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1 Apr 2008 : Column 670

Those are the Home Office’s words about the Bill. The evidence available shows that extending detention without charge will hinder, not help, our counter-terrorism efforts.

Perhaps the greatest risk of all is that prolonged detention without charge does the terrorists’ job for them. Lord Dear describes 42 days as a “propaganda coup for al-Qaeda”. Al-Qaeda wants to undermine our freedoms and way of life. Extended detention is the first step on the road towards its ultimate objective of undermining our democracy. That is why, for all the tough talk, this draconian measure is a sign of weakness, not strength.

The Home Secretary says that her proposals will be activated only when both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service request it. That is supposed to be the first check on the process.

Mr. Burrowes: On tough talk, as the Government pursue gesture politics through the Bill, in the name of being tough on terror, the irony will not be lost on the public that, on the one hand, the Government want to pursue detention of suspected terrorists, yet, on the other, they have released convicted terrorists early.

David Davis: My hon. Friend is right.

Mr. Bailey rose—

David Davis: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman now. I beg his pardon for missing him earlier.

Mr. Bailey: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way at last. I heard the argument that he presented when the matter was previously debated in the Chamber. Will he answer now the question that he could not answer then? How many more terrorists will be recruited as a result of the extension and how many more were recruited as a result of the previous extension?

David Davis: That is a foolish question for a variety of reasons. The hon. Gentleman will remember, if he was paying attention, that the head of MI5 said not long ago that there were at least 2,000 known supporters of terrorist cells in the country. There could be another 2,000. If he cannot assess how many there are now, how can anybody assess the number in a year or two?

One of the great failures of Government policy, by their own admission—the Prime Minister’s strategy unit recognised it—is that the first, prevention part of Project Contest does not work. That part must be got right. If all the elements at the end of the process, such as catching and convicting the terrorists, act to increase the number of terrorists, we will have failed from the beginning. The hon. Gentleman must understand that important logical point. If he thinks that the only way to make the strategy work is to put a number on it, his judgment is not worth hearing.

Mr. George Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman said that the Contest part of the strategy is not working. How, then, does he explain the Crevice trial?

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David Davis: If the right hon. Gentleman had listened carefully, he would know that I said that the “prevent” part—the first stage—is not working. The evidence is that, approximately a year and a half or two years ago, the head of MI5 said that 1,200 people posed a risk to the state. That figure is now 2,000. That does not sound like a success in preventing the growth of radicalisation.

Mr. Paul Goodman: Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that the Bill contains nothing about the “prevent” strand at a time when that strand’s flagship scheme—preventing violent extremism—faces considerable scepticism and inquiry from local authorities of all political parties?

David Davis: My hon. Friend, who is well informed and has a strong and direct constituency interest in the matter, is right. [Interruption.] I say to the Home Secretary, who speaks from a sedentary position, that the Prime Minister’s strategy unit found pretty much the same thing some time ago and there is not much sign of improvement.

Mr. Bailey: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Davis: No, I will not.

That issue is important to the Bill, because it sets the context in which it is supposed to be drafted. If the Bill does not intend to deal with terrorism, what does it intend to do?

I want to return to the Home Secretary’s first check on this exceptional power that is proposed—this reserve power, as she calls it. I do not know why it is a reserve power, because she can exercise it virtually by the stroke of a pen. She said that the first check on the power is the police and the Crown Prosecution Service request. Let us consider how strong a check that is.

I want to take the House through one personal example that highlights how things can go wrong in a way that all the statistics in the world cannot. Let us take the case of Lotfi Raissi, which will be familiar to the Home Secretary. He was an Algerian pilot living in London. A few weeks after 9/11, he was arrested by British police and accused of training the 9/11 bombers to fly—he attended the same flying school. The FBI, which, to be fair, had made the first request, knew within weeks that he was unlikely to have been involved. The British authorities had no evidence that he was involved in any terrorist activity. Nevertheless, they held him in pre-charge detention for nearly five months.

Lotfi Raissi was eventually released without charge, exonerated of every accusation levelled against him and left to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. During his prolonged detention, he was stabbed twice by prisoners who thought he was a terrorist, suffered two nervous breakdowns, and lost his job and was blacklisted, so he cannot find a new one. So much for the argument that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear from extended detention without charge. Lord Justice Hooper, in the Court of Appeal, completely exonerated Mr. Raissi.

