Simon Hughes writes… Counter-terrorism bill – the Liberal Democrats are on the right track

The rise of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is one of the most serious and dangerous issues we have had to face since we came into Government. Whatever we call this organisation – IS, ISIL or Da’ish – we can’t ignore their brutal activity. The graphic and disturbing images of violence coming from Syria and Iraq show the barbaric way this extremist group has perverted the Muslim faith.

We also need to face up to the reality that this group has publicly announced its desire to bring its murderous ideology to the streets of Britain. The murder of Drummer Lee Rigby is a stark example of the potential threat from extremist ideologues. It is estimated that around 500 British citizens have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIL and other military groups. Around half have returned and others will continue to do so. This presents a new and unique challenge to the UK security services and police, and earlier this year the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, run by MI5, raised the threat level from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’. This means that an attack in the UK by violent extremists is highly likely.

Because of this threat, we have had to look carefully at potential gaps in existing legislation and listen to the advice of the police, security services and other experts, such as David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation. I want to make clear that we have not rushed into a knee-jerk response, as Labour did with its attempt to impose 90 day detention without trial. The Liberal Democrats have made sure that the new Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, published today, is proportionate, evidence-led and protects an individual’s civil liberties as well as improving the safety of all British citizens.

The new legislation will help us to counter radicalisation, making sure that schools, colleges and probation providers help to prevent people being subverted by dangerous extremist groups. We will also make sure that British insurance firms are not inadvertently funding terrorist groups by paying out ransoms. We are improving our border security, including formalising the existing process where airlines provide the UK with information about people travelling on flights to the UK.

The Bill will include powers temporarily to seize the passports of those who attempt to travel abroad to fight for ISIL and other terrorist groups. But, to stop this power being misused, we have made sure that any decision will be subject to a 72 hour check by a senior police officer, followed by a full review by a judge after 14 days. This will give us the opportunity to speak to someone and hopefully divert them away from extremist activity.

A much debated issue has been how we deal with those British citizens who have already gone to fight in Iraq and Syria. Some of those people may have committed crimes and need to be prosecuted, but others may admit they were naïve and regret the decision to travel to the conflict zone. That is why we are introducing a Temporary Exclusion Order that allows us to make sure that suspected foreign fighters travel back to the UK without presenting a risk to the public. This is not a power to make people stateless or ban British citizens from entering the UK. It is a power to manage a very real risk, make sure that we can engage with those who have been fighting abroad, and try to prevent crimes being committed if they return to the UK.

Another part of the Bill which will undoubtedly attract scrutiny are the changes the Government is proposing to make to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures. We have listened to the advice of David Anderson QC, who has proposed the limited introduction of location restrictions. David Anderson is a liberal lawyer, with an impeccable record of analysing counter-terrorism policy. That is why we had to look carefully at his proposals. This is not the return of Control Orders, which could put someone under punitive house arrest for an unlimited amount of time. Instead it is a balanced list of reforms including, crucially, raising the legal burden of proof and creating a tighter definition of terrorism. At present the Home Secretary only needs a reasonable belief that someone may commit or support an act of terrorism. We will change this so that the decision will be taken and verified by a court on the higher ‘balance of probabilities’ test. I know that Lord MacDonald QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions and one of our own peers, has looked carefully at David Anderson’s proposals and agrees that they are an improvement.

Finally, we are legislating to ensure that communication service providers keep a record of IP addresses. This is simply a way of identifying which computer or smart phone is using the internet and it does not require the retention of private data, such as the websites you visit. As Mark Pack has explained, this is akin to giving internet-enabled devices a listing in the phone book, or way of identifying them if they come up as part of a criminal investigation. Liberal Democrats have always supported this and can rest assured that it is not the return of the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’, something we continue to oppose. Instead, it is a sensible proposal which will improve public safety. But, as part of this, we will also be establishing the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. This is based on the American body which holds the government to account for its laws, regulations and activities related to counter-terrorism.

So in conclusion, by carefully examining the specific threat posed by the so-called Islamic State, we have produced draft legislation that provides sensible and proportionate tools to tackle the threat of violent extremism and terrorism. I have no doubt that both Houses of Parliament will need carefully to scrutinise these proposals. But, as the party of civil liberties and now a party of government, I am confident that the Liberal Democrats are on the right track, and that we are doing the right thing.

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23 Comments

  • Just as many people feared, the government’s “softening up” offensive to get people to accept totalitarian laws has included leading Liberal Democrat ministers.

    Simon writes – “……A much debated issue has been how we deal with those British citizens who have already gone to fight in Iraq and Syria. Some of those people may have committed crimes and need to be prosecuted, but others may admit they were naïve and regret the decision to travel to the conflict zone. That is why we are introducing a Temporary Exclusion Order that allows us to make sure that suspected foreign fighters travel back to the UK without presenting a risk to the public…. ..”

