HL Deb 04 July 2000 vol 614 cc1442-59

6.13 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Terrorism: interpretation]:

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 7, after ("of") insert ("criminal").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 to 8.

The present definition of terrorism contained in Clause 1 of the Bill was introduced on Report. On that occasion, the view was taken that the Government's then amendment was an improvement on the original version of the Bill which had arrived from the other place, but that time was required to think about it to see whether it could be improved still further. Challenge was therefore not made to the amendment at Report stage. However, notice was given that several amendments would be tabled to improve the definition further if it were thought possible and appropriate. The conclusion has been reached that the amendment could be significantly improved, and therefore amendments have been put down in order to do that.

The main defect in the present definition of "terrorism" as now in the Bill is that it brings action, to influence the government", into the definition even if the action involves no threat to the public. It is believed that that is too wide a definition, even in the case of a democratic government, and much more so in the case of oppressive and undemocratic governments.

The aim of a definition must be to include within it everything we want and to exclude everything we do not want. That has proved particularly troublesome in the case of the definition of terrorism, and it is clear that an ideal definition on which there could be complete consensus will not be reached. But it is believed that the amendments put down on the Marshalled List tighten up the definition and bring it closer to the ideal.

The key amendment in the group is Amendment No. 4. It removes any reference to influencing the government from the definition of terrorism. It makes the intimidation of the public or a section of the public an essential element in terrorism.

There is, however, one major exception, and that is covered by subsection (3) of Clause 1, as amended, as we propose, by Amendment No. 6. It is believed that any organisation which adopts murder as a method of operation, and does so for political, religious or ideological purposes, should be regarded as a terrorist organisation even if the public are not the targets of the killing. Therefore, it is believed that a campaign of assassination against members of a government is a terrorist campaign, even if that government are oppressive, and even if the campaign involves no threat to members of the public.

Subsection (3) as now drafted excludes any necessity to show an intention to influence a government or intimidate the public where the action in question involves firearms or explosives, but it is not believed that assassination by gun or bomb is worse than assassination by, for example, poison or strangling. On the other hand, it is not believed that the use of explosives, where there is no threat to life—for example, by blowing up television or radio transmission towers when care has been taken to ensure there is no danger to individuals—is worse than other forms of terrorism.

Amendment No. 6 therefore widens subsection (3) by extending it to all methods of killing, but narrows subsection (3) by limiting it only to killing. It is believed that that makes subsection (3) better targeted than it is at present.

Amendment No. 3 deals with one problem which was raised during the course of my discussion with the Home Secretary last week when seeking to reach agreement on the issue. The Home Secretary stated that removing reference to "influencing" the Government was not enough because a terrorist group could blackmail the government, for example, for the purpose of obtaining the release of a member of its organisation held in a prison by threatening to poison the water supply. It may be that the Government, in order to avoid public panic, keeps that threat secret. It is suggested therefore that the terrorist threat cannot be said to intimidate the public because the public do not know.

That appeared to be a fair point. Amendment No. 3 therefore now deals with the problem by stating that a threat which is directed against the public can be terrorism even though the public do not know about it and are therefore not intimidated by the threat.

Amendment Nos. 2 and 8 are consequential.

Amendment Nos. 1 and 7 raise a different plight. It is possible to envisage some types of strike action, for example, which could cause a serious risk to health or to the safety of the public, or a section of the public. It is not thought that anything of that kind has actually happened in this country, but on occasions in the past the country has been quite close to it. One does not need to go as far back as the General Strike in 1926, but one could go back, for instance, to the miners' strike in 1973 and 1974. However, it is not thought that most people would have regarded the National Union of Mineworkers at that time as potentially a terrorist organisation, or Arthur Scargill as a terrorist, still less Joe Gormley.

It is proposed by Amendments Nos. 1 and 7 to limit the action covered by Clause 1 to criminal action only. It is believed that these amendments tighten up the definition of terrorism. It is believed that they simplify the definition by excluding the need to include any reference to governments. They restrict the definition of terrorism to the basic meaning; either a threat to the public or a section of the public, or an assassination campaign. It is also believed that these amendments do that without presenting any damage to the effectiveness of the Bill in fighting terrorism, internal or external, which is, of course, an objective with which my colleagues and I are in full support. I beg to move.

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 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 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 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.

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 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.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister explain to me whether a person who commits the action he described, such as deliberately omitting to update a program on a computer or something else of a similar nature, would be committing an offence under the computer misuse Act?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it may or may not be. The important point to remember here is that it may be a form of action which has been deliberately embarked on and designed to disrupt public life or cause harm or injury. The motives that lie behind the action could well constitute a terrorist offence. In the circumstances we believe it is right and proportionate to include it in the Bill. It is for that reason that we have included a computer offence within the definition.

