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Clause 18

Liability of company directors etc.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 104, in clause 18, page 16, line 36, leave out from 'of' to end of line 37.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mrs.   Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 105, in clause 18, page 17, line 1, leave out from 'of' to 'a' in line 2.

Mr. Grieve: Clause 18 extends a liability for offences under the Bill to bodies corporate. Where an offence by   a body corporate is committed, the liability will also lie with company directors and other officers. Under subsection (1), a

"director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, or . . . a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity"

will be guilty of an offence committed by a body corporate. Such an offence can be committed because the person consented or connived in it, or because it was attributable to neglect on his part.

That is a fairly remarkable concept. I am familiar with the form of words, because my experience of practising in health and safety at work tells me that it is lifted
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directly from that field. That may be appropriate when one is trying to achieve a degree of regulation, and when the maximum penalty is a fine, but it is a rather novel concept that a person should be sent to prison for life for having been neglectful in allowing his company to commit an offence.

The provision could extend in directions that I suspect the Minister may not have intended. I am grateful to the   hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob   Marris) for giving me an example a moment ago. He suggested that if a licence was applied for to collect money in the street on behalf of an organisation that was acting unlawfully under the Bill, because it was raising money for terrorism, the mayor and the officers of the corporation who granted that licence would be liable to lengthy terms of imprisonment for failing to carry out checks on the organisation concerned. I cannot believe that the Government genuinely intend that. Yet again, we have an example of a provision that has been drafted astonishingly broadly and is capable of having consequences that are not only unintended but manifestly unjust.

The amendment would allow for the liability of company directors and other officers in cases of consent or connivance but remove it in the case of neglect. I hope that the Under-Secretary can accept it.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): I support the amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) pointed out, the clause has a wide application. It covers part 1 and is therefore extremely broad in scope. I believe that it goes too far,   especially in its inclusion of neglect, which the amendment would rightly exclude.

Neglect is not the opposite of connivance or consent and does not complete every other possibility, but it imposes a substantial onus on a director, member, officer and so on to be absolutely sure that nothing he does could prevent the dissemination of a relevant publication.

Perhaps my hon. Friend could advise me—at no charge—whether the term "body corporate" in the provision goes wider than a private company or, indeed, the public corporation that he mentioned. It appears to me that the trustees of a library, the secretary of a research institute and even the treasurer of a very respectable mosque might be caught if they had not taken every conceivable precaution to ensure that they could not be charged with neglect in the undertaking of their functions.

The clause applies to a large part of the Bill and its drafting is far too wide. The least we can do is remove the provision for neglect.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): When I was a trustee and member of the board at Christian Aid in the late 1970s, complaints were made that information that we provided about the conditions of people in South Africa in some way supported the violence that was said to be associated with the ANC. I fear that, under the Bill as drafted, my former colleagues and I   could have been accused—we might not have been
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convicted—of offences for which the clause provides. I   should like an assurance from the Under-Secretary that that is not the case.

Paul Goggins: I wanted to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). Perhaps there have been so many interventions this afternoon that I simply did not pick the right moment.

The hon. Gentleman may have a point. I want to take the provision away and consider it more closely. I will return to it on Report and provide greater clarity and perhaps even some different wording. If the hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to agree to withdraw the amendment, he has my assurance that we will examine the provision carefully.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for his response. The clause needs attention. The Bill cannot leave the House with the clause in that condition. It would have unjust consequences, including the bizarre consequence that a director of a company could be convicted on a lesser test than other people for the same offences. That is clearly crazy.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

      Interpretation of Part 1

5.15 pm

Richard Burden: I beg to move amendment No. 33, in clause 20, page 17, leave out lines 31 to 33.

The First Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 69, in clause 20, page 17, line 33, at end add

'but in respect of Clauses 1, 2, 3, 4 and 17 such an action includes any action that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate the population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act.'.

No. 61, in clause 33, page 32, line 19, at end add

'save and except where such government or international government organisation has, at the time of such use or threat, directly or indirectly been persistently responsible for acts that are in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.'.

