Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Hughes: I am happy with the Minister's reply, and agree that the matter must be considered cautiously. I anticipate that we shall return to these matters when we have had the chance to consider the work to which he referred. I am grateful for the Minister's understanding of why I raised the issue. It is a matter on which there should be the broadest consensus and cross-party support.

Mr. Clarke: We now come to the substance of our debate—new clauses 6 and 7 and the Opposition amendments, with which I have some sympathy. I am happy to give the assurance that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey seeks about producing a brief summary of current relevant law to consider the situation and to help our debates at further stages.

On the matter of police co-operation, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath made an important point after his party political diatribe. The co-operation between police forces when dealing with these matters is important. That is why we raised the status of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which can analyse and collect data, and use intelligence across a range of areas. This issue applies to a number of other important areas of policy and policing. Since taking on this job, one of the most extraordinary discoveries I have made is that there is an insufficiently high level of co-operation between police forces for a variety of reasons, such as having their own IT systems. The hon. Gentleman is right to make the point, and I assure him that although the decisions are operational and not for Ministers, the police are committed to developing the joint approach and use of intelligence to which he refers.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to the Minister for the constructive way in which he has responded to my point. Will he go a step further and ensure that, through his officials and his Department, our concern about inconsistency, which was shared by some of his hon. Friends, is drawn to the attention of police forces? I appreciate the Minister's point that these are operational decisions, but it seems extremely odd that when one force is faced with animal rights extremists it can arrest 87 of them, whereas another force cannot arrest any of them.

Mr. Clarke: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this debate will be brought to the attention of the police. However, there are difficulties because the operational independence of chief constables is an important constitutional principle, which I know he accepts. We are careful not to violate that principle. That said, we are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the police and national agencies, such as the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, to see what common approaches can be developed. When it comes down to a fundamental judgment about how a particular situation should be addressed in a particular circumstance, I would be loth to violate the operational independence of chief constables.

I want to make an important point in response to the passionate and significant speech about the role of science made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. I ought to declare an interest in that Europe's largest research centre into genetically modified foods, the John Innes centre, is in my constituency. I am acutely aware of the fantastic commitment and quality of the scientists working in that area, and the major contribution that they believe they can make to the welfare of humanity, whether by feeding people more effectively or healthily, eliminating disease or taking pesticides off the land so that people can operate in a greener way.

My hon. Friend defended the scientific method by arguing that we ought to address the issues confronting society through science rather than prejudice. The scientific method entails rigorously testing a proposition and then asking what we can do in the light of that. It requires an examination of the situation. It is important that society allows that course to be taken, rather than allowing a group of prejudiced individuals or a prejudiced individual to sabotage that process and undermine the operation of science. We must stand up for that important principle in these modern times, because certain commentators, individuals and media outlets try to devalue the role of science. We, as a society, must not allow that to happen.

The question for Members of Parliament is how do we ensure that science serves society. The answer is not to say that science is not the way to address the problems that we face. That powerful and important point runs throughout our debate on new clauses 6 and 7, because it is fundamental to the concept of modern democracy. It also relates to my view of journalists. No one has the right to say, ``Because of my judgment and superior position I can override that.'' The challenge for hon. Members is to ensure that science is regulated and brought under proper review.

Jackie Ballard: I want to make sure that I understand the Minister's point. Is he saying that we should at all times consider the behaviour of all scientists to be both morally acceptable and necessary? In the past, would he have defended scientists who forced beagles to smoke to find out the effect of smoking, given that humans can chose whether or not to smoke? Was it legitimate to use animals for that purpose?

Mr. Clarke: I have two things to say about that. First, the question of how one regulates science is a central question for Britain today. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet said, we regulate animal testing against higher standards than any other country in the world, which I think is both important and right. If, for example, the question whether forcing beagles to smoke cigarettes was appropriate were to arise now, it would be a matter for Parliament and regulation, and would not be a reason for an individual to go and smash someone's head in—it is as crude as that. We must try to find a means of regulating the development of science in our society? That is a difficult question. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), who worked in this area at the university of East Anglia, chairs the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which seeks to develop better quality scientific work to try to address those issues. I concede that that is not easy, but that is how to go about it.

Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend is aware that if the experiment with beagles were to be done today, the scientist would have to convince the Home Office that the information must be collected, that it was essential for human health and that the only way it could be collected would be to conduct that experiment on animals. If that could not be demonstrated, the experiment would not be allowed.

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is right. Moreover, his point illustrates the fact that Parliament has, over the years, strengthened its capacity to control and direct science. That is precisely what protects us against the individual mad scientists favoured by the hon. Member for Taunton.

6.15 pm

Jackie Ballard: Did the Minister say that I favour individual mad scientists? I hope that I misheard him. Earlier, he said that scientists making beagles smoke cigarettes was no excuse for smashing their heads in. Of course it is not. I said that there is no circumstance, in a democracy, in which I would defend violent protest. However, does the Minister agree that we would not have made progress towards making such experiments illegal had people not protested and demonstrated?

Parliament does not always have a monopoly on wisdom when deciding whether an activity should be made illegal. It often responds to ordinary members of the public who protect against something that they believe is not acceptable in society. Legitimate protest or demonstration against scientists is not a blanket, anti-scientist stance.

Mr. Clarke: I do not wish to be rude, but I think that the hon. Lady makes a trivial point. Parliament should encourage protest, the expression of views to expose what goes on, campaigning and pressure. I have always opposed those who say, ``Leave it to Parliament. It knows best.'' Of course there should be arguments, discussions and explanations, and everybody has to make their own case. Ultimately, however, the country has to judge, and it is right that such judgments are made by Parliament.

I object to the idea that such a point of view makes one pro-science or anti-science. I am unequivocally pro-science. The issue is how science should be regulated to ensure that it serves society and does not take a different path. I deprecate the tendency, found in some quarters of the country, to imply that it is right on to be anti-science. I have been more engaged in issues surrounding genetically modified crops than in those surrounding animal rights, because of the constituency interest that I mentioned earlier. I think it outrageous that serious research into the use of that science for the benefit of humanity is being hijacked and wrecked by prejudiced individuals. Norfolk farmers ask me why their crops are being wrecked. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire made a similar point.

Such behaviour is completely wrong and unacceptable. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet and other colleagues made the argument for science, and I have been pleased to respond. We need to stand up for science more strongly than we have sometimes done.

Mrs. Brinton: Does the Minister agree that there is a world of difference between the peaceful protest that he described, which enshrines the supremacy of Parliament, and the type of extra-parliamentary activity that was advocated as an alternative by someone who stood for the Labour party in 1983? He was condemned for those sentiments by the then leader of the party, Michael Foot.

Mr. Clarke: In general, I agree. I am not sure that I quite caught my hon. Friend's final point, but I am sure that she is right.

It is important to sustain a commitment to science for the development of society as a whole. That is an important element of our discussion, and were we not to accept the Government new clauses, we would be caving in to an anti-scientific, anti-rational approach to life, which I oppose.

I turn to the specific comments that have been raised. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey suggested that the wording in new clause 6(1)(c)—

    ``(i) amounts to, or is likely to result in, the harassment of the victim; or

    (ii) is likely to cause alarm or distress to the victim''—

is not strong enough, but I cannot accept that. As we have already said, three separate tests will have to apply. The first is that the constable believes ``on reasonable grounds''—that is an important qualification—that

    ``that person is present there for the purpose...of representing to the victim or another individual...or of persuading the victim or such another individual—

    (i) that he should not do something that he is entitled or required to do; or

    (ii) that he should do something that he is not under any obligation to do'',

which is the same point in reverse.

That test is the first that has to be met. It is a tough one. People cannot merely stand outside and say, ``I do not like what you are about.'' They must use suasion to persuade people to take decisions other than those that they would normally take. The second test is either the harassment test or the alarm or distress test. That, too, is pretty tough. It does not apply to standing outside with a placard: the action must result in harassment, or cause alarm or distress. The third test is that the constable has to have reasonable grounds for believing that a direction should be made. Each of those stages is a substantial process. I am not convinced that we should drop any of those elements.

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