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Mr. Smith: Of course I am not at liberty to reveal all the evidence that we saw; but, yes, considerable surveillance activity is indeed taking place, and rightly so. Irrespective of whether someone is a British citizen or a foreign national, one of the basic principles should be that the protection that we as a society need should be the same whoever happens to pose the threat.
Finally, we also proposed restricting suspected individuals' access to bank accounts, telephone communications and so on as a means of providing some protection for society without denying those individuals their total liberty as part 4 does.
I am very glad that the Home Secretary has said that he will consider many of the Newton committee's recommendations, but I plead with him to show at least some concern about the central issue in relation to part 4: its fundamental overturn of a central principle on which the stability and liberty of our society is based. If it is at all possible to identify not just one alternative but a range of alternatives that, taken together, can provide something better for our society, it is surely incumbent on the House to try to find them.
It was with that in mind that we tabled the amendment. We believe that, as the report says, a balance has to be struck between the Home Secretary's need to ensure that he protects us, as citizens, from terror, and the need to ensure that we have good, proper principles of justice that protect the privacy and liberty of individuals. We wish to explore the latter aspect of that balance. In doing so, however, I state for the record that we all have to make difficult judgments, especially the Home Secretary. If an incident were to occur, the Home Secretary would obviously be responsible for taking on that burden.
The report is excellent and helps us to deal with those difficult balances. I pay tribute to the Privy Councillors who came together on a cross-party basis to put forward its recommendations. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), so I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will be able to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We welcome the tone used by the Home Secretary this afternoon and the language used in the discussion paper that he launched this morning. I welcome the suggestion that there should be a six-month review of these measures. If I had known that yesterday, we might have taken a slightly different view of whether we wished to table an amendment, because the point of it was to tell the Home Secretary that it was unacceptable to continue to implement these measures without undertaking a more urgent review. By introducing the six-month review, the Home Secretary shows that he recognises, to some extent, that a more urgent response is required than merely noting the contents of the Privy Councillors' report, as the Government's motion suggests.
The timing of the debate is appropriate, not only because of tomorrow's debate on the statutory instrument that takes the measure forward, but because, following the recent events in Camp Delta, there has again been a focus on the principle of holding individuals without charge. There should be no possibility of a similar situation in this country. Of course, I accept that there are different technical circumstances, but the underlying principle is the same.
Although Parliament debated these systems and structures two years ago, and they have been in place since then, we face the same threatening situation. I do not buy the argument that things have moved on and there is less of a threat now than there was then. Although there has not been an atrocity in recent months, that does not mean for one minute that we do not still live in an extremely difficult situation. The Home Secretary knows about that threat better than anyone else.
Last year, Liberal Democrat Members decided not to vote against the provision to continue part 4, because there was a tense situation and no alternatives had been proposed. However, we judge that now the time is right to address these issues. Tomorrow, when the statutory instrument is debated in Committee, we will oppose the Government's plans.
The Newton report's recommendations on part 4 are important, because there are several key reasons why it is time to look at it again. We should remind ourselves that we are the only European country that has sought a derogation from that part of the European convention. I accept the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) that other countries may be sailing close to the wind, but their behaviour could be challenged. If the French fell foul of the convention, somebody could mount a challenge. However, we remain the only country that has sought a derogation and kept it in place.
The recommendations in the Privy Council report provide an opportunity to look again at whether we want to retain part 4 of the 2001 Act. The Privy Councillors' language is not mild. They recommend things strongly and say that they are deeply concerned. I hope that the Home Secretary accepts the general principle that if one establishes a set of individuals to review a system, there is a serious obligation to listen to their findings. The period of time for which the measures have been in place is another reason why there should be a review.
First, it is not right to hold individuals indefinitely without any idea of what their long-term prospects are. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed highlighted a second reason why time is a critical consideration. We do not know when the war on terrorism will be over, and have introduced temporary measures to tackle a situation that we may have assumed after 11 September was temporary. However, it has become clear that it is not, so we surely need more permanent solutions to tackle a situation that, I suspect, we will have to live with for many years to come.
The third reason why it is appropriate to look at part 4 now is the growing evidence of some of the tensions that it is causing among the Muslim population in this country. If they feel that the rights of fellow Muslims are less important, the good will and community relations that we need to continue building in those groups will surely be undermined. I do not necessarily share his sentiments, but the president of the Muslim Association of Britain said:
Having set out my arguments for reviewing and removing part 4, the Home Secretary would be right to ask me and others what we would do, as we have to be responsible about these issues. There are two problems in answering that honestly and with clarity, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) suggested. I do not know the detailed circumstances of the individuals who are currently being held. I can offer a range of suggestions, and endorse and support the recommendations of the Newton committee, but for some individuals held in Belmarsh, surveillance, tagging and intercepts would not be adequate. If, for example, there were any evidence or suggestion that one of them was determined to take part in a suicide attack, I acknowledge that some of my suggestions would not deal adequately with such a threat. Without knowledge of individual cases, I accept that it is difficult to produce alternative solutions.
Let us consider the Newton report. Before we examine the detail of new technology and surveillance, one recommendation has not been mentioned enough: making more use of the existing, normal criminal justice system. The report referred to the case in January 2002 of two Algerians who were charged with membership of al-Qaeda. The charge was dropped before trial but, a year later, they were both jailed for 11 years after being found guilty of raising cash for terrorism. That made them the first people with suspected al-Qaeda links to be imprisoned in Britain. The case shows that existing criminal law may afford opportunities to succeed in getting prosecutions. If a lower charge made it possible to convict, sentence and imprison an individual, that would be preferable to detaining someone without charge for a more serious crime.