HC Deb 02 September 1998 vol 317 cc888-928
Mr. Beith

I beg to move amendment No. 42 in page 7, line 7, leave out 'an' and insert 'a terrorist'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 43, in page 7, line 8, after 'event' insert 'involving acts of terrorism'.

No. 45, in page 7, line 28 at end insert— '(5A) The fifth condition is that the offence contemplated by the agreement would be a serious arrestable offence as defined by section 116 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.'. No. 50, in page 8, line 12, after 'Any', insert 'terrorist'.

No. 51, in page 8, line 23, leave out first 'an' and insert `a terrorist'.

No. 57, in clause 7, page 9, line 28, leave out 'an' and insert 'a terrorist'.

No. 58, in clause 7, page 9, line 28, leave out 'an' and insert 'a terrorist'.

No. 59, in clause 7, page 9, line 39, after 'event' insert `involving acts of terrorism'.

Mr. Beith

We now embark on a three-hour period during which we are intended to discuss a substantial change in conspiracy law, as well as Report and Third Reading. A great deal of detail is contained in this part of the Bill and because of the need to discuss it at greater length, my right hon. Friends and I felt that the business motion had got it wrong. Experience has demonstrated that. To continue Second Reading for six hours or so, and devote such a relatively small period of time to important detailed changes between 3.40 am and 6.40 am is not a good way to tackle such major legislation.

The clause and the amendment are part of what I would describe as the Home Office add-on to the Bill—a fact that was given away when the Prime Minister said that the Government had taken the opportunity of the recall to propose the measures, which were put before the House in a different guise two years ago, as a private Member's Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson). The case for the Government doing so was based on the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombings, with which there was no known United Kingdom connection. As far as I am aware, there has been no suggestion that any conspiracy took place within the United Kingdom to further those, so the connection is, indeed, distant.

Perhaps the most important point is that people did not expect the Bill to concern anything other than terrorism. Many people outside the House and, I suspect, some inside it have still not realised that it covers a great deal more. The object of this amendment, and those grouped with it that stand in our names, is to ensure that the conspiracy provisions relate to terrorist acts and offences, not to a wide variety of other matters.

The rather odd title of the Bill illustrates my argument. It is the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill, not a prevention of terrorism Bill, which is what we normally deal with on such occasions. The bit about conspiracy only partially concerns terrorism. It is a wide-ranging measure and because it is so wide ranging it does not justify the urgent proceedings that have been applied to Northern Ireland. We were advanced reasons for dealing with those matters by urgent procedure; the situation following the Omagh bombing, the fact that the Irish and United Kingdom Parliaments are acting in parallel and at the same time and the need to deal as quickly and as effectively as we can with republican splinter groups. None of those arguments applies to this section of the Bill.

Mr. Ian Taylor

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I raised that point about whether these clauses necessitated urgency in an earlier intervention, when I tried to get the Home Secretary to clarify. If the Government are aware of circumstances that would require us to enact this legislation urgently, given the events in August and the terrible bombings, the House could well look upon it with a sense of urgency, but that case has not been fully made. The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise a few warning signals.

Mr. Beith

It could be relevant to our considerations if the Government indicated that a sense of urgency should apply to this part of the Bill. It would be a different case from that which applies to the rest of the Bill, but the House would clearly listen to it. We would listen to the Home Secretary, if he advanced such an argument.

Unless we amend the Bill as I have suggested in the amendments, it could include a wide variety of provisions, some of which people would not want it to include, and others that they might want in legislation of this sort, but that they would not want to be rushed through as the Bill has been. The conspiracy provisions of the Bill could relate, for example, to a civil obedience campaign that involved the commission of criminal offences, both in another country and here.

For example, if an environmental pressure group decided that it wanted to stop the loading of a cargo of toxic waste bound for this country from a port in Germany or Poland, and embarked upon planned action including the criminal offences of interfering with dockyard operations and marine traffic, that could be a conspiracy in the terms of the Bill, and could be the subject of a charge.

I do not think that that is desirable—and even if it were thought desirable, we should debate it in a more careful and measured context than the way in which we are considering the Bill at this time in the morning and under such a strict timetable.

Other activities, too, are included under this part of the Bill. For example, financial crimes, sex offences, drugs offences, and anything else that is a criminal offence in this country and in the country to which the conspiracy relates, are all covered. That is a canvas far wider than the focus on terrorism on which all the justification, both for the Bill itself and for the urgency with which it is being pursued, has been based.

We believe that a reference to terrorism will at least target the legislation more effectively, and exclude some of the protest groups against repressive regimes that are a subject for concern in all parts of the House. Here we enter a difficult area, with which we also seek to deal by means of a later amendment about the Attorney-General's discretion.

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Whereas there is a widespread concern that acts of plain terrorism should not be planned and organised on British soil to take place in other countries, that concern would not be anything like so great—indeed, it might not be present at all—if we were talking about groups seeking to organise resistance to a regime that allowed no other means of change or opposition, in a country in which there were no democratic procedures.

One of the distinctions that I would draw, which at least defines some categories of terrorism, concerns the fact that if someone is planning to place a bomb in a city so that many civilians will be killed, I would regard that as an act of terrorism even if I were hostile to the regime in the country in which the bomb was being planted.

The terrorism definition, if it focused on such situations, would help us in some degree to deal with the concern in many parts of the House that the legislation should not be applied to groups seeking to assist legitimate resistance to an illegitimate regime allowing no democratic means of change.

Dr. Palmer

Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel that he is proposing to replace a wide net with an ill-defined net? Does he have a clear definition of terrorist acts?

Mr. Beith

It is for the courts to decide what they consider to be terrorism. In any case, it hardly falls to me to have to define terrorism when the Government base much of the rest of the Bill on an understanding of what terrorism is, and use the term widely in all the other related legislation. Indeed, they have created an assumption that the Bill is about terrorism, and almost everything that has been said publicly about it has backed up that assumption.

It is true that the Home Secretary helpfully told me last week that he proposed to include conspiracy measures in the Bill, although I must admit that at that point I thought that he would confine them to the terrorism element. That may simply stem from a lack of deduction on my part, so I do not mention it as a criticism of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman tried to assist.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beith

In a moment.

I do not think that that message was widely understood, even after the Bill had been published yesterday. After its publication I talked to Members of the House who still thought that it was about terrorism, and did not realise that it had very wide additional implications for all sorts of other offences.

Mr. Corbyn

I can see the point that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make about terrorism, but it is not good enough simply to insert the word "terrorist" without trying to define what that is. We have discussed before the difficulty in defining the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, depending on the regime, on one's perception of it and on whether one agrees with it, among other things. It is a bit unwise to insert the word without any definition of it.

Mr. Beith

Terrorism is defined in the prevention of terrorism legislation—with which the hon. Gentleman will be familiar, having opposed quite a bit of it over the years—and primary legislation introduced by Governments that he otherwise supported. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary challenges my use of the word "otherwise".

That was merely the third leg of my argument—that the targeting on terrorism would be of some assistance with a problem that we also seek to address by a later amendment to this part of the Bill. The principal leg of my argument is that the Bill is supposed to be legislation to deal with the problem of terrorism. Understandably, the Home Secretary has sought to extend it to deal not only with Northern Ireland terrorism but with other kinds of terrorism of which we have had recent experience across the world—that is, terrorism organised in one country and carried out in another, although that experience has not, in the more recent cases, been especially relevant to Britain.

However, in the course of doing so, the Home Secretary has taken off the shelf measures that extend over every area of criminal jurisdiction, far beyond terrorism, and used an inappropriate procedure to do that. He is doing it by means of a Bill that is being rushed through in urgent procedure, without allowing the opportunity for wide consultation. That is not a reasonable way to proceed, and that is the principal reason why I believe that we should re-focus the Bill on terrorism.

I merely made the incidental point that such a re-focusing might be of some help in at least excluding from the scope of the conspiracy section some of the actions of protest organisations against repressive regimes, but I would not rely on the amendment alone to achieve that object. We should return the Bill to the purpose for which the Prime Minister announced when he spoke after Omagh—to deal with terrorism. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 go far beyond that scope. That is an inappropriate way to use the very rapid mechanisms—with which we are all uncomfortable—for passing the Bill.

The vast majority of us recognise a need to pass legislation quickly in respect of certain aspects relating to Northern Ireland. I do not believe that that need exists, or that the procedure is appropriate, for the rest of the Bill, so I believe that we should get back clearly to terrorism by making these amendments.

Mr. Michael

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) began by speaking about the limited time available. The Committee has debated, very maturely, a series of amendments on clauses 1 to 4 and has covered, in the process, an enormous range of issues. I think it was, as the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) suggested, the House of Commons at its best in debating important issues, and I hope that that will apply to the way in which we debate conspiracy. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed certainly approached the manner seriously and constructively.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

I accept that we have had quite a long debate today—we are now in about the 15th hour—but we have not had a great deal of time to do a lot of the work that we should have liked to do. For example, I have not had a chance to read the Criminal Law Act 1977, yet clause 5 is entirely composed of modifications to that. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, although we have had a lot of time for debate, we have not had time for preparation, thought, discussion and a rational debate, which would really have allowed us to do justice to these important measures.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is a new Member of the House, but for the House as a whole these are not new issues; they have been debated for considerable periods. When we dealt with the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, which was drawn up by the previous Government but introduced as a private Member's Bill, the issues were considered in a Friday debate. That Bill went much wider than the element of conspiracy in the clauses that we are debating; it went into the whole subject of incitement.

It might be instructive for my hon. Friend to research previous legislation and to read those debates. Most of the debate was about incitement and how we should answer the Mandela question—how do we ensure that unintentional interference with political aspirations abroad are not accidentally caught by the Bill? I took part in those debates, which were extremely interesting and constructive.

Mr. McWalter

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Michael

Not for the moment.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was right in saying that the trigger for the Bill was a series of acts of terrorism. The prime trigger was events in Omagh, referred to repeatedly by Members, which horrified us all. The second trigger, or set of triggers, was events in Kenya and elsewhere: in those places, terrorist acts affected several hundred people, and there was clearly an international element that may or may not have related to events planned in this country.

The urgency—in respect of both the conspiracy parts of the Bill and the earlier parts—related to acts of terrorism; but, as other debates made clear, the need for legislation to deal with conspiracy in relation to a range of issues is extremely important. I shall deal with a specific example shortly, but the right hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise that this could apply to sex offences and drug trafficking. Indeed, there are other elements—for instance, other forms of violence, if they happen to relate to organised crime rather than terrorism.

Victims of violence of that sort might say that a narrow definition of terrorism would not be a great consolation, given that the events affecting them would fall outside the scope of the legislation. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to accept that the Home Secretary intended to pursue legislation relating to conspiracy, which we said for a long time was necessary, which was debated in the House on a number of occasions, but which was not brought to fruition. It would have been ludicrous for us to deal purely with the terrorism element, although that was the trigger for the opportunity, as the House was returning to debate those elements.