No. 75, in clause 33, page 32, line 19, at end insert—

'(   )   for the purposes of this Act actions to be done outside the United Kingdom not involving the citizens of the United Kingdom or their property or the property of the government of the United Kingdom or of corporations registered in the United Kingdom or of businesses having an office in the United Kingdom and but for this subsection to be treated as acts of terrorism or Convention offences shall only be so treated if such actions are done with the intent of causing death or injury to persons who are not members of the armed or the security forces of the country where the acts are to be committed or are otherwise engaged in the administration of that country'.

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No. 84, in clause 33, page 32, line 19, at end insert—

'(   )   In section 1(2)(b) of the Terrorism Act 2000, leave out "serious damage to property" and insert "extensive destruction to property likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss.".'.

Richard Burden: Amendment No. 33 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin). I would also like to say a few words about the other amendments in the group. Amendment No. 33 covers an issue that I raised on Second Reading. I refer hon. Members to paragraph 19 on pages 4 and 5 of the explanatory notes to the Bill, which makes it clear that a person would be regarded as committing a terrorist act if they did something

I shall repeat the example that I gave on Second Reading. If an hon. Member, either directly or through intermediaries, urged Hamas to desist from its military and terrorist activities and to get involved instead in the democratic process in the west bank and Gaza—this is not a theoretical point; these arguments are taking place   in Hamas at the moment—I would suggest that   that activity would be for the benefit of a proscribed organisation. Hamas is definitely a terrorist organisation, and it is definitely proscribed under existing legislation. My reading of the Bill as it stands is   that such an act would become unlawful. That is ludicrous.

When I put this to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Second Reading, he was very definite in his response. He said:

I appreciate his giving me that assurance, but I still do see that in the Bill. It is what is in the Bill that is important, so I would appreciate it if he would tell me what he can do to clarify this matter, perhaps on Report.

The main question that we are dealing with in regard to this group of amendments is the definition of terrorism. Yesterday, I was struck by the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), when he read out a passage from "Homage to Catalonia". That book also had a major impact on my political thinking, particularly when I   became a student in the early 70s. Within a month of   my going to York university, Salvador Allende's Government in Chile was overthrown by the Pinochet regime. Throughout the 70s, while I was at university, I   found out a lot about what was going on in Chile. Exiled Chilean students came to my university, and I got to know them and learned a lot from them about what people were going through in Chile at that time. People were being herded into football stadiums; there were death squads. Some of those students said that they wanted to take up arms against the fascist regime, but I   could not regard them as terrorists. However, under the definition in the Bill, they would be.

These amendments have to be considered in the context of clause 1. It would have been wrong if those people who opposed the Pinochet regime in Chile had murdered civilians. That would have been wrong even then. Even if they had urged such action, I would certainly have argued with them and disagreed with
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them, but whether I would have wanted to criminalise them is another matter. However, clause 1 as it stands would criminalise them. If we are going to have such provisions in clause 1, it is essential that, when we define terrorism, we draw a distinction between actions taken against civilians and non-combatants—which are not justifiable—and actions taken against the forces of a regime similar to the Pinochet regime. That seems to be the crux of the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham).

One of the criticisms of the amendment is that it would not regard attacks on British troops as terrorist, which is true. In my view, however, anybody in this country who urged attacks on British troops would be guilty of at least incitement and probably treason. The fact that someone is attacking troops does not of itself make the attack terrorism. It might make it unjustifiable, abhorrent or treasonable, but it does not necessarily make it terrorism. Let us remember that every regime in the world that has faced some kind of insurgency—the South African one springs to mind—always describes forces that take action against it, if they are not regular forces, as terrorist. While we might want to tidy up provisions to deal with matters regarding British troops, we must not succour to oppressive regimes who want to describe people as terrorists not because of what they do, not because they target civilians and not because they are involved in genocide, but simply because they oppose them. Such a tightening of the definition of terrorism is the purpose of this group of amendments.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to reassure us on the matter later so that we can discuss such issues in more detail on Report.

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