HC Deb 31 January 1997 vol 289 cc575-636

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to promote the Bill, which will give the courts throughout the United Kingdom jurisdiction over acts of conspiracy and incitement in this country which relate to acts intended to take place abroad. I am most grateful for the support that I have had from hon. Members on both sides.

I have a particular concern with terrorism. It is a sad fact that nowadays, it is an international business and is no respecter of national boundaries. Indeed, terrorist activity in one country is sometimes financed and organised by an unfriendly Government of another Terrorism is capable of touching the lives of all of us, whether in Northern Ireland or in the quiet Sussex lane where my predecessor, Ian Gow, was murdered by the IRA. Like other hon. Members, I thought long and hard before deciding on the subject for my Bill. The House will not be surprised to hear that a major factor in my decision was the assassination of my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Eastbourne.

I think that we would all agree that if people use this country as a base for committing crime abroad, we cannot allow that to go unchecked. There is currently a significant gap in our law, which means that those who plan the commission of offences or seek to encourage others to commit offences, where those offences are intended to take place in other countries, can do so in the United Kingdom without risk of prosecution here. I believe that that is a serious loophole, which must be closed. My Bill is intended to do just that.

The Bill will help to control the activities of foreign extremists who use this country as a base to plan or encourage serious offences abroad. It will also enable action to be taken against international organised crime, such as drug trafficking and fraud, as well as against organised football hooliganism. Those are the sorts of activity that have given rise to particular concern, but which can fall outside the scope of the existing law. I hope that the Bill will rectify that situation.

The aims and objectives of the Bill were foreshadowed by a report by the international maritime fraud research sub-committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers in 1985. I am pleased to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who is in his place, was chairman of that committee. The committee spoke of its concern at the use being made of the London market to further the commission of crimes abroad. Given my hon. Friend's background in shipping, which I share, it is hardly surprising that the committee was particularly concerned with potential maritime insurance frauds being planned in this country.

The report made the point that English common law rules are basically territorial and that in the case of conspiracy, jurisdiction would apply only if the contemplated crime was indictable in England. Reference was made to the case of Treacy v. the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1971, when Lord Diplock stated that the basis of the rule was international comity. That leans against the English courts punishing those who do something in another country that has no harmful consequences in this country. In the case of Board of Trade v. Owen in 1957, Lord Tucker took the view that it was the function of the English courts to aid in the preservation of the Queen's peace within the realm.

The report makes much of the comments of the trial judge, Mr. Justice Donovan, who was overruled in the Owen case. He said: remembering that it is the agreement which constitutes the crime, whether the unlawful object is effected or not, I cannot on principle see how the conspiracy constituted by such an agreement becomes untriable here simply because the crime or tort has been committed abroad … It would be or no benefit to this country if it became the sanctuary for conspirators provided only that they concluded their unlawful plots abroad. They were wise words indeed.

The Society of Conservative Lawyers made the point that it was important to protect the integrity and good reputation of the City of London. I agree with that wholeheartedly, but there is an even wider issue—whether Britain should be able to be used at all as a safe haven for those planning criminal acts abroad.

The report concluded: It is our opinion that … consideration should be given to at least amending the English law relating to conspiracy so that conspiracy in England to commit a crime relating to maritime fraud in a convention country will be triable in England if the acts constituting the crime amount to a crime in England and the country where it has been agreed those acts shall be performed. My Bill takes up that challenge and goes further.

Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) introduced a Bill to extend the jurisdiction of the courts over acts of conspiracy and incitement here in respect of sexual offences against children abroad. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his success with that important Bill, which I am pleased to say, subsequently became the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996.

The Act responded to widespread concern about the sickening acts of those who travel abroad for the purpose of sexually abusing children in other countries—a problem known as sex tourism. It addresses that despicable practice by making it possible to take action against those who organise sex tours or encourage others to travel abroad to exploit children sexually. For example, it catches tour operators organising travel abroad for paedophiles for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts against children, and groups of private individuals who might together plan a trip for that purpose—for example, a paedophile ring—or who might incite each other to travel for that purpose.

I am delighted that our law now provides for the prosecution of such people. Because of the serious and obnoxious nature of the offences concerned, it was clearly important to ensure that our courts had jurisdiction over those who, in the United Kingdom, conspire or incite others to commit such offences.

Sadly, however, sexual offences against children are not the only offences committed abroad that may be planned or encouraged by people in Britain. I have already mentioned a few examples. I propose that we should go further, by taking the same approach in respect of other crimes.

Lest anyone believes that my Bill is of academic interest only, let me give a concrete example. Hon. Members will recall the recent trial at the Old Bailey of those responsible for bombing the Israeli embassy in London. One of the defences put forward by learned counsel was that the defendants were indeed planning to cause explosions—however, not in Britain, but abroad. The time has come to end such legalistic nonsense. If my Bill becomes law, it will be significantly less likely that defendants will claim that as a defence.

My Bill, therefore, does for all criminal offences what the existing Act does in respect of child sex offences and it follows the same broad principles in its formulation. The Bill will subsume the provisions of the 1996 Act and repeal it.

It is a significant step to extend the approach taken in the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act to all other offences. That is why the implications of doing so were fully investigated by the interdepartmental review of extra-territorial jurisdiction, which reported last year.

Among other issues, the report considered various options to extend the law of conspiracy and incitement. It pointed out: If an Act of conspiracy or incitement which takes place here, relates to an act which is committed, or planned to be committed outside this country, then, notwithstanding that conspiracy and incitement themselves are criminal offences, UK courts would not have jurisdiction unless the substantive acts were, exceptionally, ones for which extra-territorial jurisdiction already existed. The committee referred to sexual offences against children abroad, foreign nationals fomenting politically motivated violence in their own countries and football hooligans planning acts of violence at venues abroad. As the report concludes: This has a negative and unhelpful impact on our bilateral relations with many of the countries concerned. Having considered whether it was possible either to take no action or simply to extend the law in relation to specified offences, the committee rejected those options. It concluded that the simplest and most effective way forward was to extend the scope of incitement and conspiracy generally. Otherwise, as the committee pointed out, it would be possible to find that although the activities of particular individuals were objectionable, there was no jurisdiction over the substantive offence that they were planning or encouraging. The committee also drew particular attention to the principle of dual criminality, to which I shall refer in a moment.

The committee considered a number of possible objections to its proposed course, but rejected them all. It felt that none of them was sufficient to outweigh the advantages of extending the law on conspiracy and incitement.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced last July that the Government had accepted that conclusion. My Bill will implement the recommendations of that very thorough review.

It would be quite wrong for me to introduce my Bill without making some reference to the inquiry into legislation against terrorism carried out by Lord Lloyd of Berwick and published last October. While the report covers a wide range of issues related to terrorism, it has a section dealing with those who commit terrorist acts overseas. Chapter 12 talks about any country—such as the United Kingdom—which has substantial expatriate communities from trouble spots around the world being potentially implicated in international terrorism. It refers to safe havens for terrorists on the run and states: Britain is no exception, having been accused of harbouring Algerian, Indian, Palestinian and Turkish terrorists, and no doubt others besides. The UK has a responsibility not to allow its territory to be used as a base for violent activity against a foreign government, and the Government's record and pronouncements show that it takes this duty very seriously. I am sure that the whole House will agree with that sentiment.

Lord Lloyd's report also refers to the Owen case. The facts involve an allegation that the defendants were involved in a conspiracy in London to defraud a Government department in Germany. The conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that we have already discussed and the decision was affirmed in the House of Lords. The principle applied was that offences committed abroad do not disturb the Queen's peace. Hon. Members may find that a somewhat quaint approach in the modern world of rapid travel and communications.

Lord Lloyd had no difficulty with reversing the legal position by legislation—which is in essence the aim of my Bill.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am listening to my hon. Friend's speech with great interest. He is introducing a very good measure. Will he refer to how other countries deal with the same problem? Does similar legislation already exist in France, Germany or the United States?

Mr. Waterson

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I shall not be dealing with those aspects in my speech—otherwise it would probably take up most of the morning. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will touch on them. Other countries approach the problems in different ways or in similar ways to my Bill. However, it is absolutely clear that if terrorists co-operate internationally, Governments should do the same. As I have already said, it is an international problem. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support today.

Lord Lloyd proposed that the legal position could be reversed by legislation. He quoted with approval the views of Lord Griffiths, who in the case of Somchai v. Government of the USA in 1991 stated: in this century crime has ceased to be largely local in origin and effect. Crime is now established on an international scale, and the common law must face this new reality. It is perhaps even more curious that in the case of R. v. Sanson in 1991, the Court of Appeal held that a conspiracy abroad to commit a crime here was triable here even though there was no overt act in this country. Can there therefore be any sensible reason why the reverse should not apply in English law?

Before I describe the Bill's provisions in more detail, it is important to clarify some of the underlying principles on which the measure is based. As we have seen, the jurisdiction of UK courts is based on the principle of territoriality: our courts normally have jurisdiction only over offences that occur in this country.

Our law provides that it is also an offence to conspire to commit or incite others to commit an offence. Specific statutory provision for that is made in section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. Under that provision, the courts have jurisdiction to prosecute a person for conspiracy or incitement only if the contemplated substantive offence, whether carried out or not, is itself an offence that could be prosecuted in the UK. Clearly, in circumstances where the substantive offence is or would have been completed in the UK, and therefore is prosecutable here, our courts have the jurisdiction to prosecute for any conspiracy or incitement to commit that offence.

There are also a few statutory exceptions to the general principle of territoriality, where UK courts have been given specific power to prosecute people for offences committed in other countries or otherwise outside UK territory. In other words, there are a number of offences in respect of which our courts can exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction. To give a few examples, we have such jurisdiction over offences of murder, piracy, treason and breaches of certain international conventions, such as the chemical weapons convention, and in respect of attacks on persons protected by international conventions.

As I said, if courts have jurisdiction over the substantive offence, it follows that they would also be able to prosecute for conspiracy or incitement to commit that offence. Therefore, in respect of offences over which the UK has adopted extra-territorial jurisdiction, our courts are already able to deal with conspiracies or incitement to commit those offences, even where the substantive offence is or would be completed abroad.

We have seen that there is only a limited range of offences in respect of which the UK will take extra-territorial jurisdiction, but for the vast majority of crimes under our law, if the completed act is to take place overseas, our courts are generally powerless to act against conspiracies or incitements that occur in this country That is so, although conspiracy and incitement are in themselves offences. I believe that it is right for Parliament to debate measures that seek to prevent people such as foreign extremists and football hooligans from using this country to further criminal activities overseas. That is the aim of the Bill.

Clause 1 inserts a new section 1A in the Criminal Law Act 1977. That sets out the various conditions that would need to be satisfied for a charge of conspiracy to commit offences outside the UK in relation to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Conspiracy is the act of two or more people agreeing together to pursue a course of action that amounts to a criminal offence. The clause would make it an offence in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to conspire to pursue a course of conduct that would amount to an offence where it was intended that the conduct would take place in a country or territory outside the UK. The fact that the conspiracy must lead to an act or event taking place outside the UK is the primary condition that must be met. That is, of course, what the Bill is all about. If the act or event contemplated takes place in this country, the conspiracy is already an offence.

Another important requirement that must be satisfied before the provision would apply is that the substantive act must constitute an offence both under the law of England and Wales or of Northern Ireland and under the law of the country in which it was committed or planned to be committed. That application of the principle of dual criminality is a vital safeguard. We in Parliament rightly consider that it is our function to pass laws that apply in the territory of the UK. We would take great exception if the law-making body of another country attempted to pass laws that would apply here. Equally, therefore, we must not attempt to export our laws overseas. The dual criminality test avoids that trap. It will ensure that, even if a person conspires in the UK to commit an act that is an offence in the country where it would be committed, unless that act is also an offence under the law of the relevant UK jurisdiction where the conspiracy takes place, no offence will have been committed under the Bill.

Similarly, the Bill will not penalise those in the UK who plan to carry out an act that is perfectly lawful in the place where it would be committed, even if to do so in this country would amount to an offence. The Bill provides that the criminality test is satisfied unless the defence shows grounds that it is not, in which case it is a matter for the judge to decide. The final condition is that some part of the conspiracy, but not necessarily all of the conduct that constitutes that offence, must take place in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Clause 2 makes it an offence in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to incite another person to commit an offence outside the territory of the UK. Incitement is the act of encouraging others to do something. Conditions are set out in clause 2 that must be satisfied before incitement would amount to an offence under the Bill. The conditions are similar to those that I described a moment ago in relation to conspiracy, including the requirement for dual criminality.

Clause 3 contains the Scottish provisions. They are framed slightly differently from those applying in the other UK jurisdictions because, of course, of the differences in Scots law. The Bill's effect is, however, essentially the same in all three jurisdictions.

The maximum penalty for the offences of conspiracy and incitement created by the Bill is the same as those for the substantive offence that is being planned or encouraged. Thus, conspiracy to rape, for example, would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, as that is the maximum penalty available for the offence of rape under UK law.

As a consequence of introducing a measure that applies across the board to all criminal offences, it is hardly surprising that a number of legislative provisions will have to be amended or repealed to take account of my Bill. For example, where legislation might already refer to conspiracy or incitement to commit particular acts outside UK jurisdiction, such references will obviously be superseded by the Bill's general provisions. Clause 4 therefore makes provision for the necessary amendments and repeals by giving effect to the two schedules to the Bill. Schedule 1 contains a list of changes to the statutes which, consequential on the Bill's provisions, require amendment, and schedule 2 contains the details of provisions that will be repealed. Clause 5 makes the necessary provisions for commencement and extent.

I hope that I have given a fair and accurate description of the Bill's aims, principles and contents. In a sense, it is designed to have a limited and narrow effect on UK law. I have been at pains since first considering the matter to ensure that there is strong protection in the Bill for the legitimate civil rights of foreign nationals who find themselves in our country because, for whatever reason, they are at odds with the regime in their native land. This country has always prided itself on its liberal approach to political refugees, whatever their views. Nor is my Bill aimed at any particular individual group or organisation.

I sometimes think of Karl Marx, sitting peacefully in the reading room of the British museum—this is very old Labour—writing "Das Kapital". I do not think that he would have come under my Bill's provisions if it had been enacted in his day, although I cannot help reflecting on how much suffering and misery the world would have been spared had his activities been discouraged. Although the Bill will significantly widen the scope of our courts' jurisdiction in respect of conspiracy and incitement, I envisage that there will be only a few prosecutions under its provisions. In no way would that be a poor reflection on the Bill's success—quite the opposite. My Bill should act as a deterrent and send a strong message to those who live here in safety and who might be tempted to abuse our hospitality.

I am sure that those who currently use this country as a base for planning or encouraging criminal activity abroad are well aware of how far they are able to go while remaining within the law. My Bill will make life much more difficult for them and, if it is successful in curbing their activities, it will have done its job. I commend the Bill to the House.

9.59 am
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on his good fortune and on introducing a Bill that will deal, as he said, with the international scourge of world terrorism and other offenders who besmirch the name of this country, such as those who call themselves football supporters and commit substantive offences abroad. The hon. Gentleman's Bill carries on a tradition of development of our statute law and our common law, and it has received the endorsement of an intergovernmental working party and the inquiry into legislation against terrorism chaired by Lord Lloyd of Berwick.

My first reaction to the Bill was that it was like peace, motherhood and apple pie. Who could oppose such a worthy measure? I then read the list of sponsors, and noticed that they were all drawn from the Conservative party. That raised the question why, if the Bill were wholly non-partisan and non-controversial, the hon. Member for Eastbourne had not endeavoured to obtain wider backing. That was a little signal which perhaps made me look more carefully at it.

Mr. Waterson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so that I may clarify the position. I asked some Opposition Members to become sponsors and they took the reasonable view that they wanted to see a draft of the Bill before committing themselves. I have some support from the hon. Gentleman's colleagues and I expressed my thanks to them in my speech.

Mr. Anderson

I accept that explanation, but the lack of Opposition sponsors still raises some questions. I do not oppose the Bill as such, but I intend to respond to the hon. Gentleman's invitation to debate the issue of international terrorism and to raise questions that trouble me. I hope that those questions will also trouble others who consider the Bill and have to tackle this increasing problem in today's world.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

I may be at risk of making a party point—although I merely follow the hon. Gentleman's lead when he made a party distinction about the sponsors of the Bill—but it seems to me that any reluctance to sponsor a Bill designed to crack down on terrorism is entirely consistent with the views of some of the IRA sympathisers on the Opposition Benches and the Opposition's regular opposition to the prevention of terrorism Acts.

Mr. Anderson

That was a wholly disgraceful intervention. My party has acted in a bipartisan way on Northern Ireland, as have the Liberal Democrats. If the hon. Gentleman wants to enter the election season already by calling us weak on terrorism, he may do so, but he is demeaning the House and himself.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

That was a petty, nasty and objectionable intervention from the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), and it was out of kilter with the Prime Minister's remarks only yesterday, when he referred to the consensual support that he has received from the Opposition on Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend is right to say that the hon. Gentleman's intervention is not worthy of comment: it was contemptible.

