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Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con) rose—

Hazel Blears: I can probably anticipate the point that the hon. Gentleman is going to make, but I gladly give way.

Patrick Mercer: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Given events in America, Madrid, Bali and elsewhere, her saying that we engaged in a theoretical debate on this issue is extraordinary. Surely she remembers what happened to this country at the hands of the Irish Republican Army, and she has seen what other terrorist groups have done to other countries. This is no theoretical debate.

Hazel Blears: No, it is not, but the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, in discussing control orders, the tenor of the debate in some quarters was to underplay the threat. Many people in the House did not recognise to the extent that he clearly does the real and ever-present terrorist threat. I am on record as saying that it is indeed a real and serious threat following events not just in America but throughout the world in the past decade, during which time many countries have been attacked. The point that I was making was that in some quarters the reality of the threat was perhaps not recognised; that threat has now been put beyond any doubt.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: With the greatest respect, the right hon. Lady is totally misrepresenting the atmosphere that surrounded the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. I recall saying that I expected major terrorist outrages to be committed in this country in time
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to come, and that there was no way of guaranteeing that we could prevent them. Sadly, I—along with the right hon. Lady—was proved right on 7 July. The argument was whether the best way to protect ourselves against terrorism was to leave aside the normal principles of the rule of law and to give rise to the possibility, sooner or later, of cases of gross injustice by giving the Secretary of State the right to deprive someone of their liberty, and by denying them the chance of defence or of proper judicial review. That remains an issue, to which the Government promised they would one day return.

Hazel Blears: The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have noticed that I chose my words carefully. I used the phrase "in some quarters", and in doing so I was not including him. However, it is undeniable that some people were not seized of the real and serious nature of the terrorist threat.

Reference has been made to miscarriages of justice, and I refer Members to Lord Carlile's report, in which he points out that although he regards control orders as a last resort, he also considers them a proper, justifiable and proportionate way of proceeding. He had access to all the papers, cases and information on which the Secretary of State based his decisions. He says that he would have reached the same conclusions, but that that does not necessarily mean that those conclusions were correct. That is why it is important that judicial consideration be given to all such cases, and that there is a series of checks, balances and safeguards to ensure that we get the balance right between individual rights and the security of the nation. That is a very difficult balance to strike, but everything that I and the Government have done has been aimed at ensuring that we strike that balance in the right way and preserve the essential freedoms that are so precious to us, while at the same time ensuring that we bear down in the best way that we can on those who would commit terrorist atrocities against this country.

I make no apology for seeking to ensure that this legislation is renewed, so that we can continue to exercise these powers. As I have said, we will have a further opportunity to examine these issues. Broad agreement has been reached with the Opposition parties and the timetable has been set out. In the early part of 2007, we will introduce draft legislation, which will be subject to proper pre-legislative scrutiny. We will try to achieve as much consensus as we can in getting our counter-terrorism law right and making it as robust and fair as possible. Such legislation is in the interests of this nation, and I am sure that all parties will take a very active part in scrutinising it and making sure that the powers are properly framed and used.

I therefore commend the order to the House and ask that the legislation be renewed for a further 12 months.

5.44 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am grateful to be able to speak on this subject. As always, I was very interested in what the Minister had to say, especially about the lack of understanding of the seriousness of the threat that faces us.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has said that, when this order came before the House a year or so ago, the
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disagreement between the Opposition and the Government was one of the most serious of this Government's term in office. That is certainly my experience, although I have been in the House only a short time. The Minister has spoken about consensus, so I shall return to the subject of that disagreement on a number of occasions.

There is no doubt that the review and renewal procedures for control orders are the result of the contest in both Houses that took place before the last election. Lord Carlile's report supports the Government, and lays special emphasis on the close personal attention that the Home Secretary has paid to each case. This time last year, that was definitely a cause for concern and I, for one, was not convinced that the Government would give the right level of scrutiny to a measure with which I disagreed. However, Lord Carlile has said that the scrutiny has been appropriate, and we should acknowledge that the Home Secretary has done his job to the extent that Lord Carlile is happy to congratulate him.

On 28 February 2005, the Prime Minister was interviewed on "Woman's Hour", and his words stand in stark contrast to what has happened since. According to him, the security services were saying that

It is interesting that the Prime Minister should have said that before the July attacks, and even more so in light of the past three weeks or so. In that time, there have been appalling demonstrations in the centre of the capital and the case of Abu Hamza, which I am sure that the Minister will agree could have been handled very much better.

The Minister said that several hundred people were out there, but the fact is that a maximum of 18 individuals have been placed under control orders. Only nine remain under those orders, with the other nine awaiting deportation. How does the Minister rationalise what the Prime Minister said with the reality of the past year?

In his report, Lord Carlile makes two specific recommendations. First, he said that a Home-Office led monitoring system should ensure that the restrictions imposed were the minimum necessary, consistent with public safety. Secondly, he said that we must ensure that the police reach clear conclusions that the evidence needed to prosecute individual controlees is not available. The report supports the Government's case for control orders, at least in the short term, but Lord Carlile told the Home Affairs Committee yesterday that 20 imams were trying to recruit in prisons and universities.

I have already referred to the Abu Hamza case, and Lord Carlile's remark about the imams prompts me to ask the Minister how control orders are intended to be used against such targets. I am sure that all hon. Members respect the views of Lord Carlile. Given that only nine people are subject to control orders at present, what measures will be taken against the 20 imams to
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whom he referred? We are told that the security services have a list of nearly 100 people in this country who continue to preach hatred and to radicalise. I do not think that it is stretching a point to suggest that those people may adopt the sort of persuasive language that led to the attacks that took place on 7 and 21 July.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am not certain whether the hon. Gentleman is criticising the Government because too few people are subject to control orders, but I was present for Lord Carlile's evidence to the Home Affairs Committee yesterday and I tried to get him to give a figure. He was good enough to give me a figure, but he did not suggest that it was an accurate figure because he could not know that. Even if 20 people were involved, would it really be useful for them to be subject to control orders? Would not it be far better—as I suggested yesterday—for the congregation concerned to take action to clear out those who are no more than hate merchants?

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