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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 20:14 GMT
Westminster protests to be banned
Anti-war protester Brian Haw
Mr Haw has been camped in Parliament Square for three years
Plans to end noisy demonstrations outside Parliament and recognise its "unique position" are to be introduced by the government.

Existing laws did not give police the powers they needed to control all protests around Westminster, Commons leader Peter Hain told MPs.

The new laws would mean an anti-war protester camped in Parliament Square for three years would be removed.

Opposition MPs said the moves curtailed the right to free speech.

Mr Hain told MPs: "The [parliamentary procedure] committee recommends that the government should introduce appropriate legislation to prohibit long-term demonstrations and to ensure that the laws about access are adequate and enforceable."

It is difficult to think of a more compelling example of the employment of the rights to protest
Michael Schwarz
Solicitor to Brian Haw

The government was aware of how strongly MPs and Speaker Michael Martin felt about the issue and agreed legislation was needed which recognised Parliament's "unique position", he added.

"We will introduce such legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

"I myself have exercised these rights to protest and would defend to the last the rights of others to so do, including in Parliament Square," he said.

But access to Parliament must be maintained and those working there should be able to do so "free from harassment".

Anti-war protester Brian Haw has been camped out with a collection of placards in Parliament Square, opposite the Palace of Westminster, since 2001.

He often uses a loud-hailer to shout his views at the palace and passers-by.

'Bang, bang'

Mr Hain has described his camp as an "eye-sore" and the Speaker has asked the police to get the protest removed.

But confusion about who has rights over the square opposite the palace had left both the Speaker and the police powerless to act.

The Commons leader said Mr Haw's protest was just a small aspect of the issue but acknowledged that his use of a loud-hailer subjected members to a "persistent bang, bang, bang".

Shadow Commons leader Oliver Heald went further, saying Mr Haw's line of posters was a "fence-like barrier" and dealing with it as a security risk took a lot of police time.

Liberal Democrat Lembit Opik said the fact that Mr Haw's protest had created the whole debate was a credit to him.

'Shanty town'

Labour's John McDonnell likened any attempt to silence Mr Haw as a bid to remove the "little man's voice."

Westminster Council failed to evict Mr Haw after High Court judge Mr Justice Gray refused to grant an injunction preventing him obstructing the pavements.

The father of seven's solicitor, Michael Schwarz, said: "Brian Haw is peacefully campaigning on perhaps the most significant issue of the day at a place which is supposed to be the very heart of our democracy.

"It is difficult to think of a more compelling example of the employment of the rights to protest."

When Labour came into power, the rules governing protests on Parliament Square were relaxed.

But the chaos caused by the pro-hunting protest in the square in September, as MPs debated the bill to ban hunting with dogs, prompted some MPs to call for demonstrations there to be banned.




SEE ALSO:
Pro-hunt protesters storm Commons
15 Sep 04  |  Politics
New law to stop protests
21 Nov 03  |  Hereford/Worcs
MPs back protester's placard demo
12 Jul 04  |  Hereford/Worcs


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