Mr. Anderson

It was also out of spirit with the reasonable speech made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, and I am sure that he would repudiate it in the Corridors. The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) has obviously been busy reading that well-known American book, "How to influence people without making friends", in preparation for the election.

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

To assist the hon. Gentleman in making friends, may I ask him to glance down the list of sponsors, which includes my name, and concede that they are of high quality even if they are all Conservatives?

Mr. Anderson

Having served with the hon. Gentleman on the Home Affairs Committee, I have no doubt about his deep interest in the subject and I am sure that his contribution will be wholly reasonable. Given that we are in an election season and jibes are being traded across the Floor, this is not perhaps the best time to consider matters of such importance reasonably and dispassionately. I probably agree with the hon. Member for Eastbourne and his Bill. All I am seeking to do is to suggest that it might contain some dangers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, in the reasonable spirit in which he introduced the Bill, will consider those aspects that trouble me.

Perhaps during an election season, human rights become a naughty thought. I believe that the Bill might have dangerous implications for human rights, although I recognise of course that it seeks to deal with a real problem, caused in part by the mobility of international terrorists and the way in which many seek to abuse our long traditions of hospitality Lord Lloyd, in his report, quoted Lord Griffiths: in this century crime has ceased to be largely local in origin and effect. Crime is now established on an international scale, and the common law must face this new reality. We as legislators must face that fact.

We must also consider the political sensitivities of some of our ethnic minorities, who feel that their countrymen are being oppressed. One thinks of the Kashmiris and others. Those political sensitivities add a new dimension to our consideration of the Bill. How should we respond? The problems are illustrated in the newspapers. The Observer on 10 March 1996 quoted Hamas as saying: we use London as a base for terrorism and source of funds". A further example is Dr. al-Masari, who shelters under this country's protection and appeared to sympathise with his countrymen who blew up the United States installation in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I do not wish to make a party point, but the case of Dr. al-Masari is an important example. I shall refer to it shortly, if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Dr. al-Masari's comments should not only fall within the legislation, but deprive him of any right to asylum in this country?

Mr. Anderson

That may be one effect of the moves that have just been agreed at the United Nations—I am not sure whether the new UN agreement is retrospective. I certainly share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the activities of Dr. al-Masari and would need to consider carefully whether, because of his conduct, he deserves to be here. We may come to a different conclusion when we study the relevant facts.

Swansea is affected, as is shown by an article in The Sunday Times of 11 June 1993, headed: World Trade Center bombing suspect 'stole' identity of Swansea student. That shows that international crime knows no frontiers: our law has to be adapted to respond.

I recognise the pressures on the Government from a number of countries—for example, the anger in France at the way Algerian terrorists who carry out atrocities in Paris and elsewhere have found safe refuge in this country. Another example was the pressure on the Prime Minister at the summit meeting with Arab heads of state recently in Sharm el Sheikh. I share that anger and understand that there is legitimate concern, and I accept that there should be a debate on how best to tackle the problem.

Clause 1 relates to conspiracy, and clause 2 to incitement. Under the Bill, various hurdles or conditions have to be satisfied before a prosecution can be mounted in this country. For example, the fourth condition, in proposed new section 1A(5), is that a party to the agreement, or a party's agent, did anything in England and Wales in relation to the agreement before its formation". I would need to consider carefully the nature of agency in the criminal law and the case law on the subject. It might be difficult to tie the words of an agent and the full authority of an agent to someone in this country. In the case of rape, although not, I concede, in the case of conspiracy, the case law on "participation" is long. It shows how the test of "participation" must be satisfied, for example in the case of Clarkson, and in others.

Proposed new section 1A(11) states: Any act done by means of a message (however communicated) is to be treated for the purposes of the fourth condition as done in England and Wales". On the face of it, a "message" of support for those intending to undertake some criminal action in a third country could be treated as a satisfying condition. I wonder whether that goes too far. There is a similar provision about a "message" in clause 2, which relates to incitement. Obviously we can look more carefully at the ambit of the Bill in Committee.

In paragraph 12.38 of his report, having considered the various options of extradition and so forth to meet the genuine concern about the harbouring of terrorists, Lord Lloyd states: There have also been statutory moves in the same direction"— the direction of extra-territoriality— see Criminal Law Act 1993, not yet in force, and the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996, which gives UK courts jurisdiction in respect of persons conspiring to commit relevant offences abroad. So it would not be a great step to provide by legislation that a conspiracy here to commit a crime abroad should also be triable here, at any rate in the field of terrorism where international co-operation is so vital. The Bill, of course, goes much further than terrorism. I also wonder whether one can follow the analogy of the 1996 Act and its extra-territorial provisions, which are also being considered in connection with the Sex Offenders Bill. The analogy on extra-territoriality between sex tourism Bills and this Bill is not as clear as Lord Lloyd would have us wish. In passing, Lord Lloyd is part of the security establishment and when someone has been over long in that field, a certain professional deformation can occur.

All right-thinking people in this country accept that people who commit offences against children or destroy the innocence of young children abroad should be brought within the scope of our law. There is no dispute about that I am confident that no such consensus exists in respect of some other offences. It is often said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. As Members of the legislature today, we may be becoming involved with the sort of debates that they had in the 16th century, when one side talked of the powers that be being ordained of God—the hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) can correct me about that—and of the concept of the divine right of kings and others said that because a Government are established they must be accorded respect; another side, such as the 16th century author of "Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos", said that an individual had a right to revolt against a tyrannical Government.

There are many dictatorships and tyrannical Governments in this world. Are we to say that someone who has fled to this country from that tyranny is estopped thereby from seeking to overthrow by word or action that tyrannical Government? Let us think of this country's traditions and of people who are now considered as great patriots in their own countries. Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, who was in London after the 1848 revolution, conspired against his Government.

I shall give a more up-to-date example. Nelson Mandela was a leading member of the African National Congress and, in the 1950s, sought by all means possible to moderate and influence the stance on racial discrimination of South Africa's white Government—after the change to the National Government in 1948, the regime was increasingly repressive. From its formation, the African National Congress had a tradition of non-violent opposition to the Government. Then, we had Sharpeville and a number of other incidents. After Sharpeville, Nelson Mandela—now President Mandela—made a magnificent speech at the Rivonia trial, demonstrating the long tradition of non-violence. The only way that appeared open to people such as Nelson Mandela was to involve themselves in acts of terrorism, directed not against individual citizens but against pylons and other such installations.

Had Nelson Mandela escaped to this country, he would have been caught by the provisions in the Bill if he had communed with members of the Umkhunte Ya Sizwe, or MK, the military arm of the ANC, who were blowing up pylons in desperation, having tried unsuccessfully again and again to change their repressive Government by peaceful means. South Africa was considered a friendly country. The case of Nelson Mandela, who is now rightly eulogised and who was forced into extremely limited acts of terrorism, gives cause for concern about the extensive nature of the provisions.

We could consider various tyrannies that exist today, whether it be Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi is opposing the Government, or other terrorist states from which citizens, oppressed by their tyrannical Governments, may have fled to the United Kingdom where they would be subject to prosecution under the Bill if they sent messages of support to those who committed very minor acts of terrorism.

Mr. Waterson

I apologise for intervening a second time in the hon. Gentleman's thoughtful contribution. He will understand if I do not follow him down the line of considering individual cases such as that of President Mandela. Will he reflect on the safeguards that the offence would have to be an offence in this country as well as in another country and that, even if someone were prosecuted and convicted of a minor act of terrorism, the sentence applied in this country would probably not be as swingeing as the one that was applied in the case of President Mandela?

Mr. Anderson

To return to the analogy of President Mandela, blowing up an electricity pylon would be an offence here as well as in South Africa, and the sentence that a judge would impose would not be to say to the young Nelson Mandela, "Well, we understand you, it's the sort of thing that I would do in your place, because South Africa is a repressive regime and, after all, you tried to act in a peaceful way and you've been forced into this terrorism." It would probably, in fact, be a five to 10-year sentence.

Lord Lloyd said: it would not be a great step to provide by legislation that a conspiracy here to commit a crime abroad should also be triable here, but it is not as simple as that. I hope that the Nelson Mandela analogy—I could give far more up-to-date examples involving tyrannical regimes—shows that it is not enough to say that the extra-territoriality barrier has been breached and that because we believe, as must all right-thinking people, that sex tourists should be prosecuted here, it must follow, as night follows day, that we must agree with the extension of that principle to the areas suggested by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, although I stress that I share the public anger at the activities of those who abuse our hospitality.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

I follow the hon. Gentleman's line of thought, but the Bill makes it perfectly clear that, whatever the merits or demerits of an individual case, we do not want this country to continue to allow anybody, for any reason, to plan or plot what he called a little bit of terrorism; it makes no difference whether it is a little bit or a lot of terrorism: we do not want people here planning any terrorism whatever.

Mr. Anderson

I hope that I did not use the phrase, "a little bit of terrorism". I said that, whereas sex tourism is absolute and one can agree on that, terrorism is a loaded word. As I said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, so we are dealing with a world of greys rather than absolutes. That is why I used the analogy of Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Anderson

No. With all due respect, the hon. Gentleman's first contribution was such that I am reluctant to yield to him.

I agree with the Minister that there is a real problem. There is genuine anger, and the Prime Minister and other Ministers are subject to proper pressure from other countries.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

The hon. Gentleman is a distinguished barrister, so perhaps he can tell us whether a possible combination could be that the legislation would embody the absolute condemnation of the use of our territory for such purposes—unequivocally and regardless of background factors—but that, in the course of the prosecution and defence, the factors that he mentions, including to some extent the political background, would come out and could be adduced in mitigation.

Mr. Anderson

I am not sure how much a judge would be able or want to vary sentence on such mitigation factors, because that would be to exercise a political judgment on which countries are or are not desirable. A judge would be reluctant to be involved in such judgments.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is getting into an interesting area, and the contribution of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) is helpful, because those factors would clearly have to be taken into account if they were available to the court. We must also consider the balance between what the Bill—essentially a Government-written Bill—says, and the way in which it is to be used. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that.

Mr. Anderson

I agree with the Minister that there is a real problem. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and I are senior officers of the all-party group on France and we understand the deep anxiety of the French Government that Algerian terrorists who carry out atrocities on French soil can find sanctuary here. Mr. Pasqua, who is not the most liberal of French politicians, was recently quoted as being highly critical of the British attitude in that respect.

I would have no problem with prosecuting an Algerian, for example, who conspired to commit an offence in France or incited others to do so, because France is a free country with free assembly, access to newspapers, and elections, and is friendly to us. Those who commit terrorist atrocities in France should certainly not find sanctuary here.

Mr. Kirkhope

I want to correct a misapprehension that could arise from the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We have received considerable praise from the French operational agencies as a result of our co-operation and assistance in dealing with the Algerian extremist threat. I want that to be clear and on the record.

Mr. Anderson

I have no doubt that that is true. I was saying that there was a constituency in France articulated by Mr. Pasqua, the former Interior Affairs Minister, which was highly critical of the alleged readiness of the British Government to harbour terrorists. I am sure that at operational level the position is mightily different from that which he has set out, perhaps for his own political reasons.

There is no problem in respect of France, but there is a question mark over whether we would have a problem in respect of countries which had been designated by, for example, the United States as terrorist countries—those which foment terrorism abroad and force people whom we would recognise as freedom fighters to leave and come to this country. The Minister cannot resile from that problem. If we want to try someone who is prepared to conspire or incite others to commit acts against terrorist countries, where do we draw the line? Should we have a white list, as the Government do in respect of the asylum legislation, so that if a terrorist act was contemplated or planned here against certain countries we would not prosecute? The problem would then be the grey areas.

For example, the Algerian Government are now subject to the most awful killings by Islamic extremists. Every day, we read about more members of the establishment and ordinary citizens of Algeria who have been killed, yet the authorities stopped the election which FIS—the Islamic party—was likely to have won. That in part triggered the present unrest. On which side of the line would we place Algeria in terms of its fundamental freedoms? At least the current law, under which we have no extra-territorial jurisdiction, provides the Government with a shield against those who press for prosecution here.

There may be a number of other means of tackling the real problem of terrorists using Britain as a base. Although Lord Lloyd came down in favour of a Bill of this nature in his report, he also considered some of the other matters.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. It is more a moral than a legal quandary, but he rightly translates it into legal terms. To put it the other way round, is he saying that there are circumstances in which, for example, the murder of innocent civilians and citizens in countries abroad is justified, and that there should be no law against the people who planned those murders from this country, or if there is a law it should not be pursued? If that is a proper interpretation of his remarks, I find it difficult to agree with him.

Mr. Anderson

It is not, with respect, a proper interpretation of my remarks. I am thinking aloud and saying that certain acts which could be construed as terrorist acts fall far short of murdering innocent citizens. I mentioned Mr. Mandela and the blowing up of electricity pylons, which could have been caught under the terms of the Bill. We should be aware of what could happen and the wide terms in which the Bill is drafted.

Mr. Kirkhope

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again. We are in danger, are we not, of becoming a little too selective. My hon. Friend's Bill refers to matters which the United Kingdom regards as crimes. Whether it is merely blowing up a pylon or murdering someone, in United Kingdom law that is not an acceptable act. If it is planned in the United Kingdom to take place elsewhere, that is not acceptable. When we drafted the Bill, we were in difficulties deciding whether simply to extend the power to specific offences, but my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) is right to have decided to ask the House to approve the power in a general sense for those crimes which are United Kingdom crimes. The dual criminality rule is the protection.

Mr. Anderson

The dual criminality rule would cover the electricity pylons. My concern is that the generality of the Bill gives a tang of the divine right of kings; the suggestion that a Government, however tyrannical, however they came to power and however they override their opponents, must be protected against any acts which may be the desperate acts of individuals. I confess that I do not see how we can achieve legislatively the drawing of a line between those countries and other countries. The nature of the Bill effectively endorses the powers that be throughout the world.

Mr. Kirkhope

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again. We are a democracy. We are very happy to allow people to come here and to express a different view from our own about what is happening in their home country. We allow them free speech and will continue to protect their rights to criticise and make adverse comments about the regime or Government in their home country. What we are saying and what my hon. Friend makes clear in his Bill, is that we are not prepared to harbour people who are prepared to break our laws by inciting others or conspiring to commit terrorist acts in their home country. That is a simple point. We want free speech and we want people to comment, but we believe that that is sufficient. We do not see why we should be the base for planning or plotting terrorism or anything else criminal.

Mr. Anderson

I hear what the Minister says. I hope that he concedes that there is a real problem in restricting or confining those whom we believe to be working together against tyrannical regimes. That could be the effect of the Bill, and it would be wholly counter to our traditions. In the 19th century we harboured those who were regarded by their own countries as troublemakers or terrorists.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

The hon. Gentleman gave the example of Nelson Mandela. I have often discussed the matter with my lifelong friend Trevor Huddleston. The anti-apartheid movement which Trevor founded was non-violent. I believe that the movement ended apartheid in South Africa. I cannot develop the argument because I do not have the time, but it was not a violent movement. Trevor Huddleston, a deeply Christian man, as the hon. Gentleman will know, hated apartheid. He talked of it with great hate, but there was still no violence in the movement, which Nelson Mandela embraced wholeheartedly.

Mr. Anderson

The anti-apartheid movement, of which I was proud to be a part, fully supported the liberation movements, the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress, which as a result of the unwillingness of that oppressive regime to listen to them were forced reluctantly along the road to limited violence, which could be construed as terrorism and could have been brought within the ambit of the Bill. That is the message that I should like to leave the House with. The points that I have made have to be raised as part of a wider debate so that a reasonable consensus can be achieved to combat terrorism without undermining our tradition of dissent.

Therefore, it is with a certain amount of caution that I commend the hon. Member for Eastbourne on introducing the Bill. I understand the motives behind it. I understand the international pressures on the Prime Minister. I understand the anger of our people at those who abuse our hospitality. I believe that there are a number of ways in which that problem could be tackled. I may well come to the view, with reluctance, that the Bill is a way which has to be made available, but it brings with it certain implications and responsibilities which I hope will be fully considered.

10.38 am
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) has made a thoughtful contribution to the debate, which everyone welcomes; but I have to say that those of us who do not belong to professions that are paid by the hour cannot help noticing that, after 40 minutes, he is not quite sure what the answer is. I suppose that that is because these are difficult issues.

The hon. Gentleman's response to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) was important. Although the hon. Gentleman had made it clear that he was opposed to sex tourism in any form—that was an absolute—it was difficult to understand whether he felt there were any absolutes in respect of terrorism. My hon. Friend teased out some commitment from the hon. Gentleman, in that it appeared that terrorism that involved loss of life was something else that he regarded as an absolute. For many of us, the onus for justifying any form of terrorism rests wholly on the perpetrator—it is a fairly safe assumption that terrorist activity is wrong and even acts against property need considerable justification before we can say that there is any serious defence.

