I welcome the Prime Ministers emphasis on a cross-party approach on this issue; I regret that there is not that emphasis on other important issues in the anti-terrorism debatenotably, the extension of the period of detention without charge. Given that we have made so much progress on this issue and on issues such as post-charge questioning, I urge him to revisit the
need for a further extensionto up to 42 daysof the period during which the police can detain people without charge.
May I ask the Prime Minister three specific questions about the mechanics of what happens after the production of the Chilcot report? First, I acknowledge and understand that it is unlikely if not impossible for any further implementation recommendations to be produced during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Bill through the House. However, will he be more specific and commit that the work will at least be complete during this Parliament? Without a timetable, legitimate fears will be provoked that there will just be delay on delay in the crucial implementing phase of the process.
Secondly, will the Prime Minister clarify exactly what the relationship will be between the implementation group and the advisory group? It is, of course, a good thing that the advisory group will have a cross-party composition, but if it is to have a somewhat passive, observatory role, it will not fulfil the function that many people want it to fulfil: to hold the implementation groups feet to the fire to ensure that the Chilcot report recommendations are followed up in detail in the months ahead.
Finally, although I realise that it would be inappropriate to name the individual civil servants in the implementation group, will the Prime Minister at least enumerate which Departments and agencies will be part of it, so that once it reaches conclusions there will be an endorsement, on behalf of all the Government and all the Government agencies, of the groups implementing recommendations?
The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for our proposals. At the end he raised issues about the nature of the implementation group; perhaps we can arrange talks on Privy Council terms about how that will move forward. I agree that in principle it is right to do this, and I have always thought that there is a very strong case for doing so if we can find the means. The problem is that although we can draw parallels with other jurisdictions, ours is distinctivenot just because of the adversarial system and the European convention on human rights, but because of the special capabilities that we have in Britain and our co-operation with overseas services.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that, as the committee has told us, the position on control orders has not changed. I would like to think that we could have the same degree of consensus on the proposal about questioning and the 42 days. I still believe that the proposal put forward by Liberty which he and the Conservative party supported is a basis for moving forward. In the legislation that we put forward, we have made proposals in line with that. I hope we can have discussions on that in the future.
On the distinction between the implementation team and the advisory group, let me make it clear that an implementation group was recommended by the Chilcot committee. It did not feel that it could continue with the technical and legal work on its own, and it suggested that we set up an implementation committee. The advisory committee will be there, as its name suggests, to advise as we go through the work.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Prime Ministers statement and the speed with which he has accepted Sir John Chilcots recommendations. As he knows, this is entirely in keeping with the Home Affairs Committees decision of 11 December to recommend that intercept evidence be used. In view of the current climate, is he satisfied that the robustness exists for the accountability and supervision of the whole area of surveillance? Once he receives the Rose report, if he is not satisfied will heat the risk of exciting the Leader of the Oppositioninitiate a review of this area, to ensure that it is robust and that there is proper accountability and supervision?
The Prime Minister: The remit of the Rose review was set out by the Justice Secretary on Monday. It will report very quicklyin two weeks time, when the Justice Secretary will come and make a statement. I welcome my right hon. Friends support for what we are doing on the major issue of the use of intercepts in evidence.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Obviously the House will applaud the decision to move forward. It will be important, however, to ensure that the trials are fair and that the interests of the defendants are taken into account. That being so, please could the implementation group contain people with current experience of representing defendants in criminal cases, or at least take urgent and clear advice from such persons? The interests of the defendants must be taken into account.
The Prime Minister: There seems to be some support for that on the Opposition Front Bench. We will look at all these issues. It is important that we look at it from the point of view of how a trial will look in the future. I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at the section in the report on public interest immunity certificates. He might find that the way that is being suggested by the committee is to his satisfaction.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): No one in this House underestimates for one moment the terrorist danger to our country and our people. If, arising from the Prime Ministers welcome statement today, there is near all-party agreement on many measures, not least on combating the acute danger of terrorism, will the Government give serious consideration to the question of detention without charge? No evidence whatever has been produced to justify going beyond 28 days, and the Director of Public Prosecutions has said that he is quite satisfied with 28 days. Why create this division when there is no necessity to do so?
