|Previous Section||Home Page|
Police Authority, or by a'.
This is a very straightforward amendment. It allows the Government to ensure that the now regrettably escalating costs of funding security at party conferences do not fall on the council tax payers in the counties hosting the conferences. The current arrangements hit local taxpayers particularly hard in those few areas that have been chosen as the main venues for the party conferences of our main political parties. The towns are Brighton, Blackpool and Bournemouth in Lancashire, East Sussex and my own county of Dorset.
There is no doubt that since the tragic bombing of the Grand hotel in Brighton in 1984 a number of heavy security costs, especially to do with searching and the extra manpower in the streets surrounding the conference centres, are now incurred not only by the political parties but by the police authorities in the counties that I have mentioned. In my own county of Dorset, the chief constable estimates that the cost of policing and security at this year's Tory party conference in Bournemouth will be £2.6 million.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Will the hon. Lady confirm that if Bournemouth does not want to hold the Tory party conference, it need not do so ? It can be held elsewhere. The fact that it is being held there means that it should be of some commercial benefit to the town.
In a letter to me the chief constable says :
"This large amount of expenditure in one financial year means that the force must create a reserve by annual contribution to pay for this severe drain on our financial resources."
It means that every year in Dorset there is less money to spend on general policing in the county, less for crime prevention measures, less for police patrols and less for solving crimes and catching criminals.
At conference times, there is an additional drain on Dorset police's human resources, with officers necessarily drafted in from elsewhere in the county to patrol around the Bournemouth international centre.
That is extremely bad news for the people of Dorset, because between 1979 and 1992 there has been a 78 per cent. increase in motor vehicle thefts and a 171 per cent. increase in the number of domestic burglaries. In the past year alone, there has been a 10 per cent. increase in serious crime in the county.
All police forces have occasional major incidents, and the mass murder inquiry that is under way in Gloucestershire is a current example. However, few have regular drains on their resources. Dorset, East Sussex and Lancashire do. I have heard that there is a strong possibility that the Tory party conference will soon start coming to Bournemouth every other year. I can understand that. Bournemouth is a congenial place--Christchurch is, too, of course--with a beautiful setting, excellent accommodation and an excellent modern conference centre. In answer to the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), Dorset people welcome conferences with open arms, but they do not welcome the extra cost falling on all of them for something which is part of our national political scene.
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : The hon. Lady will recall that the Liberal Democrats have held many conferences in Harrogate. Would she like to have a whip round among her hon. Friends to reimburse us for the cost of policing those conferences ?
Mrs. Maddock : If the Government are generous enough to pass the amendment, all people will have the benefit. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that Liberal Democrats do not cost so much when they have party conferences. We are much better value for money.
Column 359My fellow Dorset Members of Parliament believe that the cost should be born nationally, and they have endeavoured to persuade the Government. They have liaised with East Sussex and Lancashire, and the new Liberal Democrat administration on Dorset county council has, through its deputy leader Robin Legg, also tried to further the cause. I understand that members of the Lancashire police authority had a meeting with the Minister of State, Lord Ferrers, in December and they have asked for a further meeting with the Home Secretary for representatives from the three counties affected.
In 1986, the Government recognised that political parties should not have to bear all the costs that they incur in providing security at conferences, and that they should be reimbursed from the national public purse. Since that time, payments have been made under the authority of the Appropriation Act. Only with the clause that my colleagues and I are seeking to amend will this at last be put on a statutory footing.
There can be no better time than now to deal with the unfairness of distribution of local police authority costs. I appreciate that the Government are responsible for 51 per cent. of police spending, and that additional grants from the Government to local authorities make up some of the other 49 per cent. However, the grants and formulas under which they are calculated do not specifically take account of the additional burden of funding the policing of party conferences. The standard spending assessments, capping limits and
Column 360grants ignore what is a significant part of the police budget for the areas affected. Party conferences have a special place in our democracy--those words were used by Margaret Thatcher--and I am sure that we all believe that they must be allowed to take place. Likewise, none of us would argue that conference-goers and people involved in running conference should go unprotected. I believe, as do many hon. Members and members of local police authorities, that the source of funding should reflect the national nature and importance of party conferences and not fall unfairly on the people who live in the areas that attract large conferences.
