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8.25 pm

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate, as I believe that the Bill offers a package of measures that will help the police and others to deal effectively with a range of disorderly and criminal behaviour. In doing so, it builds on the excellent Crime and Disorder Act 1998 pioneered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael).

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According to the British crime survey, crime has gone down by 10 per cent. by since 1997; recorded crime, which is based on police figures, has gone down by 7 per cent. The Bill gives the police further powers to build on that very good start. The Government are committed to reducing and preventing crime; part of the strategy for doing that is to support the police, who are at the front line in grappling with crime. While being far from expert in the field, I have certainly gained more personal insight into the problems confronting police forces through my participation in the past year in the excellent police parliamentary scheme. I have discussed the Bill with the police and, in particular, with my own force in Cambridgeshire.

Tonight, however, I shall voice more of a constituency concern. For some time, I have been extremely concerned about the level and nature of protests by animal rights activists against employees and others associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences. I am not alone in that. I am proud that five Cambridgeshire MPs on both sides of the House have expressed their concern tonight--as I am doing--and have written to the Home Secretary. They are pleased to welcome the extra resources that the Government are providing.

Huntingdon Life Sciences is not in my constituency, but I am none the less concerned. We have already heard excellent speeches on the topic, notably from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). However, the most outstanding speech was given by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major).

I speak on behalf of those in my constituency of Peterborough who work for or have connections with HLS. Like the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, I believe that the Bill as drafted does not go far enough to protect my constituents and his. Over the past three years, individuals, including my constituents, have suffered a horrifying range and number of illegal--I believe--tactics used by animal rights extremists. I use that word advisedly. I shall give the House a selection of complaints and abuses in relation to which my constituents have e-mailed and spoken to me and have come to visit me in my surgery. It is a long list, and I shall read only part of it.

The list includes demonstrations outside people's homes; verbal abuse using a loudhailer outside the home or workplace; goods and services ordered in an employee's name, and hoax free advertisements placed, resulting in one person receiving 50 response calls in one day; abusive graffiti, posters and stickers on people's homes and cars and in the area where they live; abusive telephone calls to relatives, friends and children's schools--the lowest of the low, in my view; telephone calls threatening to kill or injure the employee, partner or children; and letters making similar threats. It makes people feel dirty and contaminated even to touch such writing paper.

The list continues, with arrangements for the undertaker to call to collect the employee's body or the body of a child or partner; physical assaults on employees and their partners, including spraying cleaning fluid into the eyes; the smashing of all the windows in a person's home while the family was at home watching television; sledgehammer attacks to a car when the owner was in it; the fire-bombing of a car parked next to a house; the fire-bombing of sheds and garages; bomb hoaxes; and nail bombs in the post.

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Most people would say that all those acts were criminal, but at present not all of them are. Some of them fall within the current definition of peaceful protest. My constituents do not understand that. I would be the first to defend the right to peaceful protest, but there is a world of difference between what most civilised, ordinary people understand by the term "peaceful protest" and the vile, evil acts of aggression and intimidation that I have listed.

People living in a democracy, as we should be grateful that we do, have a right to expect protection from such acts. Our police must have the powers to provide that protection. The House must examine how the law can more clearly define peaceful protest, and we must make it an offence to protest in an overtly threatening manner.

Finally, I shall comment briefly on what some have called secondary targeting--the targeting by activists not only of direct employees of HLS and their families but of HLS's suppliers, customers, shareholders and company directors at their homes. I understand that the Bill may not be the best vehicle for all the changes that may be necessary, and that amendment of existing legislation may be more appropriate.

However, we must act urgently to restrict access to the addresses of such groups, and secondary targeting should be an offence. Surely it is unacceptable that, as has happened, electricians should feel compelled to cancel their work for a targeted firm, or cleaners should feel personally threatened if they continue with their honourable day-to-day work at the firm. Of course, it is another matter if they choose to dissociate themselves from the targeted firm, but that must be their free choice and action, and it must be protected.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill, and I trust that in Committee these issues and others will duly receive careful cross-party consideration. That would be the best approach. I know that serious concerns have been expressed by civil liberties and human rights organisations about individual freedoms and rights, which we will debate at a later stage. Such concerns should not be used to legitimise the serious infringement of liberty or the harassment and the intimidation which I--and, I am glad to say, others--have described in our debate.

