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11 Jun 2008 : Column 386
5 pm

Why legislate now? We must be up front about the fact that this is a precautionary measure. As the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said, all of us on the Committee, of all parties, accepted that there was no evidence that the police and the security services were not coping adequately at this time with 28 days’ pre-charge detention. We were clear about that. The question is whether we wait until they are not coping adequately with it to legislate, or legislate on a precautionary principle and in an atmosphere of calm.

Philip Davies rose—

Martin Salter: I am not taking interventions. Other hon. Members want to speak and the hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber.

It is, by definition, a little too late if we wait until the point at which the police and security services are not coping with the period of pre-charge detention. It is a little too late if we end up letting somebody out of custody who is then responsible for an outrage against the people whom we represent.

In considering my attitude to the issue and how I would vote, I have a simple starting point. The first duty of any Government is the defence of their people. Yes, it is the defence of the liberties of the people, but it is also the defence of the rights of potential victims. We need to consider three issues. One is the complexity of current terrorist networks, the second is the level of risk to the UK and the third is whether what is being proposed is likely to help in any way, shape or form.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD) rose—

Martin Salter: The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Home Affairs Committee, so I will give way.

Tom Brake: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that complexity, in terms of dealing with data discs and foreign languages, can often be addressed by additional resources?

Martin Salter: I regret taking that intervention. The Government have doubled resources for the security services and a record amount of resources are going into counter-terrorism work. However, the hon. Gentleman brings me to my point on the complexity of the challenge facing SO15, the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism unit. He himself as a member of the Committee, if he has read his papers, will have seen the SO15 statistics.

In 2004, some 19,000 exhibits were retrieved and registered in terrorist investigations. They rose to 51,000 in 2005 and to 68,000 in 2006. Statements, messages and documents created rose from 33,000 to 62,000 to 83,000 to 91,000 last year. Action and lines of inquiries created rose from 16,000 to 28,000 to 40,000 to 42,000. Total records for legal consideration and disclosure rose from 69,000 right up to 197,000 in 2007. There is absolutely no doubt that terrorist networks have become more sophisticated and adept at using information technology and the latest techniques available, first to avoid surveillance, secondly to communicate with each other and thirdly to commit atrocities. We have to be cognisant of that fact. It is a matter of public record that in 1997 the UK security services seized just 19 mobile phones, one computer
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and seven computer discs in their terrorist investigations. Ten years later those figures had risen to 16,000 mobile phones, 353 computers and 2,541 computer discs. Yes, we can increase resources; no, we should not deny the fact that terrorist technology is on the march.

The Home Affairs Committee has been party to private briefings from the security services. We know that there have been a substantial number of plots. We know that about 200 groups and 2,000 individuals give the security services cause for concern. Those numbers are going up, not down. I find it ironic that the shadow Home Secretary is happy to praise the professionalism of the police and the security services in foiling those plots, and we join across the Floor of the House in praising them for that, but when it comes to questioning their professional judgment, somehow we are not so keen to praise their professionalism and to take their advice. That led the Home Affairs Committee, in two separate reports, to a series of conclusions. In June 2006, before I and the hon. Gentleman who just intervened joined the Committee, it, under the excellent chairmanship—it is excellently chaired now—of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), now the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, came to the following conclusion. Looking at the Government’s case for 90-day detention, which was not particularly strong in my view, the Committee concluded:

The Committee went on to conclude, however:

That was in June 2006. It was the starting point for the extensive Home Affairs Committee inquiry that has just concluded.

Both Front-Bench teams have, in exchanges across the Dispatch Box, referred to the acceptance of a case for exceptional circumstances. I am not praying in aid the motives of my Conservative colleagues on the Committee; I do not believe for one moment that they saw their names being attached to that recommendation as praying in aid a case for extension to 42 days. I am very happy to put that on the record, but the Committee accepted that there was a case for exceptional circumstances, as did Liberty and, I have to say, the Conservative Front-Bench team when it suggested that amending the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 could deal with exceptional circumstances.

Let us read into the public record what was agreed by all parties:

One reason the Committee rejected the use of the 2004 Act was that it would be, frankly, ludicrous—this was the advice that we got from the police—for us to endorse an approach that declared a full-scale state of emergency in order to give the security services the
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powers that they might need to apprehend people who were the cause of that full-scale emergency.

