Lord Bethell debates with Home Office

There have been 6 exchanges between Lord Bethell and Home Office

Tue 4th February 2020 Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (57 words)
Tue 14th January 2020 European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (Lords Chamber) 16 interactions (1,252 words)
Mon 21st October 2019 Queen’s Speech (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (25 words)
Mon 28th January 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Grand Committee) 4 interactions (310 words)
Mon 7th January 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (628 words)
Tue 9th October 2018 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (886 words)

Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [HL]

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Bethell Excerpts
Tuesday 4th February 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Home Office
Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB) - Hansard

My Lords, the objective of the Bill is worthy and uncontroversial: to enable persons wanted in approved countries to be brought more efficiently into extradition proceedings, so as to reduce the prospect of absconding or further offending while they are in the UK. I entirely accept that, as the Minister said, it does not diminish the safeguards in the extradition proceedings themselves. However, the chosen mechanism is a new power of arrest without warrant. That is sufficiently unusual to require a little more reassurance than appears in the Explanatory Notes, helpful though they are, and I would be grateful if the Minister would comment now, or at any rate before Committee, on six gentle questions on this short Bill.

First, could the Minister explain why the existing powers of urgent arrest under Sections 73 and 74 of the Extradition Act 2003 before an extradition request has been submitted or certified are not considered sufficient? There may be a good reason but it needs to be made known. My understanding is that a request from the issuing state for the accused’s provisional arrest can already be the subject of a provisional warrant application by the CPS to the court—an application which, in urgent cases, can be made out of hours to the relevant duty judge, if necessary by email.

Secondly, does the Minister accept that the new procedure will itself take time? The NCA, as designated authority under the Bill, will have to review any extradition request and decide whether to certify it as creating a provisional arrest power. That may be a substantial exercise, given the need not to interfere arbitrarily with the rights of extradition subjects, even for 24 hours, the well-documented abuses of Interpol red notices, and the possibility that the list of category 2 territories may be substantially expanded in the future—to which I will return.

Thirdly, and staying on that subject, can the Minister tell us more about the nature of the triage process that the designated authority will conduct? In particular, will it be part of the NCA’s function to verify that extradition requests comply with the human rights requirements under Interpol’s constitution, and with any procedural or human rights requirements under the US-UK extradition treaty or its equivalents? Finally, the impact assessment states that the new policy is

“expected to result in 6 individuals entering”

the criminal justice system

“more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.”

It seems pretty plain that this Act of Parliament has not been constructed just for those six people, whoever they may turn out to be, and that the list of specified category 2 territories is likely to be significantly expanded.

Therefore, my fourth question is: the Minister spoke of trust, but what precisely are the criteria that will be applied by Ministers in determining to designate a new category 2 territory for new Schedule A1, and, in view of the potential for abuse identified by the noble and learned Lord, Judge, why are they not set out explicitly in the Bill? I remind your Lordships that category 2 territories include the likes of Russia, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

My fifth question: is it envisaged, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, thought, that the member states of the European Union, or some of them, will find their place in the schedule?

My sixth question: will reciprocal powers to those in the Bill be sought from the EU in negotiations for whatever will replace the European arrest warrant and, more broadly, can the Minister give any further indication of the type of replacement to which we aspire? Are we aiming to adapt the European arrest warrant itself, or the Norway-Iceland agreement with the EU, or are we looking for something of a different nature?

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, just said, many of us would greatly regret the loss of the European arrest warrant, which, since its political awakening in the weeks after 9/11, has exemplified both the effort required for meaningful co-operation in Europe and the enormous benefits to be derived from it. We can be particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who will follow me, for her tireless work on improving it over the years.

Forebodings that any replacement will be inferior have already been borne out by the EU’s declaration of 31 January that Germany, Austria and Slovenia will not surrender their own nationals to the UK, even during the transition period. But Brexit has happened, its consequences must be faced, and we all share the same objective of ensuring that the best possible alternative is negotiated. I hope that the Minister will at least be able to tell us what we are aiming for.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, there is a technical problem with the clocks. We have moved to using the old-fashioned clocks, which we believe are still working. An engineer has been called and we hope to resolve the problem shortly.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) - Hansard

So I have not already been speaking for 13 minutes.

The justification for the Bill rests on the claim that there is a gap in law enforcement capability which requires primary legislation to create the power for UK police to arrest immediately if an individual is wanted by a trusted partner. We were told in a briefing session yesterday that there are possibly 20 to 30 persons at any one time from across the world in a police “wanted pot”, but that does not equate to the number of cases where police actually come into contact with someone—perhaps through a stop due to a traffic offence—discover that the person in front of them is wanted for a serious offence and fear that they may abscond before a judge’s warrant can be obtained unless arrested on the spot.

The impact assessment states that the policy is expected to result in six individuals entering the criminal justice system more quickly than would otherwise be the case. As the assessment period is 10 years, this is less than one person a year. In her speech, the Minister gave one example from 2016. It is important to get clear the real necessity for the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned, the provisional arrest powers under Sections 73 and 74 of the Extradition Act 2003 already adequately cover urgent arrests before a full extradition request is submitted from a category 2 territory, with the CPS able to request a provisional warrant from the court which can be made urgently out of hours.

In addition, the impression conveyed that the Bill will give an instantaneous power of arrest once a warrant is issued in a designated Part 2 country is not true. The warrant would still have to go through a review and certification process at the National Crime Agency and there would be a triage process to ensure that only alerts which conform to legislative intention are certified. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that all those three steps—triage, review and certification—will have to take place. Can she also confirm that the NCA would be able to filter out cases where it has reason to believe that one of the statutory bars to extradition, such as the human rights bar, will apply, and that a victim of a politically motivated request would be able to provide the NCA with advance notification why it should not be certified? Will the NCA also ensure that any requests comply with the human rights requirements under Interpol’s constitution and with any procedural or human rights requirements under the US-UK extradition treaty?

While, if all those filter mechanisms apply, it would provide some reassurance, it would also mean that the new process was not necessarily very speedy. It would require careful scrutiny, not an instant, heat-of-the-moment decision after a person is identified entering the country. While that is good from the point of view of the care to be taken in the process, it means that the new power is unlikely to save time, as well as applying only to a handful of people, which makes the power, as justified by the Minister, largely otiose. The new power permits someone to be arrested and their liberty restricted without judicial oversight—a potential interference with Article 5 of the ECHR. The justification is pretty vague. Bypassing the judicial warrant is premised in the impact assessment only on the rather vague aspiration of

“reducing the opportunity for the subject to escape and potentially commit further crime, which may lead to an economic and social impact upon society”,

but:

“It is not possible to give a precise estimate of the impact of the legislation as it is unclear how much re-offending will be prevented”.

That is hardly convincing in justifying the potential interference with convention rights. Although the Bill covers any international request for extradition, it seems clearly anticipated that an Interpol wanted person alert or a red notice against a person would be the primary trigger. It is crucial that the Bill is not taken as a stamp of approval for such red notices, as they are not trusted enough to be in themselves a basis for an arrest. Under the Bill, the NCA will have to assess the validity of such a notice and the degree to which it is based on evidence, rather than mere assertion, without any judicial, or even prosecutorial, oversight.

Like the UK, many countries do not allow warrantless arrests based on Interpol red notices. The US does not allow them because it does not view red notices as satisfying the probable cause standard required by the US constitution to arrest someone. It is well known that Interpol red notices have been misused for political purposes by a number of its member countries, targeting political opponents, journalists, peaceful protesters, refugees and human rights defenders. The UK should continue to push Interpol to introduce safeguards against abuse. Can the Minister tell us what action the Government have taken in that respect?

