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I beg to move,
That the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in force of sections 1 to 9) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 30th January, be approved.
The purpose of the order is to renew the control order elements of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which automatically lapses after one year unless renewed by order subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. The effect of the order is to maintain the powers set out under the Act until the end of
I am conscious of the limited time, and I will try to be as quick as I can, but it is important to put the threat that we face in context. As hon. Members know, in the past few years, we have witnessed several appalling attacks on our country. As the director general of the Security Service stated in November last year:
"The number of people...involved in terrorist-related activity in the UK has increased to at least 2,000. And we suspect that there are as many again that we don't yet know of."
The threat is clearly genuine, serious and unparalleled in our country's history. It is unparalleled because of the suicide dimension, which is new.
Faced with a threat of that magnitude, it would be irresponsible to say that there was a simple solution. We need a range of responses to reduce the risk of further terrorist attacks. The order should be viewed in that context.
I freely admit that the balance between human rights and security is paramount and that no party in the House has the monopoly on supporting security or human rights. All hon. Members accept that we all seek that balance. We must ensure that we protect all our fundamental values and civil liberties while defending the most of important—the right to life.
Let me make it clear that prosecution is—first, second and third—the Government's preferred approach when dealing with suspected terrorists. Somehow in the past, a view has been put abroad that we cannot be bothered to prosecute so we invented control orders to avoid that route. In 2007 alone, 37 people were convicted of terrorism-related offences in 15 cases.
However, we are constantly seeking to improve our ability to prosecute suspected terrorists. First, as hon. Members know, we introduced new offences in the Terrorism Act 2006, which have already been used successfully to prosecute those involved in terrorism. Secondly, we propose measures in the Counter-Terrorism Bill to extend post-charge questioning of suspected terrorists. Thirdly, we have accepted the Chilcot recommendation that we should introduce intercept as evidence, provided that the conditions outlined can be met. However, as the Chilcot report states:
"We have not seen any evidence that the introduction of intercept as evidence would enable prosecutions in cases currently dealt with through control orders."
Two other proposals made in last year's renewal debates—about the use of the threshold test and turning Queen's evidence—are already in place.
On prosecution, does my right hon. Friend agree that there will be much satisfaction that Parviz Khan was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment? The charge against him, to which he pleaded guilty, was intention to kidnap a Muslim British soldier and have him beheaded. Others were also prosecuted and convicted on related offences. Is not that excellent news? It is likely that Mr. Khan will never be released unless the authorities are satisfied that he is no longer a danger to people in this country.
I hope that my hon. Friend is right on the latter point. I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments. It is interesting that roughly half the people who were convicted at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 pleaded guilty. That is testimony to the resolve and expertise of our police and security services.
I should like to add my congratulations to the police and the security services on a brilliant operation to protect that brave Muslim soldier whose life was so despicably threatened. However, is not there a lesson to be drawn from that case? Until the matter went to court and the people involved found that they had no option but to plead guilty, there was widespread concern in the Muslim community that they had been wrongly arrested and that Muslims were being unfairly targeted. Does not the case show the importance of getting as many cases as possible into court and keeping as few people as possible under alternative arrangements such as control orders?
I agree 100 per cent. That has been the Government's position throughout. I am currently carrying out a little analysis of the broad press coverage in the wake of Operation Gamble, which involved Khan among others, as my hon. Friend Mr. Winnick said. If I feel so inclined, I may play back their words to some of the people to whom Dr. Lewis refers. It is right and proper that due process takes place. However, there is a difference between those who freely assert their view of reality, largely from a position of ignorance, and the prosecution and police authorities who rightly do not do that to afford the defendants due process.
The Minister knows that the terms of reference of control order review groups require them to keep the prospect of prosecution under review, including for breach of the order. Will he answer a more specific question, which was raised in a letter from the Joint Committee on Human Rights? At control order review groups—CORGs—meetings, does the Home Office inquire whether there is active investigation of the individual by the law enforcement agencies with a view to prosecution, rather than asking the vaguer question of whether there is scope for prosecution?
I would not be so dismissive of the vaguer question. If there is the prospect of prosecution as part of the review, it must be as a result of some activity that has changed since the previous review. I therefore do not accept that point, save to say that CORGs review—and rightly so, as the hon. Gentleman suggests—not only the prospect for prosecution, but exit strategies and revocations, should those prosecutions not be forthcoming, an issue to which the Joint Committee also referred.
The Minister began by saying that there is a threat from about 2,000 individuals. They are clearly linked with Islamic extremism, so will the Minister outline, first, how mosques have provided a safe haven for some of those people and, secondly, how they have helped to expose such individuals and how they can help in future?
I should very much like to go into such detail—most of it positive, rather than negative—but I fear that if I do so, I may stray beyond the bounds of the renewable order before us. Perhaps this is a hostage to fortune, in the general sense, but a fuller debate on the Government's prevent and contest strategy—in particular the prevent part, which goes to the hon. Gentleman's suggestions—might be long overdue, so I will happily take that back to the appropriate business channels.
I want to bring the Minister back to the narrower issues of the motion. He mentioned the control order review groups and he will be aware that Lord Carlile has talked about his increasing concern that there should be a finite limit on the period to which control orders should apply. He gave a figure of two years. Can the Minister help the House by saying in how many cases we are already beyond that two-year point and how the Government are responding to the issue?
It is seven, but I shall develop the point about our response, in respect not just of exit strategies, but light touch orders—the lower end of control orders, as it were—in the body of my speech.
In a moment. I said what I did at the beginning, before delaying and allowing my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North to intervene, because an hour-and-a-half long debate can go one of two ways: either I can try, vainly, to get through my speech and, being a generous soul, take as many interventions as I can, because this is an important and serious debate; or I can put my head down and plough through the speech, and then allow hon. Members to have their say. We are in a hybrid mode at the moment, which I am perfectly happy with. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, then address some of the questions that Mr. Grieve raised.
I should be grateful if the Minister continued to take interventions, which would allow us to tease out the Government's strategy on countering terrorism, because I understand that we have not had a proper debate. If this is it, I am afraid that one and a half hours does not do the issue justice. To bring him back to my question, he says that he does not have time to talk about what the threat in Britain is, but surely that is the starting point. The House should understand and debate what that threat is before renewing any more orders.
