There have been 9 exchanges between Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Home Office
|Mon 13th July 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (84 words)|
|Wed 3rd June 2020||Covid-19: UK Border Health Measures||3 interactions (53 words)|
|Mon 24th February 2020||Policing (England and Wales)||3 interactions (37 words)|
|Tue 9th April 2019||Rwandan Genocide: Alleged Perpetrators||3 interactions (105 words)|
|Tue 26th March 2019||Offensive Weapons Bill||11 interactions (243 words)|
|Mon 18th February 2019||UK Nationals returning from Syria||3 interactions (50 words)|
|Wed 28th November 2018||Offensive Weapons Bill||21 interactions (1,612 words)|
|Wed 27th June 2018||Offensive Weapons Bill||37 interactions (1,998 words)|
|Mon 11th June 2018||Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill||23 interactions (1,775 words)|
What steps she is taking to allocate adequate funding to police forces. 
What steps her Department is taking to increase police funding. 
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I have had a number of telephone conversations with the chief constable of Merseyside police over the last few weeks and months, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I am pleased to say that that force is in good heart, as far as we could tell. Happily, it is running well in advance of its recruitment allocation. I am told that, at the end of March, it had recruited 220 police officers, against an allocation of 200, which does give it extra capacity to deal with the problems that the hon. Member has outlined. Notwithstanding that fact, there are obviously extra costs for policing with covid-19, and we are in conversation with the Treasury about how we might address them.
With his usual perspicacity, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the button. We know that the greatest deterrent of crime is the perception of the likelihood of being caught, and the fact that Gloucestershire police has now more than recruited its annual allocation of police officers—he will be pleased to hear—at 48, over 46, already so far this year, means that that is much more likely to be the case in his county.
I refer the hon. Lady to my statement earlier. We have based this on scientific advice not just within the Home Office but across other Government Departments. As I said in my statement, that information in due course will be provided in the normal way, but it is important to reflect on and recognise why these measures are coming into place, which is to protect the health and wellbeing of the British public.
I think I am right in saying that recorded crime in the Thames valley is lower than in 2010, but that is not a cause for complacency. I recognise some of the problems that towns around London like Slough and, indeed, Andover in my constituency have experienced, much of it driven by the drugs trade. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have done a huge amount of work, and will be doing more, on the county lines problem that drives a significant amount of violence in towns like his. He will be hearing more from me on that in the future.
As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, money for policing is shared out on the basis of a funding formula. I have studied the formula in some depth, and it is incredibly complicated and hard to understand. He is therefore right to raise the issue of confusion in the public’s mind about how money is allocated.
We have already said publicly that we believe the funding formula is outdated, and I hope and believe that, in the years to come, we can work to find a more equitable division of the spoils for policing and, critically, one that the people we serve understand.
This settlement sets out the biggest increase in police funding in a decade. This £700 million will pay for the recruitment of the first 6,000 of the 20,000 additional police officers, an increase of almost 10% of the core grant funding provided last year. Overall funding for police and crime commissioners will increase by £915 million to £13.1 billion if they make full use of the council tax flexibility available to them. Total police funding will increase by £1.1 billion to £15.2 billion.
Every single force in England and Wales will see a substantial increase next year. If their police and crime commissioner decides to maximise precept flexibility, Durham will receive an extra £9.7 million, Lancashire will receive an extra £22.6 million and the west midlands will receive almost £50 million more. These are serious increases, representing, on average, a 7.5% rise.
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that if the police require more money, for this or any other issue, they can come to the Home Office—either they internally prioritise or they come to us to see what we can do. We stand ready to do that. I know from my discussions with the police on this issue that this is not about resource; it is about the complexity of the case itself. Some of these cases are incredibly complex, and the challenge of untangling them is one of the reasons it takes time.
My hon. Friend may like to reflect that some of the terrorist trials we are awaiting here in the United Kingdom have taken years. They take a long time. In cases that stretch across countries, it is often highly complex to get evidence that reaches the evidential bar in order that a case can be submitted to a court.
Under our system, as under the Rwandan system, the accused has a right of disclosure and defence, and we have to make sure we get that right. I hear the urgency of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. I will continue to press this when I meet the head of counter-terrorism policing on Thursday. I will make sure the police are aware of the urgency, and we will have a further discussion about whether more resource is needed or whether it is the complexity that is taking time.
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make some progress.
The order may impose such requirements or prohibitions on a person as a court considers necessary to protect any person from risk of harm or to prevent the commission of an offence involving a bladed article. A KCPO that imposes a requirement must specify a person who is responsible for supervising compliance with that requirement. Again, I emphasise that this is about protection and prevention. It is not about criminalising children. The order is a civil order. We do, however, accept that the breach of an order is, in itself, a criminal matter. I know that some have argued that it would be better to go down the antisocial behaviour injunction route, which applies to children as young as 10. The argument is that having a contempt of court rather than a criminal offence for a breach would make the orders more palatable, because it would mean that children did not get a criminal record. The advice from the police—it is advice that we must listen to very carefully—is that making it a criminal offence to breach an order is important if we want these orders to be taken seriously.
My hon. Friend summarises the orders succinctly, and I thank him for all his work on the Bill. The point of the orders is to try to reach those children before they are in the criminal justice system. They include, for example, the ability to prohibit a child from accessing social media or entering certain postcodes, because we know the tensions arising on the streets from particular groups of young people in certain parts of our large cities. This is not about criminalising those young people; it is about trying to reach them.
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I would respectfully suggest that putting before Parliament orders that would criminalise children for up to two years requires more than discussion at a meeting. It requires full consultation and full parliamentary scrutiny, and none of that has happened.
Before Parliament approves any roll-out, the Government should release a report giving an explanation of what guidance has been given to authorities on the burden on proof, which is a civil standard, the impact of orders on the rights of children and the impact on different racial groups as defined in section 9 of the Equality Act 2010.
The Government consulted on the ban on weapons ahead of the Bill and concluded, on the basis of evidence from the most senior counter-terror police in the country, that it was right to ban assault rifles. It was only in response to a Back-Bench rebellion led by the hon. Gentleman that the Government caved and made the exact opposite case to the one that they made on Second Reading.
These are very basic requests for what is, in truth, information that Parliament should already have when being asked to pass legislation. The parliamentary lock we are seeking to add to the orders should not be necessary, but we know the damage that can result from a lack of joined-up thinking in youth justice, and our communities simply cannot afford another misstep. That is why it is only right that parliamentarians are given the full facts before being asked to approve a further roll-out.
Turning to the content of the orders themselves, all of us in this place are united in our mission to do everything in our power to bear down on the terrible scourge of knife crime, but we must be wary of taking action for the sake of action. Interventions must be evidence-based, have a clear purpose and fill a gap in the existing legislation. The police already have a substantial suite of powers for those they suspect of possessing a knife. The issue is, and has been for several years, the ability and capacity of the police to enforce those powers. As the chair of the Police Federation has said:
“How the Home Secretary thinks we have the officers available to monitor teenagers’ social media use or check they are at home at 10pm when we are struggling to answer 999 calls is beyond me.”
This Government have taken 21,000 police officers off our streets. Response times have rocketed, and in some force areas residential burglaries are rarely attended. The police’s capacity to respond to crime has been extremely diminished, so it is beyond doubt that they do not have the capacity to place orders on people who have not actually committed a crime, and then to monitor and implement those orders effectively. There has been no impact assessment of the resource implications for the police or any of the other services that may be brought in by these orders. We are concerned, and this is what our amendments speak to, that in trying to establish so-called wraparound care for young people, these orders will inevitably end up focusing on the restrictive elements such as curfews, social media bans and prohibitions, rather than the potential for positive, rehabilitative action.
I think we have now reached consensus in this place that in order to combat youth violence effectively, a whole-system, cross-governmental public health approach is required. These orders could have been an attempt to bridge such a divide, but instead they place sole responsibility on the police as the only authority that can apply for an order, which risks narrowing the focus of the suite of options available. The fact that there is no statutory requirement to assess the needs of a child, establish their circumstances and consider the safeguarding implications of an order or their family history prior to an order being granted should be fatal for a legislative proposal that the Government have styled as a route to access wraparound services. It simply does not do what is required. That is why our amendments would establish a statutory requirement to consult with the YOT to produce a pre-sentence report. However, we are satisfied with the Minister’s commitment that this will be made clear in guidance.
