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Jeremy Corbyn: Has my right hon. Friend or the Select Committee on Home Affairs given any consideration to the dangers of miscarriages of justice being perpetrated at six-monthly intervals by constant renewals of detention orders because of the lack of transparency in the legal process?
Mr. Denham: The straightforward answer is that the Home Affairs Committee has not examined that issue during my period of chairmanship. One of the reasons why part 4 is not an ideal piece of legislation is because it clearly carries some risk. As I shall say at greater length in a moment, I have reached the view that part 4 is currently necessary by a process of elimination because there are some circumstances in which no other satisfactory option seems to be available.
Mr. Hogg: Has not the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) made a serious point? If the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) reads paragraph 200 of the Newton report, he will find that the committee expresses great concern about the fact that there is no continuing supervision of each case to determine whether continued detention is just. In other words, Lord Newton says that injustices are now taking place.
Mr. Denham: I am not entirely sure that Lord Newton was saying that injustices are now taking place; he and his colleagues were clearly highlighting a concern about the operation of part 4. The Government should properly take that worry into account during their review of part 4, and many other elements of Lord Newton's report should be discussed seriously.
I take the view, not least because of the changed nature of the debate, that the 2001 Act might not be the last word on the anti-terrorism legislation that we need, so I look forward to the debate that will take place over the next six months. I also believe that it is right to consider such legislation alongside the proposed review of serious crime legislation. It is central to British policing practice that terrorism is first and foremost a crime, so it would not be right to separate the two pieces of legislation entirelyI am glad that that will not happen.
On part 4 itself, we must take seriously the recommendation on the use of intercept information. I would go further and ask the Minister to consider in the review whether other elements of information that come from the security services could be used to support criminal prosecutions in some circumstances, although I understand the deep-seated cultural reluctance to do that. I share the huge respect that other hon. Members have for the security services, but the truth is that the nature of security services information varies from that received from highly placed sources who really know what they are talking about to recycled press cuttings and marketplace gossip. There might be certain types of information that could be used to support prosecutions, even though I accept that there must be a central defence of the integrity of the security services.
It is worth exploring the idea of the investigating magistrate, as it has been called in the debate. The Home Secretary is right to say that that procedure would not solve the problem of a criminal case in which very sensitive information would be shared with the defence. That is one reason for concluding that part 4 will always be necessary in some circumstances. However, a filtering of the processthere might be advantages of taking all the onus of responsibility off the Home Secretary and putting it on to a judicial figureis certainly worth debating over the months ahead. I have not taken a firm view on that matter, but we should consider it.
I want to make a couple of remarks about the broader political context in which we are discussing the legislation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave a robust response to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who asked about the politics behind the terrorist movement. Morally speaking, I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend's outright condemnation of suicide bombing. However, I am not sure that that is the right basis on which we should plan our anti-terrorism strategy and introduce anti-terrorism legislation.
What I shall now say will be brief. Several right hon. and hon. Members know more about the subject than I do, so I apologise if it is far too crude. Europe has experienced two types of terrorism over the past 20 or 30 yearsprior to the current threat. We have had, in the form of Baader-Meinhof or the Red Brigades, terrorist organisations that had essentially no social base whatever. They may have had a loose network of supporters, but they represented very little in the way of popular social movements in their countries. We have had in Northern Ireland and the Basque country terrorist organisations thatwhether we like it or nothave reflected broad social movements, to the extent to which people who would never dream of committing a terrorist act have none the less voted for political parties that shared the same political objectives as the terrorists.We have dealt with the terrorism of Baader-Meinhof and the Red Brigades by policing and security measures. In the case of terrorists with a social base, we have required political solutions alongside the policing and security measures.
It is difficult to assess the nature of al-Qaeda globally, but I fear that part of the international strategy against al-Qaedaparticularly the way that the Americans describe ittreats it as though it is some sort of global Baader-Meinhof. It treats it as a network of people who have no social base and no social support, rather than as a network of people whowhether we like it or notreflect a view of the world that is shared by people who are sympathetic to its objectives, if not its methods. If I am right, it is true that we will not be entirely secure from that type of terrorism until some of the underlying political issues have been successfully addressed. We need to take that into account when we consider counter-terrorism strategy in this country.
The aspect of the commentary that the Home Secretary has published today from which I take most pleasure is his conclusion, which I am sure is based on good intelligence advice, that by far the greatest threat in this country at the moment is from foreign rather than British nationals. One of our fundamental aims must be
It must be central to our strategy and to everything that we doit must be the bedrock of our real securitythat we ensure that we do everything possible to enable the great Muslim majority who reject terrorism to isolate those who wish to advocate al-Qaeda's approach to problems. Equally, we must try to persuade those who hold a different world view that, although it is perfectly proper for them to propagate it, it is not in their interests to pursue it through any form of support for terrorism.
If that is right, a number of conclusions can be drawn on how the Government need to conduct the debate over the next six months. The first obvious point is for those who have suggested that the right way to deal with part 4 is to apply it equally to the British community. We must make it clear that that would be a fatal mistake. It would mean applying detention laws not to the British population in general butbecause part 4 applies only to al-Qaedato the British Muslim population alone. The counter-productive effects of that would be absolutely disastrous.
We must also have a detailed dialogue with the Muslim community about some of the other proposals that the Home Secretary has, quite understandably, floated today. I refer to the proposals for crimes of association with the wrong type of people and, if I have understood it, the idea that someone who is done for credit card fraud might have their sentence bumped up because of secret information that they are involved in terrorism. Such proposals might be counterproductive if they are not fully understood and supported by people in the Muslim community, who must be convinced that they are necessary in helping them to isolate those who would like to argue the case for terrorism.
