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The Government have accepted the proposal, which I made some years ago, that the law should be changed to permit suspects to be questioned after they have been charged. So suspects could be charged with lesser offences related to terrorism and, if appropriate, charged with greater offences later. That has also been made easier by the lowering of the threshold for deciding that a suspect should be charged, and we have to remember that all this is set against the background
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that no one can be arrested unless there are grounds for suspecting them in the first place. Yet the Government now propose on top of all those changes, which would strengthen the hands of the police, to allow the Home Secretary—not in a crisis, but in individual cases—to hold suspects for longer than 28 days without charge on the say-so of the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It has been suggested that that power would be constrained if it were subject to a parliamentary debate. It certainly would be a constitutional novelty: Parliament being recommended by the Government to deprive an individual citizen of their liberty, presumably on a whipped vote. To describe that as a kangaroo court would be an insult to kangaroos. Such a change would not be a defeat for terrorism; it would be a win for the terrorists.

Whatever the motives of the misguided zealots who become suicide bombers, the evil people promoting terrorism know that no democracy has ever been overthrown by terrorism. That is not what they are after. What they aim to do is intimidate us into closing down our open society. They want to provoke us into setting aside the libertarian principles that form the basis of our parliamentary and judicial systems. They want to be able to portray us as hypocrites who preach one thing and practise another. They want to be able to say that, when the going gets tough, we are just as reckless with human rights as they are.

Those people also want us, by our response to terrorist outrages, to take actions that alienate sections of our own law-abiding population and attract sympathy for their cause by getting us to lock up innocent people. So how we respond to the threat of terrorism needs to be considered very carefully. We want to thwart the murderous intentions of the bombers and assassins. We also need to thwart their propaganda. That is why I believe the Government’s proposal is likely to prove counter-productive in practice, as well as wrong in principle.

The Government say that they want these powers in case the police and security services are overwhelmed by demands on their time, but the law already provides for that through the Civil Contingencies Act, which specifically lists terrorism as one of the types of emergency that it covers. The procedure laid down in that Act, which was passed by the House as recently as 2004, could be triggered in such a crisis, and Parliament could have a sensible debate about whether it would be appropriate to respond by resorting to the emergency provisions. That would not require the declaration of a state of emergency, and the use of such emergency powers could be subject to challenge in the courts. None of that applies to what the Government propose.

I hope that the Government will not proceed with their proposal to extend detention without charge beyond 28 days. Surely it would be better to develop a consensus in the face of the terrorist threat and to develop policies that were likely to thwart terrorist outrages while denying any propaganda advantage to the terrorists. I say that as Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, which is where two of the four 7 July outrages took place, and which was also the location of one of the attempted outrages on 21 July, so I yield to no one in my opposition to terrorism and my loathing of
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terrorists. However, I also want to protect our ancient liberties, because they are at the heart of our open democracy and because, by sticking to our civil liberties, we give the lie to the terrorists’ claims that we are no better than they are.

7.31 pm

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson). I agree in large measure with many of his points and, like him, I have a constituency interest—both broad and narrow—in the Bill.

My broad interest is that, as some hon. Members know, I represent the largest number of Muslims of any Conservative Member. The vast majority of mosque-going Muslims in Wycombe are of the mainstream Barelwi school, as is often the case elsewhere in Britain. They are peaceful, moderate and broadly Sufi. They condemn terror unequivocally and oppose extremism, viewing both as fundamentally anti-Islamic. They make a huge contribution to our town.

Of course, I am not suggesting that Barelwis are the only Muslims who have such an outlook or make such a contribution. The pirs, or spiritual teachers, whom they follow are strongly anti-extremist. I am thinking of men I have met such as Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussein Pirzada, a former High Wycombe imam, whose al-Karam school, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), has obtained the best GCSE results in Nottinghamshire for three consecutive years, and Pir Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani, a scholar of formidable erudition whose Mawlid procession in London last Sunday I was honoured to attend.

Barelwis and other mainstream Muslims recognise that terrorists and separatists are ultimately seeking to extinguish their mainstream version of Islam by targeting and grooming their children for conversion to an extreme ideology. I perhaps take a more serious view of the weight of ideology than the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway), although he acknowledged that it was a factor. The House will agree that we should not lightly legislate in any way that makes the position of such mainstream Muslims more difficult. I thus turn to the proposal to hold people without charge for up to 42 days, which leads me to my narrower constituency interest in the Bill.

As the House has heard, an Operation Overt trial begins this week. One of my constituents and a former inhabitant of High Wycombe face serious charges. I am told that one of these men was held for 28 days—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman looks as though he knows what I am about to say. He must be careful about legal cases that are taking place, or are about to take place. I urge him to be extremely careful with his remarks.

