§ Mr. Giles Shaw
I beg to move amendment No. 47 in page 11, leave out line 26 and insert 'In this Part'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
With this it will be convenient to consider also the following: Amendment No. 49, in page 11, line 32, leave out 'a public' and insert 'any'.
Government amendments Nos. 50 and 52.
§ Mr. Shaw
I should like to deal briefly with the Government amendments before considering amendment No. 49. Government amendments Nos. 50 and 52 bring the definition of "Public place" in clause 16 into line with the wording of section 1(1)(a) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The other amendment makes minor drafting changes.
§ Mr. Lyell
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to amendment No. 49 in my name and the names of my hon. Friends.
The purpose of the amendment is to extend the provisions of the Bill from public places as defined in the Bill to any place which is open to the air. The sound reasons for doing that become immediately apparent. We agreed when we discussed the previous clause, and the House decided, that it would be a valuable power for the police to be able to get a demonstration likely to cause serious public disorder, serious damage to property, serious disruption to the life of the community or intimidation to people, to move to a more suitable location, or to stand back from the gates of the work place where the demonstration may have arisen, or to stop blocking the highway or snarling up the centre of the community in which it was taking place. Unfortunately, as the clause and the Bill are drafted, that applies only to what is a public place within the definition of the Bill. In a great many communities, public places and private land are almost inextricably inter-mixed. Therefore, the good effects of the clause could be made unworkable.
I should like to explain that in relation to the problems that arise in rural communities. These problems can be categorised as those involving the so-called "Peace Convoy"; and the problems caused by the large numbers of albeit sincere people who descend on communities like Greenham common and Molesworth. There are also problems involving animal protesters, some of whom are sincere and who arrive in large numbers but who are all too often accompanied by militant animal rights protesters who might invade a factory farm. There are also problems with the large demonstrations of the type witnessed at Orgrave or Wapping, involving industrial disputes.
It is important that the police should have effective powers, and not powers the ambit of which depends on whether the public assembly takes place on a highway or in a public place, which is defined in the Bill as land to which the public have access either on payment or by express or implied permission. The powers of the police must not be frustrated by the public being allowed to move on to what becomes the Tom Tiddler's ground of private land.
I can illustrate the point by citing Molesworth or some factory farm. For example, a large number of people may 1040 have appeared to demonstrate in a narrow country lane near to Molesworth. These people may have snarled up the entrance to the village or completely swamped the local community, who all too often regard themselves as second-class citizens in their own homes. The police may want the demonstrators to move to the village green or to an open space which is more suitable for the demonstration, but some of the demonstrators may decide, because they know the law—and that is a good thing—to cross a fence into a farmer's field. As soon as they do that, the excellent power provided by clause 14 immediately disappears, as the assembly ceases to be in a public place in the context of the Bill.
Let us consider the case of a large number of demonstrators arriving at a factory farm—say a broiler house farm—demonstrating against the treatment of the chickens that we eat in such large numbers. The demonstrators may get on to the farmyard, and some of them who are of violent intent will use the presence of the others to provide cover enabling them to commit criminal damage, or to terrorise the people on the farm. One of the examples given by Ministers of the good sense of the clause is that the police will be able to tell the demonstrators to stand back by the farm gate if the demonstration is blocking the road. However, as soon as the people get on to the farmyard, or the farmer's land around the buildings, the powers under the clause disappear, and the ability of the police to make good use of these preventive powers has gone.
The powers under the clause can be considered in the wider context of the serious problems of the peace convoys and of major, and perhaps hippy-type, demonstrations which I know are a matter of great interest to many of my hon. Friends, who may catch your eye in this short debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I see my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (Mr. Key), for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), whose constituency includes Glastonbury, and for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley), who is with me on this clause, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).
The peace convoy, which has little or nothing to do with peace, tends to descend on a whole community—in the case of Salisbury, in several hundreds—and completely disrupt the life of the area. Immediately round Stonehenge, to which the public have access as of right or invitation, these powers will apply, but as soon as large groups spill over on to farm land or private land, the powers of the police to say, "Move on", or, "Stand back" disappear.
