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The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [25954] Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 November.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others in addition to my duties in the House. I will have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Marsden: The parliamentary skills group, which I   chair, has just published a report showing that MPs and businesses are concerned about funding and training in adult skills and learning, especially given the huge proportional rise in the population of older people that will occur over the next 10 years. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to get rid of age barriers in apprenticeships and training, and does he accept that the Government need to bring the same passion and commitment as they have to other areas of education, and improve even on what they have already done in funding further education?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend and I   welcome the publication of his report. We have increased funding for further education and training by almost 50 per cent. in real terms; indeed, over the next few years about £1 billion extra will go to that sector. I   am delighted that, last week, figures showed that the milestone of 1 million adult learners achieving their first qualification had been exceeded. All that is good news, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have to show the same commitment to adult skills and adult literacy and numeracy as we are bringing to the investment and reform programme in our schools.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Every Member of the House is united in a desire to take effective action against the new terrorist threat that—[Interruption.] There are people on the Benches behind me who fought terrorism on the streets of Northern Ireland and that response is disgraceful.
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Since the Terrorism Bill was first presented to the House it has been amended to provide for High Court supervision of detention, annual renewal and revisions to the code governing the questioning of suspects. Does the Prime Minister agree that those changes, following on as they do from debates in the House, represent an improvement to the Bill?

The Prime Minister: We have made changes to try to reach a compromise; that is true. But I want to explain to   the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to his hon.   Friends why I believe this is so necessary. Let me emphasise again to the House: this proposal did not originate with the Government; it originated with the police and those responsible for anti-terrorist operations in our country. If I may quote from those responsible for conducting those operations, I will do so. The chief constable of Manchester, for example, said:

Andy Hayman, who is the senior police officer charged with leading anti-terrorist operations in this country, said:

That is the police saying to us that they need these powers to prevent terrorism in this country. In the last week, we have learned that, since 7 July, two further terrorist plots have been foiled in this country. Yesterday, Australia announced—[Interruption.] Well, perhaps those who foiled the plots might have their advice taken a little more seriously. Secondly—[Interruption.] Did the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) just say, "A police state"?

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): We are not a police state.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) must not shout at the Prime Minister, and Government Back-Bench Members must not shout at the Leader of the Opposition.

The Prime Minister: We are not living in a police state, but we are living in a country that faces a real and serious threat of terrorism—terrorism that wants to destroy our way of life, terrorism that wants to inflict casualties on us without limit—and when those charged with protecting our country provide, as they have, a compelling case for action, I know what my duty is: my duty is to support them, and so is the duty, in my view, of every Member.

Mr. Howard: Let me repeat that we all accept that we face a new threat of terrorism and that we all want to take effective action against that threat. Let me remind the Prime Minister of what he said in the past in relation to anti-terrorism issues. He said:

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And what we seek to do—this ought to be capable of cool and rational debate—is to test the extent to which the 90-day proposal can be justified. So let me ask the Prime Minister this specific question: can he identify a single case in which it has taken the police 90 days after arresting a suspect to find evidence sufficient to charge that person with a terrorist offence?

The Prime Minister: I really have to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I find it quite extraordinary that he seeks to suggest that there is somehow no evidence that the police are putting forward for the case that they are making. They have put forward detailed reasons as to why they believe these powers to be necessary. For example, just this last weekend, we arrested people on a terrorist operation. There were 750   gigabytes of data—that is 66,000 ft-worth of data—that would be printed out and have to be investigated. Just with the events of 7 July, there are two warehouse-fulls of exhibits.

We know that each of these terrorist operations has links to abroad. We know, for example, that it took two weeks, just in respect of the bomb factories in Leeds, to make them safe. That is what the police have set out time and again. That is why it is important that they have this power, as they say, to make our country safer, and they have given details of why they say that these powers are necessary.

Yes, it is true that we have agreed a sunset clause. Why? Because it is important. If people have these concerns, and I understand them, let us test it over the year. Let us see if the worries that people have are justified, or not. That is a reasonable thing to put forward. We have an independent review of the system—Lord Carlile will also report on it—but let us send out a signal from the House that, when it comes to defeating terrorism, we are going to give the police the powers that they need and back them.

