my bonfire pile, and I have regretted it ever since.
I shall say a word more about that because it seems to me that there is an intrinsic absurdity in Britain almost alone insisting on having a set of units of measurement incompatible with almost the whole of the rest of the world, excluding perhaps the United States and Myanmar. It is damaging in itself to go on doing that. We live in a country in which we measure petrol consumption in miles per gallon, but buy the petrol in litres. We drive along motorways that have road signs set in miles, but have mysterious posts set at 100-metre intervals, therefore measuring them in kilometres. I am not at all clear why that has been allowed to persist. I look with admiration at the way in which Ireland has undertaken metrication alongside the continent, and I admire Canada, which has undertaken metrication.
That is a digression. My main concern is to reassert the noble Lord’s fundamental case for uniformity as widely as possible and in time zones as well. A very extensive time zone with different degrees of convenience for different parts of that zone that has existed for a long time is in the People’s Republic of China. It may seem curious when one is there. I remember being up in the north-west province of Xinjiang. I think I was with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on that occasion. We were taken to an evening cinema show and emerged at just short of midnight to find the sun shining brightly. That did not cause the people of China any concern. It is perfectly possible to live in a large time zone with the same time in different parts of it as long as people get accustomed to it that way. That is a pretty extreme example of large-scale integration, but for Britain to be aligned alongside our central European neighbours in the central European time zone, enjoying that pattern of summer sunlight above all and safety from winter hazards to children, is by no means second to that.
I therefore speak with a rather reserved attitude towards this Bill. I hesitate to seem so unenthusiastic when speaking alongside such an enthusiastic champion as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. I would be prepared to concede his case if I were confident that by so doing it won his central case. I could not find much happiness in having to change my time zone every time I crossed the Severn Bridge. It simply is not as easy as all that, so with great regret I welcome enthusiastically the noble Lord’s tenacity in seeking to achieve the central case for a central European time zone embracing the United Kingdom, and I understand the case that he has put so clearly—that it is necessary in the context of our rather less than wholly United Kingdom—but if he feels that in order to achieve that it is essential to qualify it along the lines suggested by this Bill, I should not wish to stand in his way. Whether he secures success or failure in this case, I hope he does not falter on the crucial case for a much wider time zone, with Britain belonging to it. It is unnecessary, but if he feels that that qualification is the price to be paid for helping us to move towards continental sanity, I welcome his Bill, just as I welcome his presentation of it today.
My Lords, when I looked at this Bill, I was reminded of the last time I got involved in debates on this subject. My objections then were very largely those that have been so subtly and gently put forward by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe. Is the upside of having an extra time zone between Wales and England or England and Scotland or Scotland and Wales creating some sort of job creation scheme for bureaucrats trying to synchronise activity? Is it a way of irritating people who are trying to order things over the phone from various sorts of economic activity? When we go into it, the arguments are there. Practically, a comparatively small area having different time zones is an irritation we do not need.
That is not what the Bill is about. It is simply about the right of the devolved Governments to choose, should they so wish. The Bill does not say that they will choose. Northern Ireland has not changed its time zone since its Bill was created. It is just the right to choose. It is nothing more than that.
The right to choose is a wonderful thing, but what would the practical result be of using that right? We are always starting down a line of progress. This is a line of progress. If we go down it, there would be a consequence to the Bill being used. I do not think there is too much disagreement between us there, so we have problems. I thought about this, and I realised that I had not taken this argument to its logical extension: the BlackBerry and the mobile phone. Let us make it just that little bit more complicated than it needs to be. Having one time zone is basically a good idea; let us make the world more user-friendly by having one time zone.
However, on the main drive, there are probably more winners than losers by going to the extra time zone that the noble Lord is driving at, but there are losers. Let us not forget that. Let us talk about the elephant in the room for once. More people probably gain than lose, but people will lose. If you have a rush hour in the evening in the light, you have a rush hour in the mornings for X number of months of the year that is in darkness. The morning rush hour is more fraught than the evening one and the traffic safety lobby, which argues about this, might not have taken that into account. I suspect so, but I have no evidence to back it up other than having travelled in the rush hour.
On the basic thrust of the Bill, it is a nice principle but not one that I think has a practical base to it. That is where I start and probably where I finish. I was given a quote from people in our Whips’ Office from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so”.
How we use time is infinitely more important than where we set the clock. The noble Lord was right about certain places in the world where you have to adapt to having no light at times. Going back to my student days I remember that in Scotland at this time of year there was a certain wonderful manic quality about parties during the summer resulting in not quite enough sleep. Maybe that is a good thing and we should encourage that by telling people to go on holiday in Scotland in some months of the year. We cannot really do very much. I believe that the Bill might be something of a distraction; it might lead to a slightly more complicated world. We do not need that. I appreciate where the noble Lord is trying to get to, but this is the wrong route.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will be pleased to know that I intend to speak only briefly to Clause 1 in this extraordinarily large, extensive Bill—but that does not mean that I think that Clause 2 should be rejected. If I may say so, with the exception of its prescription charges decision, it seems to me that the Welsh Assembly has not been terribly bright in thinking this one through. Wales has a convoluted border with England and the Assembly should have thought this through more carefully. Nevertheless, it seems to me that over the years the Welsh Assembly has behaved with a degree of rationalism that is markedly greater than the romantic pretension of the Scottish Parliament. I shall give one example.
The Scottish Parliament thought that the House of Commons was so stuffy that it would refer to people instead only by their first names—so that world was whizzing round with Jacks, Jimmys and so on. My late friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish used to make some quite convenient pocket money by explaining who Jack or Jimmy was, because nobody knew. The purpose of using “honourable Member” in Westminster is not only to calm people down but to identify who the person is for people outside, who have a right to know what we are doing and exactly who is doing it. If they are simply told that it is Jack or Jimmy, they will not know who it is.
I think that we should give the Bill a fair wind. This matter of the time across the United Kingdom falls into what I would describe as a sort of petty unionism which separates us from a real understanding of the main fibres that hold us together, and that is what we ought to be trying to work out and identify. I know from my own political party in Scotland that we are not doing terribly well at present—and that is to understate it. The Lib Dems are not doing much better.
