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The Prime Minister:
I am very happy to give the right hon. Gentleman regular updates of what is happening in Afghanistan, and the Secretary of State for Defence has just returned from Afghanistan where he was looking at the situation on the ground. Nobody is saying that the position in Afghanistan is easy, and everybody knows that in the spring attacks by the Taliban start again, but last year, because of the action against drugs and heroin, the number of poppy-free provinces doubled to 13. We hope this year to see more progress. It is not a case of things going backward; it is a case of us seeing progress. Our strategy, set out in December, which was the Afghanisation of the army and the police force, with people being trained by British forces and other troops, and with the police being trained through an operation led by the German police, is gaining ground. Our aim is that Afghans take more and more responsibility for their own affairs. We are able to tackle corruption by
opening up local as well as national Government, and we invest, as we have in the dam project, in the economic and social development of Afghanistan.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he is doubting the reason for being there[Hon. Members: Oh!] Okay, the reason for being there is that we cannot allow the Taliban to get back into power, and we cannot allow al-Qaeda to get a grip on the province.
Mr. Cameron: I do not think that there is a big level of disagreement. All I am saying is that this is the No. 1 foreign policy priority and the No. 1 national security priority, and we must make sure that everything that the Government do reminds the nation of that.
I turn to the issue of the Governments proposal to ask MPs to vote tonight on holding people for six weeks before they are charged. This is an enormous step to take, and we need the strongest possible evidence before the Government can take it. How can the Prime Minister think that the case has really been made, when his own Director of Public Prosecutionsthe very man responsible for prosecuting terrorists and the man who carries the can if it does not happendoes not support the measure?
The Prime Minister: We have made a judgment, after looking at all the evidence, including the evidence from the police and security services, that this is the right thing to do. I would not want to have to come to the House in a moment of emergency and ask for extraordinary powers, when we could, in a period of calmness, build in a process that will not give the oxygen of publicity to terrorists when we have to take action. The right hon. Gentleman said:
When it comes to our national security, I will always listen to the police and security services, and take their advice with the utmost seriousness.
Ken Jones, the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has made it clear what the police think about the proposal. Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, has made his position clear. Lord Stevens, the man the right hon. Gentleman says he listens to on police matters, says in The Times today that
there will be really exceptional cases where the Police Service will need to go beyond 28 days.
Taking into account the advice of the police and security services, but also looking at the weight, complexity and sophistication of the evidence that must be examined, it seems to me that we should put in place the legislation in a moment of calm. I do not want, in a moment of panic, for people to have to come to the House to bring in emergency legislation.
The Prime Minister says that he does not want to come to the House in a moment of difficulty, but under the concession that he is making that is exactly what he is going to have to do. He would have a stronger argument if he had genuinely lined up, if you like, a phalanx of the police, the prosecutors and the security services in favour of his case, but he has not. Yes, there are a lot of police who support it, but there are a lot who do not. When it comes to the prosecuting authorities, they do not support his case, and when it comes to the Security Service, it has not said that it has asked for this step. The Prime Minister has not made the case that the proposal is necessary. Is there not a danger that as well as being unnecessary, it will be
counter-productive? When former Attorneys-General and soldiers who served against the IRA in Northern Ireland are all saying that this sort of measure could help the terrorists rather than hurt them, are we not taking a bad step? Is it not clear that the terrorists want to destroy our freedom, and that when we trash our liberties we do their work for them?
Sadly, the day will come when 28 will not be high enough...but we have to plan for it.
That is precisely what I am saying to the House today. Our first duty is the protection of national security. We fail in our duty if we do not take preventive measures. I say in sorrow rather than anger that it is no use having opposition for oppositions sake. We must take no risks with security.
Mr. Cameron: This party does not need any reminders about the importance of fighting terrorism. The first Member of Parliament I ever wrote a speech for, Ian Gow, was murdered by the IRA. The first Member of Parliament who ever represented me, Airey Neave, is commemorated above that Door, murdered by the IRA. But we will not fight terrorism effectively if we undermine our liberties.
