- (a) requiring those authorities which control ports, airports or frontiers as well as local authorities to install special equipment to monitor the contents of lorries, containers or other objects for suspicious contents or persons;
- (b) requiring those authorities which control ports, airports or frontiers as well as local authorities to install special equipment designed to monitor persons, ships, other conveyances or other objects for radioactive material; and
- (c) requiring local authorities and other public bodies to obtain specific static or mobile equipment which is designed to identify the presence of chemical material or biological organisms or radioactive substances which might be used in a terrorist attack."
§ 7A The Commons disagree to this amendment for the following reason—
§ Because it involves a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further reasons, trusting that this reason may be deemed sufficient.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 7A.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the energy, passion and persistence with which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has probed and pushed the Government on our counter-terrorism framework, and the state and condition of the United Kingdom's preparedness for dealing with terrorist attacks.
Before I take the House through the detail of our reasons for asking the House not to insist on this amendment I should make it clear that the Government entirely support the noble Lord's view that the appropriate powers should be available to those who need them to deal with emergencies. That is why the Government have been proactive in that area since 1997. For example, since that time, we have put in place the Terrorism Act 2000, the Animal Health Act 2002 with its important bearing on this area of concern, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, and the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.
This is not a partisan point. Noble Lords on all sides of the Chamber will appreciate that governments of every complexion have always made sensible legislative provisions of this kind. But these provisions must be the right ones; they must be properly thought through and necessary. That is why we must continue to resist Amendment No. 7.
Our argument is that the new powers are unnecessary. Amendment No. 7 relates to the Government's powers to require ports, airports and local authorities to purchase equipment designed to identify the presence of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material, and deploy this at ports and airports. As we demonstrated with the amendments to this Bill relating to anti-terrorism traffic regulation orders, the Government are resolved to take the powers that they need to combat terrorism. However, the Government already have the powers that your Lordships' House has sought to confer on it with Amendment No. 7. It is perhaps worth running through these again for the benefit of noble Lords.
1611 Under the Airports Act 1986, the Secretary of State may give directions to the operators of airports in the interests of national security. The Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 gives the Government a wide-ranging power to require port authorities to undertake screening and monitoring. Detailed requirements relating to maritime security have been adopted at international level, in particular the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, and community level, in particular Regulation 725/2004 on enhancing ship and port facility security. These include provisions relating to security assessments for port facilities, provision of information and port facility plans. These provisions are enforced under the Ship and Port Facility (Security) Regulations 2004 (S.I. 2004/1495). Under these regulations, ships and port facilities can be inspected for the purpose of ensuring that they comply with government security requirements. In addition, as I reminded the House the other day, under Clause 5 of this Bill, an order could be made requiring local authorities, or any other category 1 responder, to perform their functions in a particular way. This could include the purchase and deployment of equipment as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, suggests.
The noble Lord's primary concern in tabling this amendment was to ensure that the Government have clear and unambiguous powers to take effective action to protect the public against the scourge of terrorism. In a sense, the noble Lord has achieved this end through the description of our powers that I have just put on the record. Nobody in your Lordships' House or in another place has seriously questioned the adequacy of those powers. Having achieved that objective on Report, I and my noble friend Lady Scotland were more than a little surprised when the noble Lord decided to press his amendment.
The powers that this amendment confers on the Government are unnecessary and redundant. However, the implications of accepting the amendment would be far more damaging. These new provisions could undermine the robust procedural safeguards set out in the existing powers. Furthermore, existing legislation sets out in much more detail the scope of the powers and the procedures to be followed when they are used. If left on the statute book, the provisions of your Lordships' amendment would cause significant confusion.
Since the passing of the original amendment, we have looked into this matter in considerable detail. I hope to illustrate my point by using the example of the Airports Act 1986, which, as I am sure we will all appreciate, was passed while the noble, Lord Jopling, was a senior member of the government.
As I said a moment ago, Section 30 of the Airports Act enables the Secretary of State to give a direction to an airport operator when necessary or expedient in the interest of national security. Additionally, it gives a clear indication of the kind of thing that can be done 1612 under the power by specifying that a direction may be made to individual port operators or to operators generally, and that the direction may be of a general character or require operators to do, or not to do, particular things, perhaps with regard to a targeted or risk-based approach.
Provision is also made for parliamentary scrutiny of the direction. Subsection (6) provides that the direction must be laid before each House unless the Secretary of State is of the opinion that disclosure of the direction would be contrary to the interests of national security, international relations or the commercial interests of any person. Subsection (7) makes provision enabling the Secretary of State to indicate that the direction should not be disclosed where disclosure of the direction would be contrary to the interests of national security, international relations or commercial interests. Finally, the provision also includes procedural safeguards on the use of the power. Subsection (9) provides that the Secretary of State must consult the person to whom he proposes to give a direction before issuing that direction.
