HC Deb 04 November 1986 vol 103 cc829-70

Lords amendment: No. 28, before clause 33, insert the following new clause— . — (1) If the senior police officer reasonably believes that two or more persons have entered land as trespassers and are present there with the common purpose of residing there for any period, that reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the occupier to ask them to leave and—

  1. (a) that any of those persons has caused damage to property on the land or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of his family or an employee or agent of his, or
  2. (b) that those persons have between them brought twelve or more vehicles on to the land,
he may direct those persons, or any of them, to leave the land. (2) If a person knowing that such a direction has been given which applies to him—
  1. (a) fails to leave the land as soon as reasonably practicable, or
  2. 830
  3. (b) having left again enters the land as a trespasser within the period of three months beginning with the day on which the direction was given,
he commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months of a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or both.
(3) A constable in uniform who reasonably suspects that a person is committing an offence under this section may arrest him without warrant. (4) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for the accused to show—
  1. (a) that his original entry on the land was not as a trespasser, or
  2. (b) that he had a reasonable excuse for failing to leave the land as soon as reasonably practicable or, as the case may be, for again entering the land as a trespasser.
(5) In this section— land" does not include
  1. (a) buildings other than—
    1. (i) agricultural buildings within the meaning of section 26(4) of the General Rate Act 1967, or
    2. (ii) scheduled monuments within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, or
  2. (b) land forming part of a highway;
occupier" means the person entitled to possession of the land by virtue of an estate or interest held by him; property" means property within the meaning of section 10(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971; senior police officer" means the most senior in rank of the police officers present at the scene; trespasser", in relation to land, means a person who is a trespasser as against the occupier of the land; vehicle" includes a caravan as defined in section 29(1) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960; and a person may be regarded for the purposes of this section as having the purpose of residing in a place notwithstanding that he has a home elsewhere.

Read a Second time.

Mr. Kaufman

I disagree with the proposed Lords amendment, and I beg to move amendment (a) thereto, in line 2, leave out 'the senior police officer' and insert 'a police officer of the rank of inspector or above'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take also the following amendments to the proposed Lords amendment:

  1. (a), in line 14, leave out 'twelve' and insert 'four'.
  2. (b), in line 20, leave out from 'practicable' to end of line 23.
  3. (c), leave out lines 54 and 55.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Grouped with this amendment are a series of amendments that have been tabled by the Opposition. It seems desirable that I should argue the case for the new clause, and the right hon. Gentleman will then have the opportunity to speak to his amendments in the context of what has been proposed. With the leave of the House, I shall respond to the right hon. Gentleman's arguments at the end of the debate.

The House will recall that before the recess a great deal of concern was expressed about the mass invasion of land by groups such as the hippie convoy. I do not believe that I am going too far if I suggest that the House was united in its sympathy for people like Mr. Attwell and felt a sense of outrage at the degradations that were caused to him.

The House will recall that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear, in answer to a private notice question, that the Government were considering strengthening the law to deal with mass aggravated trespass. The result of those considerations is the new clause now before the House, which was moved in another place by my noble Friend the Earl of Caithness. The new clause does not criminalise simple trespass, but creates a new police power to direct trespassers to leave the land under strictly limited circumstances. Those circumstances are set out in detail in subsection (1).

Basic preconditions must apply before the new power can be used, and senior police officers must reasonably believe that two or more persons satisfy certain criteria. They must ascertain that persons have entered the land as trespassers or are present there for the common purpose of residing on the land for any period and that reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the occupier to ask them to leave These criteria must be satisfied.

The first precondition is to ensure that the power is not available where a landowner has given permission for those persons to camp on his land but has subsequently withdrawn that permission. In those circumstances persons entering the land have not done so as trespassers.

Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)

My chief concern, in common with other hon. Members, is the protection and welfare of our ancient monuments and our antiquity. I wonder whether my hon. Friend has considered what would happen if a person paid the entrance fee to visit Stonehenge, thereby becoming in a sense an invitee or licensee, but then created difficulties. Is that person excluded from the provisions before us?

Mr. Hogg

There are two answers. We have extended the meaning of "land" to include historic monuments within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. This was in response to arguments by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in another place. However, that does not answer my hon. Friend's question. He asked whether the power comes into existence when people enter lawfully, not as trespassers. The answer is no. The power does not come into existence when people enter as lawful licensees or otherwise with authority. The power to order someone to leave applies only when people enter as trespassers.

If a person, having entered lawfully, becomes a trespasser in the sense that consent is withdrawn, the landowner has a right to go to the civil court for ordinary civil relief.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does that mean that a farmer is not protected if the trespassers go on to his land and encamp upon a farm track, not outwith that farm track, and the farm track is designated as a public footpath on which they have a right to go for a walk, for example? That seems to be a regrettable lacuna.

Mr. Hogg

The hon. and learned Member asks a particular and interesting question. I shall reply off the cuff, but if I am wrong I shall write to him. —[Interruption.] I always have to contemplate being in error, but if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) contemplated that possibility, often he would be awake half the night.

It is typical of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) to pick up a difficult matter such as this. It is no wonder that he makes a lot of money at the Bar. He asks what happens if we have to deal with a farm on which there is a public right of way. My immediate response is that the farmer remains the occupier of that bit of land, although it is a public right of way. Provided that the people stay on the footpath they might be all right, but if they stray off one inch they will become trespassers and the power will be triggered.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Not necessarily.

Mr. Hogg

Of course not necessarily, because it is a matter for the courts in each case. I think that provided people stay full square on the public way, they might not be trespassers. It also depends upon the motive. If the motive is to do something for which the public footpath was not created, they might be trespassers, because they propose to do something not contemplated by the existence of the footpath. Footpaths are for walking along. My advice — a wonderful phrase to use on such occasions—is that a public footpath is a highway and that camping upon it is an obstruction, which is an offence, but it is not covered by this power.

Mr. Hind

I should like to assist my hon. Friend. Subsection (5) of the proposed new clause contains a definition of land. It states: 'land' does not include … land forming part of a highway. If a footpath is a right of way, is it part of the highway within that definition? Does my hon. Friend believe that farm tracks or footpaths are not part of the highway, so that the power will exist in the circumstances that we are discussing? Surely a public right of way is part of the highway and therefore the power cannot exist.

5.15 pm
Mr. Hogg

I shall not go much further. "Land" is defined in subsection (5) of the proposed new clause, and it does not include land which forms part of a highway. I understand that a public footpath is a highway. If that is right, camping on it, although perhaps an obstruction, will not trigger the powers proposed in the Bill.

Mr. Alex Carlile

That is a major lacuna.

Mr. Hogg

I doubt that. Anyone who knows about the countryside — as I do, and the hon. and learned Gentleman does not — knows that bringing a large number of caravans on to a footpath and squatting there without trespassing elsewhere is a preposterous idea.

"Land" is defined so as to exclude buildings other than agricultural buildings or scheduled monuments. It also excludes highways and highway verges. All other land, including common land, is caught. The requirement that the trespassers must have the common purpose of residing excludes ramblers, bird watchers and other similar users of the countryside from the scope of the power.

The phrase residing there for any period was taken from the Caravan Sites Act 1968. Subsection (5) of the new clause provides that a person may be regarded for the purposes of this section as having the purpose of residing in a place nothwithstanding that he has a home elsewhere. The third test, that reasonable steps should have been taken by the occupier to request the trespassers to leave, provides an opportunity for trespassers to leave without the police becoming involved. If a large number of trespassers are present, it is not necessary for the occupier to ask each person individually to leave. A general request to leave through, for example, a loud hailer used either by the occupier or someone acting on his behalf will suffice.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

Subsection (2)(a) of the proposed new clause contains the words "reasonably practicable". What is the definition of those words? Will they not create a lawyers' paradise? To a non-lawyer, that is an ill-defined phrase.

Mr. Hogg

There is no definition of the words "reasonably practicable". That will have to be determined by the courts in the context of the facts. It is not possible for the House, or anyone else away from an incident, to define in anything but the most general terms what "reasonably practicable" means.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

The opening words of the new clause are: If the senior police officer reasonably believes that two or more persons have entered land as trespassers". That is different from assuming that the clause will operate only when people are trespassers. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), because the question whether a person has been a trespasser will be determined only in the light of proceedings and whether the court believes that the senior police officer reasonably believed that the person was a trespasser.

I happen to believe — I hope that my hon. Friend agrees—that this is the only practicable way of dealing with the problem. There are many circumstances in which s people try to use the law as a means of avoiding an ordinary, common-sense situation. For practical purposes, there should have been a remedy for what happened in Staffordshire, near Salisbury and elsewhere. Does my hon. Friend agree that it depends on what the police officer, in the first place, reasonably believes to be the case?

Mr. Hogg

Yes. My hon. Friend is correct. I am sorry if I gave a contrary impression. The test is satisfied when the senior police officer "reasonably believes".

We now come to the three criteria that I have already mentioned. It is not necessary to prove as a fact that each one of the three criteria is satisfied. It is sufficient that he "reasonably believes". I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support.

If the senior police officer "reasonably believes" that the three conditions that I have mentioned have been satisfied, he then has reasonably to believe that one of a further three tests has been met before he can exercise his power to direct trespassers to leave.

Mr. Sayeed

As most landowners are not lawyers, a little guidance would be helpful as to what the word "reasonable" means in the context of "reasonable steps". Will my hon. Friend confirm that using a loud hailer to ask people to leave and sticking up notices which are clearly visible around the land would be reasonable action, so that landowners who are not lawyers will understand the meaning of the word "reasonable"?

Mr. Hogg

All that I can say about the meaning of the word "reasonable" is that the test which the court will apply is objective.

Mr. Kaufman

It is subjective.

Mr. Hogg

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is objective, and it is the test which the court would apply when judging action in the context of the circumstances which existed. It may well be that the use of a loud hailer is reasonable. The affixing of notices, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) might be reasonable. I cannot define these things, and even if I did it would not be binding. In the end the courts will determine what is reasonable. They have to do that throughout a whole range of law.

Mr. Kaufman

If the Minister regards the interventions of his hon. Friends as helpful, he should be so lucky as to what helpful means.

Mr. Cash

Be nice.

Mr. Kaufman

I have been nice. I have done my bit for the afternoon and cannot go on being nice for the whole day.

The Minister said that it is an objective test. I advise him to get the civil servants in the Box to send for a dictionary, even a small one, because the amendment begins: If the senior police officer reasonably believes". That relates to something that is going on in the head of the senior police officer and must be subjective. There is no objectivity about an individual's belief.

Mr. Hogg

So far as that observation goes, it is true. The trouble is that it does not go far enough, because in determining whether the police officer's state of mind was reasonable or unreasonable the court has regard to objective, not subjective, criteria. Courts always approach problems of this sort in such a way.

Mr. Alex Carlile

indicated assent.

Mr. Hogg

I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (.Mr. Carlile) agrees with me. I am afraid that on this matter I must tell the right hon. Member for Gorton that a clever point was badly made. It was a clever point, but it happened to be the wrong one. That was a misfortune from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, but not from mine.

Only one of the tests must be satisfied; that any of those present has caused damage to property on the land, or that any of the trespassers has used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of his family or an employee or agent of the occupier, or that between them the trespassers have brought 12 or more vehicles on to the land. It is only at that point, if those subsequent conditions, or any one of them, are satisfied, that the power arises for the police officer to require the trespassers to leave. If the trespassers obey a police direction to leave, no offence is committed. However, the offence is not the trespass, but the refusal to obey a direction to leave.

