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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:06 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:06 pm, 9th October 2018

My Lords, this has been an interesting and well informed debate. We also had the joy of listening to two excellent maiden speeches. While listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, I wrote down the words, “Amusing and informative”. Unlike during his previous maiden speech, noble Lords were riveted by what he had to say. I am sure the noble and learned Lord will prove that he has his uses in this House. “Generous and thoughtful” is what I wrote while listening to the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie. His electoral record in Chichester speaks volumes about the esteem in which he is held generally. Judging by what he said this evening, I am in no doubt that he will be fearless in his future contributions in the House. I also thank the Minister for comprehensively introducing the Bill.

I pay tribute to the police and the security services. During consideration of previous legislation, I had the privilege of going both to GCHQ and to the security services headquarters. I was impressed not only by the capability of those working in the services but by their integrity. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, and others talked about the numbers involved—the number of suspects and the number of operations going on—which just goes to prove how successful the police and the security services have been, despite the tragic events that we have seen in recent years.

I am not wrong in saying that there has been a general consensus, on all sides of the House, that the legislation—whatever it ends up as—needs to pass the test of being necessary and proportionate. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and even the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, all suggested that that was necessary. There were perhaps two notable exceptions to that consensus, as that was not something that the noble Lords, Lord Blair of Boughton and Lord Tebbit, would support.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in particular that I was the police spokesman after the bombings on 7 July 2005. I was in this House when the terrorist incident happened in which one of our police colleagues was killed. I was at home, a 10-minute walk away from London Bridge, when that attack happened. That is not the first-hand, tragic experience that the noble Lord has had, and I completely understand that his experience has deeply affected him. We should not lose sight of the impact that these incidents have had on the victims.

So there is a consensus, generally. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, there may be some differences of opinion as to what is necessary and what is proportionate. Obviously, we accept that this legislation has already been through the other place. But, as the noble Lord, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, said, some in the other place said that they agreed to the legislation being passed subject to it receiving scrutiny in this House, and that is clearly what we must do.

We on these Benches will support any necessary and proportionate measure that makes the United Kingdom safer or will help defeat terrorism, but we will not support measures that we consider to be disproportionate and counterproductive. Colleagues on these Benches, particularly my noble friend Lady Hamwee, highlighted evidence from the Joint Committee on Human Rights—concerns that not only we share but the current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill, also shares. We offer a similar view to his. There are some good, pragmatic measures in the Bill, but there are others that go too far.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, suggested, only in the most extreme cases should the police be given such wide discretion that they can arrest someone engaged in potentially completely innocent activity where the person arrested has to rely on a reasonable excuse defence. Having a reasonable excuse defence in legislation is no protection from an innocent person being arrested and potentially charged.

I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. If I understand him my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford correctly, with “reckless”, either it is an objective definition of reckless in which case we are into the realms of people being arrested for what they think or simply for expressing their view, or we are looking at a subjective definition of reckless, which is what the current law says. In that case, the provision is superfluous to what is already in existing legislation. Clearly, we need to consider these issues carefully.

Similarly, in terms of other provisions in the Bill, it is not too difficult to think of circumstances where a teenager innocently takes a selfie in a mate’s bedroom not realising that there is an ISIS flag on the wall behind him and posts that photograph on Facebook. The next thing, that individual is in police custody—a completely innocent action that results in them being arrested.

Under this Bill, it would also be an offence to click on a page on the internet that has,

“information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”.

Just one attempt to look at the document could result in that individual being arrested, with a potential term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years. The Minister said that previous legislation covered only situations where documents were downloaded and now we have a situation where people are streaming or simply just looking at documents. Not too long ago, we in this House considered at length internet connection records. Surely that sort of thing will provide the necessary evidence, even if people are looking at or streaming information rather than downloading documents. There is a lot to be considered here in terms of whether the legislation is necessary or whether it goes too far. Of course, it was only at the last minute that that particular provision about looking at things on the internet was changed from being one where someone looks at a page on the internet, goes back to it and goes back to it again before they can be convicted to being a one-click offence.

The other last-minute provision that we have serious concerns about is the Secretary of State designating areas overseas as being illegal for UK citizens or residents to travel to. It could become illegal for a Syrian refugee who is resident in the UK but whose family still lives in Syria to visit them, even though his mother or father could be dying. Again, the Government will say that there is the “reasonable excuse” defence, but how sick does your mother have to be before it is considered reasonable for you to travel to a designated area? There would be no reason in law why you should not be arrested and charged, whatever the circumstances. The Government will say that the police are not going to arrest innocent people, but the history of policing is littered with cases of innocent people being wrongly arrested where legislation has been drawn too broadly. Sometimes they have even been charged and wrongly imprisoned.

Surely there must be a way for academic researchers to get permission in advance in order to look at offending pages on the internet, or that grieving family members or humanitarian workers can get permission to visit these areas in advance. As my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Thomas of Gresford said, should there not be an opportunity to get the “reasonable excuse” defence in first?

Clearly, offences should carry a penalty that both deters and keeps innocent people safe, but sentence inflation, as suggested in this Bill, will simply add to the crisis in the Prison Service, as my noble friend Lord Marks said. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, this is not about the fact that prisons are full and therefore we should not put terrorists in prison. This is about the difference between prisons being a place where people with extremist views can be rehabilitated and prisons being a place where radicalisation can become endemic because of overcrowding and the lack of ability of prison staff to carry out any sort of rehabilitation. Surely a smaller prison population would be better, in that we know that prisons are places where people, being at their most vulnerable, are more easily radicalised. Keeping people in prison for longer periods of time surely gives more opportunity for that to take place.

As many noble Lords have said, in some communities there is deep suspicion about Prevent, and along with Independent Reviewers of Terrorism Legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, we support not only an independent review of Prevent but a recasting of the programme with a much more community-based approach that is incorporated into other safeguarding functions. Those at risk of being radicalised are also in danger of being exploited sexually or being drawn into criminal gangs. Prevent should be part of a broader safeguarding process rather than people being potentially stigmatised as a result.

I have to say that there was a bit of conflict between what my noble friend said and what the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, said in terms of the statistics around referrals to Channel panels. On one reading, it would seem that only a small proportion of people who are referred are actually considered to be at risk of being radicalised, while on another reading it seems to be a rather higher proportion. Again, we need to consider those issues very carefully.

Finally, there is the extension of Schedule 7. We agree with the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, that Schedule 7 powers and the powers in this Bill should be limited to those who are reasonably suspected of being involved in the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.