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Mr. McWalter: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Michael: Not for the moment.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was right in saying that the trigger for the Bill was a series of acts of terrorism. The prime trigger was events in Omagh, referred to repeatedly by Members, which horrified us all.

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The second trigger, or set of triggers, was events in Kenya and elsewhere: in those places, terrorist acts affected several hundred people, and there was clearly an international element that may or may not have related to events planned in this country.

The urgency--in respect of both the conspiracy parts of the Bill and the earlier parts--related to acts of terrorism; but, as other debates made clear, the need for legislation to deal with conspiracy in relation to a range of issues is extremely important. I shall deal with a specific example shortly, but the right hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise that this could apply to sex offences and drug trafficking. Indeed, there are other elements--for instance, other forms of violence, if they happen to relate to organised crime rather than terrorism.

Victims of violence of that sort might say that a narrow definition of terrorism would not be a great consolation, given that the events affecting them would fall outside the scope of the legislation. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to accept that the Home Secretary intended to pursue legislation relating to conspiracy, which we said for a long time was necessary, which was debated in the House on a number of occasions, but which was not brought to fruition. It would have been ludicrous for us to deal purely with the terrorism element, although that was the trigger for the opportunity, as the House was returning to debate those elements.

I do not rest on that argument alone; the amendment is technically defective in terms of application. The definition of terrorism is in the PTA and the EPA, but not in these amendments, or in the Criminal Law Act 1977 in which they are to be inserted. There would be a technical difficulty. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is making a serious point, but that would be a conclusive reason for not accepting the amendments, because it would destroy the effectiveness of the clauses as a whole. I make the point simply in order to be accurate; in the rest of my comments, I would prefer to engage the serious points made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Audrey Wise: It is rather a put-down to say to an hon. Friend, "You are a new Member; you were not here when we discussed it all." I was here when we discussed it all, and I distinctly remember that the issues were so complex, and the amount of support on all sides so restrained, that twice we failed to secure a quorum. That does not suggest to me--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I have given a little leeway, but hon. Members must speak to the amendments. The history of these matters is important, but we are confined to the amendments.

Mr. Michael: Let me say briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) that I intended no put-down. I simply said that there was a degree of continuity. If my hon. Friend remembers those early debates, she will remember that the complexities were about not the conspiracy element of the Bill, but the incitement element, which involved enormous difficulties. The difficulty of the amendment is that it would restrict the conspiracy offence in the Bill to terrorist offences. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made it clear that that was his intention. However, it is not practicable to single out terrorists from other criminals in the way proposed. In many instances when carrying out

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their initial inquiries, it will not be clear to the police or to the other investigating agencies whether the offence of arms trafficking, for instance, is terrorist or criminal. It would be undesirable to tie their hands in this way.

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We might hamstring the effective investigation of arms trafficking when it may not be clear from the outset whether those involved are terrorists, rather than other serious organised criminals. In any event, we believe that it would be wrong in principle to exclude from the scope of the provision the unacceptable activities of arms traffickers or other organised criminals plotting overseas crimes in this country.

Mr. Beith: Trafficking in arms by a person resident in this country is an offence which the police can already investigate under existing law.

Mr. Michael: Yes, if the trafficking in arms takes place in this country, but not if it takes place abroad and the requirements in terms of conspiracy to undertake such events abroad as defined in the Bill do not apply. The right hon. Gentleman is right in relation to some offences but not others, so the provisions are important. The amendment would create a loophole through which organised criminals could plot in this country to carry out serious crimes abroad, and that cannot be right. I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

There are some nasty individuals whose activities are destructive to people's lives here and abroad who would not fall within a definition of terrorism. I have made the technical point about the lack of a definition, but even if a definition such as that which exists in other legislation were to be introduced to meet that point, it would exclude those people. Surely that cannot be right, and I am sure that the Committee would not wish that to be our approach.

Mr. Mullin: If my hon. Friend the Minister is unable to accept the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)--for the perfectly understandable reasons that he has given--will he consider amendment No. 45, which, instead of inserting the word "terrorist", would insert the words "serious offence"? That would meet the point that he is making. I am reluctant to be too helpful because I think I have probably given my share of help to the Government already.

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend is never anything other than helpful, although his is sometimes the sort of help that forces one to use more brain cells than one wants to use. That is the strength of his contributions. There are problems with taking the approach that he suggests. We are seeking to address serious offences, and my hon. Friend will recall debates on measures on the security services, for instance, in which it was questioned whether the definition of serious crime imported into police legislation might cause such difficulties as to make the intentions completely impossible to achieve. I understand and accept the spirit of what my hon. Friend is saying, and I hope that I can encourage him.

Amendment No. 45 would restrict the conspiracy offence to serious arrestable offences and would, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Police

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and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, limit it to the most serious criminal offences in common law. I need to deal with the effect of that in specific terms. The definition of serious arrestable offences excludes any serious offences that are also arrestable for the purposes of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and therefore punishable with at least five years' imprisonment. It does not even include grievous bodily harm with intent to kill, which is punishable with life imprisonment under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Nor does it include offences such as the use of violence for securing entry; taking, possessing or distributing indecent photographs of children; or going equipped for stealing. Indeed, the amendment would have the perverse effect, which I am sure my hon. Friend would not intend, of removing the existing jurisdiction for conspiracies here in respect of the commission of certain sexual offences against children abroad.

Under the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996, which, again, a number of my hon. Friends who are here will remember and on which serious debates took place in which we examined jurisdiction in this country in relation to events abroad, definitions were agreed that would be undermined by my hon. Friend's amendment, so a conspiracy here to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl abroad would no longer be triable in our courts--nor would a conspiracy to carry out an indecent assault overseas on a boy aged under 16.

We should not deny ourselves the opportunity of taking firm action to deal with the many offences that, although they may be triable on a summary basis, are not minor or insignificant in the effect that they may have.

The existing law on conspiracy does not distinguish between different offences within the UK. We have deliberately sought not to limit in the Bill the offences to which the conspiracy provisions apply. The requirement in the Bill for the Attorney-General's consent to prosecution provides a crucial safeguard against the prosecution of malicious and frivolous cases.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) will recall that, when we debated the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill in opposition, we specifically proposed inclusion of the Attorney-General's judgment as a way of getting a threshold, so that only the intended target would be hit--events that are serious and for which these powers should be used. We should not put in the Bill a definition of seriousness that would have the unintended consequence--I stress again: I am sure that my hon. Friend would not intend this--of exempting from prosecution many of the cases that I am sure all hon. Members want to see pursued.

The amendment would create a loophole through which terrorists and other criminals could plot in this country to carry out serious crimes abroad. That cannot be right. That is why I hope that my explanation will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and that he will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

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