HL Deb 04 February 2003 vol 644 cc114-5

3.5 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What were the reasons for banning an anti-war demonstration in Hyde Park on 15th February.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has announced, after considering alternative venues, none of which was suitable for the very large numbers of people involved, that approval has now been given for the use of Hyde Park for this rally. The Government never banned the march. Our concern has been about the safety of those taking part in a rally in Hyde Park that would continue after dark and where the ground conditions are far from ideal. The Royal Parks and the police will now work closely with the rally organisers to ensure as far as possible the safety of those attending.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that excellent Answer. I think that she has answered all my questions. Given that for two months there has been a tented city called Star Trek on the grass near Marble Arch, it seems odd to prevent people walking on the grass in other parts of the park, even if they would get their feet muddy. I congratulate my noble friend and wish her every success in the march in a couple of weeks' time.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his congratulations. Star Trek is held in tented accommodation, so it is covered. Although it is very popular, the number attending is not 400,000, which is the number projected by the organisers of the CND demonstration on 15th February.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, a spat arose after the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said, quite rightly, that large numbers of people in a park at this time of year would cause damage. There is no criticism of that. But why was she pushed front stage on the issue? Would it not have been a better strategy of damage limitation for the Government if the Home Secretary had taken all the opinions, including that of the noble Baroness's colleague, and kept her in the background? She has enough to contend with at the moment without having to be criticised on that matter.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am always grateful to the Liberal Democrat Front-Benchers for advice on damage limitation. Responsibility for the Royal Parks is a matter for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. She is perfectly willing to take the difficult decisions needed on such issues. She can certainly find enough time to do so.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not a CND march; it is a much broader anti-war coalition? I declare an interest as someone who will take part in the demonstration and the rally. I issue an invitation to any noble Lords who wish to join us. They will be extremely welcome, as will members of the Government Front Bench.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords are very grateful for the invitation that has just been issued.