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Paul Goggins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We have had many such discussions in the past. It is of course not for us to define precisely what the penalty should be. A judge will decide the appropriate penalty after considering all circumstances. However, if a person is preparing for an act of terror that could wipe out people's lives, life imprisonment is an appropriate penalty that should be available.
I do not want to detain the Minister much longer. He is of course right that the offence is most serious, so such a sentence should be available. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) wished to be reassured that the sentence would not be mandatory. I add in parentheses that the offences in clause 6 regarding training for terrorism, which allows people to commit such ghastly crimes, carries a much lower penalty, which is perhaps surprising.
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Paul Goggins: I shall examine the penalties in the other clauses and we will no doubt have the opportunity to discuss them as our proceedings continue. I wanted to reassure hon. Members that such a serious penalty will be available to the courts, but it will be for the courts to decide the appropriate penalty depending on the offence that has been committed.
Rob Marris: I did not want to broaden the debate into a consideration of what constitutes terrorism at this stage of the Committee's proceedings. However, I wanted to point out to the Minister that clause 5 is an example, if one were needed, of how careful we must be elsewhere in the Bill when defining terrorism. If we get the definition wrong elsewhere in the Bill, I could be caught under clause 5 if I made a donation of 25p, or even, if we wish to be pedantic, if I went to the bank to draw out that money, because that would be conduct in preparation for my assistancethe donation itself. Surely that is not Parliament's intention. We must get the definition of terrorism right elsewhere in the Bill, because otherwise clauses such as clause 5 will become nonsensical.
The amendments relate to clause 8 as well as clause 6. Clause 6 is entitled "Training for terrorism" and clause 8 is entitled "Attendance at a place used for terrorist training". I have no difficulty with the principle of introducing such criminal offences. However, as we have seen in our previous debates, the detail of the measures presents considerable difficulties.
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"A person commits an offence if . . . he provides instruction or training in any of the skills mentioned in subsection (3); and . . . at the time he provides the instruction or training, he knows or suspects that a person receiving it intends to use the skills in which he is being instructed or trained . . . for or in connection with the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences; or . . . for assisting the commission or preparation by others of such acts or offences."
"the making, handling or use of a noxious substance, or of substances of a description of such substances . . . the use of any method or technique for doing anything else that is capable of being done for the purposes of terrorism . . . and . . . the design or adaptation for the purposes of terrorism, or in connection with the commission or preparation of an act of terrorism or Convention offence, of any method or technique for doing anything."
The Minister will be aware of examples of the people about whom we are talking that spring to mind from experience, such as somebody who trains someone else in chemistry, which enables that person to make explosives. Another example is someone who might train someone else to fly a small aircraft, to which could be attached crop-spraying equipment through which noxious biological or chemical substances could be distributed. A further example is someone who teaches someone else to fly, and then the plane might be used as a missile, as happened in the events of 2001 in the United States. The range is vast.
I do not suppose that the House of Commons would have any trouble criminalising someone who, in the knowledge that an individual was asking for instruction in any of the areas to which I have referred, knew also that that knowledge would be used for the purposes of terrorism. There would be no difficulty in saying that such a person should be treated as a criminal if they had that knowledge. However, the way in which the Government have worded the clause means that it applies not only to someone who knows, but to someone who suspects. The use of the word "suspicion" in this instance can be very wide. Many things can give rise to suspicion, but suspicion in itself need not necessarily be grounded in fact. Someone may suspect someone else, but it may turn out that they are wrong. Suspicion is when we start feeling a little uneasy.
There are some obvious examples. There is that of a teacher of chemistry at university giving a lecture to students. The teacher is dealing with substances that could be used for explosive purposes. A student in the room asks him a question, which although it might have an innocent explanation also suggests that he might have an interest in explosive properties. Experience of chemistry students at university suggests that many of them have a great deal of interest in the explosive properties of some of the substances that they use, but for frivolous purposes rather than terrorism.
As I read the way in which the clause is drafted, unless the university lecturer immediately says to the class, "I am sorry, but this class cannot continue with the presence of the individual who asked that question", he would have committed a criminal offence. I do not think that that can be the way that the Government intend the provision to work in practice. No doubt we shall be told again about the discretion of the Director of Public
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Prosecutions in bringing a prosecution, but in reality we must put something into the clause that provides a safeguard for the individual.
One approach is that of amendment No. 57, which would provide that an offence cannot be committed merely on suspicionthere has to be actual knowledge. However, although that amendment is the lead amendment in the group that is before us, it is not my favoured route. The Minister will be aware that other legislation we have considered, especially money laundering provisions, also had "knows" or "suspects" as the grounds for the commission of many criminal offencesbut it did at least have the saving clause that if someone believed that it was not his job to stop something, he should instead report his suspicion to a relevant authority.
That, too, is far from ideal. The point has been well made by the academic lobbies that have written, I suspect, to many right hon. and hon. Members, that to an extent university lecturers and teachers, or anyone else, will be turned into potential spies. That would be an uncomfortable situation for them.
The anxiety that has been expressed from many academic quartersI could quote the publication if the Minister so wishedabout the implications of the clause is real. Amendment No. 58 tries to deal with that by providing:
"It shall be a defence to an offence under section 6(1), for the defendant to show that he reported any suspicion to the police or in the case of an employee to his employer or other person in authority over him."
"We believe the fundamental bond of trust between a lecturer and their students, along with the freedom of academic inquiry, would be potentially restricted if all lecturers in certain academic fields of study were, in effect, caused to spy upon their students. They would have to make a subjective judgment about whether they had any suspicion that any of their students may use their knowledge at some point in the future to commit a terrorist act. We believe this to be too broadly written."
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