[Relevant document: The Ninth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Sixteenth Report): Annual Renewal of Control Orders Legislation 2010, HC 395.]
I beg to move,
That the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in Force of Sections 1 to 9) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.
Will hon. Members please leave quickly and quietly, without having conversations that would be more appropriate outside the Chamber?
The purpose of the order is to renew the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. Sections 1 to 9 of this Act automatically expire after one year, unless renewed by an order subject to affirmative resolution by both Houses. The effect of the order will be to maintain the powers set out under the 2005 Act until the end of 10 March 2011. This will allow us, as the House will be aware, to continue to use control orders to tackle what I still believe is a threat posed to the public by suspected terrorists whom we can neither prosecute nor deport.
It is important at the start of the debate to remember why control orders are indeed necessary and need to be put in place. In recent years, there have been a number of potential threats, significant potential terrorist attacks and attempted attacks on our country, and, indeed, on other countries across the world. Those attacks and proposed potential attacks undermine the very fabric of our society and our values, leading potentially to the indiscriminate murder of innocent people.
The Minister will be aware that concerns remain about the financial support provided to victims of terrorism as a result of overseas incidents. Will he take the opportunity to update the House on the Government’s recent proposals and clarify whether they will apply in retrospect or start in January? A number of concerns have been raised by the families of people such as Will Pike, who was affected by terrorism in the Mumbai incident, and they are seeking urgent clarification on this very important issue.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I know that he takes a personal interest in this matter, and I appreciate that he has raised it not only today but on previous occasions. In the Crime and Security Public Bill Committee last week, I tabled a provision, which was accepted by the Committee, to establish the compensation scheme with effect from 18 January 2010—the date of Second Reading. If both Houses approve and Royal Assent is agreed, the scheme will operate with effect from that date for any potential future terrorist attacks. We obviously hope that there will not be any such attacks, but the provision will operate from that date.
My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary are considering how to develop a scheme that will not be retrospective for events, but will certainly look at attacks that have taken place since 2002. They will establish whether any such schemes could be brought forward to help the victims who have ongoing disability or injury problems as a result of terrorist action. My right hon. Friends hope to bring forward proposals on that shortly, as I have said, but I am afraid that I am not in a position to deal any further with that particular point this evening.
I worked on the Northern Ireland brief for a decade, and every year I heard a justification for temporary measures. I had the sense that the Government were willing to introduce such measures, but almost never willing to repeal them. In what circumstances could we realistically expect the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and say “We now propose a repeal”?
We tabled the motion because there remains a serious terrorist threat to this country, and we believe that approval of the order will help the British people to lead their lives more safely.
About 11 individuals are currently subject to control orders, and only 40 or so have been subject to them since the start of the regime. We have to make a judgment, however, and our judgment is that the measure is necessary given the level of threat that exists. That level of threat remains real and serious, and since the last order was presented to the House, it has been independently assessed as being at an even higher level.
I will happily give way to my hon. Friends, if they wish to contribute rather than chuntering in the background.
I am not guilty of chuntering in the background; I have been listening intently to what the Minister is saying. Following the intervention by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), will my right hon. Friend explain what elements of the current criminal law prevent us from dealing with danger, threats and criminal activities to such an extent that we must retain rather extraordinary orders, which a number of us believe fundamentally undermine many of our civil liberties?
I know that my hon. Friend feels that he may not be able to support these measures with conviction. I will try to persuade him to vote otherwise, but I understand the reasons for his concern.
We have to look at the level of the threat and at the tools available. As I shall explain later, there are individuals, whom we have assessed through information, who remain a potential threat to the safety of my hon. Friend’s citizens in Islington and my citizens in north Wales, who cannot be prosecuted because there is not enough evidence—although we believe them to be a threat—and whom we cannot deport, either because of the human rights record of the countries to which they might be deported or because they are British citizens. That judgment must be made. I accept that my hon. Friend may disagree—although I hope to persuade him not to—but the powers available to us are not sufficient to enable us to act in a way that would not potentially damage the security of the nation.
Is that not a fundamental contradiction? My right hon. Friend asserts that these people pose a threat, but then says that he has not enough evidence to prove it. Surely, in this country, people are innocent until proved guilty. If the Minister is so certain that these people pose a threat, why does he not press ahead and prosecute them? No one would argue with that.
That might be a solution, if there were sufficient evidence. If there were sufficient evidence, we would prosecute. On occasion, sadly, we hold information but cannot obtain sufficient evidence to prosecute, although we know that the individuals concerned pose a potential threat. We have had to make a judgment, which the House may or may not support tonight, on whether that threat remains real and serious, and whether this power should be introduced.
We need to consider a range of issues. We need to consider how to police individuals in order to provide the necessary security; we need to prevent individuals from being radicalised in the first place; and we need to disrupt potential terrorist attacks. As I have said, our preferred approach when dealing with suspected terrorists is to consider how we can bring criminal convictions and undertake those convictions accordingly. Since 11 September 2001, we have undertaken 217 convictions for terrorism-related offences, and a further 29 defendants are awaiting trial as of 31 March 2009. That demonstrates not only that we are trying to prevent terrorism and disrupt terrorist activities and that we are retaining control orders for a relatively small number of individuals, but that we are proceeding with prosecutions, when we can.
Surely it is exactly that successful record of prosecutions for terrorist offences that calls into question the need for these exceptionally draconian measures. The threshold test allows the Director of Public Prosecutions to proceed with a prosecution, even if the chances of success are less than 50 per cent. Why can we not rely on that flexibility, rather than introducing this measure?
I can only repeat that when there is sufficient evidence, we will prosecute. As I have said, there have been 217 successful prosecutions to date. Sadly, however, in a small number of cases we cannot secure sufficient evidence, but know that the threat exists. In such cases, we have to place some restrictions on an individual’s liberty in order to protect the liberty of the vast majority of people in this country.
The success rate of prosecution for terrorist offences is greater than 80 per cent., yet the DPP can proceed with a prosecution even if the chance of success is lower than 50 per cent. There is an enormous margin that the DPP and the Minister are not using. Why not dispense with these draconian control orders, and use that margin instead?
We shall be debating a range of judgments this evening. The House must decide whether it supports the Government’s judgment that this measure is necessary to deal with a small number of individuals in whose cases the test of prosecution has not been met but the potential threat remains, and whom we cannot deport.
If it really is not possible to prosecute such people—although the use of intercept evidence ought to be an option—why not simply put them under surveillance? Given the small number involved, and the cost of the legislation and possible litigation, would that not be cheaper and more effective, especially as a number of those subject to control orders have absconded?
My hon. Friend has raised three issues. We are, in fact, considering intercept evidence. My hon. Friend will be aware that a group of Privy Counsellors have presented a report on the subject to the Government, and we intend to respond to it before the general election—which, as all Members know, will take place in short order. [Interruption.] I would love to give more details, but I do not have the power to do so. I cannot comment on the actual date, because it is not in my gift.
My hon. Friend has suggested that we look into the potential cost of surveillance. I do not consider that surveillance would be sufficient to maintain the level of protection that I believe we need. The control orders allow for a number of restrictions ranging from curfew to not using particular equipment. It is not simply a question of surveillance.
