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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 3rd December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 5:30 pm, 3rd December 2018

My Lords, although, I hope, properly grateful for Amendment 11, I support Amendment 15. Also in this group, I support Amendment 12 on peacebuilding, and the Government’s Amendment 18 on the sunset period, subject to Amendment 19 in my name. I shall take them in that order.

Amendment 15 tracks the Government’s Amendment 11 with one important difference—the carving out of conduct rather than the provision of a reasonable excuse—in that it echoes the amendment that I tabled in Committee with the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I do not believe that Amendment 15 makes the job of the police or the CPS any more difficult. Where it is not clear whether the reason advanced for travel is true, there should be no more obstacle to a suspected person being questioned and, if necessary, prosecuted under this scheme than there is under the Government’s Amendment 11. However, the listed grounds are reasons to travel to dangerous areas, not excuses. The Australian law recognises this and so should ours. The only fault in Amendment 15, if I may say so, is that it makes no reference to peacebuilding, which brings me to Amendment 12, which I support and to which I would have put my name had I been alert enough to see it in time.

As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others have said, there are charitable groups based in this country with a remarkable track record in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, which might include talking to or negotiating with active terrorist groups in areas where conflict is never far away. I should like to share the conviction of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that their work can be described as humanitarian, but this should surely be put beyond doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said. Their efforts and even their successes are not always well publicised but they are no less useful and important for that.

I had the privilege of speaking for such groups for several years—notably the group Conciliation Resources—and helped them to initiate a dialogue with the Home Office, the purpose of which, perhaps partially achieved, was to allay some of their fears of contravening the existing anti-terrorism law. However, the new designated area offence could hit some of their most sensitive and valuable work if they are not exempted from its scope or at least, as a second best, brought expressly within the scope of reasonable excuse. That is why my amendment in Committee, now overtaken by Amendments 11 and 15, made express reference to peacebuilding.

It is hard enough for charitable trustees to manage the physical risks to their staff of this kind of work, and it would be wrong to add to those risks the possibility of being convicted or imprisoned in the UK for doing it. Surely no one engaged in such work would really be prosecuted for it, so why not acknowledge that in the law?

I turn to Amendments 18 and 19. Once an area has been designated, it will be a brave Secretary of State who gives priority to its dedesignation. It is important to acknowledge the freedom of travellers, including adventurous ones, to go to places that are still at least moderately dangerous, but one can imagine how aversion to risk might in practice be given priority.

For that reason, in Committee I tabled an amendment that would have provided for annual review. It was a little more elaborate than Amendment 17 but with the same aim in mind. Although that way of doing it did not find favour with the Government, I welcome the sunset provision in Amendment 18, as well as the Minister’s words regarding the rigour of the review that will take place under new Section 58C(4). My reservation, which I have expressed in Amendment 19, is that three years seems too long to wait for the sunset.

It is hard to believe that annual review would be unduly onerous, as the experience of Australia and Denmark has been that very few areas are designated and as one would hope that, if the Government were doing their job, the degree or risk attached to those areas at any given moment would be well known. However, Amendment 19 goes for the very moderate option, as I hope your Lordships will see it, of two years.

I am sure that the Minister will respond that the provision is modelled on the Australian criminal code, which provides at Section 119.3(4) for a three-year sunset. However, the Australian law has other protections that are not present in Clause 4: a ban on designating an entire country; an express duty on the Minister to revoke a designation if he ceases to be satisfied that a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity there; and provision for Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security—the equivalent of the Intelligence and Security Committee of this Parliament—to conduct its own review of declarations.

Therefore, I invite the Minster, whether today or subsequently, to look kindly on what I venture to call an improvement to the welcome Amendment 18.