This is illogical in the context of the Bill, because the other useful powers of this valuable Bill—whether the major powers on riot, unlawful assembly and affray under clauses 1, 2 and 3, or the other powers under clauses 4 and 5, on what used to be called conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, and is now conduct likely to cause violence and disorderly conduct—apply both to public and private land regardless, and rightly so. There is no logical distinction that should prevent these prophylactic powers from also so applying. The object of the powers under clause 14 is to be able to say to the demonstrators in number, "Stand back" and to prevent a clash from happening in the first place. Although it would not solve the peace convoy or the Molesworth problems, that is a valuable power in the hands of the police.
I thank the Association of Chief Police Officers for its helpful discussions, but I disagree with its objections to 1041 this extension. The police are anxious that they should not become the bailiffs of every private landlord, a point with which I wholly agree, but there is no real danger that they will. The powers in clause 14 are wholly discretionary, at the instance of the senior police officer present, and can only be exercised, quite rightly, in the circumstances of serious disruption of the community, serious public disorder or serious damage to property. I can say with confidence that there would be no question of the operational decision of a senior police officer as to whether or not to use such powers being capable of being challenged by mandamus in the High Court. There is no question of the courts forcing a police officer to use his powers in a particular instance, and I can say that with some confidence as a matter of the law.
Nor do I believe that there is any danger of chief constables being browbeaten into using these powers. I have the highest respect for the chief constables with whom I have had the privilege of working as a Member of Parliament, and I have not found them to be men who were likely to be browbeaten by any landowner or farmer if they believed that the course of action which they were invited to take was unwise. They are, on the contrary, strong and robust men, as we would expect them to be, and they are well capable of protecting themselves against undue pressure.
I test this valuable power against what happened at Orgreave. Let us suppose that there is a large crowd of demonstrators, most of whom wish to be peaceful, but some of whom might be militant and might be jostling and pushing, and the police can see that there is likely to be major turmoil outside the gates of a workplace, preventing those who, in the normal life of the community, wish to pass and repass to go to work, from doing so. If, as I believe happened at Orgreave, and certainly happens at other work premises, the road that leads to the gate passes through private land as opposed to a public place, the prophylactic powers of the police to say, "Stand back", would not apply, and they would have to fall back on common law powers or into that difficult area where sometimes the police are forced to stretch their powers, albeit with the right motives, to achieve the right solution.
It is wrong to put the police into that position. The extension of the powers to public and private land without distinction, simply on the basis that they are properly to be used for public order purposes, would be the wiser way to proceed, and I commend that route to my right hon. and hon. Friends. I recognise that it may not be easy to deal with the amendment tonight, but I ask them to discuss the matter further before the Bill concludes its passage in another place.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
I oppose the hon. and learned Gentleman's amendment and urge the Minister not to accept it too readily. Although I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's motives, the effect of his amendment would be to create a criminal offence of trespass in the open air for persons entering private land for purposes completely other than those which he mentioned when introducing the amendment. My anxiety relates to groups of people out for a country walk, who could be caught under the clause if the amendment were accepted. I know that that is not the hon. and learned Gentleman's intention, but it would undoubtedly be a potential effect of the clause 1042 if the amendment was accepted. I am worried that legitimate purposes of open-air recreation might be endangered if the clause was amended.
The anxiety of many hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, about what happened with the so-called peace convoy last year—the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) is in the chamber—is beginning to resurface as we approach consideration of what might happen this year. With or without the Bill and the amendment, unless sensible and practical discussions continue about what is likely to occur when the convoy attempts to hold a festival at Stonehenge, I fear that there is likely to be trouble. That is something that we would all wish to avoid.
