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The hon. Gentleman may not prejudge the electorate, but he informs us that a general election is imminent, then tells us that it is likely to be in June next year. I should have thought that if the Conservatives really were against control orders, they would vote against them, rather than make an argument against them then
vote in favour of them. I am not sure what the Liberal Democrat position will be tonight, but I would hate to be in a debate where everyone said how awful control orders are, including the former Home Secretary who introduced them, who said that he did so reluctantly, and for the whole House then to vote for them.
We meet on a day on which we are very conscious of the serious threat of terrorism, because of the events that occurred in Pakistan today, where cricketers on their way to a pre-arranged match were subjected to a terrible terrorist attack. Thank goodness none of them was killed, but others were killed in that attack, which appeared to be carefully constructed and prepared. Of course, that happened thousands of miles away, but the nature of global terrorism is that it can occur anywhere.
That is why many of us, even though we have reservationsI have reservations about the continuation of the ordersgive the Government the benefit of the doubt, and believe that when they come to the House and ask for renewal, they do so in a genuine way, with the evidence and the information before them. Obviously, they cannot put all that information before the House, but we accept the points that they make.
Mr. Leigh: The most devastating intervention in the debate so far has been the right hon. Gentlemans, when he asked how many orders had been imposed in an emergency. The answer was none. Surely if the orders meant anything, more of themor indeed somewould have been imposed. Is this not government by fig leaf? This is a totally artificial debate. The orders are not being used.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right. It is an artificial debate when the Opposition are dead against everything that the Government intend to do but will vote for the order. Will the hon. Gentleman vote for the order today, along with other Conservative Members? Of course there is surrealism about the debate.
Jeremy Corbyn: My right hon. Friend will recall the many debates that used to be held about the continuation of the prevention of terrorism Acts, which were routinely renewed every six months, in which everybody said that they were against it and deeply reluctant, but went ahead and did it nevertheless. Eventually the error of their ways was seen and there was a different approach, a different attitude and a different solution in Northern Ireland. Can we not think again about the danger of taking away peoples liberties routinely by a simple vote in the Houseor on some occasions by no vote in the House?
Keith Vaz: Yes, we should. I remember that my hon. Friend always voted against, so for that purpose he was on the side of the angels. Today a motion for renewal is before the House. The Government say that they have to renew, for the reasons that they give. They say that they have no alternative, they cannot go through due process and they have to use such orders. The Opposition say that they are against the Government but, apart from the Liberal Democrats, everyone will vote in favour.
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab):
I am interested in the example that my right hon. Friend gave about the atrocity that took place in the past 48 hours
against Sri Lankan cricketers. That happened in a country that not only has access to control orders, but has access to regular torture of suspects. I should have thought that if ever there was an example of repressive measures not controlling terrorism, it was that one.
Keith Vaz: I do not know which group was responsible for that terrorist attack, but I was using it as an example of the fact that that was happening all over the world and could happen here. We have to guard against the dangers of terrorism. It is a very serious matter, and I am sure that this Minister and this Government take it very seriously indeed.
I have just three or four points to make, one of which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) has reminded me about. It is the fact that the Home Secretary has not had to use the powers in the legislation to impose an urgent order. I wonder whether that is because things are getting better, so there is no need for the Home Secretary to use those powers. The powers are reviewable by the courts within seven days of the order being imposed. When the Minister winds up the debate, perhaps he will explain whether what I have referred to is a sign that matters are improving in the fight against terrorism.
Mr. Hogg: Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House that in respect of non-derogating orders the power of review does not relate to a review of the merits? It is simply an assessment, on judicial review grounds, as to whether the order was fatally flawed.
