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6.43 pm

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): First, this has been an outstanding debate. We have had some powerful and thoughtful contributions, which were almost exclusively on part 4, which I will address in a moment. I want to start with the issues that have been raised about other parts of the legislation.

The shadow Secretary of State spoke about freezing orders and identity fraud, and he has seen the reply in our response to the Newton committee. On the freezing orders, it is important that he notes that while we have used the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2001 up to date, there may be some time in the future when we will need to act on our own quickly. It is therefore important to keep that power in place. More generally, in relation to other parts of the legislation, the fact that some powers may not have been used much does not detract from their deterrent effect. That is an important point that the police and others have made to us.

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My hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) made specific points about part 12 and the bribery provisions. I am well aware of his long-standing interest in bribery, particularly bribery overseas. That relates to his concern about international development. [Laughter]. I am sure that my hon. Friend and his constituents will understand what I meant. I was casting no aspersions. Anyway, I can reassure my hon. Friend that we would not want to lose the powers in part 12 until alternative legislation was in place.

We heard speeches about other parts of the Act from two members of the Newton committee, the right hon. Members for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) and for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I echo the Home Secretary's thanks to all members of the committee, particularly those from whom we have heard today. I will not comment on all the issues that they raised—I hope they will understand—but I trust they will accept that the Government's response to the report is serious and considered. The Government have a duty to respond to reports, and it is in the nature of things that we will not agree with everything in them, but according to my count we have agreed with, or said we are already consulting or acting on, about 60 per cent. of the committee's recommendations. I hope its members will accept that our disagreement with some does not negate our view of the seriousness of the work that has been done and the important contribution that it has made to the debate. Indeed, the Home Secretary's document states that the committee's work and that of Lord Carlile have helped to shape the debate that we hope will take place shortly.

Inevitably, today's debate has mostly concerned part 4 powers and whether, as the committee suggests, they should be replaced as a matter of urgency. The House has discussed the various alternatives that the committee, and Members who have spoken today, have suggested. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already explained why the part 4 powers were introduced, and why we still need them. I think that the unprecedented and horrific attacks on 11 September, followed by the attacks that have been mentioned today—in Bali, Saudi Arabia, Casablanca, Jakarta and Istanbul—are testimony to the need for those provisions. It is clear that international terrorists remain willing and able to attack British interests at home and, indeed, abroad, as we saw in Istanbul. The absence of a successful attack so far on the United Kingdom or other western targets could lead some to conclude that the threat has been reduced or confined to parts of the world where such an attack would have little impact on us, but that is not so.

Mr. Cash: In the context of the potential for something of that kind to happen, may I point out that the Civil Contingencies Bill would almost certainly become operative? Given that the Home Secretary supports the Bill, will the Minister assure us that the test of reasonableness inherent in the 2001 Act will be applied to it, and that there will be no ousting of the courts' jurisdiction? After all, the Bill will overtake and possibly subsume the provisions of the Act.

Beverley Hughes: I know that the hon. Gentleman is very exercised about the Civil Contingencies Bill. I can tell him that alongside the written statement on

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resilience that we placed in the public domain today are powers in the Bill—I think they are the powers that concern him—to be used in such emergencies. They are intended to enhance our resilience in the event of an attack, and will be used only in those extreme circumstances.

As Members know, the threat is real and the risks high and long-term. We face a public emergency that threatens the life of the nation. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who summarised the various sources of consensus on that point, but let me now explain why we think this particular threat presents us with challenges that are very different from those we have experienced so far. It is perpetrated by people in different groups in many different countries—and by people in loose, fluid federations—with no obvious political objective except destruction. That means that those groups are very difficult to penetrate, and gathering and evaluating intelligence is very difficult.

Moreover, the tactics, which include suicide bombings, mean that prosecution after the event is, by definition, totally irrelevant. So prevention of such attacks is critical, which means that our main source of evidence has to be intelligence and similar material, not evidence after the fact. Taking all those factors in the round, the hallmarks of our normal judicial system that we value highly—open court; defendants hearing all the evidence; bringing to court witnesses, whose lives would then be threatened—offer us no realistic prospect of prosecution in key cases. That is the dilemma that we face in the light of this new kind of terrorism.