Subsection (2)(a) provides the back-up offence. Anyone who, knowing a direction has been given which applies to him, disobeys that direction, and fails to leave as soon as is reasonably practicable, will commit an offence. In order to deal with the situation where trespassers obey a direction to leave but re-enter the land, subsection (2)(b) provides that anyone who re-enters the land as a trespasser within three months is also guilty of an offence. Both offences are triable in the magistrates courts and carry a maximum penalty of three months' imprisonment and/or a fine of £1,000.

Subsection (3) provides that a constable in uniform may arrest without warrant anyone he reasonably suspects is committing an offence under subsection (2).

Subsection (4) provides two defences for anyone accused of an offence under subsection (2). If he can show that when he first entered the land he was not in fact a trespasser, or that he had a reasonable excuse not to leave the land as soon as reasonably practicable, or to re-enter it as a trespasser, he will be not guilty of the offence.

Subsection (5) provides definitions of certain words used in the clause. In particular, "land", as I have said, is defined so as to exclude buildings other than agricultural buildings or buildings which are scheduled monuments, and highways and highway verges. "Occupier" is defined in such a way as to protect the owner or, in appropriate circumstances, the tenant. "Property" is defined by reference to the existing statutory definition in section 10(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971.

The new clause will provide the police with the necessary powers to deal with aggravated trespass by groups such as the convoy without having adverse effects on ramblers and other such users of the countryside. The new power is, as the events of the summer have shown, reasonable and necessary. But we have also been extremely careful to ensure that it bites only on the particular mischief which caused so much anxiety this summer. I hope that the new clause is carefully balanced, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Kaufman

I am not in the least surprised that the Home Secretary has suddenly found urgent business in Europe and that the former Minister of State—the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) — has got himself moved to another Department, because neither of them could have had the bare-faced cheek to sit on the Government Front Bench and support the new clause after their behaviour in Committee. The reason why the Under-Secretary of State is here in lonely isolation moving the amendment is that he is the only member of the Home Office team with completely clean hands on this matter.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

My hon. Friend is a charming fellow.

Mr. Kaufman

He is charming, but that is a different matter.

Manifestations or phenomena such as the hippie convoy are deeply unpopular with the people, and where they cause damage or upset to farmers or landowners they are to be reprehended. At the same time, it is important that we do not use the weight of the criminal law to bear unfairly on people because they have unconventional life styles, and for no other reason. In a democracy, people have the right, without involvement with the criminal law, to pursue life styles that most of us would not wish to pursue. The Government's reaction to those events has not been in proportion to the harm and the aggravation caused. At the same time, I am sympathetic to people such as the farmer, Mr. Attwell, who have found themselves at a grave disadvantage and in considerable trouble as a result of the arrival on their land of groups of people whom they do not wish to have there.

5.30 pm

If we wish to deal with such activities and protect private persons from having their property invaded or damaged and their livelihood affected, is that the right way of doing it? Is it right to create a new criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment? That was not the view of the Home Secretary when he responded to an amendment moved by the the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) and supported by others of his hon. Friends in Committee.

When the hon. Gentleman moved that amendment the Home Secretary said: the Association of Chief Police Officers would not welcome an extension of the clause 14 powers to private land. ACPO has told us that it did not wish trespassers to be dealt with in public order legislation. He went on: The police do not wish to be, as it were, at the beck and call of landowners to evict trespassers. The police fear that the measure might cause the complicated concept of criminal trespass to be brought into the law of the land."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 11 March 1986; c. 731.] That was why the Home Secretary opposed the kind of change in the law which he is now responsible for introducing.

The Home Secretary went on to point out that there were other powers and that those powers should be used. He talked too about the power to enter private land because of breaches of the peace and the statutory power of entry to arrest for criminal damage. Those views were not changed when the Bill was dealt with on the Floor of the House on Report.

The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), then the Minister of State in charge of the Bill, must be quoted at length because his words are important. He said: the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers are such that it is clear that it it 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". That is the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), who is now a junior Minister. The Minister of State went on: 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 far Mid-Bedfordshire underestimates the powers that will be available to the police The Minister then explained why. He said: 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 give the police powers to enter land to prevent serious damage to property. Under the Bill,"— the Public Order Billall 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. Nothing could have been clearer.

Mr. Cash

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

No. I am quoting from the hon. Member for Pudsey. The hon. Gentleman must get hold of his hon. Friend and intervene on him, not me.

The Minister went on: 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"—

Mr. Cash


Mr. Kaufman

No, the hon. Gentleman must get hold of the hon. Member for Pudsey, not me. I am simply quoting him.

The Minister went on: the police have told us that this will follow"— he is quoting the police in support of his very convincing arguments— —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 Minister went on: involving the police in a greater extension of services to private landlords might well cause them"— the police— substantial difficulty. He went on: the root of the problem facing landowners whose land is invaded by the peace convoy is the slow enforcement process of the civil law. We shall come to that in a moment.

The Minister went on: 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. That is the view of the police. We are not in the business of heaping extra powers on the police, for their own sake. He said: a major change to the law on trespass is not something which we are presently minded to contemplate." — [Official Report, 30 April 1986; vol. 96, c. 1053–54.] The Government have gone back on every one of those words, after firm statements by the Home Secretary and the Minister of State.

But then we got the hippie convoy and, most unfortunately, there are television sets at No. 10 Downing street, and the Prime Minister has an incorrigible tendency to watch television and then to press her bell and send for somebody. She keeps on doing it. She did it when she saw some football hooliganism and then we had last year's utterly pointless legislation which did nothing to stop the new outbreaks of football hooliganism.

The Prime Minister had another brainstorm about advertising on the BBC and failed again. Once again, it was the Prime Minister doing her "off with their heads, somebody must be summonsed" act. We had a Downing street committee and all this turmoil and action, despite the previous words.

While the matter was being worked out, while the poor old civil servants at the Home Office, who had most sensibly advised the Home Secretary, and whose advice had been accepted, were trying to work out something that would make some kind of sense, Ministers were treading very carefully indeed. Back Benchers were too. The hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, now the Under-Secretary of State, was cautious when supporting the amendments which were debated in Committee. He insisted that, to trigger the kind of amendments that he was advocating, the police must be able to establish a real risk of serious public disorder, serious damage to property, or serious disruption to the life of the community. There is nothing of that in the new clause. The new clause is triggered by a great deal less than that.

Lord Denning supported an amendment moved in the other place in the summer but he made it clear that he only wanted an amendment which would deal with people who intend to deprive an owner of his land — his use and occupation of the land. This amendment is far wider than that and does not meet Lord Denning's criteria.

Lord Glenarthur, another Minister who has now been removed from the Home Office in order that he should not have his words quoted against him, was extremely cautious when amendments were being debated in the other place on 16 July. He said: there is already a civil law and indeed a speedy procedure for the recovery of the possession of land. The hon. Member for Stafford had better think about that. Those are the words of one of his noble Friends, now removed to what the Prime Minister calls the far north—Scotland.

While talking about a possible change in the law, Lord Glenarthur said: The circumstances we envisage which would trigger the police power would be similar to elements in my noble friend's amendments; entry as a trespasser, with a refusal to leave on request, coupled with a risk of causing serious damage to property and harassment or intimidation of the lawful occupier. The new clause goes much further than that. The lines which I have described are those upon which we are working at present; namely, a police power to evict trespassers in certain limited circumstances where they intend to reside on the land, refuse to leave, and threaten to cause serious damage to property and harassment or intimidation of the lawful occupier."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 July 1986; Vol. 478, c. 983–5.] That threat to cause serious damage or harassment or intimidation is not in the new clause. It goes much wider than Lord Glenarthur said it would when he said that these matters would be considered. The new junior Minister, the Earl of Caithness, moved the clause and in doing so he made it clear that there was highly effective criminal law to deal with the mischief that his clause was supposed to deal with. He said: where trespassers cause damage on entering land they may be committing an offence under the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Addressing one of his noble Friends he said: she will appreciate that it is an offence under Section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 to take a vehicle without authority onto any land other than a highway," — [Official Report, House of Lords, 6 October 1986; Vol. 480, c. 102–4.] It is a matter of contention between hon. Members. The noble Lord was making it clear that the scope of any such new offence should be extremely limited. But it is not limited, because the Home Secretary said that the new clause was unnecessary and he rejected the proposition when something along these lines was proposed. Even when the new clause was being thought about, a Minister speaking on the Bill in the other place said that it would have a far more limited and stringent scope than the scope of this wide new clause.

The new clause is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Legal expert after legal expert has said that the civil law is available and can operate quickly. It can operate within five days of service of proceedings and, as we have seen, that proceeding can be abridged to as little as one day. It need not be expensive and indeed, farmer Attwell, a member of the public who quite rightly attracted sympathy because of his predicament, obtained his remedy under order 113 of the Supreme Court rules. So did 25 other landowners in the Stonehenge area.

The Government were so confident about the basic efficacy of order 113 of the Supreme Court rules that the Lord Chancellor—a member of the Government not entirely unknown to the Under-Secretary of State —issued a consultation paper on order 113 with the aim of making the civil law more efficient, speedy and effective. The noble Lord issued a press notice on 3 October, only a month ago, in which he said: Changes in the civil law procedure for the recovery of land from trespassers have been canvassed in a consultation paper issued by the Lord Chancellor's Department. Their object is to ensure that such cases are heard promptly. At present, a final order for possession may be made five days after the application is served on the defendants or sooner in urgent cases. It is proposed that the five-day period should be shortened to three days, with the power to shorten the period remaining. It is also intended to make it easier to serve the application on defendants whose names need not be known and who are occupying land rather than buildings. Any changes to the rules of court would probably come into force in the new year. That is only a few weeks away. As I have said, that consultation paper was issued on 3 October and the Earl of Caithness moved this clause in another place three days later and the consultation period ended only last Friday. The Government have made a farce of the Lord Chancellor's whole exercise of trying to improve order 113, which has been shown in the courts to be a highly effective remedy for this mischief.

Mr. Sayeed

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he would have done or how the Lord Chancellor's guidance notes would have helped in the following situation. A bunch of tinkers parked a large number of caravans in a field at the bottom of the garden of one of my constituents. The people were evicted by the landowner and that cost him about £4,500. He is not a rich man. The tinkers have returned and the landowner cannot afford to evict them again.

5.45 pm
Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Gentleman's constituent had better take this up with the Home Secretary, who said that the remedy available was satisfactory. He should also take it up with the Minister of State and with Lord Glenarthur who also said that the remedy was satisfactory. He could also take it up with the Lord Chancellor who believes that the remedy is inherently satisfactory but could be tightened up a bit. That is why he issued his consultation paper about order 113. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me I shall come to the reason why the course of action that he and the Government are proposing—that the police will enforce the civil law—is unsatisfactory and why a potential injustice to the hon. Gentleman's constituent might be counterbalanced by a severe injustice to others by criminalising this.

The Government have jumped their own gun. The new clause is firmly opposed by a number of groups of people whom the Under-Secretary of State might describe as objective, such as the Law Society. One of the reasons why the new clause is bad is that it imposes an unfair burden on the police officer who will have to administer its provisions. He might be quite a junior officer. That is why we have tabled an amendment about upgrading the police officer who will be responsible for giving the direction.

The police officer on the spot will not be an expert on the civil law or the law of trespass and is not required to be. Nevertheless, he will have to form a belief and make a judgment because his reasonable belief triggers off the action. He will have to form a belief about the intentions of a group of people and about questions of fact. He may have to take sides in a dispute about rights to use land, because, under the law, trespass is not an obvious proceeding. There can be arguments about whether an act is trespass and there are civil law provisions to adjudicate on that.

