Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 4:45 pm, 14th November 2018

My Lords, in this country we allow, quite rightly, UK passport holders to be in the possession of passports of other countries—not just one but two or three; whatever is needed. When someone applies for a UK passport, they are required to declare what other passports they hold. But, astonishingly, this information is not kept in any sort of central database and still less is it available to border officers whose responsibility it is to examine the passports of those entering or leaving the UK. This is why my noble friend the Minister had to tell me, in a Written Answer on 16 April this year, when I asked about a register of second passports:

“No statistical information is available showing whether British citizens hold another citizenship”.

About five years ago I was tipped off by a member of the Security Service that its operations were made much more difficult by the fact that UK citizens were using their UK passport to travel to one destination and then another passport to get up to mischief, perhaps, in third countries. This was and is particularly relevant to would-be jihadists who travel to Pakistan, for example, and then attend training camps or indeed join al-Qaeda, ISIS or some other terrorist organisation in other countries. I raised this point a couple of years ago with Cressida Dick, the present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who was at that time responsible for anti-terrorist operations. She expressed astonishment that border control officers were not automatically alerted to other passports held when a UK passport was electronically scrutinised at the point of entry.

My Amendment 61 is exceedingly modest. It asks merely that the Government require dual nationals to declare other passports and that this information,

“should be made available to border security staff and other relevant national authorities via a centralised database”.

In fact, it is even more modest because all I am asking them to do is to study whether this is a sensible idea. That is not asking very much.

This would be no more difficult or complicated than many other centralised databases, such as the DVLA for vehicle licences and all the rest of it, and the National Firearms Licensing Management System—the central firearms register—which I caused to be introduced under Section 29 of the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, which finally came into operation in September 2007, and is working very well. I checked quite recently with my own county firearms officer.

The Government have previously used three arguments to oppose what I am proposing. The first is that it would be an infringement of civil liberties. My answer to that is that such a concept of civil liberties is wholly outdated in an age when we are all subject to intense and often intrusive surveillance by foreign powers such as Russia and, rather more efficiently, China. The second is that there could be no way of enforcing the declaration of other passports. That of course has a simple remedy, which is—if it is declared to be deliberate and pernicious—the forfeiture of a UK passport when that is discovered. Noble Lords in the Committee might have their own view on this but I am quite sure that the great majority of second passport holders would have not the slightest objection to this being known to the authorities. After all, we all have to put up with a lot of inconvenient baggage examination under existing counterterrorism operations.

Nor should we neglect the possibility of connivance by Home Office staff in committing terrorist or other serious criminal offences, whether in connection with passports or border control. The Minister will be well aware that in the last 12 years no fewer than 54 members of Home Office staff have been sent to prison, sometimes for long periods—nine or 11 years. In a recent case Shamsu Iqbal, an official in the immigration department of the Home Office, was sentenced in April to 15 years for misconduct in public office. Sometimes this connivance involves selling visas or trafficking in passports, assisting illegal immigration, forgery, bribery, money laundering and other serious matters. Only today the newspapers are carrying a report of a Mr Pellett, an officer in the Home Office Border Force, who has just been found guilty of assisting criminal gangs with smuggling in weapons and drugs at Dover. I suggest that the Home Office really cannot argue that we can rely on its existing standards of efficiency, let alone integrity, in the protection of our borders.

The third argument is that we should have confidence in the Home Office’s intelligence-led processes and not concern ourselves with these matters. I am sure that my noble friend does not feel this but I think that Home Office officials regard me as pretty impertinent to be talking about these matters. On that I would simply say: it is now 12 years since the noble Lord, Lord Reid, declared when he was Home Secretary that the Home Office was not fit for purpose, while only this month the House of Commons Select Committee concluded, in the matter of my right honourable friend Amber Rudd, that the Home Office had lost its grip. This simple and modest proposal is necessary for national security. I believe that it will improve the Bill and I hope that the Government will show that they have some inclination to get a grip by adopting it. I beg to move.