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Let me deal with a point raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). Why do we not use other existing counter-terrorism legislation? It has been suggested that counter-terrorism legislation is already in place, and that we should use those powers rather than introducing asset freezing. We have a comprehensive framework to counter financing of terrorism, but none of the other legislation replicates the effects of the asset-freezing regime under the terrorism orders in its preventive nature and in its ability to restrict suspected terrorists' access to the financial system. Furthermore, no other legislation contains such a comprehensive range of prohibitions on third parties' making funds available to
terrorist suspects, such prohibitions being essential to preventing terrorists from circumventing the restrictions and accessing funds.
Many members have asked why we do not use the powers under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The powers under the Act only allow for action to be taken against threats emanating from outside the UK, and can only be used in very limited circumstances in relation to persons in the UK-when the Treasury has a reasonable suspicion that such persons have provided, or are likely to provide, assistance to the persons abroad who are posing the threat to the UK. That means that many of the individuals who are currently subject to asset freezing could not have been designated under this power, including those responsible for the attempted bombing on 21 July 2005. Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act freezes would therefore not be sufficient to protect our national security or to meet our UN obligations.
Control orders were mentioned. They do not freeze funds or introduce prohibition on third parties. Suspicious-activity reports under the Terrorism Act 2000 do not freeze funds; they merely delay payments. We cannot monitor spending. As for account-monitoring orders, again there are no prohibitions on third parties and funds cannot be frozen.
Our Terrorism Order 2009 sets out a number of safeguards to ensure that our powers are used proportionately. Designations can only be made when there is reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorism, and when necessary, for public protection, and asset freezes are time limited to a 12-month period which is renewable. The Treasury actively reviews all cases, and-as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) pointed out-has frequently delisted people. Delistings may be due to an acquittal as a result of a decision by the Treasury that a designation is no longer in the interests of public protection. Let me give an example. In 2006, the assets of 19 persons linked to the transatlantic airline plot were frozen. Of those, seven have been delisted. Five were arrested and released without charge, one was convicted, sentenced and released, and one is awaiting trial. Twelve remain listed, 11 have been charged, seven have been convicted and three await trial. One trial has collapsed, and an urgent review is in progress.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal also asked whether any Member present would want his or her son or daughter to be subject to these designations. I am sure that no Member would want that, but I am also sure that no Members would want a son or daughter to be a victim of a terrorist bomb or terrorist threat.
We believe in the importance of striking the right balance between protecting national security and protecting human rights. While it is true that the asset-freezing regime has an impact upon human rights, we consider this interference to be necessary in the interests of national security and public protection, and consider it proportionate to those ends.
Mr. Hoban: As I said on Second Reading, plan A had been to pass a terrorism (United Nations measures) Bill by no later than the end of March, in order to put the orders on a proper legislative footing. That plan was predicated on the Supreme Court granting the stay for which the Treasury had applied, so that Parliament could put in place the legislation needed to prevent terrorists from accessing their assets. It was on that basis that we entered into discussions with the Treasury and agreed what we felt would be sufficient time in this place and the other place to ensure that the Bill, and the views of external stakeholders interested in the process, could be thoroughly assessed so that the measures were put on to a proper footing. However, the Supreme Court's decision not to allow a stay because it would-to paraphrase the judgment-confer a sense of legality on orders that were illegal means that the emergency legislation before us today takes priority, and rightly so.
This does not mean that the Government are off the hook in terms of bringing forward a proper statutory basis for these orders. Indeed, we told the Exchequer Secretary last week that we would have been content for the Bill I mentioned to complete its stages today and for us to move on to consider the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill tomorrow, while also ensuring that after we returned from the recess, we would have a day on the Floor of the House in Committee. That Bill would then have passed to the other place where there would have been an opportunity for further scrutiny. The Bill would therefore have been on the statute book by no later than the end of March.
We have pursued that line through introducing amendment 1, as we believe that the Government should move as quickly as possible to put in place proper primary legislation. It seems to us that measures that were described in the Court ruling as draconian should not be kept in place for up to 10 months on the basis of a three-clause Bill that perpetuates some of the failings of the underlying orders. We believe that the Government should move more quickly so that they take responsibility for sorting out the mess they have created on their watch, rather than deferring any remedial measures until later this year.
There are some issues to be debated; we touched on a number of them on Second Reading. They include the need for proper safeguards to be in place, and the question of whether there should be a different safeguard from judicial review to look at the merits of Treasury applications. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) commented on the limitations of judicial review as a potential remedy, such as the fact that it could not be used to vary the terms of a licence. These issues are well known and have been fairly thoroughly debated in the context of other legislation, and we believe they are sufficiently well known for scrutiny to take place far more quickly than under the Government's sunset clause. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hendon said that, given the brevity of the Bill, his Joint Committee on Human Rights could scrutinise the Bill and publish a report quite quickly; he thought it would take a matter of days. That is entirely consistent with the timetable that would flow from our proposed sunset clause. We took his comments as a positive sign, suggesting that we could pass this legislation on a much shorter-term sunset clause than the Government suggest.
The draft Bill published last week is based largely on the 2009 order. The issues in that regard have been well rehearsed over time, and a much wider range of issues will need to be raised. Again, therefore, all the arguments point towards having a shorter-term sunset clause than that which the Government propose-31 March rather than 31 December.
