Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Galloway: But my point is that--we can consult the record--it has been claimed in support of the amendment that it is some kind of civilising measure, protection or means by which the worst excesses of abuse of the legislation can in part be curbed. I take my hon. Friend's point that other amendments will, in his view, buttress that further.

Mr. Michael: By trying to outline the Opposition's intention generally, I may have gone beyond the amendment's intentions. I wanted to make it clear that two issues need to be dealt with. The amendment was not intended to deal with the one to which my hon. Friend is primarily referring.

Mr. Galloway: Obviously, if I had not been in order, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would have stopped me. I am entitled to address the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made in support of his amendment, and that is what I am trying to do.

I have dwelt on the issue of President Mandela precisely because he is such a cosy and well-loved figure nowadays. It was not always thus. No doubt in their dark hearts some Conservatives still regard President Mandela as a terrorist, although I doubt whether many would be prepared to admit it. I could think of one, perhaps two, whose travel plans have been gravely altered by the change in South Africa.

Mr. Leigh: It has given the hon. Gentleman new travel opportunities.

Mr. Galloway: I did not travel to South Africa in the old days and I have not done so recently, but I accept that

14 Feb 1997 : Column 533

jibe in the spirit in which it was offered. I have chosen Nelson Mandela's case because it is an easy case. Almost nobody would now say that they would have wanted him to be prosecuted under this legislation. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. That saying is a cliche because it is so true. Nelson Mandela was always a freedom fighter to me, but to some Conservative Members, for a long time, he was a terrorist. Some still probably cannot get their lips around the words "freedom fighter".

I shall take another example of people who are terrorists to me, but are probably freedom fighters to some Conservative Members. I was for many years--I used to travel to Nicaragua regularly--a supporter of the Frente Sandinista, the liberation movement in Nicaragua, which came to power by armed insurrection in 1979, having captured the Nicaraguan Parliament. A man with a red bandanna took all the Ministers hostage including, I am sorry to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Speaker of the Nicaraguan Parliament. The entire Parliament was held hostage, much as the people in the Japanese embassy in Lima is being held hostage today. The entire Parliament was seized by Nicaraguan revolutionaries and the whole exercise ended soon afterwards with a victory for the revolutionary forces.

I was with the Sandinistas when they were a revolutionary front opposing the Somosa dictatorship in Nicaragua. The United States said of Somosa, "He may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch." I was with the Sandinistas then and when they were in power, but people who were against the Sandinistas were operating in this country. The so-called Contras were fund-raising and organising terrorist action from this country against the Government of Nicaragua.

Just as in Nelson Mandela's case, many Conservative Members were on the wrong side. They supported the Contras, and attended their functions. At least the African National Congress tried to avoid civilian casualties in their struggle against apartheid. The Contras' whole raison d'etre was to wreak as much human damage as possible. They cut people's throats and pulled out their tongues to hang like neckties. They caused mass destruction and suffering in Nicaragua, but they were supported by some Conservative Members and regularly feted at Conservative party conferences, although admittedly on the fringe. Sometimes the same people one day wore a "Hang Nelson Mandela" T-shirt and the next an "I support the Contras" T-shirt.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. This is an interesting tour of world geography, but it would be more helpful if the hon. Gentleman could return his attention to the amendment we are discussing.

Mr. Galloway: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I was flying too far and wide of the amendments. My point is that the Nicaraguan Contras operated in London, inciting, inspiring and commissioning acts of terrorism. I found their actions revolting. However, it would not have been right--in the unlikely event that I were the Attorney-General--for me to have prosecuted the Contras under this legislation, untrammelled by the amendments, because I detested them and regarded them as terrorists. It cannot be right that one man, the Attorney-General,

14 Feb 1997 : Column 534

should be given the power to decide who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter. That is the power that the Bill would give the Attorney-General and the amendments do not go nearly far enough in putting the hems on that untrammelled power.

The Bill will cause a grave diminution in the political rights of our people which have been cherished for centuries and, for many decades at least, were cherished even by members of the Conservative party, who welcomed to this country revolutionaries such as Kossuth after the wave of revolutions in 1848. Kossuth was a Hungarian who led an armed, terrorist struggle against the Austro-Hungarian empire from his sanctuary in London. He would not have been protected by the amendments: he would have been prosecuted under the Bill, had it existed at the time.

Perhaps some Conservative Members wish that Karl Marx had been prosecuted, but this country's reputation would have been gravely diminished if he had been, when he was labouring in the British museum and calling for the beheading of the European kings. Several of those monarchs wrote in congress to the British Government to ask that he be prosecuted, but the then Conservative Government replied that the mere advocacy of regicide was not a crime in Britain and that Mr. Marx was free and welcome to continue his labours in the British museum. How different were that Government from today's Conservatives--the nouveau Tories--to whom such love of liberty is a foreign and distant concept.

The Bill would not be sufficiently improved by the amendments. I oppose the amendments because they do not go far enough. No doubt, if I catch your eye,Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will have other opportunities to speak on the other amendments and later on Third Reading. I thank you for your indulgence so far.

Mr. Waterson: We have had an interesting debate on the amendments and a pleasant stroll down memory lane for those who have fond memories of old Labour. The amendments, which have a narrow compass, would provide that the substantive offences in clauses 1 and 2 would need to be first triable in a Crown court and punishable by imprisonment. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said when he moved the amendments, they would exclude offences that are triable only on a summary basis in the magistrates court or are not punishable by imprisonment.

Under English law, there are only three categories of offences--those that can be tried only on indictment, those that can be tried only on a summary basis and those that have an option to be tried on either basis. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth would eliminate the offences that he perceives to be unimportant, at the bottom end of the scale or less high profile. The terminology is difficult, but those are the expressions that were used on Second Reading and Committee. The hon. Gentleman suggests that there are some circumstances in which it would not matter too much if people in this country were conspiring to commit offences abroad, even in cases in which the test of dual criminality was properly satisfied. I will be blunt: I do not subscribe to that view, and I gave the example in an intervention earlier of the

14 Feb 1997 : Column 535

offence of threatening behaviour under the Public Order Act 1986, which carries a term of imprisonment of six months but is a summary offence.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman has taken the point that I was making when I moved the amendment. I made it clear that the amendment is not a perfect mechanism, and I seek some assurance that offences that the hon. Gentleman would agree should not be pursued, will not be pursued. It is not clear how that can be effected in the Bill as it stands, so it needs to be dealt with either in the Bill or by some other mechanism. I look to the hon. Gentleman and the Minister to provide reassurance.

Mr. Waterson: I take that point. In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, I agree that he said that he did not regard the amendment as a clear-cut solution to the problem that he described. However, I am not sure whether I accept that there is a problem. As I have said during previous debates on my Bill, the point of it is to take the approach set out in the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996 and extend it right across the spectrum of the criminal law in this country.

Mr. Michael rose--

Mr. Waterson: May I finish this thought?

I do not see any point in trying to distinguish in any of those ways between types of offence considered serious and those considered not so serious. I have said that on more than one occasion.

10.30 am

Mr. Michael: Yes, but the hon. Gentleman might reflect on the fact that when we debated the same issues last year, the Minister said that we should be careful how far we go into extra-territoriality, which is what the Bill is all about. He said that we should ensure that we did not go beyond the intended mark. I turn those remarks back now, because last year the Minister was too hesitant, whereas now we may be going even further than the hon. Gentleman intends. Where is the mechanism to ensure that that does not happen?

Next Section

IndexHome Page