I do not rest on that argument alone; the amendment is technically defective in terms of application. The definition of terrorism is in the PTA and the EPA, but not in these amendments, or in the Criminal Law Act 1977 in which they are to be inserted. There would be a technical difficulty. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is making a serious point, but that would be a conclusive reason for not accepting the amendments, because it would destroy the effectiveness of the clauses as a whole. I make the point simply in order to be accurate; in the rest of my comments, I would prefer to engage the serious points made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Audrey Wise

It is rather a put-down to say to an hon. Friend, "You are a new Member; you were not here when we discussed it all." I was here when we discussed it all, and I distinctly remember that the issues were so complex, and the amount of support on all sides so restrained, that twice we failed to secure a quorum. That does not suggest to me—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I have given a little leeway, but hon. Members must speak to the amendments. The history of these matters is important, but we are confined to the amendments.

Mr. Michael

Let me say briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) that I intended no put-down. I simply said that there was a degree of continuity. If my hon. Friend remembers those early debates, she will remember that the complexities were about not the conspiracy element of the Bill, but the incitement element, which involved enormous difficulties. The difficulty of the amendment is that it would restrict the conspiracy offence in the Bill to terrorist offences. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made it clear that that was his intention. However, it is not practicable to single out terrorists from other criminals in the way proposed. In many instances when carrying out their initial inquiries, it will not be clear to the police or to the other investigating agencies whether the offence of arms trafficking, for instance, is terrorist or criminal. It would be undesirable to tie their hands in this way.

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We might hamstring the effective investigation of arms trafficking when it may not be clear from the outset whether those involved are terrorists, rather than other serious organised criminals. In any event, we believe that it would be wrong in principle to exclude from the scope of the provision the unacceptable activities of arms traffickers or other organised criminals plotting overseas crimes in this country.

Mr. Beith

Trafficking in arms by a person resident in this country is an offence which the police can already investigate under existing law.

Mr. Michael

Yes, if the trafficking in arms takes place in this country, but not if it takes place abroad and the requirements in terms of conspiracy to undertake such events abroad as defined in the Bill do not apply. The right hon. Gentleman is right in relation to some offences but not others, so the provisions are important. The amendment would create a loophole through which organised criminals could plot in this country to carry out serious crimes abroad, and that cannot be right. I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

There are some nasty individuals whose activities are destructive to people's lives here and abroad who would not fall within a definition of terrorism. I have made the technical point about the lack of a definition, but even if a definition such as that which exists in other legislation were to be introduced to meet that point, it would exclude those people. Surely that cannot be right, and I am sure that the Committee would not wish that to be our approach.

Mr. Mullin

If my hon. Friend the Minister is unable to accept the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—for the perfectly understandable reasons that he has given—will he consider amendment No. 45, which, instead of inserting the word "terrorist", would insert the words "serious offence"? That would meet the point that he is making. I am reluctant to be too helpful because I think I have probably given my share of help to the Government already.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is never anything other than helpful, although his is sometimes the sort of help that forces one to use more brain cells than one wants to use. That is the strength of his contributions. There are problems with taking the approach that he suggests. We are seeking to address serious offences, and my hon. Friend will recall debates on measures on the security services, for instance, in which it was questioned whether the definition of serious crime imported into police legislation might cause such difficulties as to make the intentions completely impossible to achieve. I understand and accept the spirit of what my hon. Friend is saying, and I hope that I can encourage him.

Amendment No. 45 would restrict the conspiracy offence to serious arrestable offences and would, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, limit it to the most serious criminal offences in common law. I need to deal with the effect of that in specific terms. The definition of serious arrestable offences excludes any serious offences that are also arrestable for the purposes of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and therefore punishable with at least five years' imprisonment. It does not even include grievous bodily harm with intent to kill, which is punishable with life imprisonment under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Nor does it include offences such as the use of violence for securing entry; taking, possessing or distributing indecent photographs of children; or going equipped for stealing. Indeed, the amendment would have the perverse effect, which I am sure my hon. Friend would not intend, of removing the existing jurisdiction for conspiracies here in respect of the commission of certain sexual offences against children abroad.

Under the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996, which, again, a number of my hon. Friends who are here will remember and on which serious debates took place in which we examined jurisdiction in this country in relation to events abroad, definitions were agreed that would be undermined by my hon. Friend's amendment, so a conspiracy here to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl abroad would no longer be triable in our courts—nor would a conspiracy to carry out an indecent assault overseas on a boy aged under 16.

We should not deny ourselves the opportunity of taking firm action to deal with the many offences that, although they may be triable on a summary basis, are not minor or insignificant in the effect that they may have.

The existing law on conspiracy does not distinguish between different offences within the UK. We have deliberately sought not to limit in the Bill the offences to which the conspiracy provisions apply. The requirement in the Bill for the Attorney-General's consent to prosecution provides a crucial safeguard against the prosecution of malicious and frivolous cases.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) will recall that, when we debated the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill in opposition, we specifically proposed inclusion of the Attorney-General's judgment as a way of getting a threshold, so that only the intended target would be hit—events that are serious and for which these powers should be used. We should not put in the Bill a definition of seriousness that would have the unintended consequence—I stress again: I am sure that my hon. Friend would not intend this—of exempting from prosecution many of the cases that I am sure all hon. Members want to see pursued.

The amendment would create a loophole through which terrorists and other criminals could plot in this country to carry out serious crimes abroad. That cannot be right. That is why I hope that my explanation will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and that he will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Öpik

As a matter of interest to the Minister, the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill 1998—the Irish document that mirrors this one—does include definitions of a serious offence and may have other definitions; I have not read the whole document. Therefore, the Irish Government would take a different view from that of the Minister.

Mr. Michael

It is always difficult to draw exact comparisons between different jurisdictions; that is true in relation to Irish legislation and legislation in this country. Indeed, it is difficult sometimes, as we realised in one of the earlier debates, to ensure that in aiming to do the same for Scotland as we do for England, Wales and Northern Ireland we get it exactly right because the law is different and it is a difference that we have to respect, even though it again tests our knowledge and intellectual capacity from time to time. We have to tease out the right way of doing those things. I have explained the difficulty, certainly in relation to our law, which is all that I can speak about from experience, although not from qualification.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend is right to point out that, under his legislation, the Attorney-General would be the one to initiate prosecutions. Many of us have concerns about that, one of which is what scrutiny there would be of the Attorney-General's decision. Would it be subject to parliamentary scrutiny? Many of us are concerned that some future Attorney-General will come under pressure from a mixture of political and commercial interests in a repressive country to silence opposition that is based in London and to curry favour with those interests. Does the Minister recognise that there are serious concerns about these aspect of the legislation?

Mr. McNamara


Mr. Michael

I think that I need to take breath in order to give way. I have taken breath and I give way.

Mr. McNamara

On the role of the Attorney-General, there is confusion about the new subsection (6) to be inserted by clause 5(2), which allows the preceding provisions for a matter to be instituted only by or with the consent of the Attorney-General to be superseded. It says: The Secretary of State may by order provide that subsection (5) above shall not apply, or shall not apply to any case of a description specified in the order. Subsection (7) continues: An order under subsection (6) above— (a) shall be made by statutory instrument". The power is unnecessary if we are specifically saying that the Attorney-General should have it.

Mr. Michael

Several points have been raised that are relevant to the debate. We have to understand the issues in context.

I confess that I was puzzled when I read the first draft of the Bill. I am pleased to say that there is a satisfactory explanation. It is appropriate for the Attorney-General to make a judgment on offences involving terrorism that have some political sensitivity and might involve the exercise of the powers in a way that the House did not intend. On the other hand, there are some offences, which might arise frequently, on which the House would have no doubt. I refer specifically to the abuse of children abroad. The Committee would not regard the pursuit of those who pursue very young children abroad as politically sensitive. The power allows the Secretary of State to come to the House and ask that certain categories of offence should not require the Attorney-General's judgment. The Government might want to specify some paedophile offences, but that would not happen on the say-so of the Secretary of State. It would have to be done through a statutory instrument. We have broken with precedent by saying that that must be done through the affirmative resolution process. The measure could not be implemented without the specific agreement of both Houses. If the conspiracy provisions were used against paedophile activities, the Attorney-General's time would not have to be taken up.

That is a current issue. In the Evening Standard—I was going to say that it was this evening's edition, but it is last night's—there is a report of 40 people being held in worldwide raids related to child sex on the internet. The incidents involved the trading of children and what were described as "sick and revolting" sex images of children, some as young as two. We all find that horrific and unacceptable. There were simultaneous police raids in the United States, Finland, Austria, France, Sweden, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Australia and this country. No one in the Committee would doubt that that should be pursued. We are clearly dealing with conspiracy. We all agree that there is no political sensitivity about that being pursued with vigour. If the conspiracy requirements under the Bill enabled stronger pursuit of those who use and abuse children—sometimes their own children—for the production of images, we would be in favour.

That is an example of a case in which a category might be exempted. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), having had the same instinct as me to ask how the power would be used, will accept that that is the intention. I hope that he also accepts that we intend to use the affirmative resolution procedure rather than following precedent by using the negative resolution procedure. That shows how serious we are about the issue. The House should be able to take a decision before the provisions are implemented, rather than merely having an opportunity to react after the event.

Two of my hon. Friends referred to the powers of the Attorney-General, which is quite understandable. Hon. Members on both sides are trying to ensure that those powers, if approved by the House, can be used for the purposes that Members would want them to be used for, and cannot be used where it would be inappropriate. All hon. Members acknowledge that there are those who ought to be caught—those who are prepared to undertake horrific acts of terrorism or, because terrorism is often seen as having a political element, acts of gangsterism and violent crime.

In deciding whether to prosecute or to approve prosecution, the Attorney-General takes into account all aspects of the public interest. "The public interest" is a general term; there is no precedent for singling out any specific element as being more important than another. In the House of Commons, in 1951, Lord Shawcross gave classic expression to the doctrine relating to criminal prosecutions and I should be happy to go into detail if colleagues wish. The point is that human rights considerations, such as conditions in other countries, might be taken into account, where appropriate, by the Attorney-General in coming to his decision.

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It impossible to predict the circumstances in which public interest considerations would arise, but experience shows that, where the evidence in a particular case is available and the facts are clear, it is usually also clear whether the public interest lies in prosecuting. Crimes such as terrorism or murder do not cease to be crimes just because of the political aims involved. The facts of the event justify the public interest—indeed, the public interest lies in continuing to secure the peace and tranquillity of the nation, which is what we seek each day, in the prayers before Parliament sits. That is the prime objective that the Attorney-General has to consider in respect of the public interest.

Dr. Palmer

I have been following my hon. Friend's argument closely and, if I understood him correctly, he said that problems of definition make it undesirable to restrict the Bill to, for example, terrorist offences, serious offences, or some other such formulation. However, what he has just said suggests that, in practice, he would expect the Attorney-General to limit the application to what we, in common parlance, would call serious offences—that is, the Attorney-General would not wish to bother with relatively minor crimes and would concentrate on cases involving murder, terrorism and violence.

