Terrorism: Interpretation

Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 10th July 2000.

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Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 7, leave out subsection (1) and insert— ("(1) In this Act "terrorism" means the use or threat of action where—

  1. (a) the action falls within subsection (1A),
  2. (b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
  3. (c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
(1A) Action falls within this subsection if it—
  1. (a) involves serious violence against a person,
  2. (b) involves serious damage to property,
  3. (c) endangers a person's life other than that of the person committing the action,
  4. (d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
  5. (e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
(1B) The use or threat of action falling within subsection (1A) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.")

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Charles Clarke.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendments (b), (c), (e), (f) and the amendment in lieu, and Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3, 17 and 107.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:33 pm, 10th July 2000

I give notice to you, Madam Speaker, and the Minister that I shall not be pressing amendment (c) because it is covered by an amendment in lieu which comes later in the group. Other colleagues clearly want to speak about other aspects of the definition clause.

When we debated the Bill on Second Reading, Third Reading and in Committee, and when the Bill went to the other end of the building for debate, I think that it is fair to say that the most controversial area—that which has exercised more people for a longer time—has been the definition of terrorism. Therefore, it is not surprising that we are starting this afternoon's debates on the amendments made in the Lords by looking at the Bill as it has come back to us, with a changed definition.

It is to the credit of the Minister of State and of the Government that they accepted that the Bill might not have been in a perfect form when it was presented. The new definition of terrorism shows that it has been amended. In some respects, that amendment is an improvement—as, in general, are the Lords amendments. Amendments Nos. 1 and 19, on reverse burdens of proof, are significant. They are a move in the right direction and we are grateful for that.

Recent debates on the Bill have shown that we need to learn a lesson—it relates specifically to these amendments. When we deal with a controversial Bill on a difficult aspect of law—especially one, such as this, that would make permanent legislation that has never formerly been so—we should follow the procedures already established in the House that allow us to take advice so that we get the measure right.

There are several elements in that system. The first is the Select Committee procedure. The second is the use of draft Bills—if ever there was a case for a draft Bill, this was it. The third procedure is one that we tried to persuade the Government to use on several Home Office Bills this year: to submit a Bill to various forms of scrutiny upstairs—to a Special Standing Committee, where evidence can be taken, before clause by clause deliberation.

I hope that the Government, and especially Home Office Ministers, will seriously consider holding discussions between the parties at an early stage so that we can get right such matters as definitions. Paradoxically, the Home Secretary is holding such discussions over the measure on football hooliganism that may be dealt with later this week. Had we done so on other Bills, we might have made a better success of the legislative process.

It is accepted that the amendment is still not right. My reading of the debates in the other place confirms that although there was a widespread view that many efforts were made to improve the measure—including meetings with the Home Secretary and with people outside the House—no one pretends that the definition of terrorism is correct. The amendments try to improve that definition and to pick up some of the threads that ran through previous debates, without repeating those debates.

Amendment (b) is relatively small. It deals with the central part of the definition of terrorism. That part of the measure is oddly drafted. Amendment No. 1 states that terrorism is the use or threat of action where— it then refers to proposed subsection (1A) and sets out two complementary criteria. The first is the use or threat…designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public. The second is the use or threat…made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause. Amendment (b) would clarify the "designed to" concept by adding a "directed against" provision. I apologise to hon. Members for this relatively technical explanation, but that is inescapable in a discussion of definitions and drafting. The benefit of the amendment lies in the fact that, sometimes, terrorism has results that it was not designed or intended to achieve; it might have been directed to a purpose, but an objective assessment of that might be different from a subjective evaluation of it. That is difficult and important law because it relates to whether we always seek to prove intent.

However, for reasons that we often reiterated in Committee, it is important to get the Bill right. It will not create new offences, but will take certain offences and, in certain conditions, will define them as "terrorist" offences with the set of consequences that such offences entail. When they are committed, the Bill will give the state greater and the citizen fewer powers, and the punishment involved will be heavier than for non-terrorist offences. The Bill does not say that a certain form of activity is a terrorist offence, but says that that activity—even though it is already a crime—becomes terrorism in certain circumstances. Once the threshold is crossed, the police can take possession of documents, set up cordons and have greater powers to detain people. I ask the Government to consider whether the definition should cover both whether an action can objectively be assessed as being directed against the Government or intimidating the public or a section of the public and whether the action was designed with such aims in mind.

Amendment (c) was tabled as a probing amendment to encourage a debate. The Minister will remember the big debate that we had in Committee on how or whether we should limit the definition of terrorism. We considered whether to limit it to activities directed against Government or extend it to include activities directed against other parties that are not in government, such as an Opposition party or a party that is not represented in government. We also considered whether the definition should go wider than that. Given the procedures of the House, I sought to find a peg on which we could hang such a debate and that is why I tabled the amendment. However, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) has offered the House an alternative to the Lords amendment and that allows us to have the debate.

I would like to consider the alternative proposal, which appears as an amendment in lieu on the second page of the amendment paper. It retains the widely drawn provisions relating to advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, but limits those provisions to action against the Government themselves. I recognise that there is a weakness in any definition that suggests that only the Government can be the target. Although it is no secret that we have had a difference of view on how to draft an amendment, my hon. Friends and I would prefer that the definition should take account of other political targets and not just the Government.

Lords amendment No. 1 contains a provision that refers to a threat that is designed to intimidate the public or a section of the public. Unless the amendment in lieu tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is accepted, that provision is likely to become part of the Bill. If it does, we must be careful to ensure that we understand what we are doing. We are changing the definition of terrorism to one that may cover acts that have no political objective. It may cover activities based on ideological or religious grounds and—I have previously referred to a similar example—it might cover the actions of someone who is deluded or has religious convictions and who takes action against another member of the public. In normal lay parlance, we would not regard such an act as terrorism.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am trying to get my mind around a particular matter of procedure. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he does not intend to press amendment (c)?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that the new definition defines terrorism in such a way as to include activities that do not in any way threaten the policy of the state. Doubtless, he will have noticed proposed subsection (1B), which appears to reinforce what he has just said—namely, that any act involving firearms or explosives, albeit without a more conventional terrorist intent, is none the less deemed to be a terrorist activity.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:45 pm, 10th July 2000

To clarify the matter, I shall distinguish proposed subsection (1B) from proposed subsection (1)(b) of the Lords amendment, which both appear on the same page of the amendment paper. Ideally, my hon. Friends and I would rather not include proposed subsection (1B) at all, which takes away many preconditions if firearms or explosives are used. That applies to activities using firearms—perhaps only one firearm, such as a shotgun—so somebody using a shotgun does not have to have designed their threat to influence the Government or intimidate the public or sections of the public in order to be classified as a terrorist.

