Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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The Chairman: Order. The Minister is making a point of information, not a point of order.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a separate point of order, Mr. Hood.

The Chairman: If it is the same point of order, I have made my ruling and it is out of order.

Mr. Blunt: I thought that I said that it was separate; I certainly intended to. Today, during questions, the Advocate-General for Scotland, with the Parliamentary Secretary sitting alongside her, suggested in reply to a question from me about this Committee's proceedings that the Committee had been filibustering, which is why there needed to be a programming motion—

The Chairman: Order. I am waiting for a point of order. I am hearing an account of a discussion that took place in the House, which is not a matter for the Committee.

Mr. Blunt: My point of order, Mr. Hood, is whether you can direct the Advocate-General that there has been no question of filibustering on this Committee and she should not make such representations to the House.

The Chairman: I am rather flattered that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I could make such a direction. With the greatest respect, it is not for the Chair to make such a direction.

Mr. Hughes: I rise slowly, Mr. Hood, just in case.

I wish to thank those who have written to me, and I presume to other hon. Members, about the issues that we are debating. I, like others, have received letters from individuals and representative organisations, including constituents who work in research science. It is important that we should take account of the views of those who have seen fit to write. It is important, too, that they should know that the voice of the individual does reach Members of Parliament. I am grateful also, as are other hon. Members, for the other comments and briefings that we have received. Some of them were obviously sent by organisations with an interest in the subject, or from people paid by the organisations to do such work. They may have done it in their work time, but their comments have helped to inform our debate.

Some of my colleagues—they are not members of the Committee—have forwarded correspondence from constituents who are deeply concerned about the matter. In particular, I acknowledge the continuing interest of my hon. Friends the Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) in the matter of animal protests. They, like other members of the Committee, have constituency interests: one represents a university city and the other has research facilities in his constituency.

Before we adjourned for lunch, I said that it was right to add the Government new clauses, but that we had some concerns about the breadth of their provisions. I asked the Committee to reflect on some of the issues that are not resolved by the clauses before we reach Report.

As far as he could, the Minister helpfully set out some of the legislation that governs such matters, although breach of the peace is a matter of common law. This is not a criticism of his failure to do it this morning, but it would help if he would ask his civil servants to set out the relevant statutes that are in place in England and Wales—either at the end of the debate or, even better, in writing, but soon after today's deliberations.

When one looks at the remit and the breadth of that legislation, one realises that some of it needs to be amended. For example, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 takes no account of e-mail and modern technology and it obviously needs to be brought up to date. However, civil disobedience and the right to protest are already governed by various statutes as well as public order and breach of the peace legislation, and we need to consider what the limits of that legislation should be.

Mr. Clarke: May I clarify exactly what the hon. Gentleman is asking for? Is he asking me to write to the Committee with a list of legislation that is relevant to the matters covered by new clauses 6 and 7 and the Opposition's proposed new clauses, and the extent to which they bear on such situations?

Mr. Hughes: That is exactly what I am asking for. It would help, especially when we come to the wider debate on the Floor of the House, to know what the law is at the moment, how it stands and what are the arguments for extending it.

The bigger debate, often touched on when considering such legislation, is about whether we should limit the right to protest, and whether the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 offer sufficient protection. Sadly, we do not often debate matters in the round. We normally suffer from Parliament reacting to events. That is a perfectly proper task, but sometimes it is better to stand back and think about what the law should be. I hope that the debate does not preclude us from a considered discussion in the near future—it will not be before the general election if that happens soon—on what we need to do to ensure that the right to protest, to speak out and to challenge people with one's views, however uncomfortable, is protected. At the same time, the right to not be harassed should be dealt with, as intimidation is unacceptable. That wide debate is not only about animal rights protests.

I would like to clear up our sub-debate about Members of Parliament and elected representatives. I do not argue, and it cannot be easily argued, that Members of Parliament, councillors or other elected representatives should for any reason be in a different position from anyone else. Many people are in public life, some elected, some appointed, and it would be invidious for us to give ourselves a special protection. I do not argue that the debate on the amount of protest that we should be expected to withstand is entirely different from the debate on whether we should be able to keep our addresses secret. I want to flag the issue up.

Last year, in the debates on electoral registration reform, we discussed whether people standing for office should be able to keep their names and addresses off the electoral register because they might be harassed or stalked. Again, that was a perfectly proper debate, and we may need to reach conclusions on the matter. My presumption is always that such information should be in the public domain. People should know where those who stand for office and are public servants live. If one is entirely a private citizen, not a public servant and not standing for office, the matter is different. I hope that we always tend towards freedom of information and no great restriction, rather than in the other direction. We should seek to limit the public's right to know and increase privacy only when there is an exceptionally good case for it.

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): My hon. Friends did not request that Members of Parliament should have special additional privileges, merely that they should not be excluded from legislation intended to protect the whole community. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that he felt that all the addresses of Members of Parliament should be made public knowledge. I support him in terms of work telephone numbers and addresses, such as those of constituency and Westminster offices. However, I disagree with him about the private addresses and numbers of Members of Parliament, as we also have families.

Mr. Hughes: I do not want to be too distracted into that debate, but the hon. Lady was responding to my comments, so I must reply. All the difference in the world applies to private phone numbers that people's families can use. If she, one of my hon. Friends or I decide to stand for office, we do so in the knowledge that we have families, and that our actions will have implications for them. We must not be naive about that. I strongly take the view that where we live is a matter of public interest.

Mr. Gray: Why?

Mr. Hughes: Because it is hugely important whether one lives in the constituency or not. Members should always live in their constituencies, and it is a matter of proper public knowledge as to whether they do. It is a matter of public interest as to whether they live in a mansion worth £1 million or a flat worth £100,000. To that extent, we are accountable, so such information should be in the public domain.

Mr. Gray: I could not disagree more. Whether we live in a mansion worth £1 million or a hovel worth nothing is of no significance or interest to our constituents. All that matters to them is whether we do a good job on their behalf in our constituency and in this place. Our personal circumstances and addresses should be matters for us and no one else.

Mr. Hughes: I hear the hon. Gentleman, and disagree with him. It matters greatly to our electors to know whether we live in the constituency that we seek to represent, how long we have lived there and whereabouts we live. That should be a matter of public record, and I would resist any attempt to change that, other than in the most unusual circumstances. That is the case in the sense that one has to put one's name and address on the ballot paper.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton): So that my hon. Friend does not feel alone in the debate that is developing, I should like to inform the Committee that—as I am sure he knows—the address and telephone number of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) have always been available in the local phone book, including during all the time when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats.

4.45 pm

Mr. Hughes: So that I am not accused of something else, I, like the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, have sometimes had to have the protection of the police at home. Paradoxically, that brought more attention to where I live than anything had done previously, as there was so much activity outside. That might be required for anyone, such as a journalist or a research scientist. The police are there to give additional protection, when it is needed, to members of the royal family, politicians, diplomats, business people and others. It is likely that people will need some protection at times. I do not pretend that that is not sometimes necessary, even if it turns out not to be justified. Although it might not be directly connected to the matters that we are debating, I mention it in the context of the treatment of private individuals.

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Prepared 6 March 2001