Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Tuesday, 26 July 2005 10:07 UK

The torture of free speech

Sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

The House of Commons is full of individuals who will loudly proclaim their belief in freedom of speech as a cornerstone of British democracy.

Brian Haw
Mr Haw is to be removed
Any number of MPs, staff, even journalists, would echo Voltaire's cry: "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it".

At least they do until that freedom of speech starts to get on their nerves.

And, trust me, lone anti-war protester Brian Haw has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in getting on the nerves of many of the inhabitants of the palace of Westminster.

Specifically, he has driven to distraction many of those whose offices are sited along the Parliament Square side of the building.

Rock music

His constant, amplified barrage of anti-Blair sloganeering has provided a distracting, sanity-challenging backdrop to their working lives for the past four years.

It is, many claim, a form of torture. Why do you think it was that, when US forces wanted to force the surrender of Panama's military leader General Manuel Noriega, they surrounded his building with amplifiers and giant speakers and blasted him with ear-shattering rock music.

And it wasn't just The Eagles that drove him to the brink of insanity - it was the sheer relentless volume that did it.

MPs and others have complained about noise
Mr Haw's protest has had much the same effect on those working in the most exposed parts of the palace of Westminster.

Indeed, while naming no names, he has even found himself confronted by furious individuals raving about their inability to work when his stream of consciousness ranting is at full-tilt.

Eyesore

It is also the case that the prime minister has been forced to drive past Mr Haw and his one man mass demonstration every time he wants to enter the Commons, at question time for example.

And you can imagine how irritating that must be.

Former Commons leader Peter Hain has even described Mr Haw's placard-strewn campsite as an "eyesore". What will the tourists think.

Still, this irritating eyesore seems to have scored a bit of a first. A new law has been devised simply, it appears, to deal with him.

Later this year, unless he succeeds in an appeal, he will be removed from Parliament Square under a new rule banning unauthorised protests inside a half mile zone in Westminster.

The likely effect is that, when MPs return from their mammoth summer break, the irritant will have been removed.

But, as they point out, they are not stopping him exercising his right of freedom of speech.

They just don't want to hear it.



SEE ALSO
Commons protester at High Court
26 Jul 05 |  London
Westminster protest 'ban' looms
01 Jul 05 |  London
Protest ban zone 'goes too far'
15 Jun 05 |  London
Westminster protests to be banned
03 Nov 04 |  UK Politics

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