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The Prime Minister:
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who as Home Secretary led the way in setting up the office for security and counter-terrorism. We continueI hopethe work that he started, and I praise him for what he did when he was Home Secretary. He is absolutely right about the two issues
that he raises. The first is the importance of winning what I call the hearts and minds argumentsome people may put it differentlyintegrating people into our community while making sure that the arguments against violence and extremism, which will isolate terrorists and potential terrorists, are held right across the country. The office within the OSCT to which he referred will be very important in that regard and it is already doing important work. As I said, we will build on that, in co-operation not only with other countries but also with many communities in this country.
The debate about biometrics could itself lead to better consensus in the future. Once all the arguments are heard and debated, and the guarantees about the protection of civil liberties against arbitrariness are understood to be real protections, we may be able to move forward in that debate, too. I accept it is contentious but I agree with my right hon. Friend that we cannot have protection at our borders and e-borders without forms of identity management within our country.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I put this to the Prime Minister? I am not persuaded as yet of the need for an extension of pre-charge detention. If the Prime Minister wants to reach agreement across the House, why does not he establish a Committee of senior parliamentarians to take evidence on the matter? That Committee would report back to the House, and the House would then be in a position to take an informed view when it came to vote.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the open mind he shows by suggesting that there ought to be more debate on the matter. The Home Affairs Committee exists to look at those very issues, and one of its previous reports said exactly what I am saying today:
There will be cases that do provide...justification. We believe...that the 28 day limit may well prove inadequate in the future.
That makes it entirely possible and increasingly likely that cases would go beyond 28 days. That is the all-party report of the Home Affairs Committee. If it can find a mechanism through which to debate the issues over the summer and the next few months it would be a good thing to do, but I shall look at the right hon. and learned Gentlemans proposal to see what progress we can make in ensuring that there is proper discussion. The evidence has certainly convinced me that we need to take action in rare and unusual circumstances in which the police will need to go beyond 28 days.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend carries a heavy responsibility in the fight against terrorism, but does he accept that Parliament agreed to 28 daysafter the original three, five, seven or 14 daysbecause of the acute terrorist threat to our country, so we should be very hesitant indeed and reluctant to go further? That could be counter-productive in the fight against terrorists and their apologists, so I hope that he will continue to seek consensus. Consensus was found on 28 days, so we
should be hesitant about taking the controversial steps that divided the House nearly two years ago.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I hope that, in the spirit of what he says, he will have an open mind during the debate that we will have over the next few months. I agree with him that we should rule out the original proposal that did not command support in the House. I am also pretty clear that we should rule out the idea of an indefinite period of detention, and it should be made very clear that any maximum limit will be set by the House through legislation. I also believe that the evidence that we have, and the growing views of the Home Affairs Committee, the independent reviewer, and now, I believe, the Conservative party, that there may be circumstances in which we go beyond 28 days, should be reflected in an attempt to find a consensus on whether a further number of days are necessary and in which circumstances that should be permitted.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Can the Prime Minister tell us anything about the relationships that he has had in negotiations with the southern Government? The only part of the United Kingdom that has a land border is, of course, Northern Ireland, with the Irish Republic. What will be the reaction now, when we were all informed this morning from Northern Ireland that Operation Banner is no more? The Army has separated all its connections to security, which is now in the hands of the police.
Can I have a strong assurance from the Prime Minister that the people of Northern Ireland, especially now, as there is apparently government there, will be informed of what is taking place? I am not passing judgment on what he said. I come from a land that has been scourged with terrorism, and the baptism of terrorism is a terrible thing. My party is the largest Unionist party in the House from Northern Ireland and the largest party representing people in Northern Ireland, and we feel that every step should be taken that will hinder terrorism and give the people the peace that they need.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for playing a part in the debate this afternoon, and I thank him for being in the House today, given his responsibilities as First Minister of Northern Ireland. He knows both the dangers and the threats of terrorist violence. He also knows that in some circumstances, we must take measures that we would wish not to have to take, to deal with such a threat.
On the right hon. Gentlemans specific question about co-operation with the Republic of Ireland and its Government, I can tell him that when I met the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, only a few days ago at a meeting where he was also present for some part, I raised with him the exchange of data within the European Union. Because we are outside the Schengen agreement, we are not part of the exchange of data, which I believe is necessary if we are to track down potential terrorist suspects. He agrees with me that both his Government
and our Government should press the rest of the EU for that exchange of information.
On security and travel arrangements common to the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, I can say that the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) is here today and these discussions are taking place, and I will ensure that the right hon. Gentleman is party to everything that is discussed on these matters.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Ministers proposals todayin particular, the funding of the new Arabic channel by the BBCbut an extension of the 28-day limit is a question not just of getting consensus in the House, but of engaging with communities that will be disproportionately affected by any increase. When will the Prime Minister and other Ministers begin that consultation process?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I praise his work both in his community and throughout the country in bringing people together to discuss some of these difficult issues and in integrating people into the life of our country as he has so successfully done in recent years.