Disputes over rights to occupy or use land may lead to accusations of trespass. That concept has to be applied not in the first instance by the court which becomes involved only after the arrest, but by a police officer on the spot who has not had the opportunity fully to investigate, as provided for in civil courts by the hearing of evidence under oath, cross-examination and the opportunity to produce documents. The police officer on the spot making a snap judgment has to be a civil court on his own, making judgments on the rights and wrongs of a dispute about land. That is exceptionally unfair to the police, but then, the Government's last two major Acts were exceptionally unfair to the police.

The police officer on the spot may quite possibly be a junior person and may have to act on an impromptu interpretation of the civil law. That is not his role. One analysis is that that nebulous concept of reasonable belief may have to be based on judgments of up to 34 different criteria.

I shall give some examples of what I mean. The police officer will have to make a judgment on entering the land as a trespasser", and whether a person is a trespasser may be a matter of civil dispute. The police officer will have to make a judgment on the phrase "for any period". This could be a day, a week or a month. Without any definition, neither the police officer nor the occupier is able to know how long the occupier must intend to reside before a direction is given. Another example is "reasonable steps". In this context, "reasonable" is especially unsatisfactory. What other "reasonable steps" can there be to ask someone to leave other than asking him to leave?

A further example is "damage to property". There could be difficulties in deciding whether any damage discovered on the land had been caused by those upon it or by others prior to the occupation. These are all important issues and we are giving a police officer, who has to make these judgments, the right to trigger an arrest that could put someone in prison. A person could be sent to prison if he failed to leave land where he has not caused damage or behaved offensively. That could happen if the officer believed that the person, with others, has taken such action.

There is the question of how the direction is to be given, and the new clause, and therefore the Act, will not specify that. If the direction is to be given verbally, it may not come to the attention of the persons who are involved and there may be dispute about whether anyone knew of the direction. This is despite the fact that those concerned could be imprisoned for ignoring a direction which they did not know about.

Who is a trespasser? These are complex matters, as anyone who practises in the civil courts will know. Civil trespass does not require the knowledge by a trespasser that he or she is trespassing. If a person genuinely believes that he or she has a right to be on land, though mistaken, there will be no defence to any proceedings that ensue as the clause stands. These are serious matters, because we are creating a criminal offence under which someone may be sent to prison. These disputes may not be very serious when there is a dispute in civil law, but we are dealing with an interpretation of trespass by a police officer, not an expert, who is trained in different ways from experts in other areas, to pursue criminals. As I have said, we are considering a criminal offence that could result in someone being sent to prison.

The action of the person who can be arrested need not be disorderly or violent, despite the fact that this is public order legislation. The clause requires that a subjective judgment is made by a police officer in determining whether words used are threatening, abusive or insulting, and the same goes for behaviour. That is an unfair burden to place on a police officer.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) is responsible for an amendment designed to reduce the number of vehicles which can trigger police action. Whether the hon. Gentleman's number, which I oppose, or the Government's number, which I oppose as well although it is a better one than the hon. Gentleman's becomes the operative number, the concept is an absurdity. Why should 12 vehicles trigger off police action while 11 will not? We are being presented with an arbitrary number of vehicles or caravans, and it is the same if we take four vehicles as opposed to three. There could be more than 12 vehicles involved — for example, there could be 11 on one piece of land and another 11 on an adjoining piece of land. That would not trigger police action and it would be the same— I note that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) nods— with three and three. Once an arbitrary number is chosen, we have an arbitrary piece of legislation.

If police action is triggered by the presence of vehicles, no disorderly conduct is required. Those concerned may be behaving peaceably and may not be indulging in insulting behaviour or committing damage. We have already asked—no answer has been received—what is "any period"? One interpretation that has been offered is an overnight stay, but the Act will not state that. Once again, as so often in the Bill, we see the burden of disproof being placed on the accused person. Instead of the prosecution having to prove guilt, the accused person has to prove his or her innocence under subsection (4).

Mr. Cash


Mr. Kaufman

No, I shall not give way. I am coming to the end of my remarks and I know that a great many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) will forgive me if I do not give way to him at this stage.

The Earl of Caithness made a curious statement when he moved the amendment in another place. He said that the Government did not want to harass the gipsies and he gave a bizarre explanation of how the new clause would not harass them. He said: Setting the threshold for the test in subsection 1 (b) at 12 vehicles means that where gypsies travel in smaller groups than that, they will not he caught unless they commit acts of damage or trespass or harass the occupier." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 October 1986; Vol. 480, c 103.] That is the protection for gipsies. They had better travel in small groups. As long as they travel with 11 caravans or fewer and behave themselves, they will be all right. The moment that they travel in groups of 12 or more, they will be in trouble. The new clause threatens the 60 per cent. of gipsies and travelling people who are without caravan sites because of local authorities' failure to carry out their obligations under the Caravans Sites Act 1968.

The new clause is unnecessary, unfair and ill thought out. It could be oppressive and we shall vote against it.

Sir John Farr

Unlike the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I welcome the new clause. I take this opportunity of welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to the Dispatch Box, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). I could say "So far, so good," but I shall not make such a pun at this hour of the evening.

When my hon. Friend the Minister talked about trespassers on a footpath or public road in the countryside, I think that he was in some difficulty. If a caravan, person or vehicle stops on a public road, highway or footpath, that in itself is an offence because an obstruction is caused.

The provision relating to "two or more persons" in subsection (1) is right. It is a carefully chosen figure and I have no doubt that it was arrived at after considerable debate in another place, the reports of which I have read. I welcome subsection (1)(a), which deals with damage to property and threatening, abusive or insulting words. I welcome also paragraph (b), which contains the phrase "twelve or more vehicles". One has to set a figure and, as I have said, the choice of 12 vehicles has been the subject of debate. I have no doubt that if it is found to be too large or too small a figure, it will be possible later to have it varied by some parliamentary means.

I have raised with my hon. Friend the Minister the question of "reasonably practicable" in subsection (2) and I have received a reply. I welcome the emphasis that the new clause gives throughout to police officers having the power to make certain judgments, but the sort of incidents which the clause is designed to curtail, or at least to harness and control, could occur when police officers are not available. The other day my local police officer came to my home. He was certainly not in uniform; he was wearing tennis shoes and white trousers. I should add that he had come along at urgent notice. The phrase " a constable in uniform" is extremely restrictive. Many of the laws that are used to protect property and persons provide for citizens' arrests in certain instances of trespass and criminal damage. Apparently, this is not the intention in this clause, and I am not sure that that is not a weakness.

In subsection (5), I welcome paragraphs (i) and (ii), particularly the addition of scheduled monuments. The House will recall that this clause arose in another place as a result of what happened to Mr. Les Attwell near Yeovil, when he and a number of other farmers were this summer deprived of the use and enjoyment of the land that they occupy. Does my hon. Friend feel that new clause 28 will go some way to protecting people who enjoy or work on the land in a legal and proper manner, but who are under harassment and threat at the moment?

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I am aware that clause 5 refers especially to harassment, but I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would interpret how clause 5 marries with new 'clause 28. In the countryside there are many examples of people who work or enjoy their occupation but are harassed, bullied and badgered by many people in the most unfair and undemocratic way.

For example, a group of people were enjoying the field sport of hunting the other day. The master of the Surrey and North Sussex beagles was walking along with the hounds when a van was driven at the hounds and the master was attacked in the face with sticks and he suffered a broken arm. Are animal rights protesters catered for in new clause 28? There are too many such incidents in the countryside. People engaged in employment in, or enjoyment of, various countryside activities are being harassed, badgered and driven to take the law into their own hands in the most desperate way. I hope that my hon. Friend can say that there is some chance of curtailing those who would unlawfully interfere with the rights of those who seek to enjoy perfectly legal and proper recreations in the countryside.

Mr. Alex Carlile

The new clause constitutes a significant amendment to our criminal law. Although it provides for an offence that will rarely be proceeded with through the courts, we must always be reluctant to introduce new crimes into the court calendar. Therefore, it is right that we should be circumspect in our examination of this clause.

It is regrettable that we are having to consider a clause, introducing a new criminal provision, that has been rushed into the Bill without having been through a considered Committee stage. Although I broadly support the philosophy behind the new clause, it is especially regrettable that we were not allowed to wait until the end of the representation period of the Lord Chancellor's review of order 113, mentioned earlier by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), before formulating our views on the need for this new clause and the extent of the criminal offence that might be required.

When the right hon. Member for Gorton was speaking, one had the impression — I think that many in the Labour party still believe this—that all farmers have pots of money and can afford to go off to their solicitors and pay the costs of proceedings brought in the civil courts. The impression is that they can somehow wave a magic wand and obtain a hearing in the civil court quickly, and then wave the same magic wand, perhaps slightly extended, and employ the services of the bailiffs to shoo trespassers of their land.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)


Mr. Carlile

Before I give way, I have a further point to make.

In my constituency and throughout rural Wales, the reality of farming is that many farmers who have experienced serious trespass and damage to their land have a net income of less than £3,000 a year. The real income of the average farmer in Wales is 28 per cent. of what it was 10 years ago. A further reality is that in my constituency—I know because they have told me—many farmers have to rely for the subsistence of their families on family income supplement, which adds a little bit to their meagre income as farmers. There are exceptions. There are some highly successful entrepreneurial farmers in my constituency and throughout Wales, but, at the same time, the income of the majority of farmers is well below the national wage.

Mr. Soley

I cannot allow the hon. and learned Member to take advantage of the temporary absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to make such an unreasonable attack on him. Nothing in my right hon. Friend's comments suggested that we are anything but concerned about low-income farmers. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes, I shall send him a copy of our policy document which shows that. The point at issue is whether this is an appropriate way to deal with that problem. Given what my right hon. Friend said about the Lord Chancellor's examination of the civil law, the hon. and learned Gentleman should take that into account before making such an absurd suggestion.

Mr. Carlile

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's offer, but the right hon. Member for Gorton said that the civil law is good enough to deal with such situations. That assumes that the average farmer, including the average small farmer in my consituency with a hill farm of between 50 and 150 acres, can afford the £80 that a reasonable solicitor might ask for bringing the proceedings before the county court. I am afraid that the majority of farmers in my constituency cannot afford to put their hands in their pockets and pull out even the £80 needed for the most basic of applications to the county court.

Some may answer that by saying, "What about legal aid?" Farmers, like anyone else, can have legal aid, but if one asks a practising solicitor how easy it is to obtain an emergency legal aid certificate to deal with such a situation, the answer is that it is much harder to get than a hearing before a court. I am afraid that it does not wash to say that civil remedies are adequate.

Mr. Soley

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that we should use the criminal law or that there should he a review of the civil law so that it is available to low-income farmers?

Mr. Carlile

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman as directly as he would expect. Just as, early in the debate, without a murmur from either me or the Labour party, we agreed to an amendment that introduced a new criminal offence with a maximum of 10 years in prison, so we are now perceiving another place in which there is justification for introducing a new criminal offence, albeit one with a much lower level of penalty.

This is an important amendment, though extremely circumscribed and providing for penalties which are not great in proportion to other criminal offences. Before I gave way twice to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), I said that farmers and those who represent and understand their needs understand the need for the police to be able to eject residential trespassers from land. The more one considers the problem and ponders the extent to which police powers are required, the more it becomes clear that, reluctantly, we must agree to a criminal offence which includes that small maximum sentence of imprisonment and the power of a court to impose a fine.

