Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): I very much agree with the sentiments that are being expressed. Does my hon. Friend agree that it was unfortunate that there was previously a similar incident in the soap opera ``The Archers''? Tom Archer also got off, which people felt was a very good thing.

Dr. Ladyman: I entirely agree. I am not a great advocate of soap operas, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the level of feeling generated by such programmes. If we are attacking people's scientific credentials, as we did earlier—I cannot do so in great depth, Mrs. Adams, because you would stop me—I remind the Committee that the Opposition's disgraceful attacks on genetic modification led to much of the furore. The controversy that they generated cost British industry millions of pounds.

Mr. Gray: I fear that the hon. Gentleman is making the unfortunate implication that, because Her Majesty's Opposition were opposed to field-scale trials of genetically modified crops, that somehow justifies the disgraceful and illegal activities of those who then destroyed them. Will he clarify the fact that the Opposition are utterly opposed to any such activities that would be made illegal under the Bill?

Dr. Ladyman: I am perfectly prepared to accept that Her Majesty's Opposition do not support any illegal activities. I am simply pointing out that they have shown themselves to be entirely luddite in their attitude to the scientific development of biotechnology. If the hon. Member for Surrey Heath can make such an attack on the Labour party, he can take some of it back.

However, let us return to the amendments. If a jury can acquit someone who destroyed crops, it could acquit someone who defended himself on the basis that he wrote to someone threatening to destroy crops because he believed that he had a right to do so. I want the legislation to be amended to make it absolutely clear that someone cannot send through the post threats of any illegal activity. Someone can send threats of legal retribution, but not of illegal retribution. That is the rationale behind my amendment.

New clause 20 deals with directors' addresses. I simply repeat the point that, for people who have already registered themselves as directors, the genie is clearly out of the bottle. They have put their name and address in the public domain. Nevertheless, they may be able to provide themselves with some protection by re-registering in the way allowed by the new clause, if it is allowed. When someone has got hold of a director's name and address, there is nothing that the Government can do to take it back, but someone who makes a new application to Companies House to find out a director's address would be unable to find it if such people were allowed to re-register. I should like the Minister to think about the possibility that a mechanism will be put in place to allow people to re-register.

New clause 20 will protect people who will be directors or permanent representatives of companies, but will not necessarily protect all shareholders. I would still like to hear from the Department of Trade and Industry what it intends to do to protect ordinary shareholders. Many of the activities aimed at Huntingdon Life Sciences were aimed at its shareholders. I have said publicly that it was reprehensible for the Labour party to withdraw its pension funds from that company as a result of threats. It was a gross misjudgment, which came about because our pension shareholding was identifiable—which meant that protesters could lobby us directly, putting us under intimidatory pressure. Shareholders should also be protected.

Finally, I asked for clarification on whether the Liberal Democrats' new clause 19 should be included in the group of amendments because it is not, in my view, about animal experiments. It is about crimes of hate. I completely understand and agree with the sentiment underlying the new clause, but I believe that unprovoked actions against individuals should be treated seriously, whatever their motivation. Under new clause 19, it would be considered an aggravated offence if I assaulted the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey because I disapproved of his sexual orientation—I do not know his sexual orientation or whether I would disapprove of it; I am not making any comment about him. However, if I assaulted him because he is a Liberal Democrat, that would not be an aggravated offence. [Interruption.] All right, I withdraw that example. The hon. Gentleman none the less gets my point. His new clause would create anomalies that I do not want in the law.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to what I have said and hope that he will take my comments, which were offered in the spirit of constructive criticism, in good part. He mistakenly said that the Opposition tabled my amendment.

Mr. Clarke: That was a complete slip, for which I apologise.

Dr. Ladyman: I wanted only to ask my hon. Friend the Government Whip to confirm that I am now officially a Government rebel. That will do wonders in my general committee.

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman's desperate wish to be classed with the Opposition as a Government rebel is perhaps largely due to the apparent proximity of a general election. However, the fact that the hon. Gentleman is looking for support wherever he can find it may not be quite enough to save him.

Dr. Ladyman: All I can say in response is that my research indicates that I have more than enough support. I will certainly defend the case of scientists in this place for many years to come.

Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman's analysis confirms the Opposition view that rebellion in the Labour party occurs far too rarely to allow democratic debate. I encourage him to rebel as often as he likes. It will be good for his own party and probably for him.

The debate is important and, unusually, I may take more than the seven minutes that we have before we break for lunch. I said on Second Reading—

Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Mrs. Adams. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for raising a point of order now; I had hoped to raise it before lunch and his comment reminds me of that. On the basis of the progress that we have made so far, we seem unlikely to get much beyond the new clauses today, which means that 24 clauses, two schedules and 42 amendments will not be debated. In light of the likely change to the timetable of the general election, have you received any communication from the Minister, Mrs. Adams, that would allow the date of the Committee's final sitting to be put back to 13 March? It is ridiculous that important amendments tabled by the Government, by Liberty—I understand that the Liberal Democrats have tabled some amendments with the help of Liberty, as the Conservatives may have done—and the Law Society should not be debated at all. That position will get worse as the Committee proceeds. The Minister should relent: with no general election on 5 April, we could have an extra day and debate the provisions properly.

The Chairman: It is not for the Chair to tell the Minister what to do and I have received no suggestion that he is about to change his mind.

Mr. Hughes: I will not raise a point of order, but the Liberal Democrats have always taken the view that we need more time, so we support the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire on that.

The new clauses and amendments are important. On Second Reading on 29 January, I anticipated that the Government would table new clauses on these matters and said that my hon. Friends would be sympathetic because the law was inadequate in certain respects. The Liberal Democrats will support Government new clause 6. However, we shall table amendments on Report to improve it. That is sensible and we could then consider what further needs to be done. A catching-up exercise is necessary.

The group includes Government new clauses and the amendment to one of them by the hon. Member for South Thanet; Conservative new clauses; and a Liberal new clause. They are somewhat strangely grouped together. They raise several issues about the right to protest and its limits, and the circumstances in which civil disobedience should be prevented from going too far.

Let me tell the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that civil disobedience is entirely proper and laudable, provided it does not turn into violence and aggression. He must be careful not to confuse the two. The right to protest sometimes includes civil disobedience; it is not the same as threatening, intimidating, causing aggression and attacking. I put my hands up to having taken part in civil disobedience protests over the years—to save Twyford down, for example—but always avoiding violence towards those who are going about their business in other contexts.

Freedom of information issues are also important and one of the new clauses restricts the right to know shareholders' addresses; we debated who else should fall under that category and in what circumstances.

Our new clause 19 is a probing one in the sense that it provides an opportunity to raise with the Government how best to deal with the linked matters of specific forms of insidious crime and their perpetrators, through sentencing and punishment. The Government said that that was on their agenda. Neither I nor my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton were responsible for home affairs at the time, but my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) raised important issues during the passage of what became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. My hon. Friend distinguished between race hate crimes and other hate crimes—some based on sexuality, as mentioned by the hon. Member for South Thanet, others on religion and gender. We want to elicit the Government's views on those matters.

We shall support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South Thanet to Government new clause 7. As to the Conservative new clauses, new clause 14 is appropriate. It would change the law, dispensing with the need for a recurrence of harassment, which is unduly restrictive. We are happy to move on, but we think—

        It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Adams, Mrs. Irene (Chairman)
Bailey, Mr.
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr.
Brinton, Mrs.
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gray, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Heald, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Ladyman, Dr.
McCabe, Mr.
Smith, Miss Geraldine
Sutcliffe, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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