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Amendment 9, on the independent review of the operation of the Act, says that the Treasury must appoint somebody to undertake reviews of the operation, and the periods for review would align with the periods in my Amendment 8. Other than that, it is lifted very directly from the draft Bill. We are in the difficult position that we all know about, and I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, say-I paraphrase-that we should not be too ambitious with this Bill in trying to import detail. Nevertheless, it seems that these are safeguards which the Government have seen fit to
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I take as my starting point that this Bill is far from perfect. It legitimises three orders with the barest minimum of parliamentary scrutiny. We have had no real opportunity to consider the substance of the orders, despite the valiant efforts of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches in seeking to get some of those issues debated. We are resigned to an imperfect emergency legislative solution to the problem of the Supreme Court's decision, and we have to await a proper Bill to replace it, but I do not believe that means that Parliament's involvement in the Bill should end.
In the draft legislation contained in the Command Paper issued last week, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, Clause 24 sets out the requirement for a quarterly report. A quarterly report, or indeed any report, to Parliament cannot remedy deficiencies in the Act itself, but it is a useful way of reminding Parliament about legislation which can be used to interfere with the rights and liberties of individuals. It is also a useful way of reminding the Executive that they are accountable to Parliament.
My Amendment 11A mirrors Clause 24, somewhat more exactly than the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, with the one exception that she has already pointed out; namely, that it calls for a monthly rather than a quarterly report. The reason for this is simple. This temporary provisions Bill can last only until the end of the year, and will, I hope, be gone sometime before that. In that circumstance, we believe that while the imposition of a monthly report might add a bit to the workload of the Treasury, that is a tiny matter when weighed against the civil liberties issues on the other side of the balance, because we are keeping in place a Bill which many of us regard as imperfect.
Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, goes a little beyond the draft clause, as she explained, and I have no problem with the changes that the Liberal Democrats propose. I hope that I have explained why, even within the context of her amendment, a monthly frequency would be better. I hope that the Government can see that these are reasonable amendments, in the context of this Bill, which has an unsatisfactory legislative solution to a problem. The amendment would not upset the scheme of the emergency Bill, but it would go some way to putting Parliament back where it should be, which is reviewing the practical impact of legislation on the lives of individuals. I hope that the Government will seriously consider accepting either my amendment or that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, or be prepared to come back later this evening with a version of their own.
I find it difficult to support the other amendment in this group. I do not believe that this Bill, when it is an Act, will be in force long enough to make a review of the Act a worthwhile proposition, so I do not think that would be a sensible use of resources, going forward.
Lord Pannick: I support the amendments requiring regular reports to Parliament for the reasons given by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Noakes. These amendments will introduce vital safeguards. This Committee has recognised that this temporary Bill may be on the statute book for another 10 months, despite its imperfections. The Committee has been told that pre-legislative scrutiny may take three months. The temporary measures will inevitably have a very adverse effect on individuals, including those in respect of whom there may be no more than a reasonable suspicion that they may be associated with terrorism.
In those circumstances, it is vital, in order to ensure the protection of the interests of those individuals, and to ensure that this House can perform its vital function of holding the Executive to account, and being informed about what approach this House should take to the substantive legislation when it comes forward, that we see regular reports on the operation of this Bill. The Minister referred at Second Reading, and has referred earlier, to the need for a fair balance. I cannot see what can be weighed in the balance against such a requirement, other than the very minor consideration of administrative convenience.
Lord Myners: My Lords, Amendment 8 requires quarterly reporting by the Treasury to Parliament on the exercise of the powers conferred on it by the Bill. Amendment 11A would require monthly reporting. We recognise the point of these Amendments. The Government understand and support the need to ensure accountability and transparency in the use of our powers. However, with the greatest respect, the amendments are not required. The Treasury already lays a written report before Parliament on the operation of the UK's asset-freezing regime. This report is made on a quarterly basis, which we believe is the right period for such a report, and it includes more than the noble Baroness's amendment requires. As well as information on designations made and licences granted, our-currently quarterly-report details the total assets frozen and the number of case reviews and delistings each quarter. We would be happy to add proceedings taken for an offence to the report, as suggested by the noble Baroness. The next report is due shortly. I am not sure that we could add that information for that report, but I certainly hope so for subsequent reports. I therefore ask that these amendments be withdrawn.
The purpose of Amendment 9 is to appoint an independent person to review the operation of the Bill three months after it comes into force and every three months thereafter. We have included a clause in the longer Terrorist Asset-Freezing Bill, which is available in draft on the Treasury website, to the effect that an independent person should be appointed to review the operation of the Bill nine months from the day it is passed and then annually. However, an independent review is not required for the operation of this temporary
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Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister was very interesting on the subject of the Treasury's quarterly report. Will he explain why the Government's own draft legislation to replace this temporary Bill includes a specific requirement to table a report? If we were considering the draft Bill and I had tabled an amendment to Clause 24, would the Minister not say that the Treasury already does a quarterly report on asset-freezing? I am a bit mystified as to why the draft Bill has a specific requirement to table a report, which seems like a good idea, and why it should not be applied to the Bill that we are now considering.
Lord Myners: Quarterly reporting is appropriate; it happens once every 90 days and keeps Parliament fully informed. We have already indicated that the total number of actions that are taken is relatively modest, and we believe that a quarterly report is appropriate for the temporary Bill, and for the longer Bill when it is considered by Parliament.
Baroness Noakes: Perhaps I could put the question in a different way. Is there a current statutory requirement for the Treasury's quarterly report? If there is, how will it apply to the Bill that we are being asked to make law today?
