Previous SectionIndexHome Page

John Bercow: The Minister is extremely courteous, and I appreciate that. Given that he talks about clarity, let me probe him a little further. If the individual is not   a terrorist and is present for what many people, including the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), would regard as a much more modest and innocent purpose, would that be reflected in the penalty that he or she might face? Will it be among the penalties in the 2005 Act, which I do not have in front of me and would need to know more about, or is the driving criterion the seriousness of the establishment that is being attended? There is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty, and it is not only in my head.

Paul Goggins: In order to give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer I would need to stray into the next clause, which clearly stipulates that the maximum length of imprisonment for this offence would be 15 years. It would of course be for the court to decide on the appropriate penalty in the light of all the circumstances. I would assume—I think that it is a fair assumption—
3 Nov 2005 : Column 1038
that if somebody was there as a protestor, albeit that he had committed an offence, the court would bear that in mind when setting the penalty. Anyone who was there and proved to be a terrorist might face an even heftier penalty because he might be guilty of other offences. I   therefore hope that I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the penalty would be proportionate to the circumstances. It would be for the court to decide, but a serious penalty is associated with the specific offence because it may be appropriate.

I shall write to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and place a copy of the letter in the Library. He raised important issues on clarity about authorised sites and the perimeter fence. They require a detailed answer and I am happy to provide it.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Like many hon. Members, I am oscillating about the clause. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr.   Drew), I have constituents who were detained, stopped and searched and, in many cases, harassed under the Terrorism Act 2000 for protesting peacefully outside Fairford—I have good evidence that they were inappropriately harassed. I am worried that similar circumstances could arise under the Bill. Although I am clear about the boundary and I can understand that someone who crosses the boundary commits an offence, I remain unclear about the reason for including such a provision in the Terrorism Bill. If someone got over a   perimeter fence and proved to be a terrorist, surely he could be charged under other legislation rather than simply being charged with crossing the perimeter fence.

Paul Goggins: Indeed, there may be other legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud speculated about someone who might be authorised to be on a specific site, for example, through working there, but had a malevolent purpose and might be a terrorist. That person would be guilty of other offences and charged appropriately. People who trespass might be guilty of other offences and charged appropriately. I hope that I   can offer the clarity that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) seeks. Her constituents, to whom the police may have spoken and intervened in their activities, would not be guilty of trespass under the clause if they were outside the perimeter fence, even if they were on a designated site.

Through our amendments, we tried to provide clarity in the law, which will be helpful to constituents such as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud.

Mr. Drew: As the Under-Secretary should know, the   problem at Fairford is that the police determined the perimeter around the base. It was not the perimeter of Fairford—the police chose a zone that was well around Fairford. They either exclude people from it or issue them with section 44 certificates. The provision gives the authorities enormous power and we need to know exactly what it entails for law enforcement agencies' responsibilities.

Paul Goggins: Again, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point. In the letter that I send him, I shall set out the process whereby such decisions are made. How decisions are made and then communicated to people who have an interest in them are key points.
3 Nov 2005 : Column 1039

I may inadvertently have given some incorrect information to the hon. Member for Buckingham about the penalty. I am seeking further advice, but I can confirm that if the penalty is different from the one that I stated, it will be lower, not higher.

John Bercow: Drop me a note.

Paul Goggins: I will.

The Chairman : Perhaps the Under-Secretary will drop me one, too.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Maximum penalty for possessing for terrorist purposes

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Rob Marris: Subsection (2) reads:

Clauses 15(3) and 14(2) are similar provisions. Will any offences that the Bill creates apply retrospectively? Clauses 13, 14 and 15 specifically state that they are not retrospective.

Paul Goggins: My understanding is that, as with any legislation, the Bill will go through the House and receive Royal Assent, and that there will be a date of commencement. That is the date from which that offence and those penalties will operate. I hope that that   is clear to my hon. Friend. It may or may not be; we shall see.

Rob Marris: I am sorry to trouble the Minister on this,   but Ministers often tell a Committee, "Such an amendment is unnecessary because the matter is covered by existing legislation." When the Minister replied to my question, however, he seemed to say, "We do not really need that wording, because nothing is retrospective." I   generally accept that that is the position in British law; nothing is retrospective except in very exceptional circumstances. Yet here we have clear wording in three   clauses—including clause 13, which we are now   debating—that indirectly raises the issue of retrospectivity. That is why I am concerned. The Bill seems to be specifying something that would not normally need to be specified in any Act passed by the British Parliament.

Paul Goggins: That might be my hon. Friend's view, but our aim is to be as clear as we can be in the Bill. The   provision deals with an existing offence, so we want to make it as clear as possible that the penalty referred to in subsection (1) does not apply to offences committed before the commencement of the clause. We want to make that absolutely clear. I think that it is clear, and I   hope that, in time, my hon. Friend will agree.
3 Nov 2005 : Column 1040

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 15

      Maximum penalty for contravening notice relating to encrypted information

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Heath: I should like to put three brief questions to the Minister. Will he confirm that section 53 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is not yet in force? Will he tell us why it is not in force? Have the police not at any time in the past five years asked for it to be put into force?

Paul Goggins: I can confirm that the section is not yet in force. I fear that to satisfy the hon. Gentleman I   should need to go into a level of detailed explanation that I am not in a position to do at the moment. However, I shall happily write to him with the explanation that he seeks.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) very properly pre-empted me by asking the Minister the question that I wanted to ask him. Will the Minister please also write to me with the answer? It is bizarre that an issue that we wrestled over at some length—and then wrestled over again when we discussed encrypted pornographic material and sex offenders—should still lie fallow, when apparently it was so urgently needed.

Next Section IndexHome Page