House of Commons
Monday 8 February 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
In March last year, my predecessor commissioned the ACMD to provide advice on so-called legal highs or new psychoactive drugs. Following receipt of the council’s advice, we have banned a number of substances, including synthetic cannabinoids, such as Spice, benzylpiperazine and gamma-butyrolactone—BZP and GBL respectively. As a priority, I am now expecting advice from the ACMD on the cathinone group of drugs, including mephedrone.
Does the Home Secretary share my concern that the purveyors of those pernicious preparations can often be one step ahead of the authorities, either by reformulating the molecules slightly or by marketing them as, for example, plant food?
I do. That is why it is very important to get a generic classification, so that we can cover whole areas and not allow the manufacturers of those drugs to shift around. We can actually make illegal a whole range and classification of those drugs.
There is growing concern in north Wales over the increasing use of mephedrone, which as the Secretary of State knows is a substance related to ecstasy, and which is readily available on the internet, where it is marketed as plant food. Children as young as 14 years old are reported to be using it. He mentioned that he is expecting a report from the ACMD on the group of substances that includes mephedrone, but can he say when he expects to receive it?
Yes, I spoke to Professor Les Iversen, the new chair of the ACMD, last week. This is a priority for the council—an absolute priority. It expects to receive the advice on 22 February. Thereafter, it expects to make a decision in early March. It is a priority and the council is moving as quickly as it can, consistent—this is the point I made earlier—with trying to ensure that it deals not only with mephedrone, but the whole generic group, so we will not be fooled by the manufacturers’ shifting around.
As we consider substances in the cathinone group of chemicals—that includes khat, by the way, which is used by people from the horn of Africa—is there not a danger that, as we put more and more substances into the ABC classification, we merely displace the problem? There is an endless list of chemicals and natural products that chemists can supply on to the market. Is there not also a danger of displacing illicit drug users to using products in the legal market?
I accept that there may be a danger. That is why the ACMD is composed not only of scientists, but of others, including police officers, others from law enforcement agencies and so on. It is very important that I take the council’s advice, and its advice will be much wider than just the classification; it will also look at the kind of issues that my hon. Friend raises.
Professor Les Iversen, the interim chairman of the ACMD is quoted this morning as saying:
“It is a quite scary scenario”
that schoolchildren can buy legal highs such as mephedrone over the internet and take them freely. Professor Iversen wrote to the Home Secretary on 22 December advising that the selling of mephedrone in a form for which it is clearly unintended, as we have heard,
“could have serious public health implications”.
What action have the Government taken in response to Professor Iverson’s advice?
Professor Iversen’s advice is in the context of the work of the ACMD. His letter to me on 22 December pointed out that that is why this matter is the council’s priority. We will receive its advice and guidance before we take action. That is the correct sequence of events.
Student Visas (Fraud)
We introduced the points-based system for students in March 2009. We estimate that around 2,000 colleges have ceased offering courses to overseas students as a result. Our review of tier 4 is aimed to close down the consequential attempts to gain entry to the UK for non-student purposes.
Apart from language schools, colleges offering legitimate degree courses and other courses would be expected to have a high proportion of British nationals. The Home Secretary and his Ministers can almost certainly find many dubious, bogus colleges simply by investigating those with a surprisingly high number of foreign national students on their rolls. Why will they not do so?
We have done so, and we continue to do so. As I said, we estimate that around 2,000 colleges have had to withdraw courses for overseas students or close. Previously there was not a sponsored licence system. The great advantage of the points-based system is that we can now hold not just the student to account, but the sponsor too.
My understanding is that across the subcontinent, in places such as Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Nepal and New Delhi, the UK Border Agency has temporarily ceased processing tier 4 student applications because of the huge volume of work. When will reprocessing recommence?
My hon. Friend is right. Precisely because we have the new system, we can monitor where we think there might be abuse. We have had to suspend tier 4 applications in three such posts. We will reopen those posts for applications as soon as possible, and we intend to lay out the findings of the new review as soon as possible.
Back in November, the Minister said:
“We have clamped down on student visas now and we have a much better system.”
What has changed since then?
The hon. Gentleman is quick to criticise the points-based system. It is precisely because we can close down the bogus colleges, by having the sponsored licence system, that people who wish to abuse our hospitality then look for other methods to gain entry into the United Kingdom. He should know that controlling the borders is a constant campaign against those who wish to abuse our system. That is what we are doing, and I would welcome his support in that endeavour.
Three months ago the Minister said that
“we have a much better system.”
There will obviously be a suspicion that the Government are simply delivering pre-election rhetoric in an area where there are widespread concerns. Let me test the Minister on the substance of the proposals. Yesterday he announced that people on student visas will now be allowed to work only 10 hours a week, not 20. Can he tell the House how many students have been prosecuted for working more than 20 hours a week?
It is clear that the hon. Gentleman drafts his questions based on a press cuttings service. What he described is neither what we said nor what the press reported, but let me assume that it is, just for his benefit. The proposals relating to dependencies and work times are for those at sub-degree level, as has been urged on us by some people. However, I repeat: I would seriously ask him to support the Government in this endeavour, otherwise he will rightly be accused of being more interested in criticising us than in providing an immigration system. We closed down the bogus colleges—around 2,000 of them—but there are attempts by some with bad intentions towards our country to get around that, so we have had to review that again.
Criminal Offences (Repeal)
The Government keep all legislation under review.
I am most grateful for that thorough answer, but may I point out to the Minister that in the 19 criminal justice Acts introduced since 1997, 68 sections and 25 schedules have not yet been fully implemented, and that of the thousands of new criminal offences that have been introduced, many are ludicrous or unnecessary, such as offering for sale a game bird killed on Christmas day? When are the Government going to stop their knee-jerk reaction every time a problem arises—saying that a new law is required—and have a policy of removing unwanted and unnecessary legislation?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of the number of criminal justice Acts that this Government have introduced. Perhaps he would include among the pieces of legislation that he would wish us to review the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allows new evidence for serious crimes, and introduces new sentences for murder, sexual and violent offences, and DNA fingerprints, bringing 37 killers and 90 rapists to justice, or the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, which gives the power to close crack houses. The Liberals voted against both Bills at Third Reading. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would find a way to remove many of those provisions, because ultimately the record shows that the Liberals have been soft on crime.
I welcome the fact that in recent years up to 90,000 people have been charged with hate crime—crimes of racism and anti-Semitism, and attacks on gay people—with conviction rates of up to 80 per cent. That is making Britain a more decent and fairer place. I do wish that the Liberal Democrats would stop rubbishing efforts to bring a bit more justice to many areas where we have an unjust society.
Indeed. Every Liberal Democrat Member of the House has lower crime, more police officers and more resources to tackle crime than in 1997. The Bills—now Acts—that we have taken through the House have helped to contribute to that. On balance—on the Criminal Justice Act, on antisocial behaviour and on licensing, and in the Lib Dem freedom Bill—the Lib Dems have voted against all those measures.
Everybody is in favour of updating and modernising the law, but in answer to our parliamentary questions, we learn that the sheer number of new offences under this Government since 1997 is now more than 4,200, which is frankly staggering. Up to 2008, we were churning out 27 new offences a month; under this Prime Minister, the figure has now gone up to 33. Many merely replicate perfectly serviceable offences. What proposals is the Minister making to ensure that new offences do not duplicate those that are already on the statute book?
That is part of our overall general review. We want to see the police using effective legislation—for example, DNA recording for recordable offences, allowing the police to detain people who have been arrested for a recordable offence. That happened under legislation that the hon. Gentleman voted against, through which 37 killers and 90 rapists to date have been brought to court and are in prison as a result. That is the sort of legislation I believe in, but it is the sort of legislation that the Liberal Democrats have voted against.
The Minister really should not be making partisan points when, frankly, the degree of new legislation is plunging police officers, magistrates and other others who are forced to deal with it into considerable confusion. The Home Secretary and the Minister may know of a useful precedent in another common law country of Canada, where they have simplified the criminal law with a penal code. Does the Minister agree that that is a useful initiative for us to follow and will he commit the Government to looking at establishing a simple penal code for England and Wales?
The Government’s priority is cutting crime and making sure that we have sufficient powers to tackle it. I am sure that there is common consent across the House that legislation for parenting orders, fly-tipping, dispersal orders and closing crack houses are all useful. Again, the hon. Gentleman voted against them.
My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I speak regularly about security matters involving port security, as well as wider security issues. My officials also work closely with those in the Department for Transport.
Given that the Government have now given the green light for the privatisation of Dover and the other remaining UK trust ports, does the Home Secretary agree that a port like Milford Haven in my constituency, which controls access to 20 per cent. of the UK’s gas supplies and a quarter of the UK’s remaining oil refineries, is not a suitable candidate for privatisation and that ports that house critical national infrastructure should stay under national control?
I feel like signing up to this campaign. Unfortunately, it is not my responsibility, but that of the Secretary of State for Transport.
I welcome the steps taken by the Government in respect of body scanners at Manchester and Heathrow airport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what are necessary now are international standards to deal with international terrorism because although we can do the very best we can in this country—and, indeed, within the EU—if countries outside the EU do not raise their game, this will pose a real problem in dealing with international terrorism?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Incidentally, we are introducing scanners at Birmingham airport as well. The issue is an international one. That is why I was pleased at the progress made at Toledo when the EU Interior and Justice Ministers, together with Janet Napolitano, the American Secretary of State for Homeland Security, agreed on a way forward not just in relation to what we do extra-EU, but intra-EU as well. Issues such as providing information on passenger records must be as important for travellers within the EU as for those travelling outside it. That, together with measures on body scanners and other security matters, must be tackled on an international basis.
The Home Secretary always makes a lot, as he has just now, of the importance of embarkation controls on e-Borders when he talks about security at ports and airports. Will he confirm that the previous embarkation controls were dismantled by this Government? Yesterday, the Home Secretary said on the “Andrew Marr Show” that the previous Government “did away” with embarkation controls when, in fact, that happened on 16 March 1998 under the present Government. I have the written answer here with me. Will he confirm that he was misleading viewers yesterday and also that the full replacement system will not cover all our ports until 2014, giving us 16 years of unprotected borders?
The embarkation controls for most medium-sized airports and ports were abolished in 1994 under the previous Government. I believe I also said on the “Andrew Marr Show” that the previous Government were probably right to do so, in the sense that those embarkation controls were worth very little when it came to checking whether people were leaving the country. There was supposed to be a marrying up with the landing cards, but there was horrendous incompetence. What the Conservative Government failed to do was to introduce a replacement, which we have sought to do. As for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about 2014, 95 per cent. of e-Borders will be in place by 2011. The remaining 5 per cent. relate to the small ports and harbours, which will necessarily take longer. However, all air travel will be covered by 2011.
Police Officers (Criminal Records)
Police officers are expected to demonstrate the highest professional standards of behaviour. Information on the number of serving officers who have criminal records is not held centrally. Decisions on whether to employ an individual who has such a record are a matter for each individual force.
My spies tell me that hundreds of serving police officers have a criminal record. My question is about applicants with a criminal record, who can be rejected by the chief constable concerned without the chief constable giving reasons. Is there not a case for an appeal mechanism, perhaps to a police authority, for someone who desperately wants to become a police officer, has turned over a new leaf and is a completely reformed character?
The regulations for police applications are governed by the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008, which, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows, set out the conduct and standards of professional behaviour expected of police officers. Those hoping to join the service must declare on application whether they have any convictions or cautions, spent or otherwise. As my hon. Friend has said, the matter is one for the chief constable concerned. I am happy for police authorities to have roles on the issue, but ultimately it is for the local force to determine the seriousness of the offence concerned.
The Home Office and police keep the effectiveness of section 44 under constant review. The noble Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, also reviews the operation of section 44 and reports his findings to Parliament. I believe that section 44 remains an important tool in countering the threat of terrorism.
Since the police can use random stop-and-search powers to look for personal items such as cameras, and people can be stopped from photographing public buildings, are we not in danger of going back to what East Germany was like before the wall came down, when people could be arrested for photographing a bridge? As Parliament’s intentions in this respect are being exceeded, will the Government look again at the matter in order to maintain confidence between the public and police?
I believe that Parliament’s intentions are being met. We face a severe threat of potential terrorist activity. Every approval of section 44 powers is by a senior officer in the local police force, and is then subject to my approval as the Minister, and to independent review by the noble Lord Carlile. In London alone over the last year, we have seen a 40 per cent. increase in the use of section 44. It remains an important tool in stop and search, not least because it is a deterrent and can help to foil potential terrorist activity.
The Minister keeps referring to Lord Carlile, who has himself said that
“section 44 is being used far too often on a random basis without any reasoning behind its use”.
Both the Aberystwyth and Lichfield camera clubs have told me that people taking innocent photographs have been stopped in London. It is not good enough; when will it change?
I am sorry, but Lord Carlile, in his report on 2008, published last June, said that section 44 remains
“necessary and proportional to the continuing and serious risk of terrorism.”
This is a matter for operational judgments by the police. In the Crime and Security Bill Committee, the Opposition tabled an amendment to delete the whole of section 44, which would not be sound or viable. Section 44 serves a function and protects the public, and I hope that the Opposition will support its use.
As the Minister knows, the amendment concerned was a probing amendment to encourage debate on the matter. As he also well knows, the stop-and-search powers under section 44 have been falling into disrepute, given that 180,000 searches took place in 2008 under those powers. The Government’s failure to act has meant that Liberty and the judges are now acting for them. Uncertainty about what powers will be available to the police have hindered planning for the Olympic games, for example. That has created a substantial mess. Will the Minister apologise to those who will have to sort out that lamentable inheritance?
I will not apologise for the fact that we have a power that helps to protect people in the city of London—potentially—from severe terrorist activity. In the past year alone, there has been a 40 per cent. reduction in the use of stop-and-search powers in the Greater London area. The powers are strictly monitored, and they are used for a purpose. We will examine the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, and we are currently considering an appeal, but let us not get away from the fact that this is important legislation. It is being used properly, and I support its continued use.
Firearm and Shotgun Licences
In March 2009, 62 police officers were employed in the firearms and explosives functions in England and Wales, alongside 582 police staff of whom five were police community support officers.
I am sure that we are all very concerned about the scourge of gun crime in this country, but I wonder whether this expensive, bureaucratic paraphernalia does much to combat it. Can the Minister tell us exactly how many weapons used in crime have been legally registered?
The number of firearms offences has fallen in each of the last five years, partly because we have some of the tightest controls on legally held guns to prevent them from being used by criminals. It is true that legally held weapons are being stolen, and the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Shooting Sports Council are trying to establish what further advice is necessary.
Immigration System (Tier 4)
The review of tier 4 has made a number of recommendations, including the setting of a new minimum standard of English for those who wish to study at below degree level—including English language students—and measures to stop short-term students from bringing their dependants to the United Kingdom, to halve the amount of time for which students studying at below degree level can work, and to withdraw their dependants’ permission to work. We will present consequential rules shortly.
A leaked memo revealed that the Government had been warned by an immigration intelligence unit that tier 4 of the points-based system was “significantly weaker” than the system that preceded it. Does the Minister now accept that his Government introduced a system that was far too easy for bogus students and bogus colleges to exploit?
No, I do not, but I understand why the hon. Gentleman is worried if that leak is all that he has to go on. The report was not accurate. We have responded to the concerns expressed by our front-line staff, as we rightly should, but the information gathered by our officers misrepresented the position by suggesting that officers did not have enough powers. We are taking measures to give them more power, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured to learn that we are able to do that precisely because we established that system. In the past, there were no controls of this nature.
What is the Minister’s best estimate of the number of bogus students who are working more than the permitted number of hours in the black economy?
I take the issue very seriously, which is why we are seeking to tighten the regime, but I hope the hon. Gentleman accepts the logic of my answer. It is not possible to say how many bogus students are working above those limits, because, by definition, they are acting outside the regulations. We have, of course, been given estimates, and the best estimate is that the new tier 4 system prevented about 2,000 colleges from admitting overseas students. The action that we are taking is consequential to that, as we continue to engage in what is in effect a cat-and-mouse game with those who wish to abuse our hospitality.
Dos the Minister agree that points acquired for a course offer or a bank statement are no substitute for the judgment of an experienced immigration officer who has satisfied himself that an applicant is coming to the country only to study, will leave after completing his studies, and is not coming here to work?
I have always admired the hon. Gentleman’s common sense. The answer is yes, I do agree with him, but it is not a case of either/or. Of course the immigration official at port has powers, and we are seeking to enhance them. It is right for there to be checks on the finances—the availability of money for people to support themselves—but it is also right for officers, both in overseas posts and here, to be satisfied that an applicant is genuine. In that context, our biometric fingerprint visas and foreign national identity cards do a superb job.
Will the Minister give my constituents an assurance that their jobs are not under threat from legitimate immigration, and that he will be tough on bogus immigration?
Yes and yes. The system my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has put in place is a fantastic system. It says that we will allow people into the country under tier 2 where there are skills shortages, but also that in those skills shortage areas there must be training programmes for indigenous and local people, so that the jobs are also available to them.
The Minister will recall the debates we had last year about the two Patagonian women who wanted to come to Wales to learn Welsh. How will the imposition of a minimum level of English assist them and other people in their circumstances? Instead, it will make things 10 times worse, will it not?
The Government are fully aware of the importance of the cultural links between Wales and Patagonia. Indeed, if I was not previously aware of that, I am now, but I am afraid I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that however lovely the two girls were—and they were—we cannot waive the immigration rules just because he likes them. We have to have robust rules, and there is a consensus in the House—there was not one five years ago, but there is now—that English language is a desirable requirement for people who wish to immigrate into our country.
I am glad that the Minister has now worked out what he actually did announce yesterday. Let me probe him on that, therefore. The reality is that these announcements will only have any value if they are enforceable, so can he answer this question: how many students have been prosecuted for working more than the current 20-hour-a-week limit?
To be fair to me, I did not announce anything yesterday. Turning to the hon. Gentleman’s serious point, however, I do not have the figures for prosecutions in respect of the number of hours worked, but I will see whether I can provide them to the House as I am sure they are available. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not welcome these policy proposals, however. It is important that the system is not abused. If somebody is coming here to study for a genuine course, that should be facilitated given the importance, which I know he accepts, of overseas students to our economy in the short and long term. That should be the reason for entry, rather than so that, as an indirect consequence, people are in fact coming here to work, which undermines the points-based system that I think both he and I support.
The Government are working with a number of agencies to tackle identify fraud and advise the public. This is coupled with our continuing roll-out of identity cards and, in future, modern passports, to provide people with a highly secure means of protecting and proving their identity.
I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. A national identity fraud prevention week study found that more than 59,000 criminal acts of impersonation were recorded in the first nine months of 2009, a 36 per cent. increase on the figure for the same period of 2008. Will my hon. Friend take whatever steps are necessary to make the public aware of these fraudsters, and what legislation can she bring forward to ensure that people are protected?
We have no intention of introducing any further legislation because we believe we have the tools in law to deal with this issue, and we already have the identity fraud communications awareness group, a multi-agency group that works to highlight the challenges of identity fraud. I should also reiterate my point that we are rolling out a programme of more secure identity cards and passports, which will enable citizens to protect themselves against this form of crime.
