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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that that might be a defence in any future case. It is hard to foresee those circumstances. I understand and appreciate the virtue of the doctrine of necessity, and why it is argued, but the case that the noble Lord describes is effectively a situation of war. In those circumstances I believe that rather different rules apply.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Minister suggested that Clause 118, which exempts Crown servants, might assist in this process. That clause refers entirely to Parts III and IV of the Bill and provides that,
If the point of the noble Lord's amendment is to try to ensure that action taken in connection with a legitimate trade dispute is not caught, we are not sure that the amendment does the trick in any case. The term "unlawful" also covers torts and breaches of contract as well as criminal acts, and strikers can commit such acts in the course of industrial action. Indeed, they may also commit criminal offences such as obstructing the highway. So not only could the amendment prove to be overly restrictive, it might not fully achieve what it sets out to do.
We are also concerned that the definition proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is triggered where violence is directed against the public or a section of the public. I am aware that the limbs at (a) and (b) of the definition provide that this phrase covers circumstances where death, serious injury or a threat to the health of the public is caused, or where there is a threat to national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country. I have to say to noble Lords that at the very least such an approach puts an enormous strain on the phrase "directed against the public". I can think of examples of acts which would be caught through the limbs at (a) and (b) but which would in no ordinary sense of the phrase be directed against the public--for instance, the assassination of an individual politician, or something like the bombing of the Grand Hotel during the Conservative Party conference. In both cases the Government would be more obviously the target than the public. Moreover, the way the formula is constructed means, I think, that other actions are excluded which the public might be more likely to feel were directed against them or at least actions which more directly affected them. I am thinking here of actions, for instance, against furriers, or sporting events like the Grand National. The bombing or a serious attack on such interests could impact more directly on some sections of the public than some of the actions caught by the formula as it stands. But they are not caught as I read it. We consider this to be a fairly fundamental weakness.
The amendment also provides that all interference with the functioning of electronic equipment, even if no damage is caused to the equipment, is caught within the definition, although the ensuing limbs at (a) and (b) limit the circumstances in which it applies. The formula chosen is very wide and may catch activity that it is not intended to catch--for instance, tampering with CCTV cameras. And we are not sure that the syntax of the amendment quite works here. However, setting aside those essentially technical points, as I indicated, we have considerable sympathy with the concerns underlying the proposal. Recent events have demonstrated the effect that computer viruses can have on a whole range of interests and systems.
More fundamentally, we have significant concerns about the ground covered by limbs (a) and (b) of the amendment. In particular, we are concerned that it is too narrow. As I have already touched upon, our reading is that bombs or other attacks which seriously damaged, or even destroyed, commercial or private
I also think that this part of the amendment is wrong on pragmatic grounds. As we have already observed, one of the main purposes of the definition is to indicate when anti-terrorist powers may be used. The police view is that it could seriously hinder their operational effectiveness in combating terrorism if they could only use their powers once they were persuaded that there was a risk to life or the equivalent. Valuable time could be lost before sufficient intelligence or evidence emerged to confirm that life was likely to be threatened and the police ability to respond would be reduced accordingly. There is no reason, we believe, in policy terms why a distinction should be drawn between actions which seriously damage property and those which injure people and we believe that creating such a distinction could have serious operational consequences for the police.
A number of points were raised by Members of the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to the G8 meeting in Paris on computer crime. I understand that that is part of a regular meeting of a high-tech crime sub-group of the G8 countries on transnational organised crime. Its focus suggests that it is organised crime rather than just terrorism but improvements for international co-operation in this area may have considerably wider benefits.
I shall have to write to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe on the specific case he raised. I was grateful to my noble friend for his contribution on the definitions of terrorism at international level. The Scottish case is interesting. The Government are satisfied that their possession of nuclear weapons is entirely consistent with international law. There can surely be no dispute that damaging computers on a submarine should be capable of being caught by the criminal law. The question as regards computers is an important issue.
Lord Avebury: I apologise for troubling the Minister again, but I asked him to consider the compatibility of the definition in Clause 1 with that of a terrorist act overseas in Clause 59(2)(e) which limits the damage to
Why should the definition of the damage to property be more limited in terrorist acts overseas than domestically? What is the Government's reason for having a different definition of terrorism according to where the act is committed?
Lord Bassam of Brighton I am grateful to the noble Lord for his sharp reading of the Bill. I do not think that one definition counters another. However, I shall study the provision more closely and, if possible, deal with it at greater length.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord has the benefit of being a noble and learned Lord. I suspect that his interpretation is right. That was my understanding and reading of the relationship between those two clauses.
Lord Skelmersdale: I am sure the whole Committee was enormously encouraged when about two minutes into his speech, the Minister went into what I call "Fagin" mode, saying that "he thinks he'd better think it out again". After the debate on the various definitions in Clause 1 I am sure he is right to do so.
However, from that point on his speech degenerated somewhat. He started to chip away at the various arguments advanced. I do not mind that because presumably he was setting his own parameters as to what he would or would not consider. That is fair enough. However, he made two remarks which somewhat surprised me: first, that in his view graffiti would not be violence against property; and, secondly, that the bombing of an animal laboratory at night might well come into the same category. However, although no one has yet referred to it, subsection (3) of Clause 1 states:
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