Square or squat

Baroness Deech

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.

32 comments for “Square or squat

  1. Carl.H
    21/11/2010 at 11:29 pm

    More law !!! Oh for goodness sake.

    Surely the laws we use for travellers camps, vagrants, disturbing the peace, loitering within atent 😉 are enough.

    I`d like too see someone pitch a couple of tents in a High street they`d find the Council are very good with existing law.

    There must be all sorts of Health and Safety issues, sanitation and lots more.

    Think I`ll bring my tent to Parliament Square and start a no more Laws protest !

    It is said frontline Policing may fall by 25% but you can bet you bottom dollar Laws will increase by about the same.

  2. Lord Blagger
    22/11/2010 at 12:18 am

    It’s the inevitable consequence of your little dictatorship.

    You’ve denied the electorate any say on any issues. For example the referenda on transfer of powers to the EU. You passed that even though there was a manifesto promise. Yet another example of why you as a Quango are a waste of space and money unless you’re on the gravy train.

    As a consequence of this two fingered approach to the electorate, some of the electorate have decided to do something about it. Namely to protest.

    Now, you don’t like protests because it interferes with the dictatorial approach. Hence the desire to ban and remove anyone who disagrees with you.

    Yet more evidence of the lack of democracy and your real intent. Rule, pocket the cash, and s*d off to the people who have to pay.

  3. Gareth Howell
    22/11/2010 at 8:25 am

    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

    Noble Baroness Deech,
    I have often thought the same about the Square and mused upon the heavy density of traffic going through it.

    The squatting is surely very much to be preferred to the traffic? If squatting is a prelude to re-arranging the traffic to get OUT of the square, then may the squatters squat on!

    The road is of course a main trunk road out of/through London and England.

    The squatters may yet turn out to be a bargaining tool in the improvement of the use of the square.

  4. 22/11/2010 at 11:20 am

    Lord Blagger: don’t you think the protests are mainly aimed at that other unelected quango called the House of Commons? Of course, you never complain about that house as it spends far more money on fewer members.

    Gareth Howell: I certainly agree about the traffic in Parliament Square. It takes ages to get from one side to the other. But then the same goes for many parts of London. The squatters are a disgusting sight and I hope they are removed permanently. But perhaps the problem is they want to leave, but have yet to be able to cross the road?

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      23/11/2010 at 12:02 pm

      What on earth entices you to drive a car in London in the first place? The TfL system may be hopelessly strained, but it’s still not as awful as driving in central London.

  5. tory boy
    22/11/2010 at 12:49 pm

    Baroness Trumpington is my No1 peer and has been for ages!! I am in total agreement with what she says get rid of these people they are a blot on the beauty of parliament square. All these people state is there bloody right to protest, what about everybody else’s right to live in a peaceful environment? They should simply be shipped to a remote Scottish island where they can protest all day long and only annoy the sheep!

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      23/11/2010 at 7:46 pm

      If you lived within earshot you’d have a case to be made. As it is, they aren’t, actually, infringing on your right to live in a peaceful environment, are they? All they’re infringing on is your right to not be reminded about the iniquities of the government, which, as it happens, is a right you don’t actually have under any legal system.

      I think the legal term that applies in your case is “hard cheese.”

  6. Senex
    22/11/2010 at 3:22 pm

    BD: You really are going have to take care in what you say and consider whether any part can be taken in a pejorative sense; after all we don’t want to stir up the proverbial in any diplomatic sense now do we?

    “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.”

    I must point out to the suffering peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and the military that Baroness Deech needs to go on a cultural awareness course preferably in a part of the Islamic world that Thomas Crapper never travelled to.

    If it’s my job at home to clean the toilets as a token of humility and to remind me of my place in the grand scheme of things then the Noble lady and her Lords should get out there to physically clean up British politics.