Furthermore, I wonder whether the Government, in using the example of a youth worker as someone to be responsible for the delivery of an order, recognise the bind they would be putting such an individual in if they were responsible for reporting any breaches to the police. Central to a public health approach is a consistent, constant adult in vulnerable young people’s lives. This could provide an opportunity for that, but it cannot do so if such individuals are then forced to report them to the criminal justice system every time they do not abide by the conditions laid down in their order.
I will round off with a number of questions to which I hope the Minister will respond when she speaks again. The civil burden of proof is concerning, so what sort of intelligence does the Minister envisage would be sufficient for a court to grant an order? Will the police use the gangs matrix to target individuals? Will association with known offenders be sufficient for an order to be placed? Will past offending be sufficient, as the Minister in the other place appeared to suggest?
Does the Minister share the concerns of Members across the House that we risk criminalising children as young as 12 who have not actually committed a criminal offence? Does she really believe that a two-year custodial sentence is proportionate to a breach of a civil order, and can she give an example of when such a sentence would be appropriate? What exactly can KCPOs require or prohibit? Will guidance be brought forward on what measures are effective in tackling knife crime, or will it be anything that the court deems necessary, proportionate and enforceable?
Finally, who will be required or allowed to know that a child has an order, and what action will their school or alternative provider be expected to take when one has been granted? The implications for alternative provision are potentially severe, as some providers refuse to take children who have knife convictions, leaving them completely out of education and therefore much more vulnerable to becoming involved in violence. What consideration has been given to this?
I do not think that the Minister has satisfactorily answered the concerns raised by the Opposition in our amendments or those of expert organisations that work on these issues every single day, such as the Magistrates Association and the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers. We will therefore divide the House on our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23 in relation to the parliamentary lock, as the report that the Home Secretary brings forward must be voted on before the pilots can be rolled out.
I conclude by thanking and congratulating my right hon. and hon. Friends who have significantly improved the Bill and subjected it to scrutiny during its passage, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield Central, for Sheffield South East, for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), for Birmingham, Edgbaston and for Slough. The amendments in our names have sought to strengthen and improve the weak legislation before us today. They have sought an evidence-based response to the long-term trend of violence that we are witnessing as a result of this Government’s austerity agenda. We hope that the Government will accept that much more needs to be done if we are to prevent any more young lives from being needlessly taken, and we hope that the Government will accept the amendments in our names today.
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is about that care and intervention as well as having a deterrent. Of course there has to be a deterrent.
We must not overlook the fact that applications will have to be made by either the Crown Prosecution Service or a chief officer of police, and that the court will have to be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that on at least two occasions in the previous two years the defendant had a bladed article in a public place or a place of education. That is not enough, either: if there has been a big conversion, that can be demonstrated, and the magistrates court must think it is necessary to make the order to protect the public from harm from a bladed article or, indeed, to protect the respondent from committing an offence.
We talk about locks; there is a series of locks in the magistrates courts, and we must trust our magistrates to look fairly and objectively at the evidence before putting in place an order, which I say will deter young people from causing a tragedy to themselves or other people. Only if that order is breached will we be talking about a custodial sentence. Orders will be reviewed if they are longer than 12 months, and they can be varied too. To me, they make absolute sense.
I will conclude by explaining why I feel so passionately about this issue. We can talk about long-term interventions, but the reality for young people who carry knives is that one mistake leads to loss of life—either theirs or others’. The impacts of that are dramatic. In 2007, the number of knife crime-related homicides was high—it was 272. We —both Labour and Conservative Governments—brought it down to 186 in 2015. It has now risen to 285 killings in the last year, which is the highest since records began in 1946. Something has to be done, and done now.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; YOTs will be consulted. I do not agree with the idea of having a more specific order, because that would tie the whole process up in knots, whereas this needs to be a fluid process. YOTs would indeed be consulted, and then appropriate adults—youth workers—would supervise any requirements under the order.
These interventions can help people turn their lives around. I spent five years working in a youth organisation that was trying to turn young people’s lives around and stop them making these mistakes. We helped with their education and encouraged them to put their energy into sports, performing arts, environmental projects, and so on—something that could turn them away from a life of crime and give them something more interesting, exciting and exacting to work on. That said, we have now regressed. Far too many young people are being attracted by gangs and carrying knives either because of the glamour or as protection. We need to do something now to turn that around and save lives.
As I have mentioned, this is not a new challenge—we estimate that one way or another more than 300 people have returned in the last few years. When someone manages to return, we first make sure, in the interest of justice, that they are questioned, investigated and, where appropriate, properly prosecuted. Where youngsters, in particular, are involved, however, we also make sure they get deradicalisation help through specific programmes; in some cases, through mental health support; and through support in other ways too. In each case, we will work with partners to create a bespoke programme for that individual and do all we can.
I believe that they have been, but I advisedly used “in this jurisdiction” for that purpose.
If we are to start banning things just because of the use to which they might be put, logic could dictate that all firearms should be used, as well as all knives. That is not my idea of a free society.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important clarification.
The National Crime Agency position brief was received by the Library and heavily commented on by shooting experts across the board. The following points are based on their feedback. The NCA brief states that .50 calibre rifles
“are built around enormously powerful cartridges originally designed for military use on the battlefield and to have devastating effect”.
That is true, but it is also true of one of the most common target rifles ever used, the .303 Lee Enfield rifle and one of the most common hunting rifles, the .308, which is also based on a military round. The current full bore civilian target shooting round, at 7.62 mm, is a military round often used in machine guns. The NCA brief further states:
“The propellant mass in a standard M33 .50 calibre ‘ball’ round is nearly ten times as great as that in the standard ‘ball’ round used in the…Army’s primary battlefield rifle, the L85.”
However, that is simply disingenuous, as the 5.56 round used in the L85 is specifically designed to be light and to perform a totally different role from the .50 calibre rifle. In particular, that round is designed to enable large quantities to be carried by troops and is faster firing and easier to use at close quarters, but to say the L85 is any less dangerous as a result is bizarre.
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.
There was also a failure to consider the historic arms position. People should have the right to engage in shooting sports, unless serious possible injury to the public can be proved. I am a Conservative, and Conservatives to my mind do not ban things for the sake of it.
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May I begin by reiterating Labour’s support for the Bill? We gave our support on Second Reading and in Committee, but let me also say how disappointed we have been at the Government’s consistent mismanagement of this important legislation. This should have been a comprehensive and honest response to the horrifying surge in violence that we are seeing in every community in our country. Instead, it is a relatively meagre collection of proposals that, rather than being strengthened in making its way through the House, has been watered down, as the Government have rolled over in response to their Back Benchers.
It is deeply regrettable that the Bill before us is far less effective than what was presented on Second Reading and that, in the Government’s complete paralysis in the middle of Brexit negotiations in their own party, they have refused to listen to the voices of the most senior counter-terror and security experts in the country and instead have once again allowed ideology to win the day.
It is a very sad reflection on our times that matters of great public importance—no task is more important than the Government keeping their citizens safe—are being sacrificed at the altar of Brexit. We have offered our sincere and constructive support throughout the passage of the Bill, supporting the Government’s efforts to respond to the surge in violent crime. We offered our support in Committee and now on Report in their attempt to ban the .50 calibre rifle, but, unfortunately, once again they have proven themselves unable to govern in the national interest, in hock to a group of Members who are prepared to risk public safety.
I did not see that comment as a personal accusation. One thing is clear—the hon. Gentleman has certainly put his view on the record.
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Order. We have lots of Members who wish to speak, so if we can be brief we can try to get in as many as possible.
My hon. Friend may have seen that I sought to intervene on the shadow Minister on this earlier. He may wish to confirm that it is also the case that there are legitimate reasons for wishing to possess these weapons.
