|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Harris: The Home Secretary has already said that, as with the current system, the new system will be subject to independent judicial oversight. There is nothing more certain to obtain a round of applause during "Any Questions?" or "Question Time" than a member of the panel saying, "The security services got it wrong on Iraq, so they must be wrong here." That is a nonsensical argument. As we have seen, it is very difficult for the security services of any country to come to hard conclusions about the threat that a nation poses to another nation. It is a different ball game altogether to come up with the conclusion that an individual is planning to be a threat to a particular nation. That evidence is much easier to come by. It is wrong to compare the security services' record in Iraq with their record in the context of the Belmarsh detainees.
Mr. Allen: Does my hon. Friend accept that the risks in getting the matter wrong are immense for any Government and any responsible political party? If people perpetrated a 9/11-style atrocity in the UK and the Government had not taken advantage of the ability to take them out of commission, that Government would never be forgiven. However, does he accept that one of the best ways of gaining public and cross-party support is to ensure that our democracy defends itself in the most democratic way possible, given the constraints? Will he therefore keep his mind open to the possibility of pushing back the Government's view a little on some matters, on which we could achieve broad consensus and so keep our people on side on the important issue of ensuring that terrorists do not have a free rein in this country?
Mr. Harris: My hon. Friend has perfectly expressed the nub of the argument. I agree that it is important for the protection of our culture and our nation to defend our rights in as democratic a manner as circumstances allow. I believe that the Government's proposed measures do exactly that. That is our fundamental disagreement with the Liberal Democrats. Despite the new-found atmosphere of cross-party co-operation, of which I have never been a great fan, I do not have much confidence in the Liberal Democrats' claims to give the nation's security as high a priority as they should, given the comments of the hon. Member for Winchester.
Of course I shall give way, but I note before I do so that the hon. Gentleman refused to give way to me twice. However, I shall show him the courtesy that he denied me.
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1438
Mr. Oaten: I appreciate that. However, I should like the hon. Gentleman to acknowledge that I spent four or five paragraphs of my speech emphasising that the Liberal Democrats do not for a single moment underestimate the security risk to this country. It is disingenuous of him to claim something completely different.
I began by saying that people in this country will say either that there is no threat and the measures are unnecessary or, as I do, that there is a huge threat and they are necessary. The Liberal Democrats, unsurprisingly, say both. They claim that there is a threat but that we need to devise new measures. What measures? They spoke about the balance between security and civil liberties. It seems to me that they strike that balance much more at the civil liberties end. That is understandable, given the traditions of the Liberal party. There is nothing dishonourable in that position but I have the right to say that, if their proposals were implemented, it would have a negative effect on security. That is my position.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The hon. Gentleman's understanding of Northern Ireland history is fascinating if rather different from mine. I remember that negotiation was based on hard-nosed military activity as well as other aspects.
I am interested to hear his comments given that, when the Home Secretary announced the new measures, the Government were most anxiously repatriating British citizens from Guantanamo Bay while the American Government were proving that some of those whom they had set at liberty from Guantanamo Bay had been either killed or captured in subsequent terrorist actions. Is not that an anomaly?
Mr. Harris: I am not clear about the hon. Gentleman's point. I have always rejected comparisons between Belmarsh and Guantanamo Bay. I receive many letters claiming that Belmarsh is Britain's Guantanamo Bay. That makes no sense and I have always avoided making that comparison. Would the hon. Gentleman like to intervene again to clarify his point?
Patrick Mercer: If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is suggesting an extremely hard line to protect this country by taking measures that some would view as illiberal, at the same time as the Government suggest that individuals who have been suspected of terrorism should be returned to this country and put at liberty.
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I continue to oppose the US Administration's illegal detention of people at Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court of the United States has decreed that those detentions are illegal. Our Government, however, brought proposals to the House of Commons that were voted on, passed by the upper House, and became law. That is somewhat different from what President Bush
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1439
did in regard to Guantanamo Bay, which was to detain combatants from the Afghan war in a geographical location specifically chosen because it was outside the legal remit of the United States. That is very different, which is why I have always rejected any comparisons between Guantanamo Bay and Belmarsh. I hope that that clears up the matter for the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Winchester came out with a curious phrase when he said that we should seek prosecutions "in the normal way". This brings me back to the fundamental issue in the debate that we have been having ever since 11 September 2001. I guess that most people said at the time that the world had changed and that it would never be the same again. A few months later, however, most people said, "I didn't actually mean that. It was the appropriate thing to say at the time. Now let's get on with our lives. Nothing has really changed." I like to believe that this Governmentespecially the Home Secretary and his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett)actually meant it when they said that the world had changed for ever. That means that we now have to look again at some of our fundamental liberties, and to decide whether they will help or hinder terrorist networks.
Surely the purpose of any Government must be to try to obstruct and to collapse all terrorist networks operating in their country. Nothing that the hon. Member for Winchester said would lead me to believe that terrorists would be quaking in their boots at the thought of any new proposals introduced by the Liberal Democrats. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman is proposing would have a serious effect on the terrorists.
Mr. Beith: What would the hon. Gentleman say to the right hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), who served with me on the Newton committee, and who felt that, although there was a serious threat that required measures to deal with it, the measures that the Government had put into forcewhich we were reviewingwere unsustainable, and that other measures therefore had to be found?
Mr. Harris: That is why we are having this debate. The right hon. Gentleman should concede that my view on this matter is pretty unambiguous[Interruption.] I am an elected Member of this House and I am entitled to my opinion. The decisions facing all democratically elected politicians since 9/11 were always going to be extremely difficult. We were not elected to this House to make easy decisions. We were elected to make very difficult decisions, and sometimes they are unpopular. My views on this do not concur with those of the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said that a suspect's right to a trial and to know the charges against them were fundamental. He said that they were the fundamental rights of a free citizen in this
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1440
country. Well, he was half right. Those rights are fundamental. People have the right to a fair trial and to know the charges against them, but another right has much greater priority: a far more fundamental right is the right to life.
Occasionally, I have been a tad unfair in this House to those who have had a legal trainingI do not include myself in that number. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) will forgive me for saying this; she and I served on the Standing Committee for the Proceeds of Crime Billwe sat through 39 sittingsand that was the first time that I had experienced this lawyerly culture. The Proceeds of Crime Bill was designed to allow the Assets Recovery Agency to confiscate such proceeds from people who had not been found guilty of anything in a criminal court, through a civil procedure based on the balance of evidence. That was the fundamental point of that Bill, and it was fought against root and branch by the Liberals and the Conservative party on that particular legal point.
It was claimed by those with legal training that it was unfair for the Assets Recovery Agency to confiscate anything from someone who had not been proven guilty in a court of law. Perhaps they were right; perhaps they were wrong. I certainly had no problem in supporting those measures, and today the Assets Recovery Agencyin Scotland the Crown Officeis confiscating millions of pounds a week from drug dealers who have not been found guilty in court. We do not have enough evidence to convict them, but nevertheless we are confiscating their homes and cars. We are freezing their bank accounts and taking money from them, then distributing it in the communities that their activities have most damaged.
Lawyers among us may say that that process is not particularly fair, just as they are making the same arguments today. If the priority of the Government is to safeguard the lives of our citizens and the fabric of the nation, arguments about due process are the equivalent of arguing about the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|