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Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab):
I welcome the Home Secretary's statement. As one of those who voted for the Act that the House of Lords has decided is contrary to the human rights legislation, for
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which I also voted, I recognise the major dilemma that the Government face in trying to reconcile maintaining the security of the people of this country with our treasured reputation for the rule of law and the maintenance of natural justice. So in the spirit in which the Home Secretary has made his statement, I urge him to look carefully at the proposals from the Newton committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The objective of terrorists is, in the end, to persuade us to bring our sacred institutions into disrepute so that we can be mocked throughout the world as hypocrites. I know that he recognises that, and I hope that the House will be able to come up with proposals that reconcile the two needs.
Mr. Clarke: I appreciate the tone and style of my right hon. Friend's remarks and, yes, I can give him the assurance that I will seek to address this matter in the way that he suggests. I should like to make one observation on what he said. Some of the terrorist organisations active in the world that we seek to contain are about destroying every fundamental freedom that we have; not only the fundamental freedom of the House to debate a range of issues, but the rule of law itself and the right of the media to discuss questions in a general way. Their explicit aim is to destroy all those things, which hon. Members throughout the House have sought to build and develop over many years. We must defend ourselves against these attacks. The best way to defend ourselves in these circumstances is a matter for debateit is in that spirit that I appreciate my right hon. Friend's remarksbut we cannot run away from this. When we read some people's comments, we see that they do not appreciate the seriousness of the matter. Our obligation is to take that seriously and then to decide the best course, for precisely the reasons that my right hon. Friend gave.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has emphasised in his response the supremacy of Parliament on these matters. That is hugely important. I also endorse his statement that his approach will be based fundamentally on questions of national security and the need to protect the community. I urge him to consider that whatever he does should be based simply and essentially on the legislation framed to meet the needs of protecting the whole community, not on little quirks of immigration legislation.
Mr. Clarke: I think that I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. Our existing legislation is based on a foundation of principle, which I see as my duty to seek to defend. That is the way in which we must approach this matter and the way that, historically, the House has sought to approach these matters; the House would wish to do so in the same way in the future.
Jean Corston (Bristol, East) (Lab):
I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer to this question and congratulate him on emphasising that he will proceed cautiously. Reference has been made to the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which, as he knows, I chair. I urge him to consider one of our recommendations: that intercept material should be admissible in court, as it is in many other countries. Will
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he confirm whether he will discuss with our security services ways in which that material can be admissible, while protecting personnel and methods?
Mr. Clarke: I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks. I will consider the recommendations of her Committee, especially the one that she cited. However, let me make the point that this Government implemented the Human Rights Act under which her Committee was established and the Act under which the Law Lords gave their judgment. We should be proud of the Act and of our approach. As my right hon. Friend said, we were clear from the outset during our first debates on the matter that difficult and not straightforward questions such as those that we are discussing would be raised, but it is better to address them with a discussion of human rights and its importance rather than trying to ignore them. I put that remark on record while giving a full commitment to examine carefully her Committee's recommendations.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): As there is obvious concern about any individual who is kept in prison for a long time without charge or prosecution, will the Home Secretary explain to us and the public the opportunities that the people in prison have to put forward their arguments if they think that the complaints made against them are inaccurate, or perhaps created by someone unfairly?
Mr. Clarke: They have the opportunities that the current law gives them; that is the state of affairs. It is important to recognise that our legislation is designed to deal with threats from organisations that want to destroy any such rights and abilities in any respect whatsoever.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Would the Home Secretary care to reflect on the fact that the big problem with the legislation is that it gives him the power to imprison foreign nationals, which is obviously discriminatory? Does he not think that we have crossed a rather dangerous rubicon, in that politicians, rather than independent courts acting under the criminal law, are allowed to imprison people?
As my hon. Friend knowshis record on these matters is well understood in the Housethere is a substantial process of review of any of the decisions taken in the area. That includes legally qualified people, so that judgments can be made on precisely the issues that he describes. However, I come back to the absolutely fundamental point; the House must decide whether it wants its Government to try to work to defend national security in these circumstances and to put that as a central question. That issue remains for my hon. Friend, for me and for every other Member of the House. I am sure that we will continue to discuss these matters, but I remain firmly of the view that one cannot simply assume that there is a benign set of organisations out there with a specific and interesting point to make. There are people who are determined to do what they can to destroy the fundamental foundations of our society.
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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman will know that I have opposed the powers since their introduction. Any legislation that he introduces must reflect the judgment of the highest court in the land. He must do away with the right to hold people in detention indefinitely. Should he not be trying to create an offence of associating with terrorists or terrorism, which might, in appropriate circumstances, lead to a custodial sentence?
Mr. Clarke: I hear that suggestion and know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has long experience of debating these matters in the House. I assure him that I shall examine his suggestion carefully when making the considerations to which I referred earlier.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is quite right to say that he will come to the House with proposals early in the new yearwe look forward to hearing themand to point out that terrorists are bent on destroying our fundamental institutions and our institutions of liberty. One of the fundamental institutions of which we were most proud was the fact that we did not detain people without trial or without allowing them to see the evidence on which they were kept in custody. Such things are fundamental, but we believe that the legislation has already given the terrorists one of the victories that they want. Will he examine carefully the suggestions of the Joint Committee and the Newton committee? In particular, no one understands why intercepted communications cannot be used if they might convict people, provided that the communications have been subject to proper safeguards. Finally, there are people in prison at the moment about whom we are talking in something of the abstract. What will happen to them in the meantime while he cogitates?
Mr. Clarke: I think I dealt with my hon. Friend's points earlier. I repeat that I will return to the House with proposals relating to all of them. I also repeat to my hon. Friend and the House that our obligation to do all we can to inhibit those who want to destroy our fundamental institutions of freedom is critical, and I am determined to uphold it.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): When the Home Secretary rightly warned against an instant response, did he recall the instant negative response that his predecessor gave the Newton committee when we recommended a range of measures which, taken together, could deal with these foreign nationals and, indeed, with United Kingdom citizens about whom similar suspicions were felt? Why has no work been done in the interim to prepare the new legislation that we thought should be prepared by the end of the year?
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