New Clause 4 - Proceedings relating to safety or interests of the United Kingdom

Part of National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 18 Hydref 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:30, 18 Hydref 2022

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 4 is an attempt to make a clear distinction between what is in the Government’s interest and what is in the national interest, so that the two cannot be conflated. There are a number of new offences created under part 1 of the Bill, and a key condition running throughout those offences is that a person knows, or ought reasonably to know, that their conduct is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom. There are other conditions that must be met, with the foreign power condition perhaps being the most substantial.

The aim of new clause 4 is to ensure that a court considering proceedings in relation to part 1 offences must take account of how the interests of the Secretary of State, or the Government of the United Kingdom, may be slightly separate from the interests of the United Kingdom, in order to satisfy itself that the interests of the United Kingdom have been appropriately identified and considered. Members will recognise that there is already a difference between the safety of the United Kingdom and the interests of the United Kingdom, with the new offences encompassing both. I suspect there will be a great deal of consensus on safety, but to explicitly define and agree on interests I imagine would be much harder.

We worked through various examples as part of the deliberations on part 1 offences. One such example was whether, if the Government faced deliberate disruption enacting policy they deemed to be in the national interest, that would be enough to meet the threshold? If, for example, a deportation flight—the stuff of the Home Secretary’s dreams—was prevented from taking off because of protesters, would that be enough to meet the prejudicial to the national interest threshold? The Government might wish to argue that case, although it would be far from compromising national security.

We got some assurances from the Minister’s predecessor that national security laws would not transgress into conduct that may be irritating for the Government but lawful, or into prosecuting other criminal offences by treating them as unduly having national security implications. Beyond the specifics of the new offences created by the Bill, we also believe that new clause 4 would establish in principle the distinction between the Government’s political interests and the country’s national security.

I am explicit that the new clause, alongside new clause 5 and new clause 29, have at least in part been shaped by the meeting that we now have confirmation took place between the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, when he was Foreign Secretary, and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, at the height of the Salisbury poisoning. It is worth remembering that we did not have confirmation of that meeting when the Bill Committee first started, and the right hon. Member was still the Prime Minister. I do not know if that is an indication of how quickly things move in politics or of how long this Bill Committee has been going on for. However, it is the sort of example that warrants the separating out of Government and individual Minister’s political interests and national security interests. It has become too easy to suggest that answers could not be provided on that matter and others for security reasons, when actually getting to the bottom of what had gone on was very much in the national interest. It may not have been in the Government’s political interest, but that is the distinction that is important to put on a proper statutory footing.

Before the then Prime Minister confessed to the Liaison Committee that the meeting had indeed taken place, followed up with confirmation in writing, I had asked the question seven times either in writing or orally in the chamber, as well as asking other questions surrounding the issue. On each occasion, variations on, “We can’t answer this for security reasons,” were used as a means of obstructing the truth. Once we had the facts, or at least some of them, it was the meeting itself that stood to be the threat to national security. Having that information in the public domain was a threat to the Prime Minister’s interests, not the country’s.

I know the Minister takes those matters seriously, and I hope he will recognise that for these reasons new clause 4 is a sensible distinction, proposed for the right reasons in an attempt to protect rather than undermine the national interest.