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That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a voluntary mechanism through which banks, building societies and other providers of financial services can support community projects through reinvestment of part of their profits and assistance in kind; and for connected purposes.
This Bill is intended to address the challenges facing communities and voluntary organisations throughout Britain, and I hope to show the House that the funding shortfall facing such groups is of such significance that without urgent action we run the risk of losing them. The Bill then proposes a solution that I hope the Government will consider to be an equitable and practical means of remedying the situation.
A recent New Philanthropy Capital report found that the Government's deficit reduction plan will lead third sector income to drop by between £3.2 billion and £5.1 billion, and that that gap is far too large to be filled by philanthropy and charitable giving alone. Only last week, Mr Thomas Hughes-Hallett, the chief executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care, warned of signs that charitable giving might fall sharply, and dramatic figures, such as Croydon council's 66% reduction in grants for voluntary organisations, are causing all such groups to fear for their future.
This means that organisations such as Wooden Hill in Bedford, a social enterprise that trains adults to work with and mentor young people, and Accept Care, which operates in Northern Ireland and works with disabled people to give them skills to be active in their communities, face possible closure. It is those organisations that this Bill is intended to help.
Everyone agrees that we cannot have a big society without money, and the Bill seeks to demonstrate that, if we really are all in this together, that has to include the financial sector as well. During the global financial crisis, when the financial sector was in trouble, banks turned to the public to provide the vital funds needed to help stabilise the financial sector. Now, community projects need help, and the Bill would give banks and financial institutions the opportunity to put something back and to provide communities with the funding and stability that they need.
A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research into the financial sector estimates that next year, in 2011, profits and bonuses in the UK financial sector could be as high as £90 billion. Even during 2007-08, only months before the bail-out, the financial sector reported gross trading profits of £58.2 billion. The IPPR report projects bonuses to increase to almost £15 billion by 2011-12, and it shows that the average bonus in the financial sector is more than eight times larger than the average bonus in the rest of the economy.
I do not use those statistics to bash the banks, because it is in all our interests to have a strong, vibrant financial sector in the United Kingdom; I use them to demonstrate the enormous figures involved. Given the size of the
bail-out that the public provided, I believe it only fair that financial service providers consider investing some of their profits in our communities. By creating a mechanism through which they can do so, the Bill would ensure that community enterprises have the funding that they need to thrive and prosper and to serve local people.
Many of our banks, building societies and financial service providers are already active in our communities. Last year, the Barclays community finance fund was launched, giving grants to organisations that provide affordable credit to people in deprived areas. The scheme has been so successful that it is being extended, and over the next three years it will allow local authorities, other organisations and Members to nominate local community finance organisations, such as credit unions, to receive money from the fund. Furthermore, Barclays staff now voluntarily participate in various community schemes, making it a real partnership between the corporate sector and local community enterprises.
Last year, the Co-operative Foundation, with which many Opposition Members will certainly be familiar, invested £11.3 million in our communities, and more than 50,000 people responded to a survey to ensure that that funding was directed to the areas and projects that really needed it. Part of the success of the Co-op and Barclays schemes is that they use resources in places where they can make a real difference, leveraging other investment and making sure that our communities are sustainable for the long term.
The problem is more than just purely financial, however. The fundraising expectations survey of more than 900 voluntary groups showed that 70% are having difficulty recruiting staff and getting people into their organisations to do the work. That impacts most heavily on groups in the north. Understandably, many financial institutions focus their community work in the areas where they are based, and that is often in the south-east. By creating a fund that is accessible to all voluntary groups throughout the country, we can address that issue and ensure that funding for voluntary groups is not governed by their proximity to a financial centre. The Bill would also provide for non-financial contributions, for example, mentoring, help with personal development and practical measures, such as room hire. It would therefore create a framework to allow for an ongoing relationship between business and communities, instead of merely creating an extension of philanthropic giving.
The Bank of New York Mellon has been operating in my community of Salford for two or three years. It has 300 volunteers in the community who work with Salford young people. They give them experience, provide role models, go out to our schools and read in our schools. The bank has a fantastic relationship with the community and it is able to do that-and is encouraged to do that-because, in America, there is a system of tax credits for companies that take part in voluntary and community activity.
It is important to stress that the Bill would create a voluntary mechanism. It would not create duties or obligations but would provide incentives and opportunities for the providers of financial services to build a constructive partnership with their communities. There would be real benefits for the banks and financial institutions if they chose to take part. Through co-operation with their communities, the Bill would allow them to market themselves as being fully embedded with local people,
and they could use that as a way of demonstrating their real commitment to corporate social responsibility. The Bill would not penalise those companies who chose not to take part, but it would certainly reward those who did. If banks get involved in such work, their reputation will rise-and goodness me, the banks' reputation certainly needs to be repaired in the light of recent events.
The aims of the Bill are to ensure a sustainable source of funding for community projects; to establish a strong framework to support them; and to increase fairness by giving every community the opportunity to access the fund. That would benefit every area that we serve in the House. I am delighted that the Bill has received cross-party support, and I know that many members of the public will agree that developing the relationship between finance and communities can only be a good thing.
Hon. Members may have seen that senior bankers and customers of the Royal Bank of Scotland have recently enjoyed a £250-a-head Harry Potter Christmas party. They have enjoyed shopping in Diagon Alley and they have played Quidditch on broomsticks. That must be the financial wizardry we so often hear about. I hope that the House will join me in urging our banks and bankers to consider supporting our community projects; otherwise, we might have to get the Ministry of Magic involved and, unlike the British public, it might be willing to let some of our banks simply disappear.
That Hazel Blears, Jon Cruddas, Dr Stella Creasy, Chris White, Tim Farron, Mr David Blunkett, Harriett Baldwin, Siobhain McDonagh, Ms Gisela Stuart, Mr Bob Ainsworth, Paul Goggins and Simon Danczuk present the Bill.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Superannuation Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 7th September 2010 (Superannuation Bill (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at today's sitting.
2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.- (Mr Dunne .)
Mr Maude: When I opened the debate on Second Reading in September, I set out-at some length, I regret to say-the history and background of compensation in the civil service since 1859. I do not propose to do the same this afternoon. However, it is timely to bring the story up to date as regards what has happened since the Bill left this House on 13 October to go to the other place.
I reiterate that from the day I first announced that the Government intended to reform the civil service compensation scheme on 6 July, extensive discussions have taken place between my officials-and myself on a number of occasions-and the civil service trade unions. Proposals were put to the Council of Civil Service Unions on 24 September. In the event, the council did not accept those proposals, but five of the unions-Prospect, the First Division Association, the Prison Officers Association, the GMB and Unite-approached the Government directly and asked to continue discussions on those terms. There followed an intensive period of meetings between the five unions and officials, which on 5 October resulted in an agreement being reached between the negotiators on terms that might form the basis of a new compensation scheme. Later that day, the five unions wrote to confirm that they had accurately recorded an agreement that all their negotiating teams were able to recommend positively to their executives as being the best that might be achieved in negotiation.
Soon after 5 October, agreement was reached between the Government and the trade union negotiating teams. The POA's executive committee voted to distance itself from that agreement and to request further discussion. The sixth union, the Public and Commercial Services Union, withdrew from the talks at the point when the five other unions had agreed to negotiate separately with the Government. While the Bill was in the other place, the Government agreed a number of changes to it, and this House now has the opportunity to consider those. The group of amendments that we are dealing with responds to a commitment that I made when we discussed this on Report-that is, to reinforce the requirement for meaningful consultation on any changes to civil service consultation schemes.
"with a view to reaching agreement",
and it requires a report to be made to Parliament setting out the details of the consultation that had been carried out with the unions. My noble Friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire accepted an Opposition amendment in the other place to delete wording that would have limited the content of that report to such information as the Minister considered appropriate. Lord Wallace also agreed that we would table written ministerial statements in both Houses when the imminent new scheme is laid before Parliament to draw attention to it and to the steps that have been taken to consult the unions. Furthermore, we agreed to limit to three years-this is the subject of the next group of amendments-the power to revive the caps in the Bill by order, and to drop our proposals that would have allowed that time limit to have been extended by a further six months at a time.
During the Bill's passage through the other place, the Government remained committed to trying to reach an agreement with the Council of Civil Service Unions. I made a number of personal approaches, both orally and in writing, to the PCS general secretary and to the POA inviting the CCSU to put forward alternative proposals for a reformed civil service compensation scheme and seeking to engage further. I reiterated the Government's continuing aim of reaching an agreement with all the unions. I have offered every opportunity to those unions that wish to engage constructively in negotiations. As I said, five of them did so, and their proposals formed the basis of the agreement on which the new proposed scheme is based. If the Bill goes through its processes and achieves Royal Assent, I would intend to lay that scheme before Parliament before Christmas.
On 9 November, the Council of Civil Service Unions wrote to me with suggestions for areas that could be considered in further talks, and I responded on 15 November. I have to say that the suggestions made in the council's letter would have had the effect of reducing the level of compensation paid to many lower-paid civil servants, and so it could not form the basis of further discussions. Having a new scheme that provides genuinely better protection for the lowest-paid civil service workers, many of whom are members of the PCS, has been crucial in all the discussions we have had. As I have made clear throughout the process, including when I made the announcement of our intention to reform and on Second Reading, that is crucial to the aims of the coalition Government.
I explained to the Council of Civil Service Unions that, in the absence of detailed proposals from the PCS, work would have to proceed on drafting the rules for a new scheme. Last week, my officials sent the draft rules for the new compensation scheme to the Council of Civil Service Unions to seek its views. Those rules will form the basis of the new compensation scheme, which as I said I intend to lay before Parliament as soon as possible, assuming that the Bill completes its passage and achieves Royal Assent.
