Minister rules out using water cannon against Parliament Square protest by Tamils

May 19, 2009 at 1:50 pm Leave a comment

The government has “no plans” to introduce water cannons in the policing of demonstrations.

Vernon Coaker, Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, said during Home Office questions yesterday that all “less leathal technologies” are kept under constant review.

As MPs were discussing the issue, hundreds of Tamil protesters were once again occupying Parliament Square. They want the British government to intervene in the situation in Sri Lanka.

Tory MP Gerald Howarth called the Tamil protests “an absolute disgrace.”

“It is an abuse of the right to protest,” he said.

“For seven weeks, the Square has effectively been under semi-permanent occupation by the Tamils, and people going about their business in London have been disrupted.”

He wanted to know how many police days have been devoted to the demonstration and how much has it cost.

“The Minister has told me that the Home Office does not keep those figures and that they are a matter for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

“Who is in charge of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner? The people of London should be told how much the demonstration is costing.”

Mr. Coaker said that was an operational matter for the Met.

“The only point that I make to the hon. Gentleman is that, far from being an affront to democracy, what is going on out there is a victory for democracy.

“Having said that, I should also say that of course there are issues about how any demonstration is policed.

“However, I pose this question to the hon. Gentleman: what would be the effect were the police to conduct a clearance operation, bring the tents down and forcibly remove people, including women and children?

“Then we would see a protest from the other side of the argument. We have to look at the issue in a proportionate, sensible and measured way. We have to try to facilitate protest while trying, as far as we can, to ensure that people can go about their lawful business.”

Conservative MP John Bercow asked that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office “explain once and for all to the Government of Sri Lanka, a country that I recently visited, that the British police are not in the business of seeking to restrain or disperse protestors by the use of water cannon simply because they are holding placards or waving banners of which that Government happen to disapprove?”

Mr. Coaker said people have a right to protest.

“That is what is going on outside, and in my view and that of many people, the policing of that demonstration, by facilitating protest but as far as possible allowing the public and Parliament to go about their business, is a testament to the police,” he said.

“It is sometimes difficult for the police, because people may say that something ought to be done about Tamils who are sitting in the road, for example, but the only way to move them, if they will not move, is by force. The way in which the police have tried to persuade people to conform is the right way forward.”


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