Earlier, I rather unfairly raised with the Minister an issue about footpaths. I apologise to him for raising the issue in that way. His answer earned at least alpha minus and was a valiant attempt to deal with my point, but he suggested that what I said was preposterous and I will not have that. Therefore, I shall have another go at him and this time he will have more time to reflect upon what I consider to be a serious problem which merits a more serious answer.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

When I said "preposterous", I was talking about the idea that a convoy could remain four square on a footpath.

Mr. Carlile

That is just the point I was about to deal with. Unfortunately, it is not half as preposterous as the hon. Gentleman suggests. Throughout the country and in my constituency there are rights of way through Forestry Commission land, which the public can traverse in groups, on horseback, which are wide enough to accommodate two articulated lorries loaded with logs travelling in opposite directions. These are wide rights of way upon which a convoy could camp. One can readily envisage a position, especially where tents are used, in which those who are camped upon land have come there lawfully because they have a right to do so, and have camped mainly upon what is classed as a highway.

Therefore, the absurd position could arise in which those who camp upon a field adjoining, for example, a Forestry Commission track could be rendered liable to the new criminal offence, but those who camp upon the track would not he liable to the new offence.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I merely wish to clarify the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals. Is he proposing that the meaning of "land" should be extended to include highways?

Mr. Carlile

Farmers must be protected. There is no logical distinction to be drawn between that part of a farmer's land which happens to be a field and that part which happens to be a track over which he drives his tractor; nor between that part of Forestry Commission land which is afforested and that part upon which the log lorries are driven; nor between that part of a national park which is merely farmed land, as for example in Snowdonia, where very large tracts, with the co-operation of farmers, have been opened to the public.

Mr. Hind

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is a way round this problem? My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has told us what it is. The definitions of "highway" in section 5 of the Highway Act 1835, as subsequently amended by sections 328 and 329 of the Highways Act 1980, cover bridges, roads, carriageways, cartways, horseways, bridleways, footways, causeways, churchways, pavements and footpaths. But if a convoy partially or totally obstructs any of those sorts of highway, of which there are many, it commits an offence under section 137 of the Highways Act, which entitles the police to remove it from that spot. In effect, a police officer in situ dealing with such a problem on a highway would be in exactly the same position as he would be in dealing with land adjacent to the highway under the new clause that we are discussing.

6.15 pm
Mr. Carlile

The hon. Gentleman is full of appealing ways, but I wonder whether the average farmer attending the executive meeting of the local branch of the National Farmers Union or the Farmers Union of Wales will find that distinction easy to understand. The legislation is intended to solve problems for farmers in a way that they will understand.

However, another point worries me. I am not seeking to put before the Minister obscure obstacles which are best left to law examination papers. It worries me much more that a farmer who has substantial rights of way across his land may not realise that such part of his land as is a right of way is classified as a highway. Therefore, he may ask the police to exercise their powers under the Public Order Act. They may do that, and the farmer and the police may soon find themselves in a civil court accused of wrongful arrest and, ultimately, false imprisonment. This matter needs further consideration.

I share the misgivings which have been expressed about the meaning of the words "reasonable steps" in subsection (1) of the new clause. That point is reinforced when one sets the phrase reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the occupier of the land,"— for that is the standard which the landowner must satisfy — against the standard which the police officer must satisfy. He need not take "reasonable steps" to ask trespassers to leave. He can direct—for the word used in relation to the police officer is "direct" — persons to leave the land. An unhelpful distinction is drawn in amendment No. 28 between the quality of the action required of the landowner and that required of the police officer. That distinction has no logical basis.

The right hon. Member for Gorton suggested that there is no need for a new criminal offence to be created because, where damage is committed, a police officer can arrest someone for the damage. Where there is a breach of the peace and the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, a police officer has power to arrest. But those who take that view— I have received many briefings advocating that view—have failed to observe an essential distinction between the general powers of the police in relation to specific criminal offences and the helpful power contained in subsection (1).

If a police officer sees a crowd of people encamped upon land and an item has been damaged — a constituent of mine suffered damage to a cattle trough in a field on 18 occasions during a fortnight— he cannot march on to the land and arrest the first person he sees for damaging the trough. He must have reasonable grounds for believing that that person has damaged the trough. If he comes along, as is inevitably the case, after the trough has been damaged, he has a problem on his hands, because he cannot do anything about it. If there has been a breach of the peace and a farmer rings up and says, "I have been abused, threatened and insulted by a crowd of people on my land, late at night," but he has no idea which individuals used the insulting words or threatening behaviour, the police are left powerless.

The power arises under subsection (1), where any of the persons who are encamped on the land has caused damage to property on the land or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier. Therefore we are providing something that does not exist, in terms of powers of the police, under the existing law. In my view, we are providing something that anybody—perhaps I can return an earlier jibe by the Minister— who, like myself, has considerable knowledge and experience of the countryside and who lives in the middle of the countryside, knows is a reasonable power.

Although I have grave misgivings about the way in which this new law is being introduced and although, in my view, it would have been far better to leave it out of this Bill and to include it in what I believe is to be a Criminal Justice Bill in the new Session of Parliament, starting very shortly, nevertheless, having regard to the balance of interests and considerations, the principle of this clause must be supported. I shall support it later tonight. However, I hope that we shall hear from the Minister that the Government are conscious of the rush that there has been to introduce the clause and that they will be prepared to consider even significant changes if it is found that the clause causes difficulties in the coming months.

Mr. Humfrey Matins (Croydon, North-West)

I welcome the clause and it will be welcomed by large numbers of people, including farmers whose powers until now have been limited when their land has been invaded. Either they have had to go to law for a civil remedy—which is very expensive and very slow; the county court takes several days to hear a case and it is not inconceivable that legal bills running well into four figures will be incurred— or they have to use the remedy of self-help. In law a farmer is entitled to use reasonable force to remove trespassers from his land. He cannot use reasonable force to remove trespassers from his house, but he can use it to remove them from his land. However, that is thought to be an unwise step to take, because of the consequences that can flow from using reasonable force. Farmers tend to get a little excited.

I believe that it is a good new clause, but I should like to make one or two points about it. The first relates to causing damage to property. We are not dealing with criminal damage. The new clause provides that any form of damage, which includes accidental damage, must fit within the section. However, damage to property is mentioned in the clause. Property that is defined in the Criminal Damage Act 1971 does not, apparently, include the foliage of a plant that is growing wild on any land.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider the following scenario and let me know whether he thinks that it fits within the section? A group of vehicles—perhaps seven in number—comes on to a farmer's land. In so doing, those vehicles are trespassing. No intentional damage is caused. The occupants of the vehicles do not abuse or threaten the occupier of the land or his family. However, the movement of those vehicles causes damage to certain crops. In the case that I have imagined, there are seven vehicles. Therefore they do not come within subsection I (b), which refers to 12 or more vehicles. Therefore, the farmer is left with the remedy in paragraph (a): he has to establish damage to property on his land.

If the vehicles or individuals accidentally cause damage to a crop that the farmer is growing—corn or maize—am I right in saying that that constitutes property, whereas if they cause damage to a grass crop it would not constitute damage to property? What classes of goods are covered by the phrase "growing wild on any land"? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to deal with that question.

That question reminds me of what happens under the law relating to motoring. If one is involved in a road traffic accident, one is under a duty to stop and exchange names and addresses. Then one asks oneself, what is an accident? I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I think that an accident is an untoward event involving damage to people or property.

The courts have held that it is an accident when damage is caused even to a tree. In motoring law, therefore, the tree falls within the definition of property, when it comes to damage, for the purposes of the section that requires one to stop and exchange names and addresses. Under this clause one can envisage the occupants of a group of seven vehicles chopping down a tree with which to light a fire. If a tree is chopped down and used to light a fire, does it constitute a plant that is growing wild on the land, thus taking it outside the scope of "property", or is the tree "property"?

The definition of "property" could give rise to difficulty. When vehicles go on to land they will inevitably cause some damage to some property. Therefore, one has to ask to what extent the definition of "property" includes crops.

Furthermore, I do not understand why 12 vehicles must be involved. I have envisaged a case in which seven vehicles might be involved. The land of a client of mine was invaded by seven or eight vehicles, which caused great problems for my client. He is a farmer and he could not afford to go to law, despite my offer to handle the case for a few sacks of logs, not for a fee.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Plus VAT.

Mr. Matins

Yes, plus VAT.

He could not afford it, and time was against us. Those seven vehicles went on to his land. No insults were offered to his family and the only damage caused was the damage to some of his crops by the vehicles as they went through his fields. I should like to know whether an offence was committed in that case. I rather hope that it was.

Finally, one of the remedies that was available to my farmer friend was the ability to use reasonable force to throw out those people, but the police thought that that would be unwise. There was some sense in that view. However, my friend's great frustration was that the law discouraged him from using reasonable force to eject those people from his land and, due to a very old statute, the law forbids him to use reasonable force to throw people out of his home. There are many people who think that the law relating to squatting in properties should be looked at afresh.

I think that my farmer friend will greatly appreciate the thrust of this new clause. It will provide protection for large numbers of people who in the past have felt defenceless.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I begin by seizing this opportunity, like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, to congratulate the new Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), on his apppointment. In Committee we learned to respect and view with considerable affection the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), the former Minister of State, Home Office, who conducted the Bill's passage with great reasonableness and earned the respect of all hon. Members, on both sides of the Committee and the House. However, I am sure that the hon. Member for Grantham will prove an ample substitute.

I take issue with the Under-Secretary of State's claim that the new clause's provisions will apply in strictly limited circumstances. It is precisely because I believe that those circumstances are not strictly limited that I have grave misgivings about it. The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Matins) pinpointed the problem of accidental damage and of what has caused damage to property means. In doing that, he highlighted just one of the many difficulties. There are others. The persons involved must have entered the land as trespassers, yet "trespassers" are not defined. Who decides whether people are entering land as trespassers? Is it to be assumed that they are trespassers simply because they do not have the express permission of the owner?

6.30 pm
Mr. Cash

The hon. Gentleman may have been out of the Chamber when this point was addressed. The new clause states that the senior police officer must reasonably believe that the people have entered the land as trespassers. Consequently, the hon. Gentleman must accept that the defence's first action in court would be to test the police officer's action on that very point. That is where the issue of trespass would first arise.

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman has run ahead of me, because I was about to come to that point. To a certain extent, the whole thing hinges on it.

Someone judging whether the senior police officer "reasonably believes" that a group of two or more persons are trespassers will be unable to receive any guidance from the new clause or the Bill. The new clause states that the officer must reasonably believe that the trespassers are there with the common purpose of residing there for any period". But my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has already asked what "any period" means. Is it an hour, a day, or what?

There is also the question whether any of those persons has caused damage to property". If the police officer reasonably believes that a wall has been broken by those supposedly trespassing, but they protest their innocence and say that the wall was broken when they came onto the land, it is possible that neither their contention nor the police officer's belief can be proved. Thus, there is enormous scope for difficulty and argument. Many of the provisions in subsection (1) of the new clause are open to very wide interpretation.

Let us imagine that a family of three decide to camp overnight on privately owned land without first obtaining permission. Nothing could less resemble a hippie convoy. Let us then imagine that the owner tells them fairly aggressively to move off and leave his land, and that they refuse, saying that they are out for the weekend and want to camp. They may argue back in a somewhat ripe fashion. But if they do so, it may be said that they have used threatening, abusive or insulting words". At that point, all the mechanisms in the new clause will have been triggered. A family of three, whose only apparent crime is to have shouted back at someone who aggressively demanded that they should leave his land, will be subject to a direction from a police officer and, on refusal, to a criminal prosecution. That may well happen and those people would then be caught by the new clause's provisions. The Government have introduced this new clause in order to catch a different sort of offence, but that is one consequence of it. It worries me that such people will be considered criminals if the legislation reaches the statute book.