I believe that, like me, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) thinks that that goes far too wide. My hon. Friends and I have therefore tabled amendment (e), which would improve proposed subsection (1B) by deleting the words involves the use of firearms and explosives. To be honest, that may be the most logical thing people associate with terrorism, but it is certainly not all of it. For example, Lords amendment No. 1 states that an action is terrorism if it is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system. Terrorism involving modern technology does not have to be carried out with firearms or explosives, but uses other technological means. Parliament—and certainly technology—has accepted that we need to provide for that. It is therefore undesirable to have a special, reduced threshold if firearms or explosives are used, when there are many other ways of proceeding.

We tabled the amendment to focus hon. Members' minds on what would be better. It would add to the proposed subsection the alternative wording is intended to cause death. If the intention of the person carrying out the action is to cause death or destruction, our constituents, as well as people in the street and those who read papers, would normally think of that as suggestive of something that could be terrorism. So there must be an intention to cause death, although the provision could be drawn more widely and one could argue for an intention to cause injury or death. However, wording is needed that goes more widely than the use of firearms or explosives. Proposed subsection (1A) improves slightly the definitions of clause 1 by separating serious violence against a person from "serious damage to property." Those were rolled into one when the Bill left this place. It is clearly better to separate injury and violence against people from damage to property, and define them slightly differently. However, we are in danger of making a compromise on the legislation that tries to accommodate various ideas without any coherent and uniform view about what is right.

There is no prospect, I believe, of trying to secure today what I was determined to try to secure when the Bill was in Committee and on Report—namely, that the Bill should have a limited life. It should automatically expire and come back to the House for us to examine. As we all know, once a Bill is enacted, it is difficult to make amendments to it. Normally, they can be successfully piloted only by Governments themselves, so the ball remains in the Government's court. There will be an annual review of the legislation and experts may examine such matters, as may new bodies such as the human rights committee which Parliament is about to set up this year—indeed, I hope that that committee will do so. None the less, if Parliament does not make further alterations to the Bill, we are lumbered with what is possibly a better definition than when we started, but which certainly does not appear to be a definition which, on the one hand, catches what we intend to catch and, on the other, does not bring in all sorts of extraneous things.

The purpose of amendments (b) and (e)—and, I believe, of the amendment in lieu—is to try to focus on activities that people clearly view as being intended to undermine government, democracy or the political process or which, in the pursuit of ideological and political aims, disrupt society as a whole. That paraphrases the definition for the lay person.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

Amendment (e) would insert the words is intended to cause death Why did the hon. Gentleman not add "or serious injury to a person or persons"?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

There was no particular reason for not adding those words, and they would have been a reasonable addition. Proposed subsection (1A) sets out the consequences, which include those that the hon. Gentleman seeks to include. Apart from the exception in proposed subsection (1B), action is covered if it involves serious violence against a person or serious damage to property, endangers life or—this is where the hon. Gentleman's inquiry is directed— creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public. In almost all cases, the consequences suggested by the hon. Gentleman will be covered.

I do not want to be overly critical, but we have a definitional clause at the beginning of the Bill, which is a good idea, but unfortunately it is drafted in a way that is terribly confusing. Anyone seeking a straightforward understanding of the Bill has to do a double loop, which cannot be the best way of drafting legislation.

We are trying to avoid the definitional clause including as terrorists members of, for example, a health service union who took action in pursuit of an industrial action objective. If a nurse or porter withdrew their services from a hospital, that might, as an unintended by-product, create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public. There is still a danger that the definition may be sweeping enough to cover action that nobody would ever logically define as terrorism.

Today, we may be able only slightly to improve the Bill, and, whether or not we seek to do so, I would be grateful for a reassurance from the Minister, on the record, that when the first report on the working of the Bill comes to be written, he will ask whoever undertakes the inquiry and writes the report to consider the definition. We should not lose control of the definition in a Bill that will become an Act and may never return to the House. The amendments seek to open up that subject.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Throughout this debate, the Government, to give them their due, have demonstrated a willingness to listen and have introduced various amendments, which we all welcome. The debate in the other House reflected some of the concerns that were first echoed in the Chamber and then addressed by the Government, and I welcome that.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke of the need for early discussions between parties. I am not completely sure where that leaves my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I, but I welcome early debate on these matters.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

We remain available for a meeting.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Running through the debate has been the definition of terrorism. In all our discussions here and in the other place we have rehearsed the examination of the original definition within the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, which at that stage was contentious in itself. We suggested a definition that involved the use of violence for political ends including any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public, in fear. Some of us are concerned about the breadth of that definition, and the then Labour Opposition expressed their concern.

In 1993, there was a closer definition in the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Act 1993. My amendment in lieu is to try to draw upon the discussion that took place under that Act and our debate on Second Reading, and goes some way towards the Government's concerns about the need for breadth of definition.

The 1993 Act defined terrorism as acts by persons acting on behalf of, or in connection with, any organisation which carries out activities directed towards the overthrowing or influencing, by force or violence, of Her Majesty's government in the United Kingdom or other governments de jure or de facto. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has said, my amendment in lieu tries to bring us back to that core definition, which is the act of overthrowing a particular Government or an attack upon the state. In the general view, that has been accepted as terrorist activity.

I am concerned about some of the amendments in the Lords. My concern is highlighted by proposed subsection (1B), which broadens the definition of terrorism to include virtually any act of violence in the country. It breaks the link with threats to overthrow the state, and it is dangerous in its own right.

