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Terrorist Asset Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill

Volume 717: debated on Friday 5 February 2010


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will make a Business Statement about the Terrorist Asset Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill. On 27 January, the Supreme Court gave a judgment on the legality of the Orders in Council that the Treasury uses to freeze terrorist assets. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that it will not grant a stay of its 27 January judgment. The effect of these rulings is to quash with immediate effect the Terrorism Order 2006 and all designations made under it. As a result, the Government are today introducing a short Bill in the other place, designed to prevent these assets being unfrozen and returned to terror suspects.

The intention is to fast-track the Bill to ensure Royal Assent before the House rises for the half-term break. In line with Constitution Committee recommendations on fast-track legislation, the Explanatory Notes to the Bill will contain a full explanation of the case for fast-tracking, and will address the key questions set by the committee. The provisions of the fast-track Bill, if enacted, would expire on 31 December 2010; so today the Government are also publishing a draft Bill modelled closely on existing powers under the Terrorism Order 2009. This is intended to provide a durable legal basis for the UK to freeze the assets of suspected terrorists and maintain an effective, proportionate and fair terrorist asset-freezing regime that meets our United Nations obligations, protects national security and safeguards human rights. The draft Bill has been published to ensure that the substantive piece of proposed legislation can be subject to rigorous pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation before being introduced to Parliament.

I return to the fast-track Bill being introduced in the other place today. The intention is for this House to take all stages of the Bill on Tuesday 9 February. This will mean making changes to other business next week. The Third Reading of the Bribery Bill and the remaining Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill will be brought forward to Monday; the Second Reading of the Financial Services Bill will be postponed until Tuesday 23 February; and the Financial Services order scheduled in Grand Committee on Tuesday will be taken in the Chamber on Wednesday.

My noble friend the Leader of the House will shortly move three Business of the House Motions to allow business to be rescheduled, and I hope that the House will give its approval. If the arrangements are approved, the list of speakers for Second Reading of the fast-track Bill will be opened in the Government Whips’ Office, and the Public Bill Office has agreed to accept amendments in advance of Second Reading. All the changes are published in an updated edition of Forthcoming Business, a document that is now available in the Government Whips’ Office and the Printed Paper Office. This approach has the agreement of the usual channels and I hope that the whole House will support it.

As a former member of the Constitution Committee, I express my thanks to the Government for the statement that we have heard on fast-tracking. It is precisely the kind of case that the committee discussed, and the justification is obvious and paramount.

My Lords, for some time, we have been looking at other legislation that could be fast-tracked in view of the coming general election. In 1997, there were fewer than 1 million postal votes; this time, there will be 8 million, yet the timescale remains the same: 11 days. I have been told time and again that it is too late to ask the House to agree to a Bill to fast-track legislation in order to extend the timetable for postal voting so that, for example, the military in Afghanistan and others can cast a vote. Why is it not possible to bring forward such a Bill?

My Lords, this morning I have made a statement that refers to very urgent and serious matters relating to national security and terrorism. I think that the point that the noble Lord is making relates to what one might ordinarily describe as Business of the House. If the noble Lord has some concerns about that, he will be quite right to raise them through the usual channels, and I am sure that it is a matter that we can discuss off the Floor of the Chamber.