I have three quick points to make. The first was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), and it relates to the effect on the community. We do not know who the people are, but as I have said in many debates on counter-terrorism, I am concerned about the impact of legislation in this field especially on the south Asian and Muslim communities. When the Government ask for orders such as this to be renewed, they need to come before the House and give us examples of community engagement. I am thinking of examples of how they have reassured the community that the order is about a very tiny proportion of the community, that very few people engage in acts of terrorism, and that the order should not be seen as an attack on the community as a whole. The order disproportionately affects members of the Muslim community; I would imagine that either all 15, or 14 of the 15 people involvedI do not know who they areare members of the Muslim faith. If the Minister has the information, perhaps he will put it before the House.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) have said: why is there a delay in accepting intercept evidence in court proceedings? We should go through the due process about which the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) spoke. We would all like people to be brought before the courts through due process, which is how these cases should always be dealt with. There should be proper legal representation, with the person being informed in advance of the case against them so that they can argue
their case and gather their evidence. The way to ensure that is to accept that intercept evidence should be part of court proceedings. The Home Affairs Committee, some distinguished members of which I see here today, accepted that unanimously, and the Government should accept it.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): Can the right hon. Gentleman understand why the important process of allowing intercept evidence to be heard in court has taken so long? For the past two or three years, he and I have been discussing the issue. I was a practitioner of this particular use of intercept at least two decades ago, and the issue seems to have been in the public domain for absolutely ages. Can the right hon. Gentleman spread any light on or understanding about what is delaying the Government?
Keith Vaz: I cannot, but the hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record of association with the intelligence services because of his great knowledge on these matters. Perhaps he has the answer; I do not.
John Reid: Perhaps I can help both the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). This is not the only reason, but one of the reasons why there has been such prolonged consideration of the matter is that the people in our intelligence services, who have to engage in the fight against terrorism day in and day out, have warned that there would be a huge diminution in their capacity to counter terrorism if we introduced intercept evidence willy-nilly into British courts. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newark may not accept that, but I find it disturbing how the advice of the people at the front line of this fight is constantly thrown aside as if it did not matter.
Keith Vaz: I say to the right hon. Gentleman[Hon. Members: Friend!] I should say my right hon. Frienda close, personal friend. [Hon. Members: Comrade!] No, I think that comrades have been abolished. I say to my right hon. Friend that we take what the security services say very seriously. I am not saying that they are responsible; all I am saying is that this has been in the public domain, as the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said, and I think that the Government should just get on with it. With the necessary safeguards, it could be of great use to us and allow orders of this kind to be put to one side as we go through due process.
My final point concerns the number of people who abscond. It is slightly embarrassing for the Government to have to renew these orders and tell us about the numbers on control orders who have absconded, bearing in mind how much money is spent on keeping them where they are. We need explanations, perhaps not on the detail of each case, but of why the figure is so high. On the figures that I have, of the 15 people held, seven have absconded. If I am wrong, perhaps the Minister can correct me; anyway, it is a high proportion. The former shadow Home Secretary said that it was a fifth, but I was told that it was half. [ Interruption. ] Seven out of 38; well, that is still a very high figure.
Keith Vaz: We are very pleased with that announcement not that people have absconded but that no one has done so since January 2007. We are keen to know what has happened to those who have absconded because, given that they are under such scrutiny, we wonder why it happened and what went wrong.
John Reid: It is my job to be helpful today, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One of the reasons, of course, is that people are not under surveillance 24 hours a day, becausethe Minister cannot criticise the courts, but let me criticise themwhen we wanted 24-hour surveillance to stop them absconding, the courts said that we could not have that and that people had to have at least eight or 10 hours without surveillance. They had to have a shift as a suspected terrorist, and not unsurprisingly, they absconded.
Keith Vaz: I will not give way any more; I am sorry to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, but there is very little time. We should not go any further down this path, because that will open up a whole new debate. However, an awful lot of people have absconded given that, as the hon. Member for Reigate said, it cost £3 million to get the whole system working.
I hope that next time Ministers come before the House to discuss counter-terrorism issues they will be able to provide a better explanation of what is happening so that the House can be better informed. With those caveats, I will, reluctantly, support the Government, but they need to do much more work next time if they hope to get this order through.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I, too, thank Lord Carlile of Berriew for publishing his report in good time for this years renewal debate. I also thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights for making its views known in a timely fashion.
My argument is that control orders are not an appropriate instrument for a free society under the rule of law. They are unfair; they breach key rights to a fair hearing; and they get perilously close to reversing a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system, which is that we are innocent until we are proven guilty. Moreover, they are ineffective. We have heard that seven of the 38 people who have been made subject to control orders have absconded. The guilty are more likely to abscond, so the innocent are more likely to be detained. Criminal trials and custodial sentences would be a far more effective way of proceeding and protecting the public.
