Mr. Simpson: Indeed. The one solace that I might have drawn from the measure would have been if it gave the House the power to prosecute those corporations under terrorism provisions, rather than to prosecute those who protest against the corporations. Sadly, the opposite will be true; the exploitation of people and the planet will not be reined in by the Bill.
If the House is to understand anti-terrorism legislation, that legislation must address extraordinary circumstances. It is not legislation for all seasons and, because it addresses extraordinary circumstances, it must have extraordinary clarity. The definitional clause does not offer that. On the contrary, it offers confusion and a potential threat to the security and stability of civil society, which is in excess of any threat that it could claim to remove or to offer protection from. That is why I ask the House, and the Government, to support the amendment.
The existing definition will be as counter-productive as it is repressive. What begins by putting society in chains will end by putting the Government on trial. If we do not amend the definition, the House will be found wanting.
We need to understand that this debate is right at the heart of the Bill because the definition of terrorism is the Bill's essential focus for the reason advanced by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), which is that if an activity falls within the definition, the whole weight of the Bill falls on the individuals and institutions concerned. He cited some of those consequences, which include restrictions on the power to raise money, the rights of entry of the police and the right to require answers to questions. They are all detailed in the Bill.
The question that we must all ask about any activity is not whether it should be criminal, but whether the additional consequences contained in the Bill should fall on the individuals and institutions involved. In my view, there are many activities that are manifestly criminal but that should not in any circumstances be deemed terrorist. I think of two groups who perform activities that I particularly dislike. The first is hunt saboteurs. The second is GM protesters, of whom I do not think very much. However, I ask myself whether their activities should be deemed terrorist. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South mentioned many activities, and some of them should be criminal and some should not, but none of them should be deemed terrorist.
Those who demonstrated in Trafalgar square against the community charge committed serious offences against the criminal law, but I ask myself whether that was intrinsically a terrorist activity. I think back to the days of the anti-apartheid demonstrations, which the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) cited. The great majority of hon. Members, whether or not they approved of the demonstrations and what happened in them, would agree that in no sense should they be classed as terrorist. An example from my youth is the anti-Vietnam demonstrations. To be honest, I do not like demonstrations of any kind because they almost always involve violence and their character is often criminal, but in no sense should they be deemed terrorist.
Once one starts from the proposition that that range of activities should not be classed as terrorist, one goes to the Bill and, I regret to say, the amendments, and starts by considering the Government's definition of terrorism. I am sure that Ministers will forgive me for saying that the definition means that all the activities to which I have referred run the risk of falling within the category of a terrorist activity, which is not to say that they would always fall within that category. That risk cannot be right.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reflect on the fact that these proceedings in the House are intrinsically linked to last week's proceedings? The truth is that if many of those offences were charged as terrorism, a jury would have no problem in throwing out such nonsense. The offences would plainly fall within the definition of terrorism,
Mr. Hogg: I agree only in part with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He and I have agreed in many ways for 30 years, even though we come from different political traditions; we have known and worked with each other for many years. I shall not digress far, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he and I stood together against the legislation that restricted trial by jury, because we both disagreed with the proposals that it contained. One of the reasons was that juries act as the public conscience: sometimes, when the elements of an offence are made out, the consequences appear so absurd that the jury as the public conscience recognises the absurdity and refuses to convict. The point on which I disagree with him is that he appears to be affected by a slight misconception. Clause 1 does not create new offences; it triggers consequences and attracts penalties and sanctions to those individuals who are doing things that are classified as terrorist. Therefore, his point is not quite the same as mine, although it is very nearly the same.
Mr. McDonnell: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that clause 1 also confers new powers, specifically in respect of the police. If the clause had been in force, the poll tax demonstration could have been prevented--he might think that would have been a good thing--as could any demonstration on the say so of one constable saying that a terrorism investigation was under way.
I hear mutterings from the Treasury Bench, so I shall face their source. Ministers say that clause 1 does not have the wide effect that we say that it does; well, let us examine clause 1 and see whether two activities--those I especially dislike: the actions of hunt saboteurs, and the anti-poll tax demonstration--fall within the class of clause 1 terrorist activity.
creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public.
Mr. Fisher: The right hon. and learned Gentleman lays great emphasis on the word "action", but is not clause 1 more complicated, and its implications worse, than he has said, in that the threat of action triggers the same consequences as action itself? Therefore a letter to a newspaper threatening to commit such action, or an interview on a local radio station in which a person announces his intention, or hope, of burning a field of GM crops, would bring all the consequences triggered under clause 1. Does not the definition used in the clause throw our definition of terrorism far too wide?
Mr. Hogg: I was focusing on the most graphic examples, but the hon. Gentleman is wholly right. The threat is sufficient to constitute the activity as potentially terrorist. The House would agree a wrong thing if it accepted the clause.
There have been attempts to address the problem in several amendments, my own included. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) produced one set of amendments, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey another. I modestly produced a third--amendment No. 200, which was not selected.
I hope that the hon. Gentlemen will forgive me if I say that they have not resolved the problem. If they ask themselves the rhetorical question--I shall not take them through the detail, as I have already done so--"Would the fox hunting saboteurs be caught by their amendments?", the answer is yes.
We must come to a conclusion. I believe that none of the amendments sufficiently addresses the problem that I have identified. I tried to do so through amendment No. 200, which narrows the definition of "violence" so that violence constitutes only threats to life. Even that is imperfect. The truth, I suspect, is that we cannot properly
My belief is that the difficulties associated with the definition are so great as to mean that the Bill is fatally flawed. That is the conclusion to which I think I come. It may be that others cleverer than I, here or in another place, can so define "terrorism" that it does not have the objectionable consequences which I believe that the present definition has. However, they have not done so yet. They have tried, but I suspect that they will not succeed. If that is indeed the case, the clause and most of the Bill should be rejected.