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However, it is not enough simply to say “terrorists” or “extremists” because we know that people say, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, and all the rest of it. May I suggest to the Home Secretary, as helpfully as I can, that the Government should use the phrase “unIslamic extremists”? That would show
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the type of terrorist we were talking about without putting them in the vanguard of the Muslim community, which is where they want to be.

Jacqui Smith: I am not sure that I agree with that particular term. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a serious and thoughtful point about the impact of language on those who are part of our joint, shared work against the minority who choose to turn to terrorism. He makes the important point that language, alongside resources, legislation and other prevention work, is part of our work to tackle the problem.

We will not back away from legislation where we think it necessary. That is why, over the summer, my colleagues and I have consulted widely on possible measures for inclusion in the Bill. We have had many useful meetings and received many useful insights from hon. Members, law enforcement agencies and legal opinion—and, very importantly, from faith and community groups and those who represent the views of all our communities. Earlier this week, I was able to circulate draft clauses on key elements of the Bill to shadow spokesmen and to the Chairmen of the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will try to be receptive to other proposals that they and other hon. Members may wish to make, and I will encourage direct access to officials on the detail of the proposals that we will place before the House.

I believe that we can secure agreement on a package of further measures to tackle terrorism and to deal justly with those found guilty of terrorism offences. They will include measures to enhance the investigation of terrorists and their activities by ensuring that the police and intelligence agencies can make full use of information and data; to strengthen prosecutions against terrorist suspects by allowing post-charge questioning; to improve public protection by strengthening arrangements for monitoring convicted terrorists after release from prison; and, I hope, to ensure that the police have sufficient time to investigate and to charge suspects.

In the consultation and elsewhere, I have set out why I believe that the time is now right to consider the extension of pre-charge detention—the period of time available to police officers to investigate, gather the evidence and question in order to be able to charge—beyond the current limit of 28 days. Others, too, have spelled out their view that this is the right time to consider it. Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said that our proposals

Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has said that

For understandable reasons, people want to focus on the maximum figure for the extension of pre-charge detention. I believe that it is right that Parliament should set this figure, but the first question for hon. Members to answer is whether we are willing to take
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the decision to provide the opportunity for police and investigators to go beyond 28 days in that pre-charge period. The trend towards an increasing complexity of plots, an increasingly international range of terrorist activity and an increasing amount of information that has to be sifted and analysed means that we have to consider whether we have the right protections in place and the right ability to carry out those investigations.

Pete Wishart: In the Secretary of State’s view, how many days should be allowed for pre-charge detention? [ Interruption. ] I will try again—the Secretary of State might listen this time. How many days, in her view, should be allowed for pre-charge detention?

Jacqui Smith: I am sorry—the Chief Whip slightly threw me by suggesting that I had only two minutes left; however, the good news is that I have an hour and two minutes.

The hon. Gentleman jumps to what I would consider to be the third question before we have identified the answers to the first and second. I believe that there should be a maximum period set by this House, but the first argument is whether and how we go beyond 28 days. We have set out in the consultation document the options for how that could be done, and I am determined to approach the provisions in a spirit of genuine openness with hon. Members. In that spirit, I turn to a series of questions that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden raised, as he has previously, about the detail of the investigation into the alleged airline plot. I spelt out the answers to those questions in a letter to the right hon. Gentleman earlier this week. I accept that he might not have been able to read and digest the information yet—

David Davis: I have not received the letter.

Jacqui Smith: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not received the letter yet, but it does set out the answers to which I have referred. I have also answered questions posed by him in the Home Affairs Committee that related to some of the cases that he mentioned.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden claimed that there was a delay in the investigation. I asked the Metropolitan police for their view, and they tell me that they are satisfied that there were no unnecessary delays in interviewing, charging or releasing suspects. Individuals were detained only while inquiries that provided realistic evidential opportunity were conducted.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden also alleged that the police had sufficient evidence to bring charges before they actually did so. The police report to me that, in the alleged airline plot, the decision to charge was made by the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS provided a team of dedicated senior prosecutors to review the evidence daily, and it authorised charges based on its assessment of whether the case had reached the necessary evidential threshold.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden also suggested that resources had not been used efficiently, especially because of shift working. The Metropolitan police inform me that, during times of peak demand—and including during the investigation into the alleged airline
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plot—they run a shift system to process the product or exhibits recovered during the numerous searches that are carried out. However, they tell me that they do not carry out forensic searches of premises or scenes on a shift pattern. There are a number of reasons for that, one of them being that, historically, best evidence has been achieved when one officer has control of a scene from start to finish. In other words, that is the most effective way to gather information.