At the end of the hon. Gentleman's speech, it was clear that he had no solution to that difficulty, which he explored at some length. We recognise that there is a difficulty, but I do not think that his arguments were sufficiently convincing—I do not think that he thought so either—to oppose the Bill.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful response to the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), but is not the difficulty that the answer to those questions do not lie in the Bill, which, in a sense, is straightforward? The answers lie, first, in the context of the Bill's use—how the Government will use it—and, secondly, in the international community and how it provides protections for people's liberties throughout the world. It is not surprising that the Bill itself does not provide all the answers to my hon. Friend's thoughtfully posed questions.

Mr. Yeo

I agree—to a great extent, we have to hope that common sense will prevail, although that might be a rash assumption when so often it fails to do so. Perhaps there would be circumstances in which prosecutions that could be brought under the Bill would not be brought, because it was clear that there was no need to do so.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on winning a high place in the ballot—something that has eluded me for 14 years—and on his choice of Bill. He made an excellent and comprehensive speech. I was interested to learn about the Bill's provenance—I had not previously been aware of the existence of the international maritime fraud research sub-committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, but its endeavours have clearly not been in vain. I am only sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is not present, because, having been the secretary—

Mr. Waterson

The chairman.

Mr. Yeo

Sorry—the chairman of that body and although he lost his original seat shortly after the report referred to was written, his career has clearly prospered on that very solid foundation.

I had not been not aware of this gap in our legislative framework and I hope that the Bill enjoys a speedy passage on to the statute book. When introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne made it clear that no new principle is involved in the legislation. What we are doing is extending powers that have already been taken in relation to some offences to cover a much wider range of offences. Our courts already have jurisdiction over some offences that have been committed abroad and the Bill would extend that to cover conspiracy and incitement that had taken place in this country.

It is possible to welcome the Bill while regretting the necessity for it. As communications have improved and the world become smaller, so criminal activity of various sorts has become international. It is now more common for crimes to be planned in one country and carried out in another on a regular and organised basis.

Britain now has an enviable reputation as a haven for business. Our tax regime, company law and industrial relations are all extremely sympathetic.

Mr. Butler

And we do not have the social chapter.

Mr. Yeo

As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, our opt-out from the social chapter is another factor that draws international business to this country. It remains unknown whether that reputation would survive in the unlikely event of a change of Government, or, indeed, whether the proposals by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher)—which are so severely at odds with those of the shadow Chancellor—might not call all that into question very quickly. We do not want Britain to acquire a reputation for being a sympathetic environment for terrorists or international criminals of any kind.

I was interested in the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), who has been unable to remain in his place. When he replies to the debate, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell us whether similar legislation exists in other countries when we might be on the receiving end of terrorist activity, especially in Northern Ireland, planned in those countries. If such legislation does not exist, having got it on to our statute book, will the Government be pressing other Governments to introduce similar legislation in their countries? If we take these steps, it would be reasonable to expect similar steps to be taken by countries with which we have close relations and where we believe there may be terrorist activity being planned that is subsequently perpetrated within the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne is such an eloquent exponent of that case that in view of the substantial majorities in the House that we have had in the past two and a half days, I wonder whether the Whips might be agreeable to his embarking on an overseas tour to promote this legislation in other countries. It would be a valuable use of his time—

Mr. Butler

He should be accompanied by his supporters.

Mr. Yeo

Of course. My hon. Friend has a safe seat and I am sure that he could utilise the few weeks between now and 1 May very usefully on a world tour. Once again, where Britain leads, the rest of the world might follow. It might be trespassing on dangerous ground to ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether other European Union countries have similar legislation, but I am sure that several hon. Members would be interested in the answer.

By passing the Bill, the House would be sending a clear message to anyone who is thinking of coming to this country in order to plan criminal activity that is to be committed in another country. Like the hon. Members who have already spoken, I fear that our generous, relaxed and hospitable attitude towards visitors is abused from time to time. The extraordinary growth in the number of people who are seeking asylum here, which some of us think is somewhat suspicious—perhaps some of them are really economic migrants masquerading under another set of clothes—results in their being here for long periods while their cases are being determined. I hope that some of them will take note of this legislation, if it is passed.

I was glad to hear the assurance of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne that it is not intended that this measure should in any way curb the freedom of speech that everyone who comes to this country enjoys, which means that they can express opinions that may be unwelcome to us. The position of political dissidents to express their views will not be in any way affected by the Bill. We have a long and honourable tradition as a safe haven for political refugees; that must be protected and long may it continue.

Having said that, I must admit that I have limited patience with people who come to this country in order to exploit our freedoms and abuse our hospitality, even if they are not actually inciting criminal activity abroad. I do not think that we need to be particularly apologetic for expressing some impatience, irritation and criticism, when people come to this country and use it as a launch pad for making verbal attacks on our good friends in other countries. That seems to me to be another way of abusing hospitality, although it would not be covered by the Bill. Many people in this country share that reaction, and we should not be embarrassed about admitting that we share it. If a stranger visits my house, I do not necessarily want to hear him insult my friends even if he dislikes them.

Mr. Butler

I want to raise a matter which may be dealt with in the reply to the debate. If the comments to which my hon. Friend just referred amounted to incitement to racial hatred—for example, if they were comments based on a tribal difference between the ruling tribe and other tribes in another country—presumably, if the dual criminality test were passed, people could be prosecuted for them in this country when the Bill became law.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am not sure what the law is in Finland, but if there were a similar measure in Finland, a prosecution might possibly be brought against the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) for incitement to racial hatred in relation to remarks made a little while ago about Finnish nurses My hon. Friend has raised a very interesting point, which he may want to explore in detail when he makes his contribution.

Mr. Butler

I do not think so.

Mr. Yeo

We look forward to Opposition support for the Bill. I believe that we can now expect the Opposition's support for almost any measure to do with law and order or crime. The word has gone forth from Islington that there is no principle, however deeply cherished it may have been in the past, however loudly and frequently—

Mr. Michael

If the hon. Gentleman wants to lengthen his speech with knockabout, may I remind him that many issues that the Government now support were first proposed by the Opposition and voted down by the Government? That is the fact on law and order.

On extra-territoriality, I remind the hon. Gentleman of the debate in Committee and on the Floor of the House during the passage of the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, when we were urging the Government to go further regarding conspiracy to do things abroad, for example in relation to child sex abuse.

Mr. Yeo

That intervention bears out my point that there is no freedom, however deeply cherished in the past, no principle, however loudly trumpeted in an election address—perhaps by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) in 1983 or 1987—that cannot now be abandoned in pursuit of votes.

Mr. Michael

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify that point? I know this is knockabout, but it sounds as though the hon. Gentleman said something which I believe he would not intend. He surely does not regard it as a freedom to be able to abuse children abroad.

Mr. Yeo

Of course I did not say that, and I certainly did not wish to imply it.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Think before you speak.

Mr. Yeo

I believe that hon. Members will find that the record is not capable of that interpretation, but if it is, I unreservedly withdraw it.

However, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) wishes to emphasise that point, I remind the House that some positions that have been taken frequently and vociferously by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield and many of his colleagues, not only on the European Union or industrial relations but on a much wider range of issues, are now absolutely reversed in their present attitudes.

The right hon. Member for Sedgefield reminds me of a mirror image of President Kennedy. He is ready to announce that there is no freedom he will protect, no frontier he will defend if such freedom or frontier stands between him and electoral victory. Most at risk are the freedoms that have historically been enjoyed by Labour Members of Parliament. When it comes to tyranny—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. This has to be related to the Bill.

Mr. Yeo

I am grateful for that reminder. What I had in mind—[Interruption.] Exactly. What I had in mind was the possibility that Labour Members of Parliament, fleeing from the tyranny which they now face from their leadership, might wish to travel abroad and plot a coup against the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman should contrast the weakness and ineffectiveness of the present Prime Minister and the strength of the Leader of the Opposition, who has the wholehearted support of the parliamentary Labour party, something that the Prime Minister does not enjoy from the Conservative party. However, that is not a matter for today's debate, is it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think, as a tennis player, that is one set all.

Mr. Yeo

I am grateful for that adjudication. I will say only that of course the whole House knows that the Prime Minister has the unanimous and wholehearted support of all Conservative Members. [Laughter.] His only opponent unfortunately seemed to meet his demise last night, at the hands of the Reigate Conservative Association.

At any rate, the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne was published in good time to allow the Opposition to determine their reaction to it, even though he was unable to get a sponsor. That contrasted with what happened when the Government took a decision, which took the Opposition by surprise, on the royal yacht, when we unfortunately had to wait until The Sun published an opinion poll before we knew whether the Opposition—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If there are any more allusions of that nature in the hon. Gentleman's speech, I should be grateful if he would not deliver them this morning.

Mr. Yeo

I am most grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me just say that I welcome the support that we have from the Opposition. It would be nice to know the Liberal position. One might ask, "Where are they today?" We may soon be asking, "Where are they tomorrow?" judging by the latest opinion poll results in the newspapers.

I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion, much to your relief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am delighted that there is so much interest in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne clearly has the attention of a great many Conservative Members and I look forward to the passage of the Bill, which I warmly commend to the House.

10.55 am
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I join those who have voiced thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson). I want to comment on the dispassionate way in which he has talked us through the Bill, which is of great interest to all hon. Members present. If the public, who regard our proceedings as two 15-minute slots on Thursday and Tuesday afternoons and something of a bear garden, were to take closer interest in thoughtful debates of this nature, the image of Parliament would be much improved. Earlier this week, Madam Speaker encouraged such an improvement.

The Bill is a brave attempt to put right an anomaly in the law of this country, and when I studied the background I was astonished that it had not been put right before. I understand that it covers the entire United Kingdom without exception, but I was slightly thrown by the ifs and buts in clause 5, which deals with commencement and extent. I hope that my interpretation, that the Bill applies equally to the entire United Kingdom and will do so from the moment that it comes into force, is correct.

Crime is international today, as many a television or film script has illustrated, but until this Bill the laws of the United Kingdom were blind to what took place overseas, even if it were planned here, apart from the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996, which paved the way.

It is a pity that the reform planned in the Bill must be hung on the obscure concept of conspiracy—a concept which conjures up images of people in black pointed hats sitting around a cauldron, with varying degrees of gunpowder at the ready, as they twiddle their large moustaches. However, if that obscure concept must be the way and if it achieves a correct result, we should not quibble over the odd way of providing a new offence.

The leading case of the Board of Trade v. Owen, which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne mentioned in his opening remarks, was decided in 1957, when I was a law student. The case involved a conviction for conspiracy to defraud, but the victim was in Germany. The Legal Committee of the other place said that, with very few exceptions, the law of this country was concerned only with preserving the Queen's peace—an old and legalistic term under the common law. It concluded that even cordial relations with another, friendly, country could not extend the Queen's peace, and in that case it could not extend it to Germany. It therefore followed that the conspiracy to commit an offence abroad was not indictable here because it was not triable here. There was a small move later, in the case of R. v. Sanson in 1991, when the court held that if the crime was committed here, indictment would lie here if the conspiracy took place abroad.

That legalistic common law nonsense has been largely with us until now. There was a breakthrough in the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996. I disagree with the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who wondered whether it was a close enough analogy. I think that it is. It showed how the law could be changed—it has not yet been challenged—and how it could overcome limits otherwise imposed by the concept of the Queen's peace.

We should remember what happened in the years before the introduction of the 1996 Act. People were enraged by the abuse, especially sexual abuse, of children. Those who commit such offences are rightly shunned by other people, especially other convicted prisoners in our prisons. Until last year, there was a huge gap, but it has now been plugged. The sexual exploitation of children in other countries—by a minority of individuals who go to that country for that purpose—is now indictable.

Of course, there are bound to be difficulties with the 1996 Act. Introducing legislation that could be difficult to enforce in this country is not something that we, as legislators, undertake lightly. We do not undertake a prospective possibility of conviction with enormous enthusiasm, but sometimes something has to be done. There are problems of proof, of obtaining evidence from victims, of getting witnesses into this country and of extraditing alleged offenders from some other countries. There is also the concept of dual criminality, and that, too, is a safeguard.

I believe that the 1996 Act has shown the way. It now covers the offences that we then wished to cover. In my view, there is no ground for doubting that this Bill will do the same.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that sexual exploitation is wrong and is deemed to be wrong by everyone. There is no moral dispute about that. However, we are in a different world when it comes to the word "terrorism" because it is a loaded word that can be interpreted differently by different people.

Mr. Alexander

I was about to come to that point. It is where I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect. He made a thoughtful and useful contribution to the debate. I, like my hon. Friend the Minister—who responded to the hon. Gentleman's points earlier—firmly believe that it is not the Government's right or duty to take a view on what is happening in another country.

Let us suppose that we had been debating this matter in the early 1980s. The Mandela example is not really appropriate because by then he was in prison. Nevertheless, let us suppose that we had taken as an example someone who was committing or was proposing to commit offences in South Africa at that time. It would have been quite wrong for the House to say, "Well, it is a repressive regime. Well, that person is only agreeing to take down a few telephone lines or blow up the odd train—it is a repressive regime, so the law should not apply." The Government should not take a view on the correctness of human rights issues in another country when deciding whether someone can be prosecuted in this country for doing something criminal in that other country.

Mr. Michael

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He is a lawyer, so he may be able to help us. As I understand it, the distinction that he draws is not drawn in the Bill—indeed, I do not see how it could be. He said that judgments should not be made on acts of violence abroad, but what of the situation when communication is made with people involved in acts in other countries, and who may be politically involved? We can think of all sorts of examples, such as the period covering the establishment of the state of Israel, where the act in this country of communicating with people who might be involved in politics, but not themselves in violence, might technically come under the Bill. Does not that require a context to the Bill to ensure, as I am sure the Minister and everyone else wants, that it is used for the purposes for which it is intended, not those that go beyond that intention?

Mr. Alexander

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, my understanding of the Bill is that the act of communicating is not, of itself, an offence. The act of organising criminality in another country by communication is an offence—but merely communicating is not, because it would not be an offence in this country—

Mr. Dykes

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the first part of his remarks, as we could get into difficult territory with interpretations? I appreciate that he was referring to the specific and precise application of the new law. However, we must bear it in mind that under the leadership of the United States, of other countries and of the United Nations programme, we do make judgments about countries that commit human rights abuses and international law is then brought into play, potentially or actually. It is not easy to say that this country should not take a view on the internal political behaviour of regimes in particular countries.

Mr. Alexander

I accept what my hon. Friend says. The interventions in my speech show why it is so important to ensure that we do not try to decide whether a country is good or bad before deciding whether something that is the subject of a conspiracy in this country is prosecutable. We should not go down that road.

Mr. Kirkhope

Perhaps I could help my hon. Friend on the question about a message or a communication, an issue that has been raised by several hon. Members this morning. There is no problem with a message, unless by sending it the sender is inciting others elsewhere to commit a criminal offence. In that case a message, of whatever sort—whether a postal communication or an e-mail, as is becoming much more common—would, with sufficient evidence being available, be enough to come within the ambit of the Bill.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Does the Minister also mean a message of support?

Mr. Kirkhope

We have no problem with messages of support, provided that they are not incitements. The word "incitement" is clearly defined in the Bill. Nevertheless, I think that the nature of a message is an irrelevance.

Mr. Alexander

I shall return to my argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Michael

I am sorry to intervene again, but it is an important point. The Minister's intervention was very helpful. If I understood him correctly, the Minister said that the message was irrelevant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, a message of support for political activity could be interpreted as a message of support for closer association. There is an element of interpretation, and the House must be clear about its intentions.

Mr. Alexander

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer for himself when he replies to the debate. A message of support as such would not be a criminal offence in the United Kingdom. A message of support, encouragement and incitement to criminal activity in another country would be a criminal offence.

That is one of the problems that we will encounter in organising the Bill and in arranging prosecutions. I said a few moments ago that there will be problems of proof, and it is right that we should discuss them during the debate. They should be discussed in more detail in Committee.

I want to speak briefly about the middle east, as I take a close interest in middle eastern matters. Most law-abiding countries in the middle east are concerned about the ease with which terrorists from those countries can come to this country and advocate violence and terrorism at home. I am told that that is not a fringe activity, but that there are pockets, mainly in the London area, where hundreds of people, otherwise lawfully in the UK, are plotting and openly advocating the violent overthrow of the Governments in their own countries. I do not mean calls for change in their Governments, or their use of the UK as a base from which to bombard nationals at home with anti-Government propaganda. That should be relevant to whether asylum is grantable or not, but we are not considering asylum now.

In addition to what I have described, the same people are involved in money laundering, drug trafficking and criminal activities in their own countries. The Bill will be helpful in stamping out the dissemination of literature urging assassination in their home countries.

We read in The Times in October 1995 that pamphlets were then circulating in London mosques advocating the shooting of westerners in Algeria, the kidnapping and murder of Government officials in that country and the hijacking of Algerian planes. It goes without saying that Governments of countries affected in that way are deeply worried about the pockets of terrorism in our own backyard. The Bill will help in that respect.