I just want to put it on the record that I support shooting and I supported getting rid of this clause, and I do not support Brexit.
The hon. Gentleman may well be coming on to this, but I thank him for giving way. I wonder what evidence he wants if evidence from one of the most senior counter-terrorist police officers in our country is not good enough for him. I wonder why he feels that he maybe knows more about these weapons than they do.
I have been very upset to hear the nature of this debate, because the worst thing for any police officer must be to knock on someone’s front door to tell them that their loved one is a victim of crime. This is not a moment to play party politics at all. All guns are dangerous; all guns are for killing. These things are lethal; they require proper protections. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: what we all want to do is to make it as difficult as possible for these accidents to happen, and a ban is not the right way to achieve that.
Can I just say to Sir Geoffrey that hopefully he will recognise that we have six more Members and the Minister to get in?
It is good to finally get down to further consideration of the Bill, at the third attempt. Let me say at the outset that my party welcomes the Bill. There has been close working between the UK and Scottish Governments in relation to it, and we are largely, but not completely, happy with where it has got to after a pretty thorough Committee stage.
The Bill covers a mixture of reserved and devolved matters, with legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament required for some parts of the Bill. How far the legislation should encroach on devolved issues such as Scots criminal law has been carefully worked through by the Governments to serve specific purposes, and we take the view that that is pretty much as far as the encroachment should go.
There are a number of amendments that I will speak supportively and sympathetically about and will not oppose, but in so far as they are drafted in a way that extends to Scotland, we ultimately take the view they would be better left to the Scottish Parliament to exercise its devolved competence. That includes the three new clauses relating to air weapons. I am sympathetic to what the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) seeks to achieve with those new clauses and the work she is doing, but as she pointed out, the regulation of such weapons was devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which has established a new licensing regime under the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015. For those reasons, as far as Scotland is concerned, we wish to leave any further reform of air weapons licensing and regulation to the Scottish Parliament.
There are other amendments, however, that are clearly in reserved territory and that we will consider supporting, including new clauses 3 and 4. For the sake of time, I will not repeat all the arguments made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). I will simply say that we agree with her analysis.
On high-energy and .50 calibre rifles, having looked at all the evidence in the round, we would have supported the position set out by the Home Secretary and the Minister at every previous stage of the Bill’s passage. We echo much of what the shadow Minister has said today. In Committee, we heard persuasive evidence from the NCA, the National Police Chiefs Council, ballistics experts and counter-terrorism police about the power of these weapons. The evidence we heard was that these rifles are dangerous because of their range and because there is little—perhaps nothing—that the police have in the way of body armour or even protected vehicles that could go up against some of these weapons.
I emphasise that we are not in favour of prohibition for the sake of it. If those same expert witnesses think that an alternative solution to alleviate risk can be found, we will listen. We fully appreciate the impact that this would have on the recreation of a small number of citizens, but it is a small number; we are talking about 18 certificates in Scotland altogether.
The point is that the Home Secretary said he would further consider the proposed prohibition months ago on Second Reading, way back before the summer, yet no amendments were forthcoming before the previously scheduled final stages of the Bill. There has been no adequate explanation of what has changed in the past couple of weeks, and as matters stand, the Bill will leave this place with the prohibition removed but no alternative measures in its place.
The Home Secretary is now going against and ignoring the evidence we received from the NCA, the National Police Chiefs Council, ballistics experts and counter-terrorism police, as well as what I have been told by Police Scotland. I have tried, without success so far, to find out whether any of those witnesses has changed their view. In the absence of any adequate explanation, this reeks of internal party politics trumping important issues of public safety. It is not the right way to make legislation, and it is not the right way to treat the public.
I welcome the right hon. Lady’s support and the work she does on the Home Affairs Select Committee, which she chairs, to scrutinise this type of work. She is right that some of the announcements on the community fund to help with early intervention have focused on big cities, but this is just the start. We have more funding to allocate and are already talking to community groups well spread throughout the country. As I said right at the start, although there has been much debate about London and other big cities—we just heard about Birmingham—that suffer from these crimes, they are widespread and extend to our smaller towns and, in some cases, villages, so we have to look at all parts of the country.
I will say a bit more about that in a moment, but my hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and I am glad that he has focused on it. The Bill does make some changes in relation to high-energy rifles and other such weapons. We based those measures on evidence that we received from intelligence sources, police and other security experts. That said, I know that my hon. Friend and other colleagues have expertise, and evidence that they too wish to provide. I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that I am ready to listen to him and others, and to set their evidence against the evidence that we have received.
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I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As so many others have gone outwith the Bill, I suggest that the Government could at the same time look at the minimum wage legislation, because that would give my constituents an awful lot of help.
The Government could have taken a different approach to the Bill. In my speech before Christmas, I argued that several corrosive substances need to be brought under greater control, including ammonia, sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, as well as sulphuric acid. I am reassured that all those substances have been included in schedule 1 as corrosive products. The list in schedule 1 is new, and does not match the lists in parts 1 to 4 of schedule 1A to the Poisons Act. The Minister could use this Bill or a statutory instrument to move more poisons or chemicals into parts 1 or 2 of schedule 1A to the Poisons Act, meaning that they would require people to have an official licence and photo ID before purchase. That would prevent us having to rely so heavily on retail staff to spot suspicious purchases, and it would restrict these chemicals to the hands of trained professionals who, I presume, will use them safely.
Sulphuric acid has now been moved into part 1 of schedule 1A to the Poisons Act, as I and others have called for. It will require people to have a licence from the end of this week, which is very welcome. My question, however, for the Minister is: why was that decision made for sulphuric acid only, not for the other chemicals I have highlighted? Why not move hydrofluoric acid into part 2 as a regulated poison? It is highly dangerous: as I said in the debate before Christmas, exposure on just 2% of the skin can kill. Why not move ammonia into part 2 as well, given that ammonia was found at 20 out of 28 crime scenes tested by the Met? Perhaps the Department has better evidence about which chemicals are being used in crimes or about those that pose a risk, but if so, I would argue that such a case needs to be made, and made transparently, during the passage of the Bill. That only leaves me to welcome the progress that this Bill represents, although I hope the Minister will agree with me that there are still some serious issues to be addressed.
My hon. Friend is right about this. It is clear from listening to a few words from him and to the previous speaker that the Bill needs a lot of work in Committee. Properly evidenced crimes are clearly being missed by the Bill, yet we are taking out legal protection against a group of people who have never done anything wrong and never will, and who have weapons that are absolutely impractical for any sort of criminal activity. This is just badly thought-out legislation.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some groups representing disabled shooters are concerned that this legislation may particularly affect them, although the Government’s equality statement says that it does not? Does he have a view on that matter?
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government’s latest impact assessment for the Bill suggests that the measure could cost them up to £6 million—not only in compensation for loss of weapons, but through the loss of revenue at Government Ministry of Defence rifle ranges?
I think my hon. Friend means mental health conditions, not medical conditions. Does he agree that, happily, because of our stringent licensing system, evil terrorists are not committing crimes using legally held guns?
A moment ago, my hon. Friend said he did not want to be caricatured, and that is absolutely right. It is important for everybody to understand that this is not a rampant, American, NRA-type debate, but one based on evidence, fact, practical experience and trying to make good law.
My hon. Friend uses the phrase “weapon of choice” among criminals. Is it not an irony that the criminals’ weapons of choice are already banned and are held illegally?
Does my hon. Friend not agree that the three examples he cites are actually applicable to pretty much any weapon, and that, if we concede on that point, perfectly legitimate rifles and shotguns would be at risk of being removed from society all together?
I agree with my hon. Friend 100% on the point he is making. One of the ranges used is in my constituency. In a bizarre way, I would say that when the club is shooting there it is one of the safest places to be, because people are trained and know what they are doing. We should be looking at the security and storage element, not banning these weapons.
I want to express rather more support for the Bill than the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) did, but I will comment just on the elements that deal with corrosive substances. I particularly welcome clause 5, as others have, which creates the new offence of having a corrosive substance in a public place.
