`.—(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, a constable who is at the scene may give a direction under this section to any person if—
(a) that person is present outside or in the vicinity of any premises that are used by any individual (``the victim'') as his dwelling;
(b) that constable believes, on reasonable grounds, that that person is present there for the purpose (by his presence or otherwise) of representing to the victim or another individual (whether or not one who uses the premises as his dwelling), or of persuading the victim or such another individual—
(i) that he should not do something that he is entitled or required to do; or
(ii) that he should do something that he is not under any obligation to do;
(c) that constable also believes, on reasonable grounds, that the presence of that person (either alone or together with that of any other persons who are also present)—
(i) amounts to, or is likely to result in, the harassment of the victim; or
(ii) is likely to cause alarm or distress to the victim.
(2) A direction under this section is a direction requiring the person to whom it is given to do all such things as the constable giving it may specify as the things he considers necessary to prevent one or both of the following—
(a) the harassment of the victim; or
(b) the causing of any alarm or distress to the victim.
(3) A direction under this section may be given orally; and where a constable is entitled to give a direction under this section to each of several persons outside, or in the vicinity of, any premises, he may give that direction to those persons by notifying them of his requirements either individually or all together.
(4) The requirements that may be imposed by a direction under this section include a requirement to leave the vicinity of the premises in question (either immediately or after a specified period of time).
(5) A direction under this section may make exceptions to any requirement imposed by the direction, and may make any such exception subject to such conditions as the constable giving the direction thinks fit; and those conditions may include—
(a) conditions as to the distance from the premises in question at which, or otherwise as to the location where, persons who do not leave their vicinity must remain; and
(b) conditions as to the number or identity of the persons who are authorised by the exception to remain in the vicinity of those premises.
(6) The power of a constable to give a direction under this section shall not include—
(a) any power to give a direction at any time when there is a more senior-ranking police officer at the scene; or
(b) any power to direct a person to refrain from conduct that is lawful under section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (right peacefully to picket a work place);
but it shall include power to vary or withdraw a direction previously given under this section.
(7) Any person who knowingly contravenes a direction given to him under this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or to both.
(8) A constable in uniform may arrest without warrant any person he reasonably suspects is committing an offence under this section.
(9) In this section ``dwelling'' has the same meaning as in Part I of the Public Order Act 1986.'.—[Mr. Charles Clarke.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.
Question again proposed.
I remind the Committee that with this we are considering the following: Government new clause 7—Malicious communications—
`.—(1) In subsection (1) of section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (offence of sending letters and other articles with intent to cause distress or anxiety)—
(a) in paragraph (a), for ``letter or other article'' there shall be substituted ``letter, electronic communication or article of any description''; and
(b) in paragraph (b), for the word ``other article'' there shall be substituted ``article or electronic communication''.
(2) In subsection (2) of that section (defence of making a threat in the belief that it was a proper way of reinforcing a demand and that there were reasonable grounds for making that demand)—
(a) in paragraph (a), for ``which he believed he had reasonable grounds for making'' there shall be substituted ``made by him on reasonable grounds''; and
(b) in paragraph (b), after ``believed'' there shall be inserted ``, and had reasonable grounds for believing,''.
(3) After that subsection there shall be inserted—
``(2A) In this section `electronic communication' includes—
(a) any oral or other communication by means of a telecommunication system (within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act 1984); and
(b) any communication (however sent) that is in electronic form.
(4) In subsection (3) of that section (definition of ``send'')—
(a) after ``delivering'' there shall be inserted ``or transmitting''; and
(b) for ``or delivered'' there shall be substituted ``, delivered or transmitted''.
(5) In subsection (5) of that section (penalty for offence), for ``a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale'' there shall be substituted ``imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both''.
(6) Subsection (5) does not affect the penalty for an offence committed before the day on which this Act is passed.'.
And amendment (a) thereto, at end of subsection (2) insert—
`.—``(2ZA) No defence under subsection (2) above is provided where the threat conveyed is a threat of an action which if carried out would be an offence under any other Act.''.'.
Government new clause 20—Addresses of directors and secretaries of companies.
New clause 14—Fear of Violence—
`.—Section 4 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 shall be amended in subsection(1) by leaving out the words ``on at least two occasions''.'.
New clause 15—Conspiracy—
`.—After section 4 of the Protection for Harassment Act 1997 there shall be inserted the following section—
4A. Where two or more persons agree to organise or plan the commission by any other persons or by themselves a course of conduct contrary to Section 1 and Section 4 of this Act, they shall be guilty of the offence of conspiracy to commit the offence or offences in question contrary to the Criminal Law Act 1977 Section 1.''.'.
New clause 19—Increase in sentences for hate crimes—
`—(1) This section applies where a court is considering the seriousness of any offence.
(2) If the offence was aggravated for the purposes of this section, the court—
(a) shall treat that fact as an aggravating factor (that is to say, a factor that increases the seriousness of the offence); and
(b) shall state in open court that the offence was so aggravated.
(3) An offence is aggravated for the purposes of this section if—
(a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim's actual or presumed sexual orientation, race, religion, gender or disability; or
(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a group based on their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender or disability or based on their membership of, or association with, such a group.'.
Government amendments Nos. 176 and 243.
Before we adjourned for lunch, I had begun to set out our position on the considerable list of new clauses and amendments currently under our consideration. I had concluded the general description of where we stand in relation to the Government new clauses and amendment (a) to new clause 7, the new clauses tabled by the Conservatives and our new clause. I shall now return—at no great length—to deal with each of those in turn.
On a point of order, Mr. Hood. I was grateful to receive a letter of apology from the Minister of State following some unexpected and uncharacteristic remarks that he made during a previous sitting when I could not be here. I read what was said and felt that it was out of order and inappropriate; I should be grateful if he would say something about that.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his point of order. What went on in Committee last week is not really a matter for the Chair.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Hood. The remarks made last week about my right hon. and learned Friend, who is a senior Member of the House, were appalling and extremely rude and gratuitous. If the Minister is prepared to withdraw them, that may well be an end of the matter; but if he is not, we should know that.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Hood. If the Minister were prepared to let us know the precise content and nature of the letter of apology written to my right hon. and learned Friend, that in itself would help the Committee to understand his sense of remorse on the subject.
I am unaware of the contents of the letter of apology. Points of order are matters raised with me, and it is for me to rule on them. That is not a valid point of order for me to rule on.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Hood. I do not resile for one moment from what I said, but it was wrong of me not to have previously informed the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) that I was going to say it, so I wrote him a letter apologising for not having done so. I have a copy of that letter here, but it is a matter between him and me. If—
I thought that I said that it was separate; I certainly intended to. Today, during questions, the Advocate-General for Scotland, with the Parliamentary Secretary sitting alongside her, suggested in reply to a question from me about this Committee's proceedings that the Committee had been filibustering, which is why there needed to be a programming motion—
Order. I am waiting for a point of order. I am hearing an account of a discussion that took place in the House, which is not a matter for the Committee.
I am rather flattered that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I could make such a direction. With the greatest respect, it is not for the Chair to make such a direction.
I rise slowly, Mr. Hood, just in case.
I wish to thank those who have written to me, and I presume to other hon. Members, about the issues that we are debating. I, like others, have received letters from individuals and representative organisations, including constituents who work in research science. It is important that we should take account of the views of those who have seen fit to write. It is important, too, that they should know that the voice of the individual does reach Members of Parliament. I am grateful also, as are other hon. Members, for the other comments and briefings that we have received. Some of them were obviously sent by organisations with an interest in the subject, or from people paid by the organisations to do such work. They may have done it in their work time, but their comments have helped to inform our debate.
Some of my colleagues—they are not members of the Committee—have forwarded correspondence from constituents who are deeply concerned about the matter. In particular, I acknowledge the continuing interest of my hon. Friends the Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) in the matter of animal protests. They, like other members of the Committee, have constituency interests: one represents a university city and the other has research facilities in his constituency.
Before we adjourned for lunch, I said that it was right to add the Government new clauses, but that we had some concerns about the breadth of their provisions. I asked the Committee to reflect on some of the issues that are not resolved by the clauses before we reach Report.
As far as he could, the Minister helpfully set out some of the legislation that governs such matters, although breach of the peace is a matter of common law. This is not a criticism of his failure to do it this morning, but it would help if he would ask his civil servants to set out the relevant statutes that are in place in England and Wales—either at the end of the debate or, even better, in writing, but soon after today's deliberations.
When one looks at the remit and the breadth of that legislation, one realises that some of it needs to be amended. For example, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 takes no account of e-mail and modern technology and it obviously needs to be brought up to date. However, civil disobedience and the right to protest are already governed by various statutes as well as public order and breach of the peace legislation, and we need to consider what the limits of that legislation should be.
May I clarify exactly what the hon. Gentleman is asking for? Is he asking me to write to the Committee with a list of legislation that is relevant to the matters covered by new clauses 6 and 7 and the Opposition's proposed new clauses, and the extent to which they bear on such situations?
That is exactly what I am asking for. It would help, especially when we come to the wider debate on the Floor of the House, to know what the law is at the moment, how it stands and what are the arguments for extending it.
