Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 9th October 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Conservative 9:00 pm, 9th October 2018

My Lords, I would like to start by saying what a memorable pair of maiden speeches they were. I am a newcomer, so I can say—quite literally—they were the best I have ever heard, a real showcase of two great parliamentary careers, and I welcome them both. I would also like to thank the Minister, who did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the dilemma facing us. How do we protect public security while simultaneously safeguarding civil liberties, and at a time when technology is changing very quickly?

My noble friends Lady Warsi and Lord Ahmed expressed very well the challenge to the Muslim community in the UK and the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked very interestingly about the strategic challenge the police face. I want to come at it from a different direction and declare an interest. I am a founder of a campaign against neo-Nazi fascist and racist extremism, sometimes called far-right extremism, but we will be careful about that epithet. I would like to give the perspective of someone who has worked as a volunteer on the front line against the threat of that kind of extremism, against the kind of people who spend their time online trying to recruit, foster hate and agitate for violence. I ran a campaign 10 years ago to challenge the distasteful and disruptive politics of that kind of extremism. It brought me face to face with supremacists, neo-Nazis and agitators for terror. I spent a lot of time personally rebutting and challenging these keyboard warriors, and have some first-hand experience of how that kind of online extremist propaganda is deliberately calculated to foment civic rage and acts of violence. I came to realise that from a legal and technical point of view, we are really struggling to keep up. Many of the activists of the extreme far-right are thoughtful, systematic strategists who study the law, network technology and human psychology deliberately to create turmoil in our society and to groom individuals into their ideology and potentially into acts of criminality.

I went into this enterprise keen to preserve democratic values and free speech, but came to understand that our laws need to be updated. With some regret, I realised it was necessary to prosecute those who, through their words, images and videos, were spreading hate, and to counter the advantage they had through modern technology. I wrote a report 10 years ago, A Shadow over Democracy, which projected a lot of our fears at the time. I am concerned that those predictions have come true. I remember earlier this year Mark Rowley, the outgoing Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, warning about four foiled right-wing terrorist attacks, the potency of leaders like Tommy Robinson, 24% of Channel panel referrals earlier this year being from extremist groups at the neo-Nazi end of the scale, and this awful interdependent ratchet between Islamist terrorism and far-right terrorism that we need to try to break. The internet has played a central role in these developments. It has provided these groups with a network to spread their hate, to leap borders, to raise money to recruit people and to circumvent the societal norms and laws around incitement to hate and violence. I keep a watchful eye on what is happening in Europe and America, and fear we may be looking at an increase in this area. It is for that reason I welcome this Bill, and in particular Clause 1, which makes reckless statements of support for proscribed organisations illegal. I took on board what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said—I thought he put it very well—but from my experience, it feels like we need to tighten up the law in this area.

I welcome Clause 3, which tightens up the law around streaming and downloading materials useful to committing or preparing an act of terrorism. I have seen how individuals have been inspired by words and videos to perform acts of violence. However, I was one of those researchers who clicked on these videos a lot, and I do not want to be captured by this law. Therefore, I urge the Minister to stretch every sinew to reassure people like me that we have a reasonable excuse and that this measure will not somehow be lost because of that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made very good points on that.

Lastly, I welcome Clause 5, which strengthens the Terrorism Act 2006 and measures concerning the dissemination of material that might encourage people to commit acts of terrorism. Ten years ago, we were warning that self-radicalised, lone wolf, white-supremacist terrorists were a big threat, but it seemed distant and unlikely. However, since then, we have seen Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist, Darren Osborne, the Finsbury Park mosque attacker, and Thomas Mair, the far-right terrorist who killed Jo Cox. In that context, Clause 5 seems both proportionate and timely.

The one nudge I would give the Minister concerns the culpability of the distribution network—the tech giants who own the networks. It is obviously beyond the ambit of this Bill to cover that, but I know that the DCMS is looking at its White Paper and at potential legislation in this area. I urge the Minister please to look at that. A lot has been done, I know, but a lot more needs to be done.