Clause 17 — Commission of offences abroad

Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill — [2nd Allotted Day ] – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 3rd November 2005.

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The Chairman:

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 91, in clause 17, page 16, line 5, at end insert


(c) the action involves harm or the threat of harm to a national of the United Kingdom.'.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Amendments Nos. 90 and 91 stand in my name and those of several of my hon. Friends, as well as those of Mr. Grieve and David Davis. They are probing amendments designed to give us a clearer understanding of the Minister's intentions in clause 17. As I read it, it appears to create a universal jurisdiction in regard to these offences. In other words, if anyone anywhere commits a crime that falls into the necessary categories and is a crime in the United Kingdom, that crime will be prosecutable in a British court of law. If that is the case, those crimes would become part of a small subsection of crimes that are prosecutable on that basis. Examples include genocide, war crimes and I think that there is another one, but it has escaped my memory—

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Some sexual offences are also included. I do not argue against that, although I accept that the amendment would restrict the application simply to those crimes that directly affected British nationals or the interest of the United Kingdom through British nationals.

I can see a counter-argument, which I ask the Minister to confirm is the Government's view: if it were to be restricted, individuals who were indictable for the offences, and who could not be extradited either to their country of origin or the country in which the crime was committed because of our treaty obligations, would not be subject to due legal process. Britain would therefore provide a service in allowing for a prosecution where otherwise the person would go free because the crime of which they were accused was committed in a country that perhaps retained the death penalty, thus making extradition impossible. Will the Minister therefore confirm the categories of crime that he expects to be caught under the purpose of the clause, and that we are applying a principle of universal jurisdiction in this area? If that is the case, he will have the support of the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee) 4:00 pm, 3rd November 2005

Mr. Heath introduced his amendment in a very low key way. I have been rather disturbed by clause 17, however, and would welcome his amendment and seek considerable reassurance before we let this extraordinary provision pass through.

The effect of clause 17, as I understand it, is to make it a criminal offence for any person of any nationality to commit an act as described in the whole of part 1 of the Bill in any part of the globe, and to make that person subject to criminal prosecution when they come to this country. Somebody yesterday described the jurisdiction being sought as extraterrestrial—it does not go that far, but it is certainly extraterritorial on a grand scale. If one considers the totality of part 1, one realises that it is extraordinary that we are being asked to contemplate that proposition.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I think that it is extraterrestrial—the scope of the Bill is not limited to the planet Earth at all, and on that basis, if the Bill applies outside the United Kingdom it must also be extraterrestrial.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

As I understand it, were a little green man to get out of a flying saucer anywhere in the United Kingdom, and were he suspected of having committed the act of encouraging terrorism before he left the planet from which he had departed, he would immediately be subject to the provisions of the Bill. That puts another complexion on the problem.

Of course we understand that there are a few very serious cases for which we accept the case for universal jurisdiction: genocide, crimes against humanity and things of that order. With the greatest respect, I do not think that large parts of part 1 come remotely near that category of crime. I will not rehearse the arguments that we had yesterday about clause 1, as it stands, on the encouragement of terrorism. Members on both sides of the Committee were concerned about comparatively harmless, innocent acts of political protest that might be construed to be offences under clause 1.

Under clause 17, we are being asked to consider that acts of that kind, committed by anybody in any country of the world, should be regarded as terrorist offences, so that such people could be arrested and dealt with if they came to this country.

I can see that there are cases in which terrorist acts committed abroad should render the people responsible for them liable to arrest—such cases are tantamount to crimes against humanity. Anybody who has blown up a school bus in any part of the world should not automatically expect to be immune from prosecution if they happen to come to this country and the British authorities arrest them on British territory. I accept that, but as I have said, that is not what part 1 encompasses.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I do not disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Perhaps I did present the amendments in a slightly low-key way, but that was because I wanted to return to the issue of definition later. If the definition is sound the clause is sound, but if the definition is not sound the jurisdiction becomes extremely wide.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

I was not criticising the hon. Gentleman. I can, however, envisage enormous difficulties. Let us suppose that someone comes here from Chechnya, from Kashmir or from Uzbekistan. I will not go on: it would take a long time to recite the names of all the territories on which people have been guilty of terrorist offences, or at least of encouraging terrorist offences in the terms of clause 1. That person would then find himself liable to prosecution for something that had happened a long way away.

