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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): First, will the Lord Chancellor answer the specific question that has just been put, namely that more than
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6,000 of what he claims as additional places are actually examples of overcrowding? Secondly, will he withdraw the statement that his Government introduced internal sanitation, given that the previous Government abolished slopping out?

Mr. Straw: Ending slopping out is rather different from introducing internal sanitation. That was the programme, and we made sure that it was completed. What is more, the money was not there to do any of those things when we took over in 1997.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is extraordinary to watch two parties squabbling over who created the crisis in our prison system. When Lord Carter’s review finally reports, does the Lord Chancellor intend to introduce legislation to effect some of the changes that Lord Carter may propose?

Mr. Straw: I shall go on to deal with that point.

We are committed to providing enough prison places for those whom the courts determine should be there, which is why Lord Carter of Coles, whose report I will be publishing to this House before Christmas, has been conducting a review into the long-term supply and demand for prison places. I have not seen the report yet, but legislation may be required, in which case it will be brought before this House.

I want to take this opportunity to repeat the truism that more prison places will require more prisons. I call on hon. Members, particularly those who have demanded greater prison capacity, for their full co-operation and that of their local councils in finding locations for prisons. Rather too many Conservative Members have been saying that they are happy with additional prison places, but not in their county or their constituency.

I have spoken to the House before about the perils of an American model of unrestrained levels of incarceration. I do not believe that anybody wants that to happen here, but if it were to occur, it would mean not 80,000 prisoners but 400,000, and not 140 prisons but 700, which would be more than one in every constituency. That would not be in the best interests of the lawful people of the United Kingdom. If there is agreement on that point, then I hope that we can reach a consensus on the consequences of that agreement. That means that we should jail dangerous offenders and repeat offenders, but we should continue with the programme that we have been following for the past 10 years to make better use of community sentencing.

Finally, I shall provide an update on the issue of party funding. As the House will know, in March 2006 Sir Hayden Phillips was asked to undertake a review of the matter by the then Prime Minister. Sir Hayden published his final report in March 2007, which set out the broad principles for a reformed system of party finance and spending. He was subsequently asked to chair inter-party talks with the aim of securing a broad consensus around the practicalities of a new system. I regret to tell the House that those talks were suspended last week after the Conservative party—it alone— proved unwilling to negotiate on a draft agreement put forward by Sir Hayden. [ Interruption. ] That is true.

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I have always sought to make progress in that area on the basis of consensus. We managed to achieve that with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which built on the Neill committee report of 1998. I want to make it clear that the suspension of Sir Hayden Phillips’s talks does not mean that the problems with the existing regulatory regime have vanished, and it should not be an excuse for inaction. As indicated in the Gracious Speech, I will shortly bring forward proposals on the regulation of party finance and expenditure and, in particular, on how we can end the problem of the spending arms race, which is the central driver of the other problems that we face. I note that the Leader of the Opposition yesterday emphasised the connection between state funding and donation caps. While attending to the issue of spending limits, the House should take a deep breath before agreeing to the apparent Conservative demand for large sums of public money to offset a linked donation cap.

Britain is a better place than it was in 1997. The policies and legislative programme of this Government have helped to unlock the aspirations of the British people. The next period of improvement will go even further to strengthen our constitution, our public institutions and our democracy, and it will do much more to protect the public from terrorism, crime and disorder. We will better secure our borders, highlight our shared values and create the climate in which the great talent, skills and energy of every citizen in this country can better be realised. I commend the Loyal Address to the House.

12.59 pm

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): It is a particular pleasure to face across the Dispatch Box the Lord High Chancellor, the real Deputy Prime Minister and now, it seems, the acting Home Secretary as well. I have followed the career of the right hon. Gentleman since he was a left-wing firebrand leading the National Union of Students, so it was a particular pleasure to watch him at the heart of the British establishment yesterday, retreating down the steps of the throne in his cloak and tights. I should tell the Lord Chancellor, who was not in a position to hear, that the Prime Minister, watching this scene, turned and said, “Now this is a constitutional reform of which I do approve.”

Mr. Straw: What, walking backwards?

David Davis: That is right.

The right hon. Gentleman also knows that I rather approve of him, although I should tell him that when dealing with his successors as Home Secretary, who passed in rather rapid succession, I always thought of him as the one that got away. [ Interruption. ] He agrees.

The Government have approached the Queen’s Speech in each of the past 10 years under the misguided assumption that they can meet the challenges Britain faces by sheer volume of new legislation. After 60 Home Office Bills introduced by the Government, it is overwhelmingly clear that law making is no substitute for law enforcement. It is not possible to legislate away gun violence, which has multiplied under this Government, or to legislate away the Government’s failure to count, let alone control, immigration, and it is not possible to legislate away the failure to build enough prison places—despite the comments
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of the Lord Chancellor a moment ago—which has led to the release of 8,500 serious criminals since the new Prime Minister took office.

When it comes to security, the Government have spent a huge amount of time, energy and resources on controversial policies that are ineffective, if not downright counterproductive. Why are the Government wasting billions on ID cards, when the IT can be corrupted by terrorists using a gadget costing £100? Why, with 2,000 individuals threatening our security, are the Government wasting so much energy on a control order regime that monitors 14 terrorists and is so ineffective that seven have escaped, most without trace? Why the fixation on extended detention without trial, which I suspect will be the main issue today, without a shred of evidence that we need longer? Such a change will cut off vital co-operation from local communities and we have emergency powers to deal with the nightmare scenarios that Ministers keep speculating about.

Before coming on to the proposals from the Home Office, I inform the Lord Chancellor that we agree with a number of proposals from his Department. But I have to say that they read rather like an indictment of Labour’s record over the past 10 years. There is a Bill to guard against the politicisation of the civil service. We look forward to learning from the Government’s experience. There will be reform to require greater parliamentary scrutiny of war-making powers. The former Foreign Secretary is uniquely well qualified to guide us through that. There will be a review of the ban on protestors outside Parliament, but presumably not on hecklers at Labour party conferences.

When it comes to tackling crime, the Government are exhausted, despite the Lord Chancellor’s brave words earlier. We heard his numbers; the truth is that violent crime has doubled. They can argue about the figures all they like. The public know the reality on our streets and they have lost all trust in what Ministers say. The single most important measure the Government could have announced today would be to cut the red tape that ties officers to their desks. The Home Secretary claims that the Government have cut 9,000 forms, but when we asked her only two weeks ago to list them, she could not. So I do not expect much of Labour’s fifth major review of police red tape that is due in the new year.

A Conservative Government will take the first opportunity to slash red tape and replace it with direct accountability that will get our police back on the streets, cutting crime and responding to the needs of local communities. I understand that the Lord Chancellor is warming to the idea of direct accountability. Perhaps he can clarify his position—or the Home Secretary can do it for us—by telling the House in clear terms whether locally elected police commissioners will be the next policy his Government try to pinch from the Conservative party.

Then we come to the Government’s recent statements on immigration, which were a classic demonstration of how they operate. They simply cannot be trusted on this issue. Anyone reading the papers yesterday or the day before would have expected to hear in the Gracious Speech about an immigration Bill that would cut immigration by 35,000—that was
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the headline. Earlier in the week, one paper said that a “new immigration Bill” setting out a “points-based system” that will

That is wrong on two counts. First, no immigration Bill in this Queen’s Speech introduces a points system. It does not exist—it is not there. Secondly, it is misleading because the Government have said that the points system, which is already in place, is not about setting a limit on immigration. The Home Office, in a burst of honesty, said that it could not predict the numbers. A former Immigration Minister said that the system was not about letting fewer or more people in, and the current Minister for Borders and Immigration, when asked how a points-based system would reduce the number of migrants said he was

The Prime Minister will be disappointed.

The Government’s proposals on counter-terrorism, however, formed a key component of the Gracious Speech. Only this week, we have heard from the head of MI5 about the growing number of terror suspects—a threat level rising faster than our capacity to monitor it. My party believes that we need a renewed effort across all parties to confront and scale back the terrorist threat. We will join the Government in supporting every effective and appropriate measure with that aim in view. We have called for the introduction of post-charge questioning for two years. We hope that the Government will take swift action on the matter. We shall look closely at arrangements for using DNA in terrorism investigations, and at the workability of proposals for monitoring those convicted of terrorism offences after their release, with the Government’s woeful track record on enforcing control orders firmly in mind.

There are areas where we shall urge the Government to go further, and I shall be interested to hear the Home Secretary’s views on those when she makes her winding-up speech later today. We intend to bring forward concrete proposals in the context of the Bill to ban fully Hezbollah’s activities in Britain, to take action to ensure that charities are not used to finance groups engaged in terrorism and to review the Government’s confused approach to banning extremist organisations that preach hatred and violence against this country. We want to see a zero-tolerance approach to those involved in terror.

I had intended to avoid commenting on the question of intercept evidence today in light of the cross-party review that is under way. However, since there was no mention of the review in the Queen’s Speech, and since the Home Secretary felt able to brief newspapers that she was hardening against any change in the law, I no longer feel so restrained. Foreign intercept evidence is already used in British courts. Intercept is used in nearly every US prosecution of organised crime and terrorism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and US prosecutors say that intercept is more often than not the decisive evidence that leads to a conviction. Using intercept will be cost-effective because where used it often results in an early guilty plea and encourages co-operation with the police. The Director of Public Prosecutions, the last Attorney-General and senior officers in the Met have called for intercept to be used in the courts.