As my right hon. Friend knows, following the case of AF v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department a control order was lifted from the individual concerned. Control orders were lifted from two others as well. Presumably those people are under surveillance as an alternative to control orders, without significant jeopardy to the public. Given that over three years £13 million has been spent primarily on lawyers and bureaucracy, and given that control orders now apply to only 11 people, £1 million would go an awfully long way towards providing surveillance for the individuals concerned. Surely it would be better to spend the money on police officers and the Security Service than on lawyers and bureaucrats.
My hon. Friend knows that a large proportion of the costs of control orders to date have been spent on defending legal challenges. The day-to-day costs of running control orders are nowhere near the investment that would be required to maintain that level of surveillance.
I am happy to spend the next hour and a half discussing these matters, but I am conscious that the debate is limited to that time, and I want other Members to have their say in due course. However, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn).
I thank the Minister for giving way again. He has been generous, but I think that this is an important discussion.
Many Members on both sides of the House represent inner urban areas containing a multi-ethnic population, including a large Muslim population. We have all worked hard to establish a sense of inclusion in that community, but the perception of executive control and possible detention has a seriously corrosive effect on community relations, and on trust between the local communities and the police. I know that the Minister’s Department is concerned about that. What studies have been carried out on the issue?
We are constantly monitoring the impact on community confidence of a range of Government actions. Through the Prevent and Contest agendas, we are looking at how we can ensure that we both protect communities across the board and maintain the confidence of communities with a very high Muslim population, because that is important in helping us protect the general public, including people of the Muslim faith, from indiscriminate attack from terrorist activity.
I shall give way to both colleagues, but then I would like to make some progress, because I want the other Front-Bench spokespeople to have their say and because I will have the chance to respond in due course.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is helping the debate by allowing these interventions. He has responded to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that the threshold for prosecution has been brought down, but it has not yet been mentioned that, in addition to that, this Parliament has granted to the Government a broad palette of lower order offences, such as acts preparatory to terrorism and glorification. Given that panoply of new legislation on terrorism, is the Minister really saying there might be circumstances in which Parliament has not granted a sufficient breadth of offences and sufficient latitude in prosecution policy to allow him to trust the courts to do the job that, at the moment, he is reserving to the Executive?
Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not only the Executive: all these orders have to be judicially approved, and all of them are subject to review by Lord Carlile. It is therefore not true to say this is simply a matter for the Executive, because judicial involvement is important. I accept that the hon. Gentleman has very strong views on these issues, but I nevertheless believe that these provisions are a valuable tool in helping the Government to protect the public from terrorist activity.
I promise not to intervene on the Minister again, but I remind him that two of my constituents were charged with assisting terrorism, even though it was patently obvious to me that the charges were ludicrous. The Government spent a great deal of money on the case. I had to go and testify in their defence myself, and they were found innocent. If the Government can commit such enormous resources through the legal process against people who are innocent, how can the Minister possibly justify the randomness of having these control orders as a convenient aside?
I am unclear whether the hon. Gentleman’s constituents were subject to potential control orders, but if they were just charged with terrorist offences and found innocent, the matter took place through the legal framework and was ultimately tested in a court of law.
The position with regard to control orders is that, following the recent Lords judgment, we have to disclose portions of the evidence that we hold against individuals to their advocates, and ultimately that still has to be tested by judicial oversight. The fact of the matter is, however, that we have made the judgment that in certain circumstances the threat is so severe that this regime should be continued—although it is clear from the contributions to the debate so far that that will be tested by this House, and it will also go to another place later this week.
My contention is that we should continue with this regime, and we need to look at the reasons for that. We are looking at the Prevent programme, disruption, policing and the use of intercept evidence, and we are considering how ways of supporting the forces of law and order can be used to maintain a reduction in the terrorist threat. I believe that if almost any Member were the Minister with responsibility for this and they received advice saying, “We can’t prosecute, but we believe this individual is involved in activity that is detrimental to their fellow citizens,” they would take the same action that the Government have taken today. I believe that almost all Members would, if faced with the decisions we have to take, support the use of this order.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way; indeed, it would be horrifying if there were hardly any interventions in a debate on such a subject. While recognising the dilemma that he has just spoken about and having no doubt there remains an acute terrorist danger—not a single person present either in the Chamber or outside would challenge that—can we take it that when this order is approved, as it most certainly will be later, if we still have a Labour Government next year there will be a genuine attempt to find alternatives to what most of us consider to be a very unhappy situation in respect of control orders, which are an infringement of traditional British liberties?
One of the reasons why we have an annual debate on these orders is so that we can assess annually whether this order is required, and, if so, whether it is required in the same form as 12 months previously. I have to say to my hon. Friend that one of the things that has changed in the past 12 months has been the level of the threat to the United Kingdom as a whole, and therefore we believe that this order is still required. There are still 11 individuals currently on control orders; we believe that this is a necessary power; and I hope that I have convinced Members on both sides of the House of the case for it.
We want to improve our ability to prosecute and deport; we want to ensure that, where we can, we take action through the courts; we want to ensure successful prosecutions; we want to ensure deportations; and we want to ensure effective policing. Sadly, however, there is a small group of suspected terrorists whom we cannot prosecute or deport, and these control orders are intended to protect the public from the risk posed by such individuals. I must also say to those hon. Friends who have concerns on these matters that these control orders are applied irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or religion; decisions on them are based on an assessment of the threat an individual poses to citizens of this country—they are based on national security considerations.
Over the past five years, these orders have proved to be a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism. As I have said, they are not imposed arbitrarily—a judge must agree that they are necessary and proportionate. Neither are they imposed widely—there are currently only 11 of them in force, and only 46 individuals have ever been subject to a control order.
As hon. Members know, over the past year there have been developments in another place relating to the judgment on AF and others and in the light of the Strasbourg judgment on A and others, where the Law Lords concluded that in order for control order proceedings to be compatible with article 6 of the European convention on human rights, the controlled person must be given sufficient information about the allegations against him or her to enable him or her to give effective instructions to the special advocate. That has caused the Government some difficulty; it has raised some concerns to which we have had to respond, but we believe that the balance has to be in favour of protecting the public from terrorism perpetrated by such individuals, and we would not disclose sensitive information that would harm national security. Our view is that the control order regime remains viable. Although there are difficulties, we will continue to use this regime if both Houses support it.
May I just ask a simple question? Why has relocation been increasingly used as part of the control order regime?
Relocation is an important issue. I accept and understand that that causes difficulties. The key issue, however, is that sometimes an individual is subject to a control order simply because they remain a threat because of their geographical location. If we move them from that geographical location, the threat they pose diminishes and in due course that helps them to have more positive inputs in their life and, potentially, to return to their native area having been deradicalised. Because of that, we occasionally move people from their home areas. We offer support for that, however. If the orders are approved, relocation will remain one of the tools that we might use so that this regime has successful outcomes.
I was not clear about the point that the Minister was making before my hon. Friend’s intervention. In the other place, there was discussion of the person subject to the control order having enough information for their advocate to make representations, and the Minister then talked about national security, saying that it was difficult for the Government, but that national security considerations would apply. Do the Government accept the decision of the other place, which would mean that everybody would get enough information about what they are being charged with, or not?