Let us have a look at one of the concessions that the Prime Minister has made. He proposes parliamentary debate immediately following what could be an individual case. Will he tell us how on earth that is going to work? Will Members of Parliament not want to ask the Home Secretary questions that she cannot answer without prejudicing a trial? In his attempt to save the totem of 42 days, has not the Prime Minister made so many concessions that he has an unworkable piece of legislation? Should not every MP in the House be thinking that this issue is not about the future of the Prime Minister but about our liberties, and should they not vote with their consciences?
The Prime Minister: I have to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the former head of counter-terrorism has said that we will undoubtedly need this power. The former head of MI5 says that if 42 days is not adopted, regret it we will. Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer, says:
My view is that the government is right to extend it beyond 28 days.
A clear majority of the British people favour a longer detention period. We believe that the British people are right. They wont readily forgive any politicians who allow a major atrocity to occur because our detention procedures prove to be inadequate.
Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister is saying that it is popular to announce that you are going to bang up terrorist suspects for longer without charging them, he is right; it is popular, but the point is that we in the House are meant to do what is right. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is impossible to be draconian and incompetent at the same time, but is not that exactly what the Prime Minister has achieved? We have a symbolic assault on our liberty that is unnecessary; we have a change in the law that many people, including the former chief inspector of constabulary, say is counter-productive; and we have a procedure that is unworkable. Is not the only way to describe what the Prime Minister is doing today as ineffective authoritarianism? When there is no firm evidence in favour of extending detention in a free and democratic country, should not a supposedly progressive Prime Minister come down on the side of liberty?
The Prime Minister: The protections for civil liberties built into the Bill are greater than at any time when we have dealt with terrorist legislation. The Director of Public Prosecutions has to approve the order; it has to come before Parliament with an independent legal opinion; the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee have to be informed; an independent reviewer has to look at all circumstances of the case; Parliament has got to vote on the issue; and a judge has to look at the case every seven days. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the civil liberties protections in this legislation are greater than ever before. I do not like opposition for oppositions sake. We should be facing up to an issue of national security. I would like to have achieved a consensus above party politics, but because it has been impossible to do so, the Government must make a judgment. The judgment is not that this is popular, but that it is right and necessary for the security of our country.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have been impressed by the incredible courage of Adrian Sudbury, who is using the last weeks of his life to campaign for more bone marrow donors to come forward. I have been impressed by the response so far of the Secretaries of State for Children, Schools and Families and for Health, but what more can my right hon. Friend do to help my friend Adrian to achieve his legacy and help 7,000 people to live?
The Prime Minister: I, too, have met and seen the courage of Mr. Sudbury who, as my hon. Friend says, is using the last few weeks of his life to try to make people better aware of the dangers that result when bone marrow donation is not available. The promotion of the donation of blood, bone marrow and organs is a priority for the Department of Health. We are looking at what we can do. The key issue is whether we can encourage people to be donors. I believe that in the next few months we will be able to put proposals that will assist, if not Mr. Sudbury, many other people who suffer as a result of these illnesses.
Does the Prime Minister accept that irrespective of whether this House has seven days or 30 days to approve the extension of the period of detention without charge, it is not possible to provide us with sufficient evidence and information to make that judgment without either making covert intelligence public or jeopardising the legal case against a terrorist suspect?
The Prime Minister: The purpose of this coming before the House is for the Home Secretary to advise us that, in her view, there is an exceptional terrorist threata grave terrorist threat that either has occurred or is occurringand that the need for action is urgent, but that it has not been possible to assemble the necessary evidence to lay charges within the 28 days. It will then be for the House to vote on the commencement order and agree that an exceptional terrorist incident has occurred. It is not the business of the House to interfere in the individual case, but it should be able to vote simply on whether an exceptional and grave terrorist threat has occurred. Given that the right hon. Gentleman and others have referred to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 in discussing this issue, I would hope that he understands that this is exactly the same problem that has to be faced in respect of that Act.
