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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I look forward to that debate with the keenest anticipation. I should have thought that three Statements in the past seven parliamentary days plus the opportunity for questions

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almost every day have at least kept us up to pace with the changes occurring with regard to the rescue of the financial system, but I am only too happy to indicate to the usual channels that there is considerable pressure for a debate on these issues, in which a great deal of constructive work will no doubt come from all parts of the House, including, I hope, from the Official Opposition.

Russia and Georgia

3 pm

Lord Hylton: asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, in our view, Russian forces have withdrawn from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia and are no longer in the rest of Georgia. There has been some discussion about the checkpoint at Perevi, which, some believe, may lie a short distance beyond the de facto border and into the rest of Georgia. However, the EU monitoring mission initially judged that this checkpoint lies on the de facto border line. We do not believe that the checkpoint is strategically significant.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Has he dealt with the possibility of a grey area to the east of South Ossetia and is there an obligation on Russia and Georgia to withdraw to the positions which they occupied on 7 August? Finally, will the Government do their level best to ensure that there is the fullest co-ordination between the various observer and peacekeeping groups which are under UN, EU and OSCE mandates?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise that last issue. Co-ordination among the EU, OSCE and UN missions is crucial to avoid duplication or mishaps. We have spoken to all parties to emphasise the particular importance of effective co-ordination on the ground. UK personnel in those missions have played a valuable role in helping to ensure that proper co-ordination takes place.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the apparent Russian withdrawal include withdrawal from the area to the south of South Ossetia, Akhalgori, where there is a mixed population and where the Russians appeared to have been until yesterday? On a broader issue, we have heard the American Defense Secretary saying that we should be committed to a NATO membership action plan for Georgia. Is that Her Majesty's Government’s policy, and will we be able to deliver NATO’s full obligations in the Caucasus if we go that way?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on that last point, there is a long way to go before we get to that stage. On the noble Lord’s first question, although we welcome the Russian withdrawal from the buffer zone—which is a significant step towards the commitments that the

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Russians made—withdrawal to the positions held by Russian forces prior to 7 August has not taken place. Therefore, the conditions of 12 August and 8 September under the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreements have not yet been fully met.

Lord Roper: My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said, does he agree that these matters should be raised at the meeting tomorrow in Geneva, so that full implementation of the agreement can be discussed?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree absolutely with the noble Lord. As he said, the meeting is to begin in Geneva tomorrow and we support efforts by the EU special representative dealing with the crisis in Georgia, Pierre Morel, to prepare those talks.

Lord Rea: My Lords, my noble friend may not be aware that I visited Abkhazia in August last year. It became clear to me that the Abkhazians, who are culturally and linguistically different from the Georgians, would be very unlikely to allow the Georgians, who left Abkhazia, or were chased out, in 1993, back to their homes unless Georgia recognised their independence. Is it not time to recognise that the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, like that of Kosovo, is a fait accompli and that the Georgians should be discouraged from unrealistic aspirations to regain those territories? This would not be appeasement but realism and would point the way to a lasting peace in the region.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with my noble friend in the slightest. The differences between Kosovo and Abkhazia and South Ossetia could not be greater. As one commentator put it, the international community’s response in Kosovo was an attempt to respond to the evils of ethnic cleansing. Frankly, we believe that Russia’s recognition of the separatist regimes of Georgia risks entrenching ethnic division and makes the return of refugees even more difficult to achieve. If there were to be independence on these terms, it would be a violation of Georgia, which is of course a democratic country.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the failure of the Russians to fulfil the agreement of 8 September, which he has confirmed they have not done by not withdrawing to the positions they held in early August, must be a germane factor for the European Union in deciding whether to resume negotiations on a policy co-operation agreement? Will he accept my support for what appears to have been the Foreign Secretary’s position in the Council yesterday, saying that the time was not yet ready for that?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s support for the Foreign Secretary’s attitude. He reads the Foreign Secretary’s mind and the Government’s policy on this well. As the House will know, meetings on a new agreement between the EU and Russia were postponed on 1 September by the European Council in response to Russia’s actions in Georgia, and that postponement still holds.

