Ban on Parliament Square protests to be lifted

Demonstrations will return to Parliament Square after the government said it would undo its own legislation outlawing protests.

Reform announced in Gordon Brown’s draft Queen’s Speech yesterday seeks the repealing of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (Soca) 2005.

The act outright banned any demonstration within 1km of Parliament Square after MPs claimed their work was being disrupted by protests.

Then home secretary David Blunkett admitted in 2005 that the act was a “hammer to crack a nut”, in a reference to peace protestor Brian Haw.

Mr Haw has maintained a perpetual protest in Parliament Square since June 2001, first campaigning against economic sanctions imposed on Iraq and then later Britain’s involvement in the US-led war.

Although the majority of his placards have been removed and he has faced continuous efforts to remove him, he was allowed to stay after it emerged the legislation did not apply to him as he had encamped himself in the square before the law was passed.

The constitutional renewal bill being previewed by the prime minister on Wednesday confirmed the government’s intent to repeal sections 132 to 138 of Soca 2005.

But a Home Office spokesman denied the backtracking was a result of the government admitting it had been overly-draconian in its treatment of Mr Haw or other campaigners.

“The government said [in 2005] that it would be continually reviewing this; balancing competing rights with the ongoing security situation,” he told inthenews.co.uk.

But he added: “We have to make sure the workings of parliament are not disrupted.”

It is understood that the legislation is being repealed because security has been improved in and around Westminster in the last three years.

Commenting on the constitutional renewal bill, justice secretary Jack Straw said the legislation was in line with the government’s commitment of “reinvigorating our democracy”.

“Peaceful and lawful protest is a fundamental principle of the democratic tradition of this country,” he said.

“Therefore people must feel free to hold lawful protests at the heart of our democracy around parliament.”