Just watch them. Last night was not a great night for either of us, but that is by the bye.
We should get rid of all these petty things. In a perfect world, time zones should logically be divided into 24 segments, like a chocolate orange, so that lines are drawn. But the Channel Islands, for example, are to the west of France but an hour behind it. We are clearly not looking at it in terms of pure time, with the earth moving round the sun; we are dealing with it politically. As I understand it, the date line, which is in the Pacific and already has a funny jiggle in it, is being reconsidered.
We should be looking at time zones not only longitudinally but also latitudinally. The idea that they are all the same is simply not true. It causes infuriation in Scotland that such decisions taken in England seem to be for the benefit of England and show complete disregard for what is happening in Scotland.
As I recall, when this experiment was first introduced in the 1960s and early 1970s, it was felt that there were two very powerful arguments in favour: that farm workers would be working for two hours in the dark at the beginning of the day, and that children going to school would be killed. On the latter point, irrefutable evidence shows that more children are killed on the way back from school than are killed in the early morning when—although they might claim to be rather sleepy and dozy—peoples’ reactions are better. It is not as if people returning from work are drunk or anything like that; they are just tired and their reactions a bit slower. There is irrefutable evidence to that effect. The other argument deployed was farm workers. I cannot understand, particularly against the background and principles of localism, why we have not negotiated different hours for farm workers in Sussex or Shetland, for example, so that they do not have to work for two hours in the dark in Scotland.
Does that mean that we would have little flashing signs outside every town saying not that your speed is 30 mph but that the time is now 3 pm, and that in the next town it is 4 pm? There is an absurd logic to my noble and learned friend’s argument.
I did not say that, and I do not say that. My understanding is that time zones originally were introduced to exactly reflect the position before the introduction of railway timetables—so that if you had left London at 8 o’clock in the morning, you might arrive in Oxford at 7.30 am. It had to be rationalised, and that is what needs to be done now. We need to understand that there is a latitudinal as well as a longitudinal problem that must be resolved. I cannot see why that cannot be done in Scotland. Why on earth are Orkney and Shetland put in the same time box as the Channel Islands? It seems absurd.
However, the noble Lord is right—this ain’t no easy decision. Although the Bill gives the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly only an opportunity to decide on these matters, it will not be an easy decision for Ministers to take. Although farm workers in Orkney or Shetland might think the proposals extremely good, there might be yelps of fury—my noble friend is absolutely right—from the financial institutions of Edinburgh, Glasgow and, more particularly, Aberdeen, if they find themselves at variance with the time set for the financial institutions of London. They would be deeply concerned about that. However, we have to let them make the decision against the background of the principles, as I say, of localism.
I do not think that it is as difficult as some people think. We all get on planes every now and again, and the time at your destination will be shown along with the duration of the flight. You know when you fly from A to B that the time difference might be eight hours although you are flying for only five, or possibly the other way round. There is no great debate about that. Alternatively, your telephone directory will tell you the time in Auckland or wherever it may be. This is not like the old days before the railway timetables, when people kept different times in different towns; it is completely different. However, we need to recognise that latitudinal as well as longitudinal changes need to be made. It is not an easy decision but we should give the opportunity to both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to make it.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in the gap only because of a failure in communications, but when I read the word “devolution” in the Bill I became extremely curious. Whenever I see that word, my heart races as I think of all the wonderful debates we had in the 1970s and beyond. I was a full participant in those, usually held in draughty public halls in the University of Wales, where I was educated, and elsewhere. However, I confess to the noble Lord that throughout all those heady debates, I did not once hear the words “summer time” raised by any of the advocates, even the most extreme of separatists. So the starting point is that the debate on devolution has moved on and now there is an extremely broad consensus in favour, partly because of the reasonableness of the Welsh Assembly, which the noble Lord mentioned. Normally, people characterise us in Wales as poets and romantics and the Scots as dour engineers, but it is we in Wales who are the reasonable ones in respect of this matter. The debate has moved on and there is no public concern in Wales about this. Indeed, if the Bill were to make progress, I would certainly move for Wales to be excluded from its scope.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He has missed the point, as was the case on the other side of the House. This Bill just provides the choice for Scotland and Wales so that they can decide whether to change. I see no reason for Wales to change, and there is no obligation for it to do so under the Bill. It is a choice. Without that choice, the electorate may feel that it is being unduly pressurised by Westminster.
I can assure the noble Lord that there would be no sense of being cheated or of losing out in Wales if we were not given the choice. I was intrigued by his test of public opinion in Wales, which comprised one failed telephone call—
There were seven failed telephone calls to Plaid Cymru, which with all respect to my good friends in Plaid Cymru, is not, according to the public opinion polls taken during the recent Assembly elections, the most representative party in Wales. I do not think that there is any measure of interest in this in Wales. If there is no interest, there will have been no consultation, and I am sure that there will be no attempt to make a choice, even by those who look for every possible opportunity to find differences between Wales and England—between Hay-on-Wye and Hereford, or wherever. Whatever case there may be in Scotland and Northern Ireland because of the factor of latitude, there is no case in respect of my own country of Wales.
My Lords, this is the first time since I arrived in this august establishment that I have sought to impose on your Lordships by speaking in the gap. I merely want to say how much I support the Bill and the sentiments behind it. I remember well a brief period when I was Minister for Transport in another place, and I was instructed to devolve everything possible to the new authorities. So I said, “Let them have speed limits”. You have no idea of the horror this produced, as though the Scottish authorities and the authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland were not capable of deciding what speed limits they wanted. The situation we find ourselves in at the moment is a very immature one. I am fully in favour of giving the Scots and the Welsh, if they want it, full discretion to decide their own time zones, where their boundaries should be, and what times they want to set.
My Lords, perhaps I, too, may speak briefly in the gap, and I apologise straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that I was not able to be in my place when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I want to make it clear that it has my strongest possible support and I hope that it will go further and become law. It is entirely meritorious, and the noble Lord is to be praised for the way that he has pursued this issue over many years. He now has a legislative form for it which makes a great deal of sense.