But worse than the potential scope of the legislation, and worse than the ambiguity of several of the provisions in subsection (1), is the role of the police officer and his reasonable belief. The new clause places a great onus on the police officer. In a subsequent court case, the test will be whether the police officer's belief was reasonable. I am not sure that the police will welcome being placed in that position.

Moreover, subsection (2) states: If a person knowing that such a direction has been given which applies to him fails to leave the land or subsequently returns, he commits an offence. Subsection (2) does not contain any qualifications about whether the direction was valid. If the person contests that direction or wishes to do so, or leaves and subsequently decides that it was invalid and returns, he has precious little protection. I hope that the Minister can clarify that point. Is it to be assumed that that direction must be valid in order for the mechanism to be triggered? If not, it is a matter of concern, because an invalid direction could be given, and the person concerned would have to comply with it.

I am worried about the new clause's scope and about the ambiguity of several of its provisions. I am also worried that the police officer's belief should be the test on which the whole thing hinges. Moreover, I am concerned that the Government are introducing a new power of criminal trespass. They will turn the police into the bailiffs of privately owned land. Traditionally, we have never supported that in this country, and I cannot support it now.

Mr. Hawksley

I do not particularly want to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) about whether trespass will become a criminal offence. In Committee, I argued that such a move would not be harmful and might almost be necessary. My amendments were not then accepted.

I accept that this amendment is different. It is not a case of making trespass a criminal offence. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) wondered where the amendment had come from and suggested that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had been watching television. I do not mind where it came from, because I wholeheartedly welcome it, even at this late hour.

It is unfortunate that we did not have such an amendment before us either in Committee or on Report. It would have given us an opportunity to deal with some of these details. It is also a pity that it took a case such as that of Mr. Attwell to get the Home Office to respond. I am glad that the Home Office has responded. We warned the then Minister, both in Committee and on Report, that something would have to be done. In Telford, in my constituency, I have had experience of problems created by peace convoys. My concern is not that this amendment does not make trespass a criminal offence but that there may be some gaps in the law if the House accepts the amendment.

Subsection 1(a) of the new clause refers to persons who have used insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of his family or an employee or agent of his". Who would that be in the case of publicly owned land? In Telford, the Telford development corporation, The Wrekin district council and the National Coal Board, which were owners, had to take action against a peace convoy. To which group are the insulting words directed in those cases? I wrote to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, asking whether he would consider accepting the idea that neighbours, in addition to the occupier, might suffer from insulting words. I am concerned that we may have left a loophole by insisting that it is the occupier of the land and not the neighbours who suffer the insulting words or threats against them.

Paragraph (b) specifies that those persons have between them brought twelve or more vehicles on to the land". The Opposition have asked why 12 vehicles were stipulated. My amendment stating four vehicles can be considered questionable on the same grounds. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State must respond by saying why the figure of 12 was chosen. Twelve is too many; four would be better. What will happen? With the very good legal advice that the peace convoys seem to take around with them, we will soon find that they will have 12 or 13 vans. They will just split up into two groups. They may be only 100 yards apart but on different owners' land, yet under this new clause they will be able to say, "It does not apply to us."

I hope that the Minister will tackle the question of numbers and the reason for choosing 12. My amendment is to probe his arguments to find what the position will be if peace convoys divide into smaller units.

The House should accept the amendment. It will give comfort to many people not only in rural areas, such as Montgomeryshire, of which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) spoke, but in places such as Telford and other new towns where there is a lot of spare land and where peace convoys have a habit of drifting for the winter. I welcome the amendment and congratulate the Government on introducing it.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

This amendment should be supported because it specifically refers to those who trespass on land for the express purpose of residing on it. Trespassers have caused an immense problem in the area of Wales that I represent. The provision also refers to 12 or more vehicles being brought on to land. There have been many examples of more than 12 vehicles going on to land and causing damage and distress, especially to farmers.

I am pleased that the amendment refers to common land. There is an immense amount of common land in Wales. Vehicles entering land have been a problem for us. I refer to the problems which have occurred on Hay bluff, for example, in my constituency over at least 10 years. A number of people who resided on Hay bluff brought with them dogs that killed sheep. They used abusive language—indeed, unparliamentary language—and threatened to burn down hay barns if farmers did not accede to their demands. Such a demand was made to a farmer when these people were cutting his fences. I remind the House that the cutting of fences is a serious matter for livestock farmers. It deprives them of the use of their land because their stock are no longer contained in the field.

6.45 pm

The exclusion of such things as monuments is a weakness in the Bill. Many areas have monuments that the public like to visit. I believe that I am right in saying that such areas are excluded from the Bill.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Included within the definition of land are schedules of monuments within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

Mr. Livsey

I stand corrected.

The new clause will provide the police with the power to ensure protection against mass invasion. This is a problem area. The measure will not interfere with normal ramblers, bird watchers, or even courting couples. It certainly will not criminalise simple trespass; it will only criminalise mass invasion — an important distinction. One should realise that mass invasions intimidate the rural public in much the same way as the urban public is intimidated if police over-react and send too many officers to solve a problem. It is a matter of balance and we have to get it right. There is a happy medium of tolerance, and this clause provides it.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) mentioned the right of individuals to pursue certain life styles. I agree with him; it should be a fundamental right. But a difficulty arises when people pursue their life styles en masse. I shall give an analogy, having been a farm manager for part of my career. We always acceded to travellers' requests to stay the night on the farm. Indeed, we used to allow them to go into farm buildings. We welcomed them and provided them with a cup of tea, a bun, sandwiches, or whatever. They came every spring and autumn on their way around the British Isles. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Chris Smith) mentioned campers going on to private land and the possibility of a dispute. In my experience and in that of many other people engaged in farm management, any campers who approached a farmer and asked to erect their tents and stay the night on the land were generally made welcome. They are turfed off in exceptional circumstances, and I regard that as an intolerant attitude.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although many farmers would do exactly as he did and provide facilities for overnight campers, many farmers find it much more difficult to deal with gipsies? A particularly difficult problem in Wales is that, although some local authorities have provided sites for gipsies—such as my district council in Montgomeryshire—many have failed to do so, and the Welsh Office has been absurdly reluctant to designate those sites that have been provided.

Mr. Livsey

I agree. The Bill's great weakness is that provision has not been made for sites for travellers. We are considering some of the essentials needed for protection, but the lack of provision of sites for travelling people is a serious omission.

On the whole, the new clause provides a happy medium, achieving a balance between the rightful public interests and the interests of those who wish to protect their freedom as landowners. On the whole, the Bill strikes the right balance.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicester, North-West)

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) to the Government Front Bench and to the firing line of the Bill in its late stages. I realise that at the eleventh hour a new offence has suddenly been thrust on us.

I recall an Adjournment debate in 1983, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), in which I joined. My hon. Friend and I were appalled by the actions of a number of people who were travelling about the country in dilapidated vehicles, camping on property and damaging it. Between 1983 and 1986 the problem worsened. We saw with dismay what happened to farmer Attwell. There was a universal call for something to be done because it was clear that criminal offences were being committed. I wonder whether the creation of this trespassing offence will alter the position of people like farmer Attwell.

I understand that a large convoy caused great disruption in the west country. The police issued directions, the effect of which was to force people in the convoy to drive off the road, and they then went on to farmer Attwell's land. Criminal damage was done, yet no arrests were made and no one was brought before the courts. It appears that the wish of the police force was simply to move the people on, to keep them moving and to disperse them. I cannot envisage people involved in similar situations in the future being charged under the new clause. I foresee similar events occurring. The police will try to move people on and disperse them. I wonder whether the new clause will alleviate the problem.

I have been deeply concerned about the position of people travelling round the country and disrupting the lives of many others who are intent on carrying on normal life. It is right and proper that the Government should act, but I wonder why we have acted in this way. I cannot help but feel that the legislation is a blunderbuss where the accuracy of a rifle is needed. It has been introduced in a great hurry. As we all know, the worst legislation is always initiated when it is a reaction to certain events. This totally new legislation is a reaction to what happened in the summer in the west country. I accept that the police will face a great problem because they have never liked acting in the quasi-civil area of trespass. This new clause means that they will have to do so.

This is a ponderous, heavy-handed new clause. It contains rather unhelpful provisions, such as that dealing with "twelve or more vehicles" and that covering persons who have caused damage to property on the land or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour". Where in the Home Office is there the vision and understanding of what is required? We are the Parliament of the United Kingdom, not just of England. One need only go north, beyond the border, to see the good legislation which has been in place for some years and been seen to work. Has the Home Office ever looked at the Scottish law of criminal encampment? These ponderous references to "twelve or more vehicles", "threatening" behaviour, and so on, are the basis for the worst sort of legislation. There is the simple legislation of criminal encampment. The word "encampment" is redolent of all the problems with which we are trying to deal— large convoys causing mayhem and damage about the countryside and being harmful to many people.

I welcome the idea behind the legislation and recognise that something must be done, but we must be careful and realise that we do not want to harm those people who would normally be dealt with under the civil law. For years we have seen the signs, "Trespassers will be prosecuted" and laughed at them, realising that we could carry on once we paid our shilling—the total damages. The civil law could be applied if there were a serious trespass, but, by and large, it has been ignored.

I feel sure that in the Scottish law of criminal encampment we will find what this country requires. I shall not vote against the new clause because it is along the lines that I have outlined, but I shall not give it much of a life. I foresee that it will be unworkable, that it will be ignored and that eventually it will fall into disrepute or be repealed because it is found to be full of loopholes and hopeless. I welcome the measure because it will give lawyers much work, not in the magistrates courts but in the Court of Appeal where it will be interpreted. I must declare an interest. I foresee a marvellous amount of work for lawyers arising from it, and for that reason I welcome it.

I urge the Home Office to look beyond our borders to Scotland and the better legislation which has worked extremely well and been tried and tested. Let us look next Session at the criminal justice legislation, repeal this measure and put in its place something better from Scotland.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

I welcome the new clause and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), the new Under-Secretary of State, for his patient and thoughtful response in the past few weeks to the difficult problem of the damage and disruption caused by mass trespass.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asserted that past Conservative Ministers expressed the view that the present law was adequate to cope with this problem without the need for additional legislation. If the right hon. Gentleman had been more attentive on Report, he would have hard my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) draw attention to the acknowledged deficiencies in the existing law of trespass. Indeed, my hon. Friend concluded his remarks on clause 14 with the sentence: I trust that it is not a state of law which we can allow to remain for much longer."—[Official Report, 30 April 1986; Vol. 96. c. 1054.] The former Minister clearly had it in mind to bring forward an additional clause. I welcome the fact that he has fulfilled that promise.

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I must draw attention to the fact that alliance Members have been very slow to wake up to this issue. It is, of course, welcome that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) supports the new clause. However, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) — the alliance spokesman in Committee—took no interest in this in Committee. Indeed, he not only opposed any amendment or extension to the Bill to deal with the problem of mass trespass, but expressed outright opposition to clause 14 which, at that time, was the only part of the Bill that might have been of some use to those affected. Although the alliance has climbed on to the bandwagon late, it is nevertheless welcome on board.

What concentrated the minds of alliance Members was the sight this summer of small farmers having to spend in excess of £1,000 each in unsuccessful attempts to protect their properties and livelihoods from being wrecked. Obviously, the most prominent case was that of Mr. Les Attwell, who comes from my county of Somerset. He is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) who has played a considerable part in achieving a satisfactory conclusion to that issue.

