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Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. He seems to have accepted that commercial and diplomatic pressures are matters which the Attorney-General must take into account, yet he is providing no floor that gives protection to the Attorney-General in the exercise of that discretion and allows him to say, "No, those are categories of crime that I shall not consider. I can explain to a foreign Government that those are not matters that a British Government would wish to pursue in the context of the Bill." That is a grave omission that can lead only to future problems in our foreign relations. I ask the Minister seriously to consider putting some sort of de minimis provision into the Bill.

Mr. Michael: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think that he understands the responsibilities of the Attorney-General, who must consider any factors and information that relate to the public interest. The Bill is not limited in that respect, so it does not exclude commercial or trade considerations and so on. The Attorney-General would have to consider the matter and take a decision in the public interest, which includes human rights, our obligations under international law and other appropriate considerations. That wide interest is part of the accepted and settled way in which the Attorney-General exercises his functions.

Mr. Öpik: Before the Minister moves on, may I assure him that this is not an esoteric debate. My parents' home country, Estonia, was very much dependent on the help of Estonians outside Estonia in its bid for independence, yet under the Bill Britain would undoubtedly have been faced with a dilemma--whether to respond to the former Soviet Union's demands to turn in Estonian activists in this country who were helping to fight for independence and violating the law, perhaps through some form of mild civil disobedience, or whether to ignore the Bill and support Estonians who were trying to get independence for Estonia.

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As I listen to the debate, I would counsel the Minister to take these concerns much more seriously, as they would have had a practical impact on the many peoples and activists on this side of the former Soviet Union's iron curtain who were trying to achieve independence in exactly the way that has been described by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. The measure is about conspiracy in this country. It is not about sending people back anywhere. It is not about deporting people or putting them under another jurisdiction. It is only about prosecuting them in this country under UK jurisdiction on matters that are offences in this country and satisfy the other requirements that I listed. The only thing that people have to fear is that if the Attorney-General says yes, they will be prosecuted in the UK according to the normal requirements of the Bill for the relevant part of the UK.

Mr. Dalyell rose--

Dr. Starkey rose--

Mr. Michael: I return to the question of what we want to catch. I referred earlier to the holding of individuals today in relation to child sex over the internet. That involved the national crime squad and co-operation across countries because of the complexity of the internet and the sophisticated use of it. International events may have horrendous effects on people in this country and abroad. They would be dealt with under the conspiracy provisions, which is why they should not be limited, as has been suggested. We have built in safeguards. Each element must be satisfied in order for a prosecution to take place.

I ask hon. Members to look not only at those elements on which they think that things could go wrong--one can see why they would not go wrong because the permission of the Attorney-General would not be forthcoming--but at the people involved in conspiracy to commit serious violent offences abroad who would be excluded were the Committee to accept the amendment and the limitations.

Mr. Dalyell: The Minister said that this was not about sending people out of the country. I may have misunderstood, but I thought that there was a possibility of deportation. If I am wrong, I would like to be told so.

Mr. Lord, to put it bluntly, I have been listening to the Minister both in the Committee and on the screen, and this is not a subject that the House of Commons should be debating at 4.39 am. There are very important issues here. For heaven's sake, I say to my hon. Friends, cannot this wait until October or November?

Mr. Michael: I say to my hon. Friend, as I said at the start of my remarks, that the trigger for the Bill was, first, the events in Omagh and, secondly, the events in Kenya and elsewhere. Deaths of individuals took place and it was clear that there was an element of international activity and conspiracy. Those conspiracies may well have an

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element in this country. They may not. But the events raised the need for us to proceed on something on which we had aspired to proceed for some time. These matters are not new. They were debated when we were in opposition.

The elements about which we had reservations when we were in opposition when we debated the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill are not raised by this Bill because we have left out the incitement element. We have concentrated on the real mischiefs that need to be addressed in terms of international crime. I believe that the House would be wrong not to use the opportunity to ensure that the Bill is put on the statute book. The case for it is strong and the defence for the reservations is also strong. I understand why my hon. Friends want to probe these issues. That is why I have tried to respond to the many interventions that they have made. They are genuine and reasonable concerns, but I believe that the case is overwhelming for saying that we should go ahead.

Ms Abbott: It is really no good the Minister at this time in the morning trying to make the Committee's blood run cold with talk about child sex conspiracies. We know that the motivation for the legislation that is being presented in this very inopportune way has little to do with paedophilia as such and a lot to do with insistent pressure over the years from regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria which wish to deal with their dissidents. It is diversionary to try to frighten us by raising an issue that is not the substantive issue that motivates the Home Office in taking this draft Bill off the stocks and tacking it on to this Irish legislation.

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend has her own way of making her point and she makes assumptions which I refute totally. I hope that my hon. Friend and all my colleagues accept that I have honestly tried to portray the target that we wish to hit. We have been very specific in the way in which we have introduced the legislation. My hon. Friend can make her judgments if she likes. I refute and reject the judgment that she chooses to make. The powers will deal with some very serious mischiefs and some very nasty people. They may be insignificant to my hon. Friend, but they are not to me.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I understand the Minister's argument about the significance of paedophilia, which we all want tackle. We all want to ensure that we rid ourselves of child abuse. However, I understand, although I do not agree with the argument--[Interruption.]

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. Madam Speaker takes a dim view of electronic devices going off in the Chamber. I hope that it will not happen again.

Mr. McDonnell: I shall plead innocence on that one.

I understand, although I do not agree, that the Government have responded in the first part of the Bill to the events in Omagh. However, has any evidence been presented to the Government showing that there has been some form of international terrorist activity planned in this country, linked to the bombing in Nairobi or Tanzania, and which has prompted the urgency of the

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second part of the Bill? This is a very serious matter. If such evidence has not been presented to enable us to come to an urgent view, I agree that we should be considering the matter properly in the new Session of Parliament.

4.45 am

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend misses the point. The legislation needs to be in place so that if there has been an element of conspiracy in this country in those or other incidents of terrorism or serious crime, the Bill's conspiracy provisions would allow prosecution in this country.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am not accustomed to the role of coming to his rescue in these matters. The more I hear of this debate, the more I am inclined to agree with the assertion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) that this is a less than ideal way of dealing with these matters--that was a masterly piece of understatement.

Is not the long and short of the Liberals' amendment that it would restrict the provision to what they describe as terrorist offences? It would not necessarily deal with the problem that they perceive in the legislation, but it would exclude many other types of crime involving, for example, football hooliganism, drug dealing and serious fraud. The public would like to see us dealing with them and preventing conspiracies being hatched in this country and inflicted on other countries.

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