It is critical that the list of specified category 2 countries in the Bill is limited to those where there really is a basis of trust—not countries such as Russia, Turkey, Venezuela or Syria. What factors will the Government take into account when proposing to add countries to those covered by new Schedule A1? It is already of concern that the US is on the list. While the ability would still exist to seek assurances that a person would not be subject to the death penalty, there was a case in July 2018 when the Government did not exercise that option, which caused deep concern.

As I have said, the necessity for the new power seems pretty slim in the case of existing trustworthy Part 2 countries but, as other noble Lords have said, in paragraph 7 of the impact assessment we get to what must surely be the real reason for this Bill, even if the Minister demurred at her briefing session yesterday. It is worth reading it out:

“In a ‘no deal’ scenario or in the event of a Future Security Partnership which does not support the retention of EU Member States in Part 1 of the Extradition Act, the current capability gap would extend to EU Member States. 15,540 requests were made under the EAW process in 2018/19. In that same year, 1,412 arrests were related to EAWs”.

That is more than 150,000 EAWs over a 10-year period, compared to the six EAWs forecast for the new procedure under the Bill. I think we can gather what scenario the Bill is really planned for. Can the Minister give us an update on the prospects for future UK-EU criminal justice co-operation, including extradition? Although there are concerns about the operation of the EAW—six years ago, my last project as an MEP was a report calling for its reform; I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for his kind remarks—it is much better than the alternatives.

Both my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to the Commission declaration under Article 185 of the withdrawal agreement in which Germany, Austria and Slovenia may not extradite their own nationals—even during the transition period, let alone after December. This was expected but it is still discouraging. How will we get any reciprocity? If the Bill covers incoming extradition requests, what will happen to outgoing ones to EU and EEA countries?

Finally, how does yesterday’s categorical assertion of no alignment advance the prospect of the UK retaining something approaching the EAW without legal challenge if the minimum rights of defendants developed by the European Union are not respected?

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB) - Hansard

My Lords, some seven years ago I chaired, together with the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, an inquiry at whose heart was the issue of whether it was in this country’s interest to remain within the scope of the European arrest warrant. The evidence we took demonstrated overwhelmingly that it was in Britain’s interest to do so. I am glad to say that that view was shared by massive majorities in both Houses and we did, indeed, stay within the European arrest warrant.

I note from the impact assessment with which we have been provided for the Bill—for which I express my gratitude as impact assessments for Brexit-related Bills are rare birds indeed—that in 2018 and 2019, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, just mentioned, 1,412 arrests related to European arrest warrants were made and a substantial number of possible criminals returned to their own countries for trial. I suggest that those figures show that the European arrest warrant has come through with flying colours. It is for that reason, if for no other, that I personally welcome the Bill, one of whose objectives, if I understand it rightly, is to enable us to continue to operate something that could perhaps loosely be called a European arrest warrant-type procedure, even now that we are no longer a member—and will no longer be a member—of the European Union. I would be most grateful if the Minister, when she winds up, could answer the following questions. They cover similar ground to those of my noble and learned friend Lord Brown and my noble friend Lord Anderson.

First, is it correct to think that the Bill will enable us to operate something that could loosely be described as an EAW-type procedure, even after we have left the European Union and even after we have exited the transition period?

Secondly, will the powers in the Bill actually be needed during 2020 with respect to EU member states, while we are still in the transitional period provided for in the withdrawal agreement, or does that agreement suffice for the calendar year 2020?

Thirdly, if by mischance—I think no one who has read the Prime Minister’s speech made in Greenwich yesterday could doubt that mischance could happen—we found ourselves without a new relationship agreement with the EU at the end of this year, would the powers in the Bill enable us to respond to requests from any of the 27 EU member states in a manner similar to the way we have responded to European arrest warrants?

Fourthly, as several noble Lords have asked, will we, in the negotiations that will begin in March, try to achieve some degree of reciprocity with the 27 member states so that they too will operate something similar to a European arrest warrant procedure, even if the conditions for that are not yet agreed in the new relationship, or if the possibility of a new relationship has collapsed? I know that the answer for this Bill is that it does not and cannot provide those powers.

These are important matters. I think we can reasonably ask the Government simply to say now that, yes, when we sit down in March and work with the European Union on a security agreement that covers this area, we will be asking for reciprocity and we will be offering procedures that are as solid as we can make them and similar to the European arrest warrant. If, as I hope, the answer to all four questions I have posed is positive, I would be a strong supporter of the Bill. It will send a good signal that we are entering the post-Brexit negotiations in a positive spirit and with a determination to continue the closest possible co-operation with our former EU partners in the fight against serious international crime.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

My Lords, I can confirm that the new clocks are now working, and those are the ones we will use.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, because I agree with most of what he said—which, I think he will accept, has not always been the case. My noble friend the Minister has a galaxy of learned and expert people to speak on this Bill. It seems to me that the Government should be grateful that they are getting legal advice from three very learned retired judges. It would cost the Government a great deal of money if they had to ask for the advice, so I think she should be grateful.

My contribution will be much more modest. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who speaks with great authority and expertise on these things, that I do not see that we need to be particularly concerned that China, let us say, should be allowed to extradite people under this measure. Given the problems that China has had with Hong Kong, which started off with extradition from Hong Kong to China, we would be unlikely to take that sort of decision. It seems to me, and others have said, that the Bill rightly and sensibly caters for the changes to the European arrest warrant now that we have left. The 24 hours within which somebody arrested under this has to be seen by a judge is reasonable. I agree with the noble and learned Lord—I will come to this later—that not all countries share the same standards as us. That also applies to European Union countries.

I support the Bill because it is sensible and very modest. So far it is certainly countries that we trust to abide by the rule of law that are included. For instance, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all take a great deal of their legal systems from us anyway—so, given the situation, it is not controversial.

Part 1 of the Extradition Act 2003 was about the European arrest warrant. I will concentrate on that, because it is more controversial. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I think the European arrest warrant can be hugely valuable. For instance, it gets nasty criminals out of the UK to face justice—paedophiles, drug dealers, murderers, whoever. That is all to be welcomed. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said that in 2017 there were 15,000 or so requests to the UK; I thought it was more like 17,000, but I may be wrong. I think we issued fewer than 400, but with my limited knowledge of the internet I had some trouble getting the correct details.

I will concentrate on Romania, which I think is the country that issues the greatest or second-greatest number of European arrest warrants in the European Union. That may be a reflection of crime in Romania. I will concentrate first on the general situation and then on one case, which shows why we should be very wary of believing that, just because a country is in the European Union, it follows all the rules and values that we have in this country and follows the rule of law as we do. We assume that because a country is in the European Union, it abides by the rule of law.

I will not mention the case I know of for two reasons. First, it is sub judice and, although I believe that under parliamentary privilege I could mention it, it would be improper to do so. Secondly, I used to have—I stress that I used to have—a financial interest in the case, in that I was advising somebody on this. That ended several months ago, but again it would be straying into difficult territory if I were to mention the case in particular.

The issues I will raise now on Romania have all been covered in the press. I start with a newspaper article from 10 April last year. I mention only this one—there are many others—because its headline is: “Romania’s child traffickers walk free to mock the British police”. It was an operation called Golf, and the person in charge of it said:

“Let me tell you, there was tonnes of evidence against that gang … Dozens of child witnesses were interviewed, and we found hundreds of forged birth certificates. It beggars belief that all 26 suspects have walked free. On our side, we secured convictions, but Romania has not … If we cannot get Romanian courts to convict the most serious crimes it has an impact across the whole of Europe.”

The case that I know about concerns political interference and deaths in prison. The Prime Minister of Romania stated on television before an arrest that an arrest would happen. I think we would all agree that that would be completely improper in this country. The same person died in prison. That was surely political interference. I would say so, but so does the European Bar Association—the Fédération des Barreaux d’Europe—which mentioned in a resolution on 19 April 2018

“the right of access of Romanian citizens to a free and independent court and about the situation of judges, prosecutors and lawyers from Romania, noting that there is an interference with the independence of judges, prosecutors, lawyers and the administration of justice due to the intervention of Romanian Intelligence Service”

and called on the justice organisations to “cease the secret protocols” with the intelligence services

“and to restore independence of the judicial system by destroying also secret Protocols and … respect the right of Romanian citizens to a fair trial.”