We have to ensure that we examine how we comply with those judgments. We supply information relating to the evidence as far as we can, but there may be occasions when to do so would compromise wider national security issues, so we need to make judgments about that, too. I believe that the control order regime that I have brought before the House today is compliant with human rights, will meet the requirements of another place and the Law Lords, and will meet our obligations under the European convention on human rights and in respect of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).
There is an honest disagreement between us, but I believe that this regime meets the human rights obligations that this Government have proudly committed themselves to achieving.
So far under the order only two control orders have been revoked on article 6 grounds without being replaced by new orders. The High Court has indeed upheld four control orders since the House of Lords judgment, following proceedings that were compliant with the test laid down in the cases of AF and others. The Government therefore remain of the view that the regime remains viable. Lord Carlile’s most recent report on control orders reaches the same conclusion, and he will continue to monitor our activity accordingly. [Interruption.] I did not catch what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said, but I am sure it was complimentary.
Lord Carlile’s 2009 report made clear his view that the control order regime was “largely effective”. His 2010 report examined individual cases in greater detail and he has concluded that three orders have
“substantially reduced the present danger”
posed by individuals. Indeed, in one case he concluded that the control order is “an effective intervention.”
I accept that people have concerns and real objections, and that the rest of this debate will undoubtedly involve the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and Labour Back Benchers who feel strongly about these issues rehearsing those objections effectively and strongly. However, I maintain that the orders are a necessary part of our response to terrorism. I again cite Lord Carlile, who has said that
“it is my view and advice that abandoning the control orders system entirely would have a damaging effect on national security. There is no better means of dealing with the serious and continuing risk posed by some individuals.”
He is overseeing this system, so judicial oversight is in place. His view is shared by the intelligence services commissioner, the director general of the Security Service and by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I wish to place on record my thanks to Lord Carlile for this report and to commend the order to the House.
I wish to begin by sharing the Minister’s analysis that there can be no complacency about the nature of the terrorist threat. Nobody on the Conservative Benches underestimates the threat we face. The fact that the joint terrorism analysis centre raised the threat level from “substantial” to “severe” on 22 January—although that was announced by the Home Secretary, it was an operational assessment in which Ministers played no part—should bring home to us the need for constant vigilance. I also wish to add my tribute to the efforts of the police and security services, who work tirelessly on our behalf. In the past year, I have been privileged to meet a great many security professionals and public servants, and I have been constantly impressed by the calm and determined manner in which they carry out their responsibilities.
Today, the Government seek renewal of the control orders legislation for the fifth successive year, and it is for elected representatives to consider that narrow aspect of the legal framework in which those public servants, dedicated to our security can operate. Unlike those involved in the day-to-day work of pursuing terrorists, we in this House must make our deliberations without the benefit of secret intelligence. With the exception of a handful of Ministers, former Ministers and the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the vast majority of us will vote today without having seen the evidence on the nature of the threat—evidence that is provided by the intelligence that is presented to the Home Secretary before he seeks renewal of these extraordinary powers.
I recognise what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the atmosphere in which we vote and the information that we do or do not have. However, I am sure that he recognises that a fundamental objection to what is proposed under the control orders is that they bypass an independent judiciary. In effect, they hand Executive powers to Ministers to bypass a normal independent judicial system.
Yes, I recognise that, and we warned of that from this Dispatch Box when the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was introduced. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman was in the Lobby with us trying to prevent those powers from being enacted. All the legal difficulties that were foreseen at that time have come to pass—that picks up on one of the points that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised about the costs of these orders, to which I shall return later.
We ought to recognise that the fact that most of us are denied the entire picture makes the decision-making process much more difficult. On this issue, I am sure that most of us would be predisposed to trust our Government, but the unhappy record of the past decade, ranging from the dodgy dossier through to the naked priority of political positioning in the debates on 90 and 42-days’ pre-charge detention, has meant that this Government have squandered people’s trust on security issues with the same abandon as our principal ally squandered the unimpeachable moral and legal high ground after it was attacked by the forces of mediaeval religious fundamentalism as represented by al-Qaeda. We examine these orders as the United States of America is setting out on the long process of trying to pick up the pieces of what has been a disaster for western liberal values—this is a disaster in whose costs we share and in which our present Government are wretchedly implicated.
We are asked to conclude that although control orders are flawed, practically highly problematic, potentially damaging to community relations, extortionately expensive and legally doubtful, they remain necessary. Like the Minister, I am sure that this evening we will hear again the powerful arguments against control orders in principle—indeed, we have already heard some of them in the interventions on the Minister and me.
In the corresponding debate last year, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) was kind enough to describe my speech as a “careful critique” filled with “passion”, and he noted the surreal situation of a debate in which Member after Member criticises Government policy before going on to vote for it. Well, if he were to look back at the record, he will note that last year I was not with him in the Aye Lobby. However, he made a valid point and I want to make clear from the outset my party’s position on control orders. We believe that the control order regime—I use English understatement here—is practically problematic and unjust, and we want to replace the system in a manner consistent with protecting the security of our citizens from both the immediate threat and the long-term threat, which will be shaped by how we manage today’s threat.
If a Conservative Government were to be elected, we would instigate a full review of the control order regime within a proper consolidation of this Government’s counter-terrorist legislation. Following its consolidation in 2000, that legislation has received a decade’s worth of incremental additions, so rationalisation is overdue. The replacement of this control order system should properly be part of a comprehensive overhaul of the existing legislation that sits in the eight counter-terrorism Acts brought into law in the past decade. It is matter of regret that the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), was not able to introduce the consolidation Bill he promised when he said that he planned for
“a draft Bill that takes into account all the work that I have laid out, to be published in the first half of 2007 for pre-legislative scrutiny.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2006; Vol. 442, c. 479.]
Part of the Government’s proposition is that there is no quick fix to the problems that would be posed by control orders being scrapped, and that it would be irresponsible to remove them without alternative measures being in place.
My right hon. Friend has talked about the problems of high principle with this issue and he is now discussing the legal problems, but I should like to draw his attention to one simple practical point. We were led to believe that thousands of people would be subject to these control orders when the legislation went through the House in 2005, but that has not turned out to be the case. Some 45 people have been subject to such orders and of those 45, seven have absconded. One would think that seriously dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists would be the ones to abscond, which indicates that this regime is not just flawed, but totally useless.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for generously promoting me to the Privy Council, which is, of course, not correct. It is impossible for us to come to the same conclusion as he has done, and in such absolute terms as he has presented it, but, of course, it is now possible for us to conduct that assessment with new information. Let me go on to explain how we want to conduct a review and outline the potential replacement of the control order regime.
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that he needs time to assess these matters, but may I point out to him that his colleague, the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), said in 2007, when he was the shadow security spokesperson, that those on the Conservative Benches would not support another renewal unless the regime was substantially improved? Let me quote him,
“we will support the extension with great reluctance, but we must put the Government on notice that, in view of Lord Carlile’s latest report, we will not be able to sustain our position this time next year.”—[Official Report, 22 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 443.]
Year after year, we have heard that claim. When are the Conservatives finally going to draw the conclusions from their impeccable logic and decide to vote with us against these infernally illiberal measures?
