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

Part of National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 18 Hydref 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 3:45, 18 Hydref 2022

I welcome the spirit with which the hon. Member for Halifax has entered into this discussion, and I appreciate her points. Making illegal those matters that irritate Ministers of the Crown would certainly make my life at home significantly quieter, as it would silence my children. Sadly, I think that trying to make case law for my family would be problematic.

It is certainly true that there is a difference between the interests of Ministers and the interests of an individual Minister, whether that be an ordinary Minister or a Prime Minister, and national security. Case law in the United Kingdom already recognises that in considering any prosecution in relation to offences to which the provisions regarding prejudice to the safety of the interests of the UK apply. The UK courts already consider the nature and risk to the safety and interests of the UK. Case law already makes clear that

“the safety or interests of the United Kingdom” should be interpreted as the objects of state policy determined by the Crown on the advice of Ministers. That is notably different from protecting the particular interests of those in office.

Again, I appreciate the spirit with which the hon. Lady has entered into the conversation, but the provisions in part 1 to which the safety or interests test applies are measures that disrupt and respond to serious national security threats, such as those from espionage, sabotage and threats to the UK’s most sensitive sites. As I am sure hon. Members will agree, it is right that appropriate conditions—such as the test of whether conduct is carried out for, on behalf of, or with the intention to benefit a foreign power—are in place to limit the scope of the offences to the types of harmful activity we are targeting.

The combination of the conditions we apply to measures in the Bill mean that not only are the offences themselves proportionate, but an appropriately high bar has to be met to bring a prosecution. These conditions take us firmly outside the realm of merely leaking embarrassing or unauthorised disclosures, or indeed whistleblowing or domestic political opposition. The Law Commission shared that sentiment in the evidence it gave to the Committee—of course I was not present, but given her reference to the length of time in politics I am sure she will understand that.

Individuals and groups might not agree with Government policy, but it still represents the policy that the Government have been elected to carry out, so disclosing protected information from a foreign power can never be the right response to that. It would not be appropriate for the courts to second guess the merits of Government policy in this way. On the basis that the courts are well able to judge the difference between national interest and personal interest, I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw the amendment.