People will be surprised when they find out that a police investigation into one or two people can involve 200 phones, 400 computers, 8,000 CDs, 6,000 gigabytes of data and 70 premises, and cross three continents. I think that people will think that it may be difficult for the police to lay the charges that may be the right charges within a few days, and that they will understand why, in six cases in the past few months, we have gone to 27 or 28 days. But I agree with my right hon. Friend that that information is not readily known in the country at the moment, and that if we are to win this debate, and there should be a consensus on these issues, it is important that our Ministers, and, I hope, other hon. Members, can explain in the different communities of this country that this is an attempt to balance the increased need for security in our country to protect the citizens of this countryfor their first right is the right to be secure and free in our countrywith the need to protect against any arbitrariness in the future. I hope that we can come to a balanced view on this matter.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What proportion of the people currently being monitored and investigated for terrorism in our country have come from abroad in recent years? What impact does the Prime Minister think that his very welcome proposals to strengthen our borders will have on those numbers in the future?
The Prime Minister: I gave the figures in my statement for the number of people whom we were trying to refuse entry into this country on the grounds that we know of their previous offences, and the number of people whom we are trying to deport from our country on the grounds that they have either perpetrated a terrorist offence or been found guilty of other offences, and have been in prison, and should therefore be deported.
I told the House that the number of people being deported, which was only about 1,500 two or three years ago, had risen to more than 2,000 last year. We believe that we are on track, so that 4,000 foreign nationals who have served a sentence in British prisons will be deported from our country this year. We are stepping up to the mark to ensure that these numbers both remain on track and are achieved. We now look at such cases months before the sentence has finished. In future, we will look at those cases a year before the sentence is completed, so that we are in the best possible position to deport people. That is the information that I can give the right hon. Gentleman on the specifics.
As for international collaboration to deal with the problem of terrorists who are trying to get into our country illegally, that is precisely why I said in response to the First Minister of Northern Ireland that we need a proper exchange of data. I hope that, despite peoples views on the EU, we can agree that that is a necessary means by which Governments must collaborate to avoid terrorism in the future.
The Prime Minister: This is precisely why we are signing agreements with individual countries. My right hon. Friend may know that we have signed agreements with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon. We wish to sign agreements with other countries. We will move further on this in the months to come, so that we can receive the proper assurances. At the same time, however, it must be right that we should be able to deport people from our shores, either when they have been criminals in our country or when we know for a fact that they are practising or preaching terrorist violence in our country. That is why, in the spirit of what my right hon. Friend says, we will try to sign deportation agreements with more countries in the months to come.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the ready co-operation of the Scottish authoritiesnot just the police but the prosecution authoritiesin securing the early apprehension of those suspected of planning and carrying out the terrorist attempts in Glasgow and London? The Prime Minister will know that a number of the things that he is proposing touch on the requirements of Scottish lawthe evidential base, disclosure and possible questioning after chargeso does he see a role for the resumption of the joint ministerial committees between the Law Officers north and south of the border, and between the Justice Ministers north and south of the border, in seeking to contribute to the consensus that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to establish?
The Prime Minister:
I should also welcomeas I welcomed the First Minister of Northern Irelandthe First Minister of Scotland to the House today, and I thank him for the co-operation, both over that weekend and subsequently, in dealing with a terrorist incident that started in London, but of course was designed to cause terrible damage in Glasgow. That
was prevented because of the courage, professionalism and vigilance of people at Glasgow airport and the voluntary effort of people who were simply passers-by. I congratulate all the emergency services and all those people who contributed to defeating what would have been a terrible loss of life in Glasgow as well as in London.
We want to co-operate in future on all the issues that the right hon. Gentleman talks about, whether through committees or individuals contacting one another. Obviously, we must recognise the difficulties that both legal and policing authorities face, but that co-operation will continue. I am very pleased to say that both the police and the prosecution authorities have had excellent co-operation since the events of 28 and 29 June in bringing people to charge. I believe that the police co-operation has been praised on both sides of the border.
Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I welcome the considered way in which my right hon. Friend has tackled the issue since taking office and I welcome all that he has said today. On the issues relating to communities and service delivery to communities, will he ensure that the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Home Office join up to ensure that the services that we deliver to the community are effective across the board? Will he also encourage more of the national Muslim organisations to take a key role in tackling some of the theological issues that lead to people being drawn into extremism?
The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and I praise the work that he has done in bringing people together. He and the Home Secretary have talked about the issue. I hope that they will be able to continue their dialogue on these matters, and that we can draw on his expertise and the knowledge that he has built up over the years as an incredibly successful representative in his area and region. I know that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has been speaking, and will continue to speak, to many of the faith organisations. They are very much part of the debateindeed, they are right at its centreand we want them to be part of the debate moving forward. I hope that we will be able to present a fuller report on some of these issues in the autumn, having consulted the very people he is talking about.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): In October 2006, the then head of MI5 told us that the police and security services were monitoring 30 known plots, 200 groupings and 1,600 individuals. The Prime Minister has confirmed today that it is still 30 plots and 200 groupings, but he said that there were 2,000 individuals. Can he say a bit more about the extra 400 people who have come into our reckoning in the past nine months? Are they people we have allowed in from overseas, or are they young British nationals who have become radicalised? Please could he give us a bit more information?