Identity cards will not help people to protect themselves against fraud on the internet. I chair the all-party group on identity fraud, so I am aware that identity fraud is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world. Does the Minister believe that financial institutions have a responsibility to make their customers aware of phishing attacks, boiler room fraud and other sorts of ID fraud so that they can better protect themselves?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on leading some of the work on this matter as chair of the all-party group on identity fraud, and I agree with him that online fraud is a big problem. However, I disagree with him on other things, because ID cards can be a major way of tackling such fraud. In Germany and Belgium, ID cards are often used as a way of proving age online, and that in itself can help to prevent certain fraudulent transactions. Proving identity online can be a way of helping to tackle identity fraud in that area.
The MPs’ visa inquiry line was merged on 4 January with the UK Border Agency’s main MPs’ inquiry line to provide a single point of contact for hon. Members to inquire about constituency cases.
I understand the theory that having a single point of contact is a good idea, but what seems to be happening in practice is that the inquiry line cannot answer any questions about visas so they go to the MP account manager, who then takes the matter up with the visa inquiry line people—and thus we go round in a circle. As a result, it is taking far longer to get replies and far longer for us to be able to respond to inquiries from constituents.
I am aware that a number of hon. Members used to contact posts direct, but that caused some difficulties because not all overseas posts had a dedicated visa inquiry line. That meant that a visa officer might often not have been available to take calls; it diverted visa officers from dealing with the cases in time; and it meant that they might have had to take certain things out of the queue. It is important that we have a fair access system, so I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend about his experiences, as a very assiduous constituency MP, in this matter. I am happy to arrange a meeting with him to discuss any particularly problematic cases.
UK Border Agency
UKBA continues to build on our achievements of the past few years, bringing together customs and immigration functions, as well as visa services, here and overseas. UKBA has made strong progress in improving performance. That has included a significant increase in the number of removals of the most harmful foreign criminals, the speeding up of the rate at which we deal with asylum cases, and the introduction of screening of passenger movements into and out of the UK, which has resulted in more than 5,100 arrests.
Three years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs produced a hard-hitting report, containing serious recommendations, on the agency’s predecessor organisation. It is with great dismay that those of us involved in that report have recently learned of 40,000 cases that remain unresolved. In addition, the current Home Affairs Committee has produced a good report stating that
“the agency still has a long way to go before it is operating as efficiently and effectively as it needs to do.”
Why, with these failings still in place, does the agency feel it necessary to pay out nearly £300,000 in bonuses to its employees?
The hon. Gentleman’s point is unfair. As I have explained to the Select Committee, whose Chair is in his place today, the 40,000 cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers are part of the process of getting rid of the backlog and archiving those cases. This is being done precisely to show that we can deal comprehensively with all those backlog cases. As I have said, significant improvements have been made in all the main target areas—asylum processing; removals; border controls; and arrests at the border—as well as in dealing with the legacy cases, with which the Select Committee has been concerned. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the big picture is one of significant improvement.
Of course UKBA needs support, so has the Minister considered employing troops who have been injured, thus giving them a purpose in life? Has he considered whether we should have talks about the establishment of a border force regiment to stop our borders being porous?
My hon. Friend has raised this issue before and has written a detailed letter about it, and I see value in his proposal. Of course these people could bring many attributes to not only our border control but our immigration processes, which is why I have agreed to consider his suggestion.
A few moments ago, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), the Minister said that he believed in the discretion of immigration officers in dealing with applications for student visas. Will he tell us what proportion of applicants for student visas are seen by an immigration officer before they arrive?
I accept the point behind the hon. Gentleman’s question, but he is confusing two issues. There is the issuing of the visa in the overseas post—of course we see all applicants because we take their fingerprints, and identity fraud is, of course, critical—and there is then the matter, to which his question relates, of the discretion of the border officers at the airport or port. I think the hon. Gentleman agrees that officers should not be able to make a decision without any criteria. There have to be reasonable grounds for suspicion, because the decision could be challenged. We are trying to get the balance right. I think that I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have responded to the concerns of the immigration officers.
The number of young people stating that they had consumed alcohol in the previous week is down from 26 per cent. in 2001 to 18 per cent. in 2008. However, those who do drink are consuming much more. The steps we have taken include publishing the youth alcohol action plan, commissioning the chief medical officer’s guidance on alcohol consumption and providing £1.5 million in priority areas to tackle under-age sales and to confiscate alcohol from under-18s. We have also run communication campaigns to tell people what action is being taken to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder in their local area. The legal requirement on those selling alcohol to seek age verification is an important element of the mandatory code that will come into effect later this year.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he say what discussions he has had in order to implement what he has just outlined with licensing authorities or local authorities as regards the licensing of small stores in neighbourhoods where there are large numbers of young people roaming about at night?
We have had discussions with the sector over many months. Of course, we are moving from a voluntary code, which has not worked, to a mandatory code. The views of everyone concerned are being taken into account. A small but significant group of irresponsible corner shop owners and so on thrive on the fact that the responsible part of the sector has age verification rules at the moment and takes action to try to cut down these problems. That can mean that the problem sometimes migrates to the smaller stores. We are talking to the sector, to the industry and to licensees, and that will be shown in the success of the code.
I thank the Government for what they have done in taking this issue seriously. Does the Secretary of State accept that it is always right for the police to involve parents, where possible, when under-age young people are caught in possession of alcohol in public? Does he accept that my private Member’s Bill, which became the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, makes that a requirement?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for pushing for this over a long period of time. Of course, the Policing and Crime Act 2009 will allow the police to confiscate alcohol without having to go through the difficult and convoluted process of having to prove that the youngster concerned intended to drink that alcohol. It can be confiscated without taking those measures. That and a number of other important initiatives that are being introduced as part of that Act will make an enormous contribution.
Alcohol-related violent crime has fallen by a third since 1997, and the 2008 review of the Licensing Act 2003 found that serious violent crime at night was down 5 per cent. since its introduction.
The alcohol provisions in the Policing and Crime Act were introduced on 29 January, including greater powers to tackle irresponsible drinking. Our £1.5 million cash injection into priority areas will include funding for an information campaign to tell people what action is being taken to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder in their local area.
I warmly welcome the implementation of the code to which my right hon. Friend referred in his answer to the previous question. The price of alcohol is going down in Northampton, where it is targeted at students, from £1.50 a pint and 50p a shot, so will my right hon. Friend say whether he will consider the introduction of a minimum price to provide a floor below which the cost of alcohol cannot go?
I see that there is Back-Bench support for this. We have been looking at this issue for some time, and the important first step is to get evidence to show that we can link increasing violence to it, and that we can link health issues to the pricing of alcohol. We know that those things are down to alcohol, but is pricing a mechanism that can be used to help the problem? We commissioned the university of Sheffield to provide the most comprehensive study yet of this issue, and we are still examining that report before coming to a conclusion.
Does the Home Secretary accept that under-age drinking, particularly of alcohol that has been bought in supermarkets and other stores, and antisocial behaviour are rising in market towns such as Thirsk? Will he therefore consider adopting a radical strategy to prevent that sort of under-age drinking from leading to antisocial behaviour?
Such behaviour may well be rising in towns such as Thirsk. I have quoted the British crime survey figures which show that alcohol-fuelled violence is down. Consumption by young people is also down; the problem is binge drinking—the hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to that—and the problems that it can cause. I believe that one of the answers for towns such as Thirsk is the so-called Cardiff model, which can be replicated in smaller towns. Under that model, the police, licensees, the local authority and the national health service get together to tackle these issues. In the first year that the model was used in Cardiff, there was a 60 per cent. reduction in the amount of crime associated with violence on Friday and Saturday nights. Part of that was to do with the introduction of polycarbonate glasses, but there is a whole range of measures that can be brought to bear if the police are helped by local authorities, the NHS and other agencies in tackling these problems.
In keeping with my departmental responsibilities, I am pleased to announce that, from today, young people aged 16 to 24 who live in Greater London can enrol for a national identity card. Our call centre is taking hundreds of calls a day from members of the public who are keen to get a card, and thousands of application packs have already been requested since the cards were officially launched in November 2009.
On 14 December, here, the Home Secretary pledged to address how plain-clothed police officers should react in public protests. In contrast, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on these matters has said that she will not issue guidance because officers should not be deployed in that way, thereby neglecting the fact that 25 such officers were deployed by the City of London police at the G20 protest. Who leads on this issue: the Home Secretary or ACPO?
We have asked ACPO to produce guidance as part of our response to the White Paper of December last year. ACPO is producing guidance that will come before Ministers shortly, of which a key criterion will be that all officers who take part in such activities should be identified by a number. The guidance will be produced shortly.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is one thing for the Conservatives to oppose the ID cards that they supported on Second Reading in December 2004 and that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) also privately supported in a ten-minute Bill in 2002—it is one thing for them suddenly to flip-flop on that—but it is another thing completely for them to say that one can have a biometric passport, which they support, without a national identity register. That is complete and utter nonsense.
I am tempted to say it is OK if the prisoners vote Labour. Happily, this is a matter for the Ministry of Justice, on which the Home Office does not yet have a view.
My hon. Friend will know that there has been a redeployment of officers to his constituency and there are still record numbers of police officers in Nottinghamshire. The inspectorate is undertaking a capability review, which I expect to be completed within the next four or five weeks. It will give a view on the potential for future policing of Nottinghamshire.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from the Kingsnorth incident, and Kent police are looking at those. One of the wider issues has been the policing of protests generally. That is why, in the White Paper before Christmas, we indicated strongly that we needed to examine the issue, draw up guidance, and work with ACPO and authorities to do so. We are in the process of completing that guidance, which I hope to bring before the House after the general election.
The Minister will understand that I take a particular interest in the effectiveness and efficiency of the Home Office and its administration. In the light of the recent capability review, may I extend my congratulations to all those in the Home Office who have brought about such improvements in recent years, particularly in immigration, borders and the treatment of asylum cases, including the backlog? Will he extend the congratulations of the House on the efforts that have been made by the staff in the Home Office?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. For everybody working in the Home Office—all the people who went through a period when, if I remember the description that my right hon. Friend gave, it was probably less than perfect—to come from that capability review, which placed the Home Office, I believe, second from the bottom of all Whitehall Departments to second from the top, is an enormous tribute. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for laying some of the foundations upon which we are now able to build in the Home Office.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman was reading such a document on the train. I suggest he reads the Daily Mirror in future. He will see in that newspaper this morning that the crime figures are down. Part of the reason for that is the success that we have had in removing foreign national prisoners. We are doing so at record levels. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminds me that the hon. Gentleman’s party opposed the measures by which we are doing that, so I hope the hon. Gentleman changes his reading habits.
When my right hon. Friend first took over as Secretary of State for the Home Department, I asked him whether he would consider banning mosquito devices, which send out high-pitched sounds which are very uncomfortable for children and young people. They are so effective and so uncomfortable for children and young people that they are often used to disperse them. If that were any other group, we would cry, “Discrimination!” Now that my right hon. Friend has had a chance to look at mosquito devices, will he ban them?
My hon. Friend is right. I remember well how she stumped me at my first Question Time, because I knew absolutely nothing about what she was saying. That is not uncommon for me, but I have since looked into the matter. There is evidence that shows that such devices can be helpful in the circumstances that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) described in Thirsk, for instance, where people feel that a congregation of rowdy young people is adversely affecting their quality of life. Where other systems to talk to those young people have not worked, those devices can assist the situation. Of course, there are health and safety aspects and the devices have to be used carefully, but I am afraid I am committed to using any device—or rather, devices that do not involve cruel and unusual punishments, but which bring about the improvement in behaviour that we all seek.
We are having a lot of discussions with the bodies that represent small yachtsmen, and with yachtsmen themselves. I am dealing with a lot of correspondence on the matter—[Interruption.] I mean people sailing small yachts; I do not mind about the size of the yachtsmen or, indeed, yachtswomen. We continue to look at the matter, because the idea is that e-Borders should not be over-burdensome but do its job and ensure that people meaning harm to this country do not reach our shores.
Police dogs in Yorkshire are entitled to anti-stab vests, yet police community support officers in West Bromwich are not. The Minister knows that procurement is devolved to a regional level, but will he remind the chief constable of the west midlands that the region is now only one of two with police authorities that refuse to issue anti-stab vests to PCSOs?
My hon. Friend has assiduously raised that issue on several occasions, and he will know that ACPO is re-examining the guidance on anti-stab vests for police forces. As he said, only two forces do not issue them. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to look at the matter, and I shall certainly draw his remarks again to the attention of the chief constable.
With respect, I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman with the exact figure. The UK Border Agency chief executive is writing to the Home Affairs Committee—this week, I think—about the current situation. We are now dealing with 60 per cent. of asylum claims within six months, and we have the lowest level of asylum applications since 1993, so good progress is being made.
Some foreign nationals in the UK already have to obtain biometric cards and, I think, pay for them. What advice will the Minister give to a constituent of mine who, when her credit card was stolen and she went to the bank to sort it out, was told that her biometric ID card was not proof of identity?
I shall be very keen to look up that case, because we have had the occasional instance of an ID card not being recognised. In every case so far, however, the relevant national body has said that it recognises the card as a matter of policy but an individual member of staff has, unfortunately, not been aware of that fact. We are working to get publicity out there, and we will continue to do so.
What is the result of the Minister’s review of immigration policy, which was promised in the Adjournment debate on the Floor of the House on 7 December? We hope that the review will mean that asylum seekers who want to make further representations will not have to go to Liverpool to make their case, even if they have no money to make their case, but will be able to go to their regional office. The Minister indicated that he was sympathetic to that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question and for his persistence in getting it in just at the end of today’s session. We did have a very important debate, which I have pondered, and we have established exceptional criteria for those unable to travel, while maintaining the integrity of the scheme.
The Forensic Science Service centre in Chorley is proposed for closure. I was led to believe that the chief constable of Lancashire police had been reassured about the decision and was happy with it. That is not the case: the police are very concerned about urgent casework not being solved, and about where the scientists will be when it comes to future crime. So we have been misled. What is the answer?
I do not believe that anyone has been misled in this regard. People were consulted over the transformation programme. It is important that the FSS undergoes this change in order that we secure the remaining sites. The work that will be undertaken on those sites is a very important part of fighting crime. The transformation process is absolutely essential.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), some people are stockpiling high levels of “legal high” substances in anticipation of their being banned so that they can sell them on for a profit. What are the Government doing to stop this?
As I said earlier, the first step is to take the advice of the ACMD. The second step is to implement that advice as quickly as we can after consultation. The third step, once those drugs are illegal, and once we have a generic classification, is to deal with the people who are then in breach of the law.
I wish to make a statement to the House about the application of the sub judice rule.
Once criminal proceedings are active by a charge having been made, cases before the courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question. The House will be aware that charges have been made against three Members of the House and that therefore the sub judice rule applies to their cases. The matter is therefore before the courts, and the House and Members would not wish to interfere with the judicial process, risk affecting the fairness of a criminal trial or, furthermore, prevent such a trial taking place.
Devolution (Northern Ireland)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wanted to report to the House at the earliest opportunity on the agreement reached at Hillsborough castle between the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, and which we and the Irish Government fully support. This agreement will lead to the completion of devolution of power in Northern Ireland. I want also to report on the accompanying arrangements that Parliament will need to make to enable devolution to be completed.
I am making this statement conscious that General de Chastelain has today announced that the Irish National Liberation Army—responsible for more than 110 deaths during the troubles—and the official IRA have decommissioned their weapons. I have also just been informed that the last loyalist organisation, the South-East Antrim Ulster Defence Association, has this afternoon just completed its decommissioning. I think that the House will want to record our thanks to the international commission, which has now overseen decommissioning by the UDA, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Provisional IRA, and now the INLA and the official IRA—a central part of the process of moving Northern Ireland from violence to peace.
In 1998, with the signing of the Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland opened a new chapter in the peace process. The St. Andrews agreement marked the next step forward. Now, we have reached a significant and defining moment. Each of the Northern Ireland agreements since 1998 has had a different basis on which it was reached. The Good Friday agreement was an agreement between the participants to the talks, including the two Governments. St. Andrews was an agreement between the two Governments, later endorsed by the parties through their participation in the newly elected Assembly. The Hillsborough castle agreement—the final stage of the journey to completing devolution—was reached between the two parties which are the largest in the Assembly following the 2007 elections. The agreement was the outcome of many hours of talks, consultations and plenary meetings involving all the Assembly parties, and we should be in no doubt about its significance. Without this agreement, the work done at St. Andrews and Belfast could not have been moved forward. Without the completion of devolution, the whole process of devolution and the peace process itself would be at risk. So this agreement is essential to securing the future, because in turn it will also bring stability, investment, and jobs.
For decades, conflicts over institutions have dominated the politics of Northern Ireland. Even in the past two years, a failure to agree on the devolution of policing and justice has cast a shadow over Northern Ireland’s politics. When the cross-community vote takes place on 9 March and the parties request the transfer of powers, Northern Ireland’s politicians will, by 12 April, have full control over their Government and be able to focus on the economy, on jobs, housing and public services and, of course, on policing and justice. With this agreement, communities once locked in the most bitter of struggles are choosing to be bound together in a shared future with a common destiny. It must be in a spirit of partnership.
None of that could have been achieved without close working with the Irish Government. I know that the whole House will want to pay tribute to the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen; the Irish Foreign Minister, Michael Martin; and the Taoiseach’s predecessors, Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds. Nor could it have been achieved without the continued and unstinting support of the American Government and Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. I especially thank Secretary of State Clinton for her generous support in the last few months.
The agreement is the conclusion of a process. The House will want to record its thanks to Tony Blair for his work and to John Major before him, as well as to previous Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, some of whom are with us this afternoon. I want to record my personal thanks to them, to the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and to his Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) for the time that they spent in detailed negotiations. I thank them all for their patience, resilience and wisdom.
Two weeks ago, the Taoiseach and I joined the parties for part of the negotiations in Hillsborough. There has been comment about the amount of time needed to reach the agreement. We should recognise that the talks were demanding because they went to the very core of Northern Ireland’s shared future, but implicit in the agreement that Sinn Fein and the DUP have now reached and there for all to support is an even greater prize—that the parties seize this opportunity together to build a new trust in a fresh spirit of respect, co-operation and understanding.
It is my view that the agreement represents a reasonable concord to put differences to one side and enter a better shared future in a spirit of good will. Four crucial breakthroughs have been made. First, the parties have resolved the outstanding issues on the transfer of policing and justice powers and agreed a timetable for the completion of the final stage of devolution. Following cross-community consultation, the First and Deputy First Ministers will jointly table a resolution seeking a transfer of policing and justice powers by means of a cross-community vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly four weeks from tomorrow, on 9 March, for devolution to occur on 12 April. This Parliament will then be asked to approve the necessary transfer orders so that devolution can occur on that date.
Secondly, the parties have agreed how the devolution of policing and justice will work in practice and, in particular, how the relationship between the Justice Minister and the Executive will work.
Thirdly, the parties have committed to a new and improved framework for regulating and adjudicating parades, which will maximise cross-community support. At its core is a commitment to ensuring local dialogue, transparency and mediation, as well as specific proposals for dealing with contentious parades. The First and Deputy First Ministers will set up a co-chaired working party to take forward that work, and legislation on the agreed outcomes will be completed in the Northern Ireland Assembly before the end of this year.
