Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill

Part of Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill (Allocation of Time) – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 8th February 2010.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Labour, Redditch 6:08 pm, 8th February 2010

Surely the key element is that, given the significant and onerous nature of the proposals, it was wrong to implement them without sufficient parliamentary oversight and scrutiny. The Government are attempting to put right the first stage of that today.

Given the seriousness of the threat, and given that there was legal advice to support the use of the 1946 Act, it is understandable that the Government thought it suitable. Its use has been ruled ultra vires, and the right response is to bring forward primary legislation, first, as quickly as possible in order to plug the gap.

Members from all parts of the House, but Opposition Members in particular, have criticised the speed with which the legislation has been brought forward, and I am sure that the Government would have liked more time for parliamentary consideration and external consultation. That, presumably, is why they asked the Supreme Court to suspend its decision: to maintain the asset-freezing orders in place while Parliament had the chance to consider the issue. That request was of course dismissed. It would be useful if my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary could confirm that its dismissal has potentially freed up considerable assets for terrorist use, enabling the people whom the orders covered to make free use of those assets and any financial institutions that they like. It is also worth pointing out that had not the Government moved quickly with this proposed emergency legislation, the financial institutions that have implemented the freeze could have been placed in a position whereby legal action could be taken against them.

If the Supreme Court decision is really about the will of Parliament, it is a bit hard to understand why Parliament could not be given sufficient time to consider the implications of the proposed legislation. Rightly, the Bill is temporary: its provisions will fall by the end of 2010. We should have more time to consider the nature of the provisions and the safeguards in place. This asset-freezing regime is onerous on individuals and their families. I am pleased that in introducing a new order last August to replace the 2006 and 2001 orders, the Government ensured that any restrictions are more carefully tailored to areas of genuine concern. They have made the safeguards more explicit and freed up the situation of spouses and families. Furthermore, in the last quarter, as reported in last November's report to the House, 35 licences had been issued. These licences ensure that living requirements and finance for legal assistance can be met while other assets are frozen. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take the opportunity, as far as she is able, to outline those restrictions and safeguards and tell the House what kinds of licences have been issued to ensure exemptions for necessary expenditure for living costs.

It is clear that dealing with this will take more time than we have today. That is why I welcome the publication of the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Terrorism Asset-freezing Bill, which was published at the same time as this Bill, and which gives Committees of the House, hon. Members and external stakeholders a proper opportunity to look in detail at the provisions, safeguards, restrictions and processes that are being put in place. However, I hope that consideration of that Bill will be brought forward as quickly as possible so that the House has the opportunity for the important full scrutiny. The scale of death and destruction willed by terrorists costs money. The building of networks comes at a price. In doing the job of countering this threat, it is necessary to recognise that reality and use a range of tools to tackle it. Asset freezing is an important tool in doing that, and we must ensure that those whom we task to keep us safe have it at their disposal. The Bill will ensure that protection in the short term; for that reason, I hope that we pass it today.

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