If that was said about the United Kingdom, we would rightly be horrified.

The issue of prison conditions is more difficult. We would wish to send back a murderer from Romania, but I note that the European Court of Human Rights said some two and a half years ago that the detention conditions in Romanian prisons are in breach of the convention and

“a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

As I said, the case with which I am dealing involved somebody dying in custody because he was not given proper treatment. In his judgment on that case, which, again, I will not name, a UK judge said not two years ago, after the events I have cited, that Romania was a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and that he was

“entirely satisfied that it will abide by its Convention obligations”,

which the European Bar Association and the European Court of Human Rights did not agree with.

I ask my noble friend the Minister: should we see some changes to the European arrest warrant, as I believe is likely, could we look very closely at the conditions in each country in Europe and at how they follow the rule of law? It is not just Romania, but I will not spread my wings too far on this. We need to make sure that other European countries are abiding by the rule of law as we see it before we admit them into what is already working under the European arrest warrant.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Bethell Excerpts
Tuesday 14th January 2020

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, Clause 13(5) contains a Henry VIII power; it is admittedly constrained by the specific subject matter and context of the Bill, but is none the less within those constraints a wide-ranging power:

“The power to make regulations … may … be exercised by modifying any provision made by or under an enactment.”

Henry VIII clauses are in principle objectionable, and in principle the Government ought always to explain to us why they think they are justified.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to respond to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and others. I thank all those who have contributed to this debate.

The noble Baroness put it very well; the importance of this measure should not be underestimated. As we leave the EU, protecting the rights of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, including EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals remains a massive priority for this Government. It is a commitment that we have delivered very clearly in the withdrawal agreement, the EEA EFTA separation agreement and the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement. For those noble Lords who have enjoyed the pleasure of reading those pages, it is a really hefty chunk of the withdrawal agreement. The detailed and complex nature of these commitments is testified to by the large number of pages taken up describing them. For brevity’s sake, I will not go through these pages and will refer to EU citizens and agreements thereafter.

The dynamic nature of the EU’s social security co-ordination rules means that, following the end of the implementation period, updates at the EU level to the EU social security co-ordination regulations will be reflected in the agreement and therefore apply to those citizens within the scope of the agreement. The current social security system is dizzyingly complex. These updates are also very complex; they include minute changes to things such as definitions, the templates in which organisations communicate with each other and the line by line minutiae of the regulations. They ensure the clarity and delivery of benefits for citizens and the operational viability of the overall system. This clause ensures that the appropriate authorities, including the devolved Administrations, have the power to make regulations to align the domestic statute book with the amendments made in these regulations.

A question was asked about Henry VIII powers. I reassure the House that these provisions are focused solely on the regulations described in Part Two, Title III of the withdrawal agreement relating to social security co-ordination, as well as to the supplement, and deal only with matters arising.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport - Hansard

The Minister pointed out that the regulations are extraordinarily complex. Would he accept that, the greater the complexity, the greater the need for accountability?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

No, that is a neat way of putting things, but it is not quite the point I was trying to make, which is that they are very closely defined in terms of breadth and that the detail of the regulations is so minute that it would waste the time of these Houses to go through them line by line. It is important for solidity and confidence in the system that they are expedited quickly and resolved without delay. Without wishing to give the game away regarding what I am about to say, the bottom line is that we simply do not have the legislative capacity in these Houses to go through all the complexity of the details as they arise at an EU level.

Viscount Hailsham - Hansard

That is a serious statement to make. My noble friend is saying that Parliament cannot do its job. Does that not mean that these matters need to be considered by the commission on the constitution—and preferably a royal commission?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

No; my noble friend puts it well, but I am alluding to the fact that there is a hierarchy of priority, and there are matters of significant policy and implementation that are of a sufficiently high level to warrant the attention of the House. However, this clause refers to matters of an operational nature, which are there to implement the agreed clauses of the withdrawal agreement.

There is no question of this clause being used to bring in new policy, new arrangements or the kinds of policy changes that, frankly, would warrant discussion in the Houses. That is the reassurance that I am trying to communicate to the House, that any changes in the actual policy and arrangements and the benefits of those in the 5 million, whom the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, accurately referred to, are absolutely not part of either the intention or the way in which these clauses are written.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport - Hansard

If there is no intention to change policy, why is Clause 13(5) in there?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

All the arrangements within this part of the Bill are heavily constrained to Title III of Part Two of the withdrawal agreement. There is therefore no need to escalate to questions of policy; if there are questions of policy, they will be brought to the House but in a completely different way. The purpose of this clause is to make sure that there are no conflicts or inconsistencies in domestic law that refer to the current commitments within the withdrawal agreement, which could give unfair treatment and uncertainty about the rights and benefits of the 5 million in the group of people who benefit from these arrangements. It allows Ministers to protect the entitlements—

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee - Hansard

Can the Minister point us to where in the clause we can find reassurance that, if there is a change in policy, it will not be dealt with through regulations?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

That reassurance is not in the clause; it just does not provide the necessary powers, and without those powers, the ability to change policy does not exist. I hope that noble Lords will agree that the way in which it is written is tightly refined around the specific arrangements of implementing the detailed clauses in the withdrawal agreement. That is its confined and determined nature. What it does, in a focused way, is to allow Ministers to protect the entitlements of those in the scope of the agreements, and only that. It includes both EU citizens living in the UK, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, explained, and UK nationals who have chosen to work in or retire to EU member states before the end of the implementation period. Many of those people will have lifetime rights within that agreement which may last many decades, and the effect of the changes of EU regulations will continue to need to be tweaked during those decades.

This power is therefore essential to give the Government the flexibility that we need to provide legal certainty to individuals subject to these rules as the EU social security co-ordination regulations evolve over time. We have an important duty to protect the social security co-ordination rights of those in this scope, to give them that confidence, and for the lifetime of these agreements. This power enables us to protect those rights, and without prejudice to any future system that would apply to those not covered by these agreements.

Break in Debate

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB) - Hansard

I understand the point the Minister is making and that the scope of action is limited to the areas covered in the withdrawal agreement—I understand all that. However, would it not be more reassuring to recipients if the sunset clause were there, and if changes could be made only after the expiry of the period by primary legislation? I understand the argument, but if the argument is reassurance, surely it is more reassuring to people that changes could be made only by primary legislation than that they could be made using these Henry VIII powers laid out in these provisions.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

My Lords, the point is well made, and I understand the desire of the Houses to keep scrutiny on measures, which is entirely fair. However, in this case, confidence, solidity and a sense of commitment can be promised and delivered by the Government only if they do not have the fear that the pipeline of legislation going through the House might delay important technical changes and hold up the delivery of these benefits. It would put a huge pressure on these Houses of a kind that is not realistic or reasonable to have the entire legislative timetable of our proceedings held hostage to the microchanges and small needs of EU social security regulations and improvements, which may in decades to come affect only hundreds of thousands of people and require small administrative changes in regulations.

Viscount Hailsham - Hansard

Hundreds of thousands is quite a lot.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

My noble friend puts it well; I am not trying to brush off hundreds of thousands. I am trying to communicate a sense of this long tail of microregulatory changes, which are technically incredibly important. However, the priority is to demonstrate commitment and security to those millions of people today who will look to the Government to make a commitment to deliver those in years to come. To put an expiration date on the power could therefore inadvertently prevent the UK ensuring that its statute book complies with its international obligations under the agreements, and put in jeopardy the Government’s unequivocal guarantee to protect citizens’ rights. I therefore urge the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, to withdraw this amendment.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town - Hansard

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to the Bill; I assume that this is only the first of his outings on it. I thank my noble friend Lord Howarth, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I urge the Government to listen to what they say.

