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My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary are considering how to develop a scheme that will not be retrospective for events, but will certainly look at attacks that have taken place since 2002. They
will establish whether any such schemes could be brought forward to help the victims who have ongoing disability or injury problems as a result of terrorist action. My right hon. Friends hope to bring forward proposals on that shortly, as I have said, but I am afraid that I am not in a position to deal any further with that particular point this evening.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I worked on the Northern Ireland brief for a decade, and every year I heard a justification for temporary measures. I had the sense that the Government were willing to introduce such measures, but almost never willing to repeal them. In what circumstances could we realistically expect the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and say "We now propose a repeal"?
Mr. Hanson: We tabled the motion because there remains a serious terrorist threat to this country, and we believe that approval of the order will help the British people to lead their lives more safely.
About 11 individuals are currently subject to control orders, and only 40 or so have been subject to them since the start of the regime. We have to make a judgment, however, and our judgment is that the measure is necessary given the level of threat that exists. That level of threat remains real and serious, and since the last order was presented to the House, it has been independently assessed as being at an even higher level.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I am not guilty of chuntering in the background; I have been listening intently to what the Minister is saying. Following the intervention by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), will my right hon. Friend explain what elements of the current criminal law prevent us from dealing with danger, threats and criminal activities to such an extent that we must retain rather extraordinary orders, which a number of us believe fundamentally undermine many of our civil liberties?
Mr. Hanson: I know that my hon. Friend feels that he may not be able to support these measures with conviction. I will try to persuade him to vote otherwise, but I understand the reasons for his concern.
We have to look at the level of the threat and at the tools available. As I shall explain later, there are individuals, whom we have assessed through information, who remain a potential threat to the safety of my hon. Friend's citizens in Islington and my citizens in north Wales, who cannot be prosecuted because there is not enough evidence-although we believe them to be a threat-and whom we cannot deport, either because of the human rights record of the countries to which they might be deported or because they are British citizens. That judgment must be made. I accept that my hon. Friend may disagree-although I hope to persuade him not to-but the powers available to us are not sufficient to enable us to act in a way that would not potentially damage the security of the nation.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Is that not a fundamental contradiction? My right hon. Friend asserts that these people pose a threat, but then says that he has not enough evidence to prove it. Surely, in this country, people are innocent until proved guilty. If the Minister is so certain that these people pose a threat, why does he not press ahead and prosecute them? No one would argue with that.
Mr. Hanson: That might be a solution, if there were sufficient evidence. If there were sufficient evidence, we would prosecute. On occasion, sadly, we hold information but cannot obtain sufficient evidence to prosecute, although we know that the individuals concerned pose a potential threat. We have had to make a judgment, which the House may or may not support tonight, on whether that threat remains real and serious, and whether this power should be introduced.
We need to consider a range of issues. We need to consider how to police individuals in order to provide the necessary security; we need to prevent individuals from being radicalised in the first place; and we need to disrupt potential terrorist attacks. As I have said, our preferred approach when dealing with suspected terrorists is to consider how we can bring criminal convictions and undertake those convictions accordingly. Since 11 September 2001, we have undertaken 217 convictions for terrorism-related offences, and a further 29 defendants are awaiting trial as of 31 March 2009. That demonstrates not only that we are trying to prevent terrorism and disrupt terrorist activities and that we are retaining control orders for a relatively small number of individuals, but that we are proceeding with prosecutions, when we can.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Surely it is exactly that successful record of prosecutions for terrorist offences that calls into question the need for these exceptionally draconian measures. The threshold test allows the Director of Public Prosecutions to proceed with a prosecution, even if the chances of success are less than 50 per cent. Why can we not rely on that flexibility, rather than introducing this measure?
Mr. Hanson: I can only repeat that when there is sufficient evidence, we will prosecute. As I have said, there have been 217 successful prosecutions to date. Sadly, however, in a small number of cases we cannot secure sufficient evidence, but know that the threat exists. In such cases, we have to place some restrictions on an individual's liberty in order to protect the liberty of the vast majority of people in this country.
Chris Huhne: The success rate of prosecution for terrorist offences is greater than 80 per cent., yet the DPP can proceed with a prosecution even if the chance of success is lower than 50 per cent. There is an enormous margin that the DPP and the Minister are not using. Why not dispense with these draconian control orders, and use that margin instead?
