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John Reid: I entirely accept that we should speak to a range of people, including retired members of the judiciary, but at the end of the day this is a matter for politicians. It is not a matter for judges or lawyers. They are a vital tool in interpreting existing laws, but it is for politicians to address the historical disjunctions
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that arise because of changes in the world. It is for them to address the law of conflict as it currently exists and its inadequacies in terms of the nature of today’s conflict, the law of peace and the disjunction between it and the nature of today’s peace—for we currently have something between war and peace—and the nature of the threat that we face.

In considering those issues in general, we must also consider measures in particular. My hon. Friend mentioned some of them. I will certainly consider measures such as post-charge questioning, and I will attempt to build a consensus, but let me briefly make two points. First, it is clear to me personally that, strategically and in the long run, the disbenefits to this country of using intercept evidence in court, with all its implications, outweigh the benefits. This country is not like any other country in terms of our intercept capabilities and its importance to us. Secondly, I say to the whole House that if we ever reach the stage of mass destruction—if a plane, or two planes, come down over the Atlantic, or something horrendous like that happens—the people of this country will not ask us why we introduced measures to strengthen the fight against terrorism; they will demand to know why, given all the signals and signs and indications that this was coming, the House did not act immediately and unanimously, with consensus, to strengthen all our laws against terrorism. That is the question that will be asked of us.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I completely agree with the Home Secretary that this must go beyond and above party politics. Given that, why does he not act and introduce a proper and effective border security force that would help to seal our borders? It would not completely eradicate the problem, but it could be done and it must go beyond merely putting passport inspectors into uniform.

John Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman. First, we have doubled the resources going into border enforcement. We have increased the powers and we are introducing new powers for those who operate on our borders. We are introducing new technology. We are demanding that there be biometric visas, starting next year with 100 out of the 200 countries. I hope that we shall get the hon. Gentleman's party’s support for that.

Secondly, although it is not sufficient in itself, an absolutely necessary element of the fight against terrorism, fraud, crime and illegal immigration is ID cards management and biometrics. I hope that, even at this stage, the Opposition parties will come to their senses on that.

Thirdly, I have refocused the whole of the Home Office on all those challenges: on mass migration and the need to tackle illegal immigration, on fair and effective immigration, on international crime, on fraud and all the elements that go with it—which latterly have been linked to mass migration and to terrorism—and on the fight to counter terrorism. I am doing all those things, and on top of that I want to try to build national consensus. Therefore, I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman, and—who knows?—in this new emollient spirit, having failed to replace him, the Conservative party might even reappoint him.

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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does the Home Secretary accept that public confidence in the operation of our anti-terrorist laws is important? The escape of three people who were under control orders will shake that, but may I urge on him two steps that would help to renew and to strengthen public confidence? I urge the first on Opposition Members: that we renew the agreement across the House, because when the Government have attempted to take difficult anti-terrorism measures the split with the Opposition has undermined public confidence. Secondly, I urge him to resist the siren calls for derogation from the Human Rights Act because public confidence depends on the knowledge that Britain maintains the highest human rights standards in fighting terrorism.

John Reid: On the first point, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend—she might be surprised to know that I agree with her on the second point, too. Much preferable to derogation from or abandonment of the European convention on human rights is a willingness and understanding across Europe—I think that such understanding is growing rapidly among Interior Ministers—that we have to build on the convention to ensure that it not only enshrines all those sentiments that were formed, correctly and understandably, in the middle of the previous century, but incorporates the problem that we face today.

Let me put it simply. The European convention on human rights was intended to defend the individual from the unparalleled destructive capacity of the fascist state. That is what gave rise to it. People did not envisage at that time that the state and the community might now be under threat from the unparalleled destructive capacity of fascist individuals working in networks. That is what we face today. The arbitrary imposition of one’s will on another by destructive power is fascism, whether it emanates from Europe or any other area. We now face a historical development that requires all of us to build on the European convention on human rights, strengthen it and ensure that the most fundamental of all rights—the right to life and to protection of that life—without which no other right—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must stop the Home Secretary.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The Home Secretary talks about this being a matter for politicians and, indeed, for Parliament. On parliamentary scrutiny of control orders, may I draw his attention to the recently published Joint Committee on Human Rights report on the renewal of control orders? Our first recommendation stated:

Therefore, will he give an undertaking that there will be an opportunity for politicians and for Parliament to debate the detail of the regime so that we can try to avoid some of the problems that he is facing?

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John Reid: There will be two opportunities. The first will arise in or around July, when I think the order must be renewed. Secondly, I guarantee to the hon. Gentleman that the scope of the counter-terrorism Bill, although it will not in itself achieve the promised consolidation—that will be done afterwards—will be sufficiently wide to raise all matters that would have been raised under a consolidation Bill. Therefore, there will be two opportunities to have those discussions.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that he is examining the possibility of a derogation from article 5. He rightly says that one case arose before the domestic legislation was introduced, but the fact remains that France, Germany and even Holland are able to deport foreign terrorist suspects. This country has, so far, failed to deport any.

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both counts. First, it is not true that we have failed to deport any. We have, as it happens, deported quite a lot of people, including foreign national prisoners—thousands of them. Secondly, it is not true that in France, Italy or wherever it is easy to deport people. Only last week, I spoke to the former Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, who is now the Interior Minister, and shared with me his problems in doing that. I know from my many discussions with Nicolas Sarkozy that that is the position in France, too. Indeed, the issue of immigration was an elemental part of the campaign when he was elected President. I have also discussed the matter with German Interior Minister Schäuble. All those countries have the same problems, but they have different legal systems. The different legal system in France permits it to detain people under inquisition for much longer than is allowed here, which is one of the reasons we raised the possibility of longer detention here. The hon. Gentleman’s party voted against it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. We now move on to the business question.