There are many problems with devolution, but I am not going to go into them. Indeed, there are many problems in the relationship between Scotland and the wider European kingdom at the present time, but one great benefit of the fact of devolution would be for your Lordships to seize the opportunity to support this strongly, and for the issue and this excellent Bill to be taken up by the Government.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on promoting this debate. As the sun streams through the windows, I thought that this would be rather a pleasant little outing. However, having listened to the debate, I have decided that George Gershwin got it nearly right. I shall paraphrase his words: “It’s summer time, and the decision ain’t easy”. My apologies to Gershwin.
I must admit that, if the Bill were to go through, I do not feel that it would be a slippery slope, but I suspect that it would face a number of difficulties. The case was very well presented by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. I liked his use of the phrase “celestial mechanics”. I had not thought of the issue in that way. He is right to say that the poll taken in Scotland a while ago by the Lighter Later campaign found that a majority of people were in favour of change. I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that there is not much evidence on the question of child safety. I thought that all the studies have shown the opposite. I can understand that if one is opposed even to the possibility of change, but I did think the arguments were getting a bit threadbare when we were told to worry about the impact on BlackBerrys. I can think of a whole range of things, but that—
My Lords, it may not be worth worrying about people with their mobile phones and BlackBerrys, but look down any street and see how many spend so much of their time on them. I just said that it was a hassle; I did not say that it was the end of the world.
I hope I did not suggest that the noble Lord said that. I just thought it was a strange example to introduce to this argument. However, the questions of child safety and working times are valid. Even farmers in Scotland are not actually coming out in opposition these days, as they did previously. Those of us in the Chamber who can remember the experiment with standard time that was conducted in 1972 may regret that we did not continue with it.
I think that this is a perfectly valid debate and I commend the honest and candid approach of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. He made it clear that this is an opportunity to make progress. However, throughout almost the whole of the debate there has been a presumption by those who do not like the tenor of the Bill that it inevitably would mean that everyone would have to move to a different time. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, has said, people can make up their minds on the basis of what they feel is appropriate. However, I was somewhat surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said that he knew that I was going to oppose the Bill because I had sent him an e-mail saying something slightly different. I thought that I was being a bit more hopeful than that.
I am exceedingly interested in hearing the Government’s response. The previous Private Member’s Bill did not go very far in the Commons. Might a Government who, as so many noble Lords remarked, at least ostensibly believe in localism be prepared to recognise this as an opportunity for that to operate? I wait with interest to hear the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, for bringing this matter for debate to the House today and for making a terrific speech, clearly explaining the reasoning behind wanting to see the measures of his Bill come into force. The issue is very much a live one and closely related to the ongoing debate on summer time and the movement of the clocks—a subject that the noble Lord has made his own. I have often answered Questions from him before.
Opinion on the issue of summer time in general and the movement of the clocks has remained divided for some time. Evidence has been produced on both sides of the argument for moving the clocks, demonstrating the economic benefits and highlighting the cost. The issues are indeed complex. We discuss this at a time of year when it is light before all but the most nocturnal of your Lordships are awake. Yet in winter, when the impact of changing the clocks is most felt, a change to the current arrangements by moving the clocks forward would mean—as we have heard so many times—trading off darker winter mornings for lighter summer evenings. There is no question that the impact of darker mornings would be most significant in Scotland.
The measures of the noble Lord’s Bill differ slightly from those that we have seen in your Lordship’s House on previous occasions. Most of the Bills on the issue of summer time have tended to talk about moving the clocks within the UK to align with central Europe—that is, to put the clocks forward an hour of where they are currently. The noble Lord stressed that his Bill is only on the right to choose. We recognise that the provisions are designed to give Scotland and Wales the right to choose but, as my noble friend Lord Addington asserted, if they exercise that right then the United Kingdom could end up with different time zones, the consequences of which we do not underestimate. Rather than addressing the merits of moving the clocks, which the noble Lord has set out at length on many previous occasions, the Bill simply proposes to devolve responsibility for changing the clocks to Scotland and Wales—just as it is currently devolved in Northern Ireland.
As we know, responsibility for time in Great Britain is a reserved matter under the current devolution arrangements. As noble Lords may be aware, when the Scotland Bill was debated in the other place, an amendment was tabled by Angus MacNeil MP designed to achieve the exact same outcome that the noble Lord is trying to achieve here today—that Scotland should have its own responsibility over which time zone it should sit in and that that power should not sit with Westminster. In the debates on that amendment, it was felt that not only did the proposal run contrary to the spirit and effect of the Scotland Bill but it also went against the Government position of the whole of the UK remaining in the same time zone. As such, the amendment was heavily defeated.
The Government do not support the devolution of responsibility for time to Scotland and Wales, and the possibility of different time zones operating within Great Britain. The crux of the matter is quite simply that we are far too small a nation to have, within the British Isles, more than one time zone. There are obvious practical difficulties in having separate time zones for both Wales and Scotland. Transactions between Scotland and England, and between Wales and England, would take on an unwanted complexity unnecessary for so small a country. The level of disruption caused should not be underestimated were the three countries to end up on different time zones. Those who live on the borders with either Wales or Scotland would be significantly disrupted if commuting between countries on a daily basis. Implications for travel in general should also not be considered lightly.
On the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on Northern Ireland, although it has the power to choose its own zone, in recent conversations with our colleagues there—which are always ongoing—they have no desire to change their time zone to be out of sync with the rest of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has made it quite clear—this position was also explained during Second Reading of the Daylight Saving Bill in the other place—that Great Britain as a country should remain in a united time zone. As such, it would be inappropriate for me to express anything other than reservations about this Bill, given that it is not in line with that policy.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I accept the differing views that have been made. My only comment is that there have been misunderstandings. The Bill does not mean a change of time zones when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, goes across the Severn Bridge. I doubt that Wales would change its time. The point is just that it would have the option to do so.
On the question of mobile phones, it is not beyond the wit of the makers of mobile phones that also have GPS in them to find out where you are speaking from and adjust the time zone—as they do when you go to France. On party politics in Scotland, have Her Majesty’s Government and the Minister really worked this out? They have not been doing well north of the border. This attitude may not help much in any future elections that may take place.
