The condition of Parliament Square is of interest to a number of Lords. Lord Norton has blogged on this site about the departure of the squatters and Lady Trumpington recently asked a question about it. I have tried twice to question the government about it. On the first occasion earlier this year the issue was sub judice, that is, it was under consideration by the Court, and therefore I could not ask about the issue of removing squatters. On the second occasion, Lady Trumpington beat me to it!
The squatters on the square have gone, but the pavement is still occupied and the square looks like a war zone. The British people are proud of their freedom to protest and often exercise it. For example, in Trafalgar Square or Hyde Park; and then they move on, having made their point, and leave the area free for the public and maybe other protesters. They do not make themselves into a permanent news item, nor do they leave an unsightly mess for long.
On 8 November Baroness Neville-Jones, the Minister responsible, explained in answer to Lady Trumpington that the problem about clearance is that no single authority owns Parliament Square. The GLA and Westminster Council own the pavements and the grass, and the Metropolitan Police are responsible for policing crime and managing protests near Parliament. The freedom to demonstrate has been abused, she said, and the Government is preparing new legislation to deal with the preservation of Parliament Square. It is a difficult balancing act that has to be carried out by such a Bill. There is a legitimate right to protest but encampment and permanent obstruction are not within it. The square is a site of world heritage importance, fronting not only Parliament but the Supreme Court and the Abbey. In no other democratic country that I have visited has there been anything but well tended and attractive open space near their legislatures and national buildings. I cannot see that the suffering peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the military, are in any way helped or promoted by squatting on the square. They have made their point. Protesting in Iraq about the attacks on Christians there, or in Iran about public executions – now that would be brave.