|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Mr. Hawkins: Amendment (a) was tabled by the hon. Member for South Thanet, who is a Labour Member.
Mr. Clarke: Nevertheless, it is not a Government amendment, so I will deal with it in my response. I always try to be positive in what I say, particularly when responding to my hon. Friends and even sometimes to the Opposition. I will respond to the amendment once it has been moved rather than seeking to do so before it has been moved.
Mr. Heald: One thing that has caused particular distress in the Huntingdon situation is where goods and services turn up on the doorstepdeliveries of gravel, rubbish skips, car-towing lorries and so on. Would it count as a malicious communication if goods are ordered in another name and suddenly arrive at one's home?
Mr. Clarke: I do not know. My understanding is that it would not, but I shall take advice before responding properly to that question.
New clause 20 is designed to allow certain directors to be excluded from the existing provisions of the Companies Act 1985 that require them to make their home addresses available for public inspection and to substitute service addresses. They will still be obliged to provide their home addresses, but that information will be kept on a separate, secure register. The home addresses will be available to public bodies, such as law enforcement agencies. The clause is essentially making provision for regulations. Much of the detail will be left to regulation, which will be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses and will therefore, no doubt, be rapturously welcomed by the Opposition.
The clause will provide for the Companies Act 1985 to be amended by the insertion of new subsections. The first new subsection will allow a present or prospective director or company secretary to apply to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for a confidentiality order. The application may be made if the applicant considers that the availability for inspection by the public of his residential address will create a serious risk that he, or a person who lives with him, will be subjected to violence or intimidation. The regulations will explain how the process will work.
The effect of the confidentiality order will be that Companies House will display for public inspection the service address rather than the home address. Subsequent regulations will make provisions covering inspection of the confidential records and applications for access. The regulations will provide for the similar protection of home addresses found on a company's own register of directors.
The new provisions will apply to any company formed under the Companies Acts, overseas companies and companies that are registered abroad but have a United Kingdom branch. The regulations will make it an offence for anyone to provide false information when applying for an order, or to provide confidential information improperly. This is not the signalling of a rogues charter. There will be a high threshold test for the Secretary of State, who will need to be satisfied that the public availability of a director's residential address is likely to create a serious risk that the individual, or a person who lives with him or her, will be subjected to violence or intimidation.
We expect the majority of company directors to continue to provide their home addresses, while necessary privacy will be provided for those at real risk. Directors will still have to provide their home addresses, to be kept on a secure register. That register will be available to law enforcement and other public bodies. That will not provide an instant solution because existing records cannot be expunged. However, in time it should offer added protection for directors in certain circumstances and help to reduce the kind of intimidation that has regrettably occurred recently.
Dr. Ladyman: This is another clause that I welcome. However, I would like some clarification. Proposed new section 723B(2)(a) mentions the condition
Mr. Clarke: The difficulty is that what is on the record remains on the record. One cannot wish away existing documentation. We cannot magic it out of existence. It is possible for new directors to apply for confidentiality orders to cover future publication of their details, but it is not possible to wave a magic wand and say that what has previously been made public is no longer public.
I have an answer to the question put by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire about the delivery of unwanted goods. It is possible, I am advised, that a simple instance of ordering goods might be covered by the Malicious Communications Act 1988 if the order contains information known to be false, and if the purpose is to cause distress or anxiety. However, it is more likely that a campaign of that nature might be caught by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, rather than by this legislation.
Mr. Hughes: Do the Government intend new clause 20 to cover those who are, or have been, directors when they move house? There will be a problem about people moving if the legislation bites prospectively, not retrospectively.
Have the Government considered the proposal in the context of other matters on their mind relating to people's ability to opt out of the duty to disclose a private address? The only recent discussion that I have had with Ministers was about Members of Parliament and candidates for local and national election exempting themselves from that duty. So far, I have objected to and resisted the permission of that exemption. Is the provision part of a review under which people who have public responsibility should be exempt from the possibility of the public discovering where they live? The issue goes beyond shareholders and directors.
