The Queen's Speech: Animal and GM activists to be covered by terror laws

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ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS and animal rights protesters will be covered for the first time by new anti-terrorism laws to be introduced by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

The Prevention of Terrorism Bill will replace two existing Acts introduced to tackle Irish terrorism in the 1970s and will apply for the first time to "domestic" terrorism.

Government sources said it might include the actions of animal rights extremists whobomb laboratories in which testing takes place. The legislation could also cover environmental groups that destroy genetically modified crops and religious groups responsible for inciting dissidents abroad. As well, the new Act might outlaw computer hacking used for terrorist ends.

The definition of terrorism is to be widened from using "violence for political ends" to any threat or use of violent action "for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause".

The Government ordered a review of its anti-terror legislation by Lord Lloyd because of protests about its impact on individual civil liberties, and fears that some powers were counterproductive.

The Bill will abolish the Home Secretary's power to issue exclusion orders against alleged terrorists in Northern Ireland from travelling to mainland Britain. The search for a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland has led to a change of focus for MI5 and MI6, with the intelligence agencies now closely watching animal rights activists and international terrorists who have been using London as a base for their activities. Acting on Lord Lloyd of Berwick's recommendations, the Bill will increase the powers of the police and the courts to seize assets used by terrorists in a drive to stop groups from fund-raising in Britain for terrorist acts abroad.

The new powers will be based on existing laws to seize assets and profits from drug smuggling, even if they are laundered through perfectly legal businesses. Police and immigration officers could also have the power to seize cash in transit if they believe it is going out of the country for terrorist purposes. Ministers believe that support for widows and orphans, or prisoners' welfare, can be secretly diverted to buy arms or fund other terrorist operations. Britain has been criticised by foreign governments for harbouring terrorist groups, particularly religious fundamentalists operating in the Middle East. The new Act will give the Government greater powers to close down their fund-raising operations and jail or fine those involved.

The broad nature of the new powers, however, has already caused protests from civil rights groups.

The Home Secretary is also planning a separate Bill to allow telephone tapping powers to be extended to electronic messages such as pagers and encrypted messages. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill updates the law to keep pace with electronic messaging since the introduction of the Interception of Communications Act in 1985. It would allow the authorities access to encrypted data, including e-mails sent through Internet service providers for the first time.

Colin Brown

Chief Political Correspondent