David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con):
The Home Secretary would do better to recognise that the reason why she has faced the biggest defeat in the Lords in living memory is not that two Lord Chancellors, Attorneys-General, chief constables and heads of MI5 take security lightly, but that they find her proposals unnecessary and intolerable. When she was offered a year ago the option of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, she turned it down in the first instance because
she said that declaring a state of emergency would give a propaganda coupa publicity coupto the terrorists. Can she explain to the House how having a full debate on a whole new Bill will give any less of a propaganda coup to the terrorists?
Jacqui Smith: The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the case, because he was involved in discussions with me. I just regret that he made completely clear from when we first started these discussions that he had no intention of finding a way to help us deal with a situation that he himself recognises might existwhere somebody needs to be held beyond 28 days. I regret that he felt unable to engage with us in something that would have been deliverable. I hope that if we need to introduce legislation again, as I fear we might, people will engage with that constructively for the good of the security of this country.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): The Home Secretary is right tonight. She is right that the primary responsibility of Government is the security of the nation. She is right that the basic human right of all our people is the right to life and to live their life without the fear of losing it. She is also right to have emergency legislation, as the police have clearly indicated that they can envisage circumstances in which they might need such powers. However, she is also right to seek a consensus and, therefore, not to proceed tonight. The best basis for national security is national consensus, and although it has proved difficult in the past, may I therefore ask her if she will respond to the unrequited measures that she previously introduced by being positive again, and by engaging the Home Affairs Committee and the Opposition parties? If nothing else, that challenges their affirmation tonight that they are willing to reach a consensus on these matters to give security to the nation, and if we do that, we will be in a far better position for the whole House.
Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend, who made very important steps forward in our ability in this country to counter terrorism, makes a strong point. He started this process seeking consensus, and I can certainly give him a commitment that I will continue this process seeking consensus for the good of the security of this country.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): What a cataclysmic climbdown; we could almost hear the gear clunking into reverse. What we have is an undead measureneither alive nor deadwaiting for the parliamentary stake through the heart. Why the petulant defiance? The right hon. Lady should accept that no one agreed with her, that nobody felt that this was required and that this measure is now lost.
Jacqui Smith: The responsibility of a Home Secretary is to continue to cover off the risks to this country that are identified to her from the serious threat of terrorism. The hon. Gentleman would have done this country more service had he focused on that, rather than on making cheap points about my presentation.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab):
As someone who served on the Committee that considered the Bill, it became clear to me at a very early stage that consensus was unlikely to be reached in order to get the
consent of both Houses to getting this legislation through, and that the Civil Contingencies Act would never achieve what the Bill sought to achieve. Although I fear that we will have to return to this issue at some stage, I sincerely hope that Members of this House recognise that we do not wish to revisit it at a stage where we have lost significant life in the UK as a result of further terrorist activity.
Jacqui Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for the contribution that he made in Committee, where, as he will know, the Conservative party did not table a single amendment to the provisions on pre-charge detention. That is a telling indication of an unwillingness to engage in a constructive process to find a way through this. He is right to say that all of us have a responsibility to find the best way to protect this country at a time when we may well need to extend the tools for those investigating and prosecuting terrorist offences. That is what I have sought to do throughout this process, and it is what I shall continue to do.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Baroness Manningham-Buller is probably the most qualified person in either House to assess the proposals for keeping people in jail without charge for three months. The Home Secretary has accepted that Baroness Manningham-Bullers arguments were sincere, patriotic and couched in terms of the best security for the country. The arguments that Baroness Manningham-Buller uses are indistinguishable from the arguments used by the Opposition Front-Bench teams. Why does the Home Secretary accept one person as patriotic but denounce those of us who agree with a professional such as the noble Baroness as unpatriotic and cavalier about the defence of this country from terrorism?
Jacqui Smith: Because Baroness Manningham-Buller has a proud record of working to try to find a way through the difficult issues. Although many right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have in the past taken important action against terrorism, I just feel that they have fallen short in trying to find a way through on this particular issue.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the robust way in which she has responded to the vote in the House of Lords earlier this evening. Does she accept that matters such as this one inevitably come down to good judgment, and that, in the end, most people outside this House will accept that she has exercised good judgment and that those who have opposed this measure have made an error of judgment?
