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Mr. Shepherd: The hon. Gentleman is making an extraordinarily good case. On the comparators, we are a common-law country; that is what our law is founded on. The observation that so many make is, "How is it that the other common-law societies that we respect—the United States, Canada, Australia—have not found it necessary to take these extraordinary measures?"

Malcolm Bruce: I am very happy to accept that intervention because, in a sense, it complements the point I am making. We were, after all, co-authors and founder-signatories of the European convention on human rights, and we put some of our principles at the heart of it. I do not want to go down this road, but it worries me that people say, "Let's repeal the Human Rights Act." They fail to recognise that that would not change anything other than the practice of accessibility; it would not change the law itself. However, that is by the bye.

As I said, I am the rapporteur on political prisoners in Europe, and there is a point at issue that we should recognise. We are rightly concerned about what we are
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doing for British citizens and residents, and obviously that is what this Parliament is fundamentally about. However, we are also part of an international community and we should consider how this Bill looks from outside. In keeping with the intervention of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), how does it look when a country such as the UK feels the need to take these powers when other countries do not? What kind of example does that set?

I have twice had to visit Azerbaijan—I will visit it again next month—to try to secure the release of political prisoners whose imprisonment has been identified by the Council of Europe as incompatible with its obligations. I have also reported on the developing situation of political prisoners in Russia, and I refer to the case of Svetlana Bakhmina to highlight the abuse of power. She is a lawyer and Russian citizen who left this country after a meeting in London and was arrested within 24 hours of returning to Moscow. She was taken into custody, while her young children were left abandoned, and she was subjected to physical force that put her in hospital. Two months later, she is still being detained by the security forces without any charge or evidence being brought. We must remonstrate with the Russians and point out that that is not the way for countries that are signatories to the European convention on human rights to behave. How will it look if we pass this Bill and lock up people without providing the proper process of judicial balance and evidence and the right to have their case tested? I do not believe that we will have the authority or credibility to argue that case. Such behaviour will seriously undermine what we stand for.

When the Home Secretary indicated that he had no intention of seeking an extension of the existing powers, I wondered whether that was because he knows that they will be challenged. That the derogation is an absolute right is not the case; it is subject to certain tests and can be challenged. However, if the Home Secretary is saying that he has no intention of seeking an extension, although the Conservatives suggest that he should, he is putting himself in a position where the time scale within which we have to operate will be extremely short.

I hope that Ministers will take note of the tone of the debate. I notice that only one Member on the Government Benches has so far indicated the intention of voting for the Bill. Of course, people come to these debates to express their views, but there seems to be a paucity of Labour Back Benchers queuing up to give the Government their support.

None of us underestimates the need to address international terrorism. I do not think that we want to challenge the integrity either of Ministers or of the security services—who have access to information that they cannot share—on the need to take such action. I hope, however, that they will accept that this is a mature Parliament and that even if the information cannot be shared with us, we must be satisfied that the process is fair and objective. People have the right to hear the charge against them and to defend themselves. The decision must be taken by an independent, impartial court. I want to make a provocative point, but it is real.
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If somebody is put into detention without trial by a Minister, we cannot avoid that person being described as a political prisoner.

Mr. Grieve: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman on the point about the Home Secretary not exercising the powers, but may I press him a little further? I suggest that it must be accepted that the nature of the process we shall set up, even if it is carried out by a judge, will have inherent capacity for injustice. That will not be the fault of the judge; it will be because he cannot hear the other side of the case without the necessary information. I urge the hon. Gentleman and everyone else in the House to focus on that issue. We cannot let that point go by the board simply by saying that we shall hand the taking of the decision to the judge.

Malcolm Bruce: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I return to the European convention—the right to trial requires that information be put into the court, so we shall have a problem if we think that we can have a process where that is not the case. We shall be on the wrong side of the convention in spirit and, probably, in letter.

