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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:36 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 9:36 pm, 9th October 2018

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very serious debate. We should never forget the nature of the issues we are discussing. Contributions throughout the debate have reminded us just what we are dealing with. I echo the tributes paid to not just the police but the emergency services, who dealt so bravely with the terrorist threats we faced last year, and to my noble friend Lord Tebbit, who spoke not only as a victim of terrorism but for the victims who can no longer speak.

It was particularly pleasing to hear the two maiden speeches. When my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier told the House that he had made his maiden speech in the middle of the night, I did not know whether he had actually engineered that because I arranged for my maiden speech to be in the Moses Room so that not many people would hear it. He brings to this House many years of experience practising at the Bar and of course was Solicitor-General for two years. Drawing on his experiences, he has given us some valuable insights into the provisions in the Bill, particularly those relating to the changes to the criminal law and sentencing. We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie. I am glad he is not “Lord Tyrie of Tyrie, Tyrie”, because that might be a bit of a mouthful. But I know he will hold the Government to account in this House with the same vigour that he showed during his 20 distinguished years in the House of Commons, including seven years at the chair of the Treasury Select Committee. I note that one of the accolades he earned in that time was,

“The most powerful backbencher in the House of Commons”,

so it was with some trepidation that I listened to his speech, but I was very interested in some of the things he said and I look forward to further discussions with him.

The many other contributors to the debate demonstrated yet again the considerable experience that the Members of your Lordships’ House bring to bear when scrutinising legislation such as this. I am sure that, given the length and breadth of the debate, noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot possibly answer every single question but, in addition to responding to the debate, I will endeavour to write a fulsome letter, which I will place in the Library. We have had the benefit of insights from a former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, a former director-general of the Security Service, two former Metropolitan Police Commissioners, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, and current members of the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. We are so lucky to have such expertise, while other noble Lords bring to this debate their highly relevant experiences as members of the legal profession or academia.

As this Bill has already been through the House of Commons, where it was given a Third Reading by an overwhelming majority of 376 votes to 10, noble Lords have quite properly approached this debate from the perspective of our role as a revising Chamber. We have heard a range of views, as I have said. It was most important that the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, my noble friends Lord King and Lord Tebbit, and the noble Lords, Lord Blair and Lord Hogan-Howe, reminded us how very real the threat of terrorism is. I welcome the broad measure of support for the Bill from the Opposition Front Bench and from many who spoke from the Cross Benches, while accepting that they, like other noble Lords, will want to scrutinise the detail of the Government’s proposals. I think we are in for an interesting Committee stage. I sense from the Liberal Democrats that they might be more sceptical in nature but, even in that, there were expressions of support from noble Lords there. I am sure that they will approach Committee in the same constructive manner that we have heard in the Second Reading speeches.

It is evident that noble Lords will want to probe some of the changes to terrorism offences, the increase in maximum penalties—that was clear—and aspects of the new hostile-state activity ports powers in Schedule 3. I welcome the opportunity to explain these provisions in more detail and respond to some other points that have been raised in the debate.

Regarding Clause 1, “Expressions of support for a proscribed organisation”, and the concept that these provisions might be an attack on the freedom of speech, noble Lords are absolutely right to raise that issue. The noble Lords, Lord Marks, Lord Thomas and Lord Ahmed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, expressed concern that the extension of the offence of inviting support for a proscribed organisation would undermine that freedom of speech. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle also spoke about this issue. It is of course right that we uphold the right to freedom of expression, something which we value so highly in this country and is part of our core values. People are free to express any view they wish, even ones which the wider public might find distasteful, as long as they do so within the law and do not harm others. However, we are clear that any groups or individuals that cause harm to our society and promote hatred and division will not be tolerated. This measure is aimed at those who are reckless—“reckless” being quite a well-established word in law—as to whether statements that they make will encourage others to support a proscribed terrorist organisation. That type of activity is very serious. It can have a strong influence on individuals who are vulnerable to radicalisation, as some noble Lords pointed out, and can create a real risk of harm to the public. As such, it is vital that we are able to target those who seek to exploit others and lure them into terrorism, so that they can no longer skirt the fringes of legality—something that noble Lords have talked about extensively today.

Moving to Clause 4, the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Anderson, my noble friend Lord McInnes and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the designated area offence that it provides for and sought reassurance that it would not apply to those with legitimate reason to travel to a designated area. I can absolutely confirm that the offence as drafted includes a reasonable excuse defence, which will be available to individuals who travel to a designated area solely for a legitimate purpose—such as, as noble Lords have said, to deliver humanitarian aid or journalism, or indeed to attend a family funeral. The police, the CPS and the courts are familiar with this approach, and it works well in other contexts where an offence has a reasonable excuse defence. In practice, such cases are unlikely to come to court as they would not get beyond the police investigation or scrutiny by the CPS, which would be unlikely to conclude that there was a reasonable prospect of securing a conviction. We do not consider it necessary or helpful to take a different approach for this offence. Whether a particular excuse is reasonable will be highly dependent on the facts and circumstances of the individual case and cannot be prescribed in advance in the abstract.

The noble Lords, Lord Janvrin and Lord Hogan-Howe, asked whether the police have the resources to implement the provisions in the Bill. It is of course important that we ensure that counterterrorism policing has the resources needed to deal with the threat we face. That is why the counterterrorism policing budget has gone up by £50 million of entirely new money in 2018-19 to at least £757 million. This follows the £28 million of new money the Government provided in 2017-18 to forces across the country for CT policing to meet costs relating to recent terror attacks. I totally get the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, about the pipeline of people required to fulfil those roles.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Anderson, talked about the definition of hostile state activity and questioned whether the definition in Schedule 3 is sufficiently precise. For the purposes of this power, hostile activity has been defined as the “commission, preparation or instigation” of an act that threatens the national security or economic well-being of the UK or is a serious crime,

“carried out for, or on behalf of, a State other the United Kingdom, or … otherwise in the interests of a State other than the United Kingdom”.

