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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the police have told me that a limitation on the use of the Protection from Harassment Act is precisely as the Minister explained but has to apply to named individuals. I suggested—for future consideration, obviously—a wider scheme that would allow such an injunction to be extended to anyone who perpetrated acts of the type that we have seen against the suppliers of HLS, or investors, auditors and so forth.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, one could consider that issue in the context of amending the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. All I would say is that experience of how injunctions work at the moment shows that they must be specifically targeted on individuals for reasons of enforcement. Often, the consequence of breaching an injunction is committal, which is a denial of someone's liberty.

It would be difficult if the injunctions were so wide that no one knew whether he was caught. I am sure that it would be argued by those who wished to evade the issue that the injunctions had not been targeted on them; that they were not named individuals; that they did not have an opportunity to have their say; and that it was unjust that they should be imprisoned without a proper opportunity to know that they should have desisted from certain behaviour. There are problems with making the injunction so broad that it would catch the world at large. We would have difficulties.

Although the injunctions give protection to the employees of the companies, I am not sure that they can be a replacement for the powers of the police to deal with small assemblies. First, the injunctions that we already know about were granted on several grounds. Only one was based on intimidatory protests outside company premises. Secondly, the injunctions must be applied for by the companies. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly said, it is all right for companies that can afford to take such proceedings, but we must consider how we can protect companies that are not so financially advantaged.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, could not the Attorney-General bring a public interest injunction, based on the Protection from Harassment Act?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. I suppose that one could consider that, but the point of the provisions is to give the police the flexibility and clarity that they need to address the issues on the ground as they happen. That is the security that the provisions give. It is a quick, well targeted response to a problem.

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The companies that have injunctions in place have some protection, but there are many that do not. I do not dismiss the noble Lord's suggestion out of hand, but, even if one were to take it up, it would take time for the Attorney-General to consider the papers, consider whether such an injunction would be right and then to act. If we wanted a quick solution, that would leave it too late. It is important to have the sort of protection that will make a difference with small, intimidatory groups.

Unless and until we have a better solution, this appears to be the best that we can do. I understand what the noble Lord said about the numbers, but we have a difficult problem here. We think, having gone all round the houses, that this is about the only way in which we can grapple with the problem in a way that is proportionate. What the noble Lord said about the Human Rights Act 1998 is right. He will know that we are trying to create a culture that imbues the system so that it influences everything that the police do, whether it relates to anti-social behaviour, criminal justice legislation or sexual offences legislation. In our relationships with people, it should be like breathing.

I hope that noble Lords will find that helpful. For the benefit of any noble Lord who wishes to read the detail, I have placed in the Library a copy of the contents of the letter that I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who took part in the debate. I am especially grateful to the Minister for the way in which she handled discussion before this evening and for the careful way in which she replied to the debate. I keep a motto in my chambers—a statement by a great American judge—to remind me of the danger of being too certain of anything:


    "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right".

I suspect that the Minister and I are not too sure about what is right.

Everyone in the House agrees on the aim, and we are all attempting to find the best means of achieving it. I understand the cogent and convincing argument made by the Minister. That is the first time in our debates that we have had the benefit of the full argument. I am sure that the Joint Committee on Human Rights will be grateful for that.

If the police service behaves in the way in which the Minister says that it should behave—proportionately and by ensuring that there is no chilling effect through the unnecessary use of the powers—the powers may be an important safeguard, in addition to the civil sanctions. However, it is worth putting it on record that one of the reasons why we are in the difficulty that we are in is that those who have been harassed and intimidated by bodies such as SHAC have not sought to use the powers in the Protection from Harassment Act in civil proceedings, as they ought to have done. I deplore particularly the fact that a big firm of international accountants caved in without a struggle.

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Even the Huntingdon laboratories, for which I have the greatest sympathy, ought to have used that obvious legal tool and the common law. I am astonished that the torts that the courts fashioned long before the Protection from Harassment Act—such as intimidation—have not been used.

It is worth considering whether public interest injunctions should be sought by the Attorney-General, either to keep the heat and expense off little companies that cannot do so on their own for various reasons or in the wider public interest. As the guardian of the public interest, the Attorney-General could provide a valuable service in getting wide injunctions of the kind that were granted in the recent case. As the noble Baroness indicated, the sanctions for breach of those injunctions are draconian: people go to prison for contempt of court. That is a very effective sanction.

I think that I agree with the noble Baroness rather than with my noble friend Lord Avebury that there is a danger in having impersonal injunctions against the world at large because of the lack of legal certainty. It would have a different kind of serious chilling effect, and I would prefer to see the Law Officers intervening in the public interest, especially to protect vulnerable companies in the way that I suggested.

Having said all that, I repeat my expression of gratitude to the Minister and her department for having taken the issues so seriously. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 104A not moved.]

Clause 64 [Aggravated trespass]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 105:


    Page 49, line 32, leave out subsection (2) and insert—


"(2) In section 68 (offence of aggravated trespass) the following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (1) and (2)—
"(1) A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land and, in relation to any lawful activity on or taking place on that or adjoining land does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect—
(a) of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b) of obstructing that activity, or
(c) of disrupting that activity.
(2) Activity on any occasion on the part of a person or persons on land is "lawful" for the purposes of this section if he or they may engage in the activity on the land without committing an offence or trespassing on the land, and for the purpose of subsection (1)(b) and (c) above, the offence may be committed whether or not the person or persons who may engage in the lawful activity are physically present on the land when a person does anything intended by him to have the effects referred to in those subsections.""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 105 deals with the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, touched on during the debate on Amendment No. 104: the vexed issue of protecting the interests of those who have legitimately been involved in growing genetically modified crops.

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The case of Tilly v The Director of Public Prosecutions seemed to reveal a loophole in the law that surprised all of us. A demonstrator who uprooted GM trial crops escaped conviction for aggravated trespass on the ground that the farmer who had grown the crop was not present and had to be present for the offence to be committed. That cannot make sense. During the previous debate, I wondered whether the powers in Clause 62 could apply in such an instance. I would be interested to hear what the noble Baroness might have to say about that.

The amendment would remove the anomaly that I described. I acknowledge that it would apply to any legal activity, and it could be argued that the provision would cover field sports and other activities that could be interrupted by protesters.

As the noble Baroness indicated, protestors have become adept at interpreting the rules to make it difficult for them to be touched by the law. That is not satisfactory. It does nothing for either the country's progress or society's progress that perfectly legitimate activities can be totally disrupted. The work of anyone taking part in any experimental programme in agriculture nowadays is vulnerable. That is not in the interests of any of us. I beg to move.


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