The bigger debate, often touched on when considering such legislation, is about whether we should limit the right to protest, and whether the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 offer sufficient protection. Sadly, we do not often debate matters in the round. We normally suffer from Parliament reacting to events. That is a perfectly proper task, but sometimes it is better to stand back and think about what the law should be. I hope that the debate does not preclude us from a considered discussion in the near future—it will not be before the general election if that happens soon—on what we need to do to ensure that the right to protest, to speak out and to challenge people with one's views, however uncomfortable, is protected. At the same time, the right to not be harassed should be dealt with, as intimidation is unacceptable. That wide debate is not only about animal rights protests.
I would like to clear up our sub-debate about Members of Parliament and elected representatives. I do not argue, and it cannot be easily argued, that Members of Parliament, councillors or other elected representatives should for any reason be in a different position from anyone else. Many people are in public life, some elected, some appointed, and it would be invidious for us to give ourselves a special protection. I do not argue that the debate on the amount of protest that we should be expected to withstand is entirely different from the debate on whether we should be able to keep our addresses secret. I want to flag the issue up.
Last year, in the debates on electoral registration reform, we discussed whether people standing for office should be able to keep their names and addresses off the electoral register because they might be harassed or stalked. Again, that was a perfectly proper debate, and we may need to reach conclusions on the matter. My presumption is always that such information should be in the public domain. People should know where those who stand for office and are public servants live. If one is entirely a private citizen, not a public servant and not standing for office, the matter is different. I hope that we always tend towards freedom of information and no great restriction, rather than in the other direction. We should seek to limit the public's right to know and increase privacy only when there is an exceptionally good case for it.
My hon. Friends did not request that Members of Parliament should have special additional privileges, merely that they should not be excluded from legislation intended to protect the whole community. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that he felt that all the addresses of Members of Parliament should be made public knowledge. I support him in terms of work telephone numbers and addresses, such as those of constituency and Westminster offices. However, I disagree with him about the private addresses and numbers of Members of Parliament, as we also have families.
I do not want to be too distracted into that debate, but the hon. Lady was responding to my comments, so I must reply. All the difference in the world applies to private phone numbers that people's families can use. If she, one of my hon. Friends or I decide to stand for office, we do so in the knowledge that we have families, and that our actions will have implications for them. We must not be naive about that. I strongly take the view that where we live is a matter of public interest.
Because it is hugely important whether one lives in the constituency or not. Members should always live in their constituencies, and it is a matter of proper public knowledge as to whether they do. It is a matter of public interest as to whether they live in a mansion worth £1 million or a flat worth £100,000. To that extent, we are accountable, so such information should be in the public domain.
I could not disagree more. Whether we live in a mansion worth £1 million or a hovel worth nothing is of no significance or interest to our constituents. All that matters to them is whether we do a good job on their behalf in our constituency and in this place. Our personal circumstances and addresses should be matters for us and no one else.
I hear the hon. Gentleman, and disagree with him. It matters greatly to our electors to know whether we live in the constituency that we seek to represent, how long we have lived there and whereabouts we live. That should be a matter of public record, and I would resist any attempt to change that, other than in the most unusual circumstances. That is the case in the sense that one has to put one's name and address on the ballot paper.
So that my hon. Friend does not feel alone in the debate that is developing, I should like to inform the Committee that—as I am sure he knows—the address and telephone number of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) have always been available in the local phone book, including during all the time when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats.
So that I am not accused of something else, I, like the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, have sometimes had to have the protection of the police at home. Paradoxically, that brought more attention to where I live than anything had done previously, as there was so much activity outside. That might be required for anyone, such as a journalist or a research scientist. The police are there to give additional protection, when it is needed, to members of the royal family, politicians, diplomats, business people and others. It is likely that people will need some protection at times. I do not pretend that that is not sometimes necessary, even if it turns out not to be justified. Although it might not be directly connected to the matters that we are debating, I mention it in the context of the treatment of private individuals.
I might have misled the Committee this morning when I suggested that special branch is taking a particular interest in me and my house. The truth is that I have the good fortune to live next door to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who has special branch looking after his house, so the officers keep an eye on mine.
I had misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, and he might unwittingly have misled the Committee. I am grateful to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) and I have asked the Minister questions aimed at ensuring that the definitions in the Government new clauses are clear. The definition of a person who is in the vicinity of premises should be narrow. It could be that case law deals with that. However, ``in the vicinity'', as defined from its Latin root, does not necessarily mean very close. It could mean a long way away. That is a pretty wide definition, which gives the police the ability to give a direction to somebody who might be 100 yd, half a mile or several miles away.
At the moment, because of foot and mouth disease, there are protective rings around certain farms to prevent activity in the vicinity of infected farms. They sometimes stretch for several miles. I should like to flag up the fact that we are looking at a definition that may be far wider than intended, and far wider than might be appropriate in the circumstances.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, one of the concerns of the National Farmers Union is exactly that it should be possible to protect farmers who are subject to intimidation and the offer of violence in their domestic premises, which are on the farm. Does he agree that in many cases that would require some distance to be specified—certainly more than a few yards—to achieve the purpose?
The Bill refers to premises that are used by any individual as his dwelling. That begs some questions that we have not teased out. Some people live and work in the same place. Do the provisions mean dwellings only, or dwellings irrespective of whether they are also workplaces? Farms offer a good example: many farmers live and work in the same place. In their case, do we mean the whole area that is naturally part of their workplace, even though it might be nothing to do with their dwelling? Many farmers have fields that are not contiguous to the land surrounding the farmhouse—possibly on the other side of the road or of the valley. We need to be clear about such issues.
``that constable also believes, on reasonable grounds, that the presence of that person...
(i) amounts to, or is likely to result in, the harassment of the victim; or
(ii) is likely to cause alarm or distress''.
Those are alternatives, not cumulative factors. To illustrate my point, I shall use the example of last year's visit to this country by the President of China. While he was here he had a dwelling—it might have been a hotel, but it was still a place where he stayed. He may have been caused alarm or distress by the protests of people who were unhappy with Chinese policy on Tibet. Personally, I hope that they caused him distress, because that was the purpose of the protest: to bring his attention to something, to cause him to react and to affect him.
In addition, the purpose of the protesters was to persuade someone who would be defined as ``the victim'' under the new clause that he should not do something that he was entitled or required to do, or that he should do something that he was not under any obligation to do. It could be argued that to attempt to persuade the President of China to give up his Government's occupation of Tibet is to seek to persuade him to do something that he is under no obligation to do, under one definition of international law, but that morally he should do. We are in dangerous territory if we leave the new clause as it is.
Another example was given by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). I do not want to repeat the debate that we had this morning, but it seems to me absolutely proper for a journalist, in certain circumstances, to go to someone's house, to wait outside their house for them to come out and to seek to ask them questions that may cause distress or alarm. That person may deserve to have distress or alarm caused to them. It must be a civil liberty to allow people to challenge those who are abusing other people's money or assets. That is part of a free society.
I understand that it is difficult to draw the line. I am not in favour of a society in which everyone is plagued by harassing journalists. However, the Bill includes more than a harassment test. The new clause uses the phrase
``likely to result in, the harassment of the victim; or...is likely to cause alarm or distress.''
That is far too weak a test. We must return to the matter at a later stage.
Hon. Members have mentioned another issue. People working in the research science industries who have sent me letters want to ensure that their families are given sufficient protection and are not put under undue pressure. I understand and share that concern. Those people could be at risk at home, on their way between home and work, at work or in other places—such as when out shopping. We have not yet tackled the issue of whether the targeted individual and their family should be treated in the same way, or treated differently. I raise the question because we should not legislate on the hoof without having answered that question.
There are other aspects that we should consider carefully before we finalise the legislation. For example, subsection (2) of new clause 6 contains the proposal that
``A direction under this section is a direction requiring the person to whom it is given to do all such things as the constable giving it may specify as the things he considers necessary''.
We often debate whether such tests should be subjective or objective. I am not asserting my view of the matter, but I am asking whether there should be an objective test rather than a subjective test.
Another point raised with me is whether it is sufficient, in practical terms, for directions to be given orally, and whether people should be guilty of an offence if they do not comply with directions given orally.
I do not remember whether the Minister was on the demonstration that I attended when we were both at university, against Rudi Dutschke's deportation by Reginald Maudling. I was there—and the Minister confirms that he was there too. The police were there. Just before I went to university, a protest took place at the Garden House hotel against the Greek junta, the colonels and their undemocratic rule of Greece. There was plenty of police activity there.
Is sufficient protection provided for the civil liberties of people who are lawfully protesting in such a circumstance—and who are thus clearly seeking to make a point to people who might fear pressure—if the police tell the whole crowd of 100 or 1,000 people to move on, when there is not necessarily any legal requirement that they should know that the police have said that? It must be wrong for people to be guilty of an offence simply because when a direction was given—to which a police officer would attest on oath in court—they did not hear it or were unaware of it. People who were quite innocently protesting could be caught up in that.