Jacqui Smith: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will want to correct the record: in the case he is talking about, the individual concerned was not
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held in pre-charge detention; he was held in extradition detention. It does not help the House for the right hon. Gentleman to conflate the two.

David Davis: I did not say that he was held in pre-charge detention; what I said was—

Jacqui Smith: You did.

David Davis: No, I did not. The right hon. Lady can check the record, because I have it here. What I am saying is that that is an example. She set up the idea of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police making an application as a check on the system. The Crown Prosecution Service and the police had to approve what happened in that case under—she is quite right—extradition proposals. But after a few weeks, the FBI, which had sought the extradition, knew that the evidence it thought it had was without substance.

The best way to deal with this issue is to quote from Lord Justice Hooper in the Court of Appeal, who completely exonerated Mr. Raissi. He called Mr. Raissi’s continued detention without charge

That is not what I say; it is what Lord Justice Hooper said in the court records.

I am not suggesting—I do not think that anyone has suggested this—that British authorities deliberately detained an innocent man out of malice. Nobody is suggesting that. However, the risk of miscarriages of justice, with such devastating and counter-productive consequences, is magnified when we give the police excessive powers, which they will inevitably exercise under conditions of high public, political and media pressure, as will happen after a terrorist event. We should remember that injustice and repression are not always meted out by hard-faced men in jackboots. They can be the result of grey bureaucracies acting in haste under enormous pressure.

Rob Marris: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Davis: No.

The police and prosecutors who protect us are human, like everyone else; they make mistakes, like everyone else. Protecting fundamental liberties provides a critical check on those mistakes and a vital safeguard to prevent the abuse of state power at the expense of the individual.

We will work with the Government to strengthen the Bill. We will press them to take the measures that they have left out of the Bill. But we will not sacrifice our fundamental freedoms without the most compelling justification. That would do the terrorists’ job for them. This country does not buckle, bend or bow to terror. It is not in our history, it is not in our character and it is certainly not written in what the Prime Minister calls the

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has put an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which applies from now?

6.4 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Bill is called a counter-terrorism Bill, but many of us have fundamental concerns that some of its provisions could be counter-productive. We do not dispute that a real terrorist threat exists or underestimate that threat. We do not pretend that Parliament or the police or other security agencies do not have to be alert to how that threat might develop in the future. However, coming from the experience in Northern Ireland, I do not accept that the answer to the challenges we face is simply to extend the period of pre-charge detention.

We have been told by Ministers and others that the period of pre-charge detention is not simply being extended and that various safeguards and protections will be in place first. Frankly, however, some of those measures are somewhere between fig leaves and figments of procedure, rather than credible and realistic protections. We are told that having extensions signed by the Home Secretary is a safeguard. The experience in Northern Ireland, where we were told that the safeguard was the Secretary of State’s powers and the need for the Secretary of State’s signature, was that each Secretary of State signed anything that was put in front of them. Indeed, Secretaries of State said that they were in no position to refuse or to do anything other than sign what was put in front of them, if it came from a Chief Constable.

Mo Mowlam, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was in exactly that position when the then Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan came to her about the parades in July 1997. She had to breach all the promises that she had made and agree, under pressure from the Chief Constable, to allow the parade down Garvaghy road under cover of darkness. Mo Mowlam said afterwards, to us and others, that she would ensure that she was not put in that position again. The only way that she could do that was to ensure that neither she nor any future Secretary of State had the power to sign things at the behest of a Chief Constable, which is why we ended up with the Parades Commission, under different legislation. Mo Mowlam saw that as the only way a Secretary of State could be protected from that pressure, because as she said, no Secretary of State could do other than to sign what was put in front of them in such circumstances. The Home Secretary’s power in the Bill is therefore a hollow protection. I look forward to hearing examples—perhaps hon. Members know of some—of where Home Secretaries have refused or would be likely to refuse to sign what might be put in front of them under the Bill.

We have also heard the bizarre references to the parliamentary procedure that might be involved. If the Home Secretary comes to tell Parliament that the extension has been triggered, what is Parliament to do? Can we seriously question that? We face the scenario of the judicial process potentially being corrupted, with the cross-linking of the judicial process and the parliamentary process in a way that is dangerous. Although hon. Members might be able to control what they say on
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those occasions—no doubt the Government will control what is asked, too—who will control what the media say?

