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Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman may regard this as an academic exercise. The Government's intention is to make it clear that those who may be outside a perimeter fence but on a licensed site are not committing an offence. If we left the Bill as drafted, they would be doing so. We do not think that fair or appropriate. We want to clarify the law, and I hope that the Committee will find these amendments helpful.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I apologise for missing the earlier remarks; I was in Westminster Hall. Will the Minister clarify what happens when a site is de-licensed. From my dealings with British Nuclear Fuels Ltd over the years, I think that the rights of someone to enter such a site are perfectly clear at the moment. If the status of a site changes, will the provision remain in place, or will it go, as the site is de-licensed?
Mr. Grieve: I am delighted that the Government have moved the amendment. I had read the text as it stands and, indeed, had drafted an amendment, but I then discovered that the Government had got there first, whereupon it did not seem necessary to table such an amendment myself. The Bill as drafted is deeply ambiguous about whether the provision would apply to the area outside the perimeter fence that was subject to the current restrictions. As I understood that the Government wanted to restrict things in that way, I am delighted that they have made it clear that that is not their intention.
As for the questions that were asked earlier, my recollectionI may have this wrongis that the definition involves effective and substantial entry, so that touching the fence would not constitute entry, but cutting the fence with wire cutters and starting to crawl through it almost certainly would, apart from the fact that the criminal damage to the fence would enable one to be instantly arrested. As for climbing over, when one is on top of the fence is the point where one would be caught by the provisions.
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It may be of interest to the Committee if I add that the key case is called R. V. Collins, which is well known to all law students. It concerns a naked young man, wearing only socks, perched on top of a ladder that was resting on a house that he was about to enter as a burglar. The subject matter tends to cause a great deal of hilarity, and the judgment itselfI am happy to give the reference to any hon. Member who may wish to have itis very amusing indeed, even if the background circumstances are rather less so.
Mr. Heath: I also welcome these amendmentsthey are obviously a sensible adjustment to the original textbut I want to enter an appropriate reservation. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 was enacted not many months ago, and it is slightly disappointing to be revisiting provisions that we extensively debated so recently during the passage of that Act. I wish that we could get legislation right and encompass the correct areas in the first instance, rather than having to return to it constantly, perhaps because it was introduced in haste and with insufficient care. Other than making that point, I support these amendments.
Our debate relates closely to what has happened at RAF Fairford, which I have visited on several occasions to talk to my constituents and others. Part of the problem surrounding the dispute and the question of section 44 powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 was disagreement about where the actual perimeter was. During the course of the conflictit was a real conflictthe authorities moved the perimeter, which forced people away from their original encampment because they were told that it was within the site perimeter.
It might be that the boundary around nuclear sites is more established and understood, but I know from my experience at Berkeley that disputes are ongoing about exactly where the full perimeter goes. I know as someone who is trying to pursue the de-licensing of that site that the matter is subject to arguments about land ownership. The situation is thus not as straightforward as simply saying, "This is the site, so everyone knows where they are."
Will the Minister clarify whether the exact perimeter of a site will have to be laid down before people are excluded from it? The matter might be fairly academic, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) suggested, but a nasty situation can arise in the case of a dispute, because people can feel that their rights are being taken away if the designation of a perimeter is changed.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the Government amendments. If they clarify exactly where people may be before they
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become miscreants under the Bill, they will improve the situation. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that there is a question about what the actual perimeter is. I heard what the Minister said about the perimeter fence, but I can envisage a situation in which the people who are protesting at the Atomic Weapons Establishment site at Aldermaston and occupying the ground and car park outside the fence could rapidly find themselves encircled owing to an increase in the size of the fence and site. One can imagine a situation of continual encroachment.
Why is clause 12 in the Bill at all? What is the purpose behind it? Its whole purpose seems to be an attempt to close down, limit and restrict legitimate and peaceful demonstrations against nuclear power, the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear missiles. It could criminalise many people who are undertaking legitimate protest against the immoral possession of nuclear weapons.
When we think of the famous demonstration that took place at Greenham Common for a long time, the current demonstrations at Faslane and Aldermaston and the frequent demonstrations outside Fylingdales and several other places, we realise that we could end up criminalising many people who are undertaking something that I believe to be a perfectly correct and moral activity. The Government should explain why nuclear sites are covered by the Bill at all. The Government amendments represent a bit of an improvement, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud pointed out, they will be open to all kinds of misinterpretation and smart fiddles at a later stage.
Under the clause, as amended, the authorities in charge of any of the designated sites could presumably move the boundaries quite easily. What is the point at which the boundary will be registered, and who will know what it is? Will it be clearly delineated and marked? Such questions matter because the measure might cause people serious legal problems. I hope that the Minister will clarify my points, some of which have been expressed to me by many in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a lot of peace protestors throughout the country.
The Temporary Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman has effectively opened up a clause stand part debate. At present, we are focusing our attention on amendment No. 100. If the Minister were to respond in the manner requested, that would effectively turn the debate inside out. I ask the Minister to confine his remarks to Government amendment No.100 for the moment; otherwise we shall do away with the stand part debate.
Paul Goggins: It might be helpful to my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) if I say nothing at this point and wait for the stand part debate, when I may be in a position to respond to them more fully than would be permitted at this moment.
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