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend brings the issue back to 42 days, but I have to say that the Home Affairs Committee, of which he is a member, has said that as a precautionary principle it might be necessary to move beyond 28 days. The issue is not whether, in principle, it
is necessary at some stage to move beyond 28 days. The real question is whether we can find agreement on how we do it. I hope that we can find that way forward.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Will the Prime Minister note that the group received unlimited co-operation from the agencies and other bodies, and from many individuals, and unstinting support from our very small staff? May I take it as a clear political commitment that the Prime Minister intends to bring in a regime that ensures that guilty people are locked up on the basis of good evidence, and that he intends to do so while ensuring that all the safeguards for vital national security intelligence, as well as the intelligence needed for the pursuit of crime, are in place?
The Prime Minister: That is exactly what we want to do, but the conditions or tests that have been set down by the Chilcot committeeof which the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member; I thank him for his workare of a legal and technical nature and have to be worked through. I think that he would agree that his committee recommended that, if we could not find satisfactory answers to these conditions, we should not recommend moving ahead. It is our hope that we can find satisfactory answers, but it is important that the tests are met and that the conditions that have been set down are satisfactorily delivered. That is the next stage of the work of the implementation group, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will join the advisory committee to work with it.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that intercept evidence, such as that connected with the recent Crevice trial, has been used to prevent some appalling terrorist atrocities in this country? Will he ask those responsible for taking this work forward to take into account the fact that, if such evidence is to be used in court, it could inhibit important operations?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend takes a great interest in these matters, and has a great deal of experience of them. I thank him for his observation. Intercept evidence can be hugely important. As I said in my statement, it is already used in certain instances. The important test now is to ensure that, if we are to use it, the conditions set down by the Chilcot committee are met. When my right hon. Friend looks at those conditions, he will see that they are strenuous, but, for the safety and security of the security services, it is important that we meet them.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Plaid Cymru welcomes the use of intercept evidence in court, not least because it might reduce the pressure for pre-charge detention. The report defers to the experience of many other countries. Will the Prime Minister highlight what particular lessons the Government learned from the experience of those other countries in this regard?
The Prime Minister:
A great deal has been learned from the attempts that have been made in other countries to use intercept evidence in court. However, I must draw to the hon. Gentlemans attention the observation of the committeeand my reading of the
reportthat Britain has a very distinctive system. We have an adversarial system, we are subject to the ECHRwhich is not true of Australia or Americaand we have a high level of co-operation with other intelligence agencies around the world. We also have the kind of high degree of co-operation between the police and the security services that sometimes does not exist in other services. The solutions to the challenges that we face in Britain will be unique, which is why a different model from that of other countries is being proposed for examination by the Chilcot committee. I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman looks at the committees work and the tests that it has set, he will see that we are providing a British solution to the problem.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): May I thank the Prime Minister for making this statement himself? He will be well aware of the reasons why some right hon. and hon. Members are opposed to the use of intercept evidence in court. I applaud his decision to give the go-ahead to the programme of extensive and comprehensive work to which he referred, and to which the report refers. May I invite him to ask the Leader of the House to facilitate a debate on the Chilcot report in the House of Commons in due course?
The Prime Minister: It will be a matter for the House as to whether there is a debate on these issues. The Chilcot report asks for more work to be done, and I hope that it can be done quickly and with a degree of comprehensiveness so that people can be satisfied that we have dealt with the issues that the report raises. I am sure that there will be an occasion that we, as a Government, will find to make it possible for a debate to take place.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): The Prime Minister will recognise that when the prosecuting authorities in criminal courts wish to avoid the disclosure of an observation site, for example, they can make an application under the public interest immunity procedure. If that application is unsuccessful, they always have the option of not proceeding with the prosecution. As that system already exists and works well, could not any adaptation of it necessary for the use of intercept evidence be done sooner rather than later, given that the Government haverightly, in my viewdecided that this proposal is a good idea?
