Today is the Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill, which replaces Control Orders with the new TPIMs. The Bill is a shabby tawdry compromise between the different wings of the Coalition Government and is likely to satisfy no-one. This is my speech (without the interruptions):
“My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority with particular responsibility for overseeing the Met’s work on security and counter-terrorism.
Earlier this week, I went to a meeting with Carie Lemack. Her mother was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center ten years ago. She went on to co-found Families of September 11 and later the Global Survivors Network which brings together the survivors of terrorist attacks across the world and their family members.
Her testimony is an international reminder about why the fight to combat terrorism is so important: families are destroyed, individuals are left bereft and the effects last a lifetime. I am sure no one in your Lordship’s House wants to see repeated the suffering of those terribly injured in the London transport attacks or the grief felt by those bereaved.
And that is why it is a paramount duty of Governments to protect the security of their citizens, to protect those citizens’ right to life, and to protect all of us against terrorism.
The problem that Government faces is simple to state, but is not easy to resolve.
In essence, it is this: what does the Home Secretary do about those individuals who pose a serious risk to the lives of British citizens, but against whom there is insufficient evidence to bring them before a court charged with a terrorist offence? The evidence may not be admissible in British Courts or it may rely on material gathered by UK intelligence agencies that would compromise the safety and security of others if it were publicly disclosed or it is derived from intelligence from overseas agencies that is provided on the basis that it must not be disclosed.
Yet a responsible Home Secretary cannot ignore that those individuals pose a significant risk, cannot turn a blind eye to the threat that is there and cannot fail to take some action to protect the rest of us. To do nothing would be a dereliction of that responsibility to protect the public. Control orders were an attempt to provide us with that protection in those very small number of cases where no other action is possible. And it is a power that has been rarely used, despite the dire warnings that were issued when the powers were first proposed.
This Bill, however, is nothing more than a shoddy compromise which weakens our security and yet does nothing to satisfy those with concerns about civil liberties.
It is a compromise that demonstrates the weakness of this Government as it tries to square the circle between the two wings of the coalition, epitomised by a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister and a Conservative Home Secretary – trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.
The current Control Order regime is not, of course, satisfactory. No-one has ever seriously tried to pretend that it was. However, it was an honest attempt by the previous Government to balance the free and liberal tradition of this country with the need for security.
The present Government was formed with an explicit commitment to replace the Control Order regime. It was a commitment made in the coalition agreement. And the Deputy Prime Minister was voluble in his promises about what this would mean, telling us that this would – and I quote – “give people’s freedom back”.
However, let us be quite clear, the Bill does not do anything like enough to satisfy those who have reservations about the previous control order regime and its implications for the civil liberties of those subject to that regime.
Shami Chakrabati, the Director of Liberty, has said that control orders have simply been rebranded, albeit in a slightly “lower-fat” form, or as their briefing puts it:
“the TPIM regime essentially mirrors the control order system in all of its most offensive elements”
Indeed, this Bill must be something of an embarrassment for those Liberal Democrats who spent so long in this House criticising the previous Government for introducing and using Control Orders.
There is silence today from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who in 2005 when the control order legislation was going through your Lordships House, said on behalf of the Liberal Democrats that control orders would constitute:
“a blatant abuse of what we have known as the proper processes of justice.”
There is silence today from the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who again spoke out unequivocally from the Lib Dem frontbench:
“The first and fundamental issue, which is central to all the arguments advanced in this debate, is who should be responsible for the decision to make control orders. On these Benches, it is clear that the proposals made in the Bill are not acceptable.“
The silence of the LibDem lambs.
I should say that I absolve from the accusation of silence the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who we will be hearing from in a moment. In 2005, he was equally trenchant, but I have faith that he at least will be consistent when he speaks.
So this Bill cannot satisfy those who feel that the current arrangements are disproportionate, draconian and destructive of our liberties.
Yet, the Bill does water down the control order regime. It raises the threshold from “reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorism” to “reasonable belief that the individual is or has been involved” before action can be taken against an individual.
It limits what conditions can be placed on those individuals and crucially it removes the power to relocate individuals away from those localities where they may mix and conspire with others.
For those of us who believe that sometimes the Government must take unpalatable measures to protect us, those are crucial changes. They leave us all vulnerable.
Let no-one pretend that the threat has gone away – the recent arrests of seven individuals (now charged) in Birmingham as the Liberal Democrats gathered there for their conference are a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant against that threat.
And the Home Secretary has had to acknowledge how critical all of this. Within days of taking office, within days of the Coalition Agreement being signed, she was presented with information that persuaded her – a rational and responsible individual – that despite the coalition rhetoric about control orders and the need for them to be abolished – that she should personally approve the imposition on a number of people of precisely the same orders that the Government is now abolishing.
And then, only in February – after the Government had announced its proposals, she agreed a control order on a British-Nigerian terror suspect, who apparently – according to MI5 – is a leading figure in a “close group of Islamic extremists in north London”. He was banned from living in the capital under the terms of that control order. In May, according to the Guardian, the high court dismissed an appeal by the man, saying that his removal to an undisclosed address “in a Midlands city” was necessary to protect the public from the “immediate and real” risk of a terrorist related-attack.
So in February, it was necessary to place restrictions on that individual as to where he could live – effectively relocating him from North London to the Midlands – something which under this Bill would not be possible.
If this Bill becomes law, that individual will be free to move back to London in the New Year – just weeks before the Olympics – to renew the associations that only a few short months ago were deemed by a rational and responsible Home Secretary to be so dangerous that a control order was needed along with the relocation of that individual.
I would like to ask the noble Lord, the Minister, what will have changed between the time when the Home Secretary approved that order and the time when the individual concerned is to be allowed to move back to London. Are we being told that the fresh air of the West Midlands conurbation and its bucolic atmosphere will have so changed the personality of the individual concerned that he now poses so much less of a threat.
Because just eight months ago that rational and responsible Home Secretary on the information presented to her felt that the individual concerned was so dangerous that not only did he need to be subject to a control order but that he should be relocated miles away from his previous environment.
And she made that judgement knowing that this Bill would remove that option and would tie her hands in the future.
That rational and responsible Home Secretary made that judgement knowing that however much of a danger that that person might be thought to be such an outcome was to be taken away. So the noble Lord, the Minister, needs to reassure us, he needs to tell us why the judgement that the Home Secretary made then will no longer apply to this individual when this Bill becomes law.
Perhaps we should not expect the noble Lord the Minister to go through such contortions: all he needs to concede instead is that, yes, the Home Secretary made that judgement then in the interests of our nation’s security, but that this shabby, tawdry compromise of a Bill would prevent her making that same judgement in the future, and that this shabby, tawdry compromise is not just a compromise between two wings of an uneasy and unhappy coalition but that it is a compromise with this nation’s security.”