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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police are responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the capital. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been in close touch with them and fully supports the steps they are taking to prevent injury and damage to property. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does the noble Lord agree that last year the protest took place on a non-working day, when the scope to manage the problem was greater for the Metropolitan Police, yet a great deal of damage was done? What lessons have been learnt from that? What different approach will be taken this year? It will be a working day, with many more people about. Property will be more difficult to protect. How will the approach be more effective this year? The approach last year was not that effective.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the police are to be congratulated on their rigorous and vigorous efforts in countering the effects of the May Day anti-capitalist protest last year. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not wish to undermine their efforts and endeavours in that regard. Lessons have been learnt. That is why my right honourable friend and I met recently with the commissioners and the British Transport Police to ensure that all possible steps would be taken to prevent the recurrence of last year's outrages. Extra steps have been taken. There will be extra protection for public monuments and 6,000 police officers will be deployed on May Day to prevent any recurrence of what happened last year.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, while we all value the right to demonstrate and to protest--indeed, it is part of the constitution--we shall support the Metropolitan Police if they robustly enforce the law and the courts if they robustly enforce sentences on those who have clearly committed violent acts during a demonstration that is plainly designed to disrupt the life of the city?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is clear that the whole House supports those sentiments. We have made the position plain and I am sure that the commissioners will ensure that officers intervene at the first sight of any problems next week, should any occur. The police deserve our fullest support in carrying out their duties. I am sure that everybody supports that sentiment.
Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in a society such as ours which jealously protects free speech, free assembly and the right to organise, it is absurd to refer to conspiracy to intimidate and threaten as "anti-capitalism"? It is anti-democracy. Following on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, the general public are sometimes surprised by the small number of prosecutions that follow such blatant and large-scale disorder and criminal acts. Will the Minister assure the House that the authorities will follow up any public disorder, such as that which has been threatened, by prosecuting and
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, of course we must jealously protect all our freedoms, including the right to assembly and the right to protest. However, if people commit criminal acts they should be properly prosecuted. I assure the noble Lord that we shall give every encouragement to the prosecuting authorities to do exactly that.
Lord Renton: My Lords, the protesters claim to be anti-capitalist. Should they not bear in mind that anti-capitalism is out of date? In what was communist Russia, capitalism is now encouraged. Even in communist China, capitalism flourishes. Would not the world starve without capitalism?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Well, my Lords, it would be unwise to start with a Home Office brief and end up in a discourse on the nature of political economy. I am sure that the noble Lord is perfectly right in his summation, but some people object to the way in which business is done. I am sure that the noble Lord agrees that everyone has a right to protest in their own way, but they must respect our democratic institutions. It is wrong when they disrupt the economic life of the city and the wellbeing of others.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I have a slightly simpler question. Is there any way under the law in which people can be prevented from wearing masks or other disguises when they take part in such demonstrations?
Lord Peston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the word "people" in the Question includes Members of your Lordships' House? Is he aware that your Lordships' House will be meeting that day, as will at least one of its committees, taking evidence in public? Can he reassure us that the authorities of the House have taken seriously a possible threat to our proceedings and those of our committees?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it would be wise at this time to draw attention to the notice on the Peers' notice board, which has been placed with the full authority of the House officials. I was reminded in the corridor earlier by one official that all the entrances will be open and free access will be guaranteed to Members of your Lordships' House.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a problem of morale in the Metropolitan Police over issues such as this? If the police do not believe that they have the complete support of Her Majesty's Government and that the judiciary will take the proper action of sentencing and imprisonment, it will have a
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot accept any suggestion that Her Majesty's Government are giving anything other than the fullest possible support to the Metropolitan Police and all officers from other police forces at this time, particularly on 1st May. They will have the fullest support of Her Majesty's Government. We have been vigorous in our support. We have met leading police officers and explained that we wish the demonstrations to be dealt with firmly and effectively. We encourage the courts to do their job following arrest and, hopefully, prosecution.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, where does the money come from to pay for repairs to the property that is damaged? Last time considerable damage was done to property. Does it come from the public purse or from the insurers of the owners of the buildings? Who is responsible for meeting the costs?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a good question. Effectively, both parties meet the costs, in particular those who have responsibility for the public buildings, statues or monuments in question. We shall do all that we can to ensure that the most prominent public monuments are properly and adequately protected on the day.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the whole House appears to share the concern for the preservation of democracy and order. Does the Minister agree that making that concern effective includes not only the vigorous enforcement of the law, but also the finding of legitimate channels through which people can work for change? Will the Government consider further the question of how national political power can be brought to bear on the problems of global trade?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not sure that that is included in my briefing. The noble Earl is right to say that the widest possible opportunities should be given for people to make their point widely known. The noble Earl has a good track record in doing that.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the demonstrations have nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with terrorism and terrorising? Does he disagree with those who think that they are a manifestation of free speech, which they are not?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have already made it plain that I fully support freedom of speech and the proper rights of assembly and association. I suspect that the noble Earl is right that the demonstrations have very little to do with democratic institutions, but people must have an opportunity to
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