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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Home Secretary has spoken in extremely measured tones, as one would expect him to do on this subject. In the light of his comments about the safeguards built into recent legislation, does he agree that those safeguards were the result of parliamentary intervention, which corrected, amended and improved the original measures? I hope that we would all agree about that.
There is however another safeguard that people outside this place regard as important: the independent judicial overview of any decisions that affect or take away someone's liberty, or give excessive power to the state. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the principle that if, for example, we take away the normal rights of defendants, there should always be independent judicial scrutinyas provided by the commissioners to whom he has paid tributein addition to any scrutiny undertaken by Parliament?
Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman's first point. That is why, although for obvious reasons I have not gone through every detail of the proceedings on the Terrorism Act that my right hon. Friend piloted through the House, on Second Reading of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act I deliberately made it clear that we would listen and respond and that we would remove provisions from the Bill, or amend it, in the light of the arguments made by the House, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Select Committee on Home Affairs. That is exactly what we did. Sometimes since then, I have been accused of making proposals and
Parliament is at its best when hon. Members are prepared to listen to one another and respond; the press is at its worst when it misinterprets that as muddle, confusion, weakness or something else. We need to stick with that process if we believe in democracy. As we do not have the whole fount of wisdom in our heads and hands, we are prepared to do so, and I will carry on doing so whatever the consequences. We did not always agree, but amendments were made to improve the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, and that is why the reviews are important in discovering whether any further change would enhance it.
Of course I agree on the second point. In fact, in the next few days, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and judges will hear major challenges in relation to the decisions that the House and Parliament as a whole have taken on derogations and the rights of the individual. That is how it should be, and it is proper that that should take place.
Measures were taken in part 4 of the 2001 Act to recognise that al-Qaeda was not finished and that there were networks abroad, as there had been in preparing to attack the World Trade Centre. That has since been proved true very recently in Germany and Milan, as well as in my right hon. Friend's bailiwick, given what has been taking place in Morocco and the attacks in Pakistan. Clearly, we receive evidence from time to time that risks are foiled by the early action that is now taken and the vigilance that exists. That is right, and it is true internally as well, with the security measures that we have been able to put in place, with the collaboration of Departments, with the work of the security and intelligence services and with the Civil Contingencies Committee and the committee established by the Prime Minister to develop internal security measures. All that has made a real difference to what we believe to be a safer Britain and United Kingdom since the events of 11 September.
Cash has been seized and assets have been frozen, under United Nations auspices in the latter case. Ministry of Defence police have been involved in such work on 19 occasions, including the use of armed patrols, as Parliament has granted them the ability to act outside their jurisdiction. Between the beginning of April and June, British transport police have been engaged in 375 arrests in interventions outside their former jurisdiction. That has been extremely helpful, and 16 separate bank accounts have been identified in relation to money laundering. So substantial change has been possible already because of the 2001 Act and the way in which it has been implemented.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Home Secretary is being characteristically generous in giving way. I hope that I have not anticipated his dealing with another matter, but it is widely reported that, when the new Cabinet Secretary takes up his post, responsibilities that might otherwise have been his will be discharged by Sir David Omand. Sir Andrew Turnbull and Sir David Omand are men of the highest integrity and reputation. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House
Mr. Blunkett: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal with that in a whole section in his speech, which I shall not presume to duplicate. Suffice it to say that Sir David Omand is assisting with civil contingencies in a very helpful way. He is leading that work, as has been reported to the Select Committee on Defence in its recent investigations. I am very pleased that he had agreed to do that because it will help us enormously. So there is a new role, and my right hon. Friend will expand on it very shortly.
I mentioned Irish terrorism, and it is very important that we do not allow the debate to pass without saying that the work of the security and intelligence services has made a difference to our safety, with the changing situation in the past year and the development of the peace process, but also with the continuing threat from the so-called Real IRA and the continuity group.
Co-operation has also developed in related areas. It would be remiss to allow the debate to pass without saying how important I believe such work has been in dealing with people smugglers and drug runners and in facing down organised criminals, and work has been done with Customs and Excise. That is a very important part of the security and intelligence services' role, and we should not underestimate the importance of maintaining of what we and the Intelligence and Security Committee described as the necessary back filling to ensure that that work can continue, while the reshaping of the focus on global terrorism has to be carried out.
I shall keep my speech short because other hon. Members will want to contribute and to allow time for proper debate, but it is important to recognise the enormity of the change that has taken place in the past 10 months. My role, as well as that of my right hon. Friend, has changed not only in terms of the time and energy devoted to such issues, but in terms of perspective, in linking that role with our wider roles and in trying to ensure that we do justice to it while not losing our focus on the other issues that are so important to the people of this country.
I want to thank those hon. Members who serve on the Intelligence and Security Committee, as well as those who serve on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Select Committee on Home Affairs, particularly in relation to my responsibilities. We have not always agreed with themsometimes the language used has been interesting to say the leastbut when I take the first view of the morning newspapers, I reflect on the fact that, without them, it is likely that some of us would forget that we are accountable to Parliament and the people. If we forget that, we do so at our peril.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I share the Home Secretary's pleasure in moving to a calmer moment in our proceedings. I have to begin by saying that I shall be brief because I do not believe that the major contributions to this debate can be made from the Dispatch Box, but rather by those who are members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who have much to tell us and who know and understand things that, at least on this side of the House at the moment, we quite properly do not and cannot know or understand.
I did, indeed, reflect when I realised that it was one of my tasks to speak in this debate on whether it needed to exist in the first place or whether it served any useful purpose, given the sublime level of ignorance that inevitably exists among Opposition Members, apart from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who serves on the Committee, but then I thought that it probably does make sense for this debate to occur.
I hope that it may be possible for the members of the Committee to play a more formal role in such a debate in future. However, this debate is useful, as it allows the Committee's role in relation to the security and intelligence services to be played more widely by the House in relation to the Committee. Each level of check and each level of limited transparency probably helps to reinforce the image of the security and intelligence services as bodies that are ultimately answerable to the electorate, not as items that spin off into a world of their own and engage in their own activities. That is a useful phenomenon.
I want to raise a specific issue and then to reflect a little further on the general question of balance, on which the Home Secretary also reflected. The specific issue relates to serious crime. The Committee tells us in paragraph 87 of its report: