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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am happy to see whether we can share whatever information we have with the noble Lord, and I shall ask our officials to do exactly that.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 200A not moved.]

11 p.m.

Clause 60 [Aggravated trespass]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 200B:

"(2) In section 68 (offence of aggravated trespass) for subsections (1) and (2) substitute—
"(1) A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land and, in relation to any lawful activity which persons have engaged in, are engaging in

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or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land, does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect—
(a) of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b) of obstructing that activity, or
(c) of disrupting that activity.
(2) Activity on any occasion on the part of a person or persons on land is "lawful" for the purposes of this section if he or they may engage in the activity on the land without committing an offence or trespassing on the land, and for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) and (c) above the offence may be committed whether or not the person or persons who may engage in the lawful activity are physically present on the land when a person does anything intended by him to have the effects referred to in those subsections.""

The noble Lord said: The amendment would deal with another modern phenomenon—a form of political activism that has had unfortunate effects in the countryside. One sees it when people protest against the growing of GM crops, which they tear up. People taking part in angling competitions have been disrupted by protesters against country sports. Shooting has been disrupted by people protesting about country sports. Hunting, for however long it lasts, is a well known cause celebre. The amendment would make it easier to control those who protest to stop those legitimate activities.

In the case of GM crops, the situation is more complicated. Under the law as it stands, provided that the person who is ripping up the GM crop satisfies himself that the farmer is not actually present, he cannot be charged with trespassing. The damage done to the crop and therefore to the farmer's livelihood is no less, whether or not the farmer is present. We tabled the amendment bearing those points in mind, and the serious disruption that such disturbances have caused in the countryside and to many people who participate in country sports.

The amendment may not be perfect, because we may cause some difficulty by leaving out subsection (2). However, we need to explore the question, because the matter needs to be dealt with, so that those who protest about those activities can be more easily controlled. At the moment, it is tricky, and the police are considerably exercised about the matter. I beg to move.

Earl Peel: As one who played a part in getting the aggravated trespass clause into the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 I am particularly interested in my noble friend's amendment which I wholeheartedly support. There is clearly a loophole in the existing legislation which requires the Committee's attention. It really must be a nonsense when a clear case of aggravated trespass would have been committed if the owner had been present but no charge can be brought simply because he was not present. As my noble friend says, the effect of the damage is going to be the same regardless of whether the owner is there.

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My noble friend cited the case of the individuals responsible for destroying GM crops. I have some sympathy with them, but that is not the point. The point is that the farmer was growing them quite legally. He was not present when the disruption took place and as a result no charge could be brought. So it is totally illogical for the Government to ignore my noble friend's amendment. As the open-air anomaly has been dealt with under Clause 60, I can only hope and assume that the Minister will find favour in the logic of allowing this loophole to be closed as well.

Lord Hylton: I support Amendment No. 200B. It rightly refers to "intimidating", "obstructing" and "disrupting". I recall writing to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, some years ago when he was at the Home Office on precisely those kinds of points in relation to sporting activities. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept this amendment.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I understand and sympathise with the purpose of this amendment. As noble Lords will know, it was as a result of a particular case that the issue,

    "of intimidating those persons or any of them",

raised under Section 68(1)(a), was construed to mean that the person had to be on the premises before it could operate. I appreciate the difficulties and problems that that has caused in the successful prosecution of those who damage GM crops. We recognise that there is a need to look very carefully at the legislation in this area. However, I think that the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Dixon-Smith, will also understand that the issues of GM crops are not easy. We think that it is important for us not to rush at this legislation. If I may speak frankly, we thought that we had got it right last time. We are going to have to look at this very carefully because we want to ensure that if and when we legislate further we have done all the consultation and all the reviews, to ensure that we have the right solution.

I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has added to subsection (2) the words,

    "whether or not the person or persons who may engage in the lawful activity are physically present",

so as to cure the perceived flaw. We are simply not sure that that is all that may need curing. We very much sympathise with this and we will look at it. Depending on what those deliberations evoke, we may seek to legislate on this issue at a later date. However, if we do so, it will be on a more comprehensive basis.

Lord Hylton: Does the Minister appreciate that this is a long-standing matter? I quoted correspondence that I had with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, nine or 10 years ago. The matter went on before that and it has been going on ever since. So it really is a matter of urgency. Will the Government come back at the next stage of the Bill with a better amendment than this one?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I cannot give the noble Lord the assurance that that will be the case. I have

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tried to explain that we are undertaking wider government-sponsored dialogue in relation to these issues. The noble Lord is right that they are important issues. He will know the intensity with which these issues are being debated and the importance of the sensitivity that we have to apply to get the matter right. We do not want to act precipitately. I understand the passion and the desire to use this piece of legislation to fix things. I am simply saying that I do not believe that we can do it here.

Earl Peel: Before my noble friend replies, I believe that the noble Baroness said that we need to be careful regarding GM crops. That is not the only issue; there can be other cases. I do not think that we want to hang this argument on GM crops. The point was made that the farmer who had his GM crops destroyed was growing those crops perfectly legally. The fact that he was not present meant that the case could not be proceeded with against the perpetrator.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Earl is absolutely right; the provision is not limited simply to GM crops but has wider application. Members of the Committee will know that in the world in which we now live there are other technological developments that we shall also incorporate. That emphasises why we have to get the matter right. As I said, we thought that we had a formula which would successfully enable prosecutions to take place where appropriate. We have had to think again as a result of the cases that have arisen. Therefore, we must ensure that when we craft the new piece of legislation—if we believe that legislation is appropriate—we frame it in such a way that it is robust, effective and does the job that we all wish it to do. As I said, we thought that we had achieved that previously, or rather, if I may respectfully say so, the party opposite thought that it had the matter right previously, but we know what has happened.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I agree with almost everything that the noble Baroness said except as regards the reason for delay. We are not talking about the problems, ethics and morality of GM crops, nor are we talking about the problems that might arise due to any other technological development which the noble Baroness says must be taken into account. We are talking about a problem of aggravated trespass. That will be aggravated trespass whether we are dealing with the destruction of GM crops or of conventional crops.

I do not have a great deal of sympathy with the reason given for delay; nor is it acceptable that if this amendment is not in an entirely appropriate form, the Government cannot, having acknowledged the need, produce a measure at any rate before Third Reading. We have a date in November for Third Reading. Therefore, we have a month. I should have thought that someone could be set down in a darkened room with a cold towel round their head and told not to emerge until they had the answer. But that may not be the Government's way of doing things. Clearly it is not.

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We have had an interesting discussion. There is general acknowledgement that there is a problem. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and to my noble friend Lord Peel for their support. As I say, there is a problem. The Minister acknowledges that there is a problem. This is an appropriate Bill in which to do something about it. I am very disappointed that so far we do not have a stronger assurance that something will be done. However, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 60 agreed to.

11.15 p.m.

Clause 61 [Power to remove trespassers: alternative site available]:

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