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Parliament Square (Management) Bill [HL]

Volume 734: debated on Friday 27 January 2012


Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2 : Demonstrations in Parliament Square

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 2, page 1, line 22, at end insert—

“( ) placard, notice or structure designed or adapted (solely or mainly) for the purpose of displaying such placard or notice, whether or not any such structure is used solely for that purpose,”

My Lords, this small amendment—the only amendment to this little Bill—is a tidying-up amendment to stop up a loophole, because it includes an extra category of stuff that will not be allowed to be left in Parliament Square. Your Lordships might wonder why we still have this Bill. The Government had their own Bill, which is now the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. My Bill takes a rather different approach because it has less activity for the police and more activity for the waste disposal authority of Westminster City Council under the guidance of the committee that the Bill proposes to set up.

It is quite interesting to take this opportunity to note the progress made so far under the Government’s Act. Two sections are relevant: Section 143, which defines what is not allowed to happen in or to be in Parliament Square, and Section 145, which describes the powers the police have to seize. My Bill does not have powers to seize because it has a gentler and, perhaps, more efficient way of doing things.

Section 143(6) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act states:

“It is immaterial for the purposes of a prohibited activity … whether the tent or structure was first erected before or after the coming into force of this section”.

As your Lordships may have noticed, the police have already made considerable progress in clearing Parliament Square, but in front of the Palace of Westminster there are still a line of placards, a line of two or three sleeping tents and a couple of little huts. Incidentally, the little huts would be covered by my amendment. The reason for this is that a certain person has obtained an injunction from the High Court. The injunction is against the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Secretary of State for the Home Office. It states that they be restrained from enforcing the provisions of Part 3 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, in relation to the claimant’s campaign site currently located on the footway surrounding Parliament Square, until the termination of the claimant’s application for judicial review resolution of the claim if permission is granted or a further order of the court. Because of the normal sub judice rules, I am not going into any of the details, and the law will take its course, but I think that the very fact that there is an injunction perhaps indicates that removing something that has been there for so long is not always a straightforward matter. I hope that if my Bill goes down to the other place, it will be something of a longstop. We do not know whether it will make any further progress, but I beg to move.

My Lords, I have spoken at previous stages in the debate on Parliament Square. I welcome the Bill and commend it because the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has provided for a committee with the ongoing responsibility, day in, day out, of looking after Parliament Square. I am especially pleased not so much with Clause 2(2), but with subsection (1), which enjoins the committee,

“to facilitate lawful, authorised demonstrations in the controlled area of Parliament Square”.

That is very important. It is as important as cleanliness et cetera. The idea that people should have access to Parliament Square for legitimate activity is also important. I agree with this amendment, which will tidy up, in more senses than one, the entire issue.

My Lords, in some senses, we are surprised that we are here. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, explained, we all thought that the fox had been shot—if that is not too rigorous or loud a metaphor—with the passing of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, since that seemed to have caught all the points that he raised. But of course it does not. All we seem to have gained as a result of that is exchanging a few tents, with presumably very serious protestors, for a battered police van which rather destroys the beauty of the square. But no doubt, as we have heard, processes are going ahead and things will get resolved.

So why are we here? If the Government are convinced that their legislation has solved the issue, it is surprising that they have found time for the Bill to come back. However, we welcome it. It is helpful to have a further debate, because things are perhaps not quite as clear-cut as we thought. There still remain in our minds the issues raised particularly at Second Reading when the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, was unable to deal completely with the issues about areas adjacent to Parliament Square, which are still likely to be infiltrated and used by those who wish to protest in a lawful way. The measures that have been put through do not necessarily deal with that. There is still an issue regarding the area immediately outside the Houses of Parliament and adjacent to the Palace and Parliament Square which has not been resolved. Perhaps there is a case for maintaining interest in this Bill, which we could use to clear up some of the other issues. But that is for another day.

As the noble Lord said, this is the Persil amendment—a softer touch to that put forward in the original Bill. It will provide a gentler, more cleansing effect than perhaps the phrasing in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. On that basis, the amendment is totally unexceptional and we support it.

My Lords, I support the amendment, with gratitude to my noble friend for having entered into this difficult problem. The Joint Committee considered the issue for a long time and took a lot of evidence. Its view is recorded, as is the evidence, in a second vast volume. This is an important matter. The noble Lord mentioned human rights. It has been trespassed upon by a misunderstanding or misconception of human rights as they should be applied. There is a recent decision, which is today reported in the Times, where the court has said that in a similar context there would be no question of infringing human rights because the right of expression could be made elsewhere and otherwise. I therefore support the amendment.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, rightly pointed out that we have a problem with areas adjacent to the square and suggested that this Bill might be a vehicle for dealing with that. He went on to say that that is a matter for another day. In agreeing with him in his speculation, perhaps I may ask the Minister to tell us how there shall be a connection made between the two pieces of legislation so that we do not put this on the statute book and close the door on this option—or, equally, that we do not keep it for ever off the statute book because we are waiting for the door to open.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Marlesford for tabling his amendment and enabling a little more debate on this topic. I have been looking forward to it all week. The management of Parliament Square is an issue to which I know he and many of your Lordships attach considerable importance, although hitherto I have only commented in private. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway will understand that I shall confine myself to the merits of the amendment, and my noble friend Lord Elton raised other issues.

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 acceptable for people to camp on Parliament Square. I am sure that this view is shared by the majority of people in the United Kingdom. I therefore recognise my noble friend’s intentions in bringing forward this Bill and the Government share his desire to see the square cleared to enable its use by the wider public, including protesters.

On the specific amendment, I understand my noble friend’s concern in relation to the storage box structures on Parliament Square which are also used to display protest messages. I would, however, consider that these structures are already captured by Clause 2(2)(b) of the Bill as their function as storage boxes means that they should be captured in the definition of a,

“structure that is designed, or adapted, (solely or mainly) for the purpose of facilitating the sleeping or staying in a place for any period”.

However, my noble friend is a skilled and experienced parliamentarian. I fully understand why he has tabled his amendment and I cannot imagine him leaving a loophole in his original drafting. In relation to hand-held placards, the Government consider that these can be used to facilitate the right to effective peaceful protest and it would not be appropriate to ban their use on Parliament Square. However, if they are left overnight, then they would constitute litter that would be cleared away by the appropriate authority.

As my noble friend is aware, the Government brought forward provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act to enable tents and other structures, such as those outlined in the Bill, to be removed. The Government commenced these provisions on 19 December 2011 and we consider them a proportionate means by which to manage the disruption caused by the encampment. I am convinced that the Act is properly drafted. On 16 January 2012, the Metropolitan Police Service led an operation to enforce the provisions and remove the encampment in so far as possible given the High Court injunction that is in place in relation to one of the protester’s sites pending a judicial review hearing, as observed by my noble friend. He has by implication made it clear that he does not expect me to comment on the proceedings.

The Government agree with my noble friend 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. That is why we have worked with the Greater London Authority, Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police Service to ensure that effective enforcement protocols for the PRSR Act provisions are in place.

Once again, I thank my noble friend for moving his amendment and I hope that he is reassured by the provisions the Government already have in place through the PRSR Act.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have kindly spoken on this amendment. It sounds to me as though people are reasonably happy that the amendment should be included in the Bill.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 3 and 4 agreed.

Bill reported with an amendment.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 1.20 pm.