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'the commission of, or the threat to commit, any criminal act with the intention of--
(a) putting the public or any section of the public in fear, or
(b) coercing the institutions of democratic government,
provided that the act'.
'of serious violence against a person or persons, or the threat to use such violence, to intimidate or coerce a government, one or more political bodies or organisations, the public or any section of the public for political ends, and which--
(a) endangers the life of any person; or
(b) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public.'.
'coercing, influencing or intimidating government, one or more political bodies, groups or organisations, the public or any section of the public, of actions which--'.
'(a) involves violence against any person or serious violence against property'.'.
The Government's attitude to those who oppose GM foods has altered since Second Reading. Someone who might once have been considered an eco-terrorist is now regarded merely as a person who has serious misgivings about the adequacy of the provision for GM plants and their long-term effect.
The amendment arises from discussions that I held with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was worried about the wide scope and subjective nature of the definition. The amendment that the commission proposed has four main elements. First, it deals with the motivational basis. The commission suggests that the provision for
Secondly, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission insisted that the action should be contrary to the criminal law. Thirdly, it proposed that the prohibited action should put the public in fear, or coerce the institutions of democratic government.
The commission believes that the Bill should not provide for differential police powers that depend on the motive behind the relevant actions. It believes that triggering the special powers should depend on the nature of the intended consequences of the action. In its view, the two most undesirable consequences are
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I am not opposed to the hon. Gentleman's objective, but does he realise that the amendment would make acts by, for example, hunt saboteurs, capable of falling within the
Mr. McNamara: I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point and I would be prepared to take a verbal amendment to exclude hunt saboteurs. However, even though clause 1 is one of the most controversial in the Bill--he is probably aware of that as he took part in the exchanges on Second Reading--I do not intend to push the amendment to the vote. That shows the degree to which the House is searching for a satisfactory solution to this difficult problem that gets away from advancing a political, religious or ideological issue and achieves a better way of dealing with it.
Amendment No. 123, which would put the word "seriously" in front of the word "endangers", would meet the problems raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's hunt saboteur to some extent, but the essential point is that a criminal act should be committed, which would not necessarily make such an offence a terrorist offence. The problem is that, if we retain motivation in the definition, we will have a two-tier approach and certain people will be afforded lesser rights on the basis of the motivation for their crimes.
The inclusion of political, religious or ideological cause results in a definition of terrorism that is both too wide and too narrow. It is too wide because many of the problems with extending the definition in the manner proposed, which we discussed on Second Reading, show people's discomfort with the range of organisations and activities that we believe might be caught by the clause.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave the assurance that prosecutions would not ensue in many of the examples cited by colleagues from all parts of the House--for example, undertaking activities and fund raising on behalf of solidarity groups committed to major political changes in other countries--essentially on the basis that the Director of Public Prosecutions would use good sense in these matters. That is not in any way sufficient to allay the concerns expressed. Indeed, some decisions by the DPP to proceed with prosecutions, particularly under the Official Secrets Acts, make one wonder about whether that good sense is always proper and always accurate in these matters. Furthermore, a person's right to freedom of expression and of association cannot be contingent on the discretion of one person. The Bill should not be drawn wider than the threat justifies.
In addition, one of the principles underlying the European convention is that precision and certainty in the law is a key precept. A person is entitled to know whether the activities in which he or she wishes to engage or the right that he or she wishes to assert have been prescribed or limited by law. The Bill's definition is far too wide in terms of what a person may or may not say or express.
The definition is also too narrow because the clause excludes many organisations that use terror tactics--gangs involved in organised crime, racketeering or drug running, for example, which are not covered by a definition based on motivation. It is not certain that the Bill's definition would cover the Mafia. Surely, therefore, one should remember that the Bill's impact on society is
The Bill's definition leaves open the possibility that some actions could be classified as terrorist although they were not criminal offences, and I do not consider that acceptable. The objective of this element of the commission's proposed definition is to exclude certain activities that would be covered by the definition, but that most people would not regard as terrorist--for example, activities involved in industrial action. Many trade unions could be accused of endangering the lives and/or the health and safety of a section of the public in such circumstances. That would apply to electricity workers, firefighters, ambulance workers or nurses. Under the Bill as it stands, such actions could potentially be classed as terrorism. A requirement for the legislation to be otherwise--to be criminal--would exclude, for example, legitimate industrial action. Hunger strikes or suicide attempts would likewise be excluded by the criminality requirement in my proposed new definition.
The next requirement in the amendment is that the action involved should put the public "in fear". International human rights standards make it clear that the essence of terrorism lies in the effect that it would have on the public. For example, the first protocol of the Geneva convention of 1949 refers, in sub-paragraph 2 of article 51, to
The commission also considered the prohibition of action to coerce institutions of democratic government. The Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said in Committee:
We have grounds for discussion about the possibility of improving the Government's definition, and getting away from their ideological, political or religious approach. Nevertheless, the amendment aims to achieve what the Government and, I believe, the whole House want to achieve: to get away from a definition that is hugely subjective, wide in some aspects and dangerous, placing individuals in a position where they do not know whether what they are doing is right or wrong in the eyes of the law.