Some amendments relate to the use of explosives. Virtually anyone cracking a safe, no matter what his motivation, could be defined as a terrorist and have the full weight of the proposed legislation thrown at him. My amendment in lieu is designed to try to bring us back to the core definition of terrorism as we have always known it. That is the threat against the state. Definition goes primarily to determine exactly what we mean by terrorism. We may not be able to change the proposed legislation today, but it is important that in the first review of it we return to definition. Indeed, it is critical that we do so.

Traditionally, we have always intended terrorism to mean the overthrow of the state or of a legitimately elected Government. My amendment says that clearly. However, the definition goes much further than that. It widens it so that terrorism is associated with the reason behind the action. It deals with motivation rather than a threat to the state, as set out in all our legislation to date and in the general debate about terrorism.

In promoting the proposed legislation, I do not think that the Government will be able to maintain the definition within it for a long period. I think that reviews will narrow it. When the Bill is enacted, terrorism will no longer have a serious and deep underlying meaning. It will be defined as a new type of crime which involves violence to a person or one that involves "serious damage to property" or "endangers a person's life". All these acts, as has been demonstrated in debate after debate, are covered by existing criminal law. In the amendment that has come from the Lords, there is a new definition of terrorism that will enable a terrorist to be defined as someone who undertakes violence to electronic systems. That is a worrying widening of the definition, which goes beyond anything we thought possible previously, or anything that has been used in common parlance so far.

The definition that I have tabled focuses on the view that terrorism is the use or threat of action that is designed to overthrow or influence elected Governments by force or violence. It includes Government recommendations in earlier debates, which include the purpose of the action—that is, "political, religious, or ideological". It makes it clear that these are not causes advanced by demonstration, direct action or other similar methods. Rather, they have to be serious enough to attempt to influence the Government by force or violence.

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My proposed definition addresses issues raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Under the Government's proposals, would, for example, the 1926 general strike be defined as terrorist action? I believe that it would, because it involved an element of serious violence and was directed towards a political or ideological motive. Under my definition, it would not be so categorised, because it was not directed toward the overthrow of the state. The general strike was about workers' rights and a decent living wage; the action, in part, aimed to influence the Government but not to overthrow the democratic system, which is what we all understand terrorist activity to be.

In its simplicity, my definition provides genuine help to the Government. Much was said in Committee in the Commons and the other place of the need to include in the definition of terrorists those who would seek to undermine the state and cause terror by sabotaging various state resources. However, the use or attempted use of such methods would constitute terrorism only if it were designed to overthrow the state or undermine the democratic process—if such acts were an obvious means, by violence, to intimidate the Government or overthrow the Government by causing anarchy. My definition attempts to differentiate between criminal activity that may well cause tenor, but is not terrorist because it is motivated by the desire for profit, and terrorist activity that is designed to undermine the democratic process.

Our definition attempts to describe terrorism thoroughly. We have tried to formulate a definition that is broad enough to satisfy the Government's concerns about political or ideological motives, but stays close to the core of our traditional understanding of the definition of terrorism. If the Government are concerned about certain activities—for example, attacks on electronic systems—Parliament should deny criminals the ability to avoid justice by legislating specifically to ensure that there is a clear definition of criminal activity of that nature. However, let us not broaden the definition of terrorism in this Bill, and so weaken it, to achieve that end. In addition, if the Government are concerned about direct action by certain groups—previously, green campaigns and animal rights campaigns have been mentioned—let them be honest enough to introduce legislation in that respect, so that the House can debate the subject. That is better than broadening the definition of terrorism into a catch-all provision that could be used in the courts to undermine civil liberties.

This difficult debate has continued for the past two decades, but I repeat what has been said by several Members of both Houses of Parliament during proceedings on the Bill: terrorism as a concept has been used for propaganda purposes—one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. If we broaden the definition as widely as the Government proposed in the draft legislation, and even more widely as the Lords amendments provide, a direct threat will be posed to many of the political campaigns that we in this country wage in support of others who are striking out for freedom. In addition, we will bring the legislative process into disrepute.

Although our amendment in lieu will not be accepted today, I hope that it will form part of the agenda of the first review of the legislation, and that we shall return to the definition of terrorism in a way that is helpful to the courts in their interpretation of the term. Today, we are defining not a new crime but a set of actions that will give the authorities and the police greater powers. That was originally done when the Prevention of Terrorism Act was first introduced: under that Act, 3,000 people were arrested, 99.9 per cent. of whom were innocent. Some of those convicted under the PTA, such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, were later found to be innocent after serving long sentences. I am concerned that defining terrorism loosely, as the Government propose, will result not only in political activity in this country being impeded, but in miscarriages of justice, which we should all fear.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

It would be churlish of me not to welcome the fact that there are amendments from the other place which, I accept, improve the definition of terrorism, but I hope that I will be forgiven if I none the less make some criticisms of the amendments before the House. I shall also speak to amendment (f), which is the change that I propose.

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said about the desirability of publishing a draft Bill. I have even greater sympathy with his point about Special Standing Committees. I very much regret that the House has not done more to make use of the Special Standing Committee procedure. Bills such as the present one fall particularly into the category that would benefit from that procedure.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) was right to try further to refine to what may be described as a core activity the definition of "terrorist"; but, if he will forgive me, I have two reservations about his amendment in lieu. First, it applies to elected Governments outside the United Kingdom. I have always had serious reservations about whether we should classify as "terrorist", or, more strictly speaking, an activity that is capable of falling within the definition of "terrorist", actions designed against external Governments. I am unhappy about that.

There are a number of middle eastern regimes, for example, which, when I was a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, were anxious that we should take action here in the United Kingdom to stop individuals protesting against what was going on in some of those middle eastern states. It is well within our recollection that the African National Congress, for example, was certainly contemplating armed action against the Government of South Africa. It is highly questionable whether we should bring external activities within the scope of activity capable of being so defined. However, that is in the Bill and we must live with it.

