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House of Commons Standing Committee D (pt 8)

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill


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Mr. Djanogly: We are having a general debate on animal rights issues. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon gave a good justification of the need for animal testing, and I will not take up more of the Committee's time in adding to what he said. However, although direct action and terrorist activity is emanating from animal rights activities today, the same methods could be used tomorrow by other groups. If drugs manufacturers and animal testing companies are affected now, meat importers, road builders, handbag manufacturers, furniture makers or mining companies could be affected next week. The provisions are general and reflect that.

For too long, the Government and the City have allowed pharmaceutical companies to be attacked, while hoping that the issue would just fade away. It will not just go away; unless we counter it head-on, it will fester, grow and become much more of a problem, across a much bigger board. We must act, and we must act now.

I heard the Liberals' approach to the clauses. The official Opposition will support the clauses, although they are too little, too late. The Government have been made fully aware of the problem, but have failed to act to the extent necessary to deal with it.

So, what is the problem that faces us now? There are animal rights extremists, who can, and should, be classified as terrorists. Of course, the vast majority of animal rights activists are not terrorists, but within their ranks are activists who are prepared to use the worst varieties of extreme violence and intimidation to
 
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get their way. Those people organise themselves in cells, operate internationally and fund themselves internationally, which, to me, indicates a terrorist organisation. I would be interested to hear whether the Government have considered proscribing organisations such as the Animal Liberation Front or Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty under the terrorism laws.

No one has yet given me an accurate assessment of the number of extreme protesters, although the number of incidents involved makes it likely that there are at least a few hundred people who are prepared to use severe violence, at least against property. Here is a taste of some sections from a leaflet that was openly handed out at one of their meetings. These meetings, by the way, are attended by members of the public, as well as the hard core. The leaflet says:

    ''This edition . . . is dedicated to the hands on animal abusing scum who kill animals everyday at HLS, get paid for it and then go home eat their dinner and put their feet up and relax by watching some mindless television. They are smug in the knowledge that they are safe and hassle free at the moment. Well, enough is enough. These monsters do not have the right to a happy life. How dare they do what they do behind closed doors. They are all cowards, bullies and perverts. What we want to do is show you how to move things along a little faster . . . Direct action works. It's as simple as that. Think what you wouldn't want done to you and do it to them. Think what would cause you stress and worry, what would keep you up at night, what would give you a headache or cause you embarrassment.''

It then gives a list of things to do. Let me mention just one:

    ''A simple tactic has been adopted recently. Simply pick you target and throw a couple of rape alarms in their roof guttering or thick hedgerow and leg it (in the middle of the night obviously). Being kept awake at night hardly puts you in a good mood at work or with your family.''

The list goes on an on, but I do not think that hon. Members will appreciate it being put on the public record for people to read. At the end, however, are the names of 35 directors, employees and scientists at drug-testing companies. It says which of them have children; it names their partners; and it gives their addresses and telephone numbers. The fact that half of those people live in my constituency is, of course, of particular concern to me, but, as hon. Members can imagine, this sort of stuff is of extreme concern to any normal thinking person.

Over recent years, a frenzy of hate and violence has been directed at scientists and research workers. All pharma and biotech companies that want to market new drugs will have to test them on animals at some point, and many such companies have testing facilities. The unique point about places such as Huntingdon Life Sciences and the Newchurch guinea pig farm, however, is that they are exclusively animal testing-related, so they tend to act as a weather vane for the wider industry.

HLS has approximately 1,000 employees in my constituency, so, unfortunately, I have significant knowledge of this issue. Every week, I receive notice from constituents who live in constant fear of violence. I have heard of things being put through letterboxes, hooded thugs scaring kids at home, cars vandalised, homes daubed with paint, neighbours told that the victim is a paedophile, people's cars being filmed as
 
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they leave home or work, people being followed home from work, messages left on phones, and sleep deprivation. Let me give a typical example from the website of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty about a raid—such raids occur daily, sometimes more frequently.

    ''The Animal Liberation Front is claiming responsibility for the two recent actions taken against Huntingdon Life Sciences. In the early hours of 10th of September, a newly formed cell of volunteers visited the homes of two . . . directors . . . in Surrey and Sussex, and planted crude white-spirit devices under their cars. As a result of this action, we have learned that

the company

    ''have terminated their contract with HLS. We did not want to take this action, as we are not violent individuals, but ordinary people, caught up within a system of institutionalised violence that is perpetuated against all life on this planet.''

That is the way in which those people think. It is what is happening in this country daily in areas that have testing units and pharmaceutical units. However, the situation has been changing. The trigger came when HLS managed to secure an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which was originally intended to stop stalking.

