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I meant no disrespect to my hon. FriendI am sure that he did not take my comments that wayand I certainly mean no disrespect to the hon. Gentleman. He gives me an opportunity to make it clear to the Committee that the example of the Burma donation ignores the point that, under clause 5, the accused must himself intend to commit or carry out an act of terrorism or assist in doing so. So simply making a financial donation would not be caught by the offence.
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Paul Goggins: I want to make it abundantly clear that there must be active participation in the preparation of the act. Simply giving a financial donation in the manner that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) suggested would not be caught by the offence. As always on such occasions, we listen carefully to the points made in Committee. Of course, if improvements can be made to make things clearer in the Bill, we would consider making them. I can assure my hon. Friend that his 25p donation would not be caught by the legislation.
Paul Goggins: I make the point again: it is not the remote giving of money, no matter how substantial the donation may be, but the active involvement and engagement in planning to carry out an act of terrorism that is relevant. In taking action that prepares for that act to be carried out, someone would fall foul of the offence. The remote giving of money is not caught by the offence.
John Bercow: The Minister is being very good natured and generous in these exchanges, which is seriously appreciated, but we must be careful about the use of the word "remote" as though that disposed of the argument. Building on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), may I put it in these terms: what if someone, in making that £5,000 contribution to Hezbollah, sent with his or her cheque a letter saying, "I'm a keen supporter of your organisation. I recognise that you need funds. Here is some money to enable you, in terms that you think fit, to advance your objectives."? Would that person then be caught?
I would probably need to take further advice, but someone who makes financial contributions to a terrorist organisation would very likely be caught by other legislation if they were as actively engaged in doing so as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I would argue that there is a distinction to be drawn between a perhaps unknowing contribution to an organisation when the
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individual may not be fully aware of its programme or remit and the very clear commitment that someone who handed over £5,000 with a note saying, "I fully support your objectives." Clearly, there is a big difference.
There is a distinction to be drawn. I am happy to take further advice. Of course I am also happy to ensure that we have got the wording as tight as possible in view of the comments that have been made. I remain quite happy about it; but, on reflection, we may be able to improve it still further.
I am clear about the Government's intentions regarding the clause, which the Minister knows that we support. However, we must consider the clause's current wording. If, for the purpose of argument, we excise subsection (1)(a) from the clause, it reads:
The person's intention is thus assisting another person to commit such acts, rather than direct involvement, as the Minister suggested. The conduct that would be required to commit an offence would simply be conduct in preparation for giving effect to that intention.
Although the clauseinadvertently, I thinkgoes wider than intended, that does not cause me great difficulty and would not stop me from supporting it. However, it will be necessary to consider the measure again on Report, including in the context of the definition of terrorism.
Chris Bryant: I sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman says. However, I wonder whether the problem lies in the last "his" in subsection (1). Whose intention are we talking about? If the clause referred to the intention of the person who was going to commit the act of terrorism himself, that would be different from the intention of the person who was merely assisting.
Mr. Heath: That would indeed be different, but the wording could not possibly bear that construction. It is quite clear that that word "his" refers to the person who may or may not be committing an offence. If we can clarify the matter on Report, we will be in a slightly better position.
Sir Robert Smith:
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) makes an important point about the way in which the clause could be interpreted. The Minister said in reply to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) that other legislation could deal with people who made financial donations, but that would not prevent someone from
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committing more than one crime through the same act. If the Government have drawn the clause too widely, a person could be caught both by it and other measures.
Subsection (3) seems to suggest that a person who commits an offence under the clause will face a mandatory life sentence. Why did the Government think that the sentence should be mandatory? Will the Minister clarify why the courts should not have more discretion to consider the weight of sentence for such a crime?
The purpose of the clause is clear. The accused must be engaged in preparing for a specific act of terror and, certainly, assisting to carry it out. There is a specific relationship between the act preparatory to terrorism and the act of terrorism itself. I assure hon. Members that I will want to satisfy myself that the current wording achieves the objectives that we want.
Paul Goggins: I just want to respond to the question asked by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith). The clause provides for such a penalty because an act preparatory to an act of terrorism, which can wipe out the lives of innocent men, women and children, is serious. It is quite right for such a serious act to carry the highest possible penalty.
Mr. Grieve: I was about to try to help the Minister. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) was suggesting that the penalty was mandatory, but that cannot be correct. The words "shall be liable" in subsection (3) effectively mean that a person shall be at risk, on conviction on indictment, of imprisonment for life, so the sentence could be anything from a probation order to imprisonment for life.
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