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We must face up to the problem that we could detain someone who started out being a great patriot and supporter of the British state. However, at the end of the time in prison, having done nothing to deserve being there, that person would not be a patriot and supporter of the British state—at least, it would be understandable if that person were not. We do not want to create a recruiting sergeant for terrorism in our over-enthusiasm for repressive measures, which we do not need.

Chris Bryant: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s last point. However, I ask him to stop using the phrase “the longest detention period without charge in the free world” because he does not compare like with like. It is possible in countries such as France and Spain— [Interruption.] There are different systems—that is my point—but people are detained for considerable periods. My anxiety about the current position is that, the police, when they are watching potential terrorists or people whom they believe might be terrorists, may act too early or too late because of concentration on the 28 days. That may put us at greater risk than necessary.

David Davis: I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. The raw truth is that comparisons are not easy. We are now considering non-common-law countries—

Chris Bryant: They are free countries.

David Davis: Of course. However, two points arise. First, in the coming weeks, a serious comparison will be published on a stage-by-stage basis of all the countries in what we would term the free world. The hon. Gentleman will find that we are, sadly, at the top of the league. Secondly, there is the interview after charge. In the investigatory magistrates structure, they charge and continue to interview and investigate, but there is a point of charge. When considering the 90-day debate, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and I were briefed on the matter. We were shocked to hear that the Government had not considered relaxing the system that I outlined and were happier to go for 90 days’ detention without charge than to make a smaller, more technical and less intrusive change in the law.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, was interested in what happened to the three people who were released at 28 days. The Government had the option of applying for control orders if they did not believe that they had enough evidence to charge but were concerned that the people were a danger. If they had successfully applied for control orders, that might be evidence that 28 days was not sufficient, but if they did not believe that it was appropriate to apply or if they did not succeed in getting control orders, that is evidence that there was no basis in that case for going for longer than 28 days.

David Davis: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right and that is precisely the point that I put to members of the police team, who did not demur.

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Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): I am sympathetic to many of the points that the right hon. Gentleman is making. I was one of those who opposed 90 days. Does he agree that one of the great mysteries is where the suggestion for 90 days came from in the first place? In May, at a conference in front of 200 lawyers in Birmingham, I asked the Director of Public Prosecutions where the pressure for 90 days was coming from. His response was, “It isn’t coming from us and it isn’t coming from the police.”

David Davis: I think that that point answers itself.

At the end of all this, there has been no case at all in which 28 days has prevented a subject from being charged. Indeed, we would know if there had been one, because of the control order sign that would have come up. The next question is whether the police could have gathered the key evidence more quickly than they did in each of the terrorism cases. I spoke to some senior members of the police team that ran the investigation to which I have been referring. My strong impression was that the investigation was well run and that the team did a capable job. It clearly did all that was necessary in the time available.

The question that must be answered in that context, however, is: if the police had needed to do the investigation faster, could they have done so? As a test of that, I asked the police whether they instituted three-shift working for the evidence-gathering process. Did they work right round the clock? “No,” they said. I asked them whether they directed in any forensic or IT staff from other forces. “Not necessary,” they said. I asked the police a number of other questions, about the techniques and management of the evidence-gathering process. It was quite clear that there were ways—we shall talk about them on Second Reading—of accelerating some aspects of the process when that became necessary.

So to summarise, in no case to date has the 28-day limit created a problem. Furthermore, it is almost certain that the evidence-gathering and sifting can be accelerated if the necessary resources are provided.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that topic, I want to raise the problem of encryption of electronically held documents and the difficulty of getting into them during the time available, which is put forward repeatedly. Indeed, that was the main argument put forward on the previous occasion on which we debated the issue two years ago. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can answer this question. Under both the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, there is provision for orders to be made requiring that people who are held should give up the encryption on their computers. If they do not do so, they may be held in custody while those computers are de-encrypted. Why is that not sufficient in those circumstances?

David Davis: The position is sharper than that. As has been said, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 there is a requirement to give up the password. Also, I think that I am right in saying— because I volunteered this to the Government during the debate on 90 days—that we agreed to double the length when the case involved terrorism. The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. If passwords are withheld, a charge can automatically be brought against the individual concerned.