Fourthly, the agreement proposes to address how devolved Government could work better in Northern Ireland. In the talks, all parties raised the issue of the need for greater efficiency, transparency and inclusiveness. It is clear from the agreement that that was firmly recognised. The First and Deputy First Ministers have proposed three very important working groups at Executive level, which will begin work immediately. I am pleased that the First Minister is in the House today while we are discussing it.
The first working group will consider how the Executive might function better and how delivery might be improved. The two others will deal with all outstanding Executive business and make recommendations on how progress can be made on all matters outstanding from the St. Andrews agreement.
The House will know that last October, I sent all party leaders in Northern Ireland the proposals for a financial settlement worth an additional £800 million to underpin the new Department of Justice, available only if and when the parties decided to take the historic step of requesting the transfer of policing and justice powers. All the details have been studied by the Assembly and Executive Review Committee. The financial settlement will ensure stability for the new Department, enabling it to deal with the issues outstanding from the troubles and current security needs. I am sure that the House wishes to ensure that in reaching such an agreement, the Department has the stability and resources to complete the Patten proposals on policing and meet the unique pressure of Northern Ireland’s past and present security needs.
Taken together, those parts of the agreement will lead to a better functioning Northern Ireland Executive who are better able to focus on growth, jobs, public services and, of course, law and order. I believe that our duty now is to do all we can to encourage the parties to support and give effect to this agreement. Subject to the cross-community vote on 9 March, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister have now agreed to support an accelerated passage for the budget Bill and any related Assembly steps to ensure devolution of powers by 12 April.
Too many lives have been lost in Northern Ireland. Just a few weeks ago dissident republicans tried to murder a police officer, Constable Heffron. They did not succeed, but he was very badly injured. There have been significantly more attacks in the last 12 months than in any recent year. Indeed, just 12 months ago the House will record with sadness the murders of two brave young soldiers, and on 9 March last year criminals also murdered a brave Police Service of Northern Ireland officer, Stevie Carroll.
The Independent Monitoring Commission report at the end of last year was clear: early devolution would be a potent intervention on the activity of the dissidents. So the decisions made in the last few days are the most powerful signal we can send to those who chose violence over politics. I hope that the whole House will join with me in sending an unequivocal message to those who would defy the will of the people: that the politics of peaceful change must irrevocably succeed in Northern Ireland, and it must overcome whatever obstacles are put in its way.
The next stage is to show that this new stability can bring results in jobs and prosperity. So I am grateful that Secretary of State Clinton has immediately announced her invitation to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to meet her and the US economic envoy, Declan Kelly, to see how together the UK, Irish and American Governments can together accelerate all options for encouraging new inward investment and jobs into Northern Ireland.
The peace process has taken men and women of courage, who were prepared to set the past aside in the service of the future. The peace of Northern Ireland and its future stability asks that we all put the interests of all its people above the interest of party. We have a proud record in this House of all-party support for the peace process. Today, it is important that we not only support the principle, but the dates in the agreement. Upon all of us falls the responsibility to make this work. Together we should complete the process of giving the government of Northern Ireland to the people of Northern Ireland. For with policing and justice in the hands of the Northern Ireland Executive, the future of Northern Ireland is finally and truly in the hands of its people. I commend this statement to the House.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? We support devolution in Northern Ireland and we welcome the agreement reached between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein. May I start by congratulating the British and Irish Governments and, in particular, the Prime Minister on their determination in helping to bring that agreement about?
As the Prime Minister will know, we have always been in favour in principle of policing and justice powers being devolved to the power-sharing Administration at Stormont. That is why we backed the legislation last year, that is why we will honour the financial package contained in the agreement, and that is why we released a statement immediately on Friday—a statement welcomed by the Northern Ireland Secretary.
Our overriding objective has always been, and always will be, to create a peaceful, prosperous and stable Northern Ireland in which all parts of the community have a shared future. For however long we have to sit on this side of the House, the Prime Minister will always have our fullest support in securing those objectives.
There has been much talk over the past three days of “a new chapter” and of the political process “coming of age”. Does the Prime Minister agree with the First and Deputy First Ministers that there can be no going back? Does not the evil and cowardly attack on Constable Heffron in Randalstown last month, which the Prime Minister mentioned, more than demonstrate the dangers of that? No one should doubt how far we have come. We stand here with the name of Airey Neave, the first MP I remember, emblazoned above that door. He was murdered by the INLA just yards from where we are standing. As the Prime Minister said, General de Chastelain today announced that the INLA has decommissioned its weapons. That is how far we have come.
While the agreement is welcome, does the Prime Minister agree that there are a number of areas that require clarification? These are the position of the Chief Constable; timetables; parading; and some outstanding issues from St. Andrews. Let me take each of these in turn.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the most fundamental principles in devolving policing and justice are the continued independence of the judiciary and the operational independence of the Chief Constable for policing? Of course, both are already enshrined in the law, and they are reiterated in the agreement. However, the usual formulation, “operational independence”, has become “operational responsibility”. Is there any significance to that change?
On timetables, the agreement proposes the transfer of policing and justice powers, as the Prime Minister said, on 12 April this year. As I understand it, under current legislation the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, which would of course then be responsible for those matters, is due to be dissolved on 1 May 2012 unless there is an agreement on its replacement. Does that not mean that there is a risk of there being another set of very difficult negotiations unless we can resolve that now?
On parading, the commission established by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is given just three weeks from 9 February to come forward with agreed proposals. Can the Prime Minister tell us what will happen to the proposed vote on policing and justice powers in the Assembly on 9 March if that deadline is not met, particularly given that there is a linkage between the two issues?
As the Prime Minister said, there is also a working group tasked with looking at improving the way in which the Executive function. I do not believe that there is a timetable for that working group to deliver its recommendations. Can he indicate when that group will be expected to report, and can he tell us whether it has any bearing on the timetable for devolution?
The First and Deputy First Ministers will examine elements of the St. Andrews agreement that have either not been faithfully implemented or not been implemented at all. Can the Prime Minister tell us which issues that will cover?
Last week’s agreement is between the DUP and Sinn Fein, two of the four parties in the Executive in Stormont. On Friday, both the other coalition parties, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Ulster Unionists, asked for time to study the agreement. Can the Prime Minister tell us what provision there is for that, and what consideration there will be of any reasonable concerns they might have? As the former leader of the SDLP, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), has said:
“We will have to take our turn with other parties in proofing what is proposed, not trying to create problems, but pre-empting any possible shortcomings or problems there are with it so we can actually improve it”.
May I commend that, and say how much I believe all other parties should take a similar approach?
We know from reports that a number of other issues were considered at Hillsborough, including the Irish language and the Presbyterian Mutual Society. There are also reports of agreements not included in the formal text. Can the Prime Minister clarify that?
Finally, we welcome the involvement and engagement of the United States and the discussion on greater US investment promised by Hillary Clinton. Can the Prime Minister confirm that that is, of course, contingent on the implementation of the agreement?
The whole House will want to thank the Prime Minister and the Northern Ireland Secretary for their very hard work to help bring this agreement about. Of course, the devolution of policing and justice is something that we have to get right, but is it not important also that the politicians of Northern Ireland now move on and focus on the issues that people on the ground really care about, such as health, housing, schools and tackling social problems? Does the Prime Minister share my hope that that—a return to normal, healthy, democratic devolved politics as part of the United Kingdom—can now really happen in Northern Ireland?
First, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very generous remarks about how people have come together to make this set of agreements possible? I agree with him that the all-party consensus that has existed on this set of challenges for many years is one that we should want to continue, and one that stands us in good stead for backing the agreements that have been made and for ensuring that on 9 March, we can encourage the Northern Ireland Assembly to make the decision to move forward with the devolution of policing and justice.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the process and for the investment conference, which will go ahead, but of course only if the agreement is fully implemented with the devolution of policing and justice. I assume from what he said that he also supports the dates that we have set forward—9 March and 21 April—and I am grateful for that, as well. Northern Ireland began to move forward not only when the parties there agreed that they wished to come together to address issues that they had to face in common, but when all parties in this House agreed that it was essential that we worked together as well.
I shall deal with each of the right hon. Gentleman’s specific questions in turn. The continued independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by the agreements. The Chief Constable is independent and will continue to be so, and I would read no significance into the use of the word “responsible”. He has operational independence and reports to the Policing Board. That will remain, and I think everybody in Northern Ireland believes that that system has worked, and continues to work, well.
As for 2012—the point at which people have got to consider again the issue of the Department of Justice—it is true to say that the parties agreed that it should not at this point be changed, and that to do so might have made it more difficult to get the agreement they have. However, I have no doubt that if the devolution of policing and justice works, all parties will want it to move forward in exactly the way that has been designed, including after 2012.
On the working parties, it is true to say that three working parties are dealing the some of the most difficult issues. The Leader of the Opposition asked me about other issues raised at the talks. One of the working parties is going to deal with the issues that are still outstanding from the St. Andrews agreement—and I should tell him that that means all outstanding issues from that agreement. A working party chaired by junior Ministers on both sides will report to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and then to the Executive, on the basis of the agreement reached last week.
The issue of the future of the Executive and how they work deserves the views and recommendations of all parties in the Assembly. One point consistently made to me by the leader of the UUP is that it is important that the Executive can work well, and indeed better, in future. One issue that prevented the Executive working as well as they should was the cloud hanging over them before they established a solution to the problem of the devolution of policing and justice. It was perhaps inevitable that the Executive would not work as well as they could until that was resolved.
The proposal that has been put forward—it came from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—that a working party to be set up would be chaired by the leaders of the UUP and SDLP is a good one. I hope that they will find it possible to take up that offer, which allows them to participate in shaping how the Executive will work in future. When that working party should report is a matter for the parties to agree on, but I know that people will want to move things forward at the earliest opportunity.
I believe that the UUP is meeting today to consider its response, as is the SDLP. I am pleased that the previous leader of the SDLP, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan)—he has now given way to Margaret Ritchie, whom I congratulate on her victory in the leadership elections—said that he was in favour of the agreement in principle but that he wanted to be sure of the details. Both those parties will look at the agreement, and I hope they come to the view that it is essential that we move forward with it and support the cross-community vote on 9 March. In my view, that would be the best way of sending a signal not only to those people of violence, but to the rest of the world, that Northern Ireland has resolved the problems that remained; that it is ready to move forward; that it is open to investment from the rest of the world; and, indeed, that it offers a peaceful and secure future.
As the Leader of the Opposition says, discussing housing, health, welfare, social security, education and the other issues that affect the people of Northern Ireland will be the main focus of the Assembly in future. That will be a huge change from the past.
I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Minister, the Taoiseach, the Irish Foreign Minister and, as the Prime Minister said, all their predecessors, on the considerable amount of work they put in to everything that led up to this very significant deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein. I also join the Prime Minister in recognising the painstaking work of General de Chastelain and his colleagues on the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
The Liberal Democrats have long believed that policing and justice powers should be devolved to the Assembly if and when it wanted such powers. That is a crucial element to devolution, and it will be a momentous achievement if the powers are indeed devolved as early as April, as the agreement has set out.
There is no place for party politics here: the biggest contribution that we in this House can continue to make is to do what we can, on a non-party basis, to ensure that normality returns to Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Prime Minister will recognise—indeed, he already has done—the importance of now bringing on board all the political parties in Northern Ireland, including those that were not directly involved in the negotiations. Will he confirm that he and the Secretary of State will continue to help all the parties in Northern Ireland to work together constructively to avoid any further logjams in the peace process?
Finally, on one specific point, we share the concerns of our colleagues in the Alliance party that there is little in the agreement on how to build progress on community relations on the ground, which is where it counts, on everything from public services to the role of community groups. Perhaps the current agreement is simply not the appropriate place for such a commitment. Yet it is undoubtedly true that a political agreement between the parties will be durable only if it is accompanied by concrete steps towards greater integration between the communities. I spoke with David Ford about that this afternoon, and I know that he has also raised the issue directly with the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister agree that improved community relations are crucial to the future of Northern Ireland, and can he assure us today that the parties in Northern Ireland will work together constructively to take forward an agreed and practical community relations strategy?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, first, for his support for the agreement, and secondly, for his desire that all parties can move forward together in unison in supporting what has been agreed. I agree with him about the importance that the Alliance party has given to the talks. It was there from the beginning of the talks, and it was there right to the end. I praise David Ford, the leader of the Alliance party, and all the Alliance Members I talked to for their willingness to enter into discussions about the future of the Executive and, in particular, the programme for the Government. The Executive’s strategy for cohesion sharing and integration is one of the vital foundations of Executive policy for the future. The Alliance party is keen to see that that policy shapes the work of the Department of Justice and other Departments for the future.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the creation of a shared and better future, based on tolerance and respect for cultural diversity, is absolutely essential to what all parties have agreed they wish to see. They are going to bring forward a programme of cohesion and integration for that shared and better future. I thank the Alliance party for its involvement in that, as I thank all the parties for the way in which they have approached the final stage of the negotiations.
It is very difficult for those of us in the House from outside Northern Ireland to understand just how challenging, difficult and sensitive the issues of law and order, and justice are. It is therefore to the credit of all the parties in the Northern Ireland, including the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, who have shown the courage and resilience to carry the process forward. May I also thank the Prime Minister and his Secretary of State? The role of the British Government, as an honest broker and a guarantor of the process and the settlement, is essential. If, after all the decades of mistrust, the Government ever deviate from that role of being an honest broker and become in any way partisan in those agreements, that will be very much to the detriment of the continuation of that process.
First, let me pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friend did as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and also during his period as Home Secretary, with responsibility for security. He has contributed to the process that has ended today, with the announcement here that the parties wish to support the devolution of policing and justice, and wish for that to happen only a few weeks from now.
I also agree entirely with my right hon. Friend that it has been of great benefit to the peace process that there has been all-party support in this House—all-party support when the Conservative party was in government, with Labour supporting the Conservatives, and all-party support while we have been in government, with the Conservatives, Liberals and other parties supporting what we do. If at any time we had lost that sense that this House was united in seeking to advance the peace process and the security of Northern Ireland, we would all have been the losers from it. I am determined that we work in the role of trying to move agreement forward between the parties.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention the important role of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Without their determination to come to an agreement, without their skills at negotiation and without the patience that they showed when the negotiations were very difficult, we could not have succeeded in reaching an agreement. It is right to commend the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, as I said, for the statesmanship they have shown in bringing their parties together and at the same time bringing Northern Ireland together.
May I join in the thanks to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of State for the support and encouragement they have given throughout this process? May I express a firm and unalterable commitment to ensuring that every element of this agreement is faithfully implemented? We all have ways as individual parties of ensuring that the brakes can be put on and that things can be brought down, but only collectively can we ensure that we take them forward and that the process works.
I noticed that the Prime Minister emphasised the word “many” when he referred to the many hours of negotiations that had taken place, but will he accept that there are very special circumstances in respect of these sensitive functions and that the agreement reached acknowledges the independence of the courts and the operational independence of the Chief Constable and ensures that there is no interference in the role carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland board? It ensures that we have a Justice Minister, who will be elected by a cross-community vote in the Assembly and will have the support of all sections of our community and that any quasi-judicial decisions will be taken outside the political Executive who would be in power, so that there is an ability for any urgent decisions to be taken prior to the Executive’s having to be consulted. Does he agree that all of these matters will give confidence to the people of Northern Ireland, who will be delighted at the fact that a new way forward is being offered in respect of parading, which has cost so much in the past in Northern Ireland?
Will the Prime Minister therefore accept that the institutions that we already have in Northern Ireland are not the politician’s institutions, as the institutions belong to the people, so any alteration or addition to them belongs to the people as well? It therefore becomes imperative that the institutions being changed have the support of the community and that there is confidence among that community. It can be expressed in two ways—through the consultation process outlined in the agreement and through the support of all the parties in the Assembly, and without that we cannot move forward.
I am very grateful to the First Minister. I was incredibly moved when he said in his speech on Friday that for all parties there must be “no going back”, as there had been too much violence and too much conflict. As he said, there was only one way to go now, and that was forward. I confirm that everything he said about the Department of Justice, its relationship with the Executive, the powers of the Justice Minister and the quasi-judicial decisions that he or she would make is absolutely correct and in the agreement. What is most satisfying is that this agreement is jointly authored by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister—by the Democratic Unionist party and by Sinn Fein working together. In the preliminary or prefix to the agreement, it states that they will address the problems on the basis of trust, “mutual respect and equality”. I believe that that has come out of a long process of negotiation, through which people have had to come together, put aside the differences of the past and reach a solution for the future.
The First Minister is also absolutely right that there is a process of consultation, which he and the Deputy First Minister have inaugurated. On that basis of that consultation, they will put forward what they feel is the right resolution to the Assembly on 9 March. If that resolution is acceptable, we will of course move forward to the devolution of policing and justice by 12 April. I have made it clear that we will do everything in our power here to get the relevant changes put into effect in this Parliament to make that possible, while ensuring that the Department of Justice will be able, with the necessary financial arrangements in place, to start to deal with the problems it faces. I entirely agree that with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no going back. What has come out of these negotiations is the wish of every single party to move forward. I hope that every single party in the Assembly will now assent to the proposals and make them the basis of a very strong vote in the Assembly on 9 March.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and, more importantly, the positive announcement on Friday of which he and others were part? May I say to him that, based on experience, the public might feel a bit more hope if there was a wee bit less hype? Although some of us might have misgivings about how the Minister is to be appointed, as that departs from the Good Friday agreement—which, unlike all other agreements, was solemnly endorsed overwhelmingly by the people of Ireland, north and south—will he acknowledge that we nevertheless support the firm date for the devolution of policing and justice, and my party will vote for it in the Assembly and for any related measures in this House?
The Prime Minister and others have touched on the relationship between the Minister of Justice and the Executive. Does he recognise that some of us are also concerned about the relationship between the devolved and non-devolved functions? That interface could be sensitive, and we would not want controversies arising in which the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland is left pleading ignorance and impotence. That would not be good for the integrity and credibility of a devolved justice system.
First, let me thank the hon. Gentleman for his outstanding record as leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party. I first met him 25 years ago, and have seen him work patiently for peace in Northern Ireland over the 25 years. He has an outstanding record in arguing the case not just for peace but for economic justice in Northern Ireland. We thank him for his service as a member of the SDLP.
I am also grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments this afternoon. Although he is not a signatory to the agreement, he has not only supported it in principle but said that he will wish to vote for it on 9 March. I hope that is the message that all parties will take up so that we can move forward.
Obviously, the arrangements between the Minister of Justice and the United Kingdom Government will be such that he or she will be kept properly informed about what is happening, and will be able to make the decisions subject to the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. I believe that the process that is being agreed will work smoothly, so I assure him in that regard. Most of all, however, the House wants to thank him for everything that he has achieved.
