Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Hylton: I agree with the previous two speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke about intimidation. That is a more serious kind of offence than causing a public order disturbance. I notice that the clause is headed "Public order". Will the Minister say what representations the Government have received on the point from youth organisations and from organisations concerned with civil liberties and human rights in this country?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am more than happy to assist in the matter. I say straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that I am glad that he elucidated that this is a probing amendment. I was somewhat curious that he was piloting an amendment on behalf of his party in this Chamber which seemed to be directly contrary to that piloted in the other place. But I now understand why that is so.

Lord Hylton: This is a more sensible place.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hear the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, say that this is a more sensible place. I, in modesty of course, could not comment.

Clause 59 amends the definition of public assembly from an assembly of 20 or more persons in a public place to an assembly of two or more persons. Its purpose is to give the police the ability to impose conditions, in limited circumstances, on small groups of intimidatory protestors where they are exercising powers under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Clause 59 does not seek to curtail a person's right to assemble or to protest peacefully. It is targeted at those who have a pernicious intent by coming together for intimidatory purposes.

As the Committee will know, Section 14 allows a senior police officer to impose conditions on a public assembly, but only where he reasonably believes that serious public disorder, damage to property or disruption to the life of the community might result, or if he believes that the purpose of the demonstration is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do. So conditions include the place where an assembly may be held, its maximum duration and the maximum number of people who may constitute it. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked why one cannot assemble on one's own. One usually has to consort with another. Usually, the provision is where two or more are gathered. We have chosen two.

The power enables the police to take quick action to negate and control the effects of an intimidatory protest without having to arrest large numbers of people. Therefore, it would be possible for the officer to disperse such a group and that would suffice.

7 Oct 2003 : Column 262

Clause 59 would provide the police with the ability to impose conditions in the same circumstances on much smaller protests, such as intimidatory protests conducted by animal rights protestors outside the premises of targeted companies. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether we could do that using the Protection from Harassment Act. There are real difficulties with that. These provisions will enable swift action to be taken by the police to enable them to give relief.

Lord Avebury: Can the noble Baroness tell the Committee what are the difficulties in using the Protection from Harassment Act? Perhaps I may offer her another alternative: why not use Section 4A of the existing Public Order Act?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: At this time it would be difficult for me to go through all the issues in relation to harassment, but it is critical that we now address this specific targeted problem. The noble Lord mentioned the Huntingdon Life Sciences issue. He knows of the difficulties that arose in that case with protestors assembling, usually just one below the requisite number, and behaving in a very intimidatory way so as to make life virtually impossible for people. In those circumstances, if the conditions I have just outlined are met, the police need to be able to disperse that group so that that behaviour ceases. That is really what this kind of offence is targeted at.

Noble Lords will know that it would be possible to arrest 20, 30 or more people in this way. But is that the best way of dealing with it? Is it necessary? Does that fuel an issue to make it worse or does it help make it better? This is a quicker, more direct, and, it is to be hoped, easier way of dealing with it, which we trust will be effective. While the police use the powers mentioned by the noble Lord to report and arrest individual protesters—for example, those who are shouting abuse or holding up offensive banners—they can use the power only in respect of individuals who are committing specific acts. This legislation does not provide the police with the ability to deal with a small group of intimidatory protesters as a whole. That is why this approach is likely to be more successful.

The reduction in the number of persons which constitute a public assembly does not give the police any power to prohibit protests by small groups of demonstrators. It simply means that where the threshold set down in Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 is met, a police officer may impose conditions on that group. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will recognise that activists are often well versed in the law and know that the police can impose conditions only where there are 20 or more persons. That is why they generally protest in far smaller groups or in a larger group which is split into several smaller groups in order to frustrate the police. While the police have powers to deal with individual misbehaviour, they require something further. Therefore, I think that 19 has become a good number of activists because it is one below the threshold.

7 Oct 2003 : Column 263

Existing legislation which deals with public disorder and criminal acts is not sufficient. We fully accept that people have a right to protest about issues on which they hold strong views and with which many people may not agree. There is, however, a balance to be maintained between someone's right to protest and the expression of sincerely held beliefs and the rights of those who are engaged in lawful activity. I hope that with that explanation both the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Dixon-Smith, and even, perhaps I may say, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will feel more content than before we discussed the amendment.