A year ago on 21 June, in our borough of Newham, Jameel Muhktar and his cousin, Resham Khan, were sprayed with acid while they were sitting in a car on the way to a party celebrating her 21st birthday. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) said in her excellent speech, after that event there was a wave of revulsion and fear across the borough. Mr Speaker was good enough to grant an Adjournment debate on 17 July, the intention of which was to bring forward proposals in response to that wave of fear. However, by the time we got to that debate, there had been the series of incidents on 13 July, when there were six acid attacks from the back of a moped in the space of 90 minutes across Hackney and Islington, and there was a lot of public interest in this whole issue. One of the two perpetrators involved in the attacks in Hackney and Islington was, we know now, aged 16 at the time, and he pleaded guilty to carrying them out.
In that Adjournment debate, at which my hon. Friend was present, we called for two specific changes to the law. The first was that the purchase of sulphuric acid should require a licence, and, as she pointed out, that has been done through a statutory instrument that will take effect from Sunday. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), in opening this debate for the Opposition, argued that there should be a review of the list of substances in that category under the explosive precursor regulations that require a licence to be purchased. I agree with her and I am very pleased that sulphuric acid has been added to that list, but we need to look at what else should be there as well.
The second change that we called for was that carrying acid should be an offence, just as carrying a knife is, and I am very pleased that that is included in clause 5. I thank the Minister for successfully delivering that change. She and I would probably both have been pleased had the legislation been introduced a bit faster, but I am very pleased that it is before the House today. I am also grateful to her for keeping me and other Members informed about the progress in working up the legislation.
I have some detailed questions, however. Clause 1 bans the sale of corrosive products to persons under 18. As we have been told, the products are listed in schedule 1. Would it not be better to do that in regulations rather than having a schedule to the Bill, so that the list can be added to or amended? It is unlikely that that list and the particular concentrations that are set out in the schedule will be the last word. I am interested to know how the particular list of concentrations was come up with, for example. It looks a bit arbitrary. There may be some reason for choosing those concentrations, and if so I would like to know what it is. This looks like the kind of thing we sometimes chide Ministers for wanting to put in regulations, but in this case I think there could be a good case for doing it through regulations so that it can be changed at a later date. It seems a bit odd that as things stand, any change to the list of substances or concentrations would require another Act of Parliament, so I wonder why it has been done in that way and whether it ought to be done in regulations instead.
Clause 5 bans having corrosive substances—not corrosive products—in a public place and it tells us that a corrosive substance is a substance capable of harming human skin by corrosion. I presume that means that it covers substances not on the list in schedule 1. It seems a bit odd to have two different definitions of “corrosive substance” in two different parts of the Bill, one in schedule 1 and one defined as causing corrosive harm to human skin. Clause 5 does not refer to schedule 1. Does the Minister expect the police in practice to use schedule 1 to work out which products are covered by clause 5, or does she expect them to come up with a different list? It seems a little untidy to have two definitions.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and others, I think it would be better to ban sales to under-21s, rather than under-18s. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley rightly suggested that the current restrictions, which the Bills extends, on knives in schools and further education colleges ought to apply to corrosive substances. What we already do for knives should apply as well to acid. I would hope that that extension could be made.
Acid Survivors Trust International has rightly made the case that more needs to be done to address the impact of acid attacks, which, as we all recognise, can be horrifying. The number of attacks in London nearly trebled between 2014 and 2017. I tabled a series of parliamentary questions last month to try to understand the economic impact of acid attacks—the cost to the police, the cost to the health service and the cost of imprisoning people who carry them out—and all received the answer: Ministers do not know what the impacts are. The Home Office does not collect national statistics on acid attacks. I think it should. We ought to make that addition to the statistics collected. In April, the Department asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to undertake a data-collection exercise on acid attacks. Will the Minister tell us what came out of that exercise and whether she will consider adding these figures to those routinely collected by her Department? We should have a more systematic way of knowing the scale of this crime.
I pay tribute to Jabed Hussain, whom I believe the Minister has met. He is a moped delivery driver in London who was the victim of an acid attack and subsequently organised other drivers into what he calls the Workers Union London. He argues, correctly I think, that changes to the law, while very welcome—and I certainly welcome what is proposed in the Bill—will not solve the problem on their own. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley made this point powerfully. As Jabed Hussain points out, the scale of police cuts in London has made the problem significantly worse. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner herself has acknowledged that the cuts to police numbers have undoubtedly contributed to the surge in violent crime, and those cuts need to be reversed. Jabed Hussain also makes the point that we are nowhere near addressing the scale of the physical and psychological damage suffered by acid attack victims and their families, and that the children of victims need help, too, yet there is nothing available for them at the moment.
There is a correlation between gang membership and the use of acid as a weapon, as others have suggested. The Government’s efforts to step up their response to gangs will be crucial. I welcome the establishment of the centre in London to deal with the county lines issue around the country.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister, but I think that, alongside the Bill, an enormous amount more needs to be done.
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My hon. Friend is right. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), was a prosecuting barrister in a previous life. She will know, as lots of other people do—[Interruption.] Ah, here she is; she arrives. As if by magic, my hon. Friend is summoned up. I was just saying that, in a previous existence, she was a prosecuting barrister, and I know—not least because she has told me this on so many occasions—that she will appreciate the importance of evidence. We are making law, and as important as the issues are that we are seeking to address, the law has to be based on evidence.
It may well be that there are certain things that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench cannot tell the House: there may be evidence from the National Crime Agency and others that it would be entirely inappropriate to share with those who are not Privy Counsellors, or whatever. However, I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier). Like colleagues, I have yet to find any canon of persuasive evidence that does not lead me, for what that is worth, to the conclusion that if we harry and pursue the softest targets—those who have a licence, those obeying the law to the letter and those who have clearly indicated, in response to consultation, their willingness to go the extra mile in terms of security, vetting, referencing and so on and so forth—they will be the ones most affected, without the concomitant benefit of increasing safety on our streets.
If there is evidence telling us that a whole cadre of crimes is committed on our streets by people who are licensed to have a shotgun or other firearm, clearly the House will need to recalibrate its message on that point.
My hon. Friend is right about that. Those who see these things as the opening of a Pandora’s box are often right to see proposals in that way, and I am inclined to think that we are not necessarily looking at this from the right end of the telescope. I would much prefer a far more rigorous approach to sentencing, so that it actually acts as a deterrent, and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and others have intimated the same. I am not convinced that the criminal minds, the modern-day Fagins who recruit these often vulnerable youngsters to commit these crimes to aggrandise the Fagins of, particularly but not exclusively, the drug world, will give tuppence ha’penny about what statute law says. If they want to get hold of a shotgun or something else, they will jolly well do it. We need to be focusing a lot more attention on sentencing than we have hitherto.
Obviously, we have do this as part of a legislative mosaic, which, as others have said, calls for even greater intergovernmental and cross-departmental working. The Times has been running an interesting series of articles this week. It has alluded to all the things that we know about gang culture—family breakdown, the lack of feeling of belonging, a lack of aspiration, poor educational attainment, and that self-breeding fear and anxiety that says, “I live in an unsafe area so I must tool up to protect myself.” In that way, the cycle just continues and continues. A lot of additional work needs to be done and other Departments need to be involved in it.
I wish to say a few words about the impact on small businesses. I do not understand the logic of a lot of these proposals on where and how one can sell, and on not delivering to a residential address. I am sure the Minister will be able to fill, to the point of overflowing, the lacuna in my knowledge of this, but I cannot understand the differential in respect of being able to have something delivered to a business premises or a post office, but not being able to have it delivered to one’s own personal address—likewise, where the Bill says that even if someone has ordered something online, they have to collect it from the branch. That is fine for national operators, but I have received a number of representations on this. Some have come from Mr Duncan Chandler, an artisan manufacturer of woodland and survival knives in my constituency, who is anxious about this matter and the impact it has on his business. Others have come from Mr Philip Hart, who runs the excellent Harts of Stur, 80% of whose kitchenware, which includes knives, is sold online across the country—the company has only one branch and it is in North Dorset. I ask the Minister to think in Committee about the definition of “knife”. I am talking about rather peculiar things here and am flicking through my notes to try to find the reference point I was looking for but I cannot. I shall say merely refer to a constituent of mine who manufactures and sells straight razors for wet shaving. Are they to be included in the definition of “knife” or not? Will they fall within the new requirements?