We have had an interesting debate and I hope that the Bill will now be allowed to go forward. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Remembrance Sunday (Closure of Shops) Bill [HL]
My Lords, as the Bill is supported by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, I feel obliged to declare an interest as a past general-secretary of the union. As a Christian, I believe that Remembrance Sunday should have the same recognition as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. If carried, the Bill will have both moral and economic significance—the moral significance far outweighs the economic. We need some moral advancement in our secular society today.
On 14 December last year, when I asked the Question as to the Government’s intentions—a Question that seemed to have support from all sides of the House—the Minister said:
“It is not the place of the Government, and never has been, to regulate in an effort to enforce observance of important national commemorations. We leave observance of such occasions to the individual”.—[Official Report, 14/12/10; col. 518.]
In this regard, I have two things to say. First, it may well be that the employer in the retail sector would have the right of the individual but what about the rights of the employee? I doubt that, without the protection of law, the employee would enjoy the same rights as the employer but may wish to attend the Cenotaph at 11 am on Remembrance Sunday.
Secondly, it may well be that there are those who want no restrictions whatever on retail operations on Sundays. However, that is not the view of Parliament, hence the restrictions already provided by the current shop Acts, which ensure that Easter Sunday and Christmas Day have limited retail operations. Many of us want this extended to Remembrance Sunday—a Sunday when Christians and non-Christians have the opportunity to participate in the remembrance of those who died on the battlefields, preserving our freedom.
When Sir Patrick Cormack, who is now in your Lordships’ House, proposed this Bill in the other place in March 2010, he said:
“Remembrance Sunday looms large in the calendar and has real meaning for people throughout the United Kingdom, and it seems to me right that the House should recognise that”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/10; col. 308.]
I clearly agree with the noble Lord. What was right in 2010 must also be right just one year later. It is my sincere hope that this House will do now what the other place failed to do because the general election was called, and restrict retail activity on Remembrance Sunday in line with Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.
However, I am now a little worried about the intentions of the coalition Government in this area. In April, USDAW, my former union, became aware of certain developments, which are very concerning. On 7 April this year, a circular was published by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, stating:
“The Government has today launched a website questioning whether Sunday and Christmas Day trading by large stores should stay restricted. There is no doubt that those who want 24-hour Sunday opening will be responding, but we want to make sure that shopworkers’ voices are heard as well”.
The regulations concerned are the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004. An internet address is given for the consultation, about which the circular says:
“The purpose of this Government website is to identify regulations that should be scrapped. If they get rid of Sunday and Christmas Day trading regulations it will mean”,
that large shops will be able to open not only on those days but for the whole of Sunday, rather than being restricted to the current six hours. The right of a shop worker to opt out of Sunday working will go; premium payments, if they exist, will probably disappear; large stores will be open on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, which is currently banned; and restrictions on delivery times to shops will be lifted. I have since been told that this consultation has been put into the long grass, probably because it did not turn out as the deregulators wanted.
There is no doubt in my mind that this consultation was driven by the economic motives of large retail bosses, with little concern for the moral significance that would be damaged. I am counting on Parliament not to let this happen. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. I am grateful to him for picking up this Bill, which I, as he generously said, introduced in another place shortly before the general election last year. When I introduced that Bill, I was given no undertaking by the Government of the day, but I was given some encouragement and I thought that there was a real possibility that we might get this simple, non-controversial measure on to the statute books before the general election. That was not to be. For some reason, a Whip in another place shouted the fatal word “Object!” and the Bill went down. Therefore, I was glad when the noble Lord told me that he was prepared to pick it up. I am delighted to be in your Lordships’ House and able to follow and support him this morning.
I was one of those who, during the long debates on Sunday trading, voted against the change in the law that took place. As I told the House of Commons, we would have a replicated Saturday in every town and city in the land, and that, indeed, has happened. However, we preserved two days from overcommercialism—Easter Sunday, which is the greatest of all Christian festivals, and Christmas Day, which is a day of family rejoicing and celebration for those who are Christian believers and those who are not. I am delighted to gather from the noble Lord’s comments that the consultation on the rather foolish suggestion that restrictions should be lifted on those two days is not being pursued.
Today we are trying to ring-fence another day: Remembrance Sunday. It is a day that means a great deal to many people throughout this land. In just three years’ time we shall commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, one of the most appalling conflicts in human history. In the same year, we shall commemorate the outbreak of the Second World War. With every week that passes we are reminded of the courage and sacrifice of young men and women today. Every time my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever answers a Question at the Dispatch Box on his defence responsibilities, he invariably precedes his Answer with a message of condolence on behalf of us all to someone who has fallen, usually in Afghanistan. He also makes reference to the wounded, which is much appreciated in all parts of the House. It is a terrible thing to lose a life in conflict, but it can be almost as terrible, for the loved ones as well as for the maimed individual, to be severely wounded. One of the most memorable aspects of the remembrance weekend in this country is seeing the procession by the Cenotaph of those who have laid down, if not their lives, their limbs, and in many cases been maimed almost beyond recognition.
Is it too much to say that we as a nation should give a special significance to Remembrance Sunday? We decided that it was right that shops should close on Christmas Day because we did not want the ringing of the cash tills to drown out the ringing of the Christmas bells. I do not want the ringing of the cash tills to drown out the silence that falls on this land at 11 am on Remembrance Sunday. Nor do I want the ringing of the cash tills to drown out any of the personal acts of remembrance that take place up and down this land in all quarters of the United Kingdom, each of which has its special memories. As I look across the Chamber, see the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and remember my responsibilities as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I think of one word: Enniskillen—a Remembrance Day that for that reason means so much to so many in Northern Ireland, in addition to the reasons that we know about today.
This is a modest proposal. It is a small Bill and a gentle measure, but it would be saying that for that day, Remembrance Sunday, we put aside our trading and we try to push into the background of our lives that aggressive commercialism that has done so much to spoil family life and simple pleasures, because life is very different from what it was when I or any of your Lordships present enjoyed our childhood, and when Sunday was indeed a special day—whatever one’s religious views or lack of them.
Of course, on Remembrance Day the act of remembrance is contained within a Christian service—but it is not just a Christian service. There are those of other faiths who feel as deeply as we do; and there are those of no faith at all, who the noble Lord alluded to, who still feel a very special sense of belonging to a wider society, and who want to commemorate and give thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives or good health.