It must be stated repeatedly that the new clause is not creating a new offence of trespass; it is creating a new power to evict trespassers in certain circumstances. The criminal law will not come into effect until a chain of events has taken place. It will therefore not ensnare anyone but the most determined trespasser.

For a start, there has to be an original act of trespass. Secondly, there must be an intention to reside on the land in question. I am not altogether happy with the word "reside" because it can imply that there is an intention to stay for sonic considerable time. Thirdly, for a criminal act to be committed, the occupier has to ask the alleged trespasser to leave. Having fulfilled those three conditions, there has to be a threat of damage, disruption or harassment to the occupier or his family, or there must be more than 12 vehicles involved. Following that, a senior police officer has to ask the trespasser to leave the land in question and, lastly the trespasser has to refuse to leave the land. Only when those six conditions have been fulfilled will a criminal act have been committed. I do not think that that constitutes a ferocious extension of the criminal law.

I have a number of comparatively minor misgivings, and I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could address them when he replies. Subsection 4(b) gives it as a defence for an alleged trespasser to show reasonable excuse for failing to leave the land in question. What does my hon. Friend understand "reasonable excuse" to mean? He may say that it is up to the courts to decide that. Is it, for instance, "reasonable excuse" for a trespasser to say that his vehicle has broken down or become unroad-worthy? That is a very frequent excuse at present. It is common for those coming on to land to abandon or dump their vehicles and then claim that they cannot leave for that reason.

Secondly, I would like the Minister to say what is encompassed by his definition of "land" in the new clause. Is it, for instance, two adjacent fields? What would happen if trespassers were to withdraw from a field on one side of the road and immediately encamp in another field on the other side of the road? Is it land defined as belonging to one person or within the encompass of one farm? Is it land within one parish or area? These are important considerations. If there are loopholes, we can be quite certain that they will be discovered, because many of the potential trespassers—members of future peace convoys—have access to good legal advice, like anyone else, and they can tailor their activities accordingly.

Thirdly, I want to refer to the limit of 12 vehicles. It is all right if the 12 vehicles concerned are Mini Metros, but it is not all right if those vehicles are buses. There have been frequent occasions in my constituency when members of peace convoys—hippies, itinerants, or whatever they are called — came on to land and abandoned their vehicles, in which they then lived. They were not cars; they were old school buses and the like. One was a double-decker bus. Eleven double-decker buses, which would escape the clause, can constitute quite a party. In London we are used to seeing columns or convoys of double-decker buses. However, I hope that the new clause will not encourage columns of double-decker buses to constitute future peace convoys in Somerset.

Thes are comparatively minor points. The new clause is certainly welcomed by me and most of the people whom I represent. I hope very much that these will remain as reserve powers for use by the police on rare occasions. There are many legitimate and legal ways whereby people can enjoy camping and caravanning in the west country. The Bill, with the new clause, will be a means of serving notice on the minority of people who come to my part of the country and cause damage or disruption and with whom the law at present is inadequate to cope.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

We can recognise that the Home Office has been in some difficulties over the new clause. Indeed, I suspect that it has been very uncertain about the exact drafting that it wanted, because its views have changed so radically from the first part of the year.

I have a letter from the Home Office dated 23 April 1986 from which I would like to quote. I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the question of the trespass on Greenham Common in my constituency. I suggested that perhaps further powers were needed to correct that trespass. In his reply, the Home Secretary said: The practical difficulties of drafting an offence which applies to land would he considerable, involving for example defining the nature of the land to be covered by the offence, and ensuring that the offence does not have effect beyond those justified by the mischief it is trying to prevent. Since he wrote that letter in April, the Government and the Home Office have been spurred into action not by the trespass on Greenham Common but by the curious creation called the peace convoy of hippies which existed in an around Stonehenge and throughout the west country and which finally came to rest in the New Forest. For some reason that convoy caught the nation's and the Government's eye more effectively than the peace women. As a result of that hippie convoy we have this new clause.

Although I shall support the Government, I do not think that the new clause goes far enough. I shall test this clause against the narrow constituency example of what we have had to endure at Greenham Common from a trespass. I shall also point out to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that his view that the civil law is adequate is far from the truth. Because of the statements by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary at the time of the hippie convoy that the law of trespass would be looked at again and that they would bring forward new proposals when the Bill went to the House of Lords if they thought they could produce sufficient and adequate drafting, I took it upon myself to write to the Home Secretary. I suggested that perhaps what was required was an order of trespass which would enable the police to remove people who were in residence on common land unlawfully. As I have already said, I do not believe that the civil law is adequate or has been proved to be adequate to deal with this matter.

If for a moment I strike a frivolous note to make my point, I do so because I wish to quote from a satirical article that sums up what my constituency, especially around Greenham Common, has had to endure for five years. The article comes from Private Eye and it is entitled "This Romantic England". It reads: The English countryside knows no more colourful sight than the groups of anorak-bedecked peace-women who traditionally cluster around the Greenham Common airbase in Berkshire. With their matted hair and muddy Wellingtons, these exotic creatures fill the air with their shrill cries of .No cruise, no cruise' and 'We hate men'. And then, once a week, a strange ritual is enacted whose origins are lost in the mists of time. The burghers of Newbury send 'officials' to 'expel' the women from their traditional roosting ground. Amid much squeaking the burly bailiffs 'move in' to dismantle the primitive shelters in which the women and their offspring have made their squalid nests. All this is traditionally watched by a large group of local residents, who emerge from their large detached residences behind the rhododendrons and say things like 'About bloody time', 'They use our garden as a public toilet' and 'It's the least the council can do considering the rates we pay'. A few minutes later, as the last cheers die away and the Council officials' Cortinas disappear down the leafy lane, the women re-emerge from the trees and begin the process of rebuilding their quaint shelters, from the traditional materials of PVC sheeting, chemical fertiliser bags and old copies of the Sunday Telegraph. Although satirical, that is a remarkably accurate summing up of what we have had to endure during the past five years and what, to some extent, still exists, although at a much lower level.

I look at amendment No. 28 and ask myself how it will meet the problem of people who persist in a trespass knowing that they are breaking byelaws controlling the common land. I find myself wondering whether the amendment affects common land. It says in the clause that action can be taken only against those whose original entry on the land could constitute a trespass. By its very definition, that cannot mean common land, because there is no trespass in walking or being on common land. Therefore, the first and necessary condition for proving trespass does not seem to exist in terms of the Greenham women and those like them who choose to take up residence on common land.

7.15 pm

We then come to the question of residence, as opposed to simply being on common land. My constituents have never objected to the one-day demonstrations around Greenham by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They recognise, as I do, that to be able to protest is one of the essential freedoms that a parliamentary democracy enjoys. They have objected to residence on the common land which is taken up by those women with their so-called claim to be doing something to maintain world peace.

The peace women do not go in for one-day demonstrations. They have been with us in larger or smaller numbers since 1981. They have cost an additional £4 million in policing and have been guilty of more than 1,000 offences, including about 300 offences of criminal damage. Throughout, they have been guilty of illegal possession of common land. When I look at what "land" is said to mean in this new clause, there is no reference to it being common land, although there is reference to the "occupier".

It may be that I am wrong to believe that this clause relates entirely to private land where there is clearly an owner and an occupier. However, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would clear up that point. I for one would like to believe that common land, which is in a sense the possession of all the people of this country, is just as precious to us as anything owned by a private individual and that those who seek to break the byelaws which govern the conduct of all of us so that we may enjoy common land are as much trespassers as those who choose to put their vehicles or themselves on private land.

In the amendment there is the requirement of 12 or more vehicles to prove the trespass. There is also the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) which states that that number should be reduced to four. I find it difficult to understand why any number should be selected. Anybody who has been to Greenham will know that one vehicle can create a considerable nuisance and make my constituents write to me asking what I am doing to get the women off the common or when the Government Departments which own bits of that land will do something to shift them.

I have also noticed that the word "vehicles" covers both motor vehicles and caravans. I hope that those in the Home Office who drafted this clause are aware that the Greenham women, although they do have vehicles, generally live in what are called benders. Benders are structures made of wood and PVC sheeting. Therefore, this clause could not touch their structures at all. There may be a good reason for that; it may be impossible to define what a bender is. However, if somebody had chosen to come to Greenham they might have learnt some useful and practical lessons as to exactly how people live who choose to trespass on land. They do not necessarily require motor vehicles.

I have to say that, although I will support this clause, I cannot do so wholeheartedly unless my hon. Friend can tell me that my misgivings about it not applying to common land are out of place. I want him to think again about the number of vehicles necessary to prove an offence and take into account the fact that those who trespass in this way do not necessarily live in motor vehicles or caravans but can live in other structures which can cause just as much inconvenience and unhappiness to those who have to suffer the trespass as anything else he may have thought of.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

There can be no doubt that some action is required. Following the incident at Cannock Chase, paragraph 56 of the police report stated: The state of the site, an acknowledged beauty spot, was appalling. It was littered with debris of all kinds, there was human excreta all about the area, many trees had been broken down or otherwise damaged and there was evidence (from cigarette ends, syringes, etc.) of the use of drugs. The County Council— I remind the House that it was a Labour county council— were compelled to declare the area a health hazard … and it was closed off to the public for six weeks while the debris was cleared away and the excreta decomposed by natural processes. Any Government who failed to take action to prevent that type of affront would be derelict in their duty. For that reason, I must immediately disagree with the contention of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that the present law is sufficient. Clearly, it is not.

The House must determine whether the remedy of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is the right one. Many hon. Members who served on the Committee will agree that it is wrong to criminalise trespass. The police have certainly resisted that. We wrestled with this matter in Committee and at a meeting at Scotland Yard attended by many senior police officers, who wanted action, but who did not wish to criminalise trespass and turn the police into the bailiffs of private landowners.

It is important for the House to know what some senior police officers would prefer. They do not want a power to enter land and throw off trespassers and damagers. They want some pre-emptive power to prevent trespassers from entering the land in the first place. Their attitude is coloured by their knowledge that the police will meet with resistance if they enter land where people have already established themselves and where frequently those people may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and will certainly be in a state of high excitement. Many police officers are injured when they must undertake that duty.

The Government's approach is, not to provide a power for the police or others to pre-empt the occupation of land by those who may damage it, but to provide a power whereby, once the trespass has taken place and the encampment has been set up, the police may enter the land and, if the conditions of the amendment are met, require the people to leave.

It is worth quoting the views of the chief constable of Staffordshire who, after the Cannock incident, said: What is really needed is some statutory power for the Police to take action of a preventive nature to stop these people entering onto land unlawfully. Quite frankly, once they have entered onto land the harm has been done because it is then necessary to go through the protracted civil process to evict them. While I shall support the Government, I should have preferred it if they had given the police the power to deal with the mischief before it happens rather than after it has happened.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

As my hon. Friend represents the Police Federation, can he say whether it is within the powers of the police force as the law stands to enforce the Road Traffic Acts as regards the roadworthiness of vehicles? In that way the police could largely take pre-emptive action. Is it not the case that often these vehicles are plainly in contravention of those Acts as they are flagrantly unlicensed, uninsured or unroadworthy?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Yes, indeed, and from time to time the police take action under the Acts. But they are always in a dilemma. If they take action on the highways to deal with convoys under the Road Traffic Acts or the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 they will frequently inconvenience gravely large numbers of other motorists who are going about their business by creating large traffic jams. Ironically, sometimes the police must allow a hippie convoy to proceed in order not to create an even worse traffic problem by holding it up at a particular point. Usually the police must balance their actions with common sense.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench, will respond to my general point in his reply. I now wish to make two further points.

