House of Lords
Wednesday 1 March 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.
Oaths and Affirmations
Lord Goldsmith took the oath.
Eating Disorder Services: Men
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve men’s access to eating disorder services.
My Lords, we are committed to ensuring that everyone with an eating disorder has access to timely treatment based on clinical need. Under the NHS long-term plan 2023-24, we will invest almost £1 billion extra in community mental health care for adults with severe mental illness, including eating disorders. Since 2016, investment in children’s and young people’s community eating disorder services has risen every year, with an extra £35 million per year from 2021-22.
As the cricketer Freddie Flintoff showed, anyone can get an eating disorder, but there is very little information about the inequalities in access to community-based treatment and treatment outcomes. Can the Minister say when the national clinical audit which was promised this year by NHS England will take place, so that we can get the proper data that we need and give everyone the service and support they need?
The noble Baroness raises a very good point and gives a well-known example. Sadly, many men suffer from this disease, and there are community groups that help men with mental health issues, including Men’s Sheds. When I was serving in another place, I always made a point of seeing the Men’s Sheds in my constituency and they did an outstanding job in so many places. I cannot give a direct answer to her Question, but I have asked for a specific time when I can answer it in full and, once I have that, I will reply.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the NHS recommends that adult males require, on average, around 2,500 kilocalories a day. Can he therefore explain why the calorie labelling regulations that came into force last year require qualifying businesses to display prominently a statement that adults need around 2,000 kilocalories a day?
The noble Baroness raises a very good point. Sadly, not all manufacturers have gone along with that last legislation to make it crystal clear, notwithstanding the alcohol industry. Many other industries really need to step up to the plate to make sure it is crystal clear what the calorific intake should be per day.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for bringing forward this important Question. We know that boys and men are very unwilling to come forward when there is a problem. What is being done to make schools aware of this problem, and to make teachers aware of how to notice boys who may have a problem with an eating disorder?
I thank my noble friend for that very good point. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening conditions which can affect people of any age, gender, ethnicity or background. People with eating disorders can face stigma, which can stop them reaching out for help and reaching their true potential. We have committed to offer all state schools and colleges a grant to train a senior mental health lead by 2025, enabling them to introduce effective, whole-school approaches to mental health and well-being. This is backed by £10 million in 2022-23. More than 8,000 schools and colleges, including half of state-funded secondary schools, have taken up the offer so far.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, suggested that men may be reluctant to see their doctor or seek advice on some health issues, which has been very well researched. One of the puzzles is why the Government seem to have set their face against establishing a men’s health strategy, given that health outcomes for men can be so poor in so many parts of the country. Will the Minister’s department give this further consideration and come forward with proposals to establish such a strategy?
The noble Lord raises a very good point, which I agree with. I will take his excellent question back to the department and come back to him on it. In terms of this Question, a significant number of young people affected are females and a relatively small part are young men, but the whole strategy will encompass all men and women.
My Lords, as the Minister has just said, around 70% of those affected by eating disorders are girls and women. However, there has also been an increase among young boys and men. Can my noble friend say what relationship boys and men have with their body image and what perception they have of it, in light of their physical and mental health? What specific resources will be dedicated to this issue?
That is another excellent question. Poor body image can affect anyone at any point in their lives. The pressure to achieve an idealised body image has wide-ranging consequences for mental and physical well-being. The growth of social and digital media has increased exposure to images of beauty which are unrealistic and, in some cases, untenable. Body image is recognised as a risk factor for mental health problems and is more commonly identified as a key risk factor for eating disorders and unhealthy eating behaviours. Members with teenage children in their families will know how much time they spend on their mobile devices.
My Lords, the Minister did not answer my noble friend Lady Bull’s question. Calorie labelling talks about a daily intake of 2,000 calories, which is the amount recommended for a woman. For a man, it is 2,500 calories per day. Why is this the case? Will the Minister undertake to change this and make it accurate?
The noble Lord raises a very good point. I apologise to the noble Baroness; I cannot give a specific answer as to why it is 2,000 calories rather than 2,500, but I will ask and come back to her.
My Lords, my noble friend’s Question brought back a memory from my teenage years of being told by a nurse that she would say that I had anorexia but that could not be the case because I was a boy. Fortunately, our understanding has moved on since then and we now recognise that eating disorders can affect everyone, irrespective of gender or age. Does the Minister agree that public health services have a vital role to play in broadening that understanding among the general population? What resources will the Government provide to them for that essential educational work?
The noble Lord raises a very good point. When he and I were young boys, there was not the internet. He shows that this issue did occur before the internet. Under the NHS long-term plan for 2023-24, we will invest almost £1 billion extra funding in community mental health care for adults with severe mental illness, including dietary issues.
Is the Minister aware from his previous experience that there are 12-step recovery programmes available for both overeaters and undereaters? Is he aware that there is an all-party parliamentary group advocating and pressing for these to be extended over a wider area? This is particularly because they are free. If so, would he be prepared to meet the group and talk about what such programmes have to offer?
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that very kind invitation. I would be delighted to attend the APPG.
Does my noble friend agree that community pharmacies are able to provide men, and indeed women, with advice on healthy lifestyles, including on diet? Will he urge the Government to introduce in England a properly financed “pharmacy first” service, as in Scotland, which we know works well, so that services such as those provided in Scotland can be provided in England by all pharmacies so that people can have access to them?
I thank my noble friend for that excellent question. There are over 11,000 community pharmacies in England. All provide advice on healthy living; that is already part of their terms of service. People know and trust their local pharmacies, but people do not always know just what pharmacies are able to do and how skilled pharmacists are in diagnosing minor illnesses. Specifically on “pharmacy first”, we want to go further. We are exploring what more pharmacies could do, learning from the “pharmacy first” approach in Scotland, including enabling the supply of some prescription-only medicines without a prescription.
My Lords, the focus of the Question, and of some of the Minister’s answers, has understandably been on young people; admittedly, eating disorders frequently start in early years but they are lifelong disorders. They can go away and then flare up again when adverse life events cause them to do so. Following on from my noble friend Lord Brooke’s question, can the Minister say what particular kinds of therapy the Government are planning to invest in—he spoke earlier about investment—and what research they have done into the efficacy of different therapies at different points in people’s lives?
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that excellent question. I do not want to mislead the House that this is all about young people. She is right: disorders start in early life but continue through adult life. The Government are taking steps to expand the number of practitioners who can deliver evidence-based psychological interventions intended to treat those with an eating disorder. This includes expanding the number of individual trainees and qualified practitioners who are competent to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders, as well as the Maudsley model of anorexia nervosa therapy in adults.
Prisoners: Imprisonment for Public Protection
To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in developing a new action plan for prisoners serving an indeterminate Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence.
My Lords, the Government committed to reviewing and refreshing the IPP action plan in line with the recommendation of the Justice Select Committee’s IPP report. HM Prison and Probation Service is currently finalising what the action plan should prioritise, the governance needed to oversee its delivery, and how progress will be tracked. The revised action plan will be published by 31 March 2023.
My Lords, the recall of prisoners on licence is crucial to this. Last year was the first year in which the number of prisoners in jail increased since the sentence was abolished in 2012, because of recall. In late 2021, the Government produced figures that appeared to show that, because of recall, the number of prisoners in 2025 would have risen by 2,600. Do the Government still stand by those projections?
My Lords, broadly speaking, in terms of order of magnitude, the projections remain the same. However, it is important to note that those figures to which my noble friend refers do not include the re-release of previously recalled prisoners. In the latest available published statistics for the latest available year, there were 214 IPP prisoners on their first release; 458 prisoners who had previously been recalled but were then re-released; and 622 recalls. I am not sure that I would accept the premise that the prison population is increasing.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his tenacity in relation to the action plan. One simple way of helping to reduce numbers and to free those on licence from what is quite often seen as a tyrannical regime would be to implement the small amendment agreed in this House to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—now Act—for automatic referral at 10 years on licence. That is not currently being implemented. I would be grateful if the Minister would go back and take a look, with the probation service, at why it is not.
My Lords, as far as I am aware, that provision should be implemented. If it is not, that is a matter that I shall investigate and revert to your Lordships.
Recognising the need for public protection, my question relates to the IPP prisoners who are now detained for 10, 12 or 14 years beyond their tariff terms—that is, beyond the punishment they deserve for their offending—because they cannot prove to the Parole Board that they can be released without any risk of reoffending. It is a proof which the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, when he abolished this sentence in 2012, described as “almost impossible”. Do the Government think that is just? If so, will they continue to think it just, however many years may pass—after 15, 20 or 25 years—or do they recognise that there will come a point when it is unjust? If so, when?
In response to the noble and learned Lord, I can say that we started with 6,000 offenders in this category. We now have 1,400 who have never been released. That is because the Parole Board considers them to be a risk to public protection—they have been reviewed, in many cases several times, and that is why they are still there. A further 1,500 have been released, but they have been recalled for various reasons—but they are eligible now for re-release.
My Lords, it is well over 10 years now since I abolished indeterminate sentences with full cross-party support, including the vocal support of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, the Home Secretary who introduced them, because we both agreed that they were being used on a scale, and in a way, that had never been intended or contemplated by Parliament. We never imagined that over 10 years later we would find that over 1,000 people were still serving these sentences, many of them way beyond any minimum sentence that the judge may have recommended when imposing it.
Following on from the last question, I made the mistake of assuming that the Parole Board would steadily release all such prisoners when the time was right, but I also made the mistake of putting the burden of proof on the prisoner to prove that there was no danger. That has failed and there is no point in still defending it. The Government have already rejected resentencing of all the offenders involved. Can the Minister assure me that the plan that is about to be produced will bring an end to the indeterminate, timeless detention of people for whatever crime, some of them quite minor, and replace it with a wholly new sentencing method if indeed some of these people would be a danger if released?
My Lords, the Government are well aware of the difficulties of the situation. Our approach to the present problem is that we cannot contemplate the automatic release of many of those prisoners that a resentencing exercise would involve. What we can do is better prepare them for release, especially with regard to mental health problems, and better look after them “in the community” when they are released, so that they are not available for recall. In that way, the Government hope that these figures will be substantially reduced.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his tenacity on this issue, but the reality is that this group of prisoners is becoming ever more difficult to deal with. They have higher rates of mental health problems, self-harming and suicide, and higher recall rates. That is the reality of what the Prison Service is dealing with. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be specialist training for probation officers to deal with those prisoners, and for mental health workers to understand them, to try to reduce the recall rates when they are released?
My Lords, I can give that assurance. The problem is acute; it gets more difficult as time passes. The need for specialised training and proper attention to these matters is growing. The action plan will include a special supervisory board with specific responsibility for IPP prisoners, with a view to tackling this very difficult problem.
My Lords, in concert with all who have spoken, I suggest that the continued detention of so many IPP prisoners beyond their tariffs shames the criminal justice system. We have been around this course so many times, but do not the Government now appreciate that their lack of progress on this betrays a complete inconsistency? On the one hand, they agree that the abolition of IPP sentences under LASPO should have happened because continued preventive detention for prisoners who had served their time could not be justified, yet on the other they maintain and defend such a system in failing to release almost 3,000 of those prisoners—including those who have been released once—who were sentenced before LASPO but 10 years after those sentences were abolished.
My Lords, the then Government decided that the abolition of the IPP sentence should not be retrospective. The existing IPP action plan has had a certain degree of success, and the revised IPP action plan will, we hope, fully address the problem.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Labour Benches.
My Lords, to simplify the situation and make it abundantly clear: are the numbers rising or lowering in each category?
My Lords, I am not sure I entirely understood the noble and learned Lord’s question.
My Lords, what I want to know is whether the numbers of these prisoners are rising or lowering in each category.
They are currently, in broad terms, about the same. We have 1,400 who have never been released; we have 1,500, roughly speaking, on licence; we are releasing, including rereleases, about 600 a year; and recalls are running at slightly less than that.
Homeless People and Rough Sleeping
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent homeless people who are living in hostels or supported homes in England from being pushed back on to the streets; and what progress they have made with their target to end rough sleeping by 2024.
Yesterday, the annual rough sleeping snapshot statistics were published, which showed a rise in the number of people sleeping rough on a single night. However, the long-term trends show the considerable progress we have made: rough sleeping levels remain 35% lower than at their peak in 2017. But we are not complacent. This Government remain steadfastly committed to ending rough sleeping. We are delivering 6,000 move-on homes through the rough sleeping accommodation programme, and our strategy, published in September last year, outlined how we will invest £2 billion over the next three years.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. My problem is with the extension of homelessness that has taken place—a 34% increase in the number of people facing no-fault evictions, which is the Section 21 that we need to address. We have 125,000 children in temporary accommodation and 100,000 households in temporary accommodation. These are the kinds of figures that are going to drive the Government’s plan for 2024 into the long grass, and I would like to know how they are going to address the increase in homelessness among people who have never, ever come anywhere near it and will end up rough sleeping.
The noble Lord makes some very good points, and there are a number of very complex issues that contribute to the rise in homelessness, particularly in the private rented sector. We shall be legislating on private rented sector reform, and that does remain a top priority for this Government. We will bring forward legislation within this Parliament. On 16 June last year, we published our White Paper, A Fairer Private Rented Sector, which sets out our plan fundamentally to reform the sector and level out housing quality. The Government are committed to banning the Section 21 no-fault evictions to protect tenants and will introduce the renters’ reform Bill in this Parliament.
My Lords, the point that we want to establish is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, knows, rooflessness is very different from homelessness. These latest statistics are very concerning indeed, although the overall trend being 35% down is positive. What I really want to know is whether the Minister knows how many have been sleeping rough a second night, which is obviously even more concerning. Have we made progress in that regard?
The annual snapshot that we take in autumn is our official and most robust measure of rough sleeping on a single night. It is independently verified. I do not have the numbers for those who are out for a second night. But we know that the longer a person stays on the street, the more difficult it becomes to rebuild a life off it. As set out in the cross-government rough sleeping strategy, Ending Rough Sleeping for Good, we will have ended rough sleeping when it is prevented wherever possible and, where it does occur, is rare, brief and non-recurrent. We do have the No Second Night Out initiative, which pays for 14,000 beds and 3,000 support staff this year, with services ranging from emergency interventions to focus on preventions and a more sustained off-the-street accommodation offer with support.
My Lords, this remains a real issue, and the Minister, I am afraid, is being rather complacent. We know that what has happened since 2010 is that there have been unprecedented levels of rough sleeping. We managed, in the early part of the 1997 Government, to reduce rough sleeping almost to nonexistence. We know how to do it. The Government know how to do it, but it is not happening. We now have the additional crisis that so many of the charities that are there to help those who are in most difficulty are going under, and their finances are stretched. The Government have got to do something—just what are they going to do?
We are absolutely not complacent, as I said in my initial Answer. In fact, between October and December, when the snapshot was taken, our management accounts show that homelessness reduced by 27%—although I acknowledge that that is partly as a result of seasonal variations, which happen every year. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 was the most ambitious reform to homelessness legislation in decades. Since it came into force in 2018, over half a million households have been prevented from becoming homeless or have been supported into settled accommodation. As a demonstration of our determination not to be complacent, we have put £2 billion into the fund to help reduce homelessness. The noble Baroness is entirely wrong to use 2010 as a comparator, because that is when the statistics were started on this basis. She might like to know that we are almost up to the level of highest number of households in temporary accommodation, which was in 2004.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the one silver lining of the awful tragedy of the Covid pandemic was the Everyone In project, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey? But the chance to keep every homeless person in was then, frankly, squandered. Will the Minister agree to look into that wasted opportunity—the extraordinary waste of the chance at that particular moment? Will she come back to the House and explain why the Government have wasted that one critical moment when everyone was in, which could have been used to hit that specific target in the Conservative manifesto? That is clearly not going to be reached, as evidenced by the statistics yesterday.
I think we can all agree that the statistics yesterday were deeply disappointing. That is certainly a reflection of the cost of living, with a number of people being evicted from rental accommodation having fallen behind in arrears. However, there is much that we are doing to help: we have the rough sleeping initiative, Housing First, the Night Shelter Transformation fund, supported housing, and we are funding local authorities to provide assisted housing. We are doing a number of different things, which are all wrapped up in a £2 billion package, and, having spoken to the banks, I can assure the noble Baroness that we are all fighting the same war and that we still stick to our manifesto pledge to get rid of homelessness.
My Lords, I raise a subject that I have raised several times before: namely, the 200 year-old Vagrancy Act, which refers to “rogues and vagabonds” living in stables and coach houses. Everyone agrees that this Act has nothing to do with helping rough sleeping. On the contrary, by diverting rough sleepers down the criminal justice route, it isolates them from the support which my noble friend has said is available. Two years ago, the Government said that they would repeal the Vagrancy Act. Can my noble friend give a date for when that will happen?
The Government does agree that the Vacancy Act is antiquated and not fit for purpose, and therefore we have committed to repealing it. We made that commitment during the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. Our commitment to repealing it has always been dependent on introducing modern replacement legislation to ensure that police and other agencies continue to have the powers that they need to keep communities safe and protect vulnerable individuals. As usual, I cannot give specific date when we will bring the legislation in; all I can say, as usual, is that we will bring forward suitable replacement legislation in a future legislative vehicle.
My Lords, do the Government recognise that the cuts in funding for support to homeless people now mean that, since the 2010 level, 12,000 more people needing psychological support are in long-term homelessness, which is often due to adverse childhood experiences and their subsequent turning to alcohol, and that alcohol is now the cause of almost one in 10 of the deaths among the homeless? Without addressing those underlying psychological causes, the problems behind the homelessness of many people will never be addressed.
I can assure the noble Baroness that the homelessness strategy crosses all departments, including the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Defence. My briefing from the DWP on this very point states that the local housing allowance policy is kept under regular review, we monitor average rents and a significant support package for renters was announced in the autumn Budget. We are doing everything we can to provide household support in order to help people navigate through this very difficult time.
Water Companies: Water Pollution
To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with water companies regarding water pollution.
My Lords, the current environmental performance of water companies is unacceptable. In December 2022, the Water Minister and the Secretary of State met with CEOs of lagging water companies—as identified by Ofwat’s recent assessment—to outline the Government’s expectations that performance must improve significantly. Furthermore, in January, my colleague Rebecca Pow met with the CEO of South West Water. She will be meeting the CEOs of all lagging companies individually every six months and she expects to see significant progress. Most recently, I also met CEOs of water companies with Minister Pow to highlight the importance of addressing water pollution and reaching their net-zero goals.
My Lords, the water companies are themselves responsible for monitoring the quality of water. They are awarding themselves top marks and bonuses when they are clearly failing, as the Minister has acknowledged. When will the responsibility for monitoring water quality be taken away from these companies and given to the Environment Agency? When will there be serious sanctions against those running these companies for their repeated failures?
In 2013, we only knew about 5% of the storm overflow points where sewage was going into our rivers. We now know about 90% because we instructed the water companies to provide that information. By the end of this year, we will know about 100%. The Environment Agency is the guardian of water quality and it takes forward prosecutions. The Government have said that they will increase the fines available as, at the moment, there is a cap on them, which we think should be higher. The Environment Agency is already able to launch criminal prosecutions against CEOs. Ofwat has the power to impose a fine of up to 10% of a company’s annual turnover and all fines are taken from the water company’s profits and not from customers.
My Lords, we consume twice as much water per capita as we did 50 years ago. There is an increasing frequency in sewage discharges as a result of extreme weather events, all of which require institutional investment. Do the Government not have the choice either to reduce profiteering in the sector in favour of this investment or to ask the taxpayer to subsidise this infrastructure?
We are asking water companies to spend a lot more—£56 billion. In this period alone, they are putting an extra £7 billion into investment in infrastructure. Water companies make a profit of about 3%. This is not dramatic, compared with what some other companies make, but we watch it very carefully through the instructions we give to Ofwat. We want to make sure that customers are getting a good deal but, more importantly, that there is investment going into infrastructure.
I wonder if the Minister is aware that, in two weeks, the Industry and Regulators Committee of this House will be producing its own report into governance and regulation in the water and sewage industry. This will clearly be of interest to many in this House. Can the Minister confirm that putting right the sort of problems we are talking about is going to take decades, not years? Can he also confirm that the money for it will not be public money, but that the companies themselves will raise money in the City, take on debt and possibly put up water bills?