The hon. and learned Gentleman's amendment would run the risk of turning the police into the patrolling bailiffs of privately owned land. That is not something that Opposition Members wish to see.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
This amendment, so eloquently moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), which I support, addresses itself to the false distinction between public and private land for the purposes of public order. In general, the civil law is powerless to deal with incursions on to private land before they have happened, where there is no event or festival to ban and where no one knows the identity or whereabouts of the potential trespassers. This is deeply unsatisfactory. The landowner, whether public or private, simply has to wait for trespass to occur before being able to act. The number of trespassers can grow by many hundreds in the course of a day, so, however speedy the lawyers or the courts, the problem by then has become severe, something that we all wish to avoid.
Although the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which came into force on 1 January this year will make any mass invasion of, for instance, my constituency by the peace convoy and others quite different from last year, this Bill, unless it is amended, will do little to remedy the defects in the law which make flaming June such a misery for so many in south Wiltshire. It will, however, I suspect, help with the problem of illegal hare coursing.
For example, the National Trust and English Heritage and most local farmers will seek injunctions in the High Court, banning the so-called Stonehenge free festival. An injunction is a fine remedy, but one must be able to identify the trespasser in advance, be able to serve him with proceedings and have enough evidence that he intends to trespass. Furthermore, summary possession procedure—that is, order 113—is slow and cumbersome, and will always suffer from the disadvantage that plaintiffs are usually too late to prevent damage and to stop large numbers arriving, as at the white horse in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters).
Also the procedure takes at least a week. It is very expensive. It allows defendants to take advantage of their wrongful possession by dreaming up technical points of law. And, of course, judges are ever vigilant on behalf of unrepresented defendants, many of whom are intelligent and well educated but whose case has no legal merit whatever. The judge is assiduous to make sure that the landowner has dotted the i's and crossed the t's, to the extent that the lawful owners of the land are frustrated. 1043 This means that in too many cases unmeritorious and unwelcome squatters can stay beyond any reasonable time, and trade on it. In short, the law is not simply an ass, it is ridden on by such people, who plan their activities accordingly.
This amendment also addresses itself to a consequence of the false distinction between public and private land, the problem of criminal trespass, referred to by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). The whole matter was lengthily debated by the Law Commission and the Law Reform Committee before the passing of the Criminal Law Act 1977. Section 7 of the Act brings residential premises into the ambit of the criminal offence but omits non-residential premises. If trespass were a criminal offence, the concept of deterrence would be introduced.
It could be fairly argued that Stonehenge, the white horse, Savernake and all squatting activities of a similar kind in recent years demonstrate how unfortunate it was that in 1977 Parliament, against the Law Commission's recommendations, decided to exclude non-residential premises from section 7.
The amendment has deterrence value. The whole country is anxious to avoid scenes such as those witnessed at Cholderton near Stonehenge last year when about 500 hippies, determined to break a High Court injunction, chose to confront the police and precipitated the much-reported fight that led to mass arrests. We all wish to avoid a repetition of such scenes. By amending the clause to include an assembly in any place, whether publicly owned or privately owned, we shall remove a contentious distinction that perpetuates the notion that public order should be different on opposite sides of the same fence.
The Bill is about preventing violent clashes and violent behaviour and about coping with disorders, but there is also an important moral dimension to it, which I draw to the attention of the House in support of the amendment. Without the amendment, those wishing to hold an assembly in a private place will continue to exert some kind of moral blackmail over those who wish to enjoy their own land in peace. This will focus, in my constituency, on Stonehenge. However, the Bishop of Salisbury, Bishop John Baker, a former chaplain to Mr. Speaker and best known, perhaps, for his moral judgments on nuclear issues, said, with reference to the so-called Stonehenge free festival and the mass trespass by those assembled there:
The experience of years proved that the event was a major social and human evil. The great majority of people living in nearby communities hated the event, and wish it to cease. The Church cannot and must not support such an event in any way … it does not. We do support the local communities in their desire to go about their lives in peace. We do support landowners, both private and corporate, in their legal right to refuse the use of their land, and in their moral right not to be pressured into conceding it. We do support the police in their duty to uphold the law of the country. The way to prevent violence and confrontation this summer is for those who are thinking of defying that law to stay away … They have no encouragement of any kind from our Church to do otherwise.I support the amendment, which would contribute to the peace of our community.