I agree with hon. Members who have said that the definition of 12 vehicles is unfortunate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), I would have preferred no specific number. It should be the number of vehicles sufficient to create nuisance or damage. Once the number is defined, absurd situations arise. For example, the police would be helpless if a group of people took 11 vehicles onto public or private land, if those 11 vehicles did not cause damage, for example if they remained on the road, and if the people driving those vehicles did not use threatening or abusive language. Under the new clause, the police cannot act where 11 vehicles are involved. It would be far better, not to amend the number to four or to keep the number 12, but simply to say that if vehicles are in a number which causes damage, the police may act.

My final point is precise, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will understand that the police are a precise group of people. I wish to draw his attention to the text of the amendment. Lords amendment No. 28(1) refers to "the senior police officer" who must reasonably believe that two or more persons have entered land as trespassers". He triggers the action. He is not a senior police officer, but the senior police officer present. He may be a constable or a sergeant. But under subsection (3), only a constable in uniform may make an arrest.

On some occasions a senior detective officer, such as an inspector or a superintendent, returning home from duty or passing by in the course of work for the CID or Special Branch, may come across a group of people who are committing an offence. It would be his absolute duty as a police officer on duty to take action under this Lords amendment. What is he to do? Is he to say that he cannot effect an arrest until he returns to the police station and puts on his uniform? If my hon. Friend the Minister means that only a police officer in uniform can take action under this new clause, he should say so in both subsections (1) and (3). Then everyone, including the right hon. Member for Gorton, will understand where we stand.

The discrepancy between subsection (1), which specifies a senior police officer, who may well be a plainclothesman, and subsection (3), which specifies that a uniformed man must carry out the arrest, creates an anomaly which a precise service, such as the police service, will not find comfortable. I very much hope that the Minister will clear up that matter, so that, in future, there will be no circumstances in which a police officer, doing his duty—though a member of CID in plain clothes—is made a fool of by lawyers who attend to many of the peace convoys, simply because he was not in uniform.

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Mr. Sayeed

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) suggested that this clause could be used to persecute those who lead an alternative life style and that that would be wrong. He would be absolutely right if this clause were to be used in such a manner. That is not the purpose, nor the way that the clause will work. What it will do is stop those who are leading an alternative life style from destroying the life styles of other people. Therefore, I welcome this new clause, which I believe is long overdue.

I am delighted that a reluctant Home Office has been forced to change its mind. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that I discussed the matter with his colleagues in the Home Office, with the Lord Chancellor and also with the Secretary of State for the Environment. Until recently, I got nowhere.

This clause is deficient in a number of ways, and I regret that subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) are included. Those provisions mean that if persons are well-mannered and do not cause damage and provided that there are fewer than 12 vehicles in an encampment, they cannot be caught by the clause. Such persons can come on to land, be perfectly polite, not cause damage, have II double-decker buses and 50 tents and still not be caught.

I am not especially happy with the definition of "land". I believe that it includes common land, but I wish to draw the Minister's attention to two examples about which. I wrote to him a few weeks ago. I have not had an answer from his Department. One concerns a group of people — they are not gipsies or hippies; let us say they are tinkers—who are currently living under the M32 flyover in Bristol. I do not see how this clause will do anything about them. The other example concerns the premises of John Wright on the Bath road that have been virtually destroyed by people encamped in seven vehicles on the land adjoining the premises. Of course, it is hard to prove that those people did the damage.

The current law is ineffective. It is too slow and expensive. Despite what some right hon. and hon. Members have said, I believe that the police are in favour of a toughening of their powers, especially those who are in daily contact with the public. They are sick and tired of being cursed by the public for not having the power to take action. The encampments—just in the past year I have had nine in my constituency — have caused immense distress, anger and fear. The Minister should be aware of the fact that I have had to dissuade some of my constituents from fire-bombing caravans, because they are so bitter that they have been totally unable to get rid of some of these ragamuffins who cause so much distress.

The new clause is pre-emptive. I am absolutely certain that if this clause had not been brought forward—even with its existing faults—someone would soon have died.

Mr. Cash

Some months ago the problem of the peace convoy started off in Staffordshire. Many of my constituents were affected by the goings-on of those members of the peace convoy who first came to Cannock Chase. I am sure the right hon. Member for Gorton will remember—I hope that he will not want to forget this point in view of his remarks about the value of this clause —that the problem originated in the Labour-controlled county council in Staffordshire. I made a phone call to the chief constable of Staffordshire requesting him to provide the type of information to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) referred. The chief constable provided compelling evidence of drugs, abuse of people in the vicinity of my constituency, theft and the most appalling behaviour. All that needed to be brought under control.

I found the remarks of the right hon. Member for Gorton singularly inept in view of the fact that he knew, because the leader of Staffordshire county council arranged either to meet or speak to him on this subject, that this provision was brought about as a result of the actions of the county council in Staffordshire, actions which I thoroughly supported. Yet he now proposes to vote against the provision.

I notice that the right hon. Member for Gorton is fidgeting on the Front Bench. He has good reason to fidget, because he knows that he is about to let down the ratepayers of Staffordshire who elected a Labour county council. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind when this matter is reported in the local press, as I know that it will be.

The ratepayers of Staffordshire had to fork out more than £80,000 as a result of the peace convoy's activities. They took a very dim view of that. Farmers had a great deal of trouble from the peace convoy, whose members stole their produce, invaded their land and caused a great deal of fear and trepidation in the villages in that vicinity.

The Association of Chief Police Officers kindly met a number of Conservative Members from the area. In addition the Home Secretary, the former Minister—my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw)—and two under-secretaries were good enough to have meetings with us. We also had meetings with the County Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union.

The combined effects of those meetings and the proceedings in Standing Committee convinced me, and I believe most right-minded people, that these new provisions were required. I can only say that it is a pity that we had to wait for consideration of Lords amendments to have a provision of this kind brought forward, as this prevents us from discussing it in the detail that it deserves.

I have some sympathy with the concern that has been expressed by my hon. Friends with regard to the number of vehicles and, frankly, I would have preferred that there should be no limit on the number of vehicles. I feel strongly that these provisions are required and that they impose a minimum deterrent test. They will be extremely helpful to the police. They represent common sense and will be used to help both my constituents and those of other hon. Members.

Mr. Hind

I reject the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that we should have done nothing about the convoy problem. The problem was created last summer, and we must find a remedy. The clause is aimed at convoys. It is impossible to stretch it to cover other matters. Last summer the farmers had to use the High Court procedure, which is slow and cumbersome. This is a quick and cheap remedy. The problem can be dealt with quickly by police intervention before the situation becomes worse and the convoys move on.

Two obvious problems are created by the clause. The first relates to vehicles parked on a highway, whether it be a bridleway, footpath or whatever. Police officers will have to bear in mind that they are dealing either with an offence under the new clause or obstruction—an offence under section 137 of the Highways Act 1980. They will have to decide whether the offence is committed on land adjacent to the highway or on the highway itself. Whatever they decide, an offence is committed and the police will have to decide whether to move the convoy on and to arrest, if necessary.

The second problem is that the proposed new clause does not deal with common land. Subsection (1) says that if two or more persons have entered land as trespassers and are present there with the common purpose of residing there for any period, the police may direct them to leave that land.

The right to pass and re-pass applies to common land. The new clause cannot apply to that. Even if a person commits damage on a later occasion, contrary to the rights of common, the new clause cannot apply. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), the proposed new clause would not be appropriate to deal with the Greenham common problem, although I bow to the greater experience of my hon. Friend the Minister.

The clause is intended to deal with the convoy problem. It is much needed. Postponed deliberation until the next Session would mean that when the convoys move again the old laws will still be the only way of dealing with them. That will be expensive for farmers.

The small farmers in west Lancashire will agree that, although the proposition is not ideal, it is better than nothing. I shall vote for it tonight and look for improvements in the next Session.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

With the leave of the House, I shall attempt to answer the various arguments. I am conscious of the fact that the House wishes to move to a Division, so I shall reply as quickly as I can. If I ignore some points, I hope hon. Members will appreciate that no discourtesy is intended.

The speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) demonstrated, as do most of his speeches, that his skills are essentially of the silver plate variety. They are showy and patchy, and after a time they wear thin. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was deeply sympathetic to farmer Attwell, but he concluded that nothing should be done. I suppose that is preferable to his normal solution, which is that, although he is sympathetic to a victim, he wants to do that victim positive harm.

The right hon. Gentleman contended that the civil procedure was sufficient. It is not. I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) and for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed). The civil law is not, and never can be, an adequate remedy. It cannot he quick enough. The person who suffers an injustice has to find a lawyer, the proceedings have to be drafted and served, a judicial appointment has to be procured and a hearing undertaken. In any event it is necessary to give at least 24 hours notice before implementation to enable a defendant to make representations. The procedures that we suggest are cheap, expeditious and effective. I agree with those hon. Members who have stressed that using the civil procedure requires money. I propose the new clause as a greatly preferred option.

7.45 pm

The right hon. Member for Gorton made a number of bad points about the ability of police officers to form a judgment. He asks how they are to determine whether offensive or abusive action, or damage, has occurred. Police officers have to determine such actions every day of their working lives. He asks how they are to determine whether a person is a trespasser. He should have thought of that earlier, because in 1977 he was a member of a Government who passed the Criminal Law Act, which applies the same test — an officer has to determine whether a person is a trespasser.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that the new clause puts an onus on the defendant. It does nothing of the sort. The prosecution must prove every element of the offence. The right hon. Gentleman belly-ached about gipsies. The purpose of the new clause is not to harass innocent gipsies. However, if gipsies create the nuisance contemplated by the Bill, I see no reason why it should not be extended to cover them.

The right hon. Gentleman suggests two amendments to the new clause. He suggests that the power to give a direction to leave should be confined to an inspector or someone of higher rank. Once again the Labour party demonstrates that it has no understanding of the rural areas. In many areas it is difficult enough to find a sergeant, never mind an inspector.

Mr. Kaufman

Whose fault is that?

Mr. Hogg

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman supposing that he has found a point, because I can remind him of the number of police that we have added to the force since 1979. If we were to agree to the amendment, the provision would be of no benefit to people in the rural areas, which I believe is what the right hon. Gentleman wishes to bring about.

The right hon. Gentleman's second amendment is even more preposterous. He suggests that we remove from the Bill the provision that makes it an offence for a trespasser to re-enter land within three months. What nonsense. If we agreed to that, any offender could play cat and mouse. The direction to leave will he given, the man will toddle to the pub and toddle back again and no offence will be committed. That is absurd. The right hon. Gentleman does not want to solve the problem. He is all hot words and nothing else.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) first asked how clause 5 ties up with clause 39 and whether those who protest against fox hunting and the like will be caught by the provision. Clause 39 will not apply as a general proposition, because those who protest against fox hunting do not normally have a common intention to reside. On the other hand, and in specific circumstances, some of the other clauses may apply, for example clause 5. Therefore, although I cannot give him every consolation, the Bill contains material which would remedy what he and I believe to be an abuse.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is a slightly unsatisfactory case, as are most Liberals. His position is: "Well, it is a jolly good Bill, but I am sorry you rushed it." Let us consider what that means. If the farmer Attwell case recurred next year and we had done nothing, the hon. and learned Gentleman would toddle along to this place and accuse the Government of being dilatory. He cannot have it both ways. We have taken prompt action to resolve a mischief.

