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Amendments made : No. 167, in page 40, line 26, after has', insert , without reasonable excuse'.
No. 168, in page 40, line 27, at beginning insert (a)'. No. 169, in page 40, line 27, leave out without reasonable excuse'.
No. 170, in page 40, line 29, leave out from control' to end of line 30 and insert ; or
(b) entered the land as a trespasser with a vehicle or sound equipment within the period of 7 days beginning with the day on which the direction was given,
the constable may seize and remove that vehicle or sound equipment.'.--[ Mr. Maclean. ]
No. 8, in page 43, line 9, leave out or adjoining'.
No. 9, in page 43, line 10, leave out anything' and insert any unlawful activity'.
No. 47, in page 43, line 10, leave out is intended by him to have' and insert has'.
No. 12, in page 43, line 11, leave out from effect' to end of line 15 and insert
and which does have the effect
(a) by the use of violence or threats of violence of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b) of unlawfully, in addition to the unlawfulness of the act or acts of the defendant due to the trespass, obstructing or disrupting that activity.'.
No. 48, in page 43, line 21, leave out from to' to end of line 22 and insert
a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.'.
No. 171, in page 43, line 26, leave out from section' to end of line 29 and insert "land" does not include
(a) the highways and roads excluded from the application of section 51 by paragraph (b) of the definition of "land" in subsection (8) of that section ; or
(b) a road within the meaning of the Roads (Northern Ireland) Order 1993.'.
No. 10, in page 43, line 26, after include', insert public footpaths or bridleways or'.
No. 19, in page 43, line 26, after include', insert
either land 1000 feet above sea level or'.
No. 20, in page 43, line 26, after include', insert
land which has been hunted over with hounds at any time during the ten years before this Act received Royal Assent or'.
No. 23, in page 43, line 26, after include', insert
land subject to an access agreement (except on a day when the access agreement provides for restriction of access to the land) or'.
No. 21, in page 43, line 27, leave out from highway' to which' in line 28.
No. 11, in clause 59, page 44, line 1, leave out from trespasser' to end of line 3 and insert
whilst the lawful activity is taking place'.
No. 172, in page 44, line 2, leave out 7 days' and insert three months'.
No. 173, in page 44, line 16, leave out in the open air' No. 174, in clause 60, page 46, line 5, after highway', insert or road'.
Mr. Michael : It must be obvious to everybody from the number of amendments that have been dealt with either formally or through discussion just what a considerable task the House has in dealing with this legislation. We are coming now to the subject of aggravated trespass, which, with the general subject of trespass, has raised immense concern.
I do not think that the way in which the House has had to deal with the issues and the Bill does great credit to the procedures of the House, or to democracy in this country. The Minister said that he did not like the laundry list approach to legislation. Frankly, we are getting from the Government the dirty washing approach--or, as it has been described, the rag-bag approach--to legislation.
They take a few extracts from a speech and throw them together, draft something without proper consultation or discussion, and throw that together in a Bill in a vain attempt to rescue the reputation of a Government and a Home Secretary who have totally failed to deal with the real issues of crime in our society.
The problem with the clause, and with this section of the Bill, is that it endangers the rights of people to enjoy the countryside and enjoy access. The amendments that we have tabled to clause 58 are designed to ensure that its scope is limited to acts of violence such as those perpetrated against hunts, which, the Government have said, it is designed to counter.
Some of the new clauses and amendments on this issue have not been selected. We have tried in clear terms to stress the importance of ensuring the freedom of access, as well as the rights to peaceful protest. The right to access exercises many people throughout the country. We want to tighten up the wording of the clause to ensure that walkers and ramblers are not penalised by the clauses, and to ensure that legitimate non-violent protest is not affected. Many of us would have to declare interest in that matter. People involved in politics have, in a responsible and peaceful way, protested about some of the actions taken by authorities or by private organisations.
Many of us are also walkers or ramblers. I myself would like to find more time for walking in the countryside, but it is one of the recreations that I enjoy most. The problem is that the amendments are necessary because of the sloppy wording of clause 58. The clause refers to lawful activity which people are engaging in, and those committing the offence do so by deterring, obstructing or disrupting them. That is wording so broad that it could cover a farmer who was ploughing his field and closing a right of way. If ramblers were to protest at or obstruct this activity, they would be guilty of an offence.