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Dr. Julian Lewis: My question is closely related to the one that my right hon. Friend has just answered. The only other aspect of the Government’s case which we keep hearing is that vast quantities of computerised material have to be gone through. However, it is not at all clear whether such quantities, assuming that they are not encrypted, are vast quantities of rubbish concealing a few important nuggets of information or vast quantities of vital information. It is hard to see why there have to be gigabytes of vital information, let alone anything larger. Therefore, the vast quantities of material are presumably rubbish covering the important bits. In that event, it would always be possible for terrorists to pile on more and more gigabytes to conceal the bits that matter. There might therefore be no end to the amount of time for which the Government could require people to be detained in order to go through it.

David Davis: My hon. Friend has a point. The number that the Home Secretary bandied around this morning was three terabytes or 3,000 gigabytes, which would work out at about 100 gigabytes a suspect. I recommend that hon. Members go and look at their computers. If, like me, they keep everything for ever, I recommend that they look at their lifetime of gathered data. I doubt whether those data would come to anything like 100 gigabytes or even 25 megabytes.

One of the questions that will be put to the Home Secretary—not now; we shall give her notice of it—is whether the vast quantities of data that she has talked about involve just the capacity of the disks or whether they involve all the software on those disks, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Windows and so on, all of which is checkable and removable in an instant. Then we shall see whether the problem is really what it is cracked up to be. If the Government want to look at the issue properly, the serious problem is not the encryption or the sheer volume, but the issue of foreign language translation. I hope that we shall talk about that in practical terms when we come to the main debate on the legislation.

The House should not forget that cross-party co-operation delivered a range of new offences to enable the police to charge anybody—and I mean anybody—involved in a terrorist plot. That was done at great length, at our suggestion and, to give them their credit, the Liberal Democrats’ suggestion, in the debate on 90 days. Acts preparatory to terrorism, encouragement to terrorism, dissemination of terrorist publications, and terrorist training offences, in addition to the pre-existing offences of possessing information for terrorist purposes, recruiting for terrorist training and inciting overseas terrorism—all are criminal offences. What has been lacking is the determination to make the full use of the law and the powers that we have already.

The previous Home Secretary understood those arguments and came up with another scenario, in the earlier stage of the discussion. He said, “Okay, we can cope with one Heathrow reasonably easily, but what if we had five all at once? We’d be overwhelmed.” That is the circumstance under which, we argue, the Government should invoke the state of emergency provisions in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The definition is very simple and involves an emergency that poses a serious threat to the public, overwhelming the Government’s ability to defend the public.

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The powers in the 2004 Act are quite sweeping and include the power to hold without charge for up to 30 days, over and above any period under existing legislation. So, in a state of emergency—but only in a state of emergency—the Government already have the power to hold for 58 days. The scenario described by the previous Home Secretary involved 50 airliners coming under attack. That is clearly a state of emergency. Such a power would of course require the Government to justify their action after the event to both the House of Commons and the courts, but they say that they want proper scrutiny and control over the process. For such an incursion of liberty, that is a good thing.

The Government complain about that process, which they designed, remember. They say that it would alarm and panic the public—this from a Government who habitually issue blood-curdling assessments of the threat, describing it as the biggest threat since the second world war. I consider that objection to be unutterable nonsense, first, because it underestimates the British public, who withstood 3,000 deaths under the Northern Irish troubles and who faced that many deaths in a single night at the height of the blitz; secondly, because the public would expect a state of emergency if 50 airliners were about to be blown out of the sky; and thirdly, because there would be no immediate need to declare such a state of emergency, as the Government would have 28 days before they ran out of time under the counter-terrorism Bill. In that time the state of the nation would be all too clear to the public.

The Home Secretary has suggested that that demonstrates that we accept the principle of the need to go beyond 28 days. That is a facile argument. It should be clear that we do not accept the need to extend detention without charge based on either the evidence of the operations to date or the most horrific hypothetical scenarios so far dreamt up by Ministers.

Let me explain the matter to the Home Secretary by quoting from a document that I hope that she already has ready, the House of Lords judgment that struck down the Government’s arguments on control orders last week. In it, Lord Brown said that the right to liberty

The important phrase there is

That is the requirement that must be fulfilled before we give up our fundamental liberties, and this is the crux of the matter. Rather than having— [ Interruption. ] Did the Home Secretary say something about control orders? This is about rather more than control orders. This is about people being locked up for 56 days, in case she has forgotten the main thrust of her argument.

