Clause 42

Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 13th May 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Sentences or orders triggering notification requirements

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome 11:15 am, 13th May 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 30, leave out lines 33 to 34.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 33, in page 30, leave out lines 42 to 44.

No. 37, in page 31, leave out lines 4 to 8.

No. 38, in page 31, leave out lines 14 to 19.

No. 36, in page 31, leave out lines 27 to 32.

No. 34, in page 31, leave out lines 38 to 40.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

This is a series of probing amendments to secure the response of the Minister on two principal points. We have not sought to argue against the notification procedure as a whole on the grounds of the utility of the procedure. We understand that this is a matter to ensure public safety, rather than an extra punitive measure on the part of the state against the accused. This is not part of the sentence; this is to ensure public safety following the expiry of the sentence. It is a principle that has been used before in the case of sex offenders and violent offenders. I have a concern that we have a proliferation of registers and notification procedures and an increasingly complex system, but I am not proposing to investigate or further dissect that matter now.

This series of amendments deals with two specific issues—first, how we deal with juveniles and secondly, how we deal with the insane and whether it is appropriate to use this notification procedure for those two classes  of offenders, or whether there are more appropriate ways of dealing with them. I fully accept that simply because someone is young does not make them any less dangerous if they have a propensity to terrorist offences. I accept also that if someone is insane and has a propensity to terrorist offences, one must be aware of that, but I do think that there are regimes that may be more appropriate than the notification process before us today for dealing with those two classes of offender.

In the case of juveniles, one must hope that a young person who gets involved with terrorist connections and finds himself accused and convicted of terrorist offences is capable of rehabilitation and education and that that person has the opportunity not to pursue that course in their future life following any sentence that he may serve. It may be more difficult in the case of an adult, but we have always based our legal system upon a clear principle of rehabilitation of young offenders. That is particularly the case where there is a degree of idealism in the young that might be misplaced and inappropriately expressed in the form of support for terrorist activities, or indeed where there may be a coercive element, in the case of a young person who was in contact with people who are conspiring to commit terrorist offences. My only question is the appropriateness of this procedure to those two classes of offenders where I suspect that there is a better and more supportive, more appropriate way of dealing with them to ensure they do not re-offend and that the public safety is ensured. This is a rather bureaucratic and onerous process—the fact that it is onerous is not necessarily an argument against—but this process may not be the most effective way of dealing with them.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I sympathise with the points made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, and the amendment that I have tabled that comes next in sequence is very similar in intention. It is a probing amendment looking at the question of whether the court should have any discretion as to whether notification should be required.

We will consider this, I suppose, when we come to the related section on duration in clause 51, which states that anybody sentenced to a period of more than five years is required to submit to notification for the rest of their lives. On any showing, that is a fairly onerous requirement. While it is certainly not intended to be punitive, it is nevertheless a considerable intrusion on a person’s private and family life, particularly because, in addition to the explicit requirements laid down in clause 51, it is clear that it will be possible for the Secretary of State to make by affirmative order further requirements—the nature of which we currently do not know—in respect of notification. That is something we will come back to and can perhaps debate further later this morning.

One should not lose sight of the fact that, while notification is a very important requirement and one which may well be for public protection, we are widening the scope of intrusive state powers and removing the old principle that when a person had finished serving their sentence they were, effectively, on the way to rehabilitation and, apart from the requirements of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 for notification in getting a job, were free to do what they like.

The justification always advanced for including sex offenders in a notification system was that they appeared to have a propensity to commit such offences and were not amenable to rehabilitation, and that under no circumstances was rehabilitation justified because in truth we could have little confidence that it was ever going to be possible. That is rather different from terrorist offences. In this country, at the moment, there are previously convicted terrorists serving in Government in Northern Ireland, and we appear to have accepted that it is possible for them to change their ways.

Indeed, if we are to beat the current menace of terrorism in this country, I have absolutely no doubt that it will come about only by virtue of the fact that some people who are attracted to terrorism at present will decide to abandon it, and may well turn out to be rather important citizens. There are already one or two examples of people who have been lured into this area already and are now writing books about their experiences.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

My hon. Friend makes a very valuable point here, and I wonder whether his anxieties would be reduced if there were a provision in the Bill that would enable a person to apply to the court to vary or to revoke a restriction order. So far as I can see, there is no such provision in the Bill as it stands. I may be wrong about that.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. This is a subject which, I confess, has troubled me in other contexts. I have made speeches in the past about my view that it is generally very difficult in this country to be fully rehabilitated for criminal offences, even extraordinarily minor offences. In one case in my constituency, a lady employed as a matron or senior carer in a care home who had a conviction for shoplifting some 20 years before in circumstances clearly linked to her psychological state at the time and the breakdown of her marriage, and who had no other previous convictions, found that she was never able to obtain senior employment again because of the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the fact that she had to make a disclosure. More relevantly, the fact that no allowance seemed to be made by anyone for the circumstances surrounding the offence meant that a taint remained with her, which was as damaging to her as I suspect it was unproductive, in the long run, for the community. This subject has long been of concern to me.

