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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, as Amendment No. 3 is also being spoken to and is in this group, I must point out that if Amendment No. 2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 3.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, Amendment No. 2 stands in my name and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who cannot be with us this afternoon. Those who have looked at the amendments will see that Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are remarkably similar. The noble and learned Lord and I think that the government amendment is entirely satisfactory and will meet the wishes that were expressed earlier in our debates.
The Minister has drawn attention to some of the changes in the definition of terrorism that we and others asked for, starting with the insertion of terror and intimidation. One of the extraordinary features of the Bill's original definition of terrorism was that it did not include terror. I am glad to say that it is now rightly included. The amendment also extends the definition to cover what is known in the jargon as cyber-terrorism--the destruction of electronic systems. That is very important, because great damage can be caused to public life and the public can be held to ransom by computer hacking of one kind or another. Terrorists have already begun to do that and may do so a great deal more in the future.
It is also clear from how the amendment is inserted in the Bill that terrorism involving overseas countries and governments is included. That is also important. We do not want the United Kingdom to be the base from which terrorists operate against foreign governments in pursuit of foreign aims.
Amendment No. 49 rightly brings offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 committed in Northern Ireland into the list of scheduled offences that can be dealt with by the Diplock courts and all the associated machinery, for as long as it is necessary. Financial rackets and rackets involving computers can be just as damaging as bombs and guns in the hands of terrorists in Northern Ireland. Given the difficulties
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, we would have given more or less unreserved support to Amendment No. 2. I discussed its drafting with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. We particularly welcome the introduction of the concept of intimidation as a necessary part of the definition of terrorism.
Our welcome for Amendment No. 1 is more qualified. It is unquestionably an improvement on the original definition, so we do not intend to oppose it, but we find aspects of it distinctly worrying. In particular, it includes actions that may influence the Government without intimidating any section of the public. That may be justified in certain cases, but the amendment is currently too wide. We accept that the definition needs to cover actions that are not directed specifically against the public, such as the assassination of leading members of the Government or people in similar positions, but it needs to be tightened up. It is difficult to justify treating as terrorism an action that involves serious damage to property if it merely influences the Government and is not likely to intimidate the public. That is particularly relevant when we consider that we may be talking about not just the Government of the United Kingdom, but those overseas.
In principle, we support the exception for the use of firearms or explosives, but it leaves a gap, because it does not cover a situation in which a member of the Government is hijacked and then strangled rather than shot. That is perhaps an unlikely situation, but it is possible.
Our view of this is, therefore, that we cannot give unqualified approval to Amendment No. 1. As I said, we do not intend to oppose it because we regard it as an improvement, but we shall look at it carefully. It is more than likely that we shall want to bring back amendments to the redefined definition on Third Reading in order to be able to have a full debate on the issue. Therefore, for today, I simply say that we do not oppose the amendment.
It is not necessarily perfect. I echo the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that it is quite possible that we should look again at new subsection (1A)(b) which relates to serious damage to property, for the reasons that he has explained. My party and I are not happy with new subsection (1A)(c). We do not like the fact that the provisions include endangering the terrorist's own life. I would describe that as the
By listening and talking, the Government have achieved a much better situation than we had at the last stage of the Bill. I congratulate them on that. I support them in principle, although I have reservations on the detail.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am grateful for the government amendments. I noticed that when moving them the noble Lord, Lord Bach, mentioned recent events. Was he referring to the problems with the computers of the national air traffic control which occurred last Saturday? That may have caused some of your Lordships some inconvenience. It certainly caused me a six-hour delay in taking off on an internal flight within this country. Is the noble Lord able to say anything about the causes of those problems and whether they had any connection, however tenuous, with terrorism?
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I am concerned that one of the serious aspects of life in Northern Ireland is the banishing of families. At the moment, I am glad to say that that is peculiar to Northern Ireland. But it has a terrible effect on a whole group of people.
Does the Minister consider that new subsection (1A)(d) of the government amendment covers that point? If not, I should like to talk to Members on my Front Bench and possibly bring forward an amendment at a later stage. If the Bill already covers that issue, obviously I shall not press it further; but I am concerned about it.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I had not intended to intervene on this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred to new subsection (1A)(c) which deals with endangering a person's life. That leads one to suppose that a hunger strike could be interpreted as terrorism. When he replies will the Minister confirm whether or not that is so?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, this is not a Bill in which I have taken an interest so far. At this stage, I do not declare a pecuniary interest, but very close to where I live is the site of the Huntingdon Life Sciences Company. The Minister will be aware that there has been an almost permanent gathering of people squatting at the gates of that company. They have been terrorising--and I use my words and not those of anybody else--the staff of that company.
Recently that has been taken a further stage and a new phenomenon has arisen in terms of terrorising people. Nowadays, people visit Companies House and they obtain lists of shareholders in particular companies. If a view is taken that, for one reason or another, there is a philosophical objection to the purposes and objectives of the company and the business with which it is involved, those shareholders are terrorised. That may be done through a written letter or, worse, things may be put through their letter boxes or their cars burned.
There may be direct action taken at the gates of a company. The staff of the company may be terrorised by being shouted at or worse; there may be physical damage to property or people's possessions. Even worse, harm may be done to the staff or shareholders of the company. Is such action encompassed within Amendment No. 1?
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I too support the government amendments. They are a vast improvement on what had gone before. In particular I note that subsection (1)(b) contains the two little words "or threat". I presume that, by implication, that includes the retention of the means of making a threat valid and effective. Therefore, the retention of arms and munitions falls within the scope of that provision.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Government have recognised that there was a problem with the phrase relating to serious violence against persons and property and they have now split that so that the Bill deals with "serious violence" against persons and "serious damage to property".
But on the last occasion on which we discussed this matter, it was pointed out that the phrase "serious violence" occurs only in Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. There has been only one case brought under that provision which did not turn on the definition itself. Therefore, the courts will have to start with a blank sheet of paper in interpreting what "serious violence" against persons means; and the same is true, pari passu, of "serious damage" against property. I believe that we are placing an unfair burden on the courts in not spelling out exactly what we mean by either of those phrases.
However, I draw attention to another problem which struck me when I was reading Amendment No. 49. As the Minister pointed out, it makes offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 subject to the special provisions of Part VII of the Bill which provides for non-jury trials on account of the fact that the offences are terrorist-related. Those offences are unauthorised access to a computer either by itself or with a view to committing a further offence, and unauthorised modification. Therefore, that would cover, for example, pure hacking or hacking for the purpose of damaging the computer system, the
Can the Minister tell us whether the Bill catches only people who commit those offences within the Province? Computer hacking and computer interference may be committed from anywhere on the globe. Someone may have the intention of using computers for terrorist-related purposes in Northern Ireland but would not be physically located there. Would the provisions of Amendment No. 49 come into play only if the alleged offender was within the territory of Northern Ireland?
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