Mr. Goodman: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was not in any sense going to comment on the trial. I was simply going to make the point that two of my constituents were held under Overt and not charged. I know that one of those men was held for 28 days.

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Of course, I am not a Minister. Those of us who are not and have never been Ministers should be mindful of the responsibility that they carry and of the fact that Ministers often have access to information that the rest of us do not have. Given that, it would be irresponsible to oppose in principle an extension to 42 days. However, the harm that such an extension would undoubtedly do to winning Muslim hearts and minds, and to civil liberties more broadly, must be justified in practice by any good that it might do by preventing and deterring terror attacks.

A central difficulty for the Government—the Home Secretary could not avoid this today—is that by Ministers’ own admissions it has not been necessary in any case to date to hold any suspect for longer than 28 days to charge them. If Ministers had broad and deep support for their claim that an extension to 42 days—apparently, that is a completely arbitrary figure in itself—was necessary, we would have to weigh it carefully. However, as we have heard, the broad and deep support is for not going beyond the status quo. We read today that that support is shared in private by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General.

The complex manoeuvres in the Bill to give the Commons a say in the holding of suspects beyond 28 days is a move by Ministers to break up that broad and deep support and to shore up their position with their Back Benchers. If that is the case, the first part of the manoeuvre has clearly failed. We wait to see whether Ministers have more success with the second.

I have at least one constituent who was charged within the 28-day limit—that suggests that the current limit is sufficient—and I must not forget that one of my constituents was held for that period and not charged. Whatever a man’s character or history, it is no small matter for him to be held without charge for the best part of a month. That can have no small effect on his family, and perhaps on his employment and health.

The Government’s case is not helped by the persistent suggestion that Ministers are less concerned with security than they are with spin. As recently as this morning, a Government spin doctor—I am using a newspaper’s phrase, not mine—was quoted thus:

the Leader of the Opposition

It would be risible if Ministers who recently failed to prevent a convicted terrorist from leaving prison early and to ban Ibrahim Moussawi from entering Britain were to try to portray others as soft on extremism and terror, but that might well be the game. If so, the House can conclude only that Ministers are prepared to risk the position of Britain’s mainstream Islamic leadership in the quest for a quick political win as the grim opinion polls stack up for the Prime Minister. Whatever the motive, the House must ask itself whether that risk is worth taking.

Al-Qaeda is seeking to lure young, vulnerable Muslims away from their traditional religious faith. It is trying to drive a wedge between them and their families, and to open up a chasm between them and the prospect of a happier, better and more fulfilled life that
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is no less authentically Islamic for being completely British. It is trying to set Muslims against non-Muslims. Those of us in the House who are not Muslims have perhaps a particular responsibility not to make that strategy easier to accomplish.

I have tried to warn consistently in the House of the dangers of separatism and extremism. That has not invariably been a popular course to follow in all quarters of my constituency. If it were proved to me that it was necessary to extend from 28 days to 42, I would vote to do so, but the House should not be willing to compromise good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, increase the heavy burden that Britain’s mainstream Muslim leadership bears, make more difficult the flow of information to the police and contradict key elements in the Government’s Contest anti-terror policy for no tangible security gain in perhaps the greatest struggle of our time, in which all Muslims and non-Muslims should be, and yet can be, united.

7.39 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I will concentrate my comments on reserve powers, the need to extend pre-charge detention and the use of intercept as evidence.

I place on the record my cautious and probably critical views on using intercept as evidence. I am clear the Bill is an attempt to say that if we used intercept evidence, we could convict people more easily; I understand the intention. However, the fact is that the technology that is used is fast-changing, and it will ultimately prevent effective tracing. That should be acknowledged. My second problem with using intercept as evidence is that the tracing and publicising of intercept evidence, even if it is used only by an advocate, could result in security agents being identified, which puts them and their families at risk. Both those factors should be considered, and I hope that they will be when the Bill is in Committee.

The Bill clearly outlines the many and varied challenges that we face. It attempts to put in place a legal and democratic process that will, in an emergency, support the security services, giving them adequate time to detect, detain and charge so that they can prevent further successful acts of terrorism. The process outlined in the Bill carefully attempts to do that, but it also protects individual liberties. The Bill acknowledges that the security agencies and police who work in the realm of coping with and reducing terrorism face enormous difficulties in gathering evidence effectively. The process is often slow and difficult, and it is regularly dangerous.