At a time of concern about household expenditure, it is important that we balance water bills. It is always a balancing act. We want to make sure that, with an average bill at just above £1 a day to provide all the water a household needs and to have all the sewage taken away, water companies can invest in the necessary infrastructure. Most importantly, during the next decade or two, we must eliminate rainwater getting into sewage. This is the challenge. At the moment, we have water coming off roofs and going into Victorian or Edwardian sewers. Many of them have been updated and improved, but billions of pounds still need to be spent to tackle this recurring problem.
My Lords, I have raised before in this House the River Wye, which is one of the most glorious rivers in our country. We know why it is polluted; my noble friend the Minister has mentioned this from the Front Bench before. Can he give me some idea of when that river will flow clean again so that we can be proud of it, as our forebears were?
I am not an aquatic scientist but I can tell my noble friend that the problem in the Wye is principally due to phosphates coming from the poultry industry, which has boomed in that area and for which no adequate planning provision was made to prevent the leakage of effluent. The Environment Agency and other parts of Defra are making sure that we are correcting that. I hope that we will prevent what is happening, which is an absolute tragedy. For large parts of the year, large sections of one of the great rivers of this country are nearly ecologically dead. We want to reverse that.
My Lords, there has been considerable media interest in the pollution of bathing waters, inland rivers and waterways as a result of the release of sewage overflows. Nearly every week, the Minister is called here to answer questions on this issue. Given that warmer weather is approaching, can he say how the Government will protect the health of the children and adults who will be exposed to this fetid and polluted water?
We rightly beat ourselves up about this but it is worth stating that our bathing waters are in their best state ever. Last year, 93% of them were classified as “good” or “excellent”. The number of serious sewage incidents has fallen from 500 a year in the 1990s to 62 in 2021, although that number is still 62 too many. What is called wild swimming—what my mother used to call swimming—is becoming a great national sport and activity. We want to connect more people with nature; that is a wonderful way of doing it. Making sure that our rivers are clean is vital.
My Lords, I feel like a stuck record on this issue; goodness only knows what the Minister feels like. He keeps assuring us that the Government are doing a lot of work here so why does he think that, week after week, month after month, he has to come to the Dispatch Box to answer the same question?
I refer the noble Baroness to the answers that I gave on 7 September, 25 October, 2 November, 14 November, 24 November, 30 January and 22 February, as well as to my 60 Written Answers. I think that we are all of the same mind: we want to resolve this problem. We are seeing massive enforcement activity taking place and a complete change to our farming system, which will weaponise soil as a great tool in preventing the pollution of our waterways. We are also seeing a variety of other activities, such as the riparian planting of woodland along rivers. Things are getting, and will continue to get, better but I like to fill the noble Baroness with joy by coming back and repeating this every week.
My Lords, water pollution is not confined to England. According to Scottish Water, more than 10,000 spill events typically happen north of the border each year; that is nearly 30 a day. Similar to other water companies, Scottish Water attributes many of those spills to flooding and more frequent rain due to climate change. Scotland’s environmental protection body, SEPA, works with the Environment Agency on cross-border issues across the Solent, the Tweed and in coastal waters but can the Minister ensure that he and his department are ever mindful to co-operate at a government level as well as at an agency level on cleaning up, planning and infrastructure upgrades? We all know that this issue does not stop at any border; neither does the effluent.
My noble friend is absolutely right: nature does not recognise borders. There is an arrangement whereby the Scots administer the Tweed, which is a border river, and the English Government administer the Esk, which is also a border river. However, we must ensure that our policies on the environment are aligned, that water companies, whether they are in Scotland or England, are abiding by the rules, and that we are of a similar mind in bearing down on this problem.
My Lords, the water companies and their directors are making considerable profits. When was the last CEO or director of any water company prosecuted, fined or jailed for the grievous breaches that are occurring? If they have not been, why have they not been?
Part of me wants to answer that question by saying, “our rivers are in a better state under this system of administration of our waters”. However, I really want to say that we have given ourselves the powers now to do precisely what the noble Lord is asking for. We can have criminal sanctions, we can fine considerably more than we could previously, and we can drive up standards through our directions to Ofwat, through what we are providing with the extra enforcement that we are giving to the Environment Agency and through many other areas. It is not for me to say who should be criminally sanctioned or when. That is for the courts, and we have given them the powers to do that.
Radio Equipment (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 17 January be approved.
Relevant document: 27th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 27 February.
Code of Practice for the Forensic Science Regulator
Motion to Approve
That the draft Code of Practice laid before the House on 26 January be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 27 February.
Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention: Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2023
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 9 February be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 27 February.
National Security Bill
Report (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 20th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Clause 1: Obtaining or disclosing protected information
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
My Lords, before I speak to the amendments in this group, I would like to talk about some of the reasons why we are introducing them. Some of our amendments have been brought forward to reassure noble Lords and others that the offence will not capture the genuine work of journalists. We have listened to the concerns raised by the media sector and noble Lords in the House, and some of these amendments are a direct response to them.
The Government have heard from media stakeholders who believe that they could no longer hold the Government to account and that these clauses could inhibit the publication of articles critical of the UK’s defence or security response. I want to address those concerns directly. The Government are committed to defending our freedoms—values which define us and make us who we are. Few are more fundamental to that than freedom of the press. There is no intention to stifle or censor the media’s ability to expose or shine a light on issues. That is the proper role and function of the media and why the UK is such a strong advocate of media freedom globally.
Before we get into the details of individual provisions, I remind the House that these provisions replace the existing law in the Official Secrets Act 1911. We have been provided with a number of examples of journalistic reporting that have been cited as part of the case that more must be done to protect journalists in this Bill. Even were the Government to accept that any of these examples could hypothetically be caught by any of the offences, the same would be true of the existing laws. Accordingly, great comfort should be taken from the fact that no prosecutions of journalists have taken place under the espionage laws to date. I want to confirm again, on the record, that the focus of the Bill is on protecting the UK from threats from foreign states and those acting against UK interests, not interfering with the free press.
I begin with the amendments focusing on “ought reasonably to know”. The phrase was said to be unclear, with concerns raised that it could be interpreted as imputed knowledge, thereby catching those who engaged in specified conduct unwittingly—who did not know but are told that they should have known. I would like to strongly emphasise that this is not the Government’s intention and we do not consider that the current formulation would be interpreted by the courts in this way. However, we have considered the concerns raised on this issue, particularly the useful contributions in Committee from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks. We agree that it would be helpful to clarify the meaning. These amendments therefore clarify that the prosecution must look at what matters were known to the individual at the time in determining whether that individual ought reasonably to have known something.
I now turn to amendments which all relate to the offence of materially assisting a foreign intelligence service. The amendments that the Government have put forward update the offence provided for in Clause 3(2). These amendments are similar to the ones put forward in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. The effect of these amendments is that the wording
“it is reasonably possible may”
in both Clauses 3(2)(a) and (b) would be replaced with “is likely to”, which in this context we see as meaning a real possibility. In order to ensure consistency across the clause, Amendment 13 also updates the relevant wording in Clause 3(3).
The Government have tabled amendments in response to a point raised in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. These would add protections for lawyers, ensuring that any genuine legal activity will not be captured under the Clause 3 offence in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the helpful explanation of the many government amendments in this group. I thank him and the Government also for the considerable movement they have made in response to criticisms made by me and many others at Second Reading and in Committee of the breadth of the offences under Part 1. We are very grateful to the Government for the comprehensive way in which they have listened to our criticisms and moved towards positions that we have taken.
In particular, the troublesome phrase “ought reasonably to know” has been clarified by the qualification that what a defendant ought reasonably to have known falls to be judged having regard to other facts known to that defendant. Furthermore, in Clause 3, as the Minister explained,
“conduct that it is reasonably possible may materially assist a foreign intelligence service”
becomes conduct that “is likely to” materially assist a foreign intelligence service.
I welcome the new strengthened review provisions introduced by the new clause proposed in Amendment 85, in place of the old Clause 56. These and other concessions in the amendments moved by the Government allay many of our concerns.
However, there is one area left untouched that we say is still completely wrong: the failure to tighten up the definition of the
“interests of the United Kingdom”.
That is the subject of our Amendments 2 and 3, and the corresponding amendments wherever the phrase
“safety or interests of the United Kingdom”
appears. I note the word “or”: the interests of the United Kingdom alone are enough to qualify. It is principally in support of those amendments that I speak now.
We are concerned about the interests of journalists, and that is the title of this group. I do not accept what the Minister said when he suggested that it was permissible to rely on the fact that journalists have not in the past been prosecuted under security legislation. That may as a matter of fact be true, but it is neither safe nor good legislative practice to rely on it without tightening up the legislation so as to prevent such prosecutions succeeding.
As I pointed out in Committee, the interests of the United Kingdom are effectively synonymous with the interests of the Government of the day—not in a party-political sense, granted, but in the sense of how the Government perceive the national interest. As the Minister and others pointed out in Committee, that derives from the well-known case of Chandler v the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1964, which defined the phrase as meaning
“the objects of state policy determined by the Crown on the advice of Ministers”,
and it is a commonplace to suggest that the perception of the interests of the state differ between Ministers, between Governments and between political parties.
We argue that it is not the purpose of a national security Bill simply to protect the general policy objectives of the Government of the day. The proper function of a Bill about national security is the protection of the security and defence interests of the United Kingdom. It was pointed out by some, in response to our amendments in Committee, that security needs to encompass economic security, and I accept that. Therefore, we have added to our amendments in Committee, which merely used the words “security” or “defence interests” to qualify them in every case, making it clear that the security or defence interests of the United Kingdom may include the interests of the United Kingdom in its economic security.
However, without a narrower definition of the interests of the UK, the Bill contains a worrying restriction on investigative journalism and campaigning where conduct that could be taken to breach Clauses 1 to 5 might be contrary to government policy, and such policy might, as the Bill is drawn, have nothing to do with security but could embrace, for example, environmental protection, energy policy, safety standards, food standards, water quality, international competition in trade, immigration—the list could be endless. As the Bill is structured at the moment, disclosing any restricted information which came into a journalist’s or campaigner’s hands for a purpose that is contrary to government policy in any policy area could constitute an offence under Clause 1, provided that the foreign power condition were met. The problem is worse because, under the Bill as drawn, any friendly Government are to qualify as a foreign power, with the sole exception of Ireland. We believe that these offences should be restricted to cases where national security, to include economic security or the defence interests of the United Kingdom, is threatened.
That is the case for our amendments. I turn briefly to the other amendments in this group. Amendment 18 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Black of Brentwood. It relates to the Clause 3(2) offence of assisting a foreign intelligence service and would establish a defence where the conduct was
“with a view to publication of material by a recognised news publisher.”
We would support that amendment but, as we will explain on the next group dealing with the public interest defence, we believe it does not go far enough.
Amendment 72, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, would amend the foreign power condition to limit its application to conduct carried out for purposes of journalism to those cases where the conduct in question was instigated by or under the direction and control of a foreign power. We would support that amendment also.
Amendment 79B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, calls for a report on the impact of offences under Clauses 1 to 5 and the Official Secrets Act 1989, as amended under Schedule 17 to the Bill, on the operation of NGOs and journalists. We would welcome such a report, but I do stress that it does nothing to cure the remaining problems that are inherent in the Bill as it stands.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 18 in my name, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Faulks, and to a number of government amendments that touch on the same issue. I declare my interest as deputy chairman of the Telegraph Media Group, which is a member of the News Media Association, and as director of the Regulatory Funding Company. I also note my other interests in the register.
One of the leitmotifs that ran through discussions on this Bill in the other place, and through Second Reading and Committee here, has been its impact on independent journalism, particularly investigative reporting, as the noble Lord has just said. I do not need to rehearse all those arguments on this subject, which have been well covered and widely reported. Indeed, it has attracted attention and criticism from international media freedom groups deeply concerned about the global impact of this legislation.
The crux of the argument is really very simple and arises mainly from the wide definitions of offences in Clause 3, which potentially criminalise aspects of investigative reporting. That in turn—this is the major worry—produces a powerful chilling effect on investigative reporting by responsible journalists. I appreciate that there are government amendments, which I am going to come to, but as it stands an offence punishable with heavy criminal sanctions and sentences is committed if someone
“knows, or ought reasonably to know, that it is reasonably possible their conduct may materially assist a foreign intelligence service”.
That would cover a wide range of reporting, whether about sexual assaults on board a nuclear submarine, Chinese influence in the UK, bullying by intelligence officers, an innocent photograph of a nuclear power station or huge investigations such as the Panama Papers.
The problem is that, when journalists start investigating a story, they cannot possibly know where it will lead and whether their reports might
“materially assist a foreign intelligence service”.
They should not be criminalised for what they ought to have known, even if what they actually did know at the time is taken into account. It is too nebulous and such a low bar that much reporting could be caught. Editors and reporters would far too often be forced to stop an important public interest investigation because of the fear of breaking the law and individuals facing prison sentences.
As I said in Committee, I have never believed that the new offences in this Bill would be used regularly to imprison journalists, and I do not believe that is what the Government intend. But the risk, the uncertainty, the lack of clarity in the law and the chilling effect are there. As a result, the damage to the public interest is there.
To echo the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the Government to their great credit have listened to concerns set out so clearly in Committee by colleagues across the House in the debate on the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others. The Security Minster Tom Tugendhat has underlined his own strong personal commitment to media freedom. He, my noble friend the Minister and their officials have been extremely helpful and constructive in discussions with colleagues here and with the media industry to try to resolve these issues.
Government amendments tabled for Report to Clause 31 are an improvement on the Bill and I support them. They go some way to ameliorating the difficulties by changing “reasonably possible may” to “is likely to”, which brings helpful clarity. But I believe that, without a very clear signal from the Government that the purpose of their amendments is to ensure that public interest journalism is outside the scope of their Bill, on their own, they do not go far enough.
The reason for this is that lack of clarity in the criminal law is always the enemy of investigative reporting. Uncertainty as to whether something will end up in a lengthy jail sentence for a reporter of editor is anathema to media freedom. Here we have—even with the government amendments—lack of clarity and uncertainty, and a chilling effect from the wording that judges journalists for what they ought to have known.
Relying on the courts to interpret vague legislation is not good enough when it comes to media freedom, because we have all seen where that ends. There must be no ambiguity which would force the prosecuting authorities and courts to have to second guess the intentions of Government or which would allow a future Government not committed to freedom of expression to use the same prosecuting authorities and courts to suppress scrutiny of their actions.
Consider this not unusual scenario. It happens not infrequently that an investigation by a newspaper relating to a matter of national security looks as if it may end up criticising or embarrassing the Government or intelligence services. During the course of such a wholly legitimate investigation in the public interest, the editor of a newspaper receives a call from someone who says, “Publish this and you’ll be assisting a foreign intelligence service”. The editor and reporter have no way of knowing whether that is true or is just an attempt to stop an investigation. In such circumstances, the risk of prosecution because they “ought reasonably” to have known that they were assisting a hostile power will deter them from publication. Simply put, if you do not know what constitutes “conduct” amounting to a criminal offence, you are unlikely to pursue a story touching on national security issues. Even with the government amendments, that still therefore leaves a profound chilling effect.
I understand that the Home Office and the security services need “conduct” to be drawn sufficiently broadly in Clause 3 to protect the public in a wide range of circumstances—something we all want—but that is why, at the same time, it must be made unequivocally clear that genuine journalistic activity is not within the ambit of prosecution.
The purpose of my amendment is therefore to provide clarity and certainty by ensuring that those working on articles or investigations for publication by recognised news publishers—a term already defined by government in both this Bill and the Online Safety Bill—have a defence to rely on if they are threatened with prosecution for conduct that they must necessarily engage in during the course of their work. This simply codifies in the Bill the Government’s stated intention in regard to journalism, and is a straightforward, practical amendment to deal with the problems that have been identified throughout the passage of this legislation.
I have consistently said that I wholeheartedly support this Bill. National security is the primary task of government and one which this House takes incredibly seriously. However, all legislation of this sort is a balance between competing rights and responsibilities. Noble Lords will know that, 80 years ago, President Roosevelt set out his four freedoms. The fourth was freedom from fear, which is what this Bill is all about. We should not be fearful of the terrorist, the bullet or the bomb, or of a cyberattack, and this Bill rightly strengthens the armoury available to the state to deliver that. However, Roosevelt’s first freedom was freedom of expression—the source of all other liberty. He recognised, as so many after him, that a balance needs to be struck. This amendment seeks to do that by ensuring that this vital Bill protects the public interest that springs from investigative reporting at the same time as it protects the security of the public. In doing so, it would send a powerful signal to the rest of the world about the commitment of our Parliament to free speech—a global responsibility that we must take very seriously.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Black. I read up on him and it says online that he is a passionate defender of press and media freedom, and free speech. I think we might be coming at these things from different directions, but on these things we agree. I declare an interest as the mother of a journalist. I care very deeply about this issue of press freedom; it is a ditch I will die in—which looks likely, perhaps, today.
The Minister said he has heard from the media. I have heard from the media as well, and it has been quite interesting hearing what journalists have to say about this particular Bill. For example, only today, the Sun journalist Mr Harry Cole texted me to highlight stories that he broke that could have criminalised him. That is quite a useful example. One of the stories was, of course, Matt Hancock in his office with his then girlfriend—perhaps not a matter of great state concern, but at the same time it showed a carelessness on behalf on members of the Government for laws that they had brought in.
The government amendments in this group are proof that your Lordships’ House can force the Government to recognise errors in their legislation—of which, of course, there are always a lot. As I said at Second Reading and in Committee, the offences in the Bill are simply too broadly drawn; they risk ensnaring far too many innocent actions, turning them into serious criminal offences. I am glad the Government have now conceded that point, including a recognition that current drafting risks harming journalists alongside numerous other legitimate actors, such as charities and non-governmental organisations.
However, while the Government’s proposed amendments will tighten the offence, they still do not sufficiently protect innocent people from falling foul of these laws. That is why I have tabled Amendment 72, which would protect journalists unless they did something on the orders of a foreign power. This strikes a much better balance. It does not grant a total exemption, which would allow actual spies to claim they were journalists, just as it would not allow the Government to brand actual journalists as spies.
I like Amendment 18. It is not as good as my Amendment 72, but it has slightly more elegance. I strongly support it and hope that the noble Lord will press it to a vote. I do not want to take any glory for him but, if he chooses not to because he trusts the Government’s assurances, I would feel compelled to put his amendment to the vote myself.
I have been in a lot of legal briefings recently on several Bills, and all of them included phrases from the Government like, “Oh, you’ve got to trust us on this”, “Really, we assure you”, and “You can trust us”. Quite honestly, who trusts the Government any more? I bet millions of people do not—I certainly do not. I want something in the Bill that actually protects journalists.
Much of my political life has been about protecting civil liberties for everyone—even people I do not agree with, and people outside on the street sometimes. Journalism is a key plank of any free society and, if we allow legislation that risks having a chilling effect on journalists doing their jobs and holding the Government to account, we are not doing our job here and the Government are not doing theirs. I strongly promote Amendment 18 and support the Lib Dem amendments. I would love to move my Amendment 72, but it is tougher and your Lordships might find it harder to accept than Amendment 18.
My Lords, I will add a few remarks to what has already been said in the debate. My noble friend Lord Black comprehensively and powerfully set out the case for his amendment, which I support and have added my name to.
I emphasise that, like everyone else, I think, I support the Bill. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that I signed the Official Secrets Act when I was just 18 years old, on my first day as a junior secretary in the Ministry of Defence. I knew very little about the world that I had entered, but it was impressed upon me from the start that I would be in possession of information that could endanger lives. I learned from an early age about protecting any information that could be weaponised against the UK or our citizens.
I also learned that part of what makes us such a powerful and important nation is our freedoms, especially our free press. I learned that it is critical that we do not do anything that risks journalists not being able legitimately to expose serious failings or wrongdoing by government or public servants, especially when those government failings themselves could threaten the lives and well-being of British citizens.
