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Regrettably, I do not think very much of clause 68, and do not understand at all the need to amend the definition in the way proposed. I cannot conceive of a circumstance in which a “racial” cause is not already encompassed within “political, religious or ideological”, because anybody seeking to carry out terrorism on the back of a racial motive would already be caught. For us to add yet another unnecessary category to this growing list seems to me bad legislation, and we should try to avoid it.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. In fact, I tabled an amendment—I can well understand that that is unnecessary, because we have a stand part debate—to delete the word “racial”. However, I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that we should be very cautious about extending the range of “terrorist offences”. We need to keep in mind that conviction for a terrorist offence attracts a whole range of penalties and consequences that go outside the normal range of criminal law. The Committee has already dealt with freezing orders and forfeiture orders, and we are conscious that terrorist-aggravated offences receive higher sentences. Therefore, we should not add to the classification of “terrorist offences” unless there is a very compelling reason.
Moreover, as the Committee will know, racially-aggravated offences already attract higher sentences under existing law. We are entitled to ask, as my hon. and learned Friend has asked, what the word “racial” adds to that which is already in the definition. My own belief is that its inclusion is simply for political correctness, and I suspect that there is absolutely no justification for it. I shall of course listen to the Minister explain his reasons, but my instinct is to vote against clause stand part.
I support those points. The present definition would not include matters of a racial nature, and therefore we are very suspicious of this change and of the need for it.
Funnily enough, we start with consensus, in the sense that neither Lord Carlile nor I argue that the change broadens the offence. If it adds anything, it is clarity, because where “religious” is already utilised in our law, it has increasingly been the case that “racial” has been added as well. I agree broadly that anything that is racially motivated would be captured by the original wording. However, Lord Carlile says that the words are added only for clarity—not political correctness or any such nonsense—and to bring our definition in line with European and international ones, given that UN Security Council resolution 1566, which defines terrorism, includes the word “racial”, and the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism 2003/32 also uses that word. That is the only reason that the words are added.
The Minister seems to have said that he would expect such offences to be covered by the present definition anyway, and that the change is about adding clarity. Does he not agree that, as a general principle, shorter legislation is better than longer legislation?
No, not necessarily. As a guiding principle, that is nonsense. What we seek is clarity: the clearest, most straightforward legislation possible. We do not legislate by counting the number of words, for God’s sake. We use the appropriate number of words and the appropriate phraseology for the Bill. Whenever we put matters relating to race or religion into law, not least in relation to aggravated offences as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham suggests, they are invariably bracketed together. For that reason, there might be confusion. I am happy to have a further look at the clause, but I do think that it adds a degree of clarity in our European and international dimensions without adding to or broadening the definition. I commend it to the Committee.