This is the crux of the matter. The Home Secretary is arguing that, rather than having a temporary, declared state of emergency, the Government want a permanent, undeclared state of emergency. To choose that is to reject the tradition of liberty in this country that has been paid for by hundreds of thousands of British lives over the past century. The Government argue that the enemy is getting more sophisticated and
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the plots more complex, and they demand more time. The presumption is that the plotters are getting better but that we are not. I do not accept that defeatist argument. It is one that we will explore in great detail on Second Reading of the counter-terrorism Bill.

The House should heed the warnings of those on the front line in counter-terrorism—which the Government try to use in a way that they might not appreciate—about the counter-productive implications of extended detention without charge. The former head of MI5, Stella Rimington, has warned explicitly against this “increasingly draconian” measure. Sir Ronnie Flanagan has warned us to

The Met’s senior counter-terrorism officer, Peter Clarke, warns against destroying the trust that

Even this week, the head of MI5—who notably did not mention 28 or 56 days in his speech—has cautioned:

Extending detention without trial will, like ID cards and control orders, undermine our freedoms, but it will not make us safer. In fact, it risks making the threat worse. Looking round the Chamber, I see that almost everyone here is wearing a poppy. Those poppies represent an enormous sacrifice. Tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock, many of us will be standing in the regimental plots in the grounds of Westminster Abbey, paying our respects to the soldiers who paid for our freedom with their lives. Our freedom was bought at a very high price. We on this side will not give that freedom away without very good reason.

1.33 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall range a little more widely through the Queen’s Speech and speak not only to the Bills covered by the Departments represented on the Front Bench today.

I should like to start by picking up on a remark made yesterday, not by the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition—with all due respect to them—but by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler). Towards the end of her speech, she said:

That observation memorably and beautifully provides the counter-argument to the cynicism that is all too prevalent in our society today when people talk about politics. I did not attend the Gracious Speech. I watched it on television, and the BBC did a number of vox pops. Almost all of them were of a cynical nature, with people saying things like, “Oh, it doesn’t have anything to do with us” and “Nothing makes any difference.” My hon. Friend’s point deals perfectly with comments such as those, and I shall quote it when I am next confronted by such cynicism about politics and the political process.

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If my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will forgive me, I want to touch on one or two of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech that are not within their remit. There are many things in the Queen’s Speech that my constituents will welcome, including the Climate Change Bill and the energy Bill. At long last, we are getting serious about the environment, although there is still a long way to go. I note that many of the most respected experts suggest that we should aim for a 75 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and I hope that the Government will keep that matter under review. I appreciate, however, that there is a fine line to be walked between what is deliverable and what is desirable.

Our targets on renewables are very modest, and I wonder whether we could be a bit more ambitious in that regard. I note that the new Co-op headquarters in Manchester is 98 per cent. energy self-sufficient, and that ought to serve as a role model for other business developments. On recycling, despite undoubted progress we are barely scratching the surface. The amount that we throw away remains astonishing to me, and it is still impossible to recycle plastic in many parts of the country. We seem depressingly reluctant to take on the supermarkets and the packaging manufacturers, and it is a mystery to me why we cannot require a deposit to be paid on bottles and plastic bags.

I welcome any measures in the Bill on pensions and employment to improve the lot of agency workers and those who are on the minimum wage. There is a growing divide in this country between two classes of employee: those who qualify for holiday pay, sick pay, occupational pensions and all those other things that we used, quaintly, to associate with civilisation, and those who do not. Increasingly, many of the latter are immigrants, and nothing causes greater resentment among the indigenous population than to see their once secure jobs undermined by the cynical importation of labour from cheap labour economies. Those of us who have done well out of the past 20 years need to bear in mind the fact that there is a class of people whose standard of living has not improved in that time. A bus driver told me recently that his earnings had not yet got back up to the level that they had been in the late 1980s before the deregulation of the buses.

The planning Bill makes me a little nervous. There might well be a case for modernising the planning process, but, as regards housing, airports and roads, we seem to be returning to the discredited “predict and provide” model instead of looking for ways of managing demand. I speak as one who once had some responsibility in the Government for aviation, and the aviation industry in particular has had its own way for far too long. There is almost no limit to its demands. It wants more terminals, more runways and more airports, and it is time for the Government to muster the courage to stand up to it. I hope that this Bill is not intended to pave the way for a return to “predict and provide”.

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