In Committee, we heard some powerful examples that could be at risk of being exposed in the future, for the reasons that were set out. That is why I believe it is essential that we do not legislate to protect our national security in a way that could stop journalists doing their legitimate job, however inconvenient to Ministers or public servants the results of this sometimes are. Journalists should not be threatened with prison for exposing the truth about ineptitude, incompetence or corruption within government, whoever is in power.
I echo what my noble friend Lord Black and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said about the commitment of my noble friend the Minister, his ministerial colleagues and officials across Whitehall, who have given time and effort in trying to find a way forward. As the Minister laid out, the Government have come a long way towards addressing the concerns expressed during debates in Committee. Like others, I support all of the amendments that my noble friend tabled on behalf of the Government.
However, as my noble friend Lord Black explained, we need to go a little further and provide greater clarity than the Government’s amendments if we are to avoid a chilling effect on journalism, which could so undermine the public interest. That said, I fear that my noble friend the Minister may be unwilling to accept our amendment. That troubles me, because a Bill on national security and how a new offence could apply to journalism is not one on which I would like to see the House divided.
I can see why the Government might be struggling with the amendment or to come up with something else that provides the clarity that we need. As unthinkable and unlikely as it may be, I suspect that there is a fear within Whitehall that a journalist working for a recognised news publisher could collude with a foreign state seeking to do us harm and use this as a defence to get away with it.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I want to listen to what my noble friend the Minister says at the end of the debate. It is important that we give him the opportunity to speak very clearly about this. I remind my noble friend that his words at the Dispatch Box are incredibly powerful in legal terms if they are made deliberately with the purpose of ensuring that there is complete clarity and no ambiguity when it comes to the intention of legislation.
If he will not accept this amendment, I want him to be very clear about the explicit limits of this offence. Can he put beyond any doubt that no journalist doing a legitimate job of exposing wrongdoing and failure by the state will be caught by this future Act of Parliament —if that is what it becomes—if they are not working on behalf of a foreign Government or agency? As I said, I want to listen to him, and I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, my noble friend Lord Black and the rest of the House to do the same, because that is what I will do.
My Lords, I declare my interest as the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. I have also added my name to Amendment 18. I have very little to add to what has already been said by those who have spoken in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has given a very good summary of the ruling of Pepper v Hart, although there first has to be ambiguity for the Minister’s words to have particular effect. None the less, I entirely agree with her that we will listen with great interest, as indeed will the media in general, to what the Minister has to say, to see whether he can give the assurance that is genuinely needed.
All I will add to what noble Lords have said already is that public interest journalism is genuinely under threat. It is very expensive to undertake, and editors can easily be deterred by the possibility of a wild goose chase. It would be an additional impediment to their encouraging proper journalism if they felt that one of their journalists or their publication was in some danger of finding themselves contravening the provisions of this very important Bill, which I also support in all respects. That is why this is a very significant group of amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, citing Roosevelt, freedom of expression is fundamental. The press and the recognised publishers reflected in this amendment represent a very significant part of that freedom, and I hope that, in the Minister’s response to this group of amendments, we will get the reassurance that is so badly needed.
My Lords, I have added my name in support of my noble friend’s amendments seeking further clarity on
“the interests of the United Kingdom”.
I remind the House of the very significant penalties that are associated with these offences. Since this is my first opportunity on Report, after speaking in Committee, I thank the Minister and his team for listening, and not just listening but acting, engaging with us on these Benches and bringing forward amendments that we believe will make the Bill fundamentally better. Ministers have been true to their word in acting, and I appreciate that. The way the Minister and his officials have conducted themselves is to be commended, and I put that on the record so that it is perfectly clear.
The area that is outstanding, however, as my noble friend indicated, is that we still retain a concern that simply referring to “interests” and relying purely on the judgment within the 1964 Chandler case is insufficiently wide. As I stated in Committee, I am in a significant minority in not being a lawyer but, from reading the judgment in Chandler, which I remind the House also related to nuclear and defence policy, the only reference the Government have given to highlight what the case law definition would be of
“the interests of the United Kingdom”
is a defence and security interest. That is the only reference to the only case the Government have referred to. Therefore, it is not a significant leap to simply state in the Bill that this legislation is linked to security and defence interests. Without that, as my noble friend indicated, there is a concern that any government policy of the day that is not associated with defence interests, but is nevertheless activity that is directed by a foreign power, could be covered within this. Therefore, we still believe that there is a case for that to be defined.
I hope the Minister will respond to that point and say whether the Government are open to having further clarification of how “interests” are going to be defined, rather than just relying on that individual case. The reason I believe that that will now be necessary is because of one of the welcome concessions by the Government, which is to have an independent reviewer. We will come to government Amendment 85 later, but there will be a reviewer of this part of the legislation. For that reviewer to do their job properly—and we have noted reviewers and former reviewers in the House today—clarity on the Government’s intent regarding these interests will be important for the reviewer to look at the proper functioning of the legislation. I hope there will not be a grey area where there needs to be clarity, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, indicated.
My second point is that I welcome the Government seeking to narrow the area of information known to someone who is likely to fall foul of this legislation. Journalism is incredibly important. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I do not have friends at the Telegraph or the Sun to message me—we on these Benches do not often receive friendly messages from those journals—but I defer to her contacts with the Sun. Of course, she raises an important point in the context of what we debated last week in Grand Committee, the situation in Iran. We know that not only, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, indicated, is free, fair, impartial and independent journalism under threat around the world, but journalism is under threat in this country. There are countries that are persecuting journalists for operating within this country; therefore, the strongest defences for journalism are important. We believe very strongly that my noble friend’s Amendment 79, on a public interest defence, will provide a very sound defence for journalists carrying out their activities.
I have a question for the noble Lord, Lord Black. My understanding of the way that his Amendment 18 is written is that it would also cover whistleblowers. We have made the case for there to be protection for whistleblowers but, as I read his amendment, the defence is for a person who is not necessarily a journalist, but the intent is that the action will be for
“publication of material by a recognised news publisher”.
As I read it, Amendment 18 is therefore not limited to journalists. There may be unintended consequences that we may consider positive but the Government may not. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Black, will an opportunity to respond, so I ask the Minister whether his interpretation of Amendment 18 is that it could include whistleblowers. The main result may be to protect those who have a public interest defence in operating within all these parts. We will debate this in the next group on Amendment 79. I hope that will be our opportunity to draw the ditch—if not die in it—fight our case and divide the House on ensuring that there is a defence for journalists and a proper public interest defence for those carrying out legitimate activities not to be captured by this Bill.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. I thank the Minister for his explanation of the Government’s amendments. We recognise that they have come a long way since Committee. The amendments in this group seek to address the unintended consequences of offences for journalists and NGOs. Concerns have been raised throughout the Bill that the legitimate activities of journalists, such as the possession of leaked information, could lead to their prosecution. The main focus of today’s debate is Amendment 18 from the noble Lord, Lord Black. It aims to give a specific offence, whereas our Amendment 79B calls for an assessment of the impact of this group.
Given the significant concessions made by the Government, I will not divide the House on Amendment 79B and we will abstain on Amendments 18 and 72 if they are moved to a vote. However, I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, when she said that she would listen to the Minister, deliberate and see what will be done. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will press Amendment 18 to a vote even if the noble Lord, Lord Black, chooses not to. Either way, the Labour Party will abstain on those votes.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for their very warm words. The strength of opinion highlights how important journalistic freedom is, and the Government take it extremely seriously. Whistleblowing will be dealt with in the next group, so if the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, allows, I will not deal with it in my response.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Black for his amendment and for his general comments in support of this Bill. As I have said, we have listened to concerns raised by the media sector and noble Lords. The Government’s amendments are a direct response to them. I will endeavour to provide the clarity that my noble friend Lady Stowell asked for.
On my noble friend Lord Black’s amendment, the Government cannot accept a defence linked to the definition of a recognised news publisher. Rather than taking activity out of scope, the defence would act as a way for foreign powers, particularly those seeking to cause the UK harm, to avoid prosecution under this clause and engage in harmful espionage activity. If a journalist is deliberately colluding with a foreign intelligence service in relation to their UK-related activities, such as by revealing intelligence capabilities that could be exploited by that intelligence service, it is absolutely right that they should face criminal sanction.
I acknowledge that the amendment seeks to provide a targeted protection for journalists by referencing “a recognised news publisher”. The Government have serious concerns that any individuals working under the cover of journalism in foreign media organisations operating in the UK would be able to abuse this provision. Even if hostile state actors did not currently use journalistic cover to engage in espionage, having a defence such as this would almost certainly encourage them to do so. This defence would apply even if the conduct in question was probably against the public interest. This is simply not acceptable; it would give foreign states a back door to commit espionage. Accordingly, the Government cannot accept this amendment and I ask my noble friend not to move it.
However, I want to reassure the media sector that publication of an article that was critical of the UK Government, and which might incidentally be capable of assisting a foreign intelligence service, would not fall within the scope of this offence; nor would the handling of materials in the course of genuine journalistic activities, nor likely the other offences in this Bill. For an offence to be committed under Clause 3, an individual would need to engage in conduct intending
“to materially assist a foreign intelligence service”,
or know, or should have known given the information they had at the time, that it was likely that such conduct would do so.
The Government may profoundly disagree with the conclusions of some journalists, but we will not hide behind the criminal law to suppress genuine competing views and it is almost inconceivable that genuine journalism will be caught within the threshold for criminal activity. My noble friend raised some specific examples and there are many—for example, those relating Snatch Land Rovers a few years ago—but the Government do not consider that the publication of an article that was critical of the UK Government, and which incidentally might be capable of assisting a foreign intelligence service, would fall within the scope of this offence. I think it is worth repeating that.
Many of the examples that have been provided in various articles are stories which relate to terrorism. No journalist has been prosecuted for an offence under terrorism legislation. Even where examples are relevant to state threats activity, no journalist has been prosecuted for an offence under the Official Secrets Act. This Bill will be no different and the Government do not accept the view that it criminalises the activity described in the media.
The test of material assistance is key. To be “material”, the assistance to the foreign intelligence service must be important, considerable or in a significant way. As with all criminal offences, it is the specific circumstances of the case that will be important and will be a matter for the prosecuting authorities, but we would expect prosecutions to involve those with known links to foreign intelligence services, including evidence of a relationship, tasking or payment. Absent these links, the Government struggle to envisage even the most provocative piece of journalism meeting the threshold for the offence.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, noted the Statement made last week on Iran International, and many noble Lords will have read it; it highlighted the potentially lethal operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps taking place in the UK. Far from criminalising the important work of journalists, this offence is intended to protect Iran International, and others who live and work here, from such direct attacks on our people and values.
I turn to amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, with regards to security or defence interests under Clauses 1, 3, 4, 8, 12 and 14. These amendments seek to narrow the definition of “interests of the UK” to ensure a focus on the protection of national security and defence interests, alongside economic security interests. Similar amendments were tabled in Committee, so I will reiterate the concerns the Government continue to have with these changes, as they remain relevant. Narrowing the interest element to cover only security or defence interests significantly moves away from the “safety or interests of the UK” test that already exists and is understood within current espionage legislation. I am afraid these amendments move away from the status quo by creating a test with an unduly narrow focus on national security. While the noble Lord importantly made specific reference to interests pertaining to the UK in its economic security, these amendments continue to not include other critical UK interests relating to public health or, for example, the preservation of our democracy.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to the case of Chandler v DPP, as did his colleague the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. “Safety or interests of the UK” has been considered by the courts to mean the objects of state policy, determined by the Crown, on the advice of Ministers. We expect this interpretation to carry forward to the new legislation and there are safeguards in place to prevent the Government using this legislation inappropriately—for example, by deciding that somebody is acting against government policy but where there is no national security impact.
Each offence under this legislation includes a test that must be met in order for the offences to be committed. For example, for a person to commit a Clause 1 offence, they must obtain or disclose information that is protected for a purpose
“that they know, or ought reasonably to know, is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom”
and the activity must be conducted for, on behalf of or with the intention to benefit a foreign power. This limits the type of conduct capable of being caught under this offence, and in particular the foreign power condition ensures that there is a state link. Designing the offence in this way clearly focuses the offence on harmful state threats activity.
I now turn to Amendment 72, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. The most concerning consequence of this amendment is that where a state threats actor, acting under a proxy, has been engaged in harmful activity, which was an offence under the Bill, they would not commit an offence even if it could be shown that they were receiving specific funding in relation to that activity from a foreign power. The House will note the references to “state threats”, “foreign powers” and “national security”. Much as the amorous adventures of Matt Hancock may be of interest, clearly none of those falls in the scope of this offence.
It is no secret that those with hostile intent try to hide their activities through genuine means, and through this amendment there is a real risk that they could operate through proxies in order to make it more difficult to be prosecuted. It is therefore clear to see that narrowing the scope of the foreign power condition will have a damaging impact across the Bill. The Government considers this amendment would create unnecessary loopholes for state actors to exploit.
I would like to remind the House that the Government amended Clause 31(2)(c) in the other place to put it beyond doubt that there needs to be a clear link between the conduct and any assistance or funding from a foreign power for the condition to be met. It is the Government’s view that this puts the focus on the foreign power, ensuring that financial or other assistance from the foreign power is caught only when it is provided to enable the person to carry out the conduct, not when it is just any financial or other assistance.
I would also like to make it clear that Clause 31(2)(d), which concerns activity carried out in collaboration with, or with the agreement of, a foreign power, requires the foreign power to be actively involved in that collaboration or agreement; it does not cover cases where a person’s activities align with state objectives. The Government therefore ask the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, not to press her amendment.
To conclude, as all speakers have noted, the Government have moved a very long way in ensuring that journalistic freedoms are not being unduly encroached in this Bill, so I hope noble Lords will accept our amendments and withdraw or not press theirs.
Before my noble friend sits down, I will offer one point of clarification. I will of course respond to the chair when called to do so after the next group, but I want to say that I am very grateful for the assurances he has given about the scope and intent of the Bill with regard to responsible reporting. My noble friend has made clear that Parliament’s intent in passing the Bill is not to interfere with the free press or investigative journalism and, on that basis, I will be withdrawing my amendment.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—
“(1A) Section (Public interest defence) applies to any offence under this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and others in Lord Marks’ name, are connected to Lord Marks’ amendment after Clause 38 (Public interest defence) to apply a public interest defence to the offences under Clauses 1 to 5 of the Bill and to offences under Section 5(6) of the Official Secrets Act 1989.
My Lords, this group concerns the public interest defence which is contained in Amendment 79 in my name, and the names of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, to whom I am very grateful for their help, counsel and support. I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has made it here so far because he is in court, but I expect him shortly, although he may not speak.
Our amendment would introduce a public interest defence to offences under Clauses 1 to 5 of the Bill, together with the amended Official Secrets Act defence, amended by Schedule 17 at paragraph 5. The group also contains associated amendments, together with Amendments 18A and 79A, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Ponsonby.
Although, as discussed in the last group, the Government have made a number of welcome concessions since Committee in tightening up the offences set out in the Bill, there has been no concession on a public interest defence. That is despite the repeated strong calls in the press and elsewhere, from many quarters, for such a defence; and despite the fact that such a defence is available in our Five Eyes partners and that the Law Commission recommended one here in 2000, and so did the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Each expressed the view that the lack of such a defence risked our being in breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
While the Government may not have moved, we have. Amendment 79 is significantly changed from the amendment I tabled in Committee, in large part to meet the reservations expressed on my amendment in that debate. First, the burden of proof has been changed. The amendment in Committee would have imposed the burden of proof on the prosecution to disprove the offence once it was raised, and to do so to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. Some noble Lords thought that this imposed on the Crown a burden that would be too difficult to discharge in a security-sensitive context. While I am doubtful that that is the case, I accept the point, and I also accept the difficulties of proving a negative. So our amendment now imposes the burden on the defence to prove its case on the balance of probabilities—the civil standard that is usually applied in these cases.
Also significantly, the element of subjectivity in our amendment has been replaced by overall objectivity. It would be for the jury to decide not what the defendant reasonably believed—which was our position in Committee —but whether their conduct was in fact carried out in the public interest, having regard to the factors proposed new subsection (3) in our amendment, which is based on the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Those factors have been altered to respond in particular to the point made in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, that it is important that whistleblowers within the security services and elsewhere go through recognised channels where available, rather than making public disclosure at the outset. That is why proposed new subsection (3)(f) now reads:
“Whether such conduct was in the public interest is determined by having regard to … the availability of any other effective authorised procedures for achieving the purpose of the alleged conduct and whether any such procedures were exercised, and if any such procedures were not exercised, the reasons why they were not so exercised”.
The amendment has also been extended to cover the amended offence under the Official Secrets Act 1989, which is to be significantly broadened by Schedule 17 to the Bill, so that the offence of disclosing information obtained by espionage now extends instead to a breach of any of Clauses 1 to 4 of this Bill, which include obtaining or disclosing protected information, the trade secrets offences, assisting a foreign intelligence service—even a friendly one—and the prohibited places offences.
Since this amendment has been tabled, I have received no criticism at all of its drafting. I have received no criticism at all of the factors we have listed in proposed new subsection (3). Importantly, I have received no criticism of our proposal that this defence should be available to all, not just to investigative journalists or campaigners. That accords with the recommendation of the Law Commission in 2000, which also recommended a universal defence. We believe that is right because, although it is a very important part of a public interest defence that it should protect journalists and investigative reporting—and indeed campaigning and political campaigning—nevertheless, it is important for ordinary citizens, too. Certainly, we maintain the position mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Black, in the last group that there is a very severe chilling effect for journalists and campaigners of introducing these very serious offences, with very long potential prison sentences—life for Clause 1 offences and 14 years for the other offences in Clauses 1 to 4. That is a matter of real concern.
But this is also about exposing wrongdoing. It is to protect not just whistleblowers who see wrongdoing from within organisations but ordinary members of the public who become aware of it by whatever means. They, too, would be deterred from taking action to expose that wrongdoing if they thought that by so doing they would be criminalised under the Bill without an opportunity to mount a defence.
This amendment covers cases such as that of Clive Ponting, who exposed the truth about the sinking of the “Belgrano” in 1982. I also mention the Matrix Churchill case in 1992 and the cover-up of sanctions-busting, though that is it not on exactly the same ground because that prosecution collapsed when a government Minister, Alan Clark, came up with the truth that the Government had connived repeatedly at the breach of sanctions against the sale of arms to Iran. Nevertheless, the Government had previously given an untruthful account of the breaches of sanctions, and that untruthful account could have been, and ought to have been, exposed well before any prosecution of the directors of Matrix Churchill.
The idea that we can rely legitimately upon juries to give perverse verdicts, such as they gave in the Ponting case, to correct injustice, is a travesty of the rule of law. How can we, in conscience, pass a law that criminalises behaviour without an available public interest defence, then expect judges to direct juries that there is no defence in law, and then rely on those juries, in breach of their oath, to give a true verdict according to the evidence—and that is of course according to the law as directed—to acquit anyway? That is not just unsatisfactory, as it has been described in debates on this Bill; it is entirely unacceptable.
Nor is it any answer that these prosecutions require the Attorney-General’s consent. There are many failed prosecutions that have been authorised by Attorney-Generals. There is a matter of principle that, in our system, a defendant is entitled to a decision by a jury. They should not have to rely on a decision that authorises his or her prosecution. Although I entirely accept that law officers may be expected to make their decisions in an impartial way, their decisions are not the same as decisions made by juries on full consideration of a public interest defence.
We have completely understood the concerns of those who are worried about the safety of intelligence service officers, those concerns having been eloquently expressed in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. However, I suggest that the deployment of a public interest defence at a trial, many months after the conduct concerned, is unlikely to increase the risks faced by the intelligence services, which we all want to minimise, so completely and significantly as to put us off introducing this defence.
I will say a word or two only about the two Labour amendments. Amendment 18A from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, calls for a consultation and the publication of a report on that consultation. However, it relates only to the offence under Clause 3(2) of assisting a foreign intelligence service. There is nothing on disclosing information, the extremely broad trade secrets offences or the prohibited places offences. The time now is passed for a limited review. The facts are out there, and it is time to introduce the defence now, at the point when these security offences are being so significantly extended by this Bill, particularly in the change in the definition of foreign power to encompass all Governments that are not our own, except for the Irish Government.
