HC Deb 22 July 1985 vol 83 c716
42. Mr. Winnick

asked the Attorney-General if the Director of Public Prosecutions is currently considering prosecutions against any persons alleged to have been responsible for persistent obstruction or abuse of speakers at Hyde park, London.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

Earlier this year the Metropolitan police sought the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions as to the institution of proceedings under the Public Meeting Act 1908 against persons responsible for disruption of proceedings at Speakers' Corner. The director took the view that these traditional gatherings which are not called together to transact business fell outside the scope of the 1908 Act. I agreed with that view and have invited the Home Secretary to consider the problems raised by this case. The police have since been provided with legal advice about their powers under the Royal and other Parks and Gardens Regulations 1977 and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment are monitoring the situation to see whether the provisions are sufficient to deal with the mischief.

Mr. Winnick

The Speakers' Corner is visited by many people from outside London. I note the Attorney-General's remarks, but is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that further action is needed to deal with those who persistently try to obstruct free speech by abuse and obscenities? Is he further aware that according to a report in The London Standard three weeks ago, one of the main offenders is the political secretary of the Kensington young conservatives? Is this not yet another illustration of the extremist element in the Tory party being determined to stop free speech?

The Attorney-General

Another of the bad hecklers is a Marxist, so the problem is fairly wide-ranging. Last Sunday the tougher approach by the police under the regulations was put into effect and two well-known hecklers, who have been behaving very badly indeed—not just obstructing, but seeking to bring meetings to an end—were told that they had to leave. They left quietly. The phrase that the chief inspector used was that it "worked like a charm."

Sir John Biggs-Davison

I commend what my right hon. and learned Friend has said, but is he aware that when I spoke on a young conservative platform at Speakers' Corner I was constantly subjected to abuse and obscenities but that I never complained to anyone?

The Attorney-General

The distinction is between ordinary heckling, which is part of the "fun", and heckling by a group of people scattered round the audience whose intention is to disrupt and bring the meeting to an end. That cannot be tolerated.