|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Miss Widdecombe: The right hon. Gentleman is rehearsing the inadequacies of the bail system. I agree with him. There is no disagreement on that. Does he accept, however, that the Bill will only compel a judge to give reasons? It will not restrict the availability of bail. If the right hon. Gentleman is serious about wanting to tackle the inappropriate use of bail, would it not be better to do what we want to do, which is to provide that one breach of bail conditions is enough, and that there must never be more than one chance?
Mr. Kaufman: I would not like to be as categorical as the right hon. Lady on this issue. Sometimes, when I listen to her, I think to myself, "I wish that I were as confident of anything as she is of everything."
The key feature is that the courts should use their judgment. Magistrates and judges know the facts. There are cases where the accused have a right to bail, but I do not want what might be called the profligate use of bail in circumstances such as those that I have described. I do not think that there is any serious difference between the
I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work and for the close attention that he pays to the situation in my constituency and to legislation as a whole. I say on behalf of my constituents that we look to ever-increasing results. We do not want only some crime statistics to be improved; we want them all to be better. We want villains like those to whom I have referred not to be let out on bail. We want them to be sent to prison with long sentences so that they are not a danger to the community. As the Bill is moving towards that situation and has many good provisions, I welcome it. As always, in my sycophantic way, I congratulate my right hon. Friend.
Mr. John Major (Huntingdon): There is a great deal in the Bill with which I can agree and to which I offer a fair wind. I would have happily said much of what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said. Indeed, in some instances I did so some years ago. I am delighted that we share a view. He mentioned in passing that he was a shadow Home Secretary. He was too modest to say that he was a first-class shadow Home Secretary. I always admired his work. I trust that one day he will be able to resume that eminent role, and that day may not be too far away.
I shall concentrate on what is in the Bill and on what I hope the Home Secretary may be inclined to add to the Bill in Committee. For years, Huntingdon Life Sciences in my constituency has been conducting Government- licensed experiments on animals to help research into cures for human ailments. The vast majority of local and political opinion on both sides of the political fence has been outspoken in favour of the research--not least, perhaps, because the Thalidomide Trust is based in my constituency. If experiments to the same depth as are now undertaken on animals had previously been conducted, the thalidomide tragedy might well have been avoided.
At Huntingdon, and at other places, experiments are taking place in an effort to try to find cures for cancer, AIDS, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, asthma and other life-threatening ailments. I strongly support that valuable and necessary research. Others, however, do not: animal rights activists have opposed all of it. Some of them are animal lovers who wish to demonstrate peaceful opposition to something that they find distasteful. I believe that they are wrong, but they are entitled to their views. We have a long tradition of tolerance of peaceful protest, even concerning views with which we personally tend to disagree.
However, the animal rights movement is not composed wholly of such peaceful protesters--far from it. It is led and guided by what I can only call an anarchist minority using the tactics of urban terrorism. It is worth illustrating briefly some of the things that have happened in Huntingdon. Activists have fire-bombed cars outside my constituents' homes; they have attacked cars by throwing concrete blocks at them; and they have assaulted employees physically by spraying cleaning fluid in their eyes. There have been threatening phone calls by day and night and abusive letters--having seen some of them, hate
Those threats are made against ordinary people carrying out their work, licensed, as necessary, by successive Governments. That is by no means all that the animal rights activists have done. They have used other unpleasant tactics: they have ordered services or purchases in the names of employees working on experimentation; published false advertisements in their names; and even, distastefully, ordered a hearse to collect the body of a loved one from someone's house.
It is easy for us to understand how distressing that thuggish behaviour can be. I stress that it is by good fortune alone that no one has yet been killed by those anarchists. One day, however, if those people continue to act as they have been doing, somebody will be killed. They have held demonstrations, sometimes large ones, outside private homes, including mine--but, unlike my constituents, I am pretty well protected. There have been large demonstrations in Cambridgeshire, not least in the city of Cambridge, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) will know. They are carefully planned and generally controlled by their leaders, not at the demonstrations themselves but some way away on mobile phones. Although far from the action, the leaders are intent on creating maximum disruption.