Mr. Michael

In colloquial terms, there is a lot in what my hon. Friend says. The difficulty is in drawing a line without excluding many offences that people might think it ludicrous to exclude. We argued for many years that the requirement that the Attorney-General should make the judgment is an important one. He has to take public interest considerations into account; the seriousness of the offences would form part of that public interest and pursuit of trivial crimes committed abroad would not, generally speaking, be in the public interest.

Those are the sort of considerations that the Attorney-General would take into account, along with other considerations. As I have said, no definition limits what the Attorney-General can take into account when considering the public interest, so he would certainly consider many issues that my hon. Friends would want to be taken into account. In that way, we can ensure that only those cases that the House intends to be pursued and that we really want to tackle will be pursued.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

The public interest may include considerations such as not alienating a major trading partner. The Minister spoke of criminals and terrorists, but what about environmental activists who are concerned about logging in the tropical rain forest in Brazil, which is an important trading partner with Britain? They might suspect that the indigenous peoples may suffer terribly as a result of logging. What considerations would form in the Attorney-General's mind in such a case?

Mr. Michael

The simple answer is that it would depend on what was relevant to the decision that the Attorney-General was to take. The human rights situation in another country could be taken into consideration in deciding where the public interest lay. I am sure that hon. Members can think of examples of occasions on which they would want the Attorney-General to take the decision to prosecute.

Expressing the doctrine of the Attorney-General's power, Lord Shawcross said that the responsibility for the eventual decision rests with the Attorney General, and he is not to be put, and is not put, under pressure by his colleagues in the matter. Nor, of course, can the Attorney-General shift his responsibility for making the decision on to the shoulders of his colleagues. If political considerations affecting government in the abstract arise it is the Attorney-General, applying his judicial mind, who has to be the sole judge of those considerations.

In explaining the context, Lord Shawcross also said that there might be a variety of issues of which the Attorney-General was informed through the knowledge of his colleagues, so that he could take them into account. Those issues might include some that have been mentioned tonight. The Attorney-General's responsibility is clear: what he can take into account is not limited.

Mr. White

I am a relatively new Member, and I am slightly confused about the Attorney-General's role. Sometimes the Attorney-General has taken decisions that have caused a public outcry. How would the House or individuals go about securing redress when taking out or not taking out a prosecution caused an outcry?

Mr. Michael

That would work largely through the normal processes of accountability. The Attorney-General is a member of the Cabinet and answers to the House. We are talking about the decision to agree to proceed with a prosecution. Once the decision is taken to allow that to happen, the case has to go through the courts and the rights of appeal have to apply. There are also other constraints and pressures on the Attorney-General to act properly. His role is to act as the guardian at the gate for the appropriateness of the prosecution and to consider the public interest. Issues concerning which cases to prosecute and the degree of seriousness would come into the ambit of his discussions. I hope that that is helpful.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend may have made the situation worse, as he appears to be saying that the Attorney-General could undertake a prosecution and that, once it had been undertaken, the House could not involve itself in any way in questioning that decision, because it had become sub judice by virtue of the fact that it could go before a court. We are concerned that a combination of political and commercial pressures could encourage the Attorney-General to take action against people for actions happening in another country.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend conflates two entirely separate points. I said that, as the Attorney-General is a Cabinet member, there are processes of accountability; in a separate point, I said that his decision to take out a prosecution is not the end but the beginning of the process, which would lead to decisions in the courts, which would have to consider the case that had been made out.

Mrs. Fyfe

Where does that leave people who could in no sense be called terrorists but who are perhaps democrats trying to oppose as effectively as possible some despotic regime abroad? For example, they could be Afghan women who oppose the Taliban. I have gathered from the hours of debate that they would be allowed to write pamphlets but not to do much else. Is there any way in which they could have guidance about how far they could go in the commission of minor unlawful acts that would help their cause because the normal democratic process is of no use in their case?

Mr. Michael

To answer that I shall have to approach the issue from a different direction. I am trying to be as helpful as possible in responding to hon. Members. To understand the matter, one must turn to page 7 of the Bill and read the clause that sets down the conditions that create the possibility of a prosecution. They include an act, happening or event in another country. The second requirement is that the act or event constitutes an offence under the law in force in that country". The third condition makes it clear that it has to be an offence in this country as well, and the fourth condition is that an act of some sort in this country is the trigger for the conspiracy and the prosecution. The four conditions have to be satisfied. For example, if my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) is afraid that a simple way to express views democratically in another country was illegal in that country, it would have to be illegal here to be caught by the provisions and would have to satisfy the other requirements. In addition, the Attorney-General would have to look at the matter and decide that the public interest would be served by a prosecution here in relation to those events.

Mrs. Fyfe

The point that I am trying to get across is that such dissidents would not know in advance what the Attorney-General would find acceptable, especially when circumstances are so fluid as to be affected by notions of public interest at a given point in time. An action that was an offence in another country could be minimal and not a case of murder or kidnapping or blowing up buildings. It might be an offence here too, but it could be trivial in the context of this country. In the kind of regime that I am talking about a woman can have her nails pulled out for wearing nail varnish. What kind of activities can those people engage in that are of any use under such regimes? Are they confined to stay on the safe side and write pamphlets?

Mr. Michael

I do not want to trivialise the issue, but as far as I am aware the pulling out of nails for wearing nail varnish has not been suggested as a possible offence in even the most draconian proposals by any party in Parliament. People would know what was an offence in this country, and an act that is an offence in another country is not sufficient in itself to fall within the provisions. The act must be an offence in this country as well and the other conditions must be satisfied. We are not debating a measure that anybody will consider using for trivial offences or for expressing an opinion or criticising a regime. Such actions are not offences in this country. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill asked that question during a debate on the conspiracy and incitement measure that was considered about two years ago. I expressed reservations about that legislation on precisely the grounds that she raises.

Those dangers are not present in what we are presenting here. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said clearly at the beginning of the debate, and which I say with equal force now—

Mr. Allan

The specific offence that I would like the Minister to consider is that of criminal damage. That is clearly an offence here and will be in another country. It is frequently a consequence of political activity against a regime, but I would not consider it sufficient reason to prosecute someone in this country if it were committed in the exercise of someone's democratic right against the sort of despotic regime that has been described.

4.30 am
Mr. Michael

That is quite a good example. As always, the hon. Gentleman is helpful. It would be unwise for me to enter into the mind of the Attorney-General, but I have great confidence, particularly in the present incumbent of that role. It would be a total shock to me not only if he regarded the painting of graffiti against a regime as justification for the use of these powers, but if an Attorney-General of any party were to consider that appropriate. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend encourages me in my—

Mr. Canavan

He will not be in the job for ever.

Mr. Michael

Earlier it was predicted that my right hon. and learned Friend would be in the job for ever, so I would not like to contradict comments made by colleagues earlier. I certainly hope that he is.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Does the Minister accept that by extending the scope of the provision beyond terrorism and serious offences to any offences which are offences in this country and elsewhere, he opens the Attorney-General to all sorts of additional pressures in the exercise of his discretion in that the public interest then becomes conflated with the national interest? How is the Attorney-General to respond to requests from regimes with which we may not be on friendly terms but which are asking for prosecutions? He has two alternatives. Either he says that he will not prosecute, but he has no criteria to put forward to explain his decision, or he accedes to that pressure and prosecutes in circumstances in which the House may well not wish to see a prosecution take place and yet we would have no way under the Bill of limiting that discretion which is given to the Attorney-General.

Mr. Michael

Hon. Members need to consider the exercise of the powers of the Attorney-General in law. They are not powers that can be exercised at whim. I return again to the definition of Lord Shawcross who said: It is the duty of an Attorney-General, in deciding whether or not to authorise the prosecution, to acquaint himself with all the relevant facts, including, for instance, the effect that the prosecution, successful or unsuccessful as the case may be, would have upon public moral and order, and with any other consideration affecting public policy. That includes the sort of issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.

All of us in coming to the concept of the Attorney-General having this responsibility rather than the power of taking the decision might think that all that the Attorney-General has to say is whether he would like something to happen. It is not. He has a clear duty to weigh the public interest in the balance. Precisely the sort of areas of concern that hon. Members are raising are appropriate.

Overseas Governments may be encouraged by new legislation to present evidence of what they see as crimes being committed linked to activities in this country, but they do that now on the basis of the existing law. It is for the police to investigate any such material and to see whether crimes are being committed, and that will remain the case. There is nothing new in having to tell a foreign Government that no action will be taken under our law. Our relations are mature enough to be able to cope with the disappointment that that may cause. It is happening all the time.

What we are doing in linking the responsibility of the Attorney-General to the conspiracy proposal is using a tried and tested method of setting a threshold which is far more meaningful than limiting it to terrorism or limiting it with a definition of seriousness. That is a tried and tested way of doing it.

Mr. Heath

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. He seems to have accepted that commercial and diplomatic pressures are matters which the Attorney-General must take into account, yet he is providing no floor that gives protection to the Attorney-General in the exercise of that discretion and allows him to say, "No, those are categories of crime that I shall not consider. I can explain to a foreign Government that those are not matters that a British Government would wish to pursue in the context of the Bill." That is a grave omission that can lead only to future problems in our foreign relations. I ask the Minister seriously to consider putting some sort of de minimis provision into the Bill.

Mr. Michael

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not think that he understands the responsibilities of the Attorney-General, who must consider any factors and information that relate to the public interest. The Bill is not limited in that respect, so it does not exclude commercial or trade considerations and so on. The Attorney-General would have to consider the matter and take a decision in the public interest, which includes human rights, our obligations under international law and other appropriate considerations. That wide interest is part of the accepted and settled way in which the Attorney-General exercises his functions.

Mr. Öpik

Before the Minister moves on, may I assure him that this is not an esoteric debate. My parents' home country, Estonia, was very much dependent on the help of Estonians outside Estonia in its bid for independence, yet under the Bill Britain would undoubtedly have been faced with a dilemma—whether to respond to the former Soviet Union's demands to turn in Estonian activists in this country who were helping to fight for independence and violating the law, perhaps through some form of mild civil disobedience, or whether to ignore the Bill and support Estonians who were trying to get indepensdence for Estonia.

As I listen to the debate, I would counsel the Minister to take these concerns much more seriously, as they would have had a practical impact on the many peoples and activists on this side of the former Soviet Union's iron curtain who were trying to achieve independence in exactly the way that has been described by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. The measure is about conspiracy in this country. It is not about sending people back anywhere. It is not about deporting people or putting them under another jurisdiction. It is only about prosecuting them in this country under UK jurisdiction on matters that are offences in this country and satisfy the other requirements that I listed. The only thing that people have to fear is that if the Attorney-General says yes, they will be prosecuted in the UK according to the normal requirements of the Bill for the relevant part of the UK.