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
I shall be brief, because my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) have already gone over the course. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said that one of the grounds upon which he would object to the amendment was that it could catch those people who went out for a country walk. Before any offence would be committed under clause 14, the police officer must reasonably believe that what is happening may result in serious public disorder, or serious damage to property, et cetera. I do not believe for one moment that by blurring the distinction between public and private property, as the amendment tries to do, we should catch those people who go out for a country walk.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
The hon. Gentleman conveniently omitted from his list of reasonable grounds that a police officer might have the crucial phraseserious disruption to the life of the community.That is the contentious point, as we saw in our debate on the clause relating to assemblies, and it might well form a point of contention between a group of people with legitimate open air interests and a landowner.
§ Mr. Alexander
I did not refer to those words, because I was absolutely certain that no couple who went out for a private walk could possibly come within the hon. Gentleman's description.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will accept the amendment. If it is not accepted, there will be a loophole in the law and we shall do a disservice to those innocent people whose lives over so many years have been disrupted by protesters and disrupters who care nothing for other people's property. Those innocent people expect this Bill to protect them. As it stands, all it does is to provide a loophole for sophisticated protesters who know what they are doing, and it leads the police to pass by on the other side. I urge seriously a change of heart on this amendment.
§ Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I also would like to bring home to Home Office Ministers just how strongly we feel about this issue in the countryside. The improved definition offered by amendment No. 49 would be beneficial and strengthen the arm of the law in maintaining the peace and quiet that we expect. We believe in harmony in the countryside, not confrontation.
I am a member of the Nature Conservancy Council, so it is obvious that I am keen on conservation and the use of the countryside for formal and informal recreation. It is time that we tried to limit the disruption which sometimes occurs. The militant demonstrator and other protestor is quite out of place in the countryside, and the sooner that there is more discipline so that everyone can enjoy the countryside, the better. This small but important amendment would be a major step in the right direction.
The amendment would be especially helpful to some farms that have been attacked by those who want to release animals. Sometimes, they are foolish enough to release mink, which cause infinitely more damage and cruelty to other animals than they suffer in farms. Such people's objectives are ill thought out. The National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association are anxious that we should strengthen the law in the interests of their members.
1045 Farmers, whether they be owner-occupiers or tenants, and landlords would feel that they were getting support from a Conservative Government if the Home Office felt able to accept the amendment. I give it my warm support.
§ Mr. Warren Hawksley (The Wrekin)
I support amendment No. 49. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) covered most of the ground, but my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) mentioned Stonehenge. The peace convoy decided to separate and go north, and it has caused great problems in other parts of the country. I feel sorry for my constituents in Shropshire who have suffered the problems caused by people who have moved into the area, and continue to move from site to site to keep ahead of the landowner, whether it be the National Coal Board or the district council. They seem determined to keep one step ahead of the law.
I hope that the amendment will be accepted. I believe that our constituents expect us to deal with a problem that is causing them great anxiety. They are entitled to peace and quiet at home. They should not be subjected to such noise and disturbance. They are confused, to say the least—they cannot understand why the police, to whom they turn, are powerless.
Is it possible to speed up the procedure of getting orders? One of my parish councils has suggested that registrars might be allowed to deal with such requests. That council, the district council and the development corporation find that it takes a long time to get the necessary orders. Meanwhile, the people concerned have moved to other land. I hope that, if my hon. Friend the Minister cannot accept the amendment, he will at least be able to offer the possibility of registrars issuing orders, so that the problems can be dealt with. If he cannot do that, I shall feel inclined to support the amendment.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
I rise to support the amendment. My constituency includes Glastonbury, which is famous for its Arthurian legends and, like Stonehenge, attracts an annual influx of hippies, itinerants, travellers, whatever one may like to call them. Some of those groups pose a serious threat to public order. I know that I am not alone in this, because similar problems are encountered by my other hon. Friends in Somerset and Avon, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen), who is in his place tonight. He is urgently dealing with a number of constituency cases now.