This is a fair amendment ; it is common sense to make it at this time and it would welcomed by those police authorities which are affected. They would get the extra resources that they need to protect party conferences and would be allowed to keep their existing resources to tackle rising crime.
Mr. Maclean : From time to time, every police force has to cope with demands which are not routine and most forces can claim to have responsibilities with strong national implications comparable with those carried by forces involved in policing party conferences. 12.30am
We regularly review the funding arrangements, but to date it has not been considered right to single out policing costs arising from party conferences for additional central Government funding. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendment made : No. 52, in page 110, line 8 after sections', insert 2, 3,'.--[ Mr. Maclean .]
Amendments made : No. 344, in page 110, line 17, leave out from beginning to this' in line 18 and insert
With the exception of section 72 and, subject to subsection (3A) below,'.
No. 41, in page 110, line 18, leave out Chapter' and insert Chapters I and'. No. 345, in page 110, line 19, after State' insert or, in the case of sections 43 and 44, the Lord Chancellor'. No. 346, in page 110, line 25, at end insert
(3A) The following provisions and their related amendments and repeals shall come into force on the passing of this Act, namely sections 5 to 15 (and Schedules 1 and 2), 51, 53, 55, 58, 59, 60, 61, 67 to 70, 71, 73, Chapters I and IV of Part VIII, 131, 133(1) to (3), 137, 141 and this section.
(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A) above
(a) the following are the amendments related to the provisions specified in that subsection, namely, in Schedule 10, paragraphs 35 and 38(1), (3), (4) and (5) ;
(b) the repeals related to the provisions specified in that subsection are those specified in the Note at the end of Schedule 11.'
No. 176, in page 110, line 26, at beginning insert
Except as regards any provisions applied under section ( Power to apply sections 29 to 33 to armed forces ) and .--[ Mr. Maclean .]
No. 25, in page 110, line 29, leave out 60, 61,'.
Government amendment No. 80.
Amendment No. 22, in page 110, line 33, at end insert
(7A) Sections 58 and 59 do not extend to Wales'.
Mr. McFall : The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), last night mentioned when he rejected new clause 22 on badger digging that it was normal for people to go about the countryside with shovels--that is a matter of public record. In Scotland, people who go about the countryside in hill-walking gear may find themselves contravening the law because the Government have, for the first time, brought the criminal law to bear on such a situation there. That is very worrying for many people in Scotland. I and other right hon. and hon. Friends have been contacted by 115 organisations that are fearful for the consequences. The law creates the offence of aggravated trespass. In the opinion of many people in Scotland the law is unnecessary--it is vague and will be subject to various interpretations. The Law Society, for example, stated when it contacted me about the matter that the case has not been made for the need to legislate in that area. In that society's view the law of breach of the peace would satisfactorily cover the intimidation of persons carrying out a lawful activity.
Why have the Government brought such activities within the law ? So far as I am aware, the provision was not intended to apply to Scotland, but the Secretary of State received a letter on 29 October 1993 from a farmer in the
Column 362Borders--a certain Mr. Peter Straker-Smith-- complaining about disruption of his grouse shooting. As a result, the Secretary of State decided to introduce this catch-all amendment, which will be very bad for the law in Scotland. The provisions in respect of obstruction or disruption of lawful activity are unduly vague and could lead to innocent or lawful behaviour which obstructs or disrupts other lawful activity being subject to the offences provisions. Ramblers, hill walkers and other recreational users are not excluded from the provisions of the clause.
Here, one of the main proponents has been the Scottish Landowners Federation which, it is stated, is fully behind this law. I have here a letter dated 22 March 1994 from Duncan Thompson, who is the legal adviser to the Scottish Landowners Federation. Mr. Thompson stated that the organisation's view is that there is a specific public order problem which must be addressed--the deliberate disruption of field sports--and which is not adequately dealt with under the existing law. The federation's legal adviser goes on to say that it would have no objection to an amendment to narrow the focus of the clause to the specific mischief to be targeted.