On behalf of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I unreservedly congratulate the Prime Minister, Secretary of State and Minister of State on what they have helped to bring about. I also congratulate the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on their courage and persistence. Will the Prime Minister also recognise, sensitively, that the Ulster Unionist party and SDLP—under Lord Trimble and John Hume, who were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize for their efforts—showed us how to begin this road within Northern Ireland? Will he impress on them that their continued presence and participation is essential for success? We do not want the current Executive and Assembly to collapse as theirs did, but they have a vital role in ensuring that it will not do so.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. He was in Northern Ireland as we were having talks and played a part himself in encouraging the parties to accept that an agreement is absolutely necessary. I value the comments and representations of the UUP and SDLP, and I of course have huge respect for Lord Trimble and John Hume and for what they achieved over the years. However, it is important to recognise that we now have an agreement. Although the parties are right to look at the detail of the agreement, it is important that they make up their minds—in my view, the right decision would be to support the agreement. The former leader of the SDLP has said today that he will support it, and I hope that soon we will have the same answer from the Ulster Unionist party.
In the past, we have succeeded through all parties in the House seeking peace. The importance of this agreement is that it is between the parties in Northern Ireland, and the wider the agreement, the better it will be for the future. I have had talks with the DUP and Sinn Fein, but I have also had talks with the SDLP, the UUP, and, of course, the Progressive Unionist party. All have a big part to play in the future of Northern Ireland, and I hope they will be able to vote yes in the cross-community vote on 9 March, and that they will tell us soon that that is what they wish to do.
I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, and all who took part in the exceptionally protracted negotiations. Although there has been criticism of the length of time that those negotiations took, I do not think that the people who took part in them should be embarrassed. It is in the nature of things that the most difficult issues are left until the last bit of any negotiations, and these negotiations involved dealing with a couple of issues that no one had managed to address before. I think that the people involved deserve to be congratulated, and I think that the rest of us will wish them well in difficult circumstances.
People in Northern Ireland still think of old, unhappy, far-off things, of battles long ago, and even of battles more recently. Everyone in the country must wish those who took part in the negotiations well, and wish the people of Northern Ireland well as a result of the product of those negotiations.
My right hon. Friend is well respected in the House, and has taken an interest in these issues throughout the time during which I have known him. When he says that this is the time to move forward and that this is the time not only to reach the agreement but to implement it as quickly as possible, I think most Members will agree that the right thing to do is to bring people together, to move forward and put the past behind us, but to ensure that the devolution of policing and justice is intact so that it is in place in only a few weeks’ time.
I strongly endorse what the Prime Minister said about the vital importance of a bipartisan approach in the House throughout the peace process. I also join him in hoping that both the SDLP and the UUP will be able to sign up fully to the agreement. May I gently put to him, however, that those two parties felt somewhat marginalised because they were not as involved in the negotiations as many of us thought that they should be? I hope that lessons can be learned both by the Government and by the First and Deputy First Ministers.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the agreement, and also for the support that has come from both the UUP and Sinn Fein. Let me say to him, however, that we held a number of plenary sessions in Hillsborough castle, and invited all the parties to them. I tried to meet all the party leaders individually, not just the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but all the representatives of all the parties. I met representatives of the UUP and the SDLP on a number of occasions to go through the issues that were at stake, and the plenary sessions were an important part of the process.
Of course I understand that the UUP and the SDLP will want to look in detail at what the agreement entails, but I think that the UUP’s main concern—which was about the working of the Executive—will be best addressed by a working party of the Executive, chaired by the leader of the UUP alongside the leader of the SDLP. I hope that, having made their offer, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will receive a positive response from the leadership of the UUP in particular. We received a positive response from the SDLP today, and I hope that a positive response from the UUP will come soon. I believe that the sooner we see Northern Ireland politics resolved to move ahead with this issue, and the sooner the community sees that the parties are able to reach an agreement, the better it will be for the future of Northern Ireland.
It is a long road that we have taken since the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985—from violence to peace, as the Prime Minister has said—but does not statesmanship bring peace, does not patience bring peace, and does not peace bring prosperity, as anyone who has visited Northern Ireland will know? The Prime Minister has talked of jobs, stability, growth and inward investment. Can we not build on that statesmanship and that patience to enhance the economy of Northern Ireland and bring prosperity to all?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is always listened to with care in the House. I think he will acknowledge the huge amount of work done by the Secretary of State and the Minister of State—and, previously, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—in pushing forward Northern Ireland’s economic future.
We know that Northern Ireland is looked to by the rest of the world because of what has been achieved. The statesmanship of those people who came together to reach an agreement is applauded in every part of the world. One of the lessons that Northern Ireland has sent to the world is that if tensions can be reduced and conflict removed, prosperity can result. Northern Ireland has had more jobs and more investment as a result of the decisions that its politicians have made.
Hillary Clinton has offered to meet the parties from Northern Ireland, and she will want to help run and organise an investment conference that will bring more jobs to Northern Ireland. I believe that companies will now look at Northern Ireland and know that, once this agreement is voted through the Northern Ireland Assembly, the future of Northern Ireland will be far more stable and therefore investment will be far more beneficial to them and to Northern Ireland. So this agreement not only brings to an end a long period of conflict about the institutional future of Northern Ireland, but it means that there is the possibility—indeed, the probability—of more jobs coming to Northern Ireland. The economic future of Northern Ireland looks more secure this week than it did last week.
The whole House welcomes the news on decommissioning by the paramilitary groups mentioned by the Prime Minister. As we are nearing the end of that process, can he say when and if an inventory of the various decommissioned arsenals will now be published at its conclusion, as was originally agreed? The agreement is in keeping with the manifesto pledges of my party. There are a number of elements to it, including on better delivery by the Executive and on parades, and we expect everybody to act in good faith. We know that the Government are the guarantor of delivery, so will he accept that if there is bad faith—we sincerely hope there is not in relation to delivery—there are means and devices open to us to ensure that there is delivery on the issues of parades and better functioning of the Executive. We cannot have policing and justice on the one hand without delivery of the other elements on the other, and they cannot be sustained one without the other. Those means must be open to us as a party to deliver, just as Sinn Fein has threatened in the past. Along with this, however, we are also certain that people in Northern Ireland want to move ahead. They do not want to go back. They want to build a better future, and we are all absolutely committed to making that happen.
I am grateful for the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has expressed his hopes for the way forward for Northern Ireland. It is a way ahead in which there is peace and stability, as well as trust. He is absolutely right that we and the Irish Government are guarantors of this agreement and wish to see it work, and, as he said, that means there must be delivery on all the issues—delivery on issues that are difficult for some parties, but delivery on them as they have promised in this agreement. I repeat to him that the working party that has been set up will look at all the issues that are outstanding from the St. Andrews agreement, and it will be able to report on all these issues so we can see what progress has been made and what progress can, if necessary, be made in the future.
The hon. Gentleman is also absolutely right to record our thanks to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. When we consider that it has now overseen decommissioning by the UDA, the UVF, PIRA, the INLA and now the Official IRA, we can see that it is a central means by which we have moved from violence to peace. I not only want to thank the international commission, but to confirm that it will conduct a series of reports, and there will be a report in the end on armaments. That will be the concluding work of the commission.
May I join others in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the success in what must have been an incredibly gruelling process of negotiations? May I also welcome the steps in further decommissioning that have been undertaken by bodies in Northern Ireland? Although I recognise that this devolution process will send a very powerful signal to the remaining violent dissidents in Northern Ireland, what assessment has he made in practical terms of the new arrangements in dealing with those who might still wish to pursue the course of violence?
We will never be complacent. We will continue to monitor and pursue those dissident groups that hold to a policy of violence in Northern Ireland. We know that they are a real threat, which is why we have stepped up the resources available to the security services and, as part of the financial agreement, we have made sure that the Executive ministry responsible for justice and policing is properly resourced. So we will do everything we can to take on this terrorist threat. It is important to recognise, however, that in one day the INLA, the Official IRA and the last loyalist organisation, the South-East Antrim UDA, have completed their decommissioning, and that is a move from violence to peace that those in all parts of the House will want to commend. So I remain optimistic that those people who support the political process—who are strengthened by the agreement that has been made in the past few days—will always defeat those people who wish violence to replace politics in Northern Ireland.
As chairman of the all-party group on Northern Ireland, may I also commend my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for his support for the process of the devolution of policing and justice? I am sure that the Prime Minister agrees with me that continuity of effort and engagement in the process by all political parties will be essential in the highly charged timetable and atmosphere before a general election. Can he confirm that all-party briefings will continue should this Parliament be dissolved during what will be a crucial time for the people of Northern Ireland?
I think the hon. Gentleman wants me to comment on something on which I shall not comment. The one issue I shall comment on is the all-party briefings that have been given, particularly by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to his opposite numbers, which will continue. We will keep people in touch with developments. The outstanding issue that we really must address is our wish to build all-party support in Northern Ireland for this agreement; it is important to recognise that it was an agreement of two parties—it is not an agreement between the Governments—and it will work only, as the First Minister said, if we can secure wider support before the cross-community vote that will take place in Northern Ireland on 9 March. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can use his good offices to persuade any of the parties still looking at this issue and wondering about the right way for them to address the future that it is worth their being unequivocal in their support for moving this process forward and using the working party process to deal with the issues that they have raised.
May I add my congratulations to the Prime Minister and to all the individuals and parties who took part in this very important agreement on justice and policing? May I speak on behalf of some of the people who perhaps were not there except in spirit and who cannot move forward quite as easily as the parties would seem to be able to do? Such people include those whose relatives and family—including my own—were killed in the McGurk’s bar bombing. The people who did it are known to the person who was found guilty of being part of the group, but their names have never been given. Many families wonder where their loved ones are buried but that has never been revealed. Does the Prime Minister assess this move as bringing forward the possibility that these things will be laid to rest and that people in the innocent community of Northern Ireland will genuinely be able to move forward?
There is a need to deal with the issues that arise from the past—of course, the Eames commission has looked at this—but we also know that we must move forward. I appreciate that feelings are still very raw in many communities as a result of what has happened over these past decades, but I hope that having dealt with some of the issues of reconciliation as we have done through the commission that sat to consider this matter, we can now also agree that we must move forward to build that better future.
When responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Prime Minister explained that issues outside the formal text of the agreement will be dealt with by a special working party, but I did not hear him tell the House what these issues are. Will he take this opportunity to do so?
They are all the outstanding issues on the St. Andrews agreement that are within the scope of the working party.
Having been involved in Northern Ireland matters for many years, may I express my relief and my congratulations to all those concerned on an achievement of which all parties, this Government, this Prime Minister and his predecessor, Tony Blair, can be truly proud? Could this case study in conflict resolution at home offer lessons for negotiated solutions to apparently intractable conflicts abroad?
I think the important thing is for us to move to 9 March and then to 12 April and show that the process that has been engaged in so determinedly by the political parties in Northern Ireland has definitively worked. We still have to get some people on board to make that happen. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that all around the world people admire what has been achieved in Northern Ireland; it has been the subject of not only Nobel peace prizes, but much examination by people who are in conflict zones. I think that one of the lessons is that if the tension and the conflict can be reduced, people can be shown the benefits of peace and therefore the benefits of not moving back to a position where conflict is endemic in their society. I think that Northern Ireland can show not only the courage of politicians who have reached difficult decisions to get to peace but the benefits that have come from that peace process. Belfast and much of Northern Ireland have been transformed economically as a result of the decisions that have been made and people’s willingness to invest in Northern Ireland for that better future.
The Prime Minister, in his statement, emphasised the importance of American investment for the prosperity of Northern Ireland. Is there also an important role for investment flows within the United Kingdom? One way to do that might be to try to get higher interest in Northern Ireland among the English media. What can the Government and the Northern Ireland Government do to encourage that?
The interest in Northern Ireland will cease to be based on long-standing conflicts and on the issues that are not yet resolved after the agreements that we have seen reached there. It will be based on how Northern Ireland is moving forward and on the talent, genius and potential of the Northern Ireland people, their ability to innovate, their strong universities, the education system, which is improving, and the innovative work of many businesses, some of which receive inward investment but some of which are generated by Northern Ireland talent on its own. The focus in Northern Ireland in future will be on the economic choices and social improvements that are made in that country. When people look at Northern Ireland today, they see a Northern Ireland that is different from a few years ago. In a few years’ time, if the whole focus of the Assembly is on jobs, health, welfare, the environment, tourism and all those issues, that will be how people will wish to look at Northern Ireland—it is a beautiful country with great people, who have come together and confronted and surmounted difficult times.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and the First Minister on their personal work at Hillsborough. How will the Prime Minister ensure the total independence of the Chief Constable in order to retain community support?
The Chief Constable is operationally independent and reports to the Policing Board. That is how we secure the independence of the Chief Constable. I must say that, from my discussions in Northern Ireland, I think that people are satisfied that the Chief Constable has those powers, assumes those responsibilities and is able to act with operational independence. I believe that he and his predecessor are respected for the way in which they are independent of the political process.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is seeking to visit my constituency and he has not informed me. He sought the use of a public building, my excellent SEEVIC college, for political campaigning. Might a word from you, Madam Deputy Speaker, help him to act more appropriately? Do I smell further Tory panic?
I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members in this House are aware of the courtesies when visiting other Members’ constituencies. The hon. Gentleman’s comments are on the record and will no doubt have been noted.
Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill (Allocation of Time)
I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall apply to the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The House proceeded to a Division.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.
8 February 2010
The House having divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The whole House would wish that today’s provisions were not required, yet we are realists, and we know that the real world demands action of the kind proposed in the Bill. Terrorism continues to pose a threat to the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Home Secretary recently apprised the House of the fact that the terrorist threat is now judged as severe—in other words, highly likely at any time.
As hon. Members know, terrorist organisations, including al-Qaeda, have executed or planned a succession of attacks with the aim of causing mass casualties. Many of our constituents have been affected or caught up or murdered. Yet the economics of that threat are frighteningly simple. The cost of a terrorist attack is low, yet its impact is devastating. The attacks on London on 7 July 2005, for example, cost the perpetrators just £8,000, yet the price paid by the British people was immeasurably greater.
For that reason, we seek to fight back with every appropriate weapon, which must include control of finance, assets and cash. Without resources, terror networks are unable to plan, organise or execute attacks, for which reason the United Nations requires that all states:
“Freeze without delay…assets”
“resources of persons who commit, or attempt to commit, terrorist acts or participate in or facilitate the commission of terrorist acts”.
Our tools therefore must include action against terrorist finance, which is now an important part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.
Before I give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I should make clear that my remarks this afternoon will touch on the background to the Bill, its contents, and some of the safeguards that it is vital for the House and another place to debate.
That is very important and we look forward to hearing what safeguards will be put in place. However, it would be helpful to know why, having had ample time, the Government have never before put the provisions into primary legislation, and have relied always on statutory instruments, which were not subject to proper scrutiny.
That is a fair point, and I will talk about it later in my remarks. Suffice it to say, the United Nations Act 1946 was fairly clear, and it is probably worth reading the relevant clause for the benefit of the House:
“If…the Security Council of the United Nations call upon His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom to apply any measures to give effect to any decision of that Council, His Majesty may by Order in Council make such provision as appears to Him necessary or expedient for enabling those measures to be effectively applied, including…provision for the apprehension, trial and punishment of persons offending against the Order.”
In the eyes of the Government, that was an effective legal base on which to introduce terrorism legislation.
I am happy that the Government felt that that was the effective legal base. The issue that many of us want to raise is this: if such matters are not debated in Parliament, the disadvantage is that the necessary safeguards are often not put in place. The problem—on both sides of the House—is that the Government seem not to believe that Parliament is the proper place for such decisions.
Parliament is the proper place to debate those safeguards. That is why, alongside this temporary Bill, we published a full Bill that will transpose the relevant orders into statutory legislation. We will debate that question a little later, but it is vital that the House is given a full opportunity to pressure-test the proposals in that second, main Bill.
As we know, the measures are fairly draconian, but what does the Minister think was the original intention? Was the standard that the Government would have only to say that a person was involved in terrorism, or would they have needed a reasonable suspicion or evidence? What was the standard or test originally and what is it today? Could it be that the original test required something higher?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene again to clarify one point. When he refers to the “original test”, is he referring to the original test in Orders in Council or in the United Nations Act 1946?
I might be wrong, but I think I am referring to the original test not in Orders in Council but in the 1946 Act.
The 1946 Act did not set out any such test; rather, it set out a broad power for the Government to introduce measures, including those for
“the apprehension, trial and punishment of persons offending against the Order.”
That was the legal basis that was tested by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s judgment in taking away the foundation on which the Government had rested was reasonably narrow. The Supreme Court refused to read “expedient” as wide enough to cover reasonable suspicion—that is perhaps the point that the hon. Gentleman was making. Rather, it concluded that it would be wrong to give “expedient” such an expansive meaning where the result is such an interference with individuals’ rights.
That is the crucial point. The Court made its decision because the order undermines fundamental rights. The Court was making the point that the Government should not undermine fundamental rights, and especially not without any parliamentary procedure. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be rearguing his case before the Supreme Court. He does not seem to accept the fact that he lost the case.
The reason why I am here this afternoon is that we lost the case. The point that I was hoping to make is that under the terms of the United Nations Act 1946, which I have read out, it is quite easy to see how the Government proceeded in good faith, because that Act appeared to give quite generous provision for the Government to bring forward proposals giving effect to UN Security Council resolutions.
The real issue is not so much the 1946 Act, but Security Council resolution 1373, the terms of which the Supreme Court referred to in determining that the orders should be quashed. The Court talked about reasonable suspicion and whether it was a basis for taking action.
I will address that point slightly later, because it touches on the issue of designation, on which it is important to debate the test that the Government must meet. Just to clarify, the Supreme Court struck down the legal basis for the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006. However, two further terrorism orders depend on the same provision in the 1946 Act, which is why they are the subject of the legislation before us today. There is a fourth order—the Al-Qaida and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006—of which the Supreme Court struck down article 3(1)(b), which concerns United Nations Security Council resolution 1267, and I will touch on that in more depth in a moment or two.
The history of our fight on this front is not long. The asset-freezing regime introduced by the Security Council dates back only to 1999, when it was established as part of the fight against the Taliban. It was quickly extended to include Osama bin Laden and persons associated with al-Qaeda. In the weeks following 11 September 2001, the UN created a separate requirement on member states to freeze the assets involved in terrorism more generally, where individuals were identified by member states. The way in which the Government responded allowed us to act quickly. Using secondary legislation under the 1946 Act, we ensured that our freezing regime was in place by 10 October 2001, just 12 days after the United Nations made its resolution in New York.
The United Kingdom was the first nation to be judged fully compliant with the international standards set by the Financial Action Task Force. Today, around £375,000 in suspected terrorist assets is frozen. That includes around £150,000 frozen under the secondary legislation in the terrorism orders. A much smaller figure is frozen under the Terrorism Act 2006, on which the Supreme Court passed judgment.
When, therefore, the Supreme Court struck down the legal basis on which we acted in good faith, we thought it imperative to act rapidly to present this Bill before the House. Our use of the United Nations Act 1946 was, as I have argued, logical because it says that the Government can make provisions through Orders in Council when “necessary or expedient”. As my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary has already pointed out, the Court of Appeal agreed with the judgment; the Supreme Court did not, which is why we find ourselves here this afternoon.
That brings us to the issue of what the Government are doing now about the Supreme Court’s judgment. Why have they not simply used the 2001 Act to freeze the assets of such individuals, as Lord Hope in the Supreme Court said specifically that, in his opinion, that Act would apply?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to the 2001 Act or the 2001 order.