I dispute the hon. Gentleman's tail-end point, but this is most profoundly not the occasion on which to have that wider debate. I said—if I may be rather modest and generous to myself—that I thought that the suggestion that we should have that broad debate about the Government's wider strategy, of which the order is but a very small part, is one that I would certainly take up with the relevant business channels. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are constantly discussing such matters in one form or other— [ Interruption. ] No, here, too. However, a broad debate about all aspects of the Government's counter-terrorism strategy, not least the preventive dimension, is one that we should have, with time set aside, and I shall take that suggestion back. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's introductory point in part, which is why I have tried to reiterate what I think everyone in the House knows anyway, which is the serious nature of the threat. However, in respect of his broad comments about how we should have that wider debate with regularity, I am happy that that should be the case.
Notwithstanding my brief introduction to the nature of the threat and some of the other things that we are doing, I need to continue. Control orders remain an important part of what we seek to do in that broad strategy. Notwithstanding all the improvements that I have outlined—in terms of legislation, how we do what we do and what the Chilcot implementation group might come up with—as Lord Chilcot has said, we believe that there remains a small number of suspected terrorists whom, for now, we can neither prosecute nor deport. Control orders remain the best available means of dealing with such individuals, but absolutely not the most satisfactory way, as I and many members of the Government have said in the past.
In the past three years, control orders have been an important part of the fight against terrorism. Through a tailored set of obligations, they have helped to prevent individuals from engaging in terrorism-related activities, as well as restricting and disrupting them. Control orders are not imposed arbitrarily, which is a view that is sometimes abroad. A judge must agree that a control order is necessary and proportionate, and they are subject to regular and rigorous control. There are currently 14 control orders in force, and only 31 individuals have ever been subject to one over those three years.
We think that control orders are an important tool and they continue to enjoy support from outside the Government. First, in the landmark House of Lords judgment in October 2007, the Lords crucially upheld the control order system, although not in all terms, so we were disappointed that they did not agree with the Government on every issue. On article 5 of the European convention on human rights—the right to liberty—the Lords judged that no control order then in effect needed to be weakened. Indeed, the judgment put the Government in a stronger position than before, as the Lords effectively indicated that a 16-hour curfew would not breach article 5.
On article 6—the right to a fair trial—the judgment was complex and has therefore been widely misreported. The Lords did not say that any case before them had breached the right to a fair trial; rather, they said that in some, possibly exceptional cases, the current provisions in the 2005 Act might breach article 6. The Lords therefore read down the Act, to ensure that the procedure adopted under it would be compatible with article 6 in every case and concluded that the High Court should consider the point case by case. That forms part of the mandatory review of each individual control order by the High Court, which is one of the many safeguards in place to secure the rights of the individual. Therefore, we remain firmly of the view that the legislation and the order before us are fully compliant with the ECHR.
Secondly, the independent reviewer of the operation of the 2005 Act, the noble Lord Carlile, continues to view control orders as necessary. He said that
"as a last resort (only), 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".
The other two statutory consultees—the intelligence services commissioner and the director general of the Security Service—share that view. I should like to place on record the Government's thanks to Lord Carlile for another thorough report, which I am sure will add a great deal to today's debate. We will, of course, reply in due course.
Probably not, because I am mindful that others want to speak, but if I have time towards the end of my speech I shall do so.
Of course, control orders are not perfect. However, we have worked hard over the past year to improve them. [ Interruption. ] It is not in my nature to refuse people, and as the hon. Gentleman is on his toes, I will let him intervene.
The Minister said that he felt that the Carlile report was useful to aid debate, but does he accept that it would have been more useful had there been more time to consider it? As with last year, it was published only days before this debate, which does not give enough time either to Select Committees to give it due consideration or even the Government to consider it and respond to the specific inquiries that people may have. That has happened previously and the Joint Committee has expressed its concern previously. Will the Minister give an undertaking, in line with what the Prime Minister has said, that there will be more opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny, including of the independent reviewer's report, in future years?
I would hope so. I certainly cannot give that undertaking, other than to say that I will try my best. To be entirely fair to Lord Carlile, the delay last year, such as it was, was entirely the Government's fault, as I said at the time, and not his. To be perfectly fair, this time round we got the report on the Sunday or Monday of the half-term week and published it at the very first opportunity, on the Monday just gone. I understand the point about that being less than satisfactory, in respect of this debate three days later, except that the report is effectively the fourth quarterly report, which sums up the other three, too, so that people should at least be clear about the background numbers and actions taken under the Act. But I take the hon. Gentleman's point that a bit more time would have been useful for everyone concerned.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield has referred to some of the criticisms of the orders. I accept that they are not perfect, but I think it is fair to say that we have worked hard over the past year to improve them. For instance, last year there was much talk of exit strategies for those on control orders. I am unconvinced by the idea that there should be an arbitrary end date for individual control orders, in part because each order addresses an individual risk, but I am firmly of the view that control orders should be imposed for as short a time as possible, commensurate with the risk posed.
Consideration of appropriate exit strategies is an integral part of the formal quarterly review for every control order. An order can be renewed only if it is necessary to do so. Indeed, over the last year we have seen two control orders revoked and another two orders not renewed. In fact, the control orders of 17 of the 31 individuals who have been subject to an order are no longer in force. So I do not entirely agree with Lord Carlile about a two-year limit, although I agree that, if we can put more rigorous review mechanisms in place as a control order remains in place for longer, we should do so. As I have said, however, we should start from the premise that they should be imposed for as short a time as possible, bearing in mind the degree of risk involved.
As I mentioned last year, we take very seriously the prospect of prosecuting individuals subject to control orders. These matters are considered on an ongoing basis and reviewed formally each quarter. Over the past year, we have put new procedures in place, and the police and CPS provide more detail on the prospects for prosecution to the court.
As well as greater use of exit strategies, Lord Carlile also notes the difficulties in enforcing so-called light touch control orders. I agree that this is problematic but I am not convinced by his suggested alternatives. Over the past year, we have reviewed all current control orders, and the monitoring procedures to which they are subject, in order to ensure that they are as effective as possible. In a number of cases, where it was necessary and proportionate to do so, the control orders were strengthened. That does not mean that my mind is closed to the notion of dealing differently with the so-called light touch end of the control order regime. I just mean that I am not entirely sure that the antisocial behaviour order and other routes suggested by Lord Carlile are appropriate.