I have copied the letter to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden to other hon. Members, and will make sure that the information is available in the Library. I do not want the House to be in any doubt: I will seek to build a consensus wherever that is possible, but I am determined to act to address the grave and growing threat posed by terrorism to our safety and security. I am not prepared to wait until further attempts are made to bring atrocity, panic and recrimination to our streets and communities.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Will the Home Secretary return to the vexed question of the number of days for which a suspect may be detained? We heard her being tested a great deal about that on the radio this morning. She is not naming a figure, but it is widely known that something like 56 days will be the Government’s preferred option. If that is right, and if the consultations that she has undertaken suggest that would be sufficient, will she say why, two years ago, Labour Members were whipped to approve a limit of 90 days? That appears to be about twice the amount that is required.

While I am on my feet, may I tell the Home Secretary that I said earlier that she was the human and attractive face of the Home Office? She was not here at the time, so I must add that I was making a comparison with her predecessors. [Laughter.]

Jacqui Smith: I thought that the rapprochement between my hon. and learned Friend and me was too good to last, but I can tell him that the Government have not decided on a figure of 56 days. As I have explained, we are seeking to achieve a consensus on that. Moreover, I see the argument as being about whether, and how, we provide the ability to extend detention beyond 28 days. It is not about whether a period of 56 or 90 days, or whatever maximum might be determined, is appropriate. However, I believe that Parliament should set the final figure, and will continue to work with colleagues to find a consensus.

Mr. Winnick: Does my right hon. Friend accept that, if the detention period is to be extended beyond 28 days, the House should have compelling evidence that it is absolutely essential? Will she bear it in mind that the 28-day period was agreed without a vote once the 90-day proposal was defeated? No one in the Commons voted for less than 28 days and, despite its misgivings, the House of Lords likewise agreed to extend the existing 14-day period to 28 days. That shows that a consensus exists about the matter that, in my view, it would be quite wrong to break without compelling evidence. So far, I have not seen any such evidence, and I assume that that goes for all Members of the House.

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Jacqui Smith: When I appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, I spent a considerable time exemplifying my argument and providing evidence to my hon. Friend and others that there is a trend of growing complexity in the material gathered, the international links and the scale of the investigations, which I think—as do others, as I have identified today—provides a strong argument that there is likely to be a requirement for a period beyond 28 days.

My hon. Friend and other Members appear to be asking me to put us in a position where the evidence we provide is the inability of the police to bring a charge against a suspected terrorist because they run up against the buffers of time— [ Interruption. ] My hon. Friend says, “Exactly”, but I do not want to be in a position where a terrorist suspect is held up to the limit of the existing provisions, is released because there has been insufficient time to build a case and then goes on to perpetrate a terrorist act. That is the question that all Members must answer. If such a case arose, Members and the general public would rightly ask why the individual had been released, why we had not studied the trend of terrorist activity and investigations, and why we had not acted to provide greater investigatory powers when we could still have done so. That is the first question that Members have a responsibility to answer.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): If, as the Home Secretary says, there is a trend of growing complexity, when two years ago the Government recommended that their Back Benchers should vote for 90 days, surely there is a case for an even longer period now—unless the Home Secretary admits that the Government were wrong to recommend 90 days two years ago.

Jacqui Smith: The truth of the matter is that the Government were defeated on 90 days— [ Interruption. ] We were defeated, so it is right that we look at the trends, as we have done, and make the case, as we have done, for going beyond 28 days.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: The Home Secretary is obviously not about to answer the straightforward question put by our Scottish nationalist friend, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), but will she consider this point? Does she not accept that her approach to the question this evening, like her approach to it this morning, rather implies that the Government are hoping to get as long as they can out of a process of political negotiation? That cannot be a satisfactory approach. The background is that the Government went for 90 days but had to settle for 28 days, which, in my recollection, was a figure more or less plucked out of the air. If we are to reach a rational solution to this important question, the Government must consider how to put together some evidence for the length of time that might be required in a complex, difficult, multi-defendant case. At the moment, the Home Secretary sounds like somebody negotiating the price of a commodity, inviting her critics to put up the first offer, whereupon she will try to bargain to get more. This is a question of civil liberties, and that is not a sensible way to approach a big issue of criminal justice.

Jacqui Smith: The first point is that there will be only a small number of extraordinary cases where it would be necessary to go beyond 28 days. The appropriate place to start is with what the process will be in each of
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those individual cases to provide the safeguards, which I completely recognise will be necessary, to hold somebody longer than the existing position.

I am pretty thick-skinned, but I find it a bit tough that when I take a consultative approach I am told, “Actually, you should have made up your mind before you started and that should be the basis on which you’re consulting”.

Peter Luff: I am genuinely interested to hear the Home Secretary’s answer to this point, which has impressed me: is there not a range of offences with which such suspects could be charged and then held, which would avoid the difficulty that she is discussing entirely?

Jacqui Smith: It is marginally dodgy to suggest that we should find holding charges. If there is a reasonable view that people have committed a serious terrorist offence, it is better to be able to charge them with that terrorist offence, rather than with something else in the hope that we will then be able to find the evidence.

