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Mr. Benn: We all know what the evidence is: the Home Secretary wants the Bill. There is no evidence for the change and we want a Committee of the whole House to debate every amendment because the Bill affects the civil liberties of the nation. Although any opportunity to enter the Lobby is attractive to the Liberal Democrats, perhaps they have settled everything in a Cabinet Committee with the Government, in which case I would not dream of tempting the hon. Gentleman away from his allies. I do not know about that, but the Bill should be dealt with by a Committee of the whole House. If such a motion were tabled we could consider it properly, but a Special Standing Committee seems to me to be an excuse for diverting attention from the major errors in the Bill.

Mr. Hughes: A Special Standing Committee is nothing to do with that. I think that it is within the right hon. Gentleman's power to table a motion to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House, if he wants to put that proposition to the House. Such a motion does not have to appear on the Order Paper. The House could consider the matter, we could vote on it and we could have a Committee of the whole House. I assure him that these issues certainly have not been debated in a Committee by my party and the Government.

Mr. Benn: It will be best if all the main points are put to the House on Report and we can vote on them. I have described my genuine--not nasty--disappointment that the Liberal Democrats, whom I had always thought of as okay on these matters, have turned out to be less clear than I had hoped. However, we cannot all follow the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who made a powerful speech which I shall read again and again. His remarks reflected exactly what I think about the Bill.

8.23 pm

Audrey Wise (Preston): I shall be brief. Like some other hon. Members, I want to concentrate on the issue of serious violence committed against property. We all abhor terrorism and we are all afraid of it--I certainly am--but I have met people who have committed serious violence

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against property and against a Trident submarine. They were not terrorists and their motivation was not to frighten us but to save lives. They think that Trident submarines are a danger to all our lives, although their action may or may not have been appropriate. Speaking for myself, I prefer straightforward, mainstream political action--that is why I am a Member of the House--but those people were not terrorists. The women who broke into British Aerospace outside Preston and went at the Hawk aircraft with hammers did it to save lives--they were not terrorists.

There has been some discussion of clause 18, which has been described as a danger to investigative journalism because a person would be committing an offence if he did not disclose his belief or suspicion that, under the Bill's definition of terrorism, another person had committed an offence. Journalists may not be the only ones affected. I could foresee a situation in which I was told that someone had gone to do more damage to a Trident submarine. Would I be committing an offence if I did not immediately trot off to the Government and say, "I am informing on these people"? I would not dream of doing that. I might engage such people in a discussion about the best and most effective means of action, but inform on them? I certainly would not.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made a powerful speech that was made even more powerful by his disagreement with most of the organisations that he used as examples. I have given money to Greenpeace and I support it. I am also a supporter of Genetix Snowball, and I gladly give it money when the opportunity arises; but those organisations commit offences against property.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Lady asks whether she would be committing an offence if a member of one of those organisations said to her that he had committed an offence or intended to do so and she did not tell the prosecuting authorities. She is much to be reassured because the Director of Public Prosecutions would not have her prosecuted, but she probably would be committing an offence.

Audrey Wise: I find it difficult to be reassured by reassurances because, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I believe in looking at what is in the Bill. I do not always understand the decisions of the DPP on ordinary criminal matters and I know for a fact that I am not the only Member who does not understand those decisions. Why should I expect to understand decisions made by successive Home Secretaries and successive Directors of Public Prosecutions? The important issue is what the Bill says, and it says that a person is a terrorist if he commits serious violence against property for ideological, political or religious reasons. The people I have referred to certainly acted for ideological and political reasons that were deeply moral.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The hon. Lady, who I think has listened to the whole debate, is not only right but right to warn the Government and the House of the danger of going down such a road. Under the Bill, the go-betweens involved in the discussions that took place in Northern Ireland over the past few years and who tried to

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achieve the breakthrough to peace would have risked criminalisation. I hope that she is listened to because she realises the severity of the proposal.

Audrey Wise: I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I very much hope that the Government listen to the points that have been raised. Nearly everyone who has spoken in the debate, with the possible exception of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), has criticised the Bill, but not out of any desire to support terrorism or terrorists--on the contrary.

It is indeed dangerous to define terrorism so widely that it could cover damage to genetically modified crops, as that would risk people losing their natural revulsion for terrorism and making them think, "Perhaps some terrorists are not so bad after all." I would not want to bring the law into disrepute in that way. I want people to detest terrorism, and we would not encourage them to do so by widening its definition.

Mr. Winnick: I do not think that my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As someone who is broadly in favour of the measure and who believes that under no circumstances should Britain be used as a base for terrorism, I have serious reservations about those aspects of the Bill that could undermine civil liberties which, as my right hon. Friend said, is exactly what the terrorists want to do.