If the hon. Gentleman can restrain himself, I shall now explain the circumstances in which we propose to deal with the orders. We are now very close to having the opportunity to achieve a considered process, so the balance of argument has changed. It now runs strongly against our seeking to unpick the piecemeal and scattergun laws, introduced in an unfocused and unreflective manner, that govern counter-terrorism policy. For that reason, I shall ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to abstain this evening. As a party that aspires to have responsibilities in this matter and that might be quite close to getting them, we believe in taking a responsible approach. Our direction of travel is clear, a point reinforced by the quotation from my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer).
If the electorate charge the Conservative party with forming a new Administration, we will want to send a clear signal that we do not propose to defend our nation’s values by abandoning them. As an important signal of that we will certainly seek a replacement for this construct of control orders, but we do not intend for that replacement to be introduced in a rush or in a piecemeal fashion. It is our plan to use the first parliamentary Session of any new Administration to prepare the work for consolidation and reform, including that of control orders. When that work is complete, we will hope to introduce a consolidation and reform measure in the 2011-12 Session but, like every other piece of legislation, it will have to win its place in the parliamentary timetable against all the other competing priorities. However, I see no harm in explaining our objectives now so that the House can understand the context in which we will seek to rid ourselves of these powers.
Having taken into account the double uncertainty of the Conservatives’ winning a majority and the new Prime Minister’s asking me to continue with these responsibilities—I console myself that some academic study has revealed that 60 per cent. of shadow Ministers make such a transition in practice—we should not wholly discount the possibility that I might be back here in a year’s time, in the Minister’s place, with all the intelligence now at his disposal, making a case for a final renewal of these powers before they are overtaken by a wider review of all counter-terrorist powers. If that is the case, I wonder how many of those who will support these orders tonight will have reversed their views if they are then occupying the Opposition Benches.
Having made clear my party’s position on how we want to reconsider the current measures, I want briefly to set out why, in the absence of a review of all powers, we cannot support the renewal of control orders tonight and to consider some of the alternative options that should form the basis of a review of the regime. As was the case last year, I anticipate that the consensus reached by the House will be that, to quote the then Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker),
“nobody is in favour of having control orders if we could possibly do without them”.—[Official Report, 3 March 2009; Vol. 488, c. 735.]
That view has strengthened since the Minister made that observation a year ago.
In March last year, three men under control orders—AF, AN and AE—challenged the legality of the orders to which they were subject on the ground that their right to a fair hearing had been compromised
“by reason of the reliance by the judge making the order upon material received in closed hearing the nature of which was not disclosed to the appellant.”
That, as the Minister has told us, was declared unlawful under article 6 of the European convention on human rights—a view that was upheld by the Law Lords in June of last year. In the light of that judgment, the Government reviewed the 15 control order cases and in one case the order was revoked rather than further information being allowed to be disclosed. According to the noble Lord West, those no longer subject to an order will be placed under surveillance in the same manner as the 2,000 or so people currently considered a risk by the Security Service. That prompts a question about the merits of a regime that places expensive and cumbersome restrictions on 11 individuals while carrying out alternative forms of surveillance on 2,000.
Most worryingly, the Government have built the regime in order to place restrictions on a tiny number of individuals who they say pose a significant threat. Yet, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) made clear in his intervention, seven of those very dangerous people have absconded—and some have vanished. How can it be that, the last time the director of the Security Service gave a public number, it was assessed that there were some 2,000 individuals in the UK who were considered a threat and on whom, to quote Lord West,
“we are keeping varying close eyes”,
yet, of the handful of individuals deemed so dangerous that they are subjected to administrative detention in the form of a control order, seven have absconded? In his evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, Sir Ken Macdonald went even further, calling control orders “a mistake” and stating that
“the reality of the control order regime as it exists…is that it does not work”,
before concluding that they have
“brought our system of government into disrepute”.
So, the Ministers who oversee control orders recognise that they are flawed and would rather be rid of them. Legal experts, including of course the judges who have so undermined the legality of control orders, think that they should go. This year, the Home Affairs Committee joined the growing number who have stated categorically that control orders are ineffective and legally dubious. I share the conclusions of the Committee when it says that
“it is fundamentally wrong to deprive individuals of their liberty without revealing why.”
There is no pledge to take steps to replace control orders and no undertaking to find an alternative that can keep us safe. Instead, the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism is guilty of “institutional inertia” and, to quote again from the Select Committee’s report, he is prepared to settle for
“sub-optimal solutions, rather than proactively reforming to meet ever-changing threats.”
It is clear, too, that the costs of control orders are spiralling. The Minister declined to answer a written question I put to him on the cost of the control order review group because it would be too expensive to answer—I wonder whether he would care to share with us now a rough and ready estimate of that cost. It is clear that aside from the costs to individual police forces who have responsibility for controlees, the legal costs alone are prodigious and are likely to continue to rise. More than £1.5 million were paid out in 2006-7, rising to over £1.8 million in 2008-09. Since 2006, the total cost in legal fees alone to the taxpayer has been some £8.6 million. It is perhaps surprising how many lawyers are opposed to control orders. Throw in the costs accrued by the Legal Services Commission and that figure reaches more than £10.5 million. Added to those figures are the growing costs claimed against the Government by the controlees. Lord West insists that control orders remain a means of managing the threat “at a sensible cost”, yet no Minister is prepared to come clean on the overall costs of what is clearly an astronomically expensive way of detaining people without charging them.
So, it is clear that the status quo is unworkable and must be improved. How are we to achieve this? Again, the consensus seems clear. We have to find a means to bring admissible evidence against individuals to court. The independent reviewer Lord Carlile, in his most recent report, writes of one controlee that he is
“a dangerous terrorist who would re-engage with terrorism the moment he could”
whereas another is
“assessed as having been trained abroad in terrorist activity, and to have been involved in considerable terrorist planning and facilitation in the UK.”
To repeat the point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who is no longer in his place, one has to wonder whether those cases have been reviewed in the light of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, which made such training abroad an offence. The picture painted for us is that even with all the caveats there appears to be a fairly significant intelligence footprint and it is hardly surprising that there are growing demands that if the intelligence is that reliable, there should be a means of presenting some of it in admissible form.
On the issue of intercept as evidence, it looks again as though “institutional inertia” is preventing any real progress. Time and again Ministers, lawyers and the independent reviewer reiterate their position that they do not oppose intercept in principle, but progress remains painfully slow. The Director of Public Prosecutions is the latest such expert. He has stated:
“Evidence obtained by interception would be of benefit to prosecution”
in respect of terrorism.
The independent reviewer has repeatedly said that he is not opposed in principle to the admissibility of intercept. In December last year, the Home Secretary reported on the fact that initial findings showed that the use of intercept would not be “legally viable”. I share his view that that is “disappointing”, and I hope that when he reports to the House ahead of the Easter recess on the three new work streams that are to be considered as part of the Chilcot review, he will have better news to report.
Perhaps we might get that news now.
The hon. Gentleman will know that there is an ongoing review following the Privy Council’s examination of this matter. I hope that he will also know that in the original Privy Council report, the review by independent senior criminal counsel of nine current and former control order cases concluded that the introduction of intercept as evidence would not have enabled a prosecution to be brought in any of those cases. So, although it is an important issue to examine, it would not be a panacea in terms of securing convictions in any such cases.
