Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Gray: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is reasonably likely that the farm buildings may be the target for terrorists or protesters? Those buildings might be a reasonable distance from the farmhouse. If the provision is designed to protect the farmer from the type of activity that we all decry, it would be necessary to include the place of work as well as the house.

Mr. Heald: That is the problem with a farm. It is not only a dwelling but a workplace. People can be intimidated easily by burning a haystack half a mile away or causing damage to buildings that are a significant distance away. That is why the NFU hopes that it will be possible to distance the individuals concerned from the farm. The other issue is that the direction's value would be limited if it were lawful for a person to return to the scene—an hour after the police had left, for example. Will the Minister confirm whether the ban from an area has a fixed duration? For example, under other provisions, such a direction would last for 72 hours. Will the direction specify a length of time during which intimidators would be kept away?

Is it good enough for the direction to be made orally, or is it proposed that there would be a written record of it? Obviously, a concern in court would be that defendants could swear blind that no direction had been given, or claim that it was not given in the terms that it was. Will the Minister consider how that problem could be overcome? There is concern that the groups that we have discussed might actively look for loopholes in the law, or for ways to evade their responsibilities. It would clearly be necessary to prove that the direction had been given because there may be many members of the group, while only one constable is involved. Would it be possible, in such examples as the Huntingdon situation, to video an officer giving a direction?

Although I have criticised the Labour party in general, I make no criticism of the Labour members of the Committee who have campaigned vigorously and bravely on this matter. We do not see them in a party political light in respect of this matter, because they have stood up for their constituents and beliefs. However, we hope that the Minister can explain the role of the Labour party pension fund in the matter.

5.45 pm

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend agree that it may not be an entire coincidence that, when the Government's usual channels chose the membership of the Committee, they were careful to ensure—with, I think, the sole exception of the Whip—that all members, at every level, were newly elected in 1997? I do not suggest that the Government Whip was involved in anything that my hon. Friend or I mentioned earlier, because he was not; he is a good cross-party friend. However, there are usually a number of senior Government Back Benchers on the Committees. This Committee is very unusual because even the two Ministers were newly elected in 1997.

Mr. Heald: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I would not go as far as to describe such hon. Members as the good guys, because that would be unparliamentary. However, they clearly do not have any form. We are planning to discuss criminal records later.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: It is nice to rejoin the Committee when there is such sweetness and light and, happily, the Government are making an effort to bring forward constructive legislation to deal with a real problem.

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire, especially because a significant number of the employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences live in my constituency. I have had substantial correspondence from them and I have corresponded with the Home Office on their behalf. I am pleased that major efforts are being made to produce satisfactory legislation.

It is important to look at the new clauses with a view to ensuring that the police have the power to make demonstrators stand well back, because standing a few yards back is not satisfactory. Of course, such demonstrators should be able to express their views. However, the harassment that my constituents have faced for months and years is intolerable and unacceptable in the kind of Britain that any of us wish to live in, regardless of party affiliation.

It is important that the legislation should not contain loopholes. As my hon. Friend said, such protesters are financially well supported and are guided by well-informed people. They will use every possible loophole in the law if we leave such loopholes. I understand the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Of course one does not wish to prevent people from demonstrating, as it is their right. However, that right has been deeply abused in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire and the vicinity of Huntingdon Life Sciences.

I represent a farming constituency, so I join my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire in drawing attention to the points made by the National Farmers Union. Not only farmhouses but the workplace in general may be beset and harassed, so it is essential that clauses are put in place that protect people at their work as well as in the place where they live. The people working at Huntingdon Life Sciences may be beset when they go home and when they are at work. We must institute laws that protect from harassment citizens doing important and valuable work, while maintaining freedom of speech.

I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the necessity of such scientific work. The law requires that certain things must be tested on animals because there is no other way that is held to be safe. Everyone agrees that, if we could find another method of testing that did not involve animals, we could take that route; indeed, the law requires that we do. However, scientists and technological workers at Huntingdon Life Sciences are putting their lives at risk to carry out important work, so we owe it to them to protect them.

Mr. Clarke: We have had a lengthy and well-informed debate.

I want first to deal with some misleading party political rubbish. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath made a series of assertions that were without foundation. I need simply to read out the early-day motion from which he selectively quoted fallaciously to illustrate his point. It is dated 6 February 1995 and was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). It states, in its entirety:

    ``This House congratulates all those around the country who have been demonstrating against the vile trade of animals for slaughter; believes that all citizens have a right to defy laws and regulations which have no moral basis whilst at the same time accepting the full consequences of such acts of civil disobedience and—``

I emphasise this point—

    ``disdaining physical violence against individuals however provocative and loathsome they may be; further believes that Her Majesty's Government—``

meaning the former Conservative Government—

    ``must listen to the overwhelming expressions of public opposition and take immediate steps to halt this offensive and immoral trade and defend such action in the European Court if challenged.''

I read out the early-day motion in its entirety and emphasised the phrase that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, for whatever reason, forgot to mention because, whatever one thinks of the individual merits of the argument, it related to peaceful process, including civil disobedience. It specifically distanced itself from violent action. I repeat the reference that it made to

    ``disdaining physical violence against individuals however provocative and loathsome they may be''.

The hon. Gentleman sought to mislead the Committee and the House by suggesting that the hon. Members to which he referred—he even referred to them in terms of the pre-1997 intake—encouraged violent activity. That was misleading, and he should withdraw his comments.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister may have read out the full text, but I do not withdraw one word of my comments, because the early-day motion was intended by the hon. Member for West Ham to give comfort and aid to those involved in animal protests. I accept that the wording makes reference to disdaining violent protest. The Minister was not in the House at the time, but he was a member of the Labour party; we in the House heard the language used and experienced the climate of opinion. In speech after speech and in every early-day motion, his party gave aid and comfort to those people. I have a pack of examples from the Library, and I could quote other early-day motions.

The Chairman: Order. It will not be necessary for the hon. Gentleman to quote from early-day motions. He is making an intervention.

The Chairman: Order. It will not be necessary for the hon. Gentleman to quote from early-day motions. He is making an intervention.

Dr. Ladyman: On a point of order, Mr. Hood. It is clear that the Committee was misled this morning. The impression given about the early-day motion was very different from the text that has just been read to us. I wonder whether you would be prepared to study the Hansard account of this morning's debate and compare it with the early-day motion to establish whether the Committee has indeed been misled.

Mr. Heald: Further to that point of order, Mr. Hood. The action to which the new clause refers, and which was dealt with this morning, is the besetting of people's homes. Because you were a Member of Parliament at the time, you will recall that during the protests people's homes were indeed beset. For example, the home of Lord Waldegrave, the then Minister of Agriculture, was beset, and it was widely reported at the time that more than 30 protesters attended at his home. The home of the then junior Minister, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), was also beset. Therefore, the protests of which the early-day motion approves involved not direct physical violence to the individual but the besetting of people's homes, which is the matter with which the new clauses deal. Given the circumstances, I ask that you read the Hansard report, Mr. Hood, because in my view, by drawing attention to an early-day motion that made his point, my hon. Friend addressed the issue precisely.

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