There cannot be a family in this land that has not been touched by the sacrifice of a member of their family or a friend during the conflicts of the past century. When I went through my dear late mother’s possessions after she died a few years ago at the age of 90, I discovered something that I never knew. No fewer than six of her first cousins had been slaughtered on the battlefields of the First World War. That tale can be repeated time and again. For them, for those who fell in the Second World War, for those who fought in all the conflicts since, and for those who have readily put their lives on the line—as so many young men and women are doing even as we have this debate this morning—we can make one small gesture. That small gesture would be to support this measure introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, just as I sought to introduce it in another place shortly over a year ago. It would have all the benefits to which he rightly referred for those who work in shops, but it would go much wider than that. It could be seen as a civilised act by a civilised country, and I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us at least some encouragement.
My Lords, it is with a real sense of gratitude that I stand today—gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Davies and Lord Cormack, for speaking in support of this Bill, gratitude to the House for the many many kindnesses that you have shown me these past months, and gratitude for the forgiveness you have shown me for my various violations of the codes. In Italy, there is a saying that there are two kinds of idiot and the worst is the one that does not mean it. I stand before you in that spirit—and I am sure that it will happen again.
I really am grateful to this House. I wish to mention all the Doorkeepers who have guided, rebuked and scolded me so elegantly in the time that I have been here, and who taught me the way to the Terrace where I could continue my balanced diet of orange juice, coffee and cigarettes. I would really like to thank Davina, who serves the coffee, and Malika, who is definitely the kindest dinner lady that I have ever met. A mark of an institution is how it treats its cleaners, cooks and security guards. For years, I worked with London Citizens on the Living Wage campaign and it never ceased to astound me that people of great moral probity with very good degrees in the social sciences could look around them and not see their cleaners or cooks. In this House, it is a great honour that we are a corporate body that treats everyone with humanity, including its Members.
It is with that tremendous sense of honour that I speak to noble Lords. I went to another great institution in the body politic, Cambridge University, and I remember how full of rage, hate and anger I was at the age of 18 when I walked into the college for the first time. That confirms to me what my mother said to me: “You will grow up—you will”. I can assure you that the kindness you have shown me is greatly reciprocated by me.
There is also a tremendous sense of gratitude to this House and to the people of this country. I am from a Jewish family—I am not from the Christian faith. Alone in Europe, the Jewish community survived in this country. We owe that to your parents. We owe that to the bravery of the people of the whole country who lost their husbands, sons and children, and who fought so bravely. My mum’s family were from Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill, of which I am now Lord. They had their windows smashed; the bombs were falling; and I was always taught of the quiet bravery that we showed.
There is a tendency these days in politics to think that it is all about money—that it is all about deficits, cuts and procedures—but it is with a sense of wonder that we stand in this Parliament, which is a place of wisdom, a place of experience and a place of vocation. It is a place where people of tremendous experiences in so many walks of life bring their wisdom to bear and sometimes place a brake, as Winston Churchill said, on the speeding motor of the other place—just to brake and say, “Take a pause”.
This is not a Bill that promotes Sabbath day observance, although I wish to say that the tradition from which you come, my noble friend Lord Davies, is a great and noble one within our party—the tradition that comes out of chapels and out of working people coming together, defying the powers of the rich and saying that there must be rest; there must be some pause. I urge noble Lords to understand that for people dependent on a low salary or wage it is terribly difficult to say no to your bosses. I know that my mother was one of five girls in a very poor family in Stamford Hill, but when the Sabbath came they were ladies and lords around the table. The white tablecloth was on, the chicken was cooked and they could take their rightful place in a world of nobility. This is what the Sabbath gives. I feel gratitude for this Bill; and if we forget and do not honour the sacrifices made for our liberties and for each other, and if we forget what a wonderful and brave people we are, we will lose it.
There is much more to say but I have said enough for the time being. I completely support the Bill, its gentleness, and the idea that this day should be a day when we bring together one of the great institutions of our country, Sunday, with one of its great traditions—to quietly honour those who have made sacrifices so that we can be free, and to honour the traditions of our country and its wonderful freedom and democracy. I also want to honour my party. The working people of this country did not turn to communism or fascism. They stayed straight with us and we stayed straight with Parliament, and we have to honour that. We must honour what unites us, and what unites us is that in very difficult times we protected each other. I urge noble Lords to have one day a year when we can remember that.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, on a truly excellent, witty and moving maiden speech. I am sure that those of us who know of his distinguished career in academic and public life would have expected no less. His work with London Citizens is particularly noteworthy and I am a great admirer of the work done for the London Living Wage campaign. I also admire anyone who can get Boris Johnson and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to work together. The noble Lord is also well known for his invention of blue Labour, which will, I am sure, help to add further colour to our discussions.
The noble Lord, Lord Glasman, has said that he was “completely shocked” by his appointment to this House. I am sure that anyone who has studied his record of achievements and heard him speak today will feel that he was quite wrong to be so shocked. He is a very welcome addition to this House: his academic expertise, his close concern for the people of this country and his passionate concern for and understanding of the real life of the community will enrich our debates. I look forward with great pleasure to his contributions, and I am sure the whole House will want to join me in extending to him our congratulations and the warmest possible welcome.
The case for the Bill before us has been put very eloquently and forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. I found his words compelling. Indeed, the speeches in this debate have reminded us, and no doubt will remind us, forcefully of the debt that we owe our Armed Forces and of the need to remember properly the sacrifices they have made and continue to make on our behalf.
The case for the Bill was also made in the Commons in March 2010 by my noble friend Lord Cormack, who spoke so well and with such eloquence a moment ago. If I may, I should like to quote a brief sentence from the speech that my noble friend made to his colleagues in the Commons then. These sentences sum up for me the case for the Bill. He said:
“We have just gone through the war in Iraq, and we are still at war in Afghanistan. I really feel that we should set aside Remembrance Sunday, so that the remembrance ceremonies can be conducted with proper and due decorum, and so that the ringing of the cash till does not drown out the observance of the silence”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/10; col. 309.]
