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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab):
I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary will find time to read the evidence that Rachel North gave
the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. As a survivor of 7/7, she is very much opposed to any extension of the 28-day limit.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most essential things that we should be doing is exposing a notorious lie propounded by the hate merchants and racistsa very small and unrepresentative section of the Muslim communitywho say that Britain is the enemy of Islam? Did we not go to war in 1999 to stop the ethnic cleansing of Muslims, a war that was very unpopular in some quarters but was fully justified? Is it not a fact that, time and time again over the last 40 years, wecertainly Labour Membershave fought against any form of discrimination against our fellow citizens, whether they are Muslims, blacks, Hindus or Sikhs? Is that not something of which we should be proud?
Mr. Speaker: Before the Prime Minister answers, I remind Members that there is a time limit on Back-Bench speeches in the debate later today because so many Back Benchers wish to speak. I do not expect speeches now; hon. Members must put questions to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He asked me to look at the evidence that was given to the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, and I will do so as we continue our debate on the very issue that he raised. As for the links between us and the Islamic religion, we should take the most recent statement by Muslim scholars very seriously indeed. That showed a determination to find common ground between the Islamic faith, Christianity and Judaism. I believe that those scholars requested that there be a proper dialogue between the faiths. That would yield a far greater understanding than exists at the moment. Over time, that would have a huge influence, particularly on young people in our country and other countries. I hope that we can join together in that activity.
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): If and when proposals are brought forward to extend pre-charge detention, will the Prime Minister ensure that the mistake that was made last time is not repeated? Neither the police nor the Government or anyone else made out the case properly for the extension that was required. While many of us know that there are some pressing arguments in favour, to set against perfectly proper libertarian ones, unless and until those are fully explained, as the Prime Minister is starting to do now, they will not be acceptable to the House.
The Prime Minister:
It is precisely for the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman suggests that people must be sure of the evidence, the ground on which the proposal has been considered and the detail of it, in so far as how it protects the civil liberties of the individual. I have been anxious that there be a proper debate, both here and outside the House, on that very matter. In the interests of a common front in the fight against terrorism, I am anxious that, wherever possible, we can find consensus on that issue. There is new evidence about the sophistication,
the complexity and the international nature of those cases. No one looking at, for example, the airline plot or at other investigations, including even the June investigations, is under any illusion but that we are dealing with contacts with large numbers of people in different continents. No one is under any illusion, either, but that we are dealing with sophisticated technological evidence that would have to be analysed in great detail. The question is whether we can provide sufficient safeguards so that individual liberties are protected and arbitrariness is avoided in circumstances where it may be necessaryI think that that is acknowledged in principle, although people are worried about the effect in practiceto go beyond 28 days. Therefore, I thank him for his question because that is exactly the way the debate should happen.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I had a consultation with members of the Muslim community in my constituency a few weeks ago and their messages were clear. First, they revile terrorism and all those who promote hate within our communities. They welcomed the perceived change of tone by the Government towards the Muslim communities over past months. I believe that there is much in the statement today that they would welcome. However, they continued to voice concerns about pre-charge detentions. May I urge the Prime Minister to continue to have dialogues with real members of the community, not organisations that purport to represent them, so that we can work together towards the common aim of peace and security in this country?
The Prime Minister: It is because of the points that my hon. Friend has raised that the debate about pre-charge detention must go beyond the House and into the communities, where people will want to take an attitude and a view on that issue. There have been five regional seminars already where those issues have been aired. The debate on that will continue over the next few weeks and months. I hope that, in her community as well as in others, people will see that we are determined to protect the civil liberties of the individual.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Many of us on the Conservative Benches who might well be persuaded were evidence to be provided about an extension of pre-trial detention are bemused by the way in which the Government have gone about initiatingthat is the word that is usedthat debate. We have seen absolutely nothing that suggests the reason why, in the Prime Minister's words, there is a need for a debate, let alone for an extension. He talked about computer problems, checking on finance and all those other things, yet in no single case has there had to be an extension beyond 28 days. Will he please now stop the ludicrous discussion and put on the table the specific cases where we needed to go beyond 28 days?