The Prime Minister:
The reports are provided to us by the security services. We are talking about people who are being regularly monitored because of the risk
they pose to the British people. They are livingand have probably lived for some timein British communities. We have to face up to the fact that we are dealing in some cases with suicide bombers who are prepared, as British citizens, to murder and maim their own fellow citizens, whatever their religion. In some communities, we have a number of cells operating and we rely on our security services and our policing effort to do something about it. I am not in a position to distinguish between different nationalities at this stage. Obviously, with the hon. Gentleman having raised the matter, we can look at it, but he would not expect me to report to the House in that sort of detail when we are dealing with a police investigation.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): On the question of detention without trial, the whole House will examine the Prime Ministers proposals very carefully. However, does he accept that there are pragmatic reasons, as well as reasons of principle, why the House so decisively rejected any period longer than 28 days? It is by no means certain that there is a consensus, even among senior policemen and prosecutors, on the need for any extension. The new information that he mentioned earlier about the complexity of investigations was very much part of the debate about 90 days and in that sense is not new to the House. There is the issue that alarm is being caused in communities by the notion that people can be lifted and held without charge for months at a time. In that sense, it might well prove counter-productive. So the issues are not just issues of principle; they are also pragmatic issues and issues of how best to secure our national security.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the views that my hon. Friend expresses, because they are very much part of the debate. The scale of the investigationsfor example the airline plot that I mentionedis of a substantially and qualitatively different nature compared with some of the previous investigations. We are dealing with large amounts of data and, in some cases, with multiple passports, addresses and bank accounts. In some cases, the police do not know the identity of the person they have arrested for some time, because that person is operating under the cover of so many passports, identities, addresses and bank accounts. That issue is increasingly relevant in investigations. If we agree that we are in a qualitatively different position in terms of the threat from al-Qaeda-related activities, we have to consider the security measures that are necessary.
I hope that my hon. Friend will also bear in mind the fact thatbecause the debate has been so long-lasting we have taken into account all the issues that have been raised previously. So if we were to move beyond 28 days, that would be subject to a case being made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, to the approval of a High Court judge every seven days, to a regular report by the independent reviewer, and to a debate in Parliament on that. If we went beyond 28 days in any instance, Parliament would have to be notified and a statement would have to be made to Parliament. There would be a review of the specific case by the independent reviewer in a timely fashion and provision
for the House to scrutinise and debate a report on the circumstances surrounding the case.
I believe that we are combining the need for enhanced security and the protection of the lives of individuals with a recognition that there should be no arbitrariness in the way in which we treat individuals. Therefore we need not only enhanced judicial oversight, but proper parliamentary accountability. I hope that over the next few weeks and months my hon. Friend will look at the specific provisions, which I believe meet all the points that were eloquently made in the debate previously. I hope that she will bear it in mind that the proposal for 90 days has been dropped and that no one on this side of the House is proposing an indefinite period of detention.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): What is being offered as an alternative to the Prime Ministers proposal on 28 days is not just one thing, as he said, but a combination of at least three things: post-charge questioning, wire-tap evidence, and changing the prosecutors code to allow earlier charging. Why does he reject that combination of three things in favour of his proposal, which to all intents and purposes is internment?
The Prime Minister: We are not rejecting it at all. We are saying that it is possible to complement the measures by a measured approach to what should happen after 28 days in circumstances that are rare and possibly very unusual, but where there is general agreement that we may have to go beyond 28 days. Again, I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at what we are writing in both as protections for the rights of the individual and so that Parliament can be properly informed on these matters. I hope that he will accept that there is a growing body of opinion that believes that going beyond 28 days may, in certain circumstances, be necessary. However, we are responding to what I believe is his view that there should be fair protections for the rights of the individual. I hope that, over the summer months, he will look at the specific proposal and see whether there is a potential consensus.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): On the question of the protection of critical infrastructure, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the EU, as well as NATO, is already preparing policy. Will the joint working party to which he referred, which will liaise with Germany and France, also work with the EU and NATO so that we have a concerted and coherent approach across Europe to the protection of critical infrastructure?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I know that he takes an interest in these matters. Although the working party that we are talking about is about hearts and minds in relation to isolating violent extremists and supporting mainstream and moderate opinion, I agree that there is also a need for cross-Government discussions on how best to learn the lessons of how to protect our infrastructure. That is as true of roads and railways as it is of vital utilities, nuclear power stations and other important infrastructure in our countries. We will draw on the lessons from other countries, as he suggests.
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