We have also made it clear on many occasions that our definition of terrorism is not intended to catch lawfully organised industrial action in connection with a legitimate trade dispute. It is worth putting that on record. I do not believe it likely that the courts would stretch the definition of a political cause as some have suggested.

Moreover, unions which operate in essential services usually go to considerable lengths to seek to avoid serious risk to life, health and safety as a result of the way in which they pursue industrial disputes. Therefore, in our view their actions would be doubly unlikely to fall within our definition.

Finally, in the very remote event that industrial action might be held to fall within our definition, I believe that in principle it would be wrong for us to elevate industrial action over other forms of politically, religiously or ideologically motivated concerted protest which endangers life or creates a serious risk to public health and safety by providing, for example, an explicit exemption.

I have already explained the difficulties that we have identified in introducing the concept of "criminal" into the definition and I believe that the noble Lord's prime concern has been met adequately by other means. I hope that in the circumstances he will not press his amendment.

I now turn my attention to Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, 6 and 8. We are concerned that these amendments narrow significantly and unacceptably the scope of the definition of terrorism by providing that, except in cases where the action is intended to cause death, it must be designed either to intimidate the public or be directed against the public. That is in contrast to our provision added at Report stage which provides that an action must be designed to influence the government or intimidate the public, except where firearms or explosives are involved.

As I understand it, the heart of the noble Lord's concern with this part of our definition is its potential application to conflicts and struggles abroad, particularly where there is concern that democratic principles are not fully at work and where there might be a deal of sympathy with those who want to take action, even violent action, to influence the government. The example most often quoted is, of course, South Africa in bygone years. A more current example might be the ongoing struggles in and between parts of the former Yugoslavia. The noble Lord's amendment seeks to provide that such action would not be caught by the definition, provided that it was not directed at the public or designed to intimidate the public, or provided that it was intended to cause death. That would exclude the application of the definition to some, although perhaps in reality not much, of the serious violence in those contexts.

I believe that we have discussed these concerns at almost every stage of the passage of this Bill. We have always recognised the sensitivities that surround what is often characterised as the "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" issue. As I have already mentioned, in response to those concerns we introduced amendments on Report which provided for Attorney-General level consent to prosecution for international terrorist cases. We believe that that is the right way to deal with the issue and I believe that that was the view of the noble Lord, too. At col. 1439 of the Second Reading debate he said: I do not think that the problem can be solved by a clever definition of terrorism". He went on to say: The only realistic safeguard is the need to obtain leave to start the prosecution".—[Official Report, 6/4/00; col. 1439.] We agree.

Moreover, we have grave concerns about the implications for responding to terrorist incidents more generally if the noble Lord's amendments are agreed to. The effect of the amendments would be that the powers and offences under the Bill would not be available to the police unless it was clear that attacks, including even bomb attacks, were designed to intimidate the public or were directed against the public or intended to cause death.

In our view, that simply will not do. Although it is common ground between us that most terrorist attacks are designed to intimidate the public, and we accept that other actions might be caught by the noble Lord's additional limb of "actions directed against the public", we believe that that still leaves a worrying gap. As the noble Lord well knows and intends, the gap particularly concerns serious damage to property.

Situations that might not be covered by his definition include attacks on government buildings and other symbolic targets where a warning has been given. Therefore, it cannot be argued that there is an intention to cause death. However, the same might be true in non-property-related situations; for example, in the kidnapping of a diplomat or politician, to take up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. The fact that the disapplication applies only where there is an intention to cause death means that the definition might not apply even in circumstances where the terrorists were clearly reckless as to whether death or serious injury might be caused. I do not believe that it is remotely acceptable that under the Bill the police might not have the powers available to them in circumstances such as those. And I cannot believe that noble Lords will consider it acceptable either.

Finally, I should mention that the "influencing a government" limb of the definition is not a new idea of the Government's recent invention. The Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act 1939 contained it. Now that terrorism is international and combating terrorism requires international co-operation, it is right that we should recognise as terrorism acts aimed at the governments of other countries as well as our own. Moreover, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, recommended in his report that such a limb should be included.

We believe that such an element is a vital partner to the "intimidating the public" limb, on which I believe we are all generally agreed. From the outset, we have underlined that we believe the undermining of democratic processes to be at the heart of the definition of terrorism. If experience suggests, as we have demonstrated that it does, that terrorists undertake actions which are designed to influence the government but which do not intimidate the public or are not directed against the public, it must be right that such actions are also caught by the definition. For those reasons, we cannot support the amendments.

