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Mr. Gapes: As I was saying, the legislation is important in enabling the country to play its role in the international fight against terrorism. We were told by earlier speakers that, for some reason the definition should be changed to exclude--[Interruption.]
First, let us suppose that a terrorist organisation decided to blow up the Eros statue, Nelson's column or the Palace of Westminster, having, in the latter case, given considerable notice allowing the evacuation of the Houses of Parliament. Presumably, according to the Liberal Democrats' definition, those perpetrating the crime would not be subject to a charge of terrorism.
Secondly, there is the problem of the intentions of those who commit crimes. Presumably, at least according to the Liberal Democrats' barristers, if a person attacked a building or monument with the intention of not injuring human life, but if someone happened to be in the building or was passing it, that person's defence would be that he had had no intention of endangering life, and he would therefore be acquitted.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is making a fundamental error. Those involved in his two examples could be charged with other substantive offences under the criminal law, but the Bill does not create an offence of terrorism.
Similarly, we could use criminal damage or some other legislation, but we could not use terrorism legislation when people destroy crops in fields--one of the scare stories that we have heard. It is fanciful. It is based on worst-case, scare-story scenarios that are designed to frighten people off from introducing effective legislation to combat terrorism.
This country needs legislation, so that it is not a safe haven for people who plan crimes in one country and seek refuge in another. We have had examples of that. We know that the people who perpetrated the fascist bombing in Bologna have been living in Brighton for many years. They planned it, organised it and have been running neo-Nazi book shops in Brighton. It is time that we had effective measures to combat international terrorism, whatever the source.
I hope that the Liberal Democrats will think carefully about their position. This country must be at the forefront of international co-operation. That is what internationalism is about. The Liberal Democrats do themselves and their internationalist ideals a disservice by not being prepared to take internationally effective action to combat terrorism.
Mr. Maginnis: I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is not in the Chamber on this unique occasion: for the first time in 17 years, he and I have the same objective. That objective is to define terrorism. However, in case he takes what I say too seriously, may I allude to amendment No. 122, which suggests that we insert
(a) putting the public or any section of the public in fear.
It is a criminal act for a young hooligan to throw fireworks through the letter box of a pensioner and thus endanger that person's life. Under the amendment, that would be not a criminal act, which can be dealt with under normal legislation, but a terrorist offence. That would be folly.
At the same time, I have serious concerns about the definition of terrorism in the Bill. I would delete virtually all of clause 1. It is a catch-all, but it does not adequately define what we mean by terrorism.
My definition of terrorism is that it is a conspiracy by three or more persons to use or threaten violence against society and/or property for the purpose of undermining or destroying institutions of the state. In Committee, the Minister displayed commodities that have become rarer during the 17 years that I have been in the House--considerable patience and courtesy. I hope that he will take what I say about the Bill in the spirit in which I intend it.
The Minister inherited an absolute mish-mash. We should have two Bills--one to deal with national terrorism against this democratic state, and another to deal with international terrorism being carried out from within this state against another. That would enable us clearly and meaningfully to define terrorism for, dare I say, the selfish, introverted needs of our own nation.
The problems of legislation on terrorism were highlighted by earlier mentions of that which followed the Omagh bombing. Whatever the good intentions behind it, it has proved unnecessary and has not been used. The Terrorism Bill also contains elements that will never be used because they are impracticable and do not relate to activities that endanger or undermine institutions of the state.
We have a democratic system, and we know what we mean by the institutions of state. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is too explicit, listing political parties, groups and organisations, all of which are part of the institutions of state, as we understand that phrase. The Minister may be unable to deal with this point now, but when the Bill moves on to another place, I ask him seriously to consider the possibility of defining terrorism in terms of needs within this state and in terms of what can be implemented understandably.
I have nothing more to say. We need two Bills, not one. We need a simple definition of terrorism, based on violence or the threat of violence intended to undermine the institutions of this democratic state.
Mr. Fisher: It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), who has had to live under the shadow of terrorism as hon. Members from English or Welsh constituencies have not had to do. I listened carefully to his comments and to all of the debate. I was not a Committee member, and therefore was not party to the detailed speculation on the various definitions of terrorism in use in international conventions, in the United Nations and in other countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), who was on the Committee, seems confused about the Bill. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, the Bill does not create an offence of terrorism. The offences created by the Bill are in clauses 11, 12 and 13--which deal with belonging to a proscribed organisation, supporting that organisation and wearing the uniform of that organisation. Clause 1 defines terrorism and, by doing so, triggers the very serious and sombre treatment of someone who is so defined. It is essential--not because we are creating an offence of terrorism, which we are not
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South is the only person who has spoken in support of the Bill's definition. However, with due respect to him, he did not support the Bill's definition; he supported its aims--to be tough on terrorism. Not a single hon. Member or other person in the United Kingdom has any time for terrorism at all. My hon. Friend therefore chose the wrong subject. We are all with him and the Government in seeking to eliminate terrorism from society. However, in clause 1, we are doing something completely different--we are redefining what we mean by terrorism. Therefore, the wording of clause 1 is crucial.
It is no good my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South simply saying that we need not pay attention to worst-case scenarios or to hysterical thinking. If the Bill defines terrorism in such and such a manner, that would become the legal definition of terrorism. However, the Bill's definition of terrorism makes no sense whatsoever.
A threat is a part of the Bill's definition of terrorism. Therefore, a statement in an interview on a radio station or in a letter to a newspaper that "I intend to burn a crop of GM food" would become part of a terrorist activity. Subsequently, the terrorist activity would be compounded if there were violence, such as burning a crop. If the violence were directed against property--such as a crop--it would also fall within the definition, especially if the violence were being done to serve an ideological purpose, such as pursuing a vendetta against GM crops.
It does not matter whether the purpose of the activity is good or bad. The consequence of the Bill's definition is that it would be a terrorist activity to write a letter saying that one will burn a crop of GM corn. There is no way of getting around that. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South would consider that to be a worst-case scenario, but that is what the Bill would entail.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I am not very keen on hunt saboteurs or some of the actions of people who are against animal experiments. They may have virtuous intent, but their actions are often pretty unpleasant. However, it is nonsense to propose that such people should be defined by our society as terrorists, yet the Bill would do just that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said, certainly Labour Members--I suspect Liberal Democrats too--have all been guilty of these things. Certainly during the miners' strike we all pushed down fences and gates. I did it at the Hem Heath colliery, the Florence colliery and elsewhere--