|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. We have heard some powerful speeches from Members on both sides of the House and I single out the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), whose speech we all enjoyed, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge- Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I would say that it was one of my right hon. and learned Friend's best speeches except that I used to be his speech writer, and I know that he made better speeches earlier in his career.
It is good that we have heard high quality speeches because we are discussing, once again, the distinction between freedom and securitythe distinction between the civil liberties of the individual and the liberty of civil society. Once again, we face a GovernmentI take the point that other Governments have done the same, including Conservative Governmentswho claim the power of the moment, in this case the events of 11 September, to infringe further on our civil liberties. However, that need not stop Members of Parliament scrutinising carefully the legislation that is put before us and giving each clause due consideration. We must test whether the legislation is strictly necessary.
I shall concentrate on part 4 of the Bill, which so many hon. Members have discussed. It will drive a coach and horses through 800 years of legal history, stemming from habeas corpus, and we must be careful about excluding people from legal processes and about ruling out judicial review. I notice that one clause is actually called "Exclusion of legal proceedings". That is not an appropriate approach.
We know who is behind the Bill; anyone who has followed the Home Secretary's remarks in recent weeks will know that he has no time for lawyers. Indeed, he was reported in The Times immediately after he spoke at the Labour party conference as saying:
The Home Secretary tells us that he has to take these powers because, in effect, he is hindered by human rights lawyers. That is not the case. What really restricts his power to act are the various international agreements and conventions that Governments of all parties have entered into on our behalf. We are being asked to erode the historic liberties of our country, including hundreds of years of common law and habeas corpus, so that we can twist our way around international agreements. That does not make for a pretty spectacle. Later this evening, we will go through the legal charade of claiming that this country is in a state of public emergency so that we can get part of the Bill through this House of Commons which is democratically elected by the people of this country. That is not a happy state of affairs.
Clause 23 states the position explicitly:
I noticed in the recent appeal brought by the Home Secretary against certain asylum seekers who objected to being detained that the court said that
Vernon Coaker (Gedling): The terrible events of 11 September have caused us all to think about how we can try to prevent such an awful thing from happening again on the world stage. It has also made us think about how we protect our citizens and country and ensure, as far as possible, that all can live in peace and safety. How to guarantee such security poses a dilemma for democracies and for democrats. For the essence of democracy is freedomthe freedom to protest and freedom of movement, speech, association and thought. Such freedoms must be protected against those who seek to destroy them. How should we respond to those who threaten those freedoms at home and would undermine our democracy? That is what the Bill is about and what it seeks to defend.
As always, in a liberal democracy, there is tensioneven conflictbetween the public interest and the civil liberty of the individual. It is, however, understood by all
If an individual seeks to bring terror to the lives of countless others through the bomb, the gun or other means, does society not have a right to protect the human rights of those countless threatened people through the denial of that individual's human rights? That is what causes many to deplore those who use the very freedoms treasured by all of us to undermine and threaten our democracy. It is ridiculous that the Government can do nothing while terrorists use our immigration and asylum laws, which offer genuine refugees a safe haven, as a means of staying here and openly pursuing their hostile opinions. Thus, the Home Secretary is taking action to address that anomaly through the Bill.
The Bill will guarantee the individual rights of the majority by restricting the rights of a small number. That change is demanded loudly and clearly across the country in every constituency, and will reverberate through every estate. Ordinary people can see a clear difference between ensuring that a suspected terrorist can face special detention procedures and a threat to everyone's civil liberties. They can see a clear difference between tackling effectively those who would maim and terrorise and those who seek to protest through democratic means.
In my view, if we did not seek to strengthen our laws as the Bill proposes, following the events of 11 September, the majority of our citizens would be staggered by our complacency. For them, this is not an abstract debate; it is about ensuring that the civil liberties that count are those of the majority of our citizensthose who are law abiding and respectful of democracy, who are tolerant and who see our multicultural society as a huge strength. They demand that we should, above all, safeguard their human rights and freedoms. Not enough has been said about their rights and civil liberties.
