Mr. Hogg: Again, I entirely respect the hon. Gentleman's motives, but his amendment is enlarging the class of activities that might be treated as terrorist, not restricting them. If the Bill removed the purpose test and included the test of putting the public, or any section of it, in fear, hunt saboteurs, for example, would be brought within its scope. I dislike hunt saboteurs, but they are not in any ordinary sense terrorists. However, that is what the amendment would achieve.
Mr. McNamara: With the greatest respect, let me say that, if one inserts the word "seriously" before "endangers" in line 10 of clause 1, that will ensure that the risk that would trigger the powers is a serious one. If that is there, it will meet the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. When he makes his speech, as I am sure that he will, because the question of definition has engaged and worried us all, we will hear what he proposes.
It is not my intention to force the matter to a vote, but, because of the concerns expressed here, there should perhaps be an opportunity for those in the other place who are learned in the law to apply their minds to the matter, which is causing considerable difficulties among lawyers, who are concerned about the sweep of that definition. It has caused Lord Lloyd of Berwick some concern. As the legislation is based on many of his opinions, it is proper that we consider his concerns carefully, but I make the point: a person should be guilty of a specific criminal act. That should be what is judged, not whether it is politically, religiously or ideologically motivated, although that point could be taken into account in sentencing.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): My hon. Friend says that a person should be guilty of a specific act, but, from my reading of his amendment, it still encompasses the concept of threat. That is one of the things that I find most baffling and disturbing about the Government's wording in the Bill: the threat of serious violence against property constitutes terrorism. As I read their wording, a letter threatening to burn a field of GM crops would constitute an act of terrorism. I sympathise
Mr. McNamara: We all have that problem on the question of threat. I put it in a way that my hon. Friend might appreciate. If I seek to carry out an act and threaten to do it, but that threat is not carried out, for whatever reason--a bomb does not go off or something of that nature--that would still be a threat. The amendments talks about seriously endangering life. That would meet that point. On the point about GM crops and similar matters, that is why I am seeking to get rid of motivation, which would then become a question on sentencing. There is a world of difference between the motivation of a person who is seeking to blow up a building and the motivation of a person who wants to destroy a field of GM crops. That is the point at which the question arises of whether an act is criminal.
Mr. Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman has shown what difficult territory we are in. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee left it with the same definition with which we had begun. We are a long way from having an adequate and precise definition of terrorism. We must get that definition right, even in this slightly odd forum--the best that we have--because "terrorism" is the word on which the structure of the Bill depends. Once we define something as being terrorist, much else follows.
For example, proscription of an organisation may follow. That cannot happen unless, under clause 3, the Secretary of State believes that the organisation involved "is concerned in terrorism". A whole set of offences follows from a definition of terrorism, and the burden of proof or the nature of the defence will change. Those offences include fundraising for a terrorist organisation or failing to co-operate with the police in relation to a terrorist organisation. Much more happens. The powers of the police are greater if they say that they are dealing with terrorism. A person can be detained for longer, or large areas may be cordoned off. The powers of the Bill are based on the point that someone is involved in what is defined as terrorism.
Like the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I felt concern that we were going too far. To a lesser extent, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) felt it, and it was certainly felt by the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and--if I may say so in his absence; I know that he intends to come back after a constituency party meeting--for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter).
I shall set out where the consensus lay. As the Minister appreciates, it is important to note that there was consensus to some extent over the need for a change to the definition. The hon. Gentleman has not yet signed up to that need, but there was a broad view across part of the Committee, as there is across the House--it includes people of such differing political perspectives as the hon. Members for Basingstoke and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and hon. Members on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches--that a Bill that allows us to define as terrorism something that targets any organisation in the world goes too far.
Mr. Hughes: They will. I merely put it to the Minister that a widespread view was expressed on Second Reading--and to a lesser extent by the somewhat more restricted membership of the Committee--that the definition is too wide. Although we may not yet have a form of wording that unites the hon. Member for Hull, North with the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and for Basingstoke, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and me, some common elements in the direction that all of us seek to follow would take us away from the definition given by the Minister and the Government. We want a better, tighter, more specific definition.
Mr. Gapes: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, although we had a discussion on the matter in Committee, the Committee did not accept his position on it--as we did not accept other positions on it? I shall certainly speak for myself later in the debate. The hon. Gentleman used the word "consensus", but there was not a consensus on the matter--there are different points of view on it. Those views are held by hon. Members from different parties--none of whom, I suspect, would necessarily agree with one another on the matter.
Mr. Hughes: Yes. There was a large body of dissatisfaction about the matter, and there is a large body of agreement on it between those whom I identified. I was not including everyone in that. I was not including the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), his colleagues in Committee who supported the Government when we voted on the provision, or the Minister. However, there is a consensus among a wide body of opinion in the House--that body; not everybody--that we should amend the legislation.
Mr. Clarke: The only reason that I am intervening--I had not intended to do so; I am very happy to listen to the hon. Gentleman's arguments--is that I must object to the proposition that he is speaking on behalf of some cross-party consensus in the Committee or in the House. He is speaking for himself, as he should.
Mr. Hughes: I do not want to be distracted by this issue. I shall make the point even more bluntly. The definition is not acceptable to many hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that the Minister understands that, and that the Government will amend the definition. The Liberal Democrats will seek to divide the House on amendment No. 192--unless, as I hope, Ministers have said by then that they will move in our direction.
I am not too bothered about whether the Government move in the direction that we propose, or in the direction proposed by the hon. Member for Hull, North or the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, as long as we move away from the breadth of the Government's definition--which will cover all sorts of activities which, until now, no one, not even Lord Lloyd, has argued should be defined as terrorism. We shall be stretching the definition of terrorism beyond any definition previously accepted in the United Kingdom, including that in the dictionary and that in common parlance. We should not do it.
Mr. Hogg: There is general unease about the Bill's definition of terrorism, which I share and will be expressing in my own words--if I have the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One of the conclusions to which we may well come is that we cannot define terrorism in acceptable terms in clause 1 if we are properly to balance that definition with civil liberties. If that is right, the Bill itself is inherently flawed, both in part I and in consequential parts, and by seeking further and other definitions, we are simply thrashing about.