HC Deb 13 July 1977 vol 935 cc679-706

4.30 a.m.

Mr. John

I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 6, line 22, after prove ', insert (a)'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following Government amendments: Nos. 26, 33, 44, and 79 to 80. We may also take Government Amendment No. 81, in Clause 12, page 10, leave out line 6 and insert— '(1A) References in this section to a building shall apply also to any structure other than a movable one, and to any movable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for use for residential purposes; and for the purposes of subsection (1) above—'. and Amendment (a) thereto, to leave out other than a movable one' and insert 'whether movable or not which is used or intended to be used in connection with the use, whether permanent or temporary, of the land on which it is situate'. We may also take Government Amendment No. 83.

Mr. John

This is a series of drafting amendments which are consequent upon technical amendments moved in Committee to clarify the question of access and so on and to make it more comprehensible. I hope that the House will accept that what was done in Committee is now clarified by the amendments, which can now be accepted by the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 26, in page 6, line 25, at end insert


  1. (b) that part of the premises in question constitutes premises of which he or any other person on whose behalf he was acting was a displaced residential occupier and that the part of the premises to which he was seeking to secure entry constitutes an access of which he or, as the case may be, that other person is also a displaced residential occupier.'.—[Mr. John.]

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I beg to move Amendment No. 27, in page 6, line 33, leave out 'to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 28, in page 6, line 35, leave out£1,000' and insert£500'.

No. 29, in page 6, line 37, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 45, in Clause 7, page 7, line 22, leave out 'to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months'.

No. 46, in Clause 7, page 7, line 23, leave out£1,000' and insert £500'.

No. 54, in Clause 8, page 7, line 38, leave out to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or".

No. 55, in Clause 8, page 7. line 40, leave out£1,000' and insert£500'.

No. 56, in Clause 8, page 7, line 41, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 62, in Clause 9, page 8, line 41, leave out 'to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or'.

No. 63, in Clause 9, page 8, line 42, leave out'£1,000' and insert'£500'.

No. 64, in Clause 9, page 8, line 43, leave out 'six' and insert 'three'.

No. 66, in Clause 9, page 9, line 1, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 67, in Clause 9, page 9, line 2, leave out 'one year' and insert 'six months'.

No. 72, in Clause 10, page 9, line 29, leave out from 'to' to end of line 30 and insert 'a fine not exceeding £200.'.

We may also take Government Amendment No. 65.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The amendments would make the new offence created by Clause 6 non-imprisonable. As the clause stands it makes it an offence punishable by up to two years in prison for anyone but a displaced residential occupier to use or threaten violence either to persons or to property, and the "or to property" is an important point that we must consider for the purpose of securing entry into premises if it is known that there is someone on the premises who is opposed to entry.

At a time of acute prison overcrowding we should not automatically assume that a newly-created offence should become imprisonable. In that kind of situation the onus of proof must lie with the Government to show why the new offence should automatically carry the sanction of imprisonment. If nothing else, the amendment gives the Government the chance to explain that point.

In considering whether imprisonment is necessary it is appropriate to point out that if the civil procedures for dealing with occupiers were quicker, more efficient and easier there would be no need for the offences and therefore for making them imprisonable. The new offence created by the clause is not necessary to penalise genuinely violent entries. These can be penalised with imprisonment, if that is appropirate, within the existing law including that relating to assualt, criminal damage, unlawful assembly and public order.

The offence could, however, be used in certain situations where no violence actually occurs. As with the other criminal trespass offences created by the Bill, except the offence relating to embassy and consulate premises, the main principle affects two groups. The first is the squatters in unoccupied property. The second is employees involved in an occupation arising from an industrial dispute.

The situation with squatters can be seen only in the light of a very acute problem of homelessness, particularly in the major cities, combined in the last decade or so with the number of houses that are standing empty. For example, the 1966 sample census showed 470,000 empty buildings in England and Wales, whereas the 1971 census showed a figure of 675,000. The Nationwide Building Society survey for 1976 showed that the figure had then gone up to 850,000.

Although squatting is not a real or long-term solution to the housing crisis, it is a fact that we have to acknowledge although many Opposition Members refuse to acknowledge, that for many thousands of homeless people and homeless families squatting is a short-term necessity. Four surveys of squatting in Lambeth, Haringey, Cardiff and seven London boroughs all showed that more than half of the squatted houses had children living in them. They also found that the overwhelming majority of the squatters had tried to find a legal form of accommodation before resorting to squatting. Despite the headlines and media stories to the contrary, very few squatters are politically motivated. They are motivated simply by a desire to have a roof over their heads and those of their families.

In many local authority areas, especially in the large cities such as London, squatting has become semi-respectable. Many local authority social service departments refer homeless families or potentially homeless families to squatting groups and squatting agencies which, they anticipate, will direct those families to the nearest available empty house. Agencies which refer people to the Advisory Service for Squatters, which is the London-based squatting organisation, include the housing departments of nearly all the major London boroughs, citizens' advice bureaux, probation officers and, on occasions, even the police. In that situation, it is unfortunate that the Government should take the line of making the offence under this clause imprisonable.