I am referring to sections 4 and 5 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Lord Hope said that the freezing regime in that Act applied to the individuals before the Court in the Ahmed case.
We did not do so for the simple reason that that is not a sufficiently general defence. Indeed, the 2001 Act deals with threats emanating from outside the UK, whereas the terrorism order regime that we are seeking to legislate for today touches on threats that emanate from inside the UK, specifically from UK individuals.
This sounds like a point of detail, but it is crucial to what is happening today. Section 5 of the 2001 Act applies the freezing regime not just to individuals abroad, but to any individual in this country who is assisting that individual. What the Minister says applies only to circumstances where the whole plot is domestic. That did not seem to apply in the cases before the Court; how many other cases are there where the plot is entirely domestic?
I could not speculate on how many cases the security services are monitoring where the threat is entirely domestic, but let me be clear that the provision to which the hon. Gentleman is alluding would not cover UK persons unless we could demonstrate a link to external persons who pose a direct threat to the UK or to UK nationals. In the case of a UK plot, the link would, as the hon. Gentleman says, be absent. The point of the regime is that it is designed to enable preventive action. That is why, as is common in much national security legislation, the thresholds in question include reasonable suspicion.
The right hon. Gentleman will be familiar with much of the anti-terrorism legislation in place, so he will know that most Acts have provided for at least limited repeal or review of the orders made thereunder. The right hon. Gentleman has known for a long time that he might have to legislate in this context, but his Bill provides for no form of review or appeal against the scope of the freezing orders or, for that matter, against designation. Why did he not make such provisions in the Bill?
I hope to touch on the question of judicial review later in my remarks, but there are three basic points to be made in response to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. First, the Government were relying on the United Nations Act 1946 in good faith. Before the Supreme Court passed judgment, it would not have helped our case to bring legislation forward that showed that we were worried about that or that we wanted to provide for a different legal basis.
Secondly, that judgment having been passed, it is surely right for the Government to bring forward comprehensive legislation to deal with the problem that we are trying to solve. I personally do not think that such legislation should be whipped through the House. Even for a period as short as eight weeks, such proposals, if transposed into legislation, should benefit from Select Committee pre-legislative scrutiny and be subject to a review by Joint Committees, which would take a considerable period. However, because the Supreme Court did not grant a stay in its judgment, about £16,500 linked to about 14 people could, under the Terrorism Act 2006, suddenly be made available. My view was that the best strategy was to put in place temporary legislation to help ensure that the banks kept those assets frozen while the House was able to take the time to put on the statute book a more substantive answer to the Supreme Court’s judgment.
When the matter was discussed with the Treasury last week, plan A was to put a Bill on the statute book in eight weeks. The sudden conversion to greater time being spent and more pre-legislative scrutiny arises simply as a consequence of the Supreme Court’s judgment on Thursday to quash the orders. What else has accounted for the Chief Secretary’s change of mind?
There is the simple idea that eight weeks is not an ideal time in which to pass the legislation. The legislation could have gone through in eight weeks, but if it is possible to give the House more time to debate it, that is surely right. What changed last week was the Supreme Court’s decision not to grant a stay. It would have been unreasonable to ask the banks to keep the money frozen for the amount of time it would have taken the House to give the matter proper consideration.
My right hon. Friend has published the draft Bill, which is available in the Vote Office, and I welcome his invitation to my Committee to scrutinise it. Were we required to do so, however, it would not take us eight weeks to produce a report on the Bill. I have half scrutinised it already, and I can tell him now what the issues are, including lack of right of appeal and the test to designate someone in the first place.
I look forward to that debate ensuing.
The route available now to the Government —the emergency Bill today and a longer period of scrutiny—could have been the plan originally discussed between ourselves and the Treasury when the issue first arose. Suddenly, the Government have had a change of heart. We could have had the emergency legislation before us today and the longer discussion period for the Bill, but when the Supreme Court issued its original judgment, the longer Bill was the preferred option. There was no sense then from the Treasury that there was a plan B. It has suddenly arisen as a consequence of last Thursday’s judgment.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is simple. The Supreme Court said that it was willing to consider a stay, but its judgment on Thursday was that it was unprepared to grant that stay. Therefore, the Government had to ensure that assets already frozen under the Terrorism Act—the orders that had effectively been quashed— remained frozen. That gives the House the opportunity to consider in more detail and depth the provisions of the orders that we will seek to put into primary legislation in a much longer period. That debate will produce a better piece of legislation at the end of it.
If passed, the Bill will restore the UK’s terrorist asset-freezing regime in primary legislation, but only as a stop-gap. It will allow the House to scrutinise our proposals while eliminating any risk of a gap in our asset-freezing regime. I would like to outline briefly the Bill’s effects, before touching on some of the questions around safeguards.
The Bill seeks to maintain the Treasury’s power under the Orders in Council to designate persons if they meet both required conditions of the legal test: first, reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in terrorist activity; and secondly, that the designation is necessary for public protection. The effect of a designation is: to forbid dealing with a designated person’s funds and economic resources; to forbid making funds or economic resources available to such persons; and to forbid funds or economic resources being made available to a person when the designated person will obtain significant financial benefit. The orders will continue to provide for licences to permit access to funds and to ameliorate the effect of the sanctions. The Treasury will remain open to the full range of legal challenge of its asset-freezing decisions. However, the Bill seeks retrospective provision for the legal authority for banks and any other institution to maintain existing freezes between the date of the Supreme Court judgment and Royal Assent.
The Chief Secretary said that the Treasury will be subject to the full weight of judicial review, but he will be the first to acknowledge that that is a limited remedy, which falls far short of the specific appeal mechanisms that should be in place to determine the justice or otherwise of particular orders as they affect particular individuals, and the designation of those individuals.
I shall discuss judicial review in a little more detail shortly. The point that I am making is simply that this Bill does not give the Treasury any retrospective protection in relation to decisions made between the handing down of the Supreme Court judgment and Royal Assent.
There are five safeguards that I wish to mention in order to provoke what I think is an important debate about the dimensions of the Bill. Let me begin by dealing with the question of who is included in its ambit. The orders that we propose to underpin ensure that—as I have said—individuals and organisations can be designated only if a reasonable suspicion test is met, and if a second test establishes that action is needed to protect the public. Freezes will be removed from those for whom the legal test fails. The Treasury has a track record of actively reviewing designations and revoking them when they no longer meet the legal tests. Of the 51 United Kingdom designations made under orders to date, 18 have been revoked following a Treasury review—for example, when criminal charges have been dropped, or when an individual is no longer considered to pose a significant threat.
The Treasury must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect a person, and reasonable grounds for suspicion must always be based on fact. The facts are provided in a statement of case prepared by the police or the security services, and the basis for action is endorsed by the financial action taskforce. The Treasury does not casually make up a determination of what is in the interests of public protection and what is not. In determining whether a person constitutes a threat, it will consider the advice of the police and the security services.
Is either the whole or the gist of the factual matrix to which my right hon. Friend has referred available to the person whose assets are to be frozen, in accordance with the requirements of asset-freezing?
Yes, and when individuals wish to challenge decisions that entail closed-source evidence, the special advocacy procedure is also available.
The second question on which I want to touch is whether the proposed acquisition of powers by the Executive strikes the right balance between protecting national security and protecting the rights of our citizens. The Bill aims to ensure that the Government’s actions are proportionate, and that they intervene only to the extent that is necessary to disrupt terrorist finance. That approach mirrors international best practice for terrorist asset-freezing, which in turn reflects standards set out by the Financial Action Task Force. The orders therefore include a licensing regime which ensures that designated persons have access to legal aid and living expenses. A wide range of other expenses can also be allowed when it is judged safe for that to be done.
The licensing regime is now sophisticated and well developed, and helps us to guarantee the proportionality of asset-freezing. Last week, in her statement to the House on licensing, the Exchequer Secretary announced a new approach that will safely lighten the impact of the regime on the families of designated individuals. The Treasury will continue to report to Parliament each quarter on the operation of the asset-freezing regime.
Is the test of reasonable suspicion carried out individual by individual or organisation by organisation? If an organisation with 2,000 or 3,000 members were deemed to be a threat to the state, would it be possible to freeze the funds of those 2,000 or 3,000 people, or would they be dealt with on a case-by-case basis?
I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the position. They would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and in line with code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which provides the Government with guidance on reasonable grounds for suspicion.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the licensing regime, which governs people’s living expenses. I do not see any provision in the draft Bill that provides for an appeal or review at the instigation of the individual concerned if he claims that the amount allowed is not enough. Is there any way in which such an individual can question the amount?
Yes, indeed. Licensing decisions can be, and are being, challenged in court to ensure that they are appropriate.
The third safeguard on which I want to touch is what qualifies an official to make a decision, because it is important for the House to consider the accountability of the decision taker. Decisions are not taken by unelected officials. Asset-freezing decisions are made personally, assiduously and carefully by the Exchequer Secretary, and officials advising her draw their counsel from either the police or the Security Service, and, where appropriate, that may include information from criminal trials. Wider evidence must also be provided, where it exists, but the final decision rests with the Minister.
The fourth question on which I want to touch is transparency and whether decisions are taken in secret or in a transparent manner. It is essential that these decisions are made in a transparent manner, so the orders will continue to ensure that designated persons are informed of their designation along with an explanation, that the public are informed of the person’s name and location by a notice on the Treasury’s website, and that the House is informed through a quarterly report on the operation of the regime, including information on new designations, reviews and de-listings, the amount of funds frozen and licensing statistics.
Finally, there is the critical question of how decisions taken by the Exchequer Secretary are open to challenge; we might discuss this further later. The orders we seek to underpin provide a clear route by which any individual affected by a designation or a licence can contest the Exchequer Secretary’s decision. They can make an application to the High Court to have that decision set aside. Courts can then judge whether the grounds of a decision were reasonable, and can scrutinise the Minister’s decision that the designation was necessary for public safety. That scrutiny will include all the material before the Treasury when the decision was made and any material available that should have been considered. The courts have the power to quash Treasury designations if they are found not to have met the strict criteria set out in the orders. At the point of the designation, the Treasury issues a legal expenses licence, which includes legal aid. That means that the designated person is able to seek legal assistance immediately and challenge the Treasury’s decision.
Presumably, that is on the basis of the test of judicial review, according to my reading of the draft Bill. However, as long ago as the 2003-04 Session, my predecessor at the Joint Committee on Human Rights had already indicated that
“judicial review provides only a very limited protection against legislative orders of this kind”.
My Committee comes back to that point time and again in other aspects of counter-terrorism policy, too. How can my right hon. Friend be sure that what he is proposing will be human rights compliant, bearing in mind the wealth of evidence to the contrary?
I am confident that the courts have the necessary latitude to consider the two tests that an individual needs to fail to become designated. First, there must be reasonable evidence that they are involved in terrorist activity, and the courts are perfectly able to consider the evidence on which the Minister relied when making that decision. Secondly, the courts are able to consider whether the freezing of an individual’s assets is necessary in order to protect the public. Even if there is information from closed sources, procedures are available that ensure that courts are able to review that material, too.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing his best to reassure the House, but does he understand that there is a fundamental difference between judicial review and reviewing the merits? Judicial review is essentially designed to determine whether the Minister is acting properly, but reviewing the merits is basically designed to determine whether an order is just; and whereas the provisions deal with the former, they do not deal with the latter.
I understand that, but I think that the protection in place is appropriate, because in the first instance we are dealing with whether there is reasonable suspicion—and reasonable suspicion is the right point on which to rely, because we are seeking to act in a pre-emptive manner in order to ensure that the economic resources available to somebody involved in terrorist activity are not used for a terrorist attack or the maintenance of terrorist infrastructure. The test of reasonable suspicion is a lower one, but clear guidance as to what constitutes reasonable suspicion is available. It is important that the courts are able to look at the evidence available to a Minister, on which that Minister relies, and investigate whether they made a proper and rational decision based on it. Thus, a second test also needs to be considered: whether the asset-freezing order put in place is needed for the protection of the public.
Let us be clear that the court will see that evidence but the person who is the subject of the order will not see it, because the special advocate procedure is being used. It is, thus, difficult for that person to produce counter-arguments to the evidence put before the court.
Only closed-source evidence is used in the special advocate procedure, but we must ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place. I am satisfied that against the test of reasonable suspicion judicial review is an appropriate way to ensure that Ministers act rationally and in the spirit of the law.
I wish to say a word about the sunset clause, which is important for the House to debate. We proposed a sunset clause period in this Bill ending 31 December 2010, but amendments have suggested that that is too long. The House must strike a balance between urgency and careful deliberation. The Bill is designed to solve the urgency problem; given that a stay of judgment was not handed down by the Supreme Court, it is important that assets frozen under the Terrorism Act 2006 remain frozen. Two further terrorism orders rely on the same UN Act for their legal substance and there is therefore a risk that they are vulnerable to being struck down. In addition, there is a problem in respect of those individuals covered by clause 3(1)(b) of the Al-Qaida and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006. However, these assets are frozen under EC regulations. The only issue with freezing things under EC regulations is that sanctions are not attached, so the Government will introduce secondary legislation to attach sanctions to those EC regulations.
The Minister is being his usual charming self in explaining these matters, but I wish to press him again. There is a fundamental difference between the courts making a decision as to whether a Minister has acted properly and a decision as to whether a Minister has acted justly. The thing that I do not understand is why the Government do not think it proper to make sure that the issue of justice is involved when an appeal takes place, because that is why we are fighting terrorists. Justice is crucial to the whole argument and not to refer to it is worrying.
I do not want to take a single word away from the opportunity that we will have to debate this legislation at more length. The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point to show why the House needs some time to debate our proposed transposition of the Orders in Council, on which we are relying, into primary legislation. These are exactly the kinds of debates that we need to test. The only point that I should make this afternoon is that the judicial review test is the norm in a number of other national security contexts and courts have demonstrated readily that it can be adapted to ensure an appropriately robust level of scrutiny of ministerial decisions.
Let us return to the final question of a sunset clause. If, as I hope, the House agrees this legislation over the two days, it will need to turn its mind to considering the right procedures for debating the full legislation in order to tease out some of the questions that have just been posed. This legislation equips the Executive with strong powers and I could not be confident that, given the looming elections and recesses, this job of scrutiny could be safely dispatched and a full Bill could be taken through both Houses before 31 July 2010—the date that I believe was proposed by the Liberal Democrats. We are therefore asking for a sunset clause of 31 December, in order to ensure that the draft Bill, published last week, is debated in full.
In conclusion, in these times of severe threat to our national security we cannot afford to fail to take the necessary steps to disarm terrorists or to disarm them of their financial power. Without primary legislation of the kind before the House, we will leave gaps in our defences that will give flexibility and capability to people who intend serious harm to the British public. The Bill provides for the safeguards for the citizen set out in the orders to remain in place. Those safeguards, I would argue, are tried and tested defences against the misuse of power by the Executive. At the same time, the Bill will provide Parliament with the proper time needed to consider and debate permanent legislation in full and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
Let me make it clear that we will support the Bill tonight. We agree with the Government that there need to be proper controls in place to prevent terrorists and suspected terrorists from having access to their financial resources and the financial system. However, the Government need to recognise that we are here tonight, pushing through this emergency retrospective legislation, because they failed, despite many warnings, to put the asset-freezing regime on to a proper legislative footing. If they had heeded those warnings, we could have dealt with these issues through the proper consideration of a proper Bill, rather than with the three-clause emergency Bill before us today.
Each of us wants to ensure that our country is protected from terrorist threats. There are many aspects to those threats, but one of the essential elements is finance—the money to buy the plane tickets, to buy chemicals, or to rent a lock-up garage. Although the three orders at the heart of the Bill cover only 33 people and £151,000, that would be sufficient to fund terrorist activity. By denying terrorists or those suspected of participating in terrorist acts access to their funds and the financial system, we are restricting their ability to mount further terrorist acts.
If we freeze the assets of terrorists or suspected terrorists, it helps us to thwart the acts that they were planning, which is something that the Prime Minister emphasised when he was Chancellor. In a speech at Chatham House on 10 October 2006, he set out clearly the importance of this issue, ranking the importance of tracking terrorist assets alongside that of the code breakers of Bletchley Park during the second world war. He said that
“we can create what some will call a modern ‘Bletchley Park’ with forensic accounting of such intricacy and sophistication in tracking finance and connections that it can achieve, for our generation, the same results as code breaking at the original Bletchley Park did sixty years ago.”
He stressed that it was important not just to be able to track assets but to take the right steps to freeze those assets. He went on to say:
“Tomorrow the Privy Council will lay before Parliament a new terrorism order which will give the Treasury the power to stop funds reaching anyone in the UK suspected of planning terror or engagement with terror.”
Of course, it was the 2006 order that was quashed by the Supreme Court on 27 January. Now we know what the Prime Minister meant when he went on to say:
“And, as terrorist finance operates on a global scale, we know that we are only as strong as our weakest links.”
So what was the weakest link? It is now clear that it was the order about which the Prime Minister boasted. The modern-day Bletchley Park was neutered because the order was quashed.
I think my hon. Friend is being too kind to the Government. The problem is that this attitude is not limited to these issues—the Government, on almost every issue, would prefer legislation that is not debated in the House and that does not receive proper scrutiny to legislation that goes through the House. My hon. Friend ought not to limit his comments to this situation, serious though it is.
My right hon. Friend is right. The Government have sought to limit scrutiny of legislation on a series of measures and they have sought to override the interests of Parliament. At the heart of the reasons behind the need for the Bill today is the fact that the Government overrode the interests of Parliament—they circumvented Parliament and they are paying the price for that by having to force through this Bill.
I was referring to the Prime Minister’s speech at Chatham House. He went on to say:
“And such is the threat that the message must go out: we will not yield, relax, rest, ever become complacent or lower our guard.”
But it seems that the complacency to which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer referred was complacency at the heart of the Treasury, which failed, despite repeated warnings, to put the orders on a proper basis that would withstand legal challenge. As I shall set out in more detail later, the Treasury has had plenty of warnings about the legislative basis for the orders, but it was complacent and it failed to act, thereby putting us in the position that we are in today of needing to pass the legislation to safeguard our nation’s interests.
This is another example of the Government’s cavalier attitude to Parliament. The orders, which deny fundamental human rights, were put in place without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Let me give my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) a few more examples. The Supreme Court announced that it was quashing the orders on the same day that the Exchequer Secretary was brought before the House to explain why there had not been proper parliamentary scrutiny of another Treasury decision that related to terrorism. Later this month, we are to debate a package of reforms that will strengthen the House and weaken the Executive’s grip on it, but the relevant order has been written in a way that minimises the chance of those reforms going through. Even in their dying days, the Government have yet to learn that one cannot ignore Parliament. Today’s emergency Bill is a reminder of what can happen when one does. If the Government had respected Parliament and put primary legislation in place, they would have avoided having to rush through these emergency measures today.
I do not particularly want to rehearse the details of the case that the Supreme Court heard or the reasons for the Court’s judgment, but I think that we need to understand why the Government are having to introduce this Bill today. As I have said, we all recognise the importance that finances and access to the financial system play in terrorism. The three orders that are covered by the Bill restrict the ability of those who are suspected of involvement in terrorist acts to access their money and the system, but that process is intrusive, as Lord Hope made clear in paragraph 38 of the Court’s judgment. He said:
“The effect of the regimes that the”
terrorism order and the al-Qaeda order
“impose is that every transaction, however small, which involves the making of any payments or the passing of funds or economic resources whether directly or indirectly for the benefit of a designated person is criminalised. This affects all aspects of his life, including his ability to move around at will by any means of private or public transport.”
