Clause 8

Terrorist Asset-Freezing Etc. Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 23rd November 2010.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury) 11:30 am, 23rd November 2010

I beg to move amendment 48, in clause 8, page 4, line 23, leave out ‘30’ and insert ‘28’.

Again, this a probing amendment. The Minister and the Committee will know that, following concerns expressed during the initial consideration of the Bill, it was proposed to put in place an interim designation, so that the final designation would not necessarily be made immediately. Under the clause, an interim designation should be for

“the period of 30 days beginning with the date on which it was made”.

The amendment would replace 30 days with 28 days.

Our reason for tabling the amendment is to ensure consistency across Government. I accept that the Macdonald review is considering the period of detention without charge, which is currently set at 28 days, but I want to ensure consistency. I accept that the regime for detention without charge is different from the terrorist asset-freezing regime, but it is incumbent on the Minister to explain why 30 days was chosen when 28 days is the norm in other areas. There are differences between the regimes, but the purpose of the amendment is to test the Minister on the validity of 30 days.

Given that we are dealing with terrorist legislation across the board, what would be the final norm of a period for investigation—which is essentially what we are talking about—pending determination of a final designation, consistent with other time scales across Government? It seems that the period of 30 days was plucked with good reasons but randomly, given the differences from other regimes. I am asking the Minister to justify 30 days and consider whether consistency across regimes would be appropriate in this as in other Bills, subject to whatever the Macdonald review determines for a period of detention without charge.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 11:45 am, 23rd November 2010

The right hon. Gentleman’s amendment is interesting, in that it probes what the right number of days should be. There was debate on the matter in the other place on 6 October, when one noble Lord suggested a range of days: 45, 14, 31, 29 or 15. There is no science to that.

It should be borne in mind that interim designations will be used only where there is an operational need for them; the requirement for the freeze to be necessary for public protection ensures that that is the case. As a matter of policy, where the information available will support a final designation from the outset, a final rather than interim designation will be made. Where an interim designation has to be made, a 30-day duration provides an appropriate balance between limiting interference with individual rights and safeguarding national security. A period of 30 days is appropriate to prevent payments or disrupt specific activity. It provides  time for further investigations to be carried out and for information to be gathered and analysed by operational partners, with a view to presenting a case to the Treasury for maintaining the asset freeze at the higher legal threshold—reasonable belief—for a final designation. A total duration of 30 days also ensures that the Treasury has sufficient time thoroughly to scrutinise and test the information gathered by operational colleagues before making a decision.

It happens to be that 30 days is also the duration of interim designations under New Zealand law, and it is comparable with the maximum number of days under the suspicious activity reporting regime, which is 31 days. That gives people the opportunity to suspend suspicious transactions while the authorities undertake further investigations. Reducing the maximum duration of an interim designation to 28 days will mean that there is less time for further information to be gathered and considered before an interim designation lapses.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

If the right hon. Gentleman is patient, I might just pre-empt him on the point on which he wants to push me. He may have wanted to intervene to suggest that there is a limited difference between 30 and 28 days. However, as I have noted, 30 days does follow the New Zealand model and is broadly in line with the suspicious activity reporting.

The crux of the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment is consistency. He argued for consistency between interim freezes and the pre-charge detention period of 28 days. We do not accept that there is a link. Asset freezing is a preventive tool and does not rely on other actions such as arrest or charge. An interim asset freeze is not the same as pre-charge detention; it involves different and discrete processes and does not, therefore, need to be aligned with the maximum period a terrorist suspect can be detained before they are charged or released. As he noted, pre-charge detention is subject to a separate review. It is worth reflecting that of the 57 cases of asset freezing under UN Security Council resolution 1373, 17 relate to people overseas. In the same way, there is no automatic drive for asset-freezing orders to be consistent with control orders; we discussed the nature of control orders under the previous group of amendments. Pre-charge detention does not need to be consistent with control orders, because of the different nature of the two. I hope that that rationale for having a 30-day limit, rather than a 28-day limit, is enough to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am grateful for this discussion. Interestingly, the Minister’s key point was that 30 days may be required to gain further information, so that a final designation can be secured and measures in the legislation can be used. That is the same argument that we made for 28 days rather than 14 days; we argued that we might need more time to ensure that information was gathered, because the terrorist network, as the Minister will know, is very widespread, and terrorists do not often volunteer the information, funnily enough. They do not like to be caught and sent to prison for long periods of time. One of the key things that we found when trying to get  28 days for pre-charge detention—that is the figure that I put in the amendment—is that sometimes that information leads to various investigations that cannot bring forward sufficient information to finalise a particular conclusion in that time period.

A 30-day period, as the Minister said, was discussed in the other place. A range of options were put forward, and the Minister has settled on 30 days for an interim designation. I was simply trying to ensure consistency for the Minister, because if I were outside the House and was potentially going to be affected by the legislation, and wanted to make mischief and raise challenges, I would look at some of the other consistencies across Government. If the Government have a 28-day period for pre-charge detention, a legal case could be made that there are similarities with the asset-freezing regime. I am not saying that the case would be made, but it could. Having a 28-day period for the asset-freezing regime and a 28-day period for pre-charge detention creates a figure that is consistent across Government. It says that 28 days is a reasonable time for a case to be made, whether under the asset-freezing regime or the pre-charge detention regime.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that there is a distinction here, and that we need to ensure that we do not inadvertently link two different regimes? Pre-charge detention means that someone is deprived of their liberty, and there are rightly proper controls over that. We are discussing an interim order to freeze someone’s assets while more investigation takes place. In the same way, there is a difference between a control order and an asset-freezing regime: asset freezing impinges on people’s liberty to a lesser extent. That is why it is important to think about the right period for asset freezing in isolation from the right period for pre-charge detention.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

There will not be a major difference between the Minister and myself on this issue; we will not fall out over it. I simply wanted some discussion with the Minister on why he has chosen 30 days as the period after which the interim designation will expire, when at the same time, through the Macdonald review, he is looking to reduce pre-charge detention from 28 to 14 days. There seem to be inconsistencies, generally, across the regime dealing with terrorist offences. Although the two aspects are different, and while I accept that asset-freezing orders are not control orders or pre-charge detention, it is important that the Government have a principle that says that there is a set period of time in which we need to conclude consideration of charges made with regard to control orders, terrorist asset freezing or pre-charge detention. That consistency would be welcome, because it sets a principle, rather than having different regimes for different aspects.

I will not push the amendment to a Division, but the Minister should reflect on what I have said, so that we have, for public consumption, something that has consistency, does not give room for challenges once the legislation is enacted, and does not create ambiguities for those who seek to undermine British democracy through terrorism. They could use those ambiguities to try to drag out particular cases, challenge particular decisions, or make mischief downstream. Whatever the Minister has said, I still think that there is the potential  for a good lawyer—I am not one—to make those arguments about different dates having been put in place for different regimes dealing with similar problems, even though those problems are different in nature. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.