New Clause 6 - Police directions stopping the harassment etc of a person in his home

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 pm on 6th March 2001.

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Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office 11:45 pm, 6th March 2001

I shall come to that.

If the journalists' presence caused real alarm or distress and they were trying to persuade the victims of their attentions to do something that they did not wish to do—that is an important double requirement—the police would have the power of direction to stop the harassment. Some might see that power as unreasonable, but I do not think that it is. A journalist has a right to ask a question and seek an answer to it, but, whether someone is being taken on aggressively by an investigative journalist or is, in the regular course of politics, being asked for an opinion, any individual has the right to refuse to answer, and for that to be an end of the matter.

A journalist does not have the right to tell someone that he or she must follow a certain course of action and, in trying to pursue the case, to harass, alarm or distress the individual—I emphasise that both tests must be applied. Some might say that a journalist does have that right and I can understand how that can be argued, but I do not accept that view. Journalists, like everyone else, must follow the circumstances. On a personal note, I worked for many years for Neil Kinnock when he was the Leader of the Opposition. The most appalling media scrums often happened, including outside the front door of his home in Ealing. They were offensive and difficult to deal with. My view, and his, was that journalists would operate in accordance with the general processes of civilised conduct, to move matters forward, if one could discuss the situation and reach the right solution.

My experience of all the journalistic organisations and of investigative journalists tells me that they will operate in a civilised way, when progress is made in this matter. If they do not, journalists will have to be placed in the same predicament as any member of society when dealing with the relevant situations. I do not think that that is an unwarranted infringement, or inhibition, of journalism in a democratic society. I emphasise that there must be, firstly and importantly, harassment, alarm or distress and, secondly, an effort to persuade the victim to do something that he does not want to do, if the police are to have the power in the new clause. I do not think that any reasonable journalist should be concerned about that.