Amendment 168

Part of National Security Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 7th March 2023.

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Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 4:30 pm, 7th March 2023

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for his amendments, and to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for his comments. I hope the House will agree that the Government have been in listening mode throughout this Bill, and that we have in this particular instance moved quite considerably to deal with what the Government consider to be justified observations by your Lordships.

On the general point, the reforms are designed to protect the public, to deter those who seek to exploit our security services for compensation and to reduce the risk that court awards or damages may be used to fund terrorism—perhaps the most serious harm that can be perpetrated against society, going to its very fabric. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, asked me to restate the purpose of the clause and I think I have endeavoured to do so in those words.

On whether the Government can give any assurance that these provisions will not be invoked on the basis of

“unproven allegations … from a foreign state”,

I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that this is a power in the court; it is entirely in its discretion. No court is going to act on anything other than proper evidence, so in the Government’s view there is no risk of the danger to which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred, because this is a court process with rules of evidence and proper and fair procedures.

With those two preliminary observations, I come to the central point that was at issue when we discussed this clause in Committee. We have listened to the concerns expressed by noble Lords that the legislation needed to ensure that no national security case fell into scope where there was no connection between the Crown’s conduct and the terrorist conduct of the claimant. I can repeat before this House the assurance in the letter I sent noble Lords today, to which we have already been referred, saying that there needs to be a causal connection between the conduct of the terrorist and the reduction in damages.

As to what criteria the courts should apply when considering these issues, I know that noble Members felt the courts would require further guidance. In the Government’s view, the courts do not require further guidance; they are well able to interpret and apply this legislation, especially in light of the amendments we have proposed. The Government have every confidence in the court being able to discharge its functions under these provisions.

Our courts are well versed in taking a wide range of relevant factors into account in determining liability and assessing the level of damages. There are a number of common-law considerations to which noble Lords referred in Committee which may indeed provide some guidance. We do not seek to exonerate the Crown in respect of its own culpability; we aim simply to ensure that the terrorist conduct is properly taken into account when calculating quantum.

I turn to what I think are the only live amendments on this part, Amendments 174 and 175. Those amendments would apply to the Bill’s provisions whereby a court would consider the context in which the Crown had acted to reduce a risk of terrorism, but their underlying intention seems to the Government to be to markedly restrict those provisions. As I understand it, the amendments seek to limit the consideration of the court to where the Crown’s actions had been commenced —the provisions use the word “instigated”—and the conduct was required to have taken place overseas at the instigation of a foreign state.

While the Government accept that there are difficulties in preventing terrorism when the action concerned needs to be taken overseas, there are so many different facts and circumstances flowing from the claimant’s own actions that the proposed amendments would significantly limit the effect of these clauses. In the Government’s view, the courts ought to have complete discretion to apply the clauses as they stand; a very tight restriction both as to instigation and to the requirement that the instigated conduct took place overseas would limit them inappropriately and improperly restrict the discretion courts should have under the provisions.

The Government further feel that there is scope in these amendments for some confusion. The two aspects, an overseas element and instigation, seem to be couched in language reminiscent of an exclusive list, quite apart from the difficulty of deciding exactly what one means by “instigation”. In practice, the Government feel that the courts should be left to exercise their discretion, as they surely will, without the limitation proposed by these amendments. That is the Government’s position on the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and I hope that in the light of what I have said, he will consider not pressing them.

There is one amendment by the Government—Amendment 181—which is proposed to ensure family proceedings in Scotland and Northern Ireland are excluded from the freezing and forfeiture provisions that are also part of this part, as with those in England and Wales. That simply corrects an oversight in the original drafting.

Having set out the Government’s amendments and why we are unable to accept the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, I commend Government’s amendments and ask the noble Lord to withdraw his.