If one travels to Tunis, one will hear the same, although the threats from some of those dissidents are not quite so bloodthirsty. It is a matter not of asylum, but of the law currently being powerless to round up people who conspire to urge criminal activities in their home countries.

We have a tradition of tolerance in Britain from which I do not resile, but we should not have a tradition of tolerance towards those who preach violence and violent overthrow in their own countries. Other countries are less squeamish, but up to now we have been a soft touch. The Bill should help in rooting out and prosecuting such people. There is increasing anger on the part of countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia at the powerlessness of UK law.

I stress that I am not speaking of anti-Government propaganda. Much of the material is considerably more than that. In the well-known case of Dr. al-Masari, when the United States soldiers were killed just over a year ago in a bomb attack, he sent a message to his followers in Saudi Arabia that US soldiers were a legitimate target. If he had sent a message to anyone in this country that British soldiers in the UK were a legitimate target, he would have been booted out long ago.

I take heart from the answer to a parliamentary question on the subject that was given by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who stated in response to that question about the activities of Islamic extremists based in London: We are concerned at the unwelcome presence of foreign extremists in the United Kingdom who abuse our traditional freedoms. We are in close contact with a number of foreign Governments who share our concern. Any evidence of violations of UK law will be passed to the police for action."—[Official Report, 6 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 252.] The Bill will enable that to be done. Britain will no longer be a safe haven for such people. The Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 helped towards that last year. The Bill is timely. We must nip those activities in the bud and make them criminal offences. We must not quibble about such legal niceties as whether they are committed within the Queen's peace. Chauvinism and a drawbridge mentality should have no place in our laws in the latter half of the 20th century. The agreement to commit a crime is an offence in the United Kingdom, even if the offence is not ultimately committed. The same must now apply to crimes that may or may not be committed abroad.

One of my hon. Friends said a moment ago that the world is a small place. The reform is long overdue. There will be difficulties of proof, and physical difficulties in getting people to the UK to stand trial or give evidence, but that is no ground for not tackling the problem vigorously. My hon. Friend's Bill is a firm attempt to do that. I hope that the House will give it a fair wind and let it pass this stage.

11.16 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander). I was interested in his response to the interesting speech by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson).

If one looks up the definition of terrorism in the "Oxford English Dictionary", one is left in no doubt about the implications of violence underlying that word. I have never been able to accept that terrorism can be justified on high moral grounds because it is aimed at eradicating an evil. The hon. Gentleman's argument came dangerously close to that.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Let me offer another analogy. I came across a quotation recently from a leader of the French resistance, which was bombing trains bringing supplies to the Nazis in occupied France during the second world war. He proudly said, "We are terrorists." The activities of the resistance were offences in occupied France; some regimes are so tyrannical that the definition of terrorism is not straightforward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is more difficult than the definition of sex exploitation.

Mr. Greenway

I agree, but the hon. Gentleman describes a war in which the resistance was involved. There are those in Britain who argue that civil disobedience is right if one regards the law as unfair. We saw that this week. Some people think that civil disobedience is morally justified if they consider a law unfair on subjective grounds. The poll tax rioters caused enormous harm to innocent people and to the police who were seeking to maintain proper law and order. I witnessed their actions at first hand when I walked past the riots while pursuing parliamentary business. The sheer lawlessness and violence could not be justified. Therefore, I do not accept the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Swansea, East. I do not believe that the anti-apartheid movement—and people such as Rev. Sithole, Trevor Huddleston and Nelson Mandela—advocated that sort of terrorist violence. The hon. Gentleman's argument cannot be sustained.

I must meet soon with some constituents, so I apologise to the House if I am unable to remain for the entire debate. I speak this morning as a non-lawyer—the only one to participate in the debate so far. I think that non-lawyers are qualified to evaluate and comment upon the legal process. While we respect our learned Friends, ordinary people may not understand the things that they say and the way in which they interpret and contest the law. If all people—of above and below average intelligence—do not understand it, the law is an ass and it cannot be an effective weapon. Like school rules, the laws of the nation must be understood and accepted by the people if all are to believe in a sense of fairness, which creates national stability. I view the measure in that context, and I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), in his absence, on introducing the Bill, which I am honoured to sponsor.

My hon. Friend referred to his parliamentary predecessor, the late Ian Gow—who was a friend to many of us—who had motivated him to do something about terrorism and its causes, for which Ian Gow was assassinated at the young age of 52 or 53. That is a strong incentive for action in itself. There have been many cases like Ian Gow's throughout the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland. I was particularly interested in my hon. Friend's passing reference to the Bill's potential effects on football hooligans and drug pushers. I love, and take an interest in, sport, and I believe that football hooligans have done much damage to the game and to our country. The damage caused by drug pushers is beyond description.

Our law has already been improved to deal with paedophiles and sexual offenders who commit offences against children abroad—for example, in Thailand. The Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996, which was championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), deals also with tour operators. A recent BBC television programme explored that horrendous problem. It brought the problem into our living rooms, and portrayed the total horror and nastiness of those who promote sex tourism. Such people allowed boys and girls aged 10 and younger to be strapped to beds and sexually exploited by citizens from this and other countries. We are glad that the problem is being addressed by that recent Act of Parliament, which will be underwritten by the legislation that we are discussing today.

The Government attempt to save children from abuse of all kinds, and spend large sums through local authorities and the police, and through the provision of psychological services in education. We have nailed our colours firmly to the mast over the centuries through the teaching of Christianity and other great world religions that forbid the violation of children. When I reflect upon the fact that we spend so much money on our children—and rightly so—it is proper that we should prosecute the offences that are committed by our citizens abroad.

I need not remind hon. Members of the enormous drugs problem. The trade in illicit drugs is the third largest in the world, and is worth billions of pounds every year. British citizens who smuggle drugs in their suitcases or who arrange for quantities of drugs to be imported for their own personal gain must have contacts overseas. They must make many visits to the parts of the world that produce soft and hard drugs in order to arrange for their importation, and they must be known to the police. The Bill is welcome as it could deal with such people—who believe that they are not breaking any laws in this country because they are committing the offences abroad—and allow them to be punished at least as severely as drug pushers within our shores.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark described people who stay abroad and arrange drug deals. I used to discuss that problem with my great friend, Professor Francis Camps, the famous and brilliant Home Office pathologist. Twenty years ago, he claimed that the drugs problem in this country could be halved if those who took long holidays or who spent several years abroad in order to arrange drug deals could be caught. However, the long arm of the law just could not reach them. Professor Camps would tell his audiences—whether at the university of London, where he was a professor; at the Home Office, where he was senior pathologist; or at debating and dining clubs—that the use of soft drugs such as marijuana always leads to hard drugs such as cocaine, and that hard drugs lead inevitably to violent death, usually within seven years. It is as serious as that. My hon. Friend the member for Eastbourne can surely feel pleased that his Bill will help to address that problem. It is a desperately serious matter, and one that is growing more serious by the day. Yet we hear pop artists advocating in a light-hearted way the use of amphetamines. We must take careful account of the sheer stupidity—it is almost wickedness, but perhaps that is not the intention—that lies behind the way in which the use of drugs can be advocated, however soft or hard.

Perhaps football hooligans can be compared with that funny old gang of cricket supporters that follows the England team. The members of the gang are sometimes picked up by cameras. They seem to have no work to do and are thus able to follow the team. They are always good hearted in their support and not violent. Their worst behaviour is to run on to the ground to try to shake a batsman's hand in a friendly sort of way.

That behaviour has to be contrasted with that of football hooligans, whom we have seen over the years doing great damage to the name of our country. They have done great damage also to the game of soccer. I am glad that the Bill will deal with that. Happily, we have largely overcome football hooliganism in this country.

As the House will know, I have been involved with schools for 23 years. I can remember talking to boys and girls out of school about football matches. They may have been to watch Millwall or whatever. I would ask how the match went and they would say, "We lost the game, sir, but we won the fight." That has been the attitude of many so-called supporters when our footballers have gone to Norway, Holland and even to distant countries such as America. The "supporters" have travelled with them, allegedly to support the team, but in reality for violence. I do not understand it, and I never have. It is, however, something with which we must deal.

We can surely imagine the damage that is done to the morale of our team when overnight, before an important match—the European cup, the World cup, or whatever—thousands of British supporters run through a city, smashing their way through pubs and people's private property while sick with drink. We have seen them on television being loaded into police vans and carted away, thus bringing further disgrace to the name of the nation. They appear before the courts and have their disgraceful behaviour described.

That behaviour does our country no good and no good is done for soccer. It does not help our team to succeed. I congratulate my hon. Friend on producing a Bill that will give proper powers to police and to all concerned to put a stop to hooliganism in the name of supporting soccer. Those involved have no intention of giving real support to teams from this country. They care only about going abroad for a fight. The Bill, when enacted, will have the long-term effect of helping our teams.

The way in which "football supporters" behave when they are violent, and even when they are not, has a great effect upon the young. They watch a team on the field and if that team behaves well, the influence is enormously for the good. If the supporters behave badly and become hooligans, our children are influenced for the worst, and seriously so. Anything that can put a stop to football hooliganism is to be welcomed.

The Bill is warmly to be welcomed for the reasons that I have outlined and I have great pleasure in supporting it.

11.35 am
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

Terrorism is a scourge in the last part of the 20th century. It has caused misery and tragedy throughout the globe. Thousands of people have been killed, maimed or horribly injured as a result of the activities of terrorists. So many grieving mothers and distraught widows show that assertion to be correct. One of the worst aspects of terrorism is that the victims are normally entirely innocent. Children, tourists and shoppers, for example, are caught by the turmoil of violence that is exercised by people with whom they probably have nothing in common; they have no knowledge of and no involvement with such people.

It is incumbent on us to give no quarter to terrorism, nor to the financiers, planners and advocates of terrorism. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on his Bill, which will take us another step in the right direction. It is not a minor measure. Indeed, in my view, it is a Bill of some significance. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his mastery of the subject and on bringing the measure before the House.

Pressure on us to act has come from a number of quarters, including the international community. The Bill will ensure greater international co-operation in the efforts that are made against terrorism.

It is perhaps ironic that while the world took too long to come together internationally to deal with the problems of worldwide terrorism, and while the United Kingdom was a leader in advocating that international action should be taken, the UK faced criticisms from some countries that we were slow to act against terrorism. That was because it was felt that we were not taking a firm enough line. There have been criticisms from countries as diverse as France, Algeria, Egypt and the United States over the past couple of years. It is felt that we have allowed others to use third parties in our country as a base for the prosecution of terrorist acts elsewhere.

I am glad that the Government responded quickly to those concerns, both by their leading role in the G7 Cairo summit on terrorism and in pursuing action through the United Nations to make a firm declaration on terrorism, which alters the implications of the UN conventions on asylum seekers and refugees and allows us to take action that perhaps would have been impossible before under treaty. The Bill is another important and welcome step in tackling the problem of terrorists using other countries to pursue their violence elsewhere in the world.

Activities that can be carried out in countries such as the United Kingdom have been referred to in the press. I shall quote from an article that appeared in The Observer in March 1996. It stated that followers of Hamas, and especially one of the leaders of an organisation called al-Muhajiroun, claimed that there were secret organisations to tap funds and recruit lighters for 'international brigades' … already well established in Britain, and one of his party's principal aims was to garner further support That gives us an idea of what is happening in this country.

The Times in October 1995 referred to pamphlets in Arabic that were circulating in London mosques, which apparently said: Hold a stone, trigger a bomb, plant a mine, hijack a plane, do not ask how … Do something to prove that on your shoulders there stands a head, not a piece of cheese. The times of kidnapping are not over yet, do something. That is the sort of incitement and encouragement put out by organisations and ruthless extremists that use Britain as a base for their terrorist activities.

Mr. Donald Anderson

I do not think that such a pamphlet, although very wrong, would come within the ambit of the Bill, because no substantive offence would have been committed in an overseas country. It is a general exhortation.

Mr. Merchant

I do not want to descend to the specific, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is precisely correct. I can envisage circumstances in which such statements may be held to be an incitement, especially if they were sent to organisations abroad that are linked to acts of terrorism. But I was not advancing that argument; I was merely trying to show the groups that existed in this country at that time and what their motivations were, because that is a problem that should be pursued.

We know of organisations in the world that have a fairly sophisticated international tentacle of sub-organisations. I do not want to be specific, but I refer, for example, to some of the well-known extremist middle east groups that attract a great deal of publicity. Some of those groups are the Nazi organisations of the modern age. They bear a remarkable similarity to the Nazis: they are violently anti-Semitic, both in word and deed, they worship violence, and they are highly nationalistic and extremist in word and deed. Their activities in this country should be eradicated as part of a worldwide attempt to prevent the growth of that type of extremism and the acts that it engenders.

It is not just international concern that informs the Bill and the thinking behind it. There is also genuine and deep concern in this country among our constituents. I have received a number of letters in the past few years that have expressed outrage that foreign extremists are allowed to enter Britain and use this country as a base for continuing their extremist activity. I have sympathy with the people who express those concerns. Many go further and suggest that, although we have always been a haven for people who are fleeing persecution—they may feel that we have already done our fair share of dealing with that problem worldwide, but do not object to Britain continuing to harbour those people—a condition of coming into Britain should be that they should not engage in the political activity that led them to get into difficulties in the first place. I am not pursuing that line, but I merely suggest that some people take a rigorous view of the political activities of foreign nationals in Britain.

I think that most people agree that the risks posed to our citizens by the advocacy of violence of such people are real and tangible. My constituency is near London, and many of my constituents travel to the centre of the capital to go to work. They are exposed to terrorist activity in London. It is interesting that of the 35 incidents of terrorist activity in this country in the past 10 years, 33 were in London. I am referring to third-party terrorists—not Irish terrorism or terrorism aimed against Britain or the British Government or involving a British political element, but Arab terrorists, terrorism against other Arabs, or anti-Government elements connected with Turkey who take violent action against a Turkish presence here, such as Turkish Airlines. That shows the particular risk to which Londoners are exposed.

Such activities can be prosecuted under existing law, but the new Bill is relevant, because the presence of people in this country who conspire and incite must attract direct violence. Whoever they are conspiring against will be sorely tempted to take the terrorist war to their planning headquarters, which may happen to be in Britain. Reprisal action may be taken against them by some other force outside this country, thus generating extra violence here.

There will also be a temptation for the planners and inciters, rather than to carry out a complex terrorist operation in some other country, to do it against that country's assets or representatives in this country. It may be easier for them to organise that. Once they have a planning base here, they will be tempted to carry out violence here. It seems much more sensible to nip that problem in the bud, and to deter, prevent and, if necessary, take action against them at an earlier stage, before it ever comes to that. That is a very real way in which our citizens can be drawn in, and it is a secondary, although important, reason for taking firm action.

Why are those people here in the first place? That question is examined in some detail in the most impressive report produced by Lord Lloyd, "Inquiry Into Legislation Against Terrorism": I refer particularly to chapter 12. It deals with supporters of terrorism overseas, and it is significant that the main conclusion of that part of the report is that such a Bill should be introduced. It is good that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne has reflected so accurately what Lord Lloyd recommended in his detailed report.

The report deals with two other aspects of the problem. They are worth considering for a moment, because they lie alongside the Bill. The first is the concept of exclusion: the ability of the Home Secretary under present law to prevent a person entering Britain if his presence is not conducive to the public good. That is an important legal right that should be firmly maintained and used whenever necessary. I strongly oppose those who argue against that right. I am glad that Lord Lloyd says quite clearly that he feels that there is no need to change that right, by which I take it that he means that there is no need to water it down, as some have argued over the years.

Allied with that point is a similar legal mechanism involving deportation whereby my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary can, for similar reasons, deport a foreign national. It can be argued that in certain circumstances, that is the best course of action. If, for example, the information gained about the person concerned is sensitive in an intelligence sense and it would not be in the interests of the country to pursue the matter through the courts of law—where there might be long exposure of the reasons for deportation and the sources of information—it is preferable for the Home Secretary to exercise his right and for the person concerned to be deported.

Nevertheless, there are two problems with both exclusion and deportation. One is the human rights argument that as exclusion and deportation are an Executive process and there are no appeals, it is impossible for any third party or the person concerned to be assured that there is a genuine reason for the exclusion or deportation. That point gives me no problems because I have confidence in my right hon. and learned Friend. I believe that he would exercise his right only when it was necessary, but I can understand why some people might have doubts about that. However, I believe that deportation and exclusion should not be pursued unless there is no obvious alternative.

The second problem is more severe, and is related to treaties and international law. Lord Lloyd mentions the fact that our obligations under certain treaties may make it difficult to sustain deportation or exclusion in every case. I regret that and I dislike the trend of international treaties seeking effectively to alter laws passed by Parliament, with good reason, over the years. Nevertheless, we must accept the reality of that problem.

I am especially concerned about the European Court of Human Rights. If I understand Lord Lloyd correctly, it may even be possible for a person who has been excluded or deported then to return to Britain and immediately to claim asylum, with the rights of an asylum claimant that he can pursue through the rather tortuous process we have at present. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can tell me whether it is possible for a person who has been excluded or deported to get round the exclusion or deportation in that way. If that is the case, it concerns me greatly and I hope that some means will be found within our law to sort out that apparent anomaly.