Jacqui Smith: I thank my right hon. Friend for those words. I have certainly attempted to approach this matter, as did my predecessors and others, in a way that will enable the greatest amount of information and contribution to finding a way through. I will continue to do that, but I will also continue to put what I believe to be the best interests of the British people and their security at the heart of the decisions that I take.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP):
My constituents are in the front line of the terrorist threat in this country, and they will welcome this Bill. Will the Home
Secretary continue to press forward to find sensible and proportionate measures that will increase the protection of my constituents and other people in this country from these inhumane terrorists who are threatening and targeting this country right now?
Jacqui Smith: There have been many ways in the past year or so in which the hon. Gentleman has been brave. He has certainly been brave in speaking up for the best interests of the security of his constituents, in the face of opposition, and I thank him for his continued support.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Although I understand why my right hon. Friend makes her announcement tonight, may I tell her that once the party politicking dies down, three things will stand out? The first is that she sought consensus across this House and could not find it. The second is that senior police officers and police forces such as my own, which are used to dealing with terrorism, are convinced that the time may well come when more than 28 days will be needed. The third is that she must offer the British public the kind of protection that is adequate to tackle that terrorist threat.
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is only right that I thank him and other Labour Members for having engaged in such a constructive way in making sure that we safeguard the interests of our constituents. I shall certainly want to carry on doing that, alongside like-minded colleagues.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Obviously we acknowledge the importance of this subject, but this House was debating the important issue of democracy and human rights in this country and around the world. Why did the Home Secretary feel it so important to interrupt that debate? Why could she not wait an hour and a half, until 10 oclock, to make her announcement?
Jacqui Smith: Sometimes I think that you cannot win in this place. I thought that it was quite important, given the nature of the security issues involved, to come to the House and to make the statement as quickly as possible. Plenty of people turned up to hear me.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does the Home Secretary understand that those of us who voted against 42 days did so because we thought that it was our duty to preserve liberties in this country and not to destroy relationships between different ethnic communities in this country? Will she please explain what is meant by the Bill that she will place in the Library tomorrow? Will it be some kind of lurking cudgel with which we will be threatened whenever an emergency appears so that the House can rush through some special legislation? Should she not accept that the principle of 42 days has been comprehensively defeated, both publicly and in the House of Lords, and that it is perhaps time to move on and forget about these excessively long periods of detention?
I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that the reason for bringing forward the legislation in the first place was a recognition that the best way to defend all the communities in this country is to ensure
that we take their security seriously. We are all clear in this House that terrorist atrocities have killed and maimed with no fear or favour when it comes to communities or religious backgrounds, and that everybody needs the sort of protection that comes from counter-terror legislation. I have drafted the Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill so that when and if it is needed, we will have those protections in place for my hon. Friends constituents, for mine and for the rest of the British public.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): In dealing with the financial crisis, the Government have invested a certain amount of effort and taken a certain amount of political capital out of their efforts in order to produce consensus. It might have been better to have followed that course than to have reacted to the result in the other place in the way in which the Home Secretary has tonight, castigating opponents such as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) in the manner in which she has and in terms that she might regret privately. Will she now answer the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and tell the House when the draft legislation that she has produced was first given to parliamentary counsel and when counsel was first instructed to deliver it?
Jacqui Smith: We started looking at the legislation last week because I was concerned that, whatever happened and whatever decision was taken in the House of Lords, my primary responsibility, which was to ensure that we had in place the protections necessary for the British people, should be pursued.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is inconsistent and unprincipled for Conservatives such as the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), as well as organisations such as Liberty, to seek to clothe themselves in the Magna Carta and civil liberties while, conversely, they propose alternative diminutions of civil liberties, such as post-charge questioning, the use of intercept evidence at trial and 42 days detention under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004? Is not that wholly unprincipled?
Jacqui Smith: If I have taken one thing from our discussions on the Bill, it has been my hon. Friends incisive critique at every stage. I thank him for his engagement and wholeheartedly agree with his point.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): We are all aware of how serious the terrorist threat is to this country. If the threat is as serious as the Home Secretary has set out this evening, is she prepared to scrap the Human Rights Act, which is one of the things that stops dangerous threats to this country being kicked out? It is no good her lecturing the House on how the Opposition will not take terrorism seriously if she is not prepared at least to look again at that new Labour shibboleth.
