New clause 3 - Aggravated trespass

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 13 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

'.—The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 shall be amended as follows.

Section 68—Offence of Aggravated Trespass

Subsection 1, line 2, leave out ''in the open air''.

Subsection 5, at end insert ''( ) In this section 'Land' does include commercial premises and buildings erected thereon''.

Section 69—Powers to remove

Subsection 1, paragraph (a) leave out ''in the open air''.

Subsection 1, paragraph (b) leave out ''in the open air''.'.—[Mr. Paice.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 4—Trespassory assemblies—

'.—The Public Order Act 1986 shall be amended as follows:

Section 14A—Prohibiting trespassory assemblies

Subsection (9), leave out ''20'' and insert ''3''.'.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We now come to a rather different issue, although it fits with part 4 of the Bill because it has to do with dispersal of groups. In introducing the new clauses, I welcome formally the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), to the first sitting of the Committee in which he has participated. I am sure that he will follow the pattern of constructive engagement shown by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth). I am sorry that we did not reach the new clauses this morning, because the hon. Gentleman was prepared to respond to them, and I am sure that he would have been helpful. I do not in any way doubt that this Minister will be helpful, but he would be the first to acknowledge that this is not his master subject.

I tabled the new clauses largely because of experiences that I have had in and around my constituency and representations made to me about the workings of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Public Order Act 1986 as they affect the control of animal rights demonstrations. My constituency is at the leading edge of biotechnological developments. Huntingdon Life Sciences, of which I should think every hon. Member has heard, is located just outside my constituency, but many of its employees are my constituents. A number of other institutions either engage in such research or commission it, so they are seriously affected by the activities of so-called animal rights activists. Now is not the occasion to have a debate about the rights and wrongs of their cause or of animal experimentation, nor indeed of the controlling legislation passed by the Conservative Government when we were in office. However, I believe it to be robust in controlling experiments.

I am seeking to amend two pieces of legislation with these two new clauses to deal with the activities of

protestors whose behaviour can be not just antisocial but threatening, and, on occasions, dangerous. There have been many physical attacks on those who either work in animal research or simply service companies engaged in animal research. It has gone beyond direct employees to others who may be linked to it, their firms of auditors, and so on. I am sure that the Minister is aware that there have been cases of firebombing and serious damage to property.

That is clearly already illegal, and I do not seek to address those issues. However, below that level of violence there is a serious, significant threat of violence, intimidation and harassment, which are themes that run through the Bill, hence its relevance. I am grateful to you, Mr. O'Brien, for allowing us to debate these new clauses. I hear from people involved in the sector that when they are going about their daily business and doing their job they are constantly intimidated and harassed. I will not pretend that if the Government accepted these new clauses they would solve all the problems, but it would be a step in the right direction.

These helpful proposals have been made by the BioIndustry Association. We see groups of protestors invading private property and shouting threats and abuse. They often enter commercial premises and run amok. The new clauses would help to address that. They stem from many conversations that I have had with affected businesses and, as I said, with the BioIndustry Association.

New clause 3 extends the situation in which the offence of aggravated trespass and its associated powers to remove can be implemented. The legislation as currently enacted restricts the offence of aggravated trespass to the open air. I want to amend it to ensure that it includes entering private commercial premises, which may be in the open air; not in the countryside or whatever but on private property. I also want to ensure in the insertion to section 68(5) that it could mean within buildings erected on such property. I realise that that would be a significant extension, but as I tried to explain to the Committee a few moments ago, it is a problem if a bunch of so-called animal rights protestors invade laboratories or whatever and threaten the people who work there going about their daily business. In such cases the police need the power to deal with aggravated trespass.

New clause 4 seeks to amend an older piece of legislation: the Public Order Act 1986. It seeks to reduce the number of people involved in a trespassory assembly from 20 to three. That is my proposal, although one could select any very low number. The reason is straightforward: whereas the 1994 Act amended the Public Order Act 1986 to introduce the prohibition of trespassory assemblies, it allowed chief officers to apply to the council for an order to prohibit an assembly, but the assembly had to consist of at least 20 people.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will appreciate the point made to me by many constituents: that one does not need many people standing on one's front lawn or drive to be extremely intimidated and harassed. Twenty is far too excessive a number. That is

why I propose in new clause 4 to reduce the figure from 20 to three. If one were faced with people standing immediately outside one's home or next to the gate of entry into work shouting and screaming abuse, one would be entitled to expect protection from not only any physical violence but verbal assaults, threats and intimidation.

I know from my constituents how extremely frightened some of them have become because of the activities of groups of people who appear close to their homes to shout abuse and threaten violence. Many of my constituents live in fear of their lives because of the invaluable work that they do. They do their best to keep their addresses and phone numbers confidential but, inevitably, that is not always possible. It is also not right that they have to try to do that. Whatever the rights and wrongs of animal experimentation—now is not the time to go into them—we should provide protection and not allow people to be intimidated, harassed or threatened for doing what they are legally employed to do.

I hope that the Minister understands the serious points that I am trying to make. We discussed them in a Westminster Hall debate a few months ago, and I know that the Government are examining what they can do. Indeed, I pay tribute to the work that they have done already in protecting people, especially the employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences. However, more can be done, and the two new clauses are further steps. I hope that the Government will treat them sympathetically.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 2:45, 13 Mai 2003

I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). Like him, I have pharmaceutical companies in my constituency, and I have also followed, with approval, much that the Government have done to toughen up still further the laws that we introduced when we were in Government.

