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We have to ensure that we examine how we comply with those judgments. We supply information relating to the evidence as far as we can, but there may be occasions when to do so would compromise wider national security issues, so we need to make judgments about that, too. I believe that the control order regime that I have brought before the House today is compliant with human rights, will meet the requirements of another place and the Law Lords, and will meet our obligations under the European convention on human rights and
in respect of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).
So far under the order only two control orders have been revoked on article 6 grounds without being replaced by new orders. The High Court has indeed upheld four control orders since the House of Lords judgment, following proceedings that were compliant with the test laid down in the cases of AF and others. The Government therefore remain of the view that the regime remains viable. Lord Carlile's most recent report on control orders reaches the same conclusion, and he will continue to monitor our activity accordingly. [Interruption.] I did not catch what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said, but I am sure it was complimentary.
Lord Carlile's 2009 report made clear his view that the control order regime was "largely effective". His 2010 report examined individual cases in greater detail and he has concluded that three orders have
"substantially reduced the present danger"
I accept that people have concerns and real objections, and that the rest of this debate will undoubtedly involve the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and Labour Back Benchers who feel strongly about these issues rehearsing those objections effectively and strongly. However, I maintain that the orders are a necessary part of our response to terrorism. I again cite Lord Carlile, who has said that
"it is my view and advice that abandoning the control orders system entirely would have a damaging effect on national security. There is no better means of dealing with the serious and continuing risk posed by some individuals."
He is overseeing this system, so judicial oversight is in place. His view is shared by the intelligence services commissioner, the director general of the Security Service and by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I wish to place on record my thanks to Lord Carlile for this report and to commend the order to the House.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I wish to begin by sharing the Minister's analysis that there can be no complacency about the nature of the terrorist threat. Nobody on the Conservative Benches underestimates the threat we face. The fact that the joint terrorism analysis centre raised the threat level from "substantial" to "severe" on 22 January-although that was announced by the Home Secretary, it was an operational assessment in which Ministers played no part-should bring home to us the need for constant vigilance. I also wish to add my tribute to the efforts of the police and security services, who work tirelessly on our behalf. In the past year, I have been privileged to meet a great many security professionals and public servants, and I have been constantly impressed by the calm and determined manner in which they carry out their responsibilities.
Today, the Government seek renewal of the control orders legislation for the fifth successive year, and it is for elected representatives to consider that narrow aspect of the legal framework in which those public servants, dedicated to our security can operate. Unlike those involved in the day-to-day work of pursuing terrorists, we in this House must make our deliberations without the benefit of secret intelligence. With the exception of a handful of Ministers, former Ministers and the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the vast majority of us will vote today without having seen the evidence on the nature of the threat-evidence that is provided by the intelligence that is presented to the Home Secretary before he seeks renewal of these extraordinary powers.
Jeremy Corbyn: I recognise what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the atmosphere in which we vote and the information that we do or do not have. However, I am sure that he recognises that a fundamental objection to what is proposed under the control orders is that they bypass an independent judiciary. In effect, they hand Executive powers to Ministers to bypass a normal independent judicial system.
Mr. Blunt: Yes, I recognise that, and we warned of that from this Dispatch Box when the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was introduced. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman was in the Lobby with us trying to prevent those powers from being enacted. All the legal difficulties that were foreseen at that time have come to pass-that picks up on one of the points that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised about the costs of these orders, to which I shall return later.
We ought to recognise that the fact that most of us are denied the entire picture makes the decision-making process much more difficult. On this issue, I am sure that most of us would be predisposed to trust our Government, but the unhappy record of the past decade, ranging from the dodgy dossier through to the naked priority of political positioning in the debates on 90 and 42-days' pre-charge detention, has meant that this Government have squandered people's trust on security issues with the same abandon as our principal ally squandered the unimpeachable moral and legal high ground after it was attacked by the forces of mediaeval religious fundamentalism as represented by al-Qaeda. We examine these orders as the United States of America is setting out on the long process of trying to pick up the pieces of what has been a disaster for western liberal values-this is a disaster in whose costs we share and in which our present Government are wretchedly implicated.
We are asked to conclude that although control orders are flawed, practically highly problematic, potentially damaging to community relations, extortionately expensive and legally doubtful, they remain necessary. Like the Minister, I am sure that this evening we will hear again the powerful arguments against control orders in principle-indeed, we have already heard some of them in the interventions on the Minister and me.