He went on to say, in paragraph 39:
“For example, HAY has been denied access to any funds since September 2005. His only permitted subsistence support is in kind provided by his wife. She is permitted, by licence from the Treasury, to access welfare benefits, which are the family’s sole source of support. But she may spend money only on what the Treasury determines are ‘basic expenses’. Until recently she was required to report to the Treasury on every item of household expenditure, however small, including expenditure by her children.”
The impact of the restrictions on the lives of the people who are affected by the orders should not be underestimated. In paragraph 31, Lord Hope referred to three suspects—A, K and M—and explained the effects of the orders on them. He said:
“A and K no longer live with their families, and their current whereabouts are unknown. Their solicitor, with whom they have not been in contact for a number of months, attributes their disappearance to the damaging effects upon them and their families of the regimes to which they were subjected by the Treasury. It placed an extraordinary burden on their wives, created significant mental health difficulties and led ultimately to the breakdown of their marriages. M’s marriage has also broken down, but he has continued to have a close relationship with his children. He lives at his ex-wife’s address where his children live also.”
Given the hon. Gentleman’s understandable concerns about the impact of such measures on families, does he welcome, as I do, the Treasury’s recent decision not to investigate or impose on spouses restrictions such as those he is concerned about? Many of us share his concerns about spouses, but the Treasury has already acted on those issues.
I am trying to illustrate the impact that the regime has. The Treasury has relaxed some of the rules and there has been a change in relation to the nature of the three orders. There has also been reform of the system of licensing and exemption. In the 2009 order, there is much greater acceptance of the terms; indeed, the Treasury is trying to migrate a number of the people who are covered by the earlier orders on to the 2009 order.
The judgment continues:
“A, K and M have never been charged or arrested for terrorism related offences.”
So the Government have introduced an intrusive regime that denies people who are suspected of crimes some of their fundamental rights under the European convention on human rights, including those under article 1 on protection of property, article 8 on respect for privacy and family life and article 6 on the right to a fair trial. As Lord Brown argued in paragraph 192:
“The draconian nature of the regime imposed under these asset-freezing Orders can hardly be over-stated…Undoubtedly, therefore, these Orders provide for a regime which considerably interferes with the…rights”.
He went on:
“Similarly, it is indisputable that serious questions arise as to the sufficiency of protection of the article 6 rights of those designated.”
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to the fundamental rights aspect of the orders, may I bring him back to an earlier quote from the Supreme Court’s judgment, which stated that A and K have disappeared? How does it help the fight against terrorism that people who are suspected of taking part in terrorism simply go underground?
The hon. Gentleman has a point. I assume, and hope, that while A and K might have disappeared in the eyes of their solicitors and the judges, they have not disappeared in the eyes of the police and security services. Perhaps the Minister can clarify that point later. It would be a perverse reaction to the orders for A and K to disappear without trace.
What was the basis of the orders? As we have established, they were introduced under section 1 of the United Nations Act 1946, which was enacted to enable the implementation of the UN charter and Security Council resolutions. Measures under section 1 of the Act are introduced by Orders in Council, so there is no primary legislation or secondary legislation under either the affirmative or the less onerous negative procedure. So those fundamental breaches of human rights were put into force by the Executive—the Government—and not by Parliament. The Supreme Court has ruled that the orders go beyond what is required to implement the relevant Security Council resolution and are therefore ultra vires, but how did they go beyond the resolution? It was because of the reasonable suspicion test. Article 4(2) of the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 states:
“The conditions are that the Treasury have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person is or may be—
(a) a person who commits, attempts to commit, participates in or facilitates the commission of acts of terrorism”.
The Court took the view that these provisions exceed the powers given to the Treasury under section 1 of the 1946 Act. In paragraph 61 of his judgment, Lord Hope said:
“I would hold that, by introducing the reasonable suspicion test as a means of giving effect to”
“the Treasury exceeded their powers under section 1(1) of the 1946 Act. This is a clear example of an attempt to adversely affect the basic rights of the citizen without the clear authority of Parliament.”
The fact that the Treasury adopted the reasonable suspicion test, which has proved unsatisfactory in the eyes of the Supreme Court, demonstrates the lack of wisdom of legislating by way of secondary legislation. Does my hon. Friend agree that if this matter had gone before the House in primary legislation, there would have been substantial protest from us and, no doubt, other right hon. and hon. Members regarding the use of the reasonable suspicion test, which is a low standard of proof?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point, and it was because of the lack of parliamentary scrutiny that the Supreme Court reached the conclusion that it did on the orders.
Let me continue to quote from paragraph 61. It goes on to say that
“fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. The absence of any indication that Parliament had the imposition of restrictions on the freedom of individuals in mind when the provisions of the 1946 Act were being debated makes it impossible to say that it squarely confronted those effects and was willing to accept the political cost when that measure was enacted. In my opinion”
the terrorism order
“is ultra vires section 1(1) of the 1946 Act”.
So if there had been a proper parliamentary process that had sanctioned depriving those who were suspected of involvement in terrorist acts of their rights, the Supreme Court would not have quashed the orders, but in the absence of that process, the Court felt that the powers were outside the scope of the Act.
As several right hon. and hon. Members have said, there were plenty of warnings. In addition to the way in which the case was pursued through the courts, there were three other warnings to the Government about the risk that they were taking in using the 1946 Act as the basis of the terrorist freezing orders. Those warnings were the Foreign Affairs Committee report on Sierra Leone in 1999, the Newton committee report of 2003, and the precedents used in other common law jurisdictions. I shall say a little about them to demonstrate that the Government had the warnings but chose not to hear them.
The Foreign Affairs Committee looked at how the Government imposed sanctions on Sierra Leone using the 1946 Act, and highlighted the need to use primary legislation to underpin the future use of those powers. In its 1999 report, the Committee drew attention to the way in which a resolution of the Security Council about the imposition of sanctions against Sierra Leone had been implemented by an Order in Council, but the Security Council resolution did not define Sierra Leone, leaving the extent of its application ambiguous. The Order in Council defined it in terms that removed any ambiguity but arguably went beyond the scope of the resolution. In the same way, in the present order the Government arguably went beyond the scope of the Security Council resolution that they were seeking to implement.
In its report, the Committee said that the way in which the Order in Council was dealt with was unacceptable as it was subject to no parliamentary procedure. Had it been necessary—this goes back to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal—for a Minister to appear before a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation or to defend the order on the Floor of the House of Lords, it was likely that wider attention would have been given to its true meaning and extent.
In paragraph 23 of its report the Select Committee recommended that
“the United Nations Act 1946 be amended so that delegated legislation made under section 1 was subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses of Parliament.”
So the Foreign Affairs Committee highlighted the problem that we see today, where the order overreached the Security Council resolution, and recommended that the affirmative resolution procedure should be used in the future.
A second warning arose from Lord Newton’s review of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which conferred powers on the Treasury to make freezing orders on residents of a country or territory outside the UK. Comment has already been made about the number of Acts on the statute book that could be used to freeze assets. A point that Justice made in its submission on the Bill was to ask why parts 1 and 2 of that Act and parts of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 could not have been used in place of the Bill. It would be helpful if the Minister addressed that issue when winding up the debate, as it has triggered widespread concern.
The 2001 Act was reviewed by a Committee of Privy Counsellors chaired by Lord Newton. Lord Newton said in his report that powers under part 2 were unlikely to be used while the 2001 order was in place. He argued in his conclusions that
“freezing orders for specific use against terrorism should be addressed again in primary legislation, based on the well-tested provisions of the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2001”.
This is another warning that the basis of the orders should be explicit in primary legislation. In retrospect, the 2001 order might not be seen as robust as later iterations, but the point that Lord Newton made about primary legislation is still valid.
The third warning was the way in which other nations have implemented the orders. Having originally opted for implementation using their equivalents of the 1946 Act, New Zealand and Australia subsequently set up the orders using primary legislation. Lord Hope responded to this by stating in paragraph 50 of the judgment:
“The regimes that both Australia and New Zealand have introduced by means of primary legislation are exacting. But they contain various, albeit limited, safeguards and in so far as they interfere with basic rights of the individual that interference has been expressly authorised by their respective legislatures.”
That is not the route that the Government have chosen to go down.
So there were warnings from the Foreign Affairs Committee and Lord Newton’s committee and the precedent from other common law jurisdictions that primary legislation was the preferred route, but the Government chose to ignore those and we have to put through this emergency legislation today.
No one should be under any illusions about the gravity of the measures in the Bill. Because the Supreme Court quashed the orders on Thursday morning, those subject to the orders could have accessed their bank accounts and the financial system with impunity since then. The Treasury sought the co-operation of the financial services sector to ensure that this could not happen, even though those subject to the order have the same right as you and I to use those assets.
I should like to ask the Minister about the period between the Supreme Court’s quashing of the orders on Thursday and the Bill gaining Royal Assent. Can she confirm that the provisions in clause 2 are sufficient to protect banks and other financial institutions from claims made by those subject to the freezing orders if, between 4 February and Royal Assent, they sought to withdraw money from their bank accounts? Has the Treasury granted an indemnity to any financial institution covered by this?
Where the Treasury has been given powers to grant further directions in clause 1(3)(a), can the Minister clarify under which order—the 2001 order, the 2006 order or the 2009 order—new directions would be issued where a terror suspect has been recently identified?
The final point that I want to raise with the Minister, to which I will return at greater length in the Committee stage, is the sunset clause. As I indicated in an intervention on the Chief Secretary, until last Thursday there was only one plan in town. It was to publish a longer, substantial Bill that would put the freezing orders on a proper footing through primary legislation, with a view to completing the parliamentary process by no later than 31 March 2010. That is the document that was published last week.
The view then was that that would give time for adequate scrutiny and it would have allowed Parliament to debate the measures properly. That is the offer that was on the table, and we reiterated to the Exchequer Secretary last Thursday that we were content to continue down that route, as well as participating in discussion of the Bill today. We believe it is right for this to happen, and it would reduce the period during which the Government were dependent on this emergency Bill. That is the basis of the amendment that we will move later.
The issue demonstrates the importance of reviewing the patchwork of anti-terrorism legislation. In its submission, Justice asked why parts 1 and 2 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and parts of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 could not be used in place of the Bill. Surely it is time to move beyond a piecemeal approach to national security legislation, and consolidate the legislation and ensure that it is compatible with fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Bill is necessary, because without it those suspected of involvement in terrorist activity could have been free to use their financial assets and the financial system. We do not know how they would have used this freedom, but it would have been reckless for the Government not to take steps to restrict that access, given the Supreme Court’s ruling. But in supporting the Government’s actions today, we cannot and will not ignore the fact that the Government are in this mess because they failed, despite all the warnings, to put the orders on to a proper basis. To deny people’s right to the freedoms that we take for granted, they bypassed Parliament and failed to seek Parliament’s approval for the action that they took. The Government’s repeated failure to respect Parliament has led them to the position that they are in today.
In 2006 the Prime Minister said that
“as terrorist finance operates on a global scale, we know that we are only as strong as our weakest links.”.
Today proves that the weakest link was the Treasury, the Department that the Prime Minister ran. It was the Department that failed to put the orders on to a proper footing. It failed to respect Parliament. It failed to respond to the warning signs from home and abroad. In passing the Bill tonight, we are bailing out the Prime Minister and getting the Government out of a hole, but it is the right thing to do to safeguard our country.
I welcome the Bill and the speed with which the Government have introduced it. Nobody would want any Bill to have to pass all its stages in one day, and for the House to miss the opportunity of pre-legislative scrutiny, but I am wholly convinced that the serious risk of no effective provisions being in place for terrorist asset freezing following the Supreme Court decision and, significantly, following the Supreme Court’s refusal to suspend that judgment, justifies the unusual action being taken by the Government today.
Opposition Members have made much about the Government somehow failing to heed the warning signs of legal action against the orders, but the High Court’s quashing of the order in early 2008 was overturned later that year by the Court of Appeal.
I can understand the right hon. Lady taking a legalistic point of view, but surely she should also go to the high ground and look back to 2001 and Lord Newton’s committee, or to 2004 and her hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and his Joint Committee on Human Rights. They did not interpret the matter on legalistic grounds; they based their contention on the fact that the measures should have been in primary legislation on broad, ethical grounds.
My point is that there was not only significant legal advice that the 1946 Act was a legitimate ground for introducing Orders in Council in order to translate UN Security Council resolutions, but legal justification between October 2008 and the point at which the Supreme Court upheld once again those individual appeals. The idea that every time a piece of legislation—primary or secondary—faces a challenge in the courts, the Government should rush to Parliament to pass separate legislation in order to mitigate the challenge is ridiculous. If anybody would like to estimate the time that we would spend here legislating on that basis, they would find that none of us would get home on any night at all.
As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said, we continue to face a serious threat from terrorism; and, despite the hard work of our police and our security and intelligence agencies at home and abroad, recent events have demonstrated that the threat remains from the al-Qaeda leadership, their immediate associates, their affiliates throughout the world and from rogue individuals who espouse their view and ideology. The scope and nature of that threat mean that we need a broad approach to tackling it. With the rule of law and the protection of human rights at its heart, the first priority of any counter-terror strategy must be to catch and prosecute those responsible for planning, facilitating and carrying out attacks, and to take action through our courts. The almost 200 successful convictions since 2001 are evidence of our commitment to, and success in, pursuing that route.
However, the threat is such that we should also use the broadest range of methods, including non-prosecution where necessary, to disrupt activity and make the UK as hostile as possible to terrorist planning and facilitation. An important element of that must be cutting the finance that funds attacks and networks. Terrorists need money to plan and carry out attacks, although, as my right hon. Friend identified, it is worrying how little an amount can cause terrible damage and loss of life. As he said, it is estimated that the 7/7 attacks on London cost £8,000. The improvised explosive devices that are used to attack our forces abroad can cost much less even than that.
Terrorist organisations also need money to sustain networks and provide financial support to terrorists and their families. The sums are likely to be greater, but they provide for the infrastructure of terror. We need to ensure that those who radicalise individuals and peddle the ideology that supports terrorism are tackled as they raise the funds for such work. It is suggested that work to limit funding internationally is successfully hampering the work of al-Qaeda. That activity is welcome, but it shows how important action on terror financing can be.
In recent years, that work has been scaled up throughout Government, involving the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the private sector. Work is in place to deter terrorists from using the financial system, to detect them when they do and to use financial tools to disrupt them. I understand that financial intelligence and investigation tools are used to support all counter-terrorist investigations, and we have excellent, specialist terrorist financial investigation capacity in this country.
Asset freezing is only one element of that work, but it is important. As my right hon. Friend said, our asset-freezing regime is based on international recognition, through the UN, of its significance in helping to counter the terror threat. As we have heard, the UN maintains under Security Council resolution 1267 a list of individuals and entities connected to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Security Council resolution 1373, adopted in September 2001, broadened that approach, recognising that individual states needed to take action against those within their territories who funded terrorism, even if they were not on the UN-held list. Given the fragmented terror threat and the growing phenomenon of individuals who self-radicalise or act alone following radicalisation, the legislation before us seems an important and appropriate development of the asset-freezing regime. That may well explain, as my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary have explained, why the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which confines itself to restraints on terrorists or acts that have been inspired overseas, may be insufficient. Given the fragmented terror threat, it is not inconceivable that wholly domestically organised and determined terrorist threats and networks may be operating, and we need an asset-freezing tool to use against them, too.
At the heart of the Supreme Court ruling was neither the principle of asset freezing nor even its practice in the UK, although the judges rightly commented on the onerous requirements, as other Members have said. At its heart was the translation of Security Council resolutions into UK law.
It is important for the House to understand why the Supreme Court did not consider the human rights aspect of the legislation. It thinks, and thought, that, because of the al-Jedda case, the implementation of Security Council resolutions takes precedence over all human rights under the European convention. That seems to be a wholly different position from saying that it is all right in human rights terms to pass such legislation.
I was not making that argument; I was arguing that the Supreme Court made its decision on the basis of the translation of UN Security Council resolutions into UK law, rather than on the detail of the legislation’s implementation or even on some of the other questions, which Members from all parts have rightly raised.
The right hon. Lady is right in part, but she will also accept that Lord Hope’s judgment, for example, was to the effect that the provisions in the orders were, in a democratic state, incompatible with civil and political rights.
Surely the key element is that, given the significant and onerous nature of the proposals, it was wrong to implement them without sufficient parliamentary oversight and scrutiny. The Government are attempting to put right the first stage of that today.
Given the seriousness of the threat, and given that there was legal advice to support the use of the 1946 Act, it is understandable that the Government thought it suitable. Its use has been ruled ultra vires, and the right response is to bring forward primary legislation, first, as quickly as possible in order to plug the gap.
Members from all parts of the House, but Opposition Members in particular, have criticised the speed with which the legislation has been brought forward, and I am sure that the Government would have liked more time for parliamentary consideration and external consultation. That, presumably, is why they asked the Supreme Court to suspend its decision: to maintain the asset-freezing orders in place while Parliament had the chance to consider the issue. That request was of course dismissed. It would be useful if my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary could confirm that its dismissal has potentially freed up considerable assets for terrorist use, enabling the people whom the orders covered to make free use of those assets and any financial institutions that they like. It is also worth pointing out that had not the Government moved quickly with this proposed emergency legislation, the financial institutions that have implemented the freeze could have been placed in a position whereby legal action could be taken against them.
If the Supreme Court decision is really about the will of Parliament, it is a bit hard to understand why Parliament could not be given sufficient time to consider the implications of the proposed legislation. Rightly, the Bill is temporary: its provisions will fall by the end of 2010. We should have more time to consider the nature of the provisions and the safeguards in place. This asset-freezing regime is onerous on individuals and their families. I am pleased that in introducing a new order last August to replace the 2006 and 2001 orders, the Government ensured that any restrictions are more carefully tailored to areas of genuine concern. They have made the safeguards more explicit and freed up the situation of spouses and families. Furthermore, in the last quarter, as reported in last November’s report to the House, 35 licences had been issued. These licences ensure that living requirements and finance for legal assistance can be met while other assets are frozen. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity, as far as she is able, to outline those restrictions and safeguards and tell the House what kinds of licences have been issued to ensure exemptions for necessary expenditure for living costs.
It is clear that dealing with this will take more time than we have today. That is why I welcome the publication of the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Terrorism Asset-freezing Bill, which was published at the same time as this Bill, and which gives Committees of the House, hon. Members and external stakeholders a proper opportunity to look in detail at the provisions, safeguards, restrictions and processes that are being put in place. However, I hope that consideration of that Bill will be brought forward as quickly as possible so that the House has the opportunity for the important full scrutiny. The scale of death and destruction willed by terrorists costs money. The building of networks comes at a price. In doing the job of countering this threat, it is necessary to recognise that reality and use a range of tools to tackle it. Asset freezing is an important tool in doing that, and we must ensure that those whom we task to keep us safe have it at their disposal. The Bill will ensure that protection in the short term; for that reason, I hope that we pass it today.