The defence will be—I know this, because it is in the Bill—that such prosecutions will be brought only with the consent of the Attorney-General. We shall hear the argument that we heard yesterday—that the Attorney-General will only bother to prosecute people who have been accused of serious offences in the country. As I said yesterday, I do not approve of passing catch-all legislation on the basis that we can make as many acts as possible criminal and justiciable, relying on a wise Attorney-General not to bother to enforce the law despite its wording.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

The Government might be storing up a problem. A number of Governments with whom we are generally friendly regard some of their own citizens as terrorists, while the British Government have taken a more ambiguous view. In the past, the British Government have said "We cannot deal with these people while they are resident in this country, because they have not broken any British law." If this law is passed, will there not be intense pressure on the British Government to prosecute a range of people who are disapproved of in those other countries, although we would prefer not to do so? The Attorney-General will be in an incredibly invidious position.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

The right hon. Gentleman has made a point that I intended to make. That is the other snag involved in relying on the Attorney-General's protection. Friendly Governments, including the American Government, might define some people from some parts of the world as terrorists, and the British Government might not entirely agree. The Russians would certainly regard many people from the Caucasus as terrorists, and we might not find that a non-controversial assertion. Again, I will not go on, but in the case of other regimes even more tenuous examples could be given.

The Governments of those overseas territories will expect the British Government to use their authority, granted by Parliament, to arrest such people when they come to this country, and to deal with them. The Attorney-General will then not merely be acting in his capacity as adviser on legal matters to the Government; he will be seen to be making—indeed, will be making—a political decision, as a matter of public policy, on whether we should accede to the request of an overseas Government for someone whom they regard as a dangerous agitator to be arrested because he has come to our shores.

Mexico must deal with Zapatistas, while half of Central America is dealing with Sandinistas and others. The examples are legion. The situation would be made more difficult by the fact that, as some of the bodies involved are very controversial, there would be political division in this country. Members of some parties in the House would demand that some South American fascist be arrested and put on trial while Conservatives demanded the arrest of some campaigner elsewhere, and the Attorney-General would be in the middle of it all.

If someone had committed a terrorist act in Kashmir—had actually taken part in such an act—I am not sure that I would see any objection to his arrest and prosecution in this country. When I was Home Secretary, I was concerned about cases in which people were organising terrorism in Kashmir from this country. We were inhibited in doing anything about it. In modern times, it is possible to organise a terrorist act in a very different jurisdiction thousands of miles away. But part 1 of the Bill, which includes this particularly difficult provision on encouraging terrorism, is not concerned with that category. I regard as utterly fatuous opening the door to Governments throughout the world making representations that a particular person in this country is "encouraging" terrorism—in the very soft terms that this Bill uses to create that offence—and demanding that we arrest the person and put them on trial in the British courts. That has absolutely nothing to do with what the Government have always maintained is the Bill's underlying purpose: to make us all feel safer from the threat of terrorism here. This provision is opening up a political can of worms that Parliament should not contemplate.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I fear, Sir Alan, that my right hon. and learned Friend's concerns are justified and that they can be mitigated only if amendment No. 90 is accepted. I put it to him that there is another concern in this context. Given that a large proportion of asylum seekers come to this country from countries where civil conflict or human rights abuse is a fact of life, is there not a real concern that if this clause is unamended, countries from which people are fleeing will demand that the terms of this legislation be used against those individuals, or that they be herded back en masse to face a pretty grim form of justice at home?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

That point had not occurred to me, but I agree with it entirely. So far as I can see, successful asylum applicants could well find themselves immediately vulnerable to prosecution here under this provision, at which I have expressed my outrage. This is in no way a routine part of the Bill and I do not understand why we are being asked to give this provision universal application. It will take a great deal from the Minister to persuade me that we should take this wholly exceptional step in determining the jurisdiction of this country and the application of this Bill.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I agree with what others have said about clause 17 and the two amendments to it, both of which I support. We have had this discussion about extraterritorial jurisdictions before, and the turning point was the case of General Pinochet. The case for his extradition to Spain was brought here, and the historic ruling of the House of Lords was that crimes against humanity, genocide and torture were universal in their jurisdiction. That is now accepted as fact, and everyone will agree that such major crimes should be universal. But I find it bizarre that this Bill seeks to make its many catch-all clauses universal, in terms of the jurisdiction of this country.

