The Government has tabled some new amendments to the Counter Terrorism Bill to be discussed next Tuesday. This is at about as late a stage as it is possible to do so: the Bill is nearly at the end of its Report Stage with Third Reading scheduled for 17th November. This in itself is considered bad practice and the Opposition Parties can be expected to kick up a fuss.
The amendments themselves are complicated and (in so far as I understand them) will enable the Treasury to give directions requiring UK businesses to exercise greater degrees of due diligence and in certain circumstances to limit or cease doing business with certain companies or organisations based in particular countries.
The Home Office is not at fault on this – the amendments emanate from the Treasury. Inevitably, they will be difficult to handle (given that they are so late, so complicated, appear to widen the scope of the Bill, and are potentially controversial). The lucky minister who will have to introduce them in the Lords is Paul Myners. Paul Myners is one of the newest Ministers. He was appointed as Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for the City in last month’s reshuffle (having previously been Chair of the Guardian Media Group) and only took his seat in the Lords a week or two ago.
Quite properly Paul Myners arranged a briefing session for all Peers this afternoon and arrived with a team of four or five Treaury civil servants to explain detailed points. This would all have been fine and dandy, but when I posed the question whether these provisions were intended for circumstances that might not relate to combatting terrorism the civil servants appeared to offer conflicting views. Eventually after four of the five had spoken, they agreed on a line (yes, the provisions could relate to money laundering by organised crime or to nation states raising money to finance weapons of mass destruction). Not exactly an impressive performance from Treasury officials.
In my view the provisions are sensible, but in an ideal world should not have been included in a Bill all about terrorism and indeed the “long title” of the Bill will have to be amended to permit the amendments.
So why is it being included in this Bill? It turns out that there is a need to comply with international requirements on this point by February 2009 and this is the only way that the provisions can be enacted in primary legislation in time. That might be fair enough, but the need for these changes has been apparent for some time and it turns out that the Conservatives called for them four months ago.
This is hardly going to make it easy for Paul Myners. The only good news for him is that the Conservatives are unlikely to vote against the amendments as they have been calling for them. Yet, I can hear the we-told-you-so cries already and the question still has to be answered as to why the amendments weren’t put forward earlier. Hardly the best way to support a new Minister.