    Asher Yatzar


    22/11/2010 at 7:21 pm

    But, protestign in Iraq about Christians beign killed, or in Iran for its rather too often Death Penalty (For even slight infractions) woudl get one killed, and surly you knwo these Squartters are just there to WHinge…

    The problem with Western society is that we’ve made Protestign a bit easy. its also a good thign in that we have Free Speech, and as Blagger said, there ar esometimes legitimate reasons to complain. Still, I do wish we’d be mroe civil about our dealings in society.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      23/11/2010 at 11:59 am

      “The problem with Western society is that we’ve made Protestign a bit easy. “

      Yes, you’re right, of course. What we need is a bit of repression. Crack down on people, make it harder for them to voice their opinions.

      I’m sure they’ll understand the value of free speech more if they have to speak through broken teeth, right?

  8. mcduff@beta57.com
    22/11/2010 at 10:30 pm

    Goodness me, did you really just use the “why don’t you go to the dangerous foreign country and see how you like it there, eh?” line of argument?

    And you debate, my Lady, in the House of Lords?!

    If that fails, are you planning on asking the opposition “I know you are but what am I?”

    The purpose of protest is not to “make a point,” Baroness. It is to get things changed. No, camping out appears to not change very much. But nor, it seems, does writing a politely worded letter to the ghouls in government. If making warmongers a little uncomfortable with the consequences of their actions, or reminds tourists that we’re a country run by warmongers, then that is, in fact, the point. That’s what protest is for.

    You, the people in government, the opposition, one half of the morton’s fork, are not supposed to like protest! It is supposed to make you upset, and angry, and to bother your precious sensibilities . If you do not like it, that is a positive thing. That is the goal.

    Protestors do not change the world. The ruling classes change it, when smelly and ugly protestors get too unbearable for them to take. If you’re expressing distaste for the aesthetic ugliness, while a member of the legislature, and bemoaning their lack of impact, it demonstrates that you are 100%, completely, missing the entire point, not just of their job, but of yours.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      23/11/2010 at 11:57 am

      Goodness, but didn’t I shag my tenses in graf 4 there? Apologies to all who had to wrestle with that.

  9. Gareth Howell
    23/11/2010 at 9:03 am

    Government is preparing new legislation to deal with the preservation of Parliament Square
    Prservation is surely quite a dirty word, for the square , which nobody can use or get to normally. The squattersa risk life and limb getting on to it, across the A road traffic.

    The GLA owns the pavement and grass but the DfT owns the roads.

    It would be an impossible engineering task to put the traffic beneath the square, although most engineering projects are viable nowadays.

    The traffic cannot be moved to other streets, say south of the river, due to residential demands.

    The road nearest St Stephen’s entrance could just conceivably be an underpass.

    A complete redesign of the square is highly desirable, not “preservation”, so that it may be used not just by squatters but by everybody interested in parliament,the abbey,
    the supreme court bulding architecture and the foreign office facade.

    It’s long overdue and the nonsense of “preservation” should be discarded immediately.

  10. 23/11/2010 at 1:47 pm

    Seems like the Diggers are to be rmebered here…

  11. Bedd Gelert
    23/11/2010 at 5:36 pm

    Hmmm… I have some sympathy for your view, but aren’t you being a bit too anal here ??

    I’m thinking you must be very houseproud and obsessed with tidiness in a manner rather reminiscent of Hyacinth Bucket.

    If politicians were half as concerned about problems with litter and loutishness outside the ‘World Heritage Site’ at which you work I would be less inclined to dismiss this as ‘special pleading’ and NIMBYism…

  12. ZAROVE
    23/11/2010 at 7:30 pm

    McDuff, thanks for completely misconstruing my point. No I don’t want repression, I do however think we can cultivate a society of respect, honour, and duty rather than the whiny and rather self interested society we have today.

    The Protesters really don’t accomplish anything, especially since there are often people protesting either side.

    What is the Government suppose to do when you have two Protesters, one protesting there aren’t enough social programmes to help the poor and needy, the other saying there are too many and the Government takes heir money so they live in poverty to finance someone else? Obviously the Government can’t give in to both groups with diametrically opposed views.

    Further, even if only one group is out on the Square, do you think these signs and placards and tends and shouting has any effect other than to Chill the MP’s and Lords reactions?