I am told that Labour will not whip to vote in favour of our amendment. If that is right, and if I have not persuaded it to do so, that is a great shame, and represents a departure from the position taken by many distinguished Labour figures in the past. It is a shame that Labour has not stuck with the decision taken in the House of Commons by Kevan Jones MP, who supported a public interest defence in similar terms to those which we now propose. It is not only Labour. I remind the House that Ted Heath was vociferous in his support of a public interest defence to security cases many decades ago.
The proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for a statutory commissioner for the investigation of complaints by whistleblowers represents a helpful step, but it does nothing to provide a defence to investigative journalists, campaigners or others who expose wrongdoing but do not fall into the categories of whistleblowers who would be assisted by that amendment. We need far more, and we need it in this Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, before we get on to the substance of the Bill, perhaps I might just correct something that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said that I said in Committee. I did not speak for the protection of the lives of intelligence officers, such as I once was. I was speaking of concern for the lives of human sources who give us intelligence at the risk of their lives and those of their families. That was the concern I highlighted. There was no worry about my own safety; I was talking about those sources.
After that intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, had better watch out for his safety.
I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Marks, one of the co-signatories of Amendment 79, for explaining the arguments behind it with such clarity and so dispassionately. I appreciate that he, along with many others, has invested a lot of time and thought in it, and I am somewhat of a latecomer to this particular party.
I have put my name to this amendment, along with those of the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Pannick, not because I think the Government will accept it without question—clearly they will not—but because the question of whether such a defence should be available has long since arrived, and it is certainly possible to say that it is almost too late for us to start debating it now.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, said that the Labour Party’s stance and its inability to whip its members to support this amendment in the Lobby was a shame. I am afraid that I will be the subject of shamefulness as far as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is concerned, because I will not push this to a Division, and if others do, I am afraid that I will not join them. However, the reason why I think this debate is important is that, as I said before, it has not been had before, and certainly not in relatively recent memory. That may seem illogical but let me do my best to explain.
I realise that, in matters of national security, no Government, of either of the main parties, and certainly not a coalition Government, will cut and paste an amendment emanating from outside the Government. I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, are in their places. I know from my time as a law officer, who had from time to time to consider matters to do with the Official Secrets Act, that the security services, as well as the lawyers who work for them, do not initiate prosecutions under the Act unless there is both a clear public interest in a particular prosecution and sufficient evidence to warrant it. It is my experience and clear recollection that they were all strict adherents to the rule of law in general and the provisions of any relevant statutes in particular, and wanted them applied lawfully and dispassionately in every case. In every case I dealt with I had their support and they had mine in ensuring that things proceeded with propriety and that no shortcuts were taken.
I therefore follow the previous debate on the first group and come to this amendment with a high degree of realism and more than academic or theoretical interest, albeit in a spirit of inquiry, to see where the Government’s thinking is on the matter. Clearly, anything that looks as though it may make the lives of those who want to damage our national interests less difficult, or make prosecutions in the right cases more difficult, must be considered with care, and will, at least initially, be likely to alarm those charged with the day-to-day care of our security. However, I hope that the arguments in favour of this amendment have been heard and that, once they have been digested, the Government will take some time to respond as fully and as openly as they can. My purpose today is to provoke that discussion, not to embarrass the Government. Nor is this group of amendments an opportunity to debate Clause 31 and the foreign power conditions, although Clause 31(3) and (6) clearly need careful attention. As I said at the outset, my intention is to raise the public interest issue firmly in Parliament.
At the moment, breaches of the Official Secrets Act are, to all intents and purposes, absolute offences, as will be future breaches of the Bill when it is enacted. The defendant’s intention or purpose behind the breach is largely irrelevant, save perhaps as to penalty. Once the defendant’s disclosure of the information has been established under the Official Secrets Act and under the elements relevant to this Bill, it is more or less the end of the question of criminal liability: as often as not, the jury is more or less directed by the trial judge to convict. In most cases, of course, that is how it should be, because traitors disclosing information that undermines national security need to be deterred, or caught and imprisoned. Their activities can lead to the death, or endanger the safety, of our own agents or security and military personnel and HUMINT, as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, clarified a moment ago.
There have not been a great many prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act. When they happen, they are clearly newsworthy. The case of the employee of the British embassy in Berlin is the latest example of the just disposal of a prosecution under the OSA. The proposed public interest defence in our amendment would have been of no help to that defendant. He was paid by the Russians to disclose information which he knew he had no business disclosing. His plea in mitigation that he was an alcoholic depressive cut no ice with the judge. I doubt that any right-minded person would think that his 13-year sentence was a moment too long.
In a very few cases—of which the Berlin embassy case would not be one—the jury’s view of where justice lies makes a nonsense of the law. Some defendants, despite the judge’s clear direction on the law, benefit from what are, in reality, perverse acquittals. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, touched on this. In law, and on the evidence, the defendant is guilty, albeit that the information was disclosed for non-venal reasons. It must be assumed that some juries see the prosecution as unjust, oppressive or unnecessary, or think that the defendant disclosed information that ought to have been in the public domain, or that it demonstrated that the Government were dissembling to the public. Again, I realise the terms of Clause 31, but it seems to me that that is not enough to dispose of these arguments.
As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, mentioned, perhaps the “Belgrano” case is one example of a perverse verdict. It is at least arguable that the defendant in that case did not harm national security by disclosing that the Argentinian warship that was sunk was heading in one direction, when it had been announced that she was heading in another, more threatening one. He might have been able to satisfy the factors set out—
Perhaps I might intervene. Ships alter course and go in all sorts of directions. There is a general trend, of course, and the general trend of the “Belgrano” and her group was towards a sudden pincer that would have attacked our force. That was why she was sunk—quite correctly. It was the right decision. In the context of this amendment, I would not want that to be confused.
I would not describe the noble Lord as a young man in a hurry although, had he waited just a second or two, he would have discovered that he and I might be in closer agreement than he might otherwise have imagined. But there we are. Let us ignore for the moment the direction in which the ship was going, understand that it was sunk and understand that Ponting disclosed that it was going in a particular direction when the Government had announced it was going in another. That is the end of that little anecdote. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. In my view, the short point is that it was an enemy ship that was generally threatening our ships. We were at war with Argentina. Argentinian warships were at risk of being sunk if they came within range of British Armed Forces. I do not have any particular sympathy for the Argentinian ship—albeit of course that it led to the most appalling loss of life for many Argentinian sailors.
However, it is not satisfactory for juries faced with a case where they think that a conviction on the evidence before them is unjust to be forced to bring in a perverse verdict in breach of the judge’s clear direction on the law and how it applied to the facts of the case. I suggest that this amendment is conservative with a small “c” and not a traitor’s “get out of jail free” card. The burden of proof is on the defendant to demonstrate that the disclosure was in the public interest and that the factors set out in proposed new subsection (3) are met. It would not allow for someone to disclose national security information because they thought that their view of the world was more attractive than that of the Government or the security services, or out of greed; nor would it allow for a Snowden or a Wikileaks scenario where vast swathes of information were dumped into the public domain.
If, for example, there was a better way of dealing with the sensitive information—noble Lords should look at proposed new subsection (3)(f)—the defendant would be hard pushed to persuade the jury that public disclosure was in the public interest. In my view, the proposed amendment accepts reality and prevents juries bringing in perverse verdicts in order to achieve informal or dishonest justice. A law that is not respected or is avoided by perversity, perhaps following some intellectually dishonest advocacy, is not worth having. In an era of electronic media, when information gets out pretty much immediately across the world in vast quantities, it may be better to inhibit desperados and attention seekers by getting them to think about what they will need to prove to found their public interest defence.
It seems to me that we can either carry on pretending that perverse verdicts do not happen—and swiftly change the subject when they do—or face up to reality and legislate sensibly for a really very unradical public interest defence that will neither bring down the state nor damage respect for the rule of law.
My Lords, although I sympathise with Amendment 79, which seeks to protect those who act genuinely in the public interest, I do not support it, for a number of reasons.
First, although I accept that, in its comprehensive 2020 review relating to the protection of official data, the Law Commission recommended that a public interest defence be introduced, that was in relation only to the Official Secrets Act 1989. Its recommendation did not suggest that such a defence should be incorporated into the rest of the Official Secrets Act regime, which is what in effect this Bill seeks to replace.
Secondly, in any event, the risks of introducing such a defence need to be carefully considered and balanced against the benefits of potential alternative approaches. This includes the creation of an independent commissioner to receive and investigate complaints of serious wrongdoing, which the Law Commission also recommended.
Thirdly, any introduction of a public interest defence needs to form part of a wholesale reform of the Official Secrets Act 1989, which this Bill does not seek to do. As I said at Second Reading, the ISC was disappointed to see that the Government were not reforming that Act. I will not repeat what I said then, other than to say that it is a very significant missed opportunity. That is particularly so because the Government have accepted the need to change the OSA for years, and this Bill represented a clear legislative route to do it.
Lastly, this amendment is very broadly drafted. It would introduce a public interest defence into a range of offences that do not require one, such as the offence of assisting a foreign intelligence service. For those reasons, I cannot support it.
My Lords, I recognise the Government’s argument that these spying offences need to be broad enough to capture the wide range of illicit activities that foreign powers may undertake to harm the UK. However, if that is so, equally broad defences are needed to protect innocent people who may become ensnared in the broad definition of the offences. Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is absolutely vital; it must be in the Bill.
I want to respond to the Minister’s comments in our debate on the previous group. I heard his reassurances about journalistic freedom, which I am sure were very sincere, but promises can be broken. Ministers move on. Governments move on. Commitments can be forgotten. I just do not think that, if it is not in the Bill, it can be held to be the law.
My Lords, I acknowledge the changes that have been made to Amendment 79 since it was introduced in Committee, but I still do not feel that it would be appropriate and right for us to accept it. The noble Lord, Lord West, has pointed out a number of the reasons why, but I emphasise that we are being invited to introduce a public interest defence for what is, straightforwardly, espionage on behalf of a foreign service. I do not believe that we need to provide a public interest defence when an individual obtains and provides protected information on behalf of a foreign power while recognising that this is prejudicial to the safety of the United Kingdom.
I also recognise that the amendment extends to the Official Secrets Act 1989 but, again in support of the noble Lord, Lord West, I say that, if we are to change that, we must do so in a careful and deliberate fashion and bring forward legislation to do so. The 1989 Act does not deal with espionage on behalf of a foreign intelligence service. It is drawn up for different purposes. Therefore, it is separate from the issues that we are considering regarding the Bill. More broadly, it remains extremely dangerous to encourage or to lead individuals to believe that there is a public interest defence to the disclosure of highly sensitive information. Any one individual is unlikely to be able to make an accurate assessment themselves of whether their declaration and their disclosure is damaging to national security. That must be considered carefully, and it is not something for an individual official, however senior, to take on themselves. Therefore, any legislation and any amendment that might encourage them to do so is misguided.
Also, once a disclosure has been made, it cannot be withdrawn. Even though there may be benefit in prosecuting an individual for having done it, that does not stop the damage that has already been done. Therefore, we must have care not to lead people into believing they will be able to defend themselves having already made a disclosure, because the damage will have occurred.
Finally, on the question of evidencing damage, I recognise that the change in the burden of proof is a significant change to the amendment. Nevertheless, we are then faced with a situation where a person who has been accused of this offence will be trying to argue that they did not cause damage. In so doing, they are likely to adduce more evidence and more contextual material which might itself be damaging. It is not clear that this makes it easier in terms of the evidence or that it makes the prospect of prosecuting people for harmful activity any easier. For these reasons, I do not support this amendment. I hope that the House agrees.
I have a question on a point of clarification. I understand the point that the noble Lord makes regarding those offences which may be at the direction of a foreign power, as in espionage. However, the Bill contains offences that are not necessarily at the direction of a foreign power. His point would mean that my noble friend’s amendment would offer no public interest defence for those offences in this Bill which are not under the direction of a foreign power—as in, not espionage offences.
If I am being invited to comment on whether I would support a different amendment, I say that might well be the case. However, I do not support the amendment that is before us.
My Lords, throughout the passage of the Bill, concerns have been raised that legitimate acts in the public interest could lead to prosecution under the Bill. The Government have insisted that a public interest defence could legalise instances of espionage or sabotage. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, has said that he will press his amendment to establish a public interest defence. While we in the Labour Party support this in principle, we believe that the amendment is too broad and that it could in effect legalise espionage. We believe that there need to be appropriate safeguards built into any future legislation.
Further to this, we believe that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, fails to implement the Law Commission’s recommendations; that was a point made by my noble friend Lord West. I will instead press Amendment 18A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Coaker, to a vote; that is for a consultation on the introduction of a public interest offence, which we believe can establish some mechanism for addressing the concerns of the House. We believe that the amendment is a tighter and more focused approach than the alternative of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. To address wider concerns on whistleblowing, we have also tabled Amendment 79A to establish an independent statutory commissioner, although we will not press it to a vote in due course.
I think that the position of the Labour Party was perhaps best summed up by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, when he spoke just now. It is clearly not for any individual to be in a position to decide on the wider security aspects of any potential activity; that could have extremely damaging implications, and to claim a public interest defence may be inappropriate. There need to be appropriate safeguards, and there needs to be a more targeted approach. We believe that our Amendment 18A, establishing a mechanism for addressing the concerns expressed by the House, would be the best way forward.
My Lords, this group of amendments covers the introduction of a public interest defence—a PID. This topic has been debated at length throughout the passage of the Bill. As the House will hear, the Government agree with the criticisms of Amendment 79, just elucidated so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby.
I thank all noble Lords for their remarks during this debate, especially the degree of involvement we have had in the development of the Bill generally, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on the last group. However, it is right to say that the amendment does not address the issues that arise, and the Government therefore cannot accept it. As I set out during the debate in Committee, the offences in the Bill target harmful activity from foreign states, not whistleblowing or public interest journalism. Our view, therefore, is that a public interest defence is not only unnecessary but risks significantly undermining the utility of the provisions in the Bill.
The Government’s principal position is that a public interest defence in relation to espionage is not appropriate. While we note the changes made to the amendment, this does not change the Government’s view on the matter. Notably, the risk with a public interest defence is that, at the point that the defence comes into play, the harm will already have been done. Seeking to rebut any form of public interest defence in criminal proceedings risks only compounding the damage. This, of course, is a point already eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans.
Furthermore, the proposed public interest defence for onward disclosures of information obtained via the espionage offences in the Bill, as has been proposed here, is inherently damaging to the national interest. I also entirely agree in this regard with the noble Lord, Lord Evans. To permit onward disclosures of this information under any circumstances would significantly undermine the weight we are affording to these offences.
The questions posed about the Law Commission’s recommendations relate to the Official Secrets Act 1989 which is not, as we discussed in Committee, the topic of reform in this legislation. We have heard strong views and concerns raised about the 1989 Act in our public consultation, and we need to take time to give proper consideration to those concerns. Therefore, we are not reforming the Official Secrets Act 1989 in this Bill.
It is clear to us that reform is complex and engages a wide range of interests. It is only right that proper due consideration should be given to the concerns that stakeholders have raised in the consultation. Furthermore, we need to prioritise delivery of our wider package of measures to tackle state threats and ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence partners have the tools that they need to keep us safe from those seeking to do us harm. We do not want the complexity of Official Secrets Act 1989 reform to distract from this. To that end, I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Evans, said.
I turn to the points raised in the previous group by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in relation to whistleblowers. We say that there are sufficient safeguards for whistle- blowers in the espionage offences. For the offence of obtaining or disclosing protected information, that activity has to be for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom. If an individual uses appropriate whistleblowing routes, their conduct would not meet this requirement—a point powerfully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, when these amendments were being considered in Committee.
For the offence of obtaining or disclosing trade secrets, the activity has to be unauthorised. Using appropriate whistleblowing routes would not meet the requirement for unauthorised activity. Moreover, there is a damage element to the offence in Clause 2(2)(b). For the offence of assisting a foreign intelligence service, the person has to know or reasonably ought to know that their conduct may assist a foreign intelligence service in carrying out UK activities or intend their conduct to do so. This is very different from reporting something to an appropriate regulatory body as a whistleblower.
It is not the case that there is a reliance upon juries in the place of a whistleblowing defence, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, appeared to contend. The role of a jury, when advised by the judge, is to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty based on the evidence presented during the trial. This takes up many of the points raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier in his speech a moment ago. This is an integral tenet of our justice system and applies in 1989 Act cases. This does not mean that the Official Secrets Act 1989 legislation is deficient. There is, of course, no statutory public interest defence in the 1989 Act, and therefore it is already clear in the law that juries should not acquit a defendant on the basis that they consider that the public interest in making a disclosure outweighs the damage caused by the disclosure. The Government are clear that we do not consider the introduction of a public interest defence in the Official Secrets Act 1989 to be appropriate. It is not the safest or most appropriate way for an individual to raise a concern of wrongdoing and have it rectified. It is already possible to make disclosures of information that are not damaging without breaching the 1989 Act.
However, the Government have heard and understand the concerns that the Bill could inadvertently capture genuine journalistic activity, as we discussed in the previous group. Even if the Government were to accept that these offences risk criminalising such genuine activity, a public interest defence would not be an appropriate way to address this. This sentiment was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, during the debate on the public interest defence in Committee, for which I am grateful. Indeed, a public interest defence would create loopholes that hostile actors would use to commit espionage against the United Kingdom.
As the noble Lord, Lord Evans, was quite correct in saying, the difficulty for whistleblowers is that they have an imperfect picture of the available information. It is not for the whistleblower to determine the extent of potential damage caused by the disclosure in the public interest.
The question of damage was raised in the debate. It was suggested that a damage requirement should be added to these offences. The Government’s position is that this would significantly undermine their utility. The type of activity described in the offences is inherently damaging. For example, in Clause 1, if an individual discloses protected information to a foreign power or otherwise on their behalf or for their benefit with a purpose
“prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom”,
this is inherently damaging. Including a damage requirement would mean that we may need to prove the damage caused by disclosure in court. This, of course, would risk compounding that damage further. If we could not prove that damage in court, for example, because the risk of compounding the damage was too great, a person could freely provide protected information to a foreign power with the intention to prejudice the United Kingdom.
I already noted the potential risks and loopholes that could be created and exploited. This is not a defence in relation to Clause 3(2). The Government have extensively considered the arguments for and against a public interest defence but have concluded that the risk this could cause to the United Kingdom and the fact that this would undermine the purposes of the Bill mean that such a defence is not appropriate. Therefore, there is no need for an assessment and formal consultation on the inclusion of such a defence as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, at Amendment 18A and the Government do not accept that amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, noted, there have been significant changes to the oversight provisions in the Bill. It is correct that this amendment should be viewed in light of those changes in position by the Government.
Instead, we say that the focus should be on ensuring that the drafting of the requirements and offences in the Bill is sufficiently tightly drawn to ensure that genuine activity, including by journalists, is not in scope. This is why the Government have responded by tabling amendments to the provisions in Part 1, as stated a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Sharpe. This includes clarifying the phrase “ought reasonably to know” and the amendments to Clause 3. For these reasons, the Government cannot accept the tabled amendments.
I move now to Amendment 79A, which proposes the establishment of a new office for the national security whistleblower. I am grateful for the indication from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that he will not be pushing the matter to a vote but let me outline the government position in relation to that. This proposal differs from that debated in Committee in this House. The Government’s view remains that such a role is not required in relation to these offences. As I set out in Committee,
“The Government are committed to ensuring that our whistle- blowing framework is robust, and I confirm that the business department intends to carry out the promised review of the existing framework, and that further details will be set out in due course in relation to that.”—[Official Report, 18/1/23; col. 1913.]
