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Lord Avebury: I support my noble friend and I draw attention to the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in his inquiry into legislation against terrorism concluded that an offence prescribing failure to disclose information about acts of terrorism should not be enacted in permanent legislation. I would be inclined to go even further than my noble friend and say that the whole of Clause 19 is objectionable,
Again, the Human Rights Commission of Northern Ireland has objected to Clause 19 and suggested, in relation to Northern Ireland, that an extremely wide offence exists in the prevailing ordinary criminal law, prescribing the kind of behaviour that this clause seeks to address. That is to be found in Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967.
In this Bill we seem to be modelling United Kingdom legislation on a measure that has been in force, on a temporary basis, in relation to Northern Ireland alone where the position may be totally different. There is no particular reason why a measure that was appropriate in the conditions prevailing in Northern Ireland should now be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom.
Can the Minister give the Committee any figures for prosecutions and convictions under the corresponding provision in the Northern Ireland Act to which my noble friend has referred? I refer to Section 18A of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Have any prosecutions been brought against journalists under that section and, if so, what was the result? As my noble friend has said, these provisions appear to fall foul of the Human Rights Act and there is case law in relation to this matter. Cases have been taken before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where this provision appears to be in contravention.
I believe it would be unwise for us to endanger journalists in the way suggested. If we do so, we shall fall foul of Clause 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is difficult to imagine how Ministers have certified that this legislation conforms with the Human Rights Act when we have the case of Goodwin in front of us. The noble Lord may want to refer to that in his reply.
I am sure that the objections are not limited solely to journalism because many other people may inadvertently have matters disclosed to them in the course of their professional lives and have the same obligation of confidentiality as a journalist owes to the person he interviews. I believe that my noble friend is right to focus on the matter of journalism because this clause can do the greatest harm to that profession. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter seriously before Report stage.
Lord Marlesford: I too want to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I do not do so because of any great principles such as the European Convention on Human Rights or any other legislation. I support the amendment on the simple basis that the clause seems to show an astonishing lack of understanding of how journalism works in practice by a government who include, in their inner sanctum, so many distinguished journalists who do understand such matters.
It is inconceivable that a journalist should ever be put under the restriction of carrying out an interview of any sort on the basis that he may hear or learn something that he would be required to report to the authorities afterwards. It would not work. Journalists would not feel bound by it. One would not be able to administer such a restriction. It is a thoroughly foolish and pernicious proposal. I say that as someone who will yield to no one in the desire to support the overall intentions of the Bill.
Lord Desai: I support the amendment. I have been disturbed by the case taking place against some journalists, in whose support I have signed a petition. I am worried not only that if confidentiality is broken, people will not talk to journalists; but, as an academic, I am also concerned that a lot of information used by my colleagues in international relations or politics comes from good journalistic reporting. Such reporting is a valuable source, not just for academics, but also for governments. If journalists do not find out things, we shall all be in ignorance. This matter impinges on the freedom of the press and on academic freedom. Some so-called "journalists" may be colleagues of mine; for example, I have a distinguished colleague, Professor Fred Halliday, who knows many Arab terrorists. He knows lots of terrorist groups and has spoken to them. Is he supposed to divulge all his information? In doing so, he would lose his career.
Another concern is that while surfing the Internet I may come across a terrorist website. Am I obliged to do something about that immediately or can I click past that and go somewhere else? Will I have committed an offence? The definition of what offence may be committed is so broad that I believe that we should carefully consider whether it should be prescribed more carefully.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This has been a useful short debate. I understand and appreciate that journalists, among all the professions that may be affected by the clause, feel particular concern about this matter. I well understand some of the misgivings that have been expressed in Committee, not least because of the several and various representations that the Government have received from the Society of Editors, the Newspaper Society and members of the broadcast media who have made direct representations to my honourable friend Charles Clarke.
However, I would argue that with that integrity and professionalism must go a degree of responsibility to the wider society. As my honourable friend Mr Clarke said when this matter was debated in another place, a journalist may, during the course of his business, become aware that, say, Canary Wharf is to be blown up. I am sure that Members of the Committee agree that it would be unacceptable for him not to tell anyone in order to protect his sources. That journalist would have had knowledge and information, something of value to the wider society, clearly indicating that people were to be placed at risk. To withhold that information on the grounds that he was protecting his sources would be neither right nor proper.
