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This is the fourth time that the Government have come to Parliament to ask for a renewal of authority for these orders, and those of us who were here in the previous Parliament are unlikely to forget the circumstances of the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, from which these orders spring. The requirement for these measures was exceptional and was a response to an inconvenient judicial ruling striking down part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The powers taken under the 2005 Act breached fundamental expectations about habeas corpus and wider liberties that we seek to sustain in Britain for our citizens. Conditions being imposed on Britons on the direction of the Executive without due process are a profound departure from the British tradition and the view that we would like to have of our values. This was an implicit victory for the terrorist, and one that should be reversed at the earliest possible opportunity. It was the desire of the Conservatives to impose a sunset clause on the 2005 Act to force the Government to return to Parliament with a Bill that would be properly considered in all its
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stages. Legislating in haste normally allows us to repent at leisure, and that was the case with the rush that accompanied the 2005 Act.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree—I very much agree with him that a proper Bill passed at Westminster would be the right way to go about things according to our legal system—that in the light of our commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, it would be sensible for us also to commit to having our own legislation to deal with this severe problem and to protect habeas corpus and other rights of fair trial, in which the Conservative party believes, as, I hope, we do as a nation?

Mr. Blunt: My hon. Friend is more learned about these matters than I am, but I hope that, once we had repealed the Human Rights Act while remaining subject to the European convention on human rights, our proposal for a Bill of Rights would give the United Kingdom the margin of appreciation that would help to advance his objectives.

John Reid rose—

Mr. Blunt: If the former Home Secretary will allow me, I shall make some progress.

The sunset clause was the mechanism that would have held the Government’s feet to the fire, to force progress on the other measures that would end the need for this legislation. Control orders replaced detention for foreigners suspected of terrorism who could not be convicted because the evidence could not be admitted in court and could not be deported because of concerns about their fate on their return home. Two principal methods can help to overcome these problems: first, enabling intercept communications to be presented as evidence in court, as in many other jurisdictions; and, secondly, concluding agreements with the countries to which these people should be deported, so that their treatment would meet proper standards and they could be safely deported.

In those circumstances, the other place accepted the Government's assurances on these and other points, and compromised with annual renewal rather than a sunset clause. Four years later, even the most generous supporter of the Government could hardly describe their progress on these matters as rapid. Sir John Chilcot’s review accepted the principle of intercept communications as evidence, but the latest statement by the Home Secretary was highly equivocal and certainly did not convey the impression of an Executive pressing for progress so that the powers we are discussing today, which are an affront to our traditions of liberty, can be disposed of.

Almost no progress is being made on deportation orders. In a parliamentary answer in July 2008, the Government said that they had achieved agreements with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon in 2005, and with Algeria in 2006—there was nothing in 2007, but they said they were pursuing agreements with a number of other countries. The only progress made since has been an agreement with Ethiopia in December 2008, and although I am sure that Mr. Binyam Mohamed will welcome that news, the overall picture hardly reflects an Executive straining every sinew to escape from the need for control orders.

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Jeremy Corbyn: Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that we are in danger of making one-off agreements with countries that have not signed up to any other aspect of international law on, or conventions against, torture—and, in some cases, even the human rights convention? Does he not think that we should put pressure on all countries to sign up to international law before making exceptional agreements outside it?

Mr. Blunt: I agree that we need to put pressure on countries to stop torture. Indeed, many of the countries with which the memorandums of understanding exist are party to the convention— [ Interruption. ] No, I understand that not all are. However, MOUs between the UK and other countries are a way of exerting that pressure, and they are a step forward in pointing out to those countries that certain standards are expected and required, not least by the UK.

Dr. Evan Harris: I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can say that it puts any pressure on another country to say, “It’s ok, we’ll do a deal with you even though you are a torturer.” Is it his party’s view that we can trust a torturer, especially one who has signed up to the UN convention against torture and is therefore breaching that solemn international obligation, to adhere to a one-off agreement on an ad hominem basis on a fingers-crossed contingency? Is that the Conservative party’s policy on torture?

Mr. Blunt: The hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the issue is ludicrous and not one for the real world. A one-off agreement on a fingers-crossed basis is not how I would describe a solemn memorandum of understanding between the UK and another other sovereign Government. There would be serious concerns if MOUs on torture were breached, and that would be a disaster for the countries involved.