The hon. Gentleman might like to have a word with those on his Front Benchand particularly with the shadow Home Secretary about his views. The
proposals in the legislation were wholly in line with the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights, so, frankly, the hon. Gentleman is raising a complete red herring.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): The ordinary people of this country look to their elected representatives in this House to provide them with adequate prevention of and protection against terrorism. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and my constituents that she has taken that into account in framing her emergency Bill?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is our responsibility as elected representatives to put the security of the British people at the heart of what we do and to engage seriously in trying to find a solution to some of the most difficult and sensitive issues that we will face in balancing collective and national security against individual liberty. I believe that we had done that in the Bill, but by bringing forward the emergency provisions as I have done, I am ensuring that we are covering that risk if and when we need to use them.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If the Home Secretarys arguments are so powerful and persuasive why does she think there was such a haemorrhage of support from her Benches in the other place this afternoon?
Jacqui Smith: Let us be quite clear: this House voted for the provisions. Labour Members in majority in the other place voted for the provisions. The responsibility for not being willing to take the provisions forward rests with the Opposition party and they will have to explain to the British people why they did not take this countrys security seriously.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): I voted for 42 days in the summer and I would have voted for 42 days again had that Bill come back to the House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a time and a place for discussing the relative powers and responsibilities of the two Chambers of Parliament, as would have happened had she sought to use the Parliament Act, but that given the other pressures on the Government today and our other responsibilities, that time is not now?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is of course also the case that there are other important elements of the Billwhether post-charge questioning, strengthening sentencing for terrorist offences or tightening up the provisions on asset freezingthat I believe are right and should come into force as quickly as possible. That is why I thought it important to take forward those provisions in this Session and to get them on to the statute book as quickly as possible for the protection of people in this country.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con):
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I very much welcome the new precedent set by the Home Secretary this evening in coming to the House after a defeat in the House of Lords and explaining to the House of Commons the position that the Government intend to take. However, in future, can we make sure that it takes place at the end of business so as not to take time from debates? Can we
also ensure that in future we have regular statements every time the Government are defeated in the House of Lords?
Mr. Speaker: Perhaps it will help the right hon. Gentleman if I tell the House that it is for Ministers to judge whether they need to make statements to the House. Although I need to be given prior notice of their intention, neither my permission nor that of the House is required, as is made clear in Erskine May, page 358[Hon. Members: Ah!] Order. I am speaking. The Secretary of State has clearly decided that this is a matter of urgency, but I did say that the Opposition should have a copy of the statement in advance.
That this House has considered the matter of promoting democracy and human rights.
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): I strongly welcome this debate on democracy and human rights, albeit that it has been truncated. It is easy to forget or underestimate how closely the proceedings of the House are watched and observed by individuals and groups across the world, including in countries that have nothing like the freedoms we enjoy. As a number of other Members have observed in their contributions, the debate is timely, as we are approaching the 60th anniversary of the signing of the universal declaration on human rights on 10 December 1948.
Members will recall that last year we celebrated another anniversary in the human rights calendarthe bicentennial of the Act to abolish slaveryand 2007 saw a string of events and initiatives celebrating the decision that the House took 200 years ago. Some of the initiatives tried to link what happened then with the campaigns to eradicate modern forms of slavery. I think in particular of the work done on human trafficking, a clear example of modern slavery.
For all the good work associated with the anti-slavery celebrations last year, 2007 was a year in which progress in tackling human rights abuses actually went backwards. From Burma to Zimbabwe, from Darfur to China, from Sri Lanka to any number of conservative Islamic regimes, human rights violations continued on a wide and systematic basis, and the international community was shown again to be weak and complacent in the face of atrocity and repression. Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, said in Amnestys 2008 annual report that
2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments and the ambivalence or reluctance of emerging powers to tackle some of the worlds worst human rights crises.
The fact remains that injustice, inequality and impunity are still the hallmarks of our world. We are coming towards the end of 2008, and no one can honestly say that it looks like this has been a more positive year for addressing human rights abuses internationally.
The question that we have all been trying to grapple with this afternoon is: what does putting human rights at the heart of foreign policy mean in practice in a country such as the UK, which still enjoys a measure of international leadership through the UN Security Council, the G8 and the EU, in an increasingly multilateral, interdependent world in which realism and the national interest are still vital, legitimate drivers of our interaction with other nation states? The starting point is to recognise that it is very much in our national interest to seek to push forward an international human rights agenda. Expanding political freedoms are often, but not always, accompanied by higher living standards, new stability and economic expansion around the world, all of which is good for the UK as it seeks to trade and interact globally.