We have also been working on legislative improvements to control orders. The Counter-Terrorism Bill, which was introduced on
In summary, we are confronted by a threat from terrorism which is determined, indiscriminate and brutal. We must protect the public while ensuring that our fundamental rights and values are protected, and we must do that overwhelmingly within the body of the rule of law, our statutes and the terrorism legislation framework. There are and will be very small matters of exception in that regard, of which control orders are a part. I say freely that they are part of the delicate balancing act between security and human rights. They are also a significant part of the Government's, um, ability to protect the public from the risk of terrorism. I hesitated because my speaking notes use the word "toolkit", which is a rather pathetic word in this regard. It belongs in the dustbin, along with "roll-out", "stakeholder" and all those sorts of things.
In all seriousness, not renewing the 2005 Act would increase the risk to the public. That is a prospect that we cannot allow. I take on board many of the issues that hon. Members, Lord Carlile and the Joint Committee have raised in order to try to improve the system, but, as Sir John Chilcot has said, the system needs to remain to fill a vital gap in regard to risk. I commend the order to the House.
The Minister delivered one of his characteristic speeches. He tends to look at the general rather than condescend to the particular. This is an important issue. When my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer, who is in the Chamber today, opened the debate for the Opposition last year, he said, with good reason, that he thought it most unlikely that we would be able to support the renewal of the control order arrangements again.
The background to this matter is, in a sense, engraved on my heart, given that it started with a marathon 36-hour sitting of the House in 2005. It is significant that much of what was proposed by the Government in an effort to reach a compromise at the end of the stand-off between the House of Commons and the House of Lords has not really occurred. At the time, it was intimated in debate that these powers were required to deal with several hundred people. That is what the then Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, said; it was one of the strongest arguments advanced. We now know, however, that a maximum of 31 individuals have been dealt with under this procedure.
Furthermore, the stand-off was ended when the then Home Secretary, Mr. Clarke, told the House that he was working on the basis that there would be an early opportunity for an entire review of the architecture of the anti-terrorism laws, which would allow the issue of control orders to be looked at afresh. Indeed, he put forward a timetable that envisaged that, during 2006, we would have a new anti-terrorism Act, that we would be able to consider it with great care, and that there would be an opportunity during its passage for us to conduct a complete overview of the existing anti-terrorism legislation and to consider carefully reports such as that produced by Lord Carlile in early 2006, when the first renewal of control orders would come before the House.
In fact, that did not happen. In fairness to the Government, it did not happen because the July 2005 bombings led to the next anti-terrorism measure being introduced earlier than the Government expected. In fact, it was passed, after ping-pong with the House of Lords, on the very day that the first renewal came up, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newark will remember. Far from that legislation providing us with an opportunity to take an overall view of anti-terrorism measures in the round, it was so narrowly crafted—and, most regrettably, sufficiently harshly guillotined as to prevent adequate scrutiny, as is characteristic of the way we legislate in this place today—that no such opportunity existed to examine, by amendment in Committee, how the existing anti-terrorism powers might need to be reviewed or got rid of. Instead, our deliberations were dominated by such issues as glorification and the proposal for a 90-day pre-charge detention period.
For that reason, when this matter came up for review on its first review date, we did not oppose it. We looked at Lord Carlile's report. It is noteworthy that, with each of his reports on the operation of control orders, he has become more lukewarm. He has also become more anxious about the impact that they will have by lasting a longer time, and about the fact that, in many cases, it is difficult to see how they provide adequate protection for the public, given that it appears relatively easy to abscond or to breach their terms. He also highlights the fact that they have—mercifully, perhaps—been applied only to a very limited number of people.
Currently, as the Minister highlighted, only 15 control orders are in force. Although I do not think that there has been any dispute of the view that several hundred people—it might possibly run into several thousand—in this country may pose a threat, 15 is a very small number. Because we are concerned with only 15 people, it raises the question, which the Minister has to answer, of whether we could do without this mechanism at all, particularly when the Minister has acknowledged that in its impact on civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law, it is an undesirable mechanism of last resort and not one that any Government would wish to see on the statute book for a day longer than is necessary.
It is worth looking at Lord Carlile's comments. The Minister was rather dismissive of the suggestion of replacing light touch control orders with antisocial behaviour orders. When I read that, my eyes started out of my own head, because my personal view of ASBOs, in terms of being an effective mechanism for controlling people's behaviour, is not very high. However, if someone with the authority of Lord Carlile thinks that an ASBO would probably be as good as a light touch control order, it really highlights an issue that the Minister must deal with in his reply, because on the face of it, the light touch control order clearly appears to Lord Carlile to be of very little benefit indeed.
Lord Carlile also highlighted the extent to which the implementation of control orders will require considerable human resources for surveillance. One issue that clearly arises is the extent to which that surveillance is available. The number of cases of absconding suggests that the surveillance supplied may be relatively limited. Of course, one could reverse the argument and say that if large levels of surveillance are already available, we might not need a control order in the first place—one of the arguments raised when we first discussed this issue some three years ago.
Another matter that troubles me is the length of time for which these orders have lasted. We know that seven individuals have been subject to control orders for more than two years and there is plainly great anxiety on Lord Carlile's part about the propriety of such lengthy infringements of liberty. It is important to note that he thinks that the likely value of an individual to terrorists after a prolonged period of being subject to a control order is, in reality, going to be very slight. That being the case, finding some way of dispensing with control orders is clearly going to be very desirable.
What troubles me—and it may trouble the House—is what practical steps the Government are going to take over the next 12 months before we come back for the next renewal to see whether we can, in fact, get rid of control orders for good. That is the challenge that the Minister has to answer. It is a challenge that I have also had to consider as Opposition spokesman deciding whether to support the renewals or to seek to oppose them. On balance, and with a considerable degree of reluctance, our conclusion is that we should allow renewal to take place this year. There is a very specific reason for that, which I want to bring to the Minister's attention, and I shall seek some assurances that he will not only note it, but act on it.
We know that a Counter-Terrorism Bill has been published and it is believed that it is likely to secure its Second Reading before the Easter break. That provides an opportunity, if the Government wish to provide it, for an overall review of counter-terrorism legislation. I have to say that I am rather cynical and not very confident that that is what will happen. The history of such legislation suggests that we often tend to get bogged down in confrontation—and there may well be serious confrontation over the plan to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days—and that the way in which such Bills are considered in Committee and, indeed, on Report makes it virtually impossible to table Opposition amendments to probe and review the current operation of existing terrorism legislation, which would allow us to have precisely the sort of debate that the Minister suggested earlier would be so desirable in order to examine things with a broader perspective rather than focus on the narrow issue of renewal.
