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I accept the hon. Gentlemans point and I know that there is no disagreement among any of us about the need to tackle people who threaten our way of life. I accept that absolutely, but I also accept that there
is disagreement among and between us as to the correct balance between protecting our civil liberties and doing so in a proper way that is consistent with human rights.
The Governments viewand it is my viewis that control orders actually plug a gap. In that sense, nobody is in favour of having control orders if we could possibly do without them, but they plug a gap in circumstances where we cannot prosecute and we cannot deport. That is the gap we are trying to fill. The hon. Member for Stone made a point about human rights legislation. All along the line we have tried to ensure that what we do is consistent with such legislation. Various court judgments have been issued, and I shall say more about that in a moment, but I am well aware that we have only an hour and a half for debate and many Members wish to contribute.
We take our cue from what the courts say. No doubt more will be said about the European Court of Human Rights later, but the House of Lords said in October 2007 that the control order regime was not unlawful; and in October 2008 the Court of Appeal reconsidered that and once again concluded that what we were doing was right. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is subject to an appeal in the House of Lords, which is ongoing. The European Court of Human Rights judgment, to which he alludes, will inform that debate, but with the use of special advocatesand our ability to provide various other safeguardswe believe that a reasonable compromise is being made between protecting the public and ensuring that human rights are respected.
David Davis: My question is much simpler. The Minister has repeated the argument of the Home Secretary who introduced this measure back in 2005that people are put under control orders because of the seriousness of the risk they pose to the public. Will he give us his assessment of the seriousness of the risk posed by the one in five who have escaped control orders?
Mr. Coaker: If anyone absconds or breaches a control order, it is a serious matter, and we do not want to see such breaches. It is a criminal offence to breach a control order. We would obviously want to recapture those people and bring them back under the control of the courts under the control order system. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to highlight that issue. We do not welcome such breaches: we are obviously unsure about where exactly these people are, and if we knew, we would bring them back under the control order system.
Mr. Coaker: I will give way shortly, but we have only an hour and a half, and a number of Members wish to speak. I have given way to a couple of Members, but if I give way to half a dozen, or seven or eight, some Back Benchers who deserve to be able to contribute will not be able to do so. However, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) made a serious point about absconders. We need to ensure that the obligations that we place on individuals are properly policed and controlled, and that we do all we can to bring those absconders back under the control order system.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): If one in five people is absconding and not being found, that raises the suspicion that they do not pose a serious threat, because the Government, or the authorities, do not appear to be making the effort to find them that one would expect.
We have a system that we introduced in an attempt to control individuals whom we have reason to suspect of posing threats. If the hon. Gentlemans point is that the control order system should be abolished, he will have to answer the question What would you put in its place?
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is no coincidence that those who are raising the deficiencies of the control order system are the first to argue for not a strengthening but a weakening of that system. My hon. Friend knows, as a Minister, that it is a very inadequate system, but surely the answer is to strengthen it and not to do what the Opposition want to doget rid of it altogether for anyone who falls below the threshold of evidence under which they may be charged and found guilty. Doing nothing when there is unconstrained intention and unconstrained capacitygiven the existence of radiological and biological weaponsto murder thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, would leave a Government with no weapon at all with which to protect national security.
Mr. Coaker: As a former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend is obviously aware of the gap that we are trying to plug. He has made exactly the point that I tried to make to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). If we do not use this system, what do we put in its place? How do we plug that gap? I should also point out that we have tightened the system, and no one has absconded since June 2007.
Mr. Prentice: The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), mentioned evidence. I have here a briefing from Liberty, which tells us that we should allow the admissibility of intercept evidence so that people suspected of terrorist crimes could be prosecuted in the courts in the normal way.
Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend will know that intercept evidence is the subject of the Chilcot review which is currently taking place. A number of Privy Counsellors from all the main political parties in the House are considering whether it is possible to use intercept evidence without compromising national security. There are differing views about that.
