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Miss Widdecombe: The Minister has just said that we had constructive debates, and we did. The reason for that was that we were allowed to reach them. Has he any reason to suppose that, had we reached part II, the debates would not have been equally constructive, and might they not have contributed substantially? Why on earth could that not happen?
Mr. Clarke: Quite simply, for the reasons that I set out on Monday evening, which Mr. Deputy Speaker has asked me not to go through again now. There was a series of issues about the amount of time that was wasted when other matters were discussed. [Interruption.] I know that my assertions are contested, and that was the debate that we had last Monday evening.
The Bill has a simple aim, and that is to aid the police and the courts in further reducing crime and the fear of crime. It contains a wide range of measures which will provide the police and others in the criminal justice system with improved powers to enforce the law and protect the public.
Mr. Blunt: Would the Minister say that his statement that the Bill has been properly scrutinised is as accurate as the statement that he made to the House during points of order on Friday? He said that he would be
In Committee and on Report we introduced a number of additional clauses which the Government believe significantly improve the protection of the public, and because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary by definition was not in a position to refer to those on Second Reading, I should like to go through them quickly.
The first group of measures will provide additional protection for those who conduct important and essential research using animals or those who have a financial interest in the companies undertaking such research. We are all aware of the appalling intimidation of people working in the medical and pharmaceutical industries by so-called animal rights protesters.
The Bill aims to tackle that in three ways. Clause 43 gives powers to the police to direct protesters who harass people by waiting around outside their homes. Clause 44 tightens up the law on malicious communications, and clause 45 amends company law requirements in respect of directors' home addresses. Clause 45 will not provide an instant solution, because existing records cannot be expunged. Over time, however, it will provide additional protection to those directors who, unhappily, have found themselves targeted by protesters and who, as a result, have been subject to intimidation and, in some cases, violence.
Finally, at today's Report stage we have just added a further safeguard against harassment and intimidation. We have amended the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to ensure that it will apply to those who plan a co-ordinated campaign of harassment against another person. Quite rightly, these matters have been the subject of very full debate and close scrutiny, both in Committee
I want to emphasise that this is not about stopping people protesting publicly and peacefully about things in which they believe. Rather, the clauses are designed to deal with those malevolent and sinister protests that create a feeling of fear through an implicit threat of violence. These clauses will enable the police to protect people who are doing legitimate and very valuable work in medical and pharmaceutical research, and those who support them through finance and other services.
Important political and philosophical debates were held when we considered these matters. What I believe to be an important assertion was made--with which I believe the whole House agreed--about the importance of science. It was determined that decisions about the future of our society, even where they concern difficult and complicated matters such as genetic modification and so on, should be taken on the basis of scientific research and knowledge, rather than on the basis of bullying by people with particular prejudices. Another assertion concerned the importance of the right that everyone enjoys to lead a quiet life in their homes, and not to be harassed and abused in unacceptable ways. I think that that was important.
Important, too, was the establishment of the primacy in a democracy of politics and the parliamentary process in deciding how matters are dealt with. That principle stands in opposition to the contention that an individual protester--or even an individual journalist, as was discussed in Committee--has the right to overcome and overrule the rights of Parliament and of society in general in that respect. Those important principles were fully debated, and I hope that that will set the tone for the debate of these questions in future Parliaments, and thereafter.
The next group of measures seeks to safeguard children and other vulnerable groups by giving the Criminal Records Bureau extra powers to exclude unsuitable people from becoming registered. We went through those proposals in detail.
Other important new provisions relate to juveniles. They will enable courts to deal more effectively with medium-level persistent juvenile offenders by providing a number of options for dealing with young people who defy the courts and commit repeated offences while on bail or in non-secure accommodation. In addition to these new clauses, we have made a number of technical and drafting amendments; for example, to ensure that the provisions on search and seizure will work properly in Scotland.
I cannot say that it was universally the case we had extremely good debates in Committee, for the reasons that I have given. However, I believe that there were important and positive debates. We debated at length the proposals to extend the fixed penalty system to offences of disorder. There was a great deal of interest in the offences to be covered by the new scheme, which is set out in clause 1, and in the power to add new offences to the list in the future.
We engaged in all the debates with a constructive spirit and accepted a number of Opposition suggestions. For example, we accepted their suggestion that the power that I have just described should be subject to the affirmative,
Another idea within the fixed penalty system which received very close scrutiny was our proposal to provide the police with a special fast-track procedure for dealing with penalty offences committed at large public gatherings, such as festivals or demonstrations. We have also introduced an amendment to the transitional period specified in clause 17, relating to the replacement of existing public drinking byelaws with the national framework to address the problem of antisocial public drinking, which is set out in the preceding clauses.
Mr. Simon Hughes: The Minister is retailing the very good and useful work that the Committee achieved in the time available. On the matters to which he is now coming, does he accept that no hon. Member who was not a member of the Committee has had no chance to debate in detail the fixed penalty notice provisions? They were very controversial in Committee: there was considerable argument about which provisions should be included and which should not.
Does the Minister accept also that no hon. Member who was not in the Committee has had a chance to debate the merit of imposing curfews, let alone of retaining DNA samples from innocent people without their consent? The Minister accepted in Committee that the latter was a question of major national interest that should be the subject of a major national debate. There will be no debate about that in detail tonight. The Minister cannot possibly argue that there has been adequate debate on any of those matters because all but a handful of Members of the House of Commons have been excluded from debating them.
Mr. Clarke: I can argue that there has been a very full debate about these matters. I promised the House that in accordance with the guidance from the Deputy Speaker I would not seek to revisit Monday evening's debate on these matters. I do not accept, as I have said before, the premise of what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and other colleagues have said. For large parts of this evening's debate there were almost no Members in the Chamber other than members of the Committee. That goes against some of the hon. Gentleman's points.