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The right hon. Gentleman must pursue the questions that he has set out in these discussions.
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He has been in his job for some time and must have formed a view now as to whether there is a group of people who cannot be prosecuted in the courts, but against whom action needs to be taken. Does he accept that such a group exists, in which case could he tell the House today what action he thinks should be taken against it?
David Davis: The right hon. Gentleman has been in his job for quite a time, too, and he knows that I am paid to make decisions and not to think out loud. We are trying to ensure that the measure works as well as it can. Also, we have said, in terms, that there are other Bills or laws that ought to be enacted to give the Home Secretary greater powers and to widen his net. At the moment, there are no such powers. As the Home Secretary has said, there have been 701 arrests, approximately 400 prosecutionsa little less than half on terrorist issues, with many others on immigration and other issuesand 17 convictions so far. For three and a half years we have managed to maintain the safety of the public, and the security services have done a very good job in that regard.
What has changed in the past three and a half weeks? If the Home Secretary had been saying for six months, "Look, we are concerned about British subjects being a terrorist threat and we need to deal with this," and if we had talked the matter through in some detail and been able as a House of Commons to come to a considered balance between the threat to the publicwhich is never as quantifiable as the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) describes, incidentallyand the ancient rights of the British people, I would be in a frame of mind much more amenable to his question.
We now have essentially two weeks to try to put together the follow-on from a Bill that itself was so ill drafted that it has fallen to pieces in the hands of the Government, and that is not a very good way to secure the future security, or indeed the future liberty, of British subjects.
I was rather sorry that the Home Secretary was not present at the previous debate, because I was going to tease him a little. He and I were at university at approximately the same time, and no doubt we both read the fashionable left-wing writers in those days.
David Davis: The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head and claims that only I, a Conservative student leader at the time, read them when he did not. Fair enough. But one of the things that they all clearly argued was that one of the primary aims of a terrorist is to provoke a reaction from the state, which in turn will radicalise a part of the population and recruit them for the terrorist cause. There is a serious danger of that if the use of these control orders is seen to be unjust, even by a minority, and that alone should be a telling argument for the power being exercised by the judiciary, not by the Executive.
After three years in which none of these powers has been available against British citizens, at a time when the Home Secretary himself says that the security risk is the same as it was a year ago and the security services and
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police say that they currently do not need the most draconian powers listed here, why do we suddenly need this measure in 14 days flat in the shadow of a general election? The Prime Minister said that the security services say that they need them. Did they tell him that in the past few weeks? Did they tell him that they needed them instantly? I doubt it.
To reiterate, the Home Secretary is taking powers to curb the freedom of British subjects by order, on suspicion, based on limited and possibly doubtful evidence. He does this after his own Department said that the measure was draconian and unjustifiable less than a year ago, and he does it after no apparent change in the circumstances, in a rushed Bill with wholly inadequate scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament. That cannot be the way for a democracy that believes in the rule of law to proceed.
"can confine British citizens for the first time in our history to house arrest. There are upwards of a thousand British citizens suspected of having links with Al-Qa'eda terrorism. Up until now, it has been possible to contain the threat without these special powers. The question is: why has it suddenly become necessary to impose these quite exceptional control orders?"
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab): As this will almost certainly be my last speech in Parliament, I shall try hard not to upset anyone. However, our debate here tonight is a grim reminder of how the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are betraying some of Labour's most cherished beliefs. Not content with tossing aside the ideas and ideals that inspire and inform ideology, they seem to be giving up on values too. Liberty, without which democracy has no meaning, and the rule of law, without which state power cannot be contained, look to Parliament for their protection, but this Parliament, sad to say, is failing the nation badly. It is not just the Government but Back-Bench Members who are to blame. It seems that in situations such as this, politics become incompatible with conscience, principle, decency and self-respect. Regrettably, in such situations, the desire for power and position predominates.
As we move towards a system of justice that found favour with the South African Government at the time of apartheid and which parallels Burmese justice today, if hon. Members will pardon the oxymoron, I am reminded that our fathers fought and died for libertymy own father literallybelieving that these things should not happen here, and we would never allow them to happen here. But now we know better. The unthinkable, the unimaginable, is happening here.
In their defence, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary say that they are behaving tyrannically and trying to make nonsense of the House of Lords decision in A and Others as appellants v. the Home Secretary as respondent because they are frightened, and that the rest of us would be frightened too if only we knew what they
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will not tell us. They preach the politics of fear and ask us to support political incarceration on demand and punishment without trial.
Sad to say, I do not trust the judgment of either our thespian Prime Minister or our Home Secretary, especially given the latter's performance at the Dispatch Box yesterday. It did not take Home Office civil servants or the secret police long to put poison in his water, did it? Paper No. 1, entitled "International Terrorism: the Threat", which the Home Secretary produced yesterday and I have read, is a putrid document if it is intended to justify the measure. Indeed, the Home Secretary dripped out bits of it and it sounded no better as he spoke than it read. Why does he insult the House? Why cannot he produce a better argument than that?
How on earth did a Labour Government get to the point of creating what was described in the House of Lords hearing as a "gulag" at Belmarsh? I remind my hon. Friends that a gulag is a black hole into which people are forcibly directed without hope of ever getting out. Despite savage criticisms by nine Law Lords in 250 paragraphs, all of which I have read and understood, about the creation of the gulag, I have heard not one word of apology from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. Worse, I have heard no word of apology from those Back Benchers who voted to establish the gulag.
Have we all, individually and collectively, no shame? I suppose that once one has shown contempt for liberty by voting against it in the Lobby, it becomes easier to do it a second time and after that, a third time. Thus even Members of Parliament who claim to believe in human rights vote to destroy them.
Many Members have gone nap on the matter. They voted: first, to abolish trial by jury in less serious cases; secondly, to abolish trial by jury in more serious cases; thirdly, to approve an unlawful war; fourthly, to create a gulag at Belmarsh; and fifthly, to lock up innocent people in their homes. It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next. I can describe all that only as new Labour's descent into hell, which is not a place where I want to be.
I hope thatbut doubt whetherethical principles and liberal thought will triumph tonight over the lazy minds and disengaged consciences that make Labour's Whips Office look so ridiculous and our Parliament so unprincipled.
It is a foul calumny that we do today. Not since the Act of Settlement 1701 has Parliament usurped the powers of the judiciary and allowed the Executive to lock up people without trial in times of peace. May the Government be damned for it.
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