National Security Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, I think we need to remind ourselves that the United Kingdom is a party to the torture convention. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised a red flag in my mind because, when I saw the word “torture” and the implication in his amendment that Clause 28 as it stands could extend to granting immunity for acts of torture, that seemed to me plainly contrary to our obligations under the torture convention.

It is worth remembering two things about that convention. The first is that all states parties to it are prohibited from authorising torture in any circumstance. It is also an unusual convention because it creates a universal jurisdiction; in other words, any state party which finds somebody who has committed torture within its jurisdiction, wherever he comes from, can prosecute that individual for the act of torture. The idea of granting immunity from acts of torture, which is what this clause seems to do, is a false idea because you certainly cannot do that with regard to other states parties to the torture convention.

It seems to me that Clause 28 is fraught with danger for that reason. Therefore, I very much support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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My Lords, may I add one footnote to the powerful speeches by my noble friends on these Benches? To confer blanket immunity may well have a counterproductive consequence, which is that the alleged victim may well be able to provoke the procedures of the International Criminal Court to be applied against persons in this jurisdiction. That would be extremely unfortunate.

Baroness Manningham-Buller Portrait Baroness Manningham-Buller (CB)
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My Lords, I had not intended to say anything on this part of the Bill, not least because all these lawyers at various levels of leading counsel, pupil-master and so on do so much better than me. It seems to me that it is wrong in principle for members of the security and intelligence services to have immunity from the law.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—the Minister may deal with this in his summing up—has confused the authorisations that are approved for CHIS activity involving criminality with what this part of the Bill seeks to do. I hope that in his reply the Minister will acknowledge the wide concern within the Committee, including from people such as me who have spent a career in the Security Service, and will consider an amendment to address some of these problems.

I quite comprehend that it is not necessarily easy to explain what the problem is that we are trying to address without revealing secrets but, again, I endorse the view that it would be helpful to hear what the ISC has thought on these matters. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, at an earlier stage, that he and the ISC recognised that there was a problem that needed addressing. For my part, I am unable to support this as a solution.

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I see where the noble Lord is coming from and, yes, I accept that.

I return to the reasonableness defence in Section 50. While we consider that properly authorised activity to protect national security should be interpreted as being reasonable, the application of the reasonableness defence to UKIC’s activity is untested.

I come back to one of the earlier points from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I am not aware of any prosecutions, but he will know that I cannot comment on operational matters.

I also come back to the questions about the CPS. The fact that the CPS would not be obliged to prosecute offers little comfort to those carrying out legitimate work on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, who may still be subject to criminal investigation for carrying out authorised activities in the interests of national security. The Government consider that we should be able to offer legal reassurance to individuals carrying out vital work to support those interests.

I finish by reiterating that I am committed to continuing to work with the experts in this House, particularly the noble Lords who have tabled the amendments we have debated, and those in the other place to reach consensus on Clause 28. I thank all noble Lords for their patience as we move towards that shared objective.

I have noted the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on timeliness but, at the moment, the Government cannot support these amendments and I therefore respectfully ask noble Lords not to press them.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, could I see whether I have understood him correctly? Is he saying that an act of torture or sexual offences committed in support of another country’s services could not be a proper exercise of the functions of the Security Service—the SIS—or GCHQ? If he is, would it not be better to have that on the face of the Bill rather than simply as a statement from the Minister?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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That is what I am saying. I will come back to whether it should be on the face of the Bill in due course.

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Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I will not be disclosing quite as much as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, did, but I will disclose that I am the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, and it is in that context that I want to add a few remarks. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her amendment giving those of us who are concerned—I am sure that I speak for the whole Committee—about the potential effect, no doubt unintended, that the Bill might have on press freedom. I do not want to rehearse all that has been very well set out by the noble Lord, Lord Black, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. What is vital, of course, is to think what potential chilling effect this might have on journalism, particularly public interest journalism.

One point that is perhaps worth emphasising is how expensive public interest journalism is, how heavy it is on resources and how easy it is for editors to say: “Look, this is far too difficult; you may not get what you want, it is expensive, and what is more it may be unlawful.” If you look at Clause 3(2) of the Bill, and are thinking about running a story to do with armaments, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said—I think that she was probably referring to the Snatch Land Rover issue; she confirms that that was the case—then you might well say to yourself that this is highly risky, because we are going to run a story about something which would be of interest to a foreign power with which we might be in conflict. It is just that sort of thing which this, in the absence of some sort of tailored amendment to the Bill, would have the unintended consequence of not just putting a journalist at risk but of somebody simply saying that they are not going to do the story or spend money on this.

So I hope that the Minister, who is otherwise preoccupied at the moment, may be able to consider these matters carefully, knowing how important public interest journalism is. I should say that I received some briefing from the Guardian. Although IPSO regulates 97% of those publications that we receive, it does not regulate the Guardian, so this does not in any way influence the job that I have.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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My Lords, I share the concerns which have been expressed in this debate about the breadth of Clauses 29 and 30, particularly in relation to public interest journalism, as expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Faulks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell.

One of the problems is that Clause 29(2)(c) ensures that the foreign power condition applies merely because there is

“other assistance provided by a foreign power”.

That is an incredibly broad definition. The provision of information would potentially fall within the scope of that definition. There is also the concern, which has been explained by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Wallace, that the foreign power definition in Clause 30(1)(e) extends to a political party—not just to political parties generally but, as Clause 30(2) makes clear, to any party which has any member of the Government in a coalition. So it extends very broadly, particularly in Europe, to any number of political parties.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, made the point that one of the mischiefs here is that there is no attempt to exclude governing parties in our allies—NATO countries, Australia, New Zealand and Five Eyes countries—which is quite extraordinary. The anomaly is even greater, because if the Committee looks at Clause 30(3)(a) there is a specific exclusion for any political party which is

“a governing political party of the government of the Republic of Ireland”.

I would be very grateful if the Minister could explain why there is that specific exclusion —not that I have anything against the Irish—but not for any political party that operates in our other allies, particularly NATO allies. The anomaly is even greater, because it is not beyond the realms of possibility that, in the next few years, Sinn Féin may be a political party that is part of the Government of the Republic of Ireland, possibly in a coalition.

None of this makes any sense. Could the Minister please clarify, explain and reflect on whether this is really a sensible way to proceed?

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I wish very briefly to follow that excellent point, because the Government have not been clear in ironing out the anomalies in the definitions. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and others are absolutely right in agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who raised this point.

The reality is that a junior party in a coalition Government, which might be under some form of political arrangement that is different from ours and which could be one of our sister parties, could be considered to meet the “foreign power condition” in the Bill. A person’s conduct could then fall foul of Clause 29(5) if that person

“intends the conduct in question to benefit a foreign power.”

I would like to benefit my liberal sister parties’ prospects in other countries by working with them on a philosophical basis, and vice versa. That is why we exist as political parties. The Bill would consider that conduct to be intending to benefit a foreign power. That surely cannot be right for an open democracy when we want to encourage political parties.

Not only that: before the aid cuts, we were spending considerable sums of money through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to develop political party links. So we have on the one hand the Government funding the WFD, encouraging and in fact paying and providing support to parliamentarians to work with sister parties, and on the other saying under the Bill, “By carrying out the work that we’re funding, you’re also aiding a foreign power”, which is nonsense. At the same time, there is a concern that, under the definition in Clause 30(1)(c), a foreign public sector broadcaster, for example, could be considered a foreign power under the Bill, so any journalists working with, say, CBC in Canada would fall foul of the Bill because that would be an “authority” of a foreign power, unless specific changes are made.

There is also the point that my noble friend Lord Marks made. Part of the anomaly is that the Bill creates too many difficulties for journalists of state broadcasters to operate and potentially has a chilling effect on sister party collaboration, which the Government themselves seem to promote and support, but at the same time it does not include private sector enterprises that, although they are not formally an agency or authority of a foreign Government and a foreign Government is not responsible for their affairs, could include a private sector sovereign wealth fund of a state, which might or might not be listed on a stock exchange and which may or may not, in effect, be a private sector arm of the interests of a foreign power. So any interaction we have through the strategic interests of a wealth fund of a Gulf state, or of a private sector enterprise that may or may not be established and fully operational in the private sector but which our intelligence agencies say is, in effect, an arm of or has some interaction with the Communist Party of China, is not covered.

The anomalies in the “foreign power condition” need to be ironed out. These amendments will help in that way. I hope the Government will be able to provide greater clarification.