Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mrs. Brinton: I join all members of the Committee in welcoming the Government's proposal to amend the legislation to deal with what we all regard as a violent terrorist abhorrence, directed against research scientists. The new clauses will give support to all those who have suffered from what the perpetrators—the charming people in the Animal Liberation Front—call non-violent home protests: mail, e-mail and telephone calls. The communications that I have received are certainly not non-violent. Why do I receive such communications? My constituency of Peterborough is not a million miles from Huntingdon, where Huntingdon Life Sciences is based—as well as other research facilities that use animals, including some at Cambridge university.

I have received many representations and I crave the indulgence of the Committee in quoting from some of them. It is about time that we heard from people, in their own words, what such terrorism means to them. I shall not give names. One person who wrote to me from B & K Universal Ltd said:

    ``What I don't understand is why people get away with victimising us. These people have no right to intimidate us...My journey to work should not be an ordeal.''

That is one of the milder letters. Someone else writes:

    ``Animal activists have made me feel ashamed to admit the kind of work I do, even though I feel proud that I can make the animals as comfortable and well looked after as possible. I also feel a sense of achievement knowing the line of work I do is helping researchers find new cures for diseases, to help people and other animals.''

Someone from a completely different part of the country writes:

    ``These animal rights extremists have hijacked the animal welfare group and are using this emotive issue to further their own private anarchist agenda.''

I am no longer prepared to listen to the kind of argument that says that if one does not support such violent, take-the-law-into-your-own-hands extremism, one is guilty of animal cruelty. I, and I am sure all members of the Committee, know that the people who perpetrate such activity are not doing it just for the animals. They are equally happy to engage in the kind of anarchism that occurred in Parliament square. They are a rent-a-mob who travel around communicating by mobile phone. Whatever piece of action is happening, they want a part of it and are going to make others pay.

Dr. Ladyman: Did my hon. Friend note that at the weekend, those people who supposedly care so much about animals refused to call off their demonstration at Huntingdon Life Sciences even though that ran the risk of spreading foot and mouth disease, leading to the slaughter of hundreds of animals?

Mrs. Brinton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing up that important matter. He is absolutely right to point out where their true compassion lies: with self and self alone.

Mr. Hawkins: As the hon. Lady knows from our discussions, I entirely agree with her—regarding not only her comments today but her excellent contribution on Second Reading. I know that she has worked closely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the former Prime Minister, on those issues. As she says, many of her constituents are affected. Does she agree that that rent-a-mob is terrorising people countrywide? She, like my hon. Friends, has received many letters, from people in every part of the country, who are absolutely terrified and who have asked all members of the Committee to take the matter extremely seriously.

Mrs. Brinton: I completely endorse what the hon. Gentleman said and hope that every other member of the Committee does so.

To return to the comments of ordinary people who should be heard, someone else wrote to me:

    ``I have suffered threats to myself, my family and my home. I am constantly on edge, especially when I see strange cars near my home. I know what they are capable of; my colleagues in the industry have suffered car bombs and have had their homes trashed. The current legislation is allowing this to take place, and therefore I fully support the new Bill being passed.''

Another communication—I hope that I am not boring the Committee, but we are talking about the interests of these people and I want to place their views on the record—states:

    ``We ourselves are subjected to weekly shouts by megaphone, and I quote `scum, paedophile, murdering bastard, animal abuser, we know where you live, we know where your children go to school!'''

Being subjected to such threats is unacceptable in a democracy. It is not simply an animal welfare issue.

Another letter states:

    ``I am deeply concerned about anarchists forcing their views on other people through their behaviour, no matter what the subject might be.''

That brings me back to my main point, that this has nothing to do with animals; it is a particularly destructive and disruptive form of behaviour, which must be regarded as wholly unacceptable in any democracy, and especially so in this one.

Finally, another letter states:

    ``Perhaps a member of Parliament could speak out for us, unless he/she fears the same type of harassment as we do.''

Hon. Members will have made forceful representations in their local newspapers and I am sure that they, like me, will have received some very nasty, unpleasant and intimidating correspondence—and will know precisely how to deal with it.

I shall now move on to Huntingdon Life Sciences. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred to the use of early-day motions, and hon. Members will be aware of my early-day motion 374. We all deplored the attack on Brian Cass. I remember waking up and tuning in to the ``Today'' programme and hearing the dulcet tones of a gentleman from the Animal Liberation Front, known affectionately by some as ALF. Asked repeatedly by John Humphrys to condemn unreservedly the use of violence by persons in balaclavas, he refused to do so. He dodged the question, saying that he did not like violence, but he sort of understood it. It is precisely his attitude that we must legislate to get rid of.