If the Minister and the Government are prepared to rise to the occasion, I like to think that we could use the Counter-Terrorism Bill and the opportunity for debate surrounding it to have some sensible discussions that could lead to the Government having sufficient confidence to decide that this order will not require renewal at all next year. It is only on those grounds that we have decided not to vote against the renewal motion this afternoon. I have to tell the Minister, however, that the longer this process goes on and the longer control orders remain in place on individuals, the more difficult the renewal process will become. If we come back next year and find that seven individuals will have been subject to control orders for more than three years, the Government's position will start to become even more difficult.
I acknowledge, as we acknowledged at the outset, that there might be circumstances in which control orders are necessary. That is why, when we first debated the matter three years ago, we accepted the principle. Our argument was over the question of having a sunset clause. We wanted such a clause, which is different from an annual renewal, in order to ensure that, at some point in a reasonable time frame, this matter could come to the crunch and the Government would have to justify their position by primary legislation and a full Bill rather than by a mere one and a half hour debate. We were right in that, and everything that has happened since makes me think that our position was reasonable, moderate and correct. Now, however, the question is whether the Government will take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Counter-Terrorism Bill. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance this afternoon that he has taken our points seriously into account.
I am not normally a great supporter of consensus. I doubt whether many Members would say that I have urged consensus during my time in the House, especially when I sat on the Opposition Benches. I certainly did not—and for good and valid reasons. When it comes to combating terrorism, however, I depart from my perhaps more controversial position because I believe that there is room to find a consensus.
We are all opposed to terrorism—that goes without saying. Not a single Member of the House would argue that there was any possible justification for inflicting terror, and we are not likely to forget in a hurry the 52 totally innocent people who were slaughtered on 7/7. They had as much right to live as the rest of us. In the House and in the country we have a pretty long collective memory, and I hope that what occurred then will not be forgotten for a long time to come. Neither should we forget that those who were responsible acted from a fanatical religious position that was at odds with everything that scholars of Islam have said repeatedly, arguing that the mass murderers had totally distorted the religion of Islam.
As Mr. Grieve has just said, we will probably debate the Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism Bill before the Easter break. I hope it will be possible to use the short period before that debate to try to reach a consensus, particularly on the number of days for which terror suspects can be held without charge. As I have said repeatedly in the Home Affairs Committee and elsewhere, it would be unfortunate to have once again division of the sort that occurred in November 2005.
Obviously, I am not keen on control orders—is anyone?—but I go along with them, perhaps more so than the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, because I well understand that in certain circumstances it is not possible to prosecute although there is a pretty strong feeling—or evidence, rather than feeling—that certain individuals could pose a danger or a threat to this country. In such circumstances, I suppose that there is an argument for control orders, but they should not be indefinite. I hope that, over a shorter period rather than a longer one, we can find a different solution. However, I certainly would not wish to divide the House on the issue, and if the main Opposition were to do so, which they will not, I would not be other than on the Government's side, because I understand their position.
I return to the intervention that I made in the Minister's speech: at the end of it all, there is no adequate alternative to prosecution. It is essential that, in so far as it is possible, the normal process of law should take place. Indeed, before this debate we had exchanges on rendition and the situation in the United States, and no one who spoke was other than critical of the situation there.
We want to remain entirely committed to the rule of law—let us compare the situation in the UK with what is happening in the United States—which is why I am pleased that Parvis Khan has been convicted, for the reasons that I stated earlier. The case is indeed monstrous and he pleaded guilty. The intention was to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. Rightly, the court decided on a life sentence—a minimum of 14 years—and as the judge pointed out, Khan might not be released at all, unless the authorities feel that it is safe to do so.
I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman has just said. May I impose for a second longer on the House with the observations of Sir Robert Thompson, whom I quoted earlier? He also said that
"the firm policy of the government to bring all persons who have committed an actual offence to public trial" is vital. He went on:
"This has the great advantage not only of showing that justice is being done but of spotlighting the brutality of terrorist crimes and the whole nature of the insurgent conspiracy".
That is precisely what the trial of that terrible case has just done.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.
Another point I want to make arising from the conviction of Parvis Khan and others relates to the remarks of the assistant chief constable of the west midlands, Anil Patani, who is head of security and cohesion for West Midlands police. He urged everyone to recognise that the terrorist threat is genuine, and he was rather critical of comments made by some in the Muslim community in the Birmingham area. For example, the chair of the Birmingham central mosque compared the raids that have occurred to the situation in Nazi Germany.
It is important for everyone to recognise the terrorist threat, and the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community, whether in the west midlands or anywhere else in this country, knows and recognises that terrorism is wrong. Those people recognise, as was the case with 7/7, that if terrorism takes place, Muslims can be the victims—slaughtered or seriously injured like anyone else. They have no illusions on that score. It is therefore important for those who are, or claim to be, representative of the Muslim community not to make remarks like the one that I have just quoted. It serves no purpose whatever.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how we can sensitively understand what sometimes happens behind the closed doors of mosques that have been seen to harbour a form of extremism?
In my borough, there is no such problem. The Muslim community in the Walsall area has always been moderate and totally opposed to any form of terrorism or anything of that kind. I believe there are very few places of religious worship that would wish to help or encourage those engaged in terrorism, but of course any that exist should be exposed. What the assistant chief constable of the West Midlands police said is important: everyone should recognise that the terrorist threat is real, and must be combated in every way possible.
As it happens, I visited the Birmingham mosque shortly after those words were uttered by its chairman. I do not think the chairman's words necessarily represented the views of the worshippers in the mosque, or indeed anyone's views. It should also be said that one of the regrettable aspects of the police operation in Birmingham—I hasten to add that it was none of their fault—was that, as the hon. Gentleman probably remembers, details of it were leaked to the press in a manner that turned the central mosque and the main area in which Muslims were living into a goldfish bowl. I am afraid that it produced the very circumstances in which paranoia can thrive.
What happened in Forest Gate is another example. I hope that the authorities—the police, the Home Office and the rest—will always bear in mind the fact that if certain steps are taken which are not appropriate, they can prove entirely counter-productive in the fight against terrorism.
I hope that in the short period between now and the Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism Bill the Government will make some attempt to find a consensus, particularly on the number of days for which people can be held without charge. There is already a broad consensus in the House that the period should be 28 days, and no evidence has been produced suggesting that it should be longer. If the Government want to secure a consensus, they should again enter into negotiations with those of us who are highly critical of an extension beyond 28 days, and certainly with the Opposition parties.