Successful asylum seekers have gained asylum and refugee status in this country because it was deemed that they would be subject to irrational, unusual or dangerous punishment if they were deported to their country of origin; that is not, however, a judgment one way or the other on what they were doing in that country. Indeed, many of us have supported asylum seekers in their right to seek asylum in this country with whose politics or religion, for example, we profoundly disagreed. They are granted asylum on the basis that they are being granted a place of safety.

On the question of interpretation, all those who took part in the struggle in Chechnya and who sought asylum in this country from Russia have been labelled terrorists by the Russian Government, whether or not they took part in any military activity. It is a convenient label for the Russian Government to use. The same applies to those who in the past sought asylum from parts of central America. The United States Government labelled them, saying that any Sandinista was automatically and ipso facto a terrorist because they were a Sandinista. That does not mean that they actually were, and in any event, who takes such decisions? The Bill as it stands would give the Attorney-General an enormous amount of work, and hand him a large can of worms.

Another problem would arise if the status of an organisation in terms of political approval were to change. For example, the Kosovan Liberation Army used to be on the US State Department's terrorist list. It was removed and, after a period of reflection that lasted only 24 hours, was placed on the list of freedom fighters. The transfer was very rapid, and probably the fastest in history.

Let us look at the example of a person accused of committing terrorist acts for the KLA. If that person came to this country, would he or she be prosecuted, under the terms of the Bill? Another difficulty has to do with the quality of evidence available in such circumstances. What rules exist to determine whether a person committed an act of terror? How could independent witnesses be found? How would the necessary evidence be gathered? I hope that the Minister can help with all those questions.

The proposal takes us into dangerous and uncharted waters. As with previous clauses, I want to know why clause 17 has been included in the Bill. The amendments that we are debating would help a great deal, as they make it clear that jurisdiction would be restricted to the UK. They would protect us from the can of worms that would be opened up by the need to make subjective decisions about people involved in political campaigns around the world. The amendments would allow the protection of the Geneva convention to apply, in accordance with normal procedure.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 4:15 pm, 3rd November 2005

I am grateful for the contributions that have been made in the debate, and especially that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. I added my name to the amendments because, like him, the clause struck me as a quite extraordinary provision.

In part, the problem arises out of the definition of "terrorism". A definition that covered extraterritorial activity in the way suggested by Mr. Denham would go some way towards resolving the problem, but by no means all the way. For example, an offence under section 54 of the Terrorism Act 2000 relating to weapons training would be caught by the Bill, even though weapons training that takes place abroad might be considered legitimate or even worthy if it were carried out by freedom fighters opposing a disgraceful regime. To put the matter bluntly, any freedom fighter involved in Iraq before the overthrow of the Iraqi regime in Kurdistan would be caught by the provisions of the Bill, but that cannot be what the Government intend.

That returns us to the point that, laudable though it may be to try to impose some universal jurisdiction in these matters, close examination shows the task is impossible. There will always be a series of unintended consequences that make such a jurisdiction unworkable.

My underlying anxiety about the Bill is that it contains—dare I say it?—the foundations of some new world order. I listen carefully to the Prime Minister, who has said that the rules of the game have changed. He never explains what that means, but it has begun to dawn on me that he believes in a new and universal world order, in which any form or manifestation of terrorism or violence against the state would be eradicated. It seems to me that that belief lies at the heart of many of the proposals in the Bill.

That is all very well, but the whole edifice crumbles when subjected to scrutiny and to questions about people's right to take up arms against hideous regimes. We might be able to proceed only if we could achieve a definition of terrorism abroad with which the Committee was so universally satisfied, in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn is satisfied about definitions of torture and genocide, that all hon. Members could feel absolutely comfortable that it described an activity that under no circumstances could ever be justified. I have to say that achieving such a definition would be fairly miraculous.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that genocide and torture are clearly defined offences in international law, so they can legitimately be prosecuted in this country, whereas, as he rightly pointed out, there is no definition of terrorism that can be applied either in this country or anywhere else, so the information that we would have to rely on would be subjective?