The Bill fills gaps that need to be filled. Although it is important to use the existing mechanisms, the Bill is necessary; it is not a piece of legislation that is unnecessary because there are alternative means of dealing with the problem. I hope that I have established that a problem exists and that the existing law cannot deal sufficiently quickly with it. The Bill will do so and I welcome it for that reason.

Mr. Dykes

Presumably my hon. Friend was not suggesting—I am sure that he will correct my wrong impression—that the European convention on human rights would encourage the perpetration of conspiratorial acts in this country. As he is aware, there is a growing body of opinion in this country, covering people of all parties and none, in favour of incorporating the convention into United Kingdom domestic law in whatever appropriate form can be achieved.

Mr. Merchant

In a sense, I was insinuating that the convention could encourage the perpetration of conspiratorial acts, although I accept that that is not the intention of the European Commission of Human Rights—at least I assume it is not. To answer my hon. Friend, I shall quote from the "Inquiry Into Legislation Against Terrorism". Paragraph 12.15 says: In the Commission's view this"— in other words, the certain right to asylum— represents an absolute guarantee of protection which may not be removed even if the alien represents a threat to the host country's national security. That means our national security, let alone that of other countries. The paragraph continues: member states may not derogate from their obligations … If there is evidence that a person is involved in terrorism, the Commission argues, he should be prosecuted under the criminal laws of the host country. In other words, if an asylum seeker comes here, his right as an asylum seeker is absolute and the only way, according to that interpretation, in which action can be taken is via our own laws. That is a powerful reason why the Bill is necessary.

I have so far referred to terrorism, and combating it must be the main purpose of the Bill. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Green way) rightly said, the Bill's scope is wider than that and it can deal with other crime. I have in mind particularly international drugs-related crime, fraud and football hooliganism.

Mr. Kirkhope

My hon. Friend referred, quite rightly, to the protection that might be offered to refugees. I am sure that he is aware of the United Nations declaration that was adopted on 17 December last. It made it clear that those who engaged in terrorist acts, including the planning, funding or inciting of them, were acting contrary to the principles of the United Nations and would, therefore, forgo the protection that would normally be available to those seeking refugee status.

Mr. Merchant

Yes, I was aware of that declaration. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his colleagues for their assiduity in pursuing the issue. It was a British-led initiative that led to the change in the United Nations definition. To what extent that new definition will lie alongside the interpretation of the European Commission of Human Rights remains to be seen. That is one of the reasons why I raised that dichotomy.

As I started to say, many other crimes will be swept into the compass of the Bill, and rightly so. There are crimes that need to be dealt with on an international basis and the Bill will enable us to do our part in that. That is a substantial change in our jurisdiction and makes the Bill far more than just a minor measure.

Last year, I spoke at various stages during the passage of the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996. There were considerable arguments in the House about jurisdiction and to what extent it was fair and right for us to alter our concept of jurisdiction by extending it—as the Bill does. I am glad that so far, that question has not been raised today. It seems that the House has come round to accepting almost universally that there is a need to extend our jurisdiction.

I very much welcome the Bill; it will be a firm drive against terrorism and other international crimes. I wish it a hasty passage to the statute book and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne on promoting it.

11.58 am
Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

I shall start with the point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) concluded, and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on his skill in securing fourth place in the ballot and invite him at a suitable private occasion to explain to me how he did it. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who has now returned to the Chamber, on his perspicacity in drawing up his report on the international treatment of maritime fraud. It is always a pleasure to congratulate a member of the Conservative Whips Office on every possible occasion and I do so, if possible, even more strongly than my colleagues have done.

We have to consider whether the mischief that the Bill seeks to address is sufficient to justify—as the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) pointed out—a restriction on what otherwise might be considered morally acceptable behaviour in certain limited circumstances. We have always to check any proposal for new criminal law against the mischief test and decide whether the mischief is sufficiently serious to justify the inevitable restriction on individual liberties. As is evidenced by my signature on the original Bill, and my presence in the Chamber today. I believe that in this case the mischief is extreme and more than sufficient to justify the proposed restrictions.

I shall not deal with sexual offences, as they have already been addressed separately and exhaustively, but I should like to mention two other matters. The first is organised crime. The hon. Member for Swansea, East and I served—under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who is in his place—on the Home Affairs Committee that conducted an inquiry into organised crime. We were all shaken to have our impression that it was a serious matter not just confirmed but expanded. It is a terribly serious problem to which the law enforcement agencies in countries around the world—both friendly and unfriendly in political terms—have yet to find a solution. Anything that brings us a step closer to a solution must pass the mischief test.

The second issue to which the Bill will most usefully be applied is terrorism, which has been much discussed this morning. It would be naive to ask whether terrorism exists; the real question is whether it is served by activity in Britain that does not fall foul of our criminal law, but would do after the passage of the Bill. Again, the answer is yes, but the matter is worth considering.

Several reports have already been mentioned, and I shall refer to them again. For example, on 25 October 1995, an article in The Times ran: Pamphlets circulating in London mosques are calling for the shooting of Westerners in Algeria, the kidnapping and murder of government officials, the hijacking of planes and the sabotage of peace talks to end the civil war … The pamphlets in Arabic are outspoken in inciting violence and assassination. 'Hold a stone, trigger a bomb, plant a mine, hijack a plane, do not ask how … Do something to prove that on your shoulders there stands a head, not a piece of cheese. The times of kidnapping are not over yet, do something.' One may find the idiomatic English somewhat strange, but the message is appalling in its clarity.

The article continued: For the past two years newspapers have been distributed in mosques and among Britain's Muslim community boasting about the number of Westerners killed and of the ambushes and actions against Algerian military forces… The Algerian Government claims that because Britain's asylum laws do not proscribe political activity as long as it does not break British law"— that goes straight to the point— dissident exiles are flocking to London to take advantage of the good communications and large number of Arab newspapers published here … Britain has become a centre for subversion, and diplomats are urging Britain to prosecute anyone plotting terrorism and assassination. One could not have a clearer exposition of the background to the measure, but I would not wish it to be thought that the problem involved only one country.

I refer to a report in The Guardian—unusual for me—in November 1995, which refers to Egypt. It states: Jihad leaders living in Britain had helped instruct 36 militants who are now under arrest. These suspects allegedly planned suicide attacks on Ministers, politicians, policemen and journalists, and received instruction from other senior figures living in Switzerland and Austria. The article named the two in Britain. One has already been granted political asylum. It continues: These men used codenames, disguises and forged documents to facilitate their life abroad Hon. Members have referred to the problems in Algeria, and attacks planned by people living in Britain, being carried out in France by Algerians directed, encouraged and incited by people living in Britain.

We have heard that, in Hansard on 6 December 1995, at column 252, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), gave a commitment to look into the matter and do something about it. I shall return to that in a moment.

A report in The Sunday Telegraph on 17 March 1996 stated: The Government will come under renewed pressure from Israel this week to act against Islamic fanatics who use Britain as a base to plan and support terrorist attacks. It referred to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the summit of peacemakers in Egypt in which he called on world leaders to crack down on dissidents who 'abuse the hospitality and protection' of their adopted countries. The Sunday Telegraph goes on to comment: The Prime Minister no doubt had in mind Dr. Mohammed al-Masari, the relatively benign"— I emphasise the paper's view of "relatively benign"— Saudi dissident who upset the Riyadh authorities by sending a stream of faxes from London calling for the peaceful overthrow of Saudi Arabia's ruling family. I shall return to that particular gentleman in a moment.

A magazine published in London says: This is your time, the time for heroism and to merit dying a martyr's death, This is the time for holy war and martyrdom. You must take your place of honour in martyrdom and not among the weak regime of Yasser Arafat. Most of us recall Mr. Yasser Arafat as the progenitor—indeed the inventor—of much of what we now consider international terrorism.

In March, The Observer reported that the London-based leader of a group whose name translates as "The Emigrants" told the paper that it was the sacred duty of all Muslims to back the jihad against Israel and other 'occupied territories', such as the Indian state of Kashmir. He said secret organisations to tap funds and recruit fighters for 'international brigades' were already well established in Britain, and one of his party's principal aims was to garner further support. Such articles are simply a cross-section of a vast body of available public reports of the sort of problem that is the main and very proper target of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne touched on the legal problems. He referred to Treacy v. Director of Public Prosecutions and Lord Diplock saying that the basis of the general rule was international comity, which leans against English courts punishing those who did something in another country that has no harmful consequences in England.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne also referred to Board of Trade v. Owen, as have others, where it was thought that Lord Tucker had left a door slightly open. Another test would be that the performance of the conspiracy in the country abroad would produce a public mischief in this country or injure a person here by causing him damage—albeit the damage was abroad. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal slammed that door very firmly shut, leaving us for about 15 years with a significant problem. In exemplary fashion, the Bill seeks to solve that legal difficulty.

The Government approach to the matter has been frustrated by other legal decisions, and by an attitude on the rights of asylum seekers which often runs contrary to the rights of citizens and the right to safety of citizens in other countries around the world. The main principle applied in such cases is whether to extradite or prosecute here. It has normally been accepted that extradition to the country where the offence was carried out, subject to various safeguards, is the first choice.

Difficulties arise when we consider the principles that are applied before extradition is granted. There are many, but I shall refer to the four main ones. First, there is dual criminality, of which we have heard much in this debate: the offence must be an offence in this country and in the country to which the party is to be extradited. Secondly, there is the speciality law: we would extradite only for prosecution for the specific offence on which extradition papers were drawn and on which extradition was granted. Thirdly, there is the sentence test: the offence must attract a sentence of 12 months' imprisonment or more in both this country and the country to which the extradition is taking place. That is a minimal principle that is not included in the Bill.

Fourthly, and the principle that has caused most difficulty, is the political offence exemption. It has become a major problem due to its interpretation, which has held that unlawful killing—indeed, terrorist acts short of that—can be exempt such that the person charged with carrying them out shall not be extradited if they were deemed to be politically motivated. Apparently, that can be so even where the act could, would or has resulted in indiscriminate unlawful killing from, for example, the planting of bombs and other such activities. In my view, that legal interpretation of the political offence exemption is outrageous, wrong and should have been reversed some years ago. It is an instance of the difficulties that Governments of whatever colour have occasionally—sometimes consistently—had with the judges.

Mr. Donald Anderson

I am reminded of the problems in the American courts with the definition of political offence and its application to members of the IRA.

Mr. Butler

As always, the hon. Gentleman's contribution is exactly to the point. Earlier, he set out the moral quandary and suggested that we might consider absorbing it into the criminal law. He asked how we might feel if that moral quandary was imported into the law in other countries which then refused to do anything about murders and killings in Northern Ireland. I invite him to consider the point he has just made in his intervention in connection with his earlier remarks.

There are other legal problems. Unwillingly, but necessarily, I return to the subject of Dr. al-Masari. The attempts to stop his entry into Dominica were an interesting run through the judicial attitude to the Home Secretary's attempts to keep this country and other friendly states safe from terrorism. On the third day of Dr. al-Masari's appeal against deportation, a Mr. John O'Connor, a former Scotland Yard flying squad commander and now a security consultant, gave what is described as evidence. He said that he had visited the island to compile a security assessment and that It was clear to me that fears were running high and there was a very volatile reaction to the notion that Professor Masari, in their words, was being 'dumped in their country' … every single person I spoke to—every taxi driver, every person I spoke to in the bars—was against Professor Masari coming. That was accepted as evidence in the appeal proceedings and was reported in The Independent on 27 February 1996. By that time, The Independent had decided to run a campaign to ensure that Dr. al-Masari could remain in this country and undertake the sort of activities that I hope the Bill will shortly make illegal.

The Independent on Sunday, on 24 March, reported a statement by Mr. Nick Hardwick, the chief executive of the Refugee Council: The UK is anything but a soft touch for asylum seekers … They are welcomed not with a humanitarian response but with suspicion and a presumption of guilt. He did not say that asylum seekers are also welcomed with full rights to social security payments and housing, and often leap over the more legitimate demands of our citizens. Leaving that point aside, he was wrong because statistics show that many people come to this country who are not asylum seekers in the proper meaning of the term. They apply for asylum because our laws have been—and, I regret to say, remain—too lax. Mr. Hardwick was also wrong about the presumption of guilt: suspicion is surely well justified by the minuscule percentage who turn out to be genuine asylum seekers.

The Independent continued its campaign in its report on 6 March 1996 about what it was now calling the "arms for bananas" deal. It reported the adjudication following the so-called evidence of the security consultant who had talked to people in taxis and bars: Judge David Pearl, the chief immigration adjudicator sitting at the Immigration Appellate Authority in north London, accused ministers of an unprecedented attempt 'to circumvent for diplomatic and trade reasons' its obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees. And he questioned whether its actions were 'within the humanitarian spirit with which the convention and asylum legislation should be interpreted'. In my view, expressions such as "humanitarian spirit" should also be applied to innocent civilians in this country and abroad who become the victims of the terrorism incited by people who falsely claim asylum in this country. In case anyone missed that edition, The Independent repeated most of that nonsense on 18 April.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East asked whether support meant incitement—was Dr. al-Masari's conduct support or incitement? It is a narrow line to draw. Many of us know cases, for example under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936, in which it has been held that simply remaining in the area watching amounts to inciting and encouraging a breach of the peace. It is a narrow line, but it is clear that if we go as far as congratulating someone on a murder, we might be deemed to be suggesting that it was a good thing and that the struggle should continue in that way.

In September last year, immigration judges refused to carry out the law when they did not expel people to France and Belgium—people who had landed here as false asylum seekers on some extremely spurious grounds. There has been a legal problem, both in the extent of the law and in its being carried out.

I congratulate the Government on their sensible and consistent approach to the matter. They started publicly in the middle of last year, by seeking a change through the United Nations. The P8—G7 plus Russia, I think—ministerial meeting on terrorism in Paris on 30 July last year came out with the following statement: governments should seek additional means to address the subject of refugees and asylum seekers who plan, fund or commit terrorist acts. In July, The Times was slightly cynical about how long that would take, saying that it could easily become mired in UN committees: it could take years to reach the required consensus. The Times referred to the 1951 United Nations General Assembly as being "more coherent" than it is currently—a comment that I have heard applied to the leaders in that newspaper. In fact, it happened more quickly than The Times gave the Government credit for—it is sometimes a little grudging in its support for the Government. On 18 December, the declaration on terrorism spelt it out unequivocally that acts of terrorism and the financing, planning and incitement of those acts are contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. That means that, when considering whether asylum has to be granted, in accordance with UN rulings and guidance, we are now able to say no—I hope we will say it clearly in future—on the ground that people are coming here with the intention of continuing to plot, inspire or incite terrorism. We can now clearly say that that is outwith the UN requirements on refugee status.

I wished to say many other things on this matter, but the debate has gone on for a considerable time. I wanted to refer in more detail to the steering committee report. One aspect has not been raised—the criteria to be applied in deciding whether to extend jurisdiction extra-territorially. Paragraph 2.21 of the report states: it is suggested that consideration should be given to taking extra-territorial jurisdiction"— which is what we are doing today— only where at least one of the following tests was satisfied". The first condition is where the offence is serious (this might be defined, in respect of existing offences, by reference to the length of sentence". The second is where, by virtue of the nature of the offence, the witnesses and evidence necessary for the prosecution are likely to be available in UK territory, even though the offence was committed outside the jurisdiction". The third is where there is international consensus that certain conduct is reprehensible and that concerted action is needed involving the taking of extra-territorial jurisdiction". The fourth is where the vulnerability of the victim makes it particularly important to be able to tackle instances of the offence". The fifth is where it appears to be in the interests of the standing and reputation of the UK in the international community". The final condition is where there is a danger that offences would otherwise not be justiciable". The Bill meets at least three, if not four, of those six criteria, and that makes it an excellent answer to my opening question about whether it is justified by the mischief with which it seeks to deal.

I have concerns about one detail of the Bill, but as we are not in Committee I shall not go through it line by line. New section 1A(3) provides: The second condition is that that act or other event constitutes an offence under the law in force in that country or territory. It seems to me that in every instance it should be for the prosecution to establish that it is indeed an offence in the other country, so the dual criminality test is applied, but under subsection (8) of that new section, the second condition is taken to be satisfied unless the defence raises the point.

The problem is that when the defence raises the point, it must give its reason for doubting, but the enormous disparity of resources available to prosecution and defence, which is always the case in this country and elsewhere, suggests that it should be for the prosecution to prove, as it would if it were seeking extradition, that the offence is an offence in both jurisdictions.

With that sole reservation, which I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne will take into account, I again congratulate him on introducing the Bill. It is one of those measures that, when one sees it, one wonders why it was not done years ago, and that is as good a test as any for giving it support.

12.20 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

This has been a busy law and order week, and this is the fifth time that I have burdened the House with my thoughts; for that, I humbly apologise. Hon. Members might be relieved to recall their lucky escape, in that we did not reach my Question 5 to the Prime Minister on Thursday, because of PET—pre-election tension.

