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june 18th protests reports:

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>> Hansard report
Lovely day in the sun
  Hansard report
(report from Hansard 217, 25th June 1999)

City of London Demonstration 4.26 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement on the deplorable outbreak of public disorder and violence in the City of London last Friday, which I believe the whole House will want to condemn. I have today spoken with the Lord Mayor, Lord Levene, and the commissioner of the City of London police, Mr. Perry Nove, about the course of events.

The occasion for the disorder was a so-called day of action that had been planned by several disparate groups to coincide with the G8 summit in Cologne. The City of London police had been aware for some months that such a protest was planned. Information relating to the event had been widely available on the internet. Organisers of demonstrations normally co-operate early and fully with the police to ensure that arrangements for a peaceful event are satisfactory to all concerned. In this instance, no co-operation was forthcoming: attempts by the police to discuss the arrangements were simply rebuffed.


The City police none the less provided as much information as they could to those who live and work in the City about what was planned and what precautions residents and businesses could take. During the morning of last Friday, the demonstrators were relatively small in number and generally peaceful, but around midday a much larger group, soon numbering several thousand, began to assemble in Liverpool street.

After a couple of hours, the group split into four separate groups, one of which very suddenly attacked the police at London Wall. At that point, two members of the crowd were injured; the most serious injury was to a woman who sustained a broken leg. The groups then converged on the building of the London International Financial Futures Exchange, in Cannon street. A concerted effort was made to storm the building, with demonstrators using scaffold poles and paving stones without any regard for human safety.

As a result of police action, the demonstrators then moved away from the immediate vicinity of the building, but disorder continued over a wide area of the City and then in the Trafalgar square area of the Metropolitan police district. A high-level police presence was maintained on the streets of the City and the west end during and immediately following the disorder. As a result of the day's disorder, 16 people were arrested, for offences including criminal damage with intent; aggravated burglary; and assaults on the police and on members of the public.


Investigations are continuing. As is normal in such situations, the commissioner will make a report on the events to his police authority. I want to place on record my appreciation--and, I am sure, that of the whole House--for the way in which the City of London police, supported by the Metropolitan police and the British Transport police, dealt with this wholly deplorable outbreak of violence, which was plainly premeditated.

Sadly, eight injured police officers had to be taken to hospital. On behalf of the House, I wish to extend our sympathy and good wishes to the officers concerned. At the moment, I have no firm information to suggest that a recurrence of those demonstrations is likely in the foreseeable future. However, I intend to hold further consultations with the Commissioner and the police service, to ensure that everything possible is done to protect the safety of the public and the businesses in the City and elsewhere in London.

This country has a fine tradition of peaceful protest, which is an essential part of any well functioning democracy. The London police--the Metropolitan police and the City police--have a fine record of co-operating fully with peaceful demonstrations. But the refusal of the organisers of that demonstration even to discuss with the police how the event was to be handled was wholly irresponsible, and showed a contempt for peaceful protest and for democracy.

The perpetrators of the violence, and they alone, are responsible for what ensued. There is no excuse for such violence. I believe that the whole House will join me in supporting the efforts of the police to ensure that those responsible for the violence are swiftly brought to justice.


Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I thank the Home Secretary for that statement and I join in his congratulations to the police--the City of London police, the Metropolitan police and the transport police. I also add congratulations to the staff in the LIFFE building, who acted with immense resourcefulness when confronted with a profoundly unpleasant situation.

Nevertheless, I wish to ask some important questions. Does the situation that arose in the City on Friday lead the Home Secretary to consider that he should reverse the fall in police numbers? Will he confirm that the City of London has experienced a 7 per cent. fall in police strength since May 1997 and that what it now has is below its 1979 resource level?

In those circumstances, is he satisfied that the City of London police had sufficient officers to cope with the events on Friday and would have sufficient officers to cope with such events if they should unfortunately arise in the future?Although I appreciate that the City of London police were reinforced by the Met on that occasion, it is also true--and I hope that the Home Secretary will confirm it--that that force itself has suffered a cut of more than 571 since he has been in office.

Will he also confirm that the fall in the City of London police manpower in that period is 66 and that there has been a reduction in the budget for the City of London police from ?57.1 million in 1998-99 to ?55.5 million in 1999-2000? Will he confirm that, under this Government, police numbers have fallen by nearly 800, by contrast with an inherited increase of 4,694?


How does that affect the sort of operation that became necessary on Friday?In view of these events, can the Home Secretary tell the House what, if anything, he intends to do to halt the decline in police numbers? Will he give us his view of what the strength of the police should be? Given the lessons of Friday for future disturbances and the role that might be played by the mounted police, is he satisfied about the strength of that division? Will he take this opportunity to confirm or to deny that there are plans to reduce the numbers or the role of the mounted division?

