Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:36 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 6:36 pm, 15th February 2006

I will do my best to respond to the remarks that Members have made. Although, as has been said, the House is not particularly full, that did not undermine the quality of the contributions that they made to the debate on these very important matters.

I am grateful to Patrick Mercer for recognising that the Home Secretary has considered all these cases in detail and in depth, personally making the decisions and looking at the intelligence and information. Lord Carlile confirms that the Home Secretary has fulfilled his duties in a very responsible manner. I am also grateful to Mr. Clarke for his comments about the Home Secretary's approach.

We regard these matters as extremely serious and important because they inevitably involve constraints that are put upon people to limit their freedom of action. They are certainly not taken lightly.

The hon. Member for Newark raised some practical issues about the surveillance resources made available to the police and the security service to allow them to monitor control orders. He will have heard me say on previous occasions that we have substantially improved the resources available to the police, special branch and the Security Service. There have been dramatic increases in the numbers of people working in those services, and we are confident that there are sufficient resources for the control order regime, as it currently operates, to run effectively. I cannot go into any further detail than that—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to—but there are certainly enough resources in place to ensure proper monitoring of the conditions that have been imposed on people.

The hon. Member for Newark, among others, raised issues that were highlighted in the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Let me go through some of those briefly, as I cannot give an in-depth analysis in the time available. Members asked about non-derogating control orders being operated in a way that amounts to a deprivation of liberty. The orders were considered by the court and made with the permission of the court, which did not consider that they amounted to derogating control orders. None of the people concerned, all of whom are legally represented, has made a legal challenge to say that the prohibitions placed upon them are such that in total they would amount to a derogating order.

There has been no legal challenge to that effect. Lord Carlile says that the prohibitions are restrictive in some cases, but he does not believe that they fulfil the definition of deprivation of liberty, although they approach the cusp of that. Those are his words and he clearly takes a careful view. The fact that the orders have not been challenged is important because it is always open to those subject to them to make such a challenge.

The compatibility of the procedural protections with the provisions of the European convention on human rights has been questioned. It is important to stress that we do not accept that control order proceedings amount to a criminal charge, which engages all the rights that pertain to a trial situation. We are considering an application for a civil order and the proceedings are regulated by civil rules of procedure. As I have said, it involves a two-stage test. First, is there a reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in terrorism? If so—the second test—is it necessary to make the order to protect the public from whatever action the person might commit? There is therefore a range of civil procedure regulations for making control orders. I am not convinced at this stage that the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights constitutes the right approach.

Hon. Members asked whether the subjects of control orders suffered inhuman and degrading treatment. We do not accept that to be the case. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has visited the UK and it will report on some issues in March. Our view is that the prohibitions do not constitute inhuman and degrading treatment.

My hon. Friend John McDonnell asked about the families of those subject to control orders. Those are serious questions and we are trying to get the balance right—Lord Carlile said that proportionality was key. He is satisfied that, as a last resort, control orders are a proportionate "safety valve", as he put it, to protect the public. Lord Carlile had access to all the information and intelligence and he said that he would have made the same decisions as the Home Secretary. With great respect, Liberty has not had access to that information and intelligence. It cannot therefore strike the balance between prohibitions on a person who is involved in terrorism and for whom it is necessary to make an order and the rights of the family. One has to see the situation in the round, with access to the information about how dangerous the individual may be.

We are considering circumstances in which there are fairly dangerous people whom one cannot prosecute for various reasons, or deport. We therefore have control orders. The alternative is no prohibitions or restrictions on them and allowing them to walk the streets in freedom. I am sure that many people would be seriously worried about that.