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25 July 2007 : Column 847

On the issue of winning hearts and minds, the Prime Minister said much with which I agree, and we both agree that not enough is done today to integrate new arrivals into our country. We welcome what he has said, but will some of the extra money be used to reverse the cuts in funding English language teaching, which is so vital for the proper integration of new arrivals?

Turning to the issue of further legislation, will the Prime Minister confirm that seven people who have been given control orders have absconded? May I welcome the decision finally to take up our proposal of allowing the questioning of suspects after they have been charged? Is not that the most important way of ensuring that the police can get on with their job without introducing something that could, if we were not very careful, start to look like a form of internment?

That brings me to the issue of 28 days. We will look at the Prime Minister’s consultation papers very carefully. I have to say that we have seen the point before about the volume of evidence that needs to be gathered. What specifically in the paper today amounts to new evidence? In particular, what evidence does he have that was not available in December, because it was then that the then Home Secretary, Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor agreed that fresh evidence was needed before any further change could be justified?

Rather than passing a new law, will the Prime Minister look carefully at our proposal—and Liberty’s—to use the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which gives the Government power to detain people for an additional 30 days in time of national emergency. That would make a total of 58 days, two more than the Prime Minister has talked about, without the need to introduce a new, repressive law. The Prime Minister said in his statement that the problem is the need to declare a state of emergency, but if there was a multiple attack on our country and those powers were needed because of the pressures on the police, it would indeed be a state of emergency. Should not this House ask that Ministers prove that all existing laws are being used before they reach for new legislation?

Will the Prime Minister recognise that all the actions necessary—better use of intelligence, stronger policing, cracking down on extremists or passing the necessary laws—may come to nothing unless he is prepared to take a tough and hard-headed look at the Human Rights Act 1998? It is not just me saying that: the previous Prime Minister said that it needed reform and the previous Lord Chancellor said that there were problems with it. Will the Prime Minister now admit that the Act is frustrating our fight against terrorism? Will he work with me to draw up a proper Bill of Rights that protects our liberty and our security? Vitally, do the Government understand that what is needed to defeat terrorism is the hard-nosed defence of liberty, and we must avoid any approach that lapses into ineffective authoritarianism?

Finally, will the Prime Minister welcome with me the fact that with a border police, intercept evidence, questions after charge and a national security council, my party is playing a key role in setting the agenda in making our country safe?

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The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the individual policies that we have put forward. The support that he has indicated for the work of the emergency, police and security services is appreciated across the House. I know that his support for the bravery in the face of violence of the people involved in the incidents in June was much appreciated at the time.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have to do more on hearts and minds, and to integrate people who have come to our country. We need to look at what is happening in some communities to see how we can bind people closer together. I agree that if we could reach a conclusion on the intercept inquiry, we should legislate as quickly as possible. I am glad that there is now all-party agreement on the issue of post-charge questioning.

The border force will be a unified border force that combines the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UKvisas at all the main points of entry. It will be a single, uniformed presence and a single checkpoint for passengers. There will be new borders officers, with immigration, Customs and police powers to investigate and detain people suspected of immigration, customs or criminal offences, all reporting to the head of the Border and Immigration Agency. As people come into a port or airport, they will see one single, uniformed presence.

The right hon. Gentleman’s other proposals will be investigated in the Cabinet Secretary’s review, but what we propose today can be implemented very quickly and people will soon see that uniformed presence at ports. If it is not exactly the same as the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal, work will be done to consider other measures he wishes to propose. I believe that it is important that we move ahead now with the unified border force that I propose, and the details are made clear in the documents.

On the issue of 28 days, Parliament is at its best when we discover common ground. It is common ground that there may be circumstances in which the police are justified in asking to go beyond 28 days. Over the course of the last few years, whatever the debates on 90 days or on this allegation or that, the Government and the official Opposition have come to the view that there may be circumstances in which more than 28 days is necessary. I hope that the Liberal party and the other parties will say that they also agree with that case. Therefore, in the rare circumstances in which the police will ask to go beyond 28 days, the question will be what we should do.

