Previous Section Index Home Page

I was on the tube on the morning of 7 July 2005, when suicide bombers struck. The train had just pulled into Oxford Circus. We were told that the train was not going any further because of a power surge, and we were asked to leave the station. When we reached the surface, it was obvious that there was no power surge. The sirens and the police helicopters overhead gave that away. My mobile was not working because the networks were down, but eventually I got hold of my partner, who told me that my stepdaughter had left the
1 Apr 2008 : Column 727
tube at King’s Cross and knew the reasons why the tubes were down, and my partner suggested to her that she catch a bus.

At that time, I knew what my partner did not know: the No. 30 bus had been blown up at Tavistock square. I decided not to tell her because doing so would generate more worries, but I remember trying a thousand times to get in touch with my stepdaughter to find out whether she was okay. I eventually got through to her, and she was safe—she had caught a different bus—but as the minutes ticked on by at that time, I did not know that. My family was lucky, unlike many others that day. I do not want to go through that again. If the Bill reduces the chances of my family and thousands of other families going through such an episode in the future, it has my support.

The Bill is an honest attempt by the Government to deal with an enemy that is an affront to civil liberties and would extinguish our right to hold this debate or any debate in the House. Enhanced information sharing, tougher sentences for terrorists, the seizure of terrorists’ assets, pre-charge detention and the post-charge questioning of terrorist suspects may be controversial weapons to add to our armoury in fighting against terrorism, but if they help to win the battle, we should use them.

Pre-charge detention will be a reserve power. With other safeguards built into its provisions, I believe that it is proportionate. I am sure that the 42-days clause will be visited again in Committee, but we should remember that the Government are not seeking a permanent extension to the current pre-charge detention limit of 28 days. Let us compare that proposal with what happened with internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, when 925 people were interned without trial at its peak: the provisions in the Bill will be used sparingly, and it seems to me that valuable lessons have been learned from history. There may not be a need at present to detain a suspect for 42 days, but with the complexity of some of the cases now under investigation, the time will come when such a provision is necessary, and we should prepare now, instead of waiting until it is too late and another atrocity has happened. That, to me, is common sense.

I firmly believe that our constituents are looking to us to act. They know the severity of the threats because they walk the streets where the atrocities happened. Our security agencies face the enormous task of dealing with the problem. If the agencies ask for new laws to deal with the threat, we should do everything in our power to provide them. I do not think that our constituents would forgive us if we did not.

9.29 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I hope that I will not disappoint the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) if I say that he struck a note in his speech that was rather different from the generality of the comments that we have heard during the debate. Of course I agree with him that terrorism is a terrible thing—which is why, when the Government come forward with proposals to combat terrorism, we in the House need to give them careful consideration. That is also why, as far as possible, we need to try to achieve consensus and to put to one side party political considerations, especially those that might tend towards short-term electoral advantage.

1 Apr 2008 : Column 728

Although I appreciated the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the danger, he missed the point about how best to go about not only ensuring security by taking necessary measures to increase it, but taking the steps that are needed in the long term in the battle of values that underlies the terrorism that we face to ensure that our values of pluralist democracy and freedom triumph. It is on that point that some of us have doubts about several, but by no means all, of the measures that the Government are putting forward. We have very serious doubts indeed about some of those measures.

We have heard a great many contributions, and I hope that I will be forgiven if I cannot necessarily do credit to all of them. Some of them went into the detail of the Bill. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) pointed out that the forfeiture clauses, which might appear superficially attractive, could result in serious injustice. We will need to examine such issues in Committee.

Compelling arguments were advanced by the hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and others, highlighting the fact that the inquest provisions, which were slipped into the Bill at a late stage, are incoherent and incomprehensible. There are plenty of systems in place to provide, under public interest immunity, for inquests not to be given all the information that the state might have, if national security is involved. There are systems in place for positively vetting juries, if necessary. However, why it should suddenly be decreed that because of terrorism, the ordinary process of deciding where a person died, how they died, and the circumstances surrounding their death, should disappear is quite unclear, especially—

Jacqui Smith: It is not terrorism.

Mr. Grieve: The Home Secretary makes that point that it is not just terrorism, and this could apply to a much wider group of cases, simply at the Secretary of State’s fiat. That highlights another reason why the Bill will merit very careful scrutiny.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that almost no attention has been given in the debate to the fact that when the reserve power is available the matter will go to the court, and it is the judges who will make the determinations in question? This is a matter of huge importance. Does he agree that such matters might be better addressed before a fuller Public Bill Committee—the decision will be made shortly—so that we can hear better evidence to allow us to form a better judgment about the merits of the Bill, which I think are underestimated?

