HL Deb 23 May 2000 vol 613 cc634-6

2.56 p.m.

Lord Watson of Richmond

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will encourage the Royal Parks Agency to ensure that Parliament Square does not become a site for permanent displays.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the policy of the Royal Parks Agency is not to allow grassed areas of Parliament Square, for which it has responsibility, to be used as a site for displays. Later this year, the Royal Parks Agency responsibility for Parliament Square will transfer to the Mayor of London.

Lord Watson of Richmond

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he accept that the Question stems from a fear that, if displays become virtually permanent in Parliament Square—albeit that the cause may be virtuous, and those in favour of pigs will think it extremely virtuous—it will place the idea in the minds of people whose purpose is not benign and who, as we saw on 1st May, may be vicious, that in Parliament Square anything goes? The Minister has referred to the powers that will be transferred to the new Mayor of London. In that context, is he aware that, under the GLA Act, the powers that pass to the Mayor in this regard come from the 1949 Parliament Square improvement legislation, which includes the obligation to, lay out the new central garden in Parliament Square". While noble Lords will be aware of the deep reservations felt by Ministers in some regards about the new Mayor of London, perhaps in this regard at least they will offer him all power to his elbow.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I must be very careful what I say about pigs in the presence of my noble friend the Chief Whip—

Noble Lords


Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I must be very careful what I say about pig farmers! It is true, and we agree with the noble Lord, that the lengthy demonstration in favour of pig farmers and "Buy a Pig" in Parliament Square is not a good example to leave to the Mayor of London. It was a chapter of accidents. The Metropolitan Police gave temporary permission without informing the Royal Parks Agency. The Royal Parks Agency decided not to evict the farmers and the pig, for reasons which will readily be sympathised with. When they left temporarily for the demonstrations on 1st May for their own safety, the Royal Parks Agency attempted to get a swine removal order from the Corporation of the City of London, which was denied. When it failed, the farmers and the pig came back again onto Westminster City Council land, which is not the responsibility of the Royal Parks Agency but of the Metropolitan Police. I do not believe that any of this is very serious, but the policy of successive governments that there should not be demonstrations in Parliament Square must be maintained in the future.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, can the Minister say why this matter falls within the responsibility of the Royal Parks? Why cannot an order be made by the Commons that Parliament Square, which is after all a prime tourist site, should not be defaced? Is the Minister also aware that I find it objectionable to see large political notices hung from the railings at the rear of St Margaret's and Westminster Abbey?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the question of responsibility for Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square goes back to the previous century, and the transfer of responsibility to the Mayor of London is simply in line with precedent. If the noble Baroness refers to the railings that I have in mind, they exist because at that point the tunnel which serves the District Line comes very close to the surface. Although Parliament Square was strengthened to provide for crowds in that area, it is not sufficiently reinforced to take the weight of vehicles. For that reason railings are required.

Lord Richard

My Lords, can my noble friend say what happened to the pig in Parliament Square? Some of us have become quite attached to the pig and are anxious that its wellbeing should be properly safeguarded. Will my noble friend give an undertaking that he will pass on to the new Mayor of London the concerns of this House about the welfare of this noble animal?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is being slightly anthropomorphic. Parliament Square had a succession of pigs rather than a single animal. I do not believe that we can become sentimental about them. I understand that the last pig went off to be adopted.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, when the Government transferred to the Mayor of London power over demonstrations in Parliament Square they hardly expected that they would hand it on a plate to Ken Livingstone. However, as that is the case, if the Mayor ignores the Government's guidelines about what should and should not happen in the square, what kind of sanctions could they impose upon him?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Mayor of London is subject to the London Government Act 1999. That Act provides that the Secretary of State issues guidance to the Mayor about Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. That guidance is a statement of policy, including, self-evidently, that there should not be demonstrations in Parliament Square. The Mayor must have regard to that guidance; if not, he, or she breaks the provisions of the London Government Act.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although there was a succession of pigs, nevertheless they have done a useful job in bringing rural and farming issues into the heart of the urban community so that people know from where their bacon comes? Do the Government have any proposals to tie together more closely rural and urban concerns—for example, the urban White Paper? What support are the Government giving to city farms?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Baroness strays very far from the original Question. I do not believe that it is appropriate for me, with 15 minutes to go, to venture into a disquisition on urban and rural policy.