Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of Point of Order – in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 21st February 2008.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 1:52 pm, 21st February 2008

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.