    I don’t think it takes to much Moxy to think that we can ask society to do better. I have always stood for unqualified Free Speech, and even want the Hate Speech laws stricken down on that basis, so come on, this isn’t what I’m saying, that breaking teeth is a good idea, I just think we need to protest less often in this particular and useless fashion.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      23/11/2010 at 11:21 pm

      Oh, yes, but we’re not really allowed to incite the useful kind of protest on government-run blogs, are we?

      Funny how you picked your examples, isn’t it? Some people say there aren’t enough programs to help the poor, and some people complain that their money is being taken to help the poor. And these things are, in your mind, equivalent.

      Thing is, mostly, those who think there are too many programs to help the poor don’t protest at all. They purchase newspapers, and ministers, and find it rather easier to make their points in the civil kinds of ways that you think are best. Funny, that, isn’t it, how really bloody rich people can be totally civil, and how it’s such a shame that we’d listen to the poor if only they had a wash. Almost as if the definitions of “civility” were designed with making them the exclusive domain of the well-resourced. As I say, funny old game.

  13. Carl.H
    23/11/2010 at 11:12 pm

    “One protesting there aren’t enough social programmes to help the poor and needy, the other saying there are too many and the Government takes their money so they live in poverty to finance someone else? ”

    One would hope the Government savvy enough to realise the price of societal peace and harmony is less than the Prison system, fear and violence. That subsidy is better than the alternate. Starving wives and children make aggressive hunters with no choice out of manfolk.

    “I just think we need to protest less often ”

    I think we deserve less law, less control and law should be people orientated not business orientated. I know we don`t protest enough.

  14. Twm O.r Nant
    24/11/2010 at 5:58 pm

    But perhaps the problem is they want to leave, but have yet to be able to cross the road?

    The central reservation of the square is only ever used bystatues of former statesmen, who usually reside there in splendid isolation, isolated by the sheer walls of traffic going in all four directions.

    There is not even a crossing for pedestrrians to cross in to the centre of the square at any point so full marks to the squatters for drawing our attention tothe problems of
    Afgh and Iraq!

    Roll on such demos and cycling for London too!

  15. Twm O.r Nant
    24/11/2010 at 5:59 pm

    Citizen Smith: Power to the people!!!!!!

  16. ZAROVE
    25/11/2010 at 3:02 am

    McDuff, no one htinks the poor dont need help at all, the main thruzt is if the poor nee to have a welfare state.

    The debate is a lot deeper than you depict.

    Carl, I agree that we need less Government, I just dont see these sorts of Protests as effective, and further doubt they stem from a maturity needed to effect a proper change.

    If I put up a tent and start yelling incoherantly at the Goverment, I may be excersiign my right to Ffee Speech but I am not really makign a positive case for any sort of Change.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      25/11/2010 at 8:29 pm

      The debate is a lot deeper than you depict.

      And it’s a debate which has been going on for a long time. Many people have tried the other ways of doing it. The brand new ideas about what a glorious world it would be if the hard-fought constructions of the welfare state were unmade and government “got out of the way” of citizens and churches and charities and whatnot are not, as it happens, new ideas at all, in any sense. We tried them. You may have heard of the experiment. It was called “history.”

      Specifically, you may want to look at the 19th century.

      It’s amazing how people who think that the welfare state is a terrible hardship never stop to think for a second about the circumstances that caused it to be created, and quite why all those people seemed to insist upon it.

      It might be a little uncharitable to put it down to historical ignorance, but there’s really little else that it could be, when you get down to it.

      Besides, the poor don’t need the welfare state nearly as much as the rich do. It’s a very good buffer mechanism. One of the ways in which you keep people shouting incoherently and without an real chance of effecting the kind of change that leaves the wealthy ruling classes most discombobulated.

      Careful what you wish for. You might get it.

    • Twm O'r Nant
      26/11/2010 at 9:27 am

      “start yelling incoherantly at the Goverment, I may be excersiign my right to Ffee Speech but I am not really makign”

      Heh! Heh! Quite! Rather clever really!

  17. Twm O.r Nant
    25/11/2010 at 11:39 am

    The baroness should count herself lucky; the sufragettes Pankhurst, sailed up the river and used loud hailers on that side of parliament too!