Why has the Secretary of State incorporated in the Bill a catch-all provision when no one--absolutely no one, and certainly not the Scottish Landowners Federation--in Scotland is asking for it ? Why is the clause necessary ? What is the mischief that the Government intend to prevent ? And what are the lawful activities to which the clause refers ? Can the Minister explain the difference, in Scotland, between a breach of the peace and intimidation, as dealt with in clauses 58 and 59 ? What constitutes obstruction and disruption ? Are these tests not subjective rather than objective ? One person may be more disruptable than another.
Have the Government really considered the implications for Scotland of the results of this legislation ? Will it, for example, be disruption if a party of school children on a nature lesson disturbs a shepherd during lambing ? Will it be disruption if an environmental group seeks, through peaceful protest, to prevent environmental damage ?
In a letter to George Cubitt, the chairman of the outdoor pursuits division of the Central Council for Physical Recreation, the Home Secretary's private secretary, Miss Vikki Molloy, stated that the police and the courts are very familiar with the concept of intent and that the problem of misinterpretation should not, therefore, arise. In fact, the police in Scotland are not very familiar with that concept. Because of the vagueness of the catch-all phrase, they are very fearful about the introduction of the provision in Scotland. It will undermine the long-established freedom to roam in uncultivated areas of mountain and moorland in Scotland. As some 100, 000 walkers and climbers use the highlands during summer weekends it will pose a danger to many people enjoying the countryside. The provision also makes nonsense of a review currently being undertaken by the Government's own body, Scottish Natural Heritage. I refer to the review of access to the outdoors. What are the opinions of Scottish Natural Heritage ? I wrote to the organisation about this matter and the chief executive, Roger Cross, stated in a very sensitive way that what Scottish Natural Heritage does not want is that the understanding that has been built up between hill walkers and landowners should be disrupted. There is no doubt that the understanding, sensitivity and equilibrium that have been achieved will be disrupted.
Column 363What does Scottish Natural Heritage say ? Why have the Government gone ahead when that organisation is currently conducting its review of access ? Out of the blue, trespass is to be criminalised. I am informed that the chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, Magnus Magnusson, has written privately to the Secretary of State. Mr. Magnusson is worried about the fact that voluntary co-operation between landowners and sports bodies in respect of land use could be seriously undermined.
There is a problem in respect of loch Lomond, which is in my constituency. Month after month and year after year, I have been telling the Scottish Office that something other than the voluntary principle is needed. The Government have stood by the voluntary principle in relation to loch Lomond. Yet here we find the voluntary principle possibly being undermined by the introduction of this unnecessary clause.
Those laws, according to the Law Society of Scotland and others, could be far more oppressive than Ministers intended. The Scottish Landowners Federation does not want the unspecific wording. In his address to the annual general meeting on 8 March, the convenor of the federation, Mr. Disney Barlow, stated that the
"essence of the new offence will be criminal intention to intimidate, disrupt or obstruct. Those are not the intentions of ramblers or of any reasonable people, and reasonable people are not going to be affected".
But any lawyer will confirm that it is extremely hard to define in law a "reasonable" action or person. The legal adviser has already recognised that reasonable people will be affected, so landowners are aware of the concerns.
If the Minister or the Secretary of State had reassured the Scottish people, that would have been fine, but not a word has been uttered and I am afraid that the Scottish public are convinced that the Home Secretary is legislating for England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland at the very last minute is applying the clauses to Scotland for a problem that does not exist there. The case for legislation has not been made. We have adequate mechanisms now with regard to breach of the peace. The civil law has operated in Scotland since 1965 under the Trespass Act of that date.
I draw the Minister's attention to an interesting story in The Scotsman last Friday about trespass. Every voluntary organisation and reasonable landowner will confirm that, because of the understanding that has developed over the years, a balance between access and landowners' rights has been achieved in Scotland. The story relates to two individuals who were found guilty at Dingwall sheriff court of trespass under the 1965 Act. It happened because the landowner sent instructions by fax from southern Africa that they were to be prosecuted. Foreign landowners are insensitive to the position in Scotland. They can fax messages from all over the world and their instructions are then carried out. The understanding that exists in Scotland then goes for a burton because of the wishes of some absent landlord, whether he be in South Africa, Rio or anywhere else. That is what will happen in Scotland. It is fine having a responsible landowner in Scotland, but the chances of having a responsible landowner in South Africa commuting his message by high tech will be far less.
