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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 3rd December 2018.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 5:00 pm, 3rd December 2018

My Lords, the government amendments in this group will make a number of changes to Clause 4. Clause 4 provides a power for the Secretary of State to designate an area outside the UK which he may exercise if it is necessary, for the purpose of protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism, to restrict UK nationals and residents from entering or remaining in that area. It will be a criminal offence for a UK national or resident to enter or remain in a designated area without a reasonable excuse.

Much of the debate on Clause 4 has, of course, focused on that reasonable excuse defence, both on its application in various scenarios where a person might have a legitimate reason to enter or remain in a designated area, and on the certainty which will be provided to such a person that they will not subsequently be prosecuted.

The points of principle here and the legal position are very similar to those which we have already debated on the reasonable excuse defence in relation to Clause 3. I will therefore not detain your Lordships by repeating myself, save to say that the Government are equally clear that, under Clause 4, individuals with a legitimate reason to enter a designated area of the kind we have been discussing will have a reasonable excuse.

However, I undertook at the conclusion of Committee to reflect on the concerns that had been raised that the existing approach might not provide adequate certainty and assurance. We have also engaged with representatives of the charitable sector, who have made points similar to those made in this House. Following this reflection, we have concluded that we should bring forward amendments to provide further assurance that those with a legitimate reason to enter a designated area will have a reasonable excuse. I trust that this will be welcome news to your Lordships.

Amendment 11 therefore introduces an indicative list of cases which may give rise to a reasonable excuse. Similarly to that which we have introduced to Clause 3 through Amendment 6, which we have just debated, it is not an exhaustive list, and it will be open to defendants to advance other categories of reasonable excuse. It will ultimately be up to the jury to determine whether a particular excuse is reasonable, on the basis of all the evidence in that case.

This will provide significantly greater assurance to legitimate travellers, but it will not preclude those who travel to designated areas for terrorist purposes under cover of, for example, journalism or charitable work from being prosecuted. Defendants will also not be able to rely on a reasonable excuse defence if they travel for a legitimate purpose and then engage in other activity which is not legitimate while within the designated area.

The categories of reasonable excuse provided by the amendment are: where the person enters or remains in the designated area involuntarily because, for example, they are detained; to carry out work as a journalist; to provide humanitarian aid; to attend the funeral of a relative or to visit a terminally ill relative; to provide care to a relative who is unable to care for themselves without such assistance; to satisfy an obligation to appear before a court; or to work for a foreign Government, the UN or an agency of the UN. This indicative list of reasonable excuses adds to the existing automatic exception for those who are working for or on behalf of the Crown. Where this list refers to a relative, Amendment 16 defines this as a spouse or civil partner, sibling, ancestor or lineal descendant.

A further area on which greater assurance has been sought is reviews of designations. As drafted, the Bill requires the Secretary of State to keep under review whether the condition for designating an area continues to be met, and to revoke the designation if he considers that it is no longer met. The Government have been clear that this will be a meaningful and ongoing review. I reiterate the point that in the kind of exceptional scenario in which this power is likely to be used, the Government will invariably pay very close attention to the circumstances on the ground, and will keep their response across every aspect of the system under continuous review and subject to recalibration as necessary.

Several noble Lords tabled amendments for Committee which would have tightened this further by introducing either a requirement for annual reviews of designations, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, or a sunsetting provision so that regulations designating an area would cease to have effect after three years, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. This latter approach would mirror the equivalent Australian legislation. I indicated in those debates that I considered an annual review to be unnecessary to ensure rigorous and effective review of designations, and that this would not serve the public interest or be an effective use of resources. I have reflected further and, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I remain of that opinion.

However, I also indicated that I could see merit in the suggestion of a three-year backstop sunset period, with the option to make new regulations designating the same area if that is appropriate. I undertook to consider this ahead of Report. Following that consideration, I find myself persuaded that this would be a sensible and helpful addition to the Bill, and Amendment 18 therefore introduces such a provision. As a result, regulations designating an area will automatically cease to have effect and will fall away after three years. The amendment makes it clear that this is without prejudice to further regulations being made designating the same or a similar area. Any new regulations would of course then be subject to approval by Parliament. This will provide a powerful extra safeguard to ensure that the designation of an area cannot be indefinite, and that this power will be used to manage risk only in exceptional circumstances. While regulations remain in force, they will also be subject to the existing requirement that they be kept under review and that they be revoked sooner than after three years if the condition for designating the area is no longer met.

Amendments 20 and 21 implement recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of your Lordships’ House in their report on the Bill. Amendment 20 requires the Secretary of State, when laying regulations before Parliament designating an area, to issue a statement setting out the reasons why he considers that the legal test for designation is met in relation to that area. The Government have always been clear that we will provide an explanation to Parliament of why we seek to designate any area under this power, and we are happy to place a requirement to do this in the Bill.

Amendment 21 makes any regulations revoking a designation subject to the negative resolution procedure. Under the Bill as drafted, regulations that purely revoke an existing designation would not be subject to any parliamentary approval and would simply come into force immediately upon being laid. The Government took that approach on the basis that lifting the designation of an area, and therefore also the operation of the criminal offence in relation to entering it, would have no adverse impact on any person. The committee wisely identified that lifting a designation could in fact have an impact on those for whose protection the area was designated—that is to say, the public. On that basis the committee recommended that such regulations should actually be subject to negative resolution in both Houses. The Government are persuaded of the committee’s view on this matter and are happy to implement its recommendation. I am grateful to your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its scrutiny of the Bill and for its assistance in improving it in these two respects.

I am also most grateful to noble Lords, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for their contributions to the debates on this important but sensitive new power and for their assistance in identifying the sensible improvements that the Government are bringing forward today in response to those debates. I hope your Lordships will be happy to support these government amendments.

There are a number of other amendments in this group, including amendments to the government amendments. I will wait to hear what noble Lords have to say about Amendments 12, 13, 14, 17 and 19 before responding. For now, I beg to move Amendment 11.