Mr. Dalyell


Dr. Starkey


Mr. Michael

I return to the question of what we want to catch. I referred earlier to the holding of individuals today in relation to child sex over the internet. That involved the national crime squad and co-operation across countries because of the complexity of the internet and the sophisticated use of it. International events may have horrendous effects on people in this country and abroad. They would be dealt with under the conspiracy provisions, which is why they should not be limited, as has been suggested. We have built in safeguards. Each element must be satisfied in order for a prosecution to take place.

I ask hon. Members to look not only at those elements on which they think that things could go wrong—one can see why they would not go wrong because the permission of the Attorney-General would not be forthcoming—but at the people involved in conspiracy to commit serious violent offences abroad who would be excluded were the Committee to accept the amendment and the limitations.

Mr. Dalyell

The Minister said that this was not about sending people out of the country. I may have misunderstood, but I thought that there was a possibility of deportation. If I am wrong, I would like to be told so.

Mr. Lord, to put it bluntly, I have been listening to the Minister both in the Committee and on the screen, and this is not a subject that the House of Commons should be debating at 4.39 am. There are very important issues here. For heaven's sake, I say to my hon. Friends, cannot this wait until October or November?

Mr. Michael

I say to my hon. Friend, as I said at the start of my remarks, that the trigger for the Bill was, first, the events in Omagh and, secondly, the events in Kenya and elsewhere. Deaths of individuals took place and it was clear that there was an element of international activity and conspiracy. Those conspiracies may well have an element in this country. They may not. But the events raised the need for us to proceed on something on which we had aspired to proceed for some time. These matters are not new. They were debated when we were in opposition.

The elements about which we had reservations when we were in opposition when we debated the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill are not raised by this Bill because we have left out the incitement element. We have concentrated on the real mischiefs that need to be addressed in terms of international crime. I believe that the House would be wrong not to use the opportunity to ensure that the Bill is put on the statute book. The case for it is strong and the defence for the reservations is also strong. I understand why my hon. Friends want to probe these issues. That is why I have tried to respond to the many interventions that they have made. They are genuine and reasonable concerns, but I believe that the case is overwhelming for saying that we should go ahead.

Ms Abbott

It is really no good the Minister at this time in the morning trying to make the Committee's blood run cold with talk about child sex conspiracies. We know that the motivation for the legislation that is being presented in this very inopportune way has little to do with paedophilia as such and a lot to do with insistent pressure over the years from regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria which wish to deal with their dissidents. It is diversionary to try to frighten us by raising an issue that is not the substantive issue that motivates the Home Office in taking this draft Bill off the stocks and tacking it on to this Irish legislation.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend has her own way of making her point and she makes assumptions which I refute totally. I hope that my hon. Friend and all my colleagues accept that I have honestly tried to portray the target that we wish to hit. We have been very specific in the way in which we have introduced the legislation. My hon. Friend can make her judgments if she likes. I refute and reject the judgment that she chooses to make. The powers will deal with some very serious mischiefs and some very nasty people. They may be insignificant to my hon. Friend, but they are not to me.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

I understand the Minister's argument about the significance of paedophilia, which we all want tackle. We all want to ensure that we rid ourselves of child abuse. However, I understand, although I do not agree with the argument—[Interruption.]

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Madam Speaker takes a dim view of electronic devices going off in the Chamber. I hope that it will not happen again.

Mr. McDonnell

I shall plead innocence on that one.

I understand, although I do not agree, that the Government have responded in the first part of the Bill to the events in Omagh. However, has any evidence been presented to the Government showing that there has been some form of international terrorist activity planned in this country, linked to the bombing in Nairobi or Tanzania, and which has prompted the urgency of the second part of the Bill? This is a very serious matter. If such evidence has not been presented to enable us to come to an urgent view, I agree that we should be considering the matter properly in the new Session of Parliament.

4.45 am
Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend misses the point. The legislation needs to be in place so that if there has been an element of conspiracy in this country in those or other incidents of terrorism or serious crime, the Bill's conspiracy provisions would allow prosecution in this country.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am not accustomed to the role of coming to his rescue in these matters. The more I hear of this debate, the more I am inclined to agree with the assertion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) that this is a less than ideal way of dealing with these matters—that was a masterly piece of understatement.

Is not the long and short of the Liberals' amendment that it would restrict the provision to what they describe as terrorist offences? It would not necessarily deal with the problem that they perceive in the legislation, but it would exclude many other types of crime involving, for example, football hooliganism, drug dealing and serious fraud. The public would like to see us dealing with them and preventing conspiracies being hatched in this country and inflicted on other countries.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I hope that I have conveyed that point to him in this debate. It is of course not ideal to deal with legislation during a short recall of Parliament, but, as I said, the recall of Parliament is triggered by events in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. We have taken the opportunity to introduce something to tackle a mischief that has been perceived for a long time and which the House has wished to tackle. Previously, the debates have been about how we make sure—

Dr. Lynne Jones

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Michael

No, I am bringing my remarks to a close.

In the past, the debates have been about how we make sure that effective legislation does what we intend, which is to detect terrorism and serious crimes rather than insignificant or minor incidents or deal with protest movements. We have done that. The legislation is satisfactory in that regard and contains the necessary protections. The amendment would undermine the very purpose of the legislation, and the House would quickly regret having limited the legislation in that way. I hope that having heard the debate and my responses to a wide variety of interventions, some of which ranged way beyond the amendment before us, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Beith

The intervention by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) from the Opposition Front Bench was accurate. The hon. Gentleman said that the amendment would prevent the Bill from dealing with football hooliganism and a variety of other matters.

There are many mischiefs that the law should attend to, but I do not claim the privilege of tacking them all on to the Bill. If that happened, the Bill could do an enormous number of things. Indeed, it is already about an enormous variety of things, some of which are significant. However, it is not our way to deal with significant matters in one night's debate and without the opportunity of prior examination of the Bill unless there are overriding reasons for our doing so. I am not criticising the hon. Member for Hertsmere; I am explaining why I believe that it is important that we narrow the focus of the Bill to what it was originally supposed to be about.

Mr. Dalyell

In all the talk about the modernisation of Parliament, there is the question of pre-legislative scrutiny. Is not this a classic case for some examination of the deep issues? As soon as one starts to look, all sorts of creepy-crawly things come out from under stones. What we are doing is ludicrous.

Mr. Beith

The phrase pre-legislative scrutiny sheds some light on our proceedings today. We certainly have not had much opportunity for that, but that is in the nature of the Government's rapid response to events in Omagh and the need to do something about them. I feel strongly that the Home Office has tried to get on the back of events at Omagh to deal with matters that it may have considered important, but which do not require or lend themselves to a similar procedure.

The Minister was drawn into replying to a number of amendments about the consent of the Attorney-General, which we have not yet moved. We have sought to tackle another side of the problem in other ways. The Attorney-General safeguard is useful and was lacking in the original Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), but the safeguard is questionable in some respects. Given the autonomous nature of the Attorney-General's prosecution powers, he is not accountable to the House for them in the way that he is for his administrative responsibilities. Indeed, it is not thought appropriate that he should be accountable for decisions on prosecutions. Many questions remain about how views on the desirability of allowing organised groups that are resisting other regimes to operate in this country can be brought to bear on those decisions. However, we shall return to some of those matters In our debates on later amendments.

The crucial test on which the Minister relied for saying that we do not need to narrow the definition of what conspiracies can come under the Bill, as the amendments do, was that an offence has to be a crime in both the countries concerned, which is a low threshold indeed. It is an easy test to pass. Loads of offences are crimes in both countries. Criminal damage is an example that has been cited and that might be not merely graffiti, but breaking into or damaging a building, damaging vehicles or a series of other offences. In Britain, defining such offences as conspiracies would be unjustified because there are democratic means of protesting when one disagrees with something, but we might feel that they were justified in countries where there is no democratic means to do so. Such offences will be caught by this legislation unless we achieve some definitions. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) is assuring me that, under the Bill, he would probably have been sent to prison in this country for assisting his friends in Estonia in their courageous battle for independence. Many of them put their lives at risk to win the independence of their country, with the general support of the people of this country, who have always had a feeling for the Baltic nations, which suffered repression under the Soviet yoke for so many years.

Those actions are not terrorist actions, but they are a crime in both countries. Therefore, we have sought to restrict the application of the conspiracy provisions of the Bill. The wide-ranging interventions and questions have reinforced my view that it was not appropriate to deal with something so complex on the back end of an urgent Bill relating primarily to Northern Ireland.

Parliament has a responsibility to consider legislation, to get it right in detail and to ensure that it does its job properly and is not prone to achieving the opposite effects to those intended or putting people in jeopardy for actions for which they ought not even have to fear prosecution. My party consented to a serious compression of the discharge of that responsibility to respond to what happened at Omagh. We consented to parliamentary proceedings that give no opportunity for the normal wide outside consultation on the contents of the Bill because we believed that to be exceptionally justified in those circumstances. We cannot extend that justification to the other parts of the Bill.

The Minister advanced arguments about the evils of paedophilia and the fact that conspiracies related to that offence could exist in this country. Of course, we agree, but this legislative mechanism is not the appropriate way to deal with those. The Minister did not seek to rest his case primarily on the technical arguments, although he advanced them, saying that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) would undermine legislation on sexual offences enacted a few years ago. However, that is because the Government have interlinked the two pieces of legislation; it is not the fault of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. That defect and any technical defect in our amendment can be remedied in another place tomorrow.

The Government have at their disposal the means to meet the wishes of the House, and to do so in a technically satisfactory way. Instead, they are asking us to accept severely attenuated procedures, with limited debate and no realistic outside consultation, to deal with matters for which that is not justified by the arguments about urgency. I do not think that we can do it.

I say to hon. Members who have a variety of doubts about this part of the Bill that this is the first, and perhaps the best, opportunity that they will have in the course of these morning hours to set some limit on the extent of the conspiracy powers. Because we consented to the urgent procedures in the Bill, we have to show that we do not feel them to be right for matters that, although important, ought to have the normal legislative scrutiny that the House affords. We therefore wish to press our amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 214.

