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Mr. Hogg: One of the mischiefs of the power to detain under part 4 as it stands is that it removes the incentive for the prosecution authorities to strive strenuously to bring a prosecution in conventional terms.
Mr. Oaten: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an excellent point, which reverts to the question whether our starting point should be ascertaining whether we can find another form of crime that would lead to a satisfactory prison sentence and thus provide the necessary security against any terror threat. I hope that the Home Secretary will acknowledge that that should be the starting point, and not seeking a different sort of prosecution that will be difficult to achieve. In the case of the 14 individuals who are being held, I hope that every effort has been made to find another way of detaining them on full charge.
Let us consider intercepted communications and relaxing their blanket use. I do not want to repeat all the arguments that have been presented, but I hope that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration will provide some clarification about what appears to be an ongoing review. The Government seem to have committed themselves in the past to a review of the blanket ban. I hope that the Minister can confirm that the review will be completed at the same time as the six-month review of the Newton report that the Home Secretary mentioned. Logic suggests that the two have to happen together because the use of intercepted communications is a critical way forward. It would be a pity if the reviews were not completed at the same time.
Liberal Democrat Members are more than happy to accept that, although the use of surveillance, technology and intercepted communications is not ideal, it is preferable to some of what the Home Secretary raised in connection with his trip to India and Pakistan. I want to
I accept the Home Secretary's arguments that the matter is not as simple as it sounds and that using the information entails a danger of revealing the sources and the evidence. However, the Newton report states that the Government have currently got the balance wrong. It states that it has not been struck in the right place if intercepted communications can never be used evidentially. Much more could be done on that.
Vera Baird: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Does he know that, in court cases in the UK, frequent use is made of foreign phone taps, which are admitted not daily, but certainly on a weekly basis? Shortly before I entered the House, I worked on a case concerning an Anglo-Dutch drug ring in which phones had undoubtedly been intercepted at both ends, but the English intercept could not be used while the Dutch intercept could. The Dutch police had no worries about disclosing their operational methodologythe defence expert was allowed to examine the machinery used to make an intercept.
Mr. Oaten: The hon. and learned Lady makes a powerful point. The world is moving forward quickly and, as she has already pointed out, we are not that far away from making progress. The Newton report contains a couple of suggestions about how we can protect sources for evidencefor example, the use of special advocates or, as is the case in France, a judge who can access the information. There are ways forward, and we hope that the Home Secretary will address the issue sooner rather than later.
On surveillance, it is bizarre to suggest that some of those individuals should be tagged and, if there were a genuine fear of terrorism, I acknowledge that it would not be sufficient for them to pop into a police station every now and then. With the available technology and the increased resources announced by the Home SecretaryI accept that he cannot clarify whether they have already been put in place or are for the futuresufficient surveillance staff should be available to MI5.
Surveillance is a powerful tool not only in obtaining evidence to achieve a prosecution but in preventing terrorism. It is also a powerful tool because we could release some of the individuals whom we hold and place them under surveillance. A surveillance package that examines not only tagging but all the technologyI accept that it is expensive and time-consumingwould be a sensible way forward. I hope that the Home Secretary will carefully examine how to implement more surveillance. However, surveillance would not be sufficient to tackle the threat of a suicide attack, if it exists.
I conclude by touching on some issues that I am surprised the Home Secretary has not raised today, because journalists such as Alan Travis from The
Lowering the standard of proof is a matter for considerable concern. As I said earlier, Liberal Democrat Members say yes to new technology and new forms of evidence collection, but we have serious concerns about examining the lowering of the standard of proof. The standard of proof has already been lowered in such cases in relation to "reasonable suspicion" and "reasonable belief". Although I accept that the Home Secretary has gone to some lengths in addressing the matter, we would be concerned if he went further. Can he confirm that his six-month review will not examine reducing the standard of proof? It looks like the review will cover that point, because he is not intervening.
Mr. Blunkett: I am waiting for the hon. Gentleman to finish.
Mr. Oaten: I also hope that the Home Secretary can clarify his thinking on security-vetted judges and trials by judges alone. Again, Liberal Democrat Members are concerned about breaking into long-held establishments.
FinallyI touched on this point in an earlier intervention on the Home SecretaryLiberal Democrat Members support the move to strengthen our intelligence services, which do a valuable job and play a valuable role. Without prejudging the Butler report, we may discover that the intelligence services have been undervalued and under-resourced and that they have not received the proper technology in previous years.
Without prejudging that report, I hope that the Home Secretary's announcement that staffing up is taking place is an acknowledgement that one way to tackle the terror threat is to make sure that we have the necessary resources and the skills of individuals on the ground. Perhaps the Minister can comment on the difficulty of making sure that we recruit from the right communities, because intelligence is about making sure that we can talk to and be involved in, for example, Muslim communities in this country. That is complex and difficult. I hope that when we look at staffing up and resourcing, we shall have in mind in particular the ability to talk to those individual communities.
Mr. Blunkett: I was waiting to intervene until we had coalesced around the New Delhi speech.
I can confirm that it is not my intention to lower the standard of proof in criminal cases. I cannot confirm that it is not our position that there will be times when a judge sitting alone will be appropriate in cases in which the jury may well be under more than intimidation. I do not accept that, as was said earlier, juries are not under threat from al-Qaeda. They are under very considerable threat.
Mr. Oaten: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for clarity on that matter. His first answer gave me some comfort. His second just raised a further question. At the height of some situations in Northern Ireland with
I conclude by reiterating from these Benches our strong support for the Home Secretary in a difficult job. Our solution is to look at ways to improve the ability to achieve a successful prosecution. We much prefer that route to taking away some of the pillars of the establishment that have protected justice in this country for so many years.
We welcome the review that the Home Secretary has put in place, and we hope that in six months he will announce that he is in a position to abolish part 4, but we shall seek to divide the House because we feel that the issue has gone on for too long and needs to be brought to a head.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the way in which he introduced the debate and for moving it forward.
I should perhaps begin by declaring, if not an interest, at least culpability with regard to the legislation that we are considering, because I was a Home Office Minister when it was introduced. I shall support its renewal, because I believe that maintaining part 4 is necessary. I reached that conclusion more by a process of elimination than from a fundamental point of principleby looking at the other options available and concluding that there would be circumstances in which part 4 was necessary.
While I agree that it is desirable to minimise the use of part 4, I cannot go as far as the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who leads for the Liberal Democrats in this matter. He starts by aiming for its abolition and works backwards from there, whereas I start from the other end of the discussion. I shall say a little more about the reason in a moment.
The whole tone of today's debate is remarkably different from that of the debate when the Act was passed. That is very useful, because at that time our dialogue did not meet in the middle. On the one hand, it was driven by people, including Home Office Ministers, who were desperately concerned to put in place measures to deal with a serious and, as we saw it then, long-lasting terrorist threat. On the other hand, there were people in and around this placeI exclude many of the hon. Members who have spoken todaywho did not entirely accept that there was a long-term, almost semi-permanent state of threat and who argued from the position that any diminution of our traditional liberties was bound to be wrong, no matter what was necessary to meet the terrorist threat.
Not least due to the intervention of Lord Newton and Lord Carlile and those whom they worked with, as well as the way in which my right hon. Friend has addressed us this afternoon, the debate is now moving on. It is