Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 29th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour 4:15 pm, 29th October 2018

My Lords, I apologise for not having spoken on Second Reading, but I came to this debate on the basis that I had one point to make. Having heard such a range of views, I am afraid that I now have three or four.

To keep the flow going, I shall pick up on Amendment 5 and the argument that there should be an exemption for organisations that cease to be proscribed. I start from the same position as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that by and large it is better not to proscribe organisations, but to have them out in the open. When they are proscribed, they tend to reformulate and call themselves something else, and it all becomes a bit silly.

Amendment 5 could create a rather large hole through which those who wish to circumvent the purpose of these clauses would get through. People could say, “I am not arguing for what they want; I am simply saying that it is wrong for them to be proscribed because they are rather excellent people whose objectives are entirely understandable, which any sensible person in that part of the world would think is a good thing”. We could run the risk of providing a defence for people and allowing them to do things that we are trying to prevent them doing.

Moving on to Amendment 6, the question of who is a journalist is wider than has already been suggested. We are all citizen journalists now. We all have the option of putting stuff out on the web; we can blog and tweet; we can put things on Facebook, YouTube or whatever we want. Increasingly, people now define themselves as citizen journalists. Unless we go back to something very old-fashioned such as saying that journalism is a controlled profession and you are a journalist only if you have a card issued by the National Union of Journalists, which is probably unlikely, then anyone can say, “I’m doing this for the purposes of journalism, or to further journalism”—whatever it might be—“because I am a journalist; I am a citizen journalist and I am putting this material forward”. While I do not want to undermine what we would all regard as legitimate—we are all rooted in the past and think of journalism as being about newspapers and producing seriously researched articles and investigations—the word no longer means what it used to mean. Therefore, if we are going to say that there should be some sort of exemption for journalism, we need to define it much more closely than it is in Amendment 6.

I pity the Minister who has to pull all these threads together. I understand the concerns about freedom of speech; we all share them, in principle. This is all about proportionality: balancing that freedom against the harm that may be being done. It is apparent that, as the law stands, it has been impossible to pursue people who are palpably causing a great deal of damage. That is why the Government are seeking to amend it. I assume that they have not gone down the route of saying that someone must have the “intent” to do this because proving intent is rather difficult. Under those circumstances, if we put proving intent in we will be back where we started and not able to pursue some of the individuals who do so much harm.

This is why I rather like the phraseology of my noble friend Lord Rosser, who talked about a “pattern of behaviour”. This exempts people who just express an opinion on one occasion and suddenly find they have fallen foul of the law. However, somebody who has a systematic approach to pushing people in a certain direction would fall foul of it. For that reason, I hope that the Government will carefully consider Amendment 1, or something akin to it, which indicates that what should be prosecuted is not a simple isolated act—a mere expression of an idle opinion—but somebody pursuing a course of action which is designed to have this effect.