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Mr. Clarke: I conclude by referring to the core fact that we should all take account of what our electors sent us here to do. Our electors sent us here to protect the liberties of this country. [Interruption.]
"Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? 'It may be necessary sometimes to take action against people who have not yet committed any offence, but about whom the intelligence services have evidence that they are planning an act of terrorism'
a good question82 per cent. of Conservative supporters said yes, 13 per cent. of Conservative supporters said no. In the same way, when asked directly whetherthis is precisely the point made by a stream of Opposition Members during the debate
"In opposing the Government's Bill and saying that Parliament should take longer to consider the matter, the Conservatives are playing politics, rather than displaying a genuine concern for civil liberties".
As for the charge made against the Government by many hon. Members that the Bill is further evidence that we are instinctively authoritarian and do not care enough about civil liberties, the poll for The Daily Telegraph shows that 33 per cent. of people agree with that, while 50 per cent. disagree.
Peter Bottomley: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the Home Secretary is going to keep asking questions, will he please say that they are rhetorical questions, to which he does not want an answer?
I cite these figures because we must never forget, as we consider the very important legal and other arguments about the balance of security versus the issue of individual liberty, that what the British people want us to do is to protect their national security. I hope that this Bill will be given its Third Reading.
Mr. Grieve: I am truly sorry to see the Home Secretary mired in these fantasies and delusions of his own making. He comes to the House, presents a Bill and commends its Third Reading to the House, yet he knows that the debates in Committee have shown that it contains serious flaws that he has to rectify, and that his Government, through the Whips on his Treasury Bench, have, through their programming, denied the House of Commons any opportunity to consider its details.
We are being invited to vote on a Bill having not considered the following matters: the obligations on the Secretary of State in connection with control orders; the
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content of control orders; the definition of "terrorist-related activity"; the balance of proof in relation to the making of control orders; the abolition of a distinction between non-derogating and derogating control orders; the duration of the Act, which some Members might think a most important issue; the content and delivery of a notice of modification of an order; the power of the court to make a conditional discharge; the mechanisms of appeal; the possibility of providing for costs and damages if wrong is done to the individual who is adversely affected by these measures; appeals relating to derogating control orders; reviews; and control order proceedings in the schedule, which, as Members have commented in the short debates that we have been able to have, is clearly a document of the mightiest mischief, because it provides a mechanism whereby this Governmentin whom I have to say that I no longer have any confidence whatsoever in terms of the maintenance of civil liberties in this countrycan produce whatever they like by way of rules of court in an area of novel power-making.
How has this situation come about? Over the past week, the Home Secretary has weaved backwards and forwards between saying, when he wishes to appeal to one audience, that this is a non-party-political matter that requires serious consideration, and then denouncing one Opposition party or another for playing politics. Most of the time it has been my party that has been accused of playing politics, but when the Liberal Democrats have stood up against him, it is allegedly they who have been doing so.
The shallowness of the way in which the Government have embarked upon this project is breathtaking. Although they have known since 16 December that their existing powers were wholly flawed, all they did in the intervening six weeks was to go behind the scenes and decide to try to cobble something together. Here was an opportunity for the Home Secretary, in the new job that he had acquired, to show that he would rise to his office. He could have approached any party for consultation on a pre-legislative basis, but no. He and the Prime Minister, having decided what they would do, graciously extended the opportunity to come into the big tent. However, the moment any objection is raised, one is cast into the outer darkness.
Simon Hughes: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, from the time of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and that of the imprisonment of people in Belmarsh, the Government have issued no invitation to take part in two or three-party proceedings to discuss what should happen if, ultimately, the courts ruled, as many of us argued, that their proposals were illegal?
Mr. Grieve: I agree with the hon. Gentlemanwhat he says is the absolute truth. I believed at the time that the lack of consultation was due to the bizarre and individual attitudes of the previous Home Secretary. However, it has become clear that he has spread contagion throughout the Government because the current Home Secretary has adopted all his worst vices in his approach to the matters that we are considering.
What are we to make of the Home Secretary's coming to the Dispatch Box a few moments ago and reciting a series of mantras about the public opinion polls? I stress to him that 99 per cent. of people in this country might
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believe in the Bill, but I would not vote for it. Hon. Members who consider their consciences, the way in which the Government have gone about the matter and the enormity of what is involved, can readily dismiss the appeals to public sentiment, whether it is accurate or not.
The Government are highly populist. The Prime Minister picks his position carefully. If he believes that he can take some shallow swing of the popular mood with him, that justifies his doing anything, however authoritarian, illiberal or undermining of the constitution. The long-term damage is enormous.
I cannot understand how a Government who were elected for the first time in 1997 on the back of commendable promises about their standards of integrity could descend so rapidly into the gutter, in the way in which we have witnessed in the past few weeks.
The Bill does not deserve a Third Reading. It is fundamentally flawed. It could be made tolerable, but we have been allowed to do nothing to enable that to happen. Every hon. Member should consider sending a signal to the other place that we need its help. Heaven knows, we do.
We have demeaned ourselves in the past 24 hours. We have allowed a measure that is poor in quality, content and concept to pass through its Committee stage. We have one last opportunity to say that, although we are prepared to consider the problems that confront the Government, we are not willing to put up with such a dog's breakfast, which so undermines the basic principles of liberty in this country. I therefore ask hon. Members to vote against Third Reading and repeat the signal.
We hear a lot about standing up to protect people. I do not need lessons from the Home Secretary about protecting people. I am satisfied that there is a threat to this country but one does not solve it by turning into a coward and dying a thousand deaths, which the right hon. Gentleman appears to invite the population of this country to do. It is possible to respond to and deal with terrorism in ways that are compatible with our freedoms and liberties. The Bill fails that test completely.
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