Mr. Hanson: We shall be debating a range of judgments this evening. The House must decide whether it supports the Government's judgment that this measure is necessary to deal with a small number of individuals in whose cases the test of prosecution has not been met but the potential threat remains, and whom we cannot deport.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): If it really is not possible to prosecute such people-although the use of intercept evidence ought to be an option-why not simply put them under surveillance? Given the small number involved, and the cost of the legislation and possible litigation, would that not be cheaper and more effective, especially as a number of those subject to control orders have absconded?
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend has raised three issues. We are, in fact, considering intercept evidence. My hon. Friend will be aware that a group of Privy Counsellors have presented a report on the subject to the Government, and we intend to respond to it before the general election-which, as all Members know, will take place in short order. [Interruption.] I would love to give more details, but I do not have the power to do so. I cannot comment on the actual date, because it is not in my gift.
My hon. Friend has suggested that we look into the potential cost of surveillance. I do not consider that surveillance would be sufficient to maintain the level of protection that I believe we need. The control orders allow for a number of restrictions ranging from curfew to not using particular equipment. It is not simply a question of surveillance.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend knows, following the case of AF v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department a control order was lifted from the individual concerned. Control orders were lifted from two others as well. Presumably those people are under surveillance as an alternative to control orders, without significant jeopardy to the public. Given that over three years £13 million has been spent primarily on lawyers and bureaucracy, and given that control orders now apply to only 11 people, £1 million would go an awfully long way towards providing surveillance for the individuals concerned. Surely it would be better to spend the money on police officers and the Security Service than on lawyers and bureaucrats.
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend knows that a large proportion of the costs of control orders to date have been spent on defending legal challenges. The day-to-day costs of running control orders are nowhere near the investment that would be required to maintain that level of surveillance.
Mr. Hanson: I am happy to spend the next hour and a half discussing these matters, but I am conscious that the debate is limited to that time, and I want other Members to have their say in due course. However, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn).
Many Members on both sides of the House represent inner urban areas containing a multi-ethnic population, including a large Muslim population. We have all worked hard to establish a sense of inclusion in that community, but the perception of executive control and possible detention has a seriously corrosive effect on community relations, and on trust between the local communities
and the police. I know that the Minister's Department is concerned about that. What studies have been carried out on the issue?
Mr. Hanson: We are constantly monitoring the impact on community confidence of a range of Government actions. Through the Prevent and Contest agendas, we are looking at how we can ensure that we both protect communities across the board and maintain the confidence of communities with a very high Muslim population, because that is important in helping us protect the general public, including people of the Muslim faith, from indiscriminate attack from terrorist activity.
Mr. Hanson: I shall give way to both colleagues, but then I would like to make some progress, because I want the other Front-Bench spokespeople to have their say and because I will have the chance to respond in due course.
Mr. Heath: I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is helping the debate by allowing these interventions. He has responded to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that the threshold for prosecution has been brought down, but it has not yet been mentioned that, in addition to that, this Parliament has granted to the Government a broad palette of lower order offences, such as acts preparatory to terrorism and glorification. Given that panoply of new legislation on terrorism, is the Minister really saying there might be circumstances in which Parliament has not granted a sufficient breadth of offences and sufficient latitude in prosecution policy to allow him to trust the courts to do the job that, at the moment, he is reserving to the Executive?
Mr. Hanson: Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not only the Executive: all these orders have to be judicially approved, and all of them are subject to review by Lord Carlile. It is therefore not true to say this is simply a matter for the Executive, because judicial involvement is important. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has very strong views on these issues, but I nevertheless believe that these provisions are a valuable tool in helping the Government to protect the public from terrorist activity.
Lembit Öpik: I promise not to intervene on the Minister again, but I remind him that two of my constituents were charged with assisting terrorism, even though it was patently obvious to me that the charges were ludicrous. The Government spent a great deal of money on the case. I had to go and testify in their defence myself, and they were found innocent. If the Government can commit such enormous resources through the legal process against people who are innocent, how can the Minister possibly justify the randomness of having these control orders as a convenient aside?
