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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Miss Anne Begg
Ancram, Mr. Michael (Devizes) (Con)
Austin, John (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Cohen, Harry (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
Hoon, Mr. Geoffrey (Ashfield) (Lab)
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh) (LD)
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab)
Keen, Alan (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
McCabe, Steve (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley) (Lab)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
Yeo, Mr. Tim (South Suffolk) (Con)
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Thursday 9 July 2009

[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair]

Draft Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Foreign Travel Notification Requirements) Regulations 2009
8.55 am
The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Foreign Travel Notification Requirements) Regulations 2009.
Welcome to the Chair, Miss Begg. The draft regulations were laid before the House on 23 June. As hon. Members will know, under part 4 of the 2008 Act, certain convicted terrorists are required to comply with a notification scheme. That includes anyone aged 16 or over who has been convicted in the UK of specified terrorist offences or offences with a terrorist connection and sentenced to 12 months’ or more imprisonment or detention, and persons convicted of similar offences overseas who are made subject to a notification order when they come to the UK. The majority of the notification requirements are set out in the Act, but section 52 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring a person who is subject to a notification requirement to notify details of travel outside the UK. It is on that that these regulations are based.
Public safety is paramount and it is the responsibility of Government to ensure that we help to protect public safety and do everything that we can to protect our citizens. The information required by the regulations will mean that convicted terrorists cannot get around the notification requirements by claiming that they were overseas. The regulations impose notification requirements on convicted terrorists in relation to foreign travel, which makes them very similar to the regulations in place for people convicted of sex offences. These regulations require a person who has been convicted of the offences that I mentioned and who intends to travel abroad for three days or more to notify the police before they leave the UK of their intended date of departure, the country to which they will be travelling, their point of arrival in that country and, if they hold the information, the points of arrival in any other countries to which they are travelling. They also have to notify the police of the place where they intend to stay on their first night abroad and the date and place of their intended return to the UK. On the person’s return, they must notify the police of the date and place they re-entered the UK if they have not notified them of those details already.
The regulations, if passed, will be in place for the purposes of protection of the public. The information required will supplement other information required under part 4 of the 2008 Act. I want to make it clear that although the individuals will have to disclose their travel information, the requirements will not prevent them from doing anything in particular. The requirements are not intended as a punishment or to prevent people from travelling. They exist simply so that we can track the individuals accordingly. I hope that, because of the serious consequences of terrorist attacks on the UK and the need for us to monitor these individuals very carefully, as we do sex offenders, hon. Members will feel justified in supporting the regulations. I commend them to the Committee.
8.58 am
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Opposition do not intend to oppose the regulations. As the Minister explained, they were set out in the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. At the time they were discussed, the focus of the House was on the provisions of the Bill that proposed extending pre-charge detention to 42 days. It is perhaps noteworthy that today the House will be voting again on the retention of the extension from 14 to 28 days, which reflects how that argument rightly went.
The regulations follow the clear principle that in certain cases severe travel restrictions can be placed on those who have been convicted of particular crimes. When the Committee considered the relevant clause of the Bill last year, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) rightly accepted that that principle had been accepted in the case of certain sexual offences and for those who travelled with the express purpose of crimes relating to football hooliganism. That remains the Opposition’s position. We accept the principle of the regulations, but I have a few specific points for the Minister.
First, I remind the Minister of the severity of the measures. The notification requirements constitute a significant restriction on the freedom of individuals who have completed their sentences, so they should be used sparingly.
Secondly, I remind the Minister of the distinction that should be made between the different terrorist offences to which the regulations can be applied. Clearly, an individual who has been engaged in the preparation of, say, explosives with the intention of committing an atrocity is a dangerous individual even after he has served a prison sentence, and it is a reasonable response to monitor his movements and to know when he intends to travel abroad and where he is travelling to.
However, the regulations also apply to those convicted of the crimes of encouragement and glorification in the Terrorism Act 2006. The Opposition have consistently questioned the merit of the offence of glorification because it is a constraint on the freedom of speech. In stressing the need to use the regulations sparingly, it is important to note that they should be applied only where they will protect the public.
I have similar concerns about the extension of the restrictions to those who have been convicted of non-terrorist offences, but where the judge concluded on sentencing that the crime may have been terrorist-related. Again, the provisions apply to a number of offences, but they should not be seen as the de facto consequence for any individual associated, however loosely, with a terrorist crime.
Although I offer the Conservative party’s qualified support, the Government should remain on notice that there is no aspect of counter-terrorism legislation that we will not examine very thoroughly if elected.
9.2 am