We have heard three speeches in support of the Bill. I have to say that Liberal Democrat Members are not yet persuaded, but we will listen to the remainder of the arguments.
Under Security Council resolution 1373, the UK Government are obliged to take action to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts and to freeze without delay the funds or other financial assets of persons who commit or attempt to commit terrorist acts. If there were purely a technical problem in giving effect to that resolution, we would all be bending over backwards to help the Government to achieve their aim; certainly, we do not want floods of money going into the acquiring of terrorist weaponry. However, that is not the issue; the issue is the position of the Supreme Court. I do not usually read Supreme Court rulings—I spend my time reading much more exciting things such as tables of economic statistics—but I was amazed by the trenchancy of the language, with references to “draconian”, “drastic”, “oppressive” and “paralysing” activities within the framework of these orders. The Bill has been described as very bad legislation. More importantly, in some ways, the legislation—not in our view but in the view of the Supreme Court justices—is unnecessary. That is why we remain highly sceptical about its validity.
More positively, I appreciate the fact that the Government have consulted quite extensively over the past few days. I have been consulted more extensively than at any time in my past five years in this job—even more than I was at the height of the banking crisis. In my more generous moments, I think that a spirit of consensus has broken out within Government; in my more cynical moments, I think that the Government are in a hole and desperately trying to get everybody on board. However, we will approach this constructively. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) and I have tabled a series of amendments that are intended to be constructive and to deal with what we think are the defects in the Bill, particularly the lack of clarity in the safeguards governing reasonable suspicion and the appeals process.
I pay tribute to the non-governmental organisations, Justice and Liberty, which have produced at very short notice—it is only 24 hours since the legislation was published in draft form—extremely impressive and detailed notes cross-referencing the legal points. That is particularly helpful to people like me who are not lawyers and tend to approach these complex legal and constitutional issues with all the enthusiasm of an ordinary member of the public faced with a mathematical economic treatise.
In terms of the nature of the problem to be addressed, let me deal first with the question whether this legislation is necessary. We have had an extended discussion, prompted by my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Cambridge, about whether it would be possible to use the alternative powers that are available, with a lengthy exchange on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. I was surprised to see Ministers swatting aside the judgments of Supreme Court justices as if they had perpetrated some elementary undergraduate error in failing to understand what the existing Acts were all about. It is possible that Lord Hope and his colleagues do not have a basic understanding of the law, but that strikes me as being rather unlikely. However, let us assume for the moment that they are wrong—that they completely misinterpreted what the 2001 Act was all about and failed to realise that there were limitations on its use. In that context, it is worth quoting what Justice said in its summary of the alternative legal powers:
“there are already a great many provisions in UK law that give effect to the government’s obligations under resolution 1373. These include sections 14-19 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (criminalising the use of funds or other property for purposes connected with terrorism); Parts 1 and 2 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001”
“the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (control orders). Even the provisions of the Proceedings of Crime Act 1998 may be used to seize funds that result from terrorist activity.”
I hope that Ministers will give us a clear explanation as to why these powers are not usable or not appropriate, because the Supreme Court evidently thinks that they are.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the fact that there is a significant amount of doubt about this brings us back to the point that if the Government had introduced in the House the provisions that they put through outside the House, then precisely these issues could have been raised by Members of Parliament, which is the way that Parliament ought to be used?
I am sure that that is right. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred to the fact that the Supreme Court justices had described this whole process as an offence against democracy, and that is a striking way of summarising what the right hon. Gentleman says about Parliament being the democratic forum in which these debates are properly conducted.
Let me turn to the reasons why the Supreme Court justices considered these powers, which we are legitimising for a further period—the best part of a year—as draconian, drastic, oppressive and paralysing, and go over some of the points that were made. The Government quoted Lord Brown in support a few moments ago because he ruled in their favour on one order. None the less, Lord Brown said in his comments:
“The draconian nature of the regime imposed under these asset-freezing Orders can hardly be overstated. Construe and apply them how one will—and to my mind they should have been construed and applied altogether more benevolently than they appear to have been—they are scarcely less restrictive of the day-to-day life of those designated (and in some cases their families) than are control orders. In certain respects, indeed, they could be thought to be even more paralysing.”
As for the orders’ impact on family life, the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), intervened a few moments ago to say that the Government had made an announcement to the effect that the family provisions would be relaxed. However, as I understand it, they are being enforced currently, and were described by a Supreme Court justice in the following terms:
“The overall result is very burdensome on all the members of the designated person’s family. The impact on normal family life is remorseless and it can be devastating”.
That language is not moderate, especially coming from people in a profession normally associated with understatement.
The deputy president, Lord Hope, concluded in discussing the orders:
“The consequences of the Orders that were made in this case are so drastic and so oppressive that we must be just as alert to see that the coercive action that the Treasury have taken really is within the powers that the 1946 Act has given them.”
That is strong stuff. We should take note of it, not merely of the purely legal points being disputed.
We return to two central principles. The first is the point about reasonable suspicion. The notes prepared for us by Justice and Liberty state that other countries with similar approaches to the law have also grappled with this problem: what is the right balance between absolute proof and reasonable suspicion? Even the Australians, who could hardly be accused of being soft on terrorism and who have had to cope with bombings in Bali and elsewhere, apply a tougher standard of proof. A Minister must be persuaded that an individual is involved in terrorism. That is a somewhat stricter test than reasonable suspicion, which is why my colleague and hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and I have tabled amendments to strengthen the safeguards on that point.
On appeals, it is worth recalling again what Lord Rodger, another justice, said:
“the harsh reality is that mistakes in designating will inevitably occur and, when they do, the individuals who are wrongly designated will find their funds and assets frozen and their lives disrupted, without their having any realistic prospect of putting matters right.”
That is why appeals should be heard on issues of substance and not simply of procedure.
I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) have been trying strenuously to communicate in this debate, so I will give way.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Will he also keep in mind page 19 of the 2004 report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights? It makes the point that judicial review, which is the only protection afforded by the draft Bill and indeed the order, affords
“only a very limited protection against legislative orders of this kind, except where they contravene European Community law.”
We must recognise that judicial review per se is not an examination of the merits of an order.
Exactly. That is the point that I made, and I am grateful for the clarification.
It is to the Government’s credit that they have acknowledged the problems arising from the case and are now discussing a sunset clause. There is a debate to be had about what a realistic period is. The Government propose 10 months, and I think that the Conservatives have proposed until the end of March. It is difficult to see how a Select Committee could do a proper review or both Houses could take a proper approach to the review of legislation by the end of March.
Equally, though, one should not overestimate how much time such things take. Reviews can run concurrently rather than consecutively, and the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) helpfully suggested that his Committee works fast. We are not at all persuaded that 31 July is too far away for a proper scrutiny of legislation with proper debate and all the necessary stages in Parliament.
In conclusion, problems arise when legislation is introduced very rapidly on a 24-hour basis. Long before I got involved in politics—in the year I got married, which was just over 40 years ago—my wife and I discovered while we were making wedding preparations that her family and most of our friends who were British subjects were being declared stateless by the British Parliament, because they happened to be east African Asians. On the basis of a panic and “facts” that subsequently turned out to be wholly incorrect, they were, in effect, systematically stripped of their British citizenship.
That was not the first case of fast-track legislation, and the Bill before us will not be the last, but we must learn from experience that legislation taken in great haste and panic is often very bad legislation. Liberty’s evidence on emergency legislation to the Constitutional Committee sums up not just the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 but the Bill perfectly:
“When legislation is introduced into Parliament and passed within a few weeks or even days it is impossible for Parliament fully to analyse and debate the proposals put before it. It is also extremely difficult for NGOs and civil society to have the time to examine the proposals and brief parliamentarians on the likely impact…Legislation drafted in haste will inevitably contain errors, be they minor or more substantial. Even more worryingly, the policy behind such legislation will at best be ill-thought out and at worst may be motivated by political objectives to be ‘seen’ to be responding to an event or judgment.”
That is exactly where we are today.
It is good that for the first time, we are debating what is in the orders, at least to some extent. It has been mentioned that we should have had an opportunity to do so before now. I recall from the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that that Bill included a section dealing with asset-freezing orders and some aspects of how they could be challenged. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and I tabled some amendments that would have permitted us to debate those clauses, but as so often happens on Report, as a result of the timetabling motion, our amendments were never reached, so no debate on the orders ever took place.
What we are being asked to do today is to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision. It is important to recognise that that does not simply involve dealing with a technical error. The Supreme Court did not overturn the orders on a technical issue; it quashed them in strong language, as was pointed out. In this emergency legislation, we are effectively bringing into law orders that were quashed by the Supreme Court in strong language.
It is interesting to read the retrospective bits in the Bill. One will protect the banks during the period from the Supreme Court’s decision to Royal Assent. What would the position be of somebody who gave money during that period to someone who was subject to a freezing order? Would they have any protection?
The orders put into effect UN Security Council resolution 1373, which concerns preventing and suppressing the financing of terrorist acts and criminalising
“the wilful provision or collection…of funds…with the intention that the funds should be used…to carry out terrorist acts”.
We used the United Nations Act 1946 to bring the orders into force. They allowed the Treasury to designate individuals against whom measures should be taken, and the Bill will keep them in force. It then becomes a criminal offence for any person to make available any funds—there is no de minimis level—to the designated person. Licences are granted to allow the designated person to receive payments for their daily living expenses, but the operation of those licences has been such that those people and their families have had to produce detailed accounts for the Treasury of every penny that they have spent.
I hope that, when we eventually debate the draft Bill after it has been published, we will look into the need for a requirement to consider whether there is evidence that could lead to a prosecution before using the designation mechanism. As it stands, there is no necessity to establish a connection between the designation and any suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity.
The description of the orders as “draconian” by the Supreme Court has already been mentioned, as has their effect on the individuals concerned. Sometimes, their effects have been quite astonishing. For instance, in 2008, some people who were the subject of these orders wrote to the Treasury to ask whether it was permissible under the orders to buy new boots, trainers and shoes. The Treasury responded that this raised complex issues about what constituted a basic expense as opposed to an extraordinary expense, and that these were matters for which ministerial approval would be required. That was the extent to which the orders were impinging on the lives of the individuals who were subject to them.
Under the legislation, no one is allowed to give economic assistance to someone placed under such an order. That leaves the individual or family totally dependent on the regime that the Treasury has set up. Anyone who gives such assistance is at risk of becoming the subject of an order themselves.
Absolutely; it is a criminal offence to give such assistance.
There were queries about whether paying for an Oyster card or allowing someone to borrow a car would constitute giving them economic assistance. There was constant correspondence between the solicitors representing those individuals and the Treasury to try to determine exactly where the boundaries of the orders lay. Any new legislation must ensure that there is absolute clarity on what people are permitted to do while under designation, and on what constitutes a criminal offence.
The important issue of the basis on which people are designated—the ground of reasonable suspicion—has been raised a number of times. Lord Brown said in another case in which he was discussing this standard of proof:
“To suspect something to be so is by no means to believe it to be so; it is to believe only that it may be so”.
We are talking about a very low standard of proof. In quashing the order, the Supreme Court judges’ statements made that clear. Some of the arguments in this debate have suggested that the Supreme Court’s reasons related to the use of the United Nations Act 1946. I suggest that there is far more to it than that.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point about reasonable suspicion. Perhaps he will accept this analogy. Police officers can arrest on reasonable suspicion, but a charge requires a much higher level of proof, and a conviction requires a yet higher one. In other words, the ground of reasonable suspicion is right at the lowest level of the hierarchy.
That is clearly the case, and that is why I am worried about the use of reasonable suspicion in imposing sanctions on individuals. We could be dealing with people about whom, yes, there might be a suspicion, but there is no proof. That is an important distinction.
In dealing with the question of reasonable suspicion, the Supreme Court had quite a lot to say. Lord Hope said that Security Council resolution 1373 was not phrased in terms of reasonable suspicion. He said that it referred to persons who
“commit, or attempt to commit, terrorist acts”.
He said that transposition of the direction into domestic law raised questions about what was necessary or expedient. He clearly said:
“It was not necessary to introduce the reasonable suspicion test in order to reproduce what the Security Council resolution requires.”
That was echoed in comments made by the other Supreme Court judges.
The Bill will bring in temporary legislation that will be in place for a few months at most. The draft Bill, which has been published, will produce more permanent legislation. We are not here this evening to debate the draft Bill, but it is important that it should be debated in great detail at the appropriate time, and that the issues that we have debated to some degree today—reasonable suspicion, safeguards and the appeals system, for example—should be thoroughly considered when the draft Bill is debated.
This Bill will clearly go through this evening, but I would not want it to be followed by a rush to permanent legislation. That is what would happen if we tried to get the legislation in place by 31 March. Whatever permanent legislation we introduce must be thoroughly examined. It has been pointed out endlessly today that one of the failings of the process has been that the orders were never scrutinised by Parliament in the first place. We should not make a similar mistake when introducing the permanent legislation that will follow these measures. We should not try to push it through in a hurry without proper pre-legislative scrutiny, without proper examination by a Bill Committee, or without a decent debate on Report and in the other place.
It is important to include a sunset clause in the Bill. Legislation such as this, which does virtually nothing except overturn a Supreme Court ruling—it is retrospective legislation in many ways—must be put in place only on a temporary basis. It is also important that the House should leave itself reasonable time to get the permanent legislation in place. I would certainly not be happy with any attempt to rush it through before 31 March, because that would not give us enough time. Nor am I convinced that legislation of this nature would best be dealt with in the first weeks of a new Parliament. I am therefore not unhappy with the sunset clause as it stands, because it is desperately important to give this whole matter the thorough examination that it simply has not had so far.
The challenge to strike a balance between fighting against terrorism, which we all know to be a major threat, and preserving our freedoms is one of the most difficult that the House faces. Some years ago, I was on a delegation to Russia. We were guests of the Duma, and we talked to a number of its members a short while after the Beslan outrage in which a number of children were taken hostage. The Russians asked us how we got the balance right, and I do not think that any of the British parliamentarians could say, hand on heart, that they were sure that we had ever done so.
Throughout the years when we were dealing with IRA terrorism and, more recently, as we have tried to deal with the worldwide problem, it has been difficult to strike the right balance. It is clear, however, that there is a better chance of doing so if we in Parliament—here and in the other place—have proper debates on these matters. Sometimes, we have legislated in haste, for understandable reasons, and have not got the resulting legislation entirely correct. In other areas of legislation, such as the legislation to enable local government to fight terrorism in various ways, the law of unintended consequences has come into play. Legislation passed through this House very quickly—probably under a guillotine—was used for outturns and objectives that Parliament did not intend. It is a pity that we are back today because the Government did not originally introduce a Bill to overturn the Supreme Court ruling.
The Supreme Court has not been going that long, and I suspect that there will always be some tensions between such a body and Parliament. Nevertheless, given its short history, it is a pity that we are already having to legislate to change its decision. As hon. Members have said, that decision was well considered and the judgments raised some important concerns. As I am not a lawyer, I will not go into those tonight.
When we are fighting terrorism, we have to act quickly and, yes, cutting off funds is an important component. However, we must also have a regime that is fair. As is the nature of things, reasonable suspicion is—as we have heard—a relatively low test. The world being as it is, sometimes we get the wrong person. People can end up caught in web without being involved in terrorism, but these proposals are so draconian that that would have a major impact on their family life.
That is an interesting point, because one only has to ask oneself what review mechanism is available for the person caught in the web. All the Government would have to do is satisfy the court that there was reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in terrorism, not that actual evidence existed of that involvement. It would be very difficult for a suspected person to challenge the finding of the Treasury.
Of course that would be very difficult. One suspects that some of these individuals are not necessarily wealthy or well-connected people. If the Treasury set up a regime in which these people had only a limited amount of money to live on and they were not allowed economic assistance, going to the courts would not be a realistic option in many cases, even allowing for what the Chief Secretary said earlier about recourse to legal aid.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fundamental problem is that if one makes a mistake in this area and an innocent person is affected, it would be a real affront to justice? That person could carry that scar for the rest of his life. Unless there is a proper way to challenge the provisions, we could end up doing the terrorists’ work for them.
Clearly, if some of the orders are centred on certain communities, that could be the effect. People could feel that they were being picked on. The important point to note is that it is very difficult to deny that you are a terrorist, if someone else has reasonable suspicion of that. How do you prove you are not a terrorist? A judicial review would look at the process that the Minister went through and whether it had legislative support: it would not look at the justice of the case. Even with rushed legislation, I cannot see why it cannot include some form of appeal process. It would not have to involve the whole court system, as it could be a judge sitting in a room somewhere who looked at the evidence and came to a view.
In the House, we have just been through a process—difficult for many—in which we had Sir Thomas Legg looking at our expenses and then a judge providing an appeal process. In this area, which will involve very difficult issues, I cannot see why a judge could not be appointed to consider the information available from the point of view of natural justice and to come to a speedy decision. Why go through the expense of a judicial review that may not even lead to justice?
Although the model of special counsel is in no sense ideal—many aspects of that regime are easy to criticise—such a process provides a limited redress.
What we have to consider is not only the broader picture of protecting our constituents, but the innocent man, woman or family caught in this situation, who then find that they have no easy way to get out of it. They may be caught for years in this dreadful situation with no ombudsman to help. I joked earlier about whether being subject to one of these orders might have an impact on someone’s Experian credit status, but in reality, someone’s life could be totally ruined by being subject to one of these orders.
If we believe that it is right, in the fight against terrorism, to use draconian powers against UK citizens in this way, we must have a system of redress and appeal. Otherwise, natural justice would be offended, and that does the fight against terrorism a disservice. However rushed this legislation, we must consider the process of appeal and the possible impact on individuals’ lives. Some innocent people will be caught by this legislation, and we have to bear them and their families in mind.
Unfortunately, there has not been an opportunity for the Joint Committee on Human Rights—or anyone else, for that matter—to scrutinise the emergency legislation from a human rights point of view. That is ironic in view of the Supreme Court’s reasons for quashing the order—that asset-freezing measures with a dramatic effect on individuals’ fundamental rights had been made by Executive order without parliamentary scrutiny. It is not clear to me whether the lack of opportunity for the Joint Committee to scrutinise the Bill is the fault of the Government or of the Supreme Court. It is probably a mixture of both.
Personally, I would have preferred it if the Supreme Court decision had been postponed for a while, as suggested by Lord Hope, to provide at least some opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the emergency legislation’s compatibility with fundamental rights. It looks as though the Supreme Court’s order has deprived Parliament of the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation from the human rights point of view, by refusing to postpone the coming into force of that order. In that respect, Lord Hope’s dissenting judgment looks a little more persuasive. My Committee has a good record of carrying out such scrutiny quickly. The last time was on the anonymity of witnesses emergency legislation. We produced that report extremely quickly, and we could have done so in this context too, in just a few days.
One further complication is whether we would have been able anyway to scrutinise properly the Bill’s compatibility with the Human Rights Act, in light of the al-Jedda judgment. That is an open question, because the judgment is going to the European Court of Human Rights for determination. The al-Jedda judgment said that UN obligations trump any domestic human rights treaty obligations—in this context, the European convention on human rights and, I suppose, the Human Rights Act. However, we would have been able to scrutinise the legislation for compatibility with common-law fundamental principles, which it might also offend. Another interesting question is whether this emergency legislation, or the draft legislation that has been published, will in due course attract a certificate of incompatibility. That may test the lawyers in the light of the al-Jedda judgment.
