Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill

Part of Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill (Allocation of Time) – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 8th February 2010.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 6:22 pm, 8th February 2010

We have heard three speeches in support of the Bill. I have to say that Liberal Democrat Members are not yet persuaded, but we will listen to the remainder of the arguments.

Under Security Council resolution 1373, the UK Government are obliged to take action to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts and to freeze without delay the funds or other financial assets of persons who commit or attempt to commit terrorist acts. If there were purely a technical problem in giving effect to that resolution, we would all be bending over backwards to help the Government to achieve their aim; certainly, we do not want floods of money going into the acquiring of terrorist weaponry. However, that is not the issue; the issue is the position of the Supreme Court. I do not usually read Supreme Court rulings-I spend my time reading much more exciting things such as tables of economic statistics-but I was amazed by the trenchancy of the language, with references to "draconian", "drastic", "oppressive" and "paralysing" activities within the framework of these orders. The Bill has been described as very bad legislation. More importantly, in some ways, the legislation- not in our view but in the view of the Supreme Court justices-is unnecessary. That is why we remain highly sceptical about its validity.

More positively, I appreciate the fact that the Government have consulted quite extensively over the past few days. I have been consulted more extensively than at any time in my past five years in this job-even more than I was at the height of the banking crisis. In my more generous moments, I think that a spirit of consensus has broken out within Government; in my more cynical moments, I think that the Government are in a hole and desperately trying to get everybody on board. However, we will approach this constructively. My hon. Friend David Howarth and I have tabled a series of amendments that are intended to be constructive and to deal with what we think are the defects in the Bill, particularly the lack of clarity in the safeguards governing reasonable suspicion and the appeals process.

I pay tribute to the non-governmental organisations, Justice and Liberty, which have produced at very short notice-it is only 24 hours since the legislation was published in draft form-extremely impressive and detailed notes cross-referencing the legal points. That is particularly helpful to people like me who are not lawyers and tend to approach these complex legal and constitutional issues with all the enthusiasm of an ordinary member of the public faced with a mathematical economic treatise.

In terms of the nature of the problem to be addressed, let me deal first with the question whether this legislation is necessary. We have had an extended discussion, prompted by my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Cambridge, about whether it would be possible to use the alternative powers that are available, with a lengthy exchange on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. I was surprised to see Ministers swatting aside the judgments of Supreme Court justices as if they had perpetrated some elementary undergraduate error in failing to understand what the existing Acts were all about. It is possible that Lord Hope and his colleagues do not have a basic understanding of the law, but that strikes me as being rather unlikely. However, let us assume for the moment that they are wrong-that they completely misinterpreted what the 2001 Act was all about and failed to realise that there were limitations on its use. In that context, it is worth quoting what Justice said in its summary of the alternative legal powers:

"there are already a great many provisions in UK law that give effect to the government's obligations under resolution 1373. These include sections 14-19 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (criminalising the use of funds or other property for purposes connected with terrorism); Parts 1 and 2 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001" and

"the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (control orders). Even the provisions of the Proceedings of Crime Act 1998 may be used to seize funds that result from terrorist activity."

I hope that Ministers will give us a clear explanation as to why these powers are not usable or not appropriate, because the Supreme Court evidently thinks that they are.

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