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Mr. Chris Smith: It is a burden that I wear lightly.

Mr. Johnson: I am most grateful and I am glad that we are united on the subject of the debate. The right hon. Gentleman constructively outlined what the Government should do. He said that wire-tapping evidence should be admissible in court. It is a mystery to me that the Government reject his wise counsel. I should like to know why. I believe that they do so because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said, the Bill is a classic secret policeman's measure.

I do not doubt the security services' good intentions. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that they have done a magnificent job in protecting us thus far from the undoubted threats that terrorists pose. However, I cannot for the life of me understand why the state feels it necessary to take new powers now. The control orders would be instantly recognisable not only to the old BOSS security services in South Africa, but to every secret police force, including the Cheka, OGPU, the NKVD and the Securitate.

I cannot believe that Labour Members of Parliament entered politics to take away habeas corpus. I hope that the impassioned denunciation by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) will ring in the Home Secretary's capacious ears when he formulates the climbdown that so many of us, from all parties, hope that he will propose in the next few days.
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In a hotly contested field, the Bill is one of the worst Government measures that has been produced in my time in the House. No responsible Opposition could conceivably let it through unamended. It is reminiscent of the actions of some tottering Belgian coalition Government of the early 1970s, using the threat of terror as an excuse to enact repressive emergency measures that are never removed from the statute book. I hope that there will be a significant revolt in the Lobby tonight, and that it will be joined by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who is about to speak.

5.4 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I should perhaps declare an interest: the offices of The Spectator are in my constituency.

No one can deny that the scale and, more particularly, the nature of terrorism have changed in recent times and that we must respond to that change. Up to now, our criminal justice system has been geared to the idea of detecting criminals after they have committed their crimes, and then punishing them. The threat from suicide bombers has changed that because, for them, the prospect of punishment is clearly no deterrent. We must therefore change some aspects of our system, the better to prevent terrorist crimes from being committed in the first place.

That is why I supported the earlier prevention of terrorism legislation as a stopgap, and why I have argued for some time that detention in Belmarsh should be replaced by a measure such as control orders to cover some people suspected of involvement in terrorism. So I support, in general, the Government's proposals to introduce control orders that might, for example, restrict suspects' freedom of association, use of communications or access to particular venues or neighbourhoods. However, I cannot and will not support any law that would allow a British citizen to be imprisoned without trial on the say-so of the Home Secretary. There is nothing personal about that: the present Home Secretary is a decent man. But no Home Secretary should have the power to deprive a fellow citizen of his or her liberty without having to lay convincing evidence before a court, and letting the court decide.

The Home Secretary has said that he is responsible for the safety of the country, and that that is why it is constitutionally right for him to initiate the control order process. I have no problem with that, but the power that he seeks from us today is not just to initiate control orders but to implement them. That is why I cannot support what he is proposing. There is a greater constitutional principle at stake here than the duties of the Home Secretary: the fundamental constitutional principle that Ministers cannot lock up fellow citizens. Only courts can do that.

It has been suggested that having to bring each case to court would put innocent lives at risk by preventing the Home Secretary from acting promptly if he believed that there was an immediate threat. That is simply not true. Suspects can be arrested immediately, kept for 14 days, and then possibly remanded in custody until evidence is
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submitted to a court. I use the word "court" deliberately. That may mean a judge sitting as a court, but the judge and his judgment would be subject to court rules and procedures designed to ensure consideration of the facts as well as the law, and to balance security with justice in what we must all admit are difficult and perplexing circumstances. The right for our case to be heard before a court is the bedrock of our system of justice.

That brings me to my final point. No mature democracy has ever been overthrown by terrorism. The terrorist bosses know that as well as we do. Their aim is not to overthrow our system of government but to provoke responses from us that damage us in the eyes of the people whom they wish to impress. In the case of this country, one of the things that they want to do is get us to abandon our long-standing and honourable claim to be a society that rejects arbitrary imprisonment and rests instead on the demanding and constraining concepts of natural justice and the rule of law.

That is why I cannot accept the Home Secretary's proposals on house arrest. They undermine the timeless rights of British citizens, and would undermine our standing in the world.

5.9 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): We have just heard a very important speech. Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), I place it with the speech by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), who is to retire at the next election. That was a moving speech because it recounted the very purpose why we are here and the traditions with which the Labour party was most closely associated: the beliefs, rights and freedoms of the individual. Collectively, this Parliament should be asserting what is our constitutional and legal history.

The interesting thing about the Bill is that it draws us together on two themes: our own rights—the tradition from Magna Carta, through habeas corpus to the age of universal democracy in this country—and the protection of our rights through the quasi-separation of powers between the judiciary, the Executive and Parliament itself. In fact, the Government have stumbled not because of the traditions of this country but because of their own flagship legislation, the Human Rights Act 1998. My purpose, in the few minutes that I have, is to try to draw to the attention of the House why I think all this will founder yet again on the basis of that Act.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to place an individual under house arrest or place such restrictions on their movements as amount to a deprivation of their liberty. The Bill refers to those powers as "derogating control orders". They are dealt with in clause 1(3)(g) and 1(4) and clause 2(1). In light of the Home Secretary's announcement that there is currently no need to derogate from article 5 because there are no individuals in respect of whom deprivation of liberty could be said to be strictly required, there would seem to be no need for the Government to take in this legislation the power to make derogating control orders depriving individuals of their liberty by, for example, placing them under house arrest.

Since it is now the Government's position that the intelligence relating to the current detainees cannot justify the deprivation of their liberty, all the
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Government need to do to meet the concerns expressed by the Law Lords is to provide themselves with the legal basis on which to deal with the current detainees in a way that is proportionate and non-discriminatory. If that can be done, as the Government now say, by measures short of deprivation of liberty, there is no need, in order to deal with the current threat to the nation, to take much wider powers that, by the Government's own admission, are not at present strictly required.

At the very least, there can be no justification for including such wide and unprecedented powers of Executive detention in legislation that is being rushed through Parliament at a speed and on a guillotine that prevents proper scrutiny, in order to get it on the statute book in time to deal with those detained under provisions that are shortly to expire. Legislation passed at such speed should be confined to that which is essential to deal with the problem about to arise. The problem for the Government is what to do with the detainees if the law under which they are currently detained lapses. The Bill should be confined to that, which means that all the provisions concerning derogating control orders should be taken out of the Bill, if necessary to be returned to when there is more opportunity for careful parliamentary scrutiny.

In any event, it also appears questionable as a matter of law whether creating a domestic legal framework that provides in advance for derogating control orders can itself be done without derogating from the European convention on human rights at the time of creating the framework itself, which would require the Government to demonstrate the necessity for having such a framework at the level of threat that currently exists.

The Bill provides for control orders to be made by the Secretary of State that have the effect of depriving individuals of their liberty without any prior judicial involvement and without any intention of bringing them before a court on a criminal charge. The Bill does provide for automatic consideration of such derogating control orders by the High Court within seven days and requires the court to quash the order if not satisfied that the matters relied on by the Secretary of State were capable of constituting reasonable grounds for him to make a control order against that person, or for imposing an obligation amounting to a deprivation of liberty. It also provides, in all other cases, for there to be a hearing by the court. The court must conduct its own hearing and make its own determination of each of the matters determined by the Secretary of State. All that is after the event and not prior to judicial involvement in the decision to deprive someone of liberty.

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