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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Enforcement of External Orders) Order 2001

Sixth Standing Committee on

Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 28 November 2001

[Mr. Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Terrorism Act 2000 (Enforcement) Order 2001

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Beverley Hughes): I beg to move

    That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act (Enforcement of External Orders) Order 2001.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Winterton. I am sure that, no matter how simple or complicated Members may make the issue, we will get there in the end under your guidance.

The matter is straightforward. The Order in Council is made under paragraphs 14, 28 and 44 of schedule 4 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is designed to support powers in that Act aimed at tackling those who provide financial support for terrorist activity. Schedule 4 includes a scheme enabling the courts to order the restraint or forfeiture of money or property belonging to those convicted of financial offences under that Act. The schedule also paves the way for international judicial co-operation by allowing orders such as this one to be made to enable our courts to enforce restraint and forfeiture orders made in designated overseas countries.

The types of restraint and forfeiture orders that may be enforced under the Order in Council are defined in it. Forfeiture orders must fit the description given in the Terrorism Act, which for the present purposes means that they must be made in respect of terrorist property. Articles 5 and 6 of the order—

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) rose—

The Chairman: I call Mr. Blunt—sorry Mr. Dominic Grieve.

Mr. Grieve: I may be blunt, Mr. Chairman. However, it would be helpful if the Minister were to define ``terrorist property'' within the scope of the Act to reassure the Committee that the purpose of the order does not extend beyond dealing with terrorism.

Beverley Hughes: I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The term is defined in the Act as assets, property or cash that have been gained in or used to further the pursuit of terrorism.

Articles 5 and 6 of the order make the necessary provision to enable our courts to accept documentary evidence from overseas. Among other things, they provide for the admissibility in our courts of a certificate issued by the appropriate authority giving certain information about proceedings in a given country that have led or may lead to the making of a forfeiture order. Parts II, III and IV of the order contain schemes that enable our courts to register and enforce external restraint and forfeiture orders in, respectively, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Procedures in each jurisdiction are identical. For an external restraint or forfeiture order to be enforced in this country, it must first be registered in the High Court or, in Scotland, in the Court of Session.

An external forfeiture order registered in the UK provides the mechanism for forfeiting the assets of the person named in that order. Any property is sold and the monies raised are given, ultimately, to the appropriate authority of the country that originally made the order.

There are appropriate checks and balances on the power. Overseas forfeiture orders will be enforced only if they have been upheld in that country's court and are not subject to appeal, if the person against whom the order was made was not present when that happened and the notice of proceedings was properly served on him, and if the United Kingdom is satisfied that the order is in the interests of justice.

Likewise, an overseas restraint order will be registered only if the High Court is of the opinion that enforcing the order is not contrary to the interests of justice. The registration of external forfeiture and restraint orders must be applied for by the appropriate authority of the designated country in the High Court.

That is all background information. The order replaces the current order made under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. That order designated only India. The Government believe that the time is right to extend the number of countries designated, given that it is clearly convenient to place the existing order, with this order, before the House today. We consider that it would now be appropriate to extend the list to cover all EU countries--Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden--as well as the remaining G7 countries: that is, the United States, Canada and Japan. There will be an opportunity to consider further designations in future.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I have a specific question about the extension of the order. Will the Minister tell us whether the proposal to extend its provisions to the EU and G7 states results from a unilateral decision by the UK Government or from a decision made by the EU? If it was the latter, when was the decision made and by whom, and have the other countries implemented the order?

Beverley Hughes: It is unilateral in the sense that we have powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 to add countries to the designated list. As the hon. Gentleman knows, all EU countries are currently considering what measures they need to take to combat terrorism, and either have made or will make reciprocal arrangements to designate the UK, so there will be reciprocity of judicial co-operation.

We believe that the order complements measures in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill by making a modest but potentially useful contribution to the fight against international terrorism. Such powers also act as a deterrent and send a clear signal that the illicit assets of terrorist organisations are not beyond the reaches of the law. For those reasons, I commend the order to the House.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that the debate may continue for one and a half hours, but that does not include time taken for Divisions in the House or suspensions when the Committee is not quorate. I now call the Opposition spokesman and apologise to the hon. Gentleman for getting his name wrong earlier.

4.38 pm

Mr. Grieve: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Winterton. I assure you that your mistake was much less embarrassing than that made in respect of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) when I confused him with my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) during a debate on the Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill. That was entirely due to the fact that I had written ``SB'' on a piece of paper and thought that it referred to Southwark and Bermondsey when in fact it referred to Simon Burns.

The official Opposition have no quarrel with the order. I am especially grateful to the Minister for making it clear that the scope of the Terrorism Act 2000 is restricted to terrorism itself, and that a considerable power to cover the wider purpose of fighting crime is not being introduced by the back door without appropriate consideration.

I do not want to usurp the point that I suspect the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is about to make, but it crossed my mind as well. We would of course have little difficulty in recognising the impartiality and integrity of the legal systems of the majority of the countries in the schedule: indeed, they all have a separate and distinct judiciary. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman's posed the important question whether we had made a unilateral decision to include India in the nexus of states that would be prepared to agree to the orders in question, or whether it was a collective decision by other member states or G7 countries. Historically, India is not a country with which we have normally entered into conventions of this type. I hope that the Minister will deal with that question, which would provide reassurance.

Beverley Hughes: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that India is already designated under the previous order of 1995, which was made under the Conservative Government.

Mr. Grieve: I am aware of that. However, I hope that the Indian Government will not take it amiss if I seek clarification from the Minister that other states take our view of the desirability of entering into the convention relationship, given the questions about India's role in the fight against terrorism and its considerable domestic difficulties with terrorists, which have at times given rise to anxieties about human rights issues that have been canvassed around the world.

