Hansard on AWE bylaws relating to the right to protest

*16 Mar 2009 : Column 1*

Parliament Square: Right to Protest

/Asked By **Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer**/

     To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in
     restoring the right to protest in Parliament Square without police

**The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead):** My Lords, we announced our intention to repeal the current provisions covering demonstrations around Parliament in March 2008 as part of the programme of constitutional renewal. As I informed the noble Baroness in my Written Answer of 15 January, we remain strongly committed to constitutional renewal and our aim is to bring a Bill forward as soon as parliamentary time allows. We expect that to be later this Session.

**Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer:** My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but we are still waiting for anything to happen that makes protest take the place that it should have in our democracy. Does the Minister realise that in the mean time it has become an incredible ordeal to protest? Not only is your name taken and your number plate recognised but if you refuse to give your name your credit card will be asked for, and if you obstruct the police you will of course then be up on a charge. This is criminalising protest. Will the Minister ensure that the guidance from the Home Office and the actions of the police move in the opposite direction so that we never see another Kingsnorth policed as it was, with climate protesters being treated as they were?

**Lord West of Spithead:** My Lords, I understand the frustration about this issue and there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the responses we had when we asked for them were for this measure to be totally repealed. However, the Joint Committee raised a number of other things to be looked at, which we are doing. We want to ensure that we have a sensible package in the Bill when it is introduced. With regard to Kingsnorth, I would need to look at that and consider exactly what was said there before I made any response about it.

**Lord Skelmersdale:** My Lords, will the Bill that the Minister has just announced is coming have retrospective effect?

**Lord West of Spithead:** My Lords, so far as I understand, there will be nothing retrospective in it.

**Lord Corbett of Castle Vale:** My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that the police will do everything they can to facilitate peaceful protest during the coming G20 summit rather than obstructing it and praying in aid terrorism laws that were not introduced for that purpose?

**Lord West of Spithead:** My Lords, I am sure that that is exactly how the police will behave. This whole issue is interesting. I was struck by Lord Justice Laws’s judgment in the case regarding Aldermaston. This quotation is not overlong, and it is worth repeating:

“Rights worth having are unruly things. Demonstrations and protests are liable to be a nuisance. They are liable to be inconvenient and tiresome, or at least perceived as such by others who are out of sympathy with them. Sometimes they are wrong-headed and misconceived”.

To paraphrase him, he said that demonstrations are, however, important for our democracy and that they should go ahead.

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