Mr. Howard: Does not the Prime Minister recognise that it is the duty and responsibility of every single Member of this House to test the arguments that are put forward by the police? The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have published various papers from the   police. None of those papers includes a single case about which the police say that it took 90 days after arresting someone to find the evidence required to charge them. I think that there is a general mood in the House for an increase in the time during which the police should be entitled to hold people without charge. The question is whether that period should be 90 days.

I ask the Prime Minister again a very specific question. Can he provide the House with a single case in which it has taken the police 90 days after arresting a suspect to find evidence sufficient to charge that person with a terrorist offence?

The Prime Minister: I suggest, before we have the vote, that Opposition Members and the right hon. and learned Gentleman once again read the report that Andy Hayman provided that gave precise examples of the circumstances in which he needed a detention period of up to 90 days. There is an idea that the police have simply put this forward without any proper evidence and we have simply sat there and said, "Well, if they
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want it, we'll do it." This has been done on the basis that the police have put forward a cogent and intelligent argument as to why they need the power.

Let me quote again from the Association of Chief Police Officers terrorism committee—[Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will just listen to this. It said:

In those circumstances, I appeal to the House to have some sense of responsibility here—[Interruption.] This is an occasion when it is important that we do what is   responsible, right and necessary to protect this country's security.

We have already indicated that there will be a sunset clause, so we can judge what happens over the year. Every seven days that someone is held, they will go back in front of a High Court judge. Hon. Members talk about civil liberties, and of course it is important that we protect the civil liberties of terrorist suspects. It is also important that we protect the civil liberties of this country and the right to life and protection from terrorism. That is why we have put the proposals forward. We do that in a reasonable way and I ask, yet again, for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's support.

Mr. Howard: We all want to fight terrorism effectively, but we do not have to look very far beyond our shores to see what happens if minority communities are alienated. What is likely to be the state of mind of someone who spends the equivalent of six months in prison on the basis of no evidence whatever and is then released without charge? What will that person's friends, relatives and community think? How likely would we be to receive intelligence from such communities? How does the Prime Minister think that we can effectively fight terrorism without intelligence from those communities?

The Prime Minister referred to the document from Mr. Hayman. I have read the document very carefully. It refers to the difficulties caused by the inability of the police to question after charge; we have tabled amendments to deal with that. It refers to the difficulties caused by the disclosure regime; that, too, can be remedied. What it does not do is justify 90 days. Does not the inability of the Prime Minister to identify a single case in which the police have needed 90 days go to the heart of his failure to justify the 90-day period? Does that not prove beyond doubt that the Home Secretary is right when he says that there is nothing crucial about 90 days?

The Prime Minister: First, Andy Hayman's letter and document set out very clearly why the 90 days are necessary. Let me explain again the basic argument of the police. Most reasonable people would see what they are trying to say. Because of the nature of the new terrorism that we face, because the terrorists want to kill people without limit—in July they killed 50 people in London, but they would have killed 500 had they been able to do so—when the police are investigating whether or not a conspiracy is taking place, they are naturally inclined to charge these people, to take them and arrest
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them, earlier than they otherwise would. If they make a mistake about the particular gestation period of the conspiracy and they get it wrong—they might think that the conspiracy is in its early stages, but in fact it is well advanced—we could end up with mass casualties on our streets. For that reason, the police say that this is a completely different situation.

We need to be able to lift these people earlier and accumulate evidence to charge them after arrest. The number of people, for example, who have been kept for over seven days since the new powers were introduced is just over 30, so we are not talking about large numbers of people, but they may be the crucial difference between saving this country from a terrorist attack and not doing so. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we will alienate minority communities, but it is sad that he   should make that argument—[Interruption.] The Muslim community in this country is as determined as any other part of our community to defeat terrorism. Its members do not want to be told that they are against this because it alienates them—they want these people dealt with and arrested. In the end, if this is the best argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can make, I   suggest that he and his colleagues ask themselves whether they really think that this is where the Conservative party should be.

Mr. Howard: I agree with the Prime Minister that we face a new situation, which is why we and a majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that there is a case for extending the period. The question that we face, and the question that the Prime Minister has not specifically answered, is why the period should be 90 days. In September, the Home Secretary said that he would seek to compromise, and that he would not rule out a detention period of one month. Last month, he said that 90 days was "not a God-given amount". Last week, he said that the figure of 90 days was "not crucial". On Monday, he said that he would table an amendment to reduce the period from 90 days. Why was that amendment not tabled?

