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information about a person...which is of a kind likely to be
helpful to a terrorist. That seems entirely innocuous, but on reflection, one sees that it prevents investigative journalism and restricts free speech. It stops the whistleblower because it enables the Government to prevent the press from, for example, identifying security lapses at airports. If such legislation is required, there should be a public interest defence, but no such defence is provided for in the Bill.
The asset-freezing provisions in the Bill are in part to be welcomed, as they enable the citizen to challenge Treasury decisions. However, the rule-making powers in the Bill have been drawn in such a way that they will enable the Treasury to conceal an awful lot of information that should be available to the citizen.
For example, the rule-making powers enable proceedings to take place in the absence of the citizen or his representative. They also enable the Treasury to withhold relevant information from the citizen or his representative. The list goes on, but whoever drafted those rules had at heart not the interests of the citizen, but the interests of the Treasury. It would have been much better if draft rules had been published when the Bill was introduced, as we would then have known what we would be dealing with.
Finally, I come back to the centre of this debatethe length of pre-charge detention. The hon. Members for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) were entirely right in what they said, and as my time is running out, I shall make only two points about the proposal. First, it has jolly few friends. No one knows much about it, and no one supports itespecially not the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Secondly, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington was entirely right when she spoke about the weakness of parliamentary control in these matters. A whipped vote in a short debate with scanty information about the liberties of the person involved is no way for the House to proceed: the hon. Lady is right, and I entirely agree with her.
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) (Lab):
I have been a little disappointed with the debate so far, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East
(Keith Vaz) gave a very good summary of what the Select Committee said, as opposed to what people might prefer it to have said.
I was pleased by the contribution from the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), as it helped to remind me of what was in the briefing from Liberty. In fact, the hon. Gentleman could simply have read that briefing, and it is a little worrying that both he and the Conservatives appear to have entered into a consensus about what might be called the new Liberty party. We left off the debate about 90 days in November 2005, but we seem to have carried on with the same debate today, even though a great deal has happened in the meantime.
We have a new Home Secretary, who has tried to achieve some consensus in the House. She has tried to get people to come along with different proposals, and she has accepted that there will not be a power that comes in automatically. Instead, she has asked for reserve powers
Ms Abbott: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was surprised at his dismissive reference to Liberty. Is he aware that he is talking about an organisation for which at least two Cabinet Ministers, and many distinguished Labour Members of this House, have worked? It is a very distinguished organisation, and it was an excellent briefing.
Mr. Heppell: I am glad that someone is better read than I am. The bottom line is that those organisations exist to protect human rights. That is their raison dêtre, but I remind the House that we have a duty to make sure that we protect the human rights of all our citizens. If we do not fulfil that duty, we are failing as Members of Parliament,
Unlike Liberty, however, we also have a duty to protect peoples lives. I do not say that that organisation goes out of its way to threaten peoples lives, but the decisions that we make in this House must strike the right balance between those duties, and we have to recognise that there are two sides to this argument.
From reading the papers, people outside the House might feel that the debate is only about pre-trial detention, but the Bill is about much more than that. The Government are not obsessed with 28 days, although everyone else is. The problem is that people have made that their cause célèbre: they have drawn a line in the sand and said, We will go no further, this is it. Were not going to change our minds about 28 days. In fact, it is clear from the debate that some hon. Members would prefer 14 days to 28, or even fewer
than 14. Unfortunately, the contention that the Government will not be able to change peoples minds on this issue was made long before the Home Secretary talked about trying to get some consensus together.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman says that everyone in the House has settled views, but it has been said again and again in the debate that a state of emergency might warrant going beyond 28 days. It was suggested to the Government and those on the Treasury BenchI note that they are all absent at the momentthat the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 could be beefed up in those circumstances, but the Home Secretary has decided not to do that.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that some people have got caught in a rut on this matter of pre-charge detention, whereas I believe that it is the Home Secretary who has got caught. The principal difficulty is that she has not been able to show any proper flexibility at all.
Mr. Heppell: I do not think that that is so. I can see the difference between the positions adopted by the Home Secretary now and a couple of years ago. For example, one change is that in this Bill the Government are asking for a reserve power, where formerly they were asking for a full power. I can also see the safeguards that have been put into the Bill, but I cannot see any change at all in the position adopted by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. I can see no willingness on their part even to think about extending pre-charge detention
What I do see is a willingness to look at almost everything else apart from pre-charge detention. Liberty, the Liberals and, I think, the Conservatives would be happy to allow intercept evidence to be used. I agree but, although it might reduce pre-charge detention, it is not a reason for not having the extra insurance that the Government seek. They have talked about allowing questioning without charge. I agree that it may be a way of reducing the need for pre-charge detention, but it does not remove the reason for extra insurance. They have even talked about using the Civil Contingencies Act, which would allow even longer periods of pre-charge detention if my reading of it is right, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East pointed out that the Select Committee considered that proposal impractical. The Home Secretary has used the Acts provisions to draw up something similar in the Bill, which is why the reserve power was proposed.
