Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses (Questions 260 - 266)

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001

BEVERLEY HUGHES, MP, MR ROBERT WHALLEY AND MR IAIN WALSH

  260. On the question of disclosure of information, it is widely held that having compulsory disclosure of information in past Acts, in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, did very little to increase the flow of information to the police. We have seen figures somewhere that, in mainland Britain, there were only ten convictions in about 20 years. Given that that is not a very effective means of improving the flow of information, why do you expect it now to be effective?
  (Beverley Hughes) Disclosure of information we did not include under the previous legislation.
  (Mr Whalley) The previous legislation did not maintain the earlier provision in the 1989 Act. That subject was dealt with in the Lloyd report on that. The view may be now that the circumstances of international terrorism with which we are concerned require that issue to be looked at again, in terms that people who have information should disclose it. That is what has brought about the inclusion of this power.
  (Beverley Hughes) My understanding is it is not something that is on the statute book at the moment. There was an intention to include it in legislation on the prevention of terrorism but the decision at the end of the day was not to include it.

  261. But it is in the Bill?
  (Beverley Hughes) It is in the Bill now and the view is that there must have been people who knew what those who perpetrated 11 September might have been involved in. Given the potential for those kinds of events to cause such huge devastation and a large number of casualties, we really need to make sure that we can require people, when they do have information, to bring it forward to try and prevent those actions in the future.

  262. Turning to the issue of identification and the requirement of facial covering and other ways of hiding identity, what guidelines do you propose issuing to address the sensitivities of this area so that it can be done respectfully and appropriately?
  (Beverley Hughes) We will be making clear during the passage of the Bill that we will be drawing up a protocol with ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, to make sure that the procedures are implemented in ways that are sensitive to issues of decency and treating people respectfully. That will be a protocol that the police will be required to follow.

Chairman

  263. Finally, conspiracy. It is already an offence to conspire to cause an explosion. I had understood that the police were anxious to have this extended to terrorism in general. Has the government dropped that idea?
  (Beverley Hughes) Yes. The Home Secretary did say that he was considering, as we have done right across the board, whether any additional powers were needed in relation to conspiracy. He did examine that but he has concluded that the existing laws that we have, which do include conspiracy to commit terrorist offences, are sufficient to deal with the situation and that we do not need to strengthen those any further.

  264. Which law already includes conspiracy to commit terrorist offences?
  (Mr Whalley) If it is part of the general terrorism law, it will be in the Terrorism Act 2000 but there may obviously be some other elements of the criminal law involved.

  265. Maybe I have misunderstood the situation but I do recollect a senior police officer telling us that this was a power they did not have which they needed.
  (Beverley Hughes) Advice to ministers is that we do have sufficient powers under existing legislation. If you would like, I will certainly clarify where those powers exist and write to you as well with that.

  266. Thank you.
  (Mr Whalley) Mr Prosser raised a point about the penalties for the general offence of hoaxing under the Criminal Law Act. I am advised that the 1991 Act raised that penalty to seven years, so it is already covered for the generality of offences. What this does is to align that in terms of noxious substances.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Minister, for coming along this morning. Thank you for the help you have given us in the short time we have had to examine this legislation. We look forward to meeting you in the chamber on Monday.





 
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