Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 15th February 2006.

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Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), Home Affairs 5:44 pm, 15th February 2006

I am grateful to be able to speak on this subject. As always, I was very interested in what the Minister had to say, especially about the lack of understanding of the seriousness of the threat that faces us.

My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke has said that, when this order came before the House a year or so ago, the disagreement between the Opposition and the Government was one of the most serious of this Government's term in office. That is certainly my experience, although I have been in the House only a short time. The Minister has spoken about consensus, so I shall return to the subject of that disagreement on a number of occasions.

There is no doubt that the review and renewal procedures for control orders are the result of the contest in both Houses that took place before the last election. Lord Carlile's report supports the Government, and lays special emphasis on the close personal attention that the Home Secretary has paid to each case. This time last year, that was definitely a cause for concern and I, for one, was not convinced that the Government would give the right level of scrutiny to a measure with which I disagreed. However, Lord Carlile has said that the scrutiny has been appropriate, and we should acknowledge that the Home Secretary has done his job to the extent that Lord Carlile is happy to congratulate him.

On 28 February 2005, the Prime Minister was interviewed on "Woman's Hour", and his words stand in stark contrast to what has happened since. According to him, the security services were saying that

"you have got to give us powers in between mere surveillance of these people—there are several hundreds of them in this country who we believe are engaged in plotting or trying to commit terrorist acts—you have got to give us power in between just surveilling them and being sure enough to prosecute them beyond reasonable doubt. There are people out there who are determined to destroy our way of life. There is no point in us being naive about it."

It is interesting that the Prime Minister should have said that before the July attacks, and even more so in light of the past three weeks or so. In that time, there have been appalling demonstrations in the centre of the capital and the case of Abu Hamza, which I am sure that the Minister will agree could have been handled very much better.

The Minister said that several hundred people were out there, but the fact is that a maximum of 18 individuals have been placed under control orders. Only nine remain under those orders, with the other nine awaiting deportation. How does the Minister rationalise what the Prime Minister said with the reality of the past year?

In his report, Lord Carlile makes two specific recommendations. First, he said that a Home-Office led monitoring system should ensure that the restrictions imposed were the minimum necessary, consistent with public safety. Secondly, he said that we must ensure that the police reach clear conclusions that the evidence needed to prosecute individual controlees is not available. The report supports the Government's case for control orders, at least in the short term, but Lord Carlile told the Home Affairs Committee yesterday that 20 imams were trying to recruit in prisons and universities.

I have already referred to the Abu Hamza case, and Lord Carlile's remark about the imams prompts me to ask the Minister how control orders are intended to be used against such targets. I am sure that all hon. Members respect the views of Lord Carlile. Given that only nine people are subject to control orders at present, what measures will be taken against the 20 imams to whom he referred? We are told that the security services have a list of nearly 100 people in this country who continue to preach hatred and to radicalise. I do not think that it is stretching a point to suggest that those people may adopt the sort of persuasive language that led to the attacks that took place on 7 and 21 July.