Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Jackie Ballard: For the record, in case I am ever misquoted by Conservative Members, I should preface my intervention by saying that there are no circumstances in a democracy in which I would support violent protests of any kind.

The hon. Gentleman praised people who have always supported research scientists. Is he saying that he thinks that it was correct for scientists to force dogs to smoke cigarettes?

Mr. Hawkins: No, I am not saying that. I make no bones about saying that we should debate such matters in Parliament, but it is important in a debate such as this, which will be read and studied outside, for the whole history of the subject to be laid out. I hope that in his response the Minister will set out specifically what has been the Home Office's communication to police authorities about the recent protests. Organisations in my constituency have told me that between different police areas dealing with the same, mobile demonstrations, which have moved from one facility to another and across county boundaries, there has been a wide variance in police activity. Two or three weekends ago, when the same group of mobile animal rights extremists were moving from one place to another, in the Thames Valley area, where the police took a proper view of their responsibilities, they made 87 arrests, whereas in Hampshire, next door to my constituency, not a single arrest was made among the same group of demonstrators carrying out the same illegal activities and illegal attacks on research facilities.

I want the Minister to respond to that not because I am criticising individual police authorities but because I want the Home Office to take responsibility and to understand that it must give much clearer guidance, so that we do not have such wide divergence between the response of different police authorities.

Dr. Ladyman: I really cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with his remarks. It is true that I am a new Member of Parliament, but I have spent my entire professional career working for medical research establishments that use animals. Does he honestly think that I would be sitting here now as a member of the Labour party and a Labour Member of Parliament if the Labour party had the attitude to scientists that he suggests? I have campaigned on the subject the length and breadth of the country in the Labour party and have never found a single member of the Labour party who justifies the use of violence or intimidation against scientists, however they feel on the subject.

Mr. Hawkins: As I say, the hon. Gentleman comes to the issue as a new Member of Parliament, but he must recognise that it is on the record that in 1995, all those on the list that I read out, including several who are now Labour Ministers, supported civil disobedience. I am not a supporter of the use of early-day motions—they are a kind of parliamentary graffiti—but occasionally they are important, because we can look back at the record. This is another example of the way in which not the hon. Gentleman but his Front-Bench colleagues believe, as so often they do, that somehow Parliament started in May 1997. That is a kind of Pol Pot year zero in which all of the Labour party's history of supporting—

The Chairman: Order. I have allowed considerable leeway, but I will not allow the hon. Gentleman to go any further off the subject. He should return to the new clause.

Mr. Hawkins: I certainly will, Mrs. Adams, but the hon. Member for South Thanet has heard what I said. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said to him, given what he said about his work, he must have had an uphill struggle faced with such attitudes only six years ago.

We know that organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the BioIndustry Association, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Research Defence Society all want the Government to go further. I should observe in passing that, only a couple of months ago, when my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) raised with the Government the need to protect company directors' addresses in exactly the way that the Government now propose, he was told that it was all far too complicated and it would take two years for the Government to come up with anything. Suddenly, under pressure from all those organisations, because there is a general election pending, and because we have continued to press the matter, two years has become two weeks. We welcome that, but many of us think that further protection from harassment is necessary.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said in an intervention on the Minister, it is necessary to deal with situations where groups of demonstrators are mobile, and different groups can make separate approaches that amount to harassment. The Government new clauses do not go far enough in dealing with such situations. Only if the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is amended in the way in which new clause 14 would amend it, taking out the requirement for two or more occasions, would the legislation cover those situations. If it were so amended, then different groups of animal rights extremists indulging in such conduct would still be in breach of the law, and the police would be able to take action.

I do not expect the Minister to suddenly concede that the official Opposition are right and accept our new clauses, but I would be delighted if he did. I hope that he will say that he will consider the issue further, with departmental officials, and table Government amendments or new clauses on Report. I hope that he decides to do so, not necessarily because of what I have said, but because of what the ABPI, the RDS, the NFU and others have said. We have had to draft new clauses at quite short notice to deal with the matter.

New clause 15 is designed to tighten up the law in relation to conspiracy. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) has had a consistent record on the matter, and I pay tribute to her. She was kind enough to speak to me about the matter at the conclusion of the Committee's proceedings last week. Many of her constituents have been victims of the kind of attacks that we are talking about, and she knows as well as I do that conspiracy is an important issue. That is why new clause 15 would enable the police more easily to bring a charge of conspiracy.

All of us who have practised in the criminal courts and tried to prosecute cases know that it is not that easy to establish conspiracy. New clause 15 is a valiant attempt to ensure that a charge of conspiracy sticks in the circumstances that we are trying to control through the legislation. However, the Minister may well tell us that, for various technical reasons, it will not work. He knows, because he has seen all the submissions from organisations that we have seen, that those organisations believe that the law of conspiracy needs to be tightened up so that it applies to this area of illegal protest and activity. Even if he cannot accept the new clause, I hope that he will once again do us, and the organisations that have briefed us, the courtesy of saying that he will continue to think about it and examine it, with officials, and that he may table Government new clauses, in lieu of ours, on Report.

Mr. McCabe: Listening to the hon. Gentleman, I thought of the eloquent comments that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire made earlier this morning about the dangers of authoritarianism, and of his wish for a liberal society, even in tackling crime. Is there any disagreement between the two hon. Gentlemen, in view of the rabid, right-wing authoritarianism that characterised the comments to which we have just listened?

Mr. Hawkins: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no difference of opinion between my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and me. It may reassure him to know that we practised as lawyers for many years on the same circuit, as did the Parliamentary Secretary—although I did not conduct any cases against the latter, because he came to the circuit after my time.

There is certainly no difference between us. If the hon. Member for Hall Green detected any strength of feeling, that is because my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I raised the issue of animal rights extremism in the Committee stage of the Bill that became the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. My hon. Friend referred to that Bill earlier. We had 240 hours of debate on it, and if the hon. Gentleman would like, I can show him the columns in Hansard. When we raised the issue, we received no support from any Labour Member on that Committee. However, I do not want to go on at length, quoting myself from 1994.

Mr. Clarke: When the hon. Gentleman raised those points in 1993-1994, did the Government of the day present such clauses?

12.30 pm

Mr. Hawkins: Yes, we were indeed trying to toughen the law, but in the past few years, animal rights extremists have found new ways to get round the legislation. It is because the law needs to be extended that we support the new clauses to make the law tougher, as the Minister knows that we do. That is also why my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire took the initiative and told the Committee that we should bring debate on the new clauses forward. Under the ridiculously short timetable that the Government were trying to impose, if the new clauses had been dealt with in the traditional way, after all the other debates, we should never have reached them. The Minister knows that, and I was glad when he said that the Government agreed to our suggestion of early debate on the new clauses. However, it must not be forgotten that it is only on my hon. Friend's suggestion that we are engaged in this debate at all.

Mr. Clarke: In answer to the remark that the hon. Gentleman made on the sly, does he acknowledge that I made a formal offer, in Programming Sub-Committee, at the first meeting of the Committee and at subsequent meetings, for the order of debate to be entirely a matter for the Opposition? We said at the outset that it was their legitimate prerogative. That is of course why we must agree.

 
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