In conclusion, I support this legislation. If it is pressed to a Division, I shall certainly vote in favour of its Second Reading, but with a presumption that there will be some fairly dramatic changes in Committee: a greater understanding of the needs and difficulties of small businesses in particular, and an element of rural proofing. We are trying to address a national issue, but as it stands the Bill does not reflect some of the differentials between urban and rural living. I draw comfort from the fact that the Minister understands rural issues to her fingertips, representing, as she does, the second most beautiful part of the country after North Dorset.
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As I suggested, there is a social context that gave birth to the Bill—a huge increase in violent crime and fatalities in London. The two things, as I said, are related. If the Government are trying to address the issue of knife crime and fatalities in our capital, it is beyond my imagination to understand why .5 calibre guns should be banned as proposed in the Bill.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State has openly and generously offered to meet MPs and other people for a wider consultation on the details in the Bill.
That is a legitimate point. I hope that many of these difficulties and anomalies will be ironed out in Committee, because the Bill as drafted raises some interesting questions and, dare I say it, has a number of holes.
Broadly, we have to accept that something had to be done. The new spate of acid attacks is largely unprecedented. I understand, as a point of history, that in the 19th century people used sulphuric acid and other noxious substances in this way, but for our generation this is completely unprecedented, and it is quite right for the Government to legislate to curtail the sale of this offensive weapon.
Broadly, this is a good Bill and I am fully happy to support its Second Reading, as I suspect are the vast majority of Members on both sides of the House, but I urge Ministers to consider some of the objections made in this wide-ranging and stimulating debate to certain of its provisions.
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Indeed she and my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), for Hendon (Dr Offord) and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) all focused on the importance of local policing and local leadership in policing. We introduced police and crime commissioners to enable local people to have the power to influence policing in their local area. Of course, I very much enjoy working with the Mayor of London and, as far as we are concerned, more power to his elbow when it comes to local policing.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention and for his contribution. He and I have been in constant conversation about this for some time. He will forgive me for not committing to changing the Bill on the Floor of the House, but we are in listening mode. Indeed, I was in listening mode when my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made a typically robust but thoughtful contribution, and it may be that we work together on looking into that.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to make that point. Some people have already made similar comments, but clearly that is not the intention behind the Bill, and there are safeguards in place. I welcome his overall support for the Bill. This is why it is important to debate these issues and for Parliament to come to a collective decision. I am quite open to ideas from parliamentarians, and perhaps in Committee we can look more closely at these provisions to ensure that we have the balance right.
I will give my hon. Friend two responses. First, he may know that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is looking separately at the whole issue of internet safety and potential legislation, which I am sure he will discuss with the House at the right time. Secondly, I was in silicon valley just last week to meet all the big internet and communications companies. While recognising that they have done a lot to remove terrorist content, especially in the past year, there is still a lot more that can be done. Those efforts will continue beyond the Bill, and given the meetings that the US Homeland Security Secretary and I have had with those companies, I hope that we will be able to announce in due course further measures that they will take to do just that.
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To be absolutely clear, what the right hon. Gentleman referred to as the three clicks approach—let us call it the multiple viewing approach—is absolutely the right one, which is why it is in the Bill. From the discussions that I and the Minister for Security and Economic Crime have already had with colleagues on both sides of the House, I think that it commands a wide body of support in the House, and that will of course be tested during the passage of the Bill.
The wider issues of internet regulation—those applying not just to terrorist content, but to child sexual exploitation, serious violence, gang violence and such offences—and the collective harms of some internet content are together being looked at by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, and I believe that a consultation is going on at the moment. That is the right place to look at those issues, because the kind of regulation mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman is not covered by the Bill.
As my hon. Friend knows, because I have already said it, I met the companies he has mentioned and others last week. This was the only topic that we discussed: the meetings were very focused on terrorist content on the internet. He is right to point out that, through voluntary action and persuasion, a lot has already been achieved, and all these companies understand that legislation has not been ruled out.
My hon. Friend asked me to say a bit more about some of the newer work that the companies are doing, but I hesitate to do so. That sort of thing should be announced at the right time, because it requires international co-ordination. There is a lot more work, and I will say that a lot more effort is going into the use of both machine learning and artificial intelligence to deal with this very important issue. I must now make progress, because a number of Members wish to speak in this debate.
The Bill will extend the ability of police and prosecutors to bring charges for terrorist offences that are committed overseas. It is not of course for the law enforcement agencies in this country to police the world, but if someone travels from the UK and commits a terrorist offence abroad, it is right that they are brought to justice if they return here. This is already the case for many terrorist offences, but there are a few gaps in the coverage. That is why the Bill extends the jurisdiction of the UK courts to cover further terrorist offences that are committed abroad, including the dissemination of terrorist publications and the possession of explosives for the purposes of an act of terrorism.
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I said quite clearly that we would seek to review it. We could not at this point press the pause button, but the data we have about the effectiveness of deradicalisation programmes and what we know about how Prevent is regarded in some parts of the community means that we would want to review it.
One of the most worrying aspects of the Bill is the creation of powers of detention, interrogation, search or seizure without any suspicion whatever of crime, but simply while people are crossing borders. That is to treat anyone, British citizen or not, as a potential terrorist simply in the act of crossing the border. Such powers should be granted only with due care. All inhibitions on the rights of the citizen by the state must be based on evidence or reasonable grounds for suspicion. They must be subject to challenge—[Interruption.] I hope the House will allow me to conclude my remarks. If suspicion-free detention, interrogation and search is allowed, then it cannot be challenged. If there is no basis for challenge, there is likely to be no basis for detention. How does that accord with the Government’s claim to be building a new, global Britain?
I think I have said three times that we broadly support the Bill in principle, but we are Her Majesty’s Opposition and we are entitled to set out our reservations on Second Reading.
There is much in the Bill about increasing sentences for terrorism-related activity. I say seriously to the Home Secretary that he also needs to look at what more could be done to guard against radicalisation in prison. A certain amount has been done in trying to separate imams and so on from other prisoners, but the fact is that too many young men not of a Muslim background get caught up in extremist ideology while behind bars. We cannot continue to have a situation where people emerge from prison more radicalised than when they went in.
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Terrorism blights lives and in some cases, of course, it takes lives. We have already heard from Members on both sides of the House about the appalling events of the last year, and they will be in all our minds as we debate these measures. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was right to focus on the events in Manchester, not because any terrorist event is greater or less than any other, but because of the chilling image of those children, which she rightly focused on in her remarks.
Terrorism is not just about the people whose lives are lost. All of us are affected by it, including those who are related to the people who died, those in their communities, those in the wider network of people who came into contact with these events—the emergency services have been mentioned—and others. All of us are a little diminished, are we not, when these things happen in our country? Fear is spread. Doubt is fuelled. That is part of the terrorists’ aim, of course: to intimidate us, change us and frighten us. It is right to say that in our response, we must be mindful of the need to retain the freedoms that terrorists seek to extinguish. Nevertheless, it is equally true that we must ensure that we are well equipped to deal with terrorists as they change their modus operandi.
There are two things that have altered most about terrorism in recent times. The first is the terrorists’ ability to communicate their message using modern methods—to proselytise, to convert, to recruit. They do that by messages and images, and modern media is such that it can be done much more easily than in years gone by. They are ruthless and merciless in the way they go about that business. When I was the Home Office Minister responsible for security, I was well aware of the good work that is done in Government to deal with that, but it is a constant challenge. Every day images are put up, and every day they are countered or we aim to get them taken off the internet. They only have to be there for a very short time to have their effect, or their possible effect, as they are digested by vulnerable people.
