I do not want to take much more of the Committee's time. I know that the Minister is going to write to meI welcome that and I hope that he will copy that letter to other hon. Members as wellbut I have some concerns about the difference between a licensed site and the perimeter of that site. They are not one and the same thing, and people legitimately standing outside a site might be arrested on terrorist offences because they happen to be on what is decreed to be part of the licensed site even though they may be outside the perimeter.
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I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that this is a completely inappropriate place to introduce this change. I shall make my point as succinctly as I can. For all sorts of reasons, our nuclear establishments are secure places, but by their very nature they are working places. People who go on to them are passholders and as such they have an obligation to do their job and not in any way threaten the country by the nature of their work. As much as we are trying to keep people out, this has implications for people who work on the inside of such an establishment. I am not sure whether this measure has been thought through sufficiently. If we are talking about someone who did something as a member of staff, that could bring in the whole question of whether they were acting illegitimately and therefore threatening the country and so would be subject to the Bill and deemed to be terrorists. This is beginning to open up a can of worms. I ask the Minister, in the nicest possible way, to reconsider the clause. It may have been inserted with good purpose, but it gives rise to a lot of questions that I am not sure can be answered at this time.
John Bercow: I am at a peculiar disadvantage, although I do not think that I am uniquely in that position to judge by the contributions that have been made so far. I say that I am at a disadvantage because I do not have section 15 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 readily to hand. I would go further and vouchsafe to the House that I do not have a copy of the Act or any part thereof readily to hand. However, there is a serious issue here. Clearly, clause 12 is designed to amend the provisions of that Act passed only a short time ago this year. I have read clause 12 patiently and with some care on four occasions, but I am none the wiser.
A consensus is emerging and, while it is implicit rather than explicit, it is importantin matters of this kind, it is incredibly important that our terms are tightly defined and that the legislation is narrowly confined to that which it needs to address. If we do not do that, we will not only create uncertainty, because people will not know what many of the clauses mean, but be in danger of debauching the currency of debate about terrorism legislation itself, which greatly bothers me.
Stewart Hosie : Will the Minister make it clear that the objective is to charge people with the criminal offence of trespass under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and not to create a new terrorism offence of trespassing on designated protected sites?
In reply to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), clause 12 adds civil nuclear sites to the category of sites that fall within the ambit of the criminal trespass regime created by sections 128 and 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. In this country, there is a respected tradition of the right to protest, but there is no right to trespass.
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I suspect that many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), would not be happy with the provision, regardless of the legislation in which it was introduced. As I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, the offence of trespass is wider than only terrorists, but it should be extended in this Bill because someone who trespasses on a nuclear site poses a terrorist risk. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said that he cannot see the relevance of clause 12, but the offence would be extremely relevant if a terrorist were to gain access to a nuclear site.
The purpose of clause 12 is not only criminalising people who protest, but protecting them properly. If a protester got on to a nuclear site, it may be assumed that he is a terrorist and that he presents a risk, in which case the action taken may be wholly disproportionate to what the individual concerned intended, so the fact that someone is on a nuclear site without authority puts him at risk. Clarity around the law will protect the interests of protesters, who should know where they stand and where they can and cannot go.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Minister has confused me. He is discussing the presumption that someone is a terrorist if he is on a particular site. Notwithstanding the fact that that will be an offence under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, will such a person be detained under the provisions passed yesterday?
Paul Goggins: Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on a situation in which somebody, whether he is a terrorist or a protestor, trespasses on to a nuclear site, and those responsible for security must make a quick decision about that individual's purpose and intent? I assume that those responsible for security would fear the worst and act accordingly. Clause 12 makes it clear that people are not permitted to trespass on such sites and that there are consequences to doing so. The last thing that we want is for somebody who is a terrorist to stray on to a nuclear site and do dreadful harm with the machinery and power that exists there.
John Bercow: Notwithstanding the Minister's explanation and justification, I find myself unpersuaded. Given that he prays in aid the importance of achieving clarity, will he be good enough to tell the House with what precise offence the individual would be charged if it transpired that he was not a terrorist but merely a trespasser? Given that the Minister refers to the consequences that must flow from the act, what would they be in terms of the range of penalties?
Paul Goggins: As I said in response to the hon. Member for Dundee, East, the offences with which individuals would be charged were they to be found unauthorised on a nuclear site, with all the attendant risks that I described, would be those contained in sections 128 and 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.
The hon. Member for Buckingham and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North asked about the clarity of information at a nuclear site about where it
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begins and ends and what the consequences would be for people who stray on to it without authority. That is a fair point. The signs at the site should make the legal position of anybody who trespasses very clear. I assume that that is so, but I will check to make sure. Certainly, as the new powers and new offence come into operation we will need to ensure that the information provided is accurate and up to date.
Jeremy Corbyn: At many sites, it is clear where the fence is but not clear who owns, controls or occupies the land immediately outside it, so one could easily end up criminalising people for taking part in a legitimate and peaceful demonstration. Will the Minister clarify that?
Does the Minister acknowledge that there is a fundamental difference between somebody trying to enter a base with a terrorist intent to cause damage by explosion or other meansnot to mention the damage that would be caused by nuclear weapons being exploded anywhereand peace protestors whose whole raison d'être is to stop the use of nuclear weapons and not to cause any damage or violence?
Paul Goggins: Of course I accept that people may be in an unauthorised place for different purposes, but those responsible for security may not be able to make a quick judgment about that. If they had to do so, they would, rightly, fear the worst.
Let me put another scenario to my hon. Friend. What if a terrorist decided to enter an unauthorised nuclear site posing as a protestor, perhaps even with other protestors? How would the differentiation be made in that case? We need clarity in the law to ensure that anybody on one of those nuclear sites without the authority to be there is outside the law and guilty of trespass under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.