More generally, walkers could fall foul of the proposals by walking across a shooting moor. It may not be their intention to disrupt the activity, as the clause requires, but a farmer or landowner may believe that that is the case and call in the police. It is rather too late to wait for a court case to settle the matter about intention. We all know that walkers will have experienced some intimidation and people have been prevented from enjoying the countryside. That issue greatly concerns the Ramblers Association. Our amendments would protect the rights of ramblers and walkers. Government amendment No. 171, taken in conjunction with amendment No. 157 to clause 51, will worsen the situation and appears to mean that the clause will apply to
Column 300footpaths, which is a move in the opposite direction to our amendments, which also deal with protections for the right to legitimate peaceful protest.
Legitimate peaceful demonstrations can obstruct or disrupt an activity against which the person or people are protesting--for example, shoppers protesting on land belonging to a shop and people protesting about the environmental consequences of major new public works. I hope that the Government do not intend to catch such legitimate demonstrators, but the phrasing is so wide that they might be caught.
Our proposals tighten up the wording to ensure that the clause hits the true target--the violent and dangerous, according to the Government--but do not inadvertently draw into its net many people who are legitimately going about their business.
There have been considerable objections and protests about those elements of the Bill that apply to Scotland. I know that Scottish colleagues will wish to make their point later and it is one which I endorse and support.
There are genuine legal grounds for fearing that the clauses will restrict freedom to walk and climb in many upland areas. The Ramblers Association, the British Mountaineering Council, which has written to me, and representatives of canoeists, who can envisage how their sport might be affected by the passage of the Bill, have obtained legal advice. All those organisations want our amendments as a minimum protection. That legal advice has been made available to the public and the Government should not disregard it.
Such a brief debate on the issue is regrettable, but we will demonstrate through our votes in the Lobby our objection to what the Government are doing and our wish to protect climbers, walkers and people who enjoy the countryside so that their enjoyment can continue unrestricted.
When I spoke in the House last night I said that I intended to force my amendments to a Division tonight. It is only right that I place on record the fact that neither has been chosen by Madam Speaker, who has it in her gift to decide what amendments we vote upon, and I cannot therefore force the Divisions that I should have liked. I am in no way challenging Madam Speaker's judgment. I understand that she felt that since we voted on that matter last night no further vote would be appropriate.
I know that hon. Members will understand that the fact that I cannot force a Division will in no way weaken the force of what I have to say or the sincerity with which I say it. I do not wish to subject the House to a re- run of our lengthy debate on the subject last night. However, I must reinforce certain points and I do so having had the chance to study last night's debate--a curious opportunity, as it is not often that one has the chance to debate the same subject two nights running.
Setting aside my rather ill-tempered contribution to that debate, certain facts emerge. First, it is clear that the Home Secretary and the Minister of State believe that clauses 57 and 58 are even handed, as they have always claimed, and I do not doubt the sincerity with which they claim and
Column 301believe that. Secondly, it is equally clear that not one reputable animal welfare organisation believes that the clauses are even handed.
From our discussions last night, it is also clear that some legal opinion disagrees with the Home Secretary. I was asked to reveal the source of the counsel's opinion that I quoted last night and I felt that it was improper to do so because I did not have the permission of the QC involved. I now have that permission--the opinion was prepared by Louis Blom-Cooper, who I understand is happy to have his name placed on the record in connection with amendments Nos. 47 and 48, which I tabled and he drafted.
I also benefited from the legal opinion of Alan Newman QC, who prepared an opinion dealing with clauses 57 and 58. I do not think that I am misrepresenting Mr. Newman by saying that he regards those clauses as shot full of inaccuracies and probably in breach of the European convention on human rights. Once I have obtained his permission, I intend to submit his opinion to the Home Secretary and I shall look forward to receiving his comments on it before the Bill reaches the House of Lords.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is not in his place tonight. He told me last night that, as a Queen's counsel, he disagreed with the legal opinion that I had been offered. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a huntsman and I am not entirely surprised that he disagrees with that opinion--I in turn disagree with his disagreement.
I am afraid that I must introduce a slight note of rancour concerning the events of last night and the manner in which the Liberal Democratic party, at least one representative of which, I am glad to say, is present and may wish to respond, has presented its view on hunting. The last time that the House divided on the question of hunting in general the Liberal Democrats voted two to one in favour of the activity. Last night, six of them voted in favour, two voted against, and the rest abstained. I place that on the record because it is very often claimed by members of the Liberal Democratic party that they are the champions of animal welfare and are anti -hunt. Once again, it seems that their parliamentary representatives do not square with the voice in the constituency, particularly in the west country. I shall be interested to see how those hon. Members vote on the issue in future. It was my hope that they would have an opportunity tonight. That, sadly, has been denied.
