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Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister explain to me whether a person who commits the action he described, such as deliberately omitting to update a program on a computer or something else of a similar nature, would be committing an offence under the computer misuse Act?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it may or may not be. The important point to remember here is that it may be a form of action which has been deliberately embarked on and designed to disrupt public life or cause harm or injury. The motives that lie behind the action could well constitute a terrorist offence. In the circumstances we believe it is right and proportionate to include it in the Bill. It is for that reason that we have included a computer offence within the definition.
We have also made it clear on many occasions that our definition of terrorism is not intended to catch lawfully organised industrial action in connection with a legitimate trade dispute. It is worth putting that on record. I do not believe it likely that the courts would stretch the definition of a political cause as some have suggested.
Moreover, unions which operate in essential services usually go to considerable lengths to seek to avoid serious risk to life, health and safety as a result of the way in which they pursue industrial disputes. Therefore, in our view their actions would be doubly unlikely to fall within our definition.
Finally, in the very remote event that industrial action might be held to fall within our definition, I believe that in principle it would be wrong for us to elevate industrial action over other forms of politically, religiously or ideologically motivated concerted protest which endangers life or creates a serious risk to public health and safety by providing, for example, an explicit exemption.
I have already explained the difficulties that we have identified in introducing the concept of "criminal" into the definition and I believe that the noble Lord's prime concern has been met adequately by other means. I hope that in the circumstances he will not press his amendment.
I now turn my attention to Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, 6 and 8. We are concerned that these amendments narrow significantly and unacceptably the scope of the definition of terrorism by providing that, except in cases where the action is intended to cause death, it must be designed either to intimidate the public or be directed against the public. That is in contrast to our provision added at Report stage which provides that an action must be designed to influence the government or intimidate the public, except where firearms or explosives are involved.
As I understand it, the heart of the noble Lord's concern with this part of our definition is its potential application to conflicts and struggles abroad, particularly where there is concern that democratic principles are not fully at work and where there might be a deal of sympathy with those who want to take action, even violent action, to influence the government. The example most often quoted is, of course, South Africa in bygone years. A more current example might be the ongoing struggles in and between parts of the former Yugoslavia. The noble Lord's amendment seeks to provide that such action would not be caught by the definition, provided that it was not directed at the public or designed to intimidate the public, or provided that it was intended to cause death. That would exclude the application of the definition to some, although perhaps in reality not much, of the serious violence in those contexts.
I believe that we have discussed these concerns at almost every stage of the passage of this Bill. We have always recognised the sensitivities that surround what is often characterised as the "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" issue. As I have already mentioned, in response to those concerns we introduced amendments on Report which provided for Attorney-General level consent to prosecution for international terrorist cases. We believe that that is the right way to deal with the issue and I believe that that was the view of the noble Lord, too. At col. 1439 of the Second Reading debate he said:
Moreover, we have grave concerns about the implications for responding to terrorist incidents more generally if the noble Lord's amendments are agreed to. The effect of the amendments would be that the powers and offences under the Bill would not be available to the police unless it was clear that attacks, including even bomb attacks, were designed to intimidate the public or were directed against the public or intended to cause death.
In our view, that simply will not do. Although it is common ground between us that most terrorist attacks are designed to intimidate the public, and we accept that other actions might be caught by the noble Lord's additional limb of "actions directed against the public", we believe that that still leaves a worrying gap. As the noble Lord well knows and intends, the gap particularly concerns serious damage to property.
Situations that might not be covered by his definition include attacks on government buildings and other symbolic targets where a warning has been given. Therefore, it cannot be argued that there is an intention to cause death. However, the same might be true in non-property-related situations; for example, in the kidnapping of a diplomat or politician, to take up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The fact that the disapplication applies only where there is an intention to cause death means that the definition might not apply even in circumstances where the terrorists were clearly reckless as to whether death or serious injury might be caused. I do not believe that it is remotely acceptable that under the Bill the police might not have the powers available to them in circumstances such as those. And I cannot believe that noble Lords will consider it acceptable either.
Finally, I should mention that the "influencing a government" limb of the definition is not a new idea of the Government's recent invention. The Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act 1939 contained it. Now that terrorism is international and combating terrorism requires international co-operation, it is right that we should recognise as terrorism acts aimed at the governments of other countries as well as our own. Moreover, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, recommended in his report that such a limb should be included.
We believe that such an element is a vital partner to the "intimidating the public" limb, on which I believe we are all generally agreed. From the outset, we have underlined that we believe the undermining of democratic processes to be at the heart of the definition of terrorism. If experience suggests, as we have demonstrated that it does, that terrorists undertake actions which are designed to influence the government but which do not intimidate the public or are not directed against the public, it must be right that such actions are also caught by the definition. For those reasons, we cannot support the amendments.
I now turn to Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I can address this amendment more briefly and perhaps more positively. On Report we agreed that we should consider whether there should be an explicit exemption from the definition of terrorism where the only life endangered was one's own. On balance, we decided that it would be beneficial to adopt such an approach. On that basis, I am happy to signal that the Government support the noble Lord's amendment.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am of course disappointed that the Government have not seen fit to accept the amendments proposed by us or to move in any sense towards them. It seems to me that the amendments which we have proposed, and in particular Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 6, represent a substantial improvement on the definition in the Bill as it stands. I believe that it would be pointless for me to re-argue the points as to why we believe that. They were explained by me earlier. In view of the absence of support from other parts of the House, I feel that no useful purpose would be served by pressing the amendments to a vote. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 1.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the Government for their usual common sense in accepting this amendment. I also thank other noble Lords around the Chamber who supported me in this matter. I believe that it is a very sensible and worthwhile, but only small, amendment, and I am grateful to the House. I beg to move.
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