The new clauses are important. We welcome the Opposition's decision to work within the framework of our guillotine resolutions in order to prioritise debate on the key issues. My hon. Friends have made similar arguments.
I shall deal first with Government amendments Nos. 176 and 243, which are relatively minor and relate to the commencement and extent of the measures. Amendment No. 176 provides that measures on police direction to stop harassment of a person in his home and malicious communications will come into force on Royal Assent. Measures to protect the victims of harassment will be available as soon as the Bill is passed. Amendment No. 243 extends the measures relating to companies, secretaries and directors to Great Britain.
On the more substantive provisions, I begin with new clause 6, which is an important element in the Government's package of measures to deal with the activities of animal rights so-called protesters. It will give the police powers to deal with protesters or others who attempt to harass, alarm or distress a person through their presence in the vicinity of his home. It is important to note that it is not an offence to be within the vicinity of the dwelling as such. An offence arises only if the police give a direction that is not complied with. The new clause can apply to any number of people from a single individual to a large group.
Subsection (1) makes it clear that the police officer must have reasonable grounds for believing that the person being directed is there for the purpose of persuading the victim or another individual either not to do something that he is entitled to do, or conversely to do something that he is under no obligation to do. The police officer must also believe that the presence of the person or people is likely to result in harassment or cause alarm and distress to the victim.
Subsections (2) to (5) deal with the nature of the directions, specifying that they can be given orally to individuals or a group, and that they can require the people directed to do whatever is thought necessary to prevent harassment, alarm or distress, including leaving the vicinity. Conditions can be attached to the directions, to allow a police officer to specify how far from the vicinity people must go, or that certain individuals may, by exception, remain in the area.
Subsection (6) restricts the power to make directions to the most senior police officer present at the time, and makes it clear that the power does not extend to giving directions to those who are lawfully carrying out a peaceful picket under section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. If a person refuses to comply with a direction, subsection (7) makes him guilty of an offence and liable to a penalty of a level 4 fine and/or three months imprisonment on summary conviction.
The clause will allow the police to deal with people such as animal rights extremists who target individual researchers or company employees and cause great distress by gathering outside their homes. Their behaviour may fall short of the sort of threatening behaviour that is covered by the Public Order Act 1986 but, taken in the context of threats made in other places, and the knowledge that such people occasionally resort to criminal and violent acts, their mere presence can create a real sense of fear for their victims and their families.
Those powers may be of use in other situations. For instance, they would be available to deal with the mobs who have, in recent times, gathered outside the homes of supposed sex offenders—in some cases, as a result of mistaken identity—in an attempt to drive them out of their homes. However, we shall expect the police to exercise those powers with discretion; we have no reason to expect them to be used indiscriminately. They will provide a valuable addition to the police's repertoire of responses in cases when the threat to individuals is more insidious, but no less real, as it strikes at the heart of their home and family.