HL Deb 17 October 1994 vol 558 cc9-11

3.3 p.m.

Viscount Mersey asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to adopt measures to prevent those planning deliberate confrontations with the police from taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

No, my Lords. There are already sufficient powers which provide a range of measures to deal with those planning acts of violence.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, surely it would be quite easy to distinguish, in the first place, between a peaceful protester and someone carrying a CS gas canister, a brick or a pointed stave, and to exclude such people from the demonstration. Further, has my noble friend the Minister any information on a publication entitled, Keep it Spikey, which has been described by the police as, a blueprint for a riot"?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is not always easy for the police, in advance of a protest procession, to know precisely who will be carrying the gas canisters and who will be lobbing the bricks. Where the police have advance warning, measures are available to them to take action. However, they have the most incredibly difficult task and the level of provocation —as, for example, on October 9th—is sometimes very serious. Indeed, the police are still in the throes of dealing with that incident.

I am afraid that I need reminding of my noble friend's second supplementary question.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I referred to the document, Keep it Spikey.

Baroness Blatch

Yes, my Lords, I have the document with me. All I can say is that the literature that was passed round by Class War in advance of the protest on October 9th is really quite dreadful. Again, it could be subject to charges by the police. However, it is for the police to take such a decision.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that it is already the practice of the police to draw to the attention of the organisers of such demonstrations the likelihood—and sometimes chapter and verse on numbers of demonstrators—that there are those whose only purpose is to be violent and to disrupt the activity? Further, does the Minister share my view that it is for the organisers to consider carefully whether they are able and willing, through their own stewarding, to contain those activities? If they do not do so, should they not carefully consider whether they should continue to use the demonstration as a means of giving effect to perfectly proper political activities? Finally, will the Minister invite the police to make more explicit to organisers of demonstrations their obligations and responsibilities in that respect?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. I believe that we have a proud reputation in this country for allowing free and peaceful protest. I can also say that the police have a very proud record of working with such organisations to ensure that there is proper stewarding and that the routes are properly worked out. Indeed, on 9th October the police had a good deal of discussion with the organisers of the march. But, sadly, as often happens with such marches, the occasion was marred. A small number of people set out with the intention of being violent and put in peril innocent participants who were trying to make a perfectly legitimate protest in respect of something about which they care deeply.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, with deference to the noble Lord, Lord Murray, is it really a matter exclusively for the police? Should it not perhaps concern my right honourable friend the Home Secretary? The police have very limited remits and are subject to permission being given by the Home Secretary.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, as I understand it, the police have the powers to deal with public order and have a whole range of measures available to them. Therefore, it is not for my right honourable friend to involve himself in the operational matters of public order. My right honourable friend has a part to play if the Commissioner of Police wishes to apply for consent from him to ban a march. In that case, my right honourable friend does indeed have a role to play.