None of those supplementary details and safeguards is included in the amendment. I am sure that noble Lords do not intend to cause confusion, or for that matter hinder the Government's preparations in this area, but that would be the practical effect of this amendment.
So for those reasons we do not believe that the amendment makes sense; and that is why the Government seek to overturn it. We have the powers. Safeguards were built into the powers when they were designed, but they are not present in the amendment. We do not want to have legislative confusion and we do not believe in using and applying redundant legislation. Essentially, I am saying to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, "It is very kind of you to try to give these additional powers and authorities to us, but, frankly, we do not need them. They would cause confusion and they would undermine the impact of legislation that previous governments, including your own, put in place. Those powers and authorities were considered robust at the time and we believe that they are robust now. We believe that they satisfy the purpose for which they were designed". That is the Government's position on these matters.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 7A.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I am very interested in the Minister's explanation. If these powers exist, I wonder whether it would be pressing everyone's patience too far to ask the Minister what use the Government have made of them. I would not expect an exhaustive list. It is one thing to have the powers; whether they are being used is an entirely different thing. The question of the Government's use of the powers, rather than the existence of the powers, is what concerns my noble friend and should concern the House.
§ 11.45 p.m..
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I am most obliged to the Minister for his generous comment about my interest in these matters. I think that I explained on Report why I was not able to be present in your Lordship's House for Third Reading. I was at a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, where I am special rapporteur on matters of protection of the civilian population. I was dealing with exactly the same matters at that assembly over the weekend. I do not apologise for having pressed these matters because I believe they are vital. I sincerely hope that the Minister is correct when he says that these powers already exist. I am not totally convinced that the proposed powers would create confusion. I shall continue to monitor whether he is correct—I hope that he is—that these powers already exist and that further powers are unnecessary.
The Minister spoke about the confusion that these complementary powers might create in relation to the existing ones. He says that the Government have been re-examining those powers. If such a re-examination is all that I have achieved, I think that these debates have been very much worth while. I am delighted that the principal point of the amendment has been endorsed by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. As the Minister will know, that point was very much part of what I have been speaking about during the Bill's progress.
If the Government have the powers, the question is, as my noble friend said, whether they are using them adequately. I know that there are far too many gaps in the equipment that is available and that could help to protect this country and its citizens from a dreadful terrorist attack. As I believe I have said twice before to your Lordships, I do not intend to enumerate and describe those risks; that would he grossly irresponsible. I shall simply continue to say that there are far too many gaps in this country through which terrorists could bring very unpleasant material. There are far too many gaps in our ability to identify after the event an attack of, let us say, nerve gas or biological matter.
I am afraid that I shall continue to trouble your Lordships on these matters over the months and years ahead in order to ensure that these powers which the Government claim to have are adequate and are being used to fill all those gaps. As I have said, if a dreadful terrorist incident occurred in this country, I believe that the Government would be torn limb from limb because of the inadequacy of our preparation.
On that rather gloomy note, I am grateful to the Minister for helpfully explaining at some length the powers that exist. I think that we have to accept his recommendation on these matters.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for having raised these matters at an earlier stage of the Bill. I have listened with care to what the Minister has said, and I of course concur with my noble friend Lord Jopling about our reaction based on what the Minister has said. However, I think that the virtue in raising it has been consummated by the quality of information which has arisen out of it.
1614 In the context of what the Minister said and why we are reassured, I should say that when the Baltic Exchange was blown up in the City of London, there was very great fear in the City that, were there to be a further massive explosion of that sort, there was a high degree of hazard that international banks would leave the City. The ring of steel, which the Corporation of London introduced to prevent explosives being brought in in trucks, could be put in place by the Corporation of London only under quite irrelevant legislation concerning traffic experiments. Of course, legislation can be introduced very quickly, but in that instance the Corporation of London had to use what I would call extremely exotic legislation in order to achieve the objective that we were discussing. It is genuinely reassuring to hear the Minister say that we are covered in that regard.
However, I say to the Minister in a very quiet voice that the amulet of terrorist legislation is not always totally secure. I ask him to cast his mind back to the consolidation of terrorist legislation which occurred when Mr Jack Straw was Home Secretary when it was discovered by chance, about 18 months after the consolidation had gone through, that in the process of the consolidation, provisions which had been contained in earlier legislation had been omitted from the subsequent Bill. Consequently, had any terrorist committed the relevant offence during that 18–month period, there would have been no basis on which to arraign him. The measure had been scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament. Eternal vigilance of legislation is extremely important.
