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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, gives his advice regularly. Any firm conclusions or new policies which emerge from his regular reporting to the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and other colleagues will be reported through to Parliament in due course.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will those conclusions and the advice given be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, they will be, because they will be reported to Parliament.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, to what extent is the noble Lord, Lord Birt, working with or in connection with Lord Justice Auld?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, all new thinking that comes forward will be taken together in the round. Robin Auld's review of the criminal courts and John Halliday's review of our sentencing framework are matters which bear to be considered together because they inform the way we look at the criminal justice system.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what is the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, in crime?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, has extensive knowledge in a whole range of social areas. No doubt he brings his freshness of view and his--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe governments stand to be advised by people with an interest in the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, has

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an interest in this subject. I invite noble Lords to support that. It will give great aid to government formulation of policy.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, how many times has the Minister met the noble Lord in his official capacity to discuss these matters? Can we expect to hear any result of this work in today's debate? I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the advice will be made public.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have not had the pleasure of meeting the noble Lord, Lord Birt, formally. Perhaps I should. He meets regularly with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. No doubt all those thoughts feed through to our increasingly successful strategy for dealing with crime and its reduction.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I also have extensive knowledge in this field. When will the Home Secretary appoint me to something?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, since I have been a Minister in this House it is apparent that the noble Lord has a wide range of interests. We always listen to his views and concerns with great interest.

Animal Rights Protests: Protection of Public

2.44 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to protect individuals and the public from attacks and intimidation by those who claim to represent animal rights.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government are committed to doing whatever is necessary to help the police to tackle violent animal extremists. There are already tough laws to protect business and individuals from violent or threatening protests. But we intend to strengthen these further to give the police additional powers to ensure that businesses and individuals can go properly about their lawful business without fear of violence or intimidation.

The measures we propose will allow the police to take action to prevent extremists protesting outside people's homes and will also strengthen the law against the sending of malicious communications. In addition, the Government are consulting closely with the police service, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to achieve an effective and consistent approach to enforcement of the law in this area.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that full reply. Has he seen comment by those threatened that the most recent measures announced are not adequate to counter attacks on the

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families and properties of those who are thought--sometimes incorrectly--to be engaged in animal experiments? Can the Minister confirm that Thalidomide was not tested on animals before it was marketed and that it led to very distressing results?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord's second point is not part of my policy portfolio. My noble friend Lord Hunt will endeavour to furnish the noble Lord with that information.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his first point. It is important to get the right measures to deal with this particular animal rights extremism. We shall want to listen carefully to those who are properly concerned for their welfare and security.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, do the Government agree that such threats comprise one of the most dangerous forms of terrorism in the UK at the moment? In the light of that, is it not important that everyone--particularly the investment community--should stand firm against such intimidation? Can the Minister draw the attention of this to the fund managers of Phillips & Drew, Panmure Gordon and the board of HSBC, which gave in to the first whiff of a threat from the animal rightists and which set a deplorable example of corporate cowardice?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that there will be widespread support for those comments. It is an appalling form of terrorism. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary raised this issue in the debates on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. We are and shall be taking firm measures to deal with these problems, particularly those of intimidation and malicious communications.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I welcome that response. The sooner tough action is taken to deal with these gangsters, the better. They are acting in a way which is utterly counter-productive and forfeits respect for the cause they seek to serve, as they did when they released mink into the wild at great cost to the natural heritage. Does the Minister recognise that there is widespread unease from those responsibly concerned with animal welfare? Does he further recognise that this unease could be relieved to a marked extent by discouraging the unnecessary use of animals in science and by the inspectorate being adequately resourced, strong and austere enough to ensure that high standards of care are maintained in laboratories?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is a widely shared view that we have one of the best regulatory systems in the world for dealing with animal welfare and experimentation. We, and our Government in particular, should be proud of that record. I concur with the noble Lord's earlier points which reflect comments made in your Lordships' House today.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's proposals to tighten up protection for

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people being terrorised by animal rights protesters. Does he recognise how extremely serious this matter is? Is he aware that one lawful establishment outside Oxford was closed down entirely by animal rights protesters? Is he further aware that medical research academics in the university have been threatened, along with their families, including their children? Can he confirm that most medicines have to be tested on animals before they can be sold to the public?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention. I am aware of the final point that she made. We take these threats very seriously indeed. We should be proud that the Home Secretary has announced the release of further funding--a further 1 million--to protect the establishment in Cambridge. Over the past year or so, Cambridgeshire police have arrested some 200 people in an attempt to counter those demonstrations. People should be under no illusion: this kind of lawlessness will be dealt with very firmly by the police. I am conscious of the attacks and intimidation that have taken place at other establishments. I refer in particular to the establishment in Oxfordshire and to Shamrock Farm in Sussex. We are very aware of these issues. We intend to deal with them firmly and give our utmost support to the police in this important work.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, what use is being made of existing powers against those who send letter bombs and either threaten to burn down or try to burn down people's houses or premises?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the police have a wide range of powers under the criminal law and public order legislation which they can use to tackle those problems and to ensure that people can go about their business and lead much happier lives as a consequence. The Public Order Act 1986 provides the police with powers to act in respect of a range of criminal offences relating to public disorder; for example, when threatening or abusive behaviour or harassment occurs. I do not want to go into too much detail about how the security services and the police service conduct themselves in countering terrorist activities. That would be quite wrong. But the House can be assured that they are ever vigilant and are becoming increasingly successful in that endeavour.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, does the Minister agree that with the animal rights movement there is an iron curtain of understanding beyond which it is not possible to convey the importance of animal testing to this country and to the health and welfare of the people living in it? Does he further agree that, as a result, it is necessary to mount a campaign to convince the general public that animal testing is necessary, that these people are merely delaying important developments and that work may go overseas rather than be carried out in this country?

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