In the corresponding debate last year, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) was kind enough to describe my speech as a "careful critique" filled with "passion", and he noted the surreal situation of a debate in which Member after Member criticises Government policy before going on to vote for it. Well,
if he were to look back at the record, he will note that last year I was not with him in the Aye Lobby. However, he made a valid point and I want to make clear from the outset my party's position on control orders. We believe that the control order regime-I use English understatement here-is practically problematic and unjust, and we want to replace the system in a manner consistent with protecting the security of our citizens from both the immediate threat and the long-term threat, which will be shaped by how we manage today's threat.
If a Conservative Government were to be elected, we would instigate a full review of the control order regime within a proper consolidation of this Government's counter-terrorist legislation. Following its consolidation in 2000, that legislation has received a decade's worth of incremental additions, so rationalisation is overdue. The replacement of this control order system should properly be part of a comprehensive overhaul of the existing legislation that sits in the eight counter-terrorism Acts brought into law in the past decade. It is matter of regret that the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), was not able to introduce the consolidation Bill he promised when he said that he planned for
"a draft Bill that takes into account all the work that I have laid out, to be published in the first half of 2007 for pre-legislative scrutiny."-[ Official Report, 2 February 2006; Vol. 442, c. 479.]
Part of the Government's proposition is that there is no quick fix to the problems that would be posed by control orders being scrapped, and that it would be irresponsible to remove them without alternative measures being in place.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): My right hon. Friend has talked about the problems of high principle with this issue and he is now discussing the legal problems, but I should like to draw his attention to one simple practical point. We were led to believe that thousands of people would be subject to these control orders when the legislation went through the House in 2005, but that has not turned out to be the case. Some 45 people have been subject to such orders and of those 45, seven have absconded. One would think that seriously dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists would be the ones to abscond, which indicates that this regime is not just flawed, but totally useless.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for generously promoting me to the Privy Council, which is, of course, not correct. It is impossible for us to come to the same conclusion as he has done, and in such absolute terms as he has presented it, but, of course, it is now possible for us to conduct that assessment with new information. Let me go on to explain how we want to conduct a review and outline the potential replacement of the control order regime.
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is making the point that he needs time to assess these matters, but may I point out to him that his colleague, the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), said in 2007, when he was the shadow security spokesperson, that those on the Conservative Benches would not support another renewal unless the regime was substantially improved? Let me quote him,
"we will support the extension with great reluctance, but we must put the Government on notice that, in view of Lord Carlile's latest report, we will not be able to sustain our position this time next year."-[ Official Report, 22 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 443.]
Year after year, we have heard that claim. When are the Conservatives finally going to draw the conclusions from their impeccable logic and decide to vote with us against these infernally illiberal measures?
Mr. Blunt: If the hon. Gentleman can restrain himself, I shall now explain the circumstances in which we propose to deal with the orders. We are now very close to having the opportunity to achieve a considered process, so the balance of argument has changed. It now runs strongly against our seeking to unpick the piecemeal and scattergun laws, introduced in an unfocused and unreflective manner, that govern counter-terrorism policy. For that reason, I shall ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to abstain this evening. As a party that aspires to have responsibilities in this matter and that might be quite close to getting them, we believe in taking a responsible approach. Our direction of travel is clear, a point reinforced by the quotation from my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer).
If the electorate charge the Conservative party with forming a new Administration, we will want to send a clear signal that we do not propose to defend our nation's values by abandoning them. As an important signal of that we will certainly seek a replacement for this construct of control orders, but we do not intend for that replacement to be introduced in a rush or in a piecemeal fashion. It is our plan to use the first parliamentary Session of any new Administration to prepare the work for consolidation and reform, including that of control orders. When that work is complete, we will hope to introduce a consolidation and reform measure in the 2011-12 Session but, like every other piece of legislation, it will have to win its place in the parliamentary timetable against all the other competing priorities. However, I see no harm in explaining our objectives now so that the House can understand the context in which we will seek to rid ourselves of these powers.
Having taken into account the double uncertainty of the Conservatives' winning a majority and the new Prime Minister's asking me to continue with these responsibilities-I console myself that some academic study has revealed that 60 per cent. of shadow Ministers make such a transition in practice-we should not wholly discount the possibility that I might be back here in a year's time, in the Minister's place, with all the intelligence now at his disposal, making a case for a final renewal of these powers before they are overtaken by a wider review of all counter-terrorist powers. If that is the case, I wonder how many of those who will support these orders tonight will have reversed their views if they are then occupying the Opposition Benches.
Having made clear my party's position on how we want to reconsider the current measures, I want briefly to set out why, in the absence of a review of all powers, we cannot support the renewal of control orders tonight and to consider some of the alternative options that should form the basis of a review of the regime. As was the case last year, I anticipate that the consensus reached by the House will be that, to quote the then Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker),
"nobody is in favour of having control orders if we could possibly do without them".-[ Official Report, 3 March 2009; Vol. 488, c. 735.]
