Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:25 pm on 13 January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Evans of Weardale Lord Evans of Weardale Crossbench 5:25, 13 January 2015

(Maiden Speech) My Lords, it is an honour to join your Lordships’ House. It was also a considerable surprise to be invited to do so, but it has turned out to be a very agreeable surprise. I am very grateful for the welcome and good wishes that I have received from your Lordships and the staff. I am also grateful to my two sponsors, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, in whose footsteps I have found myself treading on several occasions over the years, and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, whose knowledge of the ways of government—even its secret ways—is unparalleled.

I had thought that I might make my maiden speech on a subject other than security in order not to play to type. Since leaving MI5, I have built a portfolio of interests spanning banking, education, the church and even motoring journalism, and I thought that I might look for an opportunity to speak on one of those. However, circumstances have presented this Bill before your Lordships’ House. Unfortunately, I will not be able to be present for the Committee stage as a result of travel commitments that I had taken on before joining your Lordships’ House, so it would seem perverse not to use this debate as an opportunity to make a maiden speech.

When I left MI5 in 2013, I felt cautiously optimistic that we were over the worst as far as al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorist attacks in this country were concerned.

It seemed to me that we were making significant progress. Regrettably, subsequent events have proved that judgment to be wrong. The atrocious killing of Fusilier Rigby in May 2013 demonstrated the reality of the threat that we face in this country, and the brutal murders in Paris last week demonstrate that this is a European and international problem and not one that we face alone.

It is, of course, developments principally in Syria and Iraq that have led to the jolt of energy that has gone through the extremist networks in this country. That was becoming evident before I left MI5. We have now seen at least 600 people from this country going as would-be jihadists to fight in Syria and Iraq. That is, of course, a dynamic number. I have no doubt at all that if we were to revisit this in a few months’ time, we would find that that number had significantly increased. When they arrive, they will join many hundreds of other jihadists travelling from other western countries and the Arab world. This puts me in mind of the circumstances that we saw in the period before 9/11 in Afghanistan, where there were many al-Qaeda training camps which drew would-be jihadists from across the globe. On their return, many of them were even more radical than they had been when they departed. They had experience of combat, had been trained in violence and had an international network of support on which they could draw. Those circumstances led to a series of international attacks over a long period. I fear that we may be facing the same situation as we go forward from today. Indeed, we are starting to see that, as the comments made by Andrew Parker, the current director-general of the Security Service, made clear last week.

At the same time the revelations made by Edward Snowden, whatever you think of what he did, have clearly led to a reduction in the ability of the security agencies here and overseas to access and read the communications of terrorists internationally, with the result that as the threat from terrorism has gone up in the past two years the ability of the security agencies to counter those threats has gone down. The result of this can be only that the overall risk of a successful terrorist attack in this country has risen.

Before I turn to the Bill, I would like to make some more general comments on the development of counterterrorism measures in the country over the past 15 years. It is sometimes suggested that there is a zero-sum game between security on the one hand, and civil liberties and human rights on the other—that this is some kind of see-saw and that if one end goes up the other will inevitably go down. That seems to me to be fundamentally mistaken. I believe that a country that has a strong basis of civil liberties and human rights is likely then to be able to draw on that as a form of resilience in the face of extremism and violence; in that sense our civil liberties and human rights are a very important moral component in the struggle against extremism. Conversely, inadequate security will breed vulnerability and fear, and that in turn will tend to limit people’s ability to contribute to civil society, will provoke vigilantism and will diminish people’s ability to exercise the very civil liberties and human rights that we wish to sustain. It is true to state that, when rightly created, appropriate security and civil liberties and human rights are mutually supportive.

The Bill provides in general for some fairly modest, practical and useful measures that will help the security agencies and the police to keep us safer, without unduly undermining civil liberties. That is particularly the case if we see additional safeguards introduced in respect of the temporary exclusion orders. For example, we currently lack any power to seize travel documents temporarily in order to stop a terrorist or would-be jihadist travelling overseas at short notice. One of the strategies that we have employed over many years is to try to break that cycle of movement between the domestic space and areas of jihad, which tends to breed extremism and violence. The Bill plugs the gap, but only permits the passport to be held for a limited period and subject to proper review. This means that the security authorities will have the time to consider whether more permanent steps, such as the cancellation of the passport, are needed. Given that it is often impossible to know in advance that an actual or would-be terrorist might be intending to travel overseas until they turn up at the port, it is a necessary and proportionate power.

Equally, the proposal to introduce temporary exclusion orders—I have considerable sympathy for those who suggest they would be better called “managed return orders”—requires the returnee to meet obligations such as returning at a specified time, attendance at appointments and notifying the police of their place of residence. That does not seem particularly draconian and is certainly very much less than would be the case under many TPIMs. Similarly, the power to require the subject of a TPIM to relocate is, from my perspective, a useful reintroduction of a power that was used to good effect with control orders. Control orders were used only in a sparing and careful way—the same is clearly evident with the number of TPIMs that have been used—but relocation was certainly valuable. I can recall one or two cases where an individual, relocated and taken out of the extremist milieu in which he was living, started to realise that perhaps he had made a mistake in adopting extremism and readopted a more moderate view of his religion. There was a deradicalising effect after taking people out of particular extremist environments, which is surely a positive outcome for all concerned.

In my experience, the part of the UK’s counterterrorist strategy that is at the same time the most important in the long term, and the most difficult to design and implement, is the Prevent programme, which aims to prevent and counter the radicalisation that may lead to terrorism. In my view, this is made all the harder by the hesitancy of many in government, the media and wider secular society to acknowledge or engage with the religious dimension of the threat that we face. The measures in the Bill require any public authorities that have been slow to get involved in this process to step up to the plate, but I have some uncertainty first as to whether going down a legislative path to require this is necessary; it is not yet clear to me that that is the case. Secondly, until we have seen the guidance in its final version it is quite difficult to decide how effective this would be. I therefore have to declare myself an agnostic when it comes to Part 5 of the Bill.

After the recent events in France there is no need to persuade anyone of the reality of the threat that we face from Islamist terrorism. The struggle to protect our country against this threat is likely to last for many years, and involves both long-term and short-term measures. The current Bill appears to propose some practical steps that will help those who protect us from those threats and in general therefore I support it. It does, however, leave a considerable amount of unfinished business, in respect of access to communications data and the interception of communications that are absolutely central to our counterterrorism efforts. No doubt we will return to that here in due course.

I look forward to contributing to your Lordships’ consideration of these issues in future debates and also, I hope, to other matters that come before the House.