HC Deb 19 February 1997 vol 290 cc927-9 3.35 pm
Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to create an arrestable offence of unlawful intrusion into designated educational premises. A generation ago, when you, Madam Speaker, and I were at primary school, we worried about all sorts of things. I was lucky enough to attend Brooklands school in Stafford—an excellent school—where I worried about the work because I could not do it, games lessons because I could not do games and mostly about whether that awful milk would be frozen again. However, I never worried about security, and I do not believe that my parents did, either. That was then, and this is now. The world has changed and I am old enough to begin to regret that.

The Bill deals with the growing problem of school intruders, which has been highlighted by recent tragic events. The presence of intruders on school premises is always unsettling to children and staff, and can be extremely dangerous. At present, staff can only seek to persuade the intruder to leave, and the police, if they are good enough to attend, do not have the backing of criminal law to deal with the problem, unless the intruder has committed some further specific offence, such as frightening or terrifying people on the premises.

The current inadequate law covering such circumstances is found in section 40 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. It covers only local authority and—now—grant-maintained schools and requires the intruder to commit some further offence on the premises, following which he can be removed from the premises by a policeman, but nothing more. He can only be escorted outside the school gates. He cannot be taken further away or prevented from walking straight back on to school premises, either immediately or as soon as the police have left the scene. He can be guilty of an offence that is dealt with only by means of a summons and carries a maximum fine of £50. That wholly unsatisfactory piece of legislation is no longer adequate to deal with the problem faced today by schools.

I take the view that school premises must be made more secure. The Bill would be a significant and practical step towards achieving that. I do not want, even if it were possible, 10 ft high fencing around schools and padlocked gates. I have seen it elsewhere and it does not create an atmosphere in which I want my children or any other children to be educated.

The Bill would return to head teachers control over school premises for which they are in many respects legally responsible, but over which they have inadequate legal powers. The police would have the power to attend and to remove intruders forthwith, securing the safety of the children and the staff. Our schools are currently wide open to ill intentioned intruders who create problems ranging from mere nuisance right up to seeking customers for drugs. Society should no longer have to tolerate that. The Bill would give schools a significant and important power to make them safer places for pupils and staff.

If I am given leave to have the Bill printed, it will consist of three clauses, the first stating simply, subject to the remainder of the Bill: Any person who, without lawful authority, enters onto or remains upon educational premises and who, having been asked to leave those premises by the head teacher or principal or someone acting on his behalf, either refuses to leave those premises or re-enters those premises within the period of 24 hours shall be guilty of an offence. That offence would be arrestable, so that the police had a duty—or at least the power—to attend and to arrest and remove. It would carry a prison term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding £2,000. That is the least protection that we should offer our children and those who teach them.

The head teacher would be the key. If he refused to allow someone to remain on the premises, that person would have to leave. Failing that, the offence would be complete. We would not have to wait, as at present, until children are cowering in the corner of the classroom before anybody can do anything. We would not have to ask teachers to go out, unprotected by the law, to try to persuade dangerous, worrying or disturbed people—criminals, often—to leave the premises. The Bill would also apply in other circumstances.

I do not intend to give examples from my constituency, because it would be invidious to single out a school and worry the parents of the children at that school. However, I challenge any hon. Member who is doubtful about the need for the Bill to ask teachers and head teachers, "Have you had a problem with school intruders? Could you deal with it properly? Would you like the power to do so?" I suspect that all hon. Members on both sides have already done that. I think that they will have had the same answers that I have had.

I am grateful for the support that I have had from members of the Labour party and from Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

And the Ulster Unionists.

Mr. Butler

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. Conservatives always hope to receive the support of the Ulster Unionists, but we cannot take it for granted.

Whom would the Bill catch? It would catch intruders. I have already referred to people looking for customers for drugs, but that is only one example. It would exclude from school premises all other people seeking to prey on children. It would deal with the regular problem of excluded pupils seeking to come back to school premises and create a nuisance, sometimes leading to criminal damage. Such people could be dealt with before they committed any further offence. It would also deal with parents who come on to school premises legitimately, but who intend then to work out a grudge against a teacher or the head teacher. It would also deal with people coming on to school premises out of school hours—a prevalent and increasing problem.

Whom would the Bill not catch? It would not catch the rambler or walker who was on school premises unknowingly. It would catch only those who were knowingly on premises that were clearly educational, designated under the relevant Act. It would also not catch any legitimate visitor.

Who wants the measures passed? I hope that all hon. Members present today are here to show their support. The Secondary Heads Association certainly wants it. I was told over the telephone yesterday to "go for it." The National Association of Head Teachers issued a press release that says: The NAHT considers it imperative that the provisions of this Bill are introduced. Of course it would not completely free schools from the problem of intruders, but the fact that it will be an offence to trespass would serve as a deterrent for many and enable the police to support schools more effectively than at present. I believe that teachers, parents and pupils want the measure enacted. I have already invited any hon. Member who doubts that to ask their own teachers, parents and pupils. I hope that the House will also want to see the Bill enacted. Subject to the election, I hope to be here to see it become law by the time schools return for the next school year, in September 1997. I therefore seek leave to bring in my Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Peter Butler, Mr. David Jamieson, Sir Jim Lester, Sir Donald Thompson, Mr. John Sykes, Mr. Matthew Banks, Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva, Mr. Den Dover and Mr. Nigel Evans.