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Clause 51

Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 13th May 2008.

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Period for which notification requirements apply

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

I beg to move amendment No. 39, in clause 51, page 36, line 8, leave out ‘an indefinite period’ and insert ‘five years’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 40, in clause 51, page 36, line 44, at end insert—

‘(1A) Notification requirements in relation to offences under subsection (1) may be renewed on one or more occasions if it is considered necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism, for the notification requirements to continue in force.’.

No. 41, in clause 51, page 36, line 45, leave out ‘10’ and insert ‘5’.

No. 42, in clause 51, page 36, line 46, at end insert—

‘(2A) Notification requirements in relation to offences under subsection (2) may be renewed on one occasion if it is considered necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism, for the notification requirements to continue in force.’.

No. 43, in clause 51, page 37, line 3, leave out subsection (4).

New clause 7—Discharge of notification requirements

‘(1) A person subject to notification requirements may apply to the court that made the determination for an order discharging the person from notification.

(2) The court may only discharge the person from notification requirements if satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances indicating that the person no longer presents a danger to national security or to public safety.

(3) The court may not discharge the notification requirements before the end of the period of five years beginning with the date on which the notification requirement comes into force.’.

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

These proposals return us to a debate on clause 42 that we held in a pre-emptive fashion. I set aside amendment No. 43, which deals with the point of insanity that we have already covered, and deal instead with the period for which notification requirements apply, which is the purport of amendments Nos. 39 to 42. As the Bill is constructed, there is an indefinite period for serious cases and a ten-year period for less serious cases—any terrorism offences are serious. My amendments would effectively put break clauses in those periods every five years. The initial notification period would be for five years; in the case of a serious offence, it could be renewed on a five-yearly basis to the point of being an indefinite notification. In the case of less serious offences, it would be for five years in the first instance, which could be renewed to apply for a further five years, thereby making the ten years that the Government are requesting through the Bill.

The most important thing is to allow the courts to consider the individual’s circumstances, the environment in which the order is made and to ensure that the notification orders are still appropriate. They may be inappropriate because the person has changed their views and conduct entirely and can demonstrate that that is the case to the satisfaction of the courts. It may be, as the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said earlier, that people who have engaged in terrorist activities can sometimes make quite substantial changes to their lifestyles to the point where they become part of Administrations in the UK or abroad. Those would be cases in which, I assume, it would be inappropriate to retain a notification procedure. The circumstances of the individual and their propensity to be a danger to the public may change.

It may well be that the political circumstances change entirely and we happily move out of this period. I do not see it happening in the very near future, but I would like to think that at some stage in the future we shall no longer have the present terrorist threat. There may be other terrorist threats, but I certainly hope that the present threat—the reason that the Government and we in Parliament are so engaged in taking forward these changes to legislation—will have a period. It is to be hoped that, at some stage in the future, what are effectively emergency powers will no longer be required.

I hope that that will happen in the short term; my fear is that it will not, and that we will be saddled with measures of this kind for some time to come. I do, however, think it is appropriate for a court to consider all the matters before it, and decide at a quinquennial review whether the notification procedure is still required. If necessary, it will renew it. If not, what I maintain are onerous requirements on the individual will be lifted at the point at which they cease to have an effect in terms of protecting the public and simply become a burden on the individual that is punitive, rather than for a wider good.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 12:00 pm, 13th May 2008

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware from the debate we had on the earlier clause, I am sympathetic to the points he makes. In addition, we have our own new clause 7 in this group. Bearing in mind the comments that I made earlier, there is a possible solution for the Minister in terms of a clause allowing a person to make an application after five years to be discharged from the notification requirements, if the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances indicating that the person no longer presents a danger to national security or to public safety. If the Minister has had a chance to look at that, I would commend it as a possible formula.

There are different ways of approaching this, but new clause 7 seems to me to put the burden on the individual concerned to make a case to the court. That would meet some of the concerns raise by the hon. Gentlemen, but in a slightly different way. I have a slight preference for new clause 7. As the Minister indicated an interest in looking at this again, it might be something to which he can return on Report. If he does not, we may well do so in terms of new clause 7 as a possible formula, which I  do not think will do anything to defeat the perfectly proper objectives of the notification procedure.

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

As I have said in previous debates, I am not unsympathetic to doing something at that end, but I do not think we should do anything at all to the mandatory end. I do not think these amendments suffice. New clause 7 is flawed. It talks about the original court of determination, but under the current regime, the court will not determine anything. The notification requirement is automatic with the sentence, so it cannot be referred to the original court of determination.

However, I have said—with, I thought, extraordinary generosity—that I will take these matters away and consider them. I shall do so with a view to coming back on Report to say that, having looked at the matter further, on reflection, I do not agree with its broad thrust or, indeed, that there are ways in which we can at least give people the option before the end of 10 years of looking at coming off the register given their circumstances. In that context, I would far rather have the leisure to consider whether there are ways that we can proceed, rather than accepting clauses, however well intentioned, that might not have quite the import or legal outcome that their proponents desire.

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

As I said earlier, we have already discussed this and heard the Minister’s view, which he has now repeated. I understand entirely why he wants the procedure to be mandatory at the outset. I am interested in the escape clause further down the line and how we remove the notification procedure from someone to whom it is no longer appropriate for it to apply. He has said that he will consider that again and we will consider the points that he has made. I feel sure that we will wish to debate the matter on Report, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 155, in page 37, line 3, leave out from ‘section’ to ‘(finding’ in line 4 and insert ‘42(1)(b)(iii), (2)(b)(iii) or (3)(b)(iii)’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 156.

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

Amendment No. 155 corrects an error in clause 51(4) because the inference could be made that an individual can be retried for the same offence when he has been acquitted by reason of insanity or disability. It may be reasonable to put that in statute, but I think not and I do not want the inference there. It is simply not the case. The reordering and references to section 42(1)(b)(iii), (2)(b)(iii) and (3)(b)(iii) corrects that.

Amendment No. 156 simply removes “terrorism offences” in clause 51(5)(a) and replaces it with the broader term:

“offences to which this Part applies”.

That provides some coherence with the rest of the provisions that we are discussing under part 4 notification requirements.

These are perfectly innocent little amendments. I keep saying that so that hon. Members become all the  more suspicious of Government amendments and examine them in more detail. These are innocent, and I commend them to the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 156, in page 37, line 11, leave out ‘terrorism offences’ and insert ‘offences to which this Part applies’.—[Mr. McNulty.]

Clause 51, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 52 to 55 ordered to stand part of the Bill.