Because of purchasing delays or the problems of rehousing, it may very often take a council years to empty all the houses in an area scheduled for demolition, with the result, that the houses vacated first can be empty for a decade or more before they are pulled down. We all know of homes which have been gutted by local authorities. Many of them have been taken over by squatters who, in a real sense, have given them a new lease of life at minimal cost. Unfortunately, because of their centralised and bureaucratic structures, local authorities can never do what squatters have been able to do to houses in the same time or as cheaply.

Mr. Mikardo

Every word that my hon. Friend says in this connection is true and very weighty. Because of the circumstances that he is describing, there are cases of borough councils entering into agreements with squatters' organisations to permit them to occupy. In cases like that, it is very silly to make an offence of it.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My hon. Friend is right. Within the last few days, one London borough has come to agreement with squatters who have rehabilitated a terrace of houses which the council had left empty and was intending to demolish. Having seen what can be done to rehabilitate them, the council intends to see that they remain habitable and a permanent accession to the housing stock of the authority, and 1 has agreed that the squatters should remain there.

We should not always take the view that squatting is anti-social or evil. In many cases, it can perform a valuable social function and add to the benefits of society as a whole. If we did not have the present housing problems we should not have squatting. Nobody likes to squat. Nobody wants to have to occupy a home which is not his own. Most people squat out of necessity, not because of an ulterior motive or a desire to be difficult.

Mr. Graham Page

If I have understood the gist of the hon. Gentleman's argument it is that squatters might be offenders under the clause. Is it not possible that the offenders might be those seeking to take back from squatters business premises that have been taken over by them?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

That could be so. I am concerned about the two main groups that will be affected by the new imprison-able offence. We are creating a new offence and making it imprisonable. Other categories could be caught by the provisions in the clause, but I am concerned with the two main categories—squatters about whom there has been a great deal of publicity and employees occupying their place of work.

Bearing in mind that violent entry can be punished with imprisonment under the existing law, is it necessary to give the courts the power to imprison the type of people to whom I have referred, even if one accepts the argument—and I do not —that an offence must be created to enable people to be removed speedily from properties in which they are squatting?

Sir M. Havers

I have listened with interest to the hon. Member's argument, which he has made well. Would he make clear to the House and to those who will read his speech that this does not create the offence of squatting? It does not provide criminal sanctions against squatters. It provides sanctions when violence is used to secure entry or to seek to remain.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) is correct. We are creating a new offence of violent entry and we have tagged on to that the potential sanction of imprisonment. It is that which concerns me.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Further to the intervention by the right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), under Section 6(4) an offence can be committed if a pane of glass is broken in the course of securing entry?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

That is what concerns me. It has ramifications, if for no other reason than because of what has occurred over the Grunwick dispute and what has been said in the House about the definition of violence in relation to that dispute.

The second category involves employees who occupy their workplace in the course of an industrial dispute. Such occupations arise in a variety of circumstances. Occupations have been undertaken for wage rises, union recognition and against redundancies or closures. For example, in 1972 and 1974 the Fisher Bendix factory in my constituency, under a variety of names, experienced several sit-ins. The works were occupied first with the help of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) and then, as a result of help from the present Government, the workers set up a co-operative. Every time they had to occupy that factory violently to secure entry and, I suppose, commit criminal damage, however trivial, by welding the gates together and taking other precautions. That has been redeemed by the fact that several hundreds of jobs have been saved, in a town where there is an intolerably high level of unemployment, matched by no other town of comparable size in the rest of Western Europe. There are many such examples. The occupation at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders also saved many jobs.

4.45 a.m.

I only echo the words that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has used several times in the past few weeks when I say that the criminal law is a particularly blunt and insensitive instrument in industrial disputes, and in particular that imprisonment of workers—or the threat of imprisonment, which may be sufficient—for action they have taken in an industrial dispute is likely to exacerbate an already highly-charged situation.

We should remember that no violence to persons or property need actually occur for the offence in the clause to be committed. In a letter to the Home Secretary dated 11th February this year, Mr. Len Murray, the General Secretary of the TUC, said: The general council are concerned with the implications of this provision for workers in industrial occupations. I should make clear that the TUC are totally opposed to the use or threat of violence in any circumstances. I think that we would all echo that. However it has sometimes been held in law that the more presence of a large number of people can itself constitute intimidation and thereby the threat of violence, and we are worried that the courts might interpret this provision in an unsympathetic way. That is precisely the point that has been made by many Conservative Members and outside observers as a potential way of dealing with the present disturbances outside the Grunwick factory. Not a day has gone by without some hon. Members suggesting to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment that the large numbers demonstrating at Grunwick themselves constitute an act of violence and intimidation and should be dealt with appropriately.

I assume that my hon. Friend will say, in all sincerity, that no court could so construe the provisions, but I should not be so happy now as we were in Committee about accepting that kind of assurance, particularly in the light of what has happened at Grunwick in the past few weeks. On the basis of the way in which the courts have been moving, and some of the perverse judgments in recent months, it seems to me likely that a court would interpret numbers in themselves as a threat, intimidation or violence.