I shall be only too happy if the Minister tells me that that is so. The Opposition fully accept that, in view of India's willingness to co-operate in the fight against terrorism, and given its domestic difficulties, which have led to many deaths and problems, it is most desirable that it should be brought into an efficient international system for fighting terrorism that ensures respect for human rights. My question to the Minister is intended to obtain reassurance about that for the Committee.

Subject to those remarks, we welcome the order. We are pleased that the powers will be extended in the way set out. The fight against terrorism certainly requires such measures. Precisely because the order is restricted to terrorism it will, I am sure, command approval on both sides of the House.

4.43 pm

Simon Hughes: I, too, am happy to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Winterton. I hope that your presence here does not too greatly delay you in taking your pew to see the Prime Minister to discuss matters relating to the village of my birth. I hope that you will take with you my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton), who is keen to join you in supporting BAE Systems and its work force.

I am grateful for a brief opportunity to contribute. I have looked back to the debate in 1995, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) spoke for my party on these matters. He supported the measure, which was, as the Minister explained, identical—apart from the countries specified—though made under different legislation. It was made under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989.

With the respect to the continued discussion of the question about India, it would be interesting, if the Minister has the information, to know how often and in what context the order has been used in the UK for enforcement of orders made in India since 1995. If the Minister cannot give that information today, it would be sufficient were she to make it available at the earliest opportunity.

In that debate, my right hon. Friend argued that we should make it clear in Parliament that there was all the difference in the world between wanting to track down and enforce orders in this country that had been made properly after due process in Indian courts—the Minister rightly suggested the pre-conditions under which those were to be enforced here—and not wanting to prevent Indians by birth or continuing citizenship who were resident in the United Kingdom from being able to make political protests about the policy of the Indian Government. The subject is uppermost in my mind today because, like other colleagues, I shall attend the major Sikh celebration in London, which marks the birthday of their guru. This issue, for obvious reasons, especially exercises the Sikh community.

The order should logically command the support of the Committee, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). It is clearly related to terrorism and is specific and focused. I would be in some difficulty on the principle if I did not take that view, as I am the only member of the Committee who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Terrorism Bill, apart from the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire). Like me, she said nothing on the relevant provisions in that Bill—she did not have the same obligations as I had—so we did not object to them in principle.

I want to pursue the question that I asked the Minister, which was picked up by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. India was included in the 1995 order because of a 1992 bilateral agreement between the British Government and the Government of India. I sought to establish what had been the genesis of the order under discussion, and why it had been made now and in such a way. It would be helpful if the Minister could elaborate on what she said. Has there been bilateral agreement between the UK Government and each state listed, and if not, which states have there been agreements with? If there have been no agreements, are the Government seeking them? Is the list of European Union states included because a decision has been made somewhere that the right of reciprocal enforcement should be applied across the EU?

The Minister understands the significance of the last question. The so-called emergency Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which is now in Committee in the House of Lords, contains a provision—in, I think, part 11, or perhaps part 13—to allow the passage into UK law of decisions taken by the Council of Ministers of the EU, under the third pillar of the treaties. The process used would be that of statutory instruments, with short debates in both Houses to affirm orders. The Conservative party, my party, colleagues in the Labour party and independent colleagues in the House of Lords are concerned that we should not agree to give the Government power to legislate by secondary legislation on matters that should properly go by a primary legislative route, and that have come from a Council of Ministers decision under the third pillar. I suppose that the matter will be debated and voted on in the House of Lords in the next few days.

Although I have read only a summary of its report and not the detail, I believe that the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform in the House of Lords made that point in its recommendations yesterday. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that the power will not be provided through that process. If it is, that sheds a different light on the nature of the proposal. That does not mean that because the proposal is targeted and focused on terrorism it should not be passed in this way at this time. As we have said, another justification for passing it in such a way might come from Ministers agreeing on a deadline. For example, they might agree that all countries should implement such a measure by 31 December. Our general position is that we are happy to let through in secondary legislation matters that have an international obligation deadline of 31 December, as it would not be to Britain's credit if we did otherwise. However, if the deadline were later than that date or the proposals had an application wider than terrorism, we should use other procedures.

I am interested to know why nothing is entered in columns (2) and (3) of the schedule for some countries. When we passed the initial order in relation to India, column (3)—or the equivalent—contained a similar or possibly identical list of preconditions for proceedings to be instituted. I notice that there is nothing in the column marked

    ``Point at which proceedings are instituted''

for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg or Portugal. Is that omission due to the fact that the information is not yet available or because the measure has not yet been agreed?

I notice, too, that under the column headed ``Appropriate authority'', Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Greece, Japan and Luxembourg have either not notified or not announced in the papers the appropriate authority. That may appear incidental, because it is in the schedule, but hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern that we should implement judgments of foreign courts only when we know that they are courts of sufficient seniority and status for their judgments to be given automatic international implementation. Therefore, the Committee should have an explanation.

The explanation may be that someone, somewhere has a list of the approved authorities and the points at which proceedings are instituted, which have for some reason not appeared in this document. If so, there may be a defect in the schedule and the order. On the other hand, the explanation may that we have agreed in principle but nothing has been agreed in practice. I am no expert on these matters, but I wonder whether we can agree to designate those countries when we do not have the full information. Therefore, I qualify my support for the proposal, because I am concerned that we should not sign up anything when we do not know the details. I hope that we will be reassured that the matters are not third-pillar matters that have no deadline and which, to be consistent with our other views, should be dealt with in a different way in a different place. I should be grateful for an explanation from the Minister.

 
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Prepared 28 November 2001