My second point to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is that his definition probably would catch direct action. The phrase influence by force or violence seems to me to be apt to include demonstrations that take place on the picket line, and I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman means that. I may be stretching the interpretation, although I think not. My point is that it is rather difficult so to define terrorist activity as not to catch activities that may be criminal but which should not be deemed to be terrorist.

I shall say a word about my own amendment and proposed subsection (1B). As I understand it, the effect of the Lords amendment is that the use of firearms or explosives for any of the purposes set out in subsection (1A) is deemed to be terrorist. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, that means that any straightforward criminal activity in which a firearm, such as a shotgun, is used, or in which explosives are used—for example safe-cracking, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington suggested—is capable of being construed as terrorist.

I am doubtful about that. It seems to be stretching the point a little, and it rather reinforces the argument for a Special Standing Committee, where such questions could be more fully teased out, or the argument of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that the Bill should be time limited, so that at the expiration of the term of the Bill, if it were enacted, we could review the consequences.

That brings me to amendment (f). If it be right to bring within the deemed terrorist activity the use of firearms or explosives, what about biological, bacteriological, chemical and nerve agents? Those are not just an idle threat. During the Iraqi war—that is, the Gulf war against Iraq— it is well known to the House that we were very troubled indeed about the possibility of biological or bacteriological agents being used in the United Kingdom by agents of the Iraqi Government.

Let us consider the example of Japan. We all know about the attack on the underground system there. I believe that gas was used, but it may have been nerve agents. It does not matter for the purposes of our discussion. Such events are feared and have happened. If it is right to include in the scope of deemed terrorist activity—or activity capable of being included in that scope—the use of firearms and explosives, we should include, a fortiori, the other agents, which I have specified in amendment (f).

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Do I deduce from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that he, like me, would, on balance, prefer deleting proposed new subsection (1B) to limiting, extending or playing around with it?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

On balance, I believe that I would. However, if I am to be left with proposed new subsection (1B)—I suspect that that will happen—I shall try to improve it by incorporating amendment (f) into it.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Is Mr. Corbyn seeking to catch my eye?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Indeed, Madam Speaker. It is kind of you to remind me to rise. As one of only two non-lawyers to speak in the debate, I am grateful for being called. Perhaps other non-lawyers will join us soon.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman does the Minister a disservice.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Is my hon. Friend the Minister not a lawyer?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. That makes three of us. We have a lot in common.

We tabled the amendment in lieu after much consideration. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would consider the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and me when he replies. We were not members of the Committee that considered the Bill, and were thus unable to pursue the anxieties that we expressed on Second Reading. We were worried that the definition of terrorism in the Bill was so broadly drawn that there was a danger of its including people who were by no stretch of the imagination terrorists, but who could be defined as such in a British court. The right hon. and learned Member for North Hykeham and lots of other places—

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who represents all places in Lincolnshire, also drew attention to the problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington pointed out, one person's terrorist can be another person' s freedom fighter. Former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa was denounced in this country as a terrorist, as were many others who were later elevated to the status of freedom fighter. It is the lot of many so-called terrorists around the world to become freedom fighters and then saints, often in the space of a short time.

We are worried that the definition in the Bill could enable foreign Governments to put pressure on the British Government to arrest people in this country for peaceful activities that are pursued here in support of a change in their society. Those activities may be pursued peacefully here but not so peacefully in the relevant country. Such circumstances are potentially a minefield.

I recall the time when various Conservative Members asked about Mohammed al Nasari's activities in opposing the Saudi Government. They claimed—I do not know whether the claim was justifiable—that British economic interests and arms exports were substantially affected by his campaign to oppose the Saudi Government and royal family, and that there was therefore an economic bearing on reasons to remove him from this country. I do not recall his being labelled a terrorist, but the comments were not far removed from calling him a terrorist.

The native Amazonian people in Brazil campaigned honourably for a long time to protect the rain forest in a sustainable way and to preserve their way of life. At various times, their methods have been described as terrorism against the state of Brazil, because they prevent what some perceive as legitimate economic activity and others perceive as disastrous for the rain forest. Many people in this country have supported them. Would they be included in the catch-all definition if they undertook peaceful direct action against Brazilian economic interests here? That is the danger of the definition.

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On Saturday, I went to the north Yorkshire moors with many other people from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was wonderful. We were protesting against the American national missile defence system and star wars experiment. Our demonstration was entirely peaceful; we marched up to the base and hung banners around its edge. The police were entirely co-operative and said that it was a very nice day out as well. It did not rain all the time we were there, and everyone went away.

If there had been some form of direct action, such as people trying to climb over the fence or whatever as has happened with Operation Snowball, I would have described it as peaceful direction action in pursuit of a peaceful objective. Indeed, such a view has been upheld in the courts. However, it could be argued that such action was against the interests of the United States Government in trying to pursue their national missile defence policy. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would consider that matter in his reply. I also have in mind those who have been charged with damaging genetically modified crops—although I cannot pursue that case now because it is before the courts.

The crux of the amendment in lieu tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington is that it directly deals with force or violence against Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom rather than that against property, and it specifically refers to any other elected Government I realise that the word "elected" can cover a multitude of sins; it is difficult to define. I am slightly suspicious of Governments who are elected by 99.8 per cent. of the vote, and the Albanian electoral system in the past. We must define the word "elected" carefully, and perhaps we should further consider the definition, but my hon. Friend the Minister should consider the fact that our genuine desire is not to support violent terrorism in any form—that is not our purpose—but to protect the important right of people in this country to engage in legitimate, peaceful political activities that are intended to promote social and political change in their own society.

We should not allow foreign, dictatorial Governments or oppressive regimes to use economic and political arguments in this country to ensure that their internal opponents are arrested under British law. That would be dangerous and a negation of many of the principles under which people have claimed asylum under the 1951 convention.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

I have considerable sympathy for the amendment in lieu tabled by hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). In criticising that amendment, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to middle eastern regimes and to his experience as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I remember debating with him whether the Lockerbie trial should be held in Scotland. I remind him that the amendment in lieu refers not to regimes, but to elected Governments, although it might have been better if it had referred to democratically elected Governments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to serious damage to property. An incident took place not so long ago at the nuclear submarine base on the Clyde involving three women demonstrators, or campaigners against the nuclear deterrent. Their campaign focuses on the removal of those submarines from the Firth of Clyde, and I have some sympathy for that view. They were charged at Greenock sheriff court under extant Scots law on criminal offences and criminal damage to property. Incidentally, the sheriff threw out the case, but that is another story. I am also concerned about damage to property or inadvertent injury to persons that can happen in industrial disputes.