I now turn to Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I can address this amendment more briefly and perhaps more positively. On Report we agreed that we should consider whether there should be an explicit exemption from the definition of terrorism where the only life endangered was one's own. On balance, we decided that it would be beneficial to adopt such an approach. On that basis, I am happy to signal that the Government support the noble Lord's amendment.

I hope that I have made the Government's position plain and clear. I encourage the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to withdraw his amendments. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate for helping us to reshape the definitional clause.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I am of course disappointed that the Government have not seen fit to accept the amendments proposed by us or to move in any sense towards them. It seems to me that the amendments which we have proposed, and in particular Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 6, represent a substantial improvement on the definition in the Bill as it stands. I believe that it would be pointless for me to re-argue the points as to why we believe that. They were explained by me earlier. In view of the absence of support from other parts of the House, I feel that no useful purpose would be served by pressing the amendments to a vote. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 1.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 not moved.]

Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 1, line 16, at end insert ("other than that of the person committing the action").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the Government for their usual common sense in accepting this amendment. I also thank other noble Lords around the Chamber who supported me in this matter. I believe that it is a very sensible and worthwhile, but only small, amendment, and I am grateful to the House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 8 not moved.]

Clause 12 [Support]:

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 7, line 24, at end insert—

("(3A) Where a person is charged with an offence under subsection (2)(c) in respect of a private meeting it is a defence for him to prove that he had no reasonable cause to believe that the address mentioned in subsection (2)(c) would support a proscribed organisation or further its activities.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 11 to 13 take a slightly different approach from Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but not moved. I do not propose to say a great deal about the amendments, but I shall explain why we preferred ours to the noble Lord's.

Whereas the noble Lord's amendments rely on a public interest test, we propose a statutory defence for someone charged with an offence under Clause 12(2)(c) in respect of a private meeting, that he had no reasonable cause to believe that the address would support a proscribed organisation or further activities.

That provides sufficient protection for arranging genuinely benign meetings while still ensuring that subsection (2)(c) will serve its basic purpose. Our main intention is unchanged. It will remain an offence, as it is under existing legislation, to arrange or manage—or to assist in the arrangement or management of—a meeting that it is known will be addressed by a person who belongs, or professes to belong, to a proscribed organisation. However, we agree that in certain cases there should be a statutory defence. Amendment No. 14 will ensure that anyone seeking to rely on that defence will have to satisfy an evidential burden only, as is the case with various other provisions in the Bill.

I trust that with that explanation, your Lordships' House will agree to our amendments. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for not having moved his amendments. I suspect that he recognised that ours were preferable. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I was happy not to move my amendments because I recognise that the government amendments achieve the same substantial point. We are grateful to the Government for having taken on board the point about Clause 12(2)(c) as originally drafted and taken reasonable steps to narrow it. I am disappointed about the definition that we discussed a few minutes ago, but I am grateful to the Government for the number of amendments that they have made, which have significantly improved the Bill.

The amendments on the burden of proof have been a particularly substantial improvement to the Bill. They should avoid any problems under the Human Rights Act 1998. I am therefore happy to support the amendments.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I was thrown by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, did not move his amendments. At first glance, it might seem that government Amendments Nos. 11 to 14 achieve much the same as Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, but in a slightly different way. However, unfortunately—I hesitate to quarrel with the legal expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart—they do not quite achieve the same effect.

I have no problem with the Government outlawing the furthering of activities of a proscribed organisation, but the government amendments go further than that because they prevent anybody who addresses a meeting from supporting such an organisation during their speech. Even in a wholly private meeting, it will not be possible for robust arguments to take place between apologists for terrorism and those who strongly oppose it.

On Report, it was significant that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, supported a similar Liberal Democrat amendment. He knows more about terrorism first hand than most of the rest of us in the House put together. If I understood him correctly, the essence of his argument was that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. To convince terrorists of the wickedness and folly of their ways through argument is difficult, but it is not necessarily impossible. Conversion and repentance can occur. One thinks of Sean O'Callaghan on the republican side and one or two names on the loyalist side. The conversion in the latter cases might not have been quite so total, but it was still significant.

