Create “Speaker’s Corner” in Parliament Square – Tyler

Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Tyler this week gained a Second Reading in the House of Lords for a Bill which would remove illiberal restrictions on the right to protest in Parliament Square.

Speaking to his Demonstrations in the Vicinity of Parliament (Removal of Authorisation Requirements) Bill, he said, “Your Lordships’ House will no doubt remember the disgraceful case of Maya Evans and Milan Rai, who were arrested in 2005 under existing legislation simply for reading out the names of war dead at the Cenotaph. That was wholly disproportionate. It reflected a piece of legislation-the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act-that vastly overestimates the risks attached to legitimate, well managed demonstrations and protests. The Act is very obviously a blunt instrument that by its nature gags free speech in the very place where it should be allowed.”

Lord Tyler went on to promote new ideas for the development of the Square as a more democratic and open space, suggesting that a new “Speaker’s Corner” might be created there.  “Parliament Square is an extraordinarily important, iconic, architectural construct,” he told Peers.  “It is surrounded by significant buildings such as the abbey, the Supreme Court, Parliament and the Treasury. You have the church, the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive. What could be of wider significance in our democracy?”

The Bill received cross-party support with former Conservative MP, Lord (Patrick) Cormack, saying “Lord Tyler has performed a real service to the House in introducing his Bill… his idea of a speakers’ corner should commend itself to serious consideration.” 

Former Labour Minister for Constitutional Reform, Lord (Michael) Wills added, “I welcome this Bill … Lord Tyler has all my support and this House, Parliament and the whole of our democracy owes him a debt of gratitude for giving us this opportunity.”

Responding for the Coalition Government, Liberal Democrat Minister, Lord (William) Wallace of Saltaire told the House that the Government had worked up a measured solution to the problems in Parliament Square in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, “what is proposed is a proportionate and targeted response which is the minimum necessary to deal with the particular misuse of tents and structures on Parliament Square Garden and the footways. For the rest, protest in this area will henceforth be governed by the same laws as govern protest elsewhere.”

Commenting after the debate, Lord Tyler said, “Just passing a law won’t be enough to sort out the problems in Parliament Square. It must be restructured and at least part-pedestrianised, as Trafalgar Square was, to open the space up to the public as a whole.  As it is, the area opposite Parliament is the exclusive province of a zealous minority.  

“Meanwhile, the present rules on peaceful protest are fundamentally illiberal, and they don’t even stop the encampments that some parliamentarians get so exercised about.  The restrictions manage to be both overbearing and inadequate!  It is very welcome therefore that our Government is taking action – where Labour failed – to repeal the present ludicrous law.”

ENDS

A full transcript of the debate is available in Hansard here:  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110610-0001.htm#11061043000430

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