Mr. Clegg: Everyone knows that the Prime Ministers proposal will not become lawit will be blocked in the other place, the Equality and Human Rights Commission will challenge it in court and the European Court of Human Rights will declare it illegalso why on earth is he playing politics with our liberties for a Bill that no one thinks is necessary, no one thinks will work in practice and everyone knows will never reach the statute book?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman says no one thinks the proposal is necessary, but has he looked at what police chief constables have said? Has he looked at the statements that have been made by those people who have dealt with terrorism? It is quite wrong to say that no one thinks it is necessary. Indeed, a Liberal Democrat candidate in Bristol did a survey of all his constituents: 74 per cent. [Interruption.] Well, 74 per cent. said they were in favour and that
The complexity of potential terrorist threats means that the police will need the additional time.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the proposed 42-day detention orders will apply only to those who wish to bring terror to the streets and will not impact in any way on the human rights and civil liberties of decent, hard-working British families, and that they will not have police posted outside their houses in riot gear and not have their villages or communities blockaded, as during the miners strike? Perhaps colleagues and comrades on this side of the House will reflect on that when they are going through
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is restricted not just to a terrorist threat, but to an exceptional and grave terrorist threat. It is stated clearly in the Bill that this is a reserve power. It is up to 42 days only under the most extreme of circumstances. I repeat to the House that the protections for civil liberties that are built into the Bill, which require the Home Secretary to act and not to have arbitrary treatment, are the greatest that we have seen when dealing with terrorist threats. I believe that we have managed to combine the need to take action that is preventive in case there is a terrorist threat to our country with the protection of civil liberties against arbitrary treatment. That is what we will continue to do.
Q2.  Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): The Prime Minister might not have had an opportunity to see Monday evenings documentary entitled Gordon Brown, Where Did It All Go Wrong? [Interruption.] I do not know why Labour MPs are complaining. Half the Cabinet were happy to appear in it, including the Chancellor, who made it clear that, from last summer, he knew that millions would lose out because of the abolition of the 10p rate of income tax. Given that, why did the Prime Minister consistently deny that there would be any losers from his tax reform package?
The Prime Minister: Some 22 million people have benefited from the tax cut that we have just announced. In the 2008 Budget, £3 billion extra went to the poorest sections of our community. I do not think that the House will listen to Conservative Members, who have not even made a commitment to the abolition of child poverty, lecturing us about what is done for the low paid in this country.
Q3.  Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): I am sure that the House will join me, in national carers week, in my admiration for the 6 million unsung heroes who are looking after their loved ones and in giving thanks for the £225 million of extra Government money announced yesterday, but as life expectancy is increasing, carers are retiring and still looking after their parents. Will the Prime Minister please tell me what extra measures he has in place, and will have in place, for those elderly carers?
The Prime Minister: I was proud to host a reception yesterday for national carers week and to see the publication by the Minister for Social Care of our new carers strategy. There are 6 million people in our country who are giving of their time to care for relatives, friends or neighbours, and they do so in a caring and compassionate way, which makes us proud of the whole people of Britain.
As part of national carers week, we have issued our national carers strategy. That will provide additional money for breaks for carers, respite care, for carers to re-enter the job market if they have been carers in the past and support for young carers. We are looking at the carers grant and what we can do for carers in retirement. We will report back to the House on these matters.
Q4.  Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): If the Irish people have been permitted a referendum, why cannot the British people be permitted one? After all, the Prime Minister and other Labour Members stood in the last general election on the basis of a manifesto that promised to put the constitutional treaty to the British people in a referendum.
The Prime Minister: There are 27 countries in the European Union. Only one requires, under its constitution, every item of constitutional change to be put before the people in a referendum. Nine countries proposed a referendum; then the treaty was changed. This treaty does not represent a fundamental change in the constitutional arrangements. That is why the right place in which to debate it was the House of Commons, where we debated it for many days and where the Governments proposals won the vote.
Q5.  Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Knife crime, mental illness and youth activities are just some of the issues being debated on www.mylifemysay.co.uk, an online discussion forum for young people. Some of those young people will be coming to Parliament to discuss the issues in front of Ministers and Members of Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend assist the discussion by telling them where the money came from to provide free swimming, and whether further money will be available to fund other activities?
The Prime Minister: It is because of our success in running the economy that we have been able to provide additional money for public services. In seeking to provide youth centres in all the constituencies in the country, we are looking at dormant accounts in banks and building societies and discussing them with those organisations. We believe that there are substantial funds that should be made available. We want to use those funds to transform youth facilities in every constituency in the country, just as we have transformed care of the under-fives in the last 10 years.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): May I give the Prime Minister a third opportunity to answer a fundamental question that he has conspicuously failed to answer twice so far? [Interruption.] Can he explain [Interruption.]
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