It is obviously too late to pursue the issue now that the amendment has not been moved, but the government amendments do not go far enough in permitting an interchange of views, none of which would further terrorism but which might allow terrorists to be argued out of their stance. However, as it is too late to go any further, that is all that I need to say.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should explain that I was not envisaging debates to try to change the minds of terrorists, which would be unlikely to be fruitful. The problem was that Clause 12(2)(c) as drafted would cover meetings for the purpose of negotiation with a view to settling terrorist activities. That problem is dealt with by the government amendments.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. I agree that that is a valuable advance. One thinks of negotiations that have taken place between terrorists and governments, which might have been caught by the Bill as it stood.

It is unlikely that terrorists can be converted through debate, but it does happen now and again. If the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, had not spoken so strongly in favour of the Liberal Democrat amendment last time, I might not have spoken up. He knows what he is talking about and it is a pity that we cannot go any further on the issue, but so be it.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, with respect, the definition in the amendment that my noble friend Lord Goodhart did not move is preferable in some ways to that of the Government.

When a government and an armed opposition movement that has been in combat with them are brought together for conflict resolution, there is no means of knowing in advance whether the people representing the armed opposition will attempt during the conciliation meeting to argue the merits of their case or support the proscribed organisation in any other way.

I shall give the Minister a recent practical example. The Henry Dunant centre in Geneva brought together representatives of the government of Indonesia and the armed opposition in Aceh, the GAM. As a result, both parties were persuaded to sign what was called a humanitarian force. The fact that it did not work very well is neither here nor there for the merits of the argument.

The parties sat down to make an agreement that would allow the deployment of humanitarian relief efforts for the people of Aceh and a break in the armed opposition by the GAM and the armed action by the forces of the government of Indonesia against the so-called terrorists.

The Henry Dunant centre had no means of knowing what either side would say and—this is particularly relevant in the context of the amendments—whether those representing the GAM would make remarks that could be taken as supporting that proscribed organisation or furthering its activities. My noble friend's amendment provided for an exception that such a meeting was in the public interest. The Aceh agreement was clearly in the public interest because it provided, at least for a short period, for the fighting to stop and humanitarian assistance to be delivered to the people.

The Government's wording puts an enormous burden on the organisers of such meetings to satisfy themselves in advance of what is going to be said by those who represent an armed opposition.

7 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I have to say that to some extent I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I believe that there is a serious place and use for benign meetings of the type he described. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to encourage us by telling us that, inclusive of the government amendment, there will still be space in the Bill for such meetings, which undoubtedly are extremely useful in trying to solve any form of terrorist problem.

I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, withdrew his amendment. It required a lot of thought in balancing one thing with another. I was really only worried about one aspect; that is, the use of the phrase, "the public interest". I was concerned about the definition. Going back to Northern Ireland, I can think of times when PIRA protagonists might well have held public meetings within republican areas of Belfast. They could have argued that, because they were promoting Sinn Fein objectives as a terrorist organisation, their meetings were in the public interest of those people within whose area they were living and working and whose cause they believed they were promoting. The same could be said for loyalists in east Belfast. I am sure the same could apply elsewhere in the world on different occasions.

In short, that was the only reason that I was against the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and prefer the government amendment. As I have said, I support most of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, which contained a great deal of wisdom. I hope that within the Bill it will still be possible—my reading of it is that it will be—without breaking the law, to organise benign meetings, as we have referred to them today, between terrorists, security people and probably not mainline politicians but with the support of the government of the day. I support the government amendment.

Lord Desai

My Lords, Perhaps I may mention, briefly, that I had many reservations about Clause 12(2)(c), and other matters, which I raised in Committee and on Report. I am grateful to the Government for amending Clause 12 so that my academic friends will now be protected.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is always difficult speaking to amendments that have not been moved, but I suspect that I should.

Perhaps I may start where the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, left off. His encouragement to the Government was to ensure that genuinely benign meetings were able to take place. We believe that our amendment is preferable. It protects that position and enables such meetings to take place. We provide a statutory defence in the clauses we have drafted, which is important. I am sure there is confidence on all sides of your Lordships' House that that will be the case. It certainly would not be our intention to endanger such meetings. In many circumstances, that would be counter-productive.

Our great difficulty with the drafting of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, concerned the key issue of the public interest. It is an interesting test. However, I seriously question whether it is the right way to go about it. A number of questions have to be asked; for instance: who is to say whether a meeting is in the public interest; in what circumstances? Moreover, who is to say whether it is reasonable to believe that the meeting is in the public interest? Such a defence would probably lead to lengthy legal argument. Our concern was that such a defence would drive a big hole through Clause 12(2)(c). It may be the case that some would like to see a big hole driven through it, but I do not think that would be right. To use a good old-fashioned term, we have tried to strike a balance. I believe we have it about right.