We have just debated how the Bill targets hostile activities for and on behalf of foreign powers. I have been explicit that this legislation is not targeting the genuine work of journalists. By extension, it is therefore clear that the Bill does not target genuine whistleblowing. Consequently, a whistleblowing office in relation to this Bill misunderstands the aims of the legislation. Again, I refer the House to the Committee stage, when I and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, set out the options available where an individual has a genuine need to raise a concern and I shall not repeat those here. The Government are committed to ensuring that these channels are safe, effective and accessible. For these reasons, we cannot accept the tabled amendments. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his response to these amendments, but it has disclosed a very sharp distinction between those of us who believe that a public interest defence can do no harm and a great deal of good, and those who do not. We regard as a complete mischaracterisation of the public interest offence the suggestion that it is likely to encourage or enable espionage or other disclosures that would be damaging to the national interest. By way of contrast, we see the presence in this Bill of a proposed series of absolute offences—as discussed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier—where there is no defence for journalists, no defence for campaigners acting innocently, no let-out for whistleblowers and no protection for members of the public. We are concerned by a system that relies on perverse acquittals rather than acquittals according to law. Therefore, I beg to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 5 and 6 not moved.
Clause 2: Obtaining or disclosing trade secrets
7: Clause 2, page 2, line 17, after “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
Amendment 7 agreed.
Amendment 8 not moved.
Clause 3: Assisting a foreign intelligence service
Amendments 9 to 11
9: Clause 3, page 3, line 25, leave out “it is reasonably possible may” and insert “is likely to”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment changes the test for when a person commits an offence under Clause 3(2).
10: Clause 3, page 3, line 27, after “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
11: Clause 3, page 3, line 27, leave out “it is reasonably possible their conduct may” and insert “their conduct is likely to”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment changes the test for when a person commits an offence under Clause 3.
Amendments 9 to 11 agreed.
Amendment 12 not moved.
13: Clause 3, page 3, line 30, after “may” insert “be likely to”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Lord Sharpe’s amendments to Clause 3, page 3, line 25 and his second amendment to Clause 3, page 3, line 27.
Amendment 13 agreed.
Amendments 14 and 15 not moved.
Amendments 16 and 17
16: Clause 3, page 4, line 13, at end insert—
“(ba) as a lawyer carrying on a legal activity, or”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment creates a defence to the offence in Clause 3 for lawyers carrying on legal activities.
17: Clause 3, page 4, line 14, after “with” insert “, or in relation to UK-related activities carried out in accordance with,”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that the defence in subsection (7)(c) applies where a person assists a foreign intelligence service carrying out UK-related activities in accordance with an agreement with the UK.
Amendments 16 and 17 agreed.
18: Clause 3, page 4, line 21, at end insert—
“(8A) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (2) it is a defence to show that the person engaged in the conduct in question was acting with a view to publication of material by a recognised news publisher as defined in Schedule 15.”
My Lords, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
18A: Clause 3, page 4, line 24, at end insert—
“(9A) Within six months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must consult, and publish a report of that consultation, on proposals for a public interest defence in relation to an offence under subsection (2).”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment requires the government to formally consult on the introduction of a public interest defence for offences committed under Clause 3(2).
My Lords, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
19: Clause 3, page 4, line 33, at end insert—
““lawyer” has the meaning given by paragraph 5(3) of Schedule 15;“legal activity” has the meaning given by paragraph 5(4) of Schedule 15;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment defines terms used in Lord Sharpe’s amendment to Clause 3, page 4, line 13.
Amendment 19 agreed.
Clause 4: Entering etc a prohibited place for a purpose prejudicial to the UK
20: Clause 4, page 5, line 4, after “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
Amendment 20 agreed.
Amendments 21 to 23 not moved.
Clause 5: Unauthorised entry etc to a prohibited place
24: Clause 5, page 5, line 29, after “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
Amendment 24 agreed.
Amendment 25 not moved.
Clause 7: Meaning of “prohibited place”
26: Clause 7, page 6, line 39, leave out “or the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia”
Member’s explanatory statement
Clause 97 (amended by the Government) adequately reflects the context and importance of Sovereign Base Areas to UK national security and defence, and allows for Orders in Council, with appropriate modifications, to extend Part 1 to the Cyprus SBAs. This is consistent with other UK legislation to date.
My Lords, we move from the rather contentious issues of the last two groups to a little bit of sunshine, for this group is all about Cyprus. It is slightly technical, but the point of principle is easily stated, so I will deal with the technicalities first—but not before I have stated that I am very fortunate to have as companions on this amendment my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire.
Clause 97 of the Bill has been helpfully amended by the Government. It deals with the extent of applicability of the provisions of the Bill outside the United Kingdom. Subsection (2) states:
“His Majesty may by Order in Council provide for any provision of this Act other than section 22 to extend (with or without modifications) to the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia”.
That seems pretty straightforward, so it would appear from that that there is a proper procedure—an Order in Council which could be modified and which would bring into the Bill those sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. On the other hand, if one turns to Clause 7, which is headed “Meaning of “prohibited place””, the definition of a “prohibited place” means Crown land in the United Kingdom, or the sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which are used for UK defence and other purposes. It seems to me, and to those of us who have put our names to this amendment, to be nothing more than a mistake.
Originally Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the sovereign base areas, were included in the Bill; the Government very sensibly changed their mind by amending the original Clause 97, but they failed to remove the part of Clause 7 that includes Akrotiri and Dhekelia. As the signatories of these amendments, we simply wish to apply some consistency to the Bill and remove those sovereign base areas, understanding, of course, that there is every potential in appropriate circumstances—and I can imagine circumstances which could be appropriate— for the extent of the Bill, apart from Clause 22, to be extended to those sovereign base areas.
I should say to your Lordships that this is not a declaration of an interest—it is the opposite, because I made the coffee myself. I had the pleasure of a visit from Andreas Kakouris, the High Commissioner of Cyprus—a very able, interesting and delightful person, and a very modest and diffident person on these issues, along with a very senior and able member of his staff. I know that other Members of your Lordships’ House have been approached by the High Commission, and so have the Government; one of the reasons why the High Commissioner came to see me, and other members of your Lordships’ House and the other place, was that he had the impression that the very simple point he was trying to make had not been fully understood by the Government.
I will remind your Lordships that Cyprus has a very new President, Nikos Christodoulides; he has formed his Government and his Cabinet members are there to see—Members can look them up on the internet if I am boring them. Not a small number of them, I am delighted to say, have legal qualifications obtained in the United Kingdom, and therefore one can safely assume that they are able at least to see both sides of some problems—but they do not see one side of this problem. The new President and his predecessor have already formed significantly close relations with the United Kingdom Government, and at a diplomatic level the High Commissioner emphasised to me the pleasure he had gained from the quality of the relations that he, his previous Government and his new Government had been able to make with the United Kingdom Government—and particularly with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
But they are understandably sensitive to the sovereign base areas being put in Clause 7 of this Bill in a way that makes them feel like some outer province of the United Kingdom, which they are not. They are, as all your Lordships will know, in the European Union, they are very west-leaning and they understand the problems that there are. There are problems in relation to economic issues in Cyprus, including the nature of investors and so on, and they are very sensitive to that. But they do not understand why they have to be treated in a way that is insulting not to the Government, because they are people who do not feel insults and just want the right thing to be done, but to the population of Cyprus. Apparently, the Cyprus Government have received significant representations to that effect.
So I would invite the Minister who replies to this debate to see that this is a very simple point. It would do absolutely no harm to take out the words that we have complained of in the amendments, it would improve relations with Cyprus—already very close—and it would apply something that we always strive for in this House, though not always in another place, which is consistency of wording in the statute. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my connection with the Government of Cyprus, as detailed in the register, and, like my noble friend Lord Carlile, I have spoken to the High Commissioner about this. Clause 97, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has said, is a sufficient and constitutionally appropriate way to apply legislation of this Parliament to the SBAs. In light of that power, like my noble friend I have difficulty in understanding why it continues to be thought necessary for Clause 7, by its definition of “prohibited place”, to apply Clauses 4, 5 and 6 to the SBAs directly.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has said nearly everything, so I will make just two points, addressing what I have seen to be arguments that the Government have sought to make in respect of these clauses. Firstly, there is said to be a partial precedent in Section 10 of the Official Secrets Act 1911—well, what may have been appropriate at the height of empire is surely not appropriate now. Secondly, it is said that these clauses are evidently not intended to apply in the SBAs, as may be seen from the fact that the police powers in Clauses 5 and 6 are vested only in UK officers; yet the phrase “prohibited place” in each of those clauses is clearly defined as including the SBAs. The impression given by those clauses is that powers in the military areas, and indeed in adjacent areas lived in and farmed by local people, are vested in British constables.
That impression may not respond to realities on the ground, but it is certainly unfortunate, and I hope the Minister will do what he can to dispel it, hopefully by accepting these amendments.
My Lords, my name is also on these amendments, and I have also spoken with the High Commission; my noble friend Lord Purvis has spoken to both the Minister on the Front Bench and to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in the Foreign Office. If I have an interest to declare, it is that 25 years ago I worked on the Cyprus conflict and discovered a fair amount about the complexities of Cypriot politics—and they are no less complex today than they were then.
I will make a number of domestic comparisons. This is in my experience very much a Home Office Bill; it does not appear to take into account diplomatic niceties or the sensitivities of other states. We have some bitter experience in this country of sensitivities about sovereignty and the attempts by other states to exert legislative authority over this country, in relation to the EU. We are still being told that the European Court of Justice has imperial ambitions, and that we had to regain our sovereignty because it was trying to legislate for us, about our country.
Beyond that, of course, we have US bases in this country. I am very familiar with RAF Menwith Hill, which is close to where I live in Yorkshire, and I know a fair amount about RAF Mildenhall. The Minister will remember that when it appeared that the wife of a US serviceman at RAF Mildenhall was trying to evade British law by claiming diplomatic immunity and then going to the United States, there was a campaign of outrage in the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and others over this incursion into British sovereignty.
I remind the Minister that the agreements between the UK and the United States over US bases in this country are extremely discreet: the details have not been published; they are renewed every 10 years without parliamentary debate; and the two countries negotiate quietly about the conditions under which they operate. They do not involve Congress legislating with reference to these extraterritorial bases in the United Kingdom. Indeed, if Congress were to legislate with reference to RAF Mildenhall, RAF Menwith Hill and other bases, I am sure that the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and others would be outraged on our behalf at this apparent imperial incursion into British sovereignty.
I am conscious that Cypriot domestic opinion has as many elements, from the right to the left, as we have in this country. Of course, it would be a populist, nationalistic, mischievous campaign to provoke a public outrage in Cyprus about this apparent incursion into Cypriot sovereignty, but we in Britain now have some hard-won and bitter experience of how easy it is for populist and mischievous politicians to cause nationalistic outrage.
These references are not necessary. Clause 97 is enough. I hope that the Minister will take advice and consider that the Government should withdraw the references to the sovereign base areas in these other clauses. I repeat: Clause 97 is enough. The good will of the Government of Cyprus, and of the public in Cyprus, is important to this country, and we should not offend them.
My Lords, this group covers a variety of related topics. The House has heard only about the amendments pertaining to the sovereign base areas, but I will address the other amendments advanced by the Government. The group covers amendments to the meaning of “government department” and changes to Schedule 2 to the Bill, and it deals with the amendments on the sovereign base areas, which I will come to in a second.
I start with a query raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in Committee. The question at the time was whether the reference to “government department” in the meaning of “Crown interest” in Clause 7 may include the departments of the devolved Administrations. It is the Government’s intention that any reference to “government department” within Part 1 of the Bill, including those falling under “Crown interest”, applies only to government departments of the United Kingdom. This means that we are not seeking to extend the meaning of “government department” to the devolved Administrations. I hope that this goes some way to settling the noble Lord’s concerns.
The Government have also made a number of changes to Schedule 2 to the Bill. In Committee, they made an amendment so that the Bill makes explicit provision that a Schedule 2 production order can be made to a judge without the subject being given notice of the application in advance. Currently, sub-paragraph (d) of condition 5 of the search and seizure powers at paragraphs 9 and 25 of Schedule 2 outlines that this condition may be met if the service of notice of an application for a production order may seriously prejudice an investigation. Without further change, this condition is no longer operationally effective because a warrant for search and seizure would not be granted in instances where the use of a production order more generally, which had been given without notice to a judge, would prejudice an investigation.
This group of amendments therefore closes the gap by bringing condition 5 closer to the equivalent provisions of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which sets out that the use of a production order would not be appropriate because an investigation may be seriously prejudiced unless a constable can secure immediate access to the material. It is important to stress that it has always been the Government’s position that the use of production orders should be considered in the first instance, resorting to a warrant where such an order is not appropriate to the investigation.
Finally, government Amendment 60 simply makes it clear that Acts of Adjournal made in relation to the production order powers in part 2 of Schedule 2 would be made by the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland. This is already the case within the current drafting, and we seek only to make this clear. Government Amendments 55 and 59 simply add the offences under Schedules 3 and 4—which were added to the Bill in Committee in the Commons—to the list of offences for which the powers of entry, search and seizure in Schedule 2 are not available.
I now turn to the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. These amendments seek to remove references to the sovereign base areas from the prohibited places provisions in Clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill. The sovereign base areas are critical for UK defence and include a unique governance structure among the overseas territories given that the administrator, who is also the commander of British Forces Cyprus, has all the executive and legislative authority of the Government of the UK overseas territory.
Is the Minister classifying the sovereign base areas as having the same relationship with Britain as overseas territories? I was not aware that the SBAs were formally overseas territories.
Clearly, the SBAs are a special structure, as set out in the 1960 treaty. As I say, they have a unique governance structure which I have already described. The unique context of the SBAs is precisely why we are including the option to extend the legislation to the SBAs in their entirety.
The thought behind these amendments is that the power in Clause 97 to extend the legislation to the SBAs is sufficient on its own. I understand the thinking behind this. However, these references are quite distinct and achieve different aims. References to the SBAs in Clauses 7 and 8 ensure that harmful activity taking place in respect of prohibited places will be prosecutable under UK law, in UK courts, only where it constitutes an offence under Clause 4. It is important to stress that the offence under Clause 5 cannot be committed in the SBAs, as this clause does not apply outside the United Kingdom. Similarly, the police powers under Clause 6 are conferred only on constables under UK law, and as such cannot be used in the SBAs. This inclusion of the SBAs maintains the status quo, given provisions of the Official Secrets Act 1911, which already cover prohibited places in the SBAs as part of His Majesty’s dominions.
Clause 97, however, creates a power to extend any provision in Part 1 of the National Security Bill, with or without modification, to the SBAs. Should the power be used, the provisions will then form part of SBA law, and this would allow harmful activity to be prosecuted in SBA courts. Removing references in Clauses 7 and 8 to the SBAs would mean that those sites were no longer protected under UK law. That would reduce the protections currently afforded to them under the Official Secrets Act 1911, which will of course be repealed through this Bill. Furthermore, it is critical that these protections are afforded under UK law given that there is no guarantee that an Order in Council would be made so as to extend this part of the Bill to SBA law, leaving those sites potentially without any legislative protection. To reiterate the point I made in Committee—
My Lords, an Order in Council can be made by His Majesty’s Government. I do not understand when the Minister says that there is no guarantee that such an Order in Council could be made. I hope he is not suggesting that the Government might forget to do so.
The point, as the noble Lord will appreciate, is that the Bill should endeavour not to leave any potential vacancies which would potentially deprive the SBAs of applicability to this very important statutory provision. I reiterate the point I made in Committee that the Government consider that any references in the Bill to the sovereign base areas will not in any way undermine the provisions of the 1960 treaty, concerning the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, between the United Kingdom, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
To address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I can confirm that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the SBAs were consulted extensively throughout the Bill’s development and agree on its conclusion. I therefore disagree with the noble Lord that relying solely on Clause 97 would cause no harm.
I hope this explains the need to maintain the references in Clauses 7 and 8 and why the Government cannot accept the tabled amendments.
The Minister has given us an explanation and I accept that the reference to a constable is to a United Kingdom constable, but Clause 6 gives the constable the power to clear people out of prohibited places. Why is it necessary for United Kingdom law to apply? Why is it not enough that this power should exist under the Order in Council applicable to the SBA? Since only the United Kingdom constable is covered in Clause 6, how can it possibly be necessary to define “prohibited place” for the purposes of Clause 6 as including places outside the United Kingdom? I just do not understand it.
The Government take the view that it is necessary to have the matter protected in UK law in addition to SBA law, and that, I am afraid, is the answer.
The Minister was careful when he said that the SBAs and the FCDO were consulted by the Home Office on bringing forward this decision. I would assume that one department would consult another in its own Government with regards to a Bill—I think we can take it as read that the Home Office should have consulted the FCDO. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made was that there was no consultation with the Government of Cyprus, which is embedded in the principles of the establishment treaty in 1960. That is why there is a problem with it.
With regards to the further point from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, if it is only a UK constable, and only within UK domestic law, who enforces it within the SBA area? Who enforces it within the adjacent area to the SBAs, given that the measures are much wider than simply activities here in the UK? Who enforces it there?
As I hope I have already made clear, it is only Clause 4 that applies. Clause 6 does not apply in this context.
My Lords, I am afraid I am very puzzled as a result of the Minister’s reply.
First, I think he was suggesting that the Government of Cyprus had been fully consulted. If he was suggesting that, all I can say is that that is the opposite of what I was told, and what the noble Lords, Lord Purvis, Lord Wallace and Lord Anderson, and everybody else who has been spoken to has been told. Secondly, why did the Government change Clause 97? Clause 97 provides for the powers earlier in the Bill to be operated within the SBA following an Order in Council. Are the Government saying that the justice provisions in the SBA are inadequate in some way? I can tell your Lordships that those of us who live around the legal profession know an awful lot of people who go and do cases and even sit as judges in those places, and that is not what they have found on the whole.
I would suggest that the Minister’s reply was insensitive—if I can be forgiven for using that word—and injudicious, and I invite the Government to consider it between now and the coming into law of this Bill. I am not going to press this to a Division tonight; I am not going to ask for the opinion of the House. But I feel a strong sense of dissatisfaction at the explanation, such as it is, that has been given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 26 withdrawn.
Amendments 27 to 29 not moved.
Amendments 30 and 31
30: Clause 7, page 8, line 1, after “a” insert “United Kingdom”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that “Crown interest” includes interests belonging to a government department of the United Kingdom only.
31: Clause 7, page 8, line 2, after “a” insert “United Kingdom”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that “Crown interest” includes interests held in trust for His Majesty for the purposes of a government department of the United Kingdom only.
Amendments 30 and 31 agreed.
Clause 8: Power to designate additional sites as prohibited places
Amendments 32 to 34 not moved.
Clause 11: Powers of police in relation to a cordoned area
Amendments 35 and 36
35: Clause 11, page 10, line 21, leave out “prove” and insert “show”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment reduces the burden of proof on the defendant from a legal burden to an evidential burden.
36: Clause 11, page 10, line 21, at end insert—
“(5A) A person is taken to have shown a matter mentioned in subsection (5) if—(a) sufficient evidence of the matter is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it, and(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies how the burden of proof may be satisfied in relation to the defence in subsection (5).
Amendments 35 and 36 agreed.
Clause 12: Sabotage
37: Clause 12, page 10, line 33, after “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
Amendment 37 agreed.
Amendments 38 and 39 not moved.
Clause 13: Foreign interference: general
40: Clause 13, page 12, line 11, leave out subsection (8)
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment removes an amendment to the Online Safety Bill which makes an offence under Clause 13 a priority offence.
My Lords, Amendments 40, 41 and 50 relate to the offence of foreign interference.
Amendment 40 makes a procedural and technical tweak to address changes to the timetables of this Bill and the Online Safety Bill. The addition of foreign interference to the list of priority offences in Schedule 7 to the Online Safety Bill is government policy, which has been agreed at every stage of this Bill since its introduction. Designating foreign interference as a priority offence under the Online Safety Bill would disrupt state-backed disinformation targeted at the UK through the duties imposed on platforms by the relevant provisions in the Online Safety Bill.