Mr. Grieve: Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is strange that the Government cannot see the distinction between Parliament pronouncing on the generality of a state of emergency under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and Parliament attempting to pronounce on the detention of an individual when the facts will not be capable of being laid before Parliament at all?

Mark Durkan: I fully accept the hon. and learned Gentleman’s point. Parliament will almost be in the position of a gameshow audience. It will have to pronounce somebody eligible for conviction—as opposed to eviction—on the basis of some statement or comment made about a particular suspect. That is a dangerous position for Parliament to be in. In fact, it fundamentally compromises Parliament and would compromise the judicial process, too. Such a procedure would also be a recipe for all sorts of media comment, which would be uncontrolled. We do not know in what direction that speculation could go, and it could fundamentally prejudice any subsequent trial. We will be asking that to happen if we let the Bill go through in its current form.

Given the experience of Northern Ireland—and, indeed, the experience of the Irish community in Britain—this House needs to be very vigilant when it comes to counter-terrorism legislation. The House cannot be like the Bourbons, who “learned nothing, forgot nothing”. The fact remains that counter-terrorism legislation alienated lawful people; law-abiding and decent communities were made to feel like suspect communities and were fundamentally alienated. That meant that good people could not do good, following Edmund Burke’s maxim that bad counter-terrorism law actually creates a situation where good people cannot do good.

In her opening comments, the Secretary of State mentioned some of the soft measures that the Government are adopting to ensure that no ground is provided for the terrorist threat or terrorist sympathies to grow in this country. However, if the Government continue to emphasise the soft measures at community level and the outreach and engagement activities in which they are involved at the same time as they present hard and offensive measures such as this Bill, they will compromise the very people in the Muslim community whom they want to work with, promote and champion. Those people will not be able to touch any of those soft schemes without feeling fundamentally compromised, and they are likely to be resented in their own communities. They in particular will feel the heat. Their emotions will be mixed, but they will feel a sense of guilt whenever the power in the Bill is triggered and becomes a matter of controversy in their communities. That is why I ask Ministers to stop talking about the various soft measures—even though they are important and necessary to national cohesion and positive community building—as though they were some sort of compensating side dish that the Government are serving up with this hard and unpalatable legislation. That is not the way to move forward.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Does not my hon. Friend find it ironic that when the Conservatives
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took the prevention of terrorism Act through the House and were repeatedly told that they were alienating the Irish community, the expression we heard was that they did not believe in appeasement? Is it not ironic that today we have heard such a liberal speech from a Conservative shadow Home Secretary?

Mark Durkan: Perhaps some people have learned from that experience. I will allow Conservative Members to make it clear if that is where they stand today. Many people have learned and many have changed their views. It was not only the Conservative party that put those sorts of measure through; it was done by Labour, too. With hindsight, perhaps everyone has realised their mistake.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in its severity, the legislation before us today is light years in advance of the prevention of terrorism Acts that he may well have disagreed with in the past? Is not this Bill far more draconian than any other legislation that we have seen in the past 30 years, with the possible exception of the internment legislation introduced in Northern Ireland?

Mark Durkan: Large parts of this Bill are worse, but other aspects of Northern Ireland legislation were worse still. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s general point and ask Members to reflect on whether, if the counter-terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland and the prevention of terrorism legislation here had incorporated the measures in the Bill, the situation would have been made much worse. It would have made it easier for people to say, “This is great. We do not need to subvert the state; the state is subverting itself by virtue of the fact that no due process worth talking about stands.” They may have said that it created what amounted to a police state, where police powers rule over everything else and are more significant than any other consideration. That is what we need to guard against in the Bill.

Let us learn the lessons from the mistakes of the past and address the key issues before us now. Yes, there are threats, and they will continue to be tracked and monitored; all parties have made that clear in previous debates. Do we need to take this step of introducing a measure that the Secretary of State has told us may well not be used? On the one hand, we are told that the threat is live and real; on the other hand, we are told that we can rest assured that invoking these powers is a very remote possibility. Which is it to be? They cannot both be true.

6.14 pm

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who has, I think, injected an important note of realism and passion, drawing on his experience in Northern Ireland and, indeed, this House’s experiences and the mistakes of previous Governments. I will return to some of those issues as I develop my speech.

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