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Lord Avebury: My Lords, there is something in what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has said. Having spent a long time looking at the SHAC website and having studied reports of some of its activities, I observe that its practice has been to enter the offices or factories of target companies. It says that that renders it immune from the provisions of the 1994 Act, which refers only to activities on land and in the open air. As I understand him, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has taken those provisions and extended them so that they apply to the same intimidatory or disruptive activities when they take place in enclosed premises as if they had been in the open air. If that is the case, and I have understood him correctly, we would give that support.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I must confess that I have serious reservations with what is here proposed, although I entirely sympathise with the aim. Wherever possible, my general approach is that one should avoid using criminal law if civil-law sanctions will do the job perfectly well. The law of trespass is primarily a law created to protect property and the person in the civil law field. Sometimes one has to use the criminal law in aid of that as well. I am troubled that the width of what is proposed is disproportionate and that the better approach is the one that I advocated in the previous debate on my amendmentnamely, a much wider use of civil injunctions rather than extending criminal law in this way.
I do not know whether the police service would welcome that. As with family disputes, which the Minister knows much more about through her law practice than I, one finds that the police do not wish to
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, perhaps I may say straight away that I recognise that, although the noble Lord's amendment does not refer to GM crops, it is targeted at the problems identified in the past in relation to prosecutions of those who damaged such crops. We recognise the need to look carefully at legislation in that area. I sympathise with the mischief which the amendment seeks to cure.
Although we sympathise, we do not necessarily think that this is the best way to do it. It is totally unacceptable for farmers going about their legitimate business to have their crops damaged. I say that very clearly. While I recognise the noble Lord's aim in amending the offence of aggravated trespass, this is not the only way of dealing with the problem. The proposal that we have just debated in relation to Clause 62, in certain circumstances, may be something that can be used. Twenty protesters were required. If the House is content, that will be reduced to two protesters, which may greatly assist the police. In terms of an office protest, that was the precise reason for Clause 64 being introduced.
We recognise the nature of the problem. It may beI say "may be" because we have to look at thisthat a better way of going forward would be to amend the offence of criminal damage. We need to look at all the options very carefully and to continue our discussions across government, with the police and other agencies on the best way forward. However, we do not want to rush into decisions without due consideration of what is the most appropriate action.
There is always a temptation to treat a Bill going through the House like a passing bus on to which one must jump in case one does not get another chance. On occasions, that is very successful. We shall turn to that later when we talk about high hedges. But it cannot be the vehicle on to which everything jumps. This is a difficult area, with which we must deal seriously and properly. We must find the best vehicle. We are not sure that this is the right bus for the provision, but we are hopeful that there may be a better bus that will come along fairly soon. We want to legislate on the issue at a later date. I hope that the noble Lord will understand our position.
Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, now referred to as Clause 62, could be used to deal with GM protestors. That, too, may be in our tool kit. I hope that the noble Lord will not be too disappointed. We are with him in spirit, although not on this bus.
If the noble Baroness had been able to say what the next bus was and when it was likely to arrivealthough, given most people's bus timetables, one would still have an element of doubt in their actually arriving
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, that is what gives us the problem. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his support. I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, with great interest. He has unparalleled legal expertise in this kind of field. The noble Baroness was not absolutely clear about whether Clause 62 might assist. She said that it was possible. The reality is that pulling up a crop out in the country is not on the same scale of vexation and intimidation as protestors being in someone's garden. Therefore, unless the police have very clear guidancewhich, again is not indicatedperhaps they would hesitate to use the legislation in this way.
This is something that needs to be dealt with. Because it is a matter that affects many commercial decisions, some of which have to be made in the very short term, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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