However, now that the National Security Bill has overtaken the Online Safety Bill in its parliamentary passage, we must address the procedural challenges posed by this change to respective timetables. Government Amendment 40 will remove the reference to the Online Safety Bill from Clause 13(8) of the National Security Bill. The Government will then seek to add the offence of foreign interference to Schedule 7 to the Online Safety Bill via an amendment to that Bill. The effect of this amendment will be exactly the same as the current approach; it is simply the change in timetabling that means this amendment is necessary.
Government Amendment 41 clarifies the scope of the foreign interference effect contained within Clause 14(1)(a) to ensure it is not misinterpreted. Foreign interference includes interference with rights and freedoms that are protected under domestic law, such as freedom of speech. We know that foreign states have sought to intimidate or threaten diaspora communities with punishment to prevent them engaging in lawful protest activities. We want such activity taking place in the UK to be covered by the offence of foreign interference. Government Amendment 41 simply changes the wording in the offence to “in the United Kingdom” as opposed to
“as it has effect under the law of the United Kingdom”.
This will ensure that it is not misinterpreted to have a broader effect than we intend. It does not change our policy or affect the operational utility of the offence.
Amendment 50 is minor and does not introduce new policy. It simply reinforces the Government’s intention behind what is originally meant by “political decisions”.
Some concerns have been raised that references to proceedings in Parliament in both the offence of foreign interference and the foreign influence registration scheme risk creating unhelpful ambiguity about the prohibition on impeaching or questioning proceedings in Parliament contained in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights. The Government’s position is that such references did not and could not displace provisions in the Bill of Rights and were not intended to do so. However, we have amended the provisions to ensure there can be no suggestion of interference with privilege.
To address these concerns, government Amendment 48 removes references to proceedings of the UK Parliament and devolved legislatures from the definition of “political processes”. A key element of foreign interference is the infiltration of our democracy, including the institutions and processes which uphold our democracy. The other amendments we have tabled therefore seek to ensure that the offence still protects against such interference.
Amendment 49 adds to the definition of “political processes” a reference to
“the activities of an informal group consisting of or including members of”
the relevant legislatures of the United Kingdom. The policy intention remains the same—to capture foreign interference in Parliament targeted at the heart of our democracy—but we are achieving it in a slightly different way. I will briefly explain how we will do this.
The majority of what we wish to capture in relation to interference with Parliament will be covered by the effect in Clause 14(1)(b)—the limb relating to public functions—as MPs and other officials within Parliament will be exercising their public functions. It is right that we seek to criminalise activity where, for example, somebody is acting for a foreign power and threatens violence to affect how a person exercises their public functions.
However, with this amendment we ensure that we also capture activity that is part of our democratic processes but which does not have official status within Parliament. We have therefore added reference to informal groups, which will include APPGs, to the definition of “political processes”. Foreign powers seeking to interfere in political processes through those who do not have public functions—for example, an external secretariat—will continue to be caught by the offence.
I turn briefly to government Amendments 42 and 44, which give effect to the new approach I have outlined, with Amendment 44 relating to the “legal processes” limb. They give effect to the new approach such that those interference effects apply otherwise than in the exercise of public functions. Government Amendments 43 and 47 are consequential amendments following from the change in definitions.
Taken as a whole, the amendments do not introduce new policy but simply reinforce the existing policy on the interference from foreign states that this offence is designed to protect against. I therefore ask noble Lords to support the inclusion of these amendments and beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 51, which stands in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and my noble friend Lord Evans of Weardale.
This is about transparency. When the electors go to an election, obviously they consider the policies that are placed before them. They also consider the personalities that are placed before them, because they are voting for an individual to carry out the important and valuable role of their Member of Parliament. They also should be entitled to enough transparency to judge the ethical matrix in which each political party operates, as represented by the individuals who stand as candidates. This moderate and temperate Amendment 51 is an attempt to improve the knowledge that voters have about the ethical matrix of the political parties that stand behind the candidates they are able to vote for and have to choose from.
We know that there are problems about the ethical matrix of political parties. Sometimes it is not their fault, because outside forces, hostile actors from foreign countries, make interventions into elections—for example, via the internet—in an attempt to slant the vote in one direction or another. However, there is also a serious risk—I accuse no party of impropriety in this respect, at least for the purposes of this contribution to your Lordships’ debate—that foreign actors, foreign powers, may seek to influence an election, for example by making substantial donations to that party’s election fighting fund which enable it to fight the election at an advantage compared with other parties.
I will not go back to my days as a very happy Liberal and then Liberal Democrat MP and talk about the disadvantage we always started from because we had less money than the other parties. However, we were always worried, in those days at least—I am sure it is still the same today—by contributions that might have come from foreign powers and that would give an even greater advantage, concealed from the electorate, to those political parties.
So what this amendment seeks to do is protect us from the likes of Putin’s cronies, who might, one way or another, find their way to dinners, contribution events and even meeting people in this great building. We seek to establish a register. In effect, each political party would have to create a policy statement which meant that they were obliged to disclose at least the outline of contributions made by a foreign power—we are not talking about rich foreigners or wealthy businesspeople but about a foreign power which has a political reason for trying to influence the result of an election, either made directly or through an intermediary.
By this modest amendment, a UK-registered political party would have to provide the Electoral Commission with an annual statement of risk management that would identify how risks relating to donations from a foreign power, directly or indirectly, had been managed and what measures had been put in place by the party to that effect. I cannot understand why any political party for one moment would want to object to this. I can imagine that every political party would say, “Well, it makes a level playing field and gives our voters the opportunity to understand the background—if there is any ugly background—in British politics that might influence an election”.
So I invite your Lordships—I am minded at the moment to test the opinion of the House on this matter in due course—to consider this with great care and to come up with some pretty good reasons if there are real objections to this and explain what they are based on broad and objective criteria, not on anything that could be suspected of being self-interest.
My Lords, one of the reasons for supporting the amendment, to which I have added my name, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, is the Government’s recent change which allows long-term expats to continue to be on the UK electoral register and therefore to be permitted donors to UK political parties. This means that someone living —for the sake of this argument—for 40 years in, say, Russia, to take the example just given, can be on the electoral roll here. A British subject, living for 40 years in Russia, can now be on the electoral roll here, with no checks or questions asked, and that person can then donate money to a British political party—no names, no pack drill, and importantly, of course, no checks whatever on the source of the money they are able to donate to a British political party.
PPERA—the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, as most of us know—requires parties to check only that the donors are “permissible”; no checks are needed on the source of their funds. They are not even required to carry out enhanced due diligence on donors operating in high-risk countries which are listed in the money laundering and terrorist financing regulations 2022. There are no obligations on political parties to do the due diligence that we would expect of anyone else handling money from any of the countries on that list.
Incidentally, that is very, very different from those of us—well, all of us in this House—who are PEPs under the AML rules. Indeed, at this moment in the Moses Room the financial services Bill is being discussed, which is trying to reduce the extraordinary number of hoops that we and our children all have to go through in our banking activities because of our presence here. However, Russian-based UK citizens, who long ago gave up paying taxes of any sort here, can donate money, without any question as to its provenance, to a UK political party, surely influencing our democracy way beyond some of the other minor activities that this Bill seeks to make transparent—an issue we will return to later.
Amendment 51, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, would capture any possibility that the money could come from a foreign power. As the amendment states, it would include donations made through an intermediary. We on this side would certainly like to know the source of donations made from outside the UK to a political party, whether in government or opposition, or to a party with no elected Members.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, has been very helpful on this Bill. To our surprise, in Committee, he claimed that our existing electoral law has
“a stringent regime of controls on political donations to ensure that only those with a legitimate interest in UK elections”—[Official Report, 21/12/22; col. 1166.]
can donate. I question that in respect of someone who has been out of the country for that long, does not use any of our services and does not pay our taxes. Even more, do we check the legitimate interests of those long gone who can put in money from another source?
I trust that the Government have now looked again at what was a rather complacent reply and that they share our interest in revealing full details, including instigating proper checks. I hope that they will therefore accept Amendment 51. As the Minister knows, it has the full support of the Electoral Commission. I hope that he would welcome a duty on political parties to check the true source of donations and assess the risk of accepting money from overseas, particularly from those on the list of the AML regulations. Rather along the lines of “know your customer” which the banks have to do, there should also be a “know your donor”. This should be a culture in all our political parties. It would mean assessing the risk that donors might pose, especially those from overseas countries. There would be an enhanced due diligence on new donors and proper recording of such checks.
I received a letter from the Minister today which I think has not yet been shared with the House. It says that it is in the national interest to have greater openness about the influence on British politics by foreign powers. We agree. Amendment 51 would ensure that all overseas donations were openly made and disclosed.
My Lords, I support Amendment 51, which would help increase the transparency and accountability of our political system. The ISC’s Russia report of 2020 recognised that the UK had clearly welcomed Russian money, including in the political sphere.
The Government have previously assured the House that the protections within the electoral financing laws are “sufficient”. However, as other noble Lords suggested in Committee, there are clear differences between the requirement on companies to undertake due diligence when receiving foreign money and that on political parties, which have no such duties. This would help close the gap.
I note that the amendment requires a political party to publish a policy statement within three months of the passing of the Bill. The Secretary of State also has three months to produce the accompanying guidance. It may be advisable for the Secretary of State to publish the guidance before political parties are required to produce their policy statements. I simply raise that as a practical point. It does not affect my support for the amendment.
As regards the government amendments, it is not clear why they seek to exclude parliamentary proceedings from the definition of political processes, thereby moving them outwith the scope of any new foreign interference offence. I appreciate that the Government have said that it is to clarify that the Bill does not intend to interfere with parliamentary privilege, but I do not see that the answer is to remove the concept entirely.
To commit the foreign interference offence, one needs to conduct “prohibited conduct” which has an “interference effect”. “Prohibited conduct” includes a variety of unacceptable behaviours—from a criminal offence to threatening to damage someone’s reputation or causing financial loss. Surely, it is critical to prevent any foreign interference in parliamentary proceedings which involves a person conducting such unacceptable behaviour. Perhaps the Minister could explain how including parliamentary proceedings in the foreign interference offence would undermine parliamentary privilege, given the need for the prohibited conduct of the offence to apply. Even if the amendment is warranted, could the Minister explain why the Government have not replaced it with wording similar to that in Clause 70, as amended. This refers to interference with
“a Member of either House of Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament”
rather than “parliamentary proceedings”, which would ensure that no gap was created.
My Lords, the all-Peers letter which the Minister sent to us on 28 February states clearly and strongly that what we need is in this Bill is
“transparency on which foreign powers are influencing our politics”,
which it states
“is vital to defending our democracy”.
This reasonable amendment fills one of the loopholes left in the Bill. We are all concerned about the integrity of our elections. We are conscious that foreign donations are part of what can undermine that integrity.
The Minister may have had drawn to his attention a letter in yesterday’s Financial Times which points out that the new proposals for a football regulator include among its duties the need to ensure stronger due diligence and checks on the sources of wealth of those who wish to buy or own football clubs. It is anomalous, to say the least, that we should have stronger checks on people who wish to buy British football clubs than on people who wish to give sometimes very large sums of money to British political parties. I remind the Minister that the question of Arron Banks’s very large donation to the Vote Leave campaign is still being litigated in the British courts. We still have no assurance as to the origins of that donation, since he has refused to give one.
I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has said, by reminding the Minister that there are now 100,000 British citizens living in the United Arab Emirates—some of whom already donate to British political parties. It would be quite easy for some of those to become intermediaries for the sovereign powers concerned. Other wealthy British expatriates live in Thailand, Singapore or Hong Kong. Their business depends heavily on the Chinese economy and state.
It is entirely desirable, reasonable and appropriate to ensure that British political parties play their part in mitigating the risks of foreign interference in British elections by being required to show that they are conducting careful risk management in accepting donations from overseas. There have been a number of instances in recent years of which we are all aware. Some of them were touched on in the ISC report on Russia. It is clear that such management has not been in place. It ought to be. I hope that the Government will accept this amendment as a means of filling this loophole.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. In 2021, my committee reviewed the regulation of electoral finance. I have to tell the Minister that “stringent” was not what we concluded as to the rigour of the arrangements in place. We felt that there were a number of loopholes which could quite easily be remedied. We made recommendations to that effect. Regrettably, the Government decided that they did not wish to accept any of those recommendations; therefore, the loopholes are still there.
I have added my name to Amendment 51 because it is a modest step in the right direction. The rules that apply to the financial services industry and, as appears likely, are shortly to apply to the football industry are considerably stronger than those that apply to our elections. A modest step in this direction would not provide a high level of assurance that money from illicit sources of various sorts might not reach the electoral process, but at least it is a step in the right direction.
It is important that we should take that step because we know that the electoral system in this country and in other western democracies has been under attack. It is vital to maintain public confidence in the electoral system; it is still pretty good. The Electoral Commission publishes regular research on attitudes towards the electoral system. At the moment, we are in a reasonably good place, but it is very important for the health of our democracy that we retain that public support. This is a small step in that direction. I have been scratching my head to work out why, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, any political party would not support this for the integrity of our electoral system. It is not massively bureaucratic or intrusive. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I rise briefly to say that we very much support Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile; were he to push it to a vote, we would certainly support him in that Division.
I do not want to repeat much of what has been said by my noble friend Lady Hayter and the noble Lords, Lord Carlile, Lord Wallace, Lord Evans and Lord West. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, was right to say that, although this is a modest amendment, its consequences are quite serious. There is no doubt that people are concerned about some of the issues that they have read about in the papers around foreign interference in elections and the funding of political parties. One of the things that we often debate in this House is confidence in our democracy and democratic system, including the threats to them and the erosion of that confidence. Sometimes, these may be small steps but they are important ones that can contribute in our trying to do all we can to protect our democracy. People are worried about foreign interference in elections and the integrity of our democratic system.
It is right to point out, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, did, that, through this Bill, we are requiring significant steps to be taken by businesses, organisations, industry, financial services and all sorts of other bodies to ensure that they conform to certain regulations that protect our national security. It would be right for them to ask, “Why is there one rule for us but another for political parties?” It is quite right that this amendment is supported; I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will seek to test the opinion of the House and that his amendment is supported by the majority of Members, because it is an important step in protecting the integrity of our democracy in the way that noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lady Hayter on the Labour Benches, pointed out.
Having said that, I want to ask one practical question with respect to many of the amendments that the Government have brought forward, which, by and large, we support. I want to deal with Amendment 49, the explanatory statement for which says:
“This amendment adds to the definition of ‘political processes’ the activities of groups such as all party parliamentary groups.”
I understand the bit about all-party groups but the implication there is in “such as”. Are the Government saying that the amendment is relevant to other groups? If so, can the Minister explain that to us?
With that, as I say, I very much support Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, because it is very important.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group.
I will start, if I may, by addressing the question from the noble Lord, Lord West, by repeating something that I said in my opening speech; I think it goes some way to answering him. The majority of what we wish to capture in relation to interference with Parliament will be covered by the effect in Clause 14(1)(b)—the limb relating to public functions—as MPs and other officials in Parliament will be exercising their public functions. It is right that we seek to criminalise activity where, for example, somebody is acting for a foreign power and threatens violence to affect how a person exercises their public functions. I hope that answers his question.
In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about Amendment 49, let me say that he is completely right. The reference to
“the activities of an informal group”
in this amendment is, as I think noble Lords know, designed to capture interference activities in APPGs by foreign powers. We are seeking to capture interference whether or however any person participates in the activities of these informal groups. We expect that to cover MPs and people external to Parliament and government who participate in the actions of such groups, but we also envisage informal groups to include things such as “friends of” groups. The use of the term “acting in that capacity” ensures that we do not capture things such as parliamentary book clubs but instead focus on those caught, such as the 1922 Committee, although they could also be covered by the public functions limb of the test. I hope that clears this up.
I know that Amendment 51 is a duplicate of a previous amendment, now tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. The Government do not believe that this amendment is necessary, I am afraid. I was going to quote myself and say again that UK electoral law already sets out a stringent regime of controls, but I am slightly more reluctant to do so after hearing the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Evans. However, we believe that our regime ensures that only those with a genuine interest in UK elections can make political donations and that political donations are transparent.
I will go into more detail on this point, if I may, because I believe that the noble Lord’s ethical matrix is already in existence. It is already an offence to attempt to evade the rules on donations by concealing information, giving false information or knowingly being involved in an arrangement to facilitate the making of an impermissible donation. This provides a safeguard against impermissible donations via the back door. Political parties must already report all donations over a certain value to the Electoral Commission; these are then published online for public scrutiny. Political parties are by law required to undertake reasonable steps to verify whether a donor is permissible and obtain their relevant details for the reporting requirements. Donations that do not meet the permissibility tests or are unidentifiable must be reported and returned to the Electoral Commission, which also produces guidance outlining how the recipient of a donation can undertake these checks.
As I say, UK electoral law already sets out a regime of donation and spending controls to safeguard the integrity of our democratic processes, so only those with a genuine interest in UK electoral events can make political donations; they include UK-registered electors, UK-registered companies, trade unions and other UK-based entities, as well as otherwise eligible donors such as Irish citizens who meet prescribed conditions and can donate to parties in Northern Ireland. Parties and other campaigners are prohibited from accepting donations that are not from a permissible or identifiable donor. The failure to return such a donation either to the donor or, as I just described, to the Electoral Commission within 30 days of receipt is an offence; any such donations must also be reported to the Electoral Commission. The Elections Act 2022 introduced a restriction on ineligible foreign third-party campaigning above a £700 de minimis threshold.
The transparency of electoral funding is obviously a key cornerstone of the UK’s electoral system. All political parties recognise that third-party campaigners and candidates must record their election spending and report it to the Electoral Commission or their local returning officer; that information is publicly available. For transparency, all donations to political parties and campaigners must be recorded and certain donations must be reported to the Electoral Commission; as I said, these include donations from impermissible donors and donations from the same permissible source that amount to over £7,500 in one calendar year. To ensure transparency, donation reports are published online by the commission for public scrutiny.
To register as an overseas elector, a British citizen has to present ID. However, it is a long-standing principle first introduced by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1998 that, if you are eligible to vote for a party in an election, you are also eligible to donate to that party. We believe that overseas electors are important participants in our democracy, but it is only right that they should be able to spend in UK elections in the same way as other UK citizens registered on the electoral roll.
I think that this is a reasonably comprehensive set of rules. There may be some debate as to whether it qualifies as a stringent regime but the fact is that donations to political parties from foreign powers, whether they are made directly or through an intermediary, are illegal. Political parties already have a legal duty to check that all donations they are offered are permissible.
In closing, I very much thank noble Lords for engaging so constructively in this debate. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, not to press his amendment in this group and ask noble Lords to support the Government’s amendments.
Before the Minister sits down, I just want to check one thing with him. He said that overseas electors will have to present ID. I was involved in the passage of the now Elections Act, which does indeed provide stronger, more limited ways in which correct ID has to be presented by people voting in person in British elections. However, I do not recall extra requirements around the presentation of ID for people who are resident overseas and wish to vote.
I think that I made it reasonably clear that to register as an elector overseas, you must present ID.
Amendment 40 agreed.
Clause 14: Foreign interference: meaning of “interference effect”
Amendments 41 to 44
41: Clause 14, page 12, line 23, leave out “as it has effect under the law of” and insert “in”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the scope of subsection (1)(a).
42: Clause 14, page 12, line 27, after “person” insert “(other than in the exercise of a public function)”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment restricts Clause 14(1)(d) to participation in political processes otherwise than in the exercise of public functions. The exercise of public functions is caught by Clause 14(1)(b).
43: Clause 14, page 12, line 27, after “in” insert “relevant”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment reflects the changes to the definition of political processes by Lord Sharpe’s amendments to clause 14, page 12, line 36 and clause 14, page 13, line 1.
44: Clause 14, page 12, line 29, after “person” insert “(other than in the exercise of a public function)”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment restricts Clause 14(1)(e) to participation in legal proceedings otherwise than in the exercise of public functions. The exercise of public functions is caught by Clause 14(1)(b).
Amendments 41 to 44 agreed.
Amendments 45 and 46 not moved.
Amendments 47 to 50
47: Clause 14, page 12, line 34, after “(1)(d)” insert ““relevant”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on Lord Sharpe’s amendment to Clause 14, page 12, line 27.