Without my going into all the details, the court found that the injunction could cover all the employees, and at multiple locations, including employees' homes. Injunctions have subsequently been sought by various companies, and gradually the courts have extended the remit of the injunctions so that the one granted recently in respect of Oxford university also covers unnamed third-party suppliers to the proposed research premises. As the scope of such injunctions has been extended by the courts beyond what was, perhaps, the original intention of the Act, so the risk of their being overturned at a full hearing has grown.

Clause 116 aims to redress the balance, in that for a harassment conviction to be secured, it needs to be proven that there has been a course of conduct in which a person harassed another. The strict interpretation of that by the courts will now be widened, as the clause extends the Act to cover harassment of two or more people who are connected, even if each individual is harassed on only one occasion. New section 3A will also allow for a wider group of individuals to be clearly covered by the order. Can the Minister confirm that the word ''person'' in section 3A(2) will include companies? I think that that is the case. The Liberal Democrats' amendments Nos. 341 and 342 would have the effect of slightly broadening the application of the clause and would make it more bullet proof by inserting the reasonableness qualification. I have no objection to either of them.

Clause 117 creates the new offence of harassment of a person in his home, as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. Under section 42 of that Act, the police are able to direct protesters to move away from premises. The new provision is intended to catch broadly similar behaviour with four ingredients needing to be proved. I shall not read them out; they are in the Bill.


 
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The offence is punishable summarily by up to 51 weeks in prison, and a constable in uniform may arrest without warrant anybody whom he reasonably suspects is committing or has committed the offence. Broadly speaking, we are in support of the clause, not least because we have a fundamental distaste of the practice of disturbing the lives of people in their own homes. I can add that a group of people screaming obscenities in a residential street, or setting off fire alarms and so forth, upsets the whole street, not just the target. I have often admired the resoluteness of my constituents who so frequently stand by their neighbours who are targeted in such ways.

Amendment No. 343 extending presence to conduct is sensible. My hon. Friends and I have proposed two changes to the clause. First, we fail to see why the arresting constable needs to be in uniform. A constable, as we have discussed in previous debates, has the powers of a constable whatever he is wearing. Amendments Nos. 224 and 223 provide for the possibility of the offence being heard in a Crown court as well as in a magistrates court with the longer possible sentence of three years.

10.45 am

Such offences can be so serious and damaging to families and children living at home that a maximum of 51 weeks seems inappropriate in the possible circumstances. We support clause 118, which allows the police to make a direction to a person to leave the vicinity of a home and specifies that they cannot return to the vicinity for a set period of up to three months. Should they return within that period, they will be committing an offence. However, as with the previous clause, we would like the possibility of an indictment with up to three years in prison. That is the reason for amendment No. 225.

I note that the Liberals have suggested that the Law Society amendment No. 101 should be included, allowing for an appeal against the making of the direction to the magistrates court. Although we understand the need for a balance and the right of an individual to seek redress from a constable's decision, we feel that that right must only kick in after a reasonable period to ensure that our courts are not clogged up with minor appeals. Our compromise is for a right of appeal to exist if the constable's direction lasts for more than 10 days, as proposed in amendment No. 254.

That is where the Government have reached when it comes to dealing with the problem. Unfortunately, the scenario has now changed. It would seem as though the Government either have not realised that or, more likely, are not willing to realise that. Therefore, let me explain why my hon. Friends and I are now proposing new clauses 18 to 23 and new clause 26.

The injunctions have been working fairly well. About a dozen companies—perhaps more—have obtained them and their impact has been to stop business premises and employees' homes being invaded or targeted openly. However, that has meant that the extremists' campaign has become wider and
 
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often more underground. Yesterday, the ABPI released some interesting figures, which were alluded to in part by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon. They showed that the number of home visits to directors was down to 90 in 2004 compared with 113 in the previous year. For employees, the number went down from 146 to 89. However, anonymous activities have increased, with abusive calls rising from 38 in 2003 to 108 in 2004, and 177 instances of criminal damage compared with 146 the previous year and only 60 the year before. Most of those are conducted in the middle of the night.

Furthermore, as the pharma and research companies were the first to take out injunctions, the extremists have now started to look for easier targets. Therefore we have seen a rise in the number of secondary and tertiary target companies. In 2002, 113 companies were targeted. In 2003, 203 were targeted and last year 313 were targeted, with 29 of those reporting more than 10 criminal incidents against them. The extremists' basic idea is that the target company is bullied until it signs a declaration that it will not trade with the initial target. In the last quarter of 2004, 42 companies were bullied into so-called capitulations: 37 per cent. of the years' total capitulations.