There is no logical reason why we should not have a reserve power. Everybody accepts that there is a real terrorist threat. As the Opposition spokesman said, we accept that there could be exceptional circumstances when we would need to go beyond 28 days.
There may be a need to go beyond 28 days. If so, the sensible thing would be to work out how to do so coolly and calmly in proper debate rather than waiting until we need to do it and have to pass knee-jerk legislation to deal with the situation. I cannot understand the logic of waiting until we have passed the trap before we do anything. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) mentioned hard hats. I would put it much more simply: would anybody wait until after the fire to discuss what insurance policy to take out? No, they want the insurance policy first.
What annoys me about some of the debate is that Parliament is being dismissedas a sham, one hon. Member said. Some of the briefings say that the reserve power would be exactly the same as a power without reserve judgment because we could not have the legislation in place all the time. What would that mean in practical terms? To make sure that the power was on the statute book and could be used at all times, the Home Secretary would need to make eight or nine statements every year telling us that the Government were proposing to invoke the power. There would have to be eight or nine debates about the power every year to ensure that the Home Secretary could keep it in place. There would have to be eight or nine votes on the power every year. Come onthat will not happen. No Home Secretary from my party or any other party would risk that many hostile debatesand they would always be hostile.
Some people go further and say that use of the power could stop before the 30 days were up and then start again a bit later. I am not sure whether that would be possible technically, but what would happen in the House? Members on the Opposition Benches would be on their feet screaming and shouting. Members on the Labour Benches would be on their feet screaming and shouting. The media and the whole country would be screaming and shouting. In those circumstances, does the House believe that such an abuse could hold? The Government would not be defending 42 days; they would have to defend even 28 days, because we would still have to vote on that every year. If everybody saw that there was abuse of the system, they would vote against the 28 days and the whole pack of cards would fall.
I do not know the Civil Contingencies Act well but I cannot believe that its provisions can be so easily adapted. If that were possible, I should be looking forward to lobbying from Liberty about why we were taking such draconian measuresthat is how the provisions of the Counter-Terrorism Bill are being described. In that case, why are the same provisions in the Civil Contingencies Act not considered draconian? There have been more red herrings in this debate than even Agatha Christie could stand.
The proposal is balanced; it says, We recognise that there is a problem. We are not asking for powers. We are asking for a reserve capacity to invoke powers in exceptional circumstances. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the chief police officer would have to go to the Home Secretary. A statement would have to be made to the House within two days. A debate, with a
vote, would have to be held in the House within 30 days. That is a measured approach.
I would rather make sure that we protect not just peoples human rights, but their lives too. We are talking about life and death matters and we cannot take them lightly. We carry their weight on our shoulders. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) talked about one of his constituents who had been seriously injured. That could be any of our constituentswe need to guard against it.
Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): Not since Rocky Marciano fought Don Cockell has there been a more one-sided contest than we have witnessed this afternoon and this evening in the debate. Indeed, if the House will forgive my saying so, the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) personified Don Cockell in the debate, as the only supporter of the measures to speak so farit is now 7.15 in the evening. It is such a rout that it almost feels like a liberty to join in. It is such a rout that if the measure passes with those provisions intactif not tonight, laterit will be a triumph for party management but a serious defeat for democratic politics in this country.
It is a funny old world, Mr. Deputy Speakeras a former Prime Minister once said. We heard a brilliant, bristling defence of liberty from the Tory Front Bench, backed by a brace of former Ministers in Mrs. Thatchers Government, while Labour Memberswith honourable exceptions, I grantwill be asked by their Whips to vote the measure through, yet year after year after year, as my friend, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), pointed out, Labour Members voted against the prevention of terrorism Acts on precisely the grounds that have been best adduced by the Opposition against the measure today: namely, that such laws sacrifice our liberties but guarantee us no extra securities. On the contrary, they act as a recruiting sergeant for those who want to destroy our liberties still further.
The Home Secretary was wrong when she described the threat that Britain faces as being on an unprecedented scale. The IRA campaign in Britain was far deadlier than the campaign of Islamist extremists nowadays. The Prime Minister came within an inch of losing her life in a hotel in Brighton. Members of Parliament were killed in Brighton, in this building and in their homes. A rocket was fired through the Cabinet window and the Cabinet had to take cover under the Cabinet table. There were bombs in Parliament, bombs in the Tower of London and bombs on the underground; there were bombs everywhere in this country butat least on this side of the waterwe never sacrificed the essential liberties that we are being asked to sacrifice in this flawed strategy, which will be my point in the four minutes remaining for my speech.
