My Lords, I offer my support for Amendment 15. I will speak on behalf of humanitarian aid workers following the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I do so because it seems to me profoundly wrong that aid workers should potentially come under suspicion and be bracketed with potential criminals simply because they are travelling to and from a sensitive area. Of course, I realise that the Government understand in principle they are not in that category, so they have put down their own amendment with an indicative list, which the JCHR acknowledges is a step forward. Nevertheless, the Bill still potentially subjects aid workers and journalists to every sort of interference, which can only mean that aid will inevitably be held up and that people living in distressed conditions will suffer more. If aid workers in government programmes, including those of Governments in the designated areas, are protected, why on earth should non-governmental organisations and their beneficiaries suffer? What is the logic of that?
This clause has to be amended. Imagine what would happen in a country like the DRC today if people monitoring the Ebola virus had to consider the prospect of being arrested for having dealings with the Mai Mai or the Interahamwe militia. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have already mentioned peacebuilding, which often involves the Red Cross and the Churches. What would be the climate of suspicion surrounding not only them but the whole aid programme? The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, quite rightly mentioned the “deterrent effect”.
I speak with feeling, having worked with several aid agencies over the years, and knowing the conditions in which they already have to work. No wonder that 21 organisations are protesting. These are in many cases the front line of our aid programme, whether they work with government or not. I will repeat two sentences of what they said in a signed letter:
“Unless urgently amended, the bill … will make it impossible for civil society organisations to deliver much needed humanitarian, development and peacebuilding support to people desperately in need … it is vital that the government and peers amend the bill so that it exempts aid workers and others with a legitimate reason to travel to designated areas”.
Let us not forget the cost of this exercise. We do not of course know the parameters of the designated regions, but we know that, for obvious reasons, many aid workers tend to be in sensitive areas of the world, so the overlap between political sensitivity and humanitarian commitment will be vast.
The noble Earl mentioned the possibility of the terrorist who intends to assume the disguise of an aid worker and become a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Obviously, that is quite different; he or she must be stopped on the grounds laid down in the Bill, and will not ultimately pass the test of reasonable excuse. I realise the difficulty the Government are in here, having to act on behalf of society. But it is quite irresponsible to risk the professional lives of all aid workers leaving those areas, with all the consequences for the programmes concerned, as a means towards that end.