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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The policemen who undertake such work will be specialists, if only in linguistics, because much of the material will probably be in a foreign language. However, what would happen if something were posted on the web that genuinely quoted inflammatory material, perhaps to criticise it? On the other hand, to get round the law, a posting could quote inflammatory material and pretend to criticise it but, in fact, be seeking to propagate it.

Hazel Blears: Clearly, those are matters of interpretation of the material posted. Does it fulfil the conditions of the offences in clauses 1 and 2? Does it appear to be material of the kind that could qualify as the offence? The original notice and take-down
 
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procedure will be a judgment reached by the specially accredited officers who are properly trained to deal with these matters. It is important to stress that failure to remove the material is not a criminal offence. It simply stops the person availing themselves of the statutory defence that is in place.

3.45 pm

That is probably a good balance, so that we can get swift action. Things on the web move very quickly. If we had to go to judicial authority—a High Court judge—simply for the notification procedure, that would build inordinate delay into the process.

Dr. Julian Lewis rose—

Hazel Blears: I shall finish the information, for the benefit of the House, about the single point of contact officers. When people see the broad statement in the Bill about a police constable being able to take the action described, I understand their concerns and I am seeking to allay them.

The special branch officers who, as I said, are properly accredited, would assess whether it was necessary to get the information from the service providers, and they would try and offer assurance to those providers and work with them. I am assured that the officers have all been on a proper course of training. Details of all the accredited individuals are available to the service providers so that they can be reassured about the person they are dealing with.

We are considering the appropriate level for the authorisation of the power. In many areas powers are authorised at superintendent level. We have not reached a final decision about that, but if we read across from the regulation of investigatory powers legislation, that is the appropriate level.

Dr. Lewis: When service providers are informed about such a notification, will there not be a temptation on their part, assuming that they are just business men and women and non-ideological, to say, "Whenever we get a take-down notice, we will automatically comply. What's in it for us to resist it?", and will not the effect of the policy applied across the board be that all the websites will quickly find internet service providers abroad and the whole issue will become rather nugatory?

Hazel Blears: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise that because there might be consequences, we should not try to limit the kind of information that is available. If we adopted that as a general approach, we would rarely legislate on anything. If, through the process, we can limit the amount of material that could be used to encourage people to engage in terrorist acts, it is a process worth adopting. I do not believe that the automatic response from providers will be to remove information. They have an interest in making sure that their websites, and access to the web, are relevant and interesting to the people who want to use them.

Mr. Redwood: It would help the House if the Minister could tell us why she wants the measure. How common is the problem on the web? Have there been cases of
 
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terrorist outrages or ones that have fortunately been stopped where web material was important as part of the motivational briefing?

Hazel Blears: The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that people access material and images from the web. Sometimes people who have been involved in terrorist activity have said that they were influenced by material that they were able to access. The problem is therefore real. It is important that we take every step we can to try and prevent people from being unlawfully drawn into terrorist activity. Clause 1 includes the new offence of indirectly encouraging people to get involved in terrorist activity.

It is important that we seek to use all available means, because in this global world people are increasingly using technology, the internet and methods of communication other than writing a simple statement or making a speech. We have already debated how people communicate, and most people think it appropriate to limit the use of the web where it draws people into such activity.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The right hon. Lady has said that a specially trained police officer will consider the quality and quantity of the evidence and whether a prosecution could be mounted, but qualified lawyers, such as judges, should control all those things. If her main objection to the Lords amendment is the delay, I suggest the use of circuit judges as well as of High Court judges. Circuit judges in many fields of law are always available at a moment's notice to attend, for example, interlocutory injunctions. The delay is not necessary, because such matters can be dealt with quickly.

Hazel Blears: My objection to the Lords amendment is not based simply on the issue of delay, and I shall make a further point in due course.

I hope that I have assured hon. Members that the people in the anti-terrorism branch, which will be the point of contact, will be properly accredited and trained to carry out the work. It is important to point out that the process has been agreed with the internet industry, which did not ask for the Lords amendment in order to protect itself. The internet industry is content with the proposed procedure in the Bill.

Mr. Wallace: I understand the Minister's good intentions on dealing with rogue sites within the United Kingdom. Will she clarify what would happen if a nation such as Iran were to host a website calling on all Muslims to destroy the nation of Israel? In that case, an offence would obviously have been committed under clause 17, but would the Iranian ambassador to the United Kingdom be guilty of an offence while serving here because the site was hosted by their Government?

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman has set out a complex example, and it is difficult to envisage the controls that we could introduce in those circumstances. As I have said, the impossibility of controlling every single eventuality is not a reason for inaction on other matters—I have encountered that issue in a range of areas.
 
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The police are seeking to take action on internet transactions. It is difficult to implement provisions that affect the whole of Europe, let alone the whole of the world, but we are continuing to work on international agreements to limit illegality on the internet. The issue will become increasingly difficult as more and more information becomes available on the internet, and we are seeking to introduce robust laws to limit the problem. I do not think that we can eradicate radical material from the whole of the internet, but that is no reason not to do the best that we can.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The Minister has rightly pointed out the complexity of many of the examples, so I shall give her a simpler one. If a newspaper were to carry a photograph of a direct encouragement to terrorism—for example, some of the recent placards—on its website, would that website be indirectly encouraging terrorism? Under the Bill, the encouragement would be indirect, but the judiciary rather than the police should make such fine judgments.

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman has not appreciated the two-stage nature of clause 3. The police, who will be properly accredited, will say, "This is on your website and we would like you to take it down." People can properly refuse to remove such material, but it means that they cannot then take advantage of the defence that they did not know about the material and could not therefore endorse it. It does not mean that someone is guilty of an offence, but simply that they cannot take advantage of a defence that is designed to protect people who genuinely and innocently did not know that the material was on their website. It puts them on notice that the material is on their website and that they had better take it down or they may be prosecuted. However, the prosecution would still then have to prove every element of the offences in clauses 1 and 2. The person will have their legal protection, but they will not be able simply to say that they did not know about it, because they will have been put on very clear notice by the police officer concerned.

These amendments have not been asked for by the internet industry, which does not feel that it is rulable as a result of these provisions. We have been in discussions with its trade body—the Internet Service Providers Association. It welcomes the setting out in the provisions of a clear notice-and-take-down model. It had several concerns which we sought to address and which were discussed in the other place. However, at no time did the industry ask for the change that the amendments would make—that is, to bring in judicial oversight.


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