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10.45 pm

Genuine unease has been expressed about whether the safeguards suggested by the Bill are adequate. One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter: how does one deal with that problem? How does one deal with the difficulty caused when a group of people in the United Kingdom call for the overthrow by force of a tyrant in another country? The examples of Saddam Hussein and others were mentioned frequently earlier.

Hon. Members have been right to draw such matters to the Minister's attention. I hope that the Government will continue to reflect on them as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament.

Mr. Charles Clarke: From the outset, the Government have been keen to emphasise the difficulty of defining this important matter. We have said, clearly and explicitly, that a balance must be drawn between the need to fight international terrorism--many reports confirm that that is a real threat in the modern world, which we must combat if we are to protect our citizens--and the need to protect individual liberties. That is a very hard question of judgment.

On Second Reading on 14 December--three months and one day ago--my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I both stated that we were ready to consider other, better wordings and definitions to deal with these matters. We said that we were prepared to look at better forms of definition, and I repeated that commitment more than once in Committee. Much of this evening's debate has centred on questions of wording.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Liberty and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Both organisations have made serious efforts to draft alternative clauses in response to the invitation from me and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Their work is to be commended. Although I do not agree with every word that they offered, I accept that they took on the challenge, acknowledged the importance of addressing the problem of international terrorism, and sought a better definition than the one offered by the Government.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge those two pieces of work, which underlie the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

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The Government started from the viewpoint that the definitions in the prevention of terrorism and emergency provisions legislation had operated effectively and that changes should be made only where they could be justified. We were also firmly of the view that it was no longer defensible to confine the legislation to Irish and international terrorism, and to exclude the application of the definition to acts connected solely to the affairs of the United Kingdom.

It is striking that, although there is much debate about what actions constitute so-called domestic terrorism, it appears to be generally agreed that the time has come to accept that some such actions should be caught. In deciding on a definition to put before the House, we also considered carefully the advice of Lord Lloyd. I shall not rehearse earlier debates, but we took very careful account of what he had to say.

Finally, and most importantly, we bore in mind the purpose of the new definition as we worked it up. As I have stressed many times, there is no linked offence of terrorism. As is the case now, most terrorists will continue to be charged with offences under the ordinary criminal law. That is the essence of what we are talking about. The definition is in the Bill to trigger the availability, primarily to the police, of certain additional powers and specific offences that we believe are needed to disrupt and investigate terrorism in all its aspects. Although I acknowledge that it would be wrong to make these additional powers available too widely--that is one reason for raising the threshold to "serious violence" and tightening the definition that appears in previous prevention of terrorism Acts--it would be a massive mistake if we constructed a definition of terrorism that was too narrow and constrained the law enforcement agencies in their critical responsibility to fight terrorism.

Mr. Baker: We heard earlier a litany of examples of what could be caught by the definition, from the Trafalgar square poll tax riots to pulling up GM crops. Is it the Minister's view that those activities would be caught by the definition and, if so, is it a price worth paying?

Mr. Clarke: No, it is not my view, but I will be dealing at some length with the points that have been made in this discussion, and I will deal with that point then.

We have consulted the police closely, and discussed the various acts with them. We believe that this definition will assist the law enforcement agencies. Should we go for a definition broad enough to catch the range of activities that we believe terrorists may undertake but that could potentially catch other activities? Or should we go for a narrow definition that limits the chances of catching actions some believe to be non-terrorist but which, by definition, involve serious violence or the like, but would fail to catch all the terrorist activity of which we are aware? That is the balance that the House must judge and that we have been trying to judge in the three months and a day since Second Reading.

I come now to the amendments before us. Let me deal first with some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North. Amendment No. 122 refers to putting the public in fear. The proposition that any seriously violent act carried out to put the public in fear should be caught by the definition of terrorism could lead to an unacceptably wide definition--even wider than the one in the Bill.

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The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to hunt saboteurs, but other examples are equally controversial. The Yorkshire Ripper certainly put the public in fear--would that be categorised as a terrorist act? I do not think that it could be described as terrorist behaviour, but it would certainly have put the public in fear and would have been caught by the proposed definition. Apart from controversial activities such as demonstrations and hunt saboteurs, very serious crimes would, quite inappropriately, be caught by that definition.

I agree that the notion of fear of terrorism is key to the concept of terrorism, but it is an over-simplification to suggest that all actions carried out to put the public in fear are acts of terrorism or could be so defined. They clearly are not. I believe that we need a different or additional filter, which is why we believe that the motivational approach which my hon. Friend does not like and seeks to remove by his amendment--that the act was carried out to advance a political, religious or ideological cause--is the right one. The motivation is what distinguishes other actions that put the public in fear from acts of terrorism.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): Would the definition in the Bill have caught the striking miners of 15 years ago and/or the people who supported the anti-apartheid movement during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s?

Mr. Clarke: As I said on Second Reading and thereafter, I believe that the answer to both questions is no.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has just conceded that hunt saboteurs, beastly though they are, should not be treated as terrorists. Will he accept that they are carrying out an act that falls within the scope of an act that is capable of being defined as terrorism under clause 1?

Mr. Clarke: I do not accept that. That is the burden of what I will say when I come to the specific points that have been made. If I accepted the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, I would accept some of the comments that have been made in the debate, but I do not accept it.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: No, I will not. I wish to make more progress.

Several hon. Members mentioned property. The Government stand by their view that violence against property can be terrorism--it is not necessarily, but it can be. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) gave some examples. The Canary wharf bombing is the most striking example in our recent history.

What about a bomb, such as the one at Canary wharf, for which a lengthy and accurate warning is given and which destroys buildings? It does not seem logical that empty targets could be bombed and livelihoods and communities destroyed as a result, but that the police would not have at their disposal the powers and offences triggered by the definition of terrorism. The serious violence against property limb must be retained to deal with those far from fanciful examples.

Mr. Hughes: The definition of terrorism is that it has to have a motivation--it could apply to property--that,

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in the Government's wording, is "political, religious or ideological". In reality, anyone could define what they do in such a context. To be honest, that definition does not take anyone any further. Someone could say, "For me, this is an ideological matter. It is subjective; it is incapable of objective analysis by the court."

Mr. Clarke: It is capable of objective analysis. The Bill establishes a massive process whereby the courts and the House will consider the definitions. We will all make our judgments, as will the courts. The Bill sets the context.

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