    So what aout other ‘conflict zones’? No mention of British citizens who return to the UK having gone to fight as part of the Israeli military. No mention of any other country of the world where there is or has recently been conflict. Sri Lanka was recently engulfed in a bitter civil war, will the UK government be locking up our citizens who return from Sri Lanka? Pakistan has had no end of problems (the USA virtually ignored the border with Afghanistan when attacking ‘the enemy’ over the last fifteen years) — will UK citizens returning from Pakistan be subjected to these laws? Will Mark Thatcher be subject to internal exile and house arrest following his part in an attempted military coup in an African state?

    Is this really ” evidence based” ?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Nov '14 - 6:29pm

    Sorry, Simon, but I’m not buying it.

    This passport confiscation thing: I worry that any young Muslim man going anywhere is going to be questioned and held up on the say-so of a senior police officer. Is it really right that a Police Officer should be able to hold someone up for 14 days?

    David Anderson doesn’t seem overly thrilled with the exclusion power either. Surely the evidence of what works in Sweden and Denmark is the way to go rather than these exclusion orders. What are these people going to do for two years? Are they not better off in our judicial system than in another country doing who knows what? If there is evidence that they have done wrong, they should be charged and appropriate action but, like Anderson says, the absence of the courts in these proposals is extremely worrying.

  • The Liberal Democrats will lose any remaining support they have if they turn their backs on the basic principles of liberalism. Liberty cannot be made the price of security.

  • Perhaps part of the problem is that we are mis-categorizing these organisations. If the Pakistani police regard these groups as criminal organisations with parallels to the Mafia and drug cartels, perhaps we should do likewise.

  • Richard Dean 26th Nov '14 - 9:34pm

    I wonder how the UK government would react if a suspected French jihadi, who happened to return via Heathrow and a bus to Dover, was refused entry at Calais and sent back to the country he had departed from?

  • ISTR the gunman in Canada had his passport withdrawn, actions and consequences need to be considered.

  • Conor McGovern 26th Nov '14 - 11:48pm

    Benjamin Franklin may have been far from perfect as one of the founding fathers of the US (look at that country now!) but unlike the gutless pygmies leading our political system today, he spoke at least an ounce of truth.
    “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

  • Conor McGovern 26th Nov '14 - 11:48pm

    ^Aren’t we meant to be liberals? Just a thought.

  • Conor McGovern
    What happens if muslim terrorists take hostages in a school or cinema ( as in Russia ): what do we say to the parents of the children ?

  • Conor McGovern 27th Nov '14 - 1:12am

    @Charlie – What happens of the media spin it? If it were Christian terrorists, would their religion be brought up on the news and by the papers? Without being accused of being some tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy nut, is there a hidden agenda here? If we don’t question everything and protect civil liberties, what are liberals good for?

  • Tsar Nicolas 27th Nov '14 - 6:14am

    “New and unique challenge to the UK security services.”

    Does new and unique mean worse, or more severe? Worse or more severe than German agents in 1940, or Soviet agents during the Cold War, with thousands of missiles on either side poised to incinerate the world?

    Come on – this is just rubbish and Simon has sold out his principles for the sake of a ministerial limo.

  • Guess who said —
    “For the past four years, while we have been arguing collectively with the Government, we have consistently said that there is an alternative to detention without trial and
    have consistently proposed constructive alternatives.
    The Government have put themselves in this position by refusing to listen during those four years.”

    It was that Liberal MP who cared about civil liberties. What was his name ? Oh yes —
    Simon Hughes MP Hansard, 23 February 2005

  • Guess who said —
     “We’re the only party who voted last week against control orders;
    we think that control orders are wrong. We think it’s wrong that the Government
    can take your freedom away and basically impose house arrest upon you and not
    tell you why…

    We have by far the strongest track record in British
    politics, by far, in saying that the Government has used anti-terror powers in
    a way which diminish all of our freedoms and has a disproportionately worrying
    effect on those Muslim communities who feel they are being the object of those
    measures.”

     Nick Clegg MP In an exclusive interview with the Muslim News dated 26 Mar 2010

  • Tony Greaves 27th Nov '14 - 12:31pm

    No sensible Councillors will ever take part in Twitter. No sensible politicians will ever Tweet.

    Tony

  • Conor McGovern
    In WW2 , the Danish Government asked the RAF to bomb a prison and a Gestapo Headquarters in order to release resistance fighters knowing that children could be killed and many were. From the experience of Russia and ISIS we know that muslim terrorists are prepared to murder, torture and rape . The Tamil Tigers were prepared to let bombs off indiscriminately in Sri Lanka. Are we prepared to have children murdered and raped for liberty? I think the questions being raised are very difficult : the problem is that few people have risked their lives or that of their children for liberty. During WW2, governments allowed children to be killed in the defeat of the Nazis. The unpleasant reality is that any decision made is likely to be one of lesser of evils. The problem is that most of Britain is not prepared to discuss a subject where the options are lesser of evils: instead people think there is risk and pain free solution.