The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington also talked about the young people who are referred to the Prevent strategy, and I want to return to that in a moment. Young people, in particular, are at the greatest risk. They are impressionable and vulnerable. They may simply be lonely and in need, and the terrorist acts much like any other kind of social or cultural predator. They recruit by corrupting. They seek to own that young person, and once they own them, they direct them with wicked purpose. There are parallels with other kinds of corruption. People are recruited in the same way by sexual predators: they are groomed. We know this from evidence that has been brought before the House, from the work of Select Committees and from the Home Office.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that it is both our responsibility and our duty to ensure that all those missions to keep young people and others safe are best equipped to do so not only by their training and skills, but also by the legislation that underpins their work. Successive Governments have recognised that over time. Indeed, it is a sad strength of this country that we have more experience of dealing with terrorism than most others, because of the events in Northern Ireland. That knowledge and understanding of terrorism has allowed us to develop skills that other countries do not always have—as I said, it is a matter of sadness that we should have had to do so. None the less, those skills have to be updated and refined over time, for the other principal change in terrorism is that terrorists have become more flexible.
Countering terrorism is largely about trying to anticipate events. The Contest strategy is about prevention—it is about anticipation as well as response—and anticipating events is, in essence, rooted in the idea that patterns of behaviour and likely courses of action can be measured. When terrorists become less predictable, they are harder to counter, and they have become less predictable over time as the more recent terror events show. For example, let us take the use of vehicles as a weapon—it sounds pretty straightforward, does it not? It is horrible, of course, in its effect. Vehicles are routine things that can be obtained without too much fuss or bother, and once someone knows that they merely need a vehicle rather than a bomb, they know that they can go about their deadly business, as we saw in Westminster and elsewhere. That additional flexibility—that new approach by the terrorists—requires laws that are fit for purpose and which allow us to respond to the changing character of terrorism. That is what has been brought before the House today.
I was pleased as a Minister to bring the Investigatory Powers Bill—now the Investigatory Powers Act 2016—to the House. It was very challenging because, of course, questions were asked about it. The right hon. Lady spoke about scrutiny and the role of the Opposition. She knows that the Opposition and I worked very closely together on that Bill. The Government made key changes as the Bill made its way through the House, because we recognised that part of the Opposition’s role is to challenge and oblige Government to question themselves about the appropriateness of various aspects of what they are proposing. We ended up with a good piece of legislation, which has further enabled the security services and police to go about their business in respect not just of terrorism, but of serious organised crime. This Bill is very much in the same spirit. It updates the legislative basis on which our security services and the police can do their work by recognising the changes in the pattern of behaviour of those we face.
The Secretary of State went through the details of the legislation—I have it all here, but to do so again would both be tedious and, I suspect, would test your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker, given the overture at the beginning of the debate that many wanted to speak and none should do so for too long.
Yes, that did happen, but I would go as far as to say—reflecting what Andrew Parker said—that the scale of what we now face and its character is unprecedented in modern times. I am cautious about being too definitive about these things, because it is never wise to be so, but I defer to the man who runs MI5, who is closest to these matters. I think that we are facing new challenges of the kind that we have never really seen before. To go back to my earlier remarks, when we think of Irish terrorism, there was, for the most part, a degree of predictability, and the key difference with terrorism then was that most of the terrorists did not want to risk their own lives. They wanted to save the lives of the operatives. That is a fundamental difference from the sort of terrorism that we have seen in more recent years. There are also differences in the command structure of terrorism in Ireland compared with what we now face. Many of the terrorists that we seek to counter, and which this legislation addresses, are people who have been radicalised in their own home. They are inspired by rather than part of an organised network. Given what I said about the availability of weapons, in that a vehicle can be a weapon, one can imagine the damage that an inspired terrorist, possibly unknown to the security services and police until they commit the act, might do.
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Since this is the first time that I have seen you since the weekend, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I start by congratulating you on your damehood? I am sure that it is much deserved.
The Bill follows up on the 2017 Queen’s Speech and reviews our approach to counter-terrorism. Its specific purpose is to amend certain terrorism offences to update them for the digital age, to reflect contemporary patterns of radicalisation and to close gaps. I will comment first on the potential for the prison system to add to radicalisation. I am a member of the Justice Committee, and we have never made a prison visit without raising the question of the radicalisation of prisoners, which is everywhere in the prison system. The prison officers we speak to are trying their best to deal with it, but there is great difference in the levels of success. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) was right to refer to the issue, which we ought to be taking seriously and considering carefully to ensure that everything is taken into account.
I thank my hon. Friend. In fact, in my notes for this debate I have written next to my previous point “so they will be more radicalised by spending more time in prison.” By extending prison sentences, we run the risk that prisoners will be more susceptible to the influences that will affect the radicalisation process. We need to address that matter in total from the beginning.
I was pleased to be able to intervene on the Home Secretary to get him to confirm that the Bill aims to reduce the risk from terrorism to the UK’s interests overseas. That fits in with the Contest strategy, to which the explanatory notes refer. I point to the UK’s enormous commercial interests in many parts of the world, including the middle east and Israel, that are under threat from terrorist activity. Those in Israel are under particular threat of terrorism from Lebanon. As we have discussed on many occasions, Hezbollah has long insisted that its military and non-military activities are indivisible. At the al-Quds Day rally this weekend, we saw the waving of flags of the alleged non-military wing of Hezbollah, but Hezbollah in its entirety meets the test for full proscription, which would then make it subject to the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister for Security and Economic Crime will refer to that in his summing up and mention whether an amendment to the Bill might proscribe the whole of Hezbollah. That would certainly send a strong message that, together with America, Canada and the Netherlands, we abhor terrorism in any form. It would also recognise that terrorist attacks on British interests overseas must be taken into account.
The Bill rightly points to the need to amend terrorist offences to update them for the digital age, as I said, and the need to then keep them updated. The reaction to terrorism is international, and if the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism is to mean anything, we need international co-operation and international action. If an individual commits a terrorist offence in a foreign country, they should be liable under UK law as if they had committed the offence in the UK. The explanatory notes refer to the Council of Europe’s convention, and I hope that this is last debate on this subject that does not mention the Council and its role in producing that convention. We are part of the Council of Europe—we were a founding member—and it plays an enormous role in sorting out such issues across Europe. Terrorism is a major subject for the Council of Europe, and during debates there I have been critical of the approach taken, for example, by the Belgian Government, who did not take the necessary steps to prevent terrorist activity on their own soil.
We can learn a lot from the international comparisons that we see at the Council of Europe, and I will provide a couple of examples. First, we could limit the finances of Daesh, which uses the internet to gain money and move it about. The Council has considered ways of preventing such movement. Secondly, the Council has considered cyber-attacks, which can have an enormous impact on the UK. A cyber-attack on an air traffic control system would cause absolute havoc, for example. I am also sure that everyone will agree with the Council of Europe’s “Terrorism: #NoHateNoFear” campaign.
In many ways, the opening paragraphs of the convention on the prevention of terrorism anticipate what is in the Bill, stating that no terrorist act can be justified by
“political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious”
considerations—there are no excuses for terrorism. Whatever the purpose behind an act of terrorism, we must ensure that we respect the rule of law, democracy and human rights, because otherwise we become just like the terrorists. That is a difficult thing for western democracies to do, but unless we do it, we are no better than the terrorists, and I hope we are considerably better than them.
We cannot do away with the values we hold dear in order to fight terrorism. The convention on the prevention of terrorism makes much of the need for international co-operation, and it encourages the public to provide factual help. I commend the Council of Europe’s excellent work to influence the sort of line we in the UK are taking in putting forward a strategy that is convincing in dealing with terrorism while having the necessary effect to make that help happen.
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I come to this debate wanting to be positive about attempts by the Government to give our police and security forces the powers that they need in the fight against terrorism and to balance that with the equal priority of ensuring that we do not hit our civil liberties and therefore give the terrorists a victory. Already we have heard how different aspects of this Bill will be judged by those tests.
No one who witnessed the horrors in London and Manchester last year can be in any doubt that we need to redouble our efforts to protect the public. The evidence is clear, and the terrorist threat across the UK remains severe. With that threat morphing into a diverse range of threats, including people acting alone, and with the numbers involved increasing, if anything, the terrorist threat for our security forces and the police is probably the most difficult it has ever been.