The Lords amendments are intended to reassure the House, the unions and all stakeholders that the Government will consult fully with the unions should there be future proposals to change the compensation scheme that would reduce the benefits for civil servants. They merely put into statute what has always been our intention. Arguably, that requirement is already contained in the Superannuation Act 1972, but the amendments will put it beyond peradventure or doubt.
The amendments reflect the lengthy consultation process that I have just described. They are Government amendments that were made in the other place to respond to commitments that I made on Report and Third Reading. I am grateful for the constructive involvement of the unions and those on the Opposition Front Bench throughout the process of refining the amendments to achieve the maximum consensus.
"with a view to reaching agreement",
and it requires that a report of that consultation be laid before Parliament. The new provisions will apply when there is a change to the compensation scheme that will result in reduced benefits. The report would have to include details of
"the consultation that took place",
"with a view to reaching agreement"
"whether such agreement has been reached."
I repeat that the Government are committed to consultation with the unions. Like the previous Administration, we will always seek to reach agreement with all unions on changes to the compensation scheme. We know from experience that that may not always be possible, and in such cases, the report will explain why.
The effect of Lords amendments 2 and 3 is that the consultation provisions will come into force two months after Royal Assent. That is the standard interval before the commencement of new legislation. However, because of the need for certainty, the other provisions of the Bill will come into force immediately on Royal Assent. As a consequence, the requirement to publish and lay before Parliament a report on the consultation will apply to future changes to the compensation scheme, and not to those currently being developed for implementation when the Bill is enacted.
A requirement for a report on the current consultation would be nugatory, because no one can claim that there has been anything other than long and extensive consultation, carried out not just by myself and my officials, but by my predecessor in this process, the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who is now on the Opposition Front Bench. This process goes back a long time; there have been three years of drawn out extensive consultation and negotiation. Parliament is well aware, and nobody can have any doubt, that the process has been extensive and thorough; it has been described by the right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Lady and myself. Equally, it would be wrong to risk a further delay, while a report was prepared and laid before Parliament, before the proposed scheme could be introduced. I have agreed, as Lord Wallace said in the other place, to table written ministerial statements to set out what consultation there has been.
Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): May I start by expressing my gratitude to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General for the way in which he has brought the House up to date on his discussions and negotiations, for the tone and tenor of his remarks this afternoon, and for restraining himself from repeating the history of civil service compensation since 1859? The whole House is in his debt for that.
As we have said throughout all the stages of the Bill, we agree that civil service compensation is in need of reform. Indeed, we set it on its way. We now need to take account of the result of the judicial review, which tells us that what is needed is reform, but the right reform made in the right way. As we set about that exercise, and what I hope is the finalisation of our debates on the Bill this afternoon, it is incumbent on us to remember that for 500,000 civil servants-people who have given their lives to working in the public service-the Bill should not be a "blunt instrument" for negotiating purposes. For many people, it is about how they might keep their home, help their children through university or avert financial hardship while they have to look for a new job. The House must remember that the Bill's provisions are important and will have real-world impacts.
On Report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) made it very clear that there were several areas in which we thought the Bill was not quite perfect and needed modification. The first cause of worry was what was then new clause 1. Throughout the process we have recognised the need for reform of the Superannuation Act 1972, and the High Court judgment made it very clear that there was a case for ensuring that the Government could compel a settlement and that no one union could veto changes to the civil service compensation scheme. However, the Government's ability to compel a settlement must be an activity of last resort once it is clear that common agreement cannot be reached. That was why we were not able to support new clause 1 on Report. It would have allowed the Government simply to impose changes to the scheme at any point, without consulting either the work force or representative trade unions.
We are very pleased that the Minister has made substantial progress as the Bill has proceeded through both Houses. As he eloquently summarised it, the latest draft of the new clause, which stands before us as Lords amendment 1, requires a report to Parliament on the consultation that has been carried out with trade unions if there are any further reductions in future. I was particularly grateful to hear him confirm that future consultation on changes would have to be undertaken with a view to reaching agreement. That is substantial progress and we are pleased that the Government have accepted our arguments on some helpful changes. No doubt we could quibble about the details, but the thrust of the Government's changes is in the right direction. We will therefore support Lords amendments 1, 2 and 3 and the consequential Lords amendment 7.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD):
It is rather sad that, again, there are relatively few people in the Gallery when we are debating such an important issue. We need to value the work of people who work
for society and all our public servants. Obviously the terms of the civil service compensation scheme do not affect those in the NHS or local authorities, who have varied schemes that are often much worse than even the proposed new terms of the civil service scheme.
This is an important matter, and I am pleased to support the Lords amendments. They make it very clear that we will be bound by good practice and enter into proper and meaningful consultations, with a view to coming to an agreement. Although one particular trade union may continue to try to veto the scheme, that does not mean that we should ignore the need to try to obtain an agreement using a reasonable approach. I am very pleased with the Government's strategy of protecting people on lower incomes. That is an excellent thing to do, so I am pleased to support the Lords amendments.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Lords amendment 1 requires the Government to consult with the aim of seeking agreement, and provides for a report to Parliament in due course. Lords amendments 2 and 3 will bring the Bill into force two months after Royal Assent and I find it extraordinary that the Government see that as some form of concession, because the bulk of the staff who will be made redundant in the coming period will be made redundant under a scheme that is still to be imposed. The Government intend that that scheme will be introduced within the two months after Royal Assent, so there will be no report to Parliament, no commitment to consultation and no commitment to take steps to reach agreement, as is embedded in Lords amendment 1. The terms of the scheme, as they stand in the original proposals in the Bill, will be imposed. So although Lords amendment 1 proposes a system whereby there is at least some commitment to parliamentary scrutiny of the willingness and commitment of the Government to negotiate and seek an agreed settlement, Lords amendments 2 and 3 take away that commitment, because we know that the scheme will be amended within the two months to which Lords amendment 1 does not apply.
I cannot think of a better mechanism to incite industrial action. It could be construed as an act of contorted bad faith. Although there have been commitments in ministerial written statements, there has been no commitment to adhere to Lords amendment 1, because it would not otherwise be virtually vetoed by Lords amendments 2 and 3. In my view, that will not only result in industrial relations deteriorating but enhance the potential for legal challenges. It certainly will not enhance the legal protections for which the Government were hoping as a result of the amendments.
The amendments do not address the problematic core of the Bill, which is the imposition of caps and limits on the compensation scheme without the agreement of the unions representing the members affected. I have heard a lot about the four out of the six unions agreeing or recommending the scheme that is being imposed. I remind the House, however, that of the two main unions that represent the vast bulk-more than 75%-of the members affected, one, PCS, or the Public and Commercial Services Union, has not agreed the scheme and is recommending that its members reject it in the ballot, and the executive of the other, the POA, has recommended that its members reject the scheme in the ballot, too.
I find it an absolute irony that in any future negotiations, which will, I suppose, probably be relatively minor
because the Government will impose the bulk of the change in the next couple of months, the House will have some form of scrutiny of the negotiations as a result of Lords amendment 1, but that it will not be able to exercise it in those two months. The reason for that is that if there was a full exposure of what went on in the negotiations, it would provoke even more anger among PCS and POA members.
This has been the worst example of industrial relations practice that we have seen in years. First, there was the use of a "blunt instrument"-I use the Government's own words-of the threat of a Bill's being brought forward to impose such severe caps that many would have lost more than two thirds of the redundancy payments that they had acquired as accrued rights over the years. There was then an extremely crude attempt to divide and rule the unions. I believe that the POA is seeking some form of legal redress against the Minister for the Cabinet Office for some of his statements. Those practices have now resulted in the virtual chaotic breakdown of the formal negotiating structures that have held good under past Governments throughout the decades.
If Lords amendment 1 comes into force, at least there will be some reflection of the negotiations that took place-and it might be more accurate. As the Minister has dwelt on the process of the negotiations, perhaps I might put on the record an alternative historical account of what occurred. Yes, the civil service unions-all six of them-sought to negotiate some form of agreed settlement throughout the summer. They did that in the light of the threat of the imposition of a Bill that would cut significantly their members' redundancy payments.
In September, the Treasury intervened to insist on a cash cap on the new scheme, so there was no room to manoeuvre to improve the scheme beyond that cap. I believe that that significantly undermined the potential for a settlement. On 28 September, the Minister declared that he was pursuing agreement with five of the unions, excluding the PCS, and on 4 October a formal offer was submitted. On 11 October, PCS and the POA held a constructive meeting with the Minister, focusing on the cap on redundancy proposals and making proposals to redistribute from high earners to the vast majority of civil servants, enhancing the protection for the majority.
Mr Maude: The hon. Gentleman refers to a report of that meeting, but I can give him another account, because I was there-it was my meeting. No concrete proposals were made at that stage, and certainly not proposals that could in any way remotely or realistically redistribute benefits away from higher earners, whose payments are anyway capped under the scheme that we have agreed, towards the lower paid and particularly the lowest paid, who are much better protected now than they were under the previous Labour Government's scheme of last February.
My understanding is that on 11 October, PCS and POA tried to explore with the Minister opportunities to make the scheme fairer and more just for their members, and to set out certain parameters in which negotiations could take place. The PCS executive was scheduled to meet on 26 October to consider the next steps in its negotiations with the Government, but on 25 October it received a letter from the Minister, who told them that negotiations had been
concluded and that he would implement the proposals that he set out on 4 October. I do not consider that an appropriate way to seek agreement.
As a result, PCS wrote to the Minister on 26 October to say that it was willing to submit proposals. He welcomed that offer and confirmed he would reopen talks if proposals came from the Council of Civil Service Unions, which is exactly what the PCS did-it submitted the parameters and proposals via the CCSU in a constructive approach to reach agreement. The Cabinet Office made no attempt to go into any detail on those proposals or to cost them, and on 9 November, the CCSU submitted terms to open the detail of talks with the Minister, who must have been aware of the background to that letter and of the detail of the PCS proposals. However, on 15 November, he said that the window for talks was closed. Although PCS sent a further letter on 16 November, it was informed that there would be no future talks.