Perhaps the Government are saying that there will be so many small technical changes—but we would need to know that. If there was a sunset clause—possibly for longer than two years, as the noble Viscount suggested —we could see whether we are talking about lots of changes, but the Minister has not answered the question of why this cannot be dealt with more properly in a detailed statutory scheme where we will have a greater handle, or a greater grip, on these sorts of amendments.

I am concerned about what is referred to as “complex” or “technical” or a “tweak”. Over the past 10 or 15 years, we have seen pension regulations change: as we brought in civil partnerships, the right to a pension or the age of dependants also changed. These are big issues. These are not small tweaks where you report to this pension authority rather than that one. As has been said, some big issues could be addressed here without giving people outside this House enough time to comment on them. Remember, we are talking about people in Spain and Luxembourg, for example; by the time they hear that a statutory instrument is coming, it will probably have been passed. We are talking about a group of people who are very disparate and yet could be seriously affected by what is said to be a tweak.

I am still slightly concerned that, by enabling this to be there for all time, changes may be made to people’s death benefits, pensions or health provision, for example, without a proper discussion here. It would be a good idea, after I withdraw the amendment, for the Government to look closely at our Select Committee’s recommendation on whether there is a better method of achieving what the Government want to achieve, perhaps through moving an amendment to put in a sunset clause. Perhaps it could be for five years; in that time, we really would be able to see whether it is working as envisaged. Just having an open-ended commitment for all time on issues that will possibly affect people’s pensions or benefit payments seems to be a wide-ranging Henry VIII power.

Queen’s Speech

Lord Bethell Excerpts
Monday 21st October 2019

(11 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, in his wonderful speech, the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, talked about being wide-ranging. I will literally be wide-ranging, because I am talking about the creative industries. Culture is the subject for debate tomorrow, but unfortunately I am not able to be present.

We are a creative nation—always have been—and the creative industries are of huge benefit to the economy. Indeed, according to a report published by the Office for National Statistics a couple of weeks ago, we did not go into recession in the last quarter in large and significant part because of our creative industries.

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities starts:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

If I had more time I would quote more, because the opening of that novel is so pertinent. That is how I feel at the moment. We live in a golden age of British art and creativity, but Brexit, attacks on our essential PSBs from streaming services and, I am afraid, our own Government are lurking. Cuts to cultural funding, particularly at local level, are happening. There are other reasons for concern, such as a leaking talent pipeline that will lead to problems if not addressed.

Arts and culture lead to urban regeneration, as I have seen at first hand as a trustee of the Lowry in Salford. They offer a platform that reflects the diversity of the people of the UK. Participation promotes well-being and aids both physical and mental health, so supporting and protecting this vital, vibrant sector is of paramount importance. This starts with education.

I am sure the Minister will agree with the Durham commission report published this week on creativity in education, which said that creative thinking should run through all school life. However, the report confirms a 28% decline in the uptake of creative subjects since 2014—a decline that we on these Benches have been drawing attention to, and the Department for Education denying, for a long time.

The fact is that the introduction of the EBacc has had a significant negative impact on the offer of arts and culture in schools, resulting, as the report says, in,

“a serious imbalance in the all-round education of students”.

No less a person than Andrew Lloyd Webber castigated the Government a couple of weeks ago for cutting arts and music budgets in schools. He said the cuts are,

“the stupidest thing that could ever have happened”.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con) - Hansard

May I just remind noble Lords about the subject of today’s debate? We would be very grateful if noble Lords could stick to that, please.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury - Hansard

Does the Minister not agree that every child should have access to arts and culture? Access to the arts is access to our national life and, on a day when home affairs are being debated, I argue that it is also a social justice issue.

We welcome changes to the Ofsted inspection framework, which acknowledges the need for schools to develop a strategy for teaching creativity, but this is mealy-mouthed. We should be talking not about acknowledgement but, as the Durham commission recommends, the championing of schools that successfully nurture creativity. Does the Minister not agree that a category of outstanding from Ofsted must mean that the school offers arts-rich education? The independent sector does. The growing inequality between provision in the independent and state sectors is resulting in the neglect and exclusion of youngsters from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds.

The EBacc is all about STEM and what we need is STEAM. The Government need to answer Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre, who asks:

“What … explanation can there be for the baffling disconnect”—

this goes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said—

“between its industrial strategy, which prizes the creative industries as a priority sector, and an education policy that is deliberately squeezing creativity out of our children’s learning?”

There is also the matter of career advancement post school. Unfortunately, the apprenticeship levy has failed the creative industries. Its inflexibility leaves significant amounts of money unspent which could otherwise help. Will the Government respond to the concerns of the industry?

Then there is Brexit. Crucially, the creative industries rely on the ability of people to move freely across Europe; they rely on the free movement of instruments, equipment and samples without expensive tariffs and border checks; they rely on a digital single market that protects our IP; they rely on investment from EU funds; and they rely on country of origin rules, whereby the mutual recognition of broadcasting licences between the UK and the EU has led to this country being the leading hub in Europe.

On the matter of broadcasting, the UK’s unique mix underpins our creative industries. Central to this are our PSBs, and in particular the BBC. When he was Foreign Secretary, our now PM described the BBC as the single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values. Well the Government must value it. Does the Minister not agree with former Tory Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, on the matter of free TV licences for the over 75s, that,

“looking back … it was wrong to impose on the BBC what was effectively a welfare policy and then to ask them to take responsibility for it”?

Of particular concern is the Government’s position on immigration, as mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Even before Brexit, there are several creative roles on the Government’s shortage occupation list. But the Government still insist on defining those who earn under £30,000 as unskilled. As I have said before, to another Minister, I am mystified as to where this came from. It certainly did not come from anyone who works in the creative sector. In a recent Creative Industries Federation survey, 81% of those who responded said that they would face challenges if unable to hire workers on salaries below this level. Perhaps this Minister can enlighten me.

I will finish here. Liberal Democrats have consistently made the case for remaining in the EU because we know that there is no deal better than the deal we have as members of the EU—certainly not for the creative industries.

Offensive Weapons Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Bethell Excerpts
Monday 28th January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Home Office
Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 39. I thank noble Lords for returning and doing me the courtesy of hearing this out. I really appreciate it and I will be very quick. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, put it very well—I wish she were still in her place—but I also feel very passionate about the victims of acid attacks and corrosive substance crime. I am a trustee of the Scar Free Foundation and I have met a lot of the victims, and I have been blown away by how these crimes have seemingly come out of nowhere and become a very big deal: there were nearly a thousand attacks last year. I am very much aware of how innovative criminals have quickly become, to get around the law and invent new crimes. I am aware that our responses have also got to be very quick as well. I applaud the speed at which the Home Office has reacted to this crime wave. I will not go through the list, but it is an impressive list and I completely endorse the approach.

We owe it to ourselves to recognise that this is an experimental approach: international data suggests that legislation on acid attacks is very difficult. It does not always work, so we should keep track of how this legislation proceeds and whether it is worth analysing its effectiveness and what is happening with the arrests that come out of this legislation. That is why I suggested these two amendments: so that in two or three years’ time, we are not left worrying whether we have been on the right track and so that we have the right data to be able to be able to fine-tune and make any changes to our approach.