Bearing in mind that any genuinely violent entry—entry that any of us, without legal training, knowledge or background, would accept as violent—can already be punished under the existing law, why is it necessary to create a new offence? If we can, under existing law—the Criminal Damage Act, The Public Order Act and all the rest—penalise those squatters who engage in violence and those workers, whom none of us condones, who engage in violence, why is it necessary to create the new offence in this clause and to tack on to it the sanction of prison? Is it necessary to adopt the provocative, indeed inflammatory course of giving courts powers to imprison workers who take part in occupations or squatters who take part in what is for them a necessary or socially-desirable occupation?

Mr. Graham Page

I am inclined to support the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) in this amendment. Of course, as he has said, squatters or employees taking over a factory may well become offenders under this clause, but I think it doubtful.

In most cases, squatters are careful not to be violent in making their entry. They find a way of getting in without being violent. They probably make an entry when no other person is on the premises. The occasions are also few and far between when employees taking over would be violent in making an entry. It may be that with large numbers intimidation might be construed as violence, but it is unlikely. The most likely is the exasperated owner or person entitled to occupation who finds that there are squatters there and, being exasperated, he breaks a window or forces a door to get in.

I am doubtful whether, in the circumstances, we should create an offence which will carry a penalty, on summary conviction, of a term not exceeding six months, or a fine of£1,000 and a penalty on conviction on indictment which may not exceed two years. Offences of this sort would be committed by a person exasperated by a situation with no violence about it, An trying to get back into premises. If he is the displaced residential occupier he would not be affected, but I have in mind the case of business premises or non-residential premises, or where the owner is not himself resident. I would hesitate a long time before proposing the penalties contained in the clause. For that reason I support the amendment.

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has said. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has concentrated on Clause 6, but we have also to deal with Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 to Clause 7. That draws attention to the fact that a climate has been created in which we shall be sending squatters to prison whether they have committed violence or not. I do not suggest that the violence aspect takes away from the philosophy in Clauses 6, 7, 8 and 9, which all carry a prison sentence of one kind or another. This is one of the worst pieces of legislation which our Government have brought in, and the unsatisfactory features of it are highlighted in this clause.

My hon. Friend has a right to draw attention to the whsle question of sit-ins and occupying factories and so on. There is no doubt that in the present Grunwick situation, employees sacked by Mr. Ward would find themselves on a criminal charge if they got beyond the gates of the factory, however that happened.

I think that the TUC is absolutely right to draw our attention to the serious dangers there are in Clause 6, and I shall do all I possibly can to get the clause, or parts of it, deleted from what I feel is altogether a most unsatisfactory Bill.

Time and time again during the debate the Opposition have referred to instances where people were temporarily away from home and returned to find a squatter there. We were told that this is going on right across South-East England and in the Bristol area, but we were not given any detailed examples of this squatting. It was always a matter of somebody having told somebody else about it. There seemed to be no substantiated cases.

I understand the police to say that they have quite sufficient powers to deal with this sort of thing at the moment and that squatters can be dealt with under a number of other pieces of legislation which have already been mentioned in the debate.

As for the displaced residential occupier, there has been no mention of the number of houses that this person can occupy at one time. Presumably he could have a number of houses with bits of furniture in them. A property speculator could have a fair number of properties, and he could be described under this legislation as a displaced residential occupier. I sincerely believe that unscrupulous landlords will make use of this legislation. We have to remember also that it relates not just to the displaced residential occupier but also to a person acting on his behalf. This could certainly lead to property companies and unscrupulous landlords using strong-arm tactics and gangs to carry out evictions.

The lawyers have pointed out that there is already a way in which the civil courts can deal with these cases, and I am very disappointed that the Government have found it necessary to bring in this legislation in this form, especially in relation to Clauses 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Mr. Mikardo

I do not believe that anyone who heard the speech with which my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) moved the amendment could possibly have failed to be very considerably impressed by it. Indeed, at least one Conservative Member was impressed by it, in addition to a number of us on the Government Benches.

I shall refer briefly to the amendments which Mr. Speaker has grouped together within this group, and which refer to Clause 6, including the one mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas). When the clause was discussed in Committee, considerable doubts were expressed —I have read the reports of the proceedings very closely indeed—from both sides of the Committee. I think I am right in judging that what motivated those doubts more than anything else was that an offence can be committed under this clause even if no violence at all has taken place.

5.0 a.m.

Violence against the person would be a different kettle of fish. No one would condone it, let alone want to minimise the penalties. But under Clause 6, violence occurs if someone breaks a padlock or a pane of glass. In the most extreme case, if someone got in without breaking anything but then broke the glass to get the key to the fire extinguisher to deal with a fire which had broken out, he would be committing violence. I do not suggest that he would be sent down for a long time, but he would have committed violence under Clause 6.

The Law Commission has totally failed to establish that the existing law cannot deal with violent entry—in which case, why do we need the new legislation? Clause 6 could be used with little possibility of defence against people carrying out peacefully what many of us would accept as normal trade union practices—peaceful picketing and sit-ins. A number of factories are today operating successfully, to the benefit of employment and the export trade, which would not be in operation but for at least one sit-in. Those activities could now be penalised.