Those problems are becoming more difficult because of the attitude of the alliance, which is not represented in the Chamber at present. Somerset is temporarily controlled by a Lib-Lab pact, and there is no doubt that the alliance opposition to the Bill is sending entirely the wrong signals to potential troublemakers who are now making their summer plans about whether to visit Somerset and create local disorder.
I am not saying that the majority of visitors are necessarily violent and unwelcome. The majority are peaceful. They may create an annoyance, but it is part of the English tradition to deal with them in a spirit of give and take, live and let live. However, there is a minority of people, who should be dealt with by this clause, who take drugs and drive vehicles which are untaxed and unlicensed. They are not all from the same group; they are certainly not all members of the peace convoy. They go 1046 by a number of different names. In my constituency we have had the mutants and the chaotics and a number of other anarchist groups who think that they are outside the law and outside society, except when it comes to drawing social security. That creates local resentment. Those people are prepared to take social security, clothes, food and medicine from society when they need them, but they put very little back into society.
It is when large numbers of that significant minority camp and gather in Somerset that they can be a real threat to the local community. I have witnessed some of the incidents. Hedges can be pulled up for firewood or used as public lavatories, which creates a health hazard, roads and lanes can be blocked, buildings can be vandalised and residents and shopkeepers can be threatened. There is a general feeling among my constituents that the existing, powers in the law are inadequate to cope with the growing problem.
We have the law of trespass. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) pointed out, that can be extremely slow and cumbersome. Many members of these groups know how to circumvent the law and move down the road to different land if faced with a possession order where they are camped. Many of them have access to very good legal advice. Perhaps some of them are lawyers who put on their beads and headbands when they go on holiday, who knows. I know that I have spoken to many of them who are far from being poor and in need of these camps. It is a summer activity and we should have much less sympathy for them than is sometimes shown by the Opposition.
All I want to do is give the police additional reserve powers that could be used if necessary. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) is right to say that this is not a bailiffs' charter. The police are reluctant to move or evict people unless there is a serious disruption and that may be the basis of their opposition to this amendment.
However, there is a growing problem. The Bill provides an opportunity, perhaps the last opportunity for some years, to respond to this problem. Certainly large numbers of people in the Wells division are looking for a positive response from my hon. Friend the Minister.
§ Mr. Cash
I wish to endorse most of my hon. Friends' comments. Together we have managed consistently to fight the battle against the peace convoy over a period of months, since the peace convoy came to our respective constituencies. I would like to thank the Home Secretary and the Minister for the courtesy and time they have given to us on a number of occasions and the good advice they have been able to offer. I would also like to mention the Association of Chief Police Officers which has also given its time and has provided advice while we have been discussing this matter. The Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union have been equally helpful.
The peace convoy arrived in Staffordshire and caused £85,000 of damage. That was an intolerable incursion. The anxiety and fear that were caused to my constituents, and the damage, dereliction and chaos that those people left behind, were intolerable. I cannot believe that the Labour party can resist this proposal, which would deal effectively with the problem. I would go further and say that, to its credit, Staffordshire county council, which is Labour controlled, did what it could to impress upon 1047 Labour Members the fact that it wanted their help. The council is not receiving it, so Labour Members should be condemned by their own people.
The lawful enjoyment of rights by all is the essence of proper public order policy. The peace convoy and similar people operate in an environment and in a way that is totally contrary to the reasonable behaviour of ordinary civilised people.