As the Minister well knows, there are far wider arguments than those regarding control orders about the use of intercept as evidence. We should at least consider explicitly revisiting the terms of the Chilcot review, particularly regarding the requirement for intercept as evidence to be operationally workable, because such conditions might be too onerous to achieve the desired outcome—an outcome that is in line with our core values as a parliamentary democracy operating under the rule of law. I hope that a review of those operational requirements is now taking place implicitly. Without access to the intelligence and to information about the methods, it is difficult to draw a considered conclusion on intercept, but I want to take this opportunity to signal that we remain of the view that the potential benefits are so substantial that serious work must continue to be undertaken about its possible use.
May I ask my hon. Friend to look again at the public dimension of the intercept review? What was said was that a Finnish case had introduced a new element to the matter that made things very difficult. I have looked at that case, in which the European Court of Human Rights intervened, entirely properly, because a grotesque injustice was being administered by the Finnish authorities—something that I hope that we would not do. As a result, the arguments against intercept that were marshalled publicly were totally wrong.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that point. It is appropriate to recognise the substantial debt that the House owes to him for the work that he has done, both when he was the shadow Home Secretary and since, to champion the values and liberties of us all.
Finally, I would like to finish on a more consensual note, of which my right hon. Friend may or may not approve. Putting aside our arguments over the legislative and political response to the terrorist threat, which have produced some of the most substantial and impressive parliamentary events in what has otherwise been a dismal Parliament, it is appropriate to recognise the administrative work that has been done to help to provide security for our citizens. Our current national security strategy has its faults, but, overall, the conception of the Contest framework and the establishment and administration of the office for security and counter-terrorism in the Home Office have been widely recognised as successful and those models are now being widely copied around the world. Although it is invidious to identify individuals, and I am sure that they would not thank me for doing so, in the privacy of a debate in the House of Commons I want to recognise and acknowledge the debt that our nation owes to Sir David Omand for the conception of today’s security policy and to Charles Farr, who leads the office for security and counter-terrorism in such an effective and widely admired way.
That successful administration also requires a political lead and in what is probably the last time that we will debate terrorism measures before Dissolution, the contribution of the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) should not be overlooked. I tried to let him know that I would be saying these things, but, sadly, he is not present. We should recognise that his leadership and drive as Home Secretary made an important contribution to one of the more successful areas of this Government’s administration. The nation is in his debt for his service. I think that it will come to be seen as a calamity for his party that there was not a wider appreciation of his abilities when set against another Scottish Labour politician in 2007. I certainly believe that our country would have been better served had he remained on the Treasury Bench after June 2007. That has been our nation’s loss, and it will be the House’s loss when we lose his services at Dissolution.
This is our fifth debate on control order renewal. There is a risk of temporary measures becoming permanent, and that is one of my main concerns about how control orders have developed. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, accepts that there is a positive obligation on the state to protect us all against terrorism, but it is becoming increasingly clear, year on year, that the system is unfair, not compliant with the European convention on human rights, counter-productive, and now, in our view, unsustainable.
For years I have set out my Committee’s reservations about the lack of procedural justice, and have on various occasions proposed amendments to counter-terrorism legislation. However, I shall start on a slightly different tack tonight. I want to talk about the impact of control orders on the individuals concerned. Our inquiry heard evidence from solicitors who represent individuals who are the subject of control orders. One such solicitor, Gareth Peirce, who has had many years of experience of acting in terrorism cases, described the primary sensation of those who are subject to control orders as “despair” and feeling “utterly impotent”. She described how at one point, three of her clients who were subject to control orders were all in the health section of Belmarsh prison, all having been imprisoned because they were in breach of their control orders, having made serious attempts on their lives and having been left, either temporarily or permanently, by their wives.
Gareth Peirce described the impact of a control order on the relevant person and their family as “colossal”. The whole family is affected by the conditions of a control order, which can prevent visits to the house without authorisation, as well as the use of phones, computers and the internet. I ask hon. Members to think about the effect on children over the age of seven of not being allowed to use a computer, bearing in mind how important access to the internet is for their school work. There have been repeated situations in which bright, academically high-achieving children have been in trouble at school or have fallen by the wayside as a result of such conditions, despite repeated requests having been made to allow them such access—even in a case in which the relevant man could not read or write English and was completely computer illiterate. In summary, the impact can be, and usually is, colossal on the relevant person and his family.
We now see the growing use of a new form of control order—internal exile. Such orders have been applied to British citizens who have grown up in east London all their lives and whose grandparents, or whose wife’s grandparents, are there. Men have been parachuted suddenly into Nottinghamshire or Gloucestershire and told that they have to live there from then on, as a modification of their control order. The women in such cases are treated with complete contempt. It is as though they do not exist. The man is told, “Your wife, if she works, can find another job; she can join you if she wants to or she can stay in east London. We know that you can find schools for the children in the area.”
The effect on a number of families has been quite extraordinary. That situation might affect only a small number of people, but its contribution to what one might call the folklore of injustice is colossal. It is not something that other people in the community are in ignorance of; it is highlighted because of the perception of the extent of the injustice, so it has a wide effect. Of the 12 controlees—now 11, we are told—eight have been required to relocate, but two of those relocation conditions were subsequently overturned by the court.
It seems that the use of that condition is becoming more frequent in relation to the so-called light-touch control orders. Of the 45 original control orders, only 17 were required to relocate, so the proportion is much higher now than before. The same tactic was used under apartheid in South Africa, but it did not do any good. It was used by Tsarists in Russia, but it did not do them any good, and it was used by the colonels in Greece, and it did not do them any good, either. Internal exile does not work; it is counter-productive and creates more problems than it solves.
The Committee also heard about delays in modifying control orders. Another solicitor told us that one of his clients made an application for various conditions to be varied, among other things so that he could attend a college course, and use a particular dentist with whom his wife and children were registered, just outside the boundary of where he was allowed to go. All those requests were refused and an appeal was lodged in February last year, but it took until July for the court to hear the case. By then the college course was done, and presumably the man’s wife had found another dentist.
I mentioned in my intervention the cost of control orders, as hon. Members question their efficiency. Our Committee feels a growing sense that their financial cost has become disproportionate to any benefit that can plausibly be claimed for them. We have had a lot of correspondence on this issue and we have dug out the figures. So far, there is a running total of £13 million over three years, including £8.1 million in legal costs, £2.7 million in administrative costs and £2 million to the Legal Services Commission for publicly funded representation.
That is just the start of the tab. The representation figure does not include ongoing cases, because the bill is submitted only at the end of a case. It does not include the cost of the compensation the Government will now have to pay in relation to cases thrown out by the courts as a result of the AF judgment. Nor does it include the costs of running the courts, bearing in mind the dozens of hearings—from the High Court all the way to the House of Lords, and now the Supreme Court.
When we put all that lot together, the estimate is enormous. Even on those figures, the amount is more than £1 million per controlee. Although the Government will not tell us the daily cost of round-the-clock 24-hour surveillance—because we have to assume that some people are under surveillance as well as being subject to control orders—£1 million must buy an awful lot of police officers and security service people. Surely, that would be a more effective way of using public money than spending it on Queen’s Counsel, bureaucrats and courts, and a much better way of keeping us safe than having cases trailed through the courts.