The Prime Minister: For the simple reason that all the way through we have said that 90 days are right. It is detention of up to 90 days: every seven days the person has to be brought back before the court. The right hon.   and learned Gentleman asked why 90 days—it is for the very reasons that the police have given. That is   the right period to allow them to conduct their operations and investigations properly. That is where the 90 days comes from. I am afraid that in the end he and his hon. Friends must decide whether on this particular issue they are going to back the police and those charged with fighting terrorism in our country, who tell us—in my view, rightly—that they need this power to make our country safe. He and his hon. Friends must make their decision today. We have made ours: we believe that this is right for our country, we believe that it is necessary to protect our country from terrorism, and I am only sorry that he does not agree.

Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): Three and a half years ago Derbyshire police conducted an undercover operation to map drug activity across the county, including the town of Ilkeston in my constituency. As a   result of that intelligence, scores of arrests were
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made.   Last Friday The Independent labelled Ilkeston "cracktown", based on that 2002 information and not   reflecting the current situation. Will my right hon.   Friend assure me that resources to support drug users and target drug pushers remain a high priority, and will he condemn such shoddy reporting, which demeans local communities and refuses to recognise the progress made?

The Prime Minister: I am sure my hon. Friend is right to say that it is important that we continue to target those engaged in drug abuse, particularly the link with crime. I shall look into the situation that she describes and perhaps write to her about it.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): Returning to the exchanges over the proposed terrorism legislation, the Prime Minister will surely acknowledge that a great deal of the Bill commands widespread support across party and throughout the House—for example, the inclusion, which I raised with him here at the beginning of this calendar year, of the new acts preparatory to terrorism. So there is much on which we can reach agreement, but he must surely understand that there were those who thought we would have an opportunity to record a vote last week, which we did not because of what the Home Secretary had to say. He told the House—in all sincerity, I am sure—that he would have urgent discussions with colleagues in his own party and other parties to see whether consensus could be reached. Is the Prime Minister seriously saying today, when we will come to the vote later, that the Home Secretary ever thought that a consensus would be reached over 90 days?

The Prime Minister: As the Home Secretary has explained, it was not possible to reach a consensus. I am sorry about that. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are in exactly the same position as the Conservative party. They will have to make a decision today. When he says that they agree with large parts of the Bill, that is fine. Perhaps they do. According to the police and those charged with fighting terrorism in this country, however, this is not a peripheral matter. It is central and vital. It is not just about my leadership; it is   about the leadership of other political parties too. It   is   about the leadership of every single person in the House, who will have to make a decision today about the interests of this country. I know where I stand on that.

Mr. Kennedy: When the Prime Minister properly speaks of parliamentary responsibility, will he acknowledge that it is the responsibility of Parliament, of course, to take into account the advice coming from the police, but equally to take into account the advice that comes from Law Lords such as Lord Steyn and Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who have   described detention without charge for 90 days as "exorbitant", "unnecessary", and "intolerable"? Even if the Prime Minister is successful in getting the measure through today, he will not carry it in the House of Lords. What will he do at that juncture? Will he seek a fresh consensus or will he ram it through with the Parliament Act?
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The Prime Minister: In exactly the same way as hon.   Members will have to make up their minds, so will   the House of Lords. Whatever Lord Steyn may say, I prefer the advice of the police and those charged with looking after the country's security. The House of Lords will have to make a decision. All of us have to make that   decision. The right hon. Gentleman asks whether we should simply accept what the police put forward. We are accepting what the police put forward because, to any reasonable person, the reasons they give are compelling. We face a different type of terrorism. It requires them to arrest people earlier, to develop the evidence and to charge them later. That is why they need the power. In circumstances where we know and it is accepted that we face a continuing terrorist threat in this country, I find the position of the Liberal Democrats unsurprising, and I find the position of the Conservative party surprising. Whichever it is, sometimes it is better to lose and do the right thing than to win and do the wrong thing.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): May I tell my right hon. Friend that I, for one, will support the Government in the Lobby this afternoon? Does he agree that those who oppose the Government may well end up with something a lot more tragic than egg on their faces? However—there is always a "however"—I cannot offer the same support for the Government's proposals on schools. Does he agree that there should be the same discussion, consultation and willingness to listen on that issue as there has been on the Terrorism Bill?