That is a different historical account of those negotiations. The unions, which represented the vast majority of their members, were open to continuing talks to reach an agreed settlement. If amendment 1 had been in place before those talks, the House might have had a more objective historical account of the negotiations than the Minister or I have given-at least we would have had the opportunity of receiving a full report. However, the Minister's amendments have denied us the opportunity of a report on those negotiations and allow a report only of future negotiations. That is extremely disappointing. It is another act that will undermine civil servants' confidence that they are being treated fairly by the Government at this critical time in their lives-we are told that 360,000 of them will lose their jobs because of the comprehensive spending review and subsequently.
In addition to souring the industrial relations climate, the Government have opened up a vista of legal challenges-under article 11 of the European convention on human rights and article 1, protocol 1-which has occurred before. Amendment 1 is the Government's attempt to find legal cover for their infringement of those articles, particularly article 11, but it does not go far enough. In fact, amendments 2 and 3 take away that cover completely in respect of the current negotiations. The Government's proposals are legally precarious to say the least. I am sure that there will be a legal challenge from PCS. I believe that it will be successful.
In the previous Government's negotiations, PCS threatened legal challenge, and it was advised by civil servants-they met us a week before the general election was declared-that the Government were confident of winning in court. The same civil servants advise this Government of the same thing. They were wrong before the election, and I believe that they are wrong now. In fact, PCS is yet to lose a case against the Government. We have the prospect of tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of civil servants being made redundant. If the Government's proposals are overturned, the civil servants who are made redundant under the imposed scheme could seek legal redress and compensation, which could run into many millions of pounds.
The challenge will be on two grounds. The first will be article 11, which is meant to protect the right of trade unions to negotiate on behalf of their members.
Until 2008, the Europe Court of Human Rights treated the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike merely as examples of individual aspects of freedom of association that states could choose as means of complying with article 11, ensuring that unions could at least be heard. However, Demir and Baykara v. Turkey changed the atmosphere and legal standing of article 11 and that of the right to collective bargaining. The grand chamber resiled specifically from the original rulings and elevated the right to collective bargaining to the status of an essential element of article 11. Interference with this right has to be justified against the background of the historical circumstances of the country. However, in this country, there is a long history of the right of civil servants in negotiations and of collective bargaining by the civil service, which I believe enforces the article 11 rights of this particular union. On the basis, I believe that the amendments do not go anywhere near far enough to protect the Government from legal challenge.
The second basis for a legal challenge against the amendments, which fail to provide the Government with cover, is that dealt with by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The amendments fail to address the need for agreement by the unions over their protected and accrued rights under the compensation scheme. Article 1 of the first protocol of the European convention on human rights insists on the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. Under the scrutiny of the Joint Committee, the Bill has been found to be lacking in providing that protection. First the Government argued that they were not possessions, but that was quashed by the law courts in their last judgment against the previous Government.
The Joint Committee found the Government's arguments over possession to be unacceptable. They are accepted then as accrued rights, which means that they can be interfered with only as a result of agreement-amendment 3 insists not on agreement but simply consultation-or if the interference is justified. However, the Joint Committee determined that the Government had brought forward no justification-and, in fact, had not even addressed seriously the justification for interference with these accrued rights, which the civil service has garnered over years of negotiation and service. For that reason, the amendments will fail to protect the Government against further legal challenge.
I urge the Government, therefore, to think again. On the legalities of the Bill, even as amended by the Lords amendments, we are entering legal quicksand, and the Government will regret that. I think they recognise that and have inserted the changes into the legislation rather than the original scheme because they were worried about the scheme being quashed very quickly in the UK courts of law. Even with the amendments, however, the Government are entering an industrial relations minefield and a political morass. So I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to step back. PCS, the POA and the other unions are still willing to meet and negotiate, to see whether a reasonable settlement can be obtained. I urge the Government to take up the offer of getting back around the table.
The unions are willing to negotiate because these measures will have such a significant impact on their members. In Committee, we heard example after example of the impact on individual lives of such a severe deterioration in the redundancy payments being offered to civil servants. The POA and PCS are reflecting the
views of their members about this Government's threat to their redundancy payments. It is for that reason that the POA and PCS are willing to get back round the table and seek a reasonable agreement with the Government.
However, I believe that, failing that, there will be legal actions and industrial action. They will undermine the credibility of this Government in any future negotiations or when they want to make changes not just to the scheme in question, but to other conditions of service across the civil service. Surely it is better to bring along a willing work force-a committed work force, with high morale and people who are willing to implement the Government's policy with enthusiasm because they enjoy their jobs, rather than people living under the threat of being made redundant without adequate compensation. I urge the Government, even at this late state, to back off-to pull the Bill this evening, enter negotiations, get back round the table and seek an agreed settlement that brings in all the unions, rather than trying to divide them in the way that the Government have.
Mr Maude: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) for their support for the amendments and for where the Government have got to. I would like to say one or two words in response to the points that have been raised.
The first point to make is that the coalition Government are deeply committed to supporting the civil service and supporting its independence. We profoundly believe in the ethos of public service and political impartiality that motivates the civil service and with which it is imbued. We wish to support that, and, just as with the previous Government's attempt to reform the compensation scheme, nothing in what we are attempting to do should be interpreted as anything other than a desire to treat people fairly and achieve the right balance between the interests of the taxpayer and the interests of hard-working, dedicated civil servants who, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, have in many cases spent their lives in public service. We honour and respect that, and we want them to be treated fairly. I want to put that firmly on the record.
We were happy to accept the point that consultation must be serious, which is why we accepted an amendment that said that consultation has to take place with a view to reaching agreement. It is not enough for the Government to go through the motions. I do not think that anyone who has taken part in the consultations and negotiations that have brought us to this point would say that they were about going through the motions-I think the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill would bear that out. Rather, they were about serious work aimed at getting agreement, and it is a matter of great regret that such agreement has not been reached. The suggestion that the ability for collective bargaining has in some sense been reduced and that this is a breach of the European convention on human rights simply does not stack up. The changes that we are making actually strengthen the commitment to consultation, making it more necessary that, in making any future changes, the Government should consult seriously, with a view to reaching an agreement. The commitment on collective bargaining is enhanced, not diminished.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I have listened to the debate with great interest, particularly on the consultation with the POA, PCS and the other unions, but what is the position, both in the current negotiations and in any future consultations relating to the provisions that we are debating, on those who are not in unions? We found from our experience of negotiating with civil servants in Northern Ireland that many were not in unions, which raised a whole lot of other issues. How does that play into the consultation provisions that the right hon. Gentleman is introducing and the current negotiations?
Mr Maude: The right hon. Gentleman raises a good point, which is that it is by no means true that all civil servants belong to a trade union. The figures show that something in the region of 60% of civil servants belong to a trade union, but many are unrepresented. I am not sure that the Superannuation Act 1972 or what we are proposing in the Bill makes requisite any particular form of consultation with those who are unrepresented. However, he raises a good point that those who engage in future consultations should be alive to.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to his concern that, because the consultation requirement will not be commenced for two months, there will somehow be no obligation to consult. There has been extensive consultation. He raised concerns about the proposals that he claims were made by PCS and the POA, but the outline suggestions that eventually emerged from PCS, if implemented within the cost envelope, which I have always said exists and which would have existed under whichever Government were in power, would have had the effect of reducing the compensation available to those over pensionable age-that is, those over 50 and approaching retirement-and reducing the benefits available to the lowest paid. I say again that our primary concern has been to ensure that there is proper additional protection for those who are lower paid.
John McDonnell: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want inadvertently to mislead the House. Just for the record, that is contested by the unions themselves, because it was open to the discussions that the union was hoping to pursue with him, but which he declined.
Mr Maude: The concern raised by the unions at the time was that there was insufficient compensation in the scheme that we were developing with the other unions for those who were above the £23,000 salary underpin. We could have increased the compensation payments for them only by taking away from others. The only ways in which that could have been achieved-these suggestions were canvassed-would have been by lowering the £23,000 underpin so that all those earning less than that would have been penalised, or by taking away the significant protection that rightly continues to exist for those over 50. I recognise that someone who started work as a civil servant as a teenager straight after leaving school, and who has worked as nothing else until leaving the civil service in their 50s, might not find themselves in a fantastic place in the labour market. It is therefore right that there should be proper protection for people in those circumstances. That is why protecting those approaching retirement and the lowest paid people in the civil service was an absolute priority for us. I believe that the scheme that we have put in place meets those commitments and priorities.
Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): Two pieces of information have come out on this. First, we received a Cabinet Office circular from the right hon. Gentleman which sets out in detail how the negotiations went. It specifically makes the point that PCS made a proposal that would have reduced the amount of money being made available to lower paid staff in order to pay for enhanced benefits for those at the higher end of the scale. However, the trade unions have said that that is not the case. In order to give us more information about the negotiation process, can the Minister provide the figures to demonstrate how much would have needed to go to those at the top to cover those enhancements, and how much would have been taken away from those at the bottom?
Mr Maude: It is really hard to do that, because, as I pointed out in the letter that I sent to all Members, there were only outline suggestions made by PCS. Back in September, five of the unions-the five not including PCS-wrote to me with some proposals that they had signed up to, and that PCS had declined to sign up to. At their request, we entered into discussions with the five unions, and the ensuing proposals formed the basis of the new scheme that we have developed. They are not totally reflected in the scheme, but they formed the basis for it. I constantly and consistently urged PCS to join that process and to make concrete proposals, but it had declined to sign the letter that the other five unions had signed, despite being asked to do so by the five unions.