John Reid: I know of the hon. Gentleman’s past commitment to national security and I fully understand that in some sense he has inherited this policy. However, as I have clarified my position, perhaps he will clarify the Opposition’s position. What should happen to a person who is reasonably suspected of being likely to commit an act of terrorism, perhaps resulting in thousands of deaths, but for whom we cannot—even with intercept evidence—reach the threshold necessary to charge and convict in court? What is the Conservative policy on such a person? Is it just to let him go free?

Mr. Blunt: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, control orders are an unsatisfactory answer. We have to reduce the need for control orders as much as possible so that we can find means other than the appalling affront to our liberties that control orders represent to achieve our aims. I shall go on to explain how that should be achieved.

I wish to remind the House of what was said by my party on the last two occasions that these orders were renewed. In 2007, my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who is now proving such a distinguished chairman of the Home Affairs Committee’s counter-terrorism sub-committee, first of all critiqued the effectiveness of the regime, and supported the extension
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with great reluctance. But he warned the Government that they could not expect our support indefinitely, saying:

By 2008, responsibility for these matters was taken by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who so distinguished himself in the debates on the 2005 and the 2006 Acts that followed. He told the House that the only reason we were not voting against the renewal order in 2008 was that

However, he correctly predicted that the Bill would end up in a confrontation over 42 days’ pre-charge detention and that there would be no opportunity to have such a sensible discussion.

Since 2005, we have had two major legislative opportunities to address the control order issue in the Terrorism Act 2006 and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. In the event, the passing of both Acts was dominated in the public debate by the issue of pre-charge detention. In 2005, this House rejected the Government’s efforts to set this limit at 90 days, compromising on an increase from 14 to 28 days, and last year the Government just got their way here on increasing the limit to 42 days, courtesy of support from the Democratic Unionist party—the cost of that decision will no doubt continue to be counted for some time—but then running into a resounding rejection of their proposals in another place. That saw the withdrawal of the proposals, with something less than good grace, by the Home Secretary. The opportunity to address the control order regime was not taken, and so here we are again.

Since then, we have had the fourth review by the noble and learned Lord Carlile of Berriew, which was so heavily leant on by the Minister in introducing the order. However, the noble Lord has made the point that control orders cannot be used as a permanent disposal for people in these circumstances. In 2008, in his third report, he said:

He also said:

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend also remind the House that the Liberty report makes it plain that a number of the controlees have been the subject of control orders for three or four years and that some of them were held in Belmarsh before that time? They have been in detention for more than four or five years.

Mr. Blunt: My right hon. and learned Friend naturally anticipates the point that I am about to make. However, let me return briefly to Lord Carlile, because for some
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reason he did not return to the issue in his fourth report. Perhaps he got fed up with repeating himself and with the Government’s not paying any attention. I have established by parliamentary question, answered on 12 February, that two controlees have now been under orders for more than three years and three for between two and three years. That figure could have been as high as nine had six of those subject to orders between April 2006 and February 2007 not absconded. The conclusion is that the Government have not bothered satisfactorily to remedy the situation, despite requests from us and the independent reviewer to do so.

When I was appointed to this post just over a month ago, I was conscious that, unusually, this was not about the Opposition making a statement but was likely to be a decision about the conduct of Government policy. If the Conservative party opposes these orders, the Government, with their majority, will probably carry the day in this place. However, that will probably not be the case in the other place, which will address the issue of renewal on Thursday. As the Government have to convince both Houses and as these powers expire on 11 March, they would have to have an alternative monitoring scheme in place for the 15 individuals within 40 days. Is an operational plan in place in case Parliament declines the Government’s request for renewal? Any alternative plan would presumably involve appropriate levels of surveillance, helped by the fact that much of it will not have to be covert as the target will anticipate that his activities will be monitored.

Can we assume that not all the measures have to be new? Presumably there is already additional surveillance of the individuals in addition to the control order measures, not least because of the high proportion of absconders. We know that comprehensive surveillance is expensive and human resource intensive, and that it will require an appropriate plan for each individual. To achieve equivalence with a control order regime, however, foolproof surveillance is not the standard as a fifth of those subject to control orders have absconded.

The control order regime is also expensive. We have some idea of the cost from the answer given to my question yesterday. The cost of elements of the control order regime that I identified was more than £3 million without the cost of the supervision arrangements or the costs of the control order review group. The current arrangement is costing well over £200,000 a year per controlee.

Control orders should be assessed in the context of the whole counter-terrorism strategy, as well as in the context of the financial cost. I believe that they do damage to the “prevent” element of the strategy because of the message of oppression that they impart to those vulnerable to being suborned into violence against our state, its institutions and people. Have the Government conducted an impact assessment of the control order regime on vulnerable communities? The Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) suggested that their assessment is based more on talks with the communities, but I think that something rather more rigorous is required.