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Business of the House

12.7 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business of the House for the week commencing 4 June will be— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Leave the Secretary alone. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) was not pleased about not being called. There is other business, including Back-Bench business. Do not complain if you do not get called, because you do well.

Mr. Straw: The business of the House for the week commencing 4 June will be as follows:

Monday 4 June—Second Reading of the Legal Services Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 5 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, followed by a debate on Darfur on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 6 June—Opposition Day [13th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 June—Second Reading of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill.

Friday 8 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 June will include:

Monday 11 June—Opposition Day [14th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 7 and 14 June will be:

Thursday 7 June—A debate on the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on coastal towns.

Thursday 14 June—A debate on the report from the Science and Technology Committee on drug classification.

I should like to make two other brief announcements. I have issued a written ministerial statement today regarding oral statements and notice being given on the Order Paper. It widens the criteria for giving notice of oral statements. I am grateful for the agreement of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the shadow Leader of the House, and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). We aim to ensure that notice on the Order Paper is given wherever possible, following my office’s notification to the House. The Government retain the freedom to make statements without prior notice.

Lastly, following the Modernisation Committee’s recommendations on the legislative process, which the House accepted, the Legal Services Bill has been selected for a pilot to evaluate the impact of tabling explanatory statements to amendments in Public Bill Committees. Guidelines for Members wishing to table explanatory statements with their amendments are available from the Public Bill Office.

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Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for providing the future business and for his other announcements.

The Home Secretary has just told us that the Government will introduce a new counter-terrorism Bill, but we were told in the Queen’s Speech that there would be a criminal justice Bill. None has been forthcoming, so will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Prime Minister designate has dropped the Bill?

In response to the urgent question, the Home Secretary just reported that three terror suspects subject to control orders had absconded, which means that a third of those under control orders are now missing. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) asked the Home Secretary a number of very specific questions about control orders legislation and related matters, but the Home Secretary did not answer a single one of them, preferring to talk about where the blame lies for the particular problems that the Government face. I acknowledge that the Home Secretary said that the debate on the counter-terrorism Bill would be wide ranging, but I believe that it would be beneficial to have a full debate in Government time before that Bill—in other words, a debate not on a Bill, but on the operation of control orders. May we have such a debate?

That is not the only problem to which the Home Secretary has admitted this week. The number of Britons with serious overseas convictions that the Department has failed to process is four times higher than the Home Secretary previously admitted to Parliament. They include people convicted of murder, manslaughter and sexual offences, some of whom have since worked with children. May we have a debate on the protection of the public?

A year ago, the Home Secretary took up his new position. He described his new Department as “not fit for purpose”, said that he would fix it in 100 days, harassed the Prime Minister to make him security supremo, divided the Department into two and then announced his resignation two days before the division came into effect. Following this week’s latest fiascos, may we have a debate on whether the Home Secretary will leave his Department “fit for purpose”?

It is reported that the first the Lord Chief Justice heard about the division of the Department and the creation of the Ministry of Justice was when he read a newspaper article by the Home Secretary. Lord Phillips says that the judiciary could rule that the Lord Chancellor is in breach of his statutory duty to protect the independence of the courts and that we need “a fundamental review”. The Justice and Home Secretaries might soon be on the Back Benches, but may we have a debate on the Ministry of Justice?

On Tuesday, the Government announced a two-month delay in the introduction of home information packs, which will start in August, before the “consultation” ends. Only a quarter of the required assessors have been trained, four-bedroom houses are being sold as three-bedroom houses with a games room and one in 10 people think a HIP is a sexually transmitted disease— [Laughter.] Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Minister for Housing and
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Planning cannot agree on whose fault it is, so may we have a debate on ministerial responsibility for this farce?

Five out of six of Labour’s deputy leadership candidates want to be Deputy Prime Minister, but I read that the Leader of the House has his eyes on the job. I understand, however, that the Education Secretary says that that will happen “over my... dead body”—that is the censored version of the quote. The Chancellor’s camp says that there might not be a Deputy Prime Minister

May we have a debate on the Deputy Prime Minister’s role?

Amidst all this mess, the Prime Minister is clinging to his job like David Brent, saying that there are

He is obviously looking to his legacy, but right now, is not his legacy a property market in confusion, a Home Office in shambles and the Department of Health in crisis?

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Lady’s HIP joke was genuinely good, so progress is being made.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Don’t sound so surprised!

Mr. Straw: It seems that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is surprised as well. If I have achieved anything over the past year, it is to raise the standard of humour that we get from the right hon. Lady.

The criminal justice Bill is in hand. As for specific questions on control orders, I usually have a lot of time for the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), but I thought that he gave a lamentable performance in which he could not bring himself to make any constructive points. Presumably, he had been ordered by the powers-that-be in his leader’s office to try to mix it. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is rarely accused of brevity, answered all the questions put to him. There will be every opportunity to put those questions again when the counter-terrorism Bill is debated.

There has been a significant improvement in the performance of the Home Office over the past year. Inevitably, the Opposition have to make these points, particularly when they get to the mid-way sag—having enjoyed a boost in the polls, they discover that it is all running away, as I recall from when we were in that position—but I can provide the right hon. Lady with some therapy for that feeling. She has many more Opposition days left. I have already criticised her side for wasting good Opposition time, but if she wants to table debates and motions criticising particular Ministers, she is welcome to do so. On both occasions when the Opposition have done so, they have not proved very successful, but that does not mean that the right hon. Lady should not try again.

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