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I agree entirely. We know that the United Nations has been struggling to find a definition of terrorism, which is very difficult, partly because many member states would be only too happy to have the freedom fighters who are opposing their own vile regimes so tarnished and so represented. There is a very real problem.

The question is: should we divide the Committee this afternoon, or leave this matter to Report, to allow the Minister to go away and consider it more carefully? As the provision stands, it cannot stay in the Bill. The entire clause is wholly flawed. The question is: should we try to remove it now, or give the Government the opportunity, linked with what the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen is trying to do, to attempt to reconcile things? They would have to achieve what I still think would be a fairly miraculous outcome—a definition of terrorism abroad that we all accept, and linked to that, the creation of an offence of committing offences abroad that is wholly restricted to that type of terrorism and catches nothing else. Otherwise, we would be doing something that is both foolish and wrong. I hope the Minister will respond positively to the points that have been made.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Labour, Bishop Auckland

I entirely agree with what has been said by other hon. Members on this subject. When the Minister responds, will he also say something about how the Bill interacts with the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, which is also passing through the House? There has been some discussion on that Bill, and clearly, the two are closely related.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

When I first read clause 17 I assumed that it was just badly drafted. I was reinforced in that belief when I read the explanatory notes, which make it clear that

"The purpose of this Bill is to reform and extend previous counter-terrorist legislation to ensure that the UK law enforcement agencies have the necessary powers to counter the threat to the UK posed by terrorism."

As has been said, the purpose of the Bill is therefore to safeguard our citizens within the United Kingdom—although I suppose that one could say that that applies to our citizens outside the United Kingdom as well.

I therefore assumed that the Bill was incomplete, because it should have clearly identified, as the amendment would, the parameters within which clause 17 should operate. I had expected an early intervention by the Minister to say that of course that was what the Bill intended to do, and that whether he wanted to use precisely the language of amendment Nos. 90 and 91 or different language, he would table an amendment to the effect that the provision would apply outside the United Kingdom only in respect of acts of terrorism relating to citizens of the United Kingdom outside the United Kingdom, or acts preparatory to terrorism that would impact on the United Kingdom.

It would be ludicrous for the Bill to make our courts, in effect, world courts, and our police, world police. To go down that road would throw up all sorts of problems for the future, so I hope that the Minister will confine himself to legislation that impacts upon the UK and its citizens, rather than trying to be responsible for the whole world. Let extradition treaties and the like deal with offences that might be committed outside the United Kingdom relating to other countries.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Not for the first time in our deliberations, we are operating in the context of a wider debate on other aspects of the Bill. The whole issue of the definition of terrorism, which we will doubtless discuss further, is relevant here. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear throughout that he is deeply engaged in that discussion and listens carefully to the points made. That will be evident throughout our proceedings. Mr. Robinson said that he thinks that there is a problem with the drafting of the clause, and we will bear that in mind because he is always constructive on such issues.

For the benefit of Mr. Heath, I would point out that the offences included are clearly set in clause 17(2)(a) to (g). Mr. Clarke has huge experience in this area, which I respect and take seriously. He anticipated the line about the Attorney-General and, of course, he would weigh the seriousness of the offence concerned. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham that the Attorney-General will face some difficult judgments—as he does in every area of his work—at times, but I am sure that the Committee will have every confidence that he will be able to reach a decision.

The measures in the Bill are intended to facilitate the fight against terrorism of all kinds and wherever it may occur. We need to deal with the threat, which has to be seen increasingly in the international context. Clause 17 is necessary to ensure that we comply with international conventions that the UK has ratified.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

The Minister touches on the role of Attorney-General. I do not doubt the Attorney- General's legal advice and it is his role to give advice to Ministers on such matters, but in this case he would be drawn into diplomacy. Much would depend on the current state of our relations with a country, whether some fraught issue was coming up at the United Nations on which we might require that country's support or whether some trade negotiations were imminent. If the Egyptian Government suggested that someone here was encouraging terrorism in their country through their speeches or the way in which they sang songs that appeared to glorify terrorism, or if the Turks had trouble with some Kurds living here, or the Indians had trouble with some Kashmiri, the Attorney-General would have to ring the Foreign Office for the public policy on whether to be helpful, friendly and co-operative with the country concerned. The Home Secretary has to do that sometimes. I remember negotiating an extradition treaty with the Indian Government that was closely bound to their relations to the Foreign Office. However, it would be wrong to pass a criminal law and rely on the Attorney-General's diplomatic judgment at any given moment as to whether we should initiate criminal proceedings to cheer up some other Government who believe that somebody here is encouraging terrorism or attending terrorist training.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

