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 12:15 pm on 6th March 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 12:15 pm, 6th March 2001

I certainly will, Mrs. Adams, but the hon. Member for South Thanet has heard what I said. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said to him, given what he said about his work, he must have had an uphill struggle faced with such attitudes only six years ago.

We know that organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the BioIndustry Association, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Research Defence Society all want the Government to go further. I should observe in passing that, only a couple of months ago, when my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) raised with the Government the need to protect company directors' addresses in exactly the way that the Government now propose, he was told that it was all far too complicated and it would take two years for the Government to come up with anything. Suddenly, under pressure from all those organisations, because there is a general election pending, and because we have continued to press the matter, two years has become two weeks. We welcome that, but many of us think that further protection from harassment is necessary.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said in an intervention on the Minister, it is necessary to deal with situations where groups of demonstrators are mobile, and different groups can make separate approaches that amount to harassment. The Government new clauses do not go far enough in dealing with such situations. Only if the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is amended in the way in which new clause 14 would amend it, taking out the requirement for two or more occasions, would the legislation cover those situations. If it were so amended, then different groups of animal rights extremists indulging in such conduct would still be in breach of the law, and the police would be able to take action.

I do not expect the Minister to suddenly concede that the official Opposition are right and accept our new clauses, but I would be delighted if he did. I hope that he will say that he will consider the issue further, with departmental officials, and table Government amendments or new clauses on Report. I hope that he decides to do so, not necessarily because of what I have said, but because of what the ABPI, the RDS, the NFU and others have said. We have had to draft new clauses at quite short notice to deal with the matter.

New clause 15 is designed to tighten up the law in relation to conspiracy. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) has had a consistent record on the matter, and I pay tribute to her. She was kind enough to speak to me about the matter at the conclusion of the Committee's proceedings last week. Many of her constituents have been victims of the kind of attacks that we are talking about, and she knows as well as I do that conspiracy is an important issue. That is why new clause 15 would enable the police more easily to bring a charge of conspiracy.

All of us who have practised in the criminal courts and tried to prosecute cases know that it is not that easy to establish conspiracy. New clause 15 is a valiant attempt to ensure that a charge of conspiracy sticks in the circumstances that we are trying to control through the legislation. However, the Minister may well tell us that, for various technical reasons, it will not work. He knows, because he has seen all the submissions from organisations that we have seen, that those organisations believe that the law of conspiracy needs to be tightened up so that it applies to this area of illegal protest and activity. Even if he cannot accept the new clause, I hope that he will once again do us, and the organisations that have briefed us, the courtesy of saying that he will continue to think about it and examine it, with officials, and that he may table Government new clauses, in lieu of ours, on Report.