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Mr. Oaten: The right hon. Gentleman has made a good point.

The Government's second suggestion is control orders. I have a little bit more sympathy with the ideas of control orders, when they do not involve house detention. Lower forms of control orders would probably not require a derogation—again, legal advice would be required on that point—so they tick that particular box, although they might give the Executive too much power. That is an important issue, and it may be a way forward, particularly in respect of how we can use tagging, limits on access to communications—to phones and computers—or perhaps even restrictions on access to financial services.

We would support the measures on control orders if a number of conditions were met. First, they should be issued by judges. Secondly, there should be absolute confirmation that they would not require a derogation. Thirdly, they should be time-limited and renewable with judicial oversight. Fourthly, they should not be used if there is a proper prospect of prosecution taking place. That is a perfectly sensible way forward, through which we could achieve the balance that is being sought between having some control and building in the judicial process. I hope that the Government will consider those suggestions on control orders.

On whether control orders should be used as an alternative to prosecution, we differ an awful lot from the Government. This is a key issue. As the Newton committee said,


 
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We strongly agree. Surely the right way to deal with the situation is to seek prosecutions in the normal way. I note that the Home Secretary said in his statement that that was his preferred starting point.

It has been possible to achieve that in some cases. In January 2002, two Algerians were charged with membership of al-Qaeda, and although the case was dropped, a year later they were jailed for 11 years. We know that that can be done, so the critical questions are these: why cannot we do that on more occasions, and why is the Home Secretary ruling it out so clearly at this stage? In part, that hinges on concerns about whether one reveals sources, and the protection that one wants to give them. However, I note from the Home Secretary's remarks that he believes that prosecution probably would not be effective in securing a conviction in relation to the existing cases. That may be so, but we should not rule it out on that basis; surely we should also be legislating for future cases, for which we should legislate to allow intercept evidence to be used.

There must be a way forward to achieve more prosecutions. The Law Commission agrees, as does, interestingly, the new chief of police, Sir Ian Blair. He said:

There are models throughout Europe; individual countries have found a way to get prosecutions and achieve a proper court process. So what are MI6 and GCHQ telling the Home Secretary that is making him so nervous about allowing that? If there is nervousness about the kind of information that is allowed in court, why are the Government not looking into alternative ways in which we could set up the court process? For example, what about specially trained and security-cleared judges, who could prepare a case that could then be heard by a different judge? What about smaller juries, or special security-cleared juries? Or—I do not like this, but if it is a way forward, perhaps we could look into it—a jury could hear the evidence, but not have the source material that it has come from. The Government should try to find a way forward on this important principle, so that we can get more prosecutions, as we did in the past.

I come on to two further issues that concern new offences and relate to ideas that the Government appear to have rejected. The first is the idea—again, used in several European countries—of making planning for terrorist activity an aggravating factor when sentencing, by allowing courts to pass longer sentences for non-terrorist crimes where there is clear evidence that the offender intended to go on to commit an act of terrorism. In essence, if it can be proved that some terrorism is attached to a criminal activity, a longer sentence can be obtained. Why have the Government rejected that as a model?

Why have the Government rejected the idea of introducing new offences to deal with loopholes that mean that an individual could be preparing for a terrorist attack that is not covered by legislation elsewhere? We argue that both those proposals should be included in discussions and may be a way forward.
 
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Let me deal with the Government's final suggestion of deportation. I greatly welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that Ministers have spent some time visiting countries to ascertain whether they can gain agreement on improvements in human rights. All parties welcome that. It should be everyone's long-term objective to try to ensure that individuals are free to go back to countries because their human rights record has improved. However, I would be worried if the Government introduced deportation on the basis of flimsy agreements on a ministerial visit when a memorandum had been signed. That is not good enough and would not persuade us that a robust system was in place to test whether the human rights record had improved sufficiently to allow deportation.

The Government know that if the system were not sufficiently robust, the detainees could test it in the courts. We make the simple suggestion of legally binding framework agreements with the relevant countries that are pre-tested in the courts to ascertain whether they are robust enough. Until those agreements are in place, no deportation should happen.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech and a reasonable suggestion. May I take it from his remarks that he has in mind the prudent notion that, in addition to any framework agreement, there should be an observable record of respect for human rights rather than merely a rhetorical expression of support for them?

Mr. Oaten: The hon. Gentleman is right. I do not want a piece of paper but a track record that has been tested, approved and signed by international organisations that we respect for their ability to investigate whether human rights are respected. Only that sort of track record would give me confidence that a deportation could be safe.

David Davis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way again. I am straightforwardly seeking information. The French are known to have sent back at least one suspect to Algeria, which is one of our problem countries. Does he know what arrangements they have and whether we can use them?

Mr. Oaten: I do not know the arrangements and I would be nervous about assuming that simply because another EU member state had sent an individual back to a country, we could tick the box for this country. I want to ensure that we have gone through the process properly. Other arrangements exist, but I want them to be of such a high standard that this country would be happy to sign them. We cannot assume that it is safe to send individuals back simply because other countries have done that.

It is difficult to summarise such a complex issue in 20 minutes. We believe that we should seek a cross-party consensus on such matters. The leaders of the two main Opposition parties will see the Prime Minister about the issue and I hope that we can make some progress. However, time is against us. We are required to renew the derogation in March. As things stand, the Liberal Democrats will vote against it. The Government have had three—nearly four—years to resolve those issues and progress has been too slow.
 
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We want a balance between security and the important principles of justice. I hope that progress can be made, but the Government's proposals so far fail to achieve the balance. In many ways, they make a bad position worse by continuing to undermine the strong principles of justice that have served this country so well for many years.

4.23 pm

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to end and add:

I thank the Liberal Democrats not only for giving up their Opposition time for an important debate, but for the genuinely open and constructive way in which the arguments have been presented. I am keen to develop as far as possible some cross-party consensus about the serious, difficult and complex issues that face the country. I hope that, through debate, argument, discussion and consideration, we can find our way through some of them. We will not always agree and, as the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) said in his closing remarks, we are discussing the balance between security and liberty. It is a difficult balance to strike and we may strike it in different places, depending on our perspective. However, I hope that we will act in a spirit of seeking the best solution for the future of this country. I take on board the hon. Gentleman's comments that he takes the threat seriously and that he has regard to the challenges that currently face the country.

The Home Secretary would have been present for the debate, but he is giving evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs on the subject of our discussion. Otherwise, he would have been here.


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