Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 15th February 2006.

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Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears Minister of State (Home Office) (Policing, Security and Community Safety), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 5:17 pm, 15th February 2006

We have signed memorandums of understanding with three countries. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the exact number of individuals involved. I am sure that he will understand that these are complex, difficult and sensitive arrangements, but we are determined to continue our negotiations with a range of other countries, to determine whether we can agree memorandums of understanding with them. I was pleased that Lord Carlile's report stated that the memorandums of understanding were appropriate in the context of deportation. When commenting on arguments that it was inappropriate to proceed in this way, he stated:

"It really is a counsel of despair to suggest that no verifiable or satisfactory agreement can ever be reached with apparently recalcitrant countries. There are international organisations and mechanisms available and devisable to ensure an appropriate level of verification, and the effort is certainly well worth making."

I am pleased that Lord Carlile believes that our attempts in this difficult area are worth pursuing.

The Terrorism Bill that is now before Parliament will introduce some new offences, including the offence of acts preparatory to terrorism, but there will remain a comparatively small number of cases in which we are unable to prosecute but in which individuals pose a very real terrorist threat. In such circumstances, it is vital that the Government and the law enforcement agencies are able to act to reduce the risk that such individuals pose. Again, Lord Carlile has provided support for this view. His report states, in paragraph 61:

"As a last resort (only), in my view the control order system as operated currently in its non-derogating form is a justifiable and proportional safety valve for the proper protection of civil society."

Lord Carlile has clearly thought deeply about these issues, and come to that conclusion. I would like to thank him for the way in which he has conducted his analysis of the information he has seen. As he said in the introduction to the report, he has attempted to give a proper technical analysis of the operation of the Act, but he has tried to do it in a way that is accessible to the lay reader. Technical reports often do not have those characteristics, but Lord Carlile's report genuinely strikes the right balance between good operational information and accessibility. I would also like to thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has produced a very informative report and a detailed reflection of the legislation and its operation. Both reports will be invaluable in informing the House in our consideration of these important issues.

I shall turn now to the working of control order powers. Sections 1 to 9 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 provide for the making of control orders. Control orders are preventive orders that enable one or more obligations to be placed on individuals that are designed to prevent, restrict or disrupt their involvement in terrorism-related activity. They can be applied to any individual, whether a UK or foreign national, when the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the individual is or has been involved in terrorist activity and considers that it is necessary for the purposes of protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism. The grounds that must be set out before an order can be made therefore have two limbs—that an individual is involved in terrorism and that it is necessary to make an order to protect the public. The obligations that can be set out in the order should be tailored to tackle particular terrorism activities on a case-by-case basis. Any breach of those obligations in a control order without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence punishable with a prison sentence of up to five years and/or an unlimited fine.

The Act makes provision for two types of order: derogating control orders and non-derogating control orders. The distinction between the two is that a derogation would be required if the obligations, individually or in total, amounted to a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of article 5 of the European convention on human rights. We have not sought to make any derogating control orders. At this stage, we have simply made non-derogating control orders. The Secretary of State must apply to the court for permission to make an order. Under the Act, in a case of urgency, the Secretary of State himself can make the order, but that must be referred immediately to the court, which must start considering that case within seven days. The judicial scrutiny is therefore pretty intense, arising from many of our discussions when the provisions were first considered.

Once the control order is made, an automatic review process is triggered. That judicial review of the Secretary of State's decision provides independent judicial scrutiny. When we considered this legislation previously, the question whether judicial review provided robust examination was debated. Lord Carlile, in paragraph 67 of his report, says that, in his view, judicial review is a robust jurisdiction, and points out that the way in which judicial review has developed means that the courts take a close and rigorous interest in such issues.