If the Bill restricts freedoms, it is the freedom to terrorise, and most people believe it is right and proper that it does so. They can see a difference between that and persecuting minorities, banning dissent or unpopular opinions and undermining our traditional rights and freedoms.
In any society, the security of its citizens has to be one of the major tasks of Governments. Strong measures are necessary to tackle the threat of terrorism. We simply cannot and must not put the rights of an individual above those of the majority. For too long, ordinary people have been frustrated; they believe that they have seen the erosion of their right to feel safe. They have felt ignored as they have seen individuals exploit the judicial system, use our democracy and abuse our desire for fairness and freedom under the law: 11 September has given them a voice and the confidence to demand that their rightsthe rights of decent, law-abiding peoplebe respected above those of the terrorist. Parliamenttheir Parliamentmust respond to that demand: not to undermine democracy, but to sustain it.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): We have had a fascinating debate. An illustration of the advantage of starting the main business immediately after questions is that the debate has been much fuller than might otherwise
As I contemplate the contributions that have been made, I note that the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) is in a small minority. Only the hon. Members for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) and the hon. Gentleman tried to justify the entirety of what the Home Secretary came to the House to propose. The vast majority of the contributions made during this fascinating debate expressed grave reservations about sections and components of the legislation.
Those anxieties and fears are shared by Opposition Members. It is abundantly clear that in embarking on emergency legislation, designed to respond to sudden and horrific events, we must be extremely careful not to go beyond the bounds of what is proper, and try to ensure that civil liberties are upheld.
I was especially struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). He highlighted the behaviour of the United Kingdom Government during the period of the French revolution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) noted that similar excesses occurred in France at the same time. It must be a characteristic that one action sets off another. The greater the tendency of this Parliament to legislate and to raise the temperature, the greater the knock-on effect, which can go far beyond this country, in creating a climate where people want to suppress activities that they think may be prejudicial to the safety of the state.
We have heard powerful contributions from several of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I apologise if I am unable to go through all of them in detail. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) expressed his concerns about the religious hatred clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) spoke on the same theme.
I have already mentioned the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. He made telling points about what happens when religious tolerance and religious hatred come into conflict. We also heard the views of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter).
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made what I can only describe as a fizzing speech. He was moving around behind me throughout his speech and I was never quite sure where he was going to pop up next.
My hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) all made speeches on the same theme. Although they accepted the need for emergency legislation, they expressed disquiet about its scope.
I turn to the way in which the Opposition would have wanted to approach such a Bill in the circumstances that have arisen. First, I point out to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have expressed disquiet and, indeed, opposition that I completely understand their position and have great sympathy with it, but the problem is that it is difficult to escape the fact that the events of 11 September were extremely unusual. They amounted to terrorism on a scale that the world has not seen before. It is all very
I was struck by the contribution made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). He made one of his characteristic speeches on civil liberties, with which I have so much sympathy. However, he began by saying that, when those events took place his mind turned to places such as Sellafield or nuclear power installations, where a catastrophe could occur if unscrupulous terrorists were involved. The House would do well to ponder the fact that, if such an event were to occur, under the European convention on human rights it would fall within the category of an event threatening the life of the nation. The Home Secretary grimaces slightly, but let us consider the issue sensibly.
I used to be involved in legal work on nuclear safety, and I remember a case involving a power station on Anglesey. Although terrorist bombs may kill people, events involving nuclear power stations could lead to widespread nuclear contamination, with catastrophic consequences not only because they would kill a large number of people, but because they would jeopardise ordinary life. At the time of the Lockerbie air disaster, fears were expressed about the fact that the plane could have crashed into the Chapel Cross nuclear power station, whereas the plane passed over it on its way down. The House would do well to ponder such events.
We accept that some of the Home Secretary's proposals seem to constitute a measured and sensible response to the emergency that has arisen. Indeed, I have listened to some of the points made by hon. Members, and few have reservations about part 6 on weapons of mass destruction or part 7 on the security of pathogens, or about the extra protection for the nuclear industry in part 8.