On a minor point, and without going into romantic recollections of the Garden House hotel demonstration, at which I was not present, the hon. Gentleman has given two examples involving hotels: the hotel used by the president of China and the Garden house hotel. In our view, a hotel is not a dwelling. We believe that a dwelling is defined as a structure occupied as a person's home.
I understand that. It is a perfectly reasonable answer and if that is the current interpretation of the law, it is fine.
On a separate issue, would General Pinochet's residence, for months—or years—in Surrey, have been his dwelling? It strikes me that he had no choice about it. It was his home de facto. He was not allowed to go anywhere else, and I think that the courts would have probably defined it as his home. The issue that I am concerned about would arise if people were standing outside General Pinochet's place of house arrest. Is the Prime Minister's home at No. 10 Downing street his dwelling? Perhaps I should have said No. 11 Downing street. I am confused these days as to who in the Government lives where. That house is not only his dwelling but his workplace. I raise the question only so that we can reach the correct definitions.
The hon. Gentleman has put a query into my mind. If one were to demonstrate outside someone's home, not requiring him or her to do something, but simply out of dislike, because he or she belonged to a different political party, that would presumably not be covered by the Bill. Perhaps the Minister should think about adding something to cover that eventuality.
That is an overly draconian response. The hon. Gentleman should always try to tend in the other direction. I shall have to persuade him that the tendency to legislate for more powers to be given to authority should always be resisted—even, or perhaps especially, by a Labour Government.
If I wanted to protest to the Chinese Government, I might want to do so outside the Chinese ambassador's residence, which clearly is his home for as long as he is staying in London as ambassador. The same would apply to the American ambassador's residence, and would have applied to the South African ambassador's residence, if this had been happening 20 years ago. That would be a dwelling, and I would want the ambassador to do something that he was not doing, or to stop doing something that he was doing—although in my case, I would not spend my time there without a slightly stronger reason. I have better things to do. However, we need to deal with the questions that I have raised.
I think that it is proper, as in new clause 7, to extend the Bill to include other forms of communication that can be used for harassment. I do not know about other members of the Committee, but people who obtain one's mobile phone number can send text messages, which can be harassment because they fill up the text message space and it is necessary to keep deleting them. In the past two years, there have been two people who have thought that it was their life's work to leave messages on my answering machine about 25 times a day, and effectively to block all the other messages. I accept that it becomes harassment, although I have never sought protection against it. Clearly, e-mails could also be included in this category. Receiving e-mails every two seconds would be very tedious to deal with. We need to find the difference between what is tedious and what is harassment, and not to be over-sensitive about such things.
We are sympathetic to new clause 14, for the reasons that I gave earlier. The law on conspiracy is sufficient as it stands, so new clause 15 is unnecessary.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my anxiety in respect of new clause 6, that the directions have only to be given to one individual, and if he fails to carry out them out there are sanctions? An organised campaign could involve different people each day, as when a group of travellers boxed and coxed their vans and it was necessary to issue a possession order that affected not just individuals on the site but everyone who might go there in a certain period. Is not something stronger required?
I absolutely understand that point. It would be a nonsense if the police had to take action against each individual, separately. The hon. Gentleman is right: hunt saboteurs or members of a civil protest movement, for example, might operate in shifts. The people in Whitehall or Parliament square might do their shift and then go home, to be replaced by another shift. That is how many protests are organised. We need to consider such matters and ensure that we do not allow the police to have a blanket cordon—we have given ourselves a blanket cordon around the Palace of Westminster, although it is not often used—and subject them to undue bureaucratic pressure to identify different people who are part of the same group. As someone said recently about terrorist organisations, the problem with these groups is that they do not have membership lists and they do not all turn up at the annual general meeting. It is difficult to discover who is a member of such groups.
On new clause 19, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) properly intervened to say that we must be careful that the law does not give protection to particular groups and not to others. By their own admission, it is on the Government's agenda to consider how to secure religious equality. Many religious groups in this country, particularly the Muslims, feel that their faith is not protected in the same way as that of other groups.
I am a member of the Church of England, which has particular protection in the law of the land: blasphemy against the Christian faith is an offence, yet it is not an offence to be rude or offensive about other faiths. That is wrong. There should be no such discrimination. We should have no law that makes free speech that may be offensive to people illegal; if the faith does not have the capacity to cope with that, there is something wrong with the faith.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. Although it may not be directly relevant to the point about the animal lobby, if we are discussing matters of race hate and so on, I can see that religion is relevant, too. I, too, am a member of the Anglican Church. Is he saying that his party's official stance is to be in favour of the disestablishment of the Church of England?
We are in favour of disestablishment over a phased period. We are also in favour of the repeal of the blasphemy laws so that the Christian Church does not get more protection than other faiths. The Government said, on the record, that following a report from the university of Derby, which was due last October, I think, they would consider how to secure protection for people who are discriminated against or who feel that they are persecuted on the grounds of their faith. One reason why new clause 19 was tabled was to probe how far they have got with that. In a Committee last year, the Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), said that we would receive the report in the autumn. We want to know what has happened.
There is already differentiation in law between certain types of crime. Parliament legislated under the present Government to treat people who were guilty of race hate crimes differently from other criminals. The hon. Member for South Thanet might have voted against those measures—I have not checked, but I doubt it, because the measures had general support across all the parties. There is at least a case for examining whether hate crimes on a wider basis—gender, sexual orientation or religion—should be given the same treatment in sentencing or when defining the aggravation of an offence.
If Muslims or Sikhs are attacked because they are Muslim or Sikh, for them the evil is the same as in a race crime. As happened in the Admiral Duncan, if people are targeted because they are thought to be gay by a madman, their perception is that they have been targeted because of their sexual orientation. The victims' experiences would be similar to those in race crimes. I raise the question because all parties have, to different degrees, promised to address race crimes and viewed them as particularly obnoxious. I believe that we have unfinished business on that, and this debate was the only opportunity in Committee of examining what the Government have achieved. I will be grateful for the Minister's considered reply.
The hon. Gentleman argued for disestablishment, but then went on to say that he and his party were in favour of the repeal of all blasphemy laws because they do not cover other faiths. Would it not be more logical for him to argue that the blasphemy laws should be extended to cover those other faiths as well?
May I complete my point? Disability, which is included in new clause 19, has not yet been mentioned. People are targeted, persecuted and attacked because of their disability. Again, those are particularly unpleasant, vile and obnoxious offences. All hon. Members will have experience from constituency work of people who have been attacked because they are in one of the categories that I have mentioned. We believe that the law should be strong enough to deal with that.
I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what the Government have achieved, although I understand that he might tell us that the review on sentencing is due in a couple of months and that some aspects will be properly covered by that. I cannot remember whether they are also covered by the review by Lord Justice Auld, although I think that it is examining the workings of the system rather than specifics.
I am concerned about new clause 19, because it specifies certain groups of people and therefore leaves out others. I do not happen to be a Christian, and my local Catholic priest has been denouncing me from the pulpit in recent weeks for not believing in God. I would not be protected by the new clause. Someone could commit an offence against me without its being an aggravation, because I do not belong to one of the specified groups. It would be safest to devise a form of words that defined aggravation as an offence that was committed against an individual without provocation. That would include everyone.
I am extremely sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's view. This is proper debate. I made it clear that this was a probing new clause, which does not pretend to be perfectly drafted. Instead of ``religion'', it might be better to put ``belief'', because it would also include people such as the hon. Gentleman who have a belief, although not, in his definition, a religion.
We raised such points because the Government, encouraged by other parties and organisations both in and outside Parliament, legislated to give race hate crimes a particular position in the legal system. As that has been done, there are arguments about whether other categories should be included. One might take the perfectly proper view that they should not. The hon. Gentleman made a quieter point well regarding those activities that are particularly obnoxious, whereby people are picked on for no reason and attacked for what they are: either what they are that they can help or what they are that they cannot help, which is even more obnoxious. We want to know whether there is an opportunity to improve the law regarding that issue.
I wish to conclude by dealing with the interventions of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). A good reason why it would be impossible to extend the blasphemy law to cover all faiths is that we would then have to define faith and religion. I have always taken the view that that is impossible, unless we have a register of religions, as we now have a register of political parties. Where two or three people are gathered together, they form a religion. In other countries, they form political parties but in this country they can form a religion. That is why many of us argue that it is better to remove blasphemy law protection from the one faith group that has it, and that faith does not need legal protection. Those who have faith believe either that faith should be able to defend itself or that thunderbolts will come and act on its behalf.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's position, but surely he agrees that immense upset has been caused, particularly to those of the Muslim faith, by the many people who indulge in what that faith deems to be the most appalling blasphemies. Some of those people are extremely well known. We do not need to refer to them in the Committee and give them yet more undeserved publicity. Many leaders, particularly of the Muslim faith—I have connections with the Ahmadiya Muslims, and I think that the hon. Gentleman also knows them—would welcome some protection. That is why my view on the matter is slightly different from his.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's view. It is fair to say that the view of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom is that it would like the law extended to give that protection. I understand why it takes that view, but I do not agree with it. I think that it would be better to have no protection. Like all others, the Islamic faith is capable of defending itself. In a world that allows freedom of speech, authors or others who wish to be rude about Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Sikhism should be allowed to do so. We have moved on. We should not be as sensitive as we have been. I take the view that freedom of speech should win over offence. It is an argument between more liberal and less liberal views about freedom of speech.