Lord Hylton: Will the Minister consider getting the rubric above this clause changed and amplified to make it clearer?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We can consider that, but we think that the clause is clear now. I shall take it away and we can look at the clause. I do not guarantee that I shall come back with anything more appropriate, but we shall certainly look.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am glad that we have had the discussion because certainly we are all better informed as to the Government's intention and the need for these particular numbers. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for making the slightly tart comment that this duplicates Clause 30, but without the safeguards of Clause 31. That is pretty well exactly what it is; Clause 30 deals with people who have been upset by assemblies of people who can be moved on. But there are safeguards in Clause 31. I shall consider what has been said and we may need to return to this issue. A distinction of debate between Members of the same party between the two Houses is not unknown. If it elucidates useful information, I do not apologise for it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 59 agreed to.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 200ZA:


    After Clause 59, insert the following new clause—


"RAVES
(1) Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) (powers in relation to raves) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) for "100" substitute "20".
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) This section also applies to a gathering if—
(a) it is a gathering on land of 20 or more persons who are trespassing on the land; and
(a) it would be a gathering of a kind mentioned in subsection (1) above if it took place on land in the open air."
(4) In subsection (2) omit "in the open air".
(5) In subsection (7) for "this section" substitute "subsection (6) above".
(6) After subsection (7) insert—
"(7A) A person commits an offence if—

7 Oct 2003 : Column 264


(a) he knows that a direction under subsection (2) above has been given which applies to him, and
(b) he makes preparations for or attends a gathering to which this section applies within the period of 24 hours starting when the direction was given.
(7B) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (7A) above is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or both.""

The noble Lord said: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for raising the issue of raves. He, like me, during our many years in local government, probably experienced the unpleasant side effects of raves—in our postbags and on our telephones at weekends—from members of the public, who were understandably and properly complaining about them and the anti-social behaviour which can arise.

We all know that raves can disrupt the peace and tranquillity of many local communities, in particular during the spring and summer months. I could regale noble Lords with certain unpleasant experiences during my time as leader of my local authority. Because of the hour I shall not do so. However, it should be understood that the Government understand the impact of raves on local communities and we are keen to deal with the problem. We are also grateful that that keenness to act is shared across the Committee.

I recognise that the effect of raves is not limited to the duration of the event itself. These gatherings can bring noise nuisance and traffic congestion on small, wholly unsuited roads. Rubbish may be deposited in often very attractive surroundings.

The legislation relating to raves goes back to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It was introduced as a response to what the government of the day saw as the growing phenomenon of the rave and the difficulties that this type of unstructured event was likely to cause. Since the introduction of that legislation, we know that the tactics of rave organisers have changed and we recognise the need for the legislation to be updated. In my experience, rave organisers are clever and use the best of modern technology, in particular the mobile phone, to make their arrangements. It is therefore necessary to disrupt those tactics and, in essence, that is what this proposed legislation seeks to do.

The issues relating to raves were raised during the Commons stage of the Bill. Further, it is a matter often raised by members of the public in correspondence. We are pleased to have this opportunity to table amendments in this Bill to Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Raves have been organised in buildings such as barns and disused warehouses. In the past the police have been powerless to act as the current legislation applies only to land in the open air. We therefore propose to extend the legislative powers to include indoor trespassory raves.

Rave organisers have been restricting the number at events to below 100 people in order to frustrate the operation of current legislation, so we propose to amend it to include indoor and outdoor events where

7 Oct 2003 : Column 265

20 or more people are present. This aims to ensure that it is no longer commercially viable to organise an unlicensed rave. It should be noted that, for the organisers, raves have been highly profitable events. When speaking to young people who have attended them, many believe that they were badly ripped off. They may have had a good time at a rave, but they certainly paid for it.

Finally, the police have reported many occasions where rave organisers who have been given a direction to leave have simply moved to another area—a fallback position—to set up another rave. Again, I came across that problem during my time in local government. We propose to make it an offence for a person on whom a direction has been served to attend another trespassory rave within 24 hours of the direction being given.

The proposals will not be perfect and catch every event, but we think that most of the events that in the past have led to problems should be curtailed. The Government believe that these amendments will strengthen the current powers so that the police can provide relief to communities. They will be warmly welcomed by the Association of Chief Police Officers and, no doubt, by officers working on the ground.

I hope that the noble Lord opposite will welcome these government amendments and that, in the circumstances, he will not feel the need to press his own amendments. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page