Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this interesting group of amendments is directed towards the definition of terrorism. Having discussed the definition throughout the various stages of the Bill, it

4 Jul 2000 : Column 1445

has been greatly improved. However, that does not mean that it is perfect and some interesting suggestions are incorporated in these amendments.

Amendment No. 6 limits subsection (3) to:

    "The use or threat of action ... intended to cause death",

as opposed to,

    "The use or threat of action ... which involves the use of firearms or explosives".

I can think of many instances involving the destruction of property without any intention to cause death--and sometimes on a large scale with warnings given and so forth. They have occurred in Northern Ireland and here in Great Britain.

Sometimes such incidents resulted in deaths or serious injury against the apparent wishes of the terrorists because the warning was not sufficiently precise, or it was not acted on sufficiently quickly, or there was some other mischance. After such an incident, terrorists have sometimes claimed that they did not intend the deaths; they merely intended to damage the building. They have said, for example, that it was the fault of the police that someone was killed in the process. Therefore, I am not sure that the use of the words "intended to cause death" are sufficient, but it is in the drafting of the Liberal Democrat amendment.

There is a wider point as to whether the bombing of a building, electrical or telephone cables, a railway and so forth should be regarded automatically as a terrorist event for the purposes of subsection (3). As regards terrorists, there are a number of motives for attacking a building without intending to cause injury or death. One of them is the preservation of rackets. There are some elaborate rackets in parts of Northern Ireland. For example, in some areas there are no conventional public houses, only clubs run by those linked to terrorist organisations. If a proprietor of an ordinary pub built a new one and threatened the monopoly of the rackets he would, to say the least, risk the premises being bombed. That has happened in the past.

Other incidents have involved a deliberate attack on employment--for example, the destruction of factories and so forth--so as to put off investment and damage the economy of Northern Ireland in particular. Those are just as much terrorist actions and have been part of co-ordinated campaigns from both sides of the political and religious divide in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, the incidents were not intended to cause death or serious injury. Therefore, from that point of view I am nervous about Amendment No. 6.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Would he accept that even the existing drafting of subsection (3) would not apply to, for instance, soaking the premises with petrol and then setting light to it, which would be just as effective a way of destroying the would-be pub as explosives?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, yes. The noble Lord earlier put his finger on one of the difficulties of subsection (3); that it is limited to firearms and explosives when there are other ways of killing people

4 Jul 2000 : Column 1446

and of damaging property. All that draws attention to the fact that the definition is not yet perfect and not that the wording in Amendment No. 6 is to be preferred to the wording in the Bill.

I believe that it is important to leave in the words which Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 propose to leave out. There have been many attacks on government, mostly assassinations and so forth. One can think of several Members of Parliament, former colleagues, who have been assassinated. In addition, the Downing Street bomb and such like were not directed against the public but against government. However, presumably they would be covered by subsection (3) whether or not Amendment No. 6 were agreed to. Some of the threats designed by terrorists in other countries have been designed to influence the government rather than to intimidate the public or a section of them. Logically, either of those events appears to be terrorism.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has tabled an interesting amendment to which reference has not yet been made. It provides that suicide or attempted suicide is not to be treated as terrorism if other people are not endangered. I am looking forward to hearing the noble Lord speak to that interesting amendment and to hearing the Minister's response.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, there is a long and valuable tradition of non-violent civil disobedience in this country. The Green Party and many others regard it as most important that the legislation does not chip away at that tradition. It is part of the complex of thought which has since 1660 preserved the country from revolution.

Non-violent civil disobedience often entails the protestor risking his or her life and, particularly since suicide ceased to be a crime in this country, the action is not and should not be a crime, let alone terrorism. Therefore, I suggest that we should amend the Bill accordingly.

There are two complicating issues. One is where the person's action in committing suicide endangers other people's lives. One might call it the "Emily Davison case", although no one, not even the horse, was seriously damaged except Emily herself. Only one jockey was hurt but no one was seriously damaged. Unfortunately, Emily Davison was not too efficient, having already tried to commit suicide at least twice and having been arrested once for stoning an innocent Baptist minister whom she mistook for Lloyd George.

The second issue relates to what one might call the "Swampy case", where the protester may be thought to cause danger to other people because he tempts them to rescue him. An amendment tabled on Third Reading is no occasion for discussing the ethical nuances raised by that point. However, if I did so, I would hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, would possibly join in the discussion because it seems to me to be of strong theological interest.

This amendment is very simple. It removes the possibility of an action which causes one's own death being classed as terrorism. On the face of it that seems

4 Jul 2000 : Column 1447

to be one of the silliest things that one can come across. The amendment will be an improvement to the Bill and I hope that the Government will accept it.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I have reservations about some of the amendments in the group, but I strongly support Amendment No. 5, to which I have added my name. I am very glad to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, in this matter, as I did at an earlier stage. I am certain that it was never the Government's intention to deem someone to be a terrorist merely because they threatened to commit suicide, whether by hunger strike or otherwise, in order to try to influence a government. Yet that would be the unintended consequence of leaving the Bill unamended.