    I don’t know what the substructure of the main road past St Stephen’s is; I don’t think there are any subterranean buildings there; quite sure of it, so a complete redesign of the square, with a short underpass should be possible.

    Numerous Pedestrian crossings on to the centre of the square would make it more accessible to bona fide users, but this has never been done, possibly again for security reasons.

    With cameras and local regs, it would now be possible to police it effectively, in a way that has never been done before.

    The square which must be all of an acre, at its centre, is a completely unused asset, which should be used to enhance, the presence of the new supreme court, parliament, the newly cleaned abbey, and even the nearby profligate but splendid Portcullis house.

    The squatters, for whichever purpose, have secondary causes!

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      25/11/2010 at 8:30 pm

      “With cameras and local regs, it would now be possible to police it effectively, in a way that has never been done before.”

      Yay, more police and cameras watching out for people who may express unfavourable opinions in an aesthetically unpleasing way! Just what we need!

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      26/11/2010 at 4:53 pm

      Also bear in mind that the Met are, as has been proved time and time again, violent liars when it comes to dealing with people who might maybe possibly be exercising their right to protest, or not but in the vicinity. So, yeah, more of that? Is that what we want?

      • Bedd Gelert
        26/11/2010 at 7:06 pm

        Spare me this claptrap…

        The Guardian would do well to provide a bit of ‘balanced coverage’ rather than recycle anti police garbage.


        • mcduff@beta57.com
          27/11/2010 at 11:24 am

          I’m sorry, were you supposed to post another link there? I’m not sure I see the relevance of the Avon and Somerset mounted section home page to a news story about the Met lying about the tactics used during a protest.

          Also, recycling anti police claptrap is not exactly the kind of phrasing I’d use. The police said they didn’t do a thing; here is a video showing them doing what looks like that thing; the police got back to us and said “well when we said ‘a thing’ that means a specific kind of thing, not the general category of things. We might have done a general thing.” If there’s any anti-police claptrap in there, I think it’s the Met who are saying it, both on the claptrap side, and in creating the anti-police sentiment.

          The Met do not do well when caught on camera. They have a history of high profile lies when found with blood on their hands. I hope I can be forgiven in thinking that I’m not going to trust them to police protests from a safety point of view rather than a cracking down on dissent point of view until they stop acting like the military wing of the government.

  18. Gareth Howell
    26/11/2010 at 12:18 pm

    The subsoil beneath the road outside St Stephen’s was once river bed, which would not
    deter any builder today, even with a fast flowing river at the same or higher level 90m to the south.

  19. ZAROVE
    26/11/2010 at 3:37 pm

    Mcduff, I disnt actually take sides in any debate, I simply brought up an existing one. Liekwise, yoru whole “Youa re historiclaly ignroant” comment, and, your claim fo the 19th cenury is itself ignroant of History.

    This is also a classical example of a false dichotemy as theres mroe than just two options ad dozens are requntly debated, as well as peopel who overall agree on the principles of the argument but ask how far is too far, and disageree on that.

    All I was sayign is that peopel argue these cases still, and ultimatley have valid points to make.

    You are transformign my saying, which was about how peopl can disagree and how chnage shoudl be effected, ro discussed, inro me beign a monster who wants the poor to be sent to work houses or die int he streets, and I fin that rather dishonest.

    • mcduff@beta57.com
      26/11/2010 at 4:37 pm


      There is a certain political reality that you’re not aware of, though, isn’t there? One can argue that there are theoretical nirvanas of perfect policy which, if only everyone was perfect and the world was made of gumdrops and unicorns, we could implement tomorrow for the benefit of all.

      However, that’s not the world we live in. The Welfare State as constructed is not a single vision implemented by philosophical purists. It’s a cumulative construction which has been won by hard graft and constant work. Taking it away will not result in some new religious/libertarian/whatever else system magically appearing to take its place. It will result in people getting screwed over.

  20. Bedd Gelert
    26/11/2010 at 7:04 pm

    Looks like the Bozzmeister isn’t going to get his hands dirty over this one anytime soon…


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