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 9:00 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) 9:00 pm, 27th February 2008

The number of plots in the past 12 months is about 15. Those plots would have involved some of the issues that I touched on. I have no doubt that that scale of casualties would have ensued.

The noble Earl asked a precise question about Northern Ireland. I am afraid that Northern Ireland is not nastier than this. The Irish terrorists had a focus in what they were trying to do—we might not have agreed with their methods—and they were generally not trying to kill as many civilians as they could. Northern Ireland was different in its scale and nature.

I disagree with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. As noble Lords will be aware, the Counter-Terrorism Bill was introduced to Parliament on 24 January. I explained in my opening speech that the Bill, as well as proposing a number of measures to strengthen the policing of control orders, will give noble Lords extensive opportunity to debate control orders more generally and to table amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, also.

I look forward to debates on the Bill, which will be valuable. What has continually come across to me is that all of us want to achieve the same thing, which is the safety of the British people. It is a question of exactly how we achieve that without removing the important freedoms that we have talked about and playing into the terrorists' hand by destroying our way of life, which is exactly what they are trying to do.

We do not intend for control orders to become our default position. They are very much a second-best option. As I said a number of times, we wish to prosecute terrorists. They are criminals—I object sometimes to calling them terrorists—and they should be behind bars, which is without doubt the best place for them.

We cannot always achieve that. We are in a very strange and difficult situation—I do not think that we have been in a comparable situation in the past 10 or 20 years—where we cannot take the risk of allowing these people to achieve what they want, because the results are so devastating. They are aiming at mass casualties. When we move on to dirty bombs and CBRN—again, one must not scaremonger—it becomes even more important to move quickly, which raises all sorts of difficult issues.

Yes, we want to prosecute terrorists first and have them behind bars. If they are foreign, let us get them out of the country, which we do with assurances that we would never send someone to a country where there was a risk of torture or inhumane treatment. We obtain MOUs with the countries concerned to ensure that that would not take place. It is not the sort of thing that we would do as a nation.

I am very glad to hear of the support given by the noble Baroness for post-charge questioning and intercept as evidence. There is a long way to go on that latter proposal; nine things have to be achieved before it could happen, but it is a good move forward. Will it give us a gold or silver bullet to achieve things, however? I fear not—and as Sir John Chilcot said, it would not have that much impact on control orders. That is sad and I wish that it would, because that would be wonderful—and I go back to the point that we would rather not have them.

I believe that the Law Lords' judgment will support us. I shall come back to that in a minute when I have answered the specific points put to me by noble Lords opposite. The CT Bill will be very much looked at.

The first thing that I should say on the Joint Committee on Human Rights is how welcome is the huge amount of very valuable work that it does. I am not saying that the Government agree with every single thing in the report, but it raises the right sort of issues that we need to look at. We will look in detail at a number of those and come back when we have done so with a response to the various points.