Dr. Ladyman: If it was the usual spokesman for ALF, I can tell the hon. Lady that he has already served a prison sentence for previous violence against scientists.

Mrs. Brinton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and we should all congratulate him on his detection work. If any of the fourth estate of journalists are present, I hope that they will make that fact known. It was certainly not publicised in the ``Today'' programme.

Mr. Hawkins: I did not know that the hon. Member for South Thanet was going to raise that matter, but now that he has—helpfully—done so, I should mention that one of the barristers who shared chambers with me was junior counsel for the prosecution in the large ALF trial. It is right to place that on the record, and I am proud that someone with whom I worked over several years was involved in the successful prosecution of a person whom I can describe only as a terrorist.

Mrs. Brinton: I am grateful for that contribution and I am glad that the Committee has been notified of that information publicly today. Returning to representations about Huntingdon Life Sciences—

Mr. Heald: I do not know whether the hon. Lady heard the apologists on Radio 5 Live who suggested that it was not animal extremists who attacked Mr. Cass, but someone from the pharmaceutical industry trying to set them up.

Mrs. Brinton: That just goes to show the depths of argument to which these individuals will resort. I hope that we treat that suggestion with the contempt that it deserves and raise it for ridicule and, indeed, rebuttal.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been in contact with people at HLS. I particularly wanted to ascertain their views on the Government amendments. I have also been in contact with the Research Defence Society, as have many members of the Committee, and the pet care industry. The society has continuing concerns that the proposed legislation does not go far enough and will not have a sufficient effect on the more violent attacks, such as the shameful baseball bat attack on Brian Cass that we have mentioned and the 14 letter bombs that have been sent in the past few months. I was informed that one exploded in the face of the six-year-old daughter of a pesticides salesman.

Such attacks are, of course, already criminal offences. Not surprisingly, the people who have felt or been targeted have called on our police services each time that they received an unexpected parcel or saw unknown people near their offices. For some of my constituents who work at HLS, that means a daily, or sometimes twice daily, desperate telephone call. People who have made such complaints include animal auctioneers, sheep farmers, fish and chip salespeople and even members of the British Heart Foundation who donate money for testing. The net has indeed been spread far and wide.

Obviously, all that puts a further strain on police resources. The Minister will be aware that I have in the past written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the need for additional police funding for the Cambridgeshire constabulary to enable it effectively to control the unlawful activities of the animal rights extremists targeting HLS and associate companies and employees. I do not claim a party political first on that. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon has led the campaign by Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament, which has spanned both political parties and included Robert Sturdy, a Member of the European Parliament.

I was absolutely delighted that, after persistent lobbying and letters, the Home Secretary responded to the request very well. I know that the chief constable of Cambridgeshire would want me to say how grateful he and his force were for the additional funding, but I want to ensure that it is not a one-off and that there is a regular supply of money that can be used in such instances. People should make no mistake: the animal terrorism and extremism at HLS and other places is not a new vogue for 2000 and 2001. Unless it is stamped out firmly, it will go on and on. Police officers will often be unable to take breaks at weekends or to have rest days. That will discourage people from entering the police force and make people want to leave it, weakening the force and having an effect not only on animal rights extremism but on the quality of the police service. I firmly hope that the Minister will assure us of continual adequate and fair additional funding for forces in that position.

On new clause 7, I welcome the additional penalties of imprisonment or a higher fine that may be imposed under the Malicious Communications Act 1988. I also support the shift in emphasis under subsection (2)(a) and (b) of the same Act from individual belief to a shared definition of what constitutes reasonable grounds for making threats.

I shall again refer to a communication that I received from a person in a senior position at B&K, who would like rather more definition of the Bill's terms and mentions a definition of peaceful protest. That has not yet come up in Committee, but the person said:

    ``Genuine debate on all matters is constructive and necessary but when one group tries to force its views on others this is not democracy. With a peaceful protest there should be no necessity for...spitting...interfering with the free passage of people and vehicles going about their lawful business. Posters and placards should be relevant to the protest, accurate and not give offence.''

Whether in Committee or elsewhere, I believe that the Government should look again at the legislation concerning what is peaceful protest and what is not. We need to embark on a redefinition.

5.30 pm

I have talked to members on both sides of the Committee about new clauses 14 and 15. I am at one with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. I am in favour of the proposals under new clauses 14 and 15 about conspiracy and harassment. As a result of those proposals, I hope, as I am sure does the whole Committee, that the Minister will consider the matter and return with excellent Government clauses on Report and create a climate in which our constituents can go about their lawful, chosen profession without fear of harassment or intimidation to themselves or their families.

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