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Mr. Fisher: I certainly did and I would do it again as it was in a good cause. The idea that I was committing an act of terrorism is absolute nonsense. I believe that would be generally accepted. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) who is no longer in his place said, a jury would probably acquit one, but that misses the point of the Bill. It is not about whether or not one would be convicted of terrorism; it is about what is in the Bill. The Bill redefines terrorism in a totally nonsensical way.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): Will my hon. Friend comment on the case of an individual who sought my help? He was in custody on suspicion of robbing a post office but, for the sake of avoiding the restrictions in criminal law, he had been detained under the PTA. If that can happen under the existing system, what prospect is there of protecting people under the system that is about to be introduced?
Mr. Fisher: I do not know that case, which is an interesting inversion of the proposal we are discussing. I should have thought that the criminal law gave the police and the prosecuting authorities perfectly adequate means of dealing with a person who had committed a criminal offence. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who knows the law better than most of us, has said several times, the criminal law can deal with actions against property and against the person. I cannot think of anything that the criminal law does not cover. That requires us to be much more detailed and specific about what we mean by an act of terrorism that is distinct from normal criminal activity. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said about the debate in Committee and the various speculations. I am sorry that I was not party to that discussion. It is extremely difficult to establish a definition, and we are not doing so by any of the proposed amendments, well intentioned though they are.
In amendment No. 122, my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) concentrates on motivation. I sympathise with the intention behind the amendment, but the criticisms that have been made are valid. Motivation rather misses the point.
Mr. Simon Hughes: We are all seeking a way forward. Between us, at least we have proposed a way of getting rid of some of the mischief. For example, amendment No. 193 would exclude violence to property with no risk to the public or individuals. I am sure that the hon.
Mr. Fisher: I do not want to go too far down that path, because the House wants to make progress, but I think that the amendments are all designed to pare away certain elements rather than identifying what is specific about terrorism. Surely a threat to the security of the state is at the heart of what most of us mean by terrorism as well as of most dictionary and legal definitions. None of the amendments quite achieves the aim.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey says that we are doing our best, but now that we are launched on the path of legislation we have to get it right, in another place if not here. I feel that we are very far from an adequate definition that would not be too wide for anybody with any flicker of libertarianism. As a libertarian, I am offended and deeply worried by the definition in the Bill. I will not vote for any of the amendments, but I cannot do what I presume the Government will ask and vote against them, because by so doing I would be implicitly supporting the definition in the Bill, which is dangerous, misguided and inadequate. I do not understand what led the Government to it. It is totally baffling.
If the Government are simply sending a message that they are tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South said, we would all say yea to that, but the definition goes much wider than that, and it is tough on many things that many of us would feel are totally outwith the ambit of terrorism.
The fact that we have so many Government amendments says something about the inadequacy of resources for parliamentary drafting in recent years, but on so crucial a matter I do not believe that bad drafting can be blamed. I wait to hear what the Minister and the Government are seeking to do, but I am perfectly convinced that the definition in the Bill simply will not do.
Mr. Lidington: The thrust of the amendments is to limit the scope of the definition of terrorism in clause 1. Some of them are designed to define terrorism more closely in terms of people with political rather than other objectives and others to delete references to attacks on property or to actions affecting persons and property overseas.
I want to put my party's approach on the record. We accept that, as the Minister has acknowledged at all previous stages of our proceedings, there is a difficult balancing act to strike between effective counter-terrorism law and civil liberties. It is right that, throughout the Bill's passage through both Houses of Parliament, the detail of the definition of terrorism should be kept under review.
I firmly believe that we need to have on the statute book powers for the police and the Executive against terrorist organisations. We need powers to search, to restrict fundraising and to detain. Those conclusions are shared not only by Conservative Members but by independent examiners of the legislation, including
I believe, too, that it is right that this legislation should cover acts in respect of property. We surely cannot put ourselves in the lunatic situation in which an attack by the Provisional IRA on an empty office block, a railway junction, an airport building or Westminster Hall should somehow fall outwith the scope of anti-terrorism legislation because it had taken care to ensure that no human being would be at risk. If we adopted that approach, we would be saying to the police, "You may know from your intelligence that the Provisional IRA is responsible for that act of terrorism but, because of the way that we have drafted the definition, you are not allowed to use the powers of detention, stop and search and arrest that we have provided for you and other agencies in this legislation."
In amendment No. 146, I have sought to address the worries that have been expressed that the Bill allows too wide a scope for actions against property alone to be brought within the law, and I welcome the Minister's comments on that in due course.
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I take the hon. Gentleman's point that the Bill should apply to the IRA in the circumstances that he has described, but surely it should be possible to word the clause that would catch such action. For example, the action against property could be coupled with the endangering of life, because the blowing up of such a large piece of property would be certain to endanger human life.
Mr. Lidington: As regards property, it is right that the Bill should contain a general provision of the kind that the Government suggest. We can argue about the exact words that we would prefer but, given the ruthlessness and dedication of terrorist organisations, we need to include attacks against property, because they can be used to disrupt life in this country and other democratic societies as a means of intimidating the population and their Governments.
Mr. Hogg: I do not think that many people would disagree with some parts of what my hon. Friend has said, but he needs to answer this question--if the result of drafting clauses that catch the IRA in the way that he has described is that they also catch many other organisations that are not trying to subvert the state, is it right to follow the course that he advocates?
Mr. Lidington: It was made clear in Committee when the Minister responded to the concerns that had been expressed by several hon. Members about the matter that the Government envisaged that, in the normal course of events, most criminal offences would continue to be dealt with under the normal procedures of the criminal law. My right hon. and learned Friend is obviously worried that to trust in the judgment of the police and the courts is inadequate and that a new definition needs to be written into the law. However, I feel that we would fail in our duty if we narrowed the definition to such an extent that it failed to provide adequate protection against terrorist groups that have shown repeatedly that they are utterly careless of human life and well-being.
It is also right that the Bill should cover domestic terrorism and more than purely political objectives. We have seen the example of the Aum sect in Tokyo and the havoc that it wrought against innocent civilians. Some of the extreme, well-organised animal rights groups might also properly be treated as terrorist, because they are organised and have in the past used car bombs and like measures to harm men and women who are not politicians but research scientists or otherwise connected with a company whose policies on experimentation the groups seek to influence.
It is right that the Bill should cover action overseas as well as in the United Kingdom, but I retain some reservations about that and I hope that the Government will reflect on the definition that they have applied. Given the attack on the United States embassy in Kenya, the outrages in the middle east and the assassination of democratic leaders such as Rajiv Gandhi, it seems right that our anti-terrorist legislation should catch the perpetrators of such crimes.