Through these notification requirements, we are adding, albeit in a slightly different way, to the control architecture. I can see that that has compelling justifications, and I do not disagree with it in principle, in view of the seriousness of terrorism offences. However, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that a system could be created in which, in 25 or 30 years’ time, individuals sentenced to more than five years for a connection with terrorism could be completely rehabilitated—and even turn out in the long term to be campaigners against terrorism—but would still find themselves subject to such requirements at a certain amount of public expense and to no great public benefit. Perhaps we ought to consider whether a mechanism exists to allow people to make an application along the lines that my right hon. and learned Friend suggested.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

This short debate has been quite interesting and of some value. The regime is not particularly onerous, but I do take the point made by the hon. Member for  Somerton and Frome that it might be worth exploring elsewhere the proliferation of registers, all of which are important on their own terms. There may be some discussion to be had about getting them all in one place as a kind of public safety register. I do not agree that being on the register and having to notify is excessive or onerous.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman intended it, but there was a touch of a counsel of despair in his view that those on the list who are under 18 will never be rehabilitated. Being on the register is not, in this context or in others, an anti-rehabilitation measure, although I take his point in that regard. In terms of the specifics of his amendments—regarding the insane, temporarily or otherwise, and under-18s—we have simply sought to reflect the sex offenders register. That relates to his other point: if there is to be a proliferation of such registers, let us at least have them within the same architecture and framework. That is a fair point. In that context, I would resist his amendments.

As in the case of the Sex Offenders Act 1997, I am fairly confident about the universality of the notification criteria—that, over 12 months, it will capture everybody. I share some of the discomfort and, perhaps, disappointment about there being further flexibility down the line. That might be worthy of further exploration, though not necessarily here.

I take the point about those sentenced to five years. I accept the broad sweep of the point that we need to take risks in this area: in relation to whom we engage with, on what level and with what degree of sincerity, given their past. There are some excellent ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir people around whom I take entirely at face value and who do some very good work in the broad areas of prevention, rehabilitation and other work to which the amendment refers. I cannot go into too much detail, but I have also met another chap who has supposedly seen the light and no longer indulges in such activities—that might or might not be the case; he might still be “at it”, for want of a better phrase. The matter is not quite sub judice, but it is certainly sensitive at the moment, so it is not for me to go into any detail. None the less, it is perfectly right and fair to meet him, because if we can learn from such individuals about rehabilitating others—whether on the fringe or in the middle of Hizb ut-Tahrir or of violent extremism and jihadism—it would be irresponsible not to do so.

I take the broad point about rehabilitation and someone not necessarily always being that which they were convicted for being in the first place. We need to have regard to that, but it is not achieved in any way, shape or form by the amendments. I am comfortable with the universal nature of the register—for it to be effective, anyone who is convicted for 12 months or more must be on it. Some interesting points were made about what should happen further down the line that I am happy to take away and explore, but not in the broad thrust of the current context because that is not appropriate.

Going on the register is not the be-all and end-all for sex offenders, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will know. For the more serious, there are multi-agency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—and other elements in place, not in this Bill but in the  broader prevention work with local government and the police. Some chief constables have been quite forthcoming on this and do see the potential radicalisation of the very young as a child protection matter, in the same way as guns, gangs and other issues. The more enlightened police forces are exploring that as well.

I know that the hon. Gentleman was not putting forward a counsel of despair—that if the under-18s are included then, Lord Almighty, that is rehabilitation out the window for them—and I accept the sincerity with which he makes his argument, but this clause, Bill and amendment are not the place to make his perfectly proper points. I am happy to have a broader discussion on MAPPA arrangements, child protection and other matters, but I will not give in on the universal nature of notification and people on the register.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome 11:30 am, 13th May 2008

That was a very useful exchange all round. I was not advocating a counsel of despair—I had this argument with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling in the context of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and considerable progress was made during the course of that Bill, now an Act. I am grateful to him for the way in which he responded to some of the concerns that I raised in that context.

The issue of light at the end of the tunnel, particularly for young people, is important. I know that the notification procedure is not the most onerous, but it is a genuinely onerous responsibility and it does tend to discourage, particularly a young person who is carried away with an enthusiasm which he or she might completely foreswear later. We know that young people have immensely strong enthusiasms for causes, for religions, and for all manner of convictions which they later find to be completely wrongly based. We therefore need to be very careful to make it clear that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That is partly for exactly the reasons that the Minister gave: it is not only for the rehabilitation of the individual, but because those who have seen the issue from the other side, recanted and said, “No, this is wrong, this is misguided and not a position that I want any other young person to find themselves in ever again,” can be the most valuable advocates on behalf of decent society that we could ever have.

For that reason alone, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, we need to consider a process by which such arrangements can be lifted on application, if nothing else, so that somebody who quite clearly no longer represents a threat to the public is not treated as though they do.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I may have misunderstood what the Minister said, but my understanding was that while he was sympathetic to the proposition that there should be a process whereby people could apply to the courts to vary or discharge a restriction order, he was not minded to include such a provision in the Bill. If that was the correct understanding of what the Minister said, does the hon. Gentleman share my dismay that we are not taking the opportunity to do that which in principle is desirable? It could be done on Report or in the other place, but it should be done in this Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I am grateful for that. The Minister can speak for himself. I am not sure that I did interpret his comments in that way. He made it quite clear that he  was not prepared to accept the amendments or the principle that there would be a different notification regime from those already in place elsewhere. He wanted simplicity in the notification regime. He can correct me if I have misinterpreted him, but I am not sure that he entirely shut the door to further consideration of whether there should be some process of variation or discharge.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

I do not think that I did. My main concern also relates to the next amendment: at the front end, the criteria for notification on the register should be mandatory. I made it clear that I am happy to go away and reflect on what degree of flexibility might be afforded in this Bill or elsewhere further down the line. However, not least because of the read-over into the sex offenders register and all the legal architecture behind that, the mandatory element at the front, whatever the criteria, must be sacrosanct.

I do take the broad sweep of the points about what happens subsequently and further down the line, and I have committed to going away and reflecting on that and coming back with a provision, if appropriate, for this Bill, or at least coming back and saying that I have reflected on that but am not sure that it is desirable.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I am grateful to the Minister. He has confirmed my interpretation of what he said. That is a positive outcome of this brief debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

In the circumstances, I shall not move amendment No. 94, because the debating intention was identical to that of the earlier amendment.

Clause 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.