Mr. Hanson: I am unclear whether the hon. Gentleman's constituents were subject to potential control orders, but if they were just charged with terrorist offences and found innocent, the matter took place through the legal framework and was ultimately tested in a court of law.
The position with regard to control orders is that, following the recent Lords judgment, we have to disclose portions of the evidence that we hold against individuals to their advocates, and ultimately that still has to be tested by judicial oversight. The fact of the matter is, however, that we have made the judgment that in certain circumstances the threat is so severe that this regime should be continued-although it is clear from the contributions to the debate so far that that will be tested by this House, and it will also go to another place later this week.
My contention is that we should continue with this regime, and we need to look at the reasons for that. We are looking at the Prevent programme, disruption, policing and the use of intercept evidence, and we are considering how ways of supporting the forces of law and order can be used to maintain a reduction in the terrorist threat. I believe that if almost any Member were the Minister with responsibility for this and they received advice saying, "We can't prosecute, but we believe this individual is involved in activity that is detrimental to their fellow citizens," they would take the same action that the Government have taken today. I believe that almost all Members would, if faced with the decisions we have to take, support the use of this order.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way; indeed, it would be horrifying if there were hardly any interventions in a debate on such a subject. While recognising the dilemma that he has just spoken about and having no doubt there remains an acute terrorist danger-not a single person present either in the Chamber or outside would challenge that-can we take it that when this order is approved, as it most certainly will be later, if we still have a Labour Government next year there will be a genuine attempt to find alternatives to what most of us consider to be a very unhappy situation in respect of control orders, which are an infringement of traditional British liberties?
Mr. Hanson: One of the reasons why we have an annual debate on these orders is so that we can assess annually whether this order is required, and, if so, whether it is required in the same form as 12 months previously. I have to say to my hon. Friend that one of the things that has changed in the past 12 months has been the level of the threat to the United Kingdom as a whole, and therefore we believe that this order is still required. There are still 11 individuals currently on control orders; we believe that this is a necessary power; and I hope that I have convinced Members on both sides of the House of the case for it.
We want to improve our ability to prosecute and deport; we want to ensure that, where we can, we take action through the courts; we want to ensure successful prosecutions; we want to ensure deportations; and we want to ensure effective policing. Sadly, however, there is a small group of suspected terrorists whom we cannot prosecute or deport, and these control orders are intended to protect the public from the risk posed by such individuals. I must also say to those hon. Friends who have concerns on these matters that these control orders are applied irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or religion; decisions on them are based on an assessment of the threat an individual poses to citizens of this country-they are based on national security considerations.
Over the past five years, these orders have proved to be a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism. As I have said, they are not imposed arbitrarily-a judge must agree that they are necessary and proportionate. Neither are they imposed widely-there are currently only 11 of them in force, and only 46 individuals have ever been subject to a control order.
As hon. Members know, over the past year there have been developments in another place relating to the judgment on AF and others and in the light of the Strasbourg judgment on A and others, where the Law Lords concluded that in order for control order proceedings to be compatible with article 6 of the European convention on human rights, the controlled person must be given sufficient information about the allegations against him or her to enable him or her to give effective instructions to the special advocate. That has caused the Government some difficulty; it has raised some concerns to which we have had to respond, but we believe that the balance has to be in favour of protecting the public from terrorism perpetrated by such individuals, and we would not disclose sensitive information that would harm national security. Our view is that the control order regime remains viable. Although there are difficulties, we will continue to use this regime if both Houses support it.
Mr. Hanson: Relocation is an important issue. I accept and understand that that causes difficulties. The key issue, however, is that sometimes an individual is subject to a control order simply because they remain a threat because of their geographical location. If we move them from that geographical location, the threat they pose diminishes and in due course that helps them to have more positive inputs in their life and, potentially, to return to their native area having been deradicalised. Because of that, we occasionally move people from their home areas. We offer support for that, however. If the orders are approved, relocation will remain one of the tools that we might use so that this regime has successful outcomes.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I was not clear about the point that the Minister was making before my hon. Friend's intervention. In the other place, there was discussion of the person subject to the control order having enough information for their advocate to make representations, and the Minister then talked about national security, saying that it was difficult for the Government, but that national security considerations would apply. Do the Government accept the decision of the other place, which would mean that everybody would get enough information about what they are being charged with, or not?
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