That protracted process involved meetings with Mark Serwotka of PCS and Steve Gillan of the POA, at which I urged them to make concrete proposals that would enable us to work towards a full agreement. All that emerged, however, after protracted delays, were outline suggestions. When asked how any additional protection for higher-paid people-not highly paid people, but those above the £23,000 underpin-was to be paid for, the only suggestions were either to lower the underpin, which would have meant that all lower-paid workers would have been penalised, or to reduce the protection available to those over 50. We were not willing to do that because providing protection was a priority for us.
John McDonnell: Following on from an earlier point, the Minister will know better than most of us that these negotiations are complex. He has said that it was difficult at times to calculate the overall consequences. That is why the Public and Commercial Services Union-through the Council of Civil Service Unions as the Minister requested-put forward outline proposals for detailed negotiations with staff. However, the Minister for the Cabinet Office then closed the window for those negotiations, just as they were becoming productive. There are complexities and if the Minister objected to issues like that, those points could have been taken up in the next round of negotiations.
I have to take issue with the hon. Gentleman's phrase about the process just beginning to become productive, because it was not. The outline suggestions were vague and the only way of paying for them would have been by taking money away from lower-paid workers or people approaching retirement. We explored whether
there was any other source from which those funds could be redistributed, but it turned out that there were no alternatives.
John McDonnell: If that is the right hon. Gentleman's only concern and his only objection to the position of PCS, supported by the POA, why can he not simply reopen negotiations now to resolve the matter?
Mr Maude: The hon. Gentleman talks as if this were a trifling consideration, but it is not. This process has been going on for three years. If the Bill goes through the remainder of its stages and on to the statute book, the new scheme that I hope to lay before Parliament before we rise for the Christmas recess, superseding the current scheme, will have been the product of many months-indeed, years-of protracted discussions. I know that he disagrees, but I have to say that despite repeated requests, the PCS has been tardy, to say the least, in coming forward with proposals and has, at best, made outline suggestions but never concrete proposals that could have formed the basis of an agreement. The other five unions did, and I am grateful to them for their engagement, which enabled us to forge a new scheme-as I said, we hope to lay it before Parliament next week-that will provide a fair balance between the interests of taxpayers and the interests of civil servants and protect those approaching retirement and the lowest paid.
John McDonnell: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Let me quote to him his statement to the House on 30 October, when he gave a commitment that he would "strain every sinew" to achieve a negotiated settlement. What I am suggesting is that, if he has identified an issue as an impediment to a negotiated settlement, he should now adhere to his commitment to strain every sinew and meet the unions again. It is no use repeating over and over again the fact that five out of six unions have agreed a settlement. They have not. The two unions that represent the vast majority of members have rejected the Minister's proposals. Surely it behoves him now to go the extra mile and strain that extra sinew to seek a negotiated settlement before he provokes industrial action or legal challenge.
Mr Maude: Those are not concerns that have just arisen; they have been there throughout. I have been forthright in ventilating them with the leadership of the PCS and POA, and they know that. We have been clear about the envelope within which it would be possible to make changes because increasing protection for one group can be done only at the expense of other groups. There is no way around that. That is the basis on which we have formulated the new scheme, which I hope to lay before Parliament before the Christmas recess. That is the basis of my case.
Mr Maude: The amendments respond to concerns raised by Opposition Members on Second Reading in the other place about the potential for the caps in what is now clause 2 to be revived after being put into abeyance, which is what I propose to do next week before the House rises and before the new scheme is laid. The Government also proposed the amendments to respond to the comments about the unusual use of a sunrise provision in clause 3(4)(c) that were made in the third report of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published on 28 October. My noble Friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire provided a full response to the Committee in his letter of 1 December. We are grateful to the Committee for its report.
The Committee also commented on the other provisions in clause 3 which would enable, by order, the caps included in clause 2 to be repealed and also to be extended by six months at a time. That would override the so-called sunset provision in clause 3(3), which would otherwise mean that the caps on civil service compensation provided in clause 2 would expire automatically after 12 months. The Committee said that "these arrangements are complex", but added that the two delegated powers
"do not appear to the Committee to be inappropriate".
However, the Committee was not so persuaded of the need for the power in clause 3 to revive the caps in clause 2, that being an unlimited power that would have been available to any future Government in circumstances that we cannot predict today. The amendments respond to that point. The Government accept that there should not be an unlimited power to revive clause 2. Lords amendment 6 therefore provides for subsection 3(4)(c) itself to expire three years after Royal Assent, which is in effect a sunset of the sunrise provision. I can see why some people might say that that was a bit complex, but I think that, when fully parsed, it makes perfectly good sense.
The sunset of the power to revive clause 2 would mean that it would be there, as the Government intend, as a fallback to revive the caps in clause 2, just in case they were needed because of future problems in implementing the new civil service compensation scheme. However, the introduction of the three-year time limit should provide a reassurance that the power to revive clause 2 would not be available indefinitely to future Governments.
The caps are there as a potential fall-back so that we can be certain-as both the last Government and we have wanted to be-that we can reform the civil service compensation scheme. We have an absolute obligation, in the public interest, to address the unfair and unaffordable nature of the current scheme, and we need to ensure that if a legal challenge is mounted to our revised scheme-and it has been suggested that that may well
happen-there is a fall-back option, albeit one that we have absolutely no desire to use. We do not expect or intend to use the powers to impose the caps in clause 2; what we want is to see in operation as quickly as possible is the reformed civil service compensation scheme. We are determined that, if all else fails, there will be a fall-back position so that we are not left high and dry-as the last Government were-because of a legal challenge to the details of the new scheme.
Before the new scheme is laid before Parliament, I intend an order to be made under clause 3(4)(a) to repeal the caps in clause 2 in relation to any new scheme. We intend the order to include a saving provision so that the caps could be applied if, and only if, the old unreformed scheme had to be reintroduced. The saving provision would allow that to happen automatically, without the need to use the revival power by order under clause 3(4)(c). I should make it clear that this saving provision would apply only if there were an attempt to revert to the old scheme. An order under clause 3(4)(c) would be required, subject to the affirmative procedure, if it were ever proposed to revive the caps in clause 2 and to impose them over the new civil service compensation scheme that will be put in place following the completion of this Bill's passage.
Finally, unless further extended by order under clause 3(4)(b), clause 2 in its entirety-including the saving provision-will expire 12 months after Royal Assent. From that point on, any revival of the caps would have to use the order-making power in clause 3(4)(c), which, because of these Lords amendments, will only be available within three years of Royal Assent. I very much hope that by then the new civil service compensation scheme will be in place and be operating satisfactorily for all concerned-civil servants, departmental employers and the civil service trade unions-and that the taxpayers' interests and the proper interests of civil servants will be being met. Amendments 4 and 5 are consequential on amendment 6.
Let me explain what this measure means. Despite all we have heard today from the Government about their willingness to achieve a negotiated settlement on a new compensation scheme and their wish to ensure that all the trade unions are signed up to it and that it is acceptable both to members of those unions and to people not in those unions, the fact is that they will retain the power, over a three-year period, to impose the caps set out in the Bill.
We should remind ourselves of what those caps are: for a compulsory redundancy, an amount equal to a person's earnings for 12 months, and that amount for 15 months for a voluntary severance. We heard in evidence in Committee-this has been repeated in the Chamber time and again-that that will mean a cut of up to two thirds in the redundancy payments of many civil servants; 60% to 70% was the figure cited by the
Joint Committee on Human Rights. Any Government will have the power to impose those caps at a later date, and to impose that level of penalty on civil servants who are made redundant.
If the Government are confident of being able to negotiate an agreed solution under the new scheme in this coming period, why do they need the right, over a three-year period, to impose these caps unilaterally? I still think that if they sought to do that, it would be subject to a legal challenge, but why would a Government seek to retain that power if they were entering into negotiations with good will, genuinely seeking an agreement, and taking every reasonable step to secure one?
My amendment simply seeks to reduce the period to 12 months, as an act of good will on behalf of this House in respect of its employees in the civil service. I believe the Government have set the period at three years because they want to maintain their original purpose for the Bill, as previously described: to use it as a blunt instrument to bludgeon the unions into submission so they agree to the Government's proposals. That is unacceptable. I also think this will be another factor that leads to people rejecting the overall scheme in the ballots that are currently taking place, and instead moving on to take action to stop the scheme being imposed upon themselves and their fellow trade union members.
I urge the Government to think again, as 12 months should give them sufficient time to negotiate and introduce a new scheme, and to introduce any reforms or amendments that might be needed to hone it to make it more workable if there were any problems with its implementation. It is unacceptable for the Government to have the threat of this blunt instrument to hold over civil servants for three years. Introducing this measure would be another contributory factor to the deterioration in the relationship between the Government and their staff, who are meant to implement, with high morale, the policies they introduce.
John Hemming: As someone who interests himself in procedural issues, perhaps I could think of the clause as being more like a supernova clause after which the sun will not rise again. Not being a Government Minister, I have the advantage of having no confidential knowledge whatever of the Government's strategy. The interests of judicial review are relevant given that one would expect a judicial review when the order for the new scheme is laid, as it would be laid under the Bill relatively soon. In those circumstances, the Government will not want to take a completely new piece of legislation through the House because of a judicial review. It is possible to accelerate the proceedings of a judicial review, and the courts would probably look on such an approach favourably given the situation for the country and the importance of having legal certainty, but it is quite important to have the facility to deal with such a situation if it arises. However, I support the idea of having a supernova clause because there is a point at which the sun need not rise again.
