Parliament Square looks like ‘Steptoe and Son set’ after Tamil protests

June 18, 2009 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment


A Conservative MP has said that demonstrations in Parliament Square should be “sorted out” after 73 days of Tamil protests came to an end.

Andrew Robathan raised the issues during questions to the House of Commons Commission this morning.

“Parliament Square is a world heritage site, but it currently looks a bit like a rather dated set for an episode of Steptoe and Son,” he said.

“Will the House of Commons Commission, together with the Leader of the House and the Home Office—and whomever—sort out this situation?

“I yield to nobody in my defence of people’s right to demonstrate outside Parliament, and in fact I deprecate the Criminal Justice Act that brought in some sort of strange exclusion zone to limit demonstrations outside Parliament.

“However, those demonstrations cannot go on for ever, and we should be able to strike a balance so that people may demonstrate and the world heritage site looks as it is meant to look.”

Nick Harvey, Lib Dem MP, answered for the Commission.

He told the House he was “grateful that this gives me the opportunity to confirm that the Tamil demonstration is now over.

“I believe that there is to be a further large-scale demonstration in central London, but the protest in Parliament Square is over, and the authorisation for it was, I understand, due to expire in a few days’ time in any case.”

Mr Harvey said the Serjeant at Arms, who is responsible for security in the Commons, has made representations to the Metropolitan Police “to the effect that access to this House is essential for the working of the House.”

“Beyond that, the policing of Parliament Square is a matter for the Metropolitan Police, and by extension the Mayor of London and the Home Office,” he said.

“I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but he would do better to raise these matters in Home Office questions, as they are not a matter for the House of Commons Commission.”

Labour MP Keith Vaz congratulated the Tamil community “on the dignified way in which it conducted its protest, and on the fact that it vacated Parliament Square yesterday.

“Although there are long-term issues to consider, as the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr Robathan) has said, the fact that that demonstration is no longer there shows that by working with the police, organisations can get the right to protest and show that they are able to conduct themselves with dignity.”

The demonstrators wanted the British government to put pressure on Sri Lanka to end fighting in the country with Tamil Tiger rebels. The Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tamils last month.

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


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