That does not mean that I am any less respectful of communities such as the Muslim community. I was with members of my Muslim community at one of the mosques in my constituency yesterday. I respect it hugely, and Muslims respect people of other faiths. That is not the issue, but I hope that I have explained my reason for taking a different view, which I accept is no more justified than the hon. Gentleman's. He is entitled to his view. I am sorry that I have taken longer than at any other stage so far in Committee, but several important issues have been raised.
To return to the central issue, it is important that people going about their lawful business are protected by the law from intimidation. The managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences—whom I have met—his staff and people working for other organisations do not deserve to be intimidated as they have been and should have the protection of Parliament. I do not think that there is any fundamental dissent among us, and I do not want to send out the message that there is. However, we must ensure that when we put a new law on the statute book, it is justified and we know exactly why we wrote it as we did. I am concerned that the Bill is drafted too widely. It could be more accurately and correctly drafted after consideration. We will have an opportunity to look back on the debate, and there will be a chance to make further changes later.
I hope that we end up with a law that works, that responds to concerns that have been raised and that ensures that people who engage in lawful activity, whether others like it or not, are entitled to do so. We must respect their right to do that and, in many cases, applaud them for doing it, because it is done not just in the best interests of themselves and their fellow citizens but, as they see it, for good moral reasons and in the best interests of society as a whole.
I join all members of the Committee in welcoming the Government's proposal to amend the legislation to deal with what we all regard as a violent terrorist abhorrence, directed against research scientists. The new clauses will give support to all those who have suffered from what the perpetrators—the charming people in the Animal Liberation Front—call non-violent home protests: mail, e-mail and telephone calls. The communications that I have received are certainly not non-violent. Why do I receive such communications? My constituency of Peterborough is not a million miles from Huntingdon, where Huntingdon Life Sciences is based—as well as other research facilities that use animals, including some at Cambridge university.
I have received many representations and I crave the indulgence of the Committee in quoting from some of them. It is about time that we heard from people, in their own words, what such terrorism means to them. I shall not give names. One person who wrote to me from B & K Universal Ltd said:
``What I don't understand is why people get away with victimising us. These people have no right to intimidate us...My journey to work should not be an ordeal.''
That is one of the milder letters. Someone else writes:
``Animal activists have made me feel ashamed to admit the kind of work I do, even though I feel proud that I can make the animals as comfortable and well looked after as possible. I also feel a sense of achievement knowing the line of work I do is helping researchers find new cures for diseases, to help people and other animals.''
Someone from a completely different part of the country writes:
``These animal rights extremists have hijacked the animal welfare group and are using this emotive issue to further their own private anarchist agenda.''
I am no longer prepared to listen to the kind of argument that says that if one does not support such violent, take-the-law-into-your-own-hands extremism, one is guilty of animal cruelty. I, and I am sure all members of the Committee, know that the people who perpetrate such activity are not doing it just for the animals. They are equally happy to engage in the kind of anarchism that occurred in Parliament square. They are a rent-a-mob who travel around communicating by mobile phone. Whatever piece of action is happening, they want a part of it and are going to make others pay.
Did my hon. Friend note that at the weekend, those people who supposedly care so much about animals refused to call off their demonstration at Huntingdon Life Sciences even though that ran the risk of spreading foot and mouth disease, leading to the slaughter of hundreds of animals?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing up that important matter. He is absolutely right to point out where their true compassion lies: with self and self alone.
As the hon. Lady knows from our discussions, I entirely agree with her—regarding not only her comments today but her excellent contribution on Second Reading. I know that she has worked closely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the former Prime Minister, on those issues. As she says, many of her constituents are affected. Does she agree that that rent-a-mob is terrorising people countrywide? She, like my hon. Friends, has received many letters, from people in every part of the country, who are absolutely terrified and who have asked all members of the Committee to take the matter extremely seriously.
I completely endorse what the hon. Gentleman said and hope that every other member of the Committee does so.
To return to the comments of ordinary people who should be heard, someone else wrote to me:
``I have suffered threats to myself, my family and my home. I am constantly on edge, especially when I see strange cars near my home. I know what they are capable of; my colleagues in the industry have suffered car bombs and have had their homes trashed. The current legislation is allowing this to take place, and therefore I fully support the new Bill being passed.''
Another communication—I hope that I am not boring the Committee, but we are talking about the interests of these people and I want to place their views on the record—states:
``We ourselves are subjected to weekly shouts by megaphone, and I quote `scum, paedophile, murdering bastard, animal abuser, we know where you live, we know where your children go to school!'''
Being subjected to such threats is unacceptable in a democracy. It is not simply an animal welfare issue.
Another letter states:
``I am deeply concerned about anarchists forcing their views on other people through their behaviour, no matter what the subject might be.''
That brings me back to my main point, that this has nothing to do with animals; it is a particularly destructive and disruptive form of behaviour, which must be regarded as wholly unacceptable in any democracy, and especially so in this one.
Finally, another letter states:
``Perhaps a member of Parliament could speak out for us, unless he/she fears the same type of harassment as we do.''
Hon. Members will have made forceful representations in their local newspapers and I am sure that they, like me, will have received some very nasty, unpleasant and intimidating correspondence—and will know precisely how to deal with it.
I shall now move on to Huntingdon Life Sciences. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred to the use of early-day motions, and hon. Members will be aware of my early-day motion 374. We all deplored the attack on Brian Cass. I remember waking up and tuning in to the ``Today'' programme and hearing the dulcet tones of a gentleman from the Animal Liberation Front, known affectionately by some as ALF. Asked repeatedly by John Humphrys to condemn unreservedly the use of violence by persons in balaclavas, he refused to do so. He dodged the question, saying that he did not like violence, but he sort of understood it. It is precisely his attitude that we must legislate to get rid of.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and we should all congratulate him on his detection work. If any of the fourth estate of journalists are present, I hope that they will make that fact known. It was certainly not publicised in the ``Today'' programme.
I did not know that the hon. Member for South Thanet was going to raise that matter, but now that he has—helpfully—done so, I should mention that one of the barristers who shared chambers with me was junior counsel for the prosecution in the large ALF trial. It is right to place that on the record, and I am proud that someone with whom I worked over several years was involved in the successful prosecution of a person whom I can describe only as a terrorist.
That just goes to show the depths of argument to which these individuals will resort. I hope that we treat that suggestion with the contempt that it deserves and raise it for ridicule and, indeed, rebuttal.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been in contact with people at HLS. I particularly wanted to ascertain their views on the Government amendments. I have also been in contact with the Research Defence Society, as have many members of the Committee, and the pet care industry. The society has continuing concerns that the proposed legislation does not go far enough and will not have a sufficient effect on the more violent attacks, such as the shameful baseball bat attack on Brian Cass that we have mentioned and the 14 letter bombs that have been sent in the past few months. I was informed that one exploded in the face of the six-year-old daughter of a pesticides salesman.
Such attacks are, of course, already criminal offences. Not surprisingly, the people who have felt or been targeted have called on our police services each time that they received an unexpected parcel or saw unknown people near their offices. For some of my constituents who work at HLS, that means a daily, or sometimes twice daily, desperate telephone call. People who have made such complaints include animal auctioneers, sheep farmers, fish and chip salespeople and even members of the British Heart Foundation who donate money for testing. The net has indeed been spread far and wide.
Obviously, all that puts a further strain on police resources. The Minister will be aware that I have in the past written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the need for additional police funding for the Cambridgeshire constabulary to enable it effectively to control the unlawful activities of the animal rights extremists targeting HLS and associate companies and employees. I do not claim a party political first on that. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon has led the campaign by Cambridgeshire Members of Parliament, which has spanned both political parties and included Robert Sturdy, a Member of the European Parliament.
I was absolutely delighted that, after persistent lobbying and letters, the Home Secretary responded to the request very well. I know that the chief constable of Cambridgeshire would want me to say how grateful he and his force were for the additional funding, but I want to ensure that it is not a one-off and that there is a regular supply of money that can be used in such instances. People should make no mistake: the animal terrorism and extremism at HLS and other places is not a new vogue for 2000 and 2001. Unless it is stamped out firmly, it will go on and on. Police officers will often be unable to take breaks at weekends or to have rest days. That will discourage people from entering the police force and make people want to leave it, weakening the force and having an effect not only on animal rights extremism but on the quality of the police service. I firmly hope that the Minister will assure us of continual adequate and fair additional funding for forces in that position.
On new clause 7, I welcome the additional penalties of imprisonment or a higher fine that may be imposed under the Malicious Communications Act 1988. I also support the shift in emphasis under subsection (2)(a) and (b) of the same Act from individual belief to a shared definition of what constitutes reasonable grounds for making threats.
