Tory MP suggests deploying water cannons against Parliament Square Tamils

May 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm Leave a comment

tamilprotests
photo: Jessica Mulley on Flickr

The Speaker is to meet with the police and a Home Office minister to discuss the ongoing protests by Tamils in Parliament Square.

Michael Martin told MPs that later today he will be meeting the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, the deputy Mayor of London responsible for policing, the leader of Westminster council and an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

They will discuss “how demonstrations in the square can be better regulated so that the functioning of Parliament is not impeded and the health and safety of individuals is not breached,” the Speaker said.

“I shall come back to report any progress that we can make to resolve this highly unsatisfactory situation.”

Earlier this week a veteran MP suggested tougher tactics against protesters.

The issue was raised during Points of Order on Monday.

Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Aldershot, complained to the Speaker that London “has been brought to a standstill by a bunch of demonstrators who have, in effect, occupied Parliament square for about six weeks.”

“It is surely unacceptable that these people should be allowed to take over Parliament square and disrupt the entire centre of our capital city,” he said.

“I wonder what on earth the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is doing about it, bearing in mind that every police officer to whom I have spoken has made it clear to me that it is his view that the Commissioner will take no action, because after the G20 they are completely frit of doing anything for fear of ending up in court themselves.”

The Speaker made reference to his many years as as trade union activists in his response.

“Many of us were involved in demonstrations before we came into the House, because demonstrating is part of a democracy, but we would have those demonstrations and then leave,” he said.

“No one has ever expected a demonstration to hijack Parliament square and the roads, and thereby stop others performing their democratic duties.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, asked for assurances that demonstrations and the right to demonstrate will not be impeded.

“Could we all not have some sympathy for the Tamil people out there who are desperate to do something to achieve safety for their families back home?” he said.

“Can we not recognise, at a human level, that people want their voice to be heard and for this House and our Government to do what they can to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka?”

The demonstrators want the British government to put pressure on Sri Lanka to end fighting in the country with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Mr Speaker attacked the protestors for using tactics such as hunger strikes and for setting up food stalls in the Square.

Tory Sir Patrick Cormack, an MP since 1970, wanted tough action.

“When you have your discussions later this week, will you please discuss with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the advisability of bringing in an implement that would be used in virtually every other capital city—the water cannon?”

The Speaker responded: “We have enough problems without water cannons; we do not need water cannons.”

Sir Nicholas Winterton, another veteran Tory, complained he was caught up in the protests as he attempted to drive to Parliament that morning.

“I was delayed in attending a meeting in the House,” he said.

“Indeed, I was held up for an hour and 10 minutes, until the police were able to sort out the traffic.

“Is it not the case that Members of Parliament and those associated with the House should have unimpeded access, and the police and the authorities should seek to guarantee that?”

Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes said the protesters had applied for permission.

“I do not condone people going on to the streets, but I wish to place it on record that I know for a certain fact that the demonstration in the square was applied for lawfully and granted permission for at least the last four weeks, and it will be able to continue lawfully for some weeks to come,” he said.

“I hope that colleagues will understand that there are laws, passed by this House, governing these matters, and the applicants for the demonstration have complied with those laws.”

The Speaker replied: “I know that I might be in a bit of a bad mood today, but let me say that when authorisation is given for 50 people to demonstrate, it means 50 people.

“It does not mean tents or food stalls, or texts being sent to supporters to tell them to bring little children along.

“That is not part of the authorisation of the demonstration. As a former trade union officer, I know that when somebody co-operates with the authorities to obtain permission for a demonstration, they comply with the rules that they lay down. No one can say that that happened in this case.”

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