I shall be brief. I can add nothing to the force of the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Coity and Lord Glasman, and my noble friend Lord Cormack. I entirely agree with the notion that we owe a duty of respect and reverence to those who have sacrificed their lives for us. I agree, too, wholeheartedly that the observation of the silence on Remembrance Sunday is a key part of that respect and reverence. That is why it takes place, and that is why more and more people, of their own volition and in response to the campaigns promoting the silence, take part in it.
However, all this activity is individual and personal. It is all entirely voluntary and uncoerced. I believe that its voluntary, personal and freely given nature is essential to the meaning and the stature of the silence. Participation in remembrance seems to me moving and compelling precisely because it is a free choice and a matter of individual conscience. Participation moves the nation as it does because the nation knows it to be a voluntary and unsupervised expression of national feeling.
Perhaps we are better placed than most to see how avidly Governments seem to want to regulate, take over and organise many aspects of the lives of the people in this country—aspects that may very well be better left to the personal consciences and inclinations of individual citizens. We have in this House a proud record of standing up for the rights of the individual against too much government. I simply do not think that government has or should have a role in enforcing the way that the people of this country freely choose to celebrate or commemorate events that are important to us collectively. I agree that it would be a benefit if the actions prescribed in the Bill were in fact to take place; it is just that I do not think that legislation is an appropriate means of achieving this result.
It is a commonplace nowadays—and true for all that—that the large retailers, which are the objects of this Bill, are extremely sensitive to the wishes of their customers and to popular opinion. I have no doubt that a concerted and well organised campaign to convince these retailers to close on Remembrance Sunday would, in time, be entirely successful. That is the approach I would prefer. This issue is a matter of individual conscience and, when it comes to a heartfelt expression of public feeling, I really doubt that the Government should be involved.
Perhaps I may finish by saying how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important matter and by saying how much I wish him success by legislation or otherwise.
My Lords, this is a small Bill, yes—less than three pages—but I believe a significant Bill not only in what it seeks to commemorate but in the good that it could do our culture as a whole. I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, on introducing the Bill, which could have far-reaching benefits perhaps beyond his original intentions.
Also, it is a great pleasure to speak after the inspiring and entertaining maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, whose career in academia and community organising will add much to your Lordships’ House. Personally, I was encouraged to read that the noble Lord was, like me, completely shocked to be appointed to your Lordships’ House, and I look forward to comparing notes on that.
I have framed my comments around what I believe to be the benefits of the Bill: remembrance, reflection and rest. I am very grateful that for most of my lifetime and that of my parents Britain has been at peace. I am not old enough to really remember the Falklands War. I have family who were in the RAF for 39 years but saw active service only in Borneo. I lived in Ghana during the first Gulf War, with no television and before the internet. I studied GCSE and A-level history and yet did not cover a world war. I hope that that failure of our education system is also a matter of history.
The poppy and Remembrance Sunday kept a fledgling sense of awareness for my generation, but the price paid by previous generations for the freedoms that this country enjoys was being lost from the nation’s consciousness. Sadly, it took the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts for the nation to remember the sacrifice paid by so many young men and women for our safety today. Even then, I could not help but feel that charities, residents of Wootton Bassett and outspoken military chiefs had to barge their way into the debate and the media to give us the right sense of perspective. I believe that this Bill could play a significant part in helping the nation, even in peacetime, to remember the sacrifices that are the foundations of our freedoms today.
However, beyond remembrance lies reflection. I am always quietened and deeply reflective when the names of fallen service men and women are read aloud in your Lordships’ House. Such reflection, even for a moment, is good: to think about what is truly important, to be grateful for health and life and to think of others in their grief. Even if the Bill means that the person busy doing home improvements curses that the DIY store is shut, they may remember the reason, stop for a moment and put the improvement of their castle in perspective. The closure of our shops is now such an unusual occurrence that I believe Julius Caesar would say, “We came, we saw, we shopped”.
I recently holidayed on the Isles of Lewis and Harris, and the peace and quiet of Sundays there brought back vague childhood memories for me. Turning the clock back is not always wise, but Socrates did say that:
“The unexamined life is not worth living”,
and putting aside a day for remembrance and reflection would give space to many to do so.
Finally, the Bill will give many in the nation some well-earned rest. That may seem a strange comment after so many wonderful, celebratory bank holidays in April and May of this year. However, the boost to consumer sales figures for those months shows that often we shop rather than rest. Of course, for many people shopping is a pleasure, but these bank holidays have not given rest to our shop workers who work long hours and are often among the lowest paid in society. Half of all employees in the retail and wholesale sector earn less than £7 per hour and three-fifths of them are women.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is pleased to learn that more than 10,000 members of USDAW responded to the Government’s Red Tape Challenge website, which asked whether Sunday and Christmas Day trading should be abolished, amended or retained. Over 91 per cent very firmly said that they wanted no changes to the existing regulations on Sunday and Christmas Day trading. Perhaps that is an indication that retail workers could do with some rest and perhaps our tourist attractions and other leisure activities would get a welcome boost with a non-shopping bank holiday.
The Bill would help us to lay aside our credit cards, reflect on the human cost of our freedoms and take on board some of the advice from one of the nation's favourite poems—“Leisure” by William Henry Davies:
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare …
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare”.
It is a pleasure to support the Bill.
My Lords, with the indulgence of the House, I will say a few words in the gap. I particularly want to thank my noble friend Lord Glasman for the beautiful speech that he made and to congratulate him on what was, I think we all agree, a remarkable maiden speech. The noble Lord, through his teaching, writing, campaigning and now his contribution to our debates, is someone who challenges us to consider the values that underlie our politics and policy-making.
I have been closely aware of the work of London Citizens for many years because my daughter has been one of my noble friend’s close colleagues and fellow campaigners. I know that he, like London Citizens, proposes a decent, gentle radicalism that is something that we should heed seriously and think very carefully about. It is good to have him with us.
