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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 29th 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) 4:45 pm, 29th October 2018

The court might also say that it is evidence, along with other types of evidence, which leads it to a certain conclusion. Just as the three clicks approach was seen as arbitrary in debate in the House of Commons, this is probably similar in the sense that downloading, together with other types of evidence, would lead a court to come to its conclusions, as it would here.

I want to talk about the concept of recklessness. It involves a person being aware of the risk that what they plan to say will have the effect of encouraging support but none the less going on to say it. In such circumstances, a reasonable person would not have gone on to make that statement.

On Amendment 2, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, explained her concerns both at Second Reading and today that statements supporting an independent Kurdistan may fall foul of the new offence on the basis that it is a political objective held also by the proscribed group the PKK. I hope I can provide some assurance. On the noble Baroness’s example, I suggest that our hypothetical person could have a very high level of confidence that they would not fall foul of the Clause 1 offence. Support for an independent Kurdistan is a view held widely across a far broader range of people than just PKK members. To put it another way, while all members and supporters of the PKK are likely to support an independent Kurdistan, it is certainly not the case that all supporters of an independent Kurdistan are members or supporters of the PKK. It certainly could not be inferred from a statement in the terms described by the noble Baroness that the speaker supports the PKK or another such organisation; rather, they support an independent Kurdistan.

Noble Lords can take further assurance from the fact that in addition to not referencing any particular organisation, our hypothetical speaker has not said anything of the methods by which they would wish to see an independent Kurdistan brought about. Were they to suggest that this should be through means of terrorist violence, a reasonable person might anticipate that such a statement might influence the listener to support a terrorist organisation, such as the PKK, which supports the same political cause. Such a statement may well be reckless and may fall foul of the new Clause 1 offence. I hope we can agree that such a statement of support for terrorist violence would be unacceptable in any event. But in this example, there is no such suggestion of support for terrorist methods to achieve a legitimate political aim.

The same would apply to a statement in support of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestine that does not voice support for violent methods or any proscribed terrorist organisation. There would be no basis on which a reasonable person might equate such a statement with support for Hamas or Hezbollah or anticipate that a listener would be influenced to support those organisations. As such, the statement would not meet the recklessness test and would not be caught by Clause 1. I make it clear that none of this analysis would be any different if “is supportive of” were replaced with “supports”.

Amendment 5, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would provide an exemption from the offence for those who make statements to the effect that a particular terrorist organisation should cease to be proscribed. We will have a wider debate on deproscription when we reach Amendment 59 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. In that context, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is correct in saying that the Home Secretary regularly reviews proscribed organisations.

Perhaps I may make a few observations in the context of Amendment 5. I am happy to agree that those who make neutral statements along these lines should not be caught by the criminal law. However, I am clear that this will be the position under Clause 1 as currently drafted. The amendment, while well intended, is not needed to secure this result and would risk introducing unintended consequences. It has been a long-standing feature of the proscription system that individuals and organisations will question the proscription of certain organisations. It may be suggested, for example, that a group is not really terrorist in nature but is engaged in legitimate activism in the form of resistance or freedom fighting, or that its proscription inhibits a peace process or some other form of positive engagement and should therefore be lifted as a matter of discretion. The law already provides a clear route for people who hold such views to apply to the Home Secretary for the deproscription of any organisation. Three groups have been deproscribed following such applications.

The law also provides at Section 10 of the Terrorism Act 2000 clear and unambiguous immunity from prosecution under proscription offences for anything done in relation to such an application, including any statements made in support of the organisation.