In preparation for the debate, I studied last year's debate carefully and noted the points raised by my right hon. Friend Mr. Clegg. In his opening speech, he identified four points relating to control orders which he felt should be addressed. In his view, the standard of proof required for the Secretary of State to sign non-derogating control orders was too low, the power to impose the orders should reside with the courts, the orders should be strictly time-limited, and they should be subject to regular and thorough reviews. It is worth considering what progress has been made since then, and what progress has been made generally.
Some progress has been made on at least one issue, that of intercept evidence. Notwithstanding the Minister's proviso that intercept evidence does not necessarily supply a silver bullet, I am glad the Prime Minister has said that he is examining the Chilcot report to establish which of its recommendations can be implemented as soon as possible. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us a little more about how those recommendations will be implemented.
Do I understand from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that we have the ability to use intercept evidence in court? No, we do not. And have we made any progress in that regard? Absolutely not.
I think we have made some progress. I think it may now be more widely accepted on the Government Benches that intercept evidence should be considered. The Prime Minister's statement makes it clear that he is willing to consider it, and presumably willing to allow it to be used at a future date. The progress could, however, be described as limited rather than extensive.
Far be it from me to suggest that the Government are creating hot air. We have a statement from the Prime Minister that makes clear his willingness to look at the report's recommendations, and one can only anticipate that his Government will act on them.
I had also hoped that we would make some progress in terms of the official Opposition's position. Mr. Grieve, and Patrick Mercer when he spoke 12 months ago, made clear their position on control orders. The hon. Member for Newark said:
"this system does not work and it has to be replaced by something competent" and
"there have been a series of shambles."—[ Hansard, 22 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 440-41.]
Unfortunately, despite the fact that he described control orders as "a series of shambles", the official Opposition then chose to vote in favour of them. The hon. Gentleman also stated 12 months ago that it was very likely that the official Opposition would again support control orders this time, and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has made it clear that that will be the case.
Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to the matters we were discussing a few moments ago, such as the use of intercept evidence. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating: a Counter-Terrorism Bill is imminent, and if it implements the measures we want, it ought to go a long way towards giving the Government the confidence to abandon control orders. I also think that once it is on the statute book it will strongly strengthen the hands of those who are unhappy about control orders. The hon. Gentleman will therefore understand why, despite our great reservations, we have adopted the position we have this afternoon.
I echo the hon. Gentleman's point about expectations of how the Counter-Terrorism Bill might assist by making it likely that the need for control orders diminishes or goes away entirely. However, I must remind the hon. Gentleman of what he said about how he thinks the Government will deal with the Counter-Terrorism Bill: he said that he was cynical, and not confident that they will address it in the way he hopes.
There has been little progress on the four points my right hon. Friend raised 12 months ago. Members have rightly drawn attention to the time limits issue. The Minister quoted Lord Carlile's report, and he will therefore be familiar with the points Lord Carlile made about what he describes as the "endgame" in relation to control orders. He said:
"I remain concerned about the ending, or endgame, of each control order", and he also stated that they
"cannot be continued indefinitely".
He also said that, 12 months ago,
"I advised that, as a matter of urgency, a strategy is needed for the ending of the orders in relation to each controlee", and
"it is only in rare cases that control orders can be justified for more than two years."
He also advises—the Minister has responded to this—
"that there should be a recognised and possibly statutory presumption against a control order being extended beyond two years".
The Minister has made it clear that he does not support Lord Carlile's view. However, I hope he will at least agree that his position is worthy of debate, and possibly of a vote in this place at some point in the near future.
While we are on the subject of time limits, it might be useful to mention that there is a need for a time restriction on the curfew of 12 hours, following the House of Lords judgment that an 18-hour detention period is unacceptable. The Joint Committee on Human Rights requested that restriction. I hope the Minister will make clear his position on that issue and whether the Government have a view on what an appropriate detention or curfew period might be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam also raised concerns about the review process 12 months ago. We welcome the creation of the control order review group and how it is operating.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which indicated that 12 hours would appear to be about right for the maximum time limit. The Government do not accept that. When the Law Lords indicated that 18 hours was too long and 16 hours was right and thus quashed a control order, the Government subsequently increased some control orders from 12 to 16 hours. They have made their view clear, but it is regrettable.
I can only echo my hon. Friend's concerns.
I was discussing control orders being subject to regular and thorough review. I appreciate the work that the control order review group is doing, but hon. Members have referred to the issue of how Lord Carlile's review of control orders is conducted. More specifically, we need to consider the time scale for conducting it, passing it on to Government and publishing it. The Minister rightly put on the record what happened in a previous year and what happened this year. He acknowledged—hon. Members and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have also flagged this up—that we could do better on the length of time the report is available for hon. Members and the Committee to consider.
The Minister put his case in a measured manner, acknowledging that control orders are not perfect. I regret that little new has been said this year. Our concerns have not been addressed this year, so to be consistent with the position we adopted last year we intend to divide the House on this issue again this year.
I should like to discuss the 10th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair. The report is one of the relevant documents in this debate, and as we have had a wide-ranging debate, it is important that we focus on the motion.
The Committee is in full agreement with the Government about the positive obligation of human rights law to take effective steps to protect the public from the real threat of terrorism, and the need to keep measures under review to ensure that the authorities are properly equipped, both legally and physically, to respond to the threat and to ensure that measures taken are not incompatible with human rights in the light of experience. If the measures are incompatible, that will ultimately become counter-productive.
The Committee agrees with the Government that the control order regime is the second best option to prosecution—I think that there is a general consensus about that. It is also clear that control orders, in some form, will be needed for the foreseeable future. We need to examine them in detail in the light of experience and court judgments to see what changes to the regime are needed. Our recommendations fall into four broad categories: the need for better parliamentary scrutiny; the need to look at the obligations and restrictions contained in the control orders; the need for due process; and, last but not least, the need for an exit strategy.
I shall deal first with parliamentary scrutiny. Lord Carlile's report was published only three days ago. I do not blame the Home Office on this occasion, but inevitably our report could therefore only be published yesterday to inform today's debate. According to statute, Lord Carlile's report should have been prepared as soon as practicable after
My Committee recommends that we should have the report at least a month ahead, to enable us to produce our findings on it and to inform debate more effectively. We also think it is important that the reviewer should be appointed by and report directly to Parliament, and that the Secretary of State should produce an annual report to Parliament.