I have already mentioned procedural issues. Time and again, my Committee has been proved right and the Government proved wrong. I want to deal with just one aspect—gisting. Last year, in the renewal debate, we heard about the case in the Grand Chamber of A v. UK. The Government said it had no wider application and applied only to deprivation of liberty cases. Surprise, surprise, less than six months later in June 2009, as we predicted, in AF v. the Home Secretary, the House of Lords said that under article 6 the same provisions for the conduct of a fair trial applied in the context of all control orders.
Lord Phillips said:
“Where…the open material consists purely of general assertions and the case against the controlee is based solely or to a decisive degree on closed materials the requirements of a fair trial will not be satisfied, however cogent the case based on the closed materials may be.”
As a consequence, the Government were to review all current cases. What happened? The AF control order was lifted, because the Government did not want to give the gist of his case, so he is now presumably subject to surveillance. In total, six orders were revoked. Two were found not to have been necessary in the first place, which is somewhat ironic, if not insulting to those concerned, and one was lifted by order of the court. The Government lifted three because they did not want to gist, so two were replaced by so-called light-touch control orders.
Light-touch control orders are a whole new avenue for the lawyers. The Government say that article 6 does not apply. That argument has already been rejected by the High Court and will no doubt be rejected by higher courts as well, because the basic principle of a fair trial applies whether the control order is light touch or more serious. We are now told that the Government do not intend to amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, so we have an Alice in Wonderland scenario where the relevant provisions on control orders in the Act are now to be read as meaning exactly the opposite of what the Act says about disclosure. The Act says there cannot be disclosure, but now we have to read it as though there has to be disclosure, and the Government are not prepared to amend it to make it comply with what the House of Lords has said.
In practice, gisting is not really happening effectively. The special advocates who gave evidence to us complained about the minimalist approach. They said that it was an iterative way of proceeding—giving a bit of evidence at a time. That is unfair to controlees, because they are expected to answer part of a case, then a bit more and then a bit more.
We are told that the security services are institutionally cautious in how they proceed. One of the real complaints is that late disclosure is endemic in the system. We were told by special advocates that they were given great piles of paper on a Friday for a Monday hearing—large volumes of material that they are not allowed to take home, and which has to stay locked in a safe in their chambers. In no way can they prepare properly for cases. As was said earlier, the Government do not gist in light-touch cases anyway.
Special advocates have real complaints about the processes. We have heard many of the complaints before, so I shall not go into them all again. They include lack of access to independent expertise in evidence, so there is nil ability to challenge Government objections to disclosure because advocates do not have the expert evidence to back it up. Most important of all is the lack of ability to communicate with the affected person after they have seen the closed evidence. There is even a problem in accessing previous court judgments and decisions, to find out what the precedents are. Everything is done by word of mouth and there is no proper way of proceeding. I have raised the issue with my right hon. Friend the Minister in parliamentary questions, but we have had no sensible answer.
Last November, a letter from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism informed me that in relation to the right to a fair trial:
“Control orders…legislation is fully compliant with Article 6.”
Is my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) saying that is not correct?
Yes, I am. We know that in relation to the majority of control orders, the procedure is not correct under article 6—on the right to a fair trial—without the gisting.
Will my right hon. Friend let me finish the point? It is a matter of great disagreement between us.
Only if there is proper gisting—sufficient gisting to give the controlee the substance of the case they have to answer—can the case be compliant with article 6. Now we know, through the new process of light-touch control orders, that the Government are saying that article 6 does not apply. We say it does. The High Court has already said it does. The matter is going to the Court of Appeal, and no doubt all the way up to the Supreme Court and Strasbourg. They will all say the same thing, it will come down again and we shall be back where we started.
I do not think that the Lord President of the UK Supreme Court could have put it more succinctly:
“A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him.”
My hon. Friend is right.
For the avoidance of doubt, I stand by the comments in my letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones). There is an honest disagreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and the Government’s legal advice on the matter.
My right hon. Friend makes his point. I simply say that in every case that has been appealed so far, we have been proved right and the Government have been proved wrong. Our track record is rather better than my right hon. Friend’s—so far. I anticipate that the same process will continue, and no doubt we shall hear the same arguments about article 6 applied to light-touch control orders.
Special advocates say that they should be allowed to communicate at least about the legal strategy and procedural issues relating to the case. They also say, and I agree, that they should be allowed to apply to the court, without giving notice to the Secretary of State, for permission to ask questions of their clients. As an international comparator, I cite the fact that that procedure is adopted in Canada—and it is sensible.
We need to look at the special advocate system. There are no fewer than 22 different types of court hearing in which special advocates can be used—22 different ways in which secret evidence can be heard in our courts, from planning inquiries right up to the control order regime, and many other things as well. The system has grown like Topsy, and we need a proper review to make sure that the special advocate system—not just in relation to control orders—is proper and fair across the board.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good legal case; he is supported by the judges and the Government are not. For me, however, the most important issue is a practical one: our agencies currently have great difficulty dealing with the sheer number of suspects that they face. Any strategy should be designed to reduce the number of people who are radicalised. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the policy will actually radicalise more young Muslims?
I agree. That is the point I made earlier when I was talking about the impact on families. The way the orders spill out into the wider community is completely disproportionate, because of the sense of injustice it creates.
Last year, when we debated the continuation motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker)—now the Minister for Schools and Learners—promised to meet special advocates, as had his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), before him. Neither of those meetings took place, so will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism meet the special advocates and listen to their concerns about the fairness of the process? Will he also involve the security services in the meeting so that we can try to reach consensus about what can be done to make the system fairer? My Committee recommended a forum for special advocates, the Government and the security services to discuss the issues of principle involved and see what can be done—not on specific cases, but to make the system better.
Since the introduction of the control order regime in March 2005, my Committee has expressed serious reservations about renewal on all previous occasions—unless the Government were prepared to make the necessary changes to the system to render it compatible with human rights. We warned that without those changes, the use of control orders would continue to give rise to unnecessary breaches of individuals’ rights to liberty and due process. Those warnings have been echoed internationally.
Those many warnings have not been heeded, and as a result, the continued operation of the unreformed system has, as we feared, led to more unfairness in practice, more unjustifiable interference with people’s liberty, more harm to people’s mental health and to the lives of their families, even longer periods of indefinite restrictions for some individuals, more resentment in the communities affected by, or in fear of, control orders, more protracted litigation to which no end is in sight, more claims for compensation, ever-mounting costs to the public purse and untold damage to the United Kingdom’s international reputation as a nation that prizes the value of fairness.
For all those reasons, together with the serious reservations about the practical value of control orders in disrupting terrorism compared with other means of achieving the same end, my Committee has reached the clear view that the system of control orders is no longer sustainable. We believe that a heavy onus rests on the Government to explain to Parliament why alternatives, such as surveillance of the very small number of suspects currently subject to control orders and a more vigorous pursuit of the possibility of prosecution, are not now to be preferred. The system is unsustainable.
Order. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that this debate is due to finish at 8.45, and that the Minister has a right to reply? I hope to be able to call all hon. Members who want to speak in the debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; I will attempt to be brief.
I am always pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), with whom I am in great agreement. I thought that the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights was very informative and thorough, as one has come to expect. I was disappointed by the speech made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who rather reminded me that when the Conservative party says that it is in favour of change, it is perhaps time to be a little sceptical. The historical record of the Conservative party’s commitment to change suggests that it is usually in favour of change only when everyone else has already made it happen.