We were right to reject the CCA and we were right to listen to people such as Peter Clarke. I shall quote people who have supported my argument and people who have contradicted it. Peter Clarke, the former national co-ordinator of terrorist investigations, said on 3 June that

Justifying the point about a precautionary principle, he went on to say that

Sir Ken Macdonald has been oft-quoted in the debate. He was very honest: he made it clear that he did not see the case for going beyond 28 days at this point. But he said that the proposed legislation

That is significant. He indicated a willingness to use the legislation because, he said, it was his job not to see the Bill into law but to use the tools available to him. He said:

David T.C. Davies: Did Sir Ken not also say that he thought that it would be very hard indeed for the CPS to bring any prosecution against somebody who had been held for between 28 and 42 days but not been charged with anything until the 41st day?

Martin Salter: He certainly made it clear to the Committee that he would expect an adequate and strong case to be established by 24 to 28 days.

The last person I wish to pray in aid is the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde. Hon. Members should bear his comments in mind, because we have considerable experience in tackling terrorism in Northern Ireland. Only a couple of days ago, he said:

It will be too late, because we in this House are not good at legislating in a panic.

Mark Durkan: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that we should also listen to Hugh Orde when he says that the Government should be talking to al-Qaeda?

Martin Salter: I am happy to be selective in the quotes from Hugh Orde that I use for the purposes of my argument.

Safeguards are built into the Bill. Hon. Members have criticised the Home Secretary’s proposal as having been watered down or made unworkable; I am not sure which way they are seeking to cut that argument. It is a
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precautionary proposal for temporary powers. It is dependent on the Director of Public Prosecutions, himself a sceptic, coming forward, together with the relevant chief constable, with a certificate to say that there is a need for those powers in the first place. We are now to get a vote after seven days. What meaningful debate could we have after seven days? During my time here, we debated the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in this House for a number of years. When we were deciding whether to extend the exceptional powers in the PTA, we did not discuss individual republican or loyalist terrorist atrocities—we discussed the state of the security situation and whether the state required those powers in order to keep people safe. After the Glasgow and Haymarket bombings, we had a perfectly good debate in this House on a statement by the Home Secretary. We had people arrested; we did not fall foul of the sub judice rules; and we were intelligent enough to have a debate without compromising the subsequent criminal prosecutions. That is exactly the debate that we would have in this regard.

Let me end with two points. First, it is true that the current proposal could have an impact on community relations, but I have been around my multicultural community for long enough to know that the greatest and most detrimental impact on community relations occurs if a bomber gets through—that is when the damage is done. Secondly, if the police and the expert witnesses that we have heard before the Home Affairs Committee are right, a bomber may get through at some point in the future. I do not want hon. Members’ fingerprints on a vote that might mean that at some point in the future we release out on to the streets someone who will go on to do us and our communities harm.

Mr. Baron: I will not follow the normal custom and say that it was a pleasure to listen to the speech by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), because there were so many things fundamentally wrong with it that it is not worthy of comment.

I would like to touch briefly on two or three aspects of the Bill that deserve our further attention. My greatest fear is that if we pass the measure on 42 days, we are in effect doing the terrorists’ job for them. Let us be clear about this. We all accept that terrorism is a threat to this country and to our liberties—that cannot be disputed. However, this proposal assaults our hard-won civil liberties and the common law of this land. We have already heard many excellent arguments against it. The lack of evidence is one such argument. It is telling that the Government cannot produce one piece of concrete evidence to substantiate their claim that 42 days are required. The intelligence services took the unprecedented step of making a statement saying that they had not called for an extension to 42 days. The Director of Public Prosecutions has already said that he cannot support it either. There is no evidence whatever in support of the proposal.

5.15 pm

We have also heard how the introduction of 42 days’ detention could be counter-productive. I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) on the question of internment because I served in Northern Ireland during the 1980s, when that practice had come to an end, but when we
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were still picking up the pieces from that disastrous policy. I want to impress on the House just what a disastrous policy it was. It was completely counter-productive. It turned whole communities against us, and the recruitment of terrorists was made so much easier when people in those communities had suffered because of the policy of internment. I know that there are differences between the two circumstances, but the differences are not so great that parallels cannot be drawn for the purposes of today’s debate. The bottom line is that people were taken off the streets, put away and not charged because it was thought that they might be a threat. That created a great deal of resentment, which in the end, caused even more bloodshed and loss of life. I ask the House to think very carefully before we go down that road. If we want to engage communities, and to counter terrorism and the threat of terrorism, taking someone off the streets and putting them away for 42 days without charging them is not the way to do it.