Now that the week is coming to an end, perhaps I might be permitted to say that international crime exists on such an enormous scale that it justifies this extension of our jurisdiction beyond its traditional boundaries. Without such an extension, the evil of international terrorism and large-scale international serious crime will not be sufficiently countered.

That is why we have already extended our jurisdiction over sex tourism and the organised destruction of children's lives, with the Sex Offenders Bill on Monday, and why my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) has introduced this very important Bill, following the review of extra-territorial jurisdiction by the Government in July last year. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his good fortune and on choosing this Bill among a number of others that were available, and the Government on backing it to the hilt. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to be one of its sponsors.

The terrifying extension of international crime also explains why we are giving new and statutory powers to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, NCIS, which we set up and which has achieved notable successes; why we have given statutory position to a national crime squad; why we are doing what we can to strengthen Europol, Interpol and all the other international crime-busting organisations that can help to counter terrorism, drug trafficking, European Community fraud, international economic crime, sex tourism, football hooliganism, illegal immigration, currency counterfeiting and trade in nuclear materials, all of which are features of modern international crime; and why the United Kingdom has taken the lead in the councils of the world—a lead that I can assure the House is welcomed by our European, Commonwealth and international partners.

Those matters were addressed by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) has referred. We began our inquiry in 1993 and reported in 1995. Our report "Organised Crime" received a positive response from the Government early in January 1996. Terrorism apart, the view which was widely expressed to us was that organised crime was on the increase across Europe and that while there might have been some successes against the Mafia in Italy, plenty of other areas of organised crime were expanding. Particular mention was made of the effect of the fall of the iron curtain and the break-up of the Soviet Union. One senior Italian official spoke of the former Soviet Union as a breeding ground and a highway for organised crime. We await with interest the reports which in due course we will no doubt receive from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who visited Russia in the past week.

In our report we were fortunately able to conclude that the level of organised crime in the United Kingdom might be slightly less than elsewhere and, in particular, that there is no evidence of penetration by criminal organisations of Government itself, but our conclusion was that organised crime was nevertheless substantial and probably growing. So we said at the end of our report that the growing activity of organised crime called for an active response by all sectors of Government and law enforcement agencies if it was to be kept at bay. We said that the situation was not yet so serious in this country that essential elements of the criminal justice system needed to be overturned, but that if it should become apparent that serious and organised crime continued to grow and to threaten the fabric of British society, additional measures such as we proposed in the report might no longer be sufficient and that in such circumstances, Parliament would have to introduce stronger measures. In a sense, the extra-territorial legislation in the Bill is a response to the guide which the Select Committee gave last year.

The time has come for us to take the action in the Bill—so much so that, except in one regard, it is difficult to see what objections there could be to the Bill. No one can be charged unless the substantive crime alleged is also a crime in Britain. So we do not by this measure extend the limits of what we in this country accept as criminal behaviour. No one wants Britain to be used as a base for the commission of crimes in other states or for giving hospitality to asylum seekers or anyone else who abuses that hospitality. The Bill will deter such activity.

But the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) did raise an interesting issue. He was unhappy about terrorism, which he said could cover freedom fighters such as President Nelson Mandela. I do not have the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. People of all parties in Britain are against the use of violence for political ends in any situation other than when war has been declared. There may have been people here who were sympathetic to the use of violence to challenge apartheid. There may have been people who would not have expected prosecution for sending letters of support, but none of that would have been a crime under the Bill, which requires positive acts of incitement to the commission of a crime or conspiracy, which also means more than sympathy.

We have to draw a line beyond which in a civilised society it is simply not permitted to go and the Bill draws that line. It is difficult to think of any crime other than terrorism to which the hon. Gentleman's objection could apply. It could hardly apply to sex tourism, drug trafficking, international fraud or most of the other crimes that I have mentioned, none of which would be likely to invoke such an acute question of public policy.

But I must be frank and say that it is conceivable that there may be those who, for example, export weapons or help to arrange supplies for those who oppose the Governments of vile regimes abroad. Those supplies and weapons could be used in a way that could, arguably, be defined as terrorism or acts in a conspiracy. As has already been pointed out, we have international obligations to maintain human rights and to set ourselves against inhumane regimes, so there could be a problem of deciding where the boundary lies, where it should be drawn and how far we may take action to back our words and thoughts. That could be a political matter.

In such circumstances, where there could be a public interest conflict of whether or not to prosecute, we have a means of dealing with it within our system by requiring the approval before the prosecution is launched of the Attorney-General, who is a political as well as a legal figure and who can be held to account in this House. That is a very important matter.

Mr. Michael

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way, because he has come to the kernel of getting the balance right. Unless I have misread the Bill, the protection to which he refers is not in the Bill and would not necessarily apply to the powers provided by the Bill.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I knew exactly why the hon. Gentleman wished to intervene, but I let him do so out of courtesy. My next sentence was to have been and is that, as the Bill passes though its stages in Parliament, perhaps some thought might usefully be given to requiring the approval of the Attorney-General before any prosecution is brought under this legislation. Speaking personally, I am less than sympathetic to the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East, but I have to concede that there is an arguable matter. Both it and my proposal might usefully be considered further by those who are older and wiser than me as the Bill progresses.

Mr. Donald Anderson

I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledges the problem and that he has tried honestly to put forward a solution in the form of the additional hurdle of the Attorney-General's agreement. The problem with that is this: as we know, the Attorney-General has a quasi-independent position vis-a-vis the Government and that degree of independence would not be perceived by other jurisdictions. The effect would be that someone perceived as being a member of our Government would be giving a judgment on the nature of a Government overseas. In the case of some tyrannical regimes, we would be happy about that; but there are other regimes in the middle. However, it may be that, in response to this problem, either the Attorney-General or some other means, such as a code of conduct, might be found to at least seek to protect those whom the hon. and learned Gentleman and I probably agree should be protected from the excessive ambit of this Bill.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

That was too complicated for me to follow precisely. I do not think that there is a problem. If there is a matter of public policy, the Cabinet would consider the matter and then, no doubt, the Attorney-General's mind could be brought to bear. He would decide whether a prosecution was appropriate and would be prepared to defend that decision in this House, which is the strength of that system.

Mr. Kirkhope

I am listening carefully to my hon. and learned Friend. He is making an important point, but I should mention that, as things currently stand, the consent of the Attorney-General is provided for in statute only in extremely limited circumstances—mostly having to do with offences under the Official Secrets Act. The problem is that introducing a consent provision for the Attorney-General in this legislation, where prosecution could be in regard to any sort of criminal offence, would be a difficult move.

As I said to the hon. Member for Swansea, East, (Mr. Anderson) the Government believe that terrorist acts are unacceptable in all circumstances, so it would be difficult for a situation to arise where the Attorney-General—or, in view of our discussion just now, anyone else—could decide that specific circumstances made prosecution inappropriate.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but the Attorney-General could always decide these difficult issues. He is often presented with a question of public policy. The law may be clear, but the next question is, does public policy require that the processes of the law be instigated?

Difficulty is not a reason not to proceed. There are always difficulties, and in any case where there are particular difficulties, where the Attorney-General has power he must resolve those difficulties. The existence of a difficulty is not a reason not to do something which requires a final arbiter as to the public policy of instigating prosecution.

I return to the example that sprang to mind. There was some activity in this country to help the rebels against the regime in Afghanistan. There are probably countless other examples of situations where human rights infringements in other countries so obviously call for international action that we might be provoked into doing things that are only arguably criminal. In those circumstances, mentioned by the hon. Member for Swansea, East, a question of public policy might arise; and traditionally, in our system, the arbiter of public policy in matters of prosecution has been the Attorney-General.

As I have said, I do not go as far as the hon. Member for Swansea, East and do not share his views on terrorism, but I realise that on law and order I am a hard right winger and that there are other views. As the Bill passes through Parliament those other views should be aired by those who are older, wiser and perhaps more liberal in their attitudes to such things than I am.

Mr. Butler

If my hon. and learned Friend is a hard right winger, I am a centre main fuselage in this matter.

I privately asked my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) why the issue of the Attorney-General's consent was not mentioned in the Bill. One can envisage the type of prosecution in which the Attorney-General's early involvement might prevent appalling mistakes and prevent obviously inappropriate cases being brought to court. I support the suggestion regarding the Attorney-General's involvement. There are far more people in the House older and wiser than me than there are people older and wiser than my hon. and learned Friend.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I shall not take the matter further lest any enthusiasm that I might show tempts those above me to appoint me to the Standing Committee. I shall be happy to readdress the matter, when I have read what everyone says, on Report or when the Bill returns from the other place, which, as we all know, is the repository of much wisdom.

The Government would be remiss if they did not take every step to counter and reduce internationally operating organised crime; that alone justifies the Bill. If there should be the slightest doubt about the burden that the Bill places upon us, a moment's thought would resolve it: for the Bill's primary effect would be, not to provoke a flurry of prosecutions, but to cut off an avenue of international criminal activity by deterring such activity. The Bill accordingly has my wholehearted support.

12.39 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on introducing the Bill. Ian Gow was not only a colleague of mine, he was a close friend. The Bill is a fitting memorial to him. I remember having dinner with him just a few days before he was assassinated. It was an appalling moment when we heard of his death. I am delighted that his successor has introduced this Bill, to which he spoke so ably.

There are two aspects to my speech, which I hope will not take too long. First, we could argue that the Bill is exceptionally wide, giving extra-territorial jurisdiction on virtually any criminal act anywhere in the world. The remarks by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) are pertinent to that. I intend to raise some concerns with my hon. Friend the Minister, which I am sure he will address.

Secondly, the Bill is about the fight against international terrorism. We all support that fight. I want to explore that theme for a few moments. This country has a justifiable reputation for sheltering people who suffer from autocratic and repressive regimes. Centuries ago, we sheltered the French Huguenots. We sheltered refugees from Nazi Germany. During recent years, we even sheltered refugees from the former South African Government.

Being a country whose citizens have an instinct for free speech, it has always been the case that some of those who come here hold very strong views and continue to oppose the regime from which they fled. However, the trouble is that there is a very narrow line between opinion and incitement. For example, the giving of a person's honest opinion, which will reach an audience in a foreign country—although there may be difficulties in that—may, as a consequence, cause some form of political activity there. That political activity may start as a peaceful expression of views, but may then lead to street demonstrations, which become violent and get out of hand, which then leads to the violent overthrow of an autocratic regime that does not allow any normal expression of political oppression. There could be that sort of activity in this country.

There is another form of activity, which is the direct conspiracy or incitement that leads to terrorism or revolution in another country. We could all unite behind the proposition that we should not harbour that sort of terrorist. However, it is a narrow and difficult line, and we are now proposing to give the courts the difficult job of interpreting that. It is made all the more difficult because political traditions in other countries are so very different from those in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne will say that the Bill would ban only conspiracy or incitement leading to terrorism. However, we are, in a Second Reading debate, entitled to ask how the courts will deal with the reality. The line is narrow. One man's free speech is seen by another man as fermenting terrorism. In considering the proposals and striking at terrorism, we must all bear it in mind that the Bill should not be able to be used as a vehicle by a foreign country that does not like the views being expressed in Britain. We cannot allow our tradition of free speech to be subverted by commercial considerations.

Let us consider for a moment the case of Saudi Arabia. It is a vital trading partner for Britain. It is a friendly power in an unfriendly area of the world. However, Saudi Arabia is also an autocratic regime which cracks down on any form of dissent. The case of Dr. al-Masari is instructive. No one would support Dr. al-Masari if he were inciting terrorism in Saudi Arabia. He would, presumably, deny that. We must support him if he is merely an inconvenience to our relationship with a foreign power. Therein lies our tradition of free speech.

Terrorism has no ready or easy definition. We may instinctively spot it, but we cannot define it. As an editorial in The Times put it on 12 July 1996, terrorism can no more be defined than a terrier can define a rat, but it is instinctively known and detested by all democracies. The editorial concluded by saying that there can be no shelter for advocates of terrorism either within Britain or overseas. So say all of us to those sentiments expressed by The Times.

The target of the Bill must be that ill-defined but easily recognisable creature—terrorism—and not legitimate free speech. Terrorism is a scourge and a modern-day evil. Many people believe that their politics are right and that those of their opponents are wrong. In the House that is known as democracy. There are others who are so arrogant about being right that they believe that any action, however dreadful, is justifiable to bring about what they seek. As night follows day, such people see violence for political ends as right. Perhaps their consciences sometimes prick them, but they often dress up their activities in quasi-military-speak or, even worse, in religious terms, as martyrdom for the cause.

All sensible people and all responsible Governments know that the modern scourge of terrorism must be put to an end. The basic duty of a Government is to defend citizens, whether from a mugger or from a terrorist. Terrorists must be left in no doubt that wherever they hide, whether they are plotting another outrage against the innocent or lying low after some act of carnage, they will be sought out and brought to justice.

In that battle, we all welcome the United Nations' adoption of the United Kingdom's initiative to stop terrorists finding refuge in member countries. The UN declaration on terrorism spells it out unequivocally that acts of terrorism, the financing and planning of such acts and incitement to commit them are contrary to the purposes and principles of the UN. That means that the UN convention on refugees will not apply to those involved in terrorism. That is but one step forward in the fight against terrorism. We need further responses to those concerns.

From newspaper cuttings that I have received from the Library, it is clear that France, India, Egypt, Algeria and Israel have in recent years laid charges at our door. Last year, as we have heard, the Government were embarrassed by the call by Saudi exiles for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.

France and Algeria have complained that extremist Muslims who seek the overthrow of the Algerian Government and who bomb and kill in France have refuges in London. Similar complaints have been made by Egypt and Israel in relation to Hamas supporters, and by the Indian authorities about Sikh extremists.

Both for the international standing of Britain and in the fight against terrorism, action must be taken in this country to deal with such people. We support that, but in considering the Bill I am left wondering—perhaps the Committee can deal with the point—what difference the Bill will make. Will it achieve the laudable ends on which we are all agreed?

It is already an offence under the prevention of terrorism Act to solicit funds for terrorist activities outside this country, but proving that is another matter. It is difficult to prove in a court of law not only that there is a direct link between the money raised and terrorist activities, but that those raising the money were aware of the use to which it would be put.

The Bill would touch not on that specific succour for terrorism, but on such matters as inciting terrorism, equipping terrorists and planning terrorist acts. That still leaves an evidential problem.

To bring about a successful prosecution under the Bill, it will have to be shown that an offence has been committed in this country and under the law of the country to which it relates. We will need to collect evidence and information from the UK and from abroad. I do not want to be unduly negative towards my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne, but obtaining sufficient evidence to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt could prove extremely difficult.

Added to that is the fact that there are wide variations in law between different states. We cannot ignore the considerable practical difficulties involved in bringing a prosecution under the Bill. British police have no authority to gather evidence abroad. Witnesses in criminal trials are required to give oral evidence in order to facilitate the defence in conducting cross-examinations, but there are no powers to compel witnesses from abroad to attend court in this country. How distant may a conspiracy be in space or time from the final act? Juries might well take a jaundiced view of a case where the final act of terrorism is very distant from the initial conspiracy in this country.

That does not take account of possible defences—for example, the assertion that a defendant's actions were taken in defence of fellow citizens who were suffering under a brutal dictator. What about the Nelson Mandela defence that the hon. Member for Swansea, East described so ably? My hon. Friend the Minister was very firm with the hon. Gentleman. He said that the Government cannot give succour to anyone, even if a person is only blowing up telegraph poles. However, it may not be as simple as that. Nelson Mandela may have incited people to acts that would constitute a grey area in terms of criminal activity in both this country and the then South Africa.

I have sought to outline what I perceive to be very real difficulties with the legislation. The size of the problems prompts one to ask whether any successful prosecutions are likely to be brought by virtue of the Bill.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The war crimes legislation.

Mr. Leigh

That is my next point. We face similar questions regarding the War Crimes Act 1991, which gave British courts jurisdiction to try people for certain crimes committed abroad before they were citizens of the United Kingdom. In all honesty, it cannot be said that there have been any notable or successful prosecutions under the Act. We all know about the dramatic collapse of the recent—and the only—case brought under the Act. The Government were warned again and again during the Bill's passage through this and the other place. However, for laudable reasons—including the appalling nature of the crimes committed long ago—they felt compelled to act. I understand that, but the fact remains that no successful prosecutions have been brought under the Act—despite a considerable outlay of public funds. We do not want my hon. Friend's Bill to go the same way.

Even if a conviction were gained under the Bill, it would be as a consequence of a public trial. Such a trial would doubtless be lengthy and involve a huge amount of publicity, and would serve as a totally protected public platform for putting across the defendant's beliefs. Assuming successful convictions were obtained—which I think would be difficult in any event; it might be worse if people were found innocent following a long, public trial during which they had used our courts as a vehicle for their political views—British embassies around the world might be picketed, if not attacked, by supporters of those who were convicted. They would claim that innocent men—not paedophiles or criminals—had been incarcerated in British prisons and that their only crime was a desire to publicise injustice.

