Blunkett waters down animal extremists Bill

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The Independent Online

David Blunkett will face the wrath of Britain's biotech industry on Friday by rejecting proposals for a new Bill to tackle animal rights extremists.

David Blunkett will face the wrath of Britain's biotech industry on Friday by rejecting proposals for a new Bill to tackle animal rights extremists.

Instead, the Home Secretary will announce amendments to existing legislation, which he will claim will give police new powers to clamp down on protest groups that intimidate employees of companies involved in animal testing.

His move, coming after two companies - Montpellier and RMC - pulled out of the construction of an £18m medical research laboratory at Oxford University following intimidation from extremists, will be derided as a soft line.

The announcement will also anger the Department for Trade and Industry. Whitehall sources said that Lord Sainsbury, the Science minister, had in the last few weeks put pressure on the Home Office to issue a single piece of legislation. He is said to be "frustrated" at Mr Blunkett's reluctance to pursue the proposal.

The DTI declined to comment. But Aisling Burnand, the chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, said: "A single piece of legislation would send a strong message that the Government is not prepared to accept the behaviour of the extremists. It would also make the police powers much clearer, drawing a myriad of different rules together.

"No one can doubt the support we had from the DTI. It is frustrating that we haven't got any new legislation yet."

The Home Office has decided to amend two pieces of legislation. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Domestic Affairs last month, chaired by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. It decided to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2001 to make it an offence to protest outside someone's home; to change the Harassment Act 1997 to cover harassment of two or more people; and to make it an offence to return to someone's home after being found guilty of aggressive behaviour.

The Home Office refused to comment. But a source said that a new Bill would take too long to bring into force. "The victims of the crime are looking for changes now," said the source.

The City is becoming rattled by the increase in violence against firms involved in the biotech industry. The National Association of Pension Funds is reported to be putting together a £25m fund to be used as a reward for information leading to the conviction of extremists.

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