On the pursuit of ideological objectives, the International Whaling Commission, for example, might allow the Norwegians and the Japanese—the two foremost industrial whaling nations—greater access to the rapidly depleting whale stocks. That might prompt Greenpeace to send out a vessel, perhaps to our territorial waters, and, in its efforts to interfere with the whaler's activities, that vessel might damage the whaler in a collision. Would that constitute an act of terrorism under the Lords amendment? Too many people who act rashly, inadvertently causing damage, might be charged with terrorist activities. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington fits the reality of political protest and campaigning much better than do the Bill and the Lords amendment.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The House of Lords has done a good job as a revising Chamber in considering the definition of terrorism and my reading of the debates in the other place shows that the issue was discussed constructively and at length. On Report in the House of Lords, the Government introduced a redefinition that meets a number of concerns expressed by Members of both Houses about the original definition.

In particular, I record my welcome for two features of the new definition. First, it describes terrorism as an activity that puts people in fear—that terrorises the public or others. As my noble Friend Lord Cope of Berkeley pointed out in the other place, that is surely an essential feature of any definition of terrorism. Secondly, the Government have agreed to extend the definition to include what might be termed cyber-crime—the deliberate act of wrecking computer and information systems to intimidate the public or to influence a Government. We drew attention to that matter early in the Bill's proceedings in this House—indeed, it was highlighted by Lord Lloyd of Berwick in his original report on the subject.

The Bill must make it possible for the police and others to treat as terrorism the prospect of an attack by a group such as the IRA or continuing republican paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland on an air traffic control system or an information technology system governing the activities of a public utility, major finance houses in the City of London or the civil service in Whitehall. Indeed, I am told that there is evidence from overseas that some Tamil terrorist organisations have sought to damage the Indian Government's communications systems as part of their on-going political campaign. All Members who experienced the damage done recently by a computer bug to our ability to communicate will know that such methods of intimidation are almost certain to be attractive to terrorist groups.

I reiterate the support of those on the Opposition Front Bench for the concept of the definition encompassing both domestic and international terrorism. We acknowledge that that raises difficult questions about balancing the need for effective counter-terrorist legislation with defence of human rights, but I believe that the threat posed by both domestic and international terrorism is such that the Government are right to propose a definition that is broader in scope than those included in current legislation.

May I deal briefly with the amendments that we are debating alongside the Lords amendment? I was glad to hear from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that he did not intend to press amendment (c), because that would have narrowed the definition in an unacceptable fashion. In his discussion of amendment (b), he raised the interesting question whether we need an objective, as well as a subjective, test. However, when he dealt with proposed subsection (1B), he spoiled his argument by saying that there should be a test of intention—namely, an intention to cause death—rather than the objective test included in the Lords amendment as drafted.

Amendment (e) is too narrow in scope. To say that an act involving the use of firearms and explosives would constitute terrorism only if "intended to cause death" would open the gates to those terrorists who attack targets such as Canary Wharf or the Arndale center in Manchester, and then blame the casualties on the fact that the police did not act on the warning that the terrorists claim to have given the authorities. That amendment would create an imbalance in the Bill in favour of the terrorists, so the House should not accept it.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to ensure that the hon. Gentleman understands that proposed subsection (1B) qualifies the preconditions that must be met in the earlier parts of the definition. Whether or not my amendment or any form of words is accepted, we must retain proposed subsection (1B). All that it does is convict someone on the basis of the use of firearms or explosives, even if no one can prove that the action was designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public. On reflection, therefore, the hon. Gentleman might agree that that does not have the objective that he attributes to it.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for explaining the intention behind his amendment. I was going to deal with the point that he raised because, to an extent, it answers some of the concerns that were expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Some of the debate about proposed subsection (1B) seemed to assume that it was an unqualified exception to the principles established in proposed subsection (1A). Yet surely the use of firearms or explosives must be shown, under proposed subsection (1)(b) and (c), to be designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public and to have been motivated by a desire to advance a political, religious or ideological cause A certain amount of protection against abuse by the authorities is therefore built into the Lords amendment

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Is my hon. Friend right about that? I agree that this matter is difficult to follow and we may both be mistaken, but my understanding is that nobody has to be satisfied that the use of firearms or explosives falls within proposed subsections (1)(b) or (c). It is sufficient if firearms or explosives are used.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:30 pm, 10th July 2000

The Minister will no doubt clear things up for both of us. According to my reading of the Lords amendment, the motivation of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause would clearly have to be established, even if one accepted the point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham made.

The other point that my right hon. and learned Friend made is worth consideration: whether we should extend the exemption in proposed new subsection (1B) to include not just firearms and explosives but other lethal forms of weaponry, such as chemical and biological weapons. I would be interested to know the Government's thinking on that point.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am conscious of the danger of the debate turning into a seminar, but that is because of the drafting of the definition. I want to follow the same line of questioning as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, if we agreed to proposed new subsection (1B) as it stands, someone could be described as a terrorist if he used a firearm to raid a post office believing that the lottery was against God's will because it is gambling? He would be using a firearm for an ideological or religious cause, so it seems to me that it would fall within the definition. The phrase in new subsection (1B) is a dangerous phrase to include in the Bill.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument but, to use that hypothetical case, if a gang of people were organised and believed that some God was impelling them to raid a sub-post office to stamp out gambling, it should be possible to treat them as a terrorist organisation. Similarly, it should be possible to treat an organisation that uses violent methods in pursuit of animal rights as terrorist, given the attempts to kill and maim people made by such extreme organisations.