Given that the deadline for renewal is not until
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair criticism, but the serendipitous effect of having the debate at this stage is that it enables us to put before the House our recommendations for reform and gives the Government time to consider those recommendations when we consider the terrorism Bill later. It would, however, be far better if we had the time to debate the issues properly and in an informed way.
On the terms of the control orders and whether they amount to deprivation of liberty, the Government say that none of the control orders now in force—or indeed ever made—derogate from article 5 of the convention on the right to liberty. If that were the case, only courts could make such orders. We need to consider the restrictions in the control orders in combination with each other and with the daily length of the curfew. As has been said, the Government have extrapolated from the House of Lords decision the belief that 16 hours is satisfactory, but that is to quote only part of the views of Lord Brown, who goes on to say in his judgment, on which the Government rely:
"It may be, indeed, that 16 hours is too long. I would, however, leave it to the Strasbourg Court to decide upon that".
Our view is that 16 hours is too long. The average control order is now 10 hours, and our view is that 12 hours would be an appropriate length. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights, in a case involving Italy, has found that nine hours amounted to deprivation of liberty, so there would be severe and serious consequences for liberty if the maximum daily limit were not reviewed.
One of the Committee's main concerns arises from questions of due process. We are in something of a Kafkaesque world when it comes to the way control orders are brought forward—or perhaps I should cite Henry VIII's star chamber, as that was only a few yards away from where we are today. The Secretary of State gives no reasons for making the control order to the controlee, who is not told of the case against him to the extent that it is based on closed material. The special advocate—the controlee's lawyer—cannot discuss the case with his client. The control order is made solely on the basis of reasonable suspicion.
In the Committee's consideration of the matter, did my hon. Friend come across any parallel situations in any European country in which the defendant was denied access to the crucial information about why he or she was being prosecuted in the first place?
We have not done any detailed comparative work to that effect, so I cannot answer my hon. Friend's question one way or the other. However, I would be surprised if that were the case and we had a very different regime under common law, looking at the issue of terrorism more generally, compared with some of the civil law countries.
It is important to recognise that mistakes can be made, especially when one is working on the basis of intelligence, as the Lotfi Raissi case graphically illustrated a couple of weeks ago—although in a very different context to control orders. We believe that we must have safeguards against such problems commensurate both with public safety and protection of sources. For that reason, we would like to see incorporated in the law an absolute guaranteed right to a fair hearing. The House of Lords, in a recent case, said that those words should be read into the statute, but they do not appear there. Without that reference, there is a lack of certainty in the law and we need that express reference.
We believe that the gist of the closed material should be disclosed to the controlee. That can be done in a way that protects sources, but the controlee is entitled to know at least the basis of the case against him. We believe that special advocates, with the leave of the court—through an application to the High Court ex parte—should be permitted to discuss closed material in those circumstances with a controlee, if authorised by the court to do so. We believe that the Secretary of State should give reasons for the making of the control order.
The standard of proof is also important. Reasonable suspicion is a very low standard, compared with the seriousness of the consequences for the controlee of the making of the order. We think that the balance of probabilities would be a better test. We also think—although it would probably be of less utility—that the special advocates should be able to call rebuttal witnesses. At present, their right to do so is questionable.
I mentioned the need for an exit strategy. Seven of the controlees have been under a control order now for two years. Two of the 15 have been under a control order for three years, and we believe that for the three years before that they were in indefinite detention in Belmarsh. That makes six years, all together, in detention or under control for people who have not been convicted of any offence at all. We run the risk of creating Guantanamo-style martyrs. Perhaps they are not as visible. They are not under the same sort of oppressive regime, for sure. Perhaps they are in the gilded cage of Acacia avenue rather than the harshness of a Cuban camp, but we have still seen indefinite restrictions on their freedom and six years is far too long.
After such a length of time, as Lord Carlile says, those people will be of questionable use to any terrorist group. Such groups prefer to work with people with clean skins, as we saw in all the terrorist attacks that have taken place so far. The individuals concerned are clearly fingered and subject to ongoing monitoring.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. On that general point, in its discussions has his Committee come across any view from anyone within the communities from which the detainees or those who are subject to control orders come that shows a changed attitude to the police and security services in our society?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice. Is it appropriate for an hon. Member to join such an important debate late in the day, and when time is urgent, to delay or procrastinate during a speech when many other hon. Members want to participate?
It is certainly unusual for hon. Members to come in late, but nothing prevents an hon. Member from making interventions if the hon. Member on his feet is prepared to accept them.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House for not being here for the opening section of the debate. I was conducting an advice bureau in my constituency. I feel strongly about this matter and wanted to intervene on my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore; I was not trying to delay the debate.
I think that my hon. Friend raised the issue of the general impact on community relations and co-operation in the minority communities, which might be feeling somewhat targeted. That issue is very much on my Committee's mind.
On the question of an exit strategy for control orders, we welcome the creation of the control order review group. We think that there should be a positive duty to keep the control orders under review in each case. There are a series of options available to the CORG. Prosecution is, of course, the primary option and the most preferable. However, the fact remains that not a single controlee has been subject to prosecution so far. We believe that control orders should be made only when there is no realistic prospect of a prosecution being brought successfully, except in urgent cases, and that there should be a duty to that effect. In fact, in 2007 there was only one such urgent case. Our view is that controlees should be subject to a three-monthly review, with a view towards prosecution.
Deportation is very important. Nine notices have been served and six people have been deported. It is a question of modifying the restrictions, revocation, non-renewal and the important option of de-radicalisation. However, that does not get round the question of the maximum duration of the control order and indeed the question of the people we mentioned who might be subject to controls for up to six years.
There is no clear answer in human rights law to this question, beyond saying that human rights law prohibits the severe controls of indefinite duration. Lord Carlile's recommendation is for a maximum of two years as a rebuttable presumption in statute other than in genuinely exceptional cases. We tend to favour that approach. It is a difficult question and we feel that it is worthy of a debate in Parliament. In due course, we hope to table an amendment to facilitate such debate.
In conclusion, I repeat the fact that human rights law imposes a duty on the state to protect us all from terrorism and that the Committee sees control orders as second best. We must ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny, that the restrictions we impose on people are proportionate and the subject of due process, and that there is a proper exit strategy available in each case.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights will propose amendments to the new Bill to facilitate debate on the control order regime and other things that we think should be considered in detail. I shall certainly support the Government this afternoon, because the order is not amendable. I hope that by next year experience will have led to the sort of changes that we believe will make the control order regime not only fairer but ultimately better in the overall strategic objective of combating terrorism.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Dismore, and it is a great pleasure to be able to address the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing as right honourable. I pass my congratulations to him.