The Liberal party’s position on control orders is well known, and it has not changed over the past year. They are a violation of fundamental rights and an expensive failure to boot. What has changed is the Government’s legal problem. The control order regime has been dealt a major blow by the House of Lords judgment in the case of the Secretary of State for the Home Department v. AF, in which nine Law Lords were unanimous in their view that failure to disclose adequate details of the case against people subject to control orders breached their right to a fair trial under article 6 of the European convention on human rights.
Control orders are one of the worst examples of the Government’s determination to use any excuse to sacrifice hard-won and traditional safeguards for our freedoms. They are hugely illiberal, involving Ministers making decisions on whom to hold, they fly in the face of the assumption that all people are innocent until proven guilty, and they are imposed on people without any reason or evidence for justification being given.
Just some of the punitive measures include electronic tagging, a curfew, bans on foreign travel, and as we quite correctly heard from the hon. Member for Hendon, a requirement to move, as well as reporting daily to a police station, a ban on access to the internet or mobile phones, the vetting of all visitors and the monitoring of all movements. The average length of a curfew is now 12 hours, and the maximum length is 16 hours. That is quite a catalogue.
Those sanctions do not just have a dramatic effect on the controlee, but often on whole families, including young children. We must not underestimate the damage being done in ethnic minority communities to the good standing of the authorities in attempting to tackle terrorism. That is the human face of control orders, and it is unacceptable. The Home Secretary can comfortably sit in his Whitehall office, dishing them out, yet this example, along with many others, shows how control orders affect the lives of hundreds of people. The consequences are symbolic of the real menace of control orders: the cost to our hard-won civil liberties and our human rights.
Control orders violate the right to a fair trial. The people under them do not know what they have been accused of, let alone what evidence there may be to support an accusation. That is the essence of Kafkaism. It is the bad dream, the nightmare: “We are arresting you. We cannot tell you why. We cannot tell you how good the evidence is against you. But you will be subject to these conditions until we change our minds.”
Secret evidence is so convenient. Clearly, the evidence is not good enough to give those subject to control orders a traditional fair trial, in an open court, with an appropriate sentence if convicted. The standard of evidentiary proof required for the Home Secretary to have reasonable suspicion is much lower than that of being beyond reasonable doubt needed by a jury to convict. Perhaps I am old-fashioned. If there is not enough evidence to prove criminality beyond reasonable doubt, we cannot just lock up someone indefinitely anyway. But the Government get around that by simply withholding what evidence they have from the accused, so no challenge can be made to its authenticity or legitimacy and no appeal against the evidence can be made.
There are no time limits. Control orders have lasted for very long periods. Some cases have gone on for more than three years, despite Lord Carlile stating in his report in 2009 that he does not believe that they should be used for more than two years. That amounts to indefinite detention. I ask again, as I did, sadly, last year—this is groundhog day—is that really acceptable as part of a supposedly democratic criminal justice system?
It is not just the Liberal Democrats who have repeatedly pointed out the failings of control orders. There have been many high-profile court cases, not least over the past year, that inform and support our position. Seven orders in total have been quashed by the courts. As I mentioned, in June 2009 the House of Lords ruled unanimously that sufficient detail of allegations must be disclosed to suspects to enable them to give effective instructions to the special advocates representing them.
Less than two months ago the High Court then quashed those orders and ruled that the controlees in question—AE and AF—could seek compensation against the Home Secretary. As Amnesty has pointed out, the Home Secretary’s decision to prioritise the secrecy of the evidence over the security threat posed by those two men calls into question the very necessity and utility of the orders in the first place. Yet, despite the sounding of that death knell, the Home Secretary and the Minister still blindly press on, wasting taxpayers money on legal action after legal action, when they should be considering whether control orders have any future at all.
According to a parliamentary answer provided in February, the total cost of legal proceedings relating to control orders stands at more than £10.5 million. As well as the money spent on defending legal challenges to the regime, the cost of policing control orders is extremely high, yet the efficacy of the orders is questionable. We have already heard from other hon. Members that seven controlees have absconded—a worryingly high proportion. Lord Carlile’s report states that some controlees still manage to maintain contact with terrorist associates. Given those facts, how can control orders be described as anything other than a shambolic expensive failure?
The only other common-law nation that has tried a similar system is Australia, and it now has no one under a control order. Surely, the moral is that we should dispense with this affront to our justice system entirely and spend those extraordinary amounts of money on surveillance—if, indeed, intelligence suggests that a person represents an ongoing threat to the security of this country.
Let me turn again to Conservative Members, whose position so far as been, extraordinarily, positively Augustinian. Whereas St. Augustine asked the Lord to make him virtuous but not yet, the Conservatives want to become liberal and stand for the rule of law, but not yet. Every year a Conservative spokesman comes to the House, criticises the Government and control orders, and then goes away wringing his or her hands. That is not protest; it is impotence. Having heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Reigate, I have no confidence that the Conservatives in government would do anything differently. Certainly, their voting record does not suggest so.
The Government may argue that control orders fill a gap in the criminal justice system, dealing with suspects who cannot be tried in a traditional court, or locked up indefinitely. None of that is true. There are many alternatives, and as I said in my intervention on the Minister, the conviction rate for terrorist offences is already high. The threshold text has been relaxed and gives substantial extra flexibility for intervention. We also support greater use of plea bargaining to encourage those on the periphery of terrorist plots to testify against ringleaders—and, as has been mentioned by other hon. Members, there is the option of introducing intercept evidence. Our colleagues fighting terrorism in the United States and Australia find it extraordinary that we are making such a meal of allowing intercept evidence to be admitted in court.
To conclude, we believe that control orders are at odds with the fundamental principles of a liberal and democratic society—the right to freedom and a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence over guilt. As in previous years, we will not support their renewal this year, and we urge Members in all parts of the House to vote with us today to end these illiberal and ineffective orders. We must remember that we are fighting terrorism to defend the values that the House holds dear, and for which it has fought over many generations. What we must never do in fighting terrorism is to become what we are fighting—and that is the risk if we again vote in favour of what the Government want.
This is a very serious debate dealing with an important aspect of policy. I would have hoped that more time would have been made available to the House to discuss these matters.
The debate goes to the heart of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. That is why we have control orders—to ensure that the public are protected. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) said, this is a groundhog day debate. I have noted all the speeches. Not one has been in support of the Government. The Government will probably get their order, but not a single Member will say equivocally in the House that they support what the Government are doing.
The problem is that much has happened over the past year. There has been widespread concern. I would have hoped for a better response to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to the Minister about the need for Governments to take cognisance of what Members say when the House speaks on such a serious matter—not necessarily in the vote of the House, but when the House speaks in such debates. The Government should not respond with the usual reply—“We always assess everything all the time.” I should have thought that that was the function of Government anyway.
I hoped to have heard more about what has happened in the courts, rather than Lord Carlile being trotted out on every occasion, as if he is the master of the universe and therefore if he decrees that something is all right, the House should go along with what he says. Lord Carlile is a great and noble man and a person of great integrity, but he cannot be followed on every aspect of policy just because he agrees with the Government. We need something more than Lord Carlile if we are to be convinced otherwise.
What an excellent speech we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), he said it all for us. There is no point in repeating statements. He rightly praised the report by his Committee. It is worthy of praise. Much of what I had intended to say was in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said.