That brings me on to the points made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). He acknowledged that to use a phrase such as "any other elected government" raises many questions about the validity of elections in different parts of the world. In any case, we need a definition of terrorism that goes wider than action against Governments.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman has been intellectually honest as we have gone through this process, and I just want to press him one more time. I may be prepared to accept his proposition that the actions of a group seeking to undermine people may justify a terrorist description. However, does he honestly believe that the act of one person with one firearm endangering one person's life from some ideological motive—albeit that that is a criminal, undesirable act that would deserve to be severely punished—should be classed not as an ordinary crime but as an act of terrorism, with all the implications that that has?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The problem with the hon. Gentleman's argument is that, in the example of the hypothetical nutter who believes that he is hearing divine voices, the offences involved in addressing a public meeting or fundraising would not be relevant—they would be relevant only to an organised group. Similarly, I would have expected that in such a case the police would rely on the powers given to them to enforce the criminal law, and it is likely that they would establish the man's claimed motivation only after the event when they had detected and arrested him.

I understand the case that the hon. Gentleman makes, but he is pushing a hypothesis to extreme lengths. I acknowledge—if I can repay the compliment—that he has been intellectually consistent throughout our deliberations on the Bill. In my view, however, it is important to have, if not the form of words that we now have in front of us, something very like it when the Bill finally gets to the statute book, in order to ensure that we are armed with sufficient safeguards against the real danger posed to our society by organised terrorism.

Let me respond briefly to the points made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. The law's definition of terrorism needs to be broader in scope than "actions designed to influence or to have an impact on Government." We know extreme animal rights groups have sought to threaten, intimidate and harm individual scientists or employees of companies lawfully engaged in carrying out experiments on live animals. We know, too, of cases where acknowledged terrorist groups such as the Provisional IRA have sought to attack commercial interests to deter investment in Northern Ireland, or economic targets on the mainland of Great Britain in the hope that that would indirectly influence the Government of the day by arousing a war-weariness among the British public about continued involvement in Northern Ireland. For those reasons, I advise my hon. Friends to resist the hon. Gentleman's amendment if he presses it to a Division.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

May I begin with a couple of generalities—with the specific exception of the vicious smear on me by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who claimed that I was a lawyer? I have spent a lot of time resisting those attacks and I have attacked other lawyers. I am surrounded in the Home Office by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is a lawyer, and by my fellow Ministers of State, who are lawyers. The Prime Minister is also a lawyer. I have taken great pride in not being a lawyer in our discussions, so I was deeply distressed—that is the only phrase I can use—by my hon. Friend's attack.

More generally and more seriously, I welcome the various welcomes—and appreciate the spirit in which they were given—from hon. Members on both sides of the House for the changes that we have introduced in the Lords. It is true that we have sought to take account of what has been said by a number of people in the course of our debates.

I want to emphasise, as I have throughout, that many of these judgments are difficult judgments of balance between the various rights involved. Of course, there is room for different emphases as one deals with the balance.

Amendments were debated at earlier stages concerning the life of the Bill. I hope that, when the review is conducted of the operation of the Bill, reports on the central definition and its effectiveness or ineffectiveness will be considered. Obviously, it will be for the person conducting the review to decide exactly how to deal with the matter. I acknowledge that it has been a dominant theme of our debates in both Houses of Parliament. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate for the review to consider addressing those matters.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I shall first give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and then to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Can the Minister assure the House that the person undertaking the review will not only review any cases, actual or potential, that come up in the courts, but take evidence from exiled organisations and reputable human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on the operation of the law? In the event of it fulfilling some of the fears that a number of us have put forward, will the Minister be prepared to propose substantive amendments to the legislation?

Mr. Clark:

I cannot give my hon. Friend the first assurance that he sought. We have set out clearly the way in which the reports will be laid before the House, and will be capable of being considered by it. As for his second point, I can, perhaps, be more reassuring. If serious questions of definition arose in the reports, certainly this but, I think, any Government would take them extremely seriously, and consider what changes were needed.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I welcome the Minister's explanation of how the Government would proceed in making requests of the person carrying out the review, but may I push him one small step further? Would it be possible for the Government to consult on the brief for that person with Conservative Front Benchers, with my colleagues and me, and with others who are interested? If he could go that one step further, I might help the House by saying that I would be happy not to press our amendment.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I can at least assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would give the person concerned copies of all the Hansards containing the various representations made not only by the hon. Gentleman and his party here and in the other place, but by the official Opposition in both Houses and by my hon. Friends. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance, if it is a reassurance, that my right hon. Friend will take all possible steps to ensure that the review considers fully the views expressed in our debates.

I will not discuss the merits or otherwise of Special Standing Committees, and so on. Those are serious points, but they are not points for this debate.

Lords amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 17 and 107 are designed to tighten the all-important definition of terrorism in clause 1. We always said that we had not closed our minds to possible improvements in the Bill's definition of terrorism, and we believe that the amendments are useful modifications.

Lords amendment No. 1 introduces the concept of terror to the definition by requiring that for the most part actions, or threats, are caught only if, in addition to satisfying the other elements of subsection (1), they are designed either to influence the Government—that is defined in Lords amendment No. 3—or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public. The important exception, set out in proposed subsection (1B), is where firearms or explosives are involved. That is to cover, for instance, an assassination in which the terrorist's motive might be less to put the public in fear, or to influence the Government, than to "take out" the individual. Examples might include religious leaders, or scientists involved in controversial research. Although we accept that such circumstances are likely to occur rarely, we think it important for the Bill to be framed in such a way that the police are in no doubt that the special powers it provides are available to them in those circumstances.

Proposed subsection (1A)(c) makes it clear that only action that endangers the life of a person other than the person committing that action is caught by the definition of terrorism. That is intended to cover hunger strikes and similar situations.

Proposed subsection (1A)(e) specifically provides that serious interference with, or disruption of, electronic systems may be caught by the definition—provided, of course, that the action is designed to influence the Government or intimidate the public, and provided that it is taken to advance a political, religious or ideological cause. That provision was inserted to meet concerns that to "future-proof' the definition as far as possible—the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) referred to this—it was important to include computer- related terrorist action, without going for overly specific terminology that could quickly become out of date.

