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Lord Goodhart: Of course they would be serious criminal offences under our existing law. However, that is not a sufficient reason for saying they should not be regarded as terrorism. The essence of terrorism is not merely that they are serious offences but that they are serious offences directed against the public either in terms of causing physical threats to sections of the public or in causing serious economic damage. That is, for instance, why the powers that are given to control terrorist organisations may be required in cases where the terrorism in question is economic terrorism of this kind.
I believe that our definition in Amendment No. 3 is better than the definition in the Bill. The amended version moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, was indeed an improvement on that in the Bill, but that in itself is capable of improvement, particularly in two respects. First, it includes what I regard as an unnecessary reference to the motive for the terrorism. Secondly, the terrorism is once again triggered by too low a test of violence to property. For example, within the Conservative definition, road protesters sabotaging construction machinery by setting it on fire could be committing acts of serious violence for a political or ideological motive and would therefore come within that definition, though I do not think it is appropriate in those circumstances that they should do so. That is certainly criminal damage but it is not damage which causes severe harm to the economy and therefore is not, in my opinion, appropriate to be described as terrorism.
The definition goes even further in that it also includes acts which create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public. This is not qualified by the need to show that violence has been used to intimidate or coerce a government, the public or a section of the public. It also includes action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation. There are real concerns that, for example, road protesters and those opposed to genetically modified crops will be among those whose activities are branded as terrorist, whereas, whether they are right or wrong, they are clearly at a lower level than that.
The definition has also removed the distinction usually made in the criminal law between acts which injure people and actions which damage property. I do not go quite as far as those who think that property is theft, but I do go as far as those who think theologically that all private property is lent and is not absolute property to be disposed of as anyone wants. Therefore, I think there is an important distinction to be made between the public property about which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has been talking, and private property. We might explore a little in this debate at some stage.
The rationale behind such a distinction is the deterrence of acts which threaten life. Thus crimes that injure or endanger life normally carry higher penalties than those that damage property. No such distinction is made in the definition of terrorism adopted by the present Bill. Therefore, there is a risk, which must be taken seriously, that there will be no incentive under the scheme of the Bill for a terrorist to choose targets which do not endanger other people.
One of the principal concerns about the Bill's definition of terrorism in relation to the application of human rights standards is that it is so broad as to lack certainty. The definition of terrorism in the Bill is crucial because it forms the basis for the application of much of the remainder of the Bill. Since the consequences of the definition are so great, it is important that the scope of the definition should be clearly ascertainable and justifiable so as to ensure the credibility of the legislation and its enforcement mechanisms.
In analysing the proposals contained in the Terrorism Bill against the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, it is important to bear in mind that hitherto consideration of the laws of terrorism by the court has been concerned with particular types of political violence. The broadening of the definition of terrorism to include actions undertaken for religious or ideological causes and the inclusion as terrorist organisations of domestic groups is likely to put the proposed terrorist laws to even more stringent examination under the convention, both at
This is a very, very important definition. There was a great deal of debate about it in another place which, as has been said, was really indeterminate in the end and no one, even the Government, appears to be absolutely certain as to what they want the answers to be. I hope my amendments in this area are helpful. I very much look forward to hearing the debate at this stage and hope that some kind of consensus may arise which will lead to us having a more focused debate at Report stage than was had in another place or than we are likely to have this evening.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I find myself in the position of agreeing with all of the speeches made so far. All of us are seeking to, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in his report,
My noble friend Lord Goodhart explained very fully the reasons why we have put forward the amendment and so I shall not take the time of the Committee by adding very much to what he said. But I should like to make one or two points. First, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, who once said in relation to Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911--perhaps it was Lord Franks who said it first--that it was a blunderbuss. The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, said that it should be replaced by an Armalite rifle. It is important that the definition in the Bill of terrorism should be more like an Armalite rifle than a blunderbuss. We are concerned that in some respects there is unnecessary vagueness and over-inclusiveness.
There is a great deal to commend the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. We can see advantages in each other's definitions and are searching towards a consensus definition. No one has achieved a perfect definition. Amendment No. 1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is a useful amendment. Its disadvantage is that it retains the requirement for terrorist action to be political, religious or ideological in motivation, which may well be problematic, and it also requires that the threat of violence is,
We have difficulties with those amendments for those reasons. We all seek a fair balance and we are not satisfied that the Government's wording is sufficiently inclusive and in some respects it hits too wide.
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