That may seem broad, but I am afraid that the threat posed to the UK from hostile state activity is wide-ranging and includes espionage, sabotage, coercion, assassination and subversion. Consequently, the definition of hostile activity must necessarily be broad to encompass the range of threats this country faces from nefarious states.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, talked about Schedule 3 and the creation of a hard border. He pointed to concerns that have been raised in some quarters about how the provisions of Schedule 3 will operate on the Northern Ireland border. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, indicated, the issue was raised on Report in the Commons and the Minister for Security has written to Tony Lloyd on this question. I will make sure that noble Lords receive a copy of that letter rather than me repeating it this evening.

My noble friend Lord Faulks and the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate and Lord Kennedy, raised detainees’ right to consult their lawyer in private in the context of Schedule 3. In exceptional circumstances there may be a need for a more senior police officer to restrict that right by requiring that the consultation take place in the sight and hearing of an officer who has no connection to the detainee’s case, for instance, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that private consultation will result in interference with evidence, gathering of information, injury to another person, alerting others that they are suspected of an indictable offence or hindering the recovery of property obtained by an indictable offence. The aim of the restriction is to disrupt and deter a detainee who seeks to use their right to a solicitor to trigger activity that would lead to those consequences. It could be achieved by the detainee using their solicitor to pass on instructions to a third party by, for example, intimidating the solicitor or using a coded message of which the solicitor is unaware. However, the shadow Security Minister has put forward an alternative proposal for dealing with this issue, and we can explore it further in Committee.

There were a lot of contributions on Prevent, expressing support or aversion to it, or suggesting review of it. In particular the noble Lords, Lord Stunell, Lord Rosser and Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lady Warsi, called for an independent review. Prevent is fundamentally about safeguarding and supporting vulnerable individuals to stop them supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists, regardless of whether that is in support of Islamist, far-right or any other form of terrorism. That point was extremely well made by my noble friends Lady Barran and Lord McInnes. When considered from this perspective, Prevent is working and we do not accept the need for an independent review. It has made a significant impact on stopping people being drawn into terrorism. Indeed, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said recently:

“There have been hundreds of people who have been turned away from violent extremism by their engagement with Channel and other aspects of Prevent, and that is all positive”.

It is clear that those who work to keep us safe from the terrorist threat back Prevent.

The noble Lords, Lord Janvrin, Lord Kennedy and Lord Rosser, and in particular my noble friend Lord Bethell talked about online harms and ensuring that tech companies are responsible for rapidly taking down terrorist content that is posted online. That point about rapid takedown is very well made. The then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced in May that at the next possible opportunity the Government will bring forward online safety legislation that will capture online terrorist content. We need a comprehensive online safety strategy, not one that tackles specific harms in a piecemeal fashion. That is why the Home Office is working closely with DCMS to publish a White Paper later this Session that will set out proposals for new online safety laws to ensure that the UK is the safest place in the world to be online.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Kennedy, Lord Marks, Lord Blair and Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friends Lord King and Lord Kirkhope talked about co-operation on counterterrorism after Brexit. That is a crucial point and I think that the whole House is in agreement on it. It is something that the Government are absolutely focused on working towards. The government White Paper provides an ambitious and comprehensive vision for our future security relationship with the EU and reinforces the Prime Minister’s message that the UK remains unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security, both now and after our withdrawal from the EU.

Some interesting points were made about updating the treason laws to reflect what is happening, particularly in foreign states, by my noble friends Lord King, Lord Faulks and Lord Marlesford. We have a comprehensive range of terrorism offences and other powers that the Bill will update for the digital age. That will provide the police and intelligence services with the powers that they need to protect the public from terrorism. We do not consider it necessary to create new treason offences for this purpose, but I know exactly where my noble friends are coming from. The Prime Minister announced on 14 March that the Government will consider the need for new counterespionage powers, including legislation to harden our defences against hostile state activity. Where relevant, treason offences may be considered as part of that work.

A number of noble Lords talked about combating radicalisation in prisons, which is a very good point. I must first point out that those convicted of terrorism offences have already themselves been radicalised, but it is important that we do not exacerbate the problem, as noble Lords said, while defenders are serving their sentences. A joint HM Prisons and Probationary Service and Home Office extremism unit was created in April 2017 to lead the response to extremism and terrorism in prisons and probation. We make every effort to ensure that terrorist offenders are given the best possible chance to rehabilitate while in prison and on probation, and all offenders of extremist or terrorist concern are managed actively as part of a comprehensive counterterrorism case management system.

In conclusion, all sides of the House recognise the real threats that we face, whether from terrorism or the hostile acts of foreign powers. As those threats evolve over time, so must our response. We must ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have the powers and capabilities that they need to disrupt the activities of those who would do the people of this country harm. The safety and security of those who live in this country must always be our paramount concern, but I recognise that the laws that we create to help ensure such security are a matter of legitimate debate and should rightly be subject to proper scrutiny. In that spirit, I look forward to our further deliberations on the Bill, but it is the Government’s firm belief that its provisions are a necessary and proportionate response to the ongoing threats that we face. On that basis, I have no hesitation in commending the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 9.58 pm.