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Amendments (a) to (e) in lieu of Lords amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 agreed to.

Remaining Lords amendments agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments Nos. 22, 23 and 29: Vera Baird, Mr. Alistair Carmichael, Mr. Secretary Clarke, Mr. Dominic Grieve and Joan Ryan; Mr. Secretary Clarke to be the Chairman of the Committee; Three to be the quorum of the Committee. —[Joan Ryan.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.


 
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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

[Relevant document: The Twelfth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005–06, Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in force of Sections 1 to 9) Order 2006, HC 915.]

5.17 pm

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): I beg to move,

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was introduced last year in recognition of our need to be able to tackle the threat posed to national security by individuals whom we could neither prosecute nor deport. The Government's response to the Law Lords' ruling on powers under part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which introduced control orders enabling tailored obligations to be placed on an individual to protect the public from the risk of terrorism. The Act came into force—after, we recall, some fairly intense parliamentary scrutiny and debate—on 11 March 2005.

The threat posed to the life of the nation by terrorism and the consequences of terrorism is a subject that has necessarily occupied this House on too many occasions. The tragic events of last July brought home to everyone the fact that this is a very real and continuing threat.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I apologise for interrupting the Minister so soon. Does she agree, given the debates on control orders last year, that the Government would not have got the 2005 Act on the statute book, were in danger of losing a Bill and saved it only by promising fresh legislation in spring 2006, when both Houses of Parliament could reconsider, from the base up, the principle of the Home Secretary having powers to deprive someone of or limit their liberty? Is not it a disgrace that that promise is reduced to one-and-a-half hours' debate about an order on the eve of a recess, thus enabling the Government to retain powers that the vast majority of Members of Parliament in both Houses did not believe they should hold when they first sought them?

Hazel Blears: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to raise the undertakings that were given when the legislation was being considered. However, he, like all of us, knows that significant changes and events have occurred since that debate, not least the events of 7 July, which interposed between our discussion of the original Bill and now. He also knows that we had a timetable for the Terrorism Bill, which we debated earlier, that it was accelerated through all-party agreement because of the events, and that it has been tackled more quickly than was originally envisaged.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also knows that we wanted to reconsider control orders when we had had the opportunity to examine Lord Carlile's report. He acknowledges that we have not yet had a full cycle of control orders because many of them are subject to the appeal provisions and various aspects of judicial scrutiny.
 
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There has been cross-party agreement and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement indicating that we would introduce draft legislation, which would be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, to try to bring together much of our law on terrorism. That will provide an opportunity to reconsider the issues. That position is accepted by hon. Members of all parties.

The original undertakings have been affected by subsequent events. There will be an opportunity to reconsider control orders, but it is better to do that when they have been through their full cycle. Our deliberations will be better informed by some of the legal judgments on some of the appeals and applications.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Does the Minister accept that the reason for the long timetable for any consolidating Bill stems from the need for a definition of terrorism, on which my noble Friend Lord Carlile of Berriew is working? Does she also accept that that work would not apply to control orders and that we should deal with them in primary legislation earlier rather than later?

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that we have asked Lord Carlile, as the independent reviewer, to review the definition of terrorism. As he knows, there are some difficulties with that. The United Nations is considering a definition of terrorism, and it is not an easy matter to resolve. However, we should consider control orders in the overarching context of our counter-terrorism legislation. They are one of the tools that we can use, together with our law enforcement agencies and the legislation that we have passed this afternoon, to counter terrorism in this country.

There is broad agreement that we should have pre-legislative scrutiny and take a good, long, cool, hard look at our counter-terrorism legislation to ensure that it is appropriate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the sense of going through a full cycle of control orders before considering whether to make changes and amendments.

The UK Government must continue to tackle terrorism. As I said, control orders have a vital role to play alongside other existing powers and the new measures in the Terrorism Bill, which we debated earlier. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out in his statement to the House on 2 February why he believed the powers were necessary and why we were seeking to renew them for a further 12 months. Lord Carlile's report on the operation of the 2005 Act was laid on the same day.

Today's renewal debate takes place in accordance with section 13 of the 2005 Act. Section 13 provides that the powers on control orders will automatically lapse after one year unless they are renewed by order subject to the affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament. I have dealt with the opportunity for legislative change and the time scale for that.

Prosecution is and will always remain the Government's preferred course of action in dealing with individuals suspected of terrorism and priority will continue to be given to prosecution. However, it is not always possible, for a variety of reasons. There might be
 
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insufficient admissible evidence—clearly there is a reliance on intelligence in some cases—an overriding need to protect sensitive sources and/or techniques, and other reasons why a prosecution is not in the public interest.

Mr. Carmichael: Does the Minister share my concern about Lord Carlile's observation on prosecutions? He said:

Does the Minister accept that that is unsatisfactory? What steps will the Home Office take to rectify the situation?

Hazel Blears: Lord Carlile makes a number of recommendations on how the position might be improved. He also makes recommendations on keeping the prohibitions under regular review. We agree with him in regard to both those recommendations. The principle behind his recommendation on providing more information is absolutely sound. We should have as much information as possible about why a prosecution is not possible, but in some cases the information is based on intelligence and we have to take into account the operational implications when determining how much information can be put forward, particularly if it is to be disclosable in proceedings. Lord Carlile also makes reference to that. So, although it is a sound recommendation in principle, we want to take a little more time to consider the operational implications for the cases involved.

Deportation is also an option for foreign nationals, as removal can provide an alternative means of disrupting their activity and reducing the threat to national security. Again, however, this is not always possible, although we have made considerable progress in agreeing memorandums of understanding with a number of countries, which will provide a means by which individuals can safely be returned to their countries of origin.


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