I do not for a minute want to give people who are detained on suspicion of being terrorists the comfort of claiming that they are political prisoners. I want us to be able to say that they have been put through a process and determined by an independent judicial system to be subject to the orders on the basis of evidence, with an agreed test of judgment. In that situation, they would not have the right to describe themselves as political prisoners and, more to the point in terms of the integrity of the British state, we would not be subjected to the accusation that we were creating a body of political prisoners. I do not want to be told that I have to investigate the United Kingdom's political prisoners. It is difficult enough doing that in Azerbaijan and Russia, without having to do it at home. I am not being facetious. Questions will be asked if we alone, among the 46 members of the Council of Europe, go down that path and the decision is taken by a Minister subject only to judicial review. We could be accused of creating political prisoners.

It is in everybody's interest to ensure that the process is robust and strong and protects the integrity of the state, the security of the system and the principles of British justice. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said in his potent intervention, it is amazing that the Home Secretary actually wants the powers on those terms. If judges review cases properly, there will be the maximum capacity for embarrassment to him. Of course, if there are no means for the proper testing of evidence there may be questions as to how the process could apply.

We need a robust system on which we can agree, which gives us security and control and ensures that we can show that people have been given a proper test and have received proper judgment. That will serve the interests of democracy, about which the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) was rightly concerned, and of justice and the security of the state.

These are difficult issues and the debate demonstrates that we all recognise that, but I urge the Government to acknowledge that in this context, when we have only a
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short time, the sooner they concede the principle that judges make the decision and the Government make the case, the sooner we can go on to have a real debate about how to test that case, how to put it through the system and ensure that there is genuine support so that we can defeat terrorism and maintain the integrity of British justice. That is surely what we are all trying to achieve.

5.45 pm

Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce). I, too, feel that the example that we set is very important and I intend to cover that in my speech.

Like most other Members who have spoken today, I recognise that we have a problem. I recognise, too, like my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), that very real attempts have been made by the Home Secretary to solve that problem. I salute him for the work that he has been doing and I value it. I also recognise that, in today's world, control orders are sadly necessary, but I do not see why those control orders have to be initiated and implemented by a single politician. Nor do I see why that politician needs to have only reasonable grounds for suspecting that the individual concerned is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activity. That seriously worries me.

Those reasonable grounds could be based on intelligence evidence. It is the nature of intelligence gathering that it is unreliable. It is difficult. We have no guarantee that that intelligence will be correct. I know, because I have known the Home Secretary for many years and worked with him for many years, that he is an honourable and fair man. He is acting from the very best of motives and in the public interest, but, with the deepest respect, I think that the end does not justify these means. In fact, I fear that if we use undemocratic means such as these, we may unintentionally will new and awful ends. That is why I will not support the Bill tonight and why I ask my right hon. Friend to think again.

There are better ways of doing this—quite a few have been mentioned in the Chamber tonight. I will not go over them because other hon. Members want to speak, but we should involve a judge from the outset, use the Crown Prosecution Service procedure and have a look at how the Canadians use intercept evidence in court. In other words, look at it again and think again about the kind of example that this sets, as the hon. Member for Gordon said. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) was right when he said that people can be detained without trial for as long as four years on the continent, but does that mean that we should emulate them? Does that mean that that is something that we should even consider?

I lived for many years in South Africa, during the dark days of apartheid. During that time, Britain's legal system was held up as a beacon of light and hope, as the prison bars of the apartheid state closed around us. In 1961, the South African Government introduced the General Law Amendment Act, which allowed people to be detained for 12 days without trial. By 1963, that had been extended to 90 days. By 1965, it was 180 days. Two years later, it became indefinite. At the same time, the apartheid regime was issuing control orders that restricted the right of some citizens to congregate, to
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work and, in some cases, to leave the confines of their own homes. Those orders had a devastating effect on the life of the suspect and his or her family. I should know—my first husband was served with one of them in 1971. He lived under it for five years, and it was only thanks to the generosity of the university at which he taught that he did not starve. He could not work, leave his home or travel to Cape Town to see his mother, and he barely saw his children.

I know that this is Britain and not South Africa or Burma, but we must not underestimate the importance of what we are doing today and the message that it sends to countries where we are talking about good governance. The example that we set will stay with us for many years. Removing the hope that we give, as we could tonight, might have a deleterious effect.

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