The Prime Minister:
It is not lawful to go beyond 28 days. Therefore, it is not possible to detain someone beyond 28 days without declaring a state of emergency in this country. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that no case has gone beyond 28 days before the charge has been made. In the next stage of the debate, I will be
happy to put forward some of the evidence that has been available to me, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look, as he would wish to do, at the more sophisticated, complex and internationalised nature of the investigations that police have to conduct. Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said:
Investigators are facing an unprecedented international dimension in terrorism cases and the necessary enquiries to ensure public safety have a time dimension to them that is not catered for within the existing timescales.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I warmly welcome the proposals, which serve to protect the public and prevent terrorism. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that centrally there are the mechanisms that will benchmark the delivery agencies? On 28 days, the Governments approach has been open and transparent. The Select Committee on Home Affairs has not completed its investigation. If there is any further evidence that Ministers have that perhaps the Select Committee does not have, will he share that information with the Committee, so that we can better inform Parliament of our decisions?
The Prime Minister: Of course. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friends Committee has an open mind on those issues and is looking at the evidence that is brought before it by many people, including a large number of people from the Muslim community. Of course we will endeavour to furnish him with what information is available, but at some point, of course, we will have to reach a decision.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Why did the Prime Ministers Security Minister, Admiral West, say on the Today programme this morning that he would need absolute proof before supporting any extension of the 28-day limit, and then completely change his mind an hour later?
I am personally convinced there is...I personally absolutely believe that within the next two or three years we will require more than that for one of these complex plots.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and ask him to consider a couple of points from an Irish dimension. The Cabinet Office report Security in a Global Hub describes the current situation in relation to the common travel area. Will he assure us that there will be best engagement, with both the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, on how people travel and how they are treated in comparison with other citizens of these islands? That is a matter of sensitivity to everyone, north and south.
Will the Prime Minister also assure us that the Government are learning the lessons of the counter-productive effects of counter-terrorism legislation in the past in this country? He rightly says in his statement that al-Qaeda will try to manipulate humanitarian and political issues. The form and length of detention is one of the things that it will try to manipulate. It will also try to manipulate the impression that some people in the Muslim community are being ghettoised and others are being patronised. I ask the Prime Minister perhaps to consider how he presents the community, schools and youth measures that he has talked about today.
The Prime Minister: That is exactly why the Home Secretary and the Minister for Local Government are trying to reach out to communities with a number of initiatives that will involve Muslim women, young people, schools, madrassahs and mosques in discussing the very issues that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. We are determined not just to root out those who are extremists but to build understanding between young men and women of the different faith communities in this country. While the individual measures that we have outlined today may in each of the different areas seem specific, taken together, they amount to a strategy to prevent people from falling prey to terrorist influences in this country.
The hon. Gentlemans first point was about the relationship with the Irish Government on issues related to that. I can assure him that a strategy is being worked out with the Irish Government on those issues.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The Prime Minister is well aware of the speedy and effective response to the Glasgow airport attack by the Scottish Government and law enforcement agencies. I think he is aware that both the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru are continuing discussions with the Home Office on the detention issue. On today's report, will the Prime Minister confirm that, for the plans to work north of the border, they will have to include specific efforts by the Scottish Government, the Justice Department, the Scottish police, the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency? Will he give a commitment that the Westminster Departments will continue to work effectively with the Scottish Government and their agencies to help to combat and to deter attacks and to provide the security and safety that we all want?
The Prime Minister: Of course we will work with all the agencies in Scotland and every part of the United Kingdom that have a role to play, but I should remind the hon. Gentleman before he runs away with himself that terrorism and counter-terrorism is not a devolved issue; it is an issue for this United Kingdom Parliament.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab):
On the 28 days question, the Prime Minister refers to the views of Liberty in a way that will surprise many, not least the organisation itself. Is it not the case that Libertys precise view is that in the unlikely event of there being multiplethree or four, perhapsterrorist attacks on the mainland, the Government do
not need new powers as they already have the necessary powers for that remote set of circumstances? Is it not the case that Liberty remains adamantly opposed to any extension of pre-charge detention beyond 28 days, both on principle and for the pragmatic reasons that have been raised in the House?
