Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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The Chairman: 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.

Mr. Clarke: 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.

Mr. Gray: 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 Chairman: Order. Short interventions please.

Mr. Clarke: 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.

Mr. Gray: Very small.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not interrupt the Minister when he is speaking.

6 pm

Mr. Clarke: 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.

Mr. Hughes: 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?

Mr. Clarke: 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.

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