The people we seldom properly support, praise and laud are our security services, including the police, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. Were it not for the outstanding and gallant behaviour of those men and women over the past 12 months I have little doubt that we would have seen further atrocities, further dead and further injured. It is in the nature of their duties that they remain unsung and low profile. All of us, from whichever side of the House we speak, have a duty to record our thanks and admiration for the brave men and women who do that job on a daily basis.
It depresses me that I am experiencing almost déjà vu. Last year I spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, opposite the right hon. Gentleman, and when I look at the words I uttered then I see that almost nothing has changed. It depresses me that in matters of life and death—as I believe these are—the House is so dilatory in making real progress on subjects that can make a difference to the liberty and indeed the continued life of terrorists. For instance, this time last year, we were talking about one of the most important measures that we could possibly put in place to displace the control order regime—intercept evidence. There were signs—green shoots of hope—that the Government might consider the use of intercept evidence. This year we know that the Government will indeed accept the use of intercept evidence—after yet another period of review. Why do we need to be so slow?
Why have we not thought of making it very clear that we can use post-charge questioning? My hon. Friend Mr. Grieve has advised me that the powers already exist. Those powers, along with the use of intercept evidence, might mean that one or two of the individuals currently under the thoroughly unsatisfactory, inhuman and liberty-taking measure of control orders could either be prosecuted or released. In any event, they could be brought to court and put in front of a jury.
Similarly, why have we heard so little about plea bargaining? A number of eloquent speeches have been made about the use of that measure yet it is one of those things that is seldom talked about, even though we can see how it is used by the American judiciary. Will the Minister give us some of his words of wisdom about those three measures, which could probably take people off control orders?
Exactly like last year, the Minister said that control orders were an "important tool". I think I quote exactly his words of last year, and certainly of this year. If the orders are an important tool, why are they so inefficient? Why do they not produce the results we want? Why are individuals allowed to abscond? Why have the orders been compared to antisocial behaviour orders? As we have heard, we are talking about dangerous terrorists, in many cases bent on mass destruction. We must not conflate a measure that we might use against a young hooligan on the streets of Newark with measures against people who are hellbent on creating mass destruction and killing hundreds, if not thousands, of our fellow citizens.
Lastly, because although the subject is important others must speak, will the Minister talk—if he can—about a programme for rehabilitation of individuals who are either in prison already or subject to control orders? Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines all have a well developed rehabilitation programme for individuals under close supervision. As we have heard many times this afternoon, such individuals are of no further use to terrorist organisations so what are we doing to bring them on-side? What are we doing to suck dry their expertise on their previous thoughts and how they were suborned? How can we use them against the very people who turned their minds? I appreciate that the Minister might not want to go into detail about that, but I would none the less like to hear from him this year—he avoided the issue last year—about what we are doing in that respect.
The control orders are thoroughly unsatisfactory. We are going to have a huge debate and confrontation over the amount of time for which we can hold terrorists without charge, be it 28, 42 or 90 days. In my view—I am probably one of the few people in the Chamber who would say this—28 days is far too long, but we are where we are, and I accept the fact that we have decided on it. However, I hope that that debate and the Counter-Terrorism Bill will provide the opportunity to get the wicked, inefficient and incompetent series of measures known as control orders off the statute book.
We have deliberated on the matter in the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Do I take it from what the hon. Gentleman said that he will not vote for an extension beyond 28 days?
The hon. Gentleman understands it completely rightly. My personal view, as I will iterate, is that 28 days are far too many. We are where we are, but I will not vote for an extension beyond 28 days. I would like the Bill to involve a thorough review of the control order regime. On that basis, in line with the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield and despite what I said this time last year, I will not oppose the Government.
I apologise to Jeremy Corbyn. He speaks passionately about these issues, and I think that my frustration is shared throughout the House that one and a half hours is not enough time to debate them. The Minister has acknowledged that, and I appreciate his suggestion—I hope that the Government Whip, Tony Cunningham, is listening—that we might have an opportunity to discuss the wider picture and the impact that the order will have as one part of the jigsaw of tackling terrorism in the United Kingdom.
The Minister also said that prosecution was the Government's first, second and third priority. Leading on from what my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer said about rehabilitation, I just came back from Saudi Arabia, where 300 to 400 detainees are being put through a rehabilitation programme, with huge success. When the Minister sums up, will he comment on that? Perhaps we are not doing enough to get into the mindset of such individuals and prevent home-grown British Muslims from putting on the suicide jacket. I was shocked to hear that Guantanamo Bay has no such programme, and goodness knows how long the people there have been held. The Saudi programme was incredible. It brought in imams and people familiar with lecturing and teaching not only in Saudi Arabia but throughout the middle east to make the terrorists understand that their version and understanding of the Koran were simply out of context and wrong.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks a moment ago. Does he not accept that one of the problems with his concept of rehabilitation, to take up the point made by Patrick Mercer, is that the people whom we are discussing have not been convicted of anything? They have therefore not been found guilty. What are they being rehabilitated from if they have not been through a legal process?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point. I do not want to take away from the suggestion that a rehabilitation programme needs to be considered; where it will fit into the procedure is a matter for further debate.
As a result of the shortness of this debate, we have not had the opportunity to discuss exactly what the threat is. The Minister mentioned that there were 2,000 or so detainees. Interestingly, the US national security adviser, Secretary Chertoff, made it clear a month ago that the threat to the US now comes from Europe and the United Kingdom. That warrants a debate in the House. We have touched on the issue of mosques and the role that they play in the United Kingdom. It is important to stress that the 1.5 million people in the UK who go to its 1,300 mosques are law-abiding and peace-loving people, but there are individuals who choose to use the Koran and the words of Islam in their own way. They are the ones whom we need to seek out, in order to understand what they are doing. The community is diverse and there is no leader—no papal figure—who speaks for everyone. Because we have such a free and open society, it allows terrorist groups to operate in the United Kingdom in a way that we have not seen before and we are suffering the consequences. There is now a well trodden path between Britain and the mountains of Pakistan, where they complete their training, before coming back to this country.