The TUC is strongly opposed to the clause. I have read that the Government are trying to get friendly with the TUC this week. There is talk of a contract with a bit of quid pro quo. There seems to be a lot of quid and very little quo about arrangements between the Government and the TUC. I sometimes wonder whether the social contract is not the most unequal contract in history since Jacob persuaded his brother Esau to sell his birthright for a mess of pottage.

We are trying to secure a modus operandi with the trade union movement. This is a tiny decision. No inflation would be caused, and there would be no damage to our balance of payments, if the Government made a concession. Aside from that, here we have an offence created which is an offence even if no violence has been committed. In circumstances where violence is committed the existing law is adequate to cope with it. It is on these grounds that we object to the clause, and above all to the provision of a sentence of imprisonment in these circumstances.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I want to associate myself with the amendment and to draw attention to the provisions of Clause 8 in which the possession of an offensive weapon by the trespasser at the time of being on premises becomes a criminal offence.

Clause 8(2) says: In subsection (1) above "weapon of offence" means any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to or incapacitating a person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use. This means that a screwdriver could be and has been regarded in the past by the courts as an offensive weapon. The clause is drawn so widely that virtually any person who is squatting is likely to be in possesion of an offensive weapon.

These clauses—6, 7 and 8—are totally unnecessary. If we have to have penalties, they should not involve imprisonment. There are already satisfactory remedies under the civil law. If used properly these will ensure that residents are able to recover possession of their premises within a matter of days.

In practice we are legislating mainly because a myth has been created which suggests that large numbers of people are moving into privately occupied property, squatting there and resisting the demands of the legitimate occupier to remove themselves. I have never heard of such a case. We had the story in The Times by a young lady who purported to give an example, but when it was investigated it was proved to be fictitious.

One instance has been produced by the hon. Members for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) where there was difficulty in recovering possession because an elderly lady in her 90s had gone to stay with her children for a considerable time. When her house was found to be occupied the children were afraid to tell the old lady, and consequently could not get her authority to institute civil proceedings. I have asked around among hon. Members but I cannot find another case to justify this legislation.

Mr. Graham Page

I know of at least three instances where converted houses and flats have been occupied by squatters. These were unable to be let because of the squatters. I declare an interest in that I am a director of the company that owned the houses, although I stress that I have no equity holdings in that company. These homes had been newly converted and done up, and the company was unable to let them.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I agree that this may cause great inconvenience, not only to the property developers, but also to local authorities, and housing associations. However, thy have the right to a speedy remedy under the civil law. The only case that could be justified as a criminal offence requiring a remedy in criminal sanctions would be one involving a displaced residential occupier.

As a consequence of introducing this remedy for that fictitious case—because we have still not had an example of it—we shall be put under pressure to extend it to the sort of cases instanced by the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) —totally inappropriate cases for a criminal sanction enabling possession to be recovered. There is provision in the rules of the Supreme Court in this respect and there is power to expedite in urgent cases. There is no need for criminal sanctions, and there is no need for imprisonment—certainly not when the offence involves somebody who breaks a pane of glass to secure entry or who is found in possession of a screwdriver, which could be a weapon of offence against property. A combination of Clauses 6 and 8 could carry that interpretation.

Clauses 6, 7 and 8 are repugnant to a large number of people. It is not only the Tribune Group that objects to them, but people in many sections of society regard them as unnecessary and undesirable. If we are to have them at all, they should carry minimal penalties. I support the amendment.

Miss Richardson

This is in many ways the most important part of the Bill, because it creates a new set of offences. In all the discussions and agitation that took place following the case of the Shrewsbury pickets and the resultant apprehensions of trade unionists and others about the law of conspiracy—and in all our hopes that the law of conspiracy would be revised—I do not think that many people realised that the Government would get rid of conspiracy on the one hand and at the same time would introduce five new criminal offences.

I beg the Minister to believe—and 1 know that he has had representations on this matter across the board—that there is great anxiety in the Labour movement about this matter at all kinds of level—from branch and trade council level right up to representations by the TUC. I am as opposed to these clauses now as I was when I tabled a number of amendments in Committee. I was not convinced by what I heard.

Other hon. Members have referred to individual cases in order to point up the dangers that may be faced. I wish in this context to refer to Clause 10. I believe that we are seeking to widen that clause in a way that we have never done before. This offence involves resisting or obstructing court officers in executing their possession orders. This could affect a large number of people. It would make any resistance to eviction, however passive, by workers, students or squatters in occupation, a criminal offence. That would even include the process of sitting down.

5.15 a.m.

A few moments ago one of my hon. Friends referred to Grunwick. Under the Bill some of the people, at least, who have been supporting the picket at Grunwick could well be picked up and accused under Part II of the Bill.

I was pleased to notice that since I put a query to the Minister in Committee the word "uniformed" has been put before the word "constable" in all the clauses of the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister would look at Clause 10 where he has inserted in subsection (5) the words "uniformed constable". That part continued: or any officer of the court". In the Committee proceedings we established that it would be proper for the constable not to be a plain clothes policeman and to be easily recognisable. However, here is mentioned an officer of the court who would not be in uniform. How are the people who are to be arrested by an officer of the court to recognise him or to realise that the arrest is being made by an officer of the court?

This clause, like many others in the Bill, is full of dangers. I am glad that my hon. Friends will support me in this, and I shall take the matter to a Division.