I shall again refer to a communication that I received from a person in a senior position at B&K, who would like rather more definition of the Bill's terms and mentions a definition of peaceful protest. That has not yet come up in Committee, but the person said:
``Genuine debate on all matters is constructive and necessary but when one group tries to force its views on others this is not democracy. With a peaceful protest there should be no necessity for...spitting...interfering with the free passage of people and vehicles going about their lawful business. Posters and placards should be relevant to the protest, accurate and not give offence.''
Whether in Committee or elsewhere, I believe that the Government should look again at the legislation concerning what is peaceful protest and what is not. We need to embark on a redefinition.
I have talked to members on both sides of the Committee about new clauses 14 and 15. I am at one with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. I am in favour of the proposals under new clauses 14 and 15 about conspiracy and harassment. As a result of those proposals, I hope, as I am sure does the whole Committee, that the Minister will consider the matter and return with excellent Government clauses on Report and create a climate in which our constituents can go about their lawful, chosen profession without fear of harassment or intimidation to themselves or their families.
My constituency is about 15 miles south of Huntingdon and scientists who live there have been persecuted in the way in which the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) outlined. I am determined that the law should be improved so that such activities are stopped, in so far as they can be. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon set the matter in context when he said that the experiments at Huntingdon Life Sciences are not optional, but necessary. They are experiments to find cures for cancer, AIDS, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, asthma and other serious conditions.
This country has a tremendous pharmaceutical industry. In Hertfordshire, we have some of the best companies in the world with some of the best research facilities. It is not just a matter of making money for Britain, but such research provides for the world cures for some terrible, crippling illnesses and diseases. I do not believe that this country is not wedded to animal welfare. We are. As a country, we take all possible precautions to ensure that animal welfare is compromised only in so far as it is absolutely necessary and where there is the overriding human concern, which is a necessity.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the superb reputation of the companies in his constituency, within the London and Thames valley area of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry are 40,000 staff who are employed by its 17 member companies, which is two thirds of the industry's total for the United Kingdom? Those 17 member companies are investing more than £1.8 billion annually in this country's research and development. As my hon. Friend said, employees in that industry need protecting.
Yes. It is wrong that people who are doing the world a service as well as making money for Britain are subjected to the sort of harassment that we have heard about. I shall not cite examples, but I have received the type of letters that the hon. Member for Peterborough has received. In fact, at least one of them was the same. We have a duty to tackle such matters.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the regulation system for animal experiments in the United Kingdom is the tightest and most comprehensive in the world and that the standard of welfare for those animals is the best in the world? The inevitable consequence of terrorism driving animal experiments abroad is that they will be done to a lower standard under a more lightly controlled regime.
That is exactly one of the commitments, or statements, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon asked the Minister to make on Second Reading, and I was pleased that the Minister did so. The Minister also pointed out that the exercise is not voluntary for those companies. They are required by law to apply such procedures to protect people who have such treatments applied to them to save them from serious illness. As my right hon. Friend said, the Thalidomide centre is in his constituency, so no one knows more than he about the possible effects if medicines are not properly tested and a regime such as the one that we have is not in place.
The points that my right hon. Friend made at the time that especially needed to be dealt with related to directors' and shareholders' addresses. The Government have introduced welcome proposals on directors' addresses, and I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will continue to examine the issue of shareholders' addresses and consider what action might be taken. Malicious communications are dealt with in the new clauses, which is welcome.
The point that my right hon. Friend made was that besetting people's homes should be unlawful. The proposal does not go that far. Although we shall support the proposal, my anxiety relates to an organised rota for a large number of activists going to someone's home. One of them might one day be told by the constable to leave, and might eventually leave or be dealt with. However, the following day there might be another one, who would be dealt with, followed by another.
The proposal would not necessarily stop the continuing conspiracy aspect of what is going on at the moment. I hope that the Minister will consider ideas to tackle that. New clauses 14 and 15 make an attempt to do so by providing protection from harassment by ending the requirement relating to the need for someone to have behaved in such a way on two separate occasions. Other ways may be available, and we should continue the search between now and Report, and even after Report if necessary, as the Bill proceeds to the Lords.
Secondary activity was another great anxiety that my right hon. Friend raised. He had in mind pressure on staff of financial institutions, such as banks and pension funds, as a result of the harassment of their employees. I should like an assurance from the Minister that his proposal will tackle that problem.
Although today we are being consensual—I hope that Labour Members will support new clauses 14 and 15—we are owed an explanation of the action of the Labour party pension fund. At a crucial moment it pulled the plug, and there is no doubt that that had a damaging effect on everyone else. If the Government's political party's pension fund pulls the plug on an important investment in Huntingdon Life Sciences on the basis of ethics—which was, I understand, the basis on which it was portrayed—we are entitled to know what exactly were the ethics that drove the Labour party pension fund to do that. Perhaps the action had nothing to do with ethics but related simply to Labour party pension fund workers being threatened, and the Labour party deciding, as have others, that it could not afford to put its employees at risk. One way or the other, we are entitled to know.
The Government may want to reflect on the fact that in opposition they were very vocal on animal rights issues. I am all in favour of animal welfare, and I believe in peaceful protest, as do Labour Members. However, the point of fever pitch was reached on the issue. Before the general election, the Labour party accepted a substantial donation from a group that campaigned on animal welfare issues. Looking back on the matter, the Minister might say, ``The Labour party has made some mistakes in this area. Now we are in government, we have come to our senses. That is why we are bringing forward sensible proposals at this time.''
My hon. Friend has come to part of the point that I was going to make. It seemed to me, as it did to other Opposition Members and many people outside the House who had studied such issues, that there could be a third explanation. My hon. Friend has perhaps given part of the explanation in relation to the sudden decision by the Labour party pension fund to pull the plug. In addition to substantial donations by the animal rights lobby to the Labour party, it might be related to the fact that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who was then shadow spokesman on agricultural issues—and therefore on animal and animal welfare issues—and who is now a Minister, personally received a substantial donation. I raised the issue when we were in government and the Labour party was in opposition because it was entirely inappropriate for a Front Bench spokesman on such issues to take that money, which, of course, he declared. When he came into government and became the Minister as opposed to the shadow Minister, he, and, by implication, the whole Labour Government, were partis pris, which could only give comfort to the animal rights extremists.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to take the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that he is not in any sense attempting to claim that animal welfare organisations support terrorist operations or are in any way connected with the kind of activity that we have discussed this afternoon?
I entirely accept that there is no such connection, and I did not say that there was.
On more detailed aspects, is the Minister saying that the sending of services such as funeral services, gravel and so on is covered by the law, either under the new clauses or the protection from harassment provisions?
What will be the impact on farms? The National Farmers Union has contacted me about serious incidents of intimidation and threats of violence outside farm premises by individuals who disagree with the method of farming that is being practised. Apparently, there have been terrorist attacks, including activities such as following the farmer's children to school and videoing elderly relatives of the farmer through a window.
The NFU is concerned about what ``in the vicinity'' means in that context. Will it be possible for those who are directed to move away simply to walk to the other side of the farm field and continue their activities? Under subsection (5), it is anticipated that the constable can make exception to his direction, including
``conditions as to the distance from the premises in question at which, or otherwise as to the location where, persons who do not leave their vicinity must remain''.
Does that mean that constables have the power to direct persons to leave and stay a significant distance away—for example, a mile or half a mile—or just a few yards? The Minister will recall that, under section 65 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was fully debated, a person who is within five miles of the boundary of the site of a rave can be instructed not to proceed in that direction. That is a much longer distance than the phrase, ``in the vicinity'' might suggest. Will the Minister clarify what that means?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is reasonably likely that the farm buildings may be the target for terrorists or protesters? Those buildings might be a reasonable distance from the farmhouse. If the provision is designed to protect the farmer from the type of activity that we all decry, it would be necessary to include the place of work as well as the house.
That is the problem with a farm. It is not only a dwelling but a workplace. People can be intimidated easily by burning a haystack half a mile away or causing damage to buildings that are a significant distance away. That is why the NFU hopes that it will be possible to distance the individuals concerned from the farm. The other issue is that the direction's value would be limited if it were lawful for a person to return to the scene—an hour after the police had left, for example. Will the Minister confirm whether the ban from an area has a fixed duration? For example, under other provisions, such a direction would last for 72 hours. Will the direction specify a length of time during which intimidators would be kept away?
Is it good enough for the direction to be made orally, or is it proposed that there would be a written record of it? Obviously, a concern in court would be that defendants could swear blind that no direction had been given, or claim that it was not given in the terms that it was. Will the Minister consider how that problem could be overcome? There is concern that the groups that we have discussed might actively look for loopholes in the law, or for ways to evade their responsibilities. It would clearly be necessary to prove that the direction had been given because there may be many members of the group, while only one constable is involved. Would it be possible, in such examples as the Huntingdon situation, to video an officer giving a direction?