    Hardly any politicians have risked their lives for liberty and they have police protection. If there was hostage situation and children were taken, would politicians and all those involved in the public debate , be prepared to exchanged along their children ? A few years ago the Royal Society was discussing a nuclear accident and what measures could be done to make repairs . One fellow suggested that as most of them were old , they should undertake the repairs as they were coming to the end of their livers and were not going to have children.

    We are a far less risk averse society than in WW 2. I would argue that a resistance fighter from WW2 whose actions saved others and doing so endured torture by the Gestapo and survived the death camps have earned the right to say ” That in order to preserve liberty, lives will need to be sacrificed , even those of children” but who else has earned this right?

  • Charlie 27th Nov ’14 – 1:46pm

    Charlie, yourefer to resistance fighters from the Second World War. That war ended in 1945.
    Even the very youngest “fighter” from 1945 would be almost 90 years old now.
    Are you really saying that the only people who can express a view on this subject are 90 years old, or older?
    How old are you?

  • JohnTilley

    The issue is liberty and security and what does one say to grieving parents whose children were killed by terrorists because liberty was chosen over security? When the Tories sent the armed forces to the Falklands , Pym, Whitelaw and Carrington had all won MCs and therefore understood the realities of war and had earned the right to members of the armed forces to war. It was Chiraq’s experience of fighting in Algeria which helped to persuade him against fighting in Iraq. If a hostage situation arises , perhaps politcians could offer to swap themselves and their families: after all fellows of the Royal Society suggested a similar course of action in the vent of a major nuclear accident.

    When a marine tripped over a trip wire , he threw himself onto the grenade. Here was someone who accepted the responsibility of his mistake. The marine survived and was awarded the GC.

    If we are saying that security has to be sacrificed to save liberty, who is doing the sacrificing?

  • A Social Liberal 27th Nov '14 - 7:32pm

    Charley

    “what does one say to grieving parents whose children were killed by terrorists because liberty was chosen over security”.

    Exactly the same as was said to the thousands of parents whose children were killed by terrorists in the UK over the last fifty years. We learned the hard way that creating Gulags where we sent those who were suspected of terrorism did nothing to combat that threat – indeed, it acted as a major recruitment tool. We beat Irish terrorism by making those found guilty do hard time. The men coming out of prison after many long years so restricted the desire of young men to take up the cause that the various terrorist groups were unable to continue their activities.

    As for your reference to Matt Croucher, it is crass and shows a singular lack of understanding of the reason for his actions. Please do not further demean the courage of both him and his comrades by trying using his actions to legitimise your arguements.

  • @Conor McGovern
    “If it were Christian terrorists, would their religion be brought up on the news and by the papers?”

    I would have thought the answer to that is an emphatic “Yes”. Why, do you think they wouldn’t?

  • “If it were Christian terrorists, would their religion be brought up on the news and by the papers?”

    The last I heard the Salvation Army weren’t stoning gays to death and crucifying Muslims for their faith but I’ll let that pass…

    A question. Are you seriously suggesting that the religion of groups of individuals attempting to set up an self proclaimed perfect Islamic State across the entire world is not worthy of notice? And should never be mentioned???

    If so, why?

  • Conor McGovern 27th Nov '14 - 11:09pm

    ^Because there’s nothing genuinely ‘Islamic’ about what they’re reported to be doing. It’s like bringing up the evils of democracy when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea starts a border skirmish. Just because they call themselves Islamic/democratic, doesn’t mean they are.

  • A Social Liberal
    As Manningham Buller, former Head of MI5 pointed out, the terrorists in in N Ireland usually gave warnings of their bombs planted to destroy civilian targets: the muslim terrorists do not. The terrorists in N Ireland did not generally undertake acts of terrorism where civilian targets were targeted such as Nairobi, Mumbai, London, Beslane, Moscow , and the multitude of attacks, in ME, Afghanistan and Pakistan . ISIS ‘s savagery is so extreme( mass rape, beheadings even of children ) it has earned criticism from Al Quaeda.

    After the Dardanelles, Churchill volunteered to fight in the trenches and often ventured into No Mans Land to atone for his mistakes. If we are all in it together , then everyone has to share equal risk. The problem is that people at the location of soft targets will face higher risks.

    The Army under Roy Mason , according to Martin McGuiness nearly defeated the PIRA. We beat terrorism in N Ireland because of the high level of toughness and competence of the NCOs , especially in the most highly trained units and the vast majority of people became sick of the violence. From the early to mid 1990s, the terrorists capabilities were in rapid decline.

    The problem is that most politicians have never risked their lives for someone else , let alone shown the courage of Matt Croucher : that is the problem.

  • Charlie
    Do the RAF give warnings when they are going to bomb in the Middle East?
    The civil wars in Syria and Iraq are nothing like the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
    Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

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