The Leader of the Opposition asked if there was new evidence that we could bring to bear since the publication of previous discussions. He agrees that we are dealing with a unique set of circumstances. International terrorists wish to maim or murder indiscriminately as many people as possible. In some cases, they are suicide bombers who have no fear for their own safety, but simply wish to inflict the maximum damage. They also seek to achieve a propaganda effect.

The new evidence is that in six cases in recent times the police have had to go to 27 or 28 days. The new evidence contained in the document before the House is simply the number of exhibits and items for investigation and the number of countries that have to
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be involved in an investigation before charges can be properly laid. The ricin case involved 26 countries. One ricin-related operation involved 800 passports and 2,500 forged documents. In some of the cases, thousands of documents are involved that are eventually put before the court. That is why the police have said that it is their view that they need more than 28 days.

I accept that we are talking about rare and unusual circumstances, and that it is not a power that we would wish to use other than in the rarest of circumstances. However, if we agree that we will go beyond 28 days in certain circumstances, by what mechanism can we justify to ourselves that the situation is rare, and how can we ensure that there is proper judicial oversight and parliamentary accountability? Those are the questions that we must ask.

I have looked at the proposal from Liberty to which the shadow Home Secretary has given some support. It suggests that a state of emergency would be declared, under the civil contingencies legislation—but do Opposition politicians believe that the declaration of a state of emergency in the circumstances that we have been talking about would not send out a message about how we deal with things in this country that is exactly the opposite of the message that we want to send out?

However, I do accept that there should be a special parliamentary procedure if we go beyond 28 days. Therefore, I ask the Opposition to consider in detail—and obviously there can be cross-party talks on these matters—what we propose as an alternative. We are talking about rare circumstances, and in some cases the parliamentary power that we propose would not be used in any one year. Therefore, would it not be better to ask the Home Secretary to make a parliamentary notification about what has happened and prepare a report that would come to Parliament? In each case, moreover, the independent reviewer would be asked to prepare a report for Parliament as a whole and not just for the Home Secretary. Parliament would then be in a position to debate the matter in full, if it chose to do so.

It seems to me that what the Opposition parties and Liberty have suggested may be a way forward is better dealt with by the notification procedure, by the requirement on the Home Secretary to give a report, by the requirement that, if it is thought necessary, the House will have a debate on the matter, and by the requirement that the independent reviewer prepare a report in each and every circumstance.

I hope that we can have a full debate over the summer months on this and the two other proposals that have been made, in addition to the one from Liberty. I am as anxious as other people in this House that we as a nation can move forward with a united agreement on this matter. Such a consensus would serve this House well. I believe that we can find a solution to this problem if we have a debate and dialogue about it that allows people to listen to all sides of the argument.

The Leader of the Opposition asked about two other things. On Hizb ut-Tahrir— [Interruption.] In fact, the right hon. Gentleman is the last person to have corresponded by letter with Hizb ut-Tahrir, when he thanked it. However, what I say to him is that we must look at the evidence in every single case. We must be aware that when we proscribe an organisation, that
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should not be overturned on appeal. It is therefore necessary that we look in detail at all the evidence, and that is what I said to him that I would do. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he wished to provide me with any new evidence, and he is certainly welcome to do so over the next period of time.

As to whether a Bill of Rights is the answer to the problems of deportation, we accept that, when it is difficult to deport an individual from this country, control orders are not just the second best way to deal with the problem, but the third best too. The Government have always made it clear that that is not our preferred route, but the Leader of the Opposition has to look very carefully at the constitutional position that he is taking on this matter. On “The Westminster Hour” last year, his shadow Attorney-General was asked whether a British Bill of Rights

The answer was:

In the spirit of debate and dialogue, I ask the Leader of the Opposition not to give people the impression that if he accepts the European convention on human rights, he can find an easy way round the problem of deportation by simply adopting a British Bill of Rights. Let us debate the matter in such a way that we understand the difficulties and work through them, rather than giving people the impression that a solution can be found simply by announcing a new piece of legislation that we know might not have the intended effect.