Although I have criticised the Labour party in general, I make no criticism of the Labour members of the Committee who have campaigned vigorously and bravely on this matter. We do not see them in a party political light in respect of this matter, because they have stood up for their constituents and beliefs. However, we hope that the Minister can explain the role of the Labour party pension fund in the matter.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it may not be an entire coincidence that, when the Government's usual channels chose the membership of the Committee, they were careful to ensure—with, I think, the sole exception of the Whip—that all members, at every level, were newly elected in 1997? I do not suggest that the Government Whip was involved in anything that my hon. Friend or I mentioned earlier, because he was not; he is a good cross-party friend. However, there are usually a number of senior Government Back Benchers on the Committees. This Committee is very unusual because even the two Ministers were newly elected in 1997.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I would not go as far as to describe such hon. Members as the good guys, because that would be unparliamentary. However, they clearly do not have any form. We are planning to discuss criminal records later.
It is nice to rejoin the Committee when there is such sweetness and light and, happily, the Government are making an effort to bring forward constructive legislation to deal with a real problem.
I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire, especially because a significant number of the employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences live in my constituency. I have had substantial correspondence from them and I have corresponded with the Home Office on their behalf. I am pleased that major efforts are being made to produce satisfactory legislation.
It is important to look at the new clauses with a view to ensuring that the police have the power to make demonstrators stand well back, because standing a few yards back is not satisfactory. Of course, such demonstrators should be able to express their views. However, the harassment that my constituents have faced for months and years is intolerable and unacceptable in the kind of Britain that any of us wish to live in, regardless of party affiliation.
It is important that the legislation should not contain loopholes. As my hon. Friend said, such protesters are financially well supported and are guided by well-informed people. They will use every possible loophole in the law if we leave such loopholes. I understand the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Of course one does not wish to prevent people from demonstrating, as it is their right. However, that right has been deeply abused in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire and the vicinity of Huntingdon Life Sciences.
I represent a farming constituency, so I join my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire in drawing attention to the points made by the National Farmers Union. Not only farmhouses but the workplace in general may be beset and harassed, so it is essential that clauses are put in place that protect people at their work as well as in the place where they live. The people working at Huntingdon Life Sciences may be beset when they go home and when they are at work. We must institute laws that protect from harassment citizens doing important and valuable work, while maintaining freedom of speech.
I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the necessity of such scientific work. The law requires that certain things must be tested on animals because there is no other way that is held to be safe. Everyone agrees that, if we could find another method of testing that did not involve animals, we could take that route; indeed, the law requires that we do. However, scientists and technological workers at Huntingdon Life Sciences are putting their lives at risk to carry out important work, so we owe it to them to protect them.
We have had a lengthy and well-informed debate.
I want first to deal with some misleading party political rubbish. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath made a series of assertions that were without foundation. I need simply to read out the early-day motion from which he selectively quoted fallaciously to illustrate his point. It is dated 6 February 1995 and was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). It states, in its entirety:
``This House congratulates all those around the country who have been demonstrating against the vile trade of animals for slaughter; believes that all citizens have a right to defy laws and regulations which have no moral basis whilst at the same time accepting the full consequences of such acts of civil disobedience and—``
I emphasise this point—
``disdaining physical violence against individuals however provocative and loathsome they may be; further believes that Her Majesty's Government—`` meaning the former Conservative Government—
I read out the early-day motion in its entirety and emphasised the phrase that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, for whatever reason, forgot to mention because, whatever one thinks of the individual merits of the argument, it related to peaceful process, including civil disobedience. It specifically distanced itself from violent action. I repeat the reference that it made to
``disdaining physical violence against individuals however provocative and loathsome they may be''.
The hon. Gentleman sought to mislead the Committee and the House by suggesting that the hon. Members to which he referred—he even referred to them in terms of the pre-1997 intake—encouraged violent activity. That was misleading, and he should withdraw his comments.
The Minister may have read out the full text, but I do not withdraw one word of my comments, because the early-day motion was intended by the hon. Member for West Ham to give comfort and aid to those involved in animal protests. I accept that the wording makes reference to disdaining violent protest. The Minister was not in the House at the time, but he was a member of the Labour party; we in the House heard the language used and experienced the climate of opinion. In speech after speech and in every early-day motion, his party gave aid and comfort to those people. I have a pack of examples from the Library, and I could quote other early-day motions.
On a point of order, Mr. Hood. It is clear that the Committee was misled this morning. The impression given about the early-day motion was very different from the text that has just been read to us. I wonder whether you would be prepared to study the Hansard account of this morning's debate and compare it with the early-day motion to establish whether the Committee has indeed been misled.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Hood. The action to which the new clause refers, and which was dealt with this morning, is the besetting of people's homes. Because you were a Member of Parliament at the time, you will recall that during the protests people's homes were indeed beset. For example, the home of Lord Waldegrave, the then Minister of Agriculture, was beset, and it was widely reported at the time that more than 30 protesters attended at his home. The home of the then junior Minister, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), was also beset. Therefore, the protests of which the early-day motion approves involved not direct physical violence to the individual but the besetting of people's homes, which is the matter with which the new clauses deal. Given the circumstances, I ask that you read the Hansard report, Mr. Hood, because in my view, by drawing attention to an early-day motion that made his point, my hon. Friend addressed the issue precisely.
Yes, I will read the Hansard report carefully, as I always do. If the matter has been accurately rendered, I am sure that I will read that the points were made in the way that was described. The difference is one of emphasis and opinion—it is not a point of order.
I entirely accept what you have said, Mr. Hood, and I do not wish to pursue the matter further. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath has made it clear that he will not withdraw his remarks. That is shameful, but there we are. It is important that Committee members understand the core of the debate in this Committee and in the House, which is that there is a significant and major distinction between public protest, civil disobedience and expressing one's views on a range of issues, and the offering of violence to people. That distinction was drawn in the early-day motion to which reference has been made.
Committee members will be aware that I did not instigate this discussion. It was the hon. Member for Surrey Heath who decided to descend into that particular gutter, and I felt it necessary to put the record straight. In that context, I want to put on the record the work of the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union, which is not normally regarded as a dangerous right-wing organisation. In fact, at various times some of us have had a little difficulty in our dealings with it. Its vigour has extended to sending delegations to Parliament, which were met by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to argue for precisely the type of measures that we are considering. The MSFU is a significant organisation that is affiliated to the Labour party. It has a long record of organising the work of scientists in such areas, and it stresses exactly the views such as were expressed in this Committee by some of my hon. Friends. It does not adopt the atypical stance that has been described.
I have no personal experience of fund raising and donations from various organisations to political parties after 1992. However, I believe that some organisations offered funding to a range of political parties, including the Conservative party. I do not know whether it accepted that funding, but as far as I am aware those organisations were not, and are not, involved in promoting violence in any way. In that regard, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green made his point well.
I am in no position to comment in any way on the party political point that was made about activities relating to the Labour party pension fund. I am not a member of the party's national executive committee, and I am not familiar with the circumstances or with matters that influenced decisions taken. However, I would submit that the matter is not one for this Committee. As for the general party political issue, it was a disgrace that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath descended into that particular gutter. It is shameful that he did not withdraw his remarks, and I want the record to note that I dissociate all my hon. Friends from violent activity of the kind that was mentioned.
The Minister is huffing and puffing about misleading the Committee, and he is suggesting that all political parties have benefited equally from the animal welfare lobby. The truth of the matter is that the Labour party received £1 million, in return for which it changed its policy on foxhunting. It is true that other political parties have received small amounts over the years, but I, for one, would certainly turn them down. The Labour party has been a substantial beneficiary of the animal welfare lobby.
The hon. Gentleman has just conceded that the Conservative party has received money from animal welfare organisations. I, too, have no idea of the amount of money received from the various organisations.
We can discuss where the money went, but to be fair to Opposition Members, they have not suggested that any of those organisations have condoned, encouraged or supported violent activity of the sort referred to. I would not have gone into that had not the hon. Member for Surrey Heath raised the matter at the beginning. I was keen to get it out of the way at the beginning, but I shall say no more about it because more substantial and interesting questions have been raised, to which I shall return.
I shall deal first with new clause 20, which refers to shareholders. Shareholders are not required by law to file their home addresses. They may give a service or accommodation address or that of a nominee, which is significant. They may even give the address of their company. Systems must be in place to ensure that the law is sensibly upheld. Shareholders need to receive notifications that are sent to them by the company and to be contacted by others--for example, during a takeover or merger. The Government are considering guidance to explain the existing law, which includes safeguards that would go some way to meeting the points made.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) reiterated what the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the former Prime Minister, said about secondary activity. First, the safeguards cover organisations that may be shareholders in particular industries. Secondly, the protection that we are seeking to provide for principal primary organisations--for example, scientists working in labs--applies in exactly the same way for organisations investing in those companies.
Do the Government take the view that the names of shareholders should be a matter of public record so that, if people wish to lobby them, they can reasonably do so?
