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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:27 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 8:27 pm, 9th October 2018

My Lords, with so many distinguished experts contributing to this Second Reading, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and my noble friend Lord Tyrie, both of whom I congratulate on such outstanding maiden speeches, I am conscious that by speaker number 25 all that could be said has been said and that all I can do is make some additional points. Like other noble Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive introduction and express my thanks to Russell Taylor for his excellent Library briefing, particularly because it included analysis of the very detailed and penetrating report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and of the passage of the Bill through the other place. Like the noble Lord, Lord King, I was very sceptical about the impact assessment. Impact assessments seem to be done incredibly badly by all ministries. I have to admit that, like other noble Lords, while I recognise and support the Government’s intention behind the Bill—to keep people safe and to update legislation—I remain uneasy about some of the detail.

My noble friend Lady Manningham-Buller, who mentioned the increased pace and size of the threat, reminded me that my practical experience of counterterrorist operations is somewhat dated, but the principles have not changed and include the need for any action taken to be balanced and proportionate. As my noble friend Lord Anderson was speaking, I remembered being frustrated, when commanding troops in Belfast between 1978 and 1980, that the conspiracy law was so inadequate that we could not arrest those who incited people to violence when making speeches at IRA funerals.

I have two general comments as well as some detailed ones. First, having been critical for many years of the Home Office’s failure to direct and oversee the systematic processing of legal asylum and immigration applicants, I am concerned about how any of its fragile systems will cope with the demands made on them by both legal and illegal immigration after Brexit. Having lost sight of at least 631,000 legal applicants—a figure that the then Minister confirmed during the passage of the last immigration Bill through this House—and having no record of who has left the country, how on earth will border officials identify, let alone question and detain, individuals suspected of involvement in hostile activity for or on behalf of another state?

Like the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I believe that the definition of “hostile act” is extremely wide, and I worry about the lack of any threshold test before a person is detained and examined. The Minister confirmed that the Government intend to publish a draft code of practice before Committee, which I suggest will need the closest scrutiny.

In responding to proposed amendments to Clause 21 and Schedule 3 of the Bill, the Security Minister in the other place set out in some detail the Government’s riposte to the human rights committee’s concern that access to a lawyer was not adequately protected. The fact that access to such lawyers is currently patchy suggests that his explanation will need to be scrutinised in Committee.

My second general concern is about the European arrest warrant, which many noble Lords have mentioned. The other day I listened to a lecture by the EU’s head of counterterrorism, in which he deplored the potential loss to other European countries of UK intelligence in particular after Brexit, emphasising how vital an ingredient it was to all their antiterrorist operations. Of course, bilateral arrangements can be made with each one of them, but there can be little doubt that in the context of European security the European arrest warrant is a vital ingredient. The Security Minister in the other place alleged that the proposed amendment was not needed because the Government were already negotiating for the European arrest warrant, or something as identical as possible, to apply. Could the Minister please confirm that this is so?

I turn to my other concerns. I share the human rights committee’s concern about the wide scope of Clauses 1 and 2, and echo its view that to criminalise the publication of an article that may be worn or displayed in a private place risks catching a vast amount of activity and being disproportionate. The Minister indicated that the Government intend to update Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000, on which Clause 2 of the Bill is based, for the digital age. I hope that update will be available before Committee. In that connection, I note the Government’s reassurance that the existing safeguards were adequate following the human rights committee’s concern that Clause 3 may capture academic and journalistic research as well as those with inquisitive or even foolish minds. I hope that is true.

Acknowledging the views of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, about the need for convicted terrorists to be sent to prison but also the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, about the current situation in our overcrowded and understaffed prisons, I am concerned that insufficient thought has been given to the implications of the increased sentences in Clauses 7 to 11. As Chief Inspector of Prisons I inspected both HMP Maze, which housed terrorists in Northern Ireland, and the special separation unit in HMP Belmarsh, which housed both Northern Ireland prisoners, some of whom were on hunger strike, and others convicted of terrorist offences. In both cases, I was very concerned about the lack of support for staff, who were put under immense strain, particularly mentally, because of the intensity of their task and their subjection to propaganda. Do the Government intend to separate terrorists from other prisoners and, if their numbers build up, do they intend to establish a Maze? Either way, consideration needs to be given to what regime might be imposed on terrorist prisoners and what additional resources, including management, support and training, ought to be provided for their guards.

Finally, I agree with all those who have recommended that the Prevent strategy be independently reviewed. I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said what she did, because Muslims risk being demonised by the failure to engage with them. If the Government are so keen on revising the legislation as a whole, why not all of its parts, including Prevent?