Lord Ramsbotham Portrait Lord Ramsbotham - Hansard

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, in this, because so many things that were alleged about the inefficiency of various measures are unproven. For example, short sentences are said to be no deterrent. We do not know for certain, and therefore I support entirely a continuous review. We must have more data to be able to be more precise in the measures that we take.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe - Hansard

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bethell for setting out the rationale for these amendments. I understand his intention, but I hope to persuade him that there will be adequate reporting of the use of the new powers in the Bill relating to corrosive substances without the need for statutory provisions such as this. Once the offences in this Bill are brought into force, the collection of data regarding corrosives offences will be much more accessible for police forces and will allow for a much clearer picture to be presented on the extent of corrosive attacks and the corresponding law enforcement response.

My noble friend may be aware that we are already working with the police to improve how offences involving corrosives can be better captured in police data to help understand the scale of attacks. We have submitted a joint application, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to the police data requirements group to establish a new data collection requirement with respect to corrosive attacks as part of the annual data requirement on all forces in England and Wales. Subject to agreement, these would allow for regular publication as part of the Office for National Statistics quarterly crime statistics.

In relation to Amendment 38, I simply point out to my noble friend that all government legislation such as this is subject to post-legislative review five years after Royal Assent. In the intervening period, there are the usual arrangements for scrutinising government policies and the operating of new powers such as contained in this Bill. For example, it will be open to my noble friend to table periodic Written Questions or initiate a debate.

Given these established methods, I am not persuaded that we need a bespoke duty to report annually on aspects of this Bill. I fully accept that this is a serious issue, but I hope I have provided my noble friend with sufficient reassurance on the action that we are taking to address it and that, accordingly, he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell - Hansard

My Lords, the Minister puts it very persuasively and I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Offensive Weapons Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Bethell Excerpts
Monday 7th January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bilimoria (CB) - Hansard

My Lords, I was brought up in India with my late father, Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, who served as an army officer and rose to become commander-in-chief of the central army. From a young age we were exposed to firearms. I was exposed to live shelling at a very young age. Throughout this, my father always imposed on my brother and me how dangerous firearms are. In fact, when he gave me my first airgun he said, “Son, even an airgun can be lethal”. When he gave me my first Swiss army knife, he said, “This is a dangerous weapon”, and sure enough, a few days later, I cut my hand when closing the knife. All guns and knives can be offensive weapons.

The Bill concerns the increasing number of violent offences that we see coming out every day. The statistics show that this is the case, and I thank the House of Lords Library briefing team and Russell Taylor for their excellent briefing. The intention of the Bill is to strengthen the law to help to tackle violent crimes, particularly those involving knives, firearms and corrosive substances such as acid. The statistics show that the number of police-recorded offences involving knives and sharp instruments are going up, as is the number of admissions to hospitals in England for assaults involving sharp instruments. The number of homicides has increased, following a long decline.

I commend a lot of the measures in the Bill, including the area dealing with the sale and delivery of corrosive products and the possession of corrosive substances. It talks about the sale and delivery of bladed weapons. The Minister spoke about the online sale of knives. Clauses 17 to 19 would make a remote sale an offence in certain circumstances. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that, for the purposes of this offence, a bladed product is defined as,

“articles which have a blade and which are capable of causing serious injury to a person’s skin by cutting”—

like my penknife. There are 400 million knives in the UK; virtually every one of them is capable of causing injury. Where does one draw the line between knives used violently and knives for everyday use in kitchens and by chefs for cooking? Of course, the Bill talks about the prohibition of certain firearms; when it was first introduced, rifles,

“from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than 13,600 joules at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged”,

were to be prohibited—this included .50 calibre rifles. This has now been removed because of a government amendment.

On Second Reading, Sajid Javid said:

“The Bill will help to make all our communities safer by helping to get dangerous weapons off our streets. As Home Secretary, I will be relentless in ensuring that our streets remain safe”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/18; col. 927.]

As Home Secretary, he is rightly making the security of the country’s citizens the Government’s number one priority. In the Labour response, the shadow Minister for Policing, Louise Haigh, brought up the issue of police numbers and the cuts in spending, believing these issues were significantly contributing factors in the growth of violent crime—I will come to that later.

Then, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Conservative MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shooting and Conservation, argued that, instead of focusing on banning such firearms, rules should be tightened regarding their storage, with licence decisions potentially contingent on police approval of secure storage arrangements. He stressed that this would be better for public safety than the “disproportionate” measures set out in the Bill, and said:

“They target some of the most law-abiding people in the country and they will not make this country any safer, because the criminal will use a different weapon of choice”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/18; cols. 951-52.]

Of course, the government amendment means that these weapons have been taken out of the prohibited list.

In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, spoke from his great experience as a former Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary-General of NATO, and as somebody who lived in Dunblane. He spoke about the use of .50 calibre weapons as sniper rifles, and gave his view. The other view was given by Jonathan Djanogly, the Conservative MP who is chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council or BSSC. He thanked the Government for listening, and stressed that he wants to engage with them. He explained:

“The proposal in the Bill to ban firearms with a muzzle velocity of more than 13,600 J, including .50 calibre guns, was not, under any interpretation of the facts, going to help the fight against crime. The guns are very expensive, costing around £20,000 each. There are therefore very few in number, with only 150 or so in private hands. They are extremely bulky, heavy at 30 lb and slow to load, with large, hand-loaded ammunition. In fact, one could hardly find a firearm less likely to be used in a crime. They are simply too big. That is probably why they have never been used in a crime in this jurisdiction”,

with the exception that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, spoke about. Other firearms are equally dangerous and, as Jonathan Djanogly said, .50 calibre rifles could be adapted to avoid the prohibition. He said:

“The irony is that .50 calibre firearms could have their barrels shortened, thus taking them beneath the maximum velocity. The 13,600 J limit is entirely arbitrary, and many owners and manufacturers could simply adapt their guns down to the new limit. The NCA refers to recent seizures of guns, including fully automatic weapons, as showing that crime groups are seeking more powerful weapons, but the .50 calibre is not automatic and there is no evidence of crime gangs ever having wanted to use it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/11/18; cols. 283-84.]

He also said that people should have the right to engage in shooting sports.

The Minister spoke of the risks posed by firearms and target shooting. In its briefing, the BASC talks about the confusion in advice to Ministers; there is confusion about calibre, and machine guns are confused with rifles. It talks about maximum range versus effective range. It cites an example:

“There is no relationship between .50 calibre rifles and the 2017 shootings in Las Vegas. The rifles used in the Las Vegas shootings were .223 and .308, smaller than .50 calibre and not covered by the Offensive Weapons Bill. They were semi-automatics, illegal in the UK, turned into virtually automatic rifles by the use of a ‘bump stock’”,

which we are banning. The BASC continues:

“There is no evidence that bump stocks have been used in the UK and the Offensive Weapons Bill seeks to ban them—with the support of the shooting associations”.

Then there is the issue of lever release rifles and manually actuated release systems—LR and MARS. One has to bear in mind the effect that the proposed ban on this type of rifle will have on sports shooters who have disabilities and injuries, who are unable to operate the other rifle actions, such as bolt action or straight pull. Lever release rifles are very inclusive and enable disabled and injured shooters to carry on with their sport and hobby. Statistically, firearm owners are the most law-abiding citizens in the UK. No crime has ever been committed with a lever release rifle. The criminals’ weapon of choice is an illegally obtained shotgun or handgun. Handgun crime has risen to the point that the Bill has come forward, even though handguns are already legal.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is my captain as captain of the House of Lords shooting team, of which I have been a member for years. We shoot in the Vizianagram trophy at Bisley. What Wimbledon is to tennis and Lord’s is to cricket, Bisley is the headquarters of world shooting. When we have our match against the other place, the Oxford and Cambridge annual varsity match also takes place.

