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We will now hear from the National Police Chiefs’ Council. Should hon. Members wish to ask a question, it would be helpful if they could catch my eye early in the proceedings, so that I can try to restrict Front Benchers as necessary.
Thank you very much for joining us, Mr Jacques. Could you please briefly introduce yourself and your organisation?
Q I will try to self-censor, Mr Robertson, for brevity. I will start by asking a general question. Assistant Chief Constable, you are responsible for counter-terrorism policing. Taken in the round and viewed as a whole, will the measures in the Bill make your job easier or harder? Will they make the public less or more safe?
Q Good. Thank you. We have heard TPIMs and the burden of proof extensively debated, and we have questions about why the burden of proof should be lower—reasonable suspicion rather than a higher level. Do you think that in future there might be cases where somebody threatens the safety of the public, and you are unable to meet the higher burden of proof on the balance of probabilities, but you could meet the lower burden of proof—reasonable suspicion—and that without this change that is proposed in the Bill, the public would be exposed to greater risk?
First—Jonathan touched on this—there have not been occasions thus far when the current burden of proof has prevented the application of a TPIM. In terms of the numbers, there are six now in place in the UK. Neither we nor the Security Service envisage a large increase in those numbers as a result of the provisions in the Bill. The Security Service points to three instances where it thinks this would have utility from an operational perspective. The first is where an individual’s risk profile is rapidly increasing—hypothetically, somebody who we know might be operating online, but our belief is that they are moving towards posing an actual threat on the street with an attack plan in place. If that is very rapid, which it can now be—we have seen instances of that—then being able to use a lower standard of proof is something that MI5 thinks would be of use.
Secondly—Jonathan touched on this too—there is the issue of somebody returning from abroad, who we believe has been involved in terrorist-related activity overseas, and the issues of evidence in that. The Home Secretary can currently impose temporary exclusion orders at the lower standard of proof. If somebody wants to come back and has a right to come back to the UK, they can be imposed on the lower standard of proof. If someone somehow makes it to the UK under the radar or without our knowledge, the higher burden of proof would have to be applied to impose a TPIM. That is the second case that MI5 would point to.
The third issue, which Jonathan also touched on, relates to sensitive material. TPIMs are challengeable and there is an automatic review and so on. The disclosure of sensitive material would potentially compromise sensitive techniques and therefore make our job and that of the Security Service harder, but the lower standard would assist them in their national security role.
Q For those three reasons, you are being categorically clear with this Committee and with Parliament that the proposed lower standard of proof would be a benefit to the police and the security services, and that it would make the public safer.
Q Thank you for making that extremely clear. I am sure that the Committee will pay close attention to the advice being given to us through you by the security services. I have one more question on TPIMs, relating to the current two-year expiry date and the proposal to make them annually renewable. They will not be indefinite unless the threat is indefinite. Do the security services for whom you speak see a threat to the public as a consequence of the gaps that we have heard Mr Hall describe: the 12-month gap in one case and the 16-month gap in the other?
Because we jointly manage TPIMs once imposed, I can speak on this. Yes, we do see an increase in the threat if that gap occurs, and that gap has occurred, as Jonathan has pointed out previously.
Q There is a very helpful question on our briefing paper about the danger that measures perceived as oppressive and disproportionate may alienate individuals who could otherwise be rehabilitated. Do you have a view on that, particularly in relation to younger people, who might be a little immature?
I certainly have a view on that. From a policing perspective—I do not think it is any different for our operational partners—there are two trains in place here: one is punishment and incarceration, which was mentioned earlier; and the other is rehabilitation, desistance and disengagement. Ultimately, the best outcome is the latter: we change the individual’s mindset and view of the world, and mitigate the risk that they pose to the public in an enduring manner. Anything that promotes that prevent, disengagement and deradicalization position is to be welcomed.
Both those options are considered with TPIMs, and indeed with most of the work that we undertake. Both protect the public, if successful. We are conscious of that and drive both of them. Counter-terrorism policing operates across all the Ps of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, called Contest, and prevent and pursue are included in that.
Q There is much talk in the Bill about polygraphing. Do you believe that introducing polygraphs in this area will drive the benefits that the Minister hopes for? Are you satisfied that the science around them is good enough, and that they provide real value?
There are two elements, as I understand it, where polygraphs are introduced: one is in licence conditions and the other is the use of TPIMs. I can certainly talk about the latter, but maybe not the former.
