"there have been three public gatherings on Parliament Square Garden with approval from the GLA since the introduction of SOCPA from 1 August 2005 until 30 November 2007."
"It may be appropriate to develop criteria to distinguish between assemblies and marches to focus on timing, scale, size, and information on organisers requesting permissions, for example."
"The impact on the Authority’s ability to manage the permanent protests and camping around Parliament Square has required a significant resource investment to prevent low level disorder issues"
"Trafalgar Square has a long and established historical tradition as a place to protest as opposed to Parliament Square, which does not have the same historical or symbolic character."
"if a protest takes place it will inevitably limit the public uses of the square, and the protests should be limited in duration."
Next Campaign for Free Assembly public meeting:
11th May 2-4pm
London School of Economics Connaught House
Response from the Mayor of London
• The Mayor of London welcomes a review of the provisions for the right to protest in the vicinity of Parliament and the opportunity to respond to the Government’s proposals on ‘The Governance of Britain: Managing Protest around Parliament’. This submission does not attempt to answer every question in the consultation but highlights the key issues that the Mayor believes will need to be considered when deciding how to proceed.
• The GLA has been responsible for Parliament Square Garden under the GLA Act 1999 since 2000. The Mayor's vision for Parliament Square is that it should provide a symbolic and dignified setting for Parliament and the surrounding historic buildings, in keeping with its World Heritage location, as reflected in section 3 of the consultation document. It should be both accessible and meaningful to Londoners and visitors.
• Currently there are shared responsibilities in relation to the Parliament Square area. Westminster City Council manages the pavements along the east and south of the main grassed area and also the road networks whilst the GLA is responsible for Parliament Square Garden. The Metropolitan Police are responsible for authorising demonstrations within the SOCPA designated. However, permission is also needed from the GLA under the byelaws if protests are to take place on Parliament Square Garden and WCC regulations will also apply.
• Excluding the permanent protests that take place in the vicinity of Parliament Square Garden, there have been three public gatherings on Parliament Square Garden with approval from the GLA since the introduction of SOCPA from 1 August 2005 until 30 November 2007. The Metropolitan Police have data on all SOCPA authorised rallies that took place around Parliament.
• The Mayor fully supports proposals which enhance democracy in London and which serve the interests of all those who live, work or visit the capital.
• The Mayor has a responsibility to manage high quality public spaces as a fundamental part of delivering an urban renaissance in London. Accordingly, the management of a key public space such as Parliament Square Garden requires the promotion of a safe and accessible environment for the benefit of all Londoners and visitors.
1 The Government believes peaceful protest is a vital part of a democratic society, and that the police should have powers to manage public assemblies and processions to respond to the potential for disorder. Should the powers generally in relation to marches and assemblies be the same?
1.1 It depends as the key distinction is not between marches and assemblies but between different sizes and different characters of event. In general, but not always, marches tend to be larger events posing greater issues of public safety and so forth. Powers should be proportionate to the scale and character of event.
2 Do you agree that the conditions that can be imposed on assemblies and marches should be harmonised?
2.1 The imposition of conditions on assemblies and marches should be proportionate. It may be appropriate to develop criteria to distinguish between assemblies and marches to focus on timing, scale, size, and information on organisers requesting permissions, for example.
3 Is special provision needed for static demonstrations and marches around Parliament and if so what?
3.1 One of the key problems in managing protests under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) is the different bodies involved in the process of granting permissions and managing the Squares. The Metropolitan Police issue permission for land managed by two separate authorities. The Mayor manages Parliament Square Gardena and Westminster City Council controls the surrounding pavements and highways.
4 Are there any other considerations the Government should take into account?
4.1 The Mayor is progressing proposals to redevelop Parliament Square and create a more accessible, safe and high quality public place. Therefore any discussions on the management of protest on Parliament Square must consider the planned physical changes to the area. Crucially, there are approximately 34 million pedestrians using the Parliament Square area per year and currently approximately 470,000 people access the central garden space every year (source Atkins–Intelligent Space).