The names of shareholders should be on the public record, but I am not familiar with all aspects of company law, so I shall be slightly guarded in my comments. The reason for the current law is to enable company business to take place; it is not specifically for lobbying, unless takeovers are thought to be lobbying issues. We are not trying to change the situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet referred to the registration of directors. Existing proposed directors may apply for and obtain the protection of a confidentiality order. All subsequent filings will refer to the service address for the public record. Our difficulty is that existing records cannot be expunged. They are kept at Companies house in a variety of formats, including paper and microfiche image. Companies keep them in their registers of directors, which are publicly available. Given those various formats and the volume of documents filed over the years, we do not see how early entries could be removed simply by diktat. As my hon. Friend understands, the information is widely held by specialist business providers such as Dun and Bradstreet, ICC and Experian. It is also undoubtedly held by animal rights activists. Such a provision would initially benefit only new directors or directors who have moved house, although it would eventually offer wider protection. We do not see how we can challenge that situation more effectively, but I understand the point and if there was a solution, I would be in favour of it. However, history is history, and if a previous director has provided his residential address, it will remain on the public record. Someone who was, but is no longer and does not propose to be a director again, cannot benefit.
Shareholder names and service addresses are still on the public record with the number of shares held. The company law review is considering various related questions.
Those are my responses to various points raised on new clause 20. I am pleased that it has been generally welcomed, and I want to pay a personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet who has campaigned energetically for the provision. We have had an energetic and full discussion with the Department of Trade and Industry, and I am glad that we have been able to introduce proposals at this time. As my hon. Friend knows, I was concerned about whether we could do so, but the pressure has been positive from that point of view.
On new clause 19, it is fair to say that the debate ran very wide indeed. I had not anticipated having to deal with blasphemy law in this Committee. We considered repealing the laws on blasphemy, but our consultation showed that that would raise difficult issues, which is no surprise to anyone, and there was no consensus on a way forward. I am advised that we should not attempt to revise the law at present. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey referred to the Home Office commissioned research by the university of Derby and the report on religious discrimination in England and Wales, which is intended to establish views on experiences of religious discrimination. I understand that it was published two weeks ago with the Hepple report on the wider implications of legislation on religious discrimination. Both reports are intended to stimulate discussion. They do not represent the Government's position, nor are they formal consultation papers, although of course we are interested in the responses to them. It is not an area that is within my specific remit at the Home Office, so I cannot speak with personal authority, but that is what I am advised is the position.
On the other points made about new clause 19, I was inclined to rest my case in urging the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey not to press it when my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet intervened and talked about how these matters should be dealt with. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, truthfully, that he was seeking a wider debate on some of the difficult and problematic issues that the new clause raised.
Both the sentencing review and the ultimate report are the best way in which to consider these issues. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we focused on issues of racial aggravation explicitly and that we have not looked at the situation in the round. The discussions that I have had with certain organisations have reinforced our interest in a more holistic approach, and in that sense, I accept the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve. I hope that he will acknowledge that the subject requires substantial consideration before something further is put on the statute book. For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the new clause.
I am happy with the Minister's reply, and agree that the matter must be considered cautiously. I anticipate that we shall return to these matters when we have had the chance to consider the work to which he referred. I am grateful for the Minister's understanding of why I raised the issue. It is a matter on which there should be the broadest consensus and cross-party support.
We now come to the substance of our debate—new clauses 6 and 7 and the Opposition amendments, with which I have some sympathy. I am happy to give the assurance that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey seeks about producing a brief summary of current relevant law to consider the situation and to help our debates at further stages.
On the matter of police co-operation, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath made an important point after his party political diatribe. The co-operation between police forces when dealing with these matters is important. That is why we raised the status of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which can analyse and collect data, and use intelligence across a range of areas. This issue applies to a number of other important areas of policy and policing. Since taking on this job, one of the most extraordinary discoveries I have made is that there is an insufficiently high level of co-operation between police forces for a variety of reasons, such as having their own IT systems. The hon. Gentleman is right to make the point, and I assure him that although the decisions are operational and not for Ministers, the police are committed to developing the joint approach and use of intelligence to which he refers.
I am grateful to the Minister for the constructive way in which he has responded to my point. Will he go a step further and ensure that, through his officials and his Department, our concern about inconsistency, which was shared by some of his hon. Friends, is drawn to the attention of police forces? I appreciate the Minister's point that these are operational decisions, but it seems extremely odd that when one force is faced with animal rights extremists it can arrest 87 of them, whereas another force cannot arrest any of them.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this debate will be brought to the attention of the police. However, there are difficulties because the operational independence of chief constables is an important constitutional principle, which I know he accepts. We are careful not to violate that principle. That said, we are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the police and national agencies, such as the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, to see what common approaches can be developed. When it comes down to a fundamental judgment about how a particular situation should be addressed in a particular circumstance, I would be loth to violate the operational independence of chief constables.
I want to make an important point in response to the passionate and significant speech about the role of science made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. I ought to declare an interest in that Europe's largest research centre into genetically modified foods, the John Innes centre, is in my constituency. I am acutely aware of the fantastic commitment and quality of the scientists working in that area, and the major contribution that they believe they can make to the welfare of humanity, whether by feeding people more effectively or healthily, eliminating disease or taking pesticides off the land so that people can operate in a greener way.
My hon. Friend defended the scientific method by arguing that we ought to address the issues confronting society through science rather than prejudice. The scientific method entails rigorously testing a proposition and then asking what we can do in the light of that. It requires an examination of the situation. It is important that society allows that course to be taken, rather than allowing a group of prejudiced individuals or a prejudiced individual to sabotage that process and undermine the operation of science. We must stand up for that important principle in these modern times, because certain commentators, individuals and media outlets try to devalue the role of science. We, as a society, must not allow that to happen.
The question for Members of Parliament is how do we ensure that science serves society. The answer is not to say that science is not the way to address the problems that we face. That powerful and important point runs throughout our debate on new clauses 6 and 7, because it is fundamental to the concept of modern democracy. It also relates to my view of journalists. No one has the right to say, ``Because of my judgment and superior position I can override that.'' The challenge for hon. Members is to ensure that science is regulated and brought under proper review.
I want to make sure that I understand the Minister's point. Is he saying that we should at all times consider the behaviour of all scientists to be both morally acceptable and necessary? In the past, would he have defended scientists who forced beagles to smoke to find out the effect of smoking, given that humans can chose whether or not to smoke? Was it legitimate to use animals for that purpose?
I have two things to say about that. First, the question of how one regulates science is a central question for Britain today. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet said, we regulate animal testing against higher standards than any other country in the world, which I think is both important and right. If, for example, the question whether forcing beagles to smoke cigarettes was appropriate were to arise now, it would be a matter for Parliament and regulation, and would not be a reason for an individual to go and smash someone's head in—it is as crude as that. We must try to find a means of regulating the development of science in our society? That is a difficult question. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), who worked in this area at the university of East Anglia, chairs the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which seeks to develop better quality scientific work to try to address those issues. I concede that that is not easy, but that is how to go about it.
My hon. Friend is aware that if the experiment with beagles were to be done today, the scientist would have to convince the Home Office that the information must be collected, that it was essential for human health and that the only way it could be collected would be to conduct that experiment on animals. If that could not be demonstrated, the experiment would not be allowed.
My hon. Friend is right. Moreover, his point illustrates the fact that Parliament has, over the years, strengthened its capacity to control and direct science. That is precisely what protects us against the individual mad scientists favoured by the hon. Member for Taunton.
Did the Minister say that I favour individual mad scientists? I hope that I misheard him. Earlier, he said that scientists making beagles smoke cigarettes was no excuse for smashing their heads in. Of course it is not. I said that there is no circumstance, in a democracy, in which I would defend violent protest. However, does the Minister agree that we would not have made progress towards making such experiments illegal had people not protested and demonstrated?
Parliament does not always have a monopoly on wisdom when deciding whether an activity should be made illegal. It often responds to ordinary members of the public who protect against something that they believe is not acceptable in society. Legitimate protest or demonstration against scientists is not a blanket, anti-scientist stance.
I do not wish to be rude, but I think that the hon. Lady makes a trivial point. Parliament should encourage protest, the expression of views to expose what goes on, campaigning and pressure. I have always opposed those who say, ``Leave it to Parliament. It knows best.'' Of course there should be arguments, discussions and explanations, and everybody has to make their own case. Ultimately, however, the country has to judge, and it is right that such judgments are made by Parliament.
I object to the idea that such a point of view makes one pro-science or anti-science. I am unequivocally pro-science. The issue is how science should be regulated to ensure that it serves society and does not take a different path. I deprecate the tendency, found in some quarters of the country, to imply that it is right on to be anti-science. I have been more engaged in issues surrounding genetically modified crops than in those surrounding animal rights, because of the constituency interest that I mentioned earlier. I think it outrageous that serious research into the use of that science for the benefit of humanity is being hijacked and wrecked by prejudiced individuals. Norfolk farmers ask me why their crops are being wrecked. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire made a similar point.
Such behaviour is completely wrong and unacceptable. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet and other colleagues made the argument for science, and I have been pleased to respond. We need to stand up for science more strongly than we have sometimes done.
Does the Minister agree that there is a world of difference between the peaceful protest that he described, which enshrines the supremacy of Parliament, and the type of extra-parliamentary activity that was advocated as an alternative by someone who stood for the Labour party in 1983? He was condemned for those sentiments by the then leader of the party, Michael Foot.