It may be the Home Secretary's role to negotiate treaties, to discuss such matters and to reach political judgments, but it is the Attorney-General's role to make a judgment about the law. I am sure that all hon. Members would have confidence in him as he exercised that role, but it is a very different role from that of the Foreign Secretary or the Home Secretary.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 4:30 pm, 3rd November 2005

It is not just a question of the Attorney-General's discretion, but of what happens to the victims of totalitarian government. For example, let us consider what might happen if in Zimbabwe tomorrow there were to be an attempt to remove President Mugabe's Government by force, but it failed and some of the participants wanted to escape to the United Kingdom because they feared for their lives. If they were aware of the provisions of the clause, they would know that, because they had constructed explosives or weapons before their attempt to overthrow their Government, they had committed a criminal offence under UK law which would make them liable to many years of imprisonment. In those circumstances, they would not try to come to this country. There would be no question of their being able to ring up the Attorney-General to ask him whether they would be prosecuted if they came to the UK. The law as currently drafted is dangerous nonsense and I hope that the Minister understands that.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I do not accept the assertion that it is dangerous nonsense. I want to put a serious point to the hon. Gentleman. I do not need to explain to any Member that terrorism must be seen in an international context, which includes our obligations. The hon. Gentleman mentioned weapons training. To ratify the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism we need to ensure that UK legislation reflects our international obligations. We also have obligations under the United Nations nuclear weapons convention. Our proposals, which the amendments would distort, would fulfil our international obligations.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Will the Minister read out to the Committee our obligations in respect of weapons training under the Council of Europe convention? I should be surprised to discover that the convention requires the UK Government to take a universal jurisdiction in the condemnation of all forms of weapons training.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am not sure that these are the exact words of the convention, but article 14 of the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism requires us to take wide extraterritorial jurisdiction, including over the actions of our nationals, irrespective of the nationality of their victims.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Indeed. Our obligations under the convention require that wider international context. That applies not only under the European convention but also under the UN nuclear convention. We need to consider the Bill within that wider context. The hon. Gentleman's amendments would limit the fight against terrorism only to instances where there was harm or threat of harm to a UK national. That would put the Bill out of kilter with existing legislation and would also mean that we could not prosecute those who prepare acts of terrorism against fellow human beings who are not British. For example, an attack planned against a British company in another country which employed only locally engaged staff would not be covered if the hon. Gentleman's amendments were agreed.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Are not the extraterritorial powers and their application similar to the South African legislation under which Mark Thatcher was caught when he tried to get involved in activities in a third country?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My hon. Friend knows more about South Africa and the reach of its laws than me, but I draw to her attention the fact that we have obligations under the treaties and conventions that we have signed and we need to fulfil them. The proposed legislation will enable us to do so.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I should be very surprised indeed if there were a Council of Europe provision that mandated the inclusion of clause 17. If such exists, it is incumbent on the Minister to write to all Members specifying exactly what it is. I put to him in all sincerity that there is a circularity about the argument that he is deploying. He told my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, in all innocence and with a degree of insouciance, that of course the Attorney-General would make judgments on those matters because that is what he does. But what I say to the Minister, and what I think my right hon. and learned Friend was saying, is that of course the Attorney-General will do what he is obliged to do by the law, but it is quite wrong to pass a clause that requires him to behave in that way. That is the point. By the way, I am sure that the Minister will not forget to deal with the issue of asylum seekers that I raised, or with the concerns expressed by Helen Goodman.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I hope to have the opportunity to do so in due course, and I am certainly happy to clarify the issue in writing to the hon. Gentleman, with copies placed in the Library for other hon. Members to look at.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

If the Minister could send me a copy of his letter to John Bercow, I should be very grateful.