The clause could apply to one's own back yard. We are not just talking about the grouse moor ; we could be talking about young people who kick their football into someone's
Column 364garden and go in to retrieve it. How could that be considered aggressive trespass ? According to some people, it could be. If we have a latterday Miss Haversham whose solitude, peace and quiet is being disturbed, we shall have that offence. That is absurd. How much torpor must exist in the Scottish Office for Ministers to think for one minute of introducing such an inappropriate clause in the Bill. Just as equity is as long or as short as the Lord Chancellor's foot, the concepts of obstruction and disruption are as long or as short as the landowner's foot.
That is the type of uncertainty that has been introduced into the law of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is law that may lead to confrontation with which the forces of law and order will be ill equipped to deal. Under this law, if citizen's arrest exists--and we cannot tell from the clause whether it does--we may see a landowner and half a dozen ghillies arresting a troop of hill walkers, or a gamekeeper arresting a group of environmental protestors. The official Opposition say "Out with this clause". It is inappropriate to Scotland ; it has no place in Scotland. When a Labour Government are elected we will make sure that the law is repealed.
Mr. Home Robertson : Indeed, yes. I rise to support amendment No. 28 because I regard clauses 58 and 59 as deeply sinister intrusions into the law of Scotland. They create powers which are unwarranted and unwanted. Like virtually every Scottish Member in this House, I have received large numbers of letters from constituents expressing strong opposition to the Government's proposal to create a new offence of trespass which could be used to restrict people's right of reasonable access to open countryside in Scotland.
The only law of trespass in Scotland today is in the 1865 Act, which has very limited scope. It applies to unauthorised occupation of buildings, camping and lighting fires. It has no power to obstruct any other form of reasonable access to open countryside. We do not need such a power in Scotland and we do not want it. It is an alien concept which has no place in the law of Scotland.
I speak as a Scottish Member of Parliament from a largely rural constituency, where local people and visitors alike have always enjoyed their access to the Lammermuir hills, the seaside links and the countryside in between. My constituency includes Dunbar, which is the birth place of John Muir, the founder of the environmental movement not only in Scotland but indeed in north America. It is an insult to his memory that we should be considering imposing restrictions on access to the countryside.
I speak also as a farmer who has had plenty of experience of the free access to the open countryside that people enjoy in Scotland. It hardly ever causes any problems. On one occasion a problem was caused by the hunt appearing uninvited on the farm and doing some damage, but that was some time ago. Apart from that incident, my personal experience of farming in Scotland indicates that there is no problem associated with reasonable access to the open countryside. In Scotland we
Column 365have reasonable access provisions which are greatly enjoyed and not abused. There is no need for this amendment to the law.
In an earlier debate on the Bill we heard about so-called "new age travellers". I fear that what we have in Scotland today--and what the Government are responding to today--is new age landlords. Some of them are home-grown, but in many cases they are people from outside Scotland who have acquired land in Scotland and who feel the need to lock gates and obstruct access to their land. They are creating aggravation where there has never been aggravation in the past. I have had some trouble of this kind in my constituency. A very substantial tract of my constituency--a big chunk of the Lammermuir hills--has been acquired by a landlord based in Hampshire--he could have been from anywhere, but he happens to be from Hampshire. He is seeking to obstruct and restrict people's access to his land in a part of the countryside where access has always been enjoyed in the past. There have been incidents where estate staff have ordered people off the hills--they have no right to do so, but people are easily intimidated under such circumstances.
The clauses will encourage that type of landlord in Scotland. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the law is not supposed to work like that. I refer him to the advice that hon. Members have received from the Law Society of Scotland. The society has written :
"In the Society's view this Clause could be interpreted to restrict many of the recreational uses to which the countryside is put.
There is no exclusion of ramblers, hillwalkers or other recreational users from the provisions of the Clause".
If the Law Society of Scotland reckons that the clause can be interpreted in that way, I am sure that its members and their clients will seek to interpret the legislation in that way and seek to impose restrictions where previously there were none. If it can be interpreted that way, it will be. The House must reject this alien and abhorrent intrusion into Scots law.