I want to speak briefly about Lords amendments 4, 5 and 6, as well as amendment (a), tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). During proceedings on
the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) has consistently raised concerns about the arbitrary caps that the Government introduced at the start of this process, which now form the body of clause 2. I confess that we are still not clear about why the caps are still in the Bill given that clause 1, which was newly introduced on Report, effectively gives the Government the power to impose any settlement after the consultations that we discussed earlier have been completed. We heard, in the Minister's helpful update to the House, that there is a degree of agreement with at least some of the trade unions, which the Government have declared will supersede the terms in the Bill. Why then do they not seek to introduce a sharp instrument containing the specific terms they have agreed with the trade unions, rather than the blunt instrument containing general powers that is the Bill before us?
"repeal the caps in clause 3 insofar as they could impact on the new civil service compensation scheme".
"would table an order...so as to increase the caps to such a level that would...reflect what would otherwise apply under the new scheme."
In earlier debates, we raised concerns that the Bill would allow the revival of caps at any time in the future even after a negotiated settlement was in place. We fear that the relevant measure, which the Government call a sunrise clause, would put an undesirable amount of power in their hands during negotiations, as they could simply threaten to revive statutory powers whenever they ran into any dispute on any matter, not just issues of redundancy. Given that it would allow the Government to resurrect the terms of a long-dead provision, it is not so much a sunrise clause as a zombie clause, which would live on for ever. Whatever we call it, the measure is entirely without precedent in a Bill of this nature. Indeed, the only recorded precedent of such a measure is in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005.
We are pleased that there will be a limit of three years on the caps if they are revived, and that the Government cannot extend that period. Given what the Minister has said this afternoon, however, I do not see how he can argue that the correct balance of time and the correct limit to any revived power should be three years. The whole House will welcome what the Minister said this afternoon about his ambition that the revival of the caps should never be triggered. If that is true-and I am prepared to accept that it is-I do not see why he cannot accept the very sensible amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. Although we are happy to accept amendments from the Lords, we shall support amendment (a).
Mr Maude: The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) asked why we needed to keep the caps at all. The answer is simple. The caps will be established in primary legislation, but the new civil service compensation scheme, which I hope to lay before Parliament next week, before the House rises, does not have the full force of primary legislation, despite the changes to the Superannuation Act 1972 made by clause 1.
I shall be frank. We want to avoid being in the position that followed the High Court judgment in May this year, which resulted in the previous Government's February scheme being quashed. The effect of the scheme being quashed is that the existing scheme remains unreformed and in force. Indeed, the old scheme-unaffordable, unsustainable and unreconstructed-is in force today. Of course, in preparing the new scheme we were at some pains to ensure that it would be legally robust, and we shall vigorously defend any legal challenge to it. However, as was apparent from the litigation against the previous Administration's scheme, there can never be guarantees in litigation. Even litigation that is destined ultimately to fail can be disruptive, because of the uncertainty it causes until the case is concluded.
Mr Maude: I shall be clear: both sides of the House have accepted that the current scheme is unsustainable and needs to be reformed. With the possible exception of the hon. Gentleman, everyone, and certainly Opposition Front Benchers, has accepted that it is unacceptable for it to be possible for a union, or two unions, to veto reform of the scheme. It must be possible for the Government and Parliament to effect reform of the civil service compensation scheme. If there is a successful legal challenge to a new civil service compensation scheme-unlikely though that may seem-we cannot have the position where the old scheme trundles on in its unsustainable, unaffordable and unfair form. That is why there must be a fall-back position for a limited period. We have listened to the arguments and we have accepted that it will be a limited period, so that caps on the use of the old scheme will be in existence, should the new scheme be quashed as the previous Government's scheme was, by order of the High Court.
What is the right period for the power to revive the caps? Is it one year, three years, five years or 10 years? There is no precise science, because no one knows how long the period is beyond which we could be sure that a successful legal challenge would not be raised. It is our judgment that three years is the right period. That is the view that we have taken. That is why we urged the Lords to agree, and I urge the House to accept that view today. We would thus be agreeing with the Lords in their amendments, and disagreeing with the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington.
That the Order of 15 November 2010 (Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:
1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings on consideration and on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.-( Mr Hoban.)
"(ca) that in relation to a final designation, the material disclosed by the Treasury on which they rely is sufficient to enable each designated person to give effective instructions to a person appointed as a special advocate to represent that party's interests;".'.
Dr Huppert: I am delighted to move amendment 2, and to speak to amendments 3, 5 and 11, which are also in my name. They reflect recommendations from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and Members might wish to see its more detailed report if they have not done so already. The amendments are all about ensuring proportionality and a fair hearing.
We should clearly be able to restrict funds that help terrorists in their activities, but people who are accused of such activities should not automatically lose their regular status in this country. We have a great principle in this country whereby a person is innocent until proven guilty; it is a great British tradition and one that we should support. We should also accept, however, that errors are made in legal processes, by the court and by Governments, and that is why we should have principles of fair hearing and high thresholds before we take state action.
Amendment 2 is about errors and the thresholds that we require. How can we be sure that the courts or the Treasury are making the right decision? How much error is acceptable? Various thresholds are already used for various decisions. We have the threshold of beyond reasonable doubt, which roughly equates to our saying that we do not accept even a 1% error-to the extent that we can attach numbers to it. Then, we have the civil standard, or the balance of probabilities, whereby we want to be sure that we are probably right. We want at least a 50:50 chance-in other words, with the balance
of probabilities, we say that we want to be wrong less than half the time; we want to be probably sure that we are right.
If we go any lower with a threshold, we take steps-we punish people-when we say that we believe that they were probably not involved in the given situation. That is the consequence of a threshold below the balance of probabilities. None of us wants that, and none of us wants to take steps against people when we think that they were probably not involved in the first place.
I accept the principle of a lower threshold for interim designations. It is more akin to arrest, which takes place at a much lower threshold, but that is not the same as the permanent designation. I strongly urge the Government to reconsider their proposal. They should consider taking such steps against people only when the Treasury believes that they were probably involved, rather than on the basis of anything lower.
Amendment 3 is a simple requirement. A fair hearing must mean knowing the accusations-the reasons why the Treasury believes that somebody has been involved in funding terrorist activities. The amendment includes an important safeguard for public interest in non-disclosure, so damaging information would not come out, only that which we could afford to release. Again, I should have thought that we all agree with such a position.
During the Bill's passage, the Government have said that, effectively, the amendment's intention will be achieved but they do not want to see it in legislation. I am always concerned, however, about the principle that we should not write things into legislation but trust in the benevolence of Governments-this or any future Government. If the Minister will not accept the amendment, will he clearly commit to disclose such reasons subject to the public interest requirement, as the amendment says-even if that takes place in a non-legislative way?
Amendments 5 and 11 deal with the hearing itself. Section 67(3)(c) of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 puts a heavy weight on the principle of non-disclosure. Although that is an important principle, we must counter it with the principle of a fair hearing. Currently, the balance goes far too far in the direction of non-disclosure.
In the case of AF, it was held that similar rules are not appropriate to control orders, so I find it hard to see why the courts will not in time hold the same principle on terrorist asset freezing. There are more details on that reasoning in the Joint Committee's report. The courts have yet to take such a decision, but surely as a principle it would be better not to go through costly legal action, but to save time by making the changes now.
There is a review of the use of sensitive material in judicial proceedings, and I welcome the fact that there will be a consistent approach. If the Minister will not agree to including such safeguards in the Bill, will he commit to the Bill being updated when the review is complete in order to reflect that consistent approach and to introduce a better system throughout those areas? I shall listen carefully to the Minister's comments on all those suggestions, and I hope he takes on board what has been said.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab):
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) for introducing the amendments, which represent important issues that
the Joint Committee on Human Rights considered. However, the Opposition believe that the test of reasonable belief is appropriate to the circumstances covered by the Bill. Indeed, I said so in Committee.
The tests for the asset-freezing regime are strict. In clause 2(1)(a)(i) to (iii), the Treasury has to consider real issues about the involvement of individuals in terrorist activity before such powers can be invoked. Those considerations are:
"(i) that the person is or has been involved in terrorist activity,
(ii) that the person is owned or controlled directly or indirectly by a person within sub-paragraph (i), or
(iii) that the person is acting on behalf of or at the direction of a person with sub-paragraph (i)".
If we changed from reasonable belief to a situation in which the Treasury had to satisfy the balance of probabilities, as the amendment proposes, we would water down the ability of the Treasury and, therefore, the Government to take early action on the use of resources to finance terrorist activity in relation to the items detailed in clause 2. The asset-freezing regime must be preventive to be effective. One must be able to use it at an early stage to disrupt and prevent terrorist acts, and a threshold of a balance of probabilities would not enable the Government to act when action is needed.
The balance of probabilities test is applied by the courts in the context of civil proceedings and requires one party to demonstrate to the court that it is more likely than not that a particular fact is true. If that test were applied to asset freezing, it would require the Treasury and, indeed, the Minister to be satisfied and able to demonstrate to a court that a person is more likely than not to be, or to have been, involved in terrorism. That is too high a burden at the moment, because the burden of proof would rest with the Treasury.
If the Treasury brings forward proposals under this legislation in due course, I rest assured that it will have had solid grounds, from the intelligence and information provided to it, for doing so. If the picture were unclear, and an equally plausible argument could be made for an individual not being involved in terrorism, the Treasury would not be able to impose an asset freeze. That might put the constituents of Cambridge and, in my case, north Wales, or any constituent in the country, at risk of terrorist attack.
Dr Huppert: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows of the existing power for an interim designation. It has a much lower threshold, so in emergency cases, such as those that he mentions, there would be no problem and we would be safe. I am delighted that he cares about the people of Cambridge so much, but the amendments are about longer-term designations.
Indeed, but I speak as somebody who in the previous Parliament was the Minister responsible for terrorist issues and policing. Those are serious matters, and the Government need to take action on them. There is always a balance to be struck between the civil liberties of individuals and the civil liberty of ordinary people to live their lives in peace without the threat of terrorist activity. On balance, my judgement is that we need to support the Government's proposals in the Bill,
which initially had its genesis in the previous Government, so that all measures are taken to ensure that the asset freeze can take place and action can be taken accordingly.
I understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Cambridge; they are valid and should be explored. However, in clause 26 there is a right of appeal for designation both at an interim and final stage. If an individual feels aggrieved, he can undertake to exercise that right of appeal. However, very few people will do so if the Bill becomes law, because the Treasury will have taken steps to ensure that those individuals are rightly in the frame, for the reasons that the asset regime has been introduced, and I trust the Treasury to take those actions; that is not something we say all the time but, on this occasion, I have done so.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels that he has raised the issues of concern. I am sure that the Minister will give, almost word for word, the exact response that I would give. I am happy to talk about the amendments in more detail, but my message to the hon. Member for Cambridge is clear: in the event of him pushing the matter to a vote, he will find not just the Financial Secretary against him, but the shadow Minister.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): I shall respond to each of the amendments proposed by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). I welcome the approach adopted by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who speaks with some authority on these matters, having dealt with them in Government. Looking around the Chamber, he is probably the Member with the most experience of tackling these issues. The amendments were considered in Committee. They were tabled by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and I made the same comments in response to them then as I do today. He sought to withdraw them in Committee and I hope that the hon. Member for Cambridge will do the same today.
As I said in Committee, amendment 2 would change the threshold for the making of a final designation from the Treasury from reasonably believing a person is or has been involved in terrorism, to needing to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities. As I emphasised on Second Reading and in Committee, the asset-freezing regime needs to be preventive to fulfil our UN Security Council obligations and to meet our national security needs. In other words, it must be capable of being used at an early stage to disrupt and prevent terrorist acts.
In our view, a threshold on the balance of probabilities would not enable us to act when needed. The balance of probabilities test is applied by courts in the context of civil proceedings and requires one party to demonstrate to the court that it is more likely than not that a particular fact is true. If that test were applied to asset freezing, it would require the Treasury to be satisfied and to be able to demonstrate to a court that a person is more likely than not to be or to have been involved in terrorism.
That may sound reasonable but-to echo the words of the right hon. Member for Delyn-it is, in fact, a high burden. The fact that the burden of proof would rest with the Treasury means, for example, that if the picture were unclear and an equally plausible argument could be made that an individual was or was not involved in terrorism, the Treasury would be unable to
impose an asset freeze. The serious threat posed by terrorism means that in such cases where the reasonable belief standard is met, the Treasury should be able to freeze assets on a preventive basis to protect the public. The alternative is to hold back until further evidence is accumulated. However, that runs the risk of an individual being able to carry out a terrorist act without preventive action being taken.
I hope that the hon. Member for Cambridge bears it in mind that-as eminent judges such as Lord Justice Laws and Lord Rodgers have remarked-we need to be mindful of the fact that material available to the authorities about terrorist plots may be fragmentary and incomplete. The picture may not be complete for good reasons, but that does not mean that the material is wrong. Such a situation simply reflects a number of real-world facts about terrorism: that intelligence has to be gathered covertly; that terrorists go to considerable steps to disguise their activities; and that the need to protect the public sometimes means that plots have to be disrupted at an early stage, rather than letting them run on further to accumulate more evidence. For those reasons, moving to a balance of probabilities test would have significant risks for our national security.
I also explained in Committee that a balance of probabilities test would be out of line with international best practice. The Financial Action Task Force makes it clear in its guidance on terrorist asset freezing that a legal threshold of reasonable suspicion or reasonable belief should be used. We are not aware of any other country that uses a balance of probabilities test to freeze terrorist assets in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1373. As I set out on Second Reading and in Committee, for those reasons we remain convinced that a reasonable belief test is the right threshold for making a designation and that it strikes the right balance between protecting our national security on the one hand and protecting civil liberties on the other.
Mr Hanson: Will the Minister confirm again what I think he said in Committee, which was that whatever the outcome of the review of terrorist legislation-including the review of the case of AF and control orders-the Bill will stand as it is now without amendment in that respect?
Mr Hoban: If we assume that the legislation will receive Royal Assent, it will stand. However, clearly, all terrorist legislation is kept under review and it would be wrong to prejudge the outcome of any other court case. We have taken forward the best form of the legislation, which was, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, based on the previous Government's proposals. The Bill reflects case law as it stands.
Despite the approach we have taken on reasonable belief, the Bill will not result in the Treasury making decisions where it thinks it is more likely than not a person is not involved in terrorism. The point is that the decision maker should believe, from a careful assessment of what may well be a complicated intelligence picture, that a person is involved in terrorism. The threshold of reasonable belief for a decision is one used in many contexts, including in decisions made about terrorism, such as under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and under schedule 7 to the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. The courts are then asked on an appeal or
review to determine whether there are reasonable grounds for that belief. That is the right test. It provides an assurance that a proper burden is placed on those seeking to impose a designation but, at the same time, it enables action to be taken to protect national security when needed.
Let me move on to amendment 3, which, as the hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out, reflects the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I understand that the amendment would ensure that individuals are sufficiently informed of the reasons for their designation at the point their assets are frozen in order to enable them to mount an effective challenge. As I stated in Committee, the Government do not believe it is necessary to include such an obligation in the Bill because the JCHR's proposal was intended only to ensure that the Treasury complies with the basic administrative law principle of giving reasons for such decisions. It is the Government's view that administrative law principles apply regardless of whether a duty is specified in this legislation. Writing such an obligation into the Bill is therefore unnecessary. I think that that was the commitment the hon. Gentleman was seeking.
Amendments 5 and 11 were considered in the other place and in Committee. It is worth reminding the House that the Prime Minister announced in July that the Government will review the whole matter of the use of sensitive material in judicial proceedings and will issue a Green Paper next year. We expect the Green Paper to be published in the summer. The Government do not consider it appropriate to pre-empt it, which we would certainly be doing if we were to accept amendment 5.
Let me consider the amendment in detail. It seeks to create a new subsection within section 67 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which provides for the content of court rules about disclosure in financial restrictions proceedings and which will apply to court rules made in relation to challenges to decisions under the Bill. The amendment would place a requirement for the court rules, which are to be made initially by the Lord Chancellor for England and Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure that the Treasury provides sufficient open disclosure to enable the designated person to give effective instructions to the special advocate. That form of words is based on the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of A, which was applied by the House of Lords in the case of AF and others to the stringent control orders that were before it. The effect of the amendment would therefore be to apply "AF No. 3" principles to challenges to final designations. I reassure the hon. Member for Cambridge that persons designated by the Treasury will have the full protections afforded them under article 6 of the European convention on human rights. Section 67(6) of the 2008 Act states:
"Nothing in this section, or in the rules of court made under it, is to be read as requiring the court to act in a manner inconsistent with article 6 of the Human Rights Convention."
However, the Government do not accept that "AF and others" principles automatically apply to asset freezing. The application of this judgment to asset freezing has not yet been determined by the courts. The courts have
determined that "AF and others" principles apply to the stringent control orders before them in that case and also to the financial restrictions under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. However, the courts have not determined that "AF and others" principles apply to asset-freezing cases, and it would be wrong to say that legally there is no room for doubt on this.
As I said in Committee, in our view "AF No. 3" principles do not apply to asset freezing because asset freezes are not as significant in their human rights impact as stringent control orders can be, nor are they as wide-ranging in their financial and economic impacts as decisions to impose financial restrictions under the 2008 Act. However, this is something that it is open to the courts to determine if the Government's position were to be challenged. Should the courts decide that "AF and others" principles apply to asset-freezing cases, any court rules that cut across this will be read down to ensure compatibility with the ruling. It would not be necessary to amend the legislation. I hope that hon. Members agree that it would not be right to prejudge such a determination by the court and require now the disclosure of sensitive information that could damage national security or the detection or prevention of crime. Doing so would clearly not be in the public interest.
Let me return to my point about the Green Paper. It would also be wrong to adopt a piecemeal approach to this important issue. The issue of special advocates and the use of intelligence material clearly cuts across a number of areas. If we try to address these important issues ad hoc in individual pieces of legislation, we risk ending up with different requirements in different pieces of legislation.
Dr Huppert: Notwithstanding the answer that the Minister gave to the shadow Minister, if the result of the Green Paper process suggests that we should update the legislation in this respect, will he agree to do so?
The Green Paper will ensure that such a coherent and consistent approach is taken to the use of sensitive material in judicial proceedings. Its timing should allow for judgment to be handed down in the lead case in relation to whether the judgment in the case of AF and others applies more widely than to stringent control orders-that is, in the employment tribunal case of Tariq. That case will be heard by the Supreme Court in January, and we expect a judgment in the spring.
As I said, it would be wrong to pre-empt the Green Paper. I hope that having heard my arguments, the hon. Gentleman will welcome and support the approach that we are taking and withdraw his amendment.
Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for his comments and for the assurances and commitments that he was able to give. I continue to disagree with him about the standard that should be required, and I still find it concerning that we are not moving towards a balance of probabilities. However, I will not press the matter to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr Hanson: We had a good debate on this issue in Committee. It is my contention that if we are to create a post to review the operation of this Bill once it achieves Royal Assent, it makes eminently logical sense for the person who is appointed by the Treasury to review the legislation to be the same person as the one appointed by the Home Office under section 36 of the Terrorism Act 2006 to review terrorist legislation and its impact from the Home Office perspective. As the House will know, Lord Carlile is currently appointed to that position. He is independent of government; he has an office outside the Home Office as well as a secure office in the Home Office; and he provides an independent review of a range of issues, including control orders and other legislation under the 2006 Act. Clause 31 of this Bill allows for an individual to be appointed by the Treasury. In Committee, I tested the Minister on whether he had discussed with the Home Secretary the possibility of appointing the same person under clause 31 to review part 1 of this potential Act as is currently appointed by the Home Office to review legislation under the 2006 Act.
