PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Standing Committee E

JURISDICTION (CONSPIRACY AND INCITEMENT) BILL

Second Sitting

Wednesday 12 February 1997

CONTENTS

CLAUSES 1 to 5 agreed to.

SCHEDULES 1 and 2 agreed to.

Bill to be reported, without amendment

Committee rose at twenty-three minutes to Eleven o'clock

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41 Standing Committee E Wednesday 12 February 1997

[SIR DAVID KNOX in the Chair]

Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill Clause 1
CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT OFFENCES OUTSIDE THE UNITED KINGDOM

Amendment proposed [11 February]: No. 1, in page 2, line 39, at end insert— ''(12A) No prosecution shall be instituted by virtue of this section except by or with the consent of the Attorney General.".—[Mr. Donald Anderson.]

10.30 am

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments:

No. 4, in page 2, line 39, at end insert— '(12A) No prosecution shall be instituted by virtue of this section except by or with the personal consent of the Attorney General.'.

No. 2, in page 3, line 9, at end insert—

'Attorney General Attorney General for Northern Ireland'.

No. 3, in clause 2, page 3, line 45, at end insert— '(8A) No prosecution shall be instituted by virtue of this section except by or with the consent—

  • in England and Wales, of the Attorney General; or
  • in Northern Ireland, of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.'.
  • No. 5, in clause 2, page 3, line 45, at end insert— '(8A) No prosecution shall be instituted by virtue of this section except by or with the personal consent—

  • in England and Wales, of the Attorney General or
  • in Northern Ireland, of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.'.
  • No. 6, in clause 3, page 5, line 14, at end insert— '(7A) No prosecution shall be instituted by virtue of this section except with the personal consent of the Lord Advocate.'.

    Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Yesterday, we ended in a rather confused position after a helpful and interesting debate. Several important questions were raised, including the conspirators against Hitler who might have been in this country in 1944. We also discussed a rather more intriguing question about a previous Prime Minister of this country, Baroness Thatcher, who in 1986 met a leader of the Afghan rebels and possibly conspired against the legitimately established Government of Afghanistan. We discussed 42 whether she could have been indicted in this country under the Bill. One's mind boggles at the possibilities. Those examples—however apparently absurd—illustrate some of the sensitivities that are involved and the mine-field into which the Government will blunder if they do not accept a proposal along the lines suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and by me. I was saddened by the inadequate response of the Minister and the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson). Wide questions about the public interest are involved—they are wider than the public interest cases with which the Crown Prosecution Services usually deals, and is equipped to deal. The Minister said that the Attorney-General might be consulted, but it was the contention of those who supported the amendment that he should be consulted, at least in relation to politically sensitive cases. If he were not, there would be a danger of causing real embarrassment to wider British interests. The promoter said that the wide catch-all hurdle was not needed to meet the amendments objectives. For example, he said that one would expect the Crown Prosecution Service to consult the Attorney-General in difficult cases. That is a discretionary matter dependent on the political nous of those making the decisions. He also said that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland would ensure that managerial arrangements would be devised to ensure that decisions were made at a suitably senior level. As I argued yesterday, that would still leave discretion with the Administration and there would be no accountability to the House. I have stressed from the beginning that I am not wedded to any particular formula. I recognise that a substantial burden could fall on the Attorney-General. However, I was reassured by the fact that the Minister and the promoter said on Second Reading that they anticipated that few cases would be brought under the Bill. Not least among the reasons for that were evidential reasons and the problems that are associated with the War Crimes Act 1991. In my judgment, not many cases would be involved, but if there were many cases, the relevant obligation could be refined. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) hoped that there would be, as he put it, a serious response from the Minister and the promoter to the problems that we outlined. Alas, the Member for Eastbourne came to the Committee with empty hands. He gave us only the lame response that he would consider what had been said. We are in the same position that we were in before the Committee met. A real problem is involved, and there is disquiet about it outside the House. I should not be surprised if the other place continued the practice that it has pursued in the past 43 few weeks of asking rather serious questions about Home Office legislation and asked rather serious questions about this legislation. By refusing to make any concessions, the Government and the Home Office in particular might find that they run into problems at the fag end of this Parliament when the Bill reaches another place. However, having raised the issue in a serious way and having had it rejected, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

    Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I believe that all hon. Members accept that there is a clear loophole in United Kingdom law. Among other things, the Bill will extend the scope of the Sexual Offences (Conspiracy and Incitement) Act 1996. I am grateful for the contributions from all hon. Members, and especially for the generous cross-party support for the principles underlying the Bill. I have clearly in mind the points made by Opposition Members as well as by my hon. Friends. 44 The point of my Bill is to ensure that those who are reasonably and rightly in Britain as a safe haven do not abuse our hospitality by planning criminal acts in foreign countries.

    Question put an agreed to.

    Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clauses 2 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

    Mr. Waterson: On a point of order, Sir David. You have, rightly, a reputation as a Chairman who believes in the brisk disposal of business. You have been sagacious and patient in your chairmanship of the Committee. I am sorry that events yesterday dented your reputation for rapid dispatch in such matters, but I am delighted that there has been a happy ending. I thank you, Sir David, on behalf of the Committee for your chairmanship.

    The Chairman: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much indeed. I shall not detain the Committee any further.

    Bill to be reported, without amendment.

    Committee rose at twenty-three minutes to Eleven o'clock.

    THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

    Knox, Sir David (Chairman)

    Anderson, Mr. Donald

    Evans, Mr. Nigel

    Kirkhope, Mr.

    Leigh, Mr.

    Merchant, Mr.

    Touhig, Mr.

    Waterson, Mr.