4.2 The proposals for improvements to the Square will include pedestrianisation on the south side to connect with Westminster Abbey, landscape improvements to the central garden and access to the Square opened up from the north, east and west. As a result accessibility will be significantly enhanced and as a minimum projection 34 million pedestrians per year would then be able to cross directly onto Parliament Square Garden. The physical improvements and therefore how the Square is designed, managed and maintained will need to deal with this vast increase in visitor numbers. The nature of the Square will remain as a symbolic and dignified setting for Parliament and the surrounding historic buildings, in keeping with its World Heritage Site surrounds.
4.3 The impact on the Authority’s ability to manage the permanent protests and camping around Parliament Square has required a significant resource investment to prevent low level disorder issues, to carry out maintenance and to manage special events on the Square. There have been instances of abuse to GLA staff and contractors whilst carrying out their responsibilities and day-to-day duties to look after and manage Parliament Square Garden. GLA staff should not be subjected to any type of harassment or abuse whilst carrying out their duties and the GLA finds such acts entirely unacceptable and takes such abuses very seriously. In addition MP’s have made complaints to the GLA regarding noise levels and abuse from demonstrators.
5 Do you have views on the model that should apply for managing demonstrations around Parliament?
5.1 The Mayor shares the opinion that Trafalgar Square is a good model for successfully managing demonstrations. However the differences in the physical layout and booking processes for Trafalgar Square need to be acknowledged. Trafalgar Square has the benefit of safe pedestrian access to the square, hard landscaped surfaces with distinct standing areas and ‘walls’ on three sides to create enclosure and decrease the immediate impact of the surrounding road. The GLA operates an approvals process to book Trafalgar Square
and liaise with the Police as required. This bookings system ensures a balanced range of uses of the square which includes groups wishing to protest, use by visitors, and also minimizes impact on the Trafalgar Square neighbours for issues such as noise control and duration of protest. Importantly, Trafalgar Square has a long and established historical tradition as a place to protest as opposed to Parliament Square, which does not have the same historical or symbolic character. Both the GLA and the Police recognize these constraints on Parliament Squares and offer Trafalgar Square as a practical alternative to the use of Parliament Square.
6 Do you consider that a prior notification scheme should apply to static demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament? Should any scheme only apply to static demonstrations over a certain size? And if so, what size of demonstration?
6.1 In response to Q5 and Q6 prior to SOCPA, the management and administration of protests on Parliament Square Garden, under the Public Order Act 1986, provided a largely effective and simple route for granting permissions to protest to organisers. This could be a way forward in managing protest around Parliament. The advantage is that it is a tried and tested formula that runs in rest of country.
7 Do you agree that conditions in order to prevent a security risk or hindrance to the operation of Parliament should remain in relation to demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament?
7.1 A key concern for the Mayor with regard to conditions of protests to be held on Parliament Square is proportionality and duration as if a protest takes place it will inevitably limit the public uses of the square, and the protests should be limited in duration. The Mayor supports the right to peaceful protest, including in the vicinity of Parliament unless there is a quantifiable and justifiable safety or security risk.
7.2 Whilst the Mayor respects the right of Brian Haw to hold his protest, the Mayor does not agree that Parliament Square Garden should be used as a free campsite, creating an unsightly public health hazard of offence to the thousands of Londoners and visitors who use this public space every day. The amenity of Parliament Square Garden must be protected and remain a sanitary environment for all.
7.3 It is pivotal that, as at Trafalgar Square, all static protests where possible, depending on size should allow people to actively engage with the Square as a public space at all times. In this way, protests that have been time specific have been able to be more effectively managed than those without. There are different management issues and considerations if duration is 24 hours or longer and if overnight. In accordance with conditions on time, place, numbers and size of protest similar conditions could include duration of protest.
8 Do you have a view on the area around Parliament that any distinct provisions on the right to protest should apply to?
8.1 The Mayor does not have a view on the area around Parliament that provisions on the right to protest should apply to.
For further information please contact:
Rhianon Jenkins – Policy & Projects Manager, Squares and Business Development
020 7983 5764
Richard Wiltshire – Senior Officer, Government Relations, 020 7983 4216