Let me start with the issue of fairness. These orders involve house arrest and curfew. According to Lord Carliles report, the average curfew was 13 hours, up from 10 hours in 2007, and the longest was 16 hours. The right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), who is no longer in his place, asked whether other means could be used. The Government could have used control orders in going before a judge to derogate from the European convention on human rightsthey have not done so. Effectively, we have a system of indefinite house arrest.
David Davis: I am sorry that the ex-Home Secretary is not here, because he did not give the House exactly accurate information when he spoke before. He said that the courts prevented us from keeping the people in question under surveillance 24 hours a day. That is not true, because keeping them constrained 24 hours a day is not the same as keeping them under surveillance.
Control orders have a serious impact on people and their families. In one case, as we heard, a person who has been on a control order throughout this regime was previously detained in Belmarshdetention, without a fair, evidentiary standard, of effectively nigh-on eight years.
Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that point. He is absolutely right: the evidentiary standard is particularly low and there is no appeal. It is particularly low because it involves merely a reasonable suspicion on the part of the Home Secretary, which is broadly the evidentiary basis that the Director of Public Prosecutions requires to charge someone with counter-terrorism offences.
My party argues that control orders breach the right to a fair hearing. A person does not know what they are suspected of. They have a limited ability to challenge and defend themselves, and the Government have said that
introducing a requirement always to provide a summary is not appropriate.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 21 October 2008; Vol. 704, c. 1085.]
This is surely a truly Kafkaesque situation, in which someone is held without even knowing the gist of the suspicions held against them. That will no doubt be one of the key factors in the case going to the Law Lords, which has been reported this week.
Furthermore, there is a reliance on secret intelligence, which, by definition, may be all the less reliable for being secret, precisely because sources are not open to scrutiny, cross-examination or challenge. For all we know, intelligence may have been gained through torture around the world; as we know from the recent case of Binyam Mohamed, we unfortunately cannot rule that out.
Intelligence can be wrongvery wrong. Mistaken identity is a fairly common problem. The most famous example is, of course, Jean Charles de Menezes, but another is that of Lotfi Raissi, the Algerian pilot whose life was ruined by intelligence-fuelled suspicions that ultimately proved to be entirely groundless. The grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in A v. the United Kingdom is the highest court to have looked at these matters, and it states very clearly that its recent decisionI quote the Joint Committee on Human Rights
leaves no room for doubt that basic fairness requires that at the very least the controlled person be provided with the gist of the closed material which supports the allegations made against them.
A second issue is the sheer interminability of these orders. There are no time limits and control orders can last for long periods. Two current cases have gone on for more than three years. Effectively, that is indefinite detention. Is that really acceptable as part of our criminal justice system?
Moreover, there is a legal world within a legal world. If someone breaches their control order, they can be prosecuted and convicted. As Lord Carlile points out, three of the current 15 people affected face trials soon for breaching the terms of their orders. Although there is no evidence to bring against them in a court of law on any substantive matter, they have been made subject to a control order, and if they breach it, that becomes a criminal offence. Although they cannot face substantive charges, that is surely Orwellian.
Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman will have heard my intervention on the Minister. What is the hon. Gentlemans personal assessment of the effect on community relations of the continuation of the control orders and the system behind them?
Chris Huhne: I have no doubt that the effect in communities that have suffered from people being held under control orders is a feeling of great injustice, or that that feeling fuels resentment and becomes a recruiting sergeant for people to join a fight that we do not want to exist.
We should learn the lesson from the cases of those held for the maximum period of detention without charge for terrorism offences. The 42 days debate made it clear that half of those held for nearly the maximum periodthree peoplewere released without charge and without further surveillance or suspicion. It is very hard to prove a negative, which is why we insist in the British criminal justice system that someone is innocent until proven guilty. We heard nothing from the Minister today to suggest that there is any exit strategy from control orders, yet the danger of the courts holding against a prolonged control order has to be serious. At the very least, as the JCHR has proposed, there should be a statutory presumption against a control order lasting beyond two years.
Another reason for ending the system is that prosecutions are surely better than control orders, which have clear holes, as we have seen from the number of people absconding. Let us proceed instead to fair trials. The Minister said that there is gap between letting out someone who is entirely innocent and proceeding to a fair trial, but I urge the House to consider the fact that several developments have closed that gap substantially since control orders were introduced. The Minister has not addressed any of those developments. As has been said, the fact that there have been no urgent orders in the past year tends to reinforce the argument.
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