Mr. Lidington: We are happy to accept the Lords amendments. It is important to remind the House that this group of amendments does not deal with the generality of terrorist organisations or individual terrorists, but only those organisations that have been proscribed under procedures in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) addressed arguments about no platform and the need for democratic politicians to rebut publicly the arguments of unpleasant political groups.
Mr. Hogg: Will my hon. Friend consider that point a little further? I know that he will not accuse me of supporting terrorist organisations, particularly the IRA, as he has never done so in the past. However, I urge him to cast his mind back to the time when he was at university. Had I been president of the Oxford Union at that time--as I once was--I might well have been minded to organise an event at which a member of the IRA explained to the union what they were about. It is right that terrorist organisations should be exposed to criticism from the democratic community and have the ability to explain themselves. I should be very unhappy if the president of the Oxford Union could not do that.
Mr. Lidington: I would certainly never dream of accusing my right hon. and learned Friend of supporting terrorism. However, I strongly disagree with him about supporting the notion that a member of a proscribed terrorist organisation should be given a platform that is available to other political groups in society.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that there is a place for robust argument with extreme groups such as the National Front, the British National party and the Socialist Workers party. This group of amendments deals with organised criminal gangs, motivated by politics or ideology, whose record of violence is such that they have been proscribed by the Government and Parliament of the day. That point makes the difference. The Lords amendments tabled by the Government take us some way in the direction of concerns about civil liberties that have been expressed by Members of both Houses.
The Bill should provide the statutory defence offered by Lords amendment No. 5 in respect of a private meeting. It is more difficult to argue that somebody engaged in organising a public meeting which is to be addressed by a member of a proscribed organisation is a complete innocent. It is right that we should deny publicity to organisations that Parliament has stated should be proscribed altogether.
I hope, too, that Lords amendment No. 5 will deal with the matter that was raised in the Lords by my noble Friend Lord Glentoran. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point when he replies. My noble Friend asked what would happen in respect of meetings that had been convened to assist terrorist organisations to make the transition to democratic politics. He cited an example from Indonesia, where a terrorist group and the Indonesian Government had met at a conference arranged by a charitable organisation. Such meetings may be important in enabling a breakthrough to be made and in encouraging a terrorist organisation to commit itself to democratic and peaceful means of advancing its political objectives.
I hope that the definition of a private meeting in that amendment will take account of such circumstances, because those meetings are an important bridge in bringing proscribed organisations back into the democratic main stream.
Mr. Charles Clarke: I thank hon. Members for welcoming the changes that the other place has wrought to the Bill. Lords amendment No. 4 deals with concerns that were raised, and we accepted the weight of opinion on that subject. Lords amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 add a new statutory defence where a person is charged with an offence under clause 12(2)(c). That will apply where a person is charged with the offence in respect of a private meeting, and makes it a defence for him to prove that he had no reasonable cause to believe that the address would support a proscribed organisation or further activities.
I emphasise that it is to remain an offence to arrange, manage or assist in the arranging or managing of a meeting that one knows is to be addressed by a person who belongs or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation. However, in certain cases there should be a statutory defence. That point was made by Lord Glentoran in the other place, and the statutory defence in Lords amendment No. 5 seeks to address that.
I turn now to the amendments in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Amendment (a) would remove the word "private" from the statutory defence so that it would apply also to public meetings, which is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's principal intention. We accept that there could be a genuinely benign private meeting to be addressed by a member of a proscribed organisation--one could think of various examples--and it could therefore be legitimate to arrange such a meeting under the circumstances set out in our statutory defence. However, we cannot accept the arranging of public meetings to be addressed by members of proscribed organisations, even when the person arranging the meeting does not think that the address will support the organisation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of his experience as president of the Oxford Union and his desire to subject terrorists to the pressure of debate with Oxford undergraduates. There is no way to reconcile the difference of approach between us. The point of the offence in clause 12(2)(c) is to help to deprive proscribed organisations of what is commonly described as the oxygen of publicity. To excuse the arranging of any public meetings would be thoroughly detrimental to that objective. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made it clear that he does not agree, citing examples from his experience in the Oxford Union and as a Home Office Minister dealing with issues arising from the Irish situation.
I do not see any way across that division of opinion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will decide whether he wishes to push the matter to a vote. I acknowledge that it is a difficult issue. However, he has made his position clear this afternoon and on other occasions.
Amendment (c) raises a more substantive point. We considered an approach along the lines of that proposed by the amendment, and I do not dismiss the amendment out of hand, for that very reason. We decided against it because we did not wish to create an offence which depended not on one mens rea but on two. In other words, to commit the offence, the arranger would have to know, first, that the member of the organisation was to address the meeting, and secondly, that the addresser would have the purpose of, for example, encouraging support for the organisation or furthering its aims. An offence depending on the accused's knowledge of the state of mind of a third party would be extremely difficult to operate in practice.
For that reason we decided to opt for the statutory defence approach. It focuses not on what the accused knew about the state of mind of the addresser, but on what he had reasonable cause to believe about the address itself. There has only to be evidence in favour of the accused that is sufficient to raise an issue. The burden then falls on the prosecution. That seems fair to both sides. We believe that this is the right way to go about these matters and that it will produce the right result.
Lords amendment: No. 8, in page 13, line 38, leave out ("of the following persons") and insert ("person").