Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in force of sections 1 to 9) Order 2008

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:59 pm on 27th February 2008.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism) 7:59 pm, 27th February 2008

My Lords, the purpose of the order before the House is to renew the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. The Act automatically lapses after one year unless renewed by order subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. The effect of this order will therefore be to maintain the powers set out under the Act until the end of 10 March 2009. This will allow us to continue to use control orders to tackle the threat posed to national security by suspected terrorists whom we can neither prosecute nor deport. The other place voted in favour of renewal on 21 February.

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a number of appalling attacks on our country. Those attacks have sought to undermine our fundamental rights and values through the indiscriminate murder of innocent people. The director-general of the Security Service stated in November last year that,

"the number of people ... involved in terrorist-related activity", in the United Kingdom,

"has increased to at least 2,000. And we suspect that there are as many again that we don't yet know of."

The threat is clearly real and it is serious. Faced with a threat of this scale, it would be naive to suggest that there is a simple solution. We need a range of responses to reduce the risk of further terrorist attacks. The balance between individual liberty and public security is key. We must ensure that we protect all our values and civil liberties while defending the most fundamental of these—the right to life.

Let me make this clear. Prosecution is, and will continue to be, our preferred approach when dealing with suspected terrorists. In 2007 alone, 37 people were convicted of terrorism-related offences in 15 cases, and so far in 2008 16 people have been convicted of significant terrorist-related offences. However, we need to ensure that we maximise our ability to prosecute suspected terrorists, and we have sought to do this in a number of ways.

First, we have introduced new offences in the Terrorism Act 2006, which have already been used successfully. We are also studying the recent Court of Appeal judgment overturning convictions under Section 57 of the Terrorism Act, including any implications that it may have for our wider counterterrorism legislation and strategy. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions has already stated that the judgment was,

"specific to the facts of the case", and was therefore unlikely significantly to affect existing convictions or forthcoming prosecutions. Secondly, we have proposed measures in the Counter-Terrorism Bill to extend post-charge questioning of suspected terrorists. Thirdly, we have accepted the recommendations set out in the Chilcot recommendation for the introduction of intercept as evidence, provided that the conditions outlined can be met. However, as the Chilcot report states:

"We have not seen any evidence that the introduction of intercept as evidence would enable prosecutions in cases currently dealt with through control orders".

Finally, two other proposals made at the renewal debates last year—the threshold test and turning Queen's evidence—are already in place.

If we cannot prosecute suspected terrorists and they are foreign nationals, we aim to deport them. The European Convention on Human Rights currently does not allow us to deport suspected terrorists back to their country of origin if there are grounds for believing that there is a real risk that they might be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment on return. Therefore, to provide the necessary assurance as to treatment, we have agreed, and are continuing to negotiate, appropriate arrangements with other countries to protect deported individuals' human rights.

Separately, we are also working to persuade the European Court of Human Rights to reconsider current jurisprudence on the deportation of terrorist suspects in order to ensure that the rights of the individual are appropriately balanced by the interests of national security.

Despite these advances, there remain a very small number of suspected terrorists whom we can neither prosecute nor deport. Control orders remain the best available means of dealing with these individuals. Since their introduction in 2005, control orders have been an important part of our fight against terrorism. A tailored set of obligations, such as restrictions on their finances or communications equipment, can be applied which help to prevent, restrict and disrupt individuals engaging in terrorism-related activity.

Control orders are not imposed arbitrarily. A judge must agree that they are necessary and proportionate, and they are subject to regular and rigorous review. As of today, only 11 control orders are in force and only 31 individuals have ever been subject to a control order. They are an important tool in protecting the public from the very real threat from terrorism.

Over the past year, there has been continued support for control orders from outside government. First, there was the landmark judgment by the Law Lords in October last year. Crucially, they upheld the control order system, although 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 Law Lords judged that no control order then in effect needed to be weakened. Indeed, the judgment puts the Government in a stronger position than before, as the Law Lords effectively indicated that a 16-hour curfew does not breach Article 5.

On Article 6, the judgment was more complex and has been widely misreported. The Law Lords did not say that any case before them had breached the right to a fair trial. They said that in some, possibly exceptional, cases, the current provisions in the Act might breach Article 6. The Act was therefore "read down" to ensure that the procedure adopted under it would be compatible with Article 6 in every case. They concluded that the High Court should consider the point on a case-by-case basis. This forms part of the mandatory review of each individual control order by the High Court—one of the many safeguards in place to secure the rights of the individual. We therefore remain firmly of the view that the legislation, and the order before us today, are fully compliant with the ECHR.

Secondly, the independent reviewer of the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, continues to view control orders as necessary. He states 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".

Both the other statutory consultees—the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the director-general of the Security Service—share this view. I place on record my, and the Government's, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for another thorough report, which I am sure will add a great deal to today's debate. A formal reply will of course be produced in due course.

Let me be clear that control orders are not ideal. They are a last resort for those involved in facilitating or executing acts of terrorism who cannot be prosecuted or deported. However, over the past year, much hard work has gone into improving them. For example, exit strategies continue to be sought for those currently on control orders. Although I am not convinced by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that there should be an arbitrary end date for individual control orders—in part because each order addresses individual risk—I am firmly of the view that control orders should be imposed for as short a time as possible, in line with the risk posed. Exit strategies are considered as an integral part of the formal quarterly review for every control order, and an order can be renewed only if it is necessary to do so. Indeed, over the past year, we have seen two control orders revoked and another two orders not renewed. Deportation is another exit strategy. Previously, nine individuals who were at one time subject to control orders have been served with notices of intention to deport, and six of them have been deported.

To clarify a matter raised by honourable Members during the debate in the other place, there are currently five individuals who have been subject to control orders for longer than two years. Two further cases would have reached the two-year point on Saturday. However, those control orders have now lapsed, as the orders were those imposed on two of the individuals who absconded in May 2007.