HC Deb 30 November 1995 vol 267 cc1315-8
1. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on how many occasions in the last two years his actions have been declared unlawful in the courts. [1351]

5. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for the Department on how many occasions his policies have been the subject of court decisions. [1356]

7. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the cost to public funds since 1979 of judicial reviews following which his actions as Minister have been judged unlawful. [1358]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

Hundreds of applications for judicial review are made each year. Detailed information on individual cases is not collected centrally. The vast majority of cases are judged by the courts to be without foundation. No information is available on the total cost of the applications.

Mr. Banks

I actually asked how many of the Home Secretary's actions over the past two years had been declared unlawful. The answer is squillions, it seems to us. If the Home Secretary were not so smug, complacent and arrogant, he would not get turned over in the courts so often. Why does he not start listening to his own advisers and experts, and other people who know about such things? Or is he satisfied to carry on following his own prejudices? If he carries on like that, he will become known as the old lag of British politics.

Mr. Howard

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be encouraged and much comforted to know that the proportion of cases that succeed is not as high as it used to be. The difficulty is that the many cases that fail just do not seem to get as much publicity as the few that succeed.

Mr. Skinner

Why does the Home Secretary not have the nerve to admit that he has persistently offended—nine times since he has had his present job? Is he aware that Government money is available for sending young children who are persistent offenders on safari trips? We would be prepared to fund one for him. Better still, he could go to California, where if someone persistently offends, not nine times but three times, it is "Three strikes and you're out."

Mr. Howard

I had not intended to visit California in the summer recess, but now that I know that the hon. Gentleman will fund my visit I shall certainly consider going.

Mr. Cunningham

The Home Secretary has demonstrated by his reply that he is a bad bookkeeper. Can he explain why, although the Prime Minister said that there would be an extra 5,000 police officers over the next two or three years, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, through the local authority standard spending assessments, has cut £80 million off local authority budgets—budgets that have to provide for the fight against crime?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The police settlement has increased by 4 per cent. for the forthcoming year, and that will include funding to pay for the extra officers that the Prime Minister announced to the party conference. We are making good the promises that we made.

Mr. Charles Wardle

If the European Court of Justice feels able to make a mockery of his decisions on excluding foreign nationals on the ground of national security, what does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it will do with our internal frontier controls and the legally worthless 1985 declaration, which for years senior officials and legal advisers have told the Government has no protection in law?

Mr. Howard

As my hon. Friend knows, we have made clear on many occasions our determination to maintain our frontier controls. As for this morning's decision, to which I believe my hon. Friend was referring, it goes not to the substance of the exclusion order-making power, but only to procedures. So far as I can see, the only likely effect is that those subject to it are likely to be detained in custody instead of being allowed to leave the country while the exclusion order is being considered.

Sir Teddy Taylor

How on earth can the Home Secretary justify or explain the European Court's statement that this country unlawfully excluded people who were a threat or a danger to this country solely because we were contravening article 9A of the Maastricht treaty, bearing in mind the assurances which the Government gave to the whole House during the debates on the treaty that security matters were entirely for this particular Government and other democratic Governments? Is not this a terribly serious issue? Will we now have to give compensation from taxpayers' funds to those whom we excluded on the ground of national security?

Mr. Howard

I have some sympathy with the views expressed by my hon. Friend, and I very much regret the European Court's decision. But it is a very narrow and limited decision which does not deal with the substance of the exclusion order power. The decision deals only with the procedural aspects of that power, and we shall resist— I believe successfully—any claim for compensation that is made.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Is it not the nature of my right hon. and learned Friend's Department to be subject to more judicial reviews than any other Department? Has life not become impossible for Ministers, whose every administrative decision is challenged in the courts? Is he aware that the courts are spending much more of their resources on dealing with judicial reviews than they want to, bearing in mind the rest of the ordinary activities of the courts? Is it not time that we seriously started to consider reducing the scope of that remedy?

Mr. Howard

It is certainly true that the number of applications for judicial review is increasing considerably. I am surprised at the enthusiasm which is shown for the process by Opposition Members. The shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, recently warned against greater activism in judicial review". He went on to describe some of the views recently expressed by judges as contrary to the established law and usages of our country". I have never gone that far.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Home Secretary agree that this morning's decision by the European Court simply declares what is, in almost every case, the existing practice—namely, that prevention of terrorism exclusion suspects are given the opportunity to make representations, that those representations are made to an entirely independent person and that the Government recognise that judicial review is a remedy which is available to all who are affected by Government action if permission is granted by a court? Will he tell his hon. Friends who have been babbling about the effect of Europe on this issue that, in fact, the Government have no difficulty whatsoever with this decision, which does not undermine the provisions of the prevention of terrorism Act in any significant way?

Mr. Howard

It is true that the decision does not undermine the provisions of the prevention of terrorism Act, and we would never allow the provisions of that Act to be undermined. But it is clear that the European Court takes a different view of the procedures that we follow.

Mr. Carlile

It does not.

Mr. Howard

Oh yes it does. We must consider the precise implications of that decision, which—as I have indicated to my hon. Friends—I very much regret. The only consequence of the decision appears to be that people who are suspected will have to be detained in custody, whereas now they do not have to be detained.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this House—the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom—has, year upon year, made its view on the prevention of terrorism exclusion orders abundantly plain? Does he agree that the House has stated that the Home Secretary should have the power to exclude those people? We are now told that there is something wrong with that arrangement because of a directive agreed 31 years ago when we were not members of the Community. Is not the sovereignty of this House at risk because of the European situation?

Mr. Howard

I would be more concerned if the effect of the decision was in any way to take away the powers of the Home Secretary to decide on exclusion, but it does not do that. The court has made a limited criticism of some of the procedures, but we can adapt our procedures without any difficulty. As I have stated, the only consequence of the decision is likely to be that people will have to be detained in custody while we consider their representations, whereas at present they can leave the country without being detained.

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