In that sense, the Bill is very different from the legislation regarding paedophiles that was introduced last year. Paedophiles have no sympathy from any quarter in any civilised country. Those who oppose the Algerian Government—for better or for worse—have enormous support in Algeria and throughout the Arab world. We do not sympathise with them—they are appalling, violent people—but they claim that their democratic rights have been overthrown. They say that they won the election and the results were overturned—I think that I have made my point.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address some justified questions when he replies to the debate. Where did the Bill come from? Who asked for it? Is it a viable measure or is it a sop to friendly countries to stop them complaining? Will there be prosecutions under the Bill? How will the difficulties of bringing prosecutions be overcome? Does he have particular people or groups in mind for prosecution, and are they, at this moment, conspiring to commit terrorism in this country? There is evidence that they are so conspiring and that there are not the required powers under existing common law or legislation to deal with such groups.

What other options were considered? Why were other options discounted? In countries such as France and Germany, organisations with suspected links are proscribed. Equally, foreigners seeking residence in those countries are banned from taking part in political activities. Were these measures considered? After all, they would be effective. There would be no evidential problems and there would not be the consequence of giving people publicity in courts.

Do we want to go down the German route? Germany's historic record on civic rights has not been unblemished. There is concern about German persecution of scientologists merely for their views. I am not sure that proscription and the banning of organisations because their views are found dangerous are within our historic traditions. I am not arguing, therefore, that the proscription and banning route is the right one. The Minister should deal with the point when he replies.

Was consideration given to amending the Suppression of Terrorism Act 1978? Under that Act, offences are triable in the United Kingdom if they have been committed in a designated country. It is possible, therefore, to prosecute someone in a UK court who commits a terrorist offence in another country, provided that that country has been so designated. Currently the designated countries are European, together with India and the United States. Would it be simpler—I put the question to the Minister—to add conspiracy and incitement to the 1978 Act and to extend the designated list rather than to enact the Bill? Or would we be faced with the same evidential and procedural problems?

In conclusion, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne. We all want to unite behind the prospect of defeating terrorism. At the same time, there have been too many instances in recent years when we have united behind a laudable aim, but in enacting legislation have placed too great a burden on the courts, which is not consistent with their traditions. As a result, our law has been brought into disrepute. The purpose behind the Bill is to deal with a real problem. We must ask some searching questions of my hon. Friend the Minister and he must assure us that the Bill is the right route.

12.56 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

I do not wish to detain the House long because there has been an extensive and most interesting debate. The contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) was no exception. He dissected many of the legal uncertainties that we may be opening up for ourselves.

The sad background to the Bill is one that did not exist 50 years ago, in the sense that international terrorism has become a new industry. The transportability of individuals and their heinous acts is something with which the law must be able to contend. I remember the shock that we all felt when the Israeli Olympic team was murdered in the early 1970s. The Palestine Liberation Organisation developed the technique of hijacking international airliners. Those events made us realise that we were moving into a new era of transportable, mobile terrorism, which has since been extended to such matters as football hooliganism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) referred to it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing a Bill that reflects a laudable aim. But let us be honest. The Bill is before the House because we have found the legal situation surrounding who may come to our country and stay in it increasingly confused, and increasingly complicated by perhaps over-sensitive views on human rights.

I want to place on record an important precept that we should hang on to as we discuss this matter. It must be within the powers of the Government of any sovereign state to decide who its citizens are—in our case, Her Majesty's subjects—who is accorded full political rights, who may not enter that sovereign state and who may enter on conditions but, on breach of those conditions, may be required to leave. It is surely a mark of a sovereign state that it is able to define its borders, its citizens, who has rights under its jurisdiction and who has fewer rights.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Like many other sovereign states, this country has signed a number of international obligations that limit our national sovereignty.

Mr. Jenkin

That is an important point, but I do not think that, when sovereign states entered into those obligations, they expected jurisprudential interpretation to be manipulated in the way that it has been. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister complained that we had to reimburse the IRA's legal costs after the "Death on the Rock" trial. Even the hon. Gentleman may agree that some of the obligations that we freely entered into have been given a rattier too liberal interpretation. Those obligations must be able to be second-guessed by the sovereign authorities within the sovereign nations. If Parliament wants to renegotiate those obligations, it is its sovereign right to choose to do so.

We are dealing with the phenomenon of international terrorism, which knows no national boundaries. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) may say that problems that do not recognise national boundaries must be dealt with by legal regimes that transcend national boundaries. The important point about the Bill is that—as with the Sex Offenders Bill—it deals with international offences on a sovereign-state-by-sovereign-state basis, using their national laws.

There are limitations to that proposition. Civilised nations, such as the member countries of the European Union, the United States of America and the established and most of the new democracies, tend to apply those provisions where practicable. However, many nations, such as Libya, which is well known for sponsoring terrorism around the world, have no intention of applying such sanctions. Even if we were able to impose international sanctions on Libya under international law—that is probably possible—unless we are prepared to use force to enforce them, international law has no meaning for an uncivilised dictatorship.

My hon. Friend the Minister dealt robustly with the important point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East about the Mandela defence. I listened carefully to the exchanges and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, I think that the hon. Gentleman has a point. A decision about the quality of an individual's actions is a subjective judgment: I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that. Whether that judgment can be left to the courts or whether it is an overtly political judgment that can be dealt with only by political authorities—ultimately Ministers—is the question at the heart of the controversy.

My contention is simple. If anyone here is launching offensive operations against another sovereign state, that sovereign state can legitimately say to us, "If you are not stopping it, you must be in favour of it." We may have felt the same on occasions. To allow that issue to become blurred by the courts and all the considerations that they might bring in, including our international obligations, would be a mistake.

I like the Bill's simplicity and universality. I seek one assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister. If it is a matter of Government policy to have a different attitude towards a particular individual and his activities with regard to another sovereign state, there should be some opportunity for Ministers to stay a prosecution. In a situation such as the one described by the hon. Member for Swansea, East, that would be important. I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister's reply.

1.6 pm

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) on his success in promoting the Bill. It is understandable that he seeks to tackle violence and terrorism in view of the assassination of his predecessor, Ian Gow, and I join others in congratulating him on his choice of topic. That assassination reminds us that we are dealing with life and death as well as life and liberty when we legislate; both, of course, are important.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) was right to say that the best effect of the Bill will be deterrence; that, rather than the number of prosecutions, will be the real test of its success. He and, particularly, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) have reminded us that we need to take care that powers given by the House are not open to misuse. My hon. Friend suggested that the oversight of the Attorney-General might be written into the Bill. Certainly, we need clarity of purpose on the use of the wide powers that will be given by the Bill.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said that the powers given were exceptionally wide. Indeed, they are not limited to violent crime, never mind terrorism. We need, therefore, to balance the breadth of the powers to prosecute which, I am sure from the Minister's interventions, is his intention. We need to clarify that point; that will be the Committee's duty during its scrutiny of the Bill. I hope that it will be possible for us to unite in ensuring that we get the balance right. After all, even the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) acknowledged the importance of ensuring that there are appropriate restraints.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne rightly emphasised the pursuit of those who become involved in terrorism, violence and other serious anti-social activities such as hooliganism. That is why we support the powers in the Bill.

Two other issues have led the House to give fresh consideration to extending the jurisdiction of our courts to some acts committed abroad. One is war crimes, which have been mentioned this morning. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle expressed concern about the difficulty of obtaining convictions after so many years. I have three illustrations of how important it is not to close the door and how right the House was to legislate as it did. The first involves recent events in Bosnia and many other countries, which have shocked people in Britain and made us realise that atrocities are not a thing of the past, but still happen today.

The second is a matter that has been in the news this week—holocaust denial. Some have tried to say that the deaths of millions of Jews in the second world war never took place. That brings home to us the need to remember the past, which is in the lifetime of some of us in the Chamber—albeit only just—and to ensure that the horrors of what happened in Europe during that period are not forgotten.

The third relates to events in Somalia before the war became a matter of public discussion and even before there was a war. I became aware of it because I worked in a community with a large Somali population. It appeared that there was a hidden war involving violence and brutality towards men, women and children in the former British Somalia under President Siad Barré.

Many British citizens who had fought in the war, serving in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, were agonised by the deaths of members of their families and tribes, yet the international community and the British Government at the time failed them by not preventing the continuation of those tragedies. The hidden war in the north then spread into Mogadishu and into the range of the camera lenses and the whole country collapsed. That drew a veil over the terrors being perpetrated by the Somali Government against people in the north, who were closely associated with so many British citizens.

Many people in Britain were communicating with members of their families who were fighting with the Somali National Movement during that hidden conflict. Should we describe them as terrorists? I am sure that the Government do not intend to catch people who are in domestic contact with their families.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the powers in the Bill will be used with the discretion that hon. Members on both sides of the House seek. It is easily said, but more difficult to achieve, but the Bill must hit the right target without having unintended consequences. There must also be international mechanisms to deal with the problems of human rights abuse in many countries.

It is important that the powers in the Bill are used vigorously, but with discretion. They should be used vigorously against those who are evil and plan violence and terrorism, but with discretion to avoid hounding those who do not support or plan violence, but who communicate with people who may be involved in a struggle against an oppressive or even violent regime. For example, Steve Biko was beaten to death as an opponent of the South African regime and many considered him to be a terrorist. In the past few days, however, those who brought about his death admitted that they had been wrong and that he had not been a terrorist but had sought democracy in his country.

Those important considerations should not distract us from the priorities that the hon. Member for Eastbourne set out at the start of the debate. The Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill provides a general extension rather than addressing specific offences. I understand that it will make prosecution easier and it will make it more difficult to stop prosecutions on technicalities, but that makes it all the more important to make sure that we get the balance right. The Minister's response here and in Committee will be important because of those crucial issues. Had this private Member's Bill been a Government Bill, much more context would have been provided—perhaps through the White Paper procedure, which seems to have gone by the board a little lately—to allow fuller debate before the House considered the Bill.

As it is, I am pleased with the way in which the Minister has tried to answer some of the questions that have been raised. However, he has a heavy obligation to satisfy us with the sort of information that should be provided for a private Member's Bill that should have been a Government Bill—I am sure that the hon. Member for Eastbourne will understand. That does not take away credit from him for introducing it. It makes it clear that the onus is on the Government to put everything in place, to ensure that the legislation is effective and hits the right target.

The principle behind the Bill is not controversial, but as so often happens, the devil is in the detail. The Opposition said last year that they were prepared to go down the road of extra-territoriality in specific cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East mentioned last year's debates on the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, which sought to constrain sex tourism, and on which the Government were not willing to go as far as we sought.

I am very pleased that such measures are consolidated not only in the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill but in the Sex Offenders Bill, which the Minister and myself will be discussing in Committee next week. There is clearly a will across the Floor of the House to deal with child abuse and other sexual offences committed in this country and abroad. The need to extend jurisdiction in that way is respected.

I note that the hon. Member for Eastbourne quoted Lord Lloyd's report, which said: in this century crime has ceased to be largely local in origin and effect. Crime is now established on an international scale, and the common law must face this new reality. I had hoped that we would be able to balance that comment slightly. There is an element of truth in it, in that there is much greater and faster communication, but most crime is still local in nature. Crimes such as drug trafficking reach the most local level in our communities.

I do not want to speak at length because my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) wants to move the Second Reading of her very important Bill in an attempt to protect witnesses and victims of crime. Victims are, of course, often witnesses and sometimes witnesses become victims as a result of not being protected. We should therefore remember the balance between international and local dimensions. The Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill seeks to tackle the international dimension, but ordinary people who are the victims of violent crime—or the long-term consequences of events at an international level—in their own area also require protection.

In his report, Lord Lloyd said: it would not be a great step to provide by legislation that a conspiracy here to commit a crime abroad should also be triable here, at any rate in the field of terrorism". I agree with his words. It is because the Bill is not limited to terrorism or violence that we need to listen carefully to what the Minister says about the context and the methods by which the measures in the Bill will be used or not used.

The notes on clauses are less than illuminating, which is rather a recent trend. They say nothing of the Government's intention nor of the context in which the legislation will apply. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity today and in Committee to put that right and respond to some of the points that have been made. There are clear intentions in the Home Office's statements on terrorism and in relation to the United Nations agreement and that between Britain and France on territory, which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East mentioned, but they are not in the wording of the Bill. The context needs to be spelt out.

We certainly agree that the fight against organised crime and international terrorism is the primary target, but there are other offences that the Bill could cover. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East that the Sex Offenders Bill is less ambitious than this Bill in dealing with extra-territoriality. I hope that the Minister will respond favourably to amendments to the Sex Offenders Bill, because it has similarities to the Bill that we are discussing today.

It would be helpful if the Minister could say which offences—other than those of terrorism, violence, hooliganism, sex tourism and child abuse—the Government intend to pursue. I am sure that the Government have considered the matter and I hope that the Minister can clarify which offences will be considered borderline and which will not be pursued. Perhaps he can give an outline answer today and go into more detail in Committee.

We support the Bill, although I hope that the Government will set limits for it in the way that I suggested. Rights and responsibilities have to be balanced. The Bill provides wide discretion, which must be balanced by reasonable limits that are achieved through administrative mechanisms, if not actually set out in the Bill. That point was well made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The advent of satellite technology and the Internet have made even fast travel by Concorde seem a painfully slow form of communication. They make Lenin's transcontinental travel to join the revolution in Russia appear positively mediaeval. New solutions are needed for old problems. The speed and mobility of terrorism in our times make the Bill essential. That is why we shall support it, although we look forward to a response from Minister about the necessary conditions on the use of the powers granted.

1.21 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

We have had an excellent debate on an important Bill. The speeches of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have been models of eloquence. The Government are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) for introducing the Bill, which will provide the courts, in each of the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom, with jurisdiction over acts of conspiracy or incitement committed in this country which relate to any substantive criminal act intended to be carried out abroad. The Government fully support the Bill.

I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) that we intend to ensure that the provisions in the Bill, if approved by the House, will come into effect at the same time. Clause 5 may cause technical problems, but the delays would be only a matter of days. We envisage that the time of commencement will be largely consistent.

The Government are deeply concerned that some people in this country are instrumental in the commission of offences abroad. Foreign Governments may justifiably be surprised that people who have conspired to commit, or incited others to commit, offences in their countries can escape prosecution simply because their actions took place in the United Kingdom where no sanction currently exists to deal with them. There is no reason to suggest that such behaviour is widespread, but when it does occur it is right that we should try to curb it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) challenged me to give a reason for our support for the Bill. I say simply that the Bill rightly tries to prevent people from conspiring to commit criminal offences overseas knowing that they are immune from prosecution for that conspiracy. It is wrong that such a situation should be allowed to continue. I will tell the House about the offences that are already covered by legislation, but the coverage is at best patchy and at worst is almost an encouragement to those who think they can use our country as a haven while they engage in conspiracy or incitement. We must attempt to stop that.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne explained, United Kingdom law already provides that it is an offence to conspire, or to incite others, to commit any offence when the commission of that offence occurs, or would have occurred, in this country. If a group of people are involved in a conspiracy to commit a serious offence, or a person here incites another to commit an offence, the fact that the offence in question was to be carried out abroad rather than in the United Kingdom should not prevent our police and criminal courts from dealing with he perpetrators.

As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said, the development of modern travel and communication has brought with it tremendous benefits—benefits that are enjoyed by everyone, including, unfortunately, the criminal element in society. In recent years, there has been a growth in cross-border crime and it is vital that our law keeps pace with the new and ingenious ways in which modern technology is utilised by the criminal.

When introducing legislation aimed at combating international crime, we should be careful to ensure that the UK does not simply export its laws to other countries. Foreign Governments are responsible for determining what actions should be prohibited within their territories and how such behaviour should be dealt with under their laws. It is important to strike the right balance between dealing effectively with cross-border crime and avoiding impinging on other countries' laws. The Government believe that the Bill achieves that aim. It will enhance the ability of our courts to deal with crimes with a foreign element, while taking account of the law in the countries where the intended offence is to be committed. I am referring to the inclusion in the Bill of the requirement for dual criminality, the importance of which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne made clear.

The UK should deal with those who commit offences within our territory. That is the principle on which the jurisdiction of our courts is based. The interdepartmental review of extra-territorial jurisdiction, which reported last July and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne referred, confirmed that that approach continues to be right for the United Kingdom. The proposals in the Bill are in no way inconsistent with that principle. After all, it attempts to deal with actions that take place in this country, even though the completed offence—if it is completed—would be committed outside our normal jurisdiction.

The implications of extending the scope to all offences were fully investigated by the review of extra-territorial jurisdiction, which considered whether it would be better to confine any extension of jurisdiction over conspiracy and incitement to those areas that have given rise to concern, as we have done with child sex offences. The review concluded, however, that the selective approach may not work in all instances, since it would be difficult to identify all the substantive offences that may need to be covered to deal with a problem. The review also concluded that extension to all offences was the simplest and most effective approach.