Audrey Wise: I saw my hon. Friend's intervention on the screen, and I agree with him.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has a certain reputation for being willing to engage in serious discussion and listen to serious points--perhaps more than some of his colleagues--to justify that reputation in respect of the Bill. We do not want to make it seem as though there are divisions in the House in respect of terrorism. Indeed, there are not, but there certainly are divisions in respect of the Bill. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will listen to the points that have been made from both sides of the House and from many different perspectives.

8.30 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): Lord Lloyd of Berwick began his consideration of terrorism legislation in Britain by addressing whether there was still a need for specific legislation or whether instead we should rely on the general criminal law. Having studied the evidence and talked to those most closely involved in the fight against organised terrorism, he reached the firm conclusion that such legislation was still needed. I believe that the Government were right to accept that conclusion and to introduce the Bill.

Today's debate has included contributions from all parts of the House accepting that central proposition, although some right hon. and hon. Members expressed reservations about particular aspects of the Bill. The hon. Members for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) spoke from their long experience of dealing with the threat of terrorism in their constituencies, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) spoke about the

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scars that the Birmingham bombing left in his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) spoke from experience derived from his stewardship of the Northern Ireland Office for some years.

Lord Lloyd concluded that the threat from organised terrorism is likely to grow in the near future rather than diminish. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) expressed some disappointment with the Government's conclusion that there was a need for permanent legislation. I welcome the fact that she supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) when she asked the Government to consider seriously the possibility of arranging for an annual report to be made to Parliament and for an annual debate to take place in each House about the exercise of the powers under the Bill, on the assumption that it becomes law. That proposal found favour in various political parties represented in the House, and I strongly urge the Home Secretary and the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), to take it seriously and to incorporate it into the Bill.

Several hon. Members considered whether, in the light of the improving political climate in Northern Ireland, there was still a need for special provisions for the Province. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) expressed a strong view that special powers in respect of Northern Ireland were no longer needed. His view was countered by those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, for Lagan Valley and for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik).

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald said, the Opposition accept that exclusion orders no longer serve a useful purpose, and we shall not oppose their formal repeal. It is certainly our hope that political progress in Northern Ireland succeeds in turning the Good Friday agreement into a genuine and lasting peace, but we are not yet in that position. Therefore, the Opposition endorse the Government's view that there remains a continuing need, at least for the time being, for specific provisions in respect of Northern Ireland.

Much of the debate has centred around the definition of terrorism in the Bill as it is currently drafted. Concerns have been expressed by some somewhat strange bedfellows: my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), and--although he spoke in slightly less strident terms--my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). Clearly, we shall need to look closely at the definition of terrorism when the House considers the Bill in Standing Committee and on Report, but it is important for us always to bear in mind the fact that the legislation has to strike a balance between civil liberties and the protection of the public, and that the threat to the safety and well-being of the British public from organised terrorism is real and continuing.

Let me deal with a couple of the points that have been made in the context of definitions. Reference was made, for example, to animal rights groups. Questions were asked as to whether people who supported particular demonstrations or causes that were connected with animal rights would fall within the definition of terrorism in the

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Bill. I hope to hear the Minister say in due course that of course those individuals would not be so categorised, but it is also right that people who are engaged with animal rights extremists to the extent of becoming involved in plotting acts of violence against their fellow citizens should be subject to the full rigour of anti-terrorism law.

Anyone who studies Professor Wilkinson's paper, published with Lord Lloyd's report, will see that there is a history of such incidents. They include firebomb attacks on stores in the mid-1980s; a high-explosive bomb attack on Bristol university in 1989; and car bomb attacks by animal rights extremists in 1990, one directed at a veterinary surgeon, a second at a psychologist. One of the attacks resulted in injuries to a 13-month-old baby. Those are not incidents that can be described simply as normal or legitimate political protest. They are acts of terror. The police and other authorities should have the powers that they need to investigate and to check such actions.

Comments have been made about the Bill's reference to serious violence to property. I have listened carefully to the points that have been made, especially those made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. We will want to explore the matter further in Committee, but there is another side to the argument. I understand from reading the consultation document that the Government wish to ensure that the law provides for adequate powers to be available in respect of attacks by organised terrorists that are designed to disrupt, for example, vital computer or other communications systems, which could result in extensive disruption to economic and other infrastructure. In effect, the Government have a duty to provide against economic blackmail.

Had the Bishopsgate bomb or the Arndale centre bomb in Manchester gone off with no loss of human life and no injuries, those would still have been acts of terrorism designed to intimidate British people and to force the British Government into action out of fear that, otherwise, further lives would be put at risk or major damage would be done to the normal way of life.

Other right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about the Bill's references to support for acts of terrorism, or alleged terrorism, overseas and to its provisions for extraterritorial jurisdiction. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater spoke about the difficulty of legislating for a spectrum of countries whose political regimes could range from those of France or Germany at one end to that of Iraq at the other. Much depends on the actions that might be classified as terrorist. Even the most robust critics of the Bill would accept without question that a random terrorist attack on innocent people in an authoritarian or totalitarian country was unacceptable.

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