The Prime Minister: If that were the only issue, it might be possible to move more quickly. When the hon. Gentleman reads the Chilcot report, he will find that there are nine tests, rather than just one. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will agree with that. The report raises issues such as the protection of sensitive techniques used by the intelligence services; the safeguarding of resourceswhich will be an important issueas well as ensuring that intercept can still be used effectively for intelligence; and the protection of the present close co-operation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. All those issues must be dealt with, and I would be failing in my duty to the House if I did not say that the Chilcot report leaves us with very big hurdles to overcome. I believe that they can be overcome, but the technical and legal work that is necessary to do that will have to be comprehensive.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friends announcement. The Joint Committee on Human Rights first recommended the use of intercept evidence almost two years ago and has repeated that recommendation in a series of reports since then. Its use would bring us into line with international practice. Will my right hon. Friend consider releasing the public interest immunity plus work that has been done so far, as we have asked, which would inform the debates on this matter? Will he consider whether it is possible to include in the Counter-Terrorism Bill enabling powers to proceed with this issue should it be possible to do so at an earlier stage?
The Prime Minister: That was not the recommendation of the Chilcot report. When I met the membership of the committee, we had a detailed discussion about some of those issues. If we said that enabling legislation could be introduced before we had reached a solution to some of the problems that had been raised, we would raise false expectations that we had such solutions. Those solutions still have to be found, and the legal and technical work still must be done. Obviously, whatever information can be made available to the Committees of the House of Commons will be made available. When my hon. Friend looks at the report in detail, he will find that the Chilcot committee is not recommending that we rush ahead without having done the legal and technical work but that we do that work before we make a final decision.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The Prime Minister will be aware of the increased security threat posed by the dissident IRA groups in Northern Ireland and the sophisticated criminal gangs now operated by former paramilitaries. The police in Northern Ireland have said that the use of intercept evidence would be very useful to them in stamping out the crimes associated with such activity. Given that the security services are now carrying the main responsibility for intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland and that policing and justice are not devolved, can the Prime Minister explain why, if intercept material is to be used, its use will apply only in criminal cases in England and Wales and will not be extended to Northern Ireland?
The Prime Minister: This is a recommendation of the committee, in the first instance, in relation to public interest immunity certificates. That is why, for example, the use of such material could not be applied immediately to Scotland, but I will consider the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): The Prime Minister is aware that the Home Affairs Committee, in our all-party report on counter-terrorism, concluded that intercept evidence should be used in terrorism trials. However, we also concluded that on its own it was no substitute for other measuresin other words, it was no silver bulletand that those other measures could include an extension of pre-charge detention for a temporary period and only in exceptional circumstances where the security services were overwhelmed by multiple plots.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The committee investigated that issue and concluded that the use of intercept evidence does not alter the necessity for control orders. Nor does it preclude a debate about an extension of detention beyond 28 days. I am grateful for the work of the Home Affairs Committee, which has reported on these matters on two occasions, and made the case for precautionary action in view of what it believes may happen in future. The issue is whether we can find an agreement that not only recognises in principle that it is right to move forward, but leads to a practical scheme to which everyone can agree.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I welcome todays statement. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the official Opposition will have the opportunity to nominate a Privy Councillor to the working party? What would happen if the prosecuting authority were determined to use intercept evidence but the intercept agency had different views. Who would have the final say?
The Prime Minister: In my statement I did read out that one of the conditions outlined in the Chilcot report included, Giving the intercepting agencies the ability to retain control over whether their material is used in prosecutions, so it is clear that the committee acknowledges that the key which unlocks the possibility of using intercept evidence is held in the first instance by the security agencies. I think that, on reflection and on reading the report, the hon. Gentleman will probably agree that that is the right conclusion. It is one of the tests that have to be met. Of course we welcome the nomination of a Privy Councillor to the committee, and we will agree on that.
Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I welcome the report and the Governments response but may I express some concern at the response of the Leader of the Opposition, who seems to be following the shadow Home Secretary in arguing that this is all simple, straightforward and easy, whereas the Chilcot report suggests the contrary? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the very desirable objective of catching and convicting terrorists is balanced against the equally desirable and necessary objective of preventing terrorist outrages in the first place, whether at home or abroad?
The Prime Minister: I have said that we will do nothing to put the security of our country at risk or, as I have said directly to them, to put in jeopardy the work of our security agencies. In common with my right hon. Friend, I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition when he says that it is only a matter of political will. The committee makes it absolutely clear that there are considerable legal and technical challenges that must be overcome. That is why we will work in detail on an implementation regime. I believe that we can move forward, but we must not underestimate the real issues that have been raised by the Chilcot committee, which must be dealt with.