Mr. Clarke: I can confirm that the provision is not part of an overall review, but a specific response, the best that we can find, to the specific circumstance of directors of companies. It is not a precursor to general legislation. Arguments can be made about the way in which we deal with Members of Parliament and others, but the new clause and the Bill do not touch on them in any respect.
On the general point made by the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, I should reassert that all those at risk, be they past or present directors, will be able to apply. Existing addresses cannot be removed, for the reasons that I gave to my hon. Friend earlier.
I will not respond to any of other new clauses yet. I hope that the Committee will agree that the three Government new clauses make a serious effort to deal with many concerns of those in the scientific community. They are no more than a contribution to the important national duty, which has been shared across the House, to create an environment in which scientists can carry out their important work. That work enhances the ability of our civilisation to develop itself, so we must protect the relevant individuals properly. I hope that the new clauses will be approved by the Committee in due course.
Dr. Ladyman: On a point of order, Mrs. Adams. I may have misheard you, but I thought that when you listed the new clauses under discussion, you mentioned new clause 19. It is on a different subject. Will you confirm whether we are also discussing new clause 19, which was tabled by the Liberal Democrats?
The Chairman: Yes, we are.
Mr. Hawkins: As this is the first time today that I have made a speech, as opposed to an intervention, I join the welcome given to you as Chairman of our proceedings, Mrs. Adams, by the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire.
This debate is perhaps the Committee's most significant, certainly in terms of the public and media attention on the Bill, which is not surprising given the seriousness of the issues. I make no apology for saying that I propose not only to discuss new clauses 14 and 15 but to deal at length and in detail with the issues raised. The Minister rightly spent some time outlining the Government's approach, and the Conservatives strongly support what the Government are doing. Our criticism is that they are not going far enoughbut it goes further than that.
The Minister has been in his statesmanlike mode this morning to give the Government's line. We know that he is something of a Jekyll and Hyde character. Today, we have seen the reasonableness of Dr. Jekyll, but had you been chairing our proceedings last week, Mrs. Adamsthe Minister described them as acrimoniousyou would have seen his Mr. Hyde approach. The provisions are not only necessary but vitaland I include new clauses 14 and 15because of the climate of opinion that the Labour party helped to create when in opposition. I shall explain the evidence that I have for saying it, but I specifically exculpate from my criticisms the many Back Benchers who were first elected in 1997that may be no coincidenceand who have served only in this Parliament. I respect them, as they have always supported the cause of scientists. I have far less respect for the many others who, in Parliament and outside, have actively spoken in favour of animal rights protests of the most extreme form.
I shall give the Committee an example of that. I asked the Library to do some research, and it has come up with many examples, but the clearest is an early-day motion in 1995 that was signed by 43 Labour Membersand by members of the Labour party only. They included the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson), now the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting; the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), an ex-Minister; the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), now the Minister of State, Department of Health; the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd), now a Whip; the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), now a Whip; three who have now become what we might describe as Tony crony peers; the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), another ex-Minister; and the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), now the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, who was one of the Labour party's campaign directors at the last election and who is now one of the leading Members of the Scottish Parliament.
That Labour party early-day motion was headed ``Animal welfare protests'', and it said of that each of those 43 Labour party members
I feel strongly about the matter, and not only because research facilities in my constituency have been attacked by terrorists. My parents had careers in research science. It happens that neither of them ever worked on animal research, but one of them worked for a research facility elsewhere in the country that was attacked by the Animal Liberation Front. These animal activists are the most extreme kind of terrorist: they are the sort of people who put bombs under scientists' carsbombs that explode sideways and injure innocent mothers walking by with young children in pushchairs.
Well-known members of other political parties have been prominent in demonstrations at which my constituents have been attacked, but not members of the Conservative party. That is not surprising, because no Conservative would ever be involved in such terrorism. I do not want to hear that hon. Members of other parties are coming to the issue afresh and with clean hands. However statesmanlike the Minister's remarks, and however strongly we support him, I must make it clear that he is not going far enough. I make no apology for stating that.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 6 March 2001|