I hear what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and understand the point at which he is driving. However, I believe on balance we have got it right. For those reasons, I believe that our amendments should receive the support of your Lordships' House this evening. I am encouraged that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has withdrawn his amendment in favour of ours.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam moved Amendments Nos. 12 and 13:

Page 7, line 25, leave out ("and (3)") and insert ("to(3A)").

Page 7, line 26, at end insert—

(", and (b) a meeting is private if the public are not admitted").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 118 [Defences]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 55, line 38, after ("sections") insert ("12(3A),").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Port and Border Controls]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 110, line 28. leave out ("knowingly") and insert ("wilfully").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 15, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 16. The amendments address the issue of the provision of passenger information to which we have returned at virtually every stage of the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House.

On Report we took up one of the suggestions made in Committee to the effect that information should be provided "as soon as is reasonably practicable". Since then we have considered the further representations made on Report which focused on the offence provision for non-compliance with a duty under the ports provisions of the Bill. As we explained then, we did not think that the statutory defence approach did the trick, as it appeared to provide a carte blanche for less than co-operative carriers to ignore altogether requests to collect information.

We propose instead that the threshold for the noncompliance to bite be raised from "knowingly" to "wilfully". So, if a carrier makes every effort to collect the requested information but it is simply not possible for some reason, even within a reasonable timescale, the courts could take the view that no offence had been committed.

We believe that the amendments are a helpful addition to the Bill in that they underline our commitment to the provision of reasonable as well as effective passenger information provisions under the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, this is a small but useful improvement to the Bill.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Cope. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that this issue had been raised at every stage. I speak as a paid-up member of what the noble Lord described at one stage as the "transport lobby", and I am proud to do so.

It was worthwhile raising this at every stage because we have gained not only some useful amendments to the Bill, but words in the speeches of the Minister which are encouraging. I thank the Minister for having produced the amendment. I hope I can assure him that the transport industries will do their very best to comply with the legislation. I am glad to see that one of the Ministers for transport has just entered the Chamber because, no doubt, he will also take this view. We will do our best to co-operate. I hope that the legislation succeeds.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of both noble Lords who have spoken. This small step forward will be welcomed by those in the ferry industry who may be affected by the Bill.

Lord Bach

My Lords, the expression, "small but useful" is exactly right. I congratulate the body, which I have never before called the "transport lobby"—but if the noble Lord insists—on the hard work it has done along with everyone else in seeing the Bill through its stages.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 110, line 30, leave out ("knowingly") and insert ("wilfully").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

I shall say just a few formal words because they need to be put on record. At Second Reading I predicted that our discussions on the Bill would benefit greatly from the wealth of experience in your Lordships' House. I am happy to report that that prediction was entirely correct. We have been able to draw on the specific understanding of a number of Members of your Lordships' House covering the workings of government from a ministerial perspective, hands-on knowledge of the difficulties faced in Northern Ireland and the civil liberties lawyers who are rightly concerned to ensure that the ECHR legislation is properly understood in the context of this Bill.

While it is always dangerous to single out individuals, it would be wrong of me to let the moment pass without recording particularly my debt of gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. His inquiry into legislation against terrorism provided us with an important series of insights and also a framework around which to ensure that we get the Bill right.

The general principles underlying the Terrorism Bill received support from all sides of the Chamber. It is important that the House has been united in its determination that everything must be done to tackle the evil of terrorism. I am extremely grateful to all of those who contributed, from all sides. It improved the quality of legislation. It has also been the House at its best in terms of scrutinising the quality of legislation. In that regard the Government and the public should feel well served.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I rise briefly to echo what the Minister said, both in the thanks to the Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part, and in particular to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I thank also Mr John Rowe QC and his predecessors who produced annual reports on terrorism which have also been drawn on in the preparation of this legislation.

This is a better Bill than when it started its passage through your Lordships' House. But I echo strongly what the Minister said about the joint determination of all those in this House and in another place, and throughout the country, to fight terrorism in whatever form it occurs. Terrorism attacks democracy. It attempts to subvert everything for which this Parliament stands. I am pleased to support the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I add my thanks to those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. It seemed to me that the work done by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was extremely important and has had fruitful results. On behalf of my party I too express condemnation of terrorism in its manifold forms and a recognition that it is now something that cannot be regarded as confined to one country. At the same time, it is clear that no civilised government can afford to override the civil rights of those suspected of terrorism in a desire, however justifiable, to prevent or restrict it. I am therefore grateful to the Government for taking on board a number of the points we made on those issues.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.