We have had no discussion of that. We have gone straight into the detail, without understanding why home-grown Muslims decide to don the jacket and blow themselves up, along with British citizens. Richard Wright, the shoe bomber, was British. Mohammad Sidique Khan—
I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I asked the Minister about the guidelines given to the police when dealing with extremist literature if it is discovered in UK mosques. He said that powers are given to the police, and that the police issue guidelines to their officers that say that they are not allowed to go into mosques and remove any literature or artefacts. If that is the case, how can we understand what is happening in our mosques?
Another illustration of whether the order is working is the hesitancy with which we dealt with the demonstrations that took place outside the Danish embassy. It took months for any arrests to be made. That suggests that the measure is not working as it should. [Interruption.] The Minister says that there were prosecutions. No arrests were made on the day.
I conclude by saying that today's debate is inadequate for the scale of the subject that we are considering—the threat, the sums of money being spent, and the impact on our daily lives. We need to understand the bigger picture and focus on why a British-born Muslim is radicalised to the point of wearing a suicide jacket with the aim of killing British citizens.
I have only a few minutes to set out the reasons why my hon. Friends and I will be voting against the renewal order today.
There are three broad reasons for our decision. First, as my hon. Friend Tom Brake said from the Front Bench, fundamental problems with control orders have not been addressed, which is why there were grave difficulties in getting the House, and certainly those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, to agree to them in the first place. Secondly, there is the problem of inadequate parliamentary scrutiny. The third reason is the points made in successive reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which were eloquently summarised by Mr. Dismore.
Parliamentary scrutiny is rubbish when it comes to control order renewal—I think that the Minister was on his way to accepting that. There should be more than a one and a half hour debate so that we do not have to rush the points that we wish to make, although I agree that they should be narrowly on the question of control orders and parliamentary scrutiny.
The report of the independent reviewer, upon which so much reassurance was staked by the Government in the original legislation, is available several weeks ahead of a decision that the House takes so that it can be considered by Members, and so that Select Committees—not just the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve—can consider it, take evidence if necessary and issue a report.
The detailed report from the Joint Committee was produced in rapid order and was published only yesterday. That does not allow enough time for many people to consider it, not least the Minister. There must be a way of ensuring that that report is made available in good time, whoever has responsibility—I accept what the Minister said in respect of this occasion—or at least ensuring that the debate is held a few days later, nearer the deadline. That request was raised previously.
The Joint Committee proposed many amendments to the control order regime. One was in respect of due process and a fair trial. It is not satisfactory for the Government to rely on the House of Lords judgment, reading words into it and making a circular argument—it is bound to be a fair trial because it will be a fair trial. Given the controversy about the detail and the framework of control orders, it is incumbent on Parliament to make clear the requirements for a fair trial, not just in terms of releasing the gist of the case against the controlee, but with respect to other matters. It is not satisfactory for the Government to rely, as they do, on scraping through on majority decisions, reading in words in the House of Lords. They may or may not come to grief in Strasbourg, but it is not satisfactory. That is one of the reasons why my hon. Friends and I will be voting against renewal today.
As I tried to say at the start of my contribution, I broadly agree that we should have the time to debate in greater depth the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the annual reviewer's reports—and not necessarily just in respect of the narrow point of the renewal of the order. I am happy to take the matter back to the relevant authorities. I am not entirely sure whether it would be appropriate as part of the narrow focus on renewal, but a broader, in-depth discussion of both reports, on the issue of control orders and perhaps more broadly, would be welcome.
Yes, I will—as I also said earlier. However, that would be a separate debate; the business managers will love me. Three years on, there has not been an in-depth debate about the pros and cons of control orders. To be fair, the renewal of the order on our narrow parliamentary basis, defined by our rules for the hour and a half, will never be that satisfactory, so such a debate would also be appropriate.
I would still welcome a broader debate on counter-terrorism strategy and a debate, here or elsewhere, on prevention—a key aspect that relates in part to the points made by Mr. Ellwood. His points were probably inappropriate for today, but no matter; some, although not all, of them—I have no time to discuss which—were entirely valid.
I will, but only if the hon. Gentleman promises not simply to reiterate last year's speech, which is all he did today.
I thank the Minister for giving way; I shall not be reiterating last year's speech. He says that he will facilitate the debate that he thinks we should have. Will he also facilitate an opportunity during that debate for a vote on whether two years is the appropriate cut-off point for control orders?
No, I will not; the hon. Gentleman is being rather silly. He asks me to make up policy on the hoof. I cannot facilitate debates; I have said that I shall urge the relevant authorities to afford us those debates on the Floor of the House. I have said that although I take the point that indefinite control orders are certainly inappropriate and probably counter-productive, somewhere around two or three years is the norm.
However, the hon. Gentleman asserts—with confidence, of course, as Liberal Democrats do—that there is absolutely no need for a control order beyond two years. It is not his fault, but he has no idea of the security threat, the risk or the assessment made by professional police officers, the Security Service and the judiciary about the length of a control order in respect of the caveats and conditions put on it. He blithely says that two years is about enough—and, by the way, makes no allowance for exceptions. At least Lord Carlile and Mr. Grieve had the grace to say that there would be exceptions.
Intuitively and naturally, somewhere around two or three years is the norm. As a matter of policy, unlimited, indefinite control orders are probably not appropriate. As I said this time last year, I hope that with all the other things that we are doing, we are moving towards even further diminution in terms of the number of control orders used.
Patrick Mercer was churlish to say that there has been no progress on intercept as evidence. Given that people far greater than I have been looking at this thing for about 20 years, there has been enormous progress in the past year. We are not simply setting up another review but setting up a cross-party implementation process to go through all the hoops that Chilcot talks about, none of which is straightforward, to see whether we can make further progress.
The same applies to post-charge questioning. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield will attest, there are already very limited circumstances under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 where there is scope for post-charge questioning. What we are trying to do in the Counter-Terrorism Bill goes way beyond that. I say again, not blithely, that there must be safeguards in that regard too, and a full look at the law; none the less we have moved in that direction. I hope that, with what we are doing in terms of incitement—the hon. Member for Beaconsfield also referred to that—and other subsequent offences such as acts preparatory, on which people have been convicted, this will all add up to less and less scope for the utilisation of control orders, which everyone in the Chamber agrees are not the most satisfactory mechanism.
Sir John Chilcot, among others, said that intercept as evidence does not obviate the need for control orders. Our contention is that even with, we hope, a diminishing number of such orders, there will still be a narrowly defined grey area where there is sufficient information but not sufficient evidence on individuals to warrant the sort of control—
It being one and half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to