The Bill makes overwhelmingly clear the scale of the activity that we have to get our heads around. Potential terrorist activity is on a growth curve that is frightening for all. I believe that it was the previous director general of MI5 who said that there are today more than 2,000—perhaps as many as 4,000—potential terrorists who are being watched and about whom intelligence is being gathered. Many of them—perhaps all of them—have multiple identities. We have a serious problem, the scale of which we are beginning to understand. In addition, those people use thousands of CDs, mobile phones and computers. It is on record that it took special branch
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60 days to put together one particular video, but when it did, it found the evidence that it was looking for: it was a video to encourage, persuade and ratchet up terrorism. These are difficult times. Gaining factual, evidential intelligence is problematic, and that more than anything else makes me sympathetic to supporting reserve powers to extend the period of detention without charge—with one, absolute caveat: that the powers be used in exceptional cases only.

I am reasonably satisfied with the process through which an extension to pre-charge detention may be granted, and I will later outline why. I am keen to hear the Government say who initiated the debate. We have heard that it was, in part, the Association of Chief Police Officers. I would like to know what evidence has been produced by the security agencies and special branch to persuade us that an extension of pre-charge detention limits is essential. I believe that that information should be placed in the Library.

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Lady asks a rather pertinent question. I do not think that there is any material to be placed in the Library, because the security services never requested the extension. The extension was dreamed up by her hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench; that is the reality. They did so at a time when there was consensus on 28 days, and they departed from that consensus for reasons that remain a complete mystery.

Ms Taylor: I listened carefully, as I believe the whole House did, to the Home Secretary’s speech, in which there were references to ACPO and other organisations, so I repeat my request. That information—I believe that it does exist—should be placed in the Library for all of us to read.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): May I point out to the hon. Lady that I and other Members of the Home Affairs Committee met very senior members of the security services? I am not prepared to say exactly what went on in that meeting, but she is certainly misrepresenting their views.

Ms Taylor: I did not believe that I was misrepresenting anybody’s views. I was simply quoting what I heard today at the Dispatch Box. If the information exists—and I accept the caveats put forward by the Opposition—it is that information, more than anything else, that will persuade the majority of people to accept that reserve powers should be used.

As I say, the process outlined in the Bill that would allow reserve powers to be enacted is valuable. As we can see, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the chief officer of a police force would be involved. They would have to make a report and they would have to be absolutely satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for accessing the reserve powers. The Bill states quite clearly that all relevant evidence must be tabled, and that if an examination or analysis of evidence is appropriate, that must be clearly identified. All that persuades me that people outside the House who have
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the law in their hands are looking carefully at why any of our security agencies would feel the need to use the reserve powers.

We are told that in the third stage of the process, a statement will be laid before Parliament. That statement will outline the Home Secretary’s belief, based on evidence given, either that there is to be an investigation into the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism, or that what appears to be an act of terrorism has taken place and has given rise to an exceptional operational need. The Government are clearly attempting to say that the facts of a situation must be investigated and statements must be laid before Parliament. I am not as cynical as many people who have spoken tonight; I believe that Parliament is more than capable of considering, digesting and, if appropriate, throwing out any argument advanced by the Government. People claim that the whipping system is too persuasive to allow that, but that suggests that they ought to look in the mirror, and not at some of us on the Labour Benches.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Taylor: The Bill states that if Parliament does not support the reason for the enactment of legislation permitting the use of reserve powers, the person or persons in custody will be released immediately. It also states that there will be an independent review of and report on why the process was undertaken and whether it was appropriate to the application. All that persuades us that the process is clear and factual.

Mr. Stuart: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Taylor: Of course, sorry. I should explain that I am slightly deaf tonight. I think that I have the flu, so I do not always hear people shouting.

Mr. Stuart: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Does she seriously believe that in August, when the House is not sitting, Members will return to Parliament to discuss a case—or rather, as has emerged, not discuss a case, as it may not be possible to do so if it becomes sub judice? Can the House really rely on that possibility, given that people’s liberty is being threatened?

Ms Taylor: I believe that this is a very responsible House, and if it is deemed appropriate, Members will return to Parliament. I have no doubts about that.

To conclude, the process set out in the Bill is effective and clear. It carefully leads us to a point at which, if we use reserve powers, it is because we believe that it is appropriate to do so. The Bill outlines the fact that we face challenging times. It carefully states that there is a serious, significant minority who hold extremist views. These are complex times; it is crucial that we acknowledge that, and that we ensure that before another 7/7 happens, we have powers that we can move in with, and with which we can hopefully control and stop such events. That is the intention behind the Bill. I hope that the attempts to find consensus between those of us with different views will continue, and that the Front Benchers will pursue consensus. The strong point
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to make about the debate and what is to be achieved is that we could do so much more if we took a common approach and had a common understanding.

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