Clause 1 — Temporary validity of certain Orders in Council

Part of Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill (Allocation of Time) – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 8th February 2010.

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Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Treasury) 8:00 pm, 8th February 2010

As I said on Second Reading, plan A had been to pass a terrorism (United Nations measures) Bill by no later than the end of March, in order to put the orders on a proper legislative footing. That plan was predicated on the Supreme Court granting the stay for which the Treasury had applied, so that Parliament could put in place the legislation needed to prevent terrorists from accessing their assets. It was on that basis that we entered into discussions with the Treasury and agreed what we felt would be sufficient time in this place and the other place to ensure that the Bill, and the views of external stakeholders interested in the process, could be thoroughly assessed so that the measures were put on to a proper footing. However, the Supreme Court's decision not to allow a stay because it would-to paraphrase the judgment-confer a sense of legality on orders that were illegal means that the emergency legislation before us today takes priority, and rightly so.

This does not mean that the Government are off the hook in terms of bringing forward a proper statutory basis for these orders. Indeed, we told the Exchequer Secretary last week that we would have been content for the Bill I mentioned to complete its stages today and for us to move on to consider the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill tomorrow, while also ensuring that after we returned from the recess, we would have a day on the Floor of the House in Committee. That Bill would then have passed to the other place where there would have been an opportunity for further scrutiny. The Bill would therefore have been on the statute book by no later than the end of March.

We have pursued that line through introducing amendment 1, as we believe that the Government should move as quickly as possible to put in place proper primary legislation. It seems to us that measures that were described in the court ruling as draconian should not be kept in place for up to 10 months on the basis of a three clause Bill that perpetuates some of the failings of the underlying orders. We believe that the Government should move more quickly so that they take responsibility for sorting out the mess they have created on their watch, rather than deferring any remedial measures until later this year.

There are some issues to be debated; we touched on a number of them on Second Reading. They include the need for proper safeguards to be in place, and the question of whether there should be a different safeguard from judicial review to look at the merits of Treasury applications. Mr. Dismore commented on the limitations of judicial review as a potential remedy, such as the fact that it could not be used to vary the terms of a licence. These issues are well known and have been fairly thoroughly debated in the context of other legislation, and we believe they are sufficiently well known for scrutiny to take place far more quickly than under the Government's sunset clause. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hendon said that, given the brevity of the Bill, his Joint Committee on Human Rights could scrutinise the Bill and publish a report quite quickly; he thought it would take a matter of days. That is entirely consistent with the timetable that would flow from our proposed sunset clause. We took his comments as a positive sign, suggesting that we could pass this legislation on a much shorter-term sunset clause than the Government suggest.

The draft Bill published last week is based largely on the 2009 order. The issues in that regard have been well rehearsed over time, and a much wider range of issues will need to be raised. Again, therefore, all the arguments point towards having a shorter-term sunset clause than that which the Government propose-31 March rather than 31 December.

The Government's sunset clause suggests, of course, that the decision on future legislation will be put off until after the next general election. The hon. Member for Hendon made the point that the House will by then have lost a great deal of its current expertise, given that about a third of Members will leave this place at the next general election. Indeed, many of the Members who took part in the Second Reading debate will not be here the other side of the general election to add their expertise to the debates. That is an added reason to accelerate this process, so we can benefit from Parliament's collective memory and knowledge of the scrutiny of the raft of anti-terrorism Bills of the last few years.

There is a clear, straightforward argument here. Our amendment 1 provides plenty of time for proper scrutiny. We are following the timetable we agreed with the Government prior to the Supreme Court deciding to quash the orders last Thursday. We believed prior to that that the timetable gave sufficient time for proper parliamentary scrutiny. Our view is that that still holds, and that we should move towards that timetable to give this Government the opportunity to clear up the mess they have created.

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