Terrorist Assets

Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham 10:30 am, 1st March 2007

What steps he has taken since 1 January to tighten controls on the movement of terrorist assets.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The Government yesterday set before the House new measures to deal with terrorist and criminal finance, including a new licensing system for money services business, additional funding of £1 million for the Charity Commission and the creation of a dedicated Treasury asset-freezing unit. Today, the Treasury is publishing its first quarterly report to Parliament on the operation of the UK's asset-freezing regime, which shows that, in the quarter to December 2006, the Treasury made seven domestic designations under terrorism and al-Qaeda orders.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham

The Minister announced yesterday in his statement

"new safeguards on the payment of state benefits to the households of terror suspects".—[ Hansard, 28 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 85WS.]

He will be aware that I wrote last week to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to call for an urgent investigation into Abu Hamza and his household, and their benefit claims. They have been drawing income support while seemingly receiving rental income from a house and also paying private school fees to the King Fahd academy. Given the Minister's pledge yesterday, will he speak to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ensure that the investigation finally takes place?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman had written to the Department for Work and Pensions. I was aware of the fact that we had a meeting a few months ago and then an Adjournment debate, in which he promised to write to me. I am still waiting for the letter.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I was wondering whether my hon. Friend could say, given the many steps taken by the Government and those he has outlined today, whether he anticipates all-party support across the House for these sorts of measures.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Why was the report 12 months late? Why does it fail to close the loophole that allowed Abu Hamza to transfer a £200,000 property to his son? Can the House have any confidence that the new asset-freezing unit that was announced will be any more effective than the dismally unsuccessful Assets Recovery Agency, which was shut down after it cost £60 million to set up and collected only £8 million in assets from criminals?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I fear that a cross-party consensus on tackling the financing of international terrorism is still some way away. I have answered these questions before in Treasury questions, and also in a letter to the hon. Lady, in a meeting and in an Adjournment debate with Mr. Hands. Every time I have pointed out that the actions that we took were consistent with UN, EU and UK law and were taken on the advice of the police and the security services. She may not think that it is important to act on the advice of the police and the security services, but I do and so do the Government. The document has been drawn up with close co-operation between the Home Office, the police, the agencies and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It is a state-of-the-art document that shows that we are acting in the national interest to tackle these issues. I wish that we could have a bit more maturity in this debate and a bit more of a cross-party consensus.