48: Clause 14, page 12, line 36, leave out paragraph (b)
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment removes from the definition of “political processes” proceedings in the UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and Senedd Cymru.
49: Clause 14, page 13, line 1, at end insert—
“(e) the activities of an informal group consisting of or including members of—(i) one or both of Houses of Parliament,(ii) the Northern Ireland Assembly,(iii) the Scottish Parliament, or(iv) Senedd Cymru,(acting in that capacity).”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adds to the definition of “political processes” the activities of groups such as all party parliamentary groups.
50: Clause 14, page 13, line 3, leave out “the government of the United Kingdom” and insert “a Minister of the Crown (within the meaning of the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975), a United Kingdom government department”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that the definition of “political decisions” includes decisions taken by a Minister of the Crown or a government department.
Amendments 47 to 50 agreed.
51: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Foreign interference in elections: duties on political parties(1) A UK-registered political party must, within three months of the passing of this Act, publish a policy statement to ensure the identification of donations from a foreign power (whether made directly or through an intermediary), and must keep that policy updated in accordance with guidance issued under subsection (2). (2) Within three months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State must publish guidance on the provisions of this section.(3) A UK-registered political party must provide the Electoral Commission with an annual statement of risk management that identifies how risks relating to donations from a foreign power (whether made directly or through an intermediary) have been managed, and what measures have been put in place by the party to such effect.(4) In this section, “UK-registered political party” means a political party registered under Part 2 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.”
My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who have contributed to this debate. It is notable that around the House, apart from the Government Front Bench, everyone has spoken in favour of this amendment and nobody from the Conservative Party chapel, as it were, has spoken against it.
I was particularly taken by the metaphor from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, about knowing your donor—KYD. It is analogous with KYC—knowing your client—which, as she said, is universally applied by businesses these days when they receive funding from abroad.
The Minister is trying to be as helpful as he can. However, can I say kindly to him that he has missed the point of this amendment? Amendment 51 seeks to place an overarching responsibility on political parties to say how they will deal with direct or indirect foreign donations if they are offered to them. That makes it much easier for a candidate or a party official to say, “Sorry, we can’t take that because it’s in our statement of principle as to what we do”. Even though this is a relatively modest step, it would enhance the transparency of an honourable political process. We have lost some ground, compared with some other European countries in particular—not just western European countries but some central European countries too—in the transparency that we offer in elections. People are uncomfortable about it and the media are hounding on it.
With that in mind, and despite the blandishments of the Minister, I wish to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
Clause 17: Obtaining etc material benefits from a foreign intelligence service
Amendments 52 to 54
52: Clause 17, page 15, line 18, after first “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
53: Clause 17, page 15, line 26, after “or” insert “having regard to other matters known to them”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of “ought reasonably to know”.
54: Clause 17, page 16, line 30, at end insert—
““Crown employment” ;”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment incorporates into Clause 17 a definition of “Crown employment” (by reference to Clause 3).
Amendments 52 to 54 agreed.
Schedule 2: Powers of entry, search and seizure
Amendments 55 to 63
55: Schedule 2, page 71, line 15, at end insert—
“(v) Schedule 3 (disclosure orders);(vi) Schedule 4 (customer information orders);”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adds offences under Schedules 3 and 4 to the list of offences to which the powers in Part 1 of Schedule 2 do not apply.
56: Schedule 2, page 75, leave out line 36 and insert “produce the material”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adjusts the test for the grant of a warrant under paragraph 9, to align with paragraph 12 of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act 2000.
57: Schedule 2, page 75, line 37, leave out from beginning to “it” in line 38
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adjusts the test for the grant of a warrant under paragraph 9, to align with paragraph 12 of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act 2000.
58: Schedule 2, page 75, line 40, leave out paragraphs (c) and (d) and insert—
“(c) the investigation may be seriously prejudiced unless a constable can secure immediate access to the material.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adjusts the test for the grant of a warrant under paragraph 9, to align with paragraph 12 of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act 2000.
59: Schedule 2, page 81, line 3, at end insert—
“(v) Schedule 3 (disclosure orders);(vi) Schedule 4 (customer information orders);”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adds offences under Schedules 3 and 4 to the list of offences to which the powers in Part 2 of Schedule 2 do not apply.
60: Schedule 2, page 83, line 38, leave out “Provision may be made” and insert “Without prejudice to section 305 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, provision may be made by the High Court of Justiciary”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that an Act of Adjournal made under paragraph 24(1) of Schedule 2 would be made by the High Court of Justiciary and would be without prejudice to the general power in section 305 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
61: Schedule 2, page 84, leave out line 38 and insert “produce the material”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adjusts the test for the grant of a warrant under paragraph 25, to align with paragraph 29 of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act 2000.
62: Schedule 2, page 84, line 39, leave out from beginning to “it” in line 40
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adjusts the test for the grant of a warrant under paragraph 25, to align with paragraph 29 of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act 2000.
63: Schedule 2, page 85, line 1, leave out paragraphs (c) and (d) and insert—
“(c) the investigation may be seriously prejudiced unless a constable can secure immediate access to the material.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adjusts the test for the grant of a warrant under paragraph 25, to align with paragraph 29 of Schedule 5 to the Terrorism Act 2000.
Amendments 55 to 63 agreed.
Schedule 6: Detention under section 27
64: Schedule 6, page 124, line 5, at end insert “or, in Northern Ireland, Article 53(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/1341 (N.I.12))”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment adds a reference to Northern Ireland legislation to a defined term.
Amendment 64 agreed.
Clause 30: Offences under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007
65: Clause 30, page 22, line 30, at end insert “when carried out in support of and with the authority of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service or GCHQ”
Member's explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to clarify that any immunity from prosecution conferred by this Clause does not extend to the activities of the Armed Forces in general, but only to those activities carried out in support of the Intelligence Agencies.
My Lords, the amendment to which I will speak was designed to limit the scope of the immunity which the Bill originally proposed to activities in support of the intelligence services, rather than extend it right across the Armed Forces. However, we now have a change, which I will come to in more detail; we are no longer discussing an immunity, thank goodness, but a statutory defence.
Intelligence gathering is difficult, and in the world of intelligence it is quite difficult to avoid breaking the law sometimes. When you are dealing with a hostile state or terrorist organisation, trying to get information from it which it does not want you to have can be quite complicated. There are ways of dealing with the issue, such as a public interest decision by prosecutors not to press a charge, or the expectation that such a charge would not be pressed. That needed to be backed up by authorisation at the highest political level for action which could be politically embarrassing or worse. No such authorisation should be given to torture, rendition to torture or other serious international crimes.
In the Bill, the Government presented us with a blanket immunity, precluding prosecution and unsupported by any specific ministerial authorisation, with no exclusion of torture or other egregious offences. So I strongly supported the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Purvis, which has now been adopted by the Government, to strike out Clause 30 and replace it with a statutory defence based on the existing domestic provision. That is government Amendment 66 in this group. It is a lot better than the original Clause 30, but still raises some of the same questions.
First, will there be any change to the system of ministerial authorisation at Secretary of State level for activity which might be covered by this clause? That ministerial authorisation is a very important part of the system and its absence would be very damaging. Clearly a general immunity dispenses entirely with any need for it; I was extremely worried about that consequence. Some of the decisions which have to be taken are quite political in character; if an agency were discovered doing something contrary to the law of another country, as well as to our own, very serious political embarrassment could result. So it is in many ways a political decision, and there should be a process by which it can be made.
Secondly, why are we using the National Security Bill to confer a statutory defence not just on intelligence activity, but on any action which is
“the proper exercise of a function of the armed forces”?
In other words, we are creating a new defence for actions on the battlefield, or in a counter-insurgency operation, in areas in which international law is potentially involved. This has very significant consequences for those who break it.
When I first examined the original clause, it seemed to me that the Government were trying to embrace, within an immunity, those members of the Armed Forces who were engaged in intelligence work alongside the three civilian agencies. This would include military intelligence, both uniformed and civilian personnel—now, of course, I think that more fully recognises that the fourth pillar of UK intelligence operations, the military intelligence itself, is brought within the purview of the Intelligence and Security Committee. But I expected that the Government were trying to cover other Armed Forces personnel deployed to assist the intelligence agencies, which they do in a variety of ways. My Amendment 65 was designed to limit the coverage to those groups. But it appears, from the more explicit drafting of the Government’s new clause, that they intend the statutory defence to apply to any proper exercise of the functions of the Armed Forces. I find it surprising that we should attempt so fundamental a change in the law governing the Armed Forces on a tail-wind from a piece of national security legislation.
I was also attracted by the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord West, to insert “and proportionate” into this definition. I can think of actions which an intelligence agency or the military in a military situation might consider a proper exercise of their function, but which, on reflection, might be considered so disproportionate that the argument of necessity falls away—we cannot get the information that we need unless we do X, but X has such drastic consequences that we should not attempt to get the information in that way at all. You apply the same principle to a battlefield situation: it is a proper function of the military to try to win the battle or deal with an insurgent, but there may be circumstances in which the proper exercise of the function is not proportionate to what is involved.
I return to the breadth of the Government’s proposed new clause. Will the Minister explain how it interacts with international humanitarian law and the law on war crimes? Are we going to have cases taken in international courts because the clauses seem to remove a domestic remedy? I do not feel that the wider military aspect of the clause has been adequately examined and, in proposing this amendment, I seek a fuller explanation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in relation to Clause 30 and the different amendments being proposed, including the government amendment that seeks to insert a new clause to replace Clause 30 and the amendments that I have tabled on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which seek to amend the government amendment.
Our efforts have been on the basis that everybody in both Houses is working to ensure that our men and women in the intelligence agencies, often working in extreme danger to tight timelines, are provided with appropriate protections. This does not mean an exemption from the safeguards in place regarding behaviour. I should say at the outset that, as noble Lords will understand, I will not comment on behalf of the ISC in relation to the applicability of the clause to the Armed Forces, since that falls outside the ISC’s remit. The ISC has focused on scrutiny of the clauses that relate to the intelligence community.
To our mind, the original version of Clause 30 provided a rare exemption from liability for the intelligence community when working abroad and is completely unacceptable. Not surprisingly, it received fierce criticism from across both Houses. Concerns included that there is already a reasonableness defence under Section 50 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 and that the agencies can already seek immunity from liability for activity undertaken abroad under Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994. The ISC was concerned about the lack of a proportionality requirement, the absence of an oversight mechanism, the breadth of the immunity provided and the potential damage to the reputation of the intelligence community.
In the Commons, the Bill Committee recognised that there might be classified information underpinning the Government’s rationale for the clause that could not be disclosed to it, and the Government therefore committed to provide the ISC with that evidence. The ISC considered that classified evidence, and I outlined the committee’s conclusion at Second Reading. The ISC found that Clause 30 potentially identified a legitimate problem since, despite the existing legislative protection, there might still be a risk of criminal liability for junior members of the intelligence community, even when they acted appropriately, and that this could potentially have an operational impact.
While the ISC therefore sympathised with the aim of the clause, it was firmly of the view that Clause 30, as written, was not appropriate. While the existing mechanism to avoid liability may not be entirely comprehensive, there was simply no justification for incorporating a broad automatic exemption with such limited accountability. At Second Reading, I noted that the ISC had been given an assurance that the Government were developing an alternative approach to meet its concerns.
Before I turn to the ISC’s view on the detail of the amendment that the Government have now tabled, I want to touch on the Home Office’s handling of this matter. Following the constructive session with the intelligence community on Clause 30 ahead of Second Reading in the Lords, where the committee provided a series of recommendations to improve the clause, the ISC’s chair wrote to the Security Minister requesting that the Government provide the ISC with a draft of the amendment in advance of it being formally tabled, with sufficient time for it to scrutinise it and make any further recommendations. This was with the intention of ensuring that the amendment was appropriate to the problem and would therefore not attract the same fierce criticism from this House as the original Clause 30. Our intention was to help. Indeed, we are working, as I have said, on the basis that everyone in both Houses is working to ensure that our men and women, who often work in extreme danger to tight deadlines, are provided with the appropriate protections while incorporating the required safeguards and maintaining a sufficient level of accountability and oversight.
However, the ISC received no response from the Security Minister or any other Home Office official for almost five weeks. The draft amendment was finally received on 21 February, but was then immediately tabled on 22 February, despite the committee being scheduled to discuss it with the intelligence community on 23 February. This left the ISC with no time to consider the amendment. The Government clearly tabled it as a fait accompli, with little regard for appropriate parliamentary engagement. This is in spite of the Government’s commitment in Committee to continuing to work with the experts in this House, and those in other places, to reach a consensus on Clause 30.
At Second Reading, I referred to the catalogue of problems relating more broadly to the handling of this Bill which have seriously undermined effective parliamentary scrutiny. I emphasised then that the Bill, which is about our national security, is too important to be handled in such a chaotic manner, yet the Government seem to continue to ignore these concerns. The Home Office’s failure to engage is disgraceful—and I say this with some sadness, having been a Home Office Minister for some three years.
The ISC is the only organisation which can scrutinise the classified evidence underpinning the rationale for Clause 30 on behalf of Parliament and the public. The Government need to stop treating the ISC and wider Parliament like the enemy. Effective parliamentary scrutiny must be taken seriously by the Government. We should be working together, constructively, to ensure that the Bill is as effective as possible and in the best interests of the country; having talked with the Minister, I think that is now beginning to happen. However, I take this opportunity to put on record that the Home Office’s complete failure to abide by its commitments made in this House to engage with the ISC is in contrast to the efforts of the intelligence community, with whom the ISC has continued to have constructive discussions on Clause 30 and the rest of the Bill.
I turn to the detail of the clause. In the ISC’s view, this amendment is certainly an improvement when compared with previous versions. It has changed the automatic exemption to a more limited defence using similar wording to the defence in Section 13 of the Bribery Act. Rather than an automatic carve-out from liability, this will require the facts of any case to be put forward and considered properly in a court. The amendment also introduces a level of accountability. The head of each intelligence service is required to ensure that their service has in place arrangements designed to ensure that the relevant activities are necessary for the proper exercise of their functions. These arrangements must also be to the Secretary of State’s satisfaction, which introduces a level of ministerial accountability.
Nevertheless, we are not quite there yet. The ISC still has concerns and questions that need to be answered. First, there is a glaring omission of any requirement of proportionality in the new defence. As the amendment is currently drafted, for the agencies to use this defence they need to demonstrate only that their activity was necessary; it is not explicit that their activity needs to be proportionate. There is therefore no need for the nature and likely consequences of any activity to be reasonable. In short, it appears that the intelligence community could avoid liability even where an act was entirely disproportionate or unreasonable.
I note that this defence is based on the intelligence community’s defence to bribery offences in Section 13 of the Bribery Act 2010. However, the bribery offence is rather less serious than those being considered here. This clause provides a defence to assisting or encouraging any offence overseas, however serious. There is therefore a much stronger case for a proportionality requirement to be explicitly set out in this defence.
I have therefore tabled two amendments on behalf of the ISC to subsections (2) and (3) of the proposed new clause inserted by the government amendment explicitly to incorporate a proportionality requirement. The Government may seek to argue that this introduces greater uncertainty or that the criminal law does not generally put proportionality into legislation. However, these are not sufficient reasons for completely omitting a concept of reasonableness from a defence to assisting serious offences overseas. There must be an appropriate level of accountability.
The Government may also argue that this addition is unnecessary as proportionality is already implied in the defence, specifically within the words
“proper exercise of any function”
of an intelligence service. If that is the case, the Minister needs to state this explicitly from the Dispatch Box to ensure that the courts take this into consideration.
While the ISC has sought to amend only the government amendment to address the proportionality question, as that is the most serious, it also has a number of other questions that should be answered. In particular, it is not clear whether this new defence is connected to the internal arrangements that must be established by the head of each intelligence service to ensure that activity undertaken by their service is necessary. Specifically, can an activity which is necessary but does not comply with these internal oversight arrangements be considered as falling within the proper exercise of an intelligence service’s function?
Given that the purpose of requiring these arrangements is to ensure that there is a layer of senior official accountability, it is vital that all activity undertaken by the intelligence community complies with these internal safeguards. Where an act does not comply with these arrangements, it should fall outside the definition of “proper exercise” of the intelligence community’s functions, automatically preventing the intelligence community using this defence. If this is the case, the Minister should say so explicitly from the Dispatch Box.
The third point the Minister might wish to assure the House on is precisely what those arrangements are. They are not defined in the defence and are therefore too vague. For this uncertain wording to be acceptable, the Minister must set out what the arrangements include and what principles are incorporated within them. Do they, for example, incorporate the principles of necessity and proportionality throughout? Do they simply include general internal risk management procedures within the agencies, or do they also incorporate specific policies such as the Principles, which relate to the detention of and the passing of intelligence relating to detainees, for example? Again, the Minister needs to confirm this explicitly from the Dispatch Box.
A further important question is the extent to which this defence has an impact on existing legislative provisions for oversight. In Committee in the Lords, in response to questions from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the Minister said that Clause 30 as originally drafted would mean that, in some cases, authorisation by the Secretary of State will no longer be a requirement. I want to pause on the significance of those words. Despite previous assurances that Clause 30 would not have any impact on ministerial accountability or oversight of the intelligence community, the Government admitted in this House that the ministerial authorisation for encouraging or assisting offences overseas, for example Section 7 warrants under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, would sometimes no longer be required. That is astonishing and I am sure that many in this House find it extremely concerning. It shows that the Government were willing fundamentally to undermine existing ministerial accountability and oversight, which is already set out in statute and provides a vital check on the significant powers wielded by our intelligence community.
We do not expect our intelligence community to be acting inappropriately. On the contrary, it shows how justified Parliament’s concerns were in relation to this clause and how important it is to resolve them. It also demonstrates the need for clarity as to exactly how the new defence will have an impact on existing accountability legislative measures before we approve it. I would therefore welcome the Minister’s confirmation that, unlike the previous exemption, this new defence will not lead to fewer ministerial authorisations sought by the intelligence community or less daily oversight from Ministers and/or judicial commissioners of intelligence community activity.
These four issues are those which the ISC is most concerned about. We have also noted that, as drafted, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution rather than the defence, which makes it more favourable to the intelligence community than the defence in Section 13 of the Bribery Act. However, there are many fine legal minds here who I am sure will know a lot about this, and I bow to their experience on that subject.
In conclusion, the government amendments to Clause 30 recognise that the defence is significantly better than the exemption that was previously provided, so we are more pleased with it. It will help to protect the junior members of our intelligence community, who work tirelessly to protect our country. We cannot let the Government’s poor handling of the Bill affect our consideration of the substantive issues. As the clause stands, the ISC has three concerns on which it requires assurances from the Minister today. We have already notified the Home Office as to what they are, so I trust that the noble Lord has come equipped to speak on those three points.
To recap, they are, first, that the proper exercise of a function of an intelligence service already incorporates proportionality; an act could not be within the proper exercise if it is not proportionate. Secondly, what is the meaning of the arrangements that the heads of each intelligence service are expected to establish? What do they consist of and what principles do they incorporate? Third, we require assurance that proper exercise is connected to the internal oversight arrangements that each intelligence service head must ensure exists, so that an act could not be considered within the proper exercise of a function if it does not comply with the oversight arrangements.
If the Minister can provide sufficient assurance today from the Dispatch Box—I have to say that I have already discussed this with the Minister and he has been very flexible—I will be content that this defence finds the right balance, providing the necessary protection to our intelligence officers while also incorporating the required safeguards and maintaining a sufficient level of accountability and oversight. If that is the case, and that is made clear from the Dispatch Box, I will not press my amendments.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 68 on the supplementary sheet in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. The immunity that preceded this Clause 30 may have been doomed from the moment the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, began her speech in Committee by saying that
“it seems to me that it is wrong in principle for members of the security and intelligence services to have immunity from the law”.—[Official Report, 11/1/23; col. 1452.]
She was right. That was just one reminder of how fortunate we are in the calibre and integrity of our intelligence chiefs, including those who have found their way into your Lordships’ House.