Division No. 360] [4.56 am
Allan, Richard Rendel, David
Beith, Rt Hon A J Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Breed, Colin Webb, Steve
Bumett, John
Harris, Dr Evan Tellers for the Ayes:
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Öpik, Lembit Mr. Donald Gorrie.
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Flint, Caroline
Alexander, Douglas Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Allen, Graham Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Foulkes, George
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Gapes, Mike
Banks, Tony Gardiner, Barry
Barron, Kevin George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Bayley, Hugh Gibson, Dr Ian
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Begg, Miss Anne Goggins, Paul
Berry, Roger Golding, Mrs Llin
Betts, Clive Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Blizzard, Bob Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Boateng, Paul Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Borrow, David Grocott, Bruce
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Grogan, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Bradshaw, Ben Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Brazier, Julian Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Hanson, David
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Browne, Desmond Healey, John
Buck, Ms Karen Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Burden, Richard Hepburn, Stephen
Butler, Mrs Christine Heppell, John
Cabom, Richard Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Home Robertson, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hoon, Geoffrey
Cann, Jamie Hope, Phil
Caplin, Ivor Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Caton, Martin Hoyle, Lindsay
Chisholm, Malcolm Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Humble, Mrs Joan
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hurst, Alan
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Iddon, Dr Brian
Coaker, Vemon Illsley, Eric
Coffey, Ms Ann Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cohen, Harry Jamieson, David
Coleman, Iain Jenkins, Brian
Colman, Tony Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Connarty, Michael Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Cooper, Yvette Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cousins, Jim Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Cranston, Ross Jowell, Ms Tessa
Crausby, David Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Keeble, Ms Sally
Cummings, John Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Kidney, David
Darvill, Keith Kilfoyle, Peter
Davidson, Ian King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Dean, Mrs Janet Laxton, Bob
Denham, John Leslie, Christopher
Dobbin, Jim Levitt, Tom
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Doran, Frank Linton, Martin
Dowd, Jim Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Edwards, Huw Lock, David
Ennis, Jeff Love, Andrew
Etherington, Bill McAvoy, Thomas
Fisher, Mark McCabe, Steve
Fitzsimons, Lorna McDonagh, Siobhain
Mackinlay, Andrew Skinner, Dennis
McNulty, Tony Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McWilliam, John Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mandelson, Peter Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Martlew, Eric Soley, Clive
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Spellar, John
Merron, Gillian Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Michael, Alun Stevenson, George
Miller, Andrew Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Moffatt, Laura Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Moran, Ms Margaret Stinchcombe, Paul
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Mudie, George Stringer, Graham
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Norris, Dan Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Organ, Mrs Diana Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Palmer, Dr Nick Temple-Morris, Peter
Pearson, Ian Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pendry, Tom Timms, Stephen
Pickthall, Colin Tipping, Paddy
Pike, Peter L Touhig, Don
Pollard, Kerry Trickett, Jon
Pond, Chris Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Prosser, Gwyn Vis, Dr Rudi
Purchase, Ken Wareing, Robert N
Quin, Ms Joyce Watts, David
Quinn, Lawrie White, Brian
Raynsford, Nick Whitehead, Dr Alan
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Wicks, Malcolm
Roche, Mrs Barbara Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry Wills, Michael
Rowlands, Ted Winnick, David
Roy, Frank Woolas, Phil
Ruane, Chris Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Ruddock, Ms Joan Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wyatt, Derek
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm Tellers for the Noes:
Sawford, Phil Mr. David Clelland and
Sheerman, Barry Mr. Greg Pope.

Question accordingly negatived.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I beg to move amendment No. 80, in page 7, line 10, after 'Kingdom' insert 'other than a country or territory to which subsection (2A) applies. (2A) This subsection applies to any country or territory which—

  1. (a) is the subject of any embargo on trade agreed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the European Union or Her Majesty's Government;
  2. (b) has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; or
  3. (c) in the opinion of the Secretary of State is a country or territory where human rights are not respected.'.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 44, in page 7, line 13, after 'territory' insert `provided that the offence, if it were an offence in any jurisdiction in the United Kingdom, would not infringe the terms of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, agreed by the Council of Europe at Rome on the 4th November 1950.'. No. 46, in page 7, line 28, at the end insert— `(5A) The fifth condition is that the procedure for the trial of the offence in that country or territory, if it were the procedure for the trial of the offence in any jurisdiction in the United Kingdom, would not infringe the terms of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, agreed by the Council of Europe at Rome on 4th November 1950.'. No. 48, in page 8, line 4, leave out 'condition is' and insert 'and fifth conditions are'.

No. 49, in page 8, line 5, leave out 'a question' and insert 'questions'.

No. 53, in page 8, line 36, at end insert— `who shall have regard to the human rights situation in the country concerned.'. No. 83, in page 8, line 36, at end insert— '(5A) Before deciding whether to consent to proceedings for an offence triable by virtue of section 1A above, the Attorney General shall have regard to the standards of respect for democracy and human rights in the country or territory where the result of the conspiracy was intended to occur and whether that occurrence was intended to combat injustice or oppression.', No. 84, in clause 6, page 9, line 16, at end insert— '(5A) Before deciding whether to consent to proceedings for an offence triable by virtue of Article 9 above, the Attorney General shall have regard to the standards of respect for democracy and human rights in the country or territory where the result of the conspiracy was intended to occur and whether that occurrence was intended to combat injustice or oppression.'. No. 81, in clause 7, page 9, line 30, after 'Kingdom' insert 'other than a country or territory to which subsection (1A) applies. (1A) This subsection applies to any country or territory which—

  1. (a) is the subject of any embargo on trade agreed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the European Union or Her Majesty's Government;
  2. (b) has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; or
  3. (c) in the opinion of the Secretary of State is a country or territory where human rights are not respected.'.
No. 85, in page 10, line 19, at end insert— '(7A) No proceedings for an offence triable by virtue of this section may be instituted except by or with the consent of the Lord Advocate. (7B) Before deciding whether to consent to proceedings for an offence triable by virtue of this section, the Lord Advocate shall have regard to the standards of respect for democracy and human rights in the country or territory where the result of the conspiracy was intended to occur and whether that occurrence was intended to combat injustice or oppression.'.

Ann Clwyd

I feel like one of the creepy-crawlies mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). After sitting here for 15 hours, I resent having to move an amendment at this time in the morning—especially as so many hon. Members have made it clear that they resent clauses 5, 6 and 7 in particular. Whatever other reservations they may have about the Bill, they resent those clauses being tagged on to it, and I entirely agree with them. We should have had time to consult human rights organisations, for example, about the implications of the proposals in the Bill; but we have not had time even to read the Bill properly ourselves, apart from the aspects in which some of us have a special interest.

If Ministers had been sensitive to the feelings of the Committee, they would have withdrawn clauses 5, 6 and 7. They would have left them for another occasion, when the House returns in October. There is no reason to rush through those provisions, but we have rushed through a law under which anyone in Britain who conspires to overthrow a Government—however awful and dictatorial—could be guilty of a criminal offence.

During the past 15 hours, we have heard examples of how this law could have been used in the past. If it had been in force 30 or 40 years ago, refugees in this country as diverse as Mahatma Gandhi and General De Gaulle would have been caught. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has admitted, the word "terrorist" itself is very imprecise. The historical odium attached to conspiracy law ought to give us much cause for concern. As others have said, yesterday's terrorist is tomorrow's freedom fighter.

As chair of the parliamentary human rights group, I am particularly concerned about the many campaigning organisations in the country that may somehow or other, through their activities, be caught up in the Bill. Last night, at about half-past 11, I was telephoned by someone who told me that the US Congress had just voted a substantial sum for an organisation that I chair called Indict, which aims to bring Saddam Hussein before an international criminal court. Congress has also voted money for another organisation based in London, the Iraqi national congress, which has as one of its aims the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

I recognise that this Government would be glad to see the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but a previous Government who were trading with Iraq might not have been quite so happy. Such a Government might want to take action under the Bill against an organisation that was committed to the overthrow of that regime.

Those who campaign for democracy in Indonesia might want to distribute literature calling for the overthrow of President Habibie. This country has considerable trading links with Indonesia, and our arms trade continues apace, unfortunately, with the country. We might argue, as people do—wrongly, in my view—that jobs would be at risk in this country if that trade ceased, for whatever reason. We know that, in the past, British aid has been used to sweeten some of our arms deals with Indonesia. Suppose that we believed that the people campaigning in this country for the overthrow of President Habibie were a threat to jobs and to trade. What action might a Government take under the Bill to repress those people?

Many hon. Members have mentioned the situation in Saudi Arabia—again, a country with which we have a large arms trade. We do not know how much, because the Al Yamamah arms deal is still a secret in this country. However, Saudi Arabia has been identified by our human rights group as a repressive regime which tortures people in custody. We have uncovered horrific cases where human rights have been violated in that country.

If someone in this country criticised that regime or campaigned to change it, what would we—with our big arms trade with Saudi Arabia—do? What attitude would the Attorney-General take to somebody who might jeopardise that trade? We know that this proposal was a knee-jerk response by an Opposition Member who wanted to placate Saudi Arabia when it failed to extradite a dissident from this country. Nobody knows what would happen under this Bill, and I am concerned about all those groups.

I would prefer to see clauses 5, 6 and 7 scrapped altogether. Let us consider them at length at another time, but they should not be pressed tonight. I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is a reasonable man. I congratulate him on the way in which he has responded to the debate. We want to help him as far as possible, but not when we have serious concerns about the proposals in clauses 5, 6 and 7.

This law will, I suspect, be applied inconsistently according to political pressures and to placate Governments who are friendly to Britain, not according to the principles of justice. I do not intend to press the amendment, but I shall vote against clause 5 stand part.

5.15 am
Mr. McNamara

I will be brief.

My hon. Friend the Member for—

Ann Clwyd

Cynon Valley.

Mr. McNamara

For somewhere in Wales. At this hour of the morning, I would find it difficult to say Ballybunion.

My hon. Friend has advanced a compelling argument, so I do not want to go over the particular incidents that she has mentioned. I want to deal with the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and myself.

We seek in the amendment to set criteria by which one can examine whether a particular action should be taken. If these provisions are to go through—I agree with my hon. Friend that we would rather not have them at all—the action being followed in or for that state or territory should not infringe—if it were an action in the UK or in any of the UK's jurisdictions—the European convention on human rights. Those criteria are the entitlement to a fair trial, an independent judiciary, the ability of the defendant to see the evidence against him, and a balanced attitude towards both the defence and the prosecution. That is what is contained in the European convention.

If we were to adopt that attitude, it would go some way to meeting many of the misgivings that my colleagues have on these clauses. It would not overcome them, but it would go some way to meeting their misgivings.

We would then add a fifth condition to the four conditions that have to be met to bring such an action: the procedure for the trial of the offence in that country or territory, if it were the procedure for the trial of the offence in any jurisdiction in the United Kingdom, would not infringe the terms of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, agreed by the Council of Europe at Rome". If my hon. Friend the Minister is not able to accept the amendment—gracious though he has been all evening, I have the feeling that that will probably be his attitude—it would be helpful if he could indicate that the criteria in the convention are the type of criteria that will affect the Attorney-General's decisions. This is more concrete, more direct and a better set of criteria than anything called public interest, whatever that may mean at any particular time.

Therefore, we would be able to meet the particular problems that have been enumerated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) in relation to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and all the other countries where we have a real fear that human rights are being abused. We have our own criteria for the proper way in which a trial should be held. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke about throwing the procedure open to the world, saying that we do it for the Council of Europe countries, for the United States and for India, so why should we not do it for others?

We should do it only for those others that have the same criteria for holding a fair trial. If we were certain that those criteria would be observed and followed properly, we could at least say that there would be the necessary objectivity and criteria for us to see how decisions were made. Public interest is nebulous. Here is an opportunity to seize the initiative of an ethical foreign policy and the incorporation of the convention. We can extend the principles of the convention throughout the world.