Amendment No. 5, as drafted, provides that anyone who threatened to commit suicide in such a manner that others might be killed or injured in the process would not benefit from this exemption, and rightly so. No encouragement should be given to someone who threatened to throw himself from a skyscraper and land on innocent pedestrians passing below. This amendment is tightly drawn and modest, yet I believe it is important from the point of view of principle. If the Government were to accept Amendment No. 4 by removing any reference to influencing a government, Amendment No. 5 would probably be unnecessary. If they do not agree to the removal of Amendment No. 4, I suggest that it most certainly will be necessary.

Lord Desai: My Lords, as regards Amendment No. 5 there is a tradition on the Indian sub-continent of people fasting unto death. Sooner or later it will happen here. I believe that the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont and Lord Monson, covers the case that someone may threaten to fast unto death. That may be a foolish act, but it is not a terrorist one.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, at this early stage I would like to pay tribute to all who have contributed in no small way to helping the Government in their task of improving the quality of the definitional clause in this legislation. In particular, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for his help and guidance. I also thank those on all sides of the House who have led in these debates on terrorism. It has been very constructive. The purpose of the contributions has been almost at all times to try to improve the quality of the definition, which is very important and key to the legislation.

I believe it was recognised by all sides at Report stage that the amendments tabled by the Government on the definition of terrorism were important improvements and reflected the earlier debates. They ensured that interference with computer systems was covered by the definition. They introduced a requirement that either an intention to intimidate the public or influence the Government must be present except in cases involving firearms or explosives.

4 Jul 2000 : Column 1448

Although I am sure that it is abundantly clear to Members of this House, perhaps I may place on record that for a threat or action to be caught by the definition of terrorism, each of the elements in Clause 1(1) must be satisfied except, as we shall discuss further, where firearms or explosives are involved. In that case it is not necessary for the threat or action to be designed to influence a government or intimidate the public.

By contrast, in Clause 1(2), only one of the five types of action set out in paragraphs (a) to (e) needs to occur. The difference between the cumulative effect of the requirement in subsection (1) and the disjunctive effect of the requirement in subsection (2) is indicated by the presence of the word "and" at the end of subsection (1)(b) and the word "or" at the end of subsection (2)(d).

As I say, we believe that the amendments we made at Report significantly improved the definition of terrorism, which is so crucial to the Bill as a whole, and plugged some important gaps. The question before us is whether further amendment is needed as proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart, and Lord Beaumont.

I would like first to turn my attention to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Before dealing with the substantive concerns we have about them it is worth mentioning a more technical point which relates to Amendment No. 7. We do not believe that the phrase,

    "action of a kind which, if carried out in...the United Kingdom, would be an offence"

is sufficiently tight for easy application by the police and others. Should the approach in the amendment be adopted--we do not think it should--we would prefer something along the lines of Section 9(4) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which refers to action which,

    "constitutes or would constitute an offence".

Turning to our more substantive concerns about these amendments, they introduce two additional concepts into the definition. The underlying issues have been debated before your Lordships' House and in another place. We have looked at them again in the run-up to this debate. However, we cannot agree to the amendments. We believe that they could unnecessarily hamper the police and others involved in combating terrorism.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 1 and 7. The first provides that only "criminal" action or its threat, may be caught by the definition. We continue to believe that such an approach might create unacceptable difficulties for the security forces and that in some, albeit rare, situations it might mean that the powers under the Bill were not available in circumstances where they should be.

Moreover, that leads to our second concern. We can conceive of rare cases where terrorist action might not be criminal or it might not be immediately clear that it was criminal. I cited examples at earlier stages of the passage of the Bill. For instance, an employee may advance a political cause and may deliberately omit to update a vital computer programme or omit to put a

4 Jul 2000 : Column 1449

cleansing agent in a sewerage system, with the result that the health of a section of the public was severely put at risk. In our view that could be terrorism in certain circumstances. In that situation, we believe that it would be quite appropriate for the police to use their powers under the Bill to disrupt or investigate the incident.

I acknowledge that such situations would be rare, but not so rare that it would be acceptable to discount them in framing legislation. That is particularly the case now that we have explicitly included computer-related terrorism within our definition. Given the speed at which the abuse, as well as the use of information technology is developing, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the first one was aware of a new way of disrupting or interfering with a computer system would be via a terrorist attack. In such circumstances the criminal law, quite understandably, might not cover the area. The result would, or could be, that the police might not have the powers available to investigate an incident in precisely the kind of circumstances in which your Lordships have made it very clear that such provision should be available.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page