Typically, the target company will be sent a letter saying that it must sign a document promising not to trade with Huntingdon Life Sciences, for example, and that if it does not sign, it will be put on the SHAC website. That is often threat enough to get a capitulation. For the brave traders who refuse to be intimidated, being placed on the SHAC website means that their company is game for visits from the thugs. That is when it starts to get nasty. Normally things start with protesters invading the premises. More than a dozen small businesses in my constituency have called me, sometimes weeping on the phone because of the torment that they have been put through by those thugs.

If the police get seriously involved, which happens occasionally, the cost can be dramatic. For instance, The Times reported on 18 January that the police have spent £2.5 million protecting the Staffordshire guinea pig farm.

For most companies, however, full-time police protection is not an option; they only course is an injunction. A typical example is the small biotech company that wrote to me recently. It wrote:

    ''To date, we have had three actual visits from SHAC activists . . . and various threatening letters mailed to our offices, as well as leaflets distributed outside our buildings and in neighbouring gardens. On the first visit . . . four protesters were inadvertently given access to our reception building by a member of staff. They were very disruptive, distributed leaflets and used megaphones outside our site. On the second visit . . . nine protesters appeared to force entry into the reception building, which was captured on CCTV. Then they made their way into four offices while causing complete havoc in reception. They were threatening and abusive, distributed leaflets in all offices and intimidated staff. This was a very well planned visit, with maximum disruption and a timely exit before the police arrived. On the third visit . . . four protesters demonstrated at our entrance with megaphones and very large banners. As our offices are amongst domestic dwellings, this caused great anxiety to many of our neighbours. Our main site is just opposite a housing development for elderly people. In

 
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    addition, our . . . site is near a park, playgroup and primary school. The leader of the protesters . . . was videoing all the car registration numbers in our car park. She also tried to video through the office windows and as you can imagine this again caused anxiety to our members of staff. This was particularly disturbing for one female member of staff, who used to work at HLS and has been assaulted by SHAC protesters prior to working for us; she was very frightened and intimidated by the threats. They also tried to disrupt our AGM . . . by using megaphones air horns and displaying banners. The Police were on site to control threatening behaviour however we also hired security guards to protect the investors and employees on site . . . In light of these visits, we have had to upgrade our security system to protect our staff.''

The costs are broken down in the letter, but they are confidential, and I do not want to read them to the Committee, but take my word for it—they are very significant. The costs include those of obtaining an injunction, of installing security gates and CCTV systems, of having dedicated phone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses, of security guards and, of course, the huge cost of the lost man hours. The letter then states:

    ''As you can see, this is not an insubstantial amount of money that was not included in our projected annual expenditure . . . Personally, I am baffled by the fact that the Government appears to be focusing on the war against terrorism abroad yet is paying scant attention to the terrorism that exists in the UK.''

That small biotech company really needs that money to be invested in its products, but it is having to spend it on security and buying injunctions.

That company was slightly larger, and the problems are suffered mainly by the small, local family companies that supply pharmaceutical companies or research companies—for instance, with laundry services, taxis and cleaning services. Those companies cannot afford injunctions, which can cost anything from £30,000 to £300,000.

More to the point, thousands of companies are saying, ''Why should we have to spend our money on injunctions when it should be for the state to defend us against terrorist activities?'' That is the fundamental issue that the Government are failing to address in the Bill. For instance, the injunction will normally include a clause allowing for a certain level of non-violent protest at set times and in set places outside the place of business. One company suggested to me that the Government could set out a more predetermined set of activities and of behaviour as a benchmark for regulating unlawful protest behaviour—for instance, a code similar to the picketing code could save hours of time and expense for the police, courts and British business in negotiating areas of protest, but the manner of protest and the number of permitted protesters, although ensuring legitimate protest, could continue. By the way, it is not only companies that the protesters attack. In the past six months, they have brutally threatened to disrupt two schools in Cambridgeshire that had invited HLS to their jobs fairs. That is how low those people will go.

HLS shows how exposed British companies can be to concerted terrorist attack. We must learn lessons from it. Companies that have capitulated to the terrorist demands not to trade with HLS include Barclays, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse First Boston, HSBC, Phillips and Drew, WestLB Penmure,
 
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and Royal Bank of Scotland. HLS must now keep its current account at the Bank of England. All its market-makers and brokers refuse to deal with it; it cannot get insurance, other than from the DTI; and it has even had problems retaining its auditors.

The utterly weak, unco-ordinated and short-termist view of the City towards defending its client's interests is the subject for another day's debate, although I note that the NAPF is now saying that it is waiting for a lead from the Government on what to do, and the Minister may wish to comment on that.

