§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
I am today placing the report of the review of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 in the Library of the House.
The Act came into force two years ago on 14 December 2001. The outrages committed on 11 th September meant that we faced a new and unprecedented threat. The nature of this threat has been further underlined by the terrorist outrages since then notably in Bali, Singapore, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and most recently Istanbul.
The legislation introduced unique—though not unprecedented—powers. It was therefore right that a number of safeguards were put in place including an independent review committee made up of Privy Counsellors. This was established under the Chairmanship of Lord Newton of Braintree. I gave an undertaking that the Committee's report would be laid before Parliament and that both Houses would be able to debate the contents of their report. I am fulfilling the first part of that commitment today by presenting the report to the House at the earliest opportunity and look forward to debating the matters raised in the New Year.146WS
I am grateful to Lord Newton and his Committee members for the work that has gone into this report and to all those who have contributed to the Committee's review. Their role as Privy Counsellors has enabled them to take evidence from a wide range of individuals and organisations including security and intelligence agencies.
At its heart, the Act focuses on ensuring that there are effective powers in place for dealing with international terrorism. These powers complement those already in place under the Terrorism Act 2000. They were, and are, necessary as a direct response to the public state of emergency existing within the United Kingdom following the events of 11th September. The judgement of the Court of Appeal upheld this when considering the appeal against the derogation from Article 5 of the ECHR which was necessary before the key part 4 powers in the Act could be implemented. Other powers in the Act were needed to tackle crime and especially crimes which are closely associated with terrorism.
As the House would expect given the nature of the legislation, the Committee makes a large number of detailed recommendations, which we are now in the process of considering carefully. I will also want to consider the report alongside that of Lord Carlile (the independent review of the Terrorism Act 2000 and Part 4 of the ATCS Act) and the work of the ISC.
Some few of the Committee's conclusions can be implemented straightforwardly and quickly. For example, the Committee's point on statistics relating to the number of individuals detained under part 4 powers is well made—and I will ensure that these and the figures on terrorist arrests, which are already in the public domain, are placed on the terrorism website.
I am also indicating to the House that I am willing to look very positively at many of Committee's other recommendations. For example, we welcome the Committee's recommendation that powers need to be enhanced to tackle identity theft, a crime that the Government have already identified as requiring urgent attention. We also welcome the Committee's support for strengthening measures to tackle terrorist finance. I will be publishing proposals shortly on strengthening our ability to deal effectively with all forms of organised crime.
While I will, of course, look carefully at what the Committee has said in relation to the detention powers in Part 4 of the Act, I am not convinced that the current threat leaves us with any option but to continue to use these powers
Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 introduced exceptional powers to counter the risks to the United Kingdom posed by terrorist activity of the kind that led to the events of 11 September. I have limited the use of the powers to the terrorist threat posed by A1 Qaida and the network of terrorist groups associated with it. The nature of that threat means that it is right to target those powers at foreign nationals. Because of that the specific powers we introduced are only used when an individual cannot be prosecuted and cannot be removed from the UK because of our international obligations, particularly Article 3 of the ECHR. Nonetheless all of those detained are entitled to 147WS leave the United Kingdom at any time they chose—if a country is prepared to have them and countenance their presence—as two of those certified have already done.
These were not powers I assumed lightly and I have only done so because of the nature of the threat that exists to the United Kingdom. I have never pretended that they are ideal, but I firmly believe that they are currently the best and most workable way to address the particular problems we face. My first responsibility is to protect the public and I believe that I would be failing to do so if the part 4 powers were removed from the armoury of measures available to protect the United Kingdom from specific terrorist threats. Ten of the detainees have already had their cases reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission—where they of course have the right to full legal representation—and in each case my judgement in certifying them has been upheld. I fail to see how the public would be adequately protected from those whom SIAC has confirmed are international terrorists by electronic tagging as the Committee has recommended. This is true not least because communication and organisation are as crucial here as custodial protection in a physical sense.
The Committee conclude very firmly that terrorist are criminals—a view which I wholeheartedly support. I therefore do not accept that as a matter of principle we should separate counter-terrorism legislation from mainstream criminal legislation, terrorism does not fit neatly into such boundaries as has been acknowledged in both the original debate on the Act and the findings of the ISC.
The Committee has used the provisions in section 123 to specify that the whole of the Act be considered when we come to debate its renewal. We will, of course, provide the House with the opportunity to do that. The Anti-terrorism and Crime Act 2001 has improved our ability to fight crime and terrorism and the scope and therefore title of the Act reflects that. I accept that my primary duty is the security and protection of citizens of the United Kingdom and that this measure is a key element in achieving that, look forward to a sensible arid informed debate so that we can continue to build on this foundation whilst recognising the need for appropriate safeguards.