I suggest that my hon. Friend read the report by Lord Carlile, who points out that following consideration of a number of control orders, it was concluded that the use of intercept evidence would not have made any difference in, I believe, nine cases.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): The Coroners and Justice Bill proposes the use of intercept evidence in coroners courts. If interception takes place in countries other than the United Kingdom, it is admissible in our courts. Bugging peoples cars, homes or suits, for that matter, is allowed in our courts. Why can we not make more progress in regard to intercept evidence obtained here?
Mr. Coaker: My right hon. Friend makes a point that a number of hon. Members across the House have repeated. That is why the Chilcot review has been set up. Highly esteemed Members of this House, from all the main political parties, are considering whether what my right hon. Friend suggests is possible. No doubt many of the points he makes will be considered by that review.
Prosecution has been, and continues to be, our preferred approach, because terrorists are criminals who attack the values that we all share. In 2008, 51 people were convicted in 18 terrorism cases, with 21 individuals pleading guilty. Those figures underline the considerable success that the police and intelligence agencies have had in disrupting terrorist plots, and that the Crown Prosecution Service has had in prosecuting those individuals.
We remain absolutely committed to enhancing the ability to prosecute terrorists. Thus, the Home Office is taking work forward to implement the recommendations in last year's Privy Council review report on the use of intercept as evidence. However, the report explained that in a review of nine control order cases by independent senior criminal counsel the use of intercept as evidence would not have enabled criminal prosecutions in any of those casesin other words, it would not have made any practical difference.
Where we cannot prosecute suspected terrorists, and the individual concerned is a foreign national, we look to detain and then deport them. Last month's House of Lords judgments in three cases, including that of the Jordanian Abu Qatada, demonstrated that the Government's policy of deportation with assurances is compatible with the European convention on human rights.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): The Minister has assessed the workings of this legislation. What assessment has he made of the impact on community relations and community co-operation of the draconian powers that are now held by Ministers and the police in these matters?
Mr. Coaker: It is the same assessment, to be honest with my hon. Friend, as I make with respect to any anti-terrorist legislation: if we talk to communities, explain to them and discuss with them all these various issues, we overcome some of their misconceptions and concerns. As I know he will agree, the enemy is the terrorist; it is not a particular faith, religion or group of people. As long as we explain that the action being taken is proportionate, and as long as we explain why it is being done, I think that we can overcome some of those concerns. I appreciate that he genuinely believes that we run a risk if we do not deal with the matter properly.
Mr. Ellwood: I am grateful to the Minister but perhaps if we had more than an hour and a half to debate these important matters, he would not be under such pressure to answer questions from Back Benchers. On the issue of terrorism, which is the reason why we are debating the order today, I understand from reports in the press that 40 per cent. of the CIAs intelligence services are working in the United Kingdom, tackling religious extremism. Would he comment on that, because it takes the special relationship that we are supposed to have with the United States to a new level and, more important, it highlights the fact that perhaps we are starting to be part of the problem, rather than the solution?
Mr. Coaker: Let me say, without commenting on the specifics of the amount of intelligence work that is or is not being done, that the work of the intelligence agencies, whether the UKs intelligence agencies or those of other countries with which we are working in co-operation, is essential if we are to tackle the threat that exists in our country and in other countries. I know that the hon. Gentleman would agree. As I said, I do not wish to comment on the specifics.
Despite improvements in our ability to prosecute or deport individuals who pose a threat to national security, there is a small group of individuals whom we can neither prosecute nor deport. Control orders are intended to protect the public from the risk that those individuals pose. For the past four years, they have been a valuable and targeted tool in our fight against terrorism.
Each order places a tailored set of obligations upon an individual to help prevent or restrict him from engaging in terrorism-related activity. The orders are not imposed arbitrarilya judge must agree that they are necessary and proportionateand they are subject to regular and rigorous review. There are currently 15 control orders in force and only 38 individuals have ever been subject to a control order. However, even if it is a small number, we should still take that seriously.