Mr. Corbett

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wonder what we are talking about. Do we in this House give birth to legends or do we aid in the fostering of them? My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) referred to the precise problems that we face with squatting. I want to remind the House quickly that last year I tabled a Question to the Home Secretary asking: how many cases have been reported to the police in England and Wales in each of the past five years of (a) owner-occupiers, (b) public tenants and (c) private tenants being unable to gain entry to their homes because of the activities of squatters; in how many cases there have been prosecutions and with what result; and whether he will make a statement". One would have thought that that would be a satisfying set of statistics that would confirm what many people felt about not just the size of the problem but the growing incidence of such interference with the rights of public and private tenants. That was not so because all that the Minister was able to tell me was: The information requested is not collected centrally. No doubt someone will put me right if I am wrong, but I assume that the Home Office do not know, and that if it does know, the Question was not answered, because the Home Office cannot have it both ways. If it is the Minister's intention that the problem is serious enough for the proposals in the Bill to be made, why is he unable to give the House chapter and verse of the instances where squats have taken place?

On the same day I also asked: how many (a) reports to the police, (b) prosecutions and (c) convictions there have been in England and Wales in each of the last five years involving trespass on (i) domestic property, (ii) commercial property and (iii) industrial property. However, I was told: I regret the information as requested is not available. We are repeatedly told in the newspapers and by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the number of squats in domestic, commercial and industrial property is growing daily and that the strength of the police force is being sapped because the police must attend to these breaches of the law. I ask again for figures about what has been going on during the past few years. Unfortunately, the Minister replied: I regret that the information as requested is not available."—[Official Report, 6th December 1976; Vol. 921, c. 8.] If the information is in the Home Office, I should welcome instruction from behind the Chair or elsewhere on how to get it. Nothing more than what I have read was offered in the reply, and I conclude that the Home Office does not have statistics about the incidents of prosecutions and convictions for trespass in the past five years within the categories of property about which I asked. So why are we spending time at this hour of the morning debating the subject as if there were parades and demonstrations in the street on the back of hard evidence?

Mr. Graham Page

Since trespassers cannot be prosecuted, the Home Office answer on prosecutions for trespass may have been correct.

Mr. Corbett

That may be so, but I was told that no information was known in connection with the previous Question. There is a gap in the way in which the Home Office keeps central statistics. Apparently it does not have the facts to justify the introduction of these provisions.

Believing that things were better in Scotland—as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) keeps telling me—I put down a similar Question to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I was told that the precise information sought was not available—though I was told about a curious Scottish offence called lodging.

Can the Minister of State, even at this stage. give us factual evidence of this problem in residential, commercial and industrial areas or give us the information on which he bases his opinions?

Mr. John

This has rightly been a long and interesting debate dealing with some of the effects of Part II of the Bill and the penalties to which the amendments are directed. It is not widely understood that the existing legislation referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is the Forcible Entry Acts, that date from the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. They are still on the statute book and provide a penalty of up to two years in prison for a person who forcibly enters a property. It is not true to suggest that we have created five new offences in order to assist with conspiracy charges. These came about as a result of the examination of the Forcible Entry Acts and what I should have thought would be regarded as the laudable desire to bring them up to date.

In two respects, there are significant differences in the Bill that constitute a better deal for accused persons. First, at the moment all that is needed to be proved is force, and that can consist of the insertion of a piece of celluloid to force back a catch, which would not be violence under the new definition. Instead, we are substituting "violence or threat of violence".

Secondly—and this bears on the many examples that have been given—in the event of entry into empty property there would be an offence under the Forcible Entry Acts, but under this Bill, and in particular under Clause 6, there has to be present on the premises someone who is opposed to the entry of the person who is trying to secure entry by violence.

There is a justification for that provision. It has to do not with the conspiracy part of the Bill but with the Law Commission's Report, and I therefore do not believe that it is right to suggest, as has been done in some of the more extreme examples that have been given, that this provision is repressive. If this part of the Bill did not become law, there would still be a statutory body of law that would affect people who tried to enter other people's property, and that law would be more harsh in its application to some of the categories than my hon. Friends believe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) spoke about evidence. There is difficulty in collating the information, but I can tell him that between 1970 and 1975, 67 cases of forcible entry were prosecuted before the courts. Of those, 25 were in the last year. It is not the case that these medieval Acts are not being used. They have been used to a greater extent in recent years than they were previously. What we have to do is not only modernise the law but make sure that laws with antiquated phraseology and an over-zealous imposition of conditions upon people are not maintained, and that up-to-date and sensible laws are put in their place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow referred to the TUC. I can tell him that we met members of the TUC on four occasions. We had discussions with them, and we have met some of their genuine anxieties. I believe that as a result they are satisfied both as to the effect of the law and as to the amendments that we have made.

I understand that the question of penalties is one that concerns many hon. Members. I have recognised that, not only in the two clauses, but in the clause which concerned my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) in Committee. In Clause 9(5) there is a right to trial not only summarily, but upon indictment. The effect of Amendment No. 65, which reflects one that my hon. Friend moved in Committee, would be to knock out paragraph (b) so as to make Clause 9 deal only with a summary offence for which the penalty would be six months or a maximum fine of£1,000, instead of a maximum of one year under paragraph (b).