So how are we facing this threat? First—this point is worth making, because it was not made particularly strongly today— we are prosecuting where we can under existing terrorist legislation and the criminal law. There have been six prosecutions under the Terrorism Act 2000 and convictions under other legislation. It is important to note that many convictions in relation to terrorist activity are not necessarily prosecuted under that legislation, but under alternative criminal legislation, a recent example being the arrest and charging of Mr. Badat in Gloucestershire. Initially, that arrest was made under the 2000 Act, but inquiries led to his being charged under the Explosive Substances Act 1883. Other current cases, such as those involving ricin, and the offences arising from the death of DC Oake, may involve the laying of other kinds of charges.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: In looking at this issue, will the Minister reflect on the evidence that the Home Office gave to us in what was probably the most unsatisfactory of our evidence sessions? We asked what the Government's view would be if people whom they suspected of being terrorists were prosecuted under the rest of the legislative programme and sent to normal prisons. We asked what their assessment was of the risk of such people's propagating their terrorist philosophy, were they to be exposed to a range of people with whom they would not have contact under the terms of

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restraining terrorist legislation. The Home Office gave no effective answer. This is an issue that needs to be explored.

Beverley Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but I can assure him that the Prison Service and the other relevant agencies have well-established systems for dealing with people who present such a risk when in custody. We will use whichever means we can to get the maximum number of prosecutions, and the maximum level of sentence for any person whom we suspect of terrorism, whether it means using criminal law or not.

In terms of how we are dealing with the current situation, we also have the part 4 provisions. I want to make a couple of points about the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the way in which the certification process has been used. Members need to understand that SIAC is not an inferior type of court. In fact, by definition it is a court of superior record, which is chaired by a High Court judge. There are hearings in advance of individual appeals that deal with disclosure. The special advocates have played a powerful and important role in challenging material that the Secretary of State has put to SIAC. During the appeals themselves, and in examining social security witnesses, the advocates have actively challenged material and raised relevant points of law. It is very important that Members understand the SIAC process.

I also want to put on the record a rebuttal of the contention of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that because such people are in detention, the agencies would take their foot off the pedal in terms of reviewing cases and considering whether information has changed. That is not true. Every case is kept under active review by the Home Office, the police and the security services both prior to individual appeals and as part of the six-monthly and three-monthly reviews.

On the certification process, it is important to understand that Lord Carlile stated that the Secretary of State used his powers proportionately and certified people only in appropriate cases. Members will know that in the 11 individual appeals that SIAC has determined, all the certificates were upheld.

That said, it is right and important, for the reasons identified by hon. Members in the House today, that we debate widely how we should respond to the threats of the future and whether, as the Home Secretary said earlier, we can establish incrementally additional means of dealing effectively with the threat that we face.

The Newton committee—others have agreed today—believes that the powers of detention should be replaced, that all terrorists should be dealt with by the same route regardless of nationality and through means that do not require a derogation. That would be the ideal, but the question is how, at the same time as achieving those objectives, we can provide an effective response to the particular characteristics of the new terrorism that we face. That point was powerfully made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).

Some alternatives have been proposed. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) himself provided a good critique of the limitations of intercept evidence. Terrorists know that we intercept them and the quality

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of the information that we glean is variable as potential usable evidence. Intercept evidence, investigating magistrates and surveillance all have potential as a package, but the difficulty is that, either alone or together, they do not overcome one of the main problems—the nature of the intelligence that we would want to present and how we protect the lives of the agents who provide much of that intelligence, often by infiltrating small groups of people.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar spoke about using hearsay evidence. If a person were to say in court that someone told them that such and such a thing either happened or was said, the agent could and would be identified. I hope that our forthcoming debate will address that major obstacle.

We are not currently convinced that any of the alternative proposals mentioned today, even if taken together, provide a workable alternative to the part 4 powers. As the Home Secretary said, we face a challenge and the Government—and, indeed, the whole House—would be criticised if the country suffered a terrorist attack and we had not taken the necessary precautions. We need to balance the need to protect the nation with the need to protect the individual freedoms and liberties that are at the heart of our democracy.

The rights of the individual are central, but they are not confined to the rights of the suspected terrorist. Every member of the public, every family, every child has the right to expect the maximum security and freedom from harm in a mature democratic society. Our dilemma is how best to balance the rights of that majority and the rights of the few. It has to be a balance. To argue, as some have done today, that the rights of suspects—or the rights of the individual theoretically—in any process of prevention or prosecution must be supremely paramount is to deny the citizen's right to security. In our view, to say that the processes and principles of law as we know them already are the only ones possible is to deny the nature of the terrorism that we are dealing with.

As we go forward, I hope that we can maintain the spirit that we have had today. We have made an excellent start, and I enjoin the public to join in the debate, as it is in their main interest that the Government are acting.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided: Ayes 68, Noes 313.

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