What reciprocity is there with any other country in the world that has sought universal jurisdiction for any offence committed under some form of terrorist legislation? How does the provision fit in with the normal extradition process?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Mr. Grieve mentioned the new world order. We are dealing with a challenge of global proportions, and in meeting that challenge, it is important that we draw up agreements with one another across the international stage and that we honour those agreements. In passing clause 17, we would put into effect a number of our obligations under existing conventions and agreements.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

The hon. Gentleman wisely cited his strongest point when he talked about the preparation of terrorist acts, which is covered by the Bill. Speaking for myself, I would be prepared to contemplate British courts having jurisdiction over someone who came here if they were guilty of preparing to carry out a terrorist activity elsewhere. I hope that, before Report, he will try to think what the arguments are for extending that to the encouragement of terrorism, with all the arguments that we had about it yesterday, or to attendance at training places, given that he has said today that any kind of innocent attendance at a training centre is a loophole in the law that cannot be conceded. So a humanitarian worker is guilty of a criminal offence unless he leaves immediately when he suspects that some men are coming in from the woods in the evening and training somewhere on the edge of the village. Extending the proposal to those sorts of offence in the whole of part 1 makes clause 17 ridiculous and will impose all kinds of diplomatic and political problems for the Attorney-General and other Ministers as soon as other Governments realise that they can pursue their enemies here and try to get them arrested.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I know from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier comments, which he now reinforces, that he has serious reservations about the range of offences covered by clause 17. I do not share his view that some bits of terrorism are more important or serious than others. If anyone participates at whatever level in either preparing for or carrying out an act of terror that results in the loss of innocent lives, that is a serious role and it needs to be covered by the Bill. Of course the court will take a decision about the appropriate penalty in the given circumstances of the case. I do not agree with him that some offences should be excluded and others included. The range of offences that we have included is fair.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn referred to evidence. Anyone who is prosecuted in this country for an offence is prosecuted only if sufficient evidence can be adduced in court to mount such a prosecution. Cases cannot be spurious: there must be proper and serious evidence. Clearly, if an offence that is caught by the provision is committed abroad, the evidence to prosecute here must come from abroad. However, of course, the evidence must fit our rules of evidence. If a case is tried in a UK court, the UK rules of evidence apply even though the evidence may have come from another country. The provision is not unusual. It applies to sections 62, 63 and 66 of the Terrorism Act 2000. So this is not a new power; it already exists. Clearly, we must apply the same rules of evidence as those that apply normally in our courts, even though the evidence may have come from another country because that is where the act was carried out.

John Bercow and my hon. Friend Helen Goodman asked about the way in which the Bill will interact with the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. Although they are two separate measures, I can appreciate how they interconnect. The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill will allow people to be excluded on the basis of acts carried out overseas, but people who come here as asylum seekers may be prosecuted under this Bill if they have committed an offence under it. Such people may be prosecuted, but whether they could be excluded would be another matter because of our obligations in such circumstances.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox Conservative, Torridge and West Devon

Does that not mean that the very reason why someone might be seeking refuge in this country could be the basis on which he is prosecuted when he arrives here seeking asylum? As my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve said, the measure is dangerous nonsense.


What is Mr Cox trying to infer? Surely if people seek refuge in this country because they have assassinated someone for political reasons in their own they are refugees from justice. If for well known reasons we feel they cannot...

Submitted by nicholas Waterhouse Continue reading

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

What the hon. Gentleman says is true. People who come here to seek asylum who have carried out terrorist acts may be prosecuted in a court in this country if there is sufficient evidence. However, it is equally true that under our international obligations, such people could not be excluded if there was a threat that their lives could be taken if they were returned to their country of origin. The two processes are not contradictory. People who apply for asylum may receive it, but they cannot be excluded if there would be any risk to their life if they were returned to their country of origin.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Does not my hon. Friend realise that the provision could cover people who had not taken part in any terrorist activity at all in the other country, but had glorified terrorism, which might not even have been an offence in that country? If such people came here as asylum seekers, however, they would be guilty of an offence and thus face seven years in jail. It is ludicrous to jail people in this country for doing something in another country that is not an offence there, but the Bill makes that possible.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I do not dispute what my right hon. Friend says—he explains the situation clearly. A person who was in this country and had committed an offence by glorifying acts of terror could be caught under the Bill due to the international obligations that are being put into effect. That is a proportionate and reasonable response to the threat of terrorism that exists not just in this country, but in many countries throughout the world. We need a proper response to that terrorism.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am genuinely astonished by the Minister's response to Mr. Denham. He agreed with the thrust of the description of the position that the right hon. Gentleman pithily gave, but then dissented from the right hon. Gentleman's verdict on that description. It is extraordinary that someone should be incarcerated here for something that is not illegal in the other country. I politely put it to the hon. Gentleman, who has served with distinction as a prisons Minister, that there are great pressures on the Prison Service, but we are not a prison service for the world.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comment. I was giving an honest response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, but it might well be that there is still disagreement between us. I take people who glorify and encourage acts of terror that result in the loss of people's lives—in whatever country they are, whatever their nationality and whatever their origin—very seriously. The Bill puts in place powers to enable us to deal with that not just here, but internationally. It gives effect to the obligations to which we have signed up through the various conventions to which I referred.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