Mr. Mikardo

That applies only to Clause 9, does it not?

Mr. John

I was leading from one to the other.

We have talked a great deal about imprisonment and about a penalty being a sufficient deterrent. It is said that the length of imprisonment does nothing to make the defendant obey the law, but rather hardens his attitude. I hope that my hon. Friends will follow what I am trying to say, because it is complicated.

I am prepared to accept Amendments Nos. 29 and 56, the effect of which will be to assimilate Clause 9 with Clauses 6 and 8. Clause 7 is already assimilated in this respect. Therefore, all four clauses will be on a par. There will be only summary trial and the maximum penalty will be six months' imprisonment and a fine of£1,000 instead of two years' imprisonment—

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I understand that my hon. Friend is accepting Amendment No. 29 in Clause 6. We already have the Government amendment to Clause 9. I also understand that he accepts Amendment No. 56 to Clause 8. What is happening to what is left?

Mr. John

The effect of what I propose will be to assimilate modes of trial and penalties throughout the four clauses. With these acceptances I hope that my hon. Friends will not press the remaining amendments.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My hon. Friend has been magnanimous in the way in which he has responded to the debate and the pressures of my hon. Friends. I am pleased that he has responded so readily to the cogent arguments that have been deployed throughout. I express our gratitude and thanks for his having accepted the amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 a.m.

Amendment made: No. 29, in page 6, line 37, leave out paragraph (b).—[Mr. Kilroy-Silk.]

Miss Richardson

I beg to move Amendment No. 30. in page 6, line 39, leave out subsection (6).

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Myer Galpern)

With this amendment it will be convenient to discuss Government Amendments Nos. 31, 48, 58, 69, 73 and 76.

We may also discuss the following amendments:

No. 47, in Clause 7, page 7, line 25, leave out subsection (5).

No. 57, in Clause 8, page 8, leave out subsection (4).

No. 68, in Clause 9, page 9, line 3, leave out subsection (6).

Miss Richardson

The amendment seeks to remove subsection (6), which states: A constable may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, guilty of any offence under this section. Our reason for seeking its removal is partly to draw attention to the difficulties that exist under the clause. My hon. Friends and I are perturbed at the dread that comes into people's minds at the thought of a constable arresting without a warrant, although I am told that it is perfectly all right for constables to do so. Now that we have reference to uniformed constables we shall have a bit more protection, or they will become a little more obvious, but our intention is to draw attention again to the difficulties that arise.

We are all grateful to the Minister of State for having accepted two earlier amendments to the clauses. I should like to add a word on Clause 9. Indeed, I believe that one of my hon. Friends wishes to refer to it, too.

In the last debate we did not refer to the difficulties arising from Clause 9. We have a later amendment down on that clause. However, it is worth using this opportunity to refer to Clause 9, because it affects different people from those to whom we referred in the previous debate.

Clause 9 applies to embassy premises. I raised this matter in Committee, as the Minister will recall. I still believe that the clause, as drafted, presents considerable dangers to two categories of people. First, the innocent person who goes to an embassy for a legitimate and ordinary purpose—such as getting a visa or making an inquiry—could be caught under the provisions of this clause if an officer of the embassy, for whatever reason, decided to call the police.

Secondly, deputations go to and people demonstrate outside embassies. I should think that the 20 or so Labour Members present have at some time or another accompanied a deputation to or joined a demonstration outside an embassy. Therefore, unless we are more reassured by the Minister than we have been before, the clause could affect any one of us. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is a regular visitor to embassies. Therefore, he will probably want to be reassured in case he is ever arrested on embassy premises.

On a more serious note, we know that student demonstrations, in particular, have given rise to the inclusion of Clause 9. Students demonstrate against their Governments if they believe that those Governments are wrong about some things that are illiberal. Students have a right to do that. But, if they do, they may be caught by the provisions of Clause 9. Therefore, we should look more closely at this part of the Bill to ensure that people are protected.

Mr. Mikardo

I want to add two further points to those that have been so cogently adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) who is bearing up well on her second successive all-night sitting.

First, some of us—perhaps all—make protests about arbitrary arrests—the knock in the middle of the night—in countries where the rule of law is not honoured as well as it is in this country. The defence put forward by totalitarian regimes that use that kind of police power is that the men who make the knock in the middle of the night do so because they have reasonable cause to suspect that the person behind the door at which they are knocking has committed an offence. Therefore, they argue, they have the right to arrest without warrant. So long as in circumstances as slender as those set out in this subsection we retain the right to arrest without warrant, we have lost any right to lecture people in other countries about their behaviour.

There is a more powerful reason than that for the amendment. I should have thought that it would gain the unhesitating support of all the lawyers in the House. The clause seems to violate the whole tradition of British justice. It says: A constable may arrest without warrant anyone who is…guilty of an offence under this section. Nobody is guilty of an offence under the section until he has been found guilty in a court. The whole of our legal system is based on the argument that a person is innocent until a properly constituted court has found him guilty. That is not what the Bill says. We cannot have that.