Mr. Paul Goodman: If my hon. Friend reads the Government’s new clause 20—one of the apparent concessions—he will see that the new power that they seek could be applied abroad. It does not apply merely to the United Kingdom, but to threats of terrorism to property abroad. That does not sound much like grave and exceptional circumstances to me.

Mr. Baron: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The provision is far-reaching in its consequences and we have to take that point on board.

We have heard about international comparisons, but, as ever, the Government have failed to address the fundamental point that other common law countries across the globe do not need more then one week for pre-charge detention. Why do we need six in this country? Why are our police forces so incompetent—that is the only conclusion one can draw from the Government’s measures—that they need six times longer than most other police forces in other common law countries? Again, no case has been made by the Government. Their argument against Liberty’s figures is even weaker when one considers that the Government have admitted, at the Dispatch Box and in written parliamentary answers, that they have not undertaken a similar comparison. They have done no research of real worth on the matter. The force of their argument that such comparisons are not valid does not stand up to the test of scrutiny.

Another of my concerns is the suppressed premise in the background to the debate that, deep down, many people are afraid that a suspect released too soon might use their freedom to commit an atrocity. Supposedly, 42 days’ detention is needed to prevent another 7/7. But that argument is completely misguided. The purpose of the 42-day proposal is to prolong an investigation after a plot has been discovered or is suspected. It is not to prevent it. The police, the authorities and the security services already have enough powers to deal with an imminent terrorist strike. They do not need those powers; prevention is not the purpose of the 42 days. For one thing, the police could charge a suspect with acts preparatory to terrorism. Meanwhile, surveillance and intelligence gathering could and would continue if a suspect was released back into the community. So let us scotch once and for all the idea that 42 days’ detention is needed to prevent another terrorist outrage. That is not its sole function.

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Briefly, I also take exception to the argument that, because the police have come close to the existing limit on a number of occasions, it is incumbent on the House to allow more time for holding suspects without charge. It might be that sufficient information was obtained earlier and that the police were holding a person for the sake of further questioning, given that post-charge questioning is not generally possible. However, simply because time is used does not mean that it is needed.

As for the safeguards, they are weak to the point of being meaningless. Let us take the judicial safeguards first. The hearing before a judge cannot be a meaningful adversarial process. The range of issues that a judge can consider is limited to whether the investigation is proceeding at a reasonable rate and the likelihood of new evidence being brought forward. That is a very low threshold to cross. A judge will not be asked to consider a suspect’s likely guilt or innocence in relation to any specific offence, so the individual in question will not have the opportunity to defend himself. Indeed, he might not even be there. The role of the courts is to judge evidence in relation to an offence, not to supervise a police investigation.

As for the parliamentary safeguards, the mechanism proposed is both illogical and inappropriate. It is illogical when triggered in response to an individual case, because the higher pre-charge detention applies to all suspects held under anti-terrorism legislation, even if their case does not justify such an extension. The mechanism is also inappropriate, because it is not the role of Parliament to assess whether an individual should be deprived of their liberty, as has been mentioned on a number of occasions. Hon. Members should not be asked to instigate procedures to try to fulfil that function.

Would we allow, for example, an accused person to come to the Bar of the House and put his side of the story? The last time that occurred was in the 1950s. Are we going to instigate such a procedure again? I do not think so. Would we have secret sessions, to allow the security services or a Minister to present their case freely? That has not happened since the second world war, and I see no proposals on the Table for it to happen again. The proposed safeguard is almost worthless and meaningless.

In truth, no concession or safeguard is likely to be adequate, because to detain someone on the basis of suspicion alone is a fundamental breach of liberty. It is, effectively, to reverse the presumption of innocence in English common law. We have to ask ourselves why it is that we need 42 days. My concern is that, for the reasons set out in what has, overall, been an informed and intelligent debate this afternoon, we risk doing the terrorists’ job for them. There is no evidence to suggest that the measure is needed. The international comparisons would suggest that we are making a big mistake if we extend from 28 days. We also risk making the mistake of producing a Bill that would be counter-productive in trying to solicit information from the communities from which we need help.

For all those reasons, I urge the House not to extend to 42 days—to dig in deep and realise that our hard-won civil liberties cannot be traded in on the back of Government misinformation and evidence that is simply not there. I urge the House to give that great thought indeed.

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