It is safe to say that the science around polygraphs is not absolutely fool-proof. For that reason, we and the CPS agree that we would never seek to use them as evidence in a criminal prosecution in the UK. By introducing polygraph measures in these circumstances—in TPIMs—you may end up with that evidence through disclosure, not for criminal prosecutions.
The reality is that polygraphs are untested in the terrorist space, but we would welcome the ability to pilot them. We would not necessarily be seeking mandation on every single TPIM. It says “if required”, and again that should be an operational decision for us. They are untested, which is why they are not used in criminal proceedings. They have utility in the management of sex offenders, as Jonathan pointed out, and they may well have utility in the management of terrorist offenders. We would be happy to try that and see where it takes us.
Q Do you have any concerns about the fact that this cohort of offenders will be released into the community without the involvement of the Parole Board? They are just taken out and simply released, although I know that other work will go on. How do you feel about the fact that there will not be the expertise of the Parole Board behind any decision for them to be released into the community?
I do not want to dodge the question, but these people will come out of prison at some point. My understanding of the measures in the Bill is that they will come out later, rather than sooner. We have to manage and mitigate the risk as and when they come out. We have to manage them when they come out, and they are going to come out at some point. That is the point for us.
Q I have just a couple of brief questions. You have mentioned three potential justifications for lowering the current standard of proof. You will be aware that the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation does not consider that there is any justification, but just let me cover a couple of the points that you raised. Jonathan Hall tells us that at present there is something called a new variant TPIM, which has been used by the security services, and that is a means of using the existing law to reduce the administrative and litigation burden on the authorities, which really means that when fewer measures are imposed on individuals, it is not necessary to establish in evidence every chapter and verse of an individual’s terrorist-related activity before a TPIM can be imposed. Mr Hall seems to envisage that the existence of these new variant TPIMs is sufficient to reduce the sort of administrative and motivation burden on the authorities that you have described in relation to sensitive material and a rapidly increasing risk. Do you see his point?
I do see his point, yes. The new variant, as Jonathan describes it, is about using fewer measures and can include, of course, not relocating the subject, which was a matter of discussion earlier. Because each measure has to be justified as necessary and proportionate to the Home Secretary and then approved by the court, of course each one of the measures and the case for each one of the measures can be, and very often is, challenged on behalf of the subject. In simple terms, the fewer measures there are, the less opportunity there is for challenge and the less need for administrative work to deal with that. That is where that comes into play. It is MI5’s view that potentially there is further opportunity for them to get engaged in that if there is a lower standard of proof, and for disclosure of sensitive material potentially.
Q So where there is a rapidly escalating situation or where there is a need to manage sensitive material, we already have available to us the option of a new variant TPIM without changing the standard of proof.
Well, a TPIM is a TPIM. We have the option of a TPIM to manage that case, yes, as it currently stands. MI5 has pointed out that there is no case thus far where the standard of proof has been a blocker.
That is quite an important statement: there is no case so far where the current standard of proof has prevented an application for a TPIM. Thank you.
Q Can you describe a little bit, from your policing perspective, the increased threat that you are seeing, from both under-18s and young adults aged 18 to either 21or 24?
We can see and we have seen not just the case that goes back a few years but, certainly within the recent past, a number of, and a worrying increase in, young people engaging in terrorism of different forms and posing a real threat to the public. It is shocking, in one sense, that you see people of such a young age and the maturity with which they carry out their activity, and the hate-filled ideologies that inspire them at such a young age, but it is real.
Q So while it is very important that the police are able to engage with young people in a way that is constructive, it is also important that the police can keep all young people safe from the threat posed by other young people.
Yes, absolutely. As I said earlier, we are there to do both. We protect the public by both measures: prosecution and criminal justice means, if that is needed—which can lead to desistance and disengagement programmes—and measures before that. If we can dissuade and reduce and prevent people from getting to that stage, that is a good option for us as well—if it keeps the public safe.
Thank you, Assistant Chief Constable Jacques—and not just for you and your colleagues’ work now. As a north-west MP, I am particularly proud of your distinguished service in Lancashire and our region over many years. I am very pleased to see you in your current position. In terms of policing’s priorities and asks from the Government, was this top of your list?Q
The Bill came out of the recent changes in sentencing. One of the potential effects of those—in the previous Bill that went through Parliament—was offenders coming out without licence conditions in place. We refer to that as a cliff edge; I think Jonathan referred to a different cliff edge. For us and our operational partners—the Probation Service, the security services and so on—licence conditions are incredibly important, allowing us to manage individuals. In some of those cases there is potential for TPIMs to be applied in order to manage the risk that people pose, whereas the licence conditions do not offer that. That was the driver behind the TPIM element of the Bill.
