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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): I accept what the Minister says, and the House of Lords judgment was clear, but what we have at the moment is what this Government have given us. She was not a Home Office Minister at the time, but the law that we have was introduced by a Labour Government and passed by Parliament. Some of us opposed it, saying that there were other measuresnot all-or-nothing measures. That has always been an agenda option, but the Government decided not to choose it when it was available the first time round.
The existing powers have been subject to appeal. The Court of Appeal supported them unanimously; the House of Lords took a different view. Clearly, therefore, these are controversial matters, in both legal and political terms. The hon. Gentleman decided at the time not to support that way forward, but that way was taken and was supported by the Court of Appeal. We now have the Law Lords' judgment, and we are responding to that.
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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I was one of those who did not support the legislation when it was first proposed, not because I want there to be any terrorist outragesquite the oppositebut because I want a process of law, not of Executive detention. The Minister must address whether it is right, in a democracy, for a Government to take on themselves powers to detain people without charge, and without knowledge of the evidence against themindefinitely, in the case of foreign nationals. The response to the Law Lords' judgment must be that we accept the point of an independent judicial systemindependent of the political process.
Ms Blears: Yes, I shall come to those points. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) pointed out in her intervention, we want rigorous independent judicial scrutiny of the proposed powers, but I shall come to those.
The proposals for control orders therefore address the issues highlighted by the House of Lords head-on: in relation to proportionality, as we will have a tailored suite of measures; and in relation to discrimination, as they will apply to British citizens as well as foreign nationals. They will apply regardless of the type of terrorism in which people are involved. The proposed restrictions will range from not associating with certain people to not having access to the internet or mobile phones, notification as to an individual's whereabouts and not visiting particular premises or areas. The Home Secretary has made it clear that the decision to make a control order would not be taken lightly and, rightly, would not be unfettered. Safeguards are important, and will include independent judicial oversight of the Home Secretary's decision to make or vary a control order. In addition to the right of appeal immediately against the order, there will be regular independent reviews, not just of the fact that the order has been made but of any conditions attached. Circumstances might change, so different conditions might be appropriate at different times.
The hon. Member for Winchester referred to the revocation of the certificate in relation to C, asking whether one day this person was a huge threat to the security of the nation, and the next day he was not. I shall not comment on his individual case, but circumstances might well change and people's networks of contacts might get degraded through disruption by police operations, so there might no longer be a need for the most rigorous conditions in a control order. It is right that one should be allowed to apply to vary and change the conditions envisaged in the control order at that time.
"to surrender the responsibility of the Executive to the courts to take decisions on these matters, it would in the most real sense be a betrayal of the responsibility that I as Home Secretary and any future holder of this office bear for the security of the state. That
The role of the courts is properly to reach a view on the decisions of the Executive in accordance with the law. That is the position that we take in relation to that. Clearly, we shall continue to discuss and debate this matter. As the Home Secretary is responsible for the country's national security, he feels that abrogating those decisions to the judiciary is not the appropriate way to proceed. That does not mean that rigorous, independent judicial oversight cannot be done to make sure that any decisions taken are in accordance with the law. Our motion makes it clear that we want a system that is in compliance with the European convention on human rights. It was this Government who passed the Human Rights Act 1998, and we take our responsibilities incredibly seriously in that regard. We want to make sure that we are in compliance.
Lembit Öpik: As I listen to the Minister, I find her comments increasingly reminiscent of the similar arguments that were used to defend detention without trial in Northern Ireland. Leaving aside the political and legal questions, does she accept that plenty of evidence from Northern Ireland suggests that even control orders have the adverse effect of turning such individuals into martyrs in the eyes of the very people whom she is trying to deter from terrorist activity? May I suggest that many of the proposals, especially on detention, could end up becoming a recruiting sergeant for the terrorists?
Ms Blears: We are conscious of those arguments, and we have learned from the experience of trying to deal with terrorism over many years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would accept, however, that some individuals are committed to taking action that would strike at the very heart and fabric of the values that we hold dear in our democracy. They are out there. How do we strike a balance and operate a system that enables us to contain the threat against this country and, at the same time, maximise the rule of law?
We must try to ensure that we comply as much as we can but, at the same, we recognise that there are circumstances in which there is not sufficient admissible evidence. If evidence were used, it could reveal the techniques and capabilities of the Security Service, to the detriment of our ability to thwart and disrupt terrorists of that nature. That is an extremely difficult balance to strike. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is in danger of painting a black-and-white picture: either we let everyone out or we lock everyone up; either we comply with the rule of law or we completely abrogate it. There is a shade and a spectrumwe can seek to maximise our compliance with the rule of law while at the same time providing a rigorous framework that protects this country.
I do not intend to embark on a dialogue with the Minister, but I would point out that everyone agrees that detention without trial in Northern Ireland was ultimately counter-productive. I am merely suggesting that much of the language and the
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justification that she is using for Government policy sounds exactly like the justification used before detention without trial was repealed.
When the Home Secretary makes the orders he is not passing a sentence on someone; he is taking action to prevent them from threatening the security of this country. The decisions that he makes under part 4 of the present legislation have been subject to review by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which is a court chaired by a High Court judge who has seen the evidence, both open and closed. We therefore have a system of good, rigorous, independent judicial oversight, and we would certainly want to have at least as robust a system for the control orders, and to make sure that judges are involved in scrutinising the Home Secretary's decisions.
Mr. Beith : Surely the Minister appreciates that there is a difference between oversight and judicial decision making. There would be no abrogating of the Home Secretary's responsibility for security if he initiated a process in which the decision was made judicially and not as part of a lengthy subsequent review. There is surely room for the Government to move and recognise that most of the public would be much happier if the decision were in the hands of the judiciary and the Home Secretary merely initiated the process.
Ms Blears: I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point, and I am trying to be as honest and straightforward as I can. The Home Secretary makes the decision because it is right, given his personal responsibilities for the security of the nation, for him to do so, rather than give that decision and responsibility to someone else. He accepts that it is right to have good judicial oversight, but he does not think that those decisions should be made by the courts. He thinks that initially they should be made by him in exercising his responsibility on behalf the Executive. I am sure that we will continue to have this debate, but it is right to be open about the matter.
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