Mrs. Ewing : The issue is an extremely emotional one for Scotland. There are two key resources for any country : its land and its people. The question of how to unite the land and its people is critical in terms of the economy, the environment and enjoying leisure pursuits in our region.
One difficulty is that many people who speak on the subject try to define it as one that applies only to hill walkers, ramblers and Munro baggers. Those are key people, but there are many other organisations--about 60-- that want to have access to our land. They involve geologists, archaeologists and ornithologists, and a variety of people. There is a fundamental principle at stake ; it exists in Scotland and has been built up over the centuries. It is the freedom to roam the country while observing obvious and sensible codes of conduct.
Another aspect, to which I particularly refer Labour Members, is that we are talking about legislation that will apply to Scotland and we again see Scottish legislation being crammed into a small section of a UK Bill. But, when it comes to the crunch, Labour Members from Scotland are quite happy to accept that this a United Kingdom Parliament. They vote in favour of Conservative Members from English constituencies dominating the legislative process. At some stage they have to decide whether they want to protect the Scottish legal system and
Column 366the laws of Scotland or whether they want to sit here on the green Benches and try to climb up the ladder of promotion in the United Kingdom.
There are questions that I want to ask of the Ministers this evening. On what basis did Lord Fraser of Carmyllie decide that the provisions should extend to Scotland ? He appeared on a television programme and made it quite clear through the Scottish Lobby that he asked for them to apply to Scotland. Where is the logic in that ? If there were a strong argument for the Bill to be applied north of the border, surely Lord Fraser should have included the issue of raves. But that subject is not included in the Bill. What are the Government planning on that aspect ? Who wrote to Lord Fraser of Carmyllie ? Who asked him to apply the provision to Scotland ? What factor led him to decide that the measures should apply to Scotland ? Was there one letter or more than one letter or was it an ideological decision ? What would the Minister define as lawful activity in the context of the Bill ? I have already mentioned the various organisations, many of them comprised of very lawful people who have no desire to fall out with the landowners, the farmers and all the people who respect the countryside. Why cannot lawful activity be defined in the Bill ? Does a deficiency exist in the Scottish legal system ? Anyone who does not observe the countryside code, as the Minister and I understand it, can be prosecuted in civil law under the Trespass Act 1865 or for a breach of the peace. Why should criminality be attached to actions that I consider lawful ?
Does the Minister believe that Scotland faces the prospect of one landowner bringing a test case before the Scottish courts ? If the landowner was not particularly sympathetic to ramblers, geologists and so on, such a test case could be a key factor in future Government legislative programmes and for Scottish courts. Relying on a test case sets a dangerous precedent in Scottish law, and one that could set the pace for future cases.
This part of the Bill is vague, unnecessary and subject to various interpretations--as has already been made clear by the Law Society of Scotland and other organisations. Why is the Minister introducing such legislation now, when Scottish Natural Heritage is holding back on its access recommendations ? In his letter to The Scotsman on 10 March, Magnus Magnusson said that rules of access to Scottish land must first be defined and that the Bill is premature. He warned the Secretary of State against changing trespass from a civil to a criminal offence.
If the Minister is determined to pursue that course, what resources will he provide to chief constables and police forces in constituencies throughout the Scottish regions, so that they may employ extra staff ? It is clear from the Bill that many police men and women will be required to police various organisations as their members walk through the hills and glens of Scotland--although that is clearly ridiculous. In the context of joint police boards under local government reorganisation, will suitable facilities be made available as part of those arrangements ?
The Bill has huge implications for the traditional right and freedom to roam our Scottish countryside, for our police forces and for tourism--with visitors discouraged, fearing that they will be accused of criminal activities. Why on earth are the Government adopting this attitude when the Bill concerns England and Wales ?
