St Paul's tent demo 'not constructive' says David Cameron


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Demonstrators should not be able to erect a tent village outside St Paul's Cathedral as part of their protest against excess in the City, Prime Minister David Cameron said today.

Mr Cameron said that the form of encampment seen at St Paul's and outside Parliament - where anti-war campaigners have held a vigil for more than 10 years - was not a "constructive" way to exercise the right to protest.

And he dismissed suggestions that it might be a manifestation of the kind of civic activism which he hopes to encourage through his Big Society agenda.

Speaking as he gave evidence to the House of Commons Liaison Committee about the Big Society, Mr Cameron said: "Obviously, the right of people to protest is fundamental to our country.

"The idea of establishing tents in the middle of our city, I don't feel is particularly constructive. I don't think it's particularly constructive in Parliament Square and I don't think it's particularly constructive at St Paul's."

Asked whether the protesters were a "manifestation of the Big Society", Mr Cameron insisted that his agenda was about making it easier for individuals to get involved in social action such as volunteering in their communities or setting up free schools.

"Protest is, to me, a separate issue," he said. "It is certainly a right that people have, but I have got this rather quaint view that you shouldn't be able to erect tents all over the place.

"I think protesting is something you, on the whole, should do on two feet rather than lying down - in some cases in a fairly comatose state."

Mr Cameron appeared to soften earlier criticisms of the police response to the summer riots in England.

While he said initially there were not enough officers on the streets, he stressed that the police had faced an "extremely difficult situation" and it was not necessary to apportion blame.

"In the first instance there wasn't a big enough surge of police officers onto the street. I don't think it is necessary to try to apportion blame for this," he told the committee.

"It is an extremely difficult situation when, for instance in Tottenham, a demonstration that starts with the death of someone, Mark Duggan, then changes into something else - namely looting.

"They did surge up the numbers subsequently and they got it right and the policing at the end of the riots was extremely effective."

Asked by the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz whether he was comfortable that police had been authorised to use rubber bullets at tomorrow's student protests, he said: "I think these are matters for the police operationally to take."