Mr. Grieve: There will be opportunities to take evidence, but the Public Bill Committee will not be in a position to take evidence from the judiciary. It is for the House to make a judgment about whether we wish to depart from the ordinary procedures that govern inquests, especially the principle that if there are areas of controversy, a jury is generally empanelled. Given my hon. Friend’s historical analysis of some of the fundamental freedoms that we enjoy in this country,
1 Apr 2008 : Column 729
I am sure that he would be the first to recognise and appreciate that safeguard. For that reason, when the Home Secretary suddenly decrees that the system is no longer valid and might have to be bypassed, some pretty coherent explanations ought to be put forward. We have heard none, and I for one remain extremely sceptical about the nature of the proposal.

Inevitably, the debate has been dominated by the issues surrounding the Government’s proposals for 42-day pre-charge detention. Many speeches were made on the subject, some of them by hon. Members with personal knowledge, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman). Speeches were also made on the subject by Members who have served in the armed forces, including my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer), for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) and for Billericay (Mr. Baron). In all cases, we asked the Government to focus on why it is thought that such short-term security advantage as might be derived from allowing the possibility of 42-day detention will not be massively outweighed by the extent to which the measure marks a binning of our own values in the face of terror—the very thing that we should not do when confronted with such a challenge. [Interruption.] I will give way to the Home Secretary if she wishes to intervene on me.

This is an early stage in the Bill’s passage. We certainly do not intend to divide the House on it, and I know that others who are concerned about it do not intend to do so either, but may I say to the Home Secretary and the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing that if we are to achieve the consensus that the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and many others keep insisting is their aim, the time has come for them to focus on the massive opposition to the proposal that is to be found in all parts of the House? That opposition was reflected in every contribution made, including those by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who expressed his disquiet about the matter, by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), by the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), and by many others. Each of them highlighted the fact that it is seen as a counter-productive measure that undermines civil liberties and will deliver nothing.

If the Government want consensus, they will have the opportunity in Committee to do what I am surprised that they did not do three or four months ago, and announce that whatever their views on the matter, the will of the House is transparently clear, and they will abandon the project.

Keith Vaz: The hon. and learned Gentleman has misrepresented my views somewhat. I made it clear that the Select Committee made a number of recommendations that the Government accepted. Indeed, we foresaw the need for emergency provisions. I did, however, point out three respects in which I hoped that the Bill could be improved.

Mr. Grieve: I hope that I have not misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman’s views. I spent some time
1 Apr 2008 : Column 730
reading his Committee’s excellent report. I remind the Home Secretary, and indeed the House—not all Members seem to be familiar with this fact—that in order to detain someone for 28 days, an emergency extension is already required from the 14-day norm, and the provision has to be renewed annually. I inferred from the right hon. Gentleman’s comments that only in a state of emergency would his Committee consider such a power to be justified, and I see him nodding. As he knows, Opposition Members—I can certainly speak for the official Opposition, and I suspect that I speak for others, too—also recognise that such powers might be required in a state of emergency. However, we highlighted the fact that the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 is a mechanism through which the Government could, if they wished, change the rules to allow longer detention. We also made the point that if we were to go down that road, there might be some mileage in setting out rather better rules than those provided in the Civil Contingencies Act, particularly for judicial scrutiny and oversight.

Keith Vaz: The Committee considered the Civil Contingencies Act, but we felt that it was inappropriate because of legal difficulties, and that is why we suggested a different course of action.

Mr. Grieve: I hope to avoid dancing on the head of a pin. If it were to be suggested that in a state of emergency some new powers should be put together that would have the effect of providing for an extension in a way different from the rather blunter instrument of the Civil Contingencies Act, that has long been an area that could properly be considered. But when one looks at what the clause and the schedule associated with it say, it is obvious that that is not what the Government have in mind at all. The Government’s proposals are for measures to be taken at the discretion of the Secretary of State, without there being any state of emergency of any kind whatsoever.

