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Mr. Grieve: I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. The indiscriminate targeting of civilians, even in war, is to be deplored, although I accept it has been widely practised. Indeed, it was an allegation made against the British Government in the second world warwe have recently been remembering what happened in Dresden. It raises difficult issues and I acknowledge that my hon. Friend makes an important point.
I shall listen carefully to the Home Secretary, but this amendment is critical to whether the Bill passes on Third Reading at all. The expansion of the jurisdiction to a terrestrial level can be justified only if the foundations are correct. If they are not, so much of the Bill will collapse into pieces. Nothing would induce me to support a Bill that was in such a condition. I hope that the Home Secretary will respond positively.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) about the timing of the debate on this group of amendments.
Amendment No. 33 would remove the reference to the definition in the Terrorism Act 2000 and leave acts of terrorism undefined for the purposes of the Bill. Amendment No. 69 was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and would limit the definition applying to certain parts of the Bill to attacks on civilians. My right hon. Friend has also accepted that attacks on British forces need to be covered, as well as perhaps attacks on property that recklessly endanger human life.
Amendment No. 75 tries to achieve a similar aim by providing that acts outside the UK that do not involve British citizens or interests count as acts of terrorism or convention offences only if they are not done with the intent of causing the death or serious injury of foreign troops in a country. Amendment No. 61 provides that attacks on Governments and international organisations are not terrorism if those Governments or organisations have persistently been involved in breaches of human rights. Amendment No. 84 would change the definition of terrorism to remove the reference to "serious damage to property" and replace it with
This is an important debate and I acknowledge the seriousness with which it has been addressed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to try to reach the correct conclusion. As I said to the Home Affairs Committee when I gave evidence on the Bill, there is good reason why the new offences that the Bill creates should be governed by our existing definition of terrorism, which Parliament has approved and which
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has operated effectively, without some of the fears that have been expressed being realised, for five years. I wrote to the Chairman of the Committee following my evidence on this very issue and I pointed out that there is no agreed international definition of terrorism and that all the existing alternative definitions are unsatisfactory in some way. I cited the EU code, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen referred, and the state of affairs of the current United Nations discussions to try to address the issue.
I need to be clear about this issue because of possible misunderstanding. I accept that it is a difficult issue and that there are problems with the definition in the Act. I accept and acknowledge that those problems exist. However, I also think that there are problems with the definition that my right hon. Friend offers us, although I mean no criticism by that. Therefore, it is important that we discuss precisely how to deal with the issue so that we may reach agreement on Report about how best to proceed.
Having acknowledged the difficult nature of the issue, I wish to make a couple of specific points. The whole terrorist/freedom fighter debate has been dominant for some time, but I must sayI know that no one has suggested itthat al-Qaeda is not in the same spirit of freedom fighting that many "terrorists" have claimed in the past. However, that does not absolve me from dealing with the problem that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) mentioned about definition.
I wish to make a couple of points about the possible definition that we could reach. It has been suggested that only attacks that endanger life should be covered and that we should exclude attacks on property. I find that difficult and I remind the Committee that our existing definition includes only serious attacks on property and ask Members to recall the Provisional IRA's attacks on the City of London in the mid 1990s. To suggest that such acts were not terrorist attacks seems to be missing an important point. The simple "property or not" definition does not entirely work.
Mr. Denham: Although such an attack is clearly terrorist and would be defined as such in the 2000 Act, the point is that we are considering new laws that we never thought it necessary to introduce when we faced the PIRA attacks. That is why we need to look at the definition of terrorism that is appropriate to the new laws. My right hon. Friend is being very helpful, but I caution him that relying on retrospective events for the basis of the definition, when we did not think that these proposed laws were necessary at the time, is a rather dangerous line of argument.
I understand that very real point, but if the 9/11 attacks had taken place when there was no one in the World Trade Centre or in the aeroplanes, the symbolism of the attack on property would have none the less been profound, as it would have been in an attack on the Pentagon or wherever it might be. I do not dispute my right hon. Friend's central point, which is that we need a different definition in the Bill than in other Bills. I understand that; his point is well made and I accept it for the purpose of the discussion. But simply to exclude property altogether raises certain questions that need to be addressed.
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Another suggestion is that only attacks on civilians should constitute terrorism. Again, I understand that; it is a logical point. However, I have to put to the Committee that there are definitional problems. Do the police count as civilians? What about off-duty soldiers who happen to be wearing their uniform? What about British soldiers currently serving in other parts of the world? I acknowledge that I do not solve those problems merely by referring to them, but they are real and they need seriously to be addressed.
Mr. Cash: Does the Home Secretary take my point about the problem that arises in the context of civil war? For example, there is the Spanish civil war on the one hand or the situation in Ireland on the other. Will he give careful consideration to such questions before Report? Otherwise, we shall be in a hopeless situation.
Mr. Clarke: I will give them serious consideration, but I make the pointnot in an antagonistic spiritthat the definition of civil war is often just as difficult to achieve as the definition of terrorist or freedom fighter. There is no easy definition that solves the problem.
I want explicitly to acknowledge the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen in his amendment. It is categorically our view that we need a definition that is wide enough to encompass the types of matter that I have addressed and we also need to restate the commitment made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety to look again at the issue of intenta key point to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen also referred. Clearly, if we have a tighter intent test, the number of people who would fall within the ambit of the new offences in clauses 1 and 2 would be restricted, which might meet some of his concerns about the type of terrorism we would be covering. However, those are difficult questions and we acknowledge the points that he and others have made, including my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe) in his intervention today, and we are happy to see whether we can reach agreement in a way that achieves more consensus on that point for Report. I acknowledge the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen seeks a slightly different definition in different areas to try to deal with those points.
Mr. Hogg: The Home Secretary may have just answered my question. Is he giving the Committee an undertaking that he will revisit the question of terrorism for the purposes of the clauses currently under discussion?
I am. I shall also try to seek agreement. As with all these things, I cannot promise to reach agreement because the issues are difficult. I should like to achieve a state of affairs whereby the UN provides clarity, which is why the discussions in the UN on the convention are so important. To be candid, I discussed the matter with the Secretary-General of the UN only a couple of weeks ago and there is an absolute ambition to achieve that situation. I am glad that the UN is taking a
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serious approach. The difficulties in arriving at an agreed definition are real and substantial, but that is obviously the right way for us to go.
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