We have to deal with the problem. It is a serious matter. The problem is escalating, and I thoroughly support the Government's efforts to deal with it in the Bill. Clause 14, in conjuction with clause 5 and other provisions, go a long way in dealing with that serious problem.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
The police have raised some objections to what is proposed. They do not want to criminalise trespass. They do not want to be turned into the surrogate gamekeepers of private landowners. They feel that clause 14 is quite a lot to swallow and that adding this amendment to it would make it even more difficult But in this case, I believe that the police are wrong. It is best that I say so plainly.
There is a tendency to think that the public disorder problems are an urban phenomenon. Of course, most of them take place in the big cities, but the fact is that we are in the presence of increasing public disorder problems in the rural areas. My hon. Friends have all mentioned examples in their constituenies. The Committee discussed the matters in detail. In my constituency this summer, when it is proposed to hold the annual Mildenhall air show, there is not the slightest doubt that large numbers of people, peaceniks or others, will gather on private land. They will cause immense problems. There will be great concern among my constituents, and among the supporters of my party, if we say that we have put on the statute book a new Public Order Bill, yet it becomes clear that we have done nothing effective to deal with the problem. If that happens, I have fear that there will be considerable disenchantment with what we have done.
When he replies, my hon. Friend the Minister will fairly say that just as clause 5 as redrafted and agreed to by the House earlier can apply in a number of circumstances, for example in dealing with noise, so too, it can apply in this case. I agree that there is some evidence that it might, but it will be marginal. It will not tackle the problem. It will not prevent large hordes of troublemakers proceeding to occupy private land. It will not help the police get them off without pitched battles. None of us wants that to happen.
Therefore, I urge my hon. Friend, who has been so resaonable and sweet a Minister throughout the Committee and Report, to listen to the views of the House. With the exception of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), whose arguments I understand, we are in possession of a virtually unanimous request to the Government.
§ Mr. Key
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we discuss issues of police manpower and police budgets in counties, and when many of the counties about which we are speaking are controlled by a Liberal-SDP faction, it is intolerable that not one alliance Member has been present to debate this particularly important matter?
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
Alliance Members are undoubtedly absent proclaiming their commitment to rural policy in west Derbyshire. We also encountered that phenomenon in Committee.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was most unfair to give that description to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). I apologise to the House for my temporary absence, but I can assure the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, as he should know from reading our Committee proceedings, that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) shares our great interest in the affairs of rural areas. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the problems to which the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) eloquently adverted are not only encountered in Shropshire, which the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) mentioned, but across the Shropshire-Welsh border, and that I share the concern expressed?
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
Sometimes we extend the courtesies of the House too far.
My hon. Friend the Minister has heard what has been said. He knows, as I know, the technical problems and the reservations of the police. It remains his job as a Minister to overcome them. I hope that he will take account of what has been said, and one way or another give hon. Members, who have spoken with experience, knowledge and foreboding of the consequences, if we fail to act, the comfort of words that will at least open the door to some action being taken in the other place on what is a genuinely serious problem.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw
The amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) and supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Mr. Alexander), for Salisbury (Mr. Key), for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley), for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) has provided a debate of some significance. I am not a bit surprised at that because in Committee, as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) knows, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire gave us a substantial piece of his substantial mind on the issues relating to the law on trespass and the inadequacies of this clause.
All hon. Members, whether in government, on the Back Benches or, I suspect, in Opposition, share the feeling that the problems caused by groups, such as the peace convoy, have brought great distress and misfortune to our rural communities. There is no question but that we wish to find ways and mans of reducing that distress and misfortune.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
Will my hon. Friend include the actions of Hells Angels, who have been of considerable inconvenience in Windsor, as he knows, and of whom Mrs. McSorley is the victim?
§ Mr. Shaw
My hon. Friend is right. Other groups, of which Hells Angels are one, cause substantial distress.
In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that such groups were the equivalent of mediaeval brigands. Wherever they have gone, they have shown a blatant disregard for the rights and the peace of the local inhabitants. We may also add to our condemnation of such activity those groups of so-called 1049 animal rights protesters who, by trespassing on farm land and engaging in violent and threatening behaviour towards farmers and their families, are of genuine public concern.