Most tellingly, I heard no hon. Member criticise part 9 on aviation security. We expected such measures to appear in the Bill. Indeed, provisions such as those on communications data and police powers may well be targeted specifically on terrorism. It is for that reason that we on the official Opposition Front Bench support the Government on the Bill, but it is for that reason only. I am bound to tell the Home Secretary that an awful lot in the Bill does not seem to be about the emergency that has arisen at all. [Hon. Members: "You are going soft."] One can never go soft on issues involving civil libertiesa point that I made in Committee to the Under- Secretary, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), in debates on the Proceeds of Crime Bill, to which, I am afraid, he seems remarkably oblivious. We will not go soft on those issues; we want them to be considered carefully, and I shall simply tell the House what we will seek to do.
First and foremost, in relation to some of the issues, such as police powers, we will seek to amend the Bill to make it absolutely clear that, where extra powers are provided, they are for the purpose of fighting terrorism and that they do not represent a general enhancement of ordinary powers to deal with criminals, which should be given close scrutiny and not passed as emergency legislation at all. It appears that there is absolutely no reason why the provision on the communication of data should not be confined to offences that relate to terrorism. I do not understand why it should be so difficult to isolate
With the assistance of the Liberal Democrats, we intend to give the provisions for internment in part 4 the closest possible scrutiny. First and foremost, one need only examine the detailed wording to realise that the provision on the grounds under which proceedings may be brought can be substantially tightened up. The question of mere belief should give way to the question of substantial ground to believe, and we shall seek to amend the Bill accordingly.
On the internment provisions, we shall seek in Committee to ensure that there is judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision-making powers so that those who see the provisions in operation consider that they are manifestly fair and that they do not have the taintan unintended taint, I knowof being a purely administrative procedure that has been taken out of the hands of the judiciary. I do not share the Home Secretary's phobias about the judiciary in this country; they have served us extremely well. Therefore, it is perhaps unfortunate that he should have introduced the Bill having prefaced his remarks so frequently with disparaging comments that are bound in the circumstances to make Members question the basis of his approach.
We shall also examine carefully whether there are alternatives to internment. It may be justified but, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset pointed out, there are substantial problems involving the duration of the internment, the public resistance that may arise when someone is incarcerated and deprived of their liberty and the relationship between internment and the Home Secretary's undoubted powers to deport.
It is fascinating that the two reports produced by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Joint Committee on Human Rightsneither of which is exactly dominated by Opposition Membersmake absolutely clear the oddity of the situation by which the interpretation of article 3, as developed by jurisprudence in the European Court of Human Rights, seems to fly in the face of common sense. It beggars belief that the Home Secretary should not be able to choose to deport someone to countries to which people could properly be deported. I refer to those countries that any right-thinking person would believe provide a reasonable standard of justice and that do not torture people or arbitrarily put them to death. If, after the due process of justice, it is decided that someone should suffer the death penalty after he had committed serious terrorist offences in another country, most people in this country would consider that to be a matter for the person who decided to commit a terrorist act in that country in the first place.
In those circumstances, we shall probe the possibility of introducing before the House measures that will enable the Home Secretary to deport people to the countries that I have mentioned. As he has the powers under domestic law, he should have the courage of his convictions or at least the courage of the convictions of the Home Affairs Committee or the Human Rights Committee, which have suggested that he should grasp the nettle and introduce such powers for himself and exercise them in a way that no one in the House could possibly fault. That would
I merely point out that hardly anyone who has spoken in the debate has had a good word about the Bill's provisions on religious hatred. Although they may be well intended, I suspect that they are unworkable and capable of bringing about great injustice, A wide range of people may be caught by them. The protections will not apply simply to people in established religions, but to those who wish to carry out practices that most people would regard as abhorrent. They will enjoy a protection from criticism that the Home Secretary will come to regret.
I very much hope that my hon. Friends and hon. Members in general, while supporting the principles that the Government are trying to achieve, will give the Bill close scrutiny. We will support the Government only on that condition. We will want the Bill to be amended to ensure that when it leaves Parliament it is in a state of which we can be proud and not, as it stands at present, in a state that causes great disquiet for our civil liberties.