House of Commons Library

Protests around Parliament

Published Thursday, May 2, 2019

This briefing paper provides an overview of the current provisions on protests around Parliament, including a background of previous legislation, and controversies and legal cases arising from different provisions over the years.

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The current law

Protests around parliament are, for the most part, governed like any demonstration in the rest of the country. However, provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 prohibit some activities in the area around Parliament. The Home Office has issued guidance on these provisions which provides an overview of the relevant legislation and explains how it should be implemented.

In short, the 2011 Act created a ‘controlled area’ area around parliament where the unauthorised use of loudspeakers, the erecting of tents and the use of ‘sleeping equipment’ is prohibited.

The controlled area

The 2011 Act introduced a “controlled area” around Parliament; this was then extended by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to include a wider area. The full “controlled area” comprises:

  • Parliament Square garden;
  • The footways immediately adjoining the central garden of Parliament Square;
  • Highways and gardens next to the Palace of Westminster.

Prohibited activities

Activities prohibited in the “controlled area” include:

  • Unauthorised use of amplified noise equipment, like loudspeakers or loudhailers (applications for authorisation can be made to the relevant authorities);
  • Erecting or using tents or structures for facilitating sleeping;
  • Using or intending to use sleeping equipment, like sleeping bags or mattresses.

The police or authorised officers can direct people to stop these activities and leave the area; if they do not, property can be seized and the police can use reasonable force to do so. In addition, under the byelaws of the Greater London Authority (GLA), protestors must seek written permission to hold a demonstration on Parliament Square Garden.

Previous legislation

Previously, Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) meant that demonstrations within a designated area of one kilometre from Parliament required prior authority. The police could impose conditions and loudspeakers and loudhailers were banned. The 2011 Act repealed sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA.

Before SOCPA, additional provisions for protests around Parliament took the form of Sessional Orders (in the House of Commons) and Stoppage Orders (in the House of Lords). The Procedure Committee concluded that these Orders gave no additional powers to the police.

Controversies and legal cases

Brian Haw’s long-term demonstration contributed to calls for stronger legislation than Sessional and Stoppage Orders. The Tamil Protests in 2009 similarly highlighted the inability of SOCPA to respond to spontaneous protest. In 2014, the attempts by Occupy Democracy to hold long-term demonstrations in Parliament Square tested the definitions used in the 2011 Act and the enforcement of GLA byelaws. In late 2018 and 2019 frequent protests about Brexit and other matters have raised concerns about the disruption caused by protests near parliament.

Commons Briefing papers SN03658

Author: Jennifer Brown

Topics: Parliament, Public order offences

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