There has been concern from the shooting community about this Bill. Shooting is a global, Olympic sport. As things stand, shooting has not been included in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. Is the Minister aware of this? I brought this up with Matt Hancock, the current Health Secretary, who was at that time Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He assured me that the Government were very supportive of shooting being included in the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. I have had representations from the president of the National Rifle Association of India, who is now also vice-president of the International Shooting Sport Federation, his Highness Raninder Singh, expressing his concerns. India and Britain win many medals in shooting in the Commonwealth Games. It is an inclusive sport for all ages—people shoot over the age of 50—competed by small countries in the Commonwealth. The Falkland Islands put forward a big shooting team. Will the Minister assure us that the Government are making every effort to include shooting in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022?

At Third Reading the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, acknowledged that the Bill had raised some difficult issues regarding proportionality, but stressed his belief that the right balance had been struck. He said:

“We recognise, for instance, that knives, corrosives and firearms are not in themselves offensive weapons, and that they have many lawful and legitimate uses in people’s everyday lives. That means that a balance needs to be struck between protecting the public and ensuring that legitimate activities are in no way unduly affected. I believe that the Bill strikes the right balance”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/11/18; col. 367.]

That is what we will debate in Committee.

I want to conclude by going to the most important issue in all this: the rise of violent crime. We had a debate on violent crime in November. I started my contribution then by telling the House about my older daughter, who was so scared by stories of things happening to her friends that she became scared to walk home from the tube station to our house. I said:

“What is our country coming to?”—[Official Report, 29/11/18; col. 793.]

Now, sadly, just few days ago, in broad daylight in the middle of the day on a train, what happened to the Pomeroy family in front of a 14 year-old boy?

This Bill is necessary, but on its own it is useless. The number of police in London has fallen below 30,000 for the first time in 15 years. Cressida Dick, who is a very capable Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said that a lack of resources was a factor in homicides reaching a 10-year high. Does the Minister agree? The police are defending a new initiative of moped ramming, a tactical contact initiative they are now using to try to tackle the situation. There are more and more accusations that the Government are losing control in the fight against crime. Offences have risen by 14% while the numbers of officers have plummeted to record lows. I spoke earlier about the surge in knife crime.

The big issue is that the number of police officers has fallen to 121,929, the lowest figure since records began 22 years ago. On top of that, there has been a drop in neighbourhood policing. I do not see neighbourhood police officers any more, but I used to see them walking or cycling around every day. Overall funding has fallen by 18%, taking inflation into account, compared with an increase in funding of 31% between 2000-01 and 2010-11. Of course, we know who became Home Secretary then: our current Prime Minister. Direct government funding has fallen by 25% over the same period. There were 40,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument—a 16% increase. These figures are corroborated by records of National Health Service hospital admissions resulting from the crimes which I have spoken about. With 1.1 million violent crimes recorded—an increase of 21%—the rising trend has simply continued. The police are under so much pressure.

This has to be looked at in another context as well. Is our criminal justice system good enough to cope with this? Rory Stewart, the Justice Minister, said that:

“Knife crime is horrifying—it causes catastrophic damage to families with tragic consequences”.

Noble Lords have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, about her own tragic personal experience.

The situation is awful. Scotland Yard is a global brand and has historically been respected around the world. The Bill is crucial, but it can be effective only if we increase our police officers and neighbourhood policing, double our number of armed police officers, and continue to make the nation’s security the number one priority of any Government.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I welcome the Bill and will talk about the provisions relating to corrosive substances and acid attacks. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Scar Free Foundation, a medical research charity that seeks to find a cure for scarring. Through this work, I have had first-hand experience of talking to victims of acid attacks, the effects of which are utterly devastating and very often a severe, lifelong sentence. Victims may suffer blinding, permanent scarring of the body and face, and acute social and psychological difficulties from the disfigurement and pain. It is worthwhile that the Bill puts such a significant focus on dealing with this issue. It is absolutely shocking that the UK has one of the world’s highest rates of recorded acid attacks per capita. According to Acid Survivors Trust International, there were 228 attacks in 2012, rising to 941 in 2017.

This issue deserves our attention and I pay tribute to the Home Secretary and the Home Office for moving quickly. However, there is a fear that simply toughening sentences and strengthening legal definitions are not enough to make a change on this issue, and are potentially distracting. Acid attacks happen all over the world, and there is a pattern of behaviour by Governments in different countries. Parliaments instinctively reach for the rulebook to address these horrendous crimes, but the story of legislation on acid attacks around the world is not encouraging. In the national and regional legislatures of the countries that are most affected, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Cambodia, you will see passionate politicians trying to make a difference by introducing frightening-sounding new laws. But these have little effect on the cultural and social causes of the problem. The police and the judges seem incapable of stopping this crime, and the suffering continues.

I do not deny that there is a huge amount of support for the measures in the Bill, and they certainly have my support. However, there is a concern that we could make the same mistakes as Parliaments in other countries. If noble Lords think that Britain is in some way exceptional, I will give a couple of examples of what I mean. A recent FOI request to the Civil Nuclear Constabulary revealed that, to date, not one individual had been caught in possession of a corrosive substance as a suspected offensive weapon.

Secondly, of the 2,078 acid attacks recorded in the UK between 2011 and 2016, only 414 resulted in a charge being brought. The Bill will do much to close loopholes, but if we are to have any chance of reducing these horrible crimes, we cannot stop at legislation. We need to see acid attacks in the context of street theft, gang retribution, hate crime, domestic abuse and so-called honour-based violence. Each of these has complex causes and solutions. Having a more sophisticated approach to dealing with them was the subject of the excellent crime debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in November, which supported the use of a sophisticated, multiagency, public health-style approach to crime prevention. I recommend that these be applied here.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, how can we be sure that that the charges and measures introduced by the Bill are anything more than virtue signalling and will actually generate prosecutions? For instance, there are the costs of implementing an inspection regime or the forensic challenges of establishing a provable audit trail back to the retailer. How does the Minister envisage measuring how the selling of corrosive substances will actually lead to convictions? I appeal to the Minister not to allow the Home Office and all the relevant agencies of the state to be distracted by this useful legislation from the bigger battle to reduce this horrific crime wave.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to contribute to today’s Second Reading debate on this welcome and very necessary Bill. Violence in all forms is unacceptable, particularly when dangerous and offensive weapons are involved. Such violence gives rise to serious harm and has a traumatic impact on individuals and their families. There is a serious likelihood that in an environment where individuals carry and use weapons, this will contribute to an increase in weapons carried by others, who will feel the need to defend themselves from unlawful violence or to protect a criminal enterprise and the proceeds of that enterprise.

The Bill has been widely welcomed as being overdue and very necessary. In a changing environment the Bill provides a set of norms and makes it very clear what is not acceptable in a civilised society. I was most interested to hear the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Bethell, as I share his interest in crimes associated with acid attacks. The Centre for Social Justice has collected evidence in relation to corrosive substances, to identify current attitudes and evolving norms and codes of behaviour. Its work involved networks of victims and self-identified at-risk groups. It received 236 responses to a short survey, some of the highlights of which showed some very surprising and concerning information. Some 78% were in fear of being subject to an acid attack; 78% said there were areas where they would not go for fear of being attacked with acid or a knife; 89% felt that the Government were not taking the issue seriously; 75% believed that the police were not taking the issue seriously; 89% believed that police should routinely test substances being carried by suspects; 94% wanted to see tougher penalties for those carrying acid; 73% believed that carrying acid should be treated more severely than carrying a knife; and 90% believed that we should tackle the root causes behind such crimes. As many speakers today have recognised, behind these crimes are things that we need seriously to address.

Additionally, a charity working with the CSJ provided information that some of those at greatest risk of being involved in serious youth violence—as an offender or a victim—reported that acid is easier to conceal than a knife; for example, by transporting it in a water bottle. Acid can be used at a greater distance than knives or other points or blades. Acid causes serious and potentially lifelong injuries but is unlikely to result in death. An individual can use acid more effectively than a knife against a group of individuals at once. Acid is often readily accessible. Corrosive substances can often be found under the kitchen sink, or equally easily as bleach on a supermarket shelf.

