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House of Commons Hansard
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Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill (Allocation of Time)
08 February 2010
Volume 505

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I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill:

Timetable

1.–(1) Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at today’s sitting in accordance with the following provisions of this paragraph.

(2) Proceedings on Second Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order or at 8 pm (whichever is the earlier).

(3) Proceedings in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 10 pm.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

2. When the Bill has been read a second time—

(a) it shall (Notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order)) stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

3.–(1) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(2) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

5. On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

6. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single question in relation to those provisions.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

7.–(1) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

8.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 7.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair.

(3) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.

(6) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.

(7) As soon as the House has—

(a) agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment, or

(b) disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to,

the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown and relevant to the Lords Amendment.

Subsequent stages

9.–(1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(2) 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.

10.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 9.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair.

(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Reasons Committee

11.–(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chairman.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub paragraph (3), the Chairman shall—

(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair, and

(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.

Miscellaneous

12. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

13.–(1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

14. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

15.–(1) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

16.–(1) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

17. The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates)—

(a) at today’s sitting, or

(b) at any sitting at which Lords Amendments to the Bill are, or any further Message from the Lords is, to be considered, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

18.–(1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(2) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

19. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

20. The Speaker shall not adjourn the House at the sitting on the day on which the Bill is sent back to the House from the Lords until—

(a) any Message from the Lords on the Bill has been received;

(b) he has reported the Royal Assent to any Act agreed upon by both Houses.

As set out in my written ministerial statement of 5 February, the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill is being introduced as an urgent temporary measure to prevent assets from being unfrozen and returned to terror suspects as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision to quash the 2006 terrorism order without a stay. That decision had effect from 4 February.

The Government have had urgent discussions with the relevant banks following the Supreme Court’s decision not to grant a stay and those banks have confirmed that in the light of the Government’s decision to bring forward immediate legislation providing retrospective legal authority for them to continue existing freezes, no funds will be unfrozen as a result of the Supreme Court’s judgment.

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, but will she be good enough to tell us why, given the reports of the Newton Committee in 2001 and the Joint Committee in 2004, as well as the facts that the relevant litigation started in 2008, was in the Court of Appeal in October 2008 and came before the Supreme Court in October 2009, primary legislation was not put before the House long ago that could have been the subject of proper consultation and debate?

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We believe that we had strong grounds in law for introducing the secondary legislation under the United Nations Act 1946—and I should point out that the Court of Appeal agreed with us—so the matter is by no means clear-cut.

National security and public protection are priorities for the Government. We aim to ensure that there is no gap in the asset-freezing regime, that suspected terrorist funds cannot be diverted and used for terrorist purposes and that suspected terrorists do not get free access to the UK’s financial system. That is why we are moving this motion to ensure that there is rapid discussion of the Bill today, and I am sure that hon. Members will contribute to that debate. We consider it necessary for the UK’s national security to act swiftly to restore asset freezing on a temporary basis under primary legislation.

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My hon. Friend says that the banks have agreed to continue to freeze assets pending the passage of emergency legislation, so on what legal basis will they be freezing assets in that period?

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I take on board my hon. Friend’s point, but I remind him that we are debating a motion to set out the time in which we will discuss the Bill. It would be better to discuss the issue that he raises when we get to Second Reading, or Committee, if the motion is agreed to.

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I shall leave the detailed discussion of the Bill’s content to my more expert colleagues. I am concerned about the frequency with which we seem to be allocating time to expediting legislation on an emergency basis. Why do the Government increasingly feel that they have to rush things through? We have had a long time to discuss this issue, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has pointed out, but the Bill seems to have been jammed right up towards the end of the Session.

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Again, I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point, but, obviously, we are not in control of the Supreme Court’s timetable. If we are to debate the issue of proper scrutiny and the length of time given to the Bill, it would be better to get the motion passed so that we can get on with discussions about whether this is the right way of proceeding. The measure is a temporary one that would be used while we introduce permanent measures, with time for Parliament fully to scrutinise our proposals.

