|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Wallace: I shall be brief, but the Minister has just announced the effective expansion of some special branch duties as a way to alleviate Opposition concerns about take-down orders being put in place by a constable. In my time, I have served alongside special branch officersin the special operations unit SO12 in Northern Irelandand I know that they are among the best officers in the police force and that they do an extremely good job. However, I also know the practicalities of Government directions such as the Minister's, and I question whether the person placing take-down orders will in fact be the sort of officer about whom she gave the House assurances.
Special branch officers are incredibly overworked and bear a heavy burden. Among their many other jobs they run agents, liaise with intelligence services and implement new legislation. The Bill talks about a "constable", meaning a member of the mainstream special branch, but my experience is that that person will soon be merely a liaison officer attached to special branch, and then an ordinary constable who is asked to assist in a case. Inappropriate allocation of police officers to such tasks can lead to the sort of extreme events that we saw with the Manchester ricin plot. In that case, the wrong type of officer was deployed in the wrong job, and lives were placed in extreme danger.
I hope that the Minister will alleviate some of our concerns, perhaps in writing if she is unable to provide the answers to my questions this afternoon. What will be the cost of the extra training for some officers? Why do the Government believe that the Bill should speak so loosely of a "constable", without offering a closer definition of the expertise required? Why is the Minister not happy with GCHQ, the agency that does the job at the moment? It has linguists, and its intercept knowledge goes far deeper than that of the police force. Does not GCHQ represent the best way to go about these matters, in conjunction with a judicial appeal?
Dr. Julian Lewis:
My hon. Friend's suggestion has the additional practical advantage that it meets the point made by the Labour Back Bencher who spoke about
15 Feb 2006 : Column 1485
those occasions when the intelligence services will want to track who is accessing sites. As part of the intelligence network, GCHQ will be able to make a balanced decision about when to take a site down and when it might be advantageous to keep it up for intelligence purposes.
Mr. Wallace: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, and I agree with him. I suspect that Cheltenham will continue to do the job anyway, and that a constable in some police force will get a phone call telling him to go down the road to enact a take-down order. That will not make for good policing, but it will cause police resources to be used up. For example, a terrorist group may want to take an officer off duties involving surveillance or running an agent. All it need do is to put up an inflammatory website, and that officer's time will be taken up with the ensuing take-down order rather than with trying to intercept information or interdict the terrorist organisation.
I hope that when the Minister sums up she will describe the expansion of the special branch role, and give details of the cost implications for the police force of placing on a constable the requirements set out in the Bill. Also, I hope that she will introduce more robust safeguards to ensure that the "constable" referred to by the Bill does not become merely any probationer or officer who happens to be on hand when a take-down order is required.
Mr. Llwyd : In all honesty, I cannot understand why the Minister will not accept Lords amendment No. 29. In her opening remarks she said that it seemed rather excessive, in this connection, to use the good offices of a High Court judge, but that is not what the Lords amendment proposes. In the context of England and Wales, it says that an "appropriate judge" means
However, even if we need to give special training to a circuit judge or two, or possibly to a High Court judge, that is all that would be necessary, as we all suspect that these orders will be few and far between in any event.
I speak as a person who is fully supportive of the constabulary. My brother is a Surrey police officer and my late father was also a police officer. I have nothing against the police, but we are now asking police officers to be judge and jury in their own courts. They are highly trained to collect and collate evidence, and then to report to the prosecuting authority, which is, in nine cases out of 10, the Crown Prosecution Service. It is not in their remit to judge that evidencealthough it was in days gone by, before the Crown Prosecution Service was introduced. If the Minister is suggesting that a police constable, however well trained, should be able to evaluate whether an offence has been committedor would be committed if a site remained upshe is asking the impossible of a person who has not been judicially trained. I do not mean that in a snobby way; we all play our various roles in society and a police officer does not
15 Feb 2006 : Column 1486
play that quasi-judicial role. I am sure that the safeguards in the amendments are reasonable and worthy of proper consideration.
The Minister said that her main objection to the amendments was not related to the possibility of delay, but her speech was constructed around delay and I did not hear any other real reasons why the judiciary should not be involved. In any case, there would be no delay if one had at hand expert judges, available 24 hours a day, as is the case for domestic violence cases in the middle of the night or any other form of criminal or civil jurisdiction. I am sure, given the importance of this issue, somebody would be available to deal with cases without delay. I cannot understand why this extra safeguard is not being considered.
The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) suggested a brief appellate procedure, in which the constable would decide, but the decision would be passed to a judge to evaluate whether it should stand. It is all very well for the Minister to say that if someone is warned about taking a notice down, they may ignore the notice. It is not that simple, because they then lose the right to that defence. If they refuse to take down a notice, having been told to do so by a constable, the statutory defence relating to knowledge would not be available to them. That is an important step, because it would mean that if any prosecution were brought, they would be bang to rights, on a decision initially made by a police constable. That is not very well thought out. The other place has provided a safeguard and I urge the Minister, who is a reasonable person, to reconsider the Lords amendments on that issue.
Mr. Ellwood : The purpose of any terrorist attack is to seek attention and create a sense of anxiety and panic among the public, and to provoke an over-reaction by the authorities. My concern about much of this Bill is that it is an over-reaction by the authorities, and that allows the terrorists to win a long time after the actual terrorist attack has come and gone.
I am pleased that we are starting to focus attention on the use of the internet. I am sure that the House will agree that the internet has played a pivotal role in the communication and planning of all the international terrorist attacks that have taken place. However, the examples mentioned in this debate show how much could have been achieved if we had focused more on the internet. In fact, what has been left out is of more concern.
We have talked about the role of the police and about the fact that we should start to police the internet in the UK, but we have not really discussed what happens to material in another language or the consequences when organisations using the internet as a means of communication shift their activities abroad. As I said earlier, a united effort is required and it would be nice to see examples of what is happening on the international platform to combat the use of the internet in terrorist incidents.
Earlier, I mentioned ICANN, which is based in California and is the core for all internet service providers. It has the technical power, although not yet the ability, to put limits on internet service providers
15 Feb 2006 : Column 1487
throughout the entire world. It does not yet happen, because the internet has advanced at such a pace that nobody has been able to take that step. Examples cited earlier about what is happening in China illustrate that such limitation can be successfully undertaken.
Although the Government initiatives in the UK are welcome, my challenge to them is that if we are to combat international terrorism, we must give robust consideration to the operation of ICANN. We must look at how it functions and determine whether it can better assist us to control a fundamental form of communication used daily between terrorist organisations and to recruit new members to them.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|