|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
John Bercow: I fear, Sir Alan, that my right hon. and learned Friend's concerns are justified and that they can be mitigated only if amendment No. 90 is accepted. I put it to him that there is another concern in this context. Given that a large proportion of asylum seekers come to this country from countries where civil conflict or human rights abuse is a fact of life, is there not a real concern that if this clause is unamended, countries from which people are fleeing will demand that the terms of this legislation be used against those individuals, or that they be herded back en masse to face a pretty grim form of justice at home?
Mr. Clarke: That point had not occurred to me, but I agree with it entirely. So far as I can see, successful asylum applicants could well find themselves immediately vulnerable to prosecution here under this provision, at which I have expressed my outrage. This is in no way a routine part of the Bill and I do not understand why we are being asked to give this provision universal application. It will take a great deal from the Minister to persuade me that we should take this wholly exceptional step in determining the jurisdiction of this country and the application of this Bill.
Jeremy Corbyn: I agree with what others have said about clause 17 and the two amendments to it, both of which I support. We have had this discussion about extraterritorial jurisdictions before, and the turning point was the case of General Pinochet. The case for his extradition to Spain was brought here, and the historic ruling of the House of Lords was that crimes against humanity, genocide and torture were universal in their jurisdiction. That is now accepted as fact, and everyone will agree that such major crimes should be universal. But I find it bizarre that this Bill seeks to make its many catch-all clauses universal, in terms of the jurisdiction of this country.
Successful asylum seekers have gained asylum and refugee status in this country because it was deemed that they would be subject to irrational, unusual or dangerous punishment if they were deported to their country of origin; that is not, however, a judgment one way or the other on what they were doing in that country. Indeed, many of us have supported asylum seekers in their right to seek asylum in this country with whose politics or religion, for example, we profoundly disagreed. They are granted asylum on the basis that they are being granted a place of safety.
On the question of interpretation, all those who took part in the struggle in Chechnya and who sought asylum in this country from Russia have been labelled terrorists by the Russian Government, whether or not they took part in any military activity. It is a convenient label for the Russian Government to use. The same applies to those who in the past sought asylum from parts of central America. The United States Government labelled them, saying that any Sandinista was automatically and ipso facto a terrorist because they were a Sandinista. That does not mean that they actually were, and in any event, who takes such decisions? The
3 Nov 2005 : Column 1045
Bill as it stands would give the Attorney-General an enormous amount of work, and hand him a large can of worms.
Another problem would arise if the status of an organisation in terms of political approval were to change. For example, the Kosovan Liberation Army used to be on the US State Department's terrorist list. It was removed and, after a period of reflection that lasted only 24 hours, was placed on the list of freedom fighters. The transfer was very rapid, and probably the fastest in history.
Let us look at the example of a person accused of committing terrorist acts for the KLA. If that person came to this country, would he or she be prosecuted, under the terms of the Bill? Another difficulty has to do with the quality of evidence available in such circumstances. What rules exist to determine whether a person committed an act of terror? How could independent witnesses be found? How would the necessary evidence be gathered? I hope that the Minister can help with all those questions.
The proposal takes us into dangerous and uncharted waters. As with previous clauses, I want to know why clause 17 has been included in the Bill. The amendments that we are debating would help a great deal, as they make it clear that jurisdiction would be restricted to the UK. They would protect us from the can of worms that would be opened up by the need to make subjective decisions about people involved in political campaigns around the world. The amendments would allow the protection of the Geneva convention to apply, in accordance with normal procedure.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful for the contributions that have been made in the debate, and especially that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. I added my name to the amendments because, like him, the clause struck me as a quite extraordinary provision.
In part, the problem arises out of the definition of "terrorism". A definition that covered extraterritorial activity in the way suggested by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) would go some way towards resolving the problem, but by no means all the way. For example, an offence under section 54 of the Terrorism Act 2000 relating to weapons training would be caught by the Bill, even though weapons training that takes place abroad might be considered legitimate or even worthy if it were carried out by freedom fighters opposing a disgraceful regime. To put the matter bluntly, any freedom fighter involved in Iraq before the overthrow of the Iraqi regime in Kurdistan would be caught by the provisions of the Bill, but that cannot be what the Government intend.
That returns us to the point that, laudable though it may be to try to impose some universal jurisdiction in these matters, close examination shows the task is impossible. There will always be a series of unintended consequences that make such a jurisdiction unworkable.
My underlying anxiety about the Bill is that it containsdare I say it?the foundations of some new world order. I listen carefully to the Prime Minister, who has said that the rules of the game have changed. He
3 Nov 2005 : Column 1046
never explains what that means, but it has begun to dawn on me that he believes in a new and universal world order, in which any form or manifestation of terrorism or violence against the state would be eradicated. It seems to me that that belief lies at the heart of many of the proposals in the Bill.
That is all very well, but the whole edifice crumbles when subjected to scrutiny and to questions about people's right to take up arms against hideous regimes. We might be able to proceed only if we could achieve a definition of terrorism abroad with which the Committee was so universally satisfied, in the same way that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) is satisfied about definitions of torture and genocide, that all hon. Members could feel absolutely comfortable that it described an activity that under no circumstances could ever be justified. I have to say that achieving such a definition would be fairly miraculous.
Jeremy Corbyn: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that genocide and torture are clearly defined offences in international law, so they can legitimately be prosecuted in this country, whereas, as he rightly pointed out, there is no definition of terrorism that can be applied either in this country or anywhere else, so the information that we would have to rely on would be subjective?
Mr. Grieve: I agree entirely. We know that the United Nations has been struggling to find a definition of terrorism, which is very difficult, partly because many member states would be only too happy to have the freedom fighters who are opposing their own vile regimes so tarnished and so represented. There is a very real problem.
The question is: should we divide the Committee this afternoon, or leave this matter to Report, to allow the Minister to go away and consider it more carefully? As the provision stands, it cannot stay in the Bill. The entire clause is wholly flawed. The question is: should we try to remove it now, or give the Government the opportunity, linked with what the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen is trying to do, to attempt to reconcile things? They would have to achieve what I still think would be a fairly miraculous outcomea definition of terrorism abroad that we all accept, and linked to that, the creation of an offence of committing offences abroad that is wholly restricted to that type of terrorism and catches nothing else. Otherwise, we would be doing something that is both foolish and wrong. I hope the Minister will respond positively to the points that have been made.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I entirely agree with what has been said by other hon. Members on this subject. When the Minister responds, will he also say something about how the Bill interacts with the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, which is also passing through the House? There has been some discussion on that Bill, and clearly, the two are closely related.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|