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Like the hon. Member for Ashford, I do not oppose the regulations, although, as he rightly said, they are being introduced on the day when we vote on the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, and my party will oppose the retention of the extension later.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the issue is the use to which the regulations will be put. Given that they will come into force on 1 October, and given what he said about their being used sparingly, which I echo, how many orders does the Home Office estimate will be applied each year? Will we receive some details about that every 12 months or so?
If I might echo the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the use of the regulations—particularly where the offence is one of glorification—we want to be sure that they are used sparingly and only in cases where there is a real threat to the country. The penalties involved are very high. In the other place, my noble Friend Lord Thomas of Gresford questioned the maximum sentence of five years. Under what circumstances would the Minister consider that sentence appropriate?
The explanatory memorandum notes that discussions have taken place with various groups, including the leads for the violent and sexual offenders register and the Association of Chief Police Officers. Given the Home Office’s failure adequately to monitor people out on probation who have gone on to commit further murders, what resources does the Minister plan to commit to ensuring that anyone subject to the notification will be adequately monitored in the context of part 4 of the Act? When does he expect the guidance that will accompany part 4 to be published?
9.5 am
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): I support the proposal before the Committee. I do not believe that there are any significant human rights considerations. The matter has not been considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights for precisely the reason that there seem to be no human rights implications. Indeed, Liberty said in evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs that it accepted that the notification requirements and travel restrictions could be appropriately used against those convicted of terrorism offences. I concur with that view.
The Minister said that the regulations were along the same lines as those relating to the sex offenders register. I merely seek his comments about whether they are identical, or whether there are differences. If so, what are they, and what are the reasons for them?
9.6 am
Mr. Hanson: In answer to my hon. Friend’s question, the regulations on sex offenders and those before us today are similar. There have been one or two small tweaks, but in essence they are the same. There are exactly the same provisions for notification.
The hon. Member for Rochdale made several points, which I want to answer. We anticipate that the guidance will be published around 1 October. We shall be looking at publishing it before the commencement of the order on that date, but I expect it to be provided then.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the consultation exercise. As he said, we have worked closely with the police and the Ministry of Justice, with colleagues from the Northern Ireland Office and the Scotland Office and with the national leads on ACPO and its terrorism and allied matters committee. We have also had discussions internally with policy leads on the sex offender notification scheme, on which the terrorist scheme is largely based. We have the opportunity to examine those issues positively, and there is widespread support on the matter.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the likely scope of the regulations and the number of offenders that might come through the scheme. Thankfully we have relatively few convicted terrorist offenders in the system at the moment. We currently have about 15 who are on licence in the community, under supervision, and 120 in custody. Some of those will not see the light of day for a long time, because of the length of their sentences.
The hon. Member for Rochdale mentioned supervision. It is always the intention that those who are on licence will be closely supervised by the probation service. Before taking on my present job six weeks ago I was the Minister for probation and prisons, so I know that there is a strong element of supervision. We are tightening and strengthening supervision of individuals under terrorist legislation. The hon. Gentleman mentioned information from earlier in the week about individuals who, having broken the terms of their licence, have not been recalled to prison. He will know that 99 per cent. of those in question are recalled, and we have taken steps this week to ensure that we act with the police and the probation service to recall the other 1 per cent. Those issues stretch back in time through not just the present Administration but a period of 25 years, to 1984, and there is a push to examine them.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the five-year penalty. Self-evidently the penalty is up to five years. It is a matter for the courts which will, as is their right, independently make a judgment about the severity of the sentence. However, we need to back up the notification scheme with a penalty for those who do not comply with it. There is no point in a scheme that is not complied with. The five-year maximum penalty is a backstop that should be remembered by those who fail to comply with the notification requirements, should those be approved today.
I was particularly interested in the view of the hon. Member for Ashford about a consolidation Bill. I shall reflect on those points and we will keep the matter under review, because it is important keep such issues under constant control. The Home Office perspective is that the provisions, like all legislation, will be reviewed regularly. We examine such provisions every three years. We shall reflect on the operation and monitoring.
The terrorist offences to which the relevant part of the Act applies are now broadly covered by sections 41 to 43 of the 2008 Act. Those are serious offences, and I expect that our constituents would want to know where people who had been convicted of them were—not to restrict their liberty, stop them travelling or prevent their enjoying their life post-conviction, but to ensure that, given the severity of their offence, as with sexual offences, notifications are given, so that in the event of a need for information there is a tracking mechanism to tell us where the individuals are.
I hope that there is broad and widespread support for the regulations.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Foreign Travel Notification Requirements) Regulations 2009.
9.12 am
Committee rose.

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