The Government's sunset clause suggests, of course, that the decision on future legislation will be put off until after the next general election. The hon. Member for Hendon made the point that the House will by then have lost a great deal of its current expertise, given that about a third of Members will leave this place at the next general election. Indeed, many of the Members who took part in the Second Reading debate will not be here the other side of the general election to add their expertise to the debates. That is an added reason to accelerate this process, so we can benefit from Parliament's collective memory and knowledge of the scrutiny of the raft of anti-terrorism Bills of the last few years.
There is a clear, straightforward argument here. Our amendment 1 provides plenty of time for proper scrutiny. We are following the timetable we agreed with the Government prior to the Supreme Court deciding to quash the orders last Thursday. We believed prior to that that the timetable gave sufficient time for proper parliamentary scrutiny. Our view is that that still holds, and that we should move towards that timetable to give this Government the opportunity to clear up the mess they have created.
Amendment 1 is an attempt to introduce a stricter sunset clause. I can see the Government's point that the end of March is very soon and there is little likelihood of full consideration of the replacement Bill being made in that time, but there needs to be a tighter timetable than the one the Government propose, which is the end of December.
The Bill allows the continuation of a situation that the Supreme Court finds obnoxious in that it undermines fundamental rights. In the words of Lord Justice Sedley,
echoed by Lord Hope in the Supreme Court, the UN orders lead to a situation in which subjects of the Treasury's directions are, effectively, prisoners of the state; they are walking prisoners, of course, and two of them have walked away, but the restrictions are so tight, both on the subjects and their families, that, effectively, these people can no longer live their own lives. To echo what Winston Churchill said in 1943 about a situation in which the Executive could throw a man into prison, that is odious in the highest degree. It should not be allowed to continue one hour longer than is necessary. Our view, put forward in amendment 2, is that all the wider consultation and all the Committee consideration of the replacement Bill could be carried out before the election, and after the election it would be perfectly doable and adequate to complete all the stages of a replacement Bill by the summer recess-before the end of July.
When I was listening to the Minister, it suddenly occurred to me why the Government cannot accept our amendment-it is the reason that they cannot state: amendment 2 assumes that the election will be on 6 May or before. I accept that if this Parliament were to run its full course and the election were to be in early June, it could plausibly be argued that there would not be enough time to complete the passage of a replacement Bill by the end of July. I also accept that the Government will not admit in a Committee of the whole House on an emergency Bill what the date of the election will be -[Interruption.] Well, they might; it seems that Ministers are about to reveal the date. Of course the Secretary of State for Defence revealed it on television, but that was subsequently withdrawn.
Nevertheless, I draw the attention of Ministers to the briefing prepared by Justice, which has said that even assuming that the Parliament runs its full course it should be possible to get the replacement legislation through by the end of October. Thus, I am very open to the Government rethinking the December date in favour of an October one, even if they are unwilling to move to a July date, for obvious political reasons.
The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Sarah McCarthy-Fry): Obviously the purpose of both amendments is to reduce the period during which the temporary Bill will have effect. Our Bill provides for a date of 31 December, whereas the amendments propose two alternative dates-31 March and 31 July. I think that we are all agreed on the urgent need to get the long Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible, so the issue to address is how much time is needed to give the lasting legislation the proper level of scrutiny and debate. We believe that the lasting Bill deserves full deliberation in both Houses and that it should benefit from evidence and scrutiny provided by external bodies. The proposed date of 31 December provides for that, but the period up to 31 March does not. Given that the urgent need to legislate is resolved by this Bill, we think that the issues deserve more time for consideration so that we can be sure that the legislation is appropriate. If the debate and arguments put forward on Second Reading of this Bill are anything to go by, there will be a vigorous debate.
Using 31 July would provide more time and the option of pre-legislative scrutiny in the coming months. However, given the upcoming general election and recesses,
it is not certain that such a date would provide time to scrutinise the long Bill properly. I have heard views from hon. Members on both sides of the House in favour of 31 December, as well as arguments in favour of 31 July -another date has also been proposed. I look forward to listening to any other arguments that are put forward, but I urge right hon. and hon. Members to reflect on the lasting benefits of permanent legislation. I really do not think that setting a close deadline helps, so I ask the hon. Members for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and for Cambridge (David Howarth) not to press their amendments to a Division.
Mr. Hoban: What a difference a week makes, because a few days ago the Minister was happy to push the long Bill through and to reach the deadline of the end of March, and she did not really care that much about pre-legislative scrutiny and getting external voices in. Her approach was just to make sure that we got the Bill on to the statute book in good time.
In a way, the Supreme Court has perhaps given the Minister an opportunity to wriggle out of that, but the real argument is about the fact that to get the long Bill on to the statute book will take up two days of time in this place and three days of time in the House of Lords. Given that legislative time is disappearing because this Parliament is hurtling towards Dissolution, the Government cannot afford to give up that amount of time to put right the mistakes of their own creation. They need to put right the fact that they failed to put in place the primary legislation to give proper backing for these orders. The Government are hiding behind the excuse of wanting to give proper scrutiny to avoid time being taken up putting this Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible to give those orders the support that they need. That is why I wish to put amendment 1 to the vote. We need to send a clear signal from this Committee that we want to ensure that the mistakes committed by the Government are put right quickly. We believe that they can be put right quickly, with proper parliamentary scrutiny, by 31 March.
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