London Protests

This week, I went up to St. Paul's Cathedral to see for myself the demonstration there.

The right of peaceful protest is a vital component of a democracy.  Along with many local people I have marched in recent years to protest against proposals to downgrade local hospitals and build on our countryside.

In fact I have considerable sympathy with those concerned about greed and irresponsibility, such as the excessive boardroom payouts we have seen recently.

But I'm not sure that the protestors at St Pauls are calling for responsible capitalism - it seems they want to overthrow it altogether.

Nor was I impressed by a mock street sign erected by the protestors describing the area as "Tahrir Square, EC4".  It is ludicrous for those camping out in central London to compare themselves with the brave people who took a stand against the despotic and brutal regimes overthrown in the Arab Spring.

We already have a democracy, in which people have the right to peaceful enjoyment of their property. 

In the case of St Paul's, the Church has now decided not to take action to remove the protestors.

But we have seen a new phenomenon of demonstrations turning into permanent encampments which landowners are powerless to remove even if they want to.

This has been an issue in Parliament Square, where peaceful enjoyment by the public is now prevented by an ugly permanent encampment.  The Government has just passed legislation to deal with this.

The right to protest shouldn't entitle demonstrators to move, indefinitely, into an area, selfishly disrupting the lives of others.

The same principles should apply to travellers who occupy or develop land without permission, or to squatters who invade homes.  This week the House of Commons rightly voted to make squatting in private property a criminal offence, as it already is in Scotland.

We've also introduced new measures to make clear that householders can use reasonable force to defend themselves - and their property - against intruders in their home.

We hear a lot about rights today.  But with rights come responsibilities, and with the freedom to protest comes the responsibility not to infringe the legitimate rights of others.

Christopher N Howarth