8.33 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby): I shall follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), whose powerful speech concentrated on alcohol-related violence and crime and the parts of the Bill dealing with that scourge and blight on so many of our communities.

In particular, I shall consider the practical implementation of clause 32, which deals with sales of alcohol to those who are under age. The explanatory notes are instructive about the meaning of the clause, which increases the responsibility of all licence holders, whether they be on-licence holders or off-licence holders, to seek proof of age. The notes state:

They continue:

I want to examine how we can make that process of seeking proof of age as smooth and as routine as possible. Only if that is achieved will the Bill work in practice.

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Many of the alcohol crime measures contained in the Bill were previewed in the White Paper on liquor licensing reform. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough rightly said that we must not forget the other measures proposed in that White Paper. In particular, flexibility of licensing hours was designed as an anti-crime measure. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about the kebab shops that grace his constituency. He told us about one street in particular. I would almost bet that his local police will tell him that any violence outside the kebab shops occurs at closing time for the pubs or clubs. I hope that, before long--and certainly before the Bill completes its passage--my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will report to the House on the consultation undertaken by the Government on the White Paper on liquor licensing reform and again commit them to implementing its broad principles.

I am a member of the all-party beer group and am currently a member of a panel that is taking evidence on proof-of-age cards and their practical implementation. The country currently has three schemes: the validate scheme, which is especially prevalent in the north of England and Scotland; the citizen card scheme, which is backed by the retail industry; and the "Prove It" card, which is backed by the Portman group. As was pointed out in the validate scheme evidence, use of the cards applies not only to alcohol, as age restrictions apply to a range of products.

The all-party beer group has received evidence from more than 15 organisations, ranging from the Association of Chief Police Officers to the Association of Convenience Stores. Common to the evidence is a concern about the difficulties associated with a plethora of schemes that work to different standards. The Association of Chief Police Officers perhaps put that view most cogently. It stated:

ACPO went on to state:

The Association of Convenience Stores pointed out that routine requests for proof of age would be a big cultural change for retailers and publicans, and that, unlike America, Britain has no culture of proving age. ACS argued that requests for identification in this country sometimes cause offence and can lead to staff intimidation. The Portman group commented on the voluntary schemes that are currently in operation and referred to a survey in which 59 per cent. of managers said that they had suffered verbal abuse as a consequence of asking for proof of age. Of the managers questioned, 52 per cent. said that they had suffered shoplifting as a result of having made such requests.

We must do more to help retailers, publicans and youngsters themselves. The British Retail Consortium pointed out that if a scheme is especially strong in one area, youngsters who travel away from that area may find that their card becomes useless and is no longer recognised. Such factors could demotivate young people who are considering whether to apply for a card.

No one is asking the Government to introduce a national identity card, but people are asking them to use their influence to try to bring some coherence to

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arrangements in respect of proof of age. The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers accepts that the Government might be reluctant to endorse a single commercial venture, but believes that they could set out criteria against which schemes can be judged. The ALMR states:

The attitude of young people to proof-of-age cards is interesting. No opinion survey has been conducted recently, but the qualitative and anecdotal evidence suggests that such cards are popular among young people. The Local Government Association says that experience among local authorities

It goes on to say:

The National Union of Students did not come out against a more national, coherent approach to proof- of-age cards, but merely asked to be involved in consultations. It pointed out that the cost of introduction for individuals could be a factor in how uniform the system was, and said that reassurances must be given on the data and information held on the card.

It is useful to look at the United States experience. During his first term, President Clinton firmly associated his office with the campaign to cut down under-age drinking. There was a significant marketing campaign, with posters in bars saying, "No ID, No Sale". That helped retailers, publicans and bar owners in the United States because it reinforced the culture of asking for a card. It also helped youngsters realise the importance of carrying the card.

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