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Mr. Allen: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not be drawn into the areas into which he is trying to divert me. None the less, questions about intelligence have some resonance in this area.

We could learn a lesson from the openness of the Home Secretary. I am delighted that he has met the shadow Home Secretary and the Liberal Democrat spokesman, and I congratulate the Prime Minister and others on their open-mindedness. That is the approach of the Executive and the putative Executive, but Parliament also has a responsibility. It must seize the opportunity to ensure that, in future, matters of this importance—and, indeed, the normal legislation that proceeds through the House—receive proper and early scrutiny, because that leads to better law that sticks and does the job that we would all wish it to do.

Mr. Grieve: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would use his influence to pass that on to his colleagues on the
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Front Bench. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet the Home Secretary and I am pleased that dialogue can take place. Nevertheless, it is not helpful when other people's reservations, if they go beyond a certain point, are immediately characterised as mere party political advantage and posturing. There are a wide range of views in the House, all of which are legitimate. I heartily endorse the hon. Gentleman's belief that we need to deal with this issue seriously. We are happy to do so, but at times we have been left with the impression that others are not.

Mr. Allen: If the hon. Gentleman waits for me to exert my influence on my Front-Bench team, he may be in for a very long wait, but I commend it for its open-minded approach to the issue and for listening. That may not have been the case previously, and I congratulate the Home Secretary on the way in which he has conducted the informal pre-legislative scrutiny. It is welcome and I look forward to a slightly more formal approach after future Queen's Speeches.

The power that the Government seek to arrogate is necessarily extraordinary, given the threat that we face. Our democratic response must be equally extraordinary. A one-club policy of containment of international terrorism will not suffice any longer. We need not only the proper involvement of the rule of law, which I hope can be achieved by hon. Members contributing to the progress of the legislation, but also the involvement of the legislature both pre-legislatively and post-legislatively. Given the relatively small number of cases—13 people, I understand, have been taken to Belmarsh in a three-year period—it is within the wit even of this demoralised and dragooned place to organise some parliamentary oversight. It is a shame that we have to fawn and beg the Government to do what is the rightful duty of most other democratic legislatures in the world.

Hoping for favours from a benign Government or personality, or for obstruction from an illegitimate second Chamber, is not, frankly, a substitute for a sustainable strategy to defend our liberties in these difficult times. I hope that people who aspire to lead their parties and our country will not only talk about rights and responsibilities but have the confidence to share them with all our people by putting them down in a written constitution for all to see. What is good enough for the European Union and what Iraqis in their hundreds have been prepared to die for in recent weeks must, surely, find a place in our own country. Today demonstrates again, for those who need it, how flimsy and pathetic are the defences of unentrenched rights in the United Kingdom. A written constitution would define our historic rights and social responsibilities and, incidentally, make clear the emergency powers necessary to defend those liberties from the extraordinary threats that we face today.

I hope that all parties can see that crisis management of Parliament and the media must give way to a more thoughtful and inclusive strategy. I hope that this is the day that we start to realise that British democracy and politics cannot be defined as what happens between No. 10 and the media, but must involve an independent Parliament, a separate judiciary, a legitimate second Chamber and, above all, citizens who understand their
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rights and responsibilities—in other words, an effective, active and healthy democracy, which is what terrorists and fundamentalists fear the most.

The issue has again highlighted some of the starkest failings of our political system. Just when strong, independent legislative scrutiny of a Government extending their powers at the expense of our liberties is most needed, it is missing. Just when a clear, written constitution should be providing the parameters for resolving the terrible dilemmas between the safeguarding of our rights and our security, it is absent. Just when we need separation of powers so that those who exercise governmental power are not the same people who should be holding them to account, it cannot be found. None of those fundamental flaws in our political system has been addressed by my Government during the past seven years. None has been considered important and may not be considered important today.

I hope that the lessons of today are not lost when the crisis blows over. We are entering an era when such dilemmas will become more common and acute for all of us. Without checks and balances, what could come next, not from this Government but from a future one under the auspices of other people? What action might be contemplated by a future Government in a British 9/11 scenario? There cannot be more serious problems to be faced by all of us in this Chamber. We need to prepare our democratic structures and democratic response now for such eventualities. We should not make them up as we go along, although I have appreciated the flexibility from Ministers today.

David Winnick: My hon. Friend emphasised that there is an acute terrorist danger and few would disagree. Will he bear it in mind that, during the vulgar outburst from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), not once did he speak about the terrorist danger facing our country?

Mr. Allen: I shall leave it to my hon. Friend to take that up with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch.

I hope that the few pips that have squeaked today will help those in No. 10 and those who aspire to be there to understand that in Britain we cannot choose between vigorously fighting terrorism or deepening and strengthening our democracy. Both are essential and inseparable partners if we are to prevail in an ever more dangerous world.

5.34 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): As we have heard in all speeches from both sides of the House, and as I said in my intervention, the Home Secretary is between a rock and a hard place. It seems that the only way in which he can resolve that is to accept the principle of judicial decision. Listening to this debate, knowing that it will be taken to another place, and with the time constraints on the Government, it is difficult to see how we can fail to get from that point to where we want to be. The question is: why are the Government making it so difficult and painful to get to a point that can unite both sides? My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester
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(Mr. Oaten) made a constructive speech and indicated a willingness to try to ensure that the legislation works, but that fundamental principle must be conceded before anything can flow to an all-party agreement.

I speak as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee; I am also the rapporteur on political prisoners, about which I might say something more shortly. I am left with the question of why the United Kingdom, alone among the 46 members of the Council of Europe, seeks a derogation from article 5 of the European convention on human rights and wants the right to lock up people indefinitely without trial. Why do not other Governments wish to do that, and especially the Spanish Government, given the atrocities that their country has suffered? My first question is: why do we alone feel the need to do that?

In fact, the Home Secretary has suggested that he does not want to do that. He has told us that he is trying to divide his Bill into two sections: derogation and non-derogation. To derogate or not to derogate, that is the question. But he also acknowledged that even non-derogation powers could be challenged, and they probably will be. They certainly will be if they are combined cumulatively under the European convention on human rights. In reality, there are not two categories but one. That said, one category will definitely be challenged, and one will probably be challenged.

It is also important that we do not become too narrowly concerned about the Human Rights Act 1998. It served British citizens well because it dealt with the remoteness of the European convention on human rights and the Strasbourg Court by bringing them closer to us and by making them accessible through our own judicial process. Those who did not like the Law Lords' decision—that might include the Government—know perfectly well that it was based on their interpretation of what the Strasbourg Court would have decided, had the matter gone before it. That was what they were obliged to do.

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