Yes, the Bill is an egregious measure and, yes, if it goes ahead it will make things that little bit more difficult, but it is part of a flawed strategy. If I may quote myself, when the House was recalled after the atrocities of 9/11, I saidsitting on the Labour Benches as I did at the timethat if we handled things in the wrong way we would create 10,000 new bin
Ladens. That is exactly what will happen if we pursue policies such as these proposals, which act as a recruiting sergeant for extremism.
I know that extremist Islamist organisations are preying on the fringes of the Muslim community. I have been a victim of them myself, and much more deadly was what happened to the victims in Aldgate East underground station in my constituency whom I watched being carried by the tube workers and the emergency services on 7/7, or those being carried into the Royal London hospital in my constituency. I know that there is a problem. There are extremists, trying to lure young Muslimsboys mainly, but girls, tooon to the rocks of separatism, extremism and violence. But our point in opposing this measure is that those who support it are assisting those people. It is not, to quote the shadow Home Secretary, a human rights point; it is actually a security point.
We are making our avowed purpose more difficult to achieve by telling people in the Muslim community, who already feel beleaguered and besieged and who are told constantly in the yellow press and by some politicians, that they are somehow an enemy within. We are telling them that we are ready to suspend and abolish the liberties and the democracy that we say we hold dearso dear that we are ready to invade other countries to impose themat the first whiff of grapeshot. The 55 dead on 7/7 was far more than a whiff of grapeshotthat is truebut if we by this measure recruit new allies for bin Ladenism and for the mediaeval obscurantist mindset that he represents, we will, as has been said many times here, do the terrorists work for them.
Mr. Baron: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are similarities between internment in Northern Ireland during the 1980s and the proposed measures in acting as a recruiting sergeant for terrorists?
Mr. Galloway: Indeed. I was about to turn to that very point. If Ministers listen to no one else in the debate, let them read the speechstill better, watch the videoof the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). It was the most important speech made in the House today. He is here to tell us from the streets of the north of Ireland that the securocratic approachthe approach of the suspension and abandonment of liberty in defence of libertywas fundamentally flawed and recruited thousands of new soldiers for the IRA campaign, to which I previously referred.
I represent tens of thousands of Muslims. Even my worst enemy in the Housethere are a fewwould concede that I have more interface with Muslims in Britain, especially young Muslims, than virtually anyone else all over this country. In the past week, as a candidate in the London assembly elections, I have been to three major Muslim eventsin Barking, in Newham and in Tower Hamletsand I will attend many more. I must tell MembersI ask them to believe thisthat young Muslims in Britain are feeling besieged and unfairly put upon, and they do not need a radical cleric to make them feel that way. The idea that there are ideologues out there who are responsible for the radicalisation of Muslim youth is fundamentally
flawed. It is not the imams or the ideologues who are radicalising young Muslims in Britain and, indeed, around the world.
All young Muslims have to do to be radicalised is to switch on the television news and look at the pictures from Palestine, look at the pictures from Iraq and look at the double standards being employed by western statesmen in relation to those kinds of conflict. That is what is radicalising the young Muslims here and abroad, and it will not be solved by this measure; it will be made worse. That is the truth of it. So I beg the Government, who have already got so many problems that even I am feeling sorry for themnotwithstanding what I said earlier, I do not want the Opposition to be sitting on the Government side in the next Parliamentto turn back from this folly. Folly enough there has been. Turn back from this folly before it is too late.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): Todays debate has been about not whether to counter terrorism, but how best to counter terrorism. Whenever we do that, we have to address the unavoidable ethical and practical dilemmas faced by any open democratic society that is subject to the threat of terrorism. Much of the Bill is on the right lines, but the proposal to extend detention without charge beyond 28 days is not.
I understand why Ministers have come forward with that proposal, and I do not question their motives. I know that Ministers feel that they will be responsible if things go wrong and people are killed. I know that that is why they want to err on the side of what they see as security, set against civil liberty. But I think that what they propose is wrongwrong in principle and likely to be counter-productive in practice.
In recent times, a lot of attention has been paid to what it means to be British. Well, one thing it means is that we do not allow the police or politicians to lock people up for a long time without charge. That is not some trendy, fashionable bit of political correctness; it was laid down in Magna Carta in 1215 AD, and it has been followed in the English-speaking, common-law democracies ever since. In Canada, the maximum is just one day. In the USA, South Africa and New Zealand, it is two days; in Ireland, seven days; and in Australia, 12.
Here in Britain, we already have a maximum of 28 daysmore than twice as long as anyone elseyet the Government are saying that a further extension is necessary because anti-terrorist investigations can take a long time. However, as has been made clear today, other people equally involved and equally well informed believe that the current limit is quite long enough. In any case, there are alternative and better ways to deal with the problem of protracted investigations.
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