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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Standing Committee D

Thursday 20 January 2005

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Chairmen: Dame Marion Roe, †Mr. Bill O'Brien

†Baird, Vera (Redcar) (Lab)

†Blears, Ms Hazel (Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety)

†Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries) (Lab)

†Cairns, David (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

†Campbell, Mr. Alan (Tynemouth) (Lab)

†Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)

†Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey (Cotswold) (Con)

†Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)

†Farrelly, Paul (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab)

†Flint, Caroline (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

†Grieve, Mr. Dominic (Beaconsfield) (Con)

†Griffiths, Jane (Reading, East) (Lab)

†Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)

†Heath, Mr. David (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

†Heppell, Mr. John (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Mann, John (Bassetlaw) (Lab)

McWalter, Mr. Tony (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op)

†Mitchell, Mr. Andrew (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

†Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton, South) (Lab)

†Ward, Claire (Watford) (Lab)

Alan Sandall, Committee Clerk

attended the Committee


[Mr. Bill O'Brien in the Chair]

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Clause 120

Offence of trespassing on designated site

9.10 am

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): I beg to move amendment No. 258, in clause 120, page 85, line 11, after 'site', insert

    'in England and Wales or in Northern Ireland'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 259 and 261 to 263.

Government new clause 28—Corresponding Scottish offence.

Government new clause 29—Designated Scottish sites: access.

Ms Blears: The amendments apply the offence of trespass on designated sites to Scotland. They also make various consequential amendments relating to the Bill's coming into force and its territorial extent.

Clauses 120 to 122 did not originally include provisions for Scotland because we needed to discuss with the Scottish Executive exactly how they would apply there. We have now reached agreement. There are a couple of differences in relation to Scots law: the period of imprisonment is 12 months rather than 51 weeks; the term trespasser is not used in Scotland—a trespasser is referred to as a person on a site without lawful authority—and there is no requirement to seek the consent of the Attorney-General in Scotland.

Scottish Ministers will be responsible for designating sites in Scotland, where the sites are on Crown land or land belonging to the Queen or the Prince of Wales in their private capacity. The Secretary of State will be responsible for designating sites in Scotland on the ground of national security, because national security matters are a national, not a devolved, matter. That provision reflects the different responsibilities set out in the Scotland Act 1998. When the Home Secretary exercises the power to designate sites on the ground of national security, we have undertaken in correspondence with the Scottish First Minister to ensure that the Home Secretary does not do so without first consulting Scottish Ministers.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I ought to know, but I do not, whether the lands appertaining to the Duchy of Cornwall are in the ownership of the Prince of Wales in his personal capacity.
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Ms Blears: I am informed that they are Crown land, so they fall into the first category of designation rather than the second. To ensure consistency, it is important that the powers apply to Scotland.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I rise to say simply to say that I intend to leave my comments until the next group of amendments, in order to have a general discussion about the impact of the clause.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 251, in clause 120, page 85, line 21, leave out from 'capacity' to end of line 23 and insert—

    '(3A) The Secretary of State may not designate a site if the public has access to it or to any part of it.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 305, in clause 120, page 85, line 21, leave out from 'capacity' to end of line 23 and insert—

    '(3A) The Secretary of State may not designate a site to which the public has access.'.

No. 306, in clause 120, page 85, line 39, leave out subsection (7).

Mr. Grieve: The proposed offence of trespassing on a designated site is superficially attractive, but we must carefully consider the implications of Parliament's actions in this respect. It has long been the principle in this country that trespass is a civil matter. There are exceptions, of course, such as entering certain designated sites restricted under various regulations, particularly highly sensitive places such as nuclear installations and the like. On the whole, I think the policy a good one, and if we are to depart from it, we must ensure that we do not widen the scope of the criminal law too much. We must also be careful to maintain a sense of proportion.

The amendments are essentially probing, to allow us to find out a little more about how the provisions will work in practice. The Secretary of State may designate sites in three categories under the clause. The first is Crown land, the second private lands belonging to Her Majesty the Queen or the heir to the throne, and the third land that the Secretary of State believes it is appropriate to designate in the interests of national security.

What is meant by ''national security'' in that context? My definition of national security is pretty restricted, in that it relates to the protection of essential state security interests—for instance, major state installations. Could the concept be widened so that it includes anything that affects the day-to-day operation of the state? An obvious example might be a sit-down protest on Horseguards parade: it is not something that I would encourage people to do, but, while it might be disruptive, I would not associate it with a threat to state security. The Committee needs to consider how the issue will be addressed in practice.

Secondly, and as important, we are creating a criminal offence. Trespass usually involves going on to land to which members of the public have no right of access, but there are permissive rights for people to enter a great deal of the private land in this country.
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Those permissive rights can be withdrawn, but the public's attitude to such land will inevitably be different from their attitude to other sites. Furthermore, as far as public opinion is concerned, it is one thing to climb over a wall of Buckingham palace and rampage round the gardens having entered in order to do so, and quite another to go for a walk in Hyde park. Most people regard those things differently and will understand that the law is likely to be applied differently, but we must be careful not to introduce a law that criminalises those who decide to go on to land that they normally associate with being open to the public.

That dovetails with the reasoning behind the next amendment, which addresses the concern that if the site is land to which members of the public normally have access, there should be a requirement—one that does not appear to be provided for in subsection (7)—that such people should be informed that they are trespassing and that they should leave before the criminal law comes into operation. That is what the amendments are designed to probe. Two of them are duplicatory, and I do not know why they feature separately.

I hope that the Minister will respond to those points, because we are contemplating an important change to the law, and we should not let it go through on the nod.

Mr. Heath: I simply wish to understand what the Minister intends by the clause, and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) seem to provide an appropriate means to find out. I am grateful for the confirmation that Duchy of Cornwall land is Crown land, as such land covers a large part of my constituency. A number of the tenant farmers in my constituency are on Duchy land, so it will be interesting to know what it is intended in terms of designation and the extent to which common sense will be applied to the question of what constitutes Crown land that it is appropriate to designate and what is Crown land that it is not appropriate to designate? In the case of Duchy of Cornwall land, there is little that is appropriate for designation.

Secondly, I assume that the clause will cover any land occupied by the Ministry of Defence, whether it is Crown land per se, in which case it will automatically be designated, or whether it falls under subsection (3)(c). That might include land occupied by agencies working for the MOD—for example, since the dockyards have been privatised, they occupy some land that is not Crown land but that is used for the purposes for which they were set up.

Thirdly, I have a nagging suspicion that subsection (3)(c) could be used and, in my view, abused to define as criminal trespass entry on to land that is used for purposes that are way beyond those that might be defined as sensitive or relating to national security. I can imagine such a power being used in the past at Greenham Common, or today outside RAF Fairford, now a United States air force base. The base is protected by virtue of being Crown land, but the land outside is not, and we have already seen arrests by the
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Gloucestershire police for peaceful demonstrations outside RAF Fairford against its use by United States aircraft. Questions have been raised about the legality of that police action. It is not hard to imagine a Secretary of State being prevailed upon to say that land outside MOD land, or outside land used by Allied forces, required designation in the interest of national security.

We need to know from the Minister the extent to which she believes the power will be used—clearly there are areas where its use is sensible, and there are areas where it would be an abuse. Unfortunately, it is hard to perceive such discrimination in the text of the clause; perhaps it cannot be built in, and we have to take it on trust that the Secretary of State will act in an appropriate way. However, I dislike taking things on trust from any Minister, simply because they may change.

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Prepared 20 January 2005