|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
In the past few years I have become somewhat involved with the affairs of various parts of the former Soviet Union. I shall just mention Nagorno-Karabakh, Trans-Dneistria, the Chechens and Abkhasia. In most of those cases, members of the breakaway dissident separatist governments have been invited to the United Kingdom and all kinds of discussions have taken place with them here. Will that kind of thing be put at risk?
It makes me think that Amendment No. 31, standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is of particular importance. I hope that if nothing else is accepted, the Government might at least think of accepting it.
Lord Henley: Before the Minister responds, perhaps I may make a brief point in reply to the queries put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. He rightly asked, as I think I did in my opening remarks, together with other noble Lords during the debate, whether the provisions in Clauses 5, 6 and 7 would have been introduced, had we not had the atrocities in Omagh. Before the Minister responds, it would be helpful if I reminded him of what his right honourable friend the Prime Minister said yesterday:
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful for the courtesy that the noble Lord showed me in reading out the citation. Of course what the Prime Minister said is correct. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise. The fact is that we are not dealing with hypothetical situations; we are dealing with the recall of Parliament to deal with specific matters of grave public interest in Omagh. But we are also meeting, as a recalled Parliament, in the knowledge of three gross atrocities. Let us not forget that 10 times as many people were killed in the American embassy bombing as were killed in Omagh. A large number were killed in the other embassy, many, I say as a matter of fact, not as a matter of comment, had no connection with the United States. They were simply bystanders going to their work, going about their everyday occasions. The restaurant explosion in Cape Town left dead and injured.
It is idle to ask what would have happened if Omagh had never occurred, if Parliament had never been recalled, because one is dealing with hypotheses. I think the Prime Minister put it fairly, as the noble Lord read out.
There are a number of misconceptions which have been ventilated on this occasion and earlier. It is important to bear in mind what the state of the law is at present. I think the Home Secretary described it as something of a patchwork. The fact is that the suppression of terrorism Act makes it an offence to conspire within our jurisdiction in respect of crimes in other jurisdictions. However, they are limited--on quite what basis of reason or jurisprudence I have never been able to understand--to those countries in the Council of Europe, India and the United States; not Pakistan, not other Commonwealth countries with which we have had long and friendly relations. It may or may not be a palatable fact but it is a fact that these offences are at present offences in the terrorism context in respect of those countries alone.
The conspiracy legislation is not limited to terrorism; it is directed to crimes which are subject to the dual criminality test. That is: the acts, if put into effect, would be crimes within our jurisdiction and also crimes within the foreign country's jurisdiction.
The former Attorney-General asked me whether I thought it was satisfactory that conduct should be unlawful but not subject to the sanction of the law without the consent of the Attorney-General. That obtains in this context. It also obtains in other contexts, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell know perfectly well. For example, the Attorney, or the Solicitor in his place, is required to sanction a prosecution under the prevention of corruption Acts. That is a similar position. If the fiat is not given, although the conduct is properly described as criminal, it is not subject to the sanction of the criminal law. So this is by no means an unusual situation.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Surely there is a very marked distinction in character between those two scenarios? In the first scenario the law says thou shalt not act corruptly--and then as a safeguard there is put in the need for the consent of the Attorney. In this question, what is in issue is whether the law should say that if you act as the Bill stipulates you are acting criminally. That is what I think many of us find great difficulty in accepting in the instances put forward by the two noble Lords who have spoken.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Criminally and unlawfully are coterminous in this particular context. There is no difference in the quality of the analysis between the prevention of corruption situation and the conspiracy situation.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I apologise for interrupting my noble friend again. I am grateful to him for giving way. Does he accept that corruption is something which we all condemn and want to discourage? Some of the activities referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, are matters which we would approve and want to encourage. If the only safeguard
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is a different situation but it does not bear on the question put to me by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, which I have answered. I will answer the question but it is entirely different to the question of legal analysis which was put to me and which I answered a moment ago.
My noble friend Lord Archer of Sandwell is saying that we support this sort of activity and therefore we ought to view it with sympathy. We need to get firmly in our minds what sort of activity we are talking about. Are we talking about incitement? No. Incitement was contained in a Private Member's Bill which was introduced in another place and which was supported by the present Official Opposition. Incitement was included. It is not a freak or an accident that we have deleted it from the proposals in this Bill.
It is not an offence--nor will it be if this Bill becomes law--to sympathise with political movements abroad. It would not be an offence to support them financially. It is not an offence to speak in their favour in this country or to speak encouragingly of them in this country. The only offence is conspiracy, which has the following characteristics in this context. It has to have the dual criminality, which I have identified; it has to have the Attorney General's consent.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said earlier that the Attorney-General is the guardian of the public interest. I entirely accept that. That is why we have written in this particular sanction. Again, this is not a safeguard which was in the Private Member's Bill which failed for technical reasons in another place. I say again--not in any partisan way, I hope--that that was supported by the Official Opposition. We thought it right to put this sanction in.
The question is: is it to be an offence in this country to conspire to commit offences in a foreign jurisdiction which, if the acts were to be put into effect in this country, would be crimes in this country? That is the question. To take an illustration almost at random, simply because another country has a regime with which we conscientiously disagree, is it right to allow people in this country to conspire, for instance, to bomb a US or British embassy in a country when we do not agree with the internal politics of its regime?
The Earl of Onslow: Presumably, it would be right to do that thing if you are the Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan and you are supporting Afghan rebels who want to destroy or destabilise that regime. Those people will get support to bomb and to commit guerilla activities because we happen to approve of what they are doing. But if you are doing it against the Americans in Dar es Salaam or Kenya, perfectly reasonably we think that the Americans are the good guys. It seems to
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not subscribe to that view of law or legalities. Perhaps I may give an obvious example in reply to the noble Earl. If I am charged with murder, the law rightly does not care tuppence whether I have killed a rapist or killed the vicar. It is murder. With regard to the path identified by the noble Earl--I know he was using shorthand and putting it rather plainly and bluntly, as sometimes he does--I do not believe that conspiracy to kill the good guys is justifiable or not justifiable as opposed to conspiracy to kill the bad guys. If one wants to go that way, we need to recognise that what we are talking about is not law but the anarchy of the jungle.
I need to stress that this is not limited to terrorism. It is not confined in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, directed us to in Amendment No. 31 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In fact, as I understand it--I am subject to correction--I believe that he will not be present to move his amendment. In fact, I ought to have said earlier that, so far as I can see, within this group are amendments starting at Amendment No. 11 and finishing at Amendment No. 60, though not every amendment on the way from Amendment No. 11 to Amendment No. 60 will necessarily be spoken to. However, I think I can develop my theme, if it is agreeable to the Committee, in the general way that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, developed his.
My noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell spoke of Amnesty. Supporting Amnesty will not be caught by these new offences. When I paid my subscription I never understood that Amnesty was engaged in conspiracies to cause explosions or violent acts abroad. It was concerned with legitimate activities which we all recognise and honour and which were specified by the noble Lord and others; that is to say, giving assistance and succour, to take the example of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa where people are being persecuted. But providing assistance to them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has nobly done, will not be caught by these conspiracy laws because she is not doing anything unlawful.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page