Control orders also damage our wider sense of security because of the exceptional measures that are viewed by the Government as necessary. They do damage to the basic notion of British liberty and the values we seek to defend. As for the benefits, they are a temporary patch
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on a hole in our defences that has been created because we have not yet had the wit to find a way to convict or deport people we believe to be associated with terrorism. If we were not so close to a general election, I would not hesitate to recommend to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we vote against these measures and rip this patch off because, in isolation, the system of control orders is defective.

Such a recommendation would come in spite of the natural wish of a patriotic party in opposition to give the Government the benefit of the doubt when they claim that national security at stake. The difficulty that we face is that, in one disreputable episode after another, the Government have forfeited any benefit of the doubt on their most sacred responsibility, which is to keep the nation safe. They do not need to take that from me, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) expressed the sentiment eloquently last week, following the statement on the non-release of Cabinet minutes relating to the decision on the Iraq war.

I have to say that I share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. Coming to the view that we should not obstruct the renewal of the measures today is not about giving this exhausted and discredited Administration the benefit of the doubt, but about finding the most appropriate way to prepare for the likely exercise of these responsibilities by June next year.

I do not know the result of the next election. It would be both impertinent and unwise to presume on the electorate, but I think they would expect an aspirant Administration preparing to take on responsibility for counter-terrorism and security policies to treat the prospect with the utmost seriousness. Therefore, my analysis is based on the assumption that we will be faced with those responsibilities by June next year.

Our counter-terrorism legislation is at best a bureaucratic mess, and at worst has powers that make the situation worse. Let us consider just how we have arrived at this point: the Terrorism Act 2000 was followed by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which was implemented in a hurry after 9/11. Further legislation in 2003 made amendments to the 2000 Act, while the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was required after the 2001 Act was found to be inconsistent with the Human Rights Act 1998. Then the Terrorism Act 2006 was implemented in the post-7/7 environment, and after that came the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Throw in two Northern Ireland Acts for good measure and we have as confusing a pot pourri as any lawyer could desire. It has presented us with the ridiculous juxtaposition of Abu Qatada receiving a deportation order one day, and compensation the next. The warning about the opportunity being created issued by my hon. and learned Friend the shadow Justice Secretary has been fully justified.

The case for consolidation is overwhelming, and it was made by a Labour Home Secretary more than three years ago. On 2 February 2006, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) said that he intended to

The 2008 Act dealt with little of the work that he referred to. No progress was made on intercept as evidence, and no change arose from the review of the
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operation of control order. Therefore, the overwhelming case is not only for consolidation but for a full review of the powers that the state has taken.

The review and consolidation should be comprehensive and not piecemeal. The fact that we are probably within touching distance of being able to complete the review with the benefit of the advice available to a Government has decided me in favour of not removing the patch on the hole in our counter-terrorism strategy that control orders represent. On those grounds, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends not to vote against these orders today, but I want to make it clear to the House that the consolidation and review of counter-terrorism legislation to be carried out by the probable next Administration will begin from the position that we will replace the present control order system. We will also seek to end the abuse of stop-and-search powers under terrorism legislation for non-terrorist-related incidents, and to address controversial offences relating to the distribution of literature and glorification.

Perhaps most important of all, we will allow intercept to be used as evidence in our courts. Achieving that goal will enable us to deliver to public justice more of the people who seek to murder in pursuit of authoritarian theological and political goals in our open society. Such public justice should help to shake any complacency out of communities where our citizens are under direct threat of being suborned.

Mr. Hogg: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunt: I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will forgive me, but there is still an hour for other people to get in.

In office, if we are so trusted, we will seek to send the message that we understand the values that we are seeking to defend from those who would violently challenge them outside the democratic sphere, and we will use our powers intelligently to find the right balance for an open, liberal democracy engaged in that battle.

This is a task to be carried out coherently, comprehensively and seriously, and that is what the Conservative party pledges to undertake. Too many of the emblematic battles between us on these issues have related to attempts to create party political positioning rather than the most effective defence of our democratic institutions and citizens. The result has been ineffective authoritarianism that has undermined our effectiveness and credibility. It is time for that to change.

4.29 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who spoke with such passion and gave such a careful critique of the control order policy that I thought he would announce that the Opposition would vote against the Government. He certainly had the support of one or two Labour Members—not me. I was surprised that he did not announce that.

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