It is welcome that the Bill makes it an offence to sell a corrosive product to persons under 18 or for a seller to deliver to a residential premises when the sale is made remotely. However, I do not believe that all violent attacks involving corrosive products have been committed by someone under 18. Extending the age to 21 is something we should consider. The Bill provides law enforcement officers with appropriate investigative and enforcement powers in relation to the offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place. It will be vital for the Home Office to give appropriate support to police forces most affected by the rise in acid attacks, and to equip front-line officers with testing kits. The kit will need to allow for the routine testing of substances carried by suspected offenders or those who might be at risk of carrying acid in preference to other weapons. The Bill should send a clear signal and curtail the growth in this offence, and sentencing should be more severe. The sale of corrosive substances should be subject to the same standards of checks as those for the sale of knives. To change behaviour, there needs to be an increased risk of detection. The testing equipment needs to be low-cost and available to the majority of front-line police officers.

The Bill is an important strand of the Government’s serious violent crime strategy. The strategy is being led by the Home Office, but there needs to be work across all government departments and agencies. Tackling serious violent crime requires multiagency partnerships across education, health, social services, housing, law enforcement and local government. Most importantly, it requires a strong emphasis on and investment in early intervention. For the Bill and the serious violence strategy to be successful, sufficient resources for all agencies with an essential role must be made available.

Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard - continued): House of Lords)
(2nd reading (Minutes of Proceedings - continued): House of Lords)
Lord Bethell Excerpts
Tuesday 9th October 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe - Hansard

The noble Baroness did make that point, and I accept it. My third point is that the prosecution has to overcome any reasonable excuse defence. That is the third measure which I think is helpful in reassuring those who might not be persuaded by the first two tests. Only rarely will a single action or statement be a basis for a charge, as we have seen on many occasions. We heard of the Choudary case, which I shall come back to. In that case, it took an awfully long time to prove a criminal offence, and I think that this strikes the right balance between protecting society and protecting the rights of the suspect.

I will mention a couple of clauses which I particularly support. The first is Clause 4. I argued for this measure about two or three years ago and it relates to the concerns of the investigators. I argued that having a designated area is particularly helpful. Investigating an offence that has occurred within a failed state, such as Syria or Iraq, can be particularly difficult. There is no one at the border keeping a clear register of people who have travelled across it, and there is no easy state mechanism for gathering evidence, particularly from number plate recognition, CCTV, hotel records or anything else that you might want to access. That is particularly difficult in a failed state. So saying “Please give me all the evidence to prove that offence” when people return is a particular challenge for investigators.

I accept that we have intelligence, but the distinction between intelligence and evidence is that we can use intelligence to gain evidence but only evidence can be put before a court. So this is an important change. I understand that some amendment might be needed in relation to humanitarian cases, which I do not think anyone is seeking to stop in any way, but I think that it is a particularly helpful development, and certainly I support it. In my view, it should have happened quite some time ago. Of course, it will not capture the people who are presently in Syria or Iraq, but that is not the intention here, and there is a cooling-off period of, I think, one month for future offences.

The second thing is that putting a responsibility on the traveller to explain why they went to a certain place would not be unreasonable. The Foreign Office will usually have issued a travel advice warning and a designated area warning—and finally there is the reasonable excuse defence. Given the threat that we face, these are not unreasonable things to ask of someone who chooses to travel to a war zone and is acting in a potentially treasonable way, as has been suggested in the past.

I also support Clause 1. I will not say a lot more about it, as others have covered it better, but I think that we have to capture the Choudary-type offence. Clever interlocutors or demagogues will adapt to the latest movement of the law and we have to adapt with them. They will always be clever and try to find a new way round it, so that we have to adapt. Although not the only one, Choudary was an example of where, no matter how hard the security services tried, they could not persuade the prosecutor that they had a case. I do not think that there was a lack of evidence; the law was not helpful and did not allow something that we all agreed was wrong to be prosecuted.

My final points are small ones. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the legislation relating to flags and the fact that removing a flag could cause tension. That is a fair point, but most police officers use discretion when making an arrest or an intervention. The display of a flag can cause tension too. People might remember an incident about four years ago in Parliament Square. When I was in charge of it, the Met was criticised for not taking from someone what appeared to be an ISIS flag. The officers were quite right to decide not to do so. First, the person involved was a seven year-old child and, secondly, the officers could not be absolutely sure that the flag they saw with Arabic writing on it was in fact a proscribed flag. They made a perfectly reasonable decision based on discretion. We expect that of officers and I do not see this as a particular problem.

I hesitate to make my final point because it concerns resources—although the noble Lord, Lord West, raises these points, so I do not see any reason why I cannot. I entirely accept that the Government have supported the police and the security services by maintaining resourcing for counterterrorism policing. That is a fair point and there is no argument about it. However, when you lose 20,000 police officers and probably 10,000 police community support officers, it is a real challenge. There are other things as well, but two-thirds of Security Service leads come from community contacts. That comes through neighbourhood policing, and that is the first thing to go when you lose 20,000 cops. So it is an important point and it needs to be considered.

Finally, I remind the House that the threat remains severe and is evolving. The society that we live in has progressed since the Terrorism Act 2000 and this Bill is a reasonable response. It should command the support of the majority and minority communities and, I argue, of this House.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I would like to start by saying what a memorable pair of maiden speeches they were. I am a newcomer, so I can say—quite literally—they were the best I have ever heard, a real showcase of two great parliamentary careers, and I welcome them both. I would also like to thank the Minister, who did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the dilemma facing us. How do we protect public security while simultaneously safeguarding civil liberties, and at a time when technology is changing very quickly?

My noble friends Lady Warsi and Lord Ahmed expressed very well the challenge to the Muslim community in the UK and the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked very interestingly about the strategic challenge the police face. I want to come at it from a different direction and declare an interest. I am a founder of a campaign against neo-Nazi fascist and racist extremism, sometimes called far-right extremism, but we will be careful about that epithet. I would like to give the perspective of someone who has worked as a volunteer on the front line against the threat of that kind of extremism, against the kind of people who spend their time online trying to recruit, foster hate and agitate for violence. I ran a campaign 10 years ago to challenge the distasteful and disruptive politics of that kind of extremism. It brought me face to face with supremacists, neo-Nazis and agitators for terror. I spent a lot of time personally rebutting and challenging these keyboard warriors, and have some first-hand experience of how that kind of online extremist propaganda is deliberately calculated to foment civic rage and acts of violence. I came to realise that from a legal and technical point of view, we are really struggling to keep up. Many of the activists of the extreme far-right are thoughtful, systematic strategists who study the law, network technology and human psychology deliberately to create turmoil in our society and to groom individuals into their ideology and potentially into acts of criminality.

I went into this enterprise keen to preserve democratic values and free speech, but came to understand that our laws need to be updated. With some regret, I realised it was necessary to prosecute those who, through their words, images and videos, were spreading hate, and to counter the advantage they had through modern technology. I wrote a report 10 years ago, A Shadow over Democracy, which projected a lot of our fears at the time. I am concerned that those predictions have come true. I remember earlier this year Mark Rowley, the outgoing Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, warning about four foiled right-wing terrorist attacks, the potency of leaders like Tommy Robinson, 24% of Channel panel referrals earlier this year being from extremist groups at the neo-Nazi end of the scale, and this awful interdependent ratchet between Islamist terrorism and far-right terrorism that we need to try to break. The internet has played a central role in these developments. It has provided these groups with a network to spread their hate, to leap borders, to raise money to recruit people and to circumvent the societal norms and laws around incitement to hate and violence. I keep a watchful eye on what is happening in Europe and America, and fear we may be looking at an increase in this area. It is for that reason I welcome this Bill, and in particular Clause 1, which makes reckless statements of support for proscribed organisations illegal. I took on board what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said—I thought he put it very well—but from my experience, it feels like we need to tighten up the law in this area.