We must take discussions forward in the next six months with enormous sensitivity. We must have effective security and intelligence, and good policing. However, our greatest bulwark against the type of terrorism that we now face is the support, and active involvement and commitment, of the majority of Muslims in this country, who reject terrorism. They must be brought alongside us during the next six months on measures that we discuss in the House, not as an afterthought.
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): First, I welcome the fact that we are having this debate. That is not because it reflects the hard work that my colleagues and I put into the report, but because it is on a matter of such fundamental importance to the whole country that had there not been a proper debate, people would have been surprised.
I welcome the announcement, to my knowledge first trailed by the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration on television on Sunday, that there is to be a serious debate. As the Home Secretary said today, to arrive at a point three months before the legislation's end in 2006, and then to wonder what to do, would be an insupportable way of governing. We have therefore started a process. I shall return to the reasons for that later in my contribution, but I very much welcome it.
It is also right to start by thanking the Secretary of State. He observed scrupulously the undertaking that he made to the review group at the start of the process that we would have access to whatever material we wished to see, and it is right for those of us who were the beneficiaries of that to acknowledge it on the Floor of the House. I also thank my colleagues on the committee. It was an interesting experience, and a new one for me. I have to say that had I known before we started how hard and long we were going to work, I might have paused before so enthusiastically accepting the invitation. However, we not only worked hard; we worked together closely. In that regard, I am sure I am not the only one who wants to thank Angela Harris and those who worked with her. As her colleagues who staffed the committee are active civil servants, I will observe the convention and not mention their names; but I, for one, am extremely grateful to them.
I endorse what has already been repeated on the tone of this debate. Had the review committee not been comprised of old war horses, we might have been tempted ever so slightly to be offended by the Home Secretary's initial reaction when the report was published last December. Happily, we have moved way beyond that point. He has made a constructive contribution in response today and, unlike the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), I think that there is much more room for movement by the Government before the matter is concluded. Considering how far the Home Secretary has moved between December and February, I hold out great hopes that many more of our recommendations will be in legislation before the debate is concluded.
One other point that needs to be made, so I may as well make it, is that we made a conscious judgment that the committee was not an alternative Government. It was not our job to come up with a different, coherent, complete Government policy. That is why we recommended things to consider and suggested matters that should be explored, but stopped very far short of trying to put in place an alternative policy to the Government's. We therefore left ourselves open occasionally to the charge that individual proposals would not meet this or that contingency. That is right, but such matters are nevertheless worth exploring and pursuing.
I remind the House, first, that the committee took a unanimous view that this country faces a security threat. So there was no debate about whether security was needed. It is important to stress that. Secondly, there was unanimous agreement that, in those circumstances, unusual impositions on society and individuals are justified for the common good. I flew back overnight from Boston, and perhaps because my mind was partly on this debate, I was impressed by how much we have all adjusted to the current impositions on our aviation travel. They are impositions; such measures were not in place five or 10 years ago, but we accept them because we understand that there are threats that must be taken seriously.
Thirdly, the Committee was unanimous on the business of the use of intercepted communications. The subject has been touched on; indeed, I intervened on the matter earlier. We in the committee were slightly cynical, to be honest, in suspecting that the Government are using the phrase "this policy is being reviewed" as an example of some of the longest grass in politics. The ball needs to be retrieved from that long grass. There is widespread acceptance of the use of such communications. As I am sure the Minister knows, they will be introduced in this country because the Government will reach the point where it will be indefensible not to do so, as they are being used in the rest of the world. I therefore hope that she will take the opportunity of the review to deal with the issue once and for all and to improve our court procedures as a consequence.
There was also a unanimous view that a balance needs to be struck between the security of the nation and the rights of individuals. Indeed, there was a unanimous view that part 4 is neither proportionate nor reasonable, and is not sustainable. I should make it clear, as does the report, that no one is suggesting that the Government should remove part 4 tomorrow, not because the problems with it are not relevant to tomorrow, but because everyone recognises that some framework must be in place and that to leave a massive gap would not be good governance or in the best interests of the nation.
The right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury referred to me, and I want to link myself to his remarksI am sorry that the Home Secretary has left the Chamber. I suspect that there are very few in this House or further afield who would see either of us as what the tabloids would refer to as "bleeding-heart liberals". Come 1 May, I will have spent 25 years in the House defending the principles of the liberal democracy in which I believe. Each one of us has our own additional personal motivation. I suppose that mine springs in part from my Christian faith. The individual in a liberal democracy is important, so a balance must be struck.
What we must not do in a liberal democracy is sink to the level of the terrorist. This Government have faced many difficult issues in Northern Ireland over the past six years. Those are different from the issues that some of us faced when we were Ministers. Too frequently, I stood in front of a barrage of television cameras and radio microphones trying to find the words to condemn the atrocities that were blowing people into eternity, and trying to uphold the principles of our liberal democracythe rule of lawand the determination to get the perpetrators within the framework of the rule of
We all understand that the legislation was brought forward in a hurry. There had been no coherent, considered development of a policy to deal with terrorism or the time to translate any such policy into legislation. I see the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), nodding in agreement at that analysis. It is understandableI have no problem with the fact that the Government introduced legislation in those circumstances, because somewhat ill considered legislation in those circumstances was better than no legislation at all.