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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I rise to support this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Cox, to which I have added my name. The amendment follows on from our debate at Second Reading on 21 November (at cols. 142326 and cols. 147678 of the Official Report) to which, I regret to say, the Minister was unable to give any sort of satisfactory reply (at col. 1492). In my remarks at Second Reading I detailed the case of a gentleman with clear Islamist links who owns 75 per cent of a UK company which supplies high-tech surveillance and security management to this Palace of Westminster and other locations as mentioned today by my noble friend. I revealed that when the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and I raised this situation with the security services we were told that we had nothing to worry about because the gentleman in question took no interest in the day to day running of the company, despite having increased his shareholding from 25 to 75 per cent around the time of 9/11 and ignoring the fact that, as controlling shareholder, he hires and fires the directors and fixes their remuneration. They must do as he wishes or get another job: he is the company.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, replied, she was constrained by the fact that it was 10.05 pm and she felt that she could not comment on individual cases or security issues. She then wrote what I can only describe politely as a classically unhelpful letter to my noble friend on 7 December, which was not copied, as promised, to those of us who had spoken in the debate. This is not her fault, of course, but it was sent on to me by my noble friend. I have put a copy in the Library but I cannot resist quoting the final paragraph, as it is one of which Sir Humphrey would have been extremely proud:
"I am again unable to be specific about whether, when and how assessment of the controlling interests in a particular company is or is not carried out. However, I would like to assure you that the Government take these matters very seriously and due care is given to ensuring that sensitive Government assets and information are protected".
We were not just talking about "sensitive Government assets and information". We were talking about the whole range of our industrial, commercial and charitable infrastructure. This is what this amendment seeks to address.
Perhaps I may put some simple questions to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, in order that we can all understand just how exposed we are? First, when a contract is awarded, giving regular access to a
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government location or a major industrial or commercial interest, together with opportunities for entrance and surveillancefor instance, the cleaning contract in your Lordships' Houseis the vetting of all personnel involved left to the contractor, or is it validated independently by the security services? Secondly, what mechanism exists for assessing and, if necessary, removing controlling and substantial interests in our non-governmental industrial, commercial and charitable infrastructure? Thirdly, what duty is placed on this infrastructure to ensure that its own and its contractors' personnel are adequately vetted?
At this point I can hear my fellow employers in your Lordships' House groaning somewhat at the thought of yet more regulation. We are already submerged by mountains of pointless red tape, most of it forced on us by the beings from outer space who have taken us over via the European Union. We have directives and laws on sexual discrimination and harassment, part-time workers, the handicapped, the hours we are allowed to work and those who may or may not share the colour of our skin. We can freely employ any dodgy character who comes our way from the European Union, but not our skilled and laudable kinsmen from Australia, New Zealand and the USA. We are even supposed to ensure that our workmen on building sites do not expose their posteriors to sunburn, and that they do not climb a ladder unless another workman holds its bottom. In short, we have already gone completely mad.
so why do we not have some regulation which might do something to protect our industrial, commercial and charitable infrastructure from the gathering clouds of Islamist terrorism? If the Minister does not want to place an additional burden on our compliance officers, I promise that I can sit down with her and advise her on which items to jettison from the present culture of overregulation, which is most of them.
Since our Second Reading debate, I have heard disturbing rumours from friends in the security services, which leads me to ask two further questions. First, is there any truth in the suggestion that our vetting procedures generally are being or are going to be relaxed? Secondly, are our procedures for checking the credentials of asylum seekers being relaxed? On a related matter, I note from the front page of today's Times that the Britishness test for Imams has been abandoned and feel sure that this must be a mistake in the current climate. Will the Minister confirm that that has happened and tell us why that decision was taken?
Finally, this leads me to refer to what I said at Second Reading about the present state of the Muslim religion and the vital need to stimulate more debate within Islam about its true nature and purpose. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, is no longer in this place because I was struck by what he said in Committee on this Bill on 13 December (at cols. 1181 and 1182 of the Official Report). The noble Lord is a respected pillar of the Muslim community and, as such, he much regretted that members of that community in this country feel that much of the
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legislation going through Parliament such as the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, the Identity Cards Bill and this Terrorism Bill are all targeted at the Muslim community.
I am sure that we all share the noble Lord's regret and frustration, but I hope that he and his colleagues will understand if I point out that the new barriers and security arrangements that surround your Lordships' House and the other place were not put there to deter Hindus, Christians, Buddhists or even Irish terrorists; they were put there to defend us against the new phenomenon of Islamist terrorism. I therefore ask the Minister whether the Government have given any thought since Second Reading on 21 November as to how they might encourage serious debate within the Muslim community with a view to making the Islamists among them see the errors of their ways and so gradually persuading them to return to peaceful coexistence with the rest of us? I look forward to the Minister's replies and wish her well in her endeavours.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I support the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has made a most convincing case. It seems to me that, moreover, anyone infiltrated into or already working in a firm responsible for security in a vital installation would be well placed to gather exactly the sort of material needed to mount an attack on the security system. A sleeper could do great damage. Subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 5 are relevant.
I well understand that the kind of threat which has been identified is such a delicate subject that it is virtually impossible to discuss it here without risking publicising either HMG's knowledge or lack of knowledge of the present submission. I can only say that I find it extremely disquieting that one man, a Sudanese and not a British citizen, should own a 75 per cent controlling interest in not one, but two firms responsible between them for making and setting up surveillance equipment in a wide range of sensitive British defence and nuclear installations. It is surely a cause for anxiety that these two firms are operating within and responsible for the security systems of several MoD bases, both Houses of Parliament, British Airways, Texaco, and not least 11 nuclear power stations. That is too much knowledge to be held by two basically non-British firms, where the controlling interest is held by one man, a foreigner.
The actual British employees and managers are I am sure entirely trustworthy and efficient, and this has presumably enabled the two firms to extend their operations by osmosis across a wide range of sensitive targets by a process of introduction. Clearly, a central overview of how many targets were involved and their nature has been lacking. The database that they must hold is surely very vulnerable to infiltration and exploitation by terrorists. The Sudanese owner, or indeed any foreign owner with possible terrorist links, will be able quietly to ensure that some sensitive appointmentseven one would be enoughgo to his nomineedirect or indirectpossibly someone at a very modest level which would attract no attention. He or she could be triggered at an appropriate time and
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meanwhile would have invaluable access. I hope therefore that the Minister can assure the House, whatever the status of this amendment, that HMG will lose no time in reviewingif they have not already done sothis potentially dangerous threat to national security, as well as providing on the face of the Bill the safeguards for the future which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is proposing. I believe that we owe a great debt to her for her determination over many months in identifying this potentially very serious threat to the safety of our country.
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