Evening Standard – 13 July 2011

Give Parliament Square back to us all

by Peter Dominiczak, City Hall Correspondent

Parliament Square should be ‘returned to the people’ and transformed into a new Speakers’ Corner, according to a Lib-Dem peer.

Boris Johnson today faced calls from Lord Tyler to deal with the “embarrassing mess” created by the protesters who camp there.

He has put forward a Private Member’s Bill which would remove the restrictions on the right to protest in the square, allowing people to “get on a soapbox” and hold public debates.

His Bill has cross-party support in the Lords as well as from the Speakers’ Corner Trust. Lord Tyler, the former MP for North Cornwall, said: “At the moment we have the worst of both worlds in Parliament Square. We have the mess of the protesters on the pavement and the centre of the square is fenced off and not used at all.

“As long as people do not use amplification they should be able to go to the centre of the square and get on a soapbox and discuss what we do as parliamentarians. Something has to be done about this important square. It needs to be returned to the people. Some radical and imaginative things have to happen.”

Lord Tyler added: “Tourists come and look at the embarrassing mess and are completely bemused that apart from a sad encampment on the edge, the entire square is cordoned off for UK citizens. The area should be redesigned and pedestrianised like Trafalgar Square.”

The Speakers’ Corner Trust has submitted its own proposal to make the square “at least in part a platform for the expression of citizenship such as existed in the Athenian Agora and the Forum of the Roman Republic”.

The trust launched its proposal after Parliament commissioned the political research and education charity the Hansard Society to investigate the redesign of Parliament Square and the Whitehall area.

Peter Bradley, director of the Speakers’ Corner Trust, said: “We would like to see a public space in which people are free to express their views and debate them. This isn’t about replacing the Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, but it’s about creating a space in Parliament Square that reminds the Establishment about the importance of the views of the public.

“We should have public platforms and Speakers’ Corners all over the country. I can’t think of a better place in the country to have something like that than in Parliament Square.”

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “When fully open Parliament Square Gardens is already used by many to lawfully protest every year and is a popular destination for visitors as well as Londoners. The Mayor supports freedom of expression and democratic protest.”

YOUR SAY: GREAT IDEA, AS LONG AS YOU CAN BE HEARD OVER THE TRAFFIC DIN

Jade Tibbs, 23
Singer from Canning Town: “This is about giving people the chance to speak out against oppression. The tents have become a bit of a tourist attraction but are making the place messy so it will be a good chance to reclaim the square.”

Shizzio, 27
Rapper from Ilford: “Having a new Speakers’ Corner outside Parliament will be good for freedom of speech, because there is too much being covered up by government. I want to see people getting on their soapbox, talking about taboo stuff and exposing the truth.”

Rachel Barber, 17
Student from Bury St Edmunds: “Having a new Speakers’ Corner is a good idea because it will bring politics to the people. Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park is a British institution. Anything extra that helps get people’s voices heard will be beneficial for democracy.”

Simon Hall, 33
Project manager from Clapham: “I’m a bit sceptical you would be able to hear anyone speak in Parliament Square above the traffic noise of what is a busy roundabout. Surely these days you’re better organising a Twitter flash mob to get your message across.”


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