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Mr. Hughes: That is certainly a theoretical conclusion to the debate, and it may even be the practical conclusion. In a moment, I shall try to deal with the Minister's objections to the proposed alternative definitions that we have included in some of our amendments.
Amendment No. 122, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Hull, North, seems to deal well with the point that, if we include motivation in the definition, we shall begin to be in trouble. If we start saying that we have to read someone's mind to determine whether their motivation is political, religious or ideological, huge numbers of people may be covered. I gave an example in Committee. In terms of motivation, someone who hears voices telling them that they must stalk serial adulterers will be considered to be ideologically driven. Such a person would potentially come within the definition of terrorism, provided that he or she fulfilled the other criteria. Someone who believed that he or she had a duty to be an environmentalist and therefore decided to attack property as a way of protesting against a particular development would also come within the definition in the Bill.
Until now, nobody has argued that that is terrorism. The dictionary definition of terrorism--we looked it up in Committee--makes no such reference. The Bill stretches the English language too far. We should not do that because we have the criminal law: it is not as if we do not have the rest of the law. If someone set off a bomb for no reason that anyone could divine--we do not know the conclusion of the case, but let us say that nobody ever discovered why those terrible nail bombs were set off in London--that would be covered by the explosive substances legislation. It is perfectly good criminal law. If someone attacks a field of corn, there is perfectly good legislation dealing with criminal damage and damage to property. The Bill is not meant to cover any of that; it is meant to provide for cases that are not already covered by the law, and we should provide only for cases that are not already covered.
Mr. Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman is correct. The law already exists, but the Bill will ratchet it up and suddenly apply the criminal law and a whole range of other powers. As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone knows--and he has had more practical experience of such legislation than most of us--it will then sweep into the legislation cases that no one wants swept in.
Amendments Nos. 190, 194 and 192 seek to direct the Bill at those who threaten political targets. The hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and for Basingstoke and I--among others--believe that we should try to limit it in that way. The Minister will recall that in Committee we debated whether the Bill should be directed only at those who wanted to attack Government. We concluded that that would not do, as it would make it illegal to attack a Government who were not legal, or another political organisation. In Northern Ireland, if one political organisation attacked another political organisation, neither of which were in government, that would be understood as terrorism. We understood that we had to widen the definition of terrorism to include attacks on political organisations. That is why amendment No. 190 includes the phrase
We also tried to make sure that the Bill did not include attacks on property where there was no risk to the public. In amendments Nos.193 and 195 we seek to remove the provisions in relation to property. To take the example of London, it would be callous to attack Canary Wharf or a building in docklands because people might be killed, but if someone decided to attack an empty building in the middle of a field and their the only intention was to attack the building--
An attack on an empty building would not normally be regarded as in the same league as acts that involve serious violence against persons or endanger their health or create a serious risk to their safety.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hull, North that we must avoid legislation that would make the nurse who took political action in the course of his or her duty potentially guilty of terrorism, with all the panoply of consequences. That is disgraceful nonsense. Lord Lloyd may have come to nearly the same conclusion, but the Government have gone further than him and further than their own consultation paper.
We have not found a solution that has the consensus of the whole House, but we have tabled amendments that would considerably improve the Bill. In due course, I will ask colleagues to support us in a vote on amendment No. 192.
The Government's only other objection was to ask about a bomb or threat in connection with the Grand National or a laboratory where experiments on animals take place. If that carries no risk to any member of the public and has nothing to do with threatening the institutions of the state, it should not be considered a terrorist activity and should be dealt with by the criminal law in the normal way.
Mr. Hughes: Amendment No. 192 has to be read with the consequential amendments, Nos. 193 and 195. If they were made, property would disappear from the Bill unless the attack on property had a consequence for individuals. The amendments go together, with one narrowing the group affected and the others removing acts with property-only implications, although as a matter of practicality we do not seek to divide the House on every amendment on the list.