Column 367(Mrs. Ewing), instead of attacking the Government, once again could not refrain from attacking my party. Not only does that not do her party any good, but it does not do the cause that we are fighting any good.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) rose
Mr. Galbraith : I shall return to the substance of the debate. I am sure that the Minister must be somewhat ashamed of himself in having to introduce the amendment tonight. He knows that it offends the tradition of Scottish law and also the Scottish tradition of access to the Scottish countryside, be it high in the mountains or low in the plains. A tradition in which there has been a symbiosis between the landowners and those wishing to use it for recreational purposes has persisted throughout the years. But now the Minister and his Government are threatening that, for reasons that are not clear to Opposition Members. Perhaps the Minister will explain who asked for this provision in the Bill. Where is the demand coming from ? The landowners say that it is not them. There is no recreational organisation. I think, therefore, that the Minister is duty bound to answer that question tonight.
I have been tramping the Scottish hills and mountains for the best part of 40 years--yes I am only 40. I started early. In that time, I have noticed two significant changes. The first is the reduction in the amount of wild camping, where one can pitch one's tent by the road in glens without having to be organised into official camp sites. There has been a significant reduction in the amount of such camping over the years and it will be reduced by the Government's proposals tonight. In many cases, the reduction was necessary, because of the increased numbers, the sanitation, and so on, as seen, for example, on Glenbrittle, Skye. But, increasingly, landowners are breaking down the relationship between themselves and those who use the mountains.
The second thing that has changed over the years is what climbers call the hassle factor--the number of signs that appear when one enters the mountains. The signs have no legal bearing or standing whatever, but are intended to try to bluff and intimidate hill walkers and others into not utilising the land. A current offensive sign is that in Strathconon. It reads :
"Deer in these hills are shot from mid August-February for sport, meat and Government control policy"
whatever that is. But one can see immediately the inference that, somehow or other, it is Government policy and that one will offend some statute when there is no such statute to offend. It continues : "Walkers are therefore warned that rambling on high ground at this time can seriously upset large areas for deer stalking and can be dangerous."
I wonder about the danger. I do not see the hills laden with shot hill walkers and mountain climbers. There is an important point in that notice in relation to what is termed "intent" in the Bill that is before us.
On top of the hassle factor and the restriction
Mr. Gallie : I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has suggested. Given the contents of the Bill, the fact that intimidation must be shown to have been involved, and that a uniformed police man must be present, is it not the case that, as was suggested by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), the hill walkers who have been hassled in the past by the ghillies and others can now feel quite confident in saying that they have no authority and that they should bring in someone, perhaps from the police force, before they can be forced from the land ?
Mr. Galbraith : It is clear that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) has not read the Bill and does not understand any part of it. I shall explain to him that, if one is half-way up a mountain glen staring at a ghillie with a large-bore shotgun, quoting to him what the hon. Member for Ayr said in the Chamber will not assist one's chances of getting down.
The Scottish Landowners Federation has given a number of assurances. I am not going to attack the federation--my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) is a consummate expert at that so I shall leave it to him--but the problem is that it does not speak for all landowners and especially not for the new age landowners who are moving in.
I cite the classic example of the land around Loch Maree which includes several mountains that are important to the climbing fraternity. Access to and camping on that land used to be free but along came a new landowner from outwith this country, and who is not part of our tradition, and suddenly there is a block not only on access but on camping. We are talking not about new age travellers or vast armies pitching their tents but about the occasional climber of Slioch. The assurances from the Scottish Landowners Federation are not adequate.
The crux of the issue is intent. The Scottish Landowners Federation says that intent has to be shown but the problem is whether, if a notice similar to that which I have just described from Strathconon is presented at the point of access to the hills but ignored and bypassed by hill climbers--as it should be--in the knowledge that deerstalking is taking place, can the landowner claim and have it upheld in law that an individual had intended to disrupt that activity ? That is the important point. Will the law state that an individual who ignores a notice stating that there might or might not be deerstalking in a given area intended to disrupt it ?
I remind the House that it need not necessarily be the intent of disrupting deerstalking ; lambing must also be considered. Will crossing areas during the lambing season mean intentionally disrupting a lawful activity in which the landowner is engaged ? It is a serious legal point, and I ask the Minister please not to tell us that the matter will be settled in the courts. It should not need to go that far ; it should be clarified now.
If the Minister is not willing to accept our amendments which would remove these provisions from Scotland, he should at least give an assurance that he will reconsider the