May I flag up the opposite position to that put forward by other hon. Members? It is clear from several decisions of appeal tribunals that some people who apply for asylum here have been involved in activities that would rightly be considered to be offences under the Bill. Most of us would accept that the behaviour of some of those people has been unacceptable, but their lives could be at risk if they were deported. We must ensure that there is justice on both sides of the equation.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 4:45 pm, 3rd November 2005

The balance is clear. We have obligations to people who may have been convicted of an offence but cannot be returned to their country because they may be subjected to torture or may lose their lives as a result of their return. These are serious obligations that we honour, and we intend to honour them in future.

There are clearly many hon. Members who wish to contribute to the debate. If they catch your eye, Sir Alan, I am sure that you will invite them to speak. I intend to resume my place.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I ask the Minister to have another think about these matters. I understood him to say—perhaps I misunderstood him—that clause 17 is being introduced in part to comply with our international obligations under the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism, and similar obligations. That confuses me because in the explanatory notes to clause 1, it states:

"The offence has been introduced to implement the requirements of Article 5 of the Council of Europe Convention for the Prevention of Terrorism".

Clause 1 refers to the convention. Clause 17, as I read it, makes no reference to that convention and nor to the explanatory notes. I ask my hon. Friend to think again and either to explain tonight or at some other convenient juncture what it is in clause 17 that is needed for us as a country to comply with these international obligations.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

We have had an interesting debate. I began by saying that I was moving a probing amendment. Goodness, we probed! The amendment has had the effect of probing a hornets' nest. We are now clear that what the Minister is proposing goes well beyond what is necessary to meet international obligations. It goes well beyond what some of us would see as a sensible extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction—I almost said extraterrestrial again, to please Mr. Clarke—in dealing effectively with those who commit or are to a serious extent planning terrorist offences abroad.

Points have been made about the difficulty of those who seek asylum in our country. It is right that if someone is a terrorist they should not be given asylum in the United Kingdom. The problem with the Bill is that it goes well beyond the convention definitions of terrorism and introduces offences in this country that would be unknown to any other jurisdiction. It extends the scope well beyond that which is reasonable to exclude people from asylum in this country on that basis. That worries me. People have to give a truthful answer when they are asked what their experiences are in their country of origin when they apply for asylum. They are required to give evidence that will then be used to prosecute them because they have encouraged someone or a group within their country, whose members they believe to be freedom fighters in the context of their country's circumstances but in British law will be termed a terrorist organisation. That poses real problems.

As I have said, the difficulty is still one of definition. It is a debate that we are still to have, unfortunately. When I listened to the Minister's response, including his truthful but extraordinary response to Mr. Denham, I was convinced that we could not leave the issue to Report. We need to tell Ministers that they need to tighten these definitions considerably if we are to agree to them at a later stage in our consideration of the Bill.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I still maintain the position that there is a possibility of finding an extraterritorial jurisdiction that is based on clear definitions that meets our commitments by treaty that we would be happy to support. What we have heard from the Minister this evening suggests that we are a long way from that. On that basis, I think that we need to test the opinion of the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 211, Noes 303.

Division number 78 Terrorism Bill — Clause 17 — Commission of offences abroad

Aye: 211 MPs

No: 303 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Absent: 128 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of the debate on the amendments proposed thereto, put forthwith the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 68, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.