|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I am trying to get my mind around a particular matter of procedure. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he does not intend to press amendment (c)?
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that the new definition defines terrorism in such a way as to include activities that do not in any way threaten the
Mr. Hughes: To clarify the matter, I shall distinguish proposed subsection (1B) from proposed subsection (1)(b) of the Lords amendment, which both appear on the same page of the amendment paper. Ideally, my hon. Friends and I would rather not include proposed subsection (1B) at all, which takes away many preconditions if firearms or explosives are used. That applies to activities using firearms--perhaps only one firearm, such as a shotgun--so somebody using a shotgun does not have to have designed their threat to influence the Government or intimidate the public or sections of the public in order to be classified as a terrorist.
I believe that, like me, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) thinks that that goes far too wide. My hon. Friends and I have therefore tabled amendment (e), which would improve proposed subsection (1B) by deleting the words
There is no prospect, I believe, of trying to secure today what I was determined to try to secure when the Bill was in Committee and on Report--namely, that the Bill should have a limited life. It should automatically expire and come back to the House for us to examine. As we all know, once a Bill is enacted, it is difficult to make amendments to it. Normally, they can be successfully piloted only by Governments themselves, so the ball remains in the Government's court. There will be an annual review of the legislation and experts may examine such matters, as may new bodies such as the human rights committee which Parliament is about to set up this year--indeed, I hope that that committee will do so. None the less, if Parliament does not make further alterations to the Bill, we are lumbered with what is possibly a better definition than when we started, but which certainly does not appear to be a definition which, on the one hand, catches what we intend to catch and, on the other, does not bring in all sorts of extraneous things.
The purpose of amendments (b) and (e)--and, I believe, of the amendment in lieu--is to try to focus on activities that people clearly view as being intended to undermine government, democracy or the political process or which, in the pursuit of ideological and political aims, disrupt society as a whole. That paraphrases the definition for the lay person.
Mr. Hughes: There was no particular reason for not adding those words, and they would have been a reasonable addition. Proposed subsection (1A) sets out the consequences, which include those that the hon. Gentleman seeks to include. Apart from the exception in proposed subsection (1B), action is covered if it involves serious violence against a person or serious damage to property, endangers life or--this is where the hon. Gentleman's inquiry is directed--
I do not want to be overly critical, but we have a definitional clause at the beginning of the Bill, which is a good idea, but unfortunately it is drafted in a way that is terribly confusing. Anyone seeking a straightforward understanding of the Bill has to do a double loop, which cannot be the best way of drafting legislation.
We are trying to avoid the definitional clause including as terrorists members of, for example, a health service union who took action in pursuit of an industrial action objective. If a nurse or porter withdrew their services from a hospital, that might, as an unintended by-product, create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public. There is still a danger that the definition may be sweeping enough to cover action that nobody would ever logically define as terrorism.
Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Throughout this debate, the Government, to give them their due, have demonstrated a willingness to listen and have introduced various amendments, which we all welcome. The debate in the other House reflected some of the concerns that were first echoed in the Chamber and then addressed by the Government, and I welcome that.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke of the need for early discussions between parties. I am not completely sure where that leaves my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I, but I welcome early debate on these matters.
Mr. McDonnell: Running through the debate has been the definition of terrorism. In all our discussions here and in the other place we have rehearsed the examination of the original definition within the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, which at that stage was contentious in itself. We suggested a definition that involved the use of violence for political ends including any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public, in fear. Some of us are concerned about the breadth of that definition, and the then Labour Opposition expressed their concern.
In 1993, there was a closer definition in the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Act 1993. My amendment in lieu is to try to draw upon the discussion that took place under that Act and our debate on Second Reading, and goes some way towards the Government's concerns about the need for breadth of definition.
I am concerned about some of the amendments in the Lords. My concern is highlighted by proposed subsection (1B), which broadens the definition of terrorism to include virtually any act of violence in the country. It breaks the link with threats to overthrow the state, and it is dangerous in its own right.
Some amendments relate to the use of explosives. Virtually anyone cracking a safe, no matter what his motivation, could be defined as a terrorist and have the full weight of the proposed legislation thrown at him. My amendment in lieu is designed to try to bring us back to the core definition of terrorism as we have always known it. That is the threat against the state. Definition goes
Traditionally, we have always intended terrorism to mean the overthrow of the state or of a legitimately elected Government. My amendment says that clearly. However, the definition goes much further than that. It widens it so that terrorism is associated with the reason behind the action. It deals with motivation rather than a threat to the state, as set out in all our legislation to date and in the general debate about terrorism.
In promoting the proposed legislation, I do not think that the Government will be able to maintain the definition within it for a long period. I think that reviews will narrow it. When the Bill is enacted, terrorism will no longer have a serious and deep underlying meaning. It will be defined as a new type of crime which involves violence to a person or one that involves "serious damage to property" or "endangers a person's life". All these acts, as has been demonstrated in debate after debate, are covered by existing criminal law. In the amendment that has come from the Lords, there is a new definition of terrorism that will enable a terrorist to be defined as someone who undertakes violence to electronic systems. That is a worrying widening of the definition, which goes beyond anything we thought possible previously, or anything that has been used in common parlance so far.
The definition that I have tabled focuses on the view that terrorism is the use or threat of action that is designed to overthrow or influence elected Governments by force or violence. It includes Government recommendations in earlier debates, which include the purpose of the action--that is, "political, religious, or ideological". It makes it clear that these are not causes advanced by demonstration, direct action or other similar methods. Rather, they have to be serious enough to attempt to influence the Government by force or violence.