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Let me be clear from the outset: we shall not oppose the programme motion because the time spent doing so would eat into the time allowed for proper debate of the Bill, but the Minister must accept that the Bill is being rushed through today because the Government have failed to put in place a proper timetable in which proper primary legislation could be produced. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) rightly said that the Government have had plenty of notice regarding this matter: there have been repeated warnings to them about the basis on which the terrorist orders were being issued. Rather than rush through measures this afternoon, the Government could have acted earlier to ensure that there was a proper basis on which to make the orders.

We recognise, however, that the judgment that the Supreme Court issued on Thursday quashing the orders means that terrorists could have access to financial resources and the financial system, and that it is therefore vital that the Bill should complete its Commons stages today and receive Royal Assent as soon as possible. If the Bill is not enacted, terrorist suspects could have access to finances and could use them to facilitate terrorist acts. I think that we all agree that it would be better if we were not in this situation now and if the Government had read the warning signals clearly and introduced primary legislation sooner so that they would not be reduced to rushing through emergency measures today.

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I shall be brief and support the Minister in what she is trying to do. It is vital that the matter comes before the House, as it has done, as soon after the Supreme Court judgment as possible. Clearly, it could have been brought before the House on Friday, but it is much better that it should be before the House today in order to allow for proper scrutiny.

The motion deals solely with the allocation of time. If we deal with it quickly, all the proper points that have been raised by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and others as to why we are in this position can be addressed during the substantive debate. Of course we would like to know why this happened and why Parliament did not have an opportunity to vote on it previously, but I hope that we can make quick progress on the motion and have a proper debate on the substance.

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I wish that that argument were more persuasive, and that there was an opportunity during the substantive debate to cover these matters. However, the accelerated procedure is predicated entirely upon the lack of opportunity to deal with these matters earlier, and we must ask the Government why that is the case. I am deeply unhappy with the accelerated procedure unless there are very strong reasons for it.

No one wants criminal terrorists to be able to use money to support terrorist operations, so it is a seductive argument to suggest that we must push the Bill through, whatever its merits, in the shortest possible time in order to fill the lacuna. But the lacuna is of the Government’s making, and that is what they need to recognise.

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I am not disputing for one moment that we should scrutinise the Government and question them about why they have reached this position, but we had better get on with agreeing the motion so that we can spend appropriate time on the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman believes that the Bill must be passed today, he must accept that today will end at midnight, unless the Liberal Democrats have a way of extending it beyond midnight, so the quicker we get on to discussing the motion, the better.

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The right hon. Gentleman, who has been in the House many years, knows that parliamentary procedure allows us to extend a day indeterminately, if we so choose. Such is the Alice in Wonderland world in which we live. I do not propose to do so, but the Minister must respond to the fact that, as has been pointed out by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), that there have been a number of occasions when the procedures that underlie the Bill have been thrown into question, when the Government had the opportunity to act and chose not to. They chose not to act in the context of what they claim is an urgent requirement to have the legislation in place. I should have thought that a prudent Government who felt that that was the case would have introduced primary legislation at an earlier stage, as a belt-and-braces measure. They would not have waited for the Supreme Court to deliver its judgment. They would have put in place a properly debated, properly considered Bill in order to put the matter beyond doubt, and they have not done so.

The fast-track legislation justification in the explanatory notes is the key to the allocation of time motion. Under our procedures now, the Government are required to give answers to various questions about why we should accept the proposition. In response to the question,

“What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for Parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?”,

the Government simply say that this is the first opportunity since the quashing of the 2006 order. As we have heard, it was possible to address the issue before the Supreme Court made that judgment, but they chose not to do so.

In response to the question,

“To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?”

the Government state:

“In light of the pressing need to put in place primary legislation . . . the Treasury have not had an opportunity to consult external stakeholders specifically about the Bill.”

What an extraordinary thing not to have done if they knew that there was a possibility of having to introduce legislation.

A further justification is offered. In answer to the question,

“Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all of the issues in question?”

the Government state:

“No existing legislation is in place which would have the effect of saving temporarily the UN Terrorism Orders, or providing comparable powers to make asset freezes.”

