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Mr. Ian Taylor : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I raised that point about whether these clauses necessitated urgency in an earlier intervention, when I tried to get the Home Secretary to clarify. If the Government are aware of circumstances that would require us to enact this legislation urgently, given the events in August and the terrible bombings, the House could well look upon it with a sense of urgency, but that case has not been fully made. The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise a few warning signals.

Mr. Beith: It could be relevant to our considerations if the Government indicated that a sense of urgency should apply to this part of the Bill. It would be a different case from that which applies to the rest of the Bill, but the House would clearly listen to it. We would listen to the Home Secretary, if he advanced such an argument.

Unless we amend the Bill as I have suggested in the amendments, it could include a wide variety of provisions, some of which people would not want it to include, and others that they might want in legislation of this sort, but that they would not want to be rushed through as the Bill

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has been. The conspiracy provisions of the Bill could relate, for example, to a civil obedience campaign that involved the commission of criminal offences, both in another country and here.

For example, if an environmental pressure group decided that it wanted to stop the loading of a cargo of toxic waste bound for this country from a port in Germany or Poland, and embarked upon planned action including the criminal offences of interfering with dockyard operations and marine traffic, that could be a conspiracy in the terms of the Bill, and could be the subject of a charge.

I do not think that that is desirable--and even if it were thought desirable, we should debate it in a more careful and measured context than the way in which we are considering the Bill at this time in the morning and under such a strict timetable.

Other activities, too, are included under this part of the Bill. For example, financial crimes, sex offences, drugs offences, and anything else that is a criminal offence in this country and in the country to which the conspiracy relates, are all covered. That is a canvas far wider than the focus on terrorism on which all the justification, both for the Bill itself and for the urgency with which it is being pursued, has been based.

We believe that a reference to terrorism will at least target the legislation more effectively, and exclude some of the protest groups against repressive regimes that are a subject for concern in all parts of the House. Here we enter a difficult area, with which we also seek todeal by means of a later amendment about the Attorney-General's discretion.

3.45 am

Whereas there is a widespread concern that acts of plain terrorism should not be planned and organised on British soil to take place in other countries, that concern would not be anything like so great--indeed, it might not be present at all--if we were talking about groups seeking to organise resistance to a regime that allowed no other means of change or opposition, in a country in which there were no democratic procedures.

One of the distinctions that I would draw, which at least defines some categories of terrorism, concerns the fact that if someone is planning to place a bomb in a city so that many civilians will be killed, I would regard that as an act of terrorism even if I were hostile to the regime in the country in which the bomb was being planted.

The terrorism definition, if it focused on such situations, would help us in some degree to deal with the concern in many parts of the House that the legislation should not be applied to groups seeking to assist legitimate resistance to an illegitimate regime allowing no democratic means of change.

Dr. Palmer: Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel that he is proposing to replace a wide net with an ill-defined net? Does he have a clear definition of terrorist acts?

Mr. Beith: It is for the courts to decide what they consider to be terrorism. In any case, it hardly falls to me to have to define terrorism when the Government base much of the rest of the Bill on an understanding of what

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terrorism is, and use the term widely in all the other related legislation. Indeed, they have created an assumption that the Bill is about terrorism, and almost everything that has been said publicly about it has backed up that assumption.

It is true that the Home Secretary helpfully told me last week that he proposed to include conspiracy measures in the Bill, although I must admit that at that point I thought that he would confine them to the terrorism element. That may simply stem from a lack of deduction on my part, so I do not mention it as a criticism of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman tried to assist.

Mr. Corbyn: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beith: In a moment.

I do not think that that message was widely understood, even after the Bill had been published yesterday. After its publication I talked to Members of the House who still thought that it was about terrorism, and did not realise that it had very wide additional implications for all sorts of other offences.

Mr. Corbyn: I can see the point that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make about terrorism, but it is not good enough simply to insert the word "terrorist" without trying to define what that is. We have discussed before the difficulty in defining the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, depending on the regime, on one's perception of it and on whether one agrees with it, among other things. It is a bit unwise to insert the word without any definition of it.

Mr. Beith: Terrorism is defined in the prevention of terrorism legislation--with which the hon. Gentleman will be familiar, having opposed quite a bit of it over the years--and primary legislation introduced by Governments that he otherwise supported. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary challenges my use of the word "otherwise".

That was merely the third leg of my argument--that the targeting on terrorism would be of some assistance with a problem that we also seek to address by a later amendment to this part of the Bill. The principal leg of my argument is that the Bill is supposed to be legislation to deal with the problem of terrorism. Understandably, the Home Secretary has sought to extend it to deal not only with Northern Ireland terrorism but with other kinds of terrorism of which we have had recent experience across the world--that is, terrorism organised in one country and carried out in another, although that experience has not, in the more recent cases, been especially relevant to Britain.

However, in the course of doing so, the Home Secretary has taken off the shelf measures that extend over every area of criminal jurisdiction, far beyond terrorism, and used an inappropriate procedure to do that. He is doing it by means of a Bill that is being rushed through in urgent procedure, without allowing the opportunity for wide consultation. That is not a reasonable way to proceed, and that is the principal reason why I believe that we should re-focus the Bill on terrorism.

I merely made the incidental point that such a re-focusing might be of some help in at least excluding from the scope of the conspiracy section some of the

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actions of protest organisations against repressive regimes, but I would not rely on the amendment alone to achieve that object. We should return the Bill to the purpose for which the Prime Minister announced when he spoke after Omagh--to deal with terrorism. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 go far beyond that scope. That is an inappropriate way to use the very rapid mechanisms--with which we are all uncomfortable--for passing the Bill.

The vast majority of us recognise a need to pass legislation quickly in respect of certain aspects relating to Northern Ireland. I do not believe that that need exists, or that the procedure is appropriate, for the rest of the Bill, so I believe that we should get back clearly to terrorism by making these amendments.

Mr. Michael: The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) began by speaking about the limited time available. The Committee has debated, very maturely, a series of amendments on clauses 1 to 4 and has covered, in the process, an enormous range of issues. I think it was, as the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) suggested, the House of Commons at its best in debating important issues, and I hope that that will apply to the way in which we debate conspiracy. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed certainly approached the manner seriously and constructively.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): I accept that we have had quite a long debate today--we are now in about the 15th hour--but we have not had a great deal of time to do a lot of the work that we should have liked to do. For example, I have not had a chance to read the Criminal Law Act 1977, yet clause 5 is entirely composed of modifications to that. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, although we have had a lot of time for debate, we have not had time for preparation, thought, discussion and a rational debate, which would really have allowed us to do justice to these important measures.

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend is a new Member of the House, but for the House as a whole these are not new issues; they have been debated for considerable periods. When we dealt with the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, which was drawn up by the previous Government but introduced as a private Member's Bill, the issues were considered in a Friday debate. That Bill went much wider than the element of conspiracy in the clauses that we are debating; it went into the whole subject of incitement.

It might be instructive for my hon. Friend to research previous legislation and to read those debates. Most of the debate was about incitement and how we should answer the Mandela question--how do we ensure that unintentional interference with political aspirations abroad are not accidentally caught by the Bill? I took part in those debates, which were extremely interesting and constructive.

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