Lord Marlesford: Does the Minister really believe that that is a realistic example? As a journalist--I do not have an interest to declare now but I was a journalist for 16 years--protecting one's sources and revealing a real threat to human life are totally different things. I cannot think of any journalist, if he or she were to hear of something like that, who would not immediately take whatever action was necessary to prevent it happening. That is not the same as revealing a source. It is an extreme example which does not support the case.
Lord Goodhart: I thank the Minister for giving way. Is it not the fact that the offence under Clause 19 has nothing to do with disclosure of information about the potential bombing of Canary Wharf? The offence under Clause 19 is limited to disclosure of information relating to the commission of an offence under Clauses 15 to 18, which deal with fundraising and property.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I accept the point the noble Lord makes. But knowing about and having knowledge of the means of support for terrorist activity is an important element of this debate. Having knowledge of the obtaining of funds for committing acts of terrorism and supporting terrorism has a bearing on this whole debate.
It is a matter of striking the right balance. In drafting the legislation we have shifted the balance somewhat from the position under the existing legislation by repealing the old Section 18 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that that legislation was put in place in 1984 and again in 1989. The Bill removes the statutory requirement to disclose information which could lead
But we believe it is important to retain the old Section 18A of the PTA. That is the provision now replicated in Clause 19 of the Bill. We regard that as an essential position of permanent counter-terrorist legislation. It is more limited than the old Section 18 in that it applies only to belief or suspicion that another person is committing a terrorist property offence under Clauses 15 to 18. It also applies only where a person bases his belief or suspicion on information which comes to his attention in the course of a trade, profession, business or employment. So it is not just about journalists.
This provision is especially relevant--this must be underlined--to the financial services industry as it generates a flow of information from banks and building societies. But that does not mean that it should only apply to that industry, or that any other industry should be exempt. Of course the Government recognise that the journalistic profession takes its responsibilities extremely seriously; we do. But the Committee will understand that to provide a specific exemption for journalists, even one which could be switched off as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, argued his was at certain times, would leave a potential loophole in what we consider to be an essential provision. It would also carry the risk of making it much easier to launder terrorist finance through press and media companies, a result which I am sure the Committee would not intend.
If I may be a little more reassuring to those journalists who feel that the clause may restrain their legitimate activities, I must emphasise that the Government see the "reasonable excuse" defence in subsection (3) as an important safeguard in this area. I cannot, of course, give a cast-iron assurance that protecting sources will always be a reasonable excuse; it would be wrong for me to do so. That would be for the courts to determine in any individual case. But protecting sources is clearly an important principle for journalists, particularly those working in this difficult area. However, money and other resources are the lifeblood of terrorist organisations. The offences in Part III are extremely important in deterring and disrupting the planning and execution of any act of terrorism, the more so where concerted terrorist campaigns are concerned.
I know Members of the Committee will agree that every effort needs to be made to co-operate with the police in enforcing these offences. Nevertheless, the "reasonable excuse" approach is the best way to arrive at the right balance. By allowing each case to be considered individually, on its merits, we avoid the risks which would go with a blanket exemption while recognising that there could be cases in which a journalist--or anyone else--might have a reasonable excuse for keeping a belief or suspicion to himself.
The Government believe that the importance of tackling terrorist finance is an overriding factor in this area. We do not support a specific exemption for journalists. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the number of prosecutions. I can advise him that there have been no prosecutions under the current provisions. In a sense, that underlines their important deterrent effect and the point I made earlier about the value of the clause bringing forward important information which will enable the prevention of terrorism. After all, that is what this legislation seeks to do.
We understand and have considerable sympathy with the problems Members of the Committee have highlighted in this short debate. We do not wish unreasonably to fetter the journalistic profession or, for that matter, other professions in the lawful exercise of their duties and responsibilities and their professionalism. But we have the balance right. We have narrowed the legislation as it was previously set out in the PTA. We have taken careful note of the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in this matter and feel that the balance is about as right as we can get it. Given the seriousness and sensitivity of this issue, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
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