The Select Committee report was quoted by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), our concerns echoing the concerns expressed by Sir Ken Macdonald. It is a pity that when they are in office, some high officials do not say the kind of things they say immediately after they leave office. It would be very helpful for Members of the House if they were able to say that when they were in a position to do something about it, instead of merely agreeing that something needs to be done.
The Opposition are in an odd place as well. They have promised a review as soon as they get into office. I should have thought that as they have been in opposition for such a long time, there would be a ready-made policy that could be put into effect almost immediately. However, I will not criticise the hon. Gentleman too much because he was very nice about my speech last year and quoted it in defence of his remarks.
I know that the hon. Gentleman regards himself as Mr. 60 Per Cent. because of the 60 per cent. chance of holding his job. I was in exactly the same position as he is as a shadow Minister, not knowing whether I was going to get a job. I did not—that is not a good precedent for him, I know—and was probably psychologically damaged as a result, having watched Ceefax on the day after the general election to see if my name would pop up. I suggest that he switches off the television and waits for the call.
It is a double improbability—60 per cent. times the probability of the Conservatives winning the general election. On a substantive point, the right hon. Gentleman should judge our proposals in the context that we will review all the counter-terrorism measures together. That is how it ought to be done, in a considered, thoughtful, reflective way, instead of trying to legislate in piecemeal fashion.
I shall conclude, because my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is anxious to speak, and we have known each other for a long time, so we can share the minutes that are available.
These are fundamental principles of justice, and people ought to know why they are the subject of control orders. That policy is central to the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, but why have it when the very people whom one has under surveillance abscond? It shows that there is a real problem with the policy.
There have been no absconds since June 2007, and I assure my right hon. Friend that we take extremely seriously those absconds that have taken place.
There were some absconds before June 2007, however, and the point is that if one’s policy involves an order from which people abscond, one must think carefully about whether that policy should be pursued. Anyway, I shall give my right hon. Friend that point, because we are approaching the end of the debate.
We need to look again at the issue—very carefully and very quickly. My right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North that he will keep all the issues under constant review. If my right hon. Friend is right about that, and he is able to return to the House with an alternative measure, I, like my hon. Friend, hope that he will do so.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate and put on the record my opposition to control orders. There have been many excellent speeches, and I cannot add to them, but I should say that, when the Government rammed through control orders in the face of the fiercest resistance from both Houses, they seemed to think that, by making them a temporary order for renewal, they could convince the unworldly and innocent that we would have a chance to review the whole measure. However, they were talking about what is happening tonight: a debate that is far too short, coupled with their earnest hope that the measure will just be nodded through. Unfortunately for them, some of us are not prepared to nod it through; we thought that it was wrong then, and we think that it is wrong now.
Ministers talk piously and at length about all the evidence that some of us have not seen, and the evidence that they cannot take to court. However, they are really talking about intercept evidence, as other Members have said, and over and over again people have presented practical solutions whereby Ministers could use such evidence and prosecute people. I repeat that nobody is saying that people on whom the Government have evidence should not go before the courts; we object to keeping people in an indeterminate limbo.
Ministers also make over and over again the point about judicial supervision, but let me remind them that judicial supervision rests on ensuring that a process has been followed. The judges do not examine the basis of the original control order, so judicial supervision is about process, not content, and it is misleading to try to mollify the House by talking about the involvement of judges. I shall not even discuss Lord Carlile.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made the case effectively about the extraordinary internal exile that people who are subject to control orders face. I have spoken to people—lawyers and volunteers—who work with people under such orders, and one of the most shattering effects on the people who are subject to them is internal exile, precisely because such people tend to come from the same sections of the community. It is particularly harrowing for them to be sent perhaps hundreds of miles from their family or relatives into internal exile. Other Members have said that many authoritarian regimes have tried it, and it has not worked in any case.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister wants five minutes to reply, but in order to concentrate his mind and make him take seriously how unhappy many of us are about control orders, I must tell my hon. Friend that having voted for such orders previously I shall vote against them tonight. I hope that others will also reflect on the issue to make the Government consider much more seriously an alternative to the current system.
Control orders, secret evidence, the whole debate about extraordinary rendition—all these add up to the emergence, post-9/11, of a secret state that does not meet the test of the freedoms that this country has taken for granted for so many centuries; that is not effective; and that is undermining some of the good work of our security services by spreading disaffection in the communities thus affected.
I would say more than that. If the emergence of a secret state is allowed to happen in this way—by that I mean not just control orders, secret evidence and what happens in and around the process of extraordinary rendition—it is not just the particular communities that some of us have in mind that are affected: in the end, that abrogation of liberty will affect us all. In recent weeks, the Government have found themselves in the deeply embarrassing position of having fought to keep judicial findings about the extradition of Binyam Mohamed secret and then being forced by the courts to reveal every last paragraph. Yet Ministers still do not see where the post-9/11 atmosphere has led them in terms of going clean contrary to what has, for centuries, been accepted as the due process of law in this country.
Control orders were wrong when the Government initially proposed them, they have been proven to be even more inadequate than some of us thought, and they are still wrong now. I will not be supporting the Government on this matter tonight.
I believe that the Minister has waived his opportunity to respond. I want briefly to put a few points on the record.
When we had this debate several years ago, the House was packed and the debate was incredibly controversial. At that time, the Government used a number of arguments. Their first was that these were temporary measures and that the full architecture of the prevention of terrorism legislation had not yet been put in place. We have had five years since then, with an annual criminal justice Bill of some sort and a whole range of other measures brought forward to tackle the prevention of terrorism. There is no longer an argument left that these are temporary measures. The other argument that Ministers always advance when they have difficulty in justifying a case is based on saying, “We know more than you do because of the information that’s been given to us by the intelligence services.” That is the argument that took us into the Iraq war and cost 500,000 lives. I do not have the confidence in the intelligence services that other Members have displayed, certainly not after the cover-ups that we have experienced on the torture of prisoners and the collusion in the torture of people to gain information.
As we have heard, we are talking about people who have been put under control orders because they are possibly the most dangerous people in the country. The situation then degenerates into farce when they abscond and we have a Minister making statements to the House and elsewhere to reassure the general public that no one is at risk as a result of their absconding.
I want to place on the record—this might be the last opportunity to do so before the general election—my tribute to the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) has done through his Committee in exposing the absolute ineffectiveness and injustice of control orders. I also want to place on record my respect and admiration for Gareth Peirce and the work that she has done in defending several of these people valiantly while at times being attacked in the media and elsewhere. Through her evidence—we have used it time and again in recent years—she has been able to demonstrate the brutality of these orders, particularly the new, lighter order of internal exile, and their effects on individuals and their families.
I give the Government a warning: this policy is having ramifications across communities. We said that it would be a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, and I believe that it is a recruiting sergeant for those who are anxious about what is happening to their communities as a result of this illiberal legislation. It is completely counter-productive, and regrettably, we are rehearsing the same arguments five years on. Again tonight, hon. Members who are not even present for the debate will vote the order through, and it will have a direct, detrimental impact on all our communities.
I am grateful for the comments of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and those of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), about the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) and others. I can only say—
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Question (Standing Order No. 16(1)).
1 March 2010
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in Force of Sections 1 to 9) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.