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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord raises an interesting point. We have taken the view that the Bill is compatible with the convention and that serious violence against personal property or action that endangers the life of any person can in its outcome create a serious risk to the health and safety of the public or a section of the public. That is the important part of the definition and it is on that that we rely. I shall study the noble Lord's comments and reflect on them, but we are content that the provisions are compatible with ECHR considerations.
Perhaps I may express some of the concerns that we have with the alternative definition suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. It provided a useful starting-point for debate. The noble Lord talked at some length about the use of the word "damage", not "violence", in connection with property. Mr John Rowe, the annual reviewer of the operation of the prevention of terrorism Act and the emergency provisions Act has suggested that "damage" is the more usual word to use in connection with property. We recognise that, but prefer the term "violence" because it is, we consider, more appropriate to the sort of conduct which is normally considered to be terrorism. Action which seriously damages property but does not involve serious violence--for example, graffiti, to take up the
We presume that subsection (2)(a) is designed to catch interference with computer systems. But the formula "electronic systems" is very broad and would probably catch other systems perhaps not meant to fall within the ambit of the definition--for instance, CCTV systems or possibly even a public address system.
We recognise the concerns that underlie this amendment, particularly in the wake of the recent so-called "Love Bug". Subsection (1)(c) of Clause 1 is designed to cover any action (including, therefore, any computer-related action) which creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public. The Bill already covers the effects of some computer interference, but to go further and catch all computer interference would be a significant step which we would not take lightly and it would not be without its difficulties. Having said that, clearly this is an important issue, and I should like to reflect further on whether something more specific is required in the Bill. I shall advise the House of the outcome of our deliberations at Report stage. The noble Lord raises an important and significant issue.
The amendment provides in subsection (2)(c) that "violence" includes personal injury. We believe that that is also unnecessary as "violence" carries within it the concept of personal injury. Although it is ultimately a matter for the courts, we expect so-called punishment beatings to be caught by the phrase "serious violence". It is certainly not our intention to exclude such actions by raising the threshold to serious violence. The Committee will note that we have a
I turn next to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and in so doing I shall pick up some of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. At this stage the Government are not attracted by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord and his noble friends. We believe that the insertion of the term "unlawful" is an undesirable addition. We accept that the vast majority of terrorist acts are also unlawful: clearly, bombings, shootings and so on are criminal activities. Terrorists are criminals. But we can conceive of circumstances in which an act occurs, or even violence under the noble Lord's definition, that may not be unlawful. We believe that the definition would extend also to those acts. For example, given that the noble Lord's definition of "violence" includes interference with the functioning of electronic equipment, it is hypothetically possible that an employee may interfere with CCTV cameras, or even computers (with which we believe that part of the amendment is concerned). Depending on the employee's role in the firm and the nature of the interference, it is conceivable that that action may not be unlawful.
Take the example of subsection (1)(c) which deals with actions--under Clause 120 they include omissions--which create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public. An employee may deliberately omit to add a chemical to the sewerage system with the effect that public health is put at risk. Depending on the nature of his action and contract, that act may not be unlawful. We believe that it is wrong to create a situation in which a terrorist might escape prosecution on what would effectively be a technicality.
Lord Goodhart: How does the Minister deal with the Kosovo problem? In that situation the Government and many members of the Armed Forces would be engaged in acts which, technically, would come within the definition of terrorism in this Bill?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: That is a useful issue to raise. Understatement always helps! Obviously, this is a matter to which we have given careful consideration. We do not believe that those actions come within the definition.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Kosovo problem, as it has been described, is a very real one. The noble Lord will recall that in my speech at Second Reading I referred to remarks made by my right honourable friend Tom King in another place in the course of debates on this Bill. My right honourable friend pointed out that during the Gulf war, when he was Secretary of State for Defence, he launched considerable violence, in the form of marine commandos and a number of extremely fierce aircraft, against other people. He believed that as Secretary of State for Defence he and those in the RAF and Royal Marines engaged in that action were involved in serious violence which was intended to coerce
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord is very helpful. I said that I did not believe that our Armed Forces acting in the course of their duties would fall within the definition. The general principle in law is that statutes do not bind the Crown, unless by express provision or necessary implication. That covers the military and others in the service of the Crown. With one minor and fairly technical exception in Clause 118, the offences in the Terrorism Bill do not apply to Crown servants. I believe that that little difficulty is dealt with.
Lord Avebury: Perhaps I may pursue the matter a little further. The noble Lord assumes that the example of Kosovo is the only one where the lawfulness of the action is called into question. In English law there is the doctrine of necessity which was invoked in a case involving the hijacking of an aircraft of Sudan Airways. Although on the surface it was an act of terrorism, the defendants pleaded--I believe that the matter was successfully referred back to the House of Lords--that the appalling conditions in Iraq had caused them to take the step of hijacking the aircraft which allowed them to come to London. That defence was given serious consideration in the Court of Appeal and referred back to the House of Lords. If a person argued that he acted through "duress of circumstances"--that was the expression used by the Court of Appeal--according to the doctrine of necessity he would be acting lawfully. That set of circumstances is not taken into consideration in the definition.
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