In general, I agree. I am not sure that I quite caught my hon. Friend's final point, but I am sure that she is right.
It is important to sustain a commitment to science for the development of society as a whole. That is an important element of our discussion, and were we not to accept the Government new clauses, we would be caving in to an anti-scientific, anti-rational approach to life, which I oppose.
I turn to the specific comments that have been raised. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey suggested that the wording in new clause 6(1)(c)—
``(i) amounts to, or is likely to result in, the harassment of the victim; or
(ii) is likely to cause alarm or distress to the victim''— is not strong enough, but I cannot accept that. As we have already said, three separate tests will have to apply. The first is that the constable believes ``on reasonable grounds''—that is an important qualification—that
``that person is present there for the purpose...of representing to the victim or another individual...or of persuading the victim or such another individual—
(i) that he should not do something that he is entitled or required to do; or
(ii) that he should do something that he is not under any obligation to do'', which is the same point in reverse.
That test is the first that has to be met. It is a tough one. People cannot merely stand outside and say, ``I do not like what you are about.'' They must use suasion to persuade people to take decisions other than those that they would normally take. The second test is either the harassment test or the alarm or distress test. That, too, is pretty tough. It does not apply to standing outside with a placard: the action must result in harassment, or cause alarm or distress. The third test is that the constable has to have reasonable grounds for believing that a direction should be made. Each of those stages is a substantial process. I am not convinced that we should drop any of those elements.
We then come to the question of dwellings, which is important, not least because of the earlier confusion on hotels that I sought to clarify. The provision will apply to any place that is used as a dwelling, including those that are part dwelling and part commercial premises. That is important if it is to cover places such as farms. The definition provided in the Public Order Act 1986 also includes caravans and even tents, but someone must be using the structure as their home. That is why hotels are excluded, so the provision cannot apply to a head of state who is making a visit; that is a different state of affairs.
The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire raised the issue of vicinity. I acknowledge that some people have queried what the most appropriate definition should be. One could discuss it, as I said earlier, but it is a matter of common sense to be dealt with by the police officer on the spot. We need a flexible power, and that is the right way to proceed.
On timing, I can tell the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire that there is no limit on how far away people could be ordered to go. It will be up to the constable to decide, in all the circumstances, what is necessary to prevent harassment. No maximum length of direction is set; again, it depends on what the constable believes to be necessary. I accept that those provisions are flexible—some may believe that they are too flexible—but given the wide variety of circumstances that has to be covered, specifying the time or distance precisely in law could lead unintentionally to difficulties and problems. The points that the hon. Members for North-East Hertfordshire and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made about farms were an interesting illustration of that.
I turn to the question of how the direction is given. The clause specifies that it may be given orally. Subsection (3) states:
``A direction...may be given orally...where a constable is entitled to give a direction under this section''.
That does not exclude a video or a written record being made. Although it may be good practice for a written record be made at the time in order to avoid doubt, it would be best not to require in law that it should be done in writing. An oral direction would be satisfactory.
I have covered the points raised on new clause 6. I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey
The Minister said that the cumulative triple lock may be sufficient. Does he not accept that, of itself, the first condition—the presence of someone seeking to persuade someone to do something or not to do something—is absolutely unexceptional and therefore perfectly lawful? It adds nothing. It is merely a fact, but it is not prejudicial, deleterious or harmful. It is a normal and proper activity. It is the second test that takes an action into the realms of criminality. The second test should have a decent threshold, and the threshold for the alarm and distress element should be minimal.
I do not entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I believe that what he calls the triple lock is a difficult set of tests to fulfil. The threshold is high, but it is not so high that it is impossible for a police officer to deal with in those circumstances. It would seriously inhibit anyone taking the action concerned. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has made his point constructively, and that he is not trying to be pernickety, but I stand by what I said earlier.
I spoke about deliveries of unwanted goods, a subject raised earlier by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire in relation to new clause 7. They could be caught by the Malicious Communications Act 1988, but use of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 may be the right approach. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet tabled amendment (a) to new clause 7. It was a positive amendment designed for clarification. In the great majority of cases when the threatened act would constitute a criminal offence, any arguments of reasonableness made by the defence would cut almost no ice in the courts.
I ask my hon. Friend not to press his amendment because it could over-complicate a trial. Such cases generally require proof of a mental element such as malicious intent, and the accused may argue in his defence that his actions were reasonable and proportionate. There would be no material benefits for justice if the court could not consider the reasonableness of the threat, but instead had to apply the law relevant to the reasonableness of the act that, if carried out, could be an offence.
We do not think that the amendment is wrongheaded or inappropriate, but it would make the process more difficult. I will carefully consider the Hansard report of my hon. Friend's introduction to the amendment, to see whether we can incorporate any aspect of it. Our initial view is that it would not help the process in the way in which he intends and wants.
I have discussed the matter with several lawyers. It would help me to understand the Government's view if I were given a practical example of a threat of an illegal act that is considered proportionate. I cannot think of one. Unless I can do so, I feel that the provision I have suggested should be in the legislation.
I shall not attempt to give an example now, but I will think about the matter that my hon. Friend has raised and write to him about a case that could be complicated by his amendment. We have talked about the amendment outside the Committee, and I appreciate that he has wrestled hard to try to find a formulation to meet his goals more successfully. I was aware that he had discussed it with lawyer colleagues.
New clauses 14 and 15, which were tabled by the Opposition, would try to deal with the problem by adding a sanction to strengthen the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Our provisional view is that they do not take us further than the law stands now. In practice, groups considering conspiracy would render themselves liable to prosecution under the 1997 Act in the course of making and checking the necessary arrangements.
The points made by the Opposition and my hon. Friends have force. I am prepared to consider carefully whether we can strengthen the Bill on Report with an amendment to plug the loophole. The loophole is the problem that people seek to address, but our initial view is that no such amendment can be made and that the assertions are not correct. We need to think carefully about the speeches made and examples given, to see whether we can return on Report with a clause that will close any holes in the system.
I am grateful to the Minister for what he said. Of course it is helpful that he will consider the matter. Given what the hon. Members for South Thanet and for Peterborough, my hon. Friend for North-East Hertfordshire and I have said, I am sure that the Minister appreciates the concern expressed by a number of organisations, especially the Research Defence Society. They firmly believe—and this has been reiterated by police officers at a senior level—that if different individuals repeatedly harass the same person, the current law and the Government's proposed changes to it would not apply. We—and, more importantly, those at the sharp end—think that there is a loophole to be closed.
I entirely understand that point, and it is correct that we should consider it. As I said, I am prepared to do so. I hope that, given my assurance that I will reconsider the matter and return to it on Report, the hon. Gentleman will be prepared not to press the new clause.
Unfortunately, although the Minister is being constructive, I will press this matter to a Division, because we think that recording a vote will be helpful and will concentrate minds. While making that clear in relation to new clause 14—we shall come to new clause 15 in a moment—I recognise and want to put on the record the fact that we appreciate that the Minister is trying to help.
Having given way on that point, I must say that it is extraordinary to hear what the Opposition intend to do. The whole approach to the conduct of this Committee and other Committees on which I have served has been that if the Minister gives an assurance to consider the situation and return to it on Report, that is usually accepted. If the hon. Gentleman has decided—perhaps for politically partisan reasons along the lines of his opening remarks—that he wants political sharpness, of course he is entitled to do so, but let it stand on the record that I urge him not to press the new clause and ask my hon. Friends who are sympathetic to the points that have been made to resist it, on the basis of my specific assurance—which I do not think that I need to give again—that I am prepared to consider the matter and return to it on Report.
If I may say so, I am rather disappointed that the hon. Gentleman has decided to take that course, but with that I urge the Committee to vote for Government new clauses 6, 7 and 20, which have received general support, not to support amendment (a) to new clause 7—which is mistakenly printed on the selection list as Government new clause 7(a)—for the reasons that I have given, if my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet decides to press it, to vote against new clauses 14, 15, and 19 if they are pressed, and to vote for Government amendments Nos. 176 and 243.
What I said was in relation to both new clauses 14 and 15. We doubt whether there is merit in the clauses, but we think that the argument is seriously made and we want to reconsider whether either of them closes a loophole that we need to close. I give the assurance that I will do so seriously, with a view—after cross-party discussion if so desired—to tabling a new clause on Report.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. If he will undertake to provide me with concrete examples concerning my amendment, I am prepared not to press it now and to reintroduce it again on Report if such examples cannot be provided. I am a little distrustful, because I talk to lawyers who say, ``It's all right, little boy. Don't worry your pretty head'', but they cannot give me any examples. That makes me think that something is wrong.
I hope that the Opposition will not press their new clause to a Division, because the professional bodies that have talked to us and have tried to work closely with the Government and advise the Committee on a cross-party basis will not appreciate the matter being pushed into the political domain. My hon. Friend has given assurances that he will examine the issues, read the transcript of the debate carefully and introduce further improvements on Report. It is in everybody's interests to work together on the matter from now on.
New clauses 14, 15 and 19 will come later on. I shall now put the question on new clause 6.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.