"by reason of the reliance by the judge making the order upon material received in closed hearing the nature of which was not disclosed to the appellant."
That, as the Minister has told us, was declared unlawful under article 6 of the European convention on human rights-a view that was upheld by the Law Lords in June of last year. In the light of that judgment, the Government reviewed the 15 control order cases and in one case the order was revoked rather than further information being allowed to be disclosed. According to the noble Lord West, those no longer subject to an order will be placed under surveillance in the same manner as the 2,000 or so people currently considered a risk by the Security Service. That prompts a question about the merits of a regime that places expensive and cumbersome restrictions on 11 individuals while carrying out alternative forms of surveillance on 2,000.
Most worryingly, the Government have built the regime in order to place restrictions on a tiny number of individuals who they say pose a significant threat. Yet, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) made clear in his intervention, seven of those very dangerous people have absconded-and some have vanished. How can it be that, the last time the director of the Security Service gave a public number, it was assessed that there were some 2,000 individuals in the UK who were considered a threat and on whom, to quote Lord West,
"we are keeping varying close eyes",
yet, of the handful of individuals deemed so dangerous that they are subjected to administrative detention in the form of a control order, seven have absconded? In his evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, Sir Ken Macdonald went even further, calling control orders "a mistake" and stating that
"the reality of the control order regime as it exists...is that it does not work",
"brought our system of government into disrepute".
So, the Ministers who oversee control orders recognise that they are flawed and would rather be rid of them. Legal experts, including of course the judges who have so undermined the legality of control orders, think that they should go. This year, the Home Affairs Committee joined the growing number who have stated categorically that control orders are ineffective and legally dubious. I share the conclusions of the Committee when it says that
"it is fundamentally wrong to deprive individuals of their liberty without revealing why."
There is no pledge to take steps to replace control orders and no undertaking to find an alternative that can keep us safe. Instead, the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism is guilty of "institutional inertia" and, to quote again from the Select Committee's report, he is prepared to settle for
"sub-optimal solutions, rather than proactively reforming to meet ever-changing threats."
It is clear, too, that the costs of control orders are spiralling. The Minister declined to answer a written question I put to him on the cost of the control order
review group because it would be too expensive to answer-I wonder whether he would care to share with us now a rough and ready estimate of that cost. It is clear that aside from the costs to individual police forces who have responsibility for controlees, the legal costs alone are prodigious and are likely to continue to rise. More than £1.5 million were paid out in 2006-7, rising to over £1.8 million in 2008-09. Since 2006, the total cost in legal fees alone to the taxpayer has been some £8.6 million. It is perhaps surprising how many lawyers are opposed to control orders. Throw in the costs accrued by the Legal Services Commission and that figure reaches more than £10.5 million. Added to those figures are the growing costs claimed against the Government by the controlees. Lord West insists that control orders remain a means of managing the threat "at a sensible cost", yet no Minister is prepared to come clean on the overall costs of what is clearly an astronomically expensive way of detaining people without charging them.
So, it is clear that the status quo is unworkable and must be improved. How are we to achieve this? Again, the consensus seems clear. We have to find a means to bring admissible evidence against individuals to court. The independent reviewer Lord Carlile, in his most recent report, writes of one controlee that he is
"a dangerous terrorist who would re-engage with terrorism the moment he could"
"assessed as having been trained abroad in terrorist activity, and to have been involved in considerable terrorist planning and facilitation in the UK."
To repeat the point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who is no longer in his place, one has to wonder whether those cases have been reviewed in the light of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which made such training abroad an offence. The picture painted for us is that even with all the caveats there appears to be a fairly significant intelligence footprint and it is hardly surprising that there are growing demands that if the intelligence is that reliable, there should be a means of presenting some of it in admissible form.
On the issue of intercept as evidence, it looks again as though "institutional inertia" is preventing any real progress. Time and again Ministers, lawyers and the independent reviewer reiterate their position that they do not oppose intercept in principle, but progress remains painfully slow. The Director of Public Prosecutions is the latest such expert. He has stated:
"Evidence obtained by interception would be of benefit to prosecution"
The independent reviewer has repeatedly said that he is not opposed in principle to the admissibility of intercept. In December last year, the Home Secretary reported on the fact that initial findings showed that the use of intercept would not be "legally viable". I share his view that that is "disappointing", and I hope that when he reports to the House ahead of the Easter recess on the three new work streams that are to be considered as part of the Chilcot review, he will have better news to report.
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