Julian Huppert MP writes: It’s time to bail out TPIMs

Labour’s approach to dealing with the threat of terrorism was illiberal and ineffective. The regime they built was topped off by control orders, which remain one of the most odious elements of their legacy. These orders totally bypassed due legal process, establishing a bewildering clandestine world of secret evidence, special advocates and draconian restrictions that would have made Kafka blush.

The irony was that all this authoritarian paraphernalia, which did great damage to civil liberties many of us had previously taken for granted, failed utterly to achieve its intended purpose. Not a single person subject to a control order has ever been successfully prosecuted. In addition, seven of the 48 people supposedly held by these measures have absconded. So we lost track of 15% of people who were apparently the most dangerous in the country.

So, in opposition, we opposed control orders both because they were totally illiberal, and because they were simply not working as a tool for tackling terrorism. The Conservatives also opposed control orders, although their voting record, as with so many other proposals from Labour Home Secretaries, told a different story.

Now in government, after a long battle over substance, both parties in Coalition have brought forward proposals to scrap control orders and replace them with technocratic-sounding ‘Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures’ – or TPIMs for short. Sadly, these proposals are far from what we would have introduced on our own; for example, Lord Macdonald’s review of counter-terrorist legislation made recommendations which, unsurprisingly, would have been far more palatable for Liberal Democrats.

I have been appointed to the Bill Committee, and so it falls to me to help improve the government’s proposals. Labour have kept up their illiberal approach on this Committee, asking for control orders to be restored, and even greater powers. The shadow Minister even said, “there are times when people have to be outside the legal framework.”

To try to improve things, and with considerable help from Liberty, the human rights organisation, I brought around 80 amendments aimed at ensuring the security and liberty of our society. They would have achieved this by creating a system where the Home Secretary could apply to the High Court for a TPIMs notice, which, if granted, would remove the bar on police bail for suspected terror offences in individual cases. A Chief Constable would then be able to apply bail conditions as necessary (including all of those proposed under TPIMs) to ensure our security was protected. This would restore due legal process and support prosecution.

Unfortunately, the Committee didn’t seem inclined to listen to my proposals, let alone accept them. But the important thing is the principle: I did not want to miss the opportunity both to restore liberty and to ensure our nation’s security. Only by prosecuting terrorist suspects can we obtain the public safety we desire, and only by following due legal process and the rule of law can we retain or restore essential freedoms.

We can have due legal process, security and liberty. We must avoid the trap of sacrificing one for the sake of the others.

Julian Huppert is the MP for Cambridge & a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

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5 Comments

  • So in effect, you failed to prevent your coalition government from replacing control orders with something equally as illiberal. Because just like pregnancy, something can not be a little bit illiberal, or more so, or less.

  • Without seeing the details your proposals sounded entirely logical.

    Unfortunately, as they currently stand TPIM’s are a disgrace. All the fanfare of getting rid of Control Orders has been shown to be hot air. Lib Dems should vote against the Bill unless it is suitably amended.

  • Malcolm Todd 29th Jun '11 - 4:09pm

    @jayu
    “So in effect, you failed to prevent your coalition government from replacing control orders with something equally as illiberal. Because just like pregnancy, something can not be a little bit illiberal, or more so, or less.”

    What utter twaddle. Apart from the logical inconsistency – if one thing cannot be more or less illiberal than another, then it makes no sense to describe it as “equally illiberal” – the basic premise is clearly invalid. For example, the French law that bans wearing face coverings in public is clearly more illiberal (or less liberal, if you prefer) than the English law that bans nudity in (most) public situations, but less illiberal than a law which prescribes a specific dress code (e.g. requiring you to cover your face and body, which I think was the law for women in Afghanistan under the Taliban).

    TPIMs may not be great and I’m not yet clear whether they are much of an advance on control orders (though I’m pretty sure they are an improvement), but you can’t get out of arguing about their relative merits by pretending that there’s no such thing as relativity.

  • Control orders were a temporary measure subject to yearly review and renewal by Parliament. TPIM’s are permanent and thus represent an even greater threat to our liberties than control orders. You either believe in the rule of law or you don’t. Nobody who votes through these measures can remotely be described as a liberal.

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