Lords amendments Nos. 17 and 107 are consequential on the main amendment, in that they add offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to those that are "scheduled" in Northern Ireland. Lords amendment No. 2 is consequential on Lords amendment No. 1.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I will give way later, but as I am going to raise a number of issues, some of which relate to the hon. Gentleman's speech, he may prefer to wait. I am not about to sit down.

Let me now deal with the non-Government amendments in the group, which raise important points. First, let me emphasise a point that has already been made. The version of clause 1 proposed in Lords amendment No. 1 clearly states: In this Act "terrorism" means the use or threat of action where—(a) the action falls within subsection (1A). That proposed subsection refers to actions involving serious violence, serious damage and so on. That test will have to be met.

The second test is that the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public. That very important test also will have to be met. The third test is that the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause. Therefore, it is a case of "and, and, and" in which all three conditions would have to be fulfilled. It is an important consideration. I think that it also deals with the safe-blower example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), because the average safe-blower will not be seeking to fulfil, for example, proposed subsections (1)(b) and (1)(c). Various other examples also would not meet the various tests. Therefore, that definition dominates what we are proposing and the way in which we are operating. It is a very important point.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 4:45 pm, 10th July 2000

The Minister has just assured the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) that the safe-blower would not satisfy the tests in proposed subsections (1)(b) and (1)(c). However, my understanding is that the safe-blower would not have to satisfy subsection (1)(b), but only subsection (1)(c)? Is that correct?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

No; I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. The point is that paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) have to be fulfilled. The disapplication that we have used in proposed subsection (1B) attempts to provide the type of qualification to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington referred. As there is a great deal of confusion in the matter, I shall explain it again.

Proposed subsection (1B) disapplies only the point on influencing the Government and intimidating the public, not subsection (1)(c). If I was not clear in stating that earlier, I apologise to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and to the House. My point about safe-blowers is that, as far as I know, most safe-blowers are not seeking in their actions to advance a political, religious or ideological cause, and that they would therefore not be covered in that category. That is the key point. I hope that that clarifies the matter.

In amendment (b), the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey suggests specifying that the use or threat is "directed against" as well as "designed to" influence. However, I do not think that it is at all clear how "directing against" adds to the sub-issue of seeking to influence the Government. If one's action is directed against the Government, it is seeking to influence the Government. Therefore, I do not think that amendment (b) would in any sense assist in our overall debate.

In amendment (e) to proposed subsection (1B), the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey proposes replacing involves the use of firearms or explosives with is intended to cause death. I honestly believe that that amendment would make the situation in the disapplication that we are talking about even more difficult and problematic to define, for the reasons stated by the hon. Member for Aylesbury. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) asked the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey a very pertinent question on the issue. I think that there are very many definition issues in the matter of intent to cause death, as opposed to intent to cause other things. Additionally, how are we to measure intent? I hope that those questions will persuade the House not to support amendment (e), should the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey decide to press it.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Minister may be planning to deal with this point later, but now may be the right time to deal with it, as it is related to other points that he has just made. What is his answer to the question that I asked the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)? Why is it that if the Bill is amended only by the Lords amendments, one person with one firearm who is motivated by a religious cause and endangers a person's life in a sub-post office would not be caught by the provisions and, therefore, defined as a terrorist?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am always slightly hesitant to go into such examples, because it is ultimately for the courts to judge, and difficult judgments arise all the time. There have recently been cases of individuals carrying out acts motivated by values and beliefs that most people would consider terrorist. If the individual has the desire to murder one person, for whatever reason, that is different from someone with a political, religious or ideological cause, which would imply a focus on more than one person. The hon. Gentleman's example pushes the bounds of understanding too far in that regard.

I appreciate the spirit in which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has participated in the debate, not only today but throughout our proceedings. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North have spoken with complete integrity and raised serious concerns felt by themselves and others throughout the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington raised a small point about computer hacking. We have legislation on that, as the Computer Misuse Act 1990 created offences of unauthorised access to computer materials, unauthorised access with intent to commit a further offence and unauthorised modification. It is right that, when such mischief occurs for terrorist purposes, the powers in the Bill should be available to the police, but the general issue is already directly dealt with.

My hon. Friend also raised a more general point about a general strike or direct action. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde referred to Greenpeace and submarines. I have to come back to the core definitions. We understand the general issues concerning the use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause or seeking to influence the Government.

Clearly, most direct action falls within those categories, but to fall within the scope of the Bill, such action must also fall within proposed subsection (1A), under which it must involve one of five things. The first is serious violence against a person. The second is "serious damage to property". That is far beyond the way in which one could categorise a Greenpeace vessel bumping something else on the high seas. The third is an action that endangers a person's life other than that of the person committing the action. That is another pretty serious hurdle. The fourth is a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public. The fifth is the cyber-crime point to which I referred earlier.

Those are all pretty serious hurdles. I have made it clear throughout that we do not have any intention of seeking to apply the legislation to any domestic, industrial or environmental action, precisely because we believe that Greenpeace, for example, is not seeking to do any of those five things. I understand the spirit behind the amendment in lieu, but I honestly believe that it is based on a wrong perception of where we stand.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

I know that my hon. Friend is not a lawyer, any more than I am, but is it not the case that judges can now refer to Hansard? What he has just said is a very important point should a prosecution ever be brought—in spite of all that he has said—in relation to an industrial dispute. Am I right to suppose that judges can refer to Hansard if requested by counsel to do so?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I am not a lawyer, but I think that it is open to counsel to make any reference to Hansard in relation to the Government's intention in any legislation. However, I do not think that I have said anything different today from what I said on Third Reading or in Committee.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that this is an important point about which several of my hon. Friends and I are concerned. Can he assure us that if some rogue prosecution for terrorism should be mounted against an organisation such as Greenpeace—as my hon. F the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) suggested—the Government would not pursue that prosecution? If there was an attempt to pursue such a prosecution, can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the Government would be prepared to amend the Bill accordingly?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

Although I am not a lawyer, I recognise the phrase "rogue prosecution" and I understand from my learned friends that there is no such thing as a rogue prosecution that involves lawyers. I am describing the activities of the organisations as they exist in current circumstances. If Greenpeace decided to breach the various causes in the Bill, that would be a different issue which would have to be addressed, so I cannot give my hon. Friend an absolute guarantee. However, I can guarantee that if an organisation does not violate the provisions of clause 1, any prosecution could not succeed.