I refer to a point that is not mentioned in the amendment brought forward by my noble friend Lord Jopling but which seems to me to be a matter for a future agenda. I seek the same kind of answer that we have had from the Minister on this occasion regarding whether monitoring equipment can be used to detect non-terrorist but highly adverse exotic insects and diseases which enter this country from tropical countries in containers due to global, warming. I hope that we will be able to return to this issue hereafter. I hope that my noble friend Lord Jopling, with his background in agriculture and forestry, will not disapprove of my having added that dimension.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, as I had my name to the amendment which is now being discarded, I should say that I accept my noble friend's acceptance of the Minister's assurances. I detain your Lordships for a moment only to make a comment that I think ought to be made regarding the reason which the Commons gave for rejecting the amendment. The Commons says that it would constitute a charge on public funds. That is not the case because the measure is permissive. It would allow regulations to be made. The charge would be made at the discretion of the Government, as it should be. I am glad that we have had this debate and that the Government have offered other reasons for rejecting this amendment rather than the silence which normally accompanies that particular reason.
§ Lord Garden
My Lords, we on these Benches also supported the amendments of the noble Lord, 1615 Lord Jopling, as in this area in particular things are changing rapidly in terms of the available technology. It is important that everyone is kept up to date and aware of what is possible. The debate has been useful in that respect. I totally support what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, just said. As the Government claim that all this is already contained in legislation, obviously no extra charge would be involved as the Government would implement these provisions anyway. Be that as it may, I hope that we have now pushed this matter further up the agenda of all those involved in taking the necessary actions. The concern is that, by not having the measure in the Bill, 10 years on things will change and certain provisions will not be available. That is part of the reason why it is so important to consider some form of review process. However, I accept that the Government have this matter high on their agenda at the moment.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Jopling on his tenacity on the matter. This has been a very useful debate. I hope that the Government will consider with care the comments that have been made today regarding the extreme importance of this issue, notwithstanding the fact that we have failed to persuade them to include the measure in the Bill. In years to come we may come to regret that. I hope that will not be the case.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I am grateful for the exchanges that have taken place on this amendment. I reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Although Ministers may become irritated when they consider that they have not been listened to when they have repeated a point on several occasions, I consider that this debate has had the virtue of encouraging the Government to give further thought to powers that were put in place by a Conservative government over a period of 10 years. Clearly, that administration was mindful of what might happen in the future and, as it were, "future proofed" legislative measures that it took for a range of reasons. It was wise to do so. That is why at the outset I said that this was not a politically partisan issue. It should not be because the overriding raison d'être for this kind of debate should be to protect the public and act fundamentally in the public interest. This debate has usefully focused on that purpose.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned public funds. I am advised that the reason is appropriate as the amendment imposes a potential charge on public funds. However, as I have explained in detail, the debate has enabled us to give further chapter and verse on why the amendment is unnecessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, raised an important point regarding the way in which these powers have been used in the past. I am not in a position to give him precise details on that but as part of our resilience programme—we have taken decisive action at ports and airports as part of that programme—we have put in place Programme Cyclamen, which is designed to screen for the illicit movement of radioactive materials by traffic 1616 entering the UK by air, sea and Channel Tunnel. That programme is scheduled for completion in March 2007. The programme will screen container and road freight, post and fast parcels, vehicles and passengers, and will use a combination of fixed and mobile detection units—some of the equipment which is envisaged in the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling.
There is a very clear and determined political will to develop and enhance the United Kingdom's counterterrorism and resilience capacity. We have invested heavily in that. In the past I have given detailed figures on that. I do not intend to repeat that detail today but, of course, we shall want to keep the House as up to date as we can on the development of those measures, as is appropriate and reasonable without giving away too much detail that might compromise the way in which operations work.
This has been a useful debate. I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, on the ring of steel. He is right that there have been occasions in the past when perhaps the available powers were not as precise as governments would wish. In part for that reason the Government brought forward the antiterrorism traffic regulation powers in this Bill to finesse those powers and ensure that they are appropriate for the time in which we operate. The noble Lord made some wise comments. It is not possible to envisage every set of circumstances. We must take legislative opportunities when they arise to fine tune and ensure that we can put in place adequate measures to protect the public and fulfil a duty of protection which all governments of all political persuasions have to the public.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. This has been a useful series of debates. I hope that we can continue our discussion in this policy field in the spirit of amity and co-operation that we have achieved when discussing this matter.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.