Some of the measures and the changes that the Bill includes are the result of the Bill being put forward and talking about TPIMs. They include some of the problems that we have encountered in recent cases and that we think could be improved through legislation. This was not right at the top of our priority list, but if the Government are looking to take the Bill through, we think aspects of it are worthy of consideration by Parliament because we have encountered them operationally as problems.
As you have seen, the number of TPIMs is very low. We do not envisage there being swathes of TPIMs if the Bill is enacted in its current state. There will be changes—the use of polygraph and so forth—that will have an impact. In the grand schemes of things and in the numbers that we are talking about, it will have an impact. Where TPIMs endure longer than two years, they will obviously require monitoring and resources for that. If an individual poses a risk and a threat anyway, they will consume resources regardless of whether they are on a TPIM; there is just less control around them.
May I press you a little? You say that the measures in the Bill will make the police’s job easier and will make people safer. When the police or the security services say that, I absolutely trust them and believe that that is the case. You also said there is no case where the current standard of proof prevented a TPIM, asQ the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West said. You went on to say that some of the things, such as individuals’ risk profile increasing on returning from abroad, mean that the measures are welcome. However, those risk factors exist today and have existed for a period of time. I am trying to work out the contradiction in saying that there has not been a case where the standard of proof has prevented a TPIM, but that lowering the standard of proof will make it easier.
In relation specifically to the standard of proof, I think the security services’ point is that that may have utility in the examples that I gave. My answer to the question was on the wider changes around notification of TPIMs, the sentencing regime and so forth. It may have utility in terms of lowering the burden of proof, and it will make our collective role easier and the public safer.
I understand. Thank you. Finally, the Bill also contains a measure to remove the statutory deadline for the reporting of the Prevent review. The review was announced last January, but it has been delayed and postponed. We are now at the stage where the Government intend to have it report next summer but have removed any deadline. Is it frustrating that you have continuing speculation and debate around Prevent, with an independent review proposed, mooted and having gone through several iterations, yet you are still none the wiser about where the review is at, so you cannot get on and do not have certainty about what it will look like after the review, 16 or 17 months after it was first proposed? Is that a frustration for the police? Does that uncertainty undermine the Government’s wider counter-terrorism strategy?Q
We welcome the Prevent review and are very happy to engage in the Prevent review. Prevent is a critically important part of our role; it is absolutely vital. It is controversial, and has been controversial, but we engage in it, we operate, and we protect the public through Prevent every day. The review will be helpful, I am sure, from many perspectives.
Q Assistant Chief Constable Jacques, may I first thank you on behalf of the Committee for all the work you do to keep us safe? You have made it quite clear that your view is that the provisions in the Bill will make policing easier. Can you give us a working example of that, please?
Gosh—there are many examples. If you look at some of the relocation notification measures, because of the new variant, and because some of the terrorism prevention and investigation measures we now use are not relocation, there is potentially a flaw in the legislation as currently made out that subjects do not have to tell us where they are living. That is one small but fairly clear and obvious example. If we are not relocating them, which we are not all the time now, the law does not require them to tell us where they live, which seems an obvious gap. The Bill will enable us to manage the individual to use these measures in a different way, and potentially a less intrusive or restrictive way for the individual, enabling us to manage the risks that they pose to the public.
Q You were asked earlier about rehabilitation, and I am sure no one in the room does not think that it is an important part of the state’s job and the police’s job to assist where possible. However, do you agree that at times—particularly in these troubled times—immediate safety must trump the long-term aims of rehabilitation to keep people safe?
Q As the daughter of a police officer, I would like to acknowledge and recognise how much you do and how often it is police officers on the frontline running towards danger when others are running away. When we talk about the importance of the Bill’s provisions in keeping the public safe, is it fair to say that, by definition, we are keeping the police safe?
I would like to add to what Julie Marson said. I do not think we can say often enough how much we and our constituents appreciate the risk that police officers put themselves in. You are there for us. I think all political parties would want to associate themselves with that. Thank you.
Mr Hall is still here. Mr Cunningham is offering you extra work. If you would like to do that—[Interruption.]. I am terribly sorry; I am advised that I cannot invite you to speak again, but I think you have got the point.