We now have a further statutory defence which would bite on encouragement or assistance of foreign crimes, which, although unreasonable and thus outside the scope of the existing Section 50 defence, is none the less considered necessary for the proper exercise of a function of an intelligence service or the armed services. A defence is, as has been said, in any view more acceptable than an immunity. But the likely marginal gain of this one seems limited, and its purpose is obscure.
So I ask the Minister in this new context to deal with the issue which, as we have just heard, the ISC did not look at. Why is this defence so broad in its application to the Armed Forces? The Minister indicated in Committee that the immunity was
“confined very much to the intelligence support by the Armed Forces”.—[Official Report, 11/1/23; col. 1458.]
We all know that the Armed Forces sometimes deploy in support of intelligence work overseas by the agencies. We also know that the Intelligence Corps has its own capabilities for the gathering and analysis of intelligence. That is captured by my amendment, though perhaps not by that of the noble Lord, Lord Beith.
What justification is there for extending this new defence to activities of the Armed Forces that are not intelligence related? Exceptions to the rule of law should be tightly controlled. Why should service personnel be exempt from the same law that applies to the rest of us outside the special circumstances of intelligence? From the debate in Committee, I understood those were the only circumstances thought relevant. I hope the Minster will be able either to explain this or to accept my amendment to his amendment. In the light of what we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord West, the Minister also has a great deal of explaining to do in relation to the important points that he raised.
I would like to make two comments on Amendment 67, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord West. I have two reservations about it. Necessary and proportionate is the test, and I would have thought that conduct that is necessary and proportionate is also reasonable, and therefore would benefit in any event from the Section 50 defence. I just wonder how much this really adds.
Secondly—I defer to more experienced criminal lawyers than me, of whom there are at least two in the House—the concept of proportionality could be quite a complicated one to explain to a jury. I am not sure I can think of any other criminal offence in which that concept exists. Proportionality in law, as I recall, is a four-part test, explained by the Supreme Court in the Bank Mellat case. That might rather complicate the route to a verdict. However, those are technical points.
The objections raised by the noble Lord, Lord West, are very serious. It is in the interests of the agencies to co-operate to the very fullest extent with the ISC. It is in the interests of all the rest of us, and I am quite sure it is in the interest of the Home Office as well. It is very distressing to hear that that did not happen in this case. So, in view of the serious points that the noble Lord made, and despite my rather lukewarm feelings about his amendment, I shall listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say in response. I sense that perhaps this is a discussion that will need to continue.
My Lords, I rise briefly, I hope, to say that, first, I agree with everything that my noble friend just said and will not repeat it. Secondly, I regard Amendment 66 to be a considerable improvement on what we were faced with before we started the Bill. Indeed, it is not a provision that provides immunity, it is evidence-based, it has a strong public interest element, but it is not perfect. One of the complaints I have received—only anecdotally but from authoritative sources—is a lack of understanding, among fairly senior public servants, of why the Secretary of State no longer carries any responsibility for the sort of decisions referred to in Amendment 66. The requirement in its subsection (5) that the Defence Council must ensure that the Armed Forces must have various arrangements in place is welcome as far as it goes, by why are Secretaries of State being eased out of any level of responsibility for decisions of this kind? I am not sure there is total confidence, among the kind of officials I have referred to, in the Defence Council to be as definable a source of responsibility as the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I understand that our order of business has been changed today. The Government Whip did not consult our Front Bench and, for those of us who had engagements during the dinner-break business, I think it is a discourtesy not to have at least consulted the Front Benches of other parties about changing the order of business.
That said, I welcome the government’s amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is absolutely right. The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, had indicated her hope that there would be government amendment in this area, and I thank the Minister for listening during Committee and for bringing forward these amendments. In Committee, I went to some lengths to outline what domestic procedures are in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, asked something I thought was rather threatening: if she could have a quiet word with me outside the Chamber during the hour for other business we had then. I am glad to say now that I will accept that and bring the Minister with me, because there may be an element of consensus on a more sensible way of dealing with concerns raised about immunity for, potentially, very serious crimes committed overseas.
I am grateful that the domestic practices will now be considered similar to extraterritorial processes, acknowledging that there have been distinct differences. My questions, to some extent, are linked with those raised by the noble Lord, Lord West, on how this will be operated. In Committee, I highlighted the Government’s Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel on the Detention and Interviewing of Detainees Overseas, and on the Passing and Receipt of Intelligence Relating to Detainees. I referenced the Ministry of Defence joint doctrine publications, and I highlighted the Security Service guidelines that had been released in a trial, and we now know more about them. There are a number of existing sets of guidance for the Cabinet Office, from the MoD and within the security services themselves on how, as the amendment states,
“arrangements designed to ensure that acts of a member of the service to which a provision of Schedule 4 applies are necessary”.
I would be grateful if the Minister could outline how guidance will be put together that will be for both domestic activities and now those in regard to defence under this part, whether that will be made public, and how it will interact with MoD guidance to address the similar concerns of my noble friend Lord Beith and the noble Lord, Lord West.
We know what MoD joint doctrine says regarding detainees overseas, but we do not know the principles that will apply to these new areas. Therefore, we need clarification on what they will be. I welcome the Government’s move. There needs to be further illustration of how it will be operable, and I hope the Minister will be able to provide that and give an indication of when guidance will be put together and will be published.
My Lords, this is a really important debate. Government Amendment 66 is a considerable improvement on what we had before, with respect to Clause 30. We have heard from noble Lords about their belief in that and their pleasure that we now see Amendment 66 before us. As my noble friend Lord West—I will come back to him—the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, and others have mentioned, there are still questions that the Government need to answer. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response, particularly to my noble friend Lord West, who very effectively laid out the fact that although the ISC welcomes the new clause proposed by Amendment 66, there are still some important questions for the Government. It is extremely important that the Government put their answers on the record, so they are there as testimony of what the Government expect of how the new Clause 30—as it will be—will operate.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about the inclusion of the Armed Forces in this deserves a proper answer from the Minister. It is good to see the Armed Forces Minister here to have heard the noble Lord.
My noble friend Lord West laid before us how we got here, the relationship between the Home Office and the ISC, and the lack of a speedy response to some of the requests, which have led to some of the difficulties we have seen. If people had attended the committee, spoken to the committee and discussed with the committee —even if some of those discussions may have been difficult—some of these problems would have been resolved. Yet we have debate in the other place, debate here, and now it is only on Report that we get to a position where we seem to be on the verge of achieving what we all want.
I go back to a point I find quite astonishing, referring to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s annual report. My noble friend Lord West pointed to the lack of Home Office response. I lay this before each and every one of you: when do noble Lords think was the last time the Prime Minister went along? Do not answer that—there is no need to shout out. It is quite astonishing to read in the annual report that, despite repeated requests, no Prime Minister has been to the Intelligence and Security Committee since 2014. That is absolutely disgraceful. The committee was set up by this Parliament to oversee intelligence and security matters and to receive intelligence at a level we cannot be briefed on—quite rightly—and, despite repeated requests, the Prime Minister has not gone. How can a Prime Minister not go to the committee set up by Parliament to discuss matters of intelligence? I find it incredible.
A few weeks ago, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, why this has not happened. The Government say, “The Prime Minister has been very busy over the last few weeks”, and he has been; he has been not just to Belfast but to numerous other places, including Parliament, to meet various groups. Why has it not been possible to meet the Intelligence and Security Committee? This is incredibly serious.
I put it to the noble Lord that this is not a formality. The point of the Prime Minister meeting the committee is that it can draw attention to failings or problems that it cannot publicly disclose. The only route by which those failings or problems can be brought to account is by direct contact with the Prime Minister.
I could not agree more with the noble Lord, and that is why it is so incredible that no Prime Minister has discussed that with the committee since 2014. I say this in relation to my noble friend Lord West’s points about the failure of discussion and people’s failure to involve the committee at an early stage. Had that been done, we would have avoided much of the debate and controversy over Clause 30 or, now, government Amendment 66. My noble friend Lord West mentioned this on behalf of the committee, and I mentioned and highlighted yet again the failure of the Prime Minister to meet it since 2014, which is simply and utterly unacceptable. Something needs to be done about it, and the Prime Minister needs to hear this—I know that the Minister will take this forward.
This is a really serious matter. I could not believe it when I read it, and I do not believe that many noble Lords here would either, as the noble Lord, Lord Beith, reminded us. According to the report, this was a regular occurrence:
“Since its establishment in 1994, and for 20 years thereafter, the Committee met annually with the Prime Minister to discuss its work”.
But, despite repeated requests for suitable dates, we are yet to receive a response. This is unacceptable, and it is why we get the sort of situation that we had with Clause 30.
Notwithstanding that, I thank the noble Lord the Minister and the Armed Forces Minister for their engagement in bringing forward Amendment 66, which is a considerable improvement on what went before. I note the change from automatic exemption to the reasonableness defence. No doubt the Minister can address the issues and questions that my noble friend Lord West raised on proportionality and other areas. It is important that the point of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is also addressed. With that, we welcome Amendment 66, but we also look forward to the reassurances that my noble friend Lord West seeks on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in this debate on Clause 30, the Serious Crime Act 2007 amendment. Before getting into the detail, I very much thank the noble Lords, Lord Beith, Lord West, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for their amendments tabled in advance of today’s proceedings. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, who have consistently shared their time and expertise with me and my team, across a range of national security matters.
I also extend my gratitude to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which recently took the time to write to the Home Office on this measure and cast a keen and critical eye, with officials, over the Government’s amendment tabled for today. I carefully noted the comments of the noble Lord, Lord West, as did my right honourable friend the Security Minister, who sat on the steps when he made them. I will obviously make sure that we reflect on that internally. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that my noble friend the Leader of the House heard his comments, and I am sure he will reflect them back to the Prime Minister, but I am not responsible for the Prime Minister’s diary, so I cannot go further than that at this point. However, we will return to this subject in group 12, when the ISC MoU will be debated.
The Government’s shift in approach on the SCA amendment reflects our maintained commitment to ensuring that individuals working for UKIC and the Armed Forces are protected when conducting their proper activities in service to this country. The Government’s amendment replaces Clause 30 with a new clause that provides a defence for acts that are offences under Part 2 of the SCA by virtue of the extraterritorial provisions in Schedule 4. This defence would apply to those carrying out the functions of UKIC and the Armed Forces in supporting activities overseas; that is, it will be a defence for a person to show that their act was necessary for the proper exercise of a function of an intelligence service or the Armed Forces. I will shortly go into more detail on the Armed Forces, at the behest of my noble friend from the Ministry of Defence, so please bear with me.
As noble Lords will be aware, the current reasonableness defence in Section 50 of the SCA would cover encouraging or assisting crimes domestically. We believe that it is right that this new defence is limited to where UKIC and the Armed Forces are supporting activity overseas. The territorial applicability of this measure is identical to that of the original clause. This is because the acute issue caused by the SCA offences, and therefore justification for this amendment as presented to the ISC, relates to support to key international partners’ activity overseas.
The defence provides UKIC and the Armed Forces with more reassurance than the current reasonableness defence, in that the defence is based around the proper exercise of the functions of UKIC and the Armed Forces, rather than the more subjective requirement of proving “reasonableness”. We must remember that the tasks we ask these individuals to undertake, and the operational arrangements we have with our international partners, are ever more complex.
We still do not think it is appropriate that a potentially junior member of the agency or Armed Forces should be faced with the legal burden of proving that their activities were reasonable. Instead, the new defence imposes an evidential burden of proof on the individual to raise the defence. Once the defence has been raised, the legal burden would be on the prosecution to disprove it. It must be remembered that this amendment does not change the position for an individual who acts outside of those proper functions; they would remain liable for any wrongful acts. I believe that this strikes the right balance of providing appropriate protection while also having a clear route by which there can be proper legal consideration of any potential wrongdoing.
Noble Lords will now see an explicit responsibility on the heads of agencies and the Defence Council to ensure that their respective organisations have in place arrangements designed to ensure that acts of a member of their service that would otherwise be an offence under the SCA by virtue of Schedule 4 are necessary for the proper exercise of their functions. To be clear, that means that an act could not be considered within the “proper” exercise of a function of an intelligence service if it does not comply with the “arrangements” set by the relevant heads or the Defence Council.
In addition, the Government propose that there is ministerial responsibility for these arrangements; that is, the relevant Secretary of State must consider that the arrangements put in place by the heads of agencies and the Defence Council are satisfactory. Nothing in this proposed defence will change the current compliance and oversight arrangements, such as the Fulford principles and Overseas Security and Justice Assistance guidance, which is monitored by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—
On that point, there is a world of difference between the necessary task of a Minister satisfying himself that adequate arrangements exist within an agency—indeed, such arrangements have existed for years—and the Secretary of State being made aware of a potential action and required to approve of it, or prevent it from happening, once he has considered the major political implications it might have. If the system does not extend to that role in relation to individual actions, it will be severely deficient.
I will turn to ministerial responsibility if the noble Lord will bear with me. In fact, I am going to do it now. The Government propose that there is ministerial responsibility for these arrangements; that is, the relevant Secretary of State must consider that the arrangements put in place by the heads of agencies and the Defence Council are satisfactory. I have already said this, but there is more to say on the subject. Nothing in this proposed defence will change the current compliance and oversight arrangements, such as the Fulford principles and Overseas Security and Justice Assistance guidance, which is monitored by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office—IPCO—via regular inspections and regular scrutiny by the ISC. I will return to this in a second.
I now turn directly to the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Beith, Lord Anderson and Lord Carlile, which, in short, seek to do two related things: to restrict the activities covered by the defence for the MoD to those which are related to intelligence activities, and—in the case of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beith—to restrict the defence to apply to the MoD only where it acts for UKIC.
I will now speak on behalf of the MoD and my noble friend Lady Goldie, who has sat through this debate. With reference to the Armed Forces, the amendment will enable more effective co-operation with our international partners. It will address operational challenges and remove the personal risk that trusted and dedicated individuals face for carrying out their proper official duties, whether as serving members of our Armed Forces or as intelligence officers within our UK intelligence community.
The amendment is principally concerned with addressing risks arising within an intelligence-sharing context, a primary activity of UKIC. What is perhaps less understood is the criticality of intelligence activity from an Armed Forces perspective, with intelligence sharing often forming a necessary part of wider co-operation with our allies. I assure noble Lords that the amendment is about clarifying the law and removing liabilities which sit onerously with individuals going about their lawful and legitimate duties.
The UK is committed to the rule of law and we would never collaborate or share information with a foreign partner with the intention of supporting unlawful activity overseas, but the SCA amendment does not change that. All aspects of the activities of our Armed Forces will continue to be bound by the relevant law of England and Wales and of international law. There will be no change to the UK’s international legal obligations, including under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and on assisting an unlawful act under Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.
This defence will apply only where activity is necessary for the proper exercise of a function of the Armed Forces, and any individual found to be working outside the proper functions of the Armed Forces will remain liable for those actions. Actions not in compliance with the MoD’s robust internal policies and processes, again such as the Fulford principles and the OSJA Guidance, which are designed to ensure that MoD officers do not knowingly support unlawful activity, would not be in the proper exercise of a function of the Armed Forces.
I turn to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. My noble friend Lady Goldie thanks him for the opportunity to discuss this with him. I understand that, because of a technical omission, he may not move his amendment tonight, but my noble friend Lady Goldie has—
As a point of correction, the omission has been remedied and the amendment is on the supplementary sheet.
My noble friend Lady Goldie has not been able to discuss that with our right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who is currently abroad, but she undertakes to do that and to engage with him on his return.
I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord West. I am grateful for his contribution at Second Reading, where he confirmed that the ISC recognised that the government amendment identified a legitimate problem. This proposed amendment seeks to insert proportionality into the defence we are proposing in Clause 30. The objective of proposed new Section 50A is to provide clarity on how an individual working for UKIC or the Armed Forces can defend against a case in which they face personal criminal liability for the SCA offences.
For the reasons outlined previously, the Government consider that the existing reasonableness defence in Section 50 of the SCA does not achieve this, given we would be asking a jury to consider what is reasonable in the complex operational circumstances in which our intelligence agencies and Armed Forces work with our international partners to protect the United Kingdom. The Government consider that inserting a proportionality requirement would have the same effect, in that it reduces the clarity of the defence, which not only does not achieve the objective of providing greater certainty to those who are carrying out vital work to protect us all but complicates a defence which is currently based on the functions of the organisations concerned. On that basis, we think that explicit reference is best left out of the defence, and we therefore cannot accept this amendment.
However, to be clear, considerations of proportionality are a crucial component of operational planning and delivery, and core to many of the legal frameworks with which UKIC and the Armed Forces are required to comply. Any joint working with a partner must be in accordance with domestic and international law, including relevant principles of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality. Where the intelligence services or Armed Forces do not apply proportionality consistently with their legal or policy obligations, that would not be a proper exercise of their functions. To be completely clear, a person’s lack of compliance with their legal and policy obligations could be considered by the prosecution and would impact the availability of the defence —that includes proportionality.
Arrangements in place ensure that UKIC and the Armed Forces apply rigorous safeguards, standards and internal processes for determining that activity is lawful and properly exercised. The arrangements include the following: operational decisions are recorded, taken at appropriate seniority and made with the benefit of advice from specialist legal advisers to ensure compliance with domestic and international law; all personnel receive mandatory training on their legal obligations; policy documents set out specific requirements for different activities, including what authorisations are required and how to decide whether activity is necessary, reasonable and proportionate. Compliance with these requirements ensure that acts are within the proper exercise of the functions of the organisation concerned.
Some of these policies have been published, such as the Fulford principles, where the passing and receipt of intelligence relates to detainees, the compliance of which is assessed by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office, as I have already noted. Arrangements can also go beyond pure legal considerations, with ethics counsellors in post to discuss the difficult decisions we sometimes take when balancing risk.
To go back to Secretaries of State, they are accountable for the work of the intelligence services and the Armed Forces in Parliament. A central part of their obligations will remain authorising the required operational activity at the appropriate time.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about publishing guidance. The Government have no plans to publish specific arrangements, but relevant published policy documents are already available, such as the Fulford principles and the OSJA Guidance. In addition, UKIC’s activities are scrutinised by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and challenge can be brought to the UK intelligence community or the Armed Forces on their activities—for example, through judicial review, a civil damages claim or a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in relation to the use of intrusive powers. We will continue to work with UKIC to consider how we can be forward-leaning in showing appropriate partners how we consider risks internally while protecting operational security.
The Minister knows that, in Committee, I quoted quite a lot from the OSJA human rights guidance, which I have before me. It also addresses the fundamental point of my noble friend Lord Beith. Both the security service guidelines—which are not published, but about which we know because of judicial processes—which categorise the means by which authorisations have to be secured, and the OSJA Guidance outline the risk assessments that officers must go through. They conclude that, if there is high risk, ministerial approval is necessary. The Government’s amendments do not state categorically that authorisations and ministerial approvals will be necessary for breaches of the SCA offences. Can the Minister confirm that it will be the case that, if there are breaches of the SCA which are forecast through risk assessments and during the processes, ministerial authorisations will have to be provided?
My Lords, I cannot confirm that from the Dispatch Box, but I will write to the noble Lord with the appropriate clarification. I do not actually have a copy of the OSJA Guidance in front of me, but I appreciate the points he is making.
I return to the third concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord West. I can confirm that, where a member of the intelligence services or the Armed Forces conducted activity that did not comply with the arrangements—namely, the rigorous safeguards, standards and internal processes that I described earlier—this breach of the arrangements could be scrutinised by the proper oversight mechanisms; for example, an error would be reported to IPCO for a breach of the Fulford principles. It could be considered by the prosecution and would impact the availability of the defence. I also assure the noble Lord that the introduction of this new defence, in and of itself, will not lead to fewer ministerial authorisations sought by the intelligence services or to less daily oversight from Ministers and/or judicial commissioners over intelligence activity. I know that he asked me for an explicit reassurance on that point.
I conclude by saying that, for the reasons I have outlined, the Government cannot support the amendments tabled by noble Lords against Clause 30, and therefore ask noble Lords not to press their amendments. I also ask the House to support the new SCA defence amendment tabled by the Government.