Whatever our agreements in Committee, there is also, I hope, an agreement that we do not want to see duplication of these roles. The role of reviewing whether a designation has been made fairly and is being operated fairly is the same as that of reviewing whether an individual's control order has been judged and operated fairly. I accept that there are differences, as alluded to by the Minister in Committee, but in broad terms an individual appointed under clause 31 to review part 1 of this potential Act will be dealing with similar issues and similar evidence-sometimes evidence supplied by agencies
within government-and undertaking similar assessments of the effectiveness and fairness of the operation of the legislation.
The current reviewer, Lord Carlile, will finish his tenure in that role very shortly. Mr David Anderson QC will be the new independent reviewer of terrorism legislation from, I think, 1 January next year. He has expertise in the European Union, in public law and in human rights. He is a Queen's counsel of more than 10 years' standing, and he is a recorder and a visiting professor at King's college London. The skills that are required to review control orders under the 2006 Act are, in my view, the same as those required to review the provisions in this Bill. I am making this proposal because there could be synergy between the two posts.
I am equally interested-I know that the Minister will have a wry smile at this-in the costings and the operation of the parallel regimes in the event of the Minister appointing somebody different to review the provisions of this Bill when enacted. The Home Office supplies the reviewer with administrative facilities, office support and research support as needed. He has an independent private office in central London as well as secure rooms in the Home Office that he uses to deal with information to help him in his task. I question the need to establish a parallel regime with a separate person being appointed through a separate recruitment procedure and having separate offices inside and outside the Treasury, given that very often, and potentially even more so in this current age, the individual may be reviewing activities that impact on the same small group of people who are seeking to do harm to our citizens in the United Kingdom as a whole.
I would welcome an update from the Minister on my suggestion and on whether he has had an opportunity to talk to the Home Secretary about this matter. Has the Minister had an opportunity to consider whether the person who will be appointed under clause 31 should be the same person who is appointed by the Government to review Home Office legislation under the 2006 Act?
My amendment has been unduly twinned with the rest of the amendments in the group, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). They relate to the method for appointing the reviewer-whether they are appointed as under my proposal or as under the Bill. The hon. Gentleman has again drawn on the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in proposing that the House of Commons should ultimately be the appointing body for the independent reviewer.
Unusually, I think that I will find myself agreeing with the Minister. Whatever my views on a range of issues, I cannot accept amendment 6, because the post of the independent reviewer must ultimately be a Government appointment. It reports to and supplies information to Ministers, and it is ultimately funded by the Government to provide that information. It is crucial, however, that the post is independent of Ministers. It reports to them, provides them with information and is funded by them, but it ultimately acts independently of them. It advises them and can cause difficult issues for them, because of its independence. If the post was appointed and supported by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament, it would be in a very different position from an independent reviewer of legislation.
Lord Carlile was independent. Never once did he ask me for information that he could not access appropriately. Never once was he compromised by Ministers, of whatever hue, in relation to his jurisdiction and duties. He has provided a fair assessment of the operation of the legislation to date.
I hope that the Minister reflects positively on amendment 1. I suspect that he will not support amendments 6 to 10, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Cambridge, because the independence of the post is crucial. If we tie it to the Minister or to the House of Commons, we will betray that independence and do a disservice to the role. If the Minister cannot give me good news on amendment 1, I hope that he can encourage me generally on the appointment. I look forward, also, to hearing the hon. Member for Cambridge speak to his amendments.
Dr Huppert: I will speak briefly to amendments 6 to 10, which come from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I am privileged to serve. I agree with the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) that the key issue is the independence of the reviewer. The amendments seek to strengthen that independence, by ensuring that the reviewer is a creature not of Government, but of Parliament. Being nominated by Government and approved by Parliament would give the reviewer greater independence.
There is also a question of accountability. Who should hold accountability on behalf of the British public-Parliament or Government? Should the reviewer's report go directly to Parliament, or should there be the potential for it to be filtered by Government? Although I accept that that does not generally happen, there is the potential for it to happen.
Mr Hanson: I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider that Ministers are accountable to Parliament. I rose because of his use of the word filter. When I was the Minister with responsibility for policing and terrorism, not once did I change a single word of a reviewer's report to Parliament, even though such reports were produced ultimately by Ministers for this House. I do not expect that any other Minister would do so, because the independent reviewer would make a play of it and the relationship would be devalued tremendously.
Dr Huppert: Indeed, I was saying that I did not believe that that had ever happened, and I am grateful for the assurance that it never has. That shows exactly why amendment 6 makes sense. If no Minister would ever filter such reports, there should be no requirement for them to go through Ministers. That creates a potential filter that we hope will never be used. I hope that the Government simply agree with my position, so I will not labour the point. However, I doubt that the Minister will say that he agrees.
I will raise something that I mentioned on Second Reading, which might provide a compromise. As the Minister is aware, there is a recent precedent for Select Committees to approve independent appointments. That happened with the Office for Budget Responsibility and I hope that it will happen with other bodies. Perhaps the Minister will agree that it would be helpful for the reviewer to be confirmed by an appropriate Select Committee in a similar way, to ensure that there is certainty for Parliament as well as Government that the reviewer will perform their role properly and independently.
Mr Hoban: I did not know that we were going to proceed at such a quick pace this evening, although perhaps it is not as quick as you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and other colleagues might have hoped. I hope that we will not detain the House too much longer on the matters before us.
I will deal with amendments 6 to 10 first, before returning to amendment 1. As the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) pointed out, amendment 1 relates to a topic that gave rise to one of the longer debates in Committee.
The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) relate to the appointment of the independent reviewer and the terms by which he will report. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members will be aware that such amendments were debated at length during the Bill's passage in the other place and in Committee. As I said in Committee, the proposals are based on the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 that relate to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. That provides an effective and suitable model for the statutory independent asset-freezing reviewer.
Amendment 6 would require the independent reviewer to be approved by Parliament. I believe that the intention is to ensure that the reviewer is suitably independent of Government. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are fully committed to the independence of the reviewer. Independent oversight is an essential element of the safeguards that the coalition Government have introduced into the Bill, and it will be the principal objective of any appointment. I will touch on the recruitment process later.
We do not believe that it is necessary for Parliament to approve the independent reviewer. That would be a significant departure from standard practice. The appointment of the reviewer by Government reflects the long-standing principle of ministerial responsibility. It is Ministers who are accountable to Parliament and to the public for the people whom they appoint. Parliament will, of course, be able to scrutinise the work of the reviewer and to hold him or her to account through existing mechanisms-for example, through Select Committee scrutiny.
My hon. Friend proposed the compromise of a requirement that an appropriate Select Committee approve the appointment of the reviewer. The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General is due to meet the Liaison Committee shortly to discuss the pre-appointment hearing process. A decision to add new appointments to the list of posts subject to pre-appointment scrutiny may be announced as a result of that meeting.
Amendments 7, 8 and 9 would replace the independent reviewer's obligation to report to the Treasury and the Treasury's obligation to lay that report before Parliament with an obligation for the reviewer to report directly to Parliament. To draw a comparison, all the annual reports and ad hoc reports produced by Lord Carlile, the current independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, have been provided in the first instance to the Home Office to check that they do not inadvertently contain any classified material that cannot be published. Hon. Members will
recognise that asset freezing deals with sensitive and classified information. That is why the Government believe that a similar approach is appropriate.
The independent reviewer will have access to all relevant papers and evidence, including highly classified intelligence reports and, on occasion, material that is being considered as part of a separate criminal prosecution. It is important to ensure that published reports do not include classified or sub judice material, and Parliament could not undertake such a check. I reassure my hon. Friend that the Government will not seek to influence the outcome of any report. The reports will be provided to Parliament as quickly as possible after they have been delivered, and they will be available to the public.
Amendment 10 suggests that the appointment of the independent reviewer should be for five years, and that it should not be renewable. We do not believe it necessary or desirable to have a statutory limit on the length of time that a reviewer should remain in post. There might be valid reasons why someone wishes to step down at an earlier stage, but there might also be valid reasons why they wish to occupy the position for a longer period. They will build up significant experience and significant knowledge of how legislation works, and that will be invaluable.
It is important to take the opportunity to learn from the experience of the current reviewer and see how he feels the system should work. In the debate in the other place, Lord Carlile said about appointment procedures:
"As to the way in which the independent reviewer is appointed, I do not have any very strong views. Appointment by a Minister does not make the reviewer any less independent. Many public appointments have sprung surprises on government; for example, chief inspectors of prisons. Independence is in the way the person concerned operates."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 25 October 2010; Vol. 721, c. 1085.]
I notice that the right hon. Member for Delyn raises his eyebrows at the reference to the chief inspector of prisons-he clearly knows from his own experience how independent such people can be once they are appointed.
"I cannot imagine any circumstances in which any honourable person appointed to this role would be prepared to change their report at the behest of a Minister or civil servant for political reasons. It has never happened. It did not happen with any of the reviewers before I was appointed, it has not happened during my period of tenure, and I do not think it will happen with any successor I can foresee under the present or changed arrangements."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 25 October 2010; Vol. 721, c. 1086.]
It is essential that the independent review of the asset-freezing regime is robust, impartial and transparent, and we are satisfied that the provisions in the Bill regarding the appointment and operation of the reviewer are appropriate to achieve that. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge will not press his amendments.
Amendment 1, tabled by the right hon. Member for Delyn, would, as he said, ensure that whoever fulfilled the role of Home Office independent reviewer of terrorist legislation would also fulfil the role of independent reviewer of asset freezing. I shall provide the House
with an update on the Treasury's position on the appointment of an independent reviewer, but first I wish to set out why we do not support the amendment.