Last March, the Secretary of State for Justice spoke at a public lecture, I believe at Clifford Chance, and said that the time had probably come to revisit the breadth of our counter-terrorism laws. This episode illustrates why that is necessary. What has happened recently in the challenges to control orders, the AF judgment and now the latest judgment illustrates the importance of such an overall review of our counter-terrorism laws to ensure that we get things right in the first place.
There is no doubt that there is a human rights obligation to protect the public from the threat of terrorism, but one of my concerns is that the House never gets an opportunity to scrutinise that threat properly. The director-general of the Security Service is happy to make speeches to the Society of Editors and answer journalists’ questions, and to speak to other learned bodies, but he is not prepared to make the same speech and answer questions before a Committee of the House of Commons or a Joint Committee such as my own.
There is no doubt that it is right and proper to freeze terrorist assets, but it should be done justly and fairly. We are not talking about a huge amount of money— £150,000, which is probably only a fraction of the amount spent on lawyers to argue about the matter; it is probably less than a tenth of that amount. The judgment that I mentioned concerned five men whom the Treasury suspects of involvement in financing terrorism. It is important to note that none of the men has been charged with, let alone convicted of, terrorist financing or, as I understand it, any other terrorist offence.
We have heard about UN Security Council resolution 1373, which obliges us to act to freeze the funds of
“persons who commit, or attempt to commit, terrorist acts”.
It makes no mention of freezing the assets of those only suspected of involvement in financing terrorism. We should examine our terrorism laws in that context. We have a very broad definition of terrorism, going way beyond that of the UN. We also have an enormous range of terrorism offences, which I suspect is more broad than anywhere else in the world—it is certainly in the top bracket—but even in that context none of the individuals involved has been charged with or convicted of an offence. As we have heard, there is no provision for them to challenge the basis on which they have been suspected of involvement. I shall say a little more about judicial review later.
It is worth repeating some of what was said by the Supreme Court. Lord Hope stated:
“It is no exaggeration to say…that designated persons are effectively prisoners of the state…their freedom of movement is severely restricted without access to funds or other economic resources, and the effect on both them and their families can be devastating.”
He stated that the orders
“strike at the very heart of the individual’s basic right to live his own life as he chooses”.
Lord Brown stated:
“The draconian nature of the regime imposed under these asset-freezing orders can hardly be over-stated.”
To return to my point about resolution 1373, Lord Phillips stated that it
“nowhere requires, expressly or by implication, the freezing of the assets of those who are merely suspected…Even if the test were that of reasonable suspicion, the result would almost inevitably be that some who were subjected to freezing orders were not guilty of the offences of which they were reasonably suspected. The consequences of a freezing order, not merely on the enjoyment of property, but upon the enjoyment of private and family life are dire.”
We have already heard about the comparisons with other common-law countries, but the real problem is the contradiction with our own basic fundamental principles of the common law. There is no doubt that if this were a Human Rights Act case—because of the al-Jedda case we do not know whether it is—the right to property under article 1 of the first protocol of the European convention on human rights, the right to respect for the family and private life under article 8 and the right of access to the court, protected both by common law and article 6, would be engaged. That prompts the question whether the law before us, in the current emergency legislation or in its final version, will give rise to a certificate of incompatibility under a further legal challenge. Lord Phillips commented:
“Access to a court to protect one’s rights is the foundation of the rule of law”,
and that is not provided for in the Bill. Lord Hope concluded:
“The consequences of the Orders that were made in this case are so drastic and so oppressive that we must be just as alert to see that the coercive action that the Treasury have taken really is within the powers that the 1946 Act has given them.”
That was why the Supreme Court ultimately quashed the orders.
We will obviously have to have further primary legislation, but we must consider whether it is needed. We heard from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) a long list of laws that we already have which could deal with the matter. The Chief Secretary said that they apply only to foreign cases, but we have heard no evidence today about how many of the people currently subjected to the orders in question are exclusively in the foreign domain and how many would therefore be caught by the existing laws. When the Exchequer Secretary responds, it would be helpful if she could say whether it is true to say that none of those cases could have been dealt with under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 for jurisdiction reasons, never mind for raisons d’état. Lord Rodger stated that
“the harsh reality is that mistakes in designating will inevitably occur and, when they do, the individuals who are wrongly designated will find their funds and assets frozen and their lives disrupted”.
We have heard about the sunset clause, which will come into effect on 31 December. That inevitably means that we are enacting retrospective criminal legislation, and I understand that we may be asked to do that again later this week in another matter, which I shall not go into. The notion of retrospective criminal legislation is always profoundly suspect in any democracy governed by the rule of law. Article 7 of the ECHR makes it clear:
“No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed.”
The other problem with the sunset clause is that it will take us into the next Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) said that we do not have to rush permanent legislation through by 31 March, but having read the draft Bill, I believe that a couple of months would be sufficient to scrutinise it properly and take it through. This Parliament has gained considerable experience in scrutinising counter-terrorism legislation, as we have seen in the significant reductions in Government majorities on it as time has gone by. As Back Benchers have felt more concerned about what has been going on, they have become more confident about challenging some of the arguments advanced. A new Parliament, in which we understand at least a third of all Members will be new, may not have the confidence to challenge the new Government, whether Labour is returned or the Opposition win. That is why it is important that the matter should be dealt with in the existing Parliament. We have shown that we are prepared to stand up, for example on 42 days.
The question is whether the new legislation will move us closer to compliance with Security Council resolution 1373. I do not believe that it will, because we will still have the grounds of reasonable suspicion for making orders, rather than the commission or attempted commission of terrorism acts. There will not be a right of appeal on the facts, and I take issue with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on that. He said in an intervention that all the Government would have to prove was that a Minister had acted on reasonable suspicion. That is not right, because on judicial review, the claimant, not the Government, would have to prove on the Wednesbury test that the Minister had acted in such an unreasonable way that no reasonable Minister could have concluded that there was reasonable suspicion of an offence having been committed. Let us remember that that is on the basis of the person concerned not even having a case against them in the first place.
A lot of the evidence will be closed, possibly through the special advocate procedure, and not open to the person involved. It might possibly be available through gisting, but certainly the whole case will not be available to them. If there were a case against them, the chances are that they would have been charged and prosecuted. The prospects of judicial review under the new legislation are a chimera, because it would be impossible to secure judicial review to challenge the basis on which orders are made. We have to have a proper judicial right of appeal, as with the decisions of Sir Thomas Legg, as the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) said. If we are entitled to have that right on the question of our expenses, surely people in the circumstances that we are discussing are entitled to have a similar procedure to challenge the freezing of all their funds and assets, no matter how small they may be. Judicial review is simply not a fair way of dealing with the issue.
We have heard about legal aid and living expenses being provided under the licensing regime. I challenged my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary about how that could be appealed against, and he said that it could be challenged in court. Again, however, that would be under the same judicial review test. He gave the example of buying trainers or books, but do we seriously expect a vast amount of legal aid money to be wasted on a judicial review challenge about whether somebody is entitled to buy books or trainers for their kids? That would be the consequence of there not being a proper right of appeal, judicial or otherwise, on the facts of what has been decided, which cannot be fair or right.
Transparency is of course important, but let us remember that in most of these cases we will publish people’s names. This is the first counter-terrorism judgment that I have read that names the individuals concerned. In other cases, people are called Mr. A or Mr. B or whatever—their anonymity is protected because they have not been convicted of any offences, and quite rightly. Those in the 14, 28, or 42-day cases have their anonymity protected, as do those subject to control orders, but those in the cases to which I have referred do not. It would be difficult to protect anonymity and achieve the object of the freezing order, but we need to think about some degree of confidentiality. It might be okay to tell the banks, but is it fair to broadcast it to the next-door neighbour?
There are many issues of fairness in the Bill. I suppose the Minister will say, “Well, this is determining a civil issue, not a criminal issue,” but time and again that argument has been thrown out by the courts. Whether we like it or not, when it comes to counter-terrorism legislation, the courts determine criminal responsibility, which should be done using the criminal test.
I have grave doubts about the Bill. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham mentioned the Joint Committee on Human Rights sixth report of 2003-04. That report was published before I was on the Committee, but I wholly agree with its endorsement of the recommendation of the Newton Committee
“that freezing orders for specific use against terrorism should be addressed in primary legislation”.
I think we all agree with that, which I suppose is why we are here today. If that had been done at that time, we would not be here today and the matter would have been resolved long ago.
The Joint Committee report also states clearly that
“judicial review provides only a very limited protection against legislative orders of this kind”.
I concur with that. The draft legislation that we will soon be debating simply does not provide the required safeguards. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I suspect that after the Joint Committee has scrutinised that Bill I will be making a similar speech, should I be re-elected.
I will be fairly brief, because I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) want to speak and the winding-up speeches will start in about half an hour.
I begin by repeating what I said in the debate on the timetable motion: I accept that the Bill must pass and that it would be very unsatisfactory not to have such legislation in place, but I recognise that fact with an extremely heavy heart, because I deplore the process and what we are about to do. The Bill re-enacts the statutory instruments that were much criticised by the Supreme Court. We have been reminded by a number of right hon. and hon. Members as to the trenchancy of the criticisms of those orders made by, for example, Lord Hope.
The 2006 order went through without any parliamentary scrutiny at all. That is an extremely bad thing. We were told by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that that was permitted by the 1946 Act, but that is not the view of Lord Hope, who said that that measure did not justify the insertion of the reasonable suspicion test. In any event, however, while the Act might have so permitted, it certainly did not require the passage of such measures by way of secondary legislation. What in fact we are doing today is simply re-enacting in primary legislation what was previously in secondary legislation that was deemed offensive in almost all its particulars by the Supreme Court.
It is worth reminding oneself of the scope of the 2006 order, which is being replicated in primary legislation. In the first place, the order creates quite serious criminal offences, which are punishable by a maximum of seven years. That is not trivial. Secondly and differently, to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), the designation of the person involved in terrorist activity simply involves the reasonable suspicion test, which is a very low standard of proof. In addition, there is no way of challenging that designation outside the judicial review mechanism. As I think everyone but the Chief Secretary recognises, the judicial review mechanism provides a very limited form of review.
One matter of concern to me is that the draft Bill that the House may be asked to consider in due course relies on judicial review as the only safeguard. I agree very strongly with the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), and indeed all others who have spoken, that there needs to be some way of reviewing the issue on the merits. The 2004 Joint Committee report echoes that point. Moreover, the freezing orders are extraordinarily wide in scope. So far as I am aware, having looked at both the draft Bill and the 2006 order, there is, aside from judicial review, absolutely no way in which the scope of the freezing order can be impugned.
I do not think that there is any good reason why proper safeguards should not have been written into the Bill. In fact, there are a number of models on which one could have drawn—pick them off the shelf! The special counsel procedure in control orders is a case in point. I very much dislike that process, but it is better than nothing. There is no point in the Government’s arguing, “Well, we couldn’t do that, because we thought we were going to win the case in the Supreme Court.” That shows that they were jolly badly advised, because they did not win. Not only did they not win, but as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) said, the orders were criticised with remarkable robustness by people whose role in life is generally to understate rather than overstate their views. The Government lost not only for legalistic reasons, but for reasons of substance: the Supreme Court thought that the powers given were too draconian.
That was also the view expressed in the 2001 report under the chairmanship of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Newton of Braintree of the predecessors of the hon. Member for Hendon on the Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2004. The Government have been told time and again that such measures ought to be in primary legislation, not only because primary legislation is the proper vehicle, but because that process enables the House and others properly to review what is proper. On any view, therefore, what we are doing today is draconian.
The measure will last for a year or so, and the sunset clause is in place, which I welcome. I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me if I dissent from them slightly, but I think that a March sunset is probably too soon, because this is a difficult area of law. I agree with whoever said that he did not want to see our rushing through new legislation that has not properly been considered. I am inclined to think, with some hesitation, that March is too soon, and that even July is too soon. My disposition, with a heavy heart, is to go for the timing in the sunset clause.
I will be happy to end my speech after this point, because I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking want to speak. We are doing something that is pretty draconian. There is an essential rule in life that one must observe if one is a parliamentarian: all power given away is always, on occasion, abused. That is certain. From that follow two very important consequences. First, one gives away the minimum of power possible to the officers of the state. Secondly, where one must give power away, one must restrict the exercise of that power with proper constraints, reviews and appeals. Under this Bill we are falling foul of both propositions, and I deeply regret that fact.
I will be brief. I wish to make basically two points, both of which are relevant to the issues under discussion, but have a wider application.
First, I shall say a few words about the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. Lord Hope referred in his judgment the other day to the importance of parliamentary scrutiny and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive—in short, to the ability of this House, through Back Benchers and Oppositions, to scrutinise what Governments are doing, whether in legislation, Orders in Council or whatever else.
I first entered this House 27 years ago. I believe that those 27 years have seen a diminution in our ability to hold the Executive to account and to scrutinise them properly and at length. The late Lord Weatherill, the famous Speaker, told me once that he kept a record of those speeches in this House that actually altered the course of events through the power of their arguments, and there were many in those days. Can you believe it, Mr. Deputy Speaker: speaker after speaker in this House arguing something, and the Government turning round at the end and saying, “They’re right—we’ve lost the argument”? That is what I mean by parliamentary scrutiny. Compared with 25 or 30 years ago, we are impotent in this House when it comes to doing the job for which we were elected.
After parliamentary scrutiny, the next most important point I wish to mention concerns judicial remedy, which has been covered by many other speakers today. Designation and freezing orders are very serious matters indeed. They can have a real effect on a person’s life, and not just in the short term, but in the long term. Over in the Council of Europe, which I attend from time to time, we discuss human rights. We have representatives from many different European countries, some of which have good records, some of which have bad records. A year or two ago, a Swiss lawyer, Dick Marty, brought up United Nations blacklists at the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and we had a report on them. He told us what they were and what they meant. Through the United Nations, somebody could be put on a blacklist in relation to terrorist matters, and have their assets frozen and all the rest of it. He told us of a case in Switzerland where the restrictions were such that the person concerned could not leave his own canton, if that is another word for village.
No, it means county.
My right hon. and learned Friend confirms that it means county.
The key point was this: what remedy did that man have in relation to that designation? The answer was none. We thought—and I think—that that was a disgrace. If we hand power to the Executive without giving the citizen a proper legal remedy—a right of appeal—we are not doing our duty. If we make a whole series of orders—designation orders, freezing orders and so on—that have such a dramatic impact on someone’s life, do we as a Parliament not have a duty to ensure that we give that individual some hope of overturning them? Otherwise, what kind of world will we be living in?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and others have pointed out that judicial review is limited. The special advocate procedure is limited. However, we have to do something, because it would be terrible if, in years to come, we move further in the direction of the Executive being able to do something nasty against citizens, who then do not have the right to say to an independent judge, “Listen, this isn’t fair. It’s not just. Please overturn it.” That is one of the most important factors in our election to this Parliament: we are here to speak up for those who are dealt with in such a way by the Executive that they are defenceless. It is our job to protect them and ensure that they are protected.
Judicial remedies and appeals, and parliamentary scrutiny are two important aspects of this debate. I would hope—but we have not got the time. Oh dear! I hoped we would have had time to explore those issues at some length over the coming months, to ensure the basic rights of our citizens.
Today we are discussing what is, in fact, the main purpose of being a Member of Parliament—that is, how the citizen is protected. The danger is that all necessary terrorism legislation can easily be the means by which citizens’ freedoms are eroded. Over the past 250 years of legislation, the moments of most danger to the citizens have been those when we became most aware of the danger to the nation. That is a natural link. It is extremely difficult when we face the realities of terrorism to be as careful as we ought to be about the realities of individual freedom. Yet we are fighting terrorism in order to defend that freedom. That balance is therefore essential in the defence of freedom. We are not putting the one against the other: they are both part of the same effort.
That is why I would suggest to the Government that they have done themselves a disfavour by not using the House of Commons as the mechanism by which they ensure that that balance is achieved. The Government have spoken as if, somehow, using secondary legislation—or, indeed, no legislation at all—in order to carry through their requirements has been a necessary consequence of the terrorist threat. In fact, it should be the other way round: the terrorist threat should lead the Government to come to the House of Commons to debate the issues, to ensure that what they do can then be seen as proportionate and just.
That ought to be true in the highest way, but I suggest that it also needs to be true in a rather lower way. Two of my colleagues who have spoken are lawyers. I am not a lawyer. I do not much like the way the courts make law. Law ought to be made here, but if we make the law badly here, we will encourage judges in their increasing desire to make law themselves. Faced with bad law, I understand the anger, which is the only way I can refer to the language used by the Supreme Court—a phrase I dislike entirely. I understand the anger of those judges, who saw that what they were dealing with was wholly contrary to their understanding of the demands of the common law. There is therefore a reason not only for the Government to take Parliament seriously in making such judgments for the bigger scene, but to ensure that the distinction between the purposes of the courts and the nature of Parliament is continued and supported, which is the other issue.
We also have to look carefully at the result of what we are doing today. I recently saw this connection in a wholly different way, but I have seen how, when organs of government get the bit between their teeth, it is possible to act most unjustly in respect of individuals. What I have seen has seared my view, so I say this to the Exchequer Secretary, who is going to sum up this debate. One has to recognise that many of the people involved are at least innocent enough never to be charged. The figures are interesting, are they not? Of some 51 cases, 18 have been reviewed and dropped. The Treasury has suggested that that is a compliment to its review procedure, but one could think that it was a statement about the danger of the system, because it might be that those people should never have been on the list at all and that it is not the review procedure that should be praised, but the original decision that should be criticised.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for making a slightly legalistic point—I know he does not like lawyers very much—but if there had been a proper inter parte review, if he will forgive the phrase, the aggrieved party might have succeeded in many cases in which the Treasury has not reviewed the case in the person’s favour.
I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. That is what really worries me. I could not quite do the mathematics quickly enough, but if 18 cases have been reviewed, another 33 have not been reviewed—yet the people involved in them have not been charged. It is very dangerous to have 33 people subject to draconian punishment, when there has been no possibility for them to raise the issues in a way this House would see as reasonable for citizens of the United Kingdom.
Another thing we do not know about the 18 cases that were reviewed is how long it took before the orders were lifted.
The hon. Gentleman makes exactly the right comment, but that means that we are dealing with 51 people who, to any reasonable person, may have been subject to draconian punishment—I quote the judge in using that term—yet they may not be guilty at all.
I believe that Parliament must be very careful before making judgments based on an assumption that Ministers are decent people—I am sure that the Exchequer Secretary is decent and I am sure she will look at cases very carefully—who are therefore unlikely to get it wrong.
Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, let me say that I am a believer in the infallibility of the Pope, but it makes me extremely suspicious of the infallibility of anybody else. In that sense, I do not believe that Ministers are ever infallible. Parliament should never give to Ministers powers that depend on the degree of infallibility that a Bill like this one suggests.
The Government will always say that powers like this will be used strictly and only occasionally, but may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, so far as is known, the Icelandic Government have never been involved in any terrorism, but their assets were frozen?