The Prime Minister: I think that I shall take those one at a time. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support on the anti-terrorism measures. On schools, we will have an opportunity to talk to people about the implications of the proposals, which are essentially about empowering schools and parents to do the best for their children. That is the right thing to do, and it builds on the specialist schools programme, which has been immensely successful in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere.

Q2. [25955] Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Two years ago, my constituents could see their local GP at their local practice on a Saturday morning: when will they get that opportunity again?

The Prime Minister: We changed the out-of-hours service in the hon. Gentleman's area and elsewhere because GPs wanted that change as part of their new   contract, but other provisions are in place for out-of-hours services. A large number of GPs were already opting out of out-of-hours services, which is one of the reasons why we had to make the change. GPs in this country are virtually the best paid in Europe and have a responsibility to provide proper services, which is why in certain areas—for example, where there are closed lists—we are bringing in other providers.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does the Prime Minister appreciate the concerns about collusion in the past between state forces and various paramilitaries in Northern Ireland? With the publication of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill today, we now have collusion on
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the past between the state and Sinn Fein. Does he accept that victims, including victims of state collusion, will be not only deprived of justice, but even denied truth?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the proposals are part of the continuing process to bring an end to terrorism in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday agreement, of which he and I were part, contains provisions on prisoners that deal with the question of the so-called on-the-runs. The situation is different, because the measures that we are introducing are designed to end terrorism, not to further it.

Q3. [25956] Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What message is the Prime Minister sending out to our brave troops in Iraq, when their colleagues who served so bravely in Northern Ireland face potential prosecution under the Government's historic review, while IRA terrorists who have murdered people are likely to be pardoned? Is that not a colossal disgrace?

The Prime Minister: The premise of the hon. Gentleman's question is actually wrong, since no one is excluded from the provisions. What is important in Northern Ireland today is that we continue to make progress towards peace. The process has been very successful over the past seven or eight years, and we want to continue it. British officers do not face the risk that the hon. Gentleman has described.

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): As the father of four young children and someone who, when he goes back to his constituency, is a hindrance rather than a help in getting the kids ready for school, may I warmly applaud yesterday's publication of the Government's Childcare Bill, under which local authorities will have a responsibility to ensure that a range of high-quality child care facilities are available? Will the Prime Minister assure me that funding will be available for local authorities to ensure that that Bill will be as successful as other schemes, such as Sure Start?

The Prime Minister: Extra funding is being made available as part of an extension to child care over the next few years that effectively means a new frontier for the welfare state, where wraparound child care will be
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available from eight in the morning until six at night, which will help people to balance work and family life. That is why I welcome yesterday's proposals.

Q4. [25957] Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): As the Government are planning a reform of the incapacity benefit system with the introduction of personal action plans for individuals and the possible sanctioning or withdrawal of benefits for those who do not participate in that activity, can the Prime Minister give the House the assurance that there will be adequate resourcing of rehabilitation and other support services to meet this additional need?

The Prime Minister: The purpose of the reforms is to do two things: first, to ensure that we continue pathways into work, which gives people on incapacity benefit support and help in leaving the benefit and getting back into the workplace—all the evidence is that that is best for them as well as for the country—and secondly, to ensure that people get on to incapacity benefit only if they are genuinely entitled to it. That is the reason for tightening up the gateway. We have put an awful lot of money into the new deal and other programmes designed to help people off benefit and into work. It has been very successful; indeed, it is the reason why we now spend about £5 billion a year less on benefits than we did in 1997. That is the spirit in which we will take forward incapacity benefit reform. I think that most hon. Members who know about the issue know that reform is necessary.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): On the proposals that are before the House today, I wonder whether the Prime Minister's constituency mailbag is the same as mine. Much to my surprise, not a single person, even from the usual sources, has opposed those proposals. Can the Prime Minister understand any hon. Member in this House continuing to fly in the face not only of professional advice but of their constituents—[Interruption.]

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. Opposition Members will have to make up their minds,   as will every Member of this House. When we are debating these issues and Opposition Members are shouting out things about a police state and so on, that is very telling indeed. I am delighted to know that the vast majority of Labour Members will go through the Lobby with the Government today.

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