Most telling of all from a reading of the report of last night's debate are the illustrations of the very real problems caused by hunt invasion and trespass and the many cases of real human distress and tragedy that the hunt has caused and, so far as I can see from the legislation that is before us, will continue to cause. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) indicate that there appeared to be no statistics relating to the prosecution of hunts for their trespass on other people's lands. The public may find it a little odd that the Home Secretary can--quite properly, in my view--listen to hon. Members and fine tune, for example, matters relating to video nasties or legislation concerning unlicensed taxi drivers, but is quite prepared to fly in the face of public opinion and introduce a piece of legislation which, as is indicated by the legal opinion that we have heard indicates, will restrain those who wish to protest against the hunt.
As I have already said, I wholly endorse the Home Secretary's desire to contain the unlawful activities of violent protestors. However, it is not good enough to do so without giving the ordinary householder, cottage owner,
Column 302smallholder or small farmer the right to decide whom he or she wants to have on his or her land. That principle should be clearly embraced in the legislation.
I want the Minister, when he replies, to put something firmly on the record. On the basis of what he has said to me, I hope and believe that he will be willing to do so. I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that in the case of Pepper v . Hart the principle was established that ministerial comment recorded in Hansard may be quoted in court and used as part of the substance of a case. I hope that the Minister will say very clearly that precisely the same attributes should apply to the hunt and to the landowners and that if a landowner has clearly indicated in writing to the master of hounds that he does not want the hunt on his land, disregard of that indication would be presumed to be aggravation of trespass. Another matter that emerged from last night's debate saddens me. In this connection, I am particularly glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) has come into the Chamber. No hon. Member who spoke last night in defence of the hunt expressed any remorse or apology whatsoever for the manner in which hunts around the country have treated other people's property, land and rights. I am sure that my hon. Friend will take an opportunity tonight to place his concerns
Sir Nicholas Bonsor I am very glad that my hon. Friend has done me the courtesy of giving way. His refusal last night to do so was the reason for my having to speak. I am prepared to say that no one in the hunting community, the British Field Sports Society or the House condones the behaviour of those who treat other people's property and pets in an unacceptable way. In hunting, as in everything else, such things occasionally occur. However, my hon. Friend tries to turn the odd exception into the rule and, in so doing, he misleads the House and deliberately undermines the freedoms that people enjoy to carry out their legitimate pursuits.
Mr. Gale : I thought that we were making some progress, but that was a mealy-mouthed intervention. It is not a question of one or two cases. Everyone who has studied the matter in detail knows that more than 200 cases have been recorded and more occur each hunting season. [Interruption.] I should have liked to have heard my hon. Friend, who is good at contributing from a sedentary position--I wish that he would stand up and make his own speech--say unequivocally on behalf of the British Field Sports Society that it is his policy not to trespass on land under any circumstances when he is told that he is not wanted. He should not simply say that but should abide by it. Had he done that, much of the debate tonight could have been avoided. It is largely because of the attitude of those who hunt that this part of the debate is necessary.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) did not use the opportunity to condemn the violence of hunt supporters against those who demonstrate against the hunt ? He tried to justify it in last night's debate. Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that, far from there being just the odd incident, Nick Fawcett, Master of the Surrey Union Foxhounds said :
Column 303"I don't think I've seen a meet this year where we've not gone through someone's back garden." ?
Mr. Gale : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster will take the opportunity of this short debate to clarify his position. The House will welcome it if he does so.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State has said clearly and unequivocally that he does not intend to make trespass a criminal offence, so the landowner is simply left with the existing position--the civil law.
Another opinion on trespass says :
"If you are able to identify the trespassers, you could take legal action through the civil court for simple trespass, but the deterrent effect and damages awarded are likely to be negligible and not cost effective. A court injunction to prevent further trespass would be far more effective ; but these are hard--and expensive--to obtain, requiring identification of individuals . . . and evidence that they are likely to trespass on your land."
That is not an opinion prepared for the League Against Cruel Sports or the Anti-Hunt Council. It was prepared in a paper entitled "Disruption of Angling", which is a British Field Sports Society brief for angling clubs. In that document, the society kicks the bottom out of the existing law and makes it abundantly plain that, to all intents and purposes, once the Bill is on the statute book, there will be one law for the hunt and another for those who do not want the hunt on their land. That is undesirable and I hope that another place will return to it and table amendments on it.