Liberal Democrats will not, at this early stage, seek to oppose this Bill, but Ministers and those watching this debate should not take that as agreement, in full or in part, to these proposed laws. We need to scrutinise the Bill to make sure that we get the balance right. It is already clear from this debate that there are serious questions whether some of these proposed laws are necessary, whether they are properly based on sound evidence and whether there are sufficient safeguards to prevent their being abused against totally innocent citizens. The Government may have a job in persuading this House and the other place that these measures should pass totally unamended in the form that we see them tonight.
In considering yet another piece of terrorism legislation, the House should recall the opinion of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Max Hill, when he was appointed just over a year ago. He said that he thought that the UK had sufficient offences in the fight against terrorism and that we did not need any more. In a speech in October last year, he said:
“I would suggest that our legislators have provided for just about every descriptive action in relation to terrorism, so we should pause before rushing to add yet more offences to the already long list.”
In his early comments on this Bill, he has gone on to say that
“the Counter-Terrorism Bill does not contain a single new terrorist offence.”
This assessment may seem at odds with what Ministers have sought to persuade the House that they are doing and with complaints by organisations such as Liberty. How Max Hill squares this circle is quite important. He believes that the Bill is only clarifying what is meant by existing offences. Let us see in debate whether it is simply a clarification or whether we are creating new offences.
Clause 3, which is about obtaining or viewing material over the internet, brings in the three click rule that we talked about earlier. The question for the House is whether we think that the line between committing a criminal offence punishable by years in prison is one extra click of a mouse, such that someone moves from innocent at two clicks to guilty at three. There is good reason for the House to scrutinise this, because it is about the intention behind the clicks as opposed to the clicks themselves.
On one level, it might seem reasonable to question the motives of someone who continually looks at violence and hate-inciting material. But what if the intention of that person was never one of pursuing actual terrorism? Perhaps they were a journalist; we have heard that there are protections for journalists. What if the person was so shocked and appalled by the material that they were drawn to look at it again, in their disapproval? We need to make sure that genuinely innocent people are not caught. I was quite pleased by the way that the Home Secretary responded to that point, because it did appear that he was open to genuine scrutiny of it. That is very welcome.
We need to make sure that we abide by the normal ways in which we approach free speech. We usually criminalise free speech only if there is an intention to promote harm, violence and hatred, or to carry out terrorist acts as a result of viewing the material. There is potentially a danger that this proposal crosses a line, so we need to look at it in detail.
In my early reading of these proposals, I have had a few other concerns. The hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) talked about how important biometric data can be, and he is absolutely right. However—he touched on this in a very thoughtful speech—there are issues of innocent people’s biometric data being retained, such as people who have never committed a crime or people who have been unlawfully or wrongly arrested. Should their DNA—their biometric data—be kept by the police? Possibly for a short period, but what will be the rules on checking that their civil liberties and rights are not constrained and that that biometric data is disposed of in a correct and verifiable way when it is clear that they have nothing to do with any such crimes?
I am not just worried about civil liberties in this regard; I am also worried about the impact on the Government’s negotiations for an EU-UK security partnership should Brexit actually happen. Ministers will know, whether from debates over the general data protection regulation or recent European Court of Justice rulings, that the UK may struggle to get an adequacy agreement from the Commission. The recent immigration data exemption from data rights such as subject access requests are very likely—rightly, to my mind—to be sounding alarm bells at the Commission. Yet it is super-vital to our fight against terrorism and against organised crime, vital for this country’s security, that the data flows between the UK and the rest of the EU, whether the data relates to the work of Europol, Prüm, ECRIS—the European criminal records information system—or the Schengen information system II. I am not sure whether the Government, with all the different things they are doing in this area, are presenting a very strong case to our EU colleagues. Will keeping the DNA of innocent EU citizens help our case for an adequacy agreement? Will the Minister say whether an assessment has been made of how this Bill will affect the UK’s chances of securing this vital adequacy agreement, so that we can keep those data flows going to get these wicked people?
My concern about safeguards relates to the way in which the Home Office often operates. In Westminster Hall this coming Wednesday, there will be a debate about section 22, paragraph 5 of the immigration rules, whereby they are used to refuse leave to remain in this country on the basis that the applicant is somehow a threat to national security. This immigration rule has been used when applicants have committed minor tax offences—conduct that was not foreseen when Parliament gave the Home Office these powers. When we debate new rules and new powers for officials, we have to make sure that there are safeguards so that they are not used for unintended purposes.
Let me move on to the Contest, or Prevent, strategy. The Home Secretary seemed rather complacent that all was well with this strategy. When we look at the perception and experience of some people, we might think that expanding referral rights to local authorities seems a terribly modest measure—I know that the Security Minister thinks so—but the question is, how it will be perceived? Although I am sure that the Minister believes that the measure is harmless, if it is based on the assumption that there are many communities out there who think that Prevent is fine, that is an incorrect assumption. For many communities, rightly or wrongly, Prevent is a flawed programme. As I said to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), this may be a matter of perception.
I absolutely accept that there are many successful individual projects and areas of work within the Prevent programme. No one can deny that. However, a long list of organisations inside and outside this House have pointed to how Prevent has alienated at least some communities. We should think about that before we act. The Home Affairs Committee has warned about this, as have the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the National Union of Teachers, Muslim community associations and the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. All these people have expressed worries about how the Prevent programme is seen. Given those widely held concerns, I am surprised that the Government are choosing this moment to expand the programme.
Surely it would be far better to restore confidence and trust before involving people’s local council. Many of us would support an independent review of the Prevent strategy, as the shadow Home Secretary said, and I hoped that the Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism might lead on that. I hope that the Government will reflect on that matter further before pursuing it.
There are clauses in the Bill that one really welcomes, such as clause 19, through which the Government are attempting to improve the system of insurance against terrorist acts. We have heard other Members comment on that. I want the Minister to look specifically at the problems that small businesses and larger businesses involved in hiring and leasing vans and cars are getting into. This is a real concern for them, and I know they are lobbying the Treasury on it. After relatively recent changes in the law, those businesses face unlimited liability if the person who rented or leased a van goes on to use it to commit a terrorist act. Because of the unlimited liability, those businesses’ insurers are saying, “We’re not going to insure you.” If a whole sector is hit because it cannot get insurance, that is a huge problem for our whole economy and society. There may be industry and private sector solutions—I am told that there may be a mutual arrangement in the sector—but if that does not work out, the Bill may be a vehicle to tackle that problem, so that terrorists cannot undermine our economy indirectly in that way.
The last measures I would like to talk about are clauses 1 and 2. As we have heard, clause 1 extends the existing offence of inviting support for a proscribed organisation, so that a person commits that offence if they show support for a proscribed organisation and are reckless in that expression of support. I intervened on the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) on the issue of recklessness, but he may have misunderstood me; he is not in his place, so he cannot respond. Clearly the concept of recklessness exists in law at the moment and is used particularly in relation to the actions that he cited. However, even judging whether people have behaved recklessly in physical acts of violence is pretty controversial, because it is not seen as terribly objective. Different interpretations of recklessness in relation to physical violence—the Caldwell and Cunningham versions—have been found by the courts. That test is much more difficult when applied to speech. If it is subjective with respect to actions, its subjectivity in terms of speech and the impact of that speech on other people seems very difficult to measure. We will have to look at that in some detail.
Clause 2 relates to how clothing might be linked to a proscribed organisation. My concern is how general the clause is. The Minister will know that there are 88 proscribed organisations. I think all of us would be extremely worried if people were going around with flags and encouraging people to join some of those organisations, but when was that list last looked at?
I will give one example from Sri Lanka that may be controversial among some Members. I think the last Labour Government were wrong to proscribe the LTTE, or the Tamil Tigers. It has committed some horrific acts and atrocities—there is no doubt about that—but it was involved in what many people regard as a civil war. In this country there are British Tamils who have become refugees and Sri Lankan asylum seekers who support the aims of the Tamil Tigers, but not its methods, and for them, it is a political movement. I have met young Tamils living in the UK who wear T-shirts bearing one of the emblems of the Tamil Tigers, which is a roaring tiger head with two rifles. I have refused their kind offer of such a T-shirt and have not worn one, but I do not think their offer of a T-shirt should be punishable by a prison term. Does the Minister think that wearing such a T-shirt of a proscribed organisation will result in the arrest of those people? Will individuals wearing clothing with Tamil Tiger emblems put their liberty in danger if the Bill is passed?