I also want to support the Bill introduced and proposed by my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity. Theologically, I am not sure whether Remembrance Sunday is analogous to Christmas Day or Easter Sunday: I am not competent to say. It is a pity that, unusually, we do not have guidance on such a matter this morning from the Bishops’ Benches, but I am certain that socially, it is appropriate that we should have a formal commitment of the kind that the Bill would make possible on behalf of us all to attend on a third occasion in the year to matters that are more elevated than getting, spending and shopping. Our all-too-habitual acquisitiveness should give way to a contemplation of the selflessness and sacrifice of those who have laid down their lives in conflict or been grievously wounded. Calmness should, on this day in the year, like on Christmas Day and Easter Day, supersede our all-too-normal frenzy. We should be bound together collectively rather than separated in competitive individualism.
Many of us would perfectly readily assent to such propositions, but then many people will say that this should surely be a matter of personal choice. However, my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity is right to insist that legislation is needed. It is a sad reality to acknowledge this, but he is right to observe that it is not likely that employees’ rights and consciences will necessarily be respected by employers. Therefore, a formal obligation should be laid on employers to allow this. I congratulate my noble friend and warmly support his Bill.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Davies on the Bill and my noble friend Lord Glasman on his witty and moving speech. We share a background. I, too, come from a Jewish family who were refugees at the end of the 19th century and were grateful to be able to come here. They were grateful in some cases where their lives were being defended and in other cases they unfortunately perished. I had a cousin who went through an Anne Frank experience while living in Rotterdam. He hid in a cupboard while he heard the boot steps of the Gestapo searching the house. He managed to survive. Therefore, I have a personal understanding and feeling of gratitude towards this country and towards those men and women who laid down their lives in the two great wars and continue to lay down their lives today.
I was very moved by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, when he talked about the sacrifice of yesterday and of today's men and women. He neatly encapsulated this issue when he talked about Remembrance Sunday being drowned out by the ringing of cash tills.
On the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, I cannot resist a good quotation. Even when I have heard them before they are still worth hearing again, especially the reference to Socrates. On a cycle tour of the Western Isles, I, too, encountered almost total shut down. Certainly, there was silence.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. He, too, understood the sentiments behind the Bill. Towards the end of his contribution, he gave us reason to think about the implications and whether the Bill would achieve everything that it seeks to achieve. I support what it seeks to achieve. Every Remembrance Sunday, on behalf of my residents’ association, I lay a wreath at the local war memorial in Southall. It is a moving but small service. It does not totally shut down Southall and surrounding districts: we do not get two minutes of absolute silence.
Even if the Bill were to be passed, we know that many men and women would still be working on this particular day. That is a fact, unfortunately, of 21st century life. I suppose that it was the fact that caused us to allow, with some restrictions, Sunday trading. It was not an easy decision. There were passionate and worthy views held on both sides. There is no doubt that it has had an impact and I would not deny the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made.
Reflecting on this particular Bill and if the Government were to choose to support it, I wonder whether we could seek to turn the clock back. Personally, I would like to see a greater observance on that particular Sunday of the two-minute silence. I would like to see all employers recognise the importance of encouraging their employees in that observance, but should that be a matter of compulsion or, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, suggested, of persuasion?
A mood has been developing in this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, mentioned Wootton Bassett. There has been a gradual understanding of the importance of honouring people of today who have made the supreme sacrifice—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us, who have been severely wounded. I think that the mood has changed. Whether this particular piece of legislation is the right piece of legislation and whether it would do everything that it seeks to achieve—and I understand fully what it seeks to achieve—I am not so sure. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity to have this debate. I, too, await with interest what the Minister has to say on this issue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, for bringing this Bill to the attention of the House today and for prompting such a moving set of speeches of such heartfelt feeling, especially that of my noble friend Lord Cormack and the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glasman. We enjoyed it very much and are happy to welcome the noble Lord to his feet. We know that the House will look forward to many speeches, which I am sure will follow.
This is of course not the first time that I have had the pleasure of addressing the House on this issue. Noble Lords may recall the brief debate in December, prompted by my response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, seeking news of government plans for just such provisions as those being sought in this Bill, and whether at that time the Government would support such a Bill.
Before setting out the Government’s view on this Bill, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all service personnel, past and present, who have so admirably served this country. The coalition Government recognise and fully appreciate the professionalism, dedication and sacrifices that our service men and women make and have made on a daily basis while serving and protecting this country. We must never forget the courage shown and the sacrifices that were made by all during the hardships that war brings.
I shall speak personally for a moment, as others have done, including the noble Lord, Lord Young, who spoke most movingly I thought. I come from a city called Plymouth, which is a naval city and a city of marines. I come from a family used to losing our men in defence of freedom and of our beloved country. My family have lost many people in wars and are proud to have done so. When the “Hood” went down, we grieved with all the other people who lost family in it. Through the Blitz, through which I lived as a very little girl, my shattered city got up every day and carried on. That essential normality quelled our daily fears, and that is something that we should remember.
We are a nation that has fought many times and that has always had to pick itself up and get on with the next day. We remember and honour the fallen, and Remembrance Sunday is the day when we focus our thoughts on their sacrifices. I hope that this custom will remain for all time. It is great tribute to our Armed Forces that so many people come together at the Cenotaph and the many other remembrance events across the country.
I referred to my reply and the short debate that followed the question from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on matters reflected in his Bill. On that occasion, I said that the Government had no plans to introduce the provisions now sought in this Bill, and that I could not confirm that the Government would support such provisions were they presented in the form of a Private Member’s Bill. Also in my reply on that occasion, I said that the Government took the view that, if an individual chooses to observe remembrance and to take time to reflect at that time of year, that is fundamentally a matter of personal conscience and choice and not something that can necessarily be regulated for. The Government remain of that view.
The Government support and promote remembrance of the fallen. Notwithstanding our acknowledgement and appreciation of the noble Lord’s admirable underlying objective in promoting his Bill, the Government have reservations about a Bill that seeks to encourage and enforce observance by regulation. This is not a question of relieving shop owners or those who work in shops from any formal restriction that prevents them from observing remembrance when they choose to do so; that might be another matter. Those who operate large shops are already free to choose not to open on any particular Sunday, or to open later on Remembrance Sunday, if they wish.