The Minister had better take this away and think about it again. I should have thought that every lawyer and every person concerned to maintain the presumption of innocence until guilt is proved would vote for the amendment. If the Bill referred only to a reasonable suspicion of guilt that would be all right. But the Bill cannot continue as it is.

Mr. Corbett

I can see the argument behind the Bill in circumstances in which, minutes after a person or group of persons arrive to secure forcible entry into a property to carry out a squat, a policeman in uniform in the course of his duties arrives on the scene. But that would be a rare and very great coincidence. In that event, if a constable in uniform passes by, let us say, 15 minutes later and observes that the house has been broken into, why is it that, with that well-founded suspicion, he should not be required. having satisfied himself that he has reasonable cause, to get on his bike, whip round the corner to the magistrates' court, demonstrate that reasonable cause to the magistrate, and secure a warrant?

5.45 a.m.

This is at the core of the argument. A coincidence of this kind will be rare. In all other circumstances, it is very likely that the constable, in the course of his duties, will observe that there has been a forcible entry to a property on his beat. He will not need anyone to tell him that it has been broken into. He will see that. If he wants to check it, he can try to push open the door and he will know that someone is inside. If he asks "What are you doing in here?", he will probably be told "We are having a squat", and his reasonable cause will be fully justified.

What is the argument against a constable in uniform in that position having to go to get a warrant in order to take the action proposed in the Bill? I cannot understand why this procedure, in all those circumstances, is not considered to be a better and safer one from everyone's point of view.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I am aware of the concern that my hon. Friends feel about the powers given to the police to arrest without warrant. But this is not a new power. It is not a power which never existed before and which has suddenly been invested in the Bill.

Let me first deal with the offences with which these amendments are concerned—the offences which give rise to the power to arrest without warrant.

Mr. Mikardo

My hon. Friend keeps using the word "offences". They are not offences until a court has held them so to be.

Mr. Davidson

Of course they are not offences until the court has held them so to be, and, on the point that my hon. Friend also made, a person is not guilty until a court has found him guilty. He is not guilty just because a policeman thinks that he is. He is guilty only when a court has found him guilty.

These offences are directed at immediate and explosive or potentially explosive situations in which it seems right to the Government that the police should be able to intervene without warrant. Clause 6, for instance, concerns the offence dealing with violence for securing entry. By its very nature, this is a public order type of offence.

The purpose of the clause is to deter breaches of the peace. That is the argument which the Law Commission used. If the police see an offence of violence being committed or threatened, it is unreasonable to expect them not to seek to intervene. The police might be passing or be called to the scene by a neighbour.

Mr. Corbett

That is fair enough.

Mr. Davidson

The public would expect them to intervene to restore peace and calm when violence has occurred or when more violence is likely to occur. It is inconsistent with the general desire to deny them the authority to intervene effectively. Without the power of arrest they would have no effective method of intervening. That is why the power is given to them. It would not be realistic to expect the police to intervene and then to go away and apply for a warrant.

Mr. Mikardo

My hon. Friend is making a perfect defence and I accept it totally. The police should have this power. They might be called in by a member of the public. On those grounds the Minister is making a perfect defence of a subsection stating: "a constable may arrest without warrant anyone whom he reasonably suspects to be guilty of an offence under this section". If that was what the subsection said I should not object. But the clause states that a constable may arrest anyone who is guilty. I cannot accept that because nobody can be guilty until he is charged and convicted, except in a totalitarian State.

Mr. Davidson

I am interested in my hon. Friend's view because it is not the same as that of some of my other hon. Friends. They take exception to the basic principle of giving power of arrest without warrant, in any circumstances. That seemed to be the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) in Committee. My explanation extends to other clauses since they all involve public order.

I shall now direct my remarks to the strong argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett). I do not want to itemise each explanation because the same argument applies.

Mr. Corbett

I want to clear up the confusion. I did not dissent one dot or coma from what the Minister said about the necessity of the police, in the circumstances that he outlined—having witnessed or been called to a scene of threatened violence—having the power of arrest without warrant. But I subscribe to the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) that if that is the intention, why is the clause not written in that way? We find it offensive that the clause implies that the constable may decide guilt or innocence. That is what it states.

Mr. Davidson

Under British law that is not possible.

Mr. Mikardo

Then my hon. Friend should not write it into a Bill.

Mr. Davidson

I have taken advice, and am told that this is the normal form in which such powers have always been included in Bills—

Mr. Mikardo

That may not make it right.

Mr. Davidson

Indeed, and it may make it consistently wrong. But the one thing that has not happened as a result of the use of the words is the knock in the night. Policemen do not have the power to judge the guilt or innocence of a person, and they will not have it as a result of the clause.

Mr. Graham Page

My recollection is that these are not the normal words. I think that the normal words are "if a constable has reasonable cause to suspect a man of committing an offence". I believe that they are in the Criminal Justice Act. I do not recognise the words in the Bill.

Mr. Davidson

If I am wrong I shall be happy to acknowledge that fact, but I am advised that the wording of the powers of arrest in Clauses 6 to 10 is common form and follows that in the Criminal Law Act 1967.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennet

Why is the word "guilty" used in Clause 6(6) and yet in Clauses 8(4) and 9(6) the words are in the act of committing an offence"?