I accept peaceful protest, but such actions go far beyond peaceful demonstrations. The activists use similar tactics against secondary targets, especially if they think that they will be weak-kneed enough to give in to their threats. None of that behaviour is acceptable, and we need changes in the law--in the Bill, I hope--to protect innocent employees, companies, directors and shareholders alike. I had an opportunity to thank the Home Secretary for his actions on that front a few moments ago. I also express my thanks to the noble Lord Sainsbury for his action in helping to bring about the financial rescue of Huntingdon Life Sciences from the difficulties that it had run into, predominantly as a result of those demonstrations. Lord Sainsbury did an excellent job and I am most grateful to him.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): It is not only at Huntingdon that the effects have been felt; staff in many other places are fearful. Many research companies are internationally owned, and it is important that it be clear that we are taking active steps to deal with such things, because investment decisions are being made about the future location of that research.
I understand that the Home Secretary has some proposals in mind. I strongly welcome his willingness to take action, although I have not yet had the opportunity to study his proposals in detail. It is essential that we soon amend existing legislation to prevent violent activists from maintaining personal information that enables them to target individual employees, directors and shareholders. Such targeting is unpleasant and often frightening for people going about their ordinary business. They are not
I shall briefly touch on some of the changes that are necessary. We must look at ways to make it possible for all directors and shareholders potentially at risk--not every director and shareholder, but those who could arguably be at risk from the activists--to register their interest in a company such as Huntingdon Life Sciences in a fashion that protects their private addresses from public scrutiny. Of course, the registrar should have their private addresses, but we should consider the various options for preventing that information becoming generally available to people who will misuse it.
That will not be easy, and the change will need to be carefully managed, but there are a number of ways in which it could be achieved, and I hope that the Home Secretary will incorporate one or other of them in the Bill. I look forward to discussing that with him on another occasion. I regard the change as extremely important, for I have seen the anguish caused by what has happened.
I come to the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). After Huntingdon Life Sciences obtained new financial backers from abroad, and the protesters were frustrated in their bid to close down the company and its work, one of the leading activists appeared on the media claiming that his movement would soon identify the new financial backers and target them.
I cannot recall the exact words that that activist used, but I recall the flavour of them, and I recall the gist of what he said. It was, I thought, a threat: "We have friends even in America, and we will get them." As I heard the interview, that seemed, given the activists' record, to be a threat of promised violence which ought of itself to be an offence, not something to be uttered with impunity time after time in various parts of the media.
We need also to borrow from trade union legislation and make it an offence--the Home Secretary touched on this--to protest against individuals in their homes and, in addition, to prevent secondary activity, such as protests against financial institutions or pension fund investors, and the staff who work for financial institutions or pension investors.
The present laws are shown by the new problem to be inadequate on a number of fronts. The harassment legislation certainly needs amendment, not least to make it more appropriate for the police to use it to prohibit the incitement of harassment and intimidation. At present, it is ineffective for that purpose. I have had some experience of trying to frame ways of dealing with such problems, and I understand only too clearly the difficulties that the Home Secretary and his Ministers will have in framing legislation to cover these points. It will not be easy, but it is possible and we must reconsider existing legislation.
Threats against individuals are not justifiable in any circumstances. In any event, without wishing to be flippant, I should have thought that the precise wording of that subsection was so woolly that it would make it possible for any taxpayer to indict the Inland Revenue under it. Unless the Home Secretary amends it, people may take that advice and do so.
We clearly need to examine existing legislation to deal with emerging problems. Many other changes need to be made, but discussion of those may not be appropriate for a Second Reading debate in which many hon. Members want to speak. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for agreeing to see me so that I may put some detailed suggestions to him. I look forward to that meeting.
I shall touch on one other point, in conclusion. It would be immensely helpful to the industry, to which the Minister and his team have recently given such support, if in his winding-up speech this evening, the Minister of State could confirm the following points unambiguously: first, that the present UK legislation governing the introduction of new medicines demands that they be tested on animals before human trials can occur; secondly, that animal tests are also demanded by regulatory authorities to ensure the safe manufacture, transport and use of agrochemicals and other chemicals; thirdly, to confirm that, in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 enforced by the Home Office inspectorate, as the Home Secretary said earlier, the UK has the strictest regulations governing the conduct of animal research that can be found in any country in the world; and fourthly, that the current legislation demands that in safety testing, researchers must assure the Home Office that no non-animal alternative tests are available before authority is given for any testing on animals.
I ask for those points to be unambiguously made by the Minister of State, because each and every one of them is perverted by those who oppose the research, and much public opinion accepts the rebuttal of those points. It would be immensely helpful to have them clearly and unambiguously stated by a responsible Minister.