"The purpose of this Bill is to reform and extend previous counter-terrorist legislation to ensure that the UK law enforcement agencies have the necessary powers to counter the threat to the UK posed by terrorism."
As has been said, the purpose of the Bill is therefore to safeguard our citizens within the United Kingdomalthough I suppose that one could say that that applies to our citizens outside the United Kingdom as well.
I therefore assumed that the Bill was incomplete, because it should have clearly identified, as the amendment would, the parameters within which clause 17 should operate. I had expected an early intervention by the Minister to say that of course that was what the Bill intended to do, and that whether he wanted to use precisely the language of amendment Nos. 90 and 91 or different language, he would table an amendment to the effect that the provision would apply outside the United Kingdom only in respect of acts of terrorism relating to citizens of the United Kingdom outside the United Kingdom, or acts preparatory to terrorism that would impact on the United Kingdom.
It would be ludicrous for the Bill to make our courts, in effect, world courts, and our police, world police. To go down that road would throw up all sorts of problems for the future, so I hope that the Minister will confine himself to legislation that impacts upon the UK and its citizens, rather than trying to be responsible for the whole world. Let extradition treaties and the like deal with offences that might be committed outside the United Kingdom relating to other countries.
Paul Goggins: Not for the first time in our deliberations, we are operating in the context of a wider debate on other aspects of the Bill. The whole issue of the definition of terrorism, which we will doubtless discuss further, is relevant here. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear throughout that he is deeply engaged in that discussion and listens carefully to the points made. That will be evident throughout our proceedings. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that he thinks that there is a problem with the drafting of the clause, and we will bear that in mind because he is always constructive on such issues.
For the benefit of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), I would point out that the offences included are clearly set in clause 17(2)(a) to (g). The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has huge experience in this area, which I respect and take seriously. He anticipated the line about the Attorney-General and, of course, he would weigh the seriousness of the offence concerned. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) that the Attorney-General will face some difficult judgmentsas he does in every area of his workat times, but I am sure that the Committee will have every confidence that he will be able to reach a decision.
The measures in the Bill are intended to facilitate the fight against terrorism of all kinds and wherever it may occur. We need to deal with the threat, which has to be seen increasingly in the international context. Clause 17 is necessary to ensure that we comply with international conventions that the UK has ratified.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke:
The Minister touches on the role of Attorney-General. I do not doubt the Attorney-
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General's legal advice and it is his role to give advice to Ministers on such matters, but in this case he would be drawn into diplomacy. Much would depend on the current state of our relations with a country, whether some fraught issue was coming up at the United Nations on which we might require that country's support or whether some trade negotiations were imminent. If the Egyptian Government suggested that someone here was encouraging terrorism in their country through their speeches or the way in which they sang songs that appeared to glorify terrorism, or if the Turks had trouble with some Kurds living here, or the Indians had trouble with some Kashmiri, the Attorney-General would have to ring the Foreign Office for the public policy on whether to be helpful, friendly and co-operative with the country concerned. The Home Secretary has to do that sometimes. I remember negotiating an extradition treaty with the Indian Government that was closely bound to their relations to the Foreign Office. However, it would be wrong to pass a criminal law and rely on the Attorney-General's diplomatic judgment at any given moment as to whether we should initiate criminal proceedings to cheer up some other Government who believe that somebody here is encouraging terrorism or attending terrorist training.
Paul Goggins: It may be the Home Secretary's role to negotiate treaties, to discuss such matters and to reach political judgments, but it is the Attorney-General's role to make a judgment about the law. I am sure that all hon. Members would have confidence in him as he exercised that role, but it is a very different role from that of the Foreign Secretary or the Home Secretary.
Mr. Grieve: It is not just a question of the Attorney-General's discretion, but of what happens to the victims of totalitarian government. For example, let us consider what might happen if in Zimbabwe tomorrow there were to be an attempt to remove President Mugabe's Government by force, but it failed and some of the participants wanted to escape to the United Kingdom because they feared for their lives. If they were aware of the provisions of the clause, they would know that, because they had constructed explosives or weapons before their attempt to overthrow their Government, they had committed a criminal offence under UK law which would make them liable to many years of imprisonment. In those circumstances, they would not try to come to this country. There would be no question of their being able to ring up the Attorney-General to ask him whether they would be prosecuted if they came to the UK. The law as currently drafted is dangerous nonsense and I hope that the Minister understands that.
I do not accept the assertion that it is dangerous nonsense. I want to put a serious point to the hon. Gentleman. I do not need to explain to any Member that terrorism must be seen in an international context, which includes our obligations. The hon. Gentleman mentioned weapons training. To ratify the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism we need to ensure that UK legislation reflects our international obligations. We also have obligations under the United Nations nuclear weapons convention. Our proposals, which the amendments would distort, would fulfil our international obligations.
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Mr. Grieve: Will the Minister read out to the Committee our obligations in respect of weapons training under the Council of Europe convention? I should be surprised to discover that the convention requires the UK Government to take a universal jurisdiction in the condemnation of all forms of weapons training.
Paul Goggins: I am not sure that these are the exact words of the convention, but article 14 of the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism requires us to take wide extraterritorial jurisdiction, including over the actions of our nationals, irrespective of the nationality of their victims.
Paul Goggins: Indeed. Our obligations under the convention require that wider international context. That applies not only under the European convention but also under the UN nuclear convention. We need to consider the Bill within that wider context. The hon. Gentleman's amendments would limit the fight against terrorism only to instances where there was harm or threat of harm to a UK national. That would put the Bill out of kilter with existing legislation and would also mean that we could not prosecute those who prepare acts of terrorism against fellow human beings who are not British. For example, an attack planned against a British company in another country which employed only locally engaged staff would not be covered if the hon. Gentleman's amendments were agreed.
Ms Keeble: Are not the extraterritorial powers and their application similar to the South African legislation under which Mark Thatcher was caught when he tried to get involved in activities in a third country?
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend knows more about South Africa and the reach of its laws than me, but I draw to her attention the fact that we have obligations under the treaties and conventions that we have signed and we need to fulfil them. The proposed legislation will enable us to do so.