Mr. Davidson

I do not think that can take the argument further. I do not want to fall back on the argument that the wording has always been used and therefore is always right. If it is true that it has always been used, the evil consequences that my hon. Friends fear, and that I equally fear, have not resulted from it, and they will not result from the clause.

Mr. Graham Page

As we have one clause saying one thing and two saying another, though intended to say the same, would you accept a manuscript amendment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that the three clauses all say the same thing? They are apparently meant to do the same thing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I could not give a ruling until I had seen the amendment.

Mr. Davidson

I do not think that I can go further. I can only act on the advice that I have been given. I fear the knock in the night as much as my hon. Friends do and would not wish to think that any legislation that I had anything to do with would encourage it or bring it about in this country.

May I explain the Government new clauses—

Mr. Mikardo

Will my hon. Friend first seek to make an answer to the point put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett)? Why should not all four clauses use the same words? Why should not my hon. Friend, perhaps in another place, alter Clauses 6(6) and 7(5) to have the same words as Clauses 8(4) and 9(6)? It is a simple, straight question. Cannot we have an answer?

6.0 a.m.

Mr. Davidson

All I can tell my hon. Friend is that the Law Commission advised this particular form of drafting. That might not satisfy him but it is a fact.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Is not the reason that in Clauses 7, 8 and 9 there are continuing offences, whereas in Clause 6 the offence will have been committed by the time the constable became aware of it. The wording should not be the same where arrest is restricted to the case where the offence is continuing.

Mr. Mikardo

How is a chap guilty when not charged?

Mr. Douglas-Mann

That is a different matter.

Mr. Davidson

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) has described the difference between the types of offence, and I think he has done so accurately.

Mr. Mikardo

It does not meet my point.

Mr. Davidson

I accept that. It does not meet the point my hon. Friend is making, in that in the Bill someone is said to be guilty before being found guilty. I am doing my best, but I find this a difficult one to explain, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) knows. I do not want to pretend that I can give him an explanation that will satisfy him.

The Government amendments give effect to an undertaking which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), who made a very useful contribution to the Committee proceedings. I said that I would look at the possibility of limiting the powers of arrest and search in Clause 11 to a constable in uniform. On reflection, it seemed right to the Government that the police should be in uniform when enforcing the law against the type of offences dealt with in Part II and that there was something to be said for requiring this to be shown on the face of the Bill. The amendments carry out that undertaking.

The Government take the view that the powers of arrest in Clauses 6 to 10 are so closely linked to the powers of search and entry, because in the nature of the offences it will usually be necessary to enter premises in order to make an arrest, that it seems right to make the same amendment throughout Part II so that the requirement for a constable to be in uniform extends to search and entry and to power of arrest.

I hope that that will give some help to my hon Friends in the dilemma in which they find themselves.

Mr. Mikardo

I am not in a dilemma. It is the Minister who is.

Sir M. Havers

It might help the House if I explain the pedigree of the law about arrest, which goes back to another Labour Criminal Law Act, that of 1967, which appears to be in as big a muddle as the Bill, as far as it goes.

In Section 2 of that Act, dealing with powers of arrest of a constable without a warrant, one notes exactly the words: Where a constable, with reasonable cause, suspects that an arrestable offence has been committed, he may arrest without warrant anyone whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be guilty of the offence. It goes on to say: A constable may arrest without warrant any person who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, about to commit an arrestable offence. That is fine, but we find that the draftsman is not as stupid as we thought, because before that, when dealing with powers of arrest in Section 2 (2), we read: Any person may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, in the act of committing an arrestable offence. Curiously enough, however, subsection (3) states that Where an arrestable offence has been committed, any person"— that is, a private citizen as well as a constable— may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, guilty of the offence. That has stayed as part of our law for 10 years. It has a sufficiently respectable pedigree for us not to be able to tear the pants off the Minister of State any more than we have done alredy. It seems to me to be sufficient, therefore, although one may not like the form of words, to leave it there.

Mr. Mikardo

I am always deeply respectful of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's observations on the law, but bastardy is still bastardy when a child is 10 years old, is it not?

Sir M. Havers

We had one bastard in 1967 which will be very difficult to alter and we have another one here which I do not think will make it any worse.

This is an important power that police officers must have. If we strike this out today, it will have to be put back in the Lords, one hopes. I doubt whether one can have a manuscript amendment at this stage. Therefore, it seems to me that it is best to leave it, since I believe that the House agrees that the power ought to be preserved. If this were the first time it had been in that form, I should find it very difficult to accept it and would have to support the amendment, but since there is this historic precedent for it, I think that we must leave it.

Mr. Graham Page

My right hon. and learned Friend has said that it cannot be amended and he doubts whether it can be done by manuscript amendment. If I may suggest wording for a manuscript amendment and ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you will accept it—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The matter of selection is entirely in the hands of Mr. Speaker, and he would have to decide whether to select it. I cannot select it. I can only pass it on.

Mr. Graham Page

In those circumstances, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not try any more.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: No. 31, in page 6, line 39, after 'constable', insert 'in uniform'.

'or of any access to any premises'. — [Mr. Arthur Davidson.]

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