The Prime Minister: But I have to tell my hon. Friend that the difference between us is not that Liberty says that there are no circumstances in which we might have to go beyond 28 days. There is not a disagreement in principle on that. The issue is that if we had to go beyond 28 days Liberty suggestsas does the Conservative partythat we would have to declare a state of emergency. I do not believe that it would be a good thing for a terrorist group to be given the oxygen of publicity by us having to declare a state of emergency in order to investigate it. It is not an issue of principle that divides us on this matter. The issue is this: in a case where the police might need more than 28 days, what are the practical circumstances in which Parliament could accede to that without declaring a state of emergency and subject to the protection of the civil liberties of the individual, reporting to Parliament and going through an independent judge?
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): May I offer the support of my colleagues and myself for many of the measures attempting to thwart international terrorism that the Prime Minister has outlined? I ask him, however, to do two things. First, will he have discussions with the First Minister in Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic in order to prevent access to the Irish Republic by international terrorists who would use it as a base to launch attacks in mainland UK? Will he also ensure that the travelling public in Northern Ireland are able to continue to go about their business in a normal waythat people will continue to be able to travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain as between Scotland and Wales and the capital city of London?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We want the maximum freedom of movement. I will continue my friendly discussions with the First Minister in Northern Ireland, and I have already raised these issues with the Taoiseach.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Has the Prime Minister observed that often a precursor to support for terrorism is a sense of grievance, and does he agree that crucial to overcoming such a sense of grievance in minority communities is the creation of a culture of respect for basic human rights such as fair trial, free speech and habeas corpus? Will he therefore resist the siren calls of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to abolish the Human Rights Act 1998?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. The message we should send out to the world is that our country wishes to protect the civil liberties of the individual. That is contained in the Human Rights Act, which was passed by the House of Commons and implements in British law the European convention on human rights. Whatever debates we have on the 28 days issue, I hope that there is a determination among all Members that, in the face of the threat of terrorism, we will not succumb but will defend the liberties of the individual.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): In relation to that answer, will the Prime Minister accept that the whole question of the protection of the public from terrorism is often jeopardised by judicial interpretation of the Human Rights Act and European law generally? Does he therefore accept that to achieve his aim of the protection of the public we need British law for British judges and British judges for British law?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman will find from the information that becomes available at the end of the year that whatever his doubts about European law might be it has not prevented us from deporting up to 4,000 people from this country, and nor has it prevented us from deporting a large number of people to within the European Union.
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I understand the point that has been made about local police looking after their own interests, but we already have a national police force: the British Transport police. It deals with railways and ports. Should we not discuss whether to extend its powers so that it takes over airports as well?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises an important point about the engagement of the transport police in these matters, but the national borders agency will bring together customs and immigration staff and there will be a policing presence on the board of the new agency and strong links with the transport police.
Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Cutting unnecessary delays at airports is vital, and we all welcome additional screening equipment. However, twice while passing through Heathrow in the recess I was held up, as were many others, because existing screening equipment was not staffed. Will the Prime Minister take that into account and ensure that his new equipment is matched with properly trained staff? That should have been, but was not, done in the past. Will he promise that it will be done in future?
The Prime Minister: We will take on board all the hon. Gentlemans comments. In particular, I will pass on to BAA his desire for proper staffing at Heathrow to make it easier and more convenient for people to undertake their journeys.
Leicestershire is 34th out of 149 local authorities over the next three years.[ Official Report, 13 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 563.]
Actually, it is 149thfor every year. I believe that I am now allowed to say that it seems to me that the Secretary of State was misleading the people of Leicestershire. Can he be asked to come back to the Chamber and, having checked his facts, to rectify that statement?
Mr. Speaker: Members should not use a point of order to extend a debate. [Interruption.] That might be a fact, but this is not a point of order or a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman must rebut that comment in the customary fashion, and he knows how to go about that as he has been a Member for a long time.
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majestys most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom and Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament .[Mr. Caborn.]
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