My final point to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington is that, while I acknowledge his creativity in tabling an amendment based on previous legislation, it contains a flaw. It is not the flaw of the use of the phrase or any other elected Government. That point has been addressed in previous discussion. However, to exclude from the definition of terrorism action that is designed to intimidate the public or a section of the public—as the amendment seeks to do—would be a mistake. I understand that the classic view of terrorism is that it is about influencing or overthrowing states, but in the current and, I suspect, future climate, it would be wrong to exclude from the definition of terrorism action designed to intimidate the public or a section of it. We all know of examples, which I shall not cite again, and for that reason alone, I urge my hon. Friends not to support the amendment if it is pressed to a vote.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

An additional point in reply to the point from the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)—and I hope that the Minister regards it as helpful—is that, subject to some limited exceptions, all prosecutions under the Bill would require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Therefore, to some extent, parliamentary accountability would exist through the Law Officers in the case of any aberrant prosecution.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

The procurator fiscal in Scotland.

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

That is true, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde says, the decision would go to the procurator fiscal in Scotland.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

What would be the Government's attitude to an attempt to use extradition law to obtain the removal of a foreign national legally resident in this country who was deemed to fall within the definitions for support for an organisation in their own country?

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

I regret to say that I have to duck that question. Extradition law is exceptionally complicated and we are reviewing it in the light of the experience of the attempted extradition of the former dictator of Chile. I am hesitant to touch on what would or would not be grounds for extradition in any particular case. However, I am happy to write to my hon. Friend to set out my understanding when I have had a chance to take advice on that point.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I look forward to receiving my hon. Friend's letter, which I shall treasure as being from one non-lawyer to another. Can he also assure me that whoever reviews the legislation will also be asked to undertake a review of this aspect of the Bill, which has enormous implications in respect of our human rights legislation and the convention that will become British law in October?

5 pm

Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Minister of State, Home Office

The parliamentary reporting process established in the Bill will ensure that the review made available to the House every year takes account of all aspects of the operation of the legislation, including the aspect raised by my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend makes a serious point, and is right to raise it in this context. However, the approach that I intend to take is to ensure that, once the institution proposed in the Bill is established and fully operational, the full record of the debates on the matter is made available for consideration.

I turn finally to the points raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I appreciate that his intention is to extend the scope of the application of the "influencing a Government" definition of terrorism to cover situations where chemical, biological or other agents rather than conventional explosives are used in a terrorist attack.

As the Government explained when the amendments were tabled on Report in the House of Lords, the disapplication is intended to cover a set of circumstances that are rare, but which should not be ignored. Those circumstances would arise when an individual or place is attacked by a terrorist group whose intention is to "take out" that person or place for its own sake, rather than as a means of influencing a Government or intimidate the public.

In introducing the disapplication, the Government felt that we needed to strike the right balance between ensuring that the most likely circumstances in which such cases might occur were covered, and broadening the disapplication so much that it undermined the usefulness of the insertion of the important new limb into the definition. That is how we came up with the formula concerning the use of firearms of explosives. I acknowledge that the amendment does not cover all the ways in which assassinations could take place. For example, it does not cover drowning, poisoning or other ways in which people can be killed which do not involve guns or explosives. However, it would cover the types of incidents involving chemical and other agents set out in amendment (f), tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. That is because the most usual ways in which such agents are released involve the use of explosives. I hope that that offers some level of reassurance that the sort of circumstance envisaged in amendment (f)—and I think that it would be fair to call it a rare sub-set of what is already a rare category of terrorist attacks—is usually likely to be covered.

I hope that I have dealt with the points raised in the debate. We made it clear from the outset that we recognised that the definition of terrorism was key to the whole Bill, and that we were committed to getting it right. We have tried to listen to concerns expressed at all stages of the debate in the House, and we have made a range of changes to try to address those concerns. We believe that the definition as amended in another place is an improvement, but we do not believe that the further modifications proposed add up to further improvements.

We must have a workable definition that is broad enough to cover the range of circumstances that we can reasonably anticipate might confront us, without going too wide. The definition must be easy to apply, even under extreme time pressures. We believe that we have achieved those objectives in the definition as amended in the other place, and I hope that the House will support the Government amendments.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful for the Minister's assurance that the Government will seek to ensure that the report provided for by clause 125 will cover the concerns about the definition of terrorism raised in this debate by hon. Members of all parties. That is welcome, as is the procedure for getting the matter right. Some of us argued for an automatic review, but a mechanism that combines an annual report and the methodology that the Minister has set out will be very helpful.

I posed a specific question, by way of example, to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and then to the Minister. It is possible to apply that example to one or more of the offences under the Bill. Most obviously, clause 16 makes it an offence to use money or other property for the purpose of terrorism. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to contemplate a person using money or other property to set up a raid on a post office, and that would bring that offence within the criteria set out by the Minister.

That example illustrates the prospective, theoretical danger of an interpretation that makes the Bill wider than we might wish. The matter will, of course, be subject to the requirements and consideration of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the procurator fiscal, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (Northern Ireland). That is a protection for all of us, and other provisions require orders to be laid before the House later.

I do not pretend, and never have pretended, that the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and me, or the amendment in lieu tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), are the ideal solution. I think that we have all been honest enough to admit that. We have made attempts, collectively, to get a better Bill and, to be fair, the work has produced results and rewards. It would be wrong to suggest that the Bill would be perfect if our amendments were accepted or that it is perfect as it stands. The Bill would be imperfect in either case.

Against that background, I am happy to accept the Minister's good faith, in terms of working with colleagues on both sides of the House to ensure that we keep the matter under review. We will want to do that—none of us will let the Bill disappear from sight once it becomes law. On that basis, I do not intend to press our amendments.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 agreed to.