I accept the first part of that contention—that there is nothing precisely based on the UN terrorism orders; but on the statute book there are certainly comparable powers to make asset freezes, because over the past few years the Government have inundated us with Acts that deal with precisely that problem. There is the Terrorism Act 2000, and the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, part 2 of which deals specifically with the making of freezing orders.

The Government’s case is undermined irrevocably by one Supreme Court judge, Lord Hope, who, in the judgment of Ahmed against the Government, said:

“Detailed provision is made in Schedule 3 for the content of freezing orders, including a system for the granting of licences authorising funds to be made available. Orders made under the Act are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure…and they cease to have effect after two years… To a large degree, the power to make freezing orders under this Act enables the Treasury to do what paras 1(d) and 2(d) of SCR 1373(2001) require. But it is more precisely worded, and it contains various safeguards.”

That is what the Treasury do not like—the fact that existing legislation contains the safeguards that Parliament felt appropriate. The Treasury therefore chooses not to use that—

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Order. Could I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking about the allocation of time? I am sure that there will be an opportunity for him to develop those arguments later.

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But, Madam Deputy Speaker, my point is precisely about the allocation of time, because it is precisely about the justification for the fast-track procedure that is stated quite clearly in the explanatory memorandum. The case for the fast-track procedure is that no other legislation is in place, yet Lord Hope in the Supreme Court makes it abundantly clear that other legislation is in place. He says:

“Yet the Treasury have, it seems, chosen not to make use of the powers given to them by this Act, preferring to use the general power under section 1 of the 1946 Act.”

He goes on to say:

“In my opinion the rule of law requires that the actions of the Treasury in this context be subjected to judicial scrutiny.”

That is a powerful judgment that fatally undermines the Government’s case that no other legislation will enable them to safeguard the national interest. They simply choose not to use what is already in place.

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Is my hon. Friend effectively saying that, when faced with the inconvenience of checks and balances on human rights, this Government prefer to declare an emergency, have a debate and try to sweep them away—in rather the same way that they had three goes at banning Brian Haw, who still happens to live in Parliament square?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right; he has got it in one. That is why the allocation of time motion is before us today. There is one abhorrent point in it, incidentally. Given the difficulties inherent in such legislation, and the Supreme Court’s judgment, I find it extraordinary that, if another place makes suggestions to us about how the legislation might be improved, all those amendments will be dealt with in one hour by this House. These matters strike at the fundamental liberties of citizens: by Executive decision, their assets can be frozen on the basis of suspicion. This House would not be doing its job properly if it were to accept that.

At the end of the day, the legislation is before us because the Government have been found to be acting ultra vires and failing to secure proper parliamentary approval. Other Commonwealth jurisdictions have had no problem in that respect: the Australian and New Zealand Governments had no problem in going back to their Parliaments and asking for their approval properly. However, the arrogance of this Government and, in particular, the Treasury means that they do not understand what Parliament is for, and they do not understand the proper scrutiny of Bills. That is why the motion is before us today, and I invite my right hon. and hon. colleagues to vote against it.

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I, too, rise to express my considerable anxiety at what we are doing.

First, I accept that we will have to enact the Bill today. Leaving aside the fact that the Government have a majority, the truth is that the Bill has to go through because we are where we are, but the Government’s conduct in this matter is wholly lamentable, and within the rules of order I wish to spell out why. First, the timetable provides for very brief discussion. All stages of this Bill have to be finished by 10 o’clock tonight. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made a good point about the Lords amendments as they are provided for in the timetable motion. Given that the Bill was published at the end of last week, those in the other place will have a little more time to reflect on what has happened, and I have no doubt that they will come forward with amendments. However, this House will be given only one hour to consider those amendments. That is wholly lamentable.

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Does it strike the right hon. and learned Gentleman as ironic that the Government want to rush this through in such a way that they could build in further failings in the legislation, which could be prevented if we had proper scrutiny? Once again, they are legislating in haste and allowing themselves the risk of repenting at leisure.

