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Mr. Heath: I welcome the Government's engagement with the issue. We have made progress, and careful consideration has been given to points made in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and myself, among others. We all want to ensure that the law is adequate to provide protection for people going about their proper business. At the same time we want to ensure that the proper ability to protest is not curtailed. There is a world of difference between somebody who is protesting in a proper way about something that they feel strongly about, and somebody who is engaged in criminal activity in order to intimidate others into doing things that they would not otherwise do.
We welcome the provisions of the new clauses, but because they were not tabled in Committeethis is not a criticismwe must now ask some of the questions that we would otherwise have asked at an earlier stage. I want some small clarifications of the drafting. That will be relevant when the matter is discussed in another place, where I am sure it will be examined more carefully.
The mens rea is deferred, so to speak. Somebody has committed what is considered to be a criminal offence or a tortious act, but they may not have the intention ascribed to the initiator, nor may the person who initiated the act, in the case of another person. There is a slight legal quandary there which needs further explanation and exploration.
I am worried about the rather wide definition of a tortious act and what is included in it. When the Minister was trying to explain, she mentioned a serious libelin fact I think it was a criminal libel, but I am not enough of a lawyer to remember which categories constitute criminal libel. I thought that accusing someone of an indictable offence was one of those categories. Clearly, the provision will catch simple defamation. Perhaps the hon. Lady will confirm that. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon made the point that tort could include simple trespass, which would be unlikely to cause significant loss or damage. Hence our probing amendment to establish what otherwise was intended to fall into that category.
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I want the measure to be an effective tool to fight a particular abuse. I do not want it to be infinitely extendable to inappropriate purposes. Preventing or hindering the carrying out of any activity is an extremely wide provision, and I expect those in another place to examine it closely.
I shall close now because, sadly, we are running out of time, as has been the case during all our debates today, which I regret. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) said that he would press his amendment (b) to new clause 11 to a Division. My understanding is that he intends to ensure that it is an offence under new clause 11 for a tortious act to be committedin other words, one of the two categories, but not that which amounts to a criminal offence, because it clearly is a criminal offence by definitionrather than threatened. Will the Minister explain whether she believes that that is covered elsewhere, and if so, how? Otherwise, I shall support the hon. Gentleman's amendment.
Caroline Flint: We have had a useful debate exploring the nature of people engaged in acts against those working directly for animal research organisations and those associated with them. There is common agreement that we have got to the point where we have to do something about that issue.
I remind the House that during the past year there has been a step change in how the police, the prosecution services and others have been working together to deal with one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), which is that we can have the laws, but we also have to have enforcement. When we are dealing with people who come in the dead of night to vandalise other people's property and throw acid on their cars, trying to build the evidence base to bring successful prosecutions to court is not easy. It has been particularly difficult when they have taken action against people in supply companies in different parts of the country.
We have made huge progress in this area with the establishment of the national extremist tactical unit in Cambridge, which is not considering the issue piecemeal, but is connecting the intelligence from a variety of activities and actions involving those people throughout the country. That is why we are starting to see better use of court time to prosecute. There has also been the use of antisocial behaviour orders by communities to see what justice they can get. Let us not forget that other measures were agreed in Committee to tackle harassment and protests outside people's homes, which should be seen as part of the package. I wanted to say that because I did not think it was right to let it pass, considering some of the comments about inactivity.
I shall try to deal with some of the points that have been made. In the short time I have, I shall probably not do them justice, but I am sure the issue will come back in another place. I am happy to continue to discuss matters with Opposition spokespeople afterwards as well. I was asked whether building contractors working for animal research organisations would be caught, and the answer is yes. The issue was raised as to whether new clause
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11 covers unlawful acts or only threats of them. The proposal is specifically aimed at tackling intimidation, but we shall further consider the points made this evening to ensure that we have got that right.
I was also asked what the term "person" covers. It refers to any person who can be identified in law, including companies, other corporate bodies and unincorporated associations. It should be remembered that some crimes and torts can be committed only by real people.
A question was raised as to whether the Government intend to catch all tortious acts. The answer is no, only tortious acts that cause loss or damage. As was mentioned, some torts such as trespass may or may not result in loss or damage. We have tried to confine what can be a broad area of actions in terms of law.
The words have been chosen to make the language precise, because the provisions refer to "a relevant act"; we wanted to give some more detail on that. The definition is of a relevant act, so both subsections 3(a) and 3(b) refer to an act that amounts to a criminal offence and a tortious act. There is nothing unusual in that wording, which is intended to make the clause more precise.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether "tortious act" catches defamation. It does, provided that loss or damage has been caused. That is the key issue. He asked another question on the same point: what amounts to a criminal offence? It means doing something in circumstances that make it a criminal offence
'(1) A person (A) commits an offence if, with the intention of causing a second person (B) to abstain from doing something which B is entitled to do (or to do something which B is entitled to abstain from doing)
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