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My proposed definition addresses issues raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Under the Government's proposals, would, for example, the 1926 general strike be defined as terrorist action? I believe that it would, because it involved an element of serious violence and was directed towards a political or ideological motive. Under my definition, it would not be so categorised, because it was not directed toward the overthrow of the state. The general strike was about workers' rights and a decent living wage; the action, in part, aimed to influence the Government but not to overthrow the democratic system, which is what we all understand terrorist activity to be.
In its simplicity, my definition provides genuine help to the Government. Much was said in Committee in the Commons and the other place of the need to include in the definition of terrorists those who would seek to undermine the state and cause terror by sabotaging various state resources. However, the use or attempted use of such methods would constitute terrorism only if it were designed to overthrow the state or undermine the democratic process--if such acts were an obvious means, by violence, to intimidate the Government or overthrow the Government by causing anarchy. My definition
Our definition attempts to describe terrorism thoroughly. We have tried to formulate a definition that is broad enough to satisfy the Government's concerns about political or ideological motives, but stays close to the core of our traditional understanding of the definition of terrorism. If the Government are concerned about certain activities--for example, attacks on electronic systems--Parliament should deny criminals the ability to avoid justice by legislating specifically to ensure that there is a clear definition of criminal activity of that nature. However, let us not broaden the definition of terrorism in this Bill, and so weaken it, to achieve that end. In addition, if the Government are concerned about direct action by certain groups--previously, green campaigns and animal rights campaigns have been mentioned--let them be honest enough to introduce legislation in that respect, so that the House can debate the subject. That is better than broadening the definition of terrorism into a catch-all provision that could be used in the courts to undermine civil liberties.
This difficult debate has continued for the past two decades, but I repeat what has been said by several Members of both Houses of Parliament during proceedings on the Bill: terrorism as a concept has been used for propaganda purposes--one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. If we broaden the definition as widely as the Government proposed in the draft legislation, and even more widely as the Lords amendments provide, a direct threat will be posed to many of the political campaigns that we in this country wage in support of others who are striking out for freedom. In addition, we will bring the legislative process into disrepute.
Although our amendment in lieu will not be accepted today, I hope that it will form part of the agenda of the first review of the legislation, and that we shall return to the definition of terrorism in a way that is helpful to the courts in their interpretation of the term. Today, we are defining not a new crime but a set of actions that will give the authorities and the police greater powers. That was originally done when the Prevention of Terrorism Act was first introduced: under that Act, 3,000 people were arrested, 99.9 per cent. of whom were innocent. Some of those convicted under the PTA, such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, were later found to be innocent after serving long sentences. I am concerned that defining terrorism loosely, as the Government propose, will result not only in political activity in this country being impeded, but in miscarriages of justice, which we should all fear.
Mr. Hogg: It would be churlish of me not to welcome the fact that there are amendments from the other place which, I accept, improve the definition of terrorism, but I hope that I will be forgiven if I none the less make some criticisms of the amendments before the House. I shall also speak to amendment (f), which is the change that I propose.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said about the desirability of publishing a draft Bill. I have even greater sympathy with his point
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) was right to try further to refine to what may be described as a core activity the definition of "terrorist"; but, if he will forgive me, I have two reservations about his amendment in lieu. First, it applies to elected Governments outside the United Kingdom. I have always had serious reservations about whether we should classify as "terrorist", or, more strictly speaking, an activity that is capable of falling within the definition of "terrorist", actions designed against external Governments. I am unhappy about that.
There are a number of middle eastern regimes, for example, which, when I was a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, were anxious that we should take action here in the United Kingdom to stop individuals protesting against what was going on in some of those middle eastern states. It is well within our recollection that the African National Congress, for example, was certainly contemplating armed action against the Government of South Africa. It is highly questionable whether we should bring external activities within the scope of activity capable of being so defined. However, that is in the Bill and we must live with it.
I shall say a word about my own amendment and proposed subsection (1B). As I understand it, the effect of the Lords amendment is that the use of firearms or explosives for any of the purposes set out in subsection (1A) is deemed to be terrorist. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, that means that any straightforward criminal activity in which a firearm, such as a shotgun, is used, or in which explosives are used--for example safe-cracking, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington suggested--is capable of being construed as terrorist.
I am doubtful about that. It seems to be stretching the point a little, and it rather reinforces the argument for a Special Standing Committee, where such questions could be more fully teased out, or the argument of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that the Bill should be time limited, so that at the expiration of the term of the Bill, if it were enacted, we could review the consequences.
That brings me to amendment (f). If it be right to bring within the deemed terrorist activity the use of firearms or explosives, what about biological, bacteriological, chemical and nerve agents? Those are not just an idle threat. During the Iraqi war--that is, the Gulf war against Iraq--
Let us consider the example of Japan. We all know about the attack on the underground system there. I believe that gas was used, but it may have been nerve agents. It does not matter for the purposes of our discussion. Such events are feared and have happened. If it is right to include in the scope of deemed terrorist activity--or activity capable of being included in that scope--the use of firearms and explosives, we should include, a fortiori, the other agents, which I have specified in amendment (f).
Mr. Simon Hughes: Do I deduce from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that he, like me, would, on balance, prefer deleting proposed new subsection (1B) to limiting, extending or playing around with it?
Mr. Hogg: On balance, I believe that I would. However, if I am to be left with proposed new subsection (1B)--I suspect that that will happen--I shall try to improve it by incorporating amendment (f) into it.
Mr. Corbyn: Indeed, Madam Speaker. It is kind of you to remind me to rise. As one of only two non-lawyers to speak in the debate, I am grateful for being called. Perhaps other non-lawyers will join us soon.