I welcome Clause 3, which tightens up the law around streaming and downloading materials useful to committing or preparing an act of terrorism. I have seen how individuals have been inspired by words and videos to perform acts of violence. However, I was one of those researchers who clicked on these videos a lot, and I do not want to be captured by this law. Therefore, I urge the Minister to stretch every sinew to reassure people like me that we have a reasonable excuse and that this measure will not somehow be lost because of that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made very good points on that.

Lastly, I welcome Clause 5, which strengthens the Terrorism Act 2006 and measures concerning the dissemination of material that might encourage people to commit acts of terrorism. Ten years ago, we were warning that self-radicalised, lone wolf, white-supremacist terrorists were a big threat, but it seemed distant and unlikely. However, since then, we have seen Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist, Darren Osborne, the Finsbury Park mosque attacker, and Thomas Mair, the far-right terrorist who killed Jo Cox. In that context, Clause 5 seems both proportionate and timely.

The one nudge I would give the Minister concerns the culpability of the distribution network—the tech giants who own the networks. It is obviously beyond the ambit of this Bill to cover that, but I know that the DCMS is looking at its White Paper and at potential legislation in this area. I urge the Minister please to look at that. A lot has been done, I know, but a lot more needs to be done.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, this has been an interesting and well informed debate. We also had the joy of listening to two excellent maiden speeches. While listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, I wrote down the words, “Amusing and informative”. Unlike during his previous maiden speech, noble Lords were riveted by what he had to say. I am sure the noble and learned Lord will prove that he has his uses in this House. “Generous and thoughtful” is what I wrote while listening to the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie. His electoral record in Chichester speaks volumes about the esteem in which he is held generally. Judging by what he said this evening, I am in no doubt that he will be fearless in his future contributions in the House. I also thank the Minister for comprehensively introducing the Bill.

I pay tribute to the police and the security services. During consideration of previous legislation, I had the privilege of going both to GCHQ and to the security services headquarters. I was impressed not only by the capability of those working in the services but by their integrity. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, and others talked about the numbers involved—the number of suspects and the number of operations going on—which just goes to prove how successful the police and the security services have been, despite the tragic events that we have seen in recent years.

I am not wrong in saying that there has been a general consensus, on all sides of the House, that the legislation—whatever it ends up as—needs to pass the test of being necessary and proportionate. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and even the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, all suggested that that was necessary. There were perhaps two notable exceptions to that consensus, as that was not something that the noble Lords, Lord Blair of Boughton and Lord Tebbit, would support.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in particular that I was the police spokesman after the bombings on 7 July 2005. I was in this House when the terrorist incident happened in which one of our police colleagues was killed. I was at home, a 10-minute walk away from London Bridge, when that attack happened. That is not the first-hand, tragic experience that the noble Lord has had, and I completely understand that his experience has deeply affected him. We should not lose sight of the impact that these incidents have had on the victims.

So there is a consensus, generally. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, there may be some differences of opinion as to what is necessary and what is proportionate. Obviously, we accept that this legislation has already been through the other place. But, as the noble Lord, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, said, some in the other place said that they agreed to the legislation being passed subject to it receiving scrutiny in this House, and that is clearly what we must do.

We on these Benches will support any necessary and proportionate measure that makes the United Kingdom safer or will help defeat terrorism, but we will not support measures that we consider to be disproportionate and counterproductive. Colleagues on these Benches, particularly my noble friend Lady Hamwee, highlighted evidence from the Joint Committee on Human Rights—concerns that not only we share but the current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill, also shares. We offer a similar view to his. There are some good, pragmatic measures in the Bill, but there are others that go too far.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, suggested, only in the most extreme cases should the police be given such wide discretion that they can arrest someone engaged in potentially completely innocent activity where the person arrested has to rely on a reasonable excuse defence. Having a reasonable excuse defence in legislation is no protection from an innocent person being arrested and potentially charged.

I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. If I understand him my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford correctly, with “reckless”, either it is an objective definition of reckless in which case we are into the realms of people being arrested for what they think or simply for expressing their view, or we are looking at a subjective definition of reckless, which is what the current law says. In that case, the provision is superfluous to what is already in existing legislation. Clearly, we need to consider these issues carefully.

Similarly, in terms of other provisions in the Bill, it is not too difficult to think of circumstances where a teenager innocently takes a selfie in a mate’s bedroom not realising that there is an ISIS flag on the wall behind him and posts that photograph on Facebook. The next thing, that individual is in police custody—a completely innocent action that results in them being arrested.

Under this Bill, it would also be an offence to click on a page on the internet that has,

“information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”.

Just one attempt to look at the document could result in that individual being arrested, with a potential term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years. The Minister said that previous legislation covered only situations where documents were downloaded and now we have a situation where people are streaming or simply just looking at documents. Not too long ago, we in this House considered at length internet connection records. Surely that sort of thing will provide the necessary evidence, even if people are looking at or streaming information rather than downloading documents. There is a lot to be considered here in terms of whether the legislation is necessary or whether it goes too far. Of course, it was only at the last minute that that particular provision about looking at things on the internet was changed from being one where someone looks at a page on the internet, goes back to it and goes back to it again before they can be convicted to being a one-click offence.

The other last-minute provision that we have serious concerns about is the Secretary of State designating areas overseas as being illegal for UK citizens or residents to travel to. It could become illegal for a Syrian refugee who is resident in the UK but whose family still lives in Syria to visit them, even though his mother or father could be dying. Again, the Government will say that there is the “reasonable excuse” defence, but how sick does your mother have to be before it is considered reasonable for you to travel to a designated area? There would be no reason in law why you should not be arrested and charged, whatever the circumstances. The Government will say that the police are not going to arrest innocent people, but the history of policing is littered with cases of innocent people being wrongly arrested where legislation has been drawn too broadly. Sometimes they have even been charged and wrongly imprisoned.

Surely there must be a way for academic researchers to get permission in advance in order to look at offending pages on the internet, or that grieving family members or humanitarian workers can get permission to visit these areas in advance. As my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Thomas of Gresford said, should there not be an opportunity to get the “reasonable excuse” defence in first?

Clearly, offences should carry a penalty that both deters and keeps innocent people safe, but sentence inflation, as suggested in this Bill, will simply add to the crisis in the Prison Service, as my noble friend Lord Marks said. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, this is not about the fact that prisons are full and therefore we should not put terrorists in prison. This is about the difference between prisons being a place where people with extremist views can be rehabilitated and prisons being a place where radicalisation can become endemic because of overcrowding and the lack of ability of prison staff to carry out any sort of rehabilitation. Surely a smaller prison population would be better, in that we know that prisons are places where people, being at their most vulnerable, are more easily radicalised. Keeping people in prison for longer periods of time surely gives more opportunity for that to take place.

As many noble Lords have said, in some communities there is deep suspicion about Prevent, and along with Independent Reviewers of Terrorism Legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, we support not only an independent review of Prevent but a recasting of the programme with a much more community-based approach that is incorporated into other safeguarding functions. Those at risk of being radicalised are also in danger of being exploited sexually or being drawn into criminal gangs. Prevent should be part of a broader safeguarding process rather than people being potentially stigmatised as a result.

I have to say that there was a bit of conflict between what my noble friend said and what the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, said in terms of the statistics around referrals to Channel panels. On one reading, it would seem that only a small proportion of people who are referred are actually considered to be at risk of being radicalised, while on another reading it seems to be a rather higher proportion. Again, we need to consider those issues very carefully.

Finally, there is the extension of Schedule 7. We agree with the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, that Schedule 7 powers and the powers in this Bill should be limited to those who are reasonably suspected of being involved in the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.