I pay tribute to what Ministers have done, not only the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East, but other Home Office Ministers in the previous Parliament. As a member of the shadow Home Office team, I worked with them and Labour Back Benchers to toughen up the law. I take the opportunity also to mention the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). He is not a member of this Committee, but he did a great deal of work on a previous Bill in Committee on which I was the Conservative spokesman. Between us, we managed to improve previous legislation to give further protection for research scientists.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, this is not the right occasion to go into the rights and wrongs of animal experimentation. However, like members of the Conservative Government, Ministers have said time after time that research scientists who are carrying out lawful work should not have to live in fear of their lives. Employees of the companies based in Surrey Heath, such as Novartis and Eli Lilly, are constantly telling me that we need to ensure that the extremists in

the animal rights movement, who behave like terrorists, are not a threat to them and their families.

We all remember some of the appalling events that have taken place, in particular when a scientist in the west country had a bomb placed under his car by the terrorists. When the bomb went off, the force of the blast went sideways, luckily missing the scientist but unfortunately injuring an innocent bystander—a young woman pushing her child in a buggy along the pavement beside the scientist's car. All parliamentarians recognise the need to provide further protection, and as I have a similar constituency interest as my hon. Friend, I thought that it was important reinforce the point.

I hope that even if the Minister cannot accept the precise wording of the new clauses, he will say that he understands the spirit behind them and that he will be prepared perhaps to table Government amendments to incorporate that spirit. If he has any doubts about that, may I urge the hon. Gentleman to confirm that that he will talk to some of his hon. Friends, such as the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), a distinguished cancer scientist who spoke about these issues, and the hon. Member for South Thanet, who has pursued these issues in the past? We all recognise that there is a constant battle to ensure that people carrying out their own law-abiding research are protected against extremists.

There is a national interest. Britain has been a home of research science for a century and more. I declare my personal interest. I think that I am the only Member both of whose parents were research scientists. They are both retired and neither of them worked with animals. However, if one grows up in a family where one's parents are involved in research science, one understands the crucial importance of maintaining Britain's position at the forefront of technological developments. I cannot stress too strongly how important I consider these matters. I hope that we will have the same constructive response from the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as I have had from other Ministers.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I recognise, as do the Government, the problems that new clauses 3 and 4 are designed to address. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire talked about protesters outside homes and on the front lawn or drive. He will know that that can be dealt with under section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. His wider point about protesters outside the home but off the drive or the front lawn was well made.

I fully accept that it is entirely unacceptable for a small minority of animal rights extremists to attempt to stop individuals and companies going about their legitimate business. It is important that the message gets through and that the public appreciate that the biotechnological and pharmaceutical industries are doing valuable work and understand the methods of some of those who oppose them. The Government recognise and support the right to legitimate peaceful protest, as does the Committee, but we do not and should not tolerate protests that are violent or intimidatory.

There is a clear and ongoing campaign by some animal rights activists to intimidate individuals and businesses in a way that is unacceptable and often unlawful. Such activities include criminal damage, vandalism, threats, malicious communications, and harassment in the form of protest outside the homes of those who work in the bioscience industries and their suppliers, as the hon. Gentleman described. He highlights some real concerns and makes some serious points. We always anticipate keeping public order legislation under review, and with the indulgence of the Committee we would like to take the points away to consider them further and to decide whether we need to return to them at a later stage.

On behalf of my ministerial colleague on the Committee I can assure the hon. Members for South-East Cambridgeshire and for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that we will give due consideration to new clauses 3 and 4. We first need to consider the drafting to see whether they do what they purport to do. If we feel that we need to come back at a later stage, we will do so. On that basis I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is the sort of constructive response that I was hoping that the Minister would give. I am grateful to him. Obviously it would be daft to pursue the matter to the extreme. Before engaging in the formalities, may I seek confirmation from the Minister that it is not just a question of keeping the matter under review, but that the Government are considering what can be done to improve the situation? I would not expect the Minister to know as it is not his Department, but in a debate in Westminster Hall two or three months ago the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) stated that the Government were not just keeping the matter under review, but were actively considering what could be done to improve the situation. I therefore hope that keeping it under review is not simply nice words, but that a positive approach will be taken to examine how the legislation can be improved, so that we can protect those whom the Minister and I would wish to protect. If the Minister wishes to intervene, I am happy to give way.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

The broader view to take, as any Government would, is of the overall public order legislation, which needs to be kept constantly under review. As the hon. Gentleman said, active consideration of those specific purposes is taking place, not least by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen. We want to take away the new clauses to see whether it is appropriate, germane and feasible to do anything with the Bill in that area.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister, because that is very much what I wanted to hear. The Bill provides an opportunity for the Government to do whatever they conclude is necessary to make the law more effective. I identified the Bill as a potential vehicle: hence the debate on the new clauses. I hope that the Government, even if they decide that the new clauses are not appropriate, will use the Bill as a vehicle for toughening up the legislation and making it

more enforceable. As we all know, such legislative vehicles do not come by every day, and it is important to use the opportunities when they arise. I am grateful for the Minister's undertaking and response and look forward to hearing his further views on the matter, or those of the Under-Secretary, later in the debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.