Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elton: Is that power dependent on the wish to interrupt the flow of cash and its availability to terrorists? If so, it is outwith the debate.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Where terrorist activity has been established, whether by an individual or whether there is a risk of it, various steps can be taken. We can freeze assets or reclaim other assets. They are all ways of getting financial control of individuals who have been identified as terrorists or who have been involved in terrorist activity. It is predicated on their being identified. I am sure that noble Lords would not wish us to be able to seize, take and otherwise deal—

Baroness Park of Monmouth: May I revert to the point made by my noble friend Lord Elton? Whatever else we may get from this extremely valuable discussion can we be assured that if there has not already been, there will now be a central review of all the organisations and targets that are known to be serviced by those two firms, so that the issue is looked at in the round from above, and not simply from the point of view of the MoD, the House of Commons or the House of Lords? That would be a major result from all this, which we are entitled to expect.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Baroness will know well from her own experience that I could not possibly comment on this case or on what has already been done. But the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has raised an important matter. We have had an opportunity to debate it and it is a matter of which the Government are fully aware. She has expressed her concerns with force and cogency and therefore, in addressing her issues, I can assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Park and Lady Cox, that these matters have excited the appropriate level of interest.

1.30 pm

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: In that case, can I refer the noble Baroness to something that she said earlier, on which I have been ruminating? I think that she said that the Government separated the possession of an asset from the active use of an asset. Of course, that does not work if one is talking about a 75 per cent shareholding in a company. Although one may not be doing anything active with it at the moment, with that sort of power one can put people in place as sleepers, if one likes, through the directors of the company who are controlled, and one can activate that at a moment's
20 Dec 2005 : Column 1663
notice. So in this review, which the noble Baroness assures us is taking place—or it may not be taking place, and she cannot tell us whether it is—I urge the Government simply to consider that controlling shareholdings of this kind cannot ever be regarded as dormant, especially when the person concerned increased his shareholding from 25 to 75 per cent at the time of 9/11 and he has an acute interest in the company.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have made it clear—and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, accepts—that it would be quite improper for me to say anything at all about the facts and the case that she has highlighted. However, I can say that one has to look at the integrity of the provisions that we have and consider whether they can meet the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness and whether we need to do more. I understand that that is the thrust of the noble Baroness's attempt to amend the Bill at this stage. I am very happy to address the thrust of her amendments and I hope to be able to give her a modicum of reassurance that her concerns have already been, and are being, adequately dealt with.

Lord Kingsland: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. It would seem that the acid test of the position put by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is this. Certain key infrastructural operations in this country are vital to our daily lives—power stations are one obvious example and there are others which are perhaps less obvious but, nevertheless, still crucial. The danger that we face from a company controlled by someone who is sympathetic to terrorism is that if that company, for example, wins a contractual bid which gives it access to a key part of our infrastructure, it can gain information from that access which would make it much easier for terrorists to take out that concern and therefore undermine our security.

The Committee needs to know whether the existing legislation is adequate to ensure that an opportunity would not be given to a company controlled by someone with terrorist intentions. That is the acid test of the amendment.

Lord Hylton: I should like to look at these matters much more generally than in terms of the two companies to which reference has been made. I fully agree that the amendment is no doubt defective and that it is probably wrong in proposing to use control orders as a mechanism for dealing with the problem identified. But that problem seems to be the great vulnerability of a wide range of sites. I shall give one example.

There was a recent serious fire in a fuel depot, which the media promptly hyped up into a risk of serious air pollution covering the whole London metropolitan area. Fortunately it did not come to that but, under different circumstances, it might have done. Therefore, how far does positive vetting of contractors' personnel, who already have access to these vulnerable sites, extend? How thorough is it?
20 Dec 2005 : Column 1664
Who is in charge of such positive vetting? No doubt the Government will say that, where it is a commercial site, the commercial operators of the site are responsible for their own vetting. But there are a large number of government sites in varying degrees of vulnerability, and surely the Government should put their own house in order and set a good example to the commercial and private sector. I look forward to any further information that we can be given.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I assure the noble Lord that in relation to the security of government sites appropriate measures are taken by the Government, and indeed have been taken by every government that went before us. The most vigorous attention is paid to our security, not least because of the sensitivities with which we now find ourselves and which we have been talking about throughout the passage of this Bill. Therefore, I assure noble Lords that the Government are as sensitive to our vulnerabilities as are various Members of the Committee.

I can also say to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that we understand the import of the noble Baroness's questions. But it is a difficult matter because the whole debate is predicated on certain assertions being made by and about certain individuals, which may or may not be true. If someone had been identified as a terrorist or as being involved in terrorist activity, it would be clear that under the legislation that we have there would be trenchant opportunities for us to intervene, to remove his property, to control his activities, and to ensure that he was disabled from getting the information and taking adventitious advantage of resources which would inure to the disadvantage and detriment of our country. However, where such persons carry out lawful activity, it is right that we should not be able to intervene or interfere in the proper exercise of that activity in a way that is disproportionate and unjustified. That is the balance that we have to make. But in terms of those involved in terrorist activities, the control orders and provisions made in this Bill would then bite.

So we have the ability to deal with matters under the Proceeds of Crime Act, as I have just described, and the 2001 Act. The Act also includes an obligation on the financial sector to report where there are reasonable grounds to suspect terrorist financing, and it gives us a power to freeze the assets at the start of an investigation, thus reducing the risk that funds will be used or moved.

Lord Elton: The noble Baroness said earlier that the amendment is not directed at the funding of terrorism but at the control of security. We have mentioned a particular case. If it is the availability of cash for terrorist purposes that triggers what the noble Baroness says is available—that is how she expressed it—that would not relate to this case. As we are discussing a case, that is relevant.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have said about six times now that I am not discussing this case, but I shall return to the facts and remind your Lordships what
20 Dec 2005 : Column 1665
I have already said on the powers that we have under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Section 1(4). We already have under the control orders an ability to prohibit the person's possession of specified things or articles, their use of specified services or specified facilities or their carrying on of specified activities, and restrictions in respect of their business. Those issues that we have under Section 1(4) enable us to control what an individual does with the assets that he has.

The reason why the use is important is that we need to be clear that the punitive obligations are in relation to the use, not the possession, of such an asset. We would have to look at the risk posed. Any of the control orders can be made in relation to controlling that identified risk.

The combination of the provisions we have under Section 1(4) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Terrorism Acts 2002 and 2001 gives us a broad spectrum of powers to enable us to control appropriately such assets and the use to which they are put by those identified as terrorists or the financers of terrorists. I have already dealt with the first part of the argument and simply seek to reassure noble Lords that we can freeze assets too, so as to ensure that they are not used.

I will repeat it if it assists noble Lords: the orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act can include gold, cash, deposits and securities—which include stocks, shares and debentures—and removing them from the control of those who have been identified under the Act as capable of having their property removed from them. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Elton, because I cannot say it more comprehensively.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page