I note the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, that shop workers are being unfairly prevented from observing remembrance. I am not aware of that. No shop worker in this country can be forced to work on Sundays when they opt not to do so. If they generally work on Sundays, or they are employed to work only on Sundays, they can negotiate with their employers for time off when they wish to observe or participate in an act of remembrance. We have no reason to suppose that employers would do anything other than be sympathetic to such requests on the grounds of conscience. The Government would certainly encourage employers to respond sympathetically to such requests.
To the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I can say that Sunday trading law continues to elicit strong feeling on all sides of the argument, of course—for tightening or relaxing the law and for retaining the status quo. The Government are considering the many responses that they received on the red tape challenge website, and I understand that they will announce in July whether to develop options for change.
As I have said, at the level of the individual the observance of remembrance is a matter of personal choice and conscience, no matter how much of an imperative we in this House believe it is, or how much we might think it is the right thing to do. People who choose to observe remembrance do so not as an alternative to shopping but because they believe it is the right and proper thing to do. Whether shops are open or closed is not likely to change those people, nor indeed those people who for whatever reason choose not to observe or acknowledge these occasions. Were this Bill to become law and large shops forced not to open, and shop workers forced not to go to work, the Government do not believe that observance of or participating in acts of remembrance would necessarily increase. Shop workers and those who choose to shop on Sundays will continue to behave as their conscience tells them; restricting their choice of activities in this way is not likely in our view to change that.
On the question of having a day off at Christmas and Easter and why we do not do so on Remembrance Sunday, I am aware that we regulate so that large shops must close all day on Christmas Day and on Easter Sunday, but that is for different reasons. In those cases, it was decided for religious, historical and cultural reasons that it is not right that employees in shops should be expected to work and that this reflected what had historically been the case for those particular days. In the case of Easter Sunday, this was addressed in the Sunday Trading Act, when opening hours generally were relaxed. The Christmas Day (Trading) Act followed some years later when it became apparent that the tradition of no opening on Christmas Day was in danger of being eroded. There is no such tradition in this country in respect of remembrance.
It has been expressed by one of our most respected organisations in this field that the closure of large stores on Remembrance Sunday might risk people being less likely to pause in the course of their activities. It can be far more poignant and personal for people to pause as part of their normal day—for example, if they are shopping and hear an announcement about the two minutes’ silence than if they are at home and perhaps unaware of it. Also there might be a risk that people might be less likely to pause and reflect if they are not in a public place where others are already doing so.
Although we have reservations about this Bill, I would not wish to leave the House in any doubt about the Government’s commitment to encouraging and perpetuating acts of remembrance and to ensuring that remembrance impinges upon people’s consciousness at least once a year, so that they may be encouraged to reflect.
I am grateful to my noble friend, for whom I have great admiration, for giving way. Will she give the House two assurances? Will she recognise that what she said about pausing during shopping and so on has, happily, become a feature of 11 November, generally on a weekday? That is good. However, here we are talking about national recognition of Remembrance Sunday. Will she at least have further conversations with her ministerial colleagues about what has been said today and how appropriate many of us feel it would be to have that national act of recognition enshrined by this Parliament?
My Lords, debates in this House are so good because discussions like this on Bills give the Government an opportunity to hear again what is said in this House, to reflect on it and to take the measure of it. That is why these things return and return. One of the great things about our democracy is that such Bills are allowed to return and return. I hope that that will give my noble friend some comfort.
I agree with those who say that remembrance is a matter of national importance. It speaks to the nation’s appreciation of the acts and sacrifices of those who have gone before us, of the role they have played in the history of our nation and of the freedoms that we all enjoy today. The Government acknowledge these debts and demonstrate their commitment by setting an example and placing acts of remembrance uppermost in their priorities at that time of year. We seek to set that example and lead by joining with others from within Parliament, the Royal Family, the Armed Forces, the Royal British Legion, of course, and many thousands of others. We do so by participating in a range of activities and commemorations. These include the service of remembrance at the Cenotaph, the Royal British Legion’s festival of remembrance, the two-minute silence on the anniversary of Armistice Day, and the countless services and parades held across the United Kingdom. Remembrance is important, and it is very important that people of all generations are aware of its meaning and its history, but it is better in this case to lead and to educate by example. We feel that this is not an issue to which regulation is best suited.
To conclude, I hope that I have been able to set the context in which the Government have their reservations about this Bill. In so doing, I hope that I have been able to provide what I hope will be perceived by the House as a firm assurance of the Government’s commitment to seeing the continued observance of and participation in acts of remembrance far into the future.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of this Bill. I also express my sincere congratulations to my noble friend Lord Glasman on his maiden speech, which was full of passion and humility. I agree with the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, described his speech too.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, that this is about culture. I used the word “morality”. This Bill is not about money, and nor should it be. It should not be dressed up in the economic circumstances that were addressed in the Shops Act. From 1952 until the 1980s, we in this country recognised the Shops Act and the way in which it benefitted the British people, with Sunday being special. Then, illegal trading started with its consequent developments. I always remember that in April 1985, even though there was a government three-line whip in the House of Commons, a proposal was defeated because the Members of Parliament believed in doing something that did not concern the economic circumstances of shopkeepers. They looked at what the people of this country wanted and that has survived.
I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said that 10,000 shop workers had responded to this consultation and that 91 per cent had clearly said that they did not want any change. If they do not want change to the Sunday Trading Act as it is now, they will be supportive of a Remembrance Sunday that ensures that that day is treated like Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. That is what we are about in this country. Let us preserve the very things that are important to us. It is not just about making money—we have only ever dabbled with the Shops Act on economic grounds—and it should not be so. Otherwise we shall turn this country into nothing but a great big dollar, as some people would say, and we do not need to do that.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his intervention. He clearly reminded us that the Defence Minister regularly lists at the Dispatch Box the names of British soldiers who have died or been injured in Afghanistan in the current hostilities. I am a little disappointed that there was not unconditional support from those on the Labour Front Bench. Nevertheless, they have given an assurance that they will go away and talk about it. I hope they will do so because regulation is required for Remembrance Sunday if it is going to work. That is what I want to see. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and taken forward.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Parliament Square (Management) Bill [HL]
That the Bill be read a second time.
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.
He was the leader of Westminster City Council.
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.