Given the availability of information about the proposed demonstration on the internet for, as the Home Secretary said, a considerable time before it took place, what discussions did he have with the City of London commissioner about the likely threat to public order? What information did he have about the nature of the organisations behind the protest, and what efforts were made to gain more intelligence about them before the problems were encountered on Friday?

Demonstrations, however peaceful they are designed to be, always present hazards. Given that the police were expecting to confront a demonstration with normal hazards, and that in reality they had to face a highly organised and pre-planned riot, is he satisfied with the intelligence operation on this occasion? What lessons for the future does he draw from that operation?

When was the Home Secretary first made aware of what was called the carnival against capitalism? As a result of such information as was available, what assessment was made--and what was communicated to him--of the likely threat that the protest posed to the business of the City of London and to public order?


I recognise that he may not be able to respond at this stage, but can the Home Secretary give an estimate of the cost to the public purse of the police, emergency services and other related activities involved in Friday's disorder?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, in such circumstances, closed circuit television is of massive importance? Given that importance, and his own rather belated recognition of it in making available extra funding, will he take this opportunity to congratulate the previous Conservative Government, who introduced CCTV, on their foresight, initiative and spending?

Mr. Straw: Of course, I would congratulate any Government who introduced CCTV, but I am sure that the right hon. Lady will know about the proportions involved. When we came to office, only ?1 million of free money was available for closed circuit television. We are now investing ?150 million--[Interruption.] I greatly regret that the right hon. Lady makes partisan comments on an issue on which the whole House ought to be united, but I feel obliged to respond.

The right hon. Lady asked whether I discussed the matter with the City commissioner. I did not do so personally, but I did discuss it with the Lord Mayor seven weeks ago, and I corresponded with him about it. However, my officials discussed the matter in some detail with the commissioner and his staff. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will forgive me for not going into detail about the nature of intelligence gathering, and that she will know that there are very good reasons why I cannot do so. However, I assure her that I meet the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis each month.


That detailed meeting covers all public order difficulties likely to arise in the foreseeable future, and this protest was included in that pre-planning. Lessons for the future always arise from events such as Friday's. It is for that reason, as I have already announced, that the commissioner of police for the City of London, Mr. Nove, will make a full report to his police authority.

In addition, the police have available the recent thematic report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary entitled "Keeping the Peace", which examines the policing of such public order events. I turn now to the numbers of police officers available in such circumstances, the issue that the right hon. Lady raised first and to which I am delighted to respond.

As I hope that she will be aware, the relatively small size of the City of London police force means that the numbers of officers made available for policing demonstrations in the City--especially when they are of such potential gravity--include many from the Metropolitan police service, under the mutual aid provisions.

I discussed the issue of numbers with the City commissioner this morning. He authorised me to say that he regards questions about the small variations in the total numbers of police across London as "a red herring", and that he had all the police that he needed. The right hon. Lady wants reassurance that we are reversing the decline in the numbers of police in London. Her amnesia on the issue is astonishing. Between 1992 and 1997, when she and her colleagues were responsible for setting the police budget in London, numbers in the Metropolitan police area dropped by 1,962--nearly 400 a year. We have stabilised those numbers.


Police numbers for 1998-99 were virtually stable, with a reduction of just 21, compared with the reduction of 400 a year for which she was responsible. We are looking forward to similar stability this year. The issue of police numbers is thus an own goal for the right hon. Lady.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): May we express our concern for the police officers who were injured and our appreciation of the work of the police from the three forces?
Is the Home Secretary aware that the problem with police numbers tends to relate to community policing, not to finding enough police officers to deal with a riot?Is there not a serious difference between the view of events that the Home Secretary presented in his statement and that which appeared in much of the media?

The media presentation is of a largely peaceful demonstration that was spoiled by a small disruptive minority, while the right hon. Gentleman has painted a picture of a much larger element intent on violence, or at least dangerously disruptive activities; and he has said that the organisers of the main demonstration were not prepared to co-operate with the police's attempts to ensure that it passed off peacefully. Is it not important to establish which is the correct view, to adapt police tactics accordingly in any similar situation, and to make the public aware of something as serious as a large-scale, organised attempt to disrupt?


Troublesome and expensive though the violence was, does the Home Secretary agree that it will neither stop the City from carrying out its important economic role nor do anything to further the legitimate ethical, environmental and world poverty concerns that many of us want to address to international business and to Governments?

Mr. Straw: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and their tone. We are all used to there being two different stories of what happened in such situations. One story is told by the police and those who observed the events and another is told by those who were involved in violence and are trying to excuse the violence that they have perpetrated on others, particularly--and usually--the police.

As far as we can judge, the organisers were intent on violent disruption from the moment they thought of the demonstration. We can tell that from the fact that they made no effort to contact the police and seek the co-operation for which the London police services are renowned with peaceful demonstrations. When the City of London police sought co-operation from the organisers, they were rebuffed.