Mr. Mullin: How does the Home Secretary square her belief that there is a need for a further extension with the statement by Sir Ken Macdonald in front of 200 lawyers, including one or two High Court judges, as recently as May that there was no demand coming from him or, as far as he knew, from the police for an extension of the detention powers?

Jacqui Smith: I am not under the misapprehension that everybody agrees on that issue. I have already quoted senior police officers who believe that there is now a case to consider going beyond 28 days. Rightly, that will be the subject of further discussion, and we will introduce those proposals—I hope having reached a consensus—when we introduced the Bill.

Turning to immigration, we have heard some sensible and measured contributions, which is clear evidence that this House can approach such sensitive issues without recourse to unconsidered rhetoric. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham was right when he discussed the need for a grown-up debate. I am therefore pleased that the Conservative party has taken on that issue in recent days by disciplining parliamentary candidates and ridding itself of anything that might smack of racism. I wonder what action it will take on the report in The Independent yesterday about the inflammatory Conservative leaflet now circulating in Dudley. In a passage about “so-called asylum seekers”, it states:

Lurid language is being used to whip up fears about immigration. Such language is as shrill as a dog whistle, and in my view it has no place in responsible political debate about the serious issues that we face on immigration and asylum.

As the House knows, asylum applications are now at their lowest since 1993. We will rightly continue to provide a haven for those in genuine need, and we will also continue to ensure that speedy decisions are taken. We are resolving cases more quickly than ever before. In 1997, it took almost two years just to make an initial asylum decision. Now, the majority of new
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cases are given an initial decision within two months, and 40 per cent. of cases are completely resolved in six months.

Today, some of my hon. Friends raised the issue of the exploitation of migrant labour, and it is crucial that determined enforcement is given the appropriate priority. This morning, I visited Communications house, a local enforcement office in London, where I spoke to staff about how they are cracking down on abuse in the system and targeting rogue employers of migrant labour. Across the country, there have been 3,700 successful operations to tackle illegal working. That vital work would have been slashed by Opposition Members, when they went into the last election calling for the immigration budget to be cut in half. Instead, we have doubled our enforcement effort and have 1,000 additional staff in border control. It is no good their talking tough on immigration, if they are not willing to invest in making it work.

We are delivering a fair, firm and effective process for determining eligibility, processing applications and clamping down on abuse. We will go further, as we have heard, in making sweeping changes to Britain’s migration system. From early next year, the points-based system will help us to do that, and we will work closely with the migration advisory committee and the migration impacts forum to give us the balanced analysis we need on the skills gaps we have to fill and the impact of immigration on our public services.

From next year, the biometric identity card for foreign nationals working in the UK will be equally vital to the protections we are putting in place. Conservative Members like to think they talk tough on immigration, on crime, and on counter-terrorism, but they want to scrap the ID card scheme that is fundamental to helping to control immigration and to protect our citizens. A little over a month ago, they published figures saying that they will cut the costs for ID cards for foreign nationals as well. They claim that they will spend the savings on prison places, a border police force, and drug rehab. Unfortunately, if one looks at their figures, it becomes clear that they cannot get anywhere near the money that they would need for these commitments. They will not save anything like £250 million from scrapping ID cards, as they claim. Even if they could, it would cost that much to fund just the prison places that they say they want to build, never mind the port security and drug rehab plans that they have announced.

The fact is that there is a black hole of at least £150 million in the Conservatives’ plans, and, even worse, there will be a black hole in this country’s security and the protection of our citizens if they have their way. But they need to do more than tighten up their figures if they want to be taken seriously. They need to get their story straight. Do they support the biometric ID card scheme for foreign nationals that we are introducing next year, or do they not? If they do, why are they planning to cut £40 million of set-up costs for the scheme? Until they can tell us unequivocally that they back ID cards for foreign nationals, their position is nearly as ludicrous—nearly, but not quite—as that of the Liberal Democrats.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) has spoken proudly of how he will break laws passed by this House on the national identity scheme. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] Apparently, he is off campaigning this
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evening. I genuinely wish him well, but I have to say that threatening to break laws passed by this House is no way to be taken seriously, either as a shadow Home Secretary or a future party leader.

In contrast to the muddle, uncertainty and opportunism that these days passes for the policy of the Opposition, the Gracious Speech sets out provisions to deliver stability, security and opportunity for this country. On this side of the House, we are committed to meeting the needs and aspirations of all our citizens, through measures that will make direct improvements to their daily lives in housing, education, health care, employment and the environment. Provisions on counter-terrorism, immigration, citizenship and crime form an important part of the Gracious Speech. They offer critical underpinning and protection for our citizens and the freedoms that they enjoy as they go about their daily lives, and I commend them to the House.

Debate adjourned. — [Tony Cunningham.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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