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Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

– in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 19th January 2004.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers 2:51 pm, 19th January 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will respond to the report of the Privy Counsellor Review Committee on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, in particular regarding the recommendation that the powers which allow foreign nationals to be detained potentially indefinitely should be replaced as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I refer my noble friend to the reply which I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Burlison, on 18 December:

"The Committee has used the provisions"— within the Act—

"to specify that the whole of the Act be considered when we come to debate its renewal. We will, of course, provide the House with the opportunity to do that".—[Official Report, 18/12/03; col. WA171.]

While we are considering the report's recommendations carefully, we believe that the Part 4 powers are a necessary and proportionate response to the current threat.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

My Lords, the whole House will of course welcome the Government's tough stance against terrorism. However, does my noble friend accept that detaining people indefinitely without charge is a denial of many of this country's most important traditions? Will the Government consider as a matter of urgency dropping the ban on the use of intercepted communications material in courts, as has been done in the United States, as the best way forward in dealing with this aspect of a very difficult problem?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I say straightaway to my noble friend that we have never at any stage suggested that the situation in which we find ourselves is ideal; it is not. However, by using this legislation we have tried to behave in a proportionate and appropriate way so as to ensure that the interests of the people of this country are put first. I hear what my noble friend says about intercepted information and the best way of dealing with that. Noble Lords will know that we are considering the response to the committee's report. We shall in due course take these matters into consideration also.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, while appreciating the way in which the Minister has replied to the noble Lord's Question, I am struck by the fact that the Question is not just about procedure; it does indeed concern human rights. Is the Minister able to give reassurances that any legislation on detaining foreign nationals will be matched against that wider arena of human rights? Will she also reassure us that that valuable, even golden quality of restraint will figure in the way in which this government policy is worked out?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I am certainly more than happy to reassure the right reverend Prelate on that golden quality of restraint, and I hope that noble Lords will have seen clear evidence of it in the way in which we have approached the SIAC proposals. The monitoring of that procedure has been absolutely rigorous, and we shall continue to ensure that that is right. Noble Lords will know that consideration has been given also to whether any of the foreign nationals can be sent back to their own country, because we consider the issues in relation also to Article 3 and so on. All those matters are extremely complex and difficult. The Government will continue to be proportionate and appropriate in the way that we respond to them.

Photo of Lord Holme of Cheltenham Lord Holme of Cheltenham Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in declaring an interest as a member of the review committee, I wonder whether the noble Baroness is aware that the Government—in the shape of her right honourable friend the Home Secretary—attacked the committee's conclusions almost simultaneously with its publication in respect of Part 4, which is the subject of the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Does the Minister agree that as well as fixing an early debate in the House to discuss the committee's conclusions, a preceding period of quiet consideration by the Government might be appropriate?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, of course I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to attacks on the committee. However, my right honourable friend's comments should not be thus interpreted. My right honourable friend was quite clear. He complimented the committee for its sterling work. He made it clear that we are going to consider all the recommendations. However, it was only right and proper that we should indicate in relation to Part 4 that the reasons that caused us to create this legislation, regrettably and somewhat tragically, still pertain. The security of this country and its citizens will always remain at the forefront of the Government's consideration.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I worked at Bletchley Park during the war? One of the good things about Bletchley is that we never cackled. I hope that she will bear that in mind before adopting the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that we will be as careful as she would wish.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Labour

My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a member of the committee. Does my noble friend agree that, in relation to her previous remark, nothing in the committee's report suggested that security should be downgraded in any way whatever? However, there were recommendations about whether Part 4 was the appropriate way in which to safeguard the security of this country. I should be grateful for her confirmation of that. Equally, perhaps she could clarify something that she said in her reply regarding the Section 123 provisions which many noble Lords will remember. I think she suggested that the committee said that we would want the other provisions of the Act—many of which have nothing to do with terrorism—debated at the time of renewal. In fact the report specifies very clearly that it should be separate from that. Can she confirm that the Home Office recognises that?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, first, I am very happy to confirm to my noble friend that the committee did not suggest that the security of this country should be jeopardised in any way. The committee made various comments about Part 4. I hope I made it clear that in his response my right honourable friend did not fail to take the committee's recommendations into consideration, but made it clear that, from the Government's point of view, the level of threat that pertained in the past had not decreased so as to make us confident that the changes which my noble friend suggests are appropriate.

As for Section 123, I take on board what my noble friend says—that the committee recommended that there should be two separate debates on those matters. Those matters are for the usual channels to determine, as I know she knows only too well.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, is it not clear that risks of terrorism can arise both from citizens of this country as well as from foreign nationals? Does the Minister agree that both categories should be dealt with by due process of law, which is not the case at present?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I join issue with the noble Lord—certainly both categories need to be determined appropriately. However, I hope that no one in your Lordships' House will forget that the whole reason why we have Part 4 of the ATCS Act is to provide an immigration power that allows the Home Secretary to detain a foreign national whom he reasonably believes to be suspected as an international terrorist, whose presence in the United Kingdom is a risk to national security, but who cannot currently be removed from the United Kingdom. Those individuals fall into a very specific category, and that is our difficulty.

As for ensuring that those individuals have access to legal representation, I hope that noble Lords will accept that they have very generous access to legal representation and can make proper challenges to their detention, as they have in fact done.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps I can ask the Minister and indeed the Home Secretary to reread the committee's report and the debate on the Bill's Third Reading in this House. They will see that there were considerable misgivings in the House about letting through Part 4. It was passed only because of assurances that such a committee would conduct such a review. In the light of that, does she not think that the Government should give proper consideration to these recommendations and realise that, as when the Bill was passed, there are very real concerns that, in the war against terrorism, we may indeed be losing the liberties that we are supposed to be defending?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, we have taken those matters into consideration. Each and every recommendation of the committee's review will be considered, so noble Lords can rest assured on that matter.