Otherwise, I feel that there is scope for consensus in other areas. I hope that, over the summer and autumn months, there will be discussions between the parties, led by the Home Secretary, about how we can work together on all the major issues to defeat what everyone agrees is the great issue of our generation. We must ensure that terrorist violence will not flourish, and that it will never intimidate this country.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): The Prime Minister was right to begin with a tribute to those who had a hand in thwarting the terrorist efforts of 29 and 30 June. He might also have mentioned the members of the public who behaved with conspicuous gallantry, especially at Glasgow airport. I hope that there may some way to recognise their bravery formally, in a way to which we are accustomed.

The Prime Minister’s statement contained a great deal of detail, and we shall obviously consider it very carefully indeed. We have heard some of what has been said today before, but some of it is undoubtedly new. One thing that should be welcomed unequivocally is the rearrangement of responsibilities with regard to the Joint Intelligence Committee. If the JIC had been dealt with previously in the way that has now been set out, perhaps the misuse of intelligence in September 2002 would not have occurred.

The Government have acknowledged the case for post-charge questioning and for telephone intercept evidence, and that is plainly something that we welcome. Those are the sort of proposals that offer the best approach to terrorism, as they are practical measures
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that would assist successful prosecution, rather than complex measures designed to circumvent the principles of the criminal justice system.

In due course, we shall be asked to make judgments about how best to defeat terrorism in all its guises. The Prime Minister has asked for consensus, as he is entitled to, but I have to tell him that for many of us, consensus cannot be achieved at the expense of principle. The essential test for any proposed new power must always be whether it is necessary, not whether it is desirable or convenient.

Of course the public have a right to security, but they also have a right to security against the power of the state. We know that it is in the nature of the police to ask for more powers—for the best of motives but often for the worst of reasons. It is in the nature of Government to grant such powers, and it should be in the nature of Parliament to resist them.

Key questions have to be asked. What has changed in the past 18 months that merits asking Members of Parliament to change their minds about detention without charge? Which investigations in that period have been hampered by the absence of a 90-day limit, or of a limit greater than 28 days? Where is the conclusive evidence that an extension to the 28-day period is required, and what assessment has been made of the risk of fanning extremism with a detention policy that will act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, just as internment did for the IRA? Why does Britain require greater powers of detention than other comparable democracies, including Australia?

The Prime Minister dealt in his statement with the question of emergency under the Civil Contingencies Act, and he supplemented his position in response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition. It would be extraordinary if one single terrorist made it necessary to declare a state of emergency for the whole country. To that extent, I agree with the scepticism expressed by the Prime Minister, but it would be a most curious constitutional development if the alternative was that the matter should be brought before Parliament. I suppose that this is the high court of Parliament, but the suggestion that reports should be made to Parliament, followed by later parliamentary debate, seems to stand the normal provisions of our constitution—and the separation of powers—very much on their head.

Let me make it clear that we will fulfil our responsibilities, as I have no doubt will every other Member of this House, but it is worth pointing out that there are other things that the Government might have done. For example, why are there no measures to make it easier to charge people with a lower threshold offence at an earlier stage in investigations, when a prime facie case for a charge can be established? Finally, why is there no reference in the statement to the possibility of a more extensive use of plea bargaining, so that those on the periphery of conspiracies may be used as credible witnesses against those who are the principals in terrorist activity?

There is a balance to be struck— [ Interruption. ] I heard a Labour Member say, “Oh dear!” But he is talking about the rights and privileges of all the people
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whom he represents here, and we can be pretty certain that the first time one of his constituents finds himself or herself the subject of some of these provisions, he will be here to make the case that something should be done to alleviate the consequences. When we make judgments of this kind we make judgments that affect the very fabric of the society we live in. That is why those judgments have to be based on principle and not expediency.