We accept that control orders cannot entirely eliminate the risk of an individual's involvement in terrorism-related activity. Indeed, the independent reviewer of the operation of the terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, notes in his most recent report that he has seen some material showing that a few controlees
manage to maintain some contact with terrorist associates and/or groups.
I believe that has been alluded to previously. However, it is absolutely clear that the obligations in place under control orders make such involvement more difficult. It is for that reason that the Act itself refers to
preventing or restricting involvement...in terrorism-related activity.
The Government believe that control orders should be imposed for as short a time as possible, commensurate with the risk posed. In terms of the individuals currently subject to control orders, seven have been subject to orders for less than a year and only five have been subject to them for more than two years. The High Court has supported our view that a control order can
be justified beyond two years. Mr. Justice Collins recently found that if there is evidence that an individual remains a danger, the control order should continue for as long as necessary.
The highest court in the land has upheld the control order regime, reflecting the substantive and rigorous judicial checks and balances in that system. The Law Lords are currently considering what measures are necessary to safeguard the right to a fair trial in control order cases. Their deliberations will, no doubt, take into account relevant jurisprudence, including the House of Lords judgment in 2007, the Court of Appeal judgment of October 2008 and the recent European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of A and others.
Our view remains that supported by the Court of Appeal last October: that there is no irreducible minimum level of disclosure that is necessary to ensure that control order review hearings are compatible with a right to a fair trial. The individual is already given as full an explanation as possible of the reasons for the imposition of a control order, subject to legitimate public interest concerns, and each case is determined by an independent judge who has all of the relevant material before them.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. He will be aware of the danger of selectively choosing court judgments that agree with his position. He has referred to the ECHR judgment in A, which I and the Joint Committee on Human Rights believe leaves no doubt that the gist of the case against the controlee must be given. It will be very hard for the Minister to cite the Court of Appeal judgment that matches his view over what was a very clear judgment from the highest court in respect of human rights.
Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman will knowand my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), the Chair of the JCHR, is sat behind methat I take human rights issues extremely seriously. I do not just dismiss them; they are important, and in this debate it is necessary for us to consider the interaction of national security versus the infringement of an individuals liberties. I quote the courts because, at the end of the day, that is why we have an independent judiciary. The hon. Gentleman says that I selectively quote, but the House of Lords will determine whether the Court of Appeal view of what the Government were doing is correct, and the ECHR judgment to which he has referred will inform that debate. We await with interest the outcome of that judgment in a few months time.
It would be remiss of me not to place on record the Governments thanks to Lord Carlile for yet another thorough report, which will, no doubt, inform todays debate. We will, of course, respond formally in due course, as we also will to the JCHRs most recent report on control orders, and I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and his Committee for that report
and the speed with which it managed to produce it, in time for this debate. Lord Carlile continues to view control orders as
a largely effective necessity for a small number of cases.
The control order system as operated currently in its non-derogating form is a justifiable and proportional safety valve for the proper protection of civil society.
We currently face a threat from terrorism that is sustained and indiscriminate. We need to protect the public while ensuring that our fundamental rights and values are safeguarded. Control orders are by no means the whole answer to dealing with the threat we face, but they are an important part of our overall approach. The risk to the public would increase were the Act not to be renewed. I commend the order to the House.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): May I begin by agreeing with the Minister about the nature of the threat and by placing on record our thanks to the men and women of the Security Service and the police, who keep us safe? I also agree with him that nobody wants these orders; well, I am not entirely sure that I speak for the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), but I think it is widely agreed that nobody wants them.
John Reid: May I place it on the record that I find the orders unsatisfactory? I said that there were so many flaws with them that it was like trying to keep soup in a sieve but, unlike some on the Conservative Benches I wish to see the regime strengthened in order to protect the public, rather than weakened.
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