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Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): The Home Secretary will remember that when we debated the Act and the Newton report, he said that he was moving towards examining intercept communications as a means of securing more evidence. Will he expand on that this afternoon?

Mr. Blunkett: I did not intend to go into the matter in depth, although we have given a commitment that should our policy change—I shall discuss the steps that we are taking in that respect shortly—it would be right and proper for the House to debate it thoroughly. A tide of opinion in favour of some adjustment is running in all three major political parties and beyond.

Before I move on to that matter, let me say that one individual subject to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission arrangements has been bailed to remain under surveillance at home because of mental health problems. I wish to assure the public that close surveillance is being kept and we are ensuring that no risk arises from that decision.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, let me set out our current position. Given the concerns expressed and the long-running debate on intercept, we indicated that we would ask for a review that examined in detail the way in which it would be possible to use intercept in individual cases, in terms of intelligence and evidential presentation. That work is continuing—an interim report will be presented to the Prime Minister shortly—because of the important issues touched on in the 27 February debate relating to the ability to separate intelligence from work that would prove to be usable as evidence presented to a court, and therefore usable in terms of charge. We have to determine how to separate the two and what to do with those aspects that do not fall neatly into the intelligence or signal system, which obviously will not be suitable for intercept, and those aspects that fall into the category of potential evidence to be presented to a court. The difficulty is substantial, because one has to devote resources to being able at the end of the process to present material in a form that is usable without knowing at the beginning of the process that one will wish to use it or that it will become usable. When we debate the subject in full, we shall have to address some of those issues.

Let me make my position clear. I was deeply sceptical, but I am prepared to be won over to the view that, in limited circumstances, intercept might be of value. However, we need to be won over to its use. We cannot presume that it can be used and live with the consequences in ignorance of the detail and the damage that might be done. I do not have a closed mind, and I do not believe that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have. However, we must not be carried away by enthusiasm for a new way to present material in evidence; we must deal with the difficulties that the services have presented to the inquiry. We must also bear in mind the differences between our system and the one used in Europe, not
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least in terms of the nature of investigating magistrates and the preparation of cases, and the differences between our system and the one used in the United States and north America. I hope that we can produce a measured report, but I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agrees that, whatever decision we reach, we should present it to the House so that we can have a debate on that important issue and thrash out the questions raised, not least by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which knows about the ongoing work and which will take our evidence and report back to the House itself.

Let me return to the way in which existing powers are being used. Since the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, some 562 arrests have been made under the Terrorism Act 2000, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) when he was Home Secretary. Of those arrests, 97 have led to charges being made under the Act, and other charges under other legislation and other powers have been made in other cases. It is worth reflecting on the changes in the nature of the threat, on why the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was necessary, and on why the terms on which we have used other parts of the 2000 Act have been important.

Last week, there was controversy about the use of powers under sections 41 and 44 of the 2000 Act. We have the matter under scrutiny; that is why we published detailed figures and set up an action team. We are keen to ensure that intelligence-based policing, rather than wholesale sweeps, drives the necessary work and the use of those powers. Inevitably, there has been a massive increase in the use of the powers, particularly those in section 44, illustrated by the fact that the number of incidents of their use has increased from just over 8,000 to 21,500. That increase has affected all racial and ethnic groups, but disproportionately the Asian and black communities, which is why we are taking a close look at the matter. However, we recognise that use of the powers and designation of areas under section 44 inevitably centre on certain areas of the country—the figures reflect changes in practice not throughout Britain, but only in areas that are more likely to be affected by known danger, and are therefore likely to be targeted for the necessary use of police surveillance.

I am encouraged by the way in which the police have responded. There are good examples, including in south London, of detailed work with the community. Part of securing our safety and stability—part of the work of intelligence, security and policing forces, domestic and foreign—is securing the confidence and therefore the engagement of the communities most affected. The communities that are most likely to be targeted and traduced by those who are intent on using terrorist methods and on funding and planning terrorism need to be part of the solution. I welcome strongly the work of Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain. It has taken brave steps to encourage everyone in the Islamic community in the UK to assist and support our efforts and to understand that, as citizens and residents of this country, we are in this together. It is therefore encouraging that communities in south London which, because of their nature and that of the dangers that they face, have been the subject of interventions under
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sections 41 and 44, have been drawn into understanding the nature of stop and search. Their members have been monitoring with the police the reasons for such interventions and have been applauding and welcoming police action to protect their communities. I want that work to be extended to other parts of the community in Britain, so that we can engage everyone in feeling that they are part of the solution.