It is worth saying a few words about the background that gave rise to the review of extra-territorial jurisdiction. Generally, criminal jurisdiction in the UK is territorially based. That means that conduct that would constitute an offence must have some connection with United Kingdom territory. Offences committed abroad by British nationals, unless they fall within a particular statutory provision, cannot normally be prosecuted in the UK.

The reasons for the primacy of the territorial principle are clear and twofold. In the first place, the criminal law of this country sets out what we as a nation believe about the sort of society in which we want to live. The law defines the conduct that is or is not acceptable: it defines the parameters and establishes the standard. We, and we alone, can say what actions should be proscribed by the criminal law. No one can do that for us and nor, in the generality of cases, should we attempt to do it for anyone else.

The second reason is equally strong. Under our system of justice, criminal trials depend to a major degree on the ability of the court to hear and assess evidence and to test out the truth of allegations by the cross-examination of witnesses. The best place for that to happen is clearly in the country where the crime occurred. The territorial basis of the criminal law has been, and in our view always should be, paramount.

Nevertheless, that principle has had to be modified in recent years. The report of the review of extra-territorial jurisdiction contains an important and fascinating account of the many and diverse ways in which, for very good reasons, the territoriality principle has been modified in recent times to co-operate further with other countries in the continuing battle with frontierless crime.

There are many such crimes, and as society and technology develop, the development of international crime keeps pace. I can mention, for example, terrorism, hijacking, financial fraud, drug trafficking, fraud and forgery, art theft—indeed, there is a very long list. It is the responsibility of the House, however, to legislate at least at a matching pace.

I want to respond to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo). He asked how widely such provisions were used by other nations. There are some examples, but I cannot give a complete list. I hope, however, that the example that we are setting here will be considered seriously by those countries that are not proceeding in the same way. It is a good example, and the hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne will produce something of which we can be proud.

In Europe, many countries already take extensive extra-territorial jurisdiction. That gives them some measure of control over the activities abroad of their countrymen but, unlike the United Kingdom, many are not prepared to extradite their own citizens. The reason is frequently found to be in their constitutions.

In contrast, we are prepared to extradite our citizens, subject of course to the normal safeguards. We have extradition arrangements with more than 100 countries. Even so, we have found that the absence of jurisdiction over the commission abroad of serious offences by British citizens can and does give rise to difficulties in circumstances in which we have not been able to extradite the individual.

As a result of those differences and of the difficulties that have arisen from time to time, there has been pressure to take wider jurisdiction, usually in areas where there is public and political concern. Specific instances may come to the mind of hon. Members, and those may well encompass certain crimes on board aircraft; the behaviour of football fans—let me correct that: they are not fans but hooligans—abroad; the activities of foreign extremists based in the UK who are seeking the overthrow of individuals or Governments abroad; and the vile activities of British tourists who sexually exploit young children abroad.

Other countries have taken appropriate steps. The United States has recently passed legislation on terrorism that is similar to that proposed in the Bill. I remind the House that terrorism is not in itself a crime; its components are. Causing explosions, murder and other activities associated with terrorism are the crimes; but I think that we all know what we mean when we talk about terrorism.

The counter-terrorism law signed by President Clinton on 24 April 1996 criminalises conspiracies to kill, murder or maim persons outside the United States so long as at least one of the conspirators involved in a terrorist conspiracy overseas commits an act in furtherance of that conspiracy in the United States. The statute includes attacks on property overseas, including buildings owned by a Government with whom the United States is at peace or any building used for religious, education or cultural purposes, and any railroad, canal, bridge, airfield or other public conveyance or structure.

We have also taken action in respect of some of the examples that I have given. The Government supported an amendment to the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to extend the jurisdiction of the UK courts over offences committed on board foreign-registered aircraft that were outside UK airspace but were arriving in this country. It was a nonsense that the police at Heathrow could arrest an offender on a British Airways flight, but not on an American Airlines flight. I am pleased to say that that is now being put right.

The Government also gave their support to the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, to which several hon. Members have referred, introduced last Session by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) to deal with conspiracy and incitement to commit sexual offences against children abroad. That was an important step in the fight against child sex tourism and I am pleased that it found its way on to the statute book. It was a major step forward. It certainly meant that if any British travel agent was tempted to get involved in that disgusting trade, and discussed it with any potential customer here, he would be committing an offence.

The Bill that we are discussing today does not have extra-territorial effect. If the conspiracy as well as the intended offence take place abroad, the conspirators do not fall foul of the provisions of the Bill. Having said that, I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne that not all aspects of conspiracy or incitement need to occur in the United Kingdom for the Bill to apply. Provided that a sufficient element takes place here, the provisions can bite.

The Government recognise that there are areas in which the absence of jurisdiction over conspiracy and incitement has caused difficulties, including the activities of foreign extremists in the United Kingdom who plan or encourage criminal acts in their own country, and football hooligans who plan violence at venues abroad. Such activities have a negative and unhelpful impact on bilateral relations with many of the countries involved. There is also a more general concern that we should not allow the United Kingdom to be regarded as a safe place in which criminals can plan their future activities.

The example of the problem of football hooliganism is important. Problems mainly arise when England plays abroad in both so-called friendly matches and competitive World cup and European championship matches. The main hooligan leaders from clubs around the United Kingdom have a form of communication network. They are in regular contact with each other and, on occasions, contact their hooligan counterparts abroad to arrange confrontations. Most of the planning is done among themselves and with their counterparts sometimes weeks before the match takes place. Until now, that in itself has not constituted an offence; under the Bill it will become an offence. If the police can obtain evidence, the ringleaders could be charged before they even set out for the match.

If hooligans get to a match and cause trouble, the preferred course of action is that any English hooligan who is arrested is properly dealt with under that country's judicial system. Unfortunately, although understandably, that is not how other countries always want to deal with matters. Time after time, English supporters arrested abroad have simply been detained and deported. The hooligan leaders know that, and often get away—I was going to say scot free—without being dealt with in a proper manner. If the crimes had occurred in the United Kingdom, they would undoubtedly have resulted in a court appearance.

Similarly, when domestic clubs play abroad in European competitions, planned confrontations take place. The difference is that the hooligans are local to that particular club and not from around the United Kingdom as with a national team match. That makes it easier to plan disorder, as the hooligans often socialise together away from the football scene.

I remind the House of the notable examples from the not-too-distant past. The Republic of Ireland versus England match in 1995 immediately springs to mind. In a match two years before that, between England and Holland in 1993, intelligence was received that English hooligans had travelled with the intention of attacking Dutch supporters. In the two days leading up to the game, Dutch nationals were subjected to attacks in Amsterdam, where many English hooligans had based themselves. They set fire to the stadium at the close of the game. Much of the disorder was planned in the United Kingdom in the weeks before the match and contact was made with the hooligans' Dutch counterparts. I pay tribute to the work of the National Criminal Intelligence Service football unit, which was formed in 1989 with a brief to collate, analyse and disseminate intelligence on serious and persistent football hooligans travelling throughout the United Kingdom and abroad.

When our teams play abroad, it is normal practice for United Kingdom police officers to attend and assist the host force in identifying known troublemakers. They are normally football intelligence officers from around the United Kingdom who have a working knowledge of active hooligan groups. I commend the work they do, which is extremely helpful in tackling this scourge.

If we were to take no action, what sort of message would that send, not only to our friends abroad, but to the public at home and, indeed, the criminals who were conspiring to commit crimes abroad or inciting others to do so on their behalf? We would be saying that we accept that we, the United Kingdom, cannot prevent people from using our country as a headquarters—indeed as a safe haven—from which they can with impunity make their plans and organise the carrying out of criminal acts anywhere in the world, unless we have already taken jurisdiction over the specific substantive offence. That would be a weak-kneed, passive and entirely negative position—the position of an ineffective and a morally corrupt country and neither of those terms can be allowed to apply to the United Kingdom. We must not give such ammunition to others to use against us.

An alternative to the approach taken in the Bill would be to extend the scope of the law on conspiracy and incitement only in those areas which had given rise to concern, as we have done with child sex offences. I know that several of my hon. Friends raised that question. That was one of the options considered by the interdepartmental review, but it concluded that the selective approach may not work in all instances. It would be difficult to identify all the offences that may need to be covered, and it is more difficult, for example, to determine what offences might need to be specified to deal with football hooligans. The Football Spectators Act 1989 enables magistrates in England and Wales to make orders against those convicted of football hooliganism offences in Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and Italy, but bilateral agreements are necessary to achieve that. In addition, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 introduced legislation referring to football grounds, which is important in dealing with hooliganism.

However, if it were proposed to extend the law only in relation to any activities that have at any time in the past given particular cause for concern, such an extension would be so wide as to leave it difficult to justify not taking jurisdiction over conspiracy and incitement to commit any offence abroad. That might be an acceptable option if we were to take jurisdiction generally over criminal acts committed abroad, because then people could be prosecuted for the substantive act and/or the conspiracy and incitement offences, because jurisdiction for that automatically follows. However, that would be a significant move away from the territorial basis of our common law heritage. Having carefully considered the implications of each of the options available, the review reached the conclusion that the simplest and most effective approach would be to extend the scope of incitement and conspiracy generally.

I want to make it clear that political opposition to foreign regimes will be unaffected by the Bill. Hon. and hon. and learned Members have discussed how far we should go in these matters. We will not, with this Bill, prevent critics of a regime from criticising the actions of a foreign Government, even if to do so is an offence in the overseas country in question. The requirement for dual criminality would mean that, for the legislation to apply, the offence would also have to be an offence here in the United Kingdom.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) mentioned the possibility of a matter of public policy determining an issue, and I intervened in his speech to respond to that point. In addition, I do not think that we should ignore the requirement on the Crown Prosecution Service to take account of the public interest in deciding whether to prosecute. As my hon. and learned Friend knows—better than I do—the Director of Public Prosecutions also gives guidance to Crown prosecutors on discontinuance of proceedings.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The problem is that the Crown Prosecution Service might not have access to the best political advice. The Minister has already said that the United States has an anti-terrorism law, but it is inconceivable that that law would be invoked against, for example, people in the United States who conspired against the regime of Saddam Hussein in respect of what might be deemed terrorist acts. What is the constraint in this country in respect of such matters and who will exercise it? Will it be the Crown Prosecution Service or will it be the Attorney-General? There must be some other hurdle to surmount in respect of so-called terrorist offences.

Mr. Kirkhope

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman and I differ in this regard; I believe that he goes too far. I have tried to make my position clear. It is not that I feel that we should determine matters in the political manner that he suggests. We are talking about the public interest, which I know my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton is aware of.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Does my hon. Friend concede that public interest as far as the Crown Prosecution Service is concerned has much more limited scope than public interest as far as the Attorney-General, with the advice of the rest of the Government, is concerned?

Mr. Kirkhope

Yes. I believe I said that we were discussing two different things. In fact, the public interest is a stay on proceedings where appropriate, but it is not the same as what the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) suggests, which goes much too far in applying political and subjective considerations. It is not up to us in this country to take such decisions in relation to crimes that have been committed here. We want legislation that will take effect against people who are committing crimes or inciting or conspiring to commit crimes in other countries, so we do not believe that the political considerations that the hon. Member for Swansea, East mentioned should properly be taken into account.

Mr. Michael

I understand the point that the Minister makes, and it is obvious that his priority is what hon. Members on both sides of the House would want it to be, but the problem is that there is unease about the way in which the Crown Prosecution Service interprets the public interest. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the public, are anxious that a mechanism is in place to ensure that the measure is used as intended.

Mr. Kirkhope

I probably cannot develop this exchange further to hon. Members' satisfaction, but it is important that I consider the matter carefully between now and Committee.

Mr. Leigh

This is a terribly important point. A value judgment is always involved. For example, it would be an offence in this country to organise a march that would be banned by the police because it would almost certainly degenerate into violence. Supposing this Bill had become law previously, what would have happened if someone had organised from this country a political protest in the Soviet Union, where all political protest on the streets was banned? My hon. Friend would say that of course we would not want to prosecute that sort of thing in this country—but a value judgment is involved. Is the Crown Prosecution Service equipped to make that judgment?

Mr. Kirkhope

The ultimate protection is dual criminality. The offence must be a crime in this country. We are a very free society and allow people to do all types of things short of behaviour that contravenes our criminal code. It is proper that we should apply that type of consideration when we consider whether prosecutions should proceed. I do not want to detain the House too long, but I appreciate that a valid point is being made. I shall consider the matter and we may have a word about it in Committee.

Several legislative measures are already taken against terrorism. The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 creates the so-called Diplock courts for the trial of certain offences by judges alone. It makes it an offence to direct at any level the activities of an organisation concerned in the commission of acts of terrorism.

Section 2(1) of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 makes it an offence to belong to a proscribed organisation listed in schedule 1 to the Act. The Act does not deal, however, with non-Irish terrorism.

The Suppression of Terrorism Act 1978 enables a wider range of specified terrorism-related offences to be tried in the United Kingdom, but only if they are committed in the country that has been designated under that Act. Other Acts bear on acts of terrorism. The Explosive Substances Act 1883 creates offences relating to the possession and use of explosives. The Tokyo Convention Act 1967 deals with the question of jurisdiction over aircraft in flight and the powers of the aircraft commander.

The Civil Aviation Act 1982 establishes jurisdiction over offences committed on British-controlled aircraft anywhere in the world.

The Aviation Security Act 1982 has largely superseded the Tokyo Convention Act 1967. It has created the offences of hijacking, destroying, damaging or endangering the safety of civil aircraft. The Act gives UK courts jurisdiction in respect of air piracy wherever the crime is committed and provides for extradition for such crimes.

There are many other pieces of legislation in place. The Channel Tunnel Security Order 1995 creates the offence of hijacking the channel tunnel train—I am tempted to say if one can catch it—and other related offences.

Lord Lloyd, in his report on counter-terrorism legislation, said that the most significant additional measure which the Government could take would be to amend the law of conspiracy so as to facilitate the prosecution of those who conspire here to commit terrorist acts abroad. The Bill would widen the range of cases in which people against whom there is evidence of support for violence and terrorism in their countries of origin, or elsewhere abroad, can be prosecuted.

I mentioned criticisms made against the UK. Those criticisms are largely unfounded. Often, they relate to activity that does not contravene UK law, such as political propaganda and fund raising. Allegations of terrorist activity are often made without evidence on the basis of which we could take action. Where evidence of terrorist activity is made available or uncovered, we can and do take action. We have drawn attention to my hon. Friend's Bill in our response to those who criticise us as evidence of our determination to stamp out the evil of terrorism at every opportunity. The UK is not and never will be a safe haven for terrorists.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East said that he hoped that the powers would be used with the right touch. I am sure that that is right. I am sure that the proposals are sensible. The Government warmly welcome my hon. Friend's Bill. We wish it well during the remainder of its passage through the House and in another place.

1.51 pm
Mr. Waterson

I shall be brief in replying to the debate. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Minister that it has been an excellent debate, marked by reasoned and constructive contributions from both sides of the House. I know that a number of colleagues would have liked to have been here today. In particular, I received a letter from the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who would have liked to have been a sponsor had he been able to meet the procedure criteria.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) made a typically thoughtful speech. He raised a number of issues, to which he will no doubt wish to return in Committee. If we believe that it is right to pursue sex tourism through the approach taken in the Bill, surely it is even more right to pursue terrorism also.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) made the point about similar legislation in other countries. I hope that he, like other hon. Members, will have been reassured by the civil rights protection built into the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) gave, as we might expect, a helpful legal analysis. He rightly reminded us that, as is usual in this country, the burden of proof will remain that of beyond reasonable doubt.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), another sponsor of the Bill, made an eloquent plea about terrorism. He also spoke eloquently about the problems of drug trafficking and football hooliganism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) spoke eloquently about the horror of terrorism. He spoke of London, in particular, as the place where many of his constituents work and the danger of attracting counter-violence to the capital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. Butler) brought to bear on the problem his considerable experience as a criminal lawyer. I am pleased to have him as a sponsor. He raised specific drafting points, especially in relation to the second condition set out in clause 1. Again, they are matters to which we can usefully return in Committee.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) made an extremely valuable contribution born of his considerable expertise and experience in relevant matters. He spoke, rightly, about the need for a civilised society to draw a line demarcating the sort of behaviour that is acceptable. He was one of several hon. Members who raised the possible involvement of the Attorney-General in these matters. We should reflect on that in Committee.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) for his kind remarks about my predecessor, Ian Gow. He also raised some evidential and procedural matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) spoke of a possible mechanism to allow Ministers to intervene in prosecutions.

I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) for his constructive speech and for indicating in advance his intention to offer cross-party support for my Bill.

I cannot comment on the attitude of the Liberal Democrats, as they have chosen not to grace us with their presence today.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his penetrating analysis of the clear need for my Bill and for pointing out that similar measures apply in other countries.

Finally, I express my thanks for the silent but supportive presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) who, in his prescient report of 12 years ago, in many ways foreshadowed this Bill, which I hope will attract support from both sides of the House and receive its Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

Back to