Mr. Allan

I speak in support of Liberal Democrat amendment No. 53. Our aim is similar to that of the Labour Members who have spoken—to make human rights explicit in the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has said, it is not enough for the Attorney-General to be given broad discretion. He must be given the appropriate tools to justify his decisions. One such tool is that he can say that he is not prepared to take action because of the human rights record of a country.

I should like to give some more difficult examples than those already mentioned. In relation to Kashmir, many thousands of British citizens are organised politically in this country in a way that could be described as related to a conspiracy to carry out acts that may be criminal in India or Pakistan. Many citizens fear being drawn in to being described as part of a conspiracy because they have collected money or organised in a political party here. I am not going into the rights and wrongs of the case, but they have a justified concern about the Bill that needs to be answered.

Examples from closer to home include the recent situation in Bosnia, or that in Kosovo now. Those supporting the Kosovo rebels are supporting a group committing actions against the legitimate Serbian Government. The Bill must incorporate the respect for human rights that would enable the Attorney-General to say that our response would be proportionate.

Where people have justifiable concerns about the human rights situation in another country or have proof of violations that have been carried out against their people, a little more leeway should be allowed on their actions in this country. We do not want any legality given to those who carry out terrorist acts such as bombing a civilian area or hijacking and bombing aeroplanes. There is no justification for that under any regime, but there are grey areas in which incorporating the notion of human rights in the Bill would give us more clarity in dealing with them.

The human rights concern must lie at the heart of all our legislation, and should not be overridden by commercial or other concerns. We want it to be incorporated through our amendments or those of the Labour Back Benchers.

Mr. Canavan

I support what my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) have said, but I should like to concentrate on amendments Nos. 83, 84 and 85 in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing).

The three amendments are somewhat similar: amendment No. 83 refers to the position in England and Wales; amendment No. 84 to the position in Northern Ireland; and amendment No. 85 to the position in Scotland. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Bill already requires the consent of the senior Law Officer—the Attorney-General—before a prosecution can take place of a person accused of conspiracy to commit offences outside the United Kingdom. Therefore, it seems reasonable to place a statutory obligation on the Attorney-General to take into account the standards of democracy and human rights in the country where the alleged offence was intended to be committed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley gave the example of people in this country who are intent on the overthrow of the fascist regime in Iraq. It could be argued that, if they went so far as to plot the assassination of Saddam Hussein, that assassination, if committed in this country, would, in strict technical legal terms, constitute a criminal offence. It certainly would constitute a criminal offence in Iraq.

Therefore, the principle of dual criminality would apply, so anyone plotting in this country to get rid of Saddam Hussein by the use of force could fall foul of the legislation. It seems perfectly reasonable that the Attorney-General should be under a statutory obligation to take into account the nature of the regime in the country where the result of the conspiracy is intended to occur, and whether that occurrence was intended to combat injustice or oppression.

There seems to be a difference between the application of the Bill in Scotland and its application in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the Bill does not require the consent of any Law Officer before a prosecution can take place of a person accused of conspiracy to commit offences outside the United Kingdom. Amendment No. 85 would insert a requirement for the consent of the Lord Advocate in Scotland, just as, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the consent of the Attorney-General would be required.

If there is no statutory obligation for the Lord Advocate himself to look at the papers on the case and to give his consent, presumably it could be left to the local or regional procurator fiscal to decide, on the normal criteria, whether a prosecution should take place. When dealing with offences of a highly political or potentially extremely serious nature, we should make it incumbent on the Lord Advocate personally to take the decision on whether to prosecute. In other words, there should be a safeguard in Scotland similar to the safeguard laid down in the Bill for England and Wales.

The Secretary of State, if he is to wake up and reply to this debate, or the Minister of State may well say that procedure for prosecution is different in Scotland. No doubt the Lord Advocate and/or the procurator fiscal will apply the normal criteria. Perhaps he can refresh our memories as to what the criteria are.

I understand that the criteria include whether there is sufficient evidence to obtain a successful prosecution; whether the prosecution would be in the public interest; whether the alleged offence is serious enough; and whether the person accused has any previous convictions or has received any previous warnings from a procurator fiscal about his or her conduct. There may be other criteria on which the Minister can elaborate.

5.30 am

It would be helpful if there were a statutory obligation on the Lord Advocate in Scotland parallel to the obligation on the Attorney-General in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The record of human rights and democracy—or the lack of them—in the appropriate country should be one of the criteria on which the decision whether to prosecute is based.

It is a great pity and an absolute disgrace that, in the whole of this debate, not one Scottish Office Minister has sat on the Front Bench. I do not know whether any of them are in the Palace of Westminster, or even in London. We now have a Scottish Office Minister who is not a Member of either House, but four of the six Scottish Office Ministers are Members of the House of Commons; yet not one of them has come here to explain the Bill's implications for Scotland, which are different in many respects from its implications for England and Wales.

I know that the two Law Officers are not Members of the House of Commons—one is a member of another place—but during our many hours of discussion, someone should have spoken on behalf of one of the Scottish Law Officers.

Dr. Starkey

All the amendments are designed to get across one essential point, which has largely been accepted by the Minister in some of his previous replies: that offences that might be deemed terrorist offences, whether against property or against people, are of a different nature when they are committed in a democratic country, where there are ample democratic means of achieving political ends, from when they are committed in a wholly despotic country in which the ordinary democratic avenues are completely closed and more assertive methods may be the only means of changing the political situation. Amendments Nos. 83 and 84, in particular, represent an attempt to get that included as a factor that the Attorney-General must take into account when considering whether a prosecution would be in the public interest.

I should like to add an additional criterion, which does not, strictly speaking, come under the terms of human rights. When offences are committed in a country or territory under illegal occupation, that should be a material consideration, and should change our opinion about whether it was in the public interest to prosecute those who conspired in this country to commit the offences.

I am concerned about the amorphous concept of the public interest and the way in which the Attorney-General appears to have the impossible task of trying to second-guess what the public interest may be. It is not unreasonable for Parliament to be in a position to give the Attorney-General some guidance on the objective factors that he—at the moment it is he, but it might be she in future—should take into account in assessing the public interest.

The objective criteria should be related to human rights and democratic freedoms within the country that is being complained of, and to the status of its Government in international law. That would take account of the circumstance that I have suggested, of a Government illegally occupying the territories or countries in question.

It is unlikely that any of the amendments will be accepted, and it would be helpful if the Minister could try to be more definite about the precise criteria that the Attorney-General will be expected to take into account when assessing the public interest. Those are: issues of human and democratic rights, and the standing of the Governments in question under international law.

Mr. Corbyn

I support the amendment that was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and I obviously support the amendment that was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) because I am one of the signatories. Trying to deal with clauses 5, 6 and 7, which have been tagged on to the legislation, at this time is utterly ridiculous. This is an important Bill with far-reaching implications. Plainly, it is not well drafted and is open to all sorts of interpretations. I pay tribute to those hon. Members who have managed to table sensible and intelligent amendments.

We should not have to deal with the Bill at this time. There should have been a separate Bill to be dealt with either when we returned in October, if it were that urgent, or in the new Session in November. Such legislation should be dealt with properly, but the Bill has all the hallmarks of a measure that somebody in the Home Office has for a long time wanted to put through Parliament. The opportunity was taken to remove it from the shelf and shove it in, and we are stuck with it.

The amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North and I tabled would ensure that there was at least some consistency, in that the European convention on human rights would be the basis for any prosecution. Such a safeguard is also incorporated in the amendments that were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley, because the United Nations would be involved. As the legislation stands, it would be possible for a regime such as the one in Nigeria to claim that the Ogoni people, who were led by Ken Saro-Wiwa, were terrorists. That regime claimed that they were terrorists who operated against the oil installations in Nigeria.

Such operations are illegal in that country and would be illegal here and, on that basis and because of a vast amount of commercial and other pressure, a British Government could prosecute a leader of the Ogoni people in Britain for raising funds to support his colleagues in Nigeria. Following the appalling way in which Saro-Wiwa was executed and all that went with that, I do not think that that would happen, but we can envisage a method of reporting building up a scenario in which British interests are damaged by people in Britain who are raising money for attacks on installations in Nigeria. The same could be said of what happens in many countries.

All over north London, in my constituency and in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and of many others, dozens of small organisations are campaigning for justice in their countries. There has been the Nicaragua solidarity campaign, the El Salvador solidarity campaign, the Chile solidarity campaign, other campaigns relating to Latin America, such as that for Colombia, the trans-Caucasus campaign and campaigns involving people from Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China. It would be possible to make a case against almost any of them by stating that, somehow or other, they are raising money that is used to support illegal activities in their countries.

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend is right to say that safeguards are necessary. People who campaign against repressive regimes should continue to have their freedom in Britain: it would be extremely unfortunate if it were otherwise. There is no disagreement between us on that, but is my hon. Friend aware that some people who live in this country and who were interviewed justified the bombing in east African countries? I am not saying that those people were involved in planning those murders, but, if they were, surely they have no right whatever to be in this country.

Mr. Corbyn

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with that point quite clearly when he said that to express a point of view on those bombings was one thing, but to support them in a practical sense was another. I have no time whatever for that bombing. What happened was abominable and appalling and I do not seek to justify supporting people who do such bombings.

Many organisations give support to liberation movements—or whatever description one wants to apply to them—in their own countries, which, it could be argued, are giving material comfort to those who are committing illegal acts. It is a grey and complex area.

My concern is that the Bill may result in enormous commercial and political pressures being put on a British Government to prosecute people who have done nothing other than campaign for justice and for democracy in a land that is denied it.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene again. We agree that the freedom to campaign is essential. Are we in agreement that people in Britain who have been given the right to stay here, who organise murders abroad for political reasons, should not be in a position to do that?

Mr. Corbyn

I am not sure why I am the subject of this questioning by the hon. Gentleman. Obviously, I am not in favour of people organising murders anywhere. My purpose is to see peace in the world and a system of government that provides for the democratic resolution of conflict. Unhappily, many people in the world do not enjoy that privilege. Many British companies are happy to make a great deal of money out of those countries where democracy is denied. Much money has been made by oil companies in Colombia, for example. There are many other examples.

I support the amendments. If they were accepted by the Government, they would make the Bill less bad. However, inserting clauses 5, 6 and 7, with all the dangers attendant on them, is a great mistake. Rather than, at nearly 6 am, trying to rush through the Bill, there should be serious and proper discussion in which evidence and opinion can be taken from different organisations, such as Amnesty International and United Nations groups, which have a serious contribution to make to the debate. We legislate in haste and regret at leisure. There will be a lot of regretting to do if we start prosecuting people who legitimately pursue a peaceful solution to conflict in a violent world.

Mr. Donald Anderson

I well understand the concerns that have been expressed, and I could give other examples. For example, I recently read a book on the French Resistance in which the writer exulted at how he and his colleagues blew up trains, actions that we were supporting from this country. That is precisely the sort of area that would be blocked by the Attorney-General. That is why many of us who began by opposing the private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) a year or two ago changed our minds when the mechanism of the Attorney-General was brought in.

