HC Deb 22 February 1994 vol 238 cc149-50 3.30 pm
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to raise with you matters relating to the Sessional Orders of the House, which are passed at the beginning of each Parliament and which, among other things, lay on the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis a duty to keep open the roads in the vicinity of the House and to ensure free passage of hon. Members, and to prevent disorder in the vicinity.

Given the ugly scenes that occurred last night, which were referred to during Prime Minister's Question Time, will you, Madam Speaker, please examine what happened and what clearly went wrong? Can you say whether it is still the policy that no demonstrations whatsoever are allowed in the immediate vicinity of the House?

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Does it relate to this matter?

Mr. McFall


Madam Speaker

In that case, let me first respond to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris).

I have already received a report on last night's disturbance, during which violence was used and access to and from Parliament was obstructed. Behaviour of this kind cannot be excused, and is, indeed, an embarrassment to the larger number of people who simply want to express their opinion peacefully. The police are well used to regulating access to the House to those who wish to lobby Members in a way that is consistent with the very important right of free movement, into and out of the House, enjoyed by Members. The Sessional Order issued to the Commissioner of Police requires the streets to be kept open for this purpose.

This requirement was not able to be met at all times last night, and I am sure that lessons will be learned by the police that will reduce the possibility of a recurrence. But I emphasise that last night's disturbance was the sole responsibility of those who resorted to violence, and I should like to express the House's thanks to the police officers who contained events and, in the course of their duty, suffered violence themselves.

Mr. McFall

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that the Sheriff Court Fees (Amendment) (No. 2) Order was approved on 9 February. The order imposes court fees on petitioners in Scotland. Two days later, in Paisley sheriff court, Sheriff Stoddart refused to impose the £53 fee on a petitioner, saying that the fees contained ambiguities and imprecisions. He criticised the whole idea as offensive to the concept of the availability of justice in the court on equal terms. As a result, the Scottish Courts Administration has issued guidance to sheriffs, saying that it is taking legal advice on the matter. This brings the whole statutory instrument system into disrepute.

Given the importance for justice in Scotland and the fact that people have already paid these fees, can you, Madam Speaker, advise me further on the issue, so that we may help the many thousands of people in Scotland who are trapped by this legislation, which the Government introduced needlessly?

Madam Speaker

That is barely a point of order for me. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that I am not able to give legal advice of that nature or, for that matter, of any other nature. Ministers on the Front Bench will have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments, and I hope that something may come of the matter as a result of his point of order.