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The noble Lord said: My Lords, the words to which my amendment refers either have no effect whatever or they tear a small or significant gap in the protection that the Bill is intended to give to the public. If we assume that they have an effect, we should see what it is.
I apologise. I seem to have lost my place in my notes, so perhaps it would be better if I continued ad hoc. The definition of an offence under Clause 9 depends on the possession of radioactive material. The definition of "radioactive material" under Clause 9(4) is,
of doing any one of four things. The effect of the exclusion in relation to the definition in Clause 9(4) is to exclude a nuclear substance from being classified as such if it is capable only of
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As we have already discovered, the public are, because of the exclusion, not the public if they are gathered in a public place having bought a ticket or satisfied the rules of the local Labour Party or Conservative Party. If a person is carrying a substance that cannot cause serious bodily injury, cause serious damage to property or endanger a person's life, but can create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public, the public are not there, so the material is excluded and the offence is not committed.
That may not be the meaning of the drafting of the Bill, but it appears to have no other effect. With this exclusion, the Bill allows someone to come with material in his pocketlet us say one of those spray cans that contain a low-level radioactive substance, capable of producing long-term diarrhoea. Just because we are talking about nuclear material, we are not necessarily talking about explosives. We are talking about radiation. Such a substance can cause panic in an enclosed place. If your Lordships were coming to the opening of Parliament, qualifying as the public under the rules of the place, and the material were deployed here, technically no offence would have taken place. That must be ludicrous. What is any other interpretation of the Bill to be? I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment and for having had the courtesy to provide our office with notice of the remarks he was going to deploy in support of it. Having heard the noble Lord, I was slightly confused at the outsetand the noble Lord himself seemed highly confusedbut he then went on to deploy his argument. I will try to run through the important points. Plainly, if the situation was as the noble Lord explained it, there would be an element of absurdity.
The amendment makes a change to Clause 20, the interpretation section of the Bill. There are two clauses in which there is reference to the public in Part 1 of the Bill: Clauses 1 and 9. The difference in the nature of the offences is the root of the difference between the different applications of definition of "public".
In Clause 1, it is necessary to make it clear that reference to the public includes meetings that are open to the public, or meetings that one has to pay an amount to enter or satisfy other conditionsin other words, a conditional public meeting. That is needed because Clause 1 addresses problems of extremism and radicalisation, and focuses on the way in which messages are disseminated and promulgated. The effect of committing the offence under Clause 1 can be limited to just those at a meeting as well as publishing a statement or publication freely available to the world. It is vital, therefore, for the courts to be certain that these offences are committed both where the statement is freely available and where messages are conveyed only in small meetings, which might not otherwise be considered to be covered by the term "public". This is specified in Clause 20(3)(b), to make it clear.
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References to the public in Clause 9(4)(b) are exempt from the definition of "public" in Clause 20(3)(b). The reason for this is that Clause 9(4)(b)(iv) is rather different, in that "public" here refers to creating a serious risk to the health and the safety of the publicthe offence requires possession of a substance that represents a risk to the health and safety of the wider public. Such a threat could never be confined solely to those at a small gathering in the way that it could for the offence under Clause 1. A court would be clear that the possession of radioactive material or a radioactive device by those who had the intention of using that device or material in committing a terrorist act would represent a serious risk to the health or safety of the public in a general sense, not just those in a small meeting, even if the substance was intended to affect only those people there gathered.
Lord Elton: My Lords, is the Minister saying that the noxious substance would remain classified as radioactive if it offered a threat to the people outside the building even if it did not to the people inside it?
I understand the noble Lord's intention in putting forward this amendment. He is concerned that a person would not be committing an offence if he possessed radioactive material and intended to use it against those at a public meeting. I confirm to him that this is not the effect of the clause at present, as possession of such material represents a general public risk and would apply if the material was used against the public at large or against those gathered at a meeting. None the less, we are grateful to the noble Lord for putting forward his amendment so that we can confirm that this is the case. I hope that he will now withdraw the amendment.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I shall read what the Minister said with great care. If his explanation, which he confirmed when I challenged it, is right, there is no point whatever in the exclusion. If, on the other hand, it would not constitute a terrorist offence if somebody put low-grade radioactive material in a buffet and then let it be known that the outbreak of dysentery was caused by him, these words have an effect and should be removed. I remain unconvinced, but, pending my having read what the Minister saidand perhaps conversations with him afterwardsI beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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