Ensuring access to the Houses of Parliament

6.53To ensure access to Parliament, discretion is given to constables by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, s 52 to disperse all assemblies and processions causing or likely to cause obstruction or disorder on any day on which Parliament is sitting or has sat.1 Restrictions on protest around Parliament were introduced under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA 2005), ss 132–138. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, s 141, repealed ss 132–138 and replaced them with restrictions applying only to the controlled area of Parliament Square.2 Under s 143 of the 2011 Act it is no longer an offence for demonstrations to be held without the authorisation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, but `a constable or authorised officer who has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is doing, or is about to do, a prohibited activity may direct the person…to cease doing that activity, or…not to start doing that activity’.

In the past, both Houses passed Sessional Orders at the beginning of each session of Parliament intended to give directions to the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis that, during that session, they should keep the streets leading to the Houses of Parliament free and open, and that no obstruction should be permitted to hinder the passage thereto of the Lords or Members.3

In 2003, the House of Commons Procedure Committee concluded that passing the Sessional Order did ‘not confer any extra legal powers on the police’ and that the only way to ensure that the police had the adequate powers to achieve the result intended by the Sessional Order was through legislation. The committee recommended that until such legislation came into force the House should continue with a Sessional Order, in modified form, in order ‘to reflect the House's concerns and to act as a marker that it expects Members' access to Parliament to be maintained as far as the existing law allows’.4 The Government included provisions in SOCPA 2005 intended to meet the requirement identified by the committee, and the modified Sessional Order was passed for the last time in the House of Commons at the start of the 2005–06 session.

The House of Lords has continued to pass its Sessional Order.

In 2013, the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege recommended that the practice of passing Sessional Orders in the House of Commons be restored. In its response, the Government said it was `not convinced that their revival would serve any legal or practical purpose.’5


  1. 1. See Report of the Law Commission on Offences relating to Public Order, Part VIII (HC 85 (1983–84)) and Papworth v Coventry [1967] 2 All ER 41. See also HC Deb (1998–99) 334, c 603W. Since 1 October 2000 the ‘care, control, management and regulation’ of the central area of Parliament Square has been the responsibility of the Greater London Authority (Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c 29), s 384(3)).
  2. 2. For a discussion of the issues, see Joint Committee on Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill Report HL 166, HC 551 (2007–08) paras 10–73.
  3. 3. For interpretation of this order, see Parl Deb (1903) 124, c 1494; HC Deb (1937–38) 329, cc 1390, 1417–19; ibid (1950–51) 491, cc 1527–40; ibid (1966–67) 727, cc 41–42; ibid (1978–79) 961, c 205; ibid (1999–2000) 344, cc 249; 350, 674–76; also ibid (1998–99) 329, cc 27–8W as regards public gatherings in Parliament Square. The powers of the police derive from the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 (c 47), s 52.
  4. 4. House of Commons Procedure Committee, Sessional Orders and Resolutions, Third Report HC 855 (2002–03) paras 15, 24 and 25.
  5. 5. Cabinet Office, Government Response to the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, Cm 8771, December 2013, p 6.