One particularly important issue, which was raised in today’s debate by the hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), concerned a clause that appears on the face of it to undermine the independence of Scotland’s legal system as provided for by the Act of Union. In fairness to the Government, there may be some sensible reasons for clause 27, but the Government’s attitude to issues such as 42 days’ pre-charge detention is bound to colour everybody’s attitude to their bona fides in their approach to everything else in the Bill. That is why it is so important that the Government should think again on the subject and provide to a much greater degree an atmosphere in which consensus can be achieved. [Interruption.] Again, I cannot quite hear what the Home Secretary is mumbling about, but if she would like me to give way, I shall be only too happy to do so.

Rob Marris: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is an intellectual contradiction in the position put forward by his right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, in that on the one hand he wishes to cloak himself in defending our ancient liberties, but on the other hand he puts forward three alternative ways in which a Government could circumvent those protections—first, post-charge questioning; secondly the use of the
1 Apr 2008 : Column 731
Civil Contingencies Act; and, thirdly, banging people up after they have been charged when at the point of being charged there is a less than 50 per cent. chance of their being convicted? I understand those positions, but that is an intellectual contradiction. Either one supports those ancient liberties, which seems to be the centrality of the right hon. Gentleman’s position, or one does not. One cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Grieve: It may not have been fully understood by some hon. Members in their contributions today that, as the Home Secretary knows, if someone is charged with one offence, such as possessing terrorist material, it is already perfectly possible subsequently to interview them and charge them with another more serious terrorist offence. No change to the law is required in order to achieve that. The only issue that we are considering in the Bill is whether someone who has been charged with an offence can subsequently be re-interviewed about that offence.

The hon. Gentleman may not have been present when I intervened on this matter earlier, but clearly there must be proper safeguards against oppression by the police or the prosecutor if such a procedure is to be enacted. I hope that there can be some sensible discussion on that in Committee, in order to achieve the very aims that the Government are looking for. At the moment the Bill is wanting in that sense, and that must be an area that will cause disquiet. Indeed, the point has been made that it causes disquiet north of the border; I was about to add that it causes disquiet south of the border as well, but that may be curable.

I do not think that anything that my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has said on the subject is in any way incompatible with the broad thrust of our approach. We want to try to protect the public, but we want to win the battle against terrorism. That battle will be won by sticking to our principles of a liberal, free, pluralist democracy, in which the rule of law is always put uppermost and in which the state and its apparatus avoid creating martyrs, particularly martyrs out of the innocent, which is without doubt the single most corrosive phenomenon for undermining the legitimacy of everything that we do in the House.

For those reasons, I hope that the Government will take the opportunity of tonight’s debate to reflect long and hard on what has been said, because if they are prepared to show flexibility—of which, I regret to say, they are at the moment showing singularly little sign—we can end up with a Bill that does good. Otherwise, we will without doubt end up with a Bill that has the potential to do harm, and at that point we will do our utmost to resist it.

9.45 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): The main thrust of the debate has been to the credit of the House. We have had a good debate on contentious and serious matters—of that there is no doubt.

People need to understand that the Bill is the product of some six months of internal deliberations across the Government and the best part of nine months of external consultation that, frankly, surpassed many of the House’s
1 Apr 2008 : Column 732
attempts at pre-legislative scrutiny. We have been out there scrutinising the Bill and consulting people who are directly affected.

Mr. Baron: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty: No, I will not.

Everyone accepts that these are serious matters, on which the House will properly deliberate not only tonight but subsequently in Committee.

Mr. Baron: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty: I will not give way, because the hon. Gentleman was one of those who went on the wrong side of a serious debate and started waxing lyrical about a police state and all sorts of other nonsense, which ill becomes him and the others who indulged in it. As I have said, most hon. Members on both sides of the House did not do that, because it is not good enough. These are very serious matters.

By the bye, it is not good enough for people to say that because they do not like the 42-day provision—the post pre-charge detention provision—they are not playing, and the Government must sort out that element before they will engage seriously with the rest of the Bill. [ Interruption. ] That approach is childish in the extreme. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Baron: That is because he is a coward.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw that remark.

Mr. Baron: I will withdraw it, Mr. Speaker, but I would welcome the opportunity of coming back.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw the remark without qualification.

Mr. Baron: I withdraw the remark, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. McNulty: I can barely stand for fear of trembling. It is absurd when individuals who want to be taken seriously make such foolish statements. It is a matter for them, but I will not indulge them.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. McNulty: Given that the Bill is the product of six months of internal deliberations and nine months of external deliberations, it is foolish in the extreme for my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) to suggest that it is somehow about machismo, gesture politics and unfinished business from a bygone era, none of which is true.

Mr. Cash: Will the Minister give way?

Next Section Index Home Page