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

There may be disagreement here. I do not think that there is an unqualified right of a journalist to do anything in our society. Some may say that there is, because the journalist is somehow a guardian of our democratic rights, and must therefore be allowed to do almost anything in pursuit of the ``truth'' that he is seeking to expose. I do not accept that; journalists must work within the law.

Much more difficult questions exist than those that we are discussing. We discussed the role of journalists when we debated the Bill that became the Terrorism Act 2000, where serious issues are involved. Only last week, when I was holding a press conference on the list of proscribed international organisations, I discussed with journalists from a number of organisations throughout the world how the Act might apply to them. Serious and difficult issues are involved.

I do not accept that Roger Cook, the friend of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey or anyone else has an unqualified right to do whatever he wants. Alarm, distress and harassment are bad things; the journalist has the right to ask but not to force an individual. That is important—it may be a point of difference between us, on which I am sure that we can elaborate in later debate—but I do not accept an unqualified right for journalists.

The legislation that we have reviewed includes the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and offences such as obstruction and breach of the peace; in fact, we have reviewed all the legislation involved. It is important to make it clear that we are proposing a police power rather than an offence. It will not require an overt threat of violence or specific intentions in courses of conduct; it will allow the police to direct people to move away, and arrest them if they do not.