Were my amendments carried, they would at least have had the effect of making the Bill genuinely even handed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will at least make his intention for future quoting in court cases abundantly clear.
Mr. Maclennan : The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) made some remarks about my hon. Friends. It follows the tradition of the House on matters such as hunting that votes are cast on an individual basis rather than on a party line. His attempt to turn the matter into a party issue in referring to the attitude of Liberal Democrats was peculiar and inapposite in the light of the division within his own ranks on the subject.
The hon. Gentleman has no right to assume that those who voted against the amendment that he presented as being about hunting did so because they support hunting. Some of us considered that it was a dog's breakfast of an amendment and did not deserve to be incorporated into the law. The only way to deal with the hunting issue is to have a straight vote on it--either one is for it or against it. Despite the hon. Gentleman's attempt, from a sedentary position--he took exception to that in the case of his hon. Friend--to misrepresent the position, the choice was not put before the House last night. The aim of my hon. and right hon. Friends in approaching these matters-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : I thank the hon. Gentleman. In last night's vote, two of the hon. Gentlemen's colleagues from his own party voted in favour of the amendment, a number voted against it, several abstained from the vote and a number were not present for the vote. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that proves once again that the Liberal Democrats are all things to all constituencies ?
Mr. MacLennan : We took the view that, because of the nature of the amendment, it was reasonable that there be a free vote on it and different people took different views on the issue. That is not the position in respect of the matters that we are discussing at the moment.
In turning to the main purpose of this group of amendments--there are a rather large number of amendments grouped together--I make it clear that my hon. and right hon. Friends and I support measures that are likely to secure public order in an even-handed manner, but which do not at the same time criminalise peaceful protestors or innocent parties such as hill walkers or ramblers. Several of our amendments designed to achieve these aims have unfortunately not been selected, but a number of other amendments deal with cognate issues. I say in passing that that intention was supported by the Scottish Landowners Federation in a letter to me. The federation said that it accepted that it would be desirable to exclude, specifically, bone fide walkers and climbers from the scope of clause 58, although it took the view that they were not at risk as the clause was presently drafted. However, the federation would welcome the inclusion of the amendment for the avoidance of doubt.
Amendment No. 6--the lead amendment in the group--is one which I support. I believe that trespass must be intentional and that the amendment would assist in protecting walkers. However, if landowners erect signs warning against trespass--which I am afraid is probably likely to happen--the amendment will not be very practicable.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : When the hon. Gentleman refers to the possibility of signs being erected warning people about the issues of access, could he clarify whether he believes that this should be a transfer from civil law to criminal law ? Certainly, within the context of this legislation we are moving from breach of the peace--which is the Scottish legislative process--to a criminal situation. I would very much welcome his views on that point.
Mr. Maclennan : I think that the Law Society of Scotland has dealt with that issue very well and I strongly support its view. I believe that there will be an opportunity later to consider the Scottish position separately.
Amendment No. 8 provides that the offence cannot be committed on land adjoining the site of illegal activity, only on the land itself. I think that the amendment is designed to protect peaceful protest, which I support. Similarly, I support amendment No. 9, which provides that the offence can be committed only by carrying out an unlawful activity rather than any activity. That would also help to protect peaceful protests.
The Government's intentions are acceptable in that the present law is inadequate to deal with the sort of invasions that have taken place. I think that the Minister of State referred to one such invasion in Powys, in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). Those are real problems and we need a response to them.
The problems raise difficult issues of balance. Throughout the debate, we have tried to achieve balance through the amendments that we have tabled. We are concerned about ramblers and hill walkers. I hope that the
Column 305Minister will have something to say about that. If he does not succeed in satisfying the House, I have no doubt that the matter will be raised again in another place.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I support the proposals of the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). However, I want not to talk about them, but to spend a few minutes supporting amendment No. 6. I wish to emphasise the concerns of the Ramblers Association, the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society, the British Mountaineering Council and a large number of walkers and ramblers. It is ironic that, when we have high levels of crime, the Government appear to want to make criminals of people who have gone about their business perfectly peacefully in the past and, I am sure, will continue to do so in future. It would be far better if the Government concentrated their efforts on those people who have been committing crimes rather than on trying to increase the categories of crime. Nothing that I have heard has suggested that, in trying to deal with the problem of hunt saboteurs, the Government have not dragged another group of people into the scope of the legislation. I am concerned about mountain safety. I hope that the Minister can explain how he can guarantee that if people are on mountains, they will not be caught by the legislation if they choose to come down in the safest way because of a substantial change in the weather and their circumstances.