In considering in Committee what best we might do, we undertook to have further discussions with the police and other interested parties. I know that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and other hon. Friends have had similar discussions, which have been referred to this evening. My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that, although chief constables are not unanimous, the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers are such that it is clear that it is not persuaded of the need for an extension of the new powers under clause 14 in the way that my hon. and learned Friend proposes. The police remain of the view that their existing powers to deal with criminal damage and breach of the peace, together with the offences in clauses 1 to 5, should be sufficient to cope with any real mischief that is likely to arise.
I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire underestimates the powers that will be available to the police. I remind him that the powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 were not available during the disturbances which occurred with the peace convoy a year ago. Those powers came into force on 1 January.
Under the existing law, under the new offences and wider powers that are proposed in the Bill, and under the PACE powers, the police have power to enter private land and make arrests if there is a breach of the peace. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, they have powers to arrest anyone who has committed an offence if service of a summons is impracticable because of difficulties in establishing name and address. The Act gives the police powers to enter land to prevent serious damage to property. Under the Bill, all the public order offences which the House has been considering tonight will apply to both public and private land. We have deliberately extended the scope of clauses 4 and 5 to private land to catch the sort of behaviour in which peace convoys and other such groups indulge. Once the Bill is in force, anyone on private land who threatens violence or who behaves in a disorderly manner, or who is likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress, will commit an offence under sections 4 or 5, as they will become.
It follows that with this wide range of powers—the police have told us that this will follow—the police should be able to deal with the real mischief, which lies in criminal damage, threatening behaviour and intimidation by those who happen to be trespassers. The only offence that they will not have the power to deal with is simple trespass. The police are most emphatic that they do not want to become involved in the enforcement of private rights. I recognise the overall conclusion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that the police are wrong in the general stance that they have taken, but my hon. Friend recognised that involving the police in a greater extension of services to private landlords might well cause them substantial difficulty.
I think that we all recognise that the complaint of simple trespass remains a matter for the civil law. Equally, I think that we all recognise that the root of the problem facing landowners whose land is invaded by the peace convoy is the slow enforcement process of the civil law. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, who raised the matter specifically, that discussions that we have had with 1050 colleagues recently have convinced us that we should seek to make representations to my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to ensure that he is fully aware of the strength of feeling on this issue. I remind my hon. Friends that in discussions previously the Country Landowners Association agreed to provide further information of instances where it has found the enforcement of the civil process both slow and inadequate to deal with the offences with which it has been concerned. I hope that it will respond and provide all possible evidence to enable us to discuss with the Lord Chancellor's Department what might be done to speed up and improve the process.
I reassure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and my hon. Friends generally that we do not have a closed mind about the adequacy of the law to deal with groups like the peace convoy. All we are saying is that we should not rush into further legislation until the new police powers to which I have referred have been tried and tested. The police believe that the totality of powers available to them will be sufficient. We are not in the business of heaping extra powers on the police, for their own sake. We have been concerned throughout the discussion on the Bill to identify the powers that will be of practical value to the police.
I must take note of the strength of feeling which hon. Members have expressed. I shall discuss the debate's conclusions and the unanimous view expressed by Conservative Members that further action is required in this direction. I shall consider the requests put to me by my hon. Friends, which were summed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, for further action during the passage of the Bill.
However, I stress that a major change to the law on trespass is not something which we are presently minded to contemplate. We are prepared to consider the views expressed by hon. Members about their constituents' fears and their doubts that the laws we have already enacted and those we are in the process of enacting may not be sufficient. That is a state of mind which my hon. Friends have made very clear. I trust that it is not a state of the law which we can allow to remain for much longer.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendments made: No. 50, in page 11, line 34, leave out 'includes' and insert 'means'.
No. 52, in page 11, leave out lines 37 to 39 and insert—
(b) any place to which the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission.'.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]