Queen’s Speech — Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:07 pm on 2nd June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Conservative 4:07 pm, 2nd June 2015

My Lords, I will try to deliver my speech from this position. I am testing a new medication and I want to push it—and myself—to the limit. I pray for your Lordships’ understanding if I have to finish my seven minutes from a sedentary position.

Perhaps I might also add to the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to Charles Kennedy and be the first Conservative in this House to do so. The Prime Minister was right: he was taken from us far too young. In terms of returning a record number of MPs, he was the most successful leader the Liberal Democrats have ever had. I also pay tribute to the fact that he, more than anyone else, laid to rest the myth of the dour Highland Scot. There was nothing dour about Charles Kennedy. Having served with him in the other place, I know we shall all miss him.

I welcome most of the Bills announced in the gracious Speech—if I understand them correctly. In particular, I welcome the investigatory powers Bill if it is a rewrite of RIPA, which is now discredited and not fit for purpose. We need a new RIPA that incorporates the conclusions of the Joint Select Committee I was privileged to chair and the recommendations of David Anderson QC. However, I am concerned that in the big media briefing pack issued by No. 10 last Wednesday, the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which naturally was very supportive of everything the security services wanted, was included as a key background paper—but not my Select Committee report. I am not precious about it but I hope that that does not indicate any backsliding by the Home Office on its excellent redraft of the original, discredited snoopers’ charter.

I remind my noble friend the Minister that our committee had Members from both Houses and all parties and none. We had widely differing views, which we probably still have, but we ended up with a unanimous report. We achieved that because we agreed that we could not have some general, wide-ranging, inexplicable and obscure powers for the security services, which would make it impossible for us in Parliament sensibly to amend and vote on each power requested. That original obscure draft caused the widespread revolt against the Bill, so we concluded that if the key contentious elements, such as the collection of weblogs and third-party data, and new definitions of subscriber and communications data, were set out individually and clearly that would permit Members in both Houses to vote on these powers. They would have the stamp of informed parliamentary authority. Of course, the Government may be afraid that they would lose one of these powers but I honestly believe that if we come clean on exactly what the police and security services want, Parliament will narrowly agree.

What would be utterly unacceptable, I say to my noble friend, would be to pass some obscure powers and then have the Security Service pop up in a year’s time and say, “Aha, we have the power to do this, that and the other. Didn’t you realise it when you passed that vague clause?”. We have recently seen how the Americans have suddenly woken up to the fact that they have been lied to by the NSA. As the Times says today:

“Intelligence services should not be given a free pass, here or in the United States … The intelligence and security services … need to become much more open about their role and intentions. If they do, the public will be reassured”.

I think we would be reassured also. I hope therefore that the Bill will take up our other suggestion for a mechanism for rapid amendment as technology changes and create a standing committee to advise on that.

I turn now to the extremism Bill, and I choose my words very carefully. I support this measure, provided that it specifically targets the real problem of extremism and not all radicals. I consider myself a bit of a radical in some ways, and so do many noble Lords, so radicalism per se is not the problem. Instead the words “radicalisation” and “extremism” are euphemisms for the words we dare not mention: namely, political Islamism—the ideology—or Islamofascism. I do not often agree with Tony Blair, but I agree with what he said in April 2014. He said:

“At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively”.

In March, the Home Secretary announced a completely new strategy. She said:

“This strategy aims to tackle the whole spectrum of extremism, violent and non-violent, ideological and non-ideological, Islamist and neo-Nazi—hate and fear in all their forms”.

My fear about the Bill, therefore, is that the Home Office will want to appear to be even-handed, catching all extremists, and not target the real problem of politicised Islamism, the ideology. But where do the problems really lie? Do we have Buddhist suicide bombers? Are there Free Presbyterians beheading Roman Catholics in Benbecula? Are there jihadi Jehovah’s Witnesses? Of course not, so who then deserves to be caught in this wide net of extremists?

The other vile ideologies that I can think of are the BNP, neo-Nazis, UK Uncut, various other anarchists, all permutations of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Workers Party. They would all like to bring down our liberal western democracy but, while we abhor their views and despise their expression of them, are they really a serious problem? As far as I can see from their websites, their active members have not got the guts or the guile, the wit or the wisdom—or a united religious fervour—to organise anything that threatens our liberal democracy. They have no coherent philosophy, except that they seem to hate each other even more than the country they despise. What really threatens our democratic way of life is a desire by political Islamists to impose a theocracy that would replace all the democratic rule of law that we have developed over 500 years in this country. It would impose the same brutality that Christianity imposed when it operated on Old Testament teachings of “an eye for an eye”, rather than loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

The Home Secretary went on to say that,

“the foundation stone of our new strategy is the proud promotion of British values. These values—such as regard for the rule of law, participation in and acceptance of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities—are supported by the overwhelming majority of British people”.

So my worry is that a generalist, catch-all definition of extremism will result in some idiot police forces arresting a couple of ladies from the WI and a traditionalist Church of England vicar who has said something radical —for example, that he actually believes in God. I justify the term “idiot police force” by reminding noble Lords that after the appalling Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Wiltshire police sprang into action and demanded to know the names of local people in the village of Corsham who had bought the commemorative edition.

We have seen how police forces up and down the country, unfortunately, have ignored reports of thousands of children being raped and raped again because they did not want to offend a section of society. We cannot trust them to use properly any wide, generalist powers we may have in this Bill, and we need to spell out exactly what and who we want them to target.

I believe that, as legislators, we have a duty not just to spell out clearly the philosophy of British values but to give clear and unequivocal guidance to those who will have to enforce our intentions. We cannot afford to get this wrong, not only because we will miss the real extremists we need to catch but because we will then prejudice the British public against our efforts if our police forces persist in failing to take appropriate action against them. I look forward to seeing the text of the Bill in due course.