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Paul Goggins: If my hon. Friend will be patient, I shall drop him a line very soon with the answer to that question. It is important that all the penalties set out in such legislation are coherent and fit well with each other according to the seriousness of the offence.
John Bercow: I apologise for being slow to rise and I am sorry if an air of world-weary cynicism greeted my attempt to contribute. I simply wish to ask the Minister politely if the hurried written note that he has promised will be forthcoming before the vote.
Paul Goggins: I will make the note available at the earliest opportunity. As soon as I am able to provide it to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), I will be happy to provide a copy to the hon. Gentleman and to ensure that all hon. Members know what it may contain.
Paul Goggins: I wrote earlier this week to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) to explain the purpose of these amendments. The clause makes it a criminal offence to trespass on a licensed nuclear site. By their very nature, such sites contain hazardous material and hazardous activities are carried out there. Although all sites are guarded, unauthorised entry deflects the guard force from its primary duty of securing the site and could also be used by terrorists as cover for an attack. Unauthorised entry to sites could lead to dangers to individuals, not only from the possibility of injury from the plant and equipment present, but from the risk that they could be seen as a terrorist threat and met with an appropriate response. The Government therefore believe that it is right that in the current climate we do what we can to strengthen the security regimes at those sites.
As currently drafted, the offence will apply to all areas of a licensed nuclear site, plus to any other premises that sit within the secure perimeter boundary. That is because sometimes, the fences can sit just outside the area of the licensed site. Since the Bill was introduced, we have looked again at the provisions with a view to ensuring that no more land is covered than is strictly necessary.
No licensable activities have ever taken place on that land; indeed, sometimes it is used by members of the public, under local arrangements with the site operator. It has never been the Government's intention to have the criminal offence of trespass apply to activity outside the secure perimeter boundary at nuclear sites, and it is clearly important that the premises to which the new offence applies should be evident and unambiguous.
Jeremy Corbyn: The amendment suggests that anyone outside the perimeter fence, whether at Fylingdales or somewhere else, would not be guilty of trespass. At what point, as they approach the fence, do they become trespassers? Do they have to touch the fence, climb it, look at it, hang something from it, cut it[Hon. Members: "Sit on it?"] That does not often happen in this place. Will the Minister clarify the amendment?
I hope that I can clarify things to my hon. Friend's satisfaction. When people are outside the security perimeter any invasion beyond the perimeter fence would be an offence, but if they were on the licensed site, outside the perimeter fence, they would not
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be caught by the offence. We want it to be clear that the perimeter fence is what counts. Any movement beyond the perimeter fence would be caught by the measure.
Jeremy Corbyn: May I press the Minister a little on the matter? I have some experience of visiting nuclear sites and I want to know at what point I could become a criminal. If a group of wholly innocent people were encamped outside AWE Aldermaston to protest about the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons and if, to protect themselves from rain and wind, they attached the edge of a tarpaulin to an outside perimeter fence, but had not crossed the fence, would they be committing a criminal act?
Paul Goggins: If they remained outside the perimeter fence they would not be caught by the offence, although I imagine that the people responsible for the site might want to engage them in discussion about the tarpaulin that they had put up against the fence. Provided they remained outside the fence, they would not be committing an offence under these provisions.
Mr. Grieve: Perhaps I can help the Minister. Unless the law has changed, the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) would have to make an effective and substantial entry through the fence to be a trespasser, within the meaning of the clause as I understand itin exactly the same way as if one were a burglar. I do not know whether that is helpful or whether the Minister agrees; perhaps he would like to tell me.
Paul Goggins: As does the hon. Gentleman. This is sparking a lively and interesting discussion. I do not know how many times I shall need to say that the point at which people go beyond the fence is when they will be guilty of an offence under the clause. As long as they remain outside the fence, even if the site is licensed, they will not be committing an offence.
David Taylor: One of the branches of pure mathematics that I greatly enjoyed was topology. At what point does the fence end and outside the fence start? That is a serious point. Does being outside the fence include touching it or putting one's fingers through it? Will my hon. Friend define the helpful definition that we heard a few moments ago of a substantial intrusion through the fence, so that innocent protesters are not caught by the clause?
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) may be more familiar than me with the
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precise wording, but there would have to be substantial entry beyond the fence. That is clear. My understanding is that the individuals concerned would physically have to go beyond the fence; in that sense there would need to be substantial entry to the site. In fact, the amendments are intended to be helpful and to clarify where people would not be committing an offence, whereas if we left the Bill as it is, they would be committing an offence even if they stood outside the perimeter fence and were on a licensed site.
Mr. Heath: My fear is that this is a rather academic argument. [Hon. Members: "It is very serious."] It is serious because it appears that the police do not need these provisions to arrest someone approaching the fence. Experience outside RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire shows that people can be arrested under previous terrorism legislation simply for wandering around outside a designated area.
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