Chris Bryant : The hon. Gentleman said that he had given a good example. I am not sure that it is. There may be a necessity to tidy up the clause, but how would he prove that buying the suit was linked to the intention to commit a terrorist act without someone having engaged in something that was ostensibly part of such an act?
Very simply. The person tells a neighbour or a friend that he has decided, because he is so horrified about the state of the society in which he lives, that he intends to become a terrorist
3 Nov 2005 : Column 998
Mr. Grieve: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. Often confidences are imparted to one's tailor or to the person in the shop. The person might communicate that, and on its own it would be sufficient to render them liable to imprisonment for life. I see that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is shaking his head in his usual way and rolling his eyes, but that is the scope of the legislation that we are putting on the statute book.
Mr. Grieve: The first thing one should do when considering legislation is to conclude how it may work in practice, and in practice that example would not be fanciful for the person concerned. When the Minister responds, I should be grateful if he would enlighten us about how he sees the clause operating in practice. Perhaps he could give us some examples of the categories of conduct that the Government are trying to catch. Clearly, that is important and it might provide some justification for the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, although as I acknowledged at the outset there are difficulties with the amendment, as I think he agreed.
Mr. Peter Robinson: I caution against the amendment. The wording of the clause is such that the inclusion of the word "relevant" is not necessary. Its only purpose is as something on which to hang the subsequent amendment, which defines aspects of relevant conduct. However, that list could be so extensive that the Government could not possibly envisage what its future terms might bewhether catching a bus, buying a battery or a cell phone; the list could go on for ever.
The fact that the provision would be implemented through secondary legislation does not satisfy me. That would mean that the Government were always chasing the terrorists. An event would occur that was not within the scope of the legislation, so they would have to release the person from custody while they brought in new legislation or updated the law to take the new conditions into account.
Paul Goggins: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for tabling what he acknowledged were probing amendments. I hope to explain why the Government do not find it possible to support them, but I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss them.
The purpose of the offence of acts preparatory, which was suggested during our earlier debates on terrorism legislation, is to enable the prosecution of people known to have instigated an act of terrorism or to have been planning or preparing to commit an act of terrorism. I am delighted that there has been a general welcome for that provision. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland reiterated that during his comments and it has been expressed on both sides of the Committee.
We all realise that the need to protect the public means that the police and security services must intervene early when they become aware of a terrorist
3 Nov 2005 : Column 999
cell. It may not be possible to know the precise atrocity that was being plannedindeed, the terrorists themselves might not have made up their minds about a specific target; nevertheless, the offence requires clear evidence of intent to commit a terrorist act, which is of course a serious criminal matter, as the hon. Gentleman said.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) rightly emphasised that the key feature of the "acts preparatory" offence is that it can be used when terrorists' exact plans are unknown. He asks how this will work in practice. I am sure that he well understands that preparatory acts can be proven to have taken place only when the connection is made between the specific action and the terrorist act itself. Purchasing a car on its own is not an act preparatory to terrorism, but once it has been connected to the act of terror, it becomes a preparatory act. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that.
Obviously, the offence must be drawn widely to include all the possible acts that could be preparatory acts. Attempting to create and maintain a list of all those acts that could be considered as being preparatory to a terrorist attack would be, frankly, impossible, as the hon. Gentleman made it plain before. If we had a list that included buying a suit, we would have a very long list indeed. Of course that would not be a practical or feasible challenge.
The second and perhaps more important point is that it is likely that any list would be reactive. In other words, we would learn about preparatory acts based on the last terrorist atrocity, rather than being able to anticipate what might come in the future. It would be possible for mischievous terrorists to work their way around that provision if we were to include it in secondary legislation, as the amendment suggests.
We need an open situation where any preparatory act that can be linked to terrorism is captured by the offence. The risk of terrorists devising new methods of preparing for terrorist acts is too great to allow such an approach. We cannot give the opportunity to terrorists to evade prosecution in that way. Again, Lord Carlile has described clause 5 as
I conclude by once again thanking hon. Members on both sides of the Committee for their warm and general support for this new provision on preparatory acts. We hope that it will help us to bear down more successfully in future on those who would carry out acts of terror against innocent people.
I thank the Minister that very useful exposition of the Government's thinking. It may yet prove helpful to those who are required to try to discern Parliament's thinking at this stage. I should perhaps have been clearer in moving the amendment. I was looking not for a list such as he and other hon. Members have mentioned, but for some sort of broad definition. I fear that this may yet prove problematic. However, I fully accept that the inclusion of intent in the creation of the offence is a very important safeguard. Given the
3 Nov 2005 : Column 1000
Minister's assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Rob Marris: May I tell my hon. Friend the Minister that the wording of clause 5 underscores yet again the difficulties that we have as legislators in defining terrorism? Given the way the clause is worded, as I understand it, if I give 25p to collection for the Karen National Liberation Army in Burma, I can be sentenced to life imprisonment. As someone who wishes to fight oppression and has been political all his life, and recognising that the state of Burma is in no way democratic, that it should be resisted and that that resistance should occasionally take a quasi-military form against the military, I find that outrageous. Given the difficulty with the lack of clarity about what is terrorism, if I give 25p to the KNLA or a similar organisation, I can go to prison for life.
Paul Goggins: In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), who wants to take us into slightly wider territory, I can only repeat that clause 5 deals with preparatory acts, that it has been warmly welcomed by both sides of the Committee and that Lord Carlile sees it as being proportionate. My hon. Friend admits in his contribution that he wants to take the debate wider than that. He has concerns about the definition of terrorism. No doubt, we will return to those issues in future, and I am sure that he will have the opportunity to make his concerns clear to the Committee again.
John Bercow: I feel certain that the Minister did not intend simply and in a cavalier fashion to brush aside the extremely important point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), but I put it to the Minister that this is not a wider issue: it is germane to clause 5. For an organisation to plan and commit an act of terrorism, it requires explosive devices, munitions or a combination of the two and they must be purchased, and in making such a donation, the hon. Gentleman is therefore providing the organisation with the wherewithal to do so. I would be very anxious if we lost his services. I might have made a financial contribution to the Karen National Liberation Army and therefore I also speak with the authentic voice of self-interest in the matter.