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Lord Bridges: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we have reached the 30th minute.


3.07 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord West of Spithead will now repeat the Statement on the Counter-Terrorism Bill made by the Home Secretary in the Commons last night. I should also advise the House that we are likely to sit late tonight in order to make necessary progress on the Committee stage of the Planning Bill. As ever, I am sure that I record the wishes of the House in expressing especial gratitude for the forbearance of all staff of the House who will be affected tonight.

Counter-Terrorism Bill

3.08 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made yesterday evening by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I come to the House this evening to set out the Government’s position on the Counter-Terrorism Bill. The provisions in this Bill have always been about protecting the British people from the serious threat we face from terrorism. My approach has always been to strike the right balance between protecting national security and safeguarding the liberty of the individual. That balance is a precious and delicate one, and it has meant—quite rightly—that our proposals on pre-charge detention have been the subject of intense parliamentary scrutiny, but, for me, there is no greater individual liberty than the liberty of individuals not to be blown up on British streets or in British skies.

“We face a terrorist threat that is at the severe end of severe, and we have proposed in this Counter-Terrorism Bill a way in which the police and prosecutors could apply to a judge to enable them to continue an investigation of a terrorist suspect in the most difficult, most complex and most challenging of circumstances.

“This House has voted in favour of a reserve power, which could be used only when there is a grave and exceptional terrorist threat, and which would be accompanied by high judicial and parliamentary safeguards. But, despite the considered view of all leading counter-terrorism police professionals that these powers will be necessary and should be there, ready for use if needed; despite the opinion of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile; and despite the decision of right honourable and honourable Members of this House, the other place has tonight voted to remove from the Counter-Terrorism Bill

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the protections that the Government believe should be in place—not to amend; not to strengthen; simply to remove.

“My priority remains the protection of the British people. I do not believe, as some honourable Members clearly do, that it is enough simply to cross our fingers and hope for the best. That is not good enough. When it comes to national security, there are certain risks that I am not prepared to take. I am not prepared to risk leaving the British people without the protections they need. So, instead of reintroducing the proposals for a reserve power in this House, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have taken action to ensure that we have those protections in place, ready to be used if necessary. I have prepared a new Bill to enable the police and prosecutors to do their work, should the worst happen and a terrorist plot overtakes us and threatens our current investigatory capabilities.

“Some may take the security of Britain lightly; I do not. The Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill now stands ready to be introduced if and when the need arises. This would enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the courts to detain and question a terrorist suspect for up to a maximum of 42 days. Individuals could be detained only when this is authorised by a judge. The Bill’s powers would automatically sunset after 60 days.

“I will place a copy of the new Bill in the Library of the House, and I will continue to press forward with the other important and necessary measures in the current Bill—tougher sentencing for terrorists, stronger powers to seize terrorists’ assets, stronger powers to allow the police to remove material that they think is terrorist-related during searches, the power to take DNA and fingerprints from people on control orders, and the ability to question terrorist suspects after charge. Those measures are right and they are necessary. I want to see them in force as soon as possible. I will continue to make the case for them as the Bill progresses.

“We cannot defeat terrorism through legislation alone, but where legislation can help to protect the innocent from those who would inflict atrocity upon us, I am steadfast in my determination to do right by the British people. I deeply regret that some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision. Let no one kid themselves that this issue can be made to go away. These are hard questions—tough questions—but however much opposition Members may wish to duck them, Britain still needs to be protected. Britain still needs to be prepared to deal with the worst. I hope that when it becomes necessary to introduce this Bill, as I believe it may, we can count on their support. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.12 pm

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We are glad that the Government have dropped the proposal to extend pre-charge detention from the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

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It is the right decision, given the size and nature of the opposition to this unwise proposal. The Government are also wise to drop for the time being the greater part of the proposed provisions on inquests—although the objections from this side of the House are not just about the unsuitability of the Counter-Terrorism Bill as a vehicle for those provisions, they are also about substance. But that is the extent of my gratitude, because, let me be frank, the Government are now playing the blame game.

The Government reason as follows. Parliament will not do the Government’s bidding on 42 days on the Government’s timetable, so they will now introduce a Bill “when needed”—which presumably means in the wake of an atrocity or an attempted atrocity. They will then attempt to force Parliament to do their bidding in time of crisis, through legislation that will not contain the parliamentary safeguards which we were previously told were so valuable, and they will try to blame the opponents to 42 days for being obliged to do that.

Members of your Lordships’ House were not born yesterday. This is intimidation. It is coupled with aspersions cast on the integrity of those whose judgments differ from that of the Government. They imply that we are lily-livered, not tough on terrorism and that we do not understand the threat. I reiterate that we on these Benches take the terrorist threat to this country every bit as seriously as do the Government. It is unwise of the Government to assert that the very fact of office renders their judgment superior. It most certainly does not—indeed, it can distort judgment.

This way of behaving is also unworthy of a Government who claim to put priority on consensus on national security. No one is forcing the Government to substitute a future back-pocket Bill for the back-pocket powers that they were seeking yesterday, nor to exploit fear to get their way. Let us be clear: this is the Government’s choice, and it is a bad choice. If they wish to have a new Bill, they should go through the normal process. This is important, because there are dangers in taking a new Bill through in haste during a crisis. It could very well be counterproductive. Imagine for a moment the following scenario. The extended period of detention is applied to a single suspect, who then goes to trial. Would not the defence counsel argue that the circumstances of the investigation undermined a fair trial since the jury would be tempted to assume the suspect’s greater guilt? I reiterate our calls for an orderly legislative process.

We know the Government’s game, but what is the case? If this measure is so necessary, why did the Government utterly fail to convince your Lordships’ House? Why were they not able to provide evidence to substantiate it? Why, on several recent occasions, has the Minister told us that we are safer than we were a year ago?

The Government now talk of what will be “demonstrated need” for the legislation in situations of “exceptional terrorist threat”. Need arises only when the powers available are inadequate to meet the situation. This has been the pretence all along in the Government’s attempt to look tough on terrorism—the pretence that they do not have the power which they need and that the country is somehow bereft of protection.

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That is not the case. The Terrorism Act 2000 gives the Government the right to extend normal pre-charge detention, powers which the Government have not needed to use in full and which have not been shown to be inadequate. Let us also not forget that the threshold for bringing charges in terrorism cases is lower than in other criminal cases.

If those powers are not enough, the Government have other powers and aids. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 provides for the declaration of a state of emergency. It provides the Government with powers to detain suspects for questioning in the sorts of scenarios that they envisage—following, to use Mr McNulty’s words, “three 9/11s”. But the Government seem curiously reluctant to use this emergency power. We have made it clear that if the Act is not perfect, we are more than willing to co-operate with the Government to amend it. We have also made clear our support for the use of intercept evidence, which will lead to more guilty pleas and fewer abortive trials. So why have the Government been so leisurely on this issue since the Chilcot report? For starters, there is an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Bill which the Government could accept.

In short, there are several measures in the legal field that the Government could take, and that we would be willing to support, that would strengthen our ability to combat terrorism without short-circuiting the system in the way now proposed. Disagreeing with the Government on 42 days does not constitute being soft on terrorism. The Government should not store things in their back pocket. If they are now putting forward a wholly new proposal, when do they intend to submit it for pre-legislative scrutiny?

3.19 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I regret the timing of this Statement; we in the usual channels did not agree with it. It could have taken place last night, as it did in the other place. More importantly, it might have been better if the Government had given themselves a cooling-off period to digest some of the very powerful arguments deployed against this measure in this House yesterday and the people who made them. The response has the stamp of petulance and its speed gives a hint of news management—burying the climbdown among the financial news dominating the headlines.

My greatest concern is the threat implied in the Statement that the next time a bomb goes off or a terrorist outrage is committed, the legislation will be bounced through Parliament. That ignores the lesson that we have learnt over the past 40 years under various terrorist threats: emergency legislation often gets it wrong.

As the noble Baroness implied, there is also an attempt to muzzle Parliament by the suggestion that anyone who questions any particular measure is soft on terrorism. There was far too much of that in what the Home Secretary had to say in another place last night. It is an insult to the experience and integrity of men and women in both Houses who take a different point of view. It also ignores the ratchet effect, whereby every terrorist outrage provokes more draconian responses until we end up losing the very civil liberties that we are supposed to be defending.

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Does the Minister agree that, as the noble Baroness said, we have an armoury of measures already on the statute book that could and should be deployed against terrorism? Is it not an insult to both Houses to make a Statement overriding the view of this House, particularly where the legislation lacked a majority from the Government's supporters in another place? As the noble Baroness said, in dealing with terrorism, the Executive should follow two important principles. It should follow an orderly process and it should look, as far as possible, for cross-party consensus. Pursuing 42 days in the way that the Government are doing ignores both of those principles.

Both the Statement and the laying of the Bill last night raise important constitutional issues about the relevance and importance of the views of the Houses of Parliament to the Executive. The Government are wandering out onto very dangerous ice, and I urge them to think again.

3.22 pm

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, first, as I mentioned last night, there is absolutely no way that I think that anyone in this House is anything other than extremely loyal to the nation and the population of this nation. We may have different ways of going about things, but that is absolutely correct. I have to say, as a rather rough and ready sailor, that if I felt that someone did not feel that the safety of this nation and our people was one of their prime concerns, I would jolly well talk to them about it. That is not the way that I make assessments about the issue, because I am sure that all of us feel that desire; we all want to look after our people; but perhaps we have different ways of thinking about how that should be done. That is quite acceptable and it is a very good thing at times to go into that debate.

Noble Lords made very clear last night their views on the clause and provisions in the current Counter-Terrorism Bill. I was saved from being in the Guinness book of records only by the fact that the number was a British top figure rather than a world top figure, but it was a fairly substantial vote. Notwithstanding that, as I said yesterday, I still firmly believe—and all those whom I call the real experts believe—that there will be a case where we will have a number of people in custody and more than 28 days will be required.

Therefore, it is very important for us to think about how we handle that. I was asked yesterday on the Floor of the House, “Does this mean that you would let the fact that this has happened cause risks to this country? How will you handle it?”. As I said yesterday, of course we would handle that in some way. We would face that and get through it. I also pointed out, however, that there would probably be rapid and therefore bad legislation, because, I am afraid, Parliament’s record when something like this happens is that people stumble through legislation that is often far too draconian and dangerous.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said that he was pleased with the 42 days. He felt that this should be final and that there would be no opportunity to do this when bombs were suddenly going off and people were being killed. There is a tendency for that to happen. Putting the Bill on to the statute book means

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that there will be no opportunity for overreaction, so I see no difficulty with it sitting there. It will have to be argued through the House. The prime safeguards—the judicial ones—are in there, as they were in the CT Bill that we put through.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, made specific points about coroners. All those issues are being slipped into the draft coroners Bill, which makes absolute sense. We need to approach all of them in the context of that Bill, where they can be looked at in the round. That is a far better way of dealing with them. She also said that we are forcing Parliament to go down a certain route. As I say, we are avoiding the possibility of something draconian and probably oppressive happening when one of these incidents occurs and we need more than 28 days, which I am sure will happen. I said yesterday that any Government in power would regret the fact that there was no back-pocket measure. Anyone in power will be pleased that there is something that they can push in at short notice that will not be too draconian.

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