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

My Lords, can I think about that and come back to the noble Earl in writing? I am still enough of a newcomer to be wary of committing myself to something like that and being shot when I leave the Chamber, so I have to be a little careful on that sort of thing.

The noble Earl also very kindly raised the issue of U-turns, or a battle "turn together", as I would prefer to think of it. I would rather think of it as flexibility. At one stage all sorts of options were being put forward, and I did not necessarily agree with all of them. Where we stand now is a much better position. We will have a chance to debate the matter in the House. I am very content with how the issue has gone.

As for the report from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I am very glad that we got it out before the debate. We did not achieve that last year, which was not very clever, and we got it out this time as soon as was practical. We received it on Sunday 10 February, approved it on Thursday 14 and it was laid before the House on 18 February. I take the point that it would have been better if it had been before that, even, but we did as best we could to get it out.

The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, raised the point about controlees who have absconded, saying that therefore this could not be that tight a system. One could look at that in a rather different way, because possibly those controlees have done a deportation with assurances without us having to do it. However, I am being a little bit cheeky there because we are not sure exactly where they are. It is difficult to talk about precise circumstances.

The noble Earl asked about exit strategies. We look at those every quarter and we take them very seriously; we want an opportunity to do that. From the fact that no controlees have been prosecuted, which a number of noble Lords mentioned, it could be argued that the system works and that we have stopped them being so deeply involved in what they are trying to achieve. I have to be very careful not to talk specifics, but I refer to people who are encouraging and training other people to go abroad and kill coalition forces—to kill our people who are doing their duty for this country abroad. If we can stop them doing that, slowly change their view and make them decide not to do it, that would be an achievement.

The noble Earl got a little confused on figures. There is a figure of 31, which is the total number of people ever subject to control orders; 11 is the current number and 37 was the number of people prosecuted in 2007, as I have already mentioned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, again talked about the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As I have mentioned, we will be looking at this in great detail. She made a very useful contribution and raised important points that we need to look at.

In terms of the review of mental and physical health, we take the impact of the control orders on individuals very seriously and we seek representations from them about the impact of the order. We give consideration to the unintended impacts on their families. We do not underestimate that these are difficult and serious things, but we are dealing with unpleasant and unfortunate affairs—things that are not particularly nice. In terms of the review, the individual can present their own medical evidence. We sometimes choose to obtain our own medical reports, if we are particularly worried, and they are considered by the court as part of the process. We take mental and physical health very seriously and continually check to make sure if there are any problems. I hope that answers that particular case.

We were disappointed with the High Court decision on Ceri Bullivant. The court accepted that the decision to make a control order was justified. I welcome that Mr Justice Collins said that the Secretary of State's decision to make a control order was justified and that there were reasonable grounds for the relevant suspicion.

I will turn to the point about the 16 hours in a moment.

Whenever closed material is involved, the special advocate system ensures that the interests of the appellant are fairly represented without compromising sources. It is important that we do not compromise those sources. The system was supported by the House of Lords judgment.

My noble friend Lord Judd rightly gave a clear exposition about how important it is that we balance our rights and our freedoms—all the things we hold dear within the nation—with the ability to ensure security. I could not disagree with what he said, but actually we have to look after that right of our individuals which is their lives. Therefore, I believe that these things are balanced and appropriate. The danger of being counterproductive is absolutely right. If one looks at our counterterror strategy—which is being refreshed at the moment; I have put in a lot of work on that and it should be finished later this year—one of the key strands is known as the prevent strategy. One of the things we are looking at is exactly this balance of making sure that we are looking after our people and not making things much worse.

There is no doubt that the rights of our people are absolutely paramount. Our liberty and such things are so important to us, but we have to weigh all these things up, and we need this quiver of options to enable us to do what we believe is absolutely required.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised the DWA issue. I hope that I have covered that. We would never send people to a country on that sort of base. I have touched on the issue of Sir John Chilcot. I do not think—I am sad to say—that this will be a silver bullet; it just will not be. We are working to persuade the European Court of Human Rights to reconsider current jurisprudence. We are negotiating deportation assurances with a number of countries. We want to make sure that we get those assurances because we would not deport unless we absolutely had them.

I am most impressed with the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. As a watch-keeping officer he has done most of the afternoon—both dog-watches—and he is now well into the first watch. That is a very long time to stay on deck. Of course, as ever, he eloquently expressed the point a number of noble Lords have made about this crucial balance between our freedoms and imposing these things.

I touched on the importance of the forthcoming CT Bill, and I hope I have given assurances on that. We will be able to discuss all those points. One of the things that frightens me in the Chamber is that I am always surrounded by judges and people who know all these things. If I paraphrase what the noble Lord said about the House of Lords judgment, it is open to interpretation; I use that word because that is what naval lawyers always used to say to me when I was trying to come to some difficult conclusion. We may have interpreted it slightly differently from the way he has. As noble Lords would imagine, I think that the way we have interpreted it is absolutely right.

The noble Lord also referred to absconding, which I touched on—I hope that I covered it—and the fact that we have not prosecuted anyone. As I say, perhaps that shows that the measure has been useful. I have great respect for the Security Service—this covers a point made by the noble Baroness—which assesses that these people are involved in terrorism-related activity and pose a risk to public safety. Without a control order they would be free to continue their activities. The Security Service believes that control orders help to prevent, restrict and disrupt individuals engaging in terrorism-related activity. What is the difference between that and normal surveillance? That is a difficult question and I cannot go into detail on that. However, the Security Service believes that these measures are valuable and important and I take it at its word. So often I find that I am asked questions here that I have asked. That reassures me although I do not know whether it reassures noble Lords. I have asked these questions. They are important and they are being looked at.

I do not want to go on for ever but I reiterate that our preferred option is to prosecute—to put these criminals behind bars. Where we cannot do that if they are foreigners, we want to deport them. However, that does not change the fact that despite these improvements there are a small number of these people with whom we cannot do either of those things. I believe that control orders are the best of a lot of bad options available to us for dealing with these individuals. As was shown by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, they are used very selectively. They are used currently with only 11 individuals and have only ever been used with 31 people. They are only one of a package of different measures. The noble Earl said that the figure did not seem very high but we are doing many other things as well.

I believe that not reviewing the Prevention of Terrorism Act would allow these individuals to continue to engage in terrorist-related activity and would put public safety at risk. That is a risk that the Government cannot take. That view is supported by the director-general of the security services and the Intelligence Services Commissioner. Therefore, I have no hesitation in commending this order to the House once again.