Mr. Gapes: Amendment No. 195 would, as I understand it, delete reference to activities that take place outside the United Kingdom. If the amendment were adopted, would the legislation apply only within the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hughes: The answer is no. I can show the hon. Gentleman the relevant wording later, but the problem is that we are considering seven or eight different amendments that are intended to deal only with property outside and inside the UK. They do not address the issue that we should have the power to deal here with activities that may arise abroad, subject to the qualification--which is always raised by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone--that they should be political activities.
The European convention does not define terrorism as including property-only offences. The precedent is that terrorism is defined by threats and damage to individuals, not property. I hope that the Government have received the clear message that their definition is dangerously wide and should be changed.
Mr. Alan Simpson: I support amendments Nos. 122 and 123, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I also support amendments to the definition in the Bill. I was sad that my new clause 7 was not selected for debate, but I shall try to address the principal issues that it covered.
I feel considerable disquiet about the Government's definition and, yesterday, I discussed it with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, at the Home Office. As I was waiting to be allowed in, I saw on the Lobby notice board that the security status was black. I asked what that meant and was told that it meant that there was no threat. It is important to realise that we are having this debate at a time when there is at least the prospect of being able to step back from the rigid, brittle frontiers of terrorist legislation that have blighted much of the democratic debates that the House has had on the issue in recent years.
Members of Parliament can go about their normal business without being surrounded by a House security system on high alert. That is something that we should celebrate. As a caveat to that, I can reveal that my meeting with my right hon. Friend carried a certain amount of risk to me. The Home Secretary was delayed unavoidably at a meeting in Downing street, and a Division was due in the House. I received a pager message telling me that the vote was imminent and I had to notify my right hon. Friend's staff that, if he did not arrive in time, I would have to race out of Queen Anne's gate to reach the House in time for the Division. The Division was called, and I bade a fast farewell, was escorted to the lift and began legging it for all I was worth along the road to try to get back here. Unfortunately, I almost collided with a vehicle as I crossed the road. It turned out to be my right hon. Friend's vehicle. He made excuses for me to the Whips, but I pointed out to him that we were likely to face threats from the Whips--in my case because I had missed the vote and in his case because he had missed me. That was about the level of the risk that we faced.
However, the Bill's definition of terrorism spreads the notion of threat and risk in a way that raises serious questions about the Bill's credibility and about the erosion of civil liberties in our society. I am certain that this definitional clause, which is pivotal to the Bill, must be re-examined. Sadly, the Government declined to do so on Second Reading and in Committee.
The definition is far too wide. The concept of terrorism that it advances is fundamentally flawed. It is deeply damaging to the openness of our society, to the primacy of civil and criminal law in our society, and to the respect in which that law is held.
On Second Reading, I urged the Government to look again at the definition of terrorism contained in the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Act 1993, which is currently in force. That Act defines acts of terrorism as the acts of
I would have had no qualms if the Government had returned with a definition that had been expanded in those terms. I understand that the definition proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North is based on suggestions from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. My attempt is based on the wording used in the Australian criminal code, and I am sure that Liberty has offered advice on the wording used in the Liberal Democrat version. However, any of those alternatives would be a welcome departure from the broad-brush definition in the Bill.
The definitions proposed in the amendments would help the House to avoid the sophistry or the confusion involved in redefining terrorism in terms of threats to person or property, rather than to the prospects of governance and to civil society. Briefly, my preference would be that terrorist acts would be defined as acts that create public fear in order to coerce or undermine institutions of democratic governance.
The important point is that terrorist acts threaten the functioning of society and state, not the security of individuals and property within that society. That is adequately covered in our framework of civil and criminal law--as it should be--but it is wrong for the House to be confused about the reach of anti-terrorist legislation and the reliability of criminal and civil legislation. By failing to grasp this point, the Government have produced a definition that must be amended if we are to avoid the horrendous social division and wretched undermining of civil rights that would follow from it.