8 October 2007: for immediate release
CND Vice Presidents Tony Benn and Walter Wolfgang, the latter notoriously ejected from Labour Party conference, will lead an anti-war march to Parliament as it returns this Monday, in defiance of an arcane law being used to ban the protest.
After a legally permitted rally in Trafalgar Square co-organised by CND and the Stop the War Coalition (assembling at 1pm on Monday 8th October), protesters will march down Whitehall to Parliament Square despite a ban imposed under the Sessional Order of the House of Commons through the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. The order is intended to guarantee access for MPs [see note 2].
The ban comes despite Gordon Brown’s stated intention to repeal the sections of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) which ban unauthorised protest in Parliament Square and his pledge at Labour Party Conference “to uphold the freedom of speech, freedom of information and the freedom to protest”. Police sources have indicated that House of Commons authorities have asked for the ban, which is far more draconian than the SOCPA restrictions which allow demonstrations subject to Police approval. If applied consistently, the use of the Sessional Orders would ban all demonstrations from within a mile of Parliament, whilst it is sitting.
In common with other Sessional Orders, all of which date back to at least 1713, this power has been much criticised by Parliament itself, with the Commons Procedure Committee itself describing the order as “misleading” [see note 3] and stating that “demonstrations which do not significantly impede access should be allowed” [see note 4]. Organisers have pledged to facilitate access to any MP or Peer wishing to reach Parliament.
The long planned demonstration coincides with Gordon Brown’s statement to the Commons on Iraq and marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan. Demonstrators will march with the slogans “Not one more death – Bring all the troops home now” with speakers listed below [note 5]
Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “It is ridiculous that when Gordon Brown plans to repeal recent restrictions on demonstrations near Parliament, the House authorities drag out an even more draconian piece of legislation to clamp down on peaceful protest. The Act being used was passed before universal suffrage – it is shameful that we’re being told we have no more right to be heard by our representatives today than at the time of the Chartists.”
Notes to Editors:
1. For further information and interviews please contact Ben Soffa, CND’s Press & Communications Officer, on 0207 7002350 or 07968 420859. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
2. The Sessional Order passed every year by Parliament reads: “Ordered, That the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House, and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passages leading to this House, during the Sitting of Parliament, and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioner aforesaid.“
3. The House of Commons Procedure Committee, in the report on Sessional Orders and Resolutions in 2002–03 stated: “We believe that legislation on demonstrations is the only way to ensure that the police have adequate powers to achieve the result intended by the Sessional Order. Without such legislation, the Sessional Order is misleading; with such legislation, it would be unnecessary.”
4. The same report recommended that “Demonstrations which do not significantly impede access should be allowed, but they should be limited in duration, and well organised, to avoid long-term occupations which would limit the number of demonstrations and undermine the aesthetic and environmental value of Parliament Square as an important heritage square (this would apply to other such squares).” (Link as above)
5. Speakers at the “Not one more death – Bring all the troops home now” rally will include CND Vice President Tony Benn, CND Vice Chair Sophie Bolt, comedian Mark Steel, ex-soldier who served in Iraq Ben Griffin, Bob Wareing MP, National Union of Students President Gemma Tumelty, Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition Lindsey German and the General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union Billy Hayes.
6. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is one of Europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK. CND campaigns for the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere.