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4 Dec 2008 : Column 183

In the midst of all the damage and destruction to the value of the west’s financial resources, we face a major loss of economic power and international prestige. Put simply, money is power, and such financial means go hand in hand with global political leadership. The bail-out of US and European banks will be underwritten by the flooding, in the global capital markets, of US and European Government bonds, which will be mopped up by cash-rich sovereign wealth funds, particularly in China, the Gulf and Russia. The power that this money buys will allow them to exert far more political influence, and I believe that in places such as China and Russia, that will be backed up by military force around their borders. I fear that the model of democracy, open societies and free markets supported by the G7 will be sorely put to the test in the years to come.

In recent months, we have seen that one of the few impediments to Russia exercising military power beyond its borders is the influence of an educated, wealthy and fast-growing domestic middle class. To date, India and China—beyond their problems in Kashmir, Burma and Tibet—have shown relatively little interest in exercising their own military muscle. I believe, however, that as their global financial clout becomes more apparent, so too will their appetite for interference in world affairs. I also fear that some elements of the Islamic world will have regard to the west’s ongoing economic crisis. In spite of the Government’s projected figures, this crisis will not have gone away by the end of 2009. It is a crisis of economic confidence that will take up the rest of this decade and continue well into the 2020s. We have to ask who in the west will have the financial clout, let alone the political will, to spend money on policing any new flashpoints in the middle east or in parts of Asia.

I have visited China three times in the past five years, and I have been blown away by the pace of development there. If the US and Europe lose their moral leadership in the management of global financial markets, there is little doubt that, within a decade, the west will be forced to accept China as an economic and political equal.

I have also visited India twice since 2004. It is a nation under the international spotlight, as the monstrous hand of terrorism visited the great commercial city of Bombay last week. I am pleased that my own police force in the City of London and many other institutions under the Home Office have played a role in assisting India with aspects of terrorism in the past, and I hope that they will give it a great deal of co-operation in the future.

India has been sadly familiar with terror attacks, but the scale of the assault on Bombay, and the western targets involved, bestow on that city the dubious honour of being considered a global financial centre worthy of such an intricately planned outrage. As appalling as recent events have been, I also believe that they have exposed India for the first time in the eyes of many westerners as a real force to be reckoned with as a country. Bombay’s debut as a prominent item on global news bulletins might be viewed in retrospect as the formal recognition of its growing prominence in the international financial system. There is no doubt that that outward-looking, cosmopolitan, dynamic city will bounce back with resilience and confidence, as it services an ever stronger internal market and continues its search for global trading partners.

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Let us make no mistake: a formal shift of power eastwards will present opportunities as well as challenges. Our nation must be ready to exploit those opportunities, but I am increasingly concerned that the twin burden of high levels of public and private debt, along with a rudderless, untrusted financial sector, risks the movement of global business away from our shores. No doubt we will also face the emergence of deep social divides, should we continue down the dangerous path of consuming today and making future generations pay tomorrow for what we consume.

As a great defender of free markets, free trade and global capitalism, I am willing to bet that, while the Government currently have an important role in stabilising and revitalising our confidence-battered economy, it will eventually be hard work, enterprise and freedom in the marketplace that will ensure that our economy thrives again. If the best of economic times are to lie ahead, the moral and economic case must also be made for a smaller, more efficient state, and the untapped appetite among our fellow Britons for financial discipline and prudence must be encouraged.

We face letting down a whole generation, but the Conservative party already has a wide range of solutions to our declining competitiveness through our education and social affairs agenda. Long term, we must focus on promoting diverse and versatile skills, aspiration and mobility among our population. Yes, there is no doubt that the state must offer some security in these times of extreme need, but that aspect of its function should not overshadow the long-term importance of promoting flair, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. It is only through those three factors that we can ensure prosperous times ahead.

I am sorry that my message is slightly negative and depressing, but we are living in difficult times. I hope that the Government will take on board many of these issues, including the many long-term concerns that should be in the forefront of our minds as we look in the short term at the proposals in the Queen’s Speech. I look forward to hearing other Members’ contributions, even if they stick rather more closely to the home affairs and justice agenda.

2.25 pm

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I shall be extremely brief, lest I lose this enormous audience. I want to focus on the famous, and regular, line in the Queen’s Speech:

A number of measures are not in the Queen’s Speech. One has been promised in the long run by the Government, and I shall make an argument for accelerating it. Another was promised in the draft Queen’s Speech, but has been deferred. A third has been made necessary by this morning’s judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.

During the course of this year, we have had serious intellectual battles over the counter-terrorism strategy. Much of that has been about freedom and individual rights, but a good deal has also been about how successful the strategy is, and how successful it needs to be. The Government have rightly said that the threats to our people are increasing on a day-by-day basis, that they are growing by about 25 per cent. per annum, and that
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they are difficult for the police and the other agencies to deal with. That is an argument that the Government have put forward to support repressive measures, including the proposed increase in detention without charge from 28 days to 42.

The first missing Bill that I want to discuss is the Bill to allow the use of intercept evidence in court. If we had such a Bill, we would not face the problems that we are facing today, with a provision for 28 days’ detention, let alone 42. In our debates, we have often raised the issue of the United States. After 9/11, the US faces at least as great a terrorist threat as we do, yet it seems to cope with it much better than we do. It is able to bring charges within two days of arrest, and full indictment within 10 days. It can do that because it has a combination of laws that allows it to act without visiting injustice or oppression on its people. Among the most important is its ability to use intercept evidence.

Earlier this year, I visited Washington and talked to representatives of all the counter-terrorism agencies and of the Department of Justice. I had the advantage of being able to talk to the Deputy Secretary of State for Justice who dealt with terrorism. He told me in some detail about how intercept worked. He made it clear that the use of intercept evidence in court was fundamental to two types of judicial success. One was in dealing with terrorism, and the other was in dealing with gangsterism—the mafia and organised crime. They are similar targets in many ways, and it is true to say that the American judicial system has had fantastic success in dealing with gangsterism and considerable success in dealing with terrorism. It all hangs on intercept.

The Deputy Secretary of State for Justice talked us through a case. The first thing he said was, “If we have any of these cases, the jury wonder where the juicy tapes are”—his words—“if they do not hear them in court.” Juries have come to depend on the intercept evidence as a central part of the judicial process. The US process involves a two-stage approach. The first is a so-called CIPA—Classified Information Procedures Act—hearing, at which it is decided what can be presented to the court. In his words, “If we win the CIPA hearing, the case goes straight to plea bargaining.” There is almost never a full case thereafter.

That is very different from our major terrorism trials. In the past couple of years we have had enormous trials at huge cost. I am thinking not just of the cost in money terms. The cost of the paralysis of our agencies in supporting those court cases is incalculable. It is extremely important that we understand the power of the intercept evidence usable in court, particularly in conjunction with a reasonably aggressive approach to plea bargaining, especially with the minor players. If we succeed in that, we will achieve a number of things. We will make it possible to try more people, to convict more people, to convict them with greater safety, and to convict them faster and more cheaply than we do at present. There are enormous benefits to be had for us, and we are probably the country in the world that would gain most from the use of intercept evidence, so it is rather surprising that we do not have that already.

The Government have, quite properly, set up an advisory committee that is working on the matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and
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Hythe (Mr. Howard) is a member of the committee. I spoke to him before the debate. He said that the committee was working hard on extremely complex matters. I will not be present for the winding-up speeches, unfortunately, but I hope that the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor will be able to tell us that the committee will not be short of resources. If it were inadequately resourced, that would be a considerable false economy. I should like to see the relevant Bill brought forward.

The Bill that was missing, which was mentioned by the Liberal spokesman and by my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, is the communications and data Bill. It was in the draft Queen’s Speech, but not in the most recent version. The Bill has gone for consultation in early 2009, and I understand that we will get a published Bill thereafter. I suspect that it was pulled because the central component of it, the idea of an enormous database of, effectively, intercept data—data showing e-mail addresses, phone calls and internet accesses—was seen as horrifically unpopular when it eventually became widely known that that would happen. It would make the argument over 42 days look like a picnic. In the public view, unlike a 42-days measure, it would appear to impinge on everybody’s privacy and therefore be enormously unpopular.

As in the case of 42 days, I talked through these issues with the agencies and the police forces. I had all sorts of secret briefings. I hope nobody will go to prison for it. The outcome was pretty straightforward. Telephone and internet data are already retained by the companies as a result of European directive 2006/24, from memory, so there is no question of the data being there or not being there. The simple question is whether the data should be held in a huge database by the state. That has all sorts of enormous disadvantages. There will inevitably be suspicion about why it must be held there, as it does not add a jot to the available information.

The only worry one might have in that respect is that although getting such data out of the companies requires an explicit warrantry process—rather relevant in the House today—and therefore requires our agencies to be under proper control and under the law, one could not be quite so confident about a central database. There is also a fear that we might see attempts at data mining—trying to spot suspicious characters through their telephone and e-mail records. Such an ambition, if it exists, would be daft. Most of the evidence on data mining shows that it is pretty ineffective. Nevertheless, it would be a massive intrusion on people’s privacy.

I hope that if and when the measure comes back, it comes back without that database. If it provides for such a database, the Government can guarantee themselves an interesting year of battles on the matter. Indeed, I can guarantee the Government an interesting year of battles on the matter. I want to see the ability to intercept, as I said in my opening argument. I want to see the agencies able to do what they need to do. What I do not want to do is to give any agency of Government the ability to go on a fishing expedition without proper warrantry control. It is very simple. My understanding is that most of the agencies and the police forces agree with that, and that only one or two agencies have a different view. The Government and the Home Office must be firm with them and make it clear to them that that is not acceptable to the British public.

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Both Opposition Front-Bench speakers have also touched on the last issue that I want to mention: today’s excellent judgment—I never thought that I would ever say this—from the European Court of Human Rights. I would have been much happier if we had made the decision ourselves. I do not think that the main Opposition parties differ much on human rights; the issue is about who should make the decision about them. However, the ECHR judgment is excellent—and, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) said, its unanimity is outstanding. I thought that the decision would be split, because it was taking so long to come out, but it was not.

Chris Huhne: It was the time they took to count.

David Davis: Yes, it could have been the time taken to count the votes, although I sort of doubt it.

Where are we now? As it stands, the law is that police guidelines allow deletion only in exceptional circumstances. As far as I can see, the first applications for deletion receive mandatory, compulsory refusal. That has given us the biggest database in the world. The numbers are astounding—4.2 million people, of whom 1 million are innocent.; that is 7 per cent. of our population. The nearest comparator is Austria, with a figure of 1 per cent., which gives a clear idea of how heavy-handed we are on this issue. The Government had intended the numbers to match those on the national fingerprint database—that is, 7.3 million—and had they carried on, they would have got there by 2012.

The interesting point is that I think that the Government are deceiving themselves, rather than setting out to deceive us. The Prime Minister said that 114 murders had been resolved on the back of the database. When we asked for one example—I have asked several times—the Government have never been able to provide it, as a statistical analysis is involved. It is based on a series of errors. I will not take the House through the whole GeneWatch analysis, but suffice it to say that not every DNA sample found in a location even shows that a person was there; these days, such samples can be transferred by other people as a result of handshakes, sweat being carried across and so on. Secondly, if the person was at the location, they will not necessarily be the criminal. Thirdly, even if they are the criminal, they will not necessarily be convicted on the basis of the data, for other reasons.

There has been a massive overestimate of the importance of such samples. The hon. Member for Eastleigh made a very important point when he said that the Government have casually gone along sweeping up the 1 million innocent people while ignoring the couple of million guilty people from pre-2001. Actually, I should say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that the date was a little earlier than that; some people were in prison at the time and there is an overlap. Nevertheless, the people essentially from pre-2001 have been ignored.

I urge the Government to consider the example of Scotland, which has a better system and a better outcome in terms of criminal convictions. The issue should not be a dividing line across the House; we should be able to arrive at a practical solution that protects the privacy of individuals—most particularly, the 100,000 innocent children who should not be on the database—but gives the police the ammunition and mechanisms that they need to carry things through.

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The issue worries me in one other respect. I do not mean this in any pejorative way, but in the past few years the Government have been a little naive about their use of technology. Whether in respect of databases, DNA or surveillance, they have put an awful lot of weight on technology. The problem is that although a large number of people think that DNA technology is absolutely infallible, even a cursory look at low copy number techniques shows that it is anything but that. However, put in front of a jury, the technology has a power much greater than it deserves. I do not want us to build an anti-crime or anti-terrorism strategy on that technology-plus-database approach.

I will finish by saying that many of these issues will not necessarily be for dispute unless the Government want to pick a fight yet again. As they know, we are always happy to give them the fight, but the raw truth is that there is a way through that should be to the advantage of our country, without any of us having to have a serious dispute over it.

2.39 pm

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in the 12th Queen’s Speech debate under the current Government. I imagine that there will be one more—unlucky No. 13. I sincerely hope that is unlucky for this Labour Government, not for the Conservative party, in that the 13th Queen’s Speech will be the last one that we get from them for some years to come.

I will try to stick to the Home Office brief, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that you will forgive me if I stray slightly. I do not think that a huge number of Members are waiting to speak, so I should not be putting too many noses out of joint, but if I do, I am sure that you will point it out to me.

Before I move on to the substantive part of my speech, I should like to focus on the operational independence of the police, about which a lot has been said over the past two or three days. Let me point out that the operational independence of the police was compromised about three years ago, during the debate over 90 days’ detention, when chief constables from around the country were urged by the Government to write to Members of Parliament asking them to support 90 days. That seemed to break a long-held convention that chief constables did not involve themselves in the day-to-day business of Parliament. From that moment on, the rot set in.

The rot has been particularly noticeable in the Metropolitan police, whose problems have been well documented. The commissioner has just retired early, and of course there are the ongoing problems with last week’s raid on the offices of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) here, in his constituency and at his home. I hope that the Home Office takes a good long look at the operations of the Metropolitan police, because it seems to be becoming dysfunctional as an organisation, with a group of fiefdoms not talking to one another and pursuing their own different agendas. The public in London are beginning to lose confidence in the Metropolitan police, and we cannot afford for that to happen at the moment, with the Olympics just around the corner, in a little over three years’ time, and the daily threat posed by terrorists.

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