Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Heald: My constituency is about 15 miles south of Huntingdon and scientists who live there have been persecuted in the way in which the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) outlined. I am determined that the law should be improved so that such activities are stopped, in so far as they can be. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon set the matter in context when he said that the experiments at Huntingdon Life Sciences are not optional, but necessary. They are experiments to find cures for cancer, AIDS, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, asthma and other serious conditions.

This country has a tremendous pharmaceutical industry. In Hertfordshire, we have some of the best companies in the world with some of the best research facilities. It is not just a matter of making money for Britain, but such research provides for the world cures for some terrible, crippling illnesses and diseases. I do not believe that this country is not wedded to animal welfare. We are. As a country, we take all possible precautions to ensure that animal welfare is compromised only in so far as it is absolutely necessary and where there is the overriding human concern, which is a necessity.

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the superb reputation of the companies in his constituency, within the London and Thames valley area of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry are 40,000 staff who are employed by its 17 member companies, which is two thirds of the industry's total for the United Kingdom? Those 17 member companies are investing more than £1.8 billion annually in this country's research and development. As my hon. Friend said, employees in that industry need protecting.

Mr. Heald: Yes. It is wrong that people who are doing the world a service as well as making money for Britain are subjected to the sort of harassment that we have heard about. I shall not cite examples, but I have received the type of letters that the hon. Member for Peterborough has received. In fact, at least one of them was the same. We have a duty to tackle such matters.

Dr. Ladyman: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the regulation system for animal experiments in the United Kingdom is the tightest and most comprehensive in the world and that the standard of welfare for those animals is the best in the world? The inevitable consequence of terrorism driving animal experiments abroad is that they will be done to a lower standard under a more lightly controlled regime.

Mr. Heald: That is exactly one of the commitments, or statements, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon asked the Minister to make on Second Reading, and I was pleased that the Minister did so. The Minister also pointed out that the exercise is not voluntary for those companies. They are required by law to apply such procedures to protect people who have such treatments applied to them to save them from serious illness. As my right hon. Friend said, the Thalidomide centre is in his constituency, so no one knows more than he about the possible effects if medicines are not properly tested and a regime such as the one that we have is not in place.

The points that my right hon. Friend made at the time that especially needed to be dealt with related to directors' and shareholders' addresses. The Government have introduced welcome proposals on directors' addresses, and I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will continue to examine the issue of shareholders' addresses and consider what action might be taken. Malicious communications are dealt with in the new clauses, which is welcome.

The point that my right hon. Friend made was that besetting people's homes should be unlawful. The proposal does not go that far. Although we shall support the proposal, my anxiety relates to an organised rota for a large number of activists going to someone's home. One of them might one day be told by the constable to leave, and might eventually leave or be dealt with. However, the following day there might be another one, who would be dealt with, followed by another.

The proposal would not necessarily stop the continuing conspiracy aspect of what is going on at the moment. I hope that the Minister will consider ideas to tackle that. New clauses 14 and 15 make an attempt to do so by providing protection from harassment by ending the requirement relating to the need for someone to have behaved in such a way on two separate occasions. Other ways may be available, and we should continue the search between now and Report, and even after Report if necessary, as the Bill proceeds to the Lords.

Secondary activity was another great anxiety that my right hon. Friend raised. He had in mind pressure on staff of financial institutions, such as banks and pension funds, as a result of the harassment of their employees. I should like an assurance from the Minister that his proposal will tackle that problem.

Although today we are being consensual—I hope that Labour Members will support new clauses 14 and 15—we are owed an explanation of the action of the Labour party pension fund. At a crucial moment it pulled the plug, and there is no doubt that that had a damaging effect on everyone else. If the Government's political party's pension fund pulls the plug on an important investment in Huntingdon Life Sciences on the basis of ethics—which was, I understand, the basis on which it was portrayed—we are entitled to know what exactly were the ethics that drove the Labour party pension fund to do that. Perhaps the action had nothing to do with ethics but related simply to Labour party pension fund workers being threatened, and the Labour party deciding, as have others, that it could not afford to put its employees at risk. One way or the other, we are entitled to know.

The Government may want to reflect on the fact that in opposition they were very vocal on animal rights issues. I am all in favour of animal welfare, and I believe in peaceful protest, as do Labour Members. However, the point of fever pitch was reached on the issue. Before the general election, the Labour party accepted a substantial donation from a group that campaigned on animal welfare issues. Looking back on the matter, the Minister might say, ``The Labour party has made some mistakes in this area. Now we are in government, we have come to our senses. That is why we are bringing forward sensible proposals at this time.''

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend has come to part of the point that I was going to make. It seemed to me, as it did to other Opposition Members and many people outside the House who had studied such issues, that there could be a third explanation. My hon. Friend has perhaps given part of the explanation in relation to the sudden decision by the Labour party pension fund to pull the plug. In addition to substantial donations by the animal rights lobby to the Labour party, it might be related to the fact that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who was then shadow spokesman on agricultural issues—and therefore on animal and animal welfare issues—and who is now a Minister, personally received a substantial donation. I raised the issue when we were in government and the Labour party was in opposition because it was entirely inappropriate for a Front Bench spokesman on such issues to take that money, which, of course, he declared. When he came into government and became the Minister as opposed to the shadow Minister, he, and, by implication, the whole Labour Government, were partis pris, which could only give comfort to the animal rights extremists.

Mr. Heald: As my hon. Friend says, the Labour party may have been silly in opposition, and I hope that it has come to its senses—

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Would the hon. Gentleman like to take the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that he is not in any sense attempting to claim that animal welfare organisations support terrorist operations or are in any way connected with the kind of activity that we have discussed this afternoon?

Mr. Heald: I am happy to confirm that.

Mr. McCabe: I was asking—

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Heald: I entirely accept that there is no such connection, and I did not say that there was.

On more detailed aspects, is the Minister saying that the sending of services such as funeral services, gravel and so on is covered by the law, either under the new clauses or the protection from harassment provisions?

What will be the impact on farms? The National Farmers Union has contacted me about serious incidents of intimidation and threats of violence outside farm premises by individuals who disagree with the method of farming that is being practised. Apparently, there have been terrorist attacks, including activities such as following the farmer's children to school and videoing elderly relatives of the farmer through a window.

The NFU is concerned about what ``in the vicinity'' means in that context. Will it be possible for those who are directed to move away simply to walk to the other side of the farm field and continue their activities? Under subsection (5), it is anticipated that the constable can make exception to his direction, including

    ``conditions as to the distance from the premises in question at which, or otherwise as to the location where, persons who do not leave their vicinity must remain''.

Does that mean that constables have the power to direct persons to leave and stay a significant distance away—for example, a mile or half a mile—or just a few yards? The Minister will recall that, under section 65 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was fully debated, a person who is within five miles of the boundary of the site of a rave can be instructed not to proceed in that direction. That is a much longer distance than the phrase, ``in the vicinity'' might suggest. Will the Minister clarify what that means?

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