Together, the four strands of our internal work on resilience—prevent, pursue, protect and prepare—make sense. If I were still a Methodist local preacher I would say that the greatest of those four is prevention. We are in the process of drawing up better, more relevant information and guidance for the public on their role and what they can do, and we will make that available shortly.

Turning to the report and the way in which it affects areas for which I am responsible—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will obviously deal more broadly with global issues—I shall concentrate on domestic security and policing. We have increased resources dramatically, and that will be reinforced in the vote on the allocation for the security and intelligence services following the spending review. We will expand the capacity of the Security Service, for example, by 50 per cent. over the next three years, and the work that it, the intelligence services and GCHQ do will be substantially underpinned in the spending review. The joint terrorism analysis centre—JTAC—was established exactly a year ago, and is a model of inter-agency working. Everyone involved would commend the work that it has done since its inception. The national security advice centre is working with the business community to look at the forthcoming challenges, not least electronic intervention and terrorism, and has been assisted by information and other support provided by the police.

The eight regional intelligence cells that have been created following the reorganisation of special branch are up and running, and Bryan Bell, the director in charge of reorganisation, has continued his work. As the House knows, we provided an additional £15 million for that work. The House has debated at length the relationship between serious and organised crime and terrorism. The serious organised crime agency is taking shape, and the necessary posts have been advertised. It will help to tackle that relationship more effectively, linking the work of immigration agencies, Customs, the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. The underpinning will remain the work of the Security Service, and I stress that while the percentage of resources has remained steady, there is no less a commitment from the Security Service to supporting cross-boundary and international operations.

The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee referred to espionage in the publication last week. I shall make the position clear—we are spending a smaller percentage of the enhanced and expanded budget on counter-espionage, but in fact we are spending more than we did last year. The service is using new techniques in addition to tried and tested methods to make its surveillance more effective. We give an assurance to the House, the country and people overseas who may be attempting to intervene, whether from former enemy countries or friendly nations, that the services do not merely stand ready—I apologise for that terrible civil service phrase—but, in fact, are ready to intercept and
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are doing so. If there is a dramatic increase in resources re-prioritisation is inevitable. By increasing the sums available we can ensure that work will continue even if the percentage allocated has been adjusted.

Counter-terrorism is receiving the support and resources that it requires, as well as the domestic back-up to reinforce resilience. The Intelligence and Security Committee has, with considerable fervour, ensured that this year the intelligence services committee chaired by the Prime Minister has drawn together all the relevant services and Ministers to co-ordinate and pull together the various strands of that important work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley will speak about other areas that the Intelligence and Security Committee has touched on, including the BBC monitoring facility. As for information, we are keen that the national infrastructure security co-ordination centre, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn set up in 1999 when he was Home Secretary, should examine areas outside the scope of its existing operations. I thank its chairman for his work in creating a one-stop shop to develop awareness and new approaches to threats that have not previously existed.

Expertise is essential if we are to link the work of the Secret Intelligence Service to an understanding of what is happening across the world and an awareness of our vulnerabilities. Many desktop exercises have taken place over the past year and, as we discussed in February, there was an up-front exercise at Bank tube station on 7 September last year. We learned many lessons and are keen to develop further exercises, including a joint exercise with the United States in the   spring. I suggested to Dominique de Villepin, the French Interior Minister—he was previously the opposite number to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—that we undertake additional joint work with the French, and he agreed to that earlier this week.

It is incumbent on all of us to come up with ideas, questions and proposals to monitor what we are doing, as I spelled out at the beginning of my speech. We cannot guarantee 100 per cent. success, but we can ensure that 150 per cent. effort goes into protecting our country and the effective use of our resources to do so. The most fundamental duty of Government is to ensure the security of the nation. We must balance reassurance and confidence building with honest and transparent dialogue about the dangers.

We must balance the necessary steps for security, as we spelled out at the end of February, against the necessity to provide freedom and liberty without encroaching disproportionately on individuals' rights. Getting that right is a difficult task. We believe that so far we have done so, and when we published a consultation paper on the recommendation of the Newton committee at the end of February we asked people to give us their thoughts on further developments including, for example, new legislation on association with terrorism. Over the summer, we asked people to examine the relationship between domestic and foreign terrorist acts, and between individuals. Following the consultation, we will establish a way forward and present proposals before the spring so that the House can debate them in time for the renewal of the necessary orders and in preparation for the sunset clause which, the two Houses of Parliament agreed, would come into force in 2006.
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We must be sensitive to difficult issues on which party divides have often broken down—people of all persuasions have been convinced to set aside the usual adversarial approach to get things right. It is in that spirit that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I address those issues this afternoon.

2.29 pm

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