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Yes, I agree with that. Nor is it necessary, because the provisions of the Bill—I will not expand on those at the moment, Madam Deputy Speaker—enable previous Acts to be validated and declared legal, so we could take a more leisurely approach in the knowledge that if the banks refused to transfer money, they would be protected by the language of the statute that we will pass in due course.

The truth is that this House has had almost negligible time for consideration. The Bill was published on 5 February. It puts into primary legislation the language of the statutory instrument that attracted such serious criticism in the Supreme Court. Lord Hope said, in terms, that it was an affront to democracy—that it struck at the heart of democracy—and this House is being asked to echo those provisions by the end of today’s business. That is a scandal. It is no surprise, either, that Lord Hope should have been so concerned, because the freezing provisions in the 2006 order are very wide in their impact. Furthermore, the designation procedures whereby individuals are designated as persons caught by the provisions are not subject to any proper review. Anybody who supposes that judicial review is a proper remedy in this class of case is making a very serious mistake. Speaking of mistakes, the penalty for infringing the offences in the legislation that we will pass in three hours or so is seven years’ imprisonment, which is a very serious tariff.

One of the problems inherent in the timetable motion is the fact that right hon. and hon. Members have not had a chance to consider amendments. The Bill was published on 5 February—last Friday—and today is Monday. Sensible people do not set about drafting amendments until they have had an opportunity to consult. There can have been no consultations; it is therefore not surprising that there are so few amendments. What is more, none of the amendments deals with the central issue—whether there should be a proper judicial review or appeal process as to the scope of freezing orders or as to designation. That is not because such amendments are not required or justified in law—clearly, the Supreme Court was looking for precisely that class of amendment—but rather because this thing has been so rushed that right hon. and hon. Members have not had an opportunity to formulate them. That shows how dangerous this timetable motion is.

The Minister said, “Well, of course, until the last moment we were confident of winning in another place.” That is a lamentable approach to the matter. First, the issues were very grave and required primary legislation. Secondly, as I said in my intervention on the Minister—if she would be good enough to listen—Lord Newton of Braintree, who has had huge ministerial and other experience in this place and elsewhere, headed a committee that said, in terms, that legislation of this class should be primary legislation. That view was repeated in 2004 by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Let nobody say that the Government have been caught by surprise. They have known for a long time.

Furthermore, the litigation that gave rise to the Supreme Court judgment began in 2008, entered the Court of Appeal in October 2008 and reached the Supreme Court in October 2009. There was ample time to introduce primary legislation, or at least draft proposals, that could be consulted on among those with an interest in the matter. That was all the more necessary and important because the principal legislation involved is secondary legislation that never went through the parliamentary process. The measures had no Committee stage, Second Reading or Report, yet they will enable the Treasury on “reasonable suspicion” to designate a person, leaving them unable to deal with their financial affairs.

That is lamentable. The timetable motion will pass, I know, and the Bill will pass into the other place. In view of the timetable motion, I suspect that it will be largely unchanged when it returns. True, it has a sunset clause, but that expires at the end of this year, so for nearly 12 months, potentially unjust legislation will be on the statute book. That is the fault of this Government—arrogant, uncaring, undemocratic and smug. Happily, the general election is coming soon.

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I have listened with interest to hon. Members’ contributions on the motion. The main thrust of the arguments can be made on Second Reading and during debate on the clauses; I just want to put a couple of points on the record.

Our terrorist freezing Orders in Council were made in good faith. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Government on the matter in October 2008. I point out that one of the Supreme Court judges, Lord Brown, in the minority, considered that the United Nations Act 1946 gave the Treasury wide enough powers to draft the Al-Qaida and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 as it did.

I emphasise that the Bill will establish a temporary measure. We have published a longer Bill intended to undergo proper scrutiny; I am sure that one of the arguments that we will have this evening involves how much time people consider is enough for proper scrutiny.

I hesitate to contradict the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, but the powers under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 are not comparable. They can be used only against threats emanating from outside the UK, not domestic threats such as UK-based terrorists. With that, I hope that I can persuade him not to oppose the motion, which I commend to the House.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a Division.

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I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.

Division 72

8 February 2010

The House having divided:

Ayes: 376
Noes: 56

Question accordingly agreed to.

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