1) Did the proposal for the legislation come from parliamentarians or from civic society? Which (if any) groups lobbied for it?
In November 2003 the House of Commons Procedure Committee published a report on Sessional Orders and procedures (Third Report, Session 2002/3, HC 855). The Report considered the issue of access to Parliament and demonstrations in Parliament Square. The Committee made the following recommendation:
"We therefore recommend that the Government should introduce appropriate legislation to prohibit long-term demonstrations and to ensure that the laws about access are adequate and enforceable. We also expect the appropriate authorities to explore fully the possibility of using existing legislation to control the use of loud-hailers and other amplification equipment; failing that, the Government should consider legislation on this subject."
Oral evidence provided to the Committee came from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the Clerk of the House of Commons, the Serjeant at Arms, the then Minister of State for the Home Office, Hazel Blears MP and MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Nicholas Soames and Dr Jenny Tonge. Written evidence was also provided by the Sub Dean and Archdeacon of Westminster and the Greater London Authority.
2) How much has implementing the SOCPA legislation cost to date?
Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 are the response to the recommendation of the House of Commons Procedure Committee that the Government should introduce appropriate legislation to prohibit long-term demonstrations and ensure that the laws about access to Parliament are adequate and enforceable.
They provide a framework for the Commissioner to authorise and consider the management of all demonstrations notified to him in advance in the defined area. The legislation achieves the right balance of facilitating lawful protest while at the same time ensuring that those living and working in and around Westminster are able to access Parliament in safety and without fear of harassment. Cost was not the driver in determining how best to strike that balance, and it is difficult to compare with any accuracy the costs of policing demonstrations in the pre- and post-SOCAP environment
3) How many demonstrations have been licensed since the law was passed?
We understand from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police that during the period 1 August 2005 to December 2006 1,379 demonstrations have taken place with an authorisation.
4) If Brian Haw's hoardings were seen as a nuisance, could they not have been removed under existing laws?
It is not appropriate to comment on individual cases which are the subject of proceedings.
5) Did the Home Office envisage people being threatened with arrest over possession of a cake with the word "Peace" iced in it? Or for the reading of a list of the Iraqi war dead?
The aim of the provisions is to enable the police to facilitate lawful protest while at the same time ensuring that those living and working in and around Westminster are able to access Parliament in safety and without fear of harassment. It is not the intention of these provisions to deter protest or criminalise protestors and this is not what has happened in practice. Individuals have of course sought to challenge the legislation.
Recently the courts have ruled that even where a demonstration is entirely peaceful in nature, it is justifiable to impose sanctions on those who fail to comply with the authorisation procedure.
6) Given the increase in the number of demonstrations since the SOCPA law came in, have MPs and Peers found it easier to get to work?
The SOCPA provisions have not, as critics argued they would, led to any curtailment in the number of demonstrations. The provisions have also allowed the police to better plan for demonstrations. Since the measures came into force, the Home Office has not received negative feedback from MPs/Peers about access to the Palace of Westminster.
7) How many instances have there been of conditions being imposed by the police on demonstrations applied for under the SOCPA rules?
We understand from the Commissioner that conditions have been imposed on eight demonstrations since the provisions came into force. When notice of a demonstration is given, the Commissioner must authorise the demonstration. He may attach conditions which in his reasonable opinion are necessary for the purpose of preventing any of the following:
hindrance to any person wishing to enter or leave the Palace of Westminster; hindrance to the proper operation of Parliament; serious public disorder; serious damage to property; disruption to the life of the community; a security risk in any part of the designated area; or risk to the safety of members of the public (including those taking part in the demonstration).
8) How many applications have been rejected and what were the reasons?
The Commissioner tells us that no applications to demonstrate made in accordance with the SOCAP provisions have been rejected. The Commissioner must give authorisation for any demonstration which is notified to him in advance. Written notice must be given, if reasonably practicable, not less than 6 days before the day of the demonstration or if that is not reasonably practicable, then as soon as it is, and in any event not less than not less than 24 hours before the time the demonstration is to start. The Commissioner tells us that they may have informed people that they were too late to apply for an authorisation to demonstrate, but records of these occasions are not kept.
9) How many arrests have been made under the SOCPA law? How many of these lead to charges? And how many onto convictions?
We understand from the Commissioner that during the period 1 August 2005 to December 2006 there have been 15 convictions and 1 caution for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration in the designated area, 1 conviction for using a loudhailer in the designated area and 1 conviction for organising an unauthorised demonstration in the designated area.
We understand from the Commissioner that during the same period there have been 91 arrests of individuals for a range of offences.
10) Are there currently any plans to review SOCPA?
We keep the law in this area under review to ensure that it is working properly. But we believe that the measures in place achieve the right balance of allowing people to gather together to express their views, while at the same time ensuring that those living and working in and around Westminster are able to access Parliament in safety and without fear of harassment.