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Constitutional Reform & Governance Bill

October 20, 2009

Constitutional Reform & Governance Bill

Mark made two interventions on the Second Reading of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. The first was on the potential for temporary peers, the second on protests in Parliament Square.

Mark Field: The Justice Secretary has rightly pointed out the temporary nature of these arrangements, but would it not have been useful to bring in the category of temporary peer? The Government of all the talents was a very unrewarding experience: peers were appointed specifically as Ministers, but after a year or so in the role they ended up disappearing back into the private sector with a seat for life in the legislature. That is a very unsatisfactory arrangement. Is this Bill not an opportunity to ensure that temporary peers appointed specifically as Ministers no longer have a place in the legislature once their term of ministerial office has ended?

Jack Straw: I am not opposed to that principle, and I do not guarantee what stand the Government will take when the matter comes up. Other suggestions to have been made include appointing people to the Lords for 10 or 15 years. The whole House?and I include the Government and myself in this?need to be open-minded about the matter.

Jack Straw: Part 4 is very different from the provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which are being repealed. It gives a senior police officer the power to impose certain conditions, and it amends the Public Order Act 1986. Those provisions in the 1986 Act and other, similar provisions are quite standard, and we must balance the right of demonstration with the need to ensure access and proper order. I see the hon. Member for this House?Mr. Field?in his place, and I hope that once the provision in the 2005 Act goes, we will be able to persuade Westminster city council to use its existing powers in byelaw to control noise.

Nowhere else in the country would tolerate such megaphone disruption. Leaving aside what the protestor says, because I am not bothered about that, I must say that the current situation can be very disruptive for people in the building. It is terrible for the police officers and other staff on the gate. The relevant powers already exist to deal with the matter, so I hope that Westminster city council will use them rather more assiduously than it has up to now.

Mark Field: The Secretary of State will, I am sure, appreciate that there is an issue not simply for Westminster city council: advice is taken from the Metropolitan police, and there are elements in the vicinity to which the ambit and rule of the Mayor of London also applies. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: I personally feel that there is a right to protest within the vicinity, but the incessancy and volume of the noise is intolerable for those who work here, and for the residential population, who do not live too far away. I agree with him, but I should not want to water down the notion that there is some right, within what is an important part of the British constitutional make-up, to protest here. We need a balance, but I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s view that the balance has gone too far in one direction.

Jack Straw: May I just say, parenthetically, that I am one of the world’s experts on the land ownership of Parliament square? When it was dug up in 1999 during the "Stop the City" demonstration, I was Home Secretary and the Met’s police authority, and there were real problems about which part was owned by whom.