HL Deb 17 March 1997 vol 579 cc714-6

7.5 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 3 [Civil Remedy]:

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern) moved the following amendment: Clause 3, page 2, line 31, leave out ("in such proceedings").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical drafting amendment resulting from the amendments considered on Report and is necessary to avoid the possibility of any confusion in cross-references between subsections. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. This is the last Bill to receive proper consideration before Prorogation and Dissolution, and I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who has conducted proceedings on the Bill with impeccable courtesy and wisdom.

I believe that this is a necessary Bill, the importance of which may be specialised in the sense that it may apply to—I hope—only a few hundred but perhaps a few thousand people who will be directly affected by it, but it is genuinely necessary. The Lord Chancellor has shown—certainly to my satisfaction—that the existing provisions of the law are inadequate to deal with the problem of those who cause severe pain and disruption to other people's lives, not by actions which are in themselves illegal but sometimes by actions which in themselves are legal but which amount to a course of conduct which is extremely painful for the victims.

I am conscious of the difficulties of framing such a Bill and of the fact that the solution which could have been reached last summer—and which in my view ought to have been reached last summer—did not in fact cover all the possibilities. I am conscious of the difficulty posed by a Bill which combines civil and criminal remedies. All of those points are valid. However, I believe that in the end Parliament has to recognise that stalking and harassment of that kind cannot go unpunished. I believe that we have reached the best possible solution in the circumstances and I am pleased to support the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

Lord Meston

My Lords, from these Benches too we should like to thank the noble and learned Lord for the way in which he has guided this Bill through your Lordships' House. In particular, I am asked to convey the thanks of my noble friends Lord Russell and Lord Thomas of Gresford. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the way in which he has been receptive to both amendments and arguments. That has enabled the Bill to leave this House in an improved state.

As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, this is to some extent an unusual piece of legislation in the way in which it combines both the criminal and civil law. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it will provide a valuable addition to the armoury of both branches of the law. I hope that the House will agree that, although the very radical amendments of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford did not find favour with your Lordships, and with the Government in particular, they at least provided a useful model against which to test the effectiveness of the Bill and the basis for a stimulating debate.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I have not taken part in the procedure of the Bill itself, although last summer the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and I had a short exchange about the use of the word "stalking". I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the Bill and to wish it well, and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who provided some of the original inspiration for the Bill.

However, I should like to send the Bill on its way with a further hope that the word "stalking" does not become too widely used in the context of the crime—the very irritating and unfortunate crime—which this Bill now depicts. I say that not only because the word "stalking", as I said in our exchanges last summer—is an honourable activity and pastime in Scotland but also because stalking is completely the wrong word to describe the particular activity which is now outlawed by the Bill. When you go stalking, if you send your quarry a bunch of roses or make yourself persistently felt in any way, you will have precisely the opposite effect on the quarry and it will run as fast as it can and disappear in the opposite direction, making your purpose worthless.

So I welcome the Bill but do so saying, as it goes, that I hope that the word "stalking" will not become too closely attached to the crime which this Bill so rightly identifies.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken this evening. The Bill is of course the Protection from Harassment Bill. I feel sure that that is a better and more accurate name for it than any shorter one. Alas, one of the difficulties of the circumstances with which we are dealing is that those who are affected by the conduct in question have very little opportunity of escaping from it. The more they know about it, the more ardent become their pursuers. I am sure that what my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch said about it is accurate in that sense. Parliament has striven to use words which are accurate to describe the Bill.

I feel that it is fair to say that quite a lot of the basic work in connection with this matter so far as I personally am concerned was done in the original committee dealing with the domestic violence Bill, where the police indicated, for example, that they would welcome a wider power than that Bill could have given. Obviously, it was inappropriate in the context of that Bill to do so. That work was built upon by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, producing a Bill which was full and accurate on the civil aspects of the matter. But the difficulty of the Bill is that it embraces both civil and criminal sanctions. That has now been achieved in a way which I believe is highly satisfactory. It is a difficult area and we hope the legislation will work well in practice.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for the work that he put into the Bill. I feel that in a way he recognised that it would possibly have been even more valuable had it been produced at the consultative stage when we could have looked at its feasibility. Nevertheless, it was a useful model and a good test of what we have tried to do in the Bill itself.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for what he said and for his part in the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his perceptive comments on the Bill and for his help in consultation with me. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mottistone who raised an important aspect of the Bill in relation to people with mental disability. My noble friend Lady Blatch will communicate with him in that respect in due course as she has undertaken to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, was able, from his experience of the law of England, to suggest improvements to the aspects of the Bill which dealt with the law of Scotland. As I said on the last occasion, it is encouraging that it should happen that way instead of always in the other direction.

I hope that the Bill will reach the statute book quite quickly. I believe that the amendments that we have made are manifest improvements and will, I hope, commend themselves to the other place in the days left before the prorogation of Parliament, so that the hope expressed by all who took part in the debates in this House that the Bill will reach the statute book before the general election will, in fact, be fulfilled.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.