The Prime Minister: I admire the passion with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts his case for the defence of civil liberties in this country; it is what marks out our constitution, and has done for hundreds of years. Protection against arbitrary acts by Government, or any vested interest, must be central to the business of the House in making sure that such things do not happen in this country. I agree with him on the issue of principle. The question we have to deal with, however, relates to circumstances in which, in the last few months, six investigations led to 27 or 28 days. I can put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman figures that show the degree and scale of the evidence, the intercontinental nature, and the multiple passports, multiple identities and multiple addresses used by terrorist suspects or potential terrorists. The scale and complexity of the investigations that the police now have to conduct in relation to the specific issue of terrorism dwarf what came before. As the Leader of the Opposition—and also, I believe, the right hon. and learned Gentleman—recognises, we are in a very different situation from that of even 10 years ago in relation to terrorism.

The question is: can we both ensure the security of the citizens of this country and protect the civil liberties of the individuals who live in this country? I believe that we can. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has interpreted our proposal for consultation as a threat to the relationship between the judiciary and Parliament. I do not believe that it is. I am suggesting that, as has been recognised by a number of people, there are circumstances in which it may be right to go beyond 28 days—unusual, rare and only in the instance of terrorism—and the question is how we can find a mechanism for dealing with those circumstances. One suggested mechanism is the declaration of a state of emergency and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly says, people question whether that is the right message to send out. However, if the Home Secretary were to notify Parliament that a case was going beyond 28 days, if at the same time the independent reviewer, whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman has agreed should play a role in reviewing all cases of between 14 and 28 days, was brought to bear so that they could look at the individual case, and if the option was left—after the report of the independent reviewer—that there could be a debate in Parliament on the issue, that is not a threat to the judiciary; it is parliamentary accountability working at its best. I hope he will understand that what I am trying to do in the proposal is to uphold the principle of independent judicial oversight, but saying at the same time that where issues of public interest are raised it is right that in certain circumstances they be debated here in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I hope that he will agree on reflection that this is a way forward.

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I agree that not only should we support the emergency services, the police and the security services, but we should recognise their bravery, professionalism, vigilance and dedication to duty. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said today and I said yesterday, a way must be found in our honours system of both recognising and celebrating the work they do.

I hope there will be agreement between the parties on the other matters we have discussed, and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will use the summer and autumn period, when I invite him— [ Laughter ]—not to the usual talks that I have suggested, but to specific talks. As a protection, the Home Secretary will lead the talks this time. I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party to talk about the issues over the summer months to see whether, where I find that the independent reviewer, the Home Affairs Committee, the organisation Liberty and, today, the leader of the Conservative party, all recognise that there may be a case for going beyond 28 days in certain instances, there can be a way forward on which we can find agreement in the House. I hope we will work towards that agreement.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I say to the House that these are important matters and I am anxious to call as many Back Benchers as possible? No Back Bencher has yet asked a question, and we have had more than 40 minutes on the statement. There is another statement to follow and a heavy programme after that, so may I please ask for the briefest of questions from every Member? We will try to get as many Members in as possible. Perhaps I could also ask the Prime Minister if he, too, would not mind being as brief as he can.

John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister and congratulate him on the substance and spirit of his statement. It is right that he should seek consensus on these issues, and secondly, that he should seek to balance the strengthening of powers with the strengthening of scrutiny. Although the headlines will no doubt be devoted to the matter of detention, I urge my right hon. Friend to recognise that two other strategic issues should receive as much attention. The first is the development of the office for security and counter-terrorism, and within it the research, information and communications unit. If there truly is a battle for ideas and values, that integrated effort on our part is essential. Secondly, the whole of our border enforcement depends ultimately on willingness to use technological means based on identity management and biometrics. All the rest, whether a border force, increased numbers, uniforms or extended borders, will be as nothing unless we can biometrically identify people who come to this country, people who stay in it and people who leave it.

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