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: It occurs to me that the previous orders may well contain a statutory obligation to report, although I have not seen it. If there is, the draft Bill would put it in anyway because it would be new, but my noble friend says that there is no such requirement. Perhaps the Minister knows the answer to that.
Lord Myners: I suspect that the noble and learned Lord's analysis is correct. We put this into the new Bill because it is permanent legislation and it therefore makes sense to write it in, but you do not need a statutory requirement for a temporary Bill.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, it is desirable for there to be a report on the things that have been done under the previous orders and that are done under the authority of this Bill. Will the Minister clarify the requirement on the Treasury to make that report? If there was a clear requirement on the Government to make a report, there would be no problem. We are trying to ensure that there is a report. Is the Minister saying simply, "Trust me, I'm the Government", or is he saying, "I have to do it, therefore it's all right"?
Lord Myners: I would never want the noble Baroness to believe that I relied solely on, "Trust me, I'm the Government", but a commitment that is given to Parliament is serious and is not given lightly, and I hope that Parliament will take comfort from the fact that the Attorney-General has been sitting alongside me on the Front Bench during this debate and has in no way pulled my jacket to tell me that it is not appropriate for me to make that commitment.
To avoid doubt, I should say that it is very important that these disclosures are made. I am a member of Liberty, and I have very strong beliefs in justice and in individual freedom. In presenting these proposals to Parliament, only after very careful consideration do I weigh the needs of national security against the risks of encroaching on individual liberty. One of the ways in which Parliament monitors that is through regular, comprehensive and detailed reporting. That remains an essential part of our commitment in support of this temporary legislation.
The Archbishop of York: Will the Minister answer the question asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay? Did the orders that have now become defunct because of the action of the Supreme Court contain the power to report? If this temporary Bill takes those orders into account, there is no fuss; after all, it has a sunset clause. I can understand the Minister saying that the permanent Bill should have it, but will he answer the noble and learned Lord's question, because I have not heard the answer?
Lord Myners: I am sorry; I stand most corrected. We do not currently have a statutory requirement, but we made a commitment to Parliament in December 2006, we have reported to Parliament on a quarterly basis since, and we intend to continue to do so.
Lord Pannick: I must press the Minister on this matter, because I am puzzled by his position. Many statutes impose obligations on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament, particularly in the context of terrorism, and they do so because it is thought important to put such a duty into the Bill, given the importance of the subject matter. A Minister could always say, "That's unnecessary because I am giving a commitment to Parliament that we will do it anyway", but does the Minister not accept that, in the context of this very sensitive Bill and given the circumstances in which it comes before the House, it is particularly important that such an obligation is put into the Bill?
Lord Myners: I hope noble Lords will take great comfort from the fact that we have been reporting to Parliament since December 2006, that the reporting has been as frequent as we indicated it would be at that time, and that we provide more detail than the noble
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Baroness Noakes: Before the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, decides what to do with her amendment, perhaps I may say that we completely understand that the Minister wishes to assure us that he will report. However, it would cost the Government very little to stand behind the good faith that they say they have used in relation to using the order-making power in the past and their wish for us to help them to deal with the problem that has been created by the Supreme Court. It would not cost the Government much but it would give some people comfort to see them taking seriously the representations that have been made. This is a peculiar Bill and, in many respects, it is not satisfactory. We would like a special reporting requirement attached to it. It would last for only this year because the Bill will go at the end of 2010. We think that it would be an act of good faith on the part of the Government if the Minister took this proposal away and brought it back later this evening. Thus, neither of us would need to press the point now.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, this has taken a turn which I did not quite expect. As regards Amendment 9, I take the point that with a sunset clause it might be a bit heavy-handed to seek an independent review. It could be useful but perhaps it is a bit much in the circumstances. However, with regard to reporting, about which far better arguments have been made than those that I advanced in moving the amendment, we have heard assurances about accountability and transparency, and the arrangements which the Government have in place. I do not for a moment doubt the Minister, who is a good chap.
Baroness Hamwee: I hope that the "hear, hear" will be recorded in Hansard. This proposal seems a very proper, sensible and small thing to require. We have not heard from the Minister that he will come back with a clause to cover reporting. I gave people some exercise a few minutes ago and felt that I had justified the Government in keeping their troops here. We should now put the Minister out of his agony and I will seek the opinion of the House.
"(3A) The Treasury shall by licence disapply such prohibitions as are necessary to ensure that the income of a designated person shall not by any action taken under this Order fall below what is necessary for meeting the reasonable domestic needs of the designated person and his family"."
The first amendment provides that the licence to be given by the Treasury will ensure that the reasonable domestic needs of the designated person and his family can be met. Since I tabled the amendment, I have seen the Statement made by the Minister on 5 February, and published afterwards, which deals at some length with the licence regime as it has been applied and as the Government will continue to apply it, and which gives assurances that in addition to the basic expenses listed-the basic humanitarian needs which I was amused to see included, at the top of the list, taxes; taxes might be a humanitarian matter to some, but they might not be so regarded by the designated person-other expenses will be allowed.
The wording of my amendment was taken direct from the Insolvency Act. It seemed to me that there were parallels between this situation and bankruptcy, where the bankrupt is allowed enough leeway and enough income to ensure that his reasonable domestic provisions can be met. The Minister's Statement talks of taking an approach so that designated persons have access to their income and other property in so far as it can be arranged,
However, as that is the basis for the designation and for the very heart of the order, I am not quite clear about its purpose within the licensing arrangements. One needs to start at the other end-not the fact of the designation, but protection for the families in particular. My main concern is that there is no legislative minimum and no possibility of challenge. That is why I have tabled this amendment.
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