I understand the concerns of colleagues, but they are essentially misplaced. My hon. Friends seek to fetter the discretion of the Attorney-General. The range of considerations is so wide that it is impossible to set out clearly answers to the multitude of considerations which may arise.

Consider, for example, the persuasive points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on human rights and the convention. The Kenya bombing was an outrage. It was clear that whoever was responsible for that bomb outside the US embassy was wholly unconcerned about the loss of life which was likely to follow. More than 200 innocent Kenyans were killed, apart from those in the embassy and adjoining buildings. I heard an individual in this country almost exult in that, saying that if the cause was served, the deaths of those Kenyans was very sad, but that was just one of those things that happen.

5.45 am

Are we to say that, had we doubts about the validity or the legitimacy of the judicial processes in Kenya, we would take a different view? Kenya may be deficient in some ways, but we are broadly happy with the judicial processes. If anyone in this country had plotted or sought military materiel or anything else involved in the Kenya bombing, that could not be justified, whatever our concerns about judicial processes in that country. That is the real dilemma that we face. It was wrong, and it would be wrong even if the Kenyan judicial system were highly deficient.

Our starting point must be the fact that there is a deficiency in our law, a lacuna that must be corrected in a proper democratic way. It must be dealt with according to the traditions of the House and appropriate safeguards must be built in for human rights reasons. That is why, as there is no immediacy in clauses 5 to 7, I follow, as always, the wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

If the measure had been tackled properly, there would have been an opportunity for outside legal human rights opinion to be expressed in some sort of pre-legislative committee. There would have been a proper Committee stage. I am one of those who do not believe that the Home Office is infallible. One of my heroes, Cromwell, said: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken. Even the Home Office legal experts may be mistaken. Even what they say can be improved upon. There is no urgency and no reason why we should have gone about the matter as we have.

I heard what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in an excellent speech. He observed that the matter had already been extensively canvassed in the abortive private Member's Bill. In my judgment, that was not so. It was a private Member's Bill, although I concede that the hon. Member for Eastbourne was acting as an agent for the Home Office. He received only a certain degree of support. The Bill was not studied with great care in the House or in Committee. If we are properly to advance, we must recognise that there is a lacuna, but the House of Commons must rectify it in the proper way, with proper scrutiny.

Mr. Öpik

If we did not have entrenched positions, Ministers should now be able to say that they will reconsider the measure and take a more balanced position in the light of the commonsense comments that have been made on the Floor of the Chamber. The intention is not to fetter the discretion of the Attorney-General, but to make it possible for him to exercise some judgment in the grey areas that arise when these clauses must be applied to a situation involving a country with a questionable human rights record.

Britain has been a crusader in the past, at least in some parts of the world, helping people who were seeking to create a democratic system where one did not exist. I draw the Minister's attention to the many examples that have been cited in the debate.

I know the example of Estonia well, and I know it to be a genuine case in which individuals operated from the United Kingdom to assist Estonian people to create a democratic system there. I am in no doubt that if Britain had not made it relatively easy for Estonian activists and fighters for independence to work from here, they would have had to find somewhere else from which to operate. I am also in no doubt that the work that the activists did in Estonia was illegal under the laws of the former Soviet Union. In some cases, it would have been illegal had it been done in the United Kingdom.

That does not make the activists terrible criminals; it simply underlines the core fallacy in clauses 5, 6 and 7, which is to assume that individual behaviour in other parts of the world can be assessed in the same context as behaviour here in the United Kingdom. That is the core mistake. It takes no account of the very difficulties that a fighter for independence or a political activist in a more oppressed part of the world has to face.

I hope that Ministers accept the need to think again about an inflexible part of the Bill which is causing many of us great difficulties, not least because we do not see the purpose of including it alongside clauses 1 to 4, which clearly have an immediacy and direct significance to the terrible tragedy of Omagh and the difficulties that face us in ensuring that the peace process in Northern Ireland can continue.

I throw the challenge to Ministers to discuss the matters privately among themselves, have some respect for the difficulties that we have raised here in Committee and come back with something that makes it a little easier for us to swallow this part of the Bill and, more than anything, something that makes it easier for Britain to continue to play a leading role in assisting those individuals who have the courage to fight for independence in their own country and use the United Kingdom as a platform to do so.

Ms Abbott

I represent a constituency in the east end of London that has been a haven for political dissidents since the Huguenots in the 16th century. In the present day, we have Kurds, Algerians and Nigerian dissidents. It is because this legislation could affect the lives and liberties of many of my constituents that I rise to speak. It is wrong that we should discuss legislation of this gravity in the early hours of the morning. The matter should have been dealt with in a separate Bill introduced in October. It should have proper scrutiny. As my friend and colleague the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), said with such cogency, the arguments of urgency that applied to the earlier clauses of the Bill in relation to Northern Ireland do not apply to clauses 5, 6 and 7. There is no reason why we should be discussing these clauses at 6 o'clock in the morning.

I am glad to be able to speak in support of a set of amendments that has been moved so ably in the past hour. I do not wish to go over arguments that have already been made, but, precisely because the arguments of urgency do not apply, it seems to me that tagging on these three clauses is sheer opportunism by Home Office officials. It has all the hallmarks of a measure that has been dusted off and tagged on to the Northern Ireland proposals.

Much has been made of the safety mechanism provided by the Attorney-General and the fact that he will have to take questions of public interest into account. Much has been made of how we should not fetter him in examining the public interest, but I want to know—Ministers have not told me—precisely what aspect of the public interest he will give most weight to. Will he look at the public interest in relation to arms sales or in relation to international good governance? Will he look at the public interest in relation to ethical foreign policy or in not upsetting people who are big buyers of British goods?

We have the utmost confidence in the current Attorney-General. No one on the Labour Benches is seeking to fetter him, but we feel that he could benefit from more scrutiny of the legislation and more guidance and clarity. It is not clear how the legislation will work. I do not believe that that is clear even to Ministers and officials. The lack of scrutiny and the way the Bill is being bulldozed through Parliament is entirely lamentable.

In the coming months and years, this legislation could mean that some of the most repressive regimes in the world could reach their long arms into Britain and take action against people whose only real crime is that they are in political opposition to regimes that do not have the ordinary democratic processes that we know. The way in which clauses 5 to 7 has been introduced is wrong. They are ill drafted and ill thought out. There is no justification for provisions of this nature being introduced in this way. I am glad to have had the opportunity, albeit briefly, to support an important group of amendments.

Mr. Dalyell

I have two questions of fact. The first, following on from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), is whether the Crown Office was consulted at an early stage. Was the Lord Advocate consulted? To what extent were they consulted? This is not simply an arcane question, because there are Lockerbie issues involving the importance of Scottish law about which we have heard a great deal. The question of fact is, to what extent was the Crown Office consulted?

Secondly, what are the cost implications? As I understand it, a phenomenal amount of money is already spent by Scotland Yard units monitoring various ethnic organisations and various countries' organisations. When one starts to take legal action against these organisations, bearing in mind all the family involvement, surely there must be cost implications and implications for police time. Could the Minister quantify the likely costs?

Finally, I say this to the Home Secretary at 6 am: he is the rarest of political creatures—a seemingly successful Home Secretary. He is certainly an authoritative one in this Government and he has done many good things. I believe that he has sufficient authority to do what has been done before. There is a precedent for a Minister going back to the Cabinet and saying that he has heard what the House of Commons has to say, that he is uneasy, that perhaps his parliamentary colleagues have a point, and that his Cabinet colleagues should postpone the action that they propose to take.

I do not think that members of the Conservative Front Bench will quibble if I use the example of Iranian sanctions. [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) nodding. Ministers went back to Mrs. Thatcher, as she then was, and said that there was great difficulty in the House of Commons and that they believed it to be genuine. They said that there was a problem of retrospection, and that perhaps she should postpone her proposed action and think again. I say this in no purgative spirit, but that was the first of Mrs. Thatcher's U-turns.

I suppose that I am asking the Home Secretary to make a minor, mini U-turn. I am asking him to go back to his colleagues and explain that there are great difficulties about tagging on clauses 5 to 7. I think that I speak for most of my colleagues when I say that, if he were to do that, it would be no disgrace for him. It is not disgraceful to put something before the House, to find that the House of Commons takes a more critical view than expected and then to start work on it again.

Mr. McDonnell

I wish to speak because, in the spirit of the Bill, I do not want people to infer that my silence is support for the legislation, or any form of guilt. The debate on the amendments has been a revelation. I realised during our debate on the previous group of amendments that my support for Greenpeace might be seen as part of a criminal conspiracy. During the debate on this group, I have realised that I have form as long as one's arm, given my support for Chile Solidarity, anti-Vietnam campaigns, law campaigns and support for the Kurds and a range of other groups—all actions which could fall within the ambit of this legislation.

The omnipotence of the Attorney-General has been a revelation to most new Members of Parliament, as have the breadth of the concept of public interest and its vagueness. A number of us want to fetter the discretion of the Attorney-General when considering the matter. The amendments would do that, because they draw attention to what should be his key consideration in exercising his omnipotence on that issue—the human rights records of other countries.

6 am

There are precedents. I can recall being a spectator in debates on extradition treaties in the House. In particular, I recall the debate on the treaty with India, which affected a large number of members of my community. During that debate, the human rights record of India towards Sikhs and other people who lived in or originated from the Punjab was discussed. That became a material factor in considering whether the treaty should be signed.

The previous Government also introduced a white-list system for asylum seekers and refugees. The human rights record and the judicial systems of the countries of origin or destination were material factors to be taken into consideration in decisions by the United Kingdom Government on whether someone should be accepted as an asylum seeker or refugee. There are precedents for certain elements of Government decision making being fettered as a result of considering the human rights record of certain states.

Therefore, I join other hon. Members in urging that, at this late stage in the debate on the legislation, which was forced on us, the clauses should be taken back. As an assembly, we should be mature enough to recognise that we may be blundering into an error that will drastically affect the lives of many of our constituents—not merely their well-being, but their very existence—so I urge reconsideration.

I would welcome a vote on the amendments, but, if we are not to have one, I want some assurance from the Minister that he will take the matter back to the Cabinet and that the Government will reconsider how we define the powers of the Attorney-General and the concept of public interest.

Mr. Winnick

In his reply, the Minister has a responsibility to give us some reassurance about the right of people who come to this country from abroad to demonstrate against foreign Governments. That is essential. Like many of my hon. Friends, I have campaigned on and off for more than 40 years about various foreign Governments. Indeed, I just reminded myself that it was as long ago as 1954 that, as a private citizen, I sent a telegram to try to save the life of the ex-Foreign Minister of Iran who had been involved with the Government of 1950–51—it did not do any good, although I wish that it had.

Our record in this country is essential. People are allowed to demonstrate. I have reservations about some of the remarks made by my hon. Friends, but I take on board the fact that foreign Governments could put pressure on this and future Governments and that dissidents living here could be pressurised by the police and the security authorities to stop what they are doing. That should not be the purpose, and we are told by the Government that it is not the purpose, of clauses 5 to 7; so, as I have already said, we need that reassurance to be absolutely clear about it.

