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 12:30 pm on 6th March 2001.

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Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Labour, South Thanet 12:30 pm, 6th March 2001

I have looked at the Opposition's proposals and, in principle, I agree with them. However, I have not had an opportunity to discuss them with people who are qualified to tell me what their impact would be. Is the Minister prepared to accept the new clauses? If he cannot do so, I hope that he will agree to examine the matter again on Report and bring back Government recommendations.

I would welcome an amendment on Report to the harassment provisions. I might table it myself, if the Government do not. Any group of people who act in concert to carry out an act that would be an offence if it were committed by one of them should be deemed separately to have committed the offence. I hope that the Minister will table such an amendment on Report, if he cannot accept the amendment today.

I welcome new clause 7, which is a major step forward. I tabled my amendment because, when I read the Malicious Communications Act 1988—I got it from the Library and read it for myself—I was horrified. It appears to provide a defence for people who communicate threats of violence by letter. At present, if a person believes that someone is doing something that justifies a threat of violence, he can write to them and threaten violence. I think that it is perfectly all right to write to someone and say, ``If you don't stop doing what you're doing, I'm going to write to my MP.'' That is a threat, but it is reasonable. Another reasonable threat is, ``If you don't stop doing animal experiments, I won't buy your products any more.'' However, it is not reasonable to write to someone and say, ``If you don't stop doing animal experiments, you will be beaten up, or your children will be assaulted.'' There are no grounds whatever for making such a threat and defending oneself by saying that it is reasonable.

The existing Act provides a defence for people who believe that their threats are reasonable. The Minister is correct in saying that that should be changed. The issue is not whether someone believes that the threat is reasonable but whether it is reasonable. That will be a good change. My amendment simply clarifies the law to make it crystal clear that there is no defence for writing to someone and threatening an action that would otherwise be illegal. If any member of the Committee is wondering whether that could ever be considered reasonable, let me give the recent example of the destruction of genetically modified crops. The courts might have deemed that that was reasonable, but they should not have done so.

Let me straight away place on the record my belief that it is right to conduct tests on genetically modified crops to find out whether they are beneficial and to establish the limits and risks involved in using them. We shall never find out whether there are risks unless we do such experiments, but people took it on themselves to destroy them, which prevented us from finding out the facts. When they went to court, their defence was that they had a right to destroy the crops, because the Government should not have allowed them to be grown. The jury, to its shame, acquitted them.