Incidentally, the House is used by now to a division of opinion between the Social Democratic party and the Liberal party. Here is another interesting example — a division within the Liberal party itself. On the one hand the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) is giving the Bill a warm welcome, saying that it is a happy medium, and on the other hand the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is belly-aching and whining. There is an interesting distinction between the two.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Malins) asked several questions, and I shall deal first with the question of property. I feel like a law student being asked to respond to a number of legal questions.

We have adopted a definition of property that is to be found in section 10(l) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Damage does not include damage to mushrooms growing wild on any land, or to the flowers, fruit or foliage of a plant growing wild. Damage to grass growing wild is thus excluded, but damage to grass grown as a crop, or other crops, is included. For that matter, damage to a tree or to a hedge itself is damage to property, whereas stripping off the leaves would not be damage.

Mr. Soley

What about a window box?

Mr. Hogg

I do not know about the hon. Gentleman's window box, and unless it is a very big window box I do not suppose that people would wish to reside there.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) joined his right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton in belly-aching. He asked how a police officer could know whether someone was residing for any period. That phrase is taken from the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which was passed by a Government whom, I have no doubt, he supported. The hon. Gentleman raised another question about the validity of the direction. If a direction is invalid, no offence is made out. However, that is an issue for the courts. I draw his attention also to the specific defences provided for in subsection (4).

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) raised two questions, which I shall deal with separately. His first question related to subsection (1)(a), namely, who is covered by the concept of abuse to the occupier, to members of his family or to his agents? He questioned the position of public authorities especially. Members of the authority's staff, and others who are authorised to act on behalf of the authority, are covered by the subsection.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (Mr. HeathcoatAmory), for Newbury, for Bury St. Edmunds and for Stafford (Mr. Cash), raised the question of setting the limit at 12. I understand their point perfectly well. In the end it is a balancing exercise and a matter of judgment. However, the criteria set out in subsection (1)(a) are alternatives to those set out in subsection (1)(b), or, to put it the other way round, paragraph (b) is an alternative to paragraph (a). We take the view that 12 or more constitutes a nuisance in itself, whereas less than that number would not necessarily do so. However, if there were fewer than 12, that might well trigger the powers under paragraph (a). I can only describe it as a balance, but I hope that I have my hon. Friends' support on this matter.

The comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) were most helpful. I do not follow him in his enthusiasm for Scotland. Although a Lowland Scot by origin, I prefer the law of England. However, there is a more serious point. He said that the provision was ponderous and heavy-handed. We are seeking to strike a balance between the rights of farmers and those of people to whom we do not wish to attach the consequences of the Bill. In making a balance, we are bound to draft criteria and distinctions. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that we have done so fairly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wells asked several questions. He was right to emphasise that the new clause does not create a new offence of criminal trespass. However, failure to comply with a police officer's direction would be an offence.

My hon. Friend asked the meaning of "reasonable excuse". He anticipated part of my reply, namely, that it is up to the courts. My interpretation is that if a person says, "I cannot get off the land because my bus is broken," that would not constitute a reasonable excuse. I would regard that as nonsense. However, a reasonable excuse might well arise if, for example, someone was tending another person who was ill or seriously injured. Clearly these are matters for the courts to determine in particular cases.

My hon. Friend also raised a difficult question about land, and I can assist him in this matter. Land will be covered by the Bill, even if it comprises adjacent fields or fields on the opposite sides of the road if those separate parcels of land are owned or rented by the same person.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury made a helpful speech, and to some extent I can assist him as well. Land will include common land, and common land is thus covered by the Bill. He also made an important point about benders. If people are residing on the land in the circumstances that my hon. Friend described, there would be no difficulty in a police officer holding that they entered with the common intent to reside. Having said that, I hope that I have persuaded my hon. Friend to give us not qualified, but unqualified, support in the Lobby.

As I would have expected, the interesting and difficult speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds raised points which are attractive and which concern the Government. He raised two points — the need for a pre-emptive power, and the anomaly between the senior police officer and the arresting officer. I shall deal with them separately. Yes, the pre-emptive power has a charm, but it gives rise to considerable difficulties. Once people are on the land, a judgment can be formed as to whether the criteria are satisfied. It is less easy when they are merely poised intending to enter.

On uniforms, yes, there is a difference between the senior officer and the arresting officer. I would say only that in the public order context it is desirable that the arresting officer should be in uniform and, as a matter of practice, that will not create a problem.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East, I give my apologies for not having replied to his letter and I simply re-emphasise that common land is covered by the Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford and for Lancashire, West for their support.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West I would only say that we have decided not to extend the Bill to highways, partly because they are already covered by legislation, and partly because the element of damage which would arise from sitting on highways is not nearly as great as the element of damage on other types of land.

I fear that I have gone on somewhat longer than I intended, but I have tried to deal with all the points made by hon. Members. I hope that the House will regard the new clause as a balanced and proper approach to an urgent and pressing problem.

Amendment (a) negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]

The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 106.

Division No. 306] 8 pm
Adley, Robert Biggs-Davison, Sir John
Aitken, Jonathan Blackburn, John
Alexander, Richard Body, Sir Richard
Amess, David Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Ancram, Michael Boscawen, Hon Robert
Arnold, Tom Bottomley, Peter
Ashby, David Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Ashdown, Paddy Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Bright, Graham
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Brinton, Tim
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Baldry, Tony Bruce, Malcolm
Batiste, Spencer Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Budgen, Nick
Beith, A. J. Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam
Bellingham, Henry Butterfill, John
Benyon, William Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Bevan, David Gilroy Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) McQuarrie, Albert
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Major, John
Carttiss, Michael Malins, Humfrey
Cash, William Malone, Gerald
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Marland, Paul
Chapman, Sydney Marlow, Antony
Chope, Christopher Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Maude, Hon Francis
Clegg, Sir Walter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Cockeram, Eric Meadowcroft, Michael
Colvin, Michael Mellor, David
Conway, Derek Merchant, Piers
Coombs, Simon Meyer, Sir Anthony
Cope, John Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Couchman, James Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Cranborne, Viscount Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Crouch, David Moate, Roger
Currie, Mrs Edwina Moore, Rt Hon John
Dorrell, Stephen Murphy, Christopher
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Neale, Gerrard
Dover, Den Nelson, Anthony
Dykes, Hugh Neubert, Michael
Emery, Sir Peter Newton, Tony
Evennett, David Nicholls, Patrick
Fallon, Michael Norris, Steven
Farr, Sir John Onslow, Cranley
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Oppenheim, Phillip
Fletcher, Alexander Ottaway, Richard
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Forth, Eric Pawsey, James
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Fox, Sir Marcus Penhaligon, David
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Gale, Roger Pollock, Alexander
Garel-Jones, Tristan Porter, Barry
Gow, Ian Portillo, Michael
Gower, Sir Raymond Powell, William (Corby)
Greenway, Harry Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Gregory, Conal Price, Sir David
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Proctor, K. Harvey
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Raffan, Keith
Hampson, Dr Keith Rhodes James, Robert
Harris, David Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hawksley, Warren Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Roe, Mrs Marion
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rost, Peter
Hickmet, Richard Rowe, Andrew
Hicks, Robert Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hind, Kenneth Sayeed, Jonathan
Hirst, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Holt, Richard Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hordern, Sir Peter Silvester, Fred
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Sims, Roger
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Jackson, Robert Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kennedy, Charles Soames, Hon Nicholas
Key, Robert Speed, Keith
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Spencer, Derek
Lang, Ian Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lawrence, Ivan Stanbrook, Ivor
Lee, John (Pendle) Stanley, Rt Hon John
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Steel, Rt Hon David
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Stern, Michael
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Lightbown, David Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lilley, Peter Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Livsey, Richard Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Temple-Morris, Peter
Lord, Michael Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
McCurley, Mrs Anna Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Maclean, David John Thornton, Malcolm
Maclennan, Robert Thurnham, Peter
McLoughlin, Patrick Townend, John (Bridlington)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Tracey, Richard
Twinn, Dr Ian Wiggin, Jerry
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Wigley, Dafydd
Waddington, David Winterton, Nicholas
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Wolfson, Mark
Walden, George Wood, Timothy
Wallace, James Woodcock, Michael
Waller, Gary Yeo, Tim
Ward, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Warren, Kenneth
Watts, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Wells, Sir John (Maidstone) Mr. Tim Sainsbury and
Whitfield, John Mr. Richard Ryder.
Whitney, Raymond
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Janner, Hon Greville
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Bagier, Gordon A T. Lambie, David
Barnett, Guy Lamond, James
Barron, Kevin Leighton, Ronald
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Bermingham, Gerald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bidwell, Sydney Loyden, Edward
Blair, Anthony McCartney, Hugh
Bray, Dr Jeremy McGuire, Michael
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Madden, Max
Campbell-Savours, Dale Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Martin, Michael
Clay, Robert Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Maxton, John
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Maynard, Miss Joan
Corbett, Robin Mikardo, Ian
Corbyn, Jeremy Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Craigen, J. M. Nellist, David
Dalyell, Tam O'Brien, William
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I) O'Neill, Martin
Deakins, Eric Patchett, Terry
Dewar, Donald Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dixon, Donald Prescott, John
Dormand, Jack Raynsford, Nick
Douglas, Dick Redmond, Martin
Dubs, Alfred Richardson, Ms Jo
Duffy, A. E. P. Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Eadie, Alex Rooker, J. W.
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Fatchett, Derek Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Faulds, Andrew Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Skinner, Dennis
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Fisher, Mark Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Flannery, Martin Snape, Peter
Foulkes, George Soley, Clive
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Spearing, Nigel
Garrett, W. E. Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
George, Bruce Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Godman, Dr Norman Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Gourlay, Harry Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central) Tinn, James
Hardy, Peter Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Wareing, Robert
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Welsh, Michael
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Wilson, Gordon
Home Robertson, John
Hoyle, Douglas Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Mr. John McWilliam and
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for raising a point of order and taking up the time of the House, but I shall be brief.

Yesterday evening during the debate on the Housing and Planning Bill I moved, on behalf of the Opposition and other parties, that we should support the other place in the amendment that was carried against the Government the previous week on the issue of the right to buy properties specifically designed and suitable for elderly people. The Government challenged us on that and the Lords amendment was overturned. Earlier this evening, the other place, by a substantial majority of 24 votes, stuck to its original demand. It behoves us on behalf of all hon. Members to ask the Government to make a statement about their intentions.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As a result of the vote about which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has spoken, and given that last night it was made clear that the Government had no objection in principle to a reverse —a reverse that has now taken place in the other House —could the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government will now accept what the other place has done to the Bill?

The decision in the other place has two major and important results. The first is that there should be no further risk of the matter going backwards and forwards between the two Houses. Secondly, we are already under substantial time pressure between now and the proposed end of the Session on Friday. Some Bills from the other place are arriving here a day later for amendments to be considered. It would be procedurally difficult at best, although not impossible, for this Bill to come back, given that there would be a further substantial debate in this House. Yesterday the amendments were the subject of a most substantial debate that lasted for almost a couple of hours. The debate would last even longer if the Bill were to come back.

The Government have been defeated twice by substantial majorities, and earlier they accepted the principle of defeat. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether they will gracefully accept that they have lost on this issue and that old people will be exempted from having their homes taken out of the public sector? That would be justice.

8.15 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I do not want to inject any element of controversy into the evening, but I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will take a few lessons from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) who made an effective interjection on a point of order and apologised for impeding another debate. For the reasons given by those two hon. Gentlemen, this matter requires a speedy resolution. A decision will be announced in the House quite soon, through the usual channels.

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