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The Home Secretary now briefs that she is concerned about compromising the value of intercept as an intelligence-gathering tool, but every other country has found a way to protect sources. Terror suspects are already acutely aware that they may be monitored, but they still use mobile phones. If in any specific case there is a really serious objection, the answer is simple: we do not use intercept in that case. That is why the Australian Director of Public Prosecutions said:

Let us consider the vexed and central issue of extending detention without charge. We remain open to cross-party dialogue, although internal Government consultations appear to have settled the matter. Their security adviser, Lord West, stated:

The Home Secretary’s answer to the Select Committee on Home Affairs was:

Jacqui Smith: Thank goodness.

David Davis: I shall deal with the Home Secretary’s sotto voce comment of “Thank goodness” because she appeared to imagine that we had picked the number out of the air. It is the longest time for which people can be held without charge in the free world. That is hardly a matter of pride for the Home Secretary to pick on, so we shall come back to her shortly.

The last time the House held the debate—the so-called 90-day debate—the Government did not present any evidence that 90 days were necessary. Instead, they presented an argument that 90 days might be necessary if certain circumstances came to pass. The result was the Government’s defeat in the House for the first time in 10 years because they persuaded almost nobody.

Regrettably, a circumstance that greatly resembled the one that the Government described came to pass in the alleged Heathrow plot of August 2006. It was alleged to involve a simultaneous attack, which was believed to be imminent, on 10 airliners. It involved many people and locations, some potentially hazardous, and many computers. The Home Secretary said on the radio this morning that three terabytes of data were involved—I will challenge her about that in the coming weeks. The plot raised problems of evidence gathering. It involved information from a foreign intelligence agency, which, of course, slows things down. The police had to move earlier than they would have chosen, before all their evidence was gathered, because the threat was thought to be imminent. It was almost an exact replica of the imaginary case that Mr. Hayman presented in support of 90 days.

In practice, were 90 days needed? Not at all. Nowhere near 90 days were needed. Fifteen of the defendants were charged in 19 days or less. Five suspects were kept beyond 19 days, two of whom were charged at the 28-day point. Were the full 28 days needed to collect the evidence?

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Twenty-eight days is the buffer, so surely one has to charge then.

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David Davis: That point—or the point that the hon. Gentleman missed—was picked up by the Joint Committee on Human Rights when it reviewed the Government’s comments and those of the so-called independent investigator to the Government. The comments did not pursue the real issue, which is when the evidence became available. I asked the Home Secretary about that two or three weeks ago when I met her to discuss components of the counter-terrorism Bill on which we could agree because we want it to be as consensual as possible. I asked whether she could give me details about when the evidence was gathered. We have called her office twice since then, but have received no support. If she intends to be consensual, I look forward to seeing the evidence. I have been told by a source whom I believe to be reliable, but I do not want to rely on one person, that, in at least one case, the primary evidence for charging was available at 14 days. That is not up against the buffers.

Tom Levitt: The right hon. Gentleman should know that no one in the House voted for 90 days as a blanket figure. We supported a length of time that a judge would review every seven days. The evidence would be assessed. The review was an essential part of any programme to increase the time.

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman presents the Government’s argument that we want review and oversight. We have that now. I had not intended to discuss the matter, but, since he raises it, let me revert to the five people who were in the last slot, and detained up to 28 days. Three were released, after spending 28 days in cells. That is what someone would get for a severe act of violence in this country. Three innocent people spent 28 days in cells. I make that point carefully because I asked the Metropolitan police whether those people were under control orders or surveillance, or whether the police had further suspicions of them. They were innocent of any charges put to them. [Interruption.] If the Lord Chancellor wants to correct me, I am happy for him to do so, but he cannot give the impression that, because people were locked up for 28 days, they might not be innocent.

Mr. Straw: Of course, there is a serious issue about the maximum length of time for which people should be detained. However, the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is the weirdest that I have heard for a long time. Its logical extension is that the police should have no powers to lock up anybody pending investigation and charge.

David Davis: Again, the Lord Chancellor wriggles off the point. If we recall the 90-day debate, who said that 28 days was the right number? The answer is the Conservative party. Otherwise, we would not have 28 days, which, I reiterate, is the longest time for detention without charge in the free world.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) said that the 90 days would have been subject to review. However, 28 days was subject to review yet people in the case that I outlined were detained until the last day. If 90 days had been available, I suspect that they would have been detained for longer. I do not know how much longer—I do not suggest that it would be for 90 days—but they would have been detained for longer.

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