My Lords, speaking so late in the debate has its advantages. You will be reassured to hear that I have been able to do some rigorous editing of my speech, partly because many other noble Lords have made the points that I wish to make. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Evans of Weardale on his excellent maiden speech, but of course I would say that, wouldn’t I? He is also a friend. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Green of Deddington, with whom I worked when he was in the Foreign Office.
My noble friend Lord Evans says that he followed in my footsteps. Certainly, this evening I follow in his: to my surprise, I agree with everything that he said. I wish to avoid the thought that MI5 all thinks the same. In the time that we worked closely together we had many disagreements and arguments.
In particular, I agree this evening with the point that was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Whatever the outside world may think, those in the Security Service, and my noble friend Lord Evans and I believed that we were trying to protect civil liberties through security. There is no liberty without security. That is very important. I am extremely glad that my noble friend’s maiden speech was not on vintage cars, because I would have gone to sleep.
In starting scrutiny of the latest counterterrorist legislation, we do so, as Members of the House have noted, against the sober backdrop of events in Paris, although drafting this legislation predated that. The calm and resolute way in which Parisians have responded reminds me of how London responded in the days after the attacks in July 2005, which I remember very well, as we all can.
In some observations before I get down to the legislation, I note that, as in July 2005, some people—not in this House—have rushed to blame not the terrorists but the French authorities for the crimes of the terrorists. They assume that the crimes could have been prevented because those responsible were known. My noble friend and I will not always agree but, as he has said in the past, you can know of people without knowing what they can do. Just because people are known, there may still be inadequate intelligence to identify what they are going to do and, mercifully, we do not intern people on suspicion, although we have in the past.
As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, the numbers involved are simply too big to prevent everybody of concern being monitored constantly, be that here, in France or anywhere in the world, even in a totalitarian regime, which we are not. The French security service is an excellent organisation. Its leaders are well known to us and it is a very good friend of the United Kingdom.
As Andrew Parker, who is following in the footsteps of my noble friend Lord Evans, said last week, it is not possible to prevent all attacks. We must remember that. Post hoc analysis of events, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred to regarding the awful murder of Lee Rigby, gives us lessons. We learn from what happened in those events. However, it is not the case that we can ever expect to prevent everything. Incidentally, I strongly support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on the need to revisit the issue of communications data.
This legislation is taking a number of steps—some of them contentious, some of which will probably be improved in Committee—to do a number of smallish things. However, the loss of capability following the revelations of Snowden is extremely damaging. For the record, this House should not assume that counterterrorism legislation is, as it were, dictated to government and the Home Office by the security and intelligence organisations and the police. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, mentioned, that is simply not true. Governments have their own ideas on counterterrorism legislation. I remember, in the wake of the Brighton bomb, trying to persuade Mrs Thatcher against the powers that she was thinking of. Many people and different departments contribute to legislation, and it is not the script of the Security Service.
I will keep my main comments on the legislation for Committee, but like others I am concerned about Part 5 of the Bill concerning Prevent. Prevent is the key part of the Government’s counterterrorism strategy. That strategy has existed for a decade; it was drafted in 2005 and became part of the previous Government’s strategy in 2006. Of the various strands—Pursue, Prepare, Protect and so on—Prevent is the most difficult and the most important. I cannot agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, that we need to do less of Pursue. The identification, tracking, arresting and prosecution of terrorists needs to go on unabated. However, it seems to me that Prevent is clearly not working.
This is not altogether surprising because it is difficult. We do not really know what works. I retired nearly eight years ago. I know that a great deal of effort has gone into thinking about how to counter this toxic and murderous ideology. I believe that we must have a better understanding of the roots of terrorism than we used to, and a better understanding of how to divert people—particularly vulnerable young people who have, in some cases, been groomed and exploited—from their path.
Some of those who come back from Syria will not be terrorists; some need to be reintegrated. The Channel programme is obviously to be applauded, but I am still concerned that it is bound to be slow, even over the long term. It is understandable that it will be slow, but we do not seem—I beg to be corrected by others who are more up to date than me—to be having much effect. We are told that 600 dangerous extremists who are British citizens have fought in Syria. That is a large number. If Prevent had been working for the past 10 years, we might not have seen so many going.
It follows that I rather doubt that the Government, however laudable their efforts, are well placed to counter this ideology. A lead on that has and is beginning to come from moderate, mainstream Islam, which has itself suffered so much from the distorted version of its faith propounded by terrorists. One of the most appalling scenes from Paris was that of the Muslim policeman on the pavement being executed brutally by one of the terrorists.
It also follows, therefore, that I am not convinced of the value of putting Prevent on a statutory footing. I am out of date. The Government may be able to convince me but I cannot see how legislation can really govern hearts, minds and free speech. We can legislate against activity—the actions that people take can be detected, prosecuted and brought to court—but this I find much more difficult. We already have legislation on incitement to violence, which it is difficult enough to get evidence of, as the police know and have tried.
Finally, I must declare an interest. This is not as a pensioner of MI5, although I am that, but as the chair of the council of Imperial College London. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, expressed strong feelings about the difficulties for universities of what is proposed. Again, I will listen carefully in Committee but I prefer to believe that a voluntary, optional regime of securing co-operation is preferable to what is proposed in Part 5.
I have real difficulty in understanding the practicality of requiring an enormous range of authorities to respond to what is described as the “local threat”, which may after all be covert. How will they judge who is vulnerable? How will they judge who is a non-violent extremist? I wait to hear. I look forward to listening to the Government’s arguments in Committee on these and other issues.