Tuesday, 27 January 2009

SOCPA s132 update

Buried in the Home Office 14th Septemver memorandum to the JCHR's Policing and Protest inquiry is this:

26. In moving to repeal sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, the Government takes seriously the need to ensure that the operation of Parliament is safeguarded and security is not compromised.

In response to concerns raised by the Metropolitan Police and others, we are seeking the views of Parliament on whether additional provision is needed to ensure access to the House is not hindered and the workings of the House are not disrupted. These concerns need to be balanced against Parliament’s status as the natural focus for the
electorate to express it views which was very strongly articulated in response to our

27. In terms of whether additional provision is needed in the wake of the repeal of sections 132 to 138, we are keen to hear the views of the JCHR. The JCHR will be aware that the Joint Committee on the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill which has been examining protests around Parliament, including the repeal of SOCPA, has now published its recommendations. We are carefully considering the Committee's recommendations and will respond in due course before introduction of the Bill during the fourth Parliamentary session.


But in Vernon Coaker's oral evidence:

Q40 John Austin: You have reaffirmed the government's intention of repealing sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA. In earlier evidence, the government have said to us that this was a matter of constitutional renewal and it was not because of the government's feelings that there was a compliance problem on human rights grounds. I notice, unless I have missed it, that the Constitutional Renewal Bill is not in the Queen's Speech this year. If you are going to do it as part of constitutional renewal, when do you expect to bring in the repeal of 132 to 138 of SOCPA?

Mr Coaker: We expect that to come in this session. We think it is an important part of the constitutional renewal and in the response that you will have seen to the document in managing protests around Parliament there was general recognition in the responses that we had to that that it was unpopular.

Q41 John Austin: Which Bill will it be part of?

Mr Coaker: The Constitutional Renewal Bill.

Q42 Chairman: That is not happening.

Mr Papaleontiou: The programme of constitutional renewal was referenced in the Queen's Speech. We will be taking forward measures which will be addressed.

Q43 Chairman: It is somewhere towards the back end of the queue. Why can you not take it as part of the Law Reform Bill?

Mr Coaker: My understanding was that we were changing this with respect to the SOCPA clauses and we were amending those in this session of Parliament. I will go back to the Department and clarify that. I have been briefed to say that to the Committee. That was my understanding as well but I will go back and clarify that with the Department and write to the Committee to make sure that I am not misinforming you.

Q44 Chairman: That is helpful but if it looks as though the Constitutional Renewal Bill is going to be at the back of the queue for the parliamentary year, we may need to carry the Bill into the next year, which may mean it gets alongside of the General Election, that is not very helpful. It is a relatively minor reform in terms of drafting so I will put it to you again: we know there is going to be a Law Reform Bill. Why can it not be part of that? I ask it in a rhetorical way.

Mr Coaker: I cannot answer that because I do not know, having been told that we are going to take this forward in this session, whether there is some other Bill that I have not thought of that it is going to be part of. What I need to do is to check this so that I properly inform the Committee of what the intention is.

Q45 Chairman: It could also go in the Policing and Crime Bill, could it not?

Mr Coaker: It is the Policing and Crime Bill which I am taking forward, as I think you have probably just been told. This is an extremely important measure. It is important as a statement about our country and protest. Therefore, it is an important legislative change that we need to take forward. My own personal commitment to it is something that is there. I will find out what is happening and come back to the Committee so we can properly inform you how we are moving on that.

Chairman: It would be very helpful if it could get into an earlier Bill. I certainly feel an amendment coming on.

Q46 John Austin: Apart from the regulation of protests around the House of Commons, there is the issue of access as well. There was some question as to whether the Public Order Act was adequate for the purpose. Can I ask you what options the Home Office is actually looking at for changes to the Public Order Act to deal with protests around Parliament?

Mr Coaker: We obviously want to remove the SOCPA provisions but we do know that session orders are passed by Parliament at the beginning of each day and it is important that Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords can gain access. Part of the changes that we will make will be looking at how we can ensure, notwithstanding the changes I have said we intend to make with respect to taking those clauses out, that Members of Parliament, Members of the House of Lords and others, can access Parliament. We will look at that, not only in terms of accessing when Parliament is sitting but when Parliament is not sitting as well.

Q47 John Austin: Will there be an opportunity for adequate discussion of the options that you might be considering?

Mr Coaker: Yes. There will be. It will be my intention to ensure that we negotiate and involve members of this House in terms of what action there should be. We will have a full, frank and open discussion about how we bring that about.

Q48 John Austin: Very often we have a very last minute opportunity of commenting on proposals.

Mr Coaker: You are right to say that. That is not my intention. Everybody will be pleased about the withdrawal of the SOCPA provisions but alongside that there is a recognition however that there is a need to ensure that we can access Parliament.


There is still no proposal of how they will achieve this 'recognition', byelaws or baton charges.

No comments: