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Lord Taylor of Gryfe: I hope that the Committee will be able to come up with a consensus and a clear definition in this matter. I should like the Minister to say a few words about our international obligations in connection with the definition of terrorism with regard to both the European Court and any other international court which deals with these matters. I ask that because I am reasonably familiar with a case, which is outstanding, in Greenock sheriff court. Three ladies of deep religious conviction and associated with a pacifist religious group took a boat, went out to a Trident submarine sitting in Holy Loch, obtained access to the submarine and promptly put £40,000 of computer equipment into the Holy Loch. That was their protest.

Under the definitions in the Bill it would appear that they would be guilty of action against property. However, that is not what the sheriff of Greenock sheriff court decided. She was led evidence of the findings of an international court which deliberated on this matter and argued that since Trident is an offence against humanity they were quite justified in taking the action they took because Trident in itself is illegal except when applied in self-defence. The three ladies were acquitted and under Scottish law they cannot be retried. They were acquitted on the grounds that their action, which in the Bill's definition would be an offence, did not constitute an offence because they were avoiding a greater offence against humanity.

I am sorry that I have not given my noble friend notice of this matter but it is an interesting case. It arises from the issues we have been discussing concerning what is an offence against property. I

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would be happy if the Minister could give us some guidance on the implications of this matter as it is affected by European or international jurisdiction.

Lord Hylton: At Second Reading there was general agreement, with the exception, of course, of the government, that the Bill is too widely drafted and perhaps nowhere more so than in its definition of terrorism. I should therefore like to ask the Government whether they have studied the other current definitions that exist in other jurisdictions. In particular, have they examined how those have worked out in practice and are they too wide or too narrow?

I turn to Amendment No. 1. It is vitally important that the definition should establish that the person in question has an intention to commit terrorism--in legal language, that he has the mens rea. Amendment No. 1 seems to wish to do that by bringing in the words "intimidate or coerce". I notice that similar words occur again in Amendment No. 5.

I move on to the following words, "a government". I would prefer to see in their place a phrase such as, "the institutions of democratic government". That wording was put forward by the Northern Ireland human rights commission, a semi-statutory body.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, rightly pointed out that the phrase, "serious damage to property", is almost certainly preferable to the Government's phrase of "violence" to property. Perhaps I may add that, as drafted, the Bill refers to any property anywhere in the world, regardless of whether that property is valuable or important.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was right to use the words "unlawful violence" in Amendment No. 3 because we do not want to include, for example, a strike held by nurses. Furthermore, he and others were, in my view, correct to mention economic damage and to stress that it should be "serious" economic damage.

I conclude by expressing the hope that a consensus will be reached by the time we reach Report stage and that we shall end up with a generally agreed definition.

6 p.m.

Lord Avebury: I think we shall be in serious difficulty if we retain the definition in Clause 1 as it stands. My noble friend Lord Goodhart touched on this when he pointed out the distinction between acts that might be committed by a terrorist against the London Underground or the bridges crossing the river Thames, on the one hand, and the kind of violence against property exhibited during the May Day demonstrations, on the other. No one in their right mind would suggest that the person who daubed the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square should have been convicted of an act of terrorism. In my opinion it was bad enough that he was sent to prison at all for an offence of daubing graffiti, but it certainly was not what an ordinary member of the public would consider to be a serious act of violence.

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The difficulty with the definition lies in the fact that, in the law as it now stands, that phrase is not well understood. I am advised that it occurs in Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in which powers have been given to the police to search people without the need for reasonable grounds if an act of serious violence is feared. The problem with the provision is that it has never been tested in the courts. For that reason, people who are searched under the terms of that provision do not think it would be easy to go to court and challenge the interpretation of the police by saying that what was contemplated was not serious violence within the meaning of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

The Government need to convince noble Lords that the phrase would be easily interpreted by the courts and that it would not be applied in cases where common sense would dictate that a person should be charged with a lesser offence.

Another interesting point that noble Lords should bear in mind when deciding on the definition is the incompatibility between Clause 1 and what is proposed under Clause 59(2)(e) where reference is made to a person who commits the offence of inciting terrorism overseas. The essential element of that offence is that the act to be incited should, if committed in England or Wales, constitute one of the offences listed in subsection (2) of Clause 59. That includes, in subsection (e),

    "an offence under section 1(2) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 (endangering life by damaging property)".

The test of a terrorist act overseas is far less rigid than that which we shall apply in the United Kingdom. I would prefer to see the two definitions aligned. It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable that a person should be charged with an offence of terrorism if the damage to property is such as to cause loss of life or to threaten to cause loss of life. I do not know whether the examples given by my noble friend fall into that category.

It could be argued that, in a case where someone damaged the National Grid so that electricity was suspended in a certain area and people dependent on artificial lungs had their lives put in jeopardy, an offence of terrorism might apply. However, to include such a general definition of damage to property as now stands in the clause is extremely dangerous.

That is especially the case when one considers the term "ideology". That, too, is undefined. I do not know what the Government mean by "ideology". Perhaps they will explain it. For example, let us suppose that one's ideological belief is that housing is an absolute right, that property is theft, and that one is entitled to break into a house owned by the local authority and take possession of it. Are we to say here that that is an act of terrorism? We may disagree with the act--I do not like squatters--but to pretend that such an offence should be included in a definition of terrorism would be taking things much too far.

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Whether we accept the definition proposed by my noble friend, which personally I think provides the right answer, or that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, the fact is that the definition in the Bill is grossly unsatisfactory and needs to be amended.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have had an extremely helpful and useful debate this afternoon. I am very impressed by the contributions made by all Members of the House because they have been delivered so constructively and thoughtfully. As I work through my remarks I shall try to deal with as many of the points that have been raised under the various amendments as I can. I hope that noble Lords will give me the time needed to do that, because I believe that this is the most important area of discussion and debate on the legislation before us.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, was right to remind us that we must ensure that we deal with the Armalite rather than the blunderbuss. That was a helpful reminder of how we need to consider this whole debate: how wide should we make the definition and how should we narrow it down at certain points? That offers the parameters for the debate and illustrates the difficulties we face in getting this just right. I am grateful, too, for the sympathy many noble Lords have expressed as regards the difficulty of the exercise.

Perhaps I may make a number of opening remarks about definition and then go through the various points that have been raised. If I repeat some of the remarks I made in the debate on Second Reading, then I apologise to noble Lords. However, I am sure that some of those comments will bear repetition. First, I shall explain the consideration behind the Government's definition, which draws heavily on the existing definition in the prevention of terrorism Act. That defines terrorism as the use of violence for political ends, including putting the public or any section of the public in fear. That definition has stood the test of time. It has not changed since the prevention of terrorism Act was first introduced in 1974. It has, in its rough and ready way, worked well. We took the view that the definition should be changed only where it was necessary to do so.

Secondly, we considered carefully the definition proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in his report. The new elements introduced were the application of the definition to all forms of terrorism; the raising of the threshold to "serious violence"; the inclusion of threats as well as acts; and the inclusion of additional "qualifying motivations"--so social and ideological as well as political objectives were included; and the requirement that, for an action to be classed as terrorist, it must be done to intimidate or coerce a government or the public. The noble and learned Lord proposed also that the definition should cover,

    "the terrorist who without using violence sets out to disrupt vital computer installations such as air traffic systems thereby causing great danger to life".

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We agreed with the noble and learned Lord on most of his conclusions and we believe that our definition covers virtually all of those points.

The noble and learned Lord offered a helpful reminder to us at Second Reading. He said that there was great difficulty in finding a satisfactory definition. He went on:

    "Indeed, I was unable to do so and I suspect that none of us will succeed ... [but] we must do our best".--[Official Report, 6/4/00; col. 1444.]

That is the spirit in which we should conduct our debates as we work through the Bill.

Thirdly, as now, there is no terrorism offence linked with the definition. What the definition does is to trigger the availability to the police and others of certain powers and offences. We need to understand it in that context. The role of the definition is to set the parameters within which the powers and offences under the Bill may operate.

Fourthly, and importantly, we took the view that it was essential that the definition should cover all the ground that experience over the past 25 or more years, and our assessment of future threats, suggest should be covered--so that the police and other security agencies always have at their disposal the powers that they need to combat terrorism. In working up the new definition we consulted the police and other agencies closely and took careful account of their views. While we of course recognise the importance of the circumstances being proportionate in which the additional offences and powers under the Bill are available, we should be failing in our duty if the definition of terrorism did not extend to the full range of contexts where security advice and experience suggest they are needed. A judgment has to be made based on security and other considerations. The fact that some of the amendments before the Committee seek to limit the scope of the definition, while others seek to extend it, indicates the complexities involved.

Fifthly, and finally, while the Government would never be so complacent as to suggest that there is no chance that the definition could be improved upon--which is why we have been grateful to consider alternatives that have been proposed--we continue to believe that the definition on the face of the Bill is, roughly speaking, the right one. We believe that it balances correctly the need to ensure that the definition is only as wide as it needs to be with the need to ensure that the police are confident that they will always have at their disposal the powers and offences that they need to fight terrorism.

I now turn to points raised in relation to particular amendments, and, first, to those of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. We believe that the amendments tabled--

6.15 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Before the Minister turns to amendments tabled by other noble Lords, perhaps I may ask him a question relating to Clause 1(1) as it now stands, which causes me a problem as regards what he rightly referred to as proportionality. The problem is this. On the Government's definition,

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paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 1(1) refer to conduct which does not necessarily give rise to a serious risk to the public at large. In the words of paragraph (a) it is conduct that,

    "involves serious violence against any person or property",

and in (b),

    "endangers the life of any person".

Then there is the word "or", and paragraph (c) refers to conduct which,

    "creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public".

So only in paragraph (c) does one come for the first time to the idea of conduct that threatens the public at large. Is there not a problem with a definition of terrorism that triggers later in the Bill the use of very strong counter-terrorist powers to combat action that does not give rise to a serious threat to public well-being? Does it not create a potential problem under the European Convention on Human Rights when it comes to using those very wide and necessary powers to deal with conduct which does not threaten the public or a section of the public?

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