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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:17 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Blair of Boughton Lord Blair of Boughton Crossbench 7:17 pm, 9th October 2018

My Lords, like others, I think that this has so far been an excellent debate, and I shall try not to spoil that record. It is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. His views and mine do not normally coalesce in any way whatever—except on terrorism.

As far as I can see, I welcome the Bill in its entirety. We all remember with sadness the lives lost and the lives horrifyingly changed by the attacks in Britain in 2017. This Bill is part of our nation’s response to those events. I thought that the decision by the Government, MI5 and the police to put in train the operational improvement review—carried out by the then David Anderson QC, now my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich—was wise and proportionate, and this Bill reflects that position.

In the same way as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, I appreciate the bipartisan approach taken by both Houses to this matter. It has not always been thus. As a rather famous namesake of mine once said, I have “scars on my back” from the times in which there was not a bipartisan approach to terrorism.

The Bill recognises that terrorist behaviour and terrorist threats are changing, particularly, as my noble friend Lady Manningham-Buller said, in the way in which terrorists are using less sophisticated methods, radicalising more quickly and more often acting alone. The Bill takes account of the increasing number of ungoverned spaces in the world and of the evolving nature of the internet, from downloading to streaming. In addition, the background to the Bill is that not all the changes in circumstance represent the new. We are seeing old threats returning, particularly the rise of the far right, which we should not underestimate, and the presence on British soil of state agents with malign intent.

Perhaps the most important feature of the Bill, however, is its implicit recognition, as the present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the noble Baroness both said, that what is happening in the UK is not a spike in terrorist criminality but a shift to what appears to be a long-term, higher intensity of activity, with more than one arrest a day for terrorism occurring in the year to March 2018. Even with all the passion and doubts expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, I welcome the way in which the Government, faced by this and by the speed with which individuals can move from being at risk of radicalisation to direct action, have continued to support the Prevent arm of the world-leading Contest strategy. I really look forward to the involvement of non-central parts of government in that endeavour. I thoroughly agree with that proposition and I will explain why.

I was involved at the very beginning of the discussions about what became Prevent. I passionately argued that it was inappropriate for the police to have fundamental responsibility outside government for making Prevent work. It seemed to me absurd that communities, especially at that time Muslim communities in the aftermath of 9/11 and 7/7, should be asked to report suspicious behaviour to an arm of the police when that might mean that another arm of the police—literally an armed unit of the police—might eventually respond to what they had said. I argued fiercely that local authorities and education authorities should be co-responsible for Prevent, and I am really glad to see that happening.

However, in addition to that, our past comes back to haunt us as previously convicted terrorists are now being released, having served prison sentences for which too short a maximum sentence had been prescribed in earlier legislation. I welcome the increasing length of sentences for preparatory behaviour short of actual action. I am not normally in favour of lengthening maximum sentences for anything, but I am when we talk about terrorism. Beyond that, I still believe that the terrorist prevention and investigation measures, TPIMs, remain of too short a duration, and I hope that the Government will look again at that issue during the passage of the Bill through the House.

I congratulate the Government on their decision to keep this important legislation coming through both Houses in the middle of the tensions of Brexit, and I hope that the Bill completes its full legislative passage as soon as possible. I also hope that, by the time its provisions come into effect, they do not do so in a Europe in which Britain has lost most of its ability to co-operate effectively with EU countries on security and policing, particularly on the European arrest warrant, Schengen and the Prüm arrangements—but that is probably for another day.