Those are the sorts of question we will have to subject the Bill to as it is debated. I know the Minister is a reasonable and thoughtful man who will want to avoid unintended consequences and injustices, and perhaps he will be able to satisfy us on the concerns we have raised this evening.
In concluding, I would simply like to quote from a letter to The Times last year signed by leaders of the legal professions and organisations such as Liberty and JUSTICE. They wrote:
“Suggestions made before the general election, that human rights prevent the police fighting terrorism, are misguided…Human rights exist to protect us all. Weakening human rights laws will not make us safer. Terrorists cannot take away our freedoms—and we must not do so ourselves.”
The first duty of any state is to protect its citizens. Historically, this has meant protecting ourselves from other states. That is still relevant today, but increasingly the threat is from terrorism, whether generated here or internationally. Is that going to diminish in the near future? Not from the evidence I have seen.
I would like to begin by adding my thanks to the members of the security and emergency services who reacted so professionally to last year’s tragic events in Manchester and London. We should not forget that members of our police, security agencies and armed forces keep us safe 24 hours a day. We should not take that for granted. The reaction to such events tends to be to want more legislation, but Dave Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, got it right when he said that the necessary legislation already exists. The intention of the Bill is to tighten up existing legislation. I broadly welcome the provisions in it.
It is clear that radicalisation is taking place through the internet. Dissemination of propaganda is not new. In times past, it would been done through pamphlets, books and meetings. In the 1790s, sedition Acts targeted radicals who argued for revolution from France. Throughout history, Governments have introduced various Acts to try to stop the spread of terrorism and what has been perceived to be radical thoughts against the interests of their citizens.
The situation today is rather different. Online radicalisation is not something we can put our hands on—we cannot put our hands on a book or a pamphlet; we cannot close down a meeting—and it is an international global phenomenon. The access point is relatively low. Sophisticated equipment is not needed to produce a video and upload it. It can be done using a smartphone or even a simple watch on one’s wrist. That is very different from what we talked about in relation to the Terrorism Act 2000. That shows the rate of change. It is right for the Government to react to this type of threat and to the changing way in which this type of radicalisation and propaganda is being put out there.
Another side to this issue, which is not covered in the Bill, although it would be interesting to know what the Government are considering, is terror and finance. I know the Government have taken some steps, but if we look at the open source literature, we see that the dark net is being used to raise money for terrorism organisations and organised crime. This is an area seen to be beyond the reach of law enforcement. In terms of extending that reach, I support the proposal in the Bill for extra-territorial reach to enable actions to be brought against those who radicalise individuals from overseas. This has been an issue. Those returning from Syria, Iraq and other places have been using that so-called safe haven to put out propaganda deliberately aimed at vulnerable people to ensure that they can be radicalised and to incite acts of terrorism here. The change in the Bill that allows those individuals to be prosecuted is right.
Many people who know me know that I am not a bleeding-heart liberal on this subject, but I am a bit concerned about some things in the Bill. There are two issues. First, are the measures practically going to make a difference? Secondly, will they give the opponents not just of this Bill, but of counter-terrorism legislation generally, a club with which to beat the Government? I think the Government have given them that on the viewing of online material, in terms of the three views. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, it would be illegal for someone to view something three times, but it would not be illegal, for example, for Google or another provider to host the material. The problem I have is not necessarily about whether this needs to be looked at—I think it does. However, it comes down to proportionality and whether there is the capability so that this does not overwhelm our security services and police. Clearly, if someone is viewing things on a regular basis and we can build up a picture of what they are doing, we need to have legislation or measures to take against them.
I give credit to the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), for her efforts to try to get internet providers to take such material down in the first place. Hon. Members have spoken in this debate about artificial intelligence and other ways in which this may be done at a quicker pace in future—although sometimes we might want it to stay up longer, so that we can find out who is producing it. However, I want to ask the Government: how is this part of the legislation practically going to make a difference? If it is, the Government will have my 100% support for it, but I think it will be a diversion for campaigners against this entire Bill, which would be unfortunate. The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) is not in his place, but he talked about the issue of intent, and this is about intent. If someone is clearly downloading or sharing information that is already illegal on a regular basis, it is quite right that they are prosecuted, but I just wonder what practical effect the measures will have and whether we have the resources to police this or enact it in the first place.
I want to touch on a couple of other areas in the Bill. One is the management of those convicted of terrorism offences. Many of my constituents would think that if someone has been convicted of terrorism, they should stay in jail for life, never being released, but we know that that is just not practical. The Bill highlights an important point, which is how we manage these individuals once they have served their sentence. I asked the Home Secretary in an intervention earlier whether this would be done in the same way as it is, for example, for sex offenders who are released and monitored in the community, and he said yes. If that is the case, that is a good model, but it is expensive. If we are going to have that type of monitoring—I know it is effective and I know about the good cross-working in my area between the probation service and the local police— I just want to be sure that we have the necessary resources at local level. These individuals will need monitoring in some cases and that will be necessary and right if we are to protect our citizens. Therefore, I welcome that provision, but only with the proper resources at local level to be able to do it.
I support the provisions in the Bill that refer to Channel panels from local authorities. At the moment, the police can make referrals, but many individuals come into contact with other agencies, and there should be a mechanism for referring them to Prevent programmes. My only caveat is that training or some resource has to be provided for local authorities and others to ensure that they understand exactly how the system works.
We debated the entire Prevent programme earlier, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said that it did not have support in certain communities. I recognise that. It is partly down to a sustained campaign by certain organisations to discredit it. I am not opposed to reviewing the situation, but what would we put in its place? There is a lot of talk about the Asian community, but people involved in potential acts of right-wing terrorism are also referred to Prevent. I congratulate the Government on their new emphasis on right-wing terrorism. It is a growing problem not only in this country but across Europe. Some of the groups across Europe are certainly not benign and they commit acts of violence and terrorism not only against local Muslim populations and other minorities but to terrorise other individuals. What then would we put in place of Prevent? I have not heard anyone answer that. I agree with the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). Things can always been improved, and we should always look for improvements, but what would we put in its place?
I am not sure how we tackle this, but I am concerned also about the old issue of vulnerable individuals in communities. At least one of the terrorist outrages last year had a mental health element. We need a mechanism for identifying and helping at-risk individuals who do not come into the orbit of a local authority or the health service. These are very vulnerable individuals whose minds can be preyed upon and used by people with bad intentions. I am not sure how we do that, but we do need to consider it.
On ports, I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who covered the problems very well. I see what the Minister is trying to do, but I cannot see the need for it. It is slapped under the label of state actors, and if it is to deal with that, it has my full support, but I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points. A related matter, and one that raises issues of entry to and exit from this country, is that of closed subjects of interest. From what I have seen, Salman Abedi travelled in and out of this country without ever appearing on any radar screen. There is, then, an issue around monitoring closed subjects and others who could be a threat as they move between countries.
Finally, I want to mention something that is not in the Bill and on which I would welcome the Minister’s response. David Anderson made some very good recommendations in his report. Some were operational issues for the security services and police, but others were around the selling of precursors for explosives, such as fertilizers and peroxide, and the hiring of vehicles. Are the Government yet in a position to look at what David Anderson said about those matters? Will they present proposals to tighten the regulation or monitoring of people who buy the precursors of potential explosive devices, or to deal with issues relating to the hiring of vehicles, which were tragically used in some of the attacks that occurred in 2017?
I broadly welcome the Bill, but it clearly needs more scrutiny. I hope the legislation that eventually emerges is proportionate and, at the end of the day, effective, because that is what we all want. I do not think we will ever be able to prevent every single act of terrorism, but our aim must be to make such acts as hard as possible to commit.