Something has begun to happen fairly frequently in the Peak district, particularly where there are substantial grouse moors. In the past, where access agreements to the moors were granted, walkers knew that for all but three or four named days in the year, they were perfectly free to roam over the mountain areas. On those named days, they knew that shooting would take place and they arranged their walks to avoid them. Sadly, as a result of some of the saboteurs' activities that have occasionally occurred on grouse moors, instead of the days of closure being announced well in advance, they are often posted the day before or on the day itself.
Therefore, it is possible to plan a walk of perhaps 20 or 30 miles across the moors with a group of people and, as one approaches the end of the walk, suddenly to come across a section that is supposed to be closed because a shoot is being held that day. It would be far better for adequate notice to be given so that people can plan alternative routes. I very much regret that adequate notice is no longer being given.
In those circumstances, a return or other journey to avoid descending on to the grouse moors may be extremely difficult and, if the weather deteriorates, positively dangerous. It is perfectly reasonable for a person using such a route to make his descent abundantly clear by making a noise, to ensure that he is not at any risk from the people shooting on the moors. That is just common sense. In effect, however, that person is likely to disrupt that activity.
Column 306assurance to the contrary. I would have thought that he would have studied the amendments and included such a safeguard in the Bill. I shall leave my Scottish colleagues to explain the situation in Scotland, but I imagine that a similar situation applies there, particularly where deer stalking takes place. The safety problems are much more substantial than in the Pennines, because distances are often much greater and the weather deteriorates more quickly. The Minister must address the problem, so that walkers do not have to choose between endangering their safety and becoming criminals. In recent years, the Ramblers Association has legitimately campaigned for greater access to upland areas, mountains and moorlands. Each autumn, it has staged a mass trespass day, when organised groups peacefully walk along routes that ought to be open to the general public. The association has done a good job of drawing attention to such routes and of persuading many national parks and local authorities to reach agreement with landowners about providing public access.
Under the Bill, such mass trespass days would be difficult to organise. As soon as a group announced a peaceful demonstration that would cause no damage to a piece of land, the landowner could organise an activity that would make it impossible for the walkers to cross the land without disrupting that activity, in which case they would be caught by the new legislation. The Minister ought to make it clear that it is not his intention that the clause will be used to stop peaceful demonstrations.
I tabled a series of amendments that would enable the Minister to rule out many parts of the country where there is no problem with hunting by introducing a height limit that would exclude parts of the United Kingdom. The Minister frowns, but it would be perfectly reasonable to exclude any area above 1,000 ft. There is little justification for applying the clause to Wales, and there will be a debate later on not applying it to Scotland.
The Minister ought to remember that large numbers of people enjoy walking on our hills, and a smaller number enjoy rock climbing. Almost all pursue their activities peacefully and in a way that harms no one else. It is sad that the Government want to turn peaceful enjoyment of the mountains into a criminal activity.
Mr. Trimble : In Committee, I tabled an amendment to emphasise that we were anxious that what is now clause 58 should apply to Northern Ireland. The Minister stated that consideration would be given to that request, and I acknowledge that Government amendments Nos. 171 and 80 will have the welcome effect of extending clause 58 to Northern Ireland. I particularly welcome the fact that it has been done through the Bill rather than leaving us to wait for an Order in Council, which might take ages.
Mr. Maclean : That confirms the view that I was developing in Committee--that I was being far too generous to the hon. Gentleman and extending too many concessions to him and his hon. Friends from Northern Ireland.
Before I deal with a point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), I shall deal with the main concern of some Opposition Members which lies behind the group of amendments that they have tabled. I do not know how this illegal hare got running, but I cannot imagine the circumstances in which the powers in clause 58 could be used against bona fide hill walkers--
Column 307even fake hill walkers for that matter-- ramblers, climbers or a person doing Munro bagging, especially when his ankle recovers. All those people are not likely to be caught by the clause.
I used to have discussions with the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who is a member of the Ramblers Association, when I was a Minister at the Department of the Environment. I have just written to Mr. Mattingly, trying to explain, in no uncertain terms, that I could not imagine ramblers being caught by the new clause. What would ramblers, walkers or anyone else have to do before they would fall foul of the clause ?
Mr. Morley rose