The difficulty that I have with some of my hon. Friends is not—because of what I have just said, it cannot be—that we disagree over the right to demonstrate, the right to give asylum and the rights of people who have been given asylum and who want to demonstrate against the Governments and regimes from which they have come. We are in total agreement on those matters.

However, there is a problem that some of my hon. Friends may not have quite faced. Mention has been made of Kenya, but I remind the Committee that last year, when the killings of foreign citizens took place in Luxor, Egypt, the Egyptian Government said, rightly or wrongly, that they had been planned in the United Kingdom, which was used as a safe haven for terrorists.

The Home Affairs Committee, including the Chair, one or two other hon. Members and me, closely questioned my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on that point. He may remember the occasion. We wanted to find out whether the British Government—the present or the previous incumbents—had inquired whether there were people in this country who had planned that terrible massacre of foreign citizens in Egypt.

We know why that massacre occurred: fundamentalist elements wanted to turn Egypt into a fundamentalist state and to stop tourism. That is why only foreign citizens were killed—to prevent foreign tourists from going to Egypt.

There are many aspects of life in Egypt with which I disagree. That is obvious. I am a democrat, and Egypt is nowhere near the kind of democracy that we would like to see. Although I disagree with the authorities there and with some of the repression that takes place, one thing is certain: I do not want to see it made worse and become a fundamentalist state.

The same applies to Saudi Arabia. We all know about the repression that occurs there, the amputations and the rest, which are repulsive to say the least. However, some of the people who are demonstrating, agitating and doing their best to overthrow that Government are not doing so for our reasons, to make it anywhere near a democracy. Far from it; those people are trying to make Saudi Arabia a fundamentalist state—and that includes the person mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). Are we in favour of such people? We want reforms in those countries, and less repression, but we do not want regimes such as that in Afghanistan.

Dr. Lynne Jones

I do not think that there is concern in the House of Commons about the possible prosecution of people based in this country who conspire to carry out acts such as those that my hon. Friend described. We have had assurances from the Minister that such measures will not be used for fairly minor offences such as demonstrating against Governments, or even organising minor acts of vandalism and suchlike.

The concern is about actions in between those extremes, such as attacking military or other property within a state because that is the only way to take action in support of human rights. The example has been given of the actions of the military wing of the ANC in attacking property in South Africa.

Mr. Winnick

Fortunately, the position in South Africa has changed, the liberation movement has triumphed and we are in a new situation. I would argue that we should not harbour in Britain people who want to commit such acts abroad. I do not believe that Britain should be a haven for such activities. It should, however, give every opportunity to people who want to use Britain by living in this country because they have been persecuted in their own countries, and to agitate for more democratic regimes. That is perfectly legitimate.

The line that we have to draw is a very fine one. We want to defend our democratic rights in every way, but at the same time there is a problem that we must face whether we like it or not—that there have been, and will probably continue to be, elements in this country from abroad who want to use this country for terrorist purposes. I do not think that we should give them any help whatever.

For those reasons, with many, many reservations, I consider that clauses 5 to 7 are probably appropriate, in view of the curse of international terrorism.

Dr. Palmer

So far we have discussed these clauses from a somewhat "Westminstercentric" point of view. We have asked under what circumstances Ministers or the Attorney-General should take one action or another. However, if we turn the matter round and look at it from the viewpoint of an individual who is considering what action he or she might be able to take in pursuit of a cause that they support, we see the difficulties from a slightly different angle. The Minister may be able to help in that regard.

At the moment, the individual who, let us say, wishes to campaign against the Iraqi Government is faced with a grey area in roughly five dimensions. There is the dimension of the severity of the act; we have heard discussion of everything from graffiti to assassination. There is the dimension of the democratic or otherwise nature of the regime.

There is the dimension of the adequacy or otherwise of the legal system, and the other considerations that might come under the heading of public interest, such as those relating to trade or diplomatic relations, and the fact that the Attorney-General, and even the political party of the Government, can change. That means that the usual principle of jurisprudence, that a person is expected to follow the law because he or she knows what the law is, applies to a much weakened extent, because people do not really know what the law is. It depends very much on what the Attorney-General of the day thinks it is, and people know that it might be different next week.

Mr. McWalter

As the hour is very late and these are complex matters, might my hon. Friend consider curtailing his remarks so that we may consider clause 5 stand part, with a view to dividing the Committee on that, so that these matters might then return to the House at a time when we are all capable of paying attention to the intricacies of his argument?

Dr. Palmer

I am grateful for my colleague's suggestion. I have nearly finished.

I suggest that we should accept that each of the various attempts to limit the powers of the Attorney-General on a specific axis—such as the Liberal Democrat proposal to limit them according to the severity of the offence, or some of the proposals to limit them according to the nature of the country—is open to the criticism that it will not cover every conceivable situation.

However, it would help the Committee a great deal, and I believe that it would help individuals in the group that we are talking about, if the Minister would develop the comments that he made in response to my question about severity, and if he would confirm that, in cases where the alleged crime has a political element, considerations of the human rights record of the Government, and of the nature of the legal system in the country, would be expected to be important to the Attorney-General in reaching a decision on public interest.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

This is likely to be the last substantive debate on our proceedings on this important Bill. During most of the past five or six hours, I have listened from the Front Bench to the debate—in fact, I believe that I have sat there for about 12 of the past 16 hours. Much of those five or six hours has shown that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was right when, on Second Reading, he said that this was not an ideal way for us to proceed with regard to these matters. However, he rightly signalled that we believe, as do the Government, that it is right to send a message to terrorists that we are united in every respect with the Government in the action that they have chosen to take.

The arguments that we have heard on this group of amendments included a plea from one or two Labour Members—the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has made the point on several occasions—for the Government to take clauses 5 to 7 back and reconsider them. I must tell the Home Secretary that that is a problem for the Government, not for us; but, were he to feel obliged to take such action, Opposition Members would continue to support the Government in seeking to introduce the measures in clauses 5 to 7, because we have long considered them to be right and appropriate. Nothing that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and I have heard throughout the night has deflected us from the view that they would make a valuable addition to our criminal law.

6.15 am

We understand and sympathise with the concerns that have been expressed, particularly on this group of amendments, about human rights. This is not the group on which to debate whether it is reasonable to rely on the Attorney-General not to prosecute in cases in which it would be inappropriate to do so, although we believe that it is reasonable to rely on him in those circumstances.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) put his finger on the real issue. The real point addressed in the amendments is that whether a country has a democracy of the standard that we enjoy, and whether it has the standard of human rights that we enjoy, is of no concern or interest to the terrorist who takes the innocent human lives of those who have nothing to do with the political arguments, or the political struggles, that take place in some countries. The atrocities in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi make that abundantly clear: 300 innocent lives were taken.

I think it inconceivable that the Committee would want to agree to an amendment—however well-intentioned—that effectively says that, in countries where human rights and democratic standards are less than we would consider ideal, innocent people should be denied the protection that these clauses provide. As the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made plain, in the atrocity in Egypt that was precisely the point: innocent life was taken, quite deliberately, by an act of terrorism.

If some of that activity was plotted and planned from these shores, although we have voiced our concern—I have echoed it now—that we do not think that this was the ideal way of proceeding, it does illustrate the urgent need for Parliament to do something. I am not entirely surprised that the Home Secretary has taken the opportunity to add the clauses to the Bill.

It is tempting to say, at 6.18 am, that not only is this far from ideal, but it could and should have been handled better; but I am honest enough to admit that I suspect that I might well have done the same had I been in the Home Secretary's position. We must be honest. What has happened in Omagh—and, in the context of these amendments, in Dar es Salaam, in Nairobi and in Egypt in the past—should tell us one thing above all others: that the terrorist strikes when we least expect it. For that reason, we will support the Government again on Third Reading if there is a vote in a few minutes' time.

Mr. Michael

I thank the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) for his last remarks. I accept his point that the way in which we are dealing with the Bill is not ideal, but he was honest in balancing his preference with a sense of the urgency. I congratulate all hon. Members on the quality of speeches in this important debate, in which some important issues have been raised.

I took particular comfort from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), because I remember the powerful speech he made in expressing his concerns and reservations about the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill. The power of his speech on that occasion makes it all the more valuable to have his support for a measure that is intended to help combat a series of evils which affect people throughout the world. That is the reason for the urgency.

I do not wish to reopen the question of the role of the Attorney-General, which I dealt with in response to a series of questions in the previous debate. There is no doubt that human rights considerations will be important where they are relevant to the public interest consideration on which the Attorney-General has to make a decision. I agree with the hon. Member for Ryedale that the main question will be the nature of the offences that are the subject of consideration for prosecution in respect of conspiracy—particularly the likelihood of the indiscriminate killing of innocent men, women and children as a result of the activities of those involved in the conspiracy.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and many others, I have concerns about human rights and the freedom of people in this country to campaign abroad. Along with many others, I played an active part in the anti-apartheid movement, and supported the ANC. That has been in the forefront of my mind when dealing with previous Bills and this one. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) that the right to demonstrate against regimes abroad is not threatened at all by the Bill. We want to combine in this country a commitment to promoting democracy with fighting terrorism and organised crime. We must not allow the two to be inconsistent, and we must pursue both objectives.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 46 stand on the implication that an offence can infringe the European convention on human rights. I am not sure whether that is the case. Even if an offence can infringe on the convention, the Human Rights Bill will provide the opportunities to test the compatibility of UK law with the ECHR and to obtain remedies where it is not. That is the reason we are incorporating the convention into our legislation.

Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 are an unnecessary restriction on the scope of the Bill which already contains the safeguards that were discussed fully in the previous debate. We should not restrict the application of the clause in that way, although I have explained the way in which important human rights considerations can be part of the Attorney-General's consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) asked about the role of the Lord Advocate, which we have debated previously. The problem is that there is a difference between the function of the Lord Advocate and the procurator fiscal in the Scottish regime, compared with the responsibilities of the Attorney-General here. However, I understand that, under Scots law, all offences are prosecuted with the consent of the Lord Advocate. That responsibility is put in the hands of the procurator fiscal in terms of the conduct of proceedings. The same limitations will be achieved without putting them into the Bill.

Reference was made to countries under occupation where the Government perhaps are not the legitimate Government of the country. That may be relevant in some cases, in which case it would be taken into account by the Attorney-General. Therefore, I can give the assurance that, where that is a relevant consideration, this mechanism does allow for it to be dealt with.

This is not a question of pulling a Bill off the shelf. The commitment to legislation is long standing. It pre-dates the recess. It goes back to debates in opposition. We certainly considered it in the Home Office before consulting colleagues throughout Government during recent months. That is why I can be confident in arguing for support for the Bill and in appealing to colleagues not to press their amendments. They would not bring about the results that they wish because the dangers that they perceive are not there. I hope that I have been able to satisfy them of the rounded and effective nature of this legislation and that it will have support from colleagues and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

Ann Clwyd

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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