The Government do not accept that the independent reviewer for asset freezing must always be the same person as the Home Office counter-terrorism reviewer. Requiring them to be the same person would unnecessarily reduce flexibility, and could therefore constrain the Government's ability to appoint the best person to the post. There might be good reasons why, in a particular case, both roles could not be held by the same person. For example, the best qualified person for the job might simply not have the time to carry out both roles to the level required.
We have to remember that both roles are demanding and important. Counter-terrorism legislation is an expansive and complex area, and the issues raised concerning the balance between protecting security and protecting civil liberties are of fundamental importance. Moreover, individuals may well wish to combine their work as independent reviewers with other ongoing professional commitments. That is entirely reasonable, as long as it does not give rise to conflicts of interest. In the light of that, it would be wrong to say that we must only ever appoint somebody who can perform both roles. We need to retain flexibility and always look for the most suitable person to do the job.
We recognise, however, that there are good arguments for combining the two roles where it is possible and desirable to do so. That might produce greater consistency and coherence and better value for money, as the right hon. Member for Delyn said in Committee. As I have said, however, we need to consider the matter on a case-by-case basis and not just assume that combining the two roles is the only approach that can work.
I now turn to the current situation. Myofficials have been in close contact with Home Office and Cabinet Office officials to explore the matter further. There has also been an initial discussion with the incoming counter-terrorism reviewer, David Anderson, to explore whether he would be willing to be considered for the asset freezing reviewer post. Mr Anderson has indicated that he would be willing to take up the post were it to be offered to him, and that neither he nor the Treasury is aware of any impediment to his taking on the role were it to be offered.
At this stage, the Treasury has not made an offer of appointment to the role, and in our view it would be premature to do so. After all, the Bill is not yet law and the post does not yet exist. However, I reassure the House that the Treasury is considering all the relevant issues, including value for money and the interconnection of the two roles. The process of appointing a reviewer is on track, and the appointment will be made in plenty of time for the reviewer to prepare their first report, which is due nine months after the Bill comes into force. I hope that that update will reassure Members of the progress that the Treasury is making in filling the post, and of its recognition of the points made today about costs and the interconnection of the two roles. On that basis, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to withdraw his amendment.
I think I will take that as a sort of yes from the Minister about the principle behind the amendment, even though he is not accepting it. I feel
reassured by what he has said. He has been very fair in his assessment that there are synergies between the two roles and potential cost savings. An individual could undertake both roles, and from my experience the two posts may be reviewing a similar pool of people. I believe that progress has been made.
The Bill obviously needs Royal Assent very quickly, because of the expiry of the previous legislation. I urge the Minister to ensure that, upon his final approval of a person to review the operation of the Bill, he tables a written ministerial statement. The individual needs to be in post prior to the time set out in clause 31(2) for the production of the first set of reviews, which is nine months after part 1 comes into force. It is important for the House to have feedback on that, and that will keep the House informed, at least in part, of matters related to the other amendments in this group.
I start by thanking right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House for their participation on Second Reading, in Committee and now on Report, and for helping the Bill reach this stage. It has been given careful scrutiny, even though it has not been the most lengthy scrutiny process. The issues have been dealt with thoroughly both in Committee and on the Floor of the House.
We have considered very closely the civil liberties issues that have been raised in our debates and how best to address them without compromising national security. I am confident that the Bill strikes the right balance between protecting national security and protecting civil liberties, but it is right that we have considered carefully both in Committee and on Report amendments that would strike a different balance.
I am grateful for the Opposition's constructive approach. The Bill's genesis was legislation that they developed in the previous Parliament. We have taken that legislation forward and, I think, improved it by introducing additional safeguards to protect fundamental freedoms.
The Opposition could have extended the debate on these changes, had they so wished, but they did not do so. I recognise that the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) brought his experience to our debates. That helped to enlighten the scrutiny process. It is right that where there is agreement between Government and Opposition, we should make it clear that that is the case and co-operate in the national interest, in the same way as, when we were in opposition and faced with the Supreme Court judgment that triggered the Bill, we worked with the then Government to ensure that the temporary legislation reached the statute book quickly to maintain the security of our nation.
I think that we all recognise that the Bill is necessary to the United Kingdom's continued national security. We have seen again with the events in Sweden at the
weekend the threat posed by international terrorism. The Government must have the right tools to combat terrorism in the UK and overseas, and among those tools must be options to act preventively and to be able to disrupt terrorist plots in their planning stages. It is worth bearing in mind that the Bill covers assets in the UK but might relate to parties overseas. The most recent set of figures that I have shows that of the 57 freezing cases covered by this Bill, 25 of those involved are resident in the UK and the remainder are resident overseas. The most durable freezing orders are those that relate to people outside the UK. Of the 46 cases that are more than four years old, 31 relate to cases outside the UK. It is important to bear in mind that we must have the tools to combat terrorism wherever it happens.
One of the most effective ways of limiting terrorists' actions is to limit their ability to finance attacks, maintain their infrastructure, provide training, equipment and recruitment, and promote their message of hate. The UK's terrorist asset-freezing regime is an important and valuable tool. That is why there was cross-party support for the emergency legislation earlier this year and why I hope the House will unite behind the legislation today.
Let me reiterate some of the changes that have been made to make the Bill stronger and better. The Bill introduced in the other place was a significant improvement on the current regime. It included more targeted prohibitions to limit the impact of asset freezing on innocent third parties; a provision to ensure that, in accordance with a ruling in the European Court of Justice, the regime did not catch the payment of state benefits to the spouses or partners of designated persons and so did not have the draconian impact on family life that the Supreme Court was concerned about; and the establishment of an independent reviewer-something we talked about today and in Committee-to ensure that there is proper independent scrutiny of the asset-freezing regime.
Further safeguards were introduced by Members in the other place to raise the legal test for freezing assets for more than 30 days from reasonable suspicion to reasonable belief and to strengthen judicial oversight by ensuring that there is a full merits-based review of designation decisions. Combined, those important new safeguards will serve to make the asset-freezing regime significantly more proportionate and more transparent in its application, in addition to raising the legal threshold that must be met for a freeze to be imposed. However, I also believe that they are changes that will not undermine the effectiveness of the regime or risk the UK's continued compliance with international best practice. I welcome the endorsement that many Members have given the changes, both in this House and the other place.
In summary, I believe that the Bill we are considering for the final time today strikes the right balance between protecting public safety and protecting civil liberties, and that the balance we have struck commands widespread and cross-party consensus in Parliament. The Bill will put the UK's terrorist asset-freezing regime on a secure legislative footing and significantly improve it. We have made excellent progress against a tight deadline, and I am pleased to be able to commend the Bill to the House.
Mr Hanson: I simply want to say on behalf of the official Opposition that we welcome the Bill, which, as the Minister has said, had its genesis with the previous Government. Previous Treasury Ministers have worked with officials to develop a regime that is, in my view, about protecting civil liberties. We hear a lot about civil liberties in these debates, and the Bill is about protecting those liberties and protecting individuals' rights to live their lives without fear of terrorist attack. The terrorist asset-freezing regime that is in place and that will be in place once the Bill receives Royal Assent will help to develop still further the protections to ensure that those who wish to do harm to our society do not use such resources to do that harm.
The Bill has obviously been subject to great and detailed scrutiny, not just here but in the other place. It has also been scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As a House, we have considered the arguments put to us about several issues and we have ultimately decided that they do not hold merit. That is an important part of the process. The Bill leaves us with the full support of the Opposition. It will, I hope, provide greater safety for our community and help to ensure that we take action against those who use finance to undertake terrorist acts.
I am pleased that the Minister has given a strong indication that he will consider seriously the two roles of the reviewer. One is set out in clause 31 and the other-the reviewer of terrorist activity, who will soon be David Anderson, QC-is set out in previous legislation. There is merit in that synergy. Having heard what the Minister has said today, I wish the Bill well and the Opposition support it.
Dr Huppert: I have spoken on a number of issues already, so I shall be brief. I agree with the general sentiment that we must prevent terrorist activity and the funding that supports it. I would rather that we had seen a court-based system that was fair and safeguarded civil liberties in the ways that I tried to draw out, but I accept that that is not what we have. The system that I would like to see would provide the national security that we need while protecting the civil liberties that we deserve, but I accept that that is not the settled will of the House.
"Nothing done under this Chapter is to be treated as a breach of any restriction imposed by statute or otherwise."
Let me give the Minister a further chance to comment. Could he perhaps reassure me that that phrase is not intended to mean that the Human Rights Act 1998 and common law rights would not apply? That is one possible reading of it. I believe that that is not the intended meaning, so can he assure me that the Human Rights Act and common law will remain sovereign? If he wants to say that, I shall be delighted to let him intervene.
In the meantime, while the Minister reads the clause, let me reflect on what the Bill does. It is interesting to consider the scale of the problem. There was a statement from the Minister on 23 November about how many accounts had been frozen-a total of 205 accounts as of 30 September, containing less than £290,000. Although
terrorist activities can be carried out on relatively small sums of money, we should be clear with ourselves and with the public about the amounts that are involved. Of that £290,000, only £140,000 would be covered by the Bill, as it was covered by the predecessor legislation. That is a relatively small amount although it can, of course, have a large effect.
The Bill is not as good as it could be and that is a shame, but it is a lot better than its predecessors. I welcome that fact and the effort that the Government have made to accept amendments in the other place, if not here. I am happy to see it pass its Third Reading.
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The House was due to have the opportunity to discuss the Lords amendment to the Identity Documents Bill, but I understand that Mr Speaker will not allow that to happen because of the lack of a money resolution. Will we have any opportunity to debate what the Lords have said about the fairness of ensuring that those people who bought identity cards can have some compensation?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order, of which he gave me short advance notice. As will become apparent from what I am about to say, the next bit of business will give him his answer.
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