|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Most of the debate so far, including the erudite contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) has rightly focused on the legal issues that confront the Home Secretary and the Minister. I do not envy either of them their dilemmas. They must consider, in the domestic context, what is known in the international context as the problem of pre-emption. The Minister summed it up succinctly in her intervention on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). However, my aim is to consider the security issues that have emerged concerning the disclosure of intercept data in criminal trials and the recruitment of extra staff by MI5. Most of us would accept that it is fundamental to counter-intelligence work to maintain a strong element of surprise and keep one's enemy guessing. It was therefore a little unexpected to read in The Guardian on Monday 23 February:
That point has been illustrated repeatedly over the past 80 years. One can go back to 1927 and the famous raid on the Soviet trade delegation and the ARCOS company. The Home Secretary disclosed the important
Let us consider what the would-be suicide terrorists and their co-ordinators will be trying to do in the months and years ahead. They will try to hide their affiliations; they will try to plan in secret; they will try to keep their communications secure and will therefore try to find out which communications systems cannot be monitored; they will try to find out what MI5 knows about them and their plans; and they will therefore try to infiltrate the Security Service to secure all those objectives. Conversely, the Security Service needs to operate in ways in which as little as possible of its intelligence-gathering capacity and its manning and recruitment are revealed.
That is why I am concerned about last weekend's flurry of publicity, and I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who I am pleased to see is still in his place, for also voicing his concern. The Home Secretary sought to brush aside my interventionsrather flippantly, I thoughtsuggesting that the announcements made at the weekend were old reports about a process that had been ongoing for a long time.
It is a fact that all the reports that appearedI have a sheaf of them from which I could quote at leisureindicated that recruitment will primarily be for the future. The 1,000 extra surveillance officers will apparently be in place after a time-lapse of three or four more years. I cannot see what could be gained by advertising to people who have an interest in trying to get into the security services for nefarious purposes that the mass recruitment of Arabic speakers has yet to be completed. The matter should have been dealt with in delphic terms, and confirmed only after the process had been carried out.
I concludein line, I hope, with my promise to be concisewith two quotes from items in the press today. In The Independent, Dr. Brian Jones, formerly the leading nuclear, biological and chemical analyst for the Defence Intelligence Service, who has intimate knowledge of these matters, states:
The first is something that is blazingly obvious, which is that there are a large number of people in this country who are in prison and who deserve to be there. There are a large number of people in this country who are in prison for a long time and who deserve to be there. I can claim a small or modest part in the imprisonment of some of them at least, either because I prosecuted them or, possibly even more so, because I defended them from time to time.Whereas many deserve to be in prison, no man and no woman in this country deserves to have his or her civil rights abnegated, and there is no reason that I am aware of for that to happen.
As part of this debate, I wish to state that there are 17 people we know of whose civil rights have been totally abnegated. They have been in prison for years, without recourse to proper legal procedures, without trial, without knowledge of the reasons for which they are in prison, and with every single civilised practice that we have in criminal jurisprudence in this country in abeyance. The importance of this is that it is not their rights that are abnegated. It is not their individual rights that are the subject of abuse and attack, because civil liberty does not belong to individuals. Civil liberty is something that we own as a collective whole.
What abuses those people abuses me. Without wishing to paraphrase or misquote the great poet, I would add that what diminishes them also diminishes me. The fact that there are those in this society, in my society, in my country, who are in this position now is an abnegation of my liberty in the same way as it is an abnegation of theirs.
The second general point that I wish to make is about al-Qaeda, which poses two threats to this country, both of them grave. The first is a threat to the liberty, life and property of our individual citizens and those who are within our jurisdiction. That is a grave threat, a threat that al-Qaeda has already demonstrated the ability to carry out.
The second threat is infinitely more grave, however. It is the erosion of our civil liberty. Every time our civil liberty is eroded because of al-Qaeda it is a victory, not for the Home Office, nor for the security services, but for al-Qaeda itself. Every time we erode our civil liberties, and do it at al-Qaeda's behest, it is a victory for al-Qaeda, a victory infinitely more profound and infinitely more deadly than the injury or damage to property or even to life.
We have now taken draconian powers as a result of the emergence of that terrorist, criminal organisation. I shall give one example under the Terrorism Act 2000, which hon. Members may be interested in. It is now an offence to possess "Scouting for Boys". I have a copy; I
May I pass over the excellent report that the Newton committee has produced? The committee has proved that on occasions the great and good can be precisely that, and has provided us with a report that is eloquent, intellectually sound, well argued and wrong in only a small number of particulars.
I pass on to the real point that I want to make. It will take me only two minutes, which means that I can leave my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) some time effectively to wind up the debate for the Back Benches. I do not understand the rigorous distinction that has been drawn in the House between criminal activity and terrorism: doing so represents a grave danger. Terrorism is a crimeit is as simple as that. It is the terrorist who seeks warrior status and to be at war. The IRA persistently sought warfare status against us and we persistently denied it. Many of us cavil at the expression "the war on terrorism" because terrorism is the pursuit of serious crimepure and simpleand should be treated as such.
We have all the ammunition, experience and criminal procedures necessary to prosecute terrorism as the most serious of crimes. If we did that, we would cease to dignify those whom we prosecute with the status of those held in Belmarsh, who are undoubtedly regarded as martyrs to, and warriors in, their cause. I can say straightaway that there would be no problem with evidence. We deal with covert surveillance in the courts every single day of the week. The system is now so effective and deadly that conviction rates have increased markedly in the past two years. We deal every day of the week with public interest immunity applications. People who prosecute go before judges and say, "I have an informant, but I cannot reveal his identity because he would be at risk." In cases of which I have experience, such informants were every bit as much at risk as would be those who informed on al-Qaeda or other such criminal groups. Judges are perfectly capable of protecting the identity of those who give such evidence. We can deal with that without any trouble at all. The problem of not dealing with the situation in such as way is, as I have said, that we create a reservoir of hatred and resentment, which is not the hallmark characteristic of the way in which we deal with our criminal law.
I simply conclude as I did the last time we had this debate. The exclusion of the courts and judicial review is an abhorrence within our system. It is a gross abuse of our civil rights that should not be tolerated. It is a common truth that we do not improve human behaviour by the denial of human libertiesthat has never been done and never will be.