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Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend has troubled me by what he has just said. In 1986, I attended the funeral of a boy who had had petrol poured over him and been set alight by Pinochet's police in Chile. Everybody who attended the funeral was then proscribed from any political engagement in Chile. That is the kind of connection that some people are very anxious about. I do not see how the words "in existing circumstances"an odd grammatical phrasehelp us.
Paul Goggins: What is not helpful is the confusion that has emerged in the debate between individual conduct, which would be prosecutable under the powers in the Bill as a whole, and the criteria in this clause, which has to do with the proscription of organisations. There is a distinction to be drawn between the two and I ask my hon. Friend to reflect on that.
John Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I apologise for coming late to the debate. This is in no sense a tendentious observation or challenge, but a question born of lack of understanding. In new subsection (5B)(b), what do the words
Paul Goggins: I have learnt that the hon. Gentleman usually asks questions well worthy of consideration. I shall consider his question carefully after our deliberations, but the provision is about glorification of a particular event in a way that encourages others to emulate that event in existing circumstances. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a more precise answer at some point.
I shall now bring my remarks to a conclusion by reminding the Committee that the clause is about the proscribing of organisations. As I said to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) earlier, if an organisation is to be proscribed, the Home Secretary will need to make careful judgment and bring that judgment to be tested by this House and the other place, which is part of the proper procedure by which we proscribe organisations. It is not up to the individual whim or judgment of the Home Secretary, no matter how careful or assiduous he is. In the end, it is for the House to decide whether an organisation should be proscribed and I hope that that assures members of the Committee that they will have the final say.
The problem with the wording that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) mentioned is that the first "of" should read "or". I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has said that he will have another look at the issue, but I remind him that I gave a specific example of an organisation, not an individual. I chose the example of the distributors of the
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film "Michael Collins" because some people in the 26 counties and, indeed, the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, believe that the unification of Ireland is unfinished business. Rightly or wrongly, many people think that and they do so "in existing circumstances". My hon. Friend claimed that an organisation would need to glorify conduct in order to encourage its emulation to fall foul of the provision, but the wording in new subsection (5B) talks of someone
Some people who saw the film "Michael Collins" might infer from it that their conduct in existing circumstances today should be to engage in violent conduct to finish the business in Ireland of uniting the 32 counties. It would be very wrong of them to engage in such activities, as we would all agree, but such conduct might be inferred from the film. I therefore strongly urge my hon. Friend to have another look at the provision because the distributors of that film could fall foul of it in all innocence.
Mr. Carmichael: It may assist the Committee and the Minister if I explain that these are probing amendments whose genesis is in discussions that we held. Liberty, in particular, had concerns about the drafting of the clause and its somewhat wide scope.
I should say at the outset that we have argued for an offence of this sort in the past and I warmly welcome its inclusion in the Bill. I certainly support the general thrust of the clause, but we should be clear that what we are doing will mark a radical departure. The Minister may be able to correct me, but I cannot think of another occasion when we have criminalised conduct that is so inchoate that it could not be caught by other inchoate offences such as conspiracy, attempt or other species in the criminal law.
Given the times in which we live, such a departure is necessary and there will be no argument about that from the Liberal Democrat Benches. However, if we are to take new and different directions such as that, it is important to get things right, especially because, as the Committee will see, this is an offence for which one can be sentenced to life imprisonment.
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That is a helpful and necessary inclusion. Concern was expressed to us by Liberty, however, that because of the wider drafting of later parts of the clause it might not be too difficult for a court to infer intent in a way that was not necessarily intended by the Committee.
Our amendment would include the word "relevant" in subsection (1) so that engaging "in any conduct" becomes engaging "in any relevant conduct" and would give the Secretary of State power to define what constitutes relevant conduct, and to do so through statutory instrument. I accept that such a definition will necessarily be wide and broad. We propose the creation of a statutory instrument so that we would not have to revisit the matter in primary legislation, should changing circumstances render it necessary to change the definition.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) raises an important point. It is not an easy matter; the criticism that can be made of the approach he advocates is that if a list has to be produced of what the acts happen to be, it could become unnecessarily prescriptive. One cannot always predict the act or conduct that first highlights the intention to give effect to committing an act of terrorism.
It is worth bearing in mind the possible scope of the legislation, however. In that sense, it is similar to the old treason statutescompassing and imagining the death of the king. One would not have to do very much to be liable to imprisonment for life. If someone decided that they wanted to become a terrorist and the first thing they did was to buy a new suit to wear on the day that they blew themselves up, they would be liable, without doing anything else, to imprisonment for life, if it could be proved that the buying of the suit was linked to the intention to become a suicide bomber.
That example seems rather a good one because, on the face of it, such a situation would be caught by the clause. I do not know how much reassurance the Minister can provide about how the clause would work in practice. That is what we need to examine. As the Minister knows, we have not expressed opposition to the clause in theory but as so often happens the theory, the detail and the practicehow the measure operatesare different things.
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