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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:05 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 8:05 pm, 9th October 2018

My Lords, I support the general purposes of the Bill and I thank the Minister for her introduction, in which she stressed that the focus is on the new terrorism. Matters have evolved, she said; things have changed since 2006 and we are not dealing with the same problems we dealt with in the latter part of the last century with respect to Irish terrorism. But she also expressed her concern about those who act with hostile intent on the Irish border and, of course, there is the question of the activity of dissident republican organisations. I would add the slightly surprising point that has come to me in preparing for this debate: there is another dimension to this question of people with hostile intent on the Irish border.

I have taken to reading intensely the Irish expert writers on matters of intelligence and security. They argue two things. One is that Ireland simply cannot have the intelligence infrastructure that the United Kingdom has—the incredible skills of our intelligence services, GCHQ and so on. These simply cannot operate in Ireland. The second is that people of extremist and Islamist views know this and therefore have in some ways made Ireland the backdrop for the unfortunate and tragic events that have happened in this country. Therefore, when the Minister talked about her fears of people with hostile intent on the border—the only land border between the United Kingdom and the European Union—she is entirely right to have a concern, and it might unfortunately be a little broader than I suspect was in her mind when she made the point.

In talking about the Bill, I must express a degree of surprise. The House is well aware of the intensity of the recent debate in this Chamber about a possible Brexit hard border. It was a deeply passionate event and I well remember the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, explaining that there were circumstances in which he would not be content with Liberty Hall on the Irish border; there were circumstances in which there would have to be checks, which he could envisage without too much stretching of his imagination. Yet the House chose to vote down the Government’s proposal on that day. I think the majority was 65. The general feeling was that any check of any sort on the Irish border was a hard border. Yet tonight, who is saying this?

I was very pleased by the tone of the debate in the other place, which was largely consensual. The points raised by the Opposition Front Bench were perfectly reasonable. Matters that it was suggested we should consider here included the concern about aspects of accountability for actions on the Irish border. But the intensity of the emotion, which the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, will recall, and the certainty of moral conviction about checks on the border seem to have disappeared entirely, and I do not quite know why. For the Irish Government, I might be able to offer a kind of answer but, believe me, within Ireland itself hackles have been raised by this proposed legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned the Committee on the Administration of Justice. Its objections go far beyond the significant point to be discussed about proscribed organisations and how we handle them. That is a serious point, but its objections go far beyond that. The objection of the influential Committee on the Administration of Justice is that this is another hard border, which we all apparently promised that there would not be. That is its objection. Articles have appeared in Irish newspapers saying that we are establishing a double standard for citizenship between citizens who live on the border and who may be stopped and citizens who live in Ulster and are not likely to be stopped. The phrase “border area”, which appears in the legislation, also requires some comment. I am not referring to these points because I necessarily agree with them, I am saying simply that there is a debate and hackles have been raised.

On the Parliament website there is a description of the Bill:

“To make provision in relation to terrorism; to make provision enabling persons at ports and borders to be questioned for national security and other related purposes; and for connected purposes”.

That last phrase has been seized on in Ireland: “Ah, this is about smuggling”. Frequently, smuggling is a connected purpose with respect to Irish terrorism. It would not be a stretching of the language for an officer to interpret it in that way because it frequently is and the money is used for the purposes of terrorism. So there has been finger-wagging and the claim that this is indeed a hard border and, not only that, it is actually concerned with matters—well, to be honest, smuggling is a trade in Ireland. Paragraph 9 of Schedule 3 refers specifically to the apprehension of goods. There is no question that that is part of the intention of the Bill.

Personally, I support this but I wonder where all the other people are who were so indignant only a few weeks ago in this Chamber and are so indignant about it in general. I wonder where the Irish Foreign Minister is, who I recall saying on “The Andrew Marr Show” that there could be no checks of any sort on the island of Ireland. This was a moral and psychological blow that no decent Irish nationalist should be forced to live with even the contemplation of. There is a problem with that in that the Irish Government currently carry out checks on their side of the border on individuals they do not want entering their labour market, on quite an extensive scale. All right, perhaps he had temporarily forgotten that, but he was very indignant on this point. But the Irish Government have been silent about the Bill.

The Irish Government do have a difficulty and I will explain what it is. It is in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, passed shortly after 9/11, which I know some academic lawyers do not like because they think it is the United Nations Security Council making itself a legislator, but it has remained, with some modification and some further reflection, the byword for the international approach in this matter. Incidentally, just before the turn of the year, the European Union, whose standards on these questions have been invoked many times in the debate, issued a document on Resolution 1373, broadly expressing solidarity with its purposes. The purpose of the resolution was to have border security in the fight against terrorism. Clause 2(g) talks explicitly about the need for “effective border controls” and checks. The problem for the Irish Government is that Ireland was a non-permanent member of the Security Council that passed it—we, of course, are permanent members—and they are now trying to get on the Security Council again as a non-permanent member and it is not particularly good advertising for such a campaign to say, “The last time we were here, we thought this resolution was a fantastic idea. Now we want to get back on the Security Council, we did not mean a word of it”, so they are circumscribed to some degree.

I also hope that another reason the Irish Government have been so calm on this matter is that we are moving towards a compromise on these very difficult issues. There is so much writing by all the informed commentators, all the national and international think tanks, about the damage that will be done to the Irish economy by a hard Brexit that the need for a compromise is becoming painfully obvious. I am hoping that for these reasons we are moving away from the intense and angry mood in which these issues were discussed. But the dog has not barked in the night in the case of the Irish Government. I suspect that if we get a relatively benign resolution—that will be no perfect one—over the next few months, the dog will not bark in the night. But I warn the Minister that we are still in a difficult circumstance because the formal position of the European Union was, “You must stop our internal market being polluted by goods coming over the border from Northern Ireland but you are not allowed to have any checks to stop our internal market being polluted”. It is a brilliant Catch-22 and the only solution is to semi-detach Northern Ireland in a way that the Prime Minister has said is unsatisfactory.

Something has to give here. There has to be a compromise. I very much hope that there will be a compromise. I think there are some signs that there will be one. I end my remarks by saying to the Minister—unkindly, perhaps—that rough tides may be returning to the discussion of this issue; rough tides that we have seen and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, saw that night, have infected the way we talk about this issue in this House. I am glad we are in such calm waters and that there was such a significant degree of cross-party consensus in the other place.