HL Deb 15 March 1984 vol 449 cc853-6
Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, in closing the Mall, Marlborough Gate and Constitution Hill to traffic on 24th January in order to facilitate a political demonstration, complied with the Sessional Orders of both Houses requiring him to facilitate access to the Palace of Westminster during the sitting of Parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, we are satisfied that the commissioner discharged his duty. He gives effect to the Sessional Orders by directing his officers to disperse all assemblies or processions of persons causing, or likely to cause, disruptions or any disorder on any sitting day within a specified area around Parliament. The march on 24th January did not enter that area. The police sought to minimise the traffic disruption. Where roads were closed, traffic was diverted by other routes. Had those roads remained open, traffic would have flowed into the path of the march, causing greater disruption and delay. The police had given advance warning of the likely traffic difficulties to motorists. All officers on traffic duty were instructed to assist the passage of Members of Parliament.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive reply. Is he aware that on the date concerned the roads specified in my Question were not at all occupied by the rather pathetic little demonstration which was taking place elsewhere in the town, but were entirely empty as a result of being closed by the police? Is my noble friend satisfied that the commissioner of police understands the purpose of the Sessional Orders, which is the paramount importance of keeping access to this palace open on occasions when Parliament is sitting?

Lord Elton

My Lords, of course I share my noble friend's anxiety that Parliament should not be inconvenienced by demonstrations of this or any other kind. I can tell him that the steps which police officers can take to asssist Members on such occasions include stopping a march to allow a Member through, enabling a Member's vehicle to move out of a traffic jam where that is possible, taking charge of a Member's car while he makes his own way to the House, or taking him in a police car. When I say "Member". I mean a Member of either House.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the noble Lord. Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made no complaint about those people on the march? He even described the demonstration as being small and pathetic. The complaint that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made was about the police closing roads which there was no need to have closed, and I am sure that the House should like to have an answer as to why that was done.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I was not aware that my noble friend had made any complaint. I thought that he made an honest inquiry for information, which I gave him. As to the interpretation which the noble Lord. Lord Molloy, puts on it. I have to say that in order to implement the effects of the Sessional Order, which in fact applies to the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, the commissioner seeks to keep empty of demonstrators an area very much larger than the precincts. My noble friend was concerned as to why that area should be so empty. The answer, I suppose, is that once one is in such an area, it is possible, as a Member, to come more swiftly to the House, but it is first necessary to identify oneself as a Member to a police officer, who can facilitate one's arrival at the boundaries of the area.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that when I tried to get information and help from the police in Kensington Gore, the only answer I could get was to go on until I got to Trafalgar Square? That does not seem to me to be giving access to Parliament.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I was aware that the noble Earl had experienced difficulty; I was not aware of its location or extent. Of course one must look at such occasions with very great care to see that they do not recur.

Lord Harrington

My Lords, was it not possible for whoever was in charge of the particular operations on that day on seeing that there was little likelihood that it would be necessary to close the streets in the way that had been expected, there and then to have opened up the streets in the ordinary way; in which case the noble Lord, Lord Boyd Carpenter, would not have had any cause to put down the Question?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the operational decisions of the police are a matter for the chief officer of police, who in this case is the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, and he must take those decisions as the occasion serves.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, does not my noble friend the Minister agree that there are many other routes of access to the Houses of Parliament besides the Mall, Marlborough Gate, and Constitution Hill? Does he also not agree that on this occasion plenty of warning was given over the radio and in the press that the demonstration was to take place, and that if one wanted to circumnavigate those particular roads, there were other roads which could be taken?

Lord Elton

My Lords, when I was last asked about this matter I recited to your Lordships the various occasions on which, and places where, warnings were given. I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to remind your Lordships of them and also to remind some of your Lordships that it is possible to approach this place by other routes.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the noble Lord look at the idea of issuing a car sticker or badge to Members of both Houses, so that they can be identified? At the moment we have to join a motor club in order to obtain one. Surely stickers should be issued by the House authorities?

Lord Elton

My Lords, if memory serves—and it is some time since I had a motor car of my own—I believe that it is possible to acquire a sticker by belonging to the Houses of Parliament Motoring Club or the House of Lords Motoring Club, and I think it will cost the noble Lord £1, or possibly £2.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the fact that, whereas individual police officers are, as always, extremely helpful in these situations, it is quite useless to have a pass or document which a Member can produce if, between one and the closed area, there is a solid block of traffic which has been held up by police action? Even with the best will, the police cannot get one through a solid mass of motor cars, trucks, et cetera. Will my noble friend ask the commissioner to think a little more clearly, on future occasions, how good access is to be obtained to Parliament, and bear in mind that a mere warning that it may be difficult is not sufficient to enable the Legislature to function?

Lord Elton

My Lords, of course I shall see that the commissioner has the whole of these exchanges drawn to his attention. My noble friend will recall that there are a number of actions which the police can take, which I mentioned earlier, which could be of assistance even when one is blocked in to a queue, nowhere near the head of it. But I think that the best way to answer my noble friend's question is to say that I shall put this point to the commissioner.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord make it clear to the commissioner that there is no general or widespread complaint here?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord's remark will be among those printed in the record which the commissioner will see.

Lord Monson

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the freedom of certain groups to demonstrate not in Hyde Park or some similar open space on a Sunday, but through the crowded streets of central London on a weekday in fact conflicts with the freedom of the vast majority of ordinary people to go about their lawful business without undue obstruction or delay? Are the Government sure that they have got right the balance between the conflicting freedoms of demonstrators on the one hand and a majority of peaceful citizens on the other?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think that we must recall that there should be a balance and that the freedom to demonstrate against a Government who may not always be of one's own choosing is a valued freedom—

Noble Lords

Oh, Oh!

Lord Elton

I think that—I am so unaccustomed to support from that direction that I have forgotten what else I was going to say.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it is not often easy to assess how large demonstrations or processions will be and how many people will be participating, and therefore it is necessary to ensure an adequate police presence? Does not my noble friend also agree that once it is apparent that the numbers are not as large as expected, the police are slow to stand down their very large numbers of reserves, and this sometimes lies behind the difficulty in this connection?

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend raises a question which deals with the operational matters of the police which I can only pass on for absorption elsewhere. I think it is worth also mentioning that demonstrators, sometimes I think ill-advisedly, measure the success of their demonstration by the amount of aggravation that they cause to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and many others like him. It occurs to me that they may actually be wrong in that assessment and that the better they succeed in that regard, the more they fail in their main objectives.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, may I ask the Minister, when he writes to the commissioner, to inform him that in the opinion of this House our police are wonderful?

Lord Elton

My Lords, they are indeed. And also, I observe, increasingly young.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he can possibly recommend that on these particular days Westminster tube station is used more fully?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think that I have dealt with that, and I am not sure that it is a matter for the commissioner.

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