The perpetrators, including the organisers of the demonstration, are solely responsible for the violence and damage that followed. The right hon. Gentleman is also correct to say that nothing that took place last Friday, nor any similar threat, will remove the City from its pre-eminent position as one of the world's financial centres which is of huge importance to the wealth of this country. The right hon. Gentleman also said that such behaviour would do nothing to persuade people of the case for ethical investment or greater environmental concern.

Ninety-nine per cent. of the people who are concerned about those issues are also concerned to ensure that any protest that they make is peaceful. They want nothing to do with such violence.


Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): May I express appreciation to the Home Secretary for the fact that his office advised me before lunch that he was going to make the statement? I also thank him for the tone in which it was delivered. Despite the damage and disorder that occurred in the streets, will he confirm that all the markets of the City of London remained open on Friday and today? Secondly, can he give the House any information about the disparate groups across the world to which he referred in his statement?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. I can indeed confirm that the markets remained open and I associate myself with the appreciation expressed by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) to the staff of the LIFFE building for their courage in seeking to ensure that damage was as limited as possible--and to the many other staff across the City of London and elsewhere who protected their buildings and the people in them to ensure that all the City's markets continued to function.

On the disparate groups, it appears that the protests were linked in some incoherent way to the G8 summit in Cologne. I fail to understand the direct connection. We have little information--certainly information that we can make publicly available--about any connection between those groups and others. As far as we can judge, they were entirely, and very sadly, home grown.


Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): May I add my thanks to those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) to the Home Secretary for volunteering this statement rather than waiting for a private notice question on a matter of great gravity for the City of London in particular and for London as a whole?

Will the monthly meetings with the Commissioner--or was it commissioners--of police continue after the institution of the Metropolitan police authority when the Greater London Authority comes into effect next July? In that context, can he assure us that after July 2000, where matters relating to the policing of the capital affect public order on a national scale, the Home Secretary will still come to the House and make statements such as today's?

Mr. Straw
: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone of his remarks and for his appreciation.

My monthly meetings are with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and arise from my position as police authority for the Metropolitan police until next July. I do not routinely have meetings with the commissioner of police for the City of London, whose police authority is a committee of the Common Council in the City.

However, it must be said that public disorder on anything like this scale, or at all, in the City is rare. As I explained, there were ad hoc meetings between me and the Lord Mayor of London, Lord Levene, and contact between officials and City police. As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) made clear during the many debates on the establishment of a Metropolitan police authority, the Home Secretary of the day will continue to have a role in the policing of London.


That is taken account of in the special arrangements that have been made. For example, a representative of the Home Secretary will be on the police authority and the Home Secretary will be involved to a degree greater than that which applies to police forces outside London in the appointment of the Commissioner. I anticipate that while there will not be bilaterals with the Commissioner arising from my--by then non- existent--position as police authority, meetings will continue because of the Commissioner's many national and international responsibilities. Of course, should an occasion such as this arise after July 2000, the Home Secretary of the day--certainly if it is me--will make a statement to the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that those who are guilty of such public order offences are enemies of democracy and should, if found guilty, be punished with the full severity of the law. Does he agree that a liability to pay substantial financial compensation to those who have suffered loss is a further deterrent? That could be done in two ways. A convicting court could impose a compensation order, or those who have suffered loss could sue, in the civil courts, those responsible, either the instigators or those who have committed the criminal act. Does he agree that that should be encouraged, because a huge financial consequence is a serious deterrent, even if the people concerned may be largely without means?


Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely correct. The question of compensation orders is not for me but for the courts. However, I hope that those concerned will take note of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments and my endorsement of them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also made the imaginative suggestion that, regardless of whether criminal convictions are brought, action for compensation should be taken against some of the organisers of the demonstration. I hope that that suggestion will be taken on board by the businesses affected and by those concerned in the City.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Home Secretary said frankly that the demonstration was a premeditated and organised riot. Does he recall that, until just over a year ago, an element in the MI5 Security Service--for which the Home Secretary has responsibility--called F Branch was responsible for monitoring, and if necessary organising the infiltration of, subversive organisations?

Does not this event qualify as a subversive activity? Does the Home Secretary further recall that it was announced a little over a year ago with a fanfare of trumpets that MI5 was no longer monitoring subversive organisations? Will the Home Secretary confirm that that remains the case and that the Security Service did nothing whatsoever to investigate and monitor the situation or to advise the police about how these events could have been avoided?

Mr. Straw: I know the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in such matters--but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I remember no fanfare nor any trumpets in respect of any statement about the Security Service and subversion. Following the collapse of the Berlin wall, the Security Service's interest in subversion--in the old sense of the word--has certainly declined. It is also the case--I make no apologies for the fact that I do not intend to give any details about this subject in a public forum such as the House--that the law enforcement agencies continue to be interested in those who pose a serious threat to public order.


Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): As someone who has had an office in the City for the past 15 years, I associate myself with the Home Secretary's praise for the police action--particularly in terms of the intelligence that the police shared with City firms in advance of Friday's demonstration and throughout the day. I also praise the City for not allowing its business to be disrupted, despite City workers being trapped in their offices while 5,000 members of rent-a-mob brayed outside.

Will the Home Secretary comment on newspaper reports that many of the so-called demonstrators on Friday were paid and provided with packed lunches? If those details are forthcoming, what action will be taken against the organisers? What use was made of the so-called ring of steel that was set up in the City some years ago primarily in response to IRA bombings at that time? What action was taken to man those many posts around the City to prevent entry to the area by people who had premeditated ideas of causing violence and were armed with crowbars and other obviously offensive weapons? Does the Home Secretary think that enough action was taken on the day to stop such people gaining entry in the first place?


Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the sharing of intelligence and for his appreciation of the work of the City of London police. A large contingent of Metropolitan police officers--slightly larger than that of City police--was brought in under the mutual aid arrangements. I believe that the arrangements for sharing intelligence worked well.

Turning to the hon. Gentleman's other points, the policing of such events does not necessarily go according to plan. The organisers of such events do not share their plan--such as it is--with the police, because they wish to effect a high degree of disruption, disorder and violence. I have no information about whether any demonstrators were provided with packed lunches or were paid to attend. That may be a matter for the police investigation.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the use of the so-called ring of steel. It was introduced under powers in the Prevention of Terrorism Act that are designed to monitor and, to some extent, constrain the inflow and egress of vehicles in the City of London. We do live in a democracy in which peaceful protest is allowed. The police always have to give a proportionate response. Of course, in these circumstances, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the police are extremely sensitive--I pay great tribute to them--to the rights of people peacefully to demonstrate. Sadly, sometimes those rights are gravely abused.

However, I shall certainly take up the point about the ring of steel with the commissioner of the City of London police. I have no doubt that it will also feature in the commissioner's report to his police authority.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): It is clear that the police had advance notice of the demonstration and that they used every possible method to take advantage of that. Does the Home Secretary agree that they had their hands tied behind their backs? When the House passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, it was clearly the intention of the House that trespassory assemblies on public highways should not be allowed in certain circumstances, and that the police should have power to impose exclusion orders.

That power was removed by the Law Lords in a case last year. Would it not have been to the advantage of the police, and of the whole community, if that matter were now remedied? Will the Home Secretary consider introducing measures to amend the law in that respect? I assure him that the City of London police are not alone. If it were not for that judgment, the events in the City of London might not have occurred--and nor would those that took place at Stonehenge in my constituency last night.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is correct. Certainly, the Appellate Committee of the other place, by the judgment that it made, chose considerably to restrict the circumstances in which exclusion orders can be imposed to restrain trespassory assemblies. I fully understand and share his concerns not only about the events that took place last Friday in the City of London, but about the terrible events that occurred in the Stonehenge area of his constituency overnight.

I also fully comprehend the concern of the Wiltshire constabulary, to whom I pay tribute for the way in which they and the other forces involved tried to deal with that dreadful disorder. I shall discuss the question of what appears to be a lacuna in the law, following the decision of the Appellate Committee. After those discussions, we shall take steps to remedy the gap.


Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Although I share the Home Secretary's proper concern that civil liberties in this country should be upheld, and I understand, therefore, that that is bound to fetter the way he responds to anticipated demonstrations of this kind, is it not true that powers do exist both to divert and to regulate such demonstrations? In circumstances in which the organisers have refused to enter into any form of co-operation beforehand as to how a peaceful demonstration will take place, should that not be considered if a future demonstration of this type is planned--in which no co-operation whatever as to how it can be carried out peacefully is extended to the police?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that, notwithstanding the difficulties following the judgment of the Appellate Committee, powers exist to divert and to regulate demonstrations in certain circumstances. However, it is not an offence for people to seek to pass up and down the highway as part of a demonstration.

The regulation of demonstrations in which the organisers deny their role as organisers and are, in essence, intent on covert criminal conspiracies is extremely difficult. The judgments as to which powers to seek--when, for example, they depend on the approval of the local authority, the Secretary of State or, in some cases, both--have to be made, in the first instance, by the chief officers of police.

I do not see it as my job--I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not see it as his--to try to second-guess their professional judgement. I see it as my job to ensure that chief officers of police and all the officers who bravely act under them are fully backed in whatever judgements they make in what are often extremely difficult circumstances.

this document © Hansard 1999, even though us - the friggin tax payers - finance all this bollocks.

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