We need, however, to be mindful of the impact on HLS. Unable to survive registered in this country—not least because of the hate mail and death threats being sent to its shareholders—it repatriated itself and is now thriving on the US stock exchange. It has re-registered in Maryland, where only holders of 5 per cent. or more of the company's shares have to be disclosed, and then only to other shareholders. I note that Montpelier in Oxford resisted the terrorists when it was building the university premises but stopped work when its shareholders started being threatened and attacked.

And so it goes on. The extremists claimed yet another victory in December, after BOC severed its ties with HLS. Brian Cass, the managing director of HLS, said:

    ''The stark reality is that companies like BOC are not guaranteed the security of their employees.''

Interestingly, BOC had got an injunction, and it was working. However, SHAC simply changed its tactics and began targeting Marks and Spencer, one of BOC's biggest clients. Therefore, leaving companies to fend for themselves through injunctions is simply not an adequate solution.

If we do not get on top of this issue, we shall see lots more HLSs—lots more companies repatriating to the United States. We shall also see a flood of investment out of the United Kingdom. GlaxoSmithKline spends more than £1 billion a year in Britain, but its head, and the head of AstraZeneca, have apparently warned the Prime Minister that they will not spend another pound on new facilities unless action is take to stop the violence. The Government have placed R and D at the centre of their drive for a knowledge-based economy. Pharmas contribute £6.7 billion a year to Britain's GDP and £12 billion in exports. They employ 80,000 people directly and 250,000 indirectly. We are the world's largest pharma exporter; it is one of the few areas in which we really are world-beaters. All of that is at risk because of a few hundred—perhaps fewer—animal rights protesters. As the Government have included nothing in the Bill to address those concerns, however, we have tabled a package of new clauses and amendments that go some way towards doing so.

I turn first to new clause 22. Some time ago, the Government provided for directors' confidentiality orders, which enabled directors under threat to have a service address, rather than their home address, used on the public register. That was a good move, which we supported; the only problem is that the previously filed home addresses are not removed from the public register at the same time, which rather ruins the effect.
 
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The new clause therefore says that when a confidentiality order is put in place, all references to the director's previous addresses should be removed from the public register at the same time.

I mention new clause 22 first because the same concept of confidentiality should be extended to the register of members of companies and the register of mortgagees of companies, both of which are currently open to public view under normal circumstances. The application of the provisions would be triggered using the same rationale as currently exists for directors; the justification for the order does not take us into new territory.

New Clause 18 provides for an individual company member to apply to have his or her name and address made private. New clause 19 provides for a company to apply to have its entire register of members made private. If companies are not to move abroad or to cease doing business with companies such as HLS, it is vital that we can defend their members' personal details. Of course, one could say that people should use nominee services, but no company in this country is prepared to act as a nominee for HLS. Having companies act as their own nominees is not practical, nor is it acceptable to many shareholders and companies. We could go down the route taken in America—in Maryland, to which HLS has repatriated—of making registers of members secret. However, that would be to go too far. Our amendment provides a fair and workable halfway house.

11am

New clause 20 aims to secure privacy for funders. Of course, there is no reason why a bank's details need to be made public in respect of a normal loan. However, a bank will usually wish to secure the mortgage or charge, and the security interest does need to be placed on the public register. Our proposal would mean that the bank's security would still be registered, so warning people of the loan's existence, but the bank's name and address would be made private. New clause 21 extends the impact of confidentiality orders to associated companies, and new clause 23 covers various bits of tidying up relating to confidentiality orders.

That brings me to my final point, and to new clause 26. It seems that in this country to destroy a company through violence and intimidation is not a criminal offence. I suggest—and I see that the Liberal Democrats are doing so in new clause 32—that that needs to change. I would be the first to agree that we need to debate the scope of this type of provision—to avoid restricting legitimate trade disputes and whistleblowers, for instance. However, if we can protect individuals, I cannot believe that we cannot also find an appropriate balance for companies.

New clause 26 aims to prevent companies from being forced to act, or not act, in a certain way in circumstances in which there is harassment, violence or damage to property. In other words, it stays well clear of anything to do with peaceful protest. New clause 32, put forward by the hon. Member for
 
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Oxford, West and Abingdon, the ABPI option, does roughly the same thing, but it ties down the application just to animal research facility operators. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's views. I have already given my reasons for believing that research companies are just the tip of the iceberg. The protection that is offered should be available more widely, not least because making law for just one sector seems to be unusual and might produce policy difficulties. I am open-minded on the issue; if the Government bring forward a suitable proposal, we will consider it.

Let me end with a warning. Any legislation that we agree on here will mean nothing unless the fight against extremists is properly led and funded by Government. Such support has been lacking to date. I hope that the Bill represents a change in the Government's attitude to one of the most pressing problems facing British business and affecting the personal security of individuals.

 
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