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15 Nov 2006 : Column 27

In relation to terrorism, the right hon. Gentleman again suggested that somehow we should be talking the language of hope and not fear, but there is no point in being unrealistic. We have a genuine, serious terrorist threat. This country faces it; other countries face it. We are not talking the politics of fear here. We are talking the politics of a realistic assessment of threat and the measures necessary to meet it. I hope that, this time, when we draw up the measures that are necessary to tackle this we get the support of the whole House. I am happy to work with him and his colleagues on this. It really would be the best message that we could send out to those who are engaged in inciting terrorism in our country.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that it has been reported that a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir is working as a senior official in the immigration and nationality directorate. Can the Prime Minister explain how that has come to pass and why he has not honoured his promise to proscribe that organisation?

The Prime Minister: The rules on proscription, of course, are one of the changes that we made. There is a process that has to be gone through and that process is being gone through. In relation to the particular newspaper story, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary tells me that he is looking at the circumstances and the facts. [ Interruption. ] I do not think that it would be right to do anything else, given that there is a particular individual concerned.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister: I have been giving way quite a lot. [ Interruption. ] I am so generous.

Mr. Vara: As regards terrorism, written answers from the Home Office have revealed that neither the Home Office nor the Metropolitan Police Service has any statistics on what day during detention terror suspects have been either released or charged. If it is the Government’s intention to increase the period of detention, will the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that he will produce proper evidence, not just soundbites and rhetoric, to justify an increase in detention periods?

The Prime Minister: This —[ Interruption. ] I think that that is a very poor point for the reason that I will give. The hon. Gentleman says that the only justification that we put forward for the 90 days was soundbites and rhetoric, but the justification was a written submission —[ Interruption. ] The evidence we put forward was a written submission from the head of the anti-terrorist police force. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not a politician’s soundbite. It is evidence from the person who is actually charged with dealing with terrorism in this country. I had hoped that in the intervening period the Conservative party had slightly come to its senses about this, but his intervention does not give me a great deal of hope. The fact of the matter is —[ Interruption. ]
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With the greatest respect, that is an answer to the point. In respect of the time that it takes for each terror suspect to be questioned and at what point they are then either charged or released, my understanding certainly is that the figures have been given for that.

Mr. Vara: They have not.

The Prime Minister: In that case, I am very happy to say that in respect of those people who, for example, have just been charged over the recent events, we can send that information to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con) rose—

The Prime Minister: I have been very generous. I am sure that there are other hon. Members who want to speak. [ Interruption. ] Come on then.

Mr. Goodman: If the Government are going to act tough on terror—and rightly—can the Prime Minister explain to the House why only £476,000 of suspect funds has been seized in six years?

The Prime Minister: First, I do not know that that particular figure is correct, but, in any event, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that we use the full range of the law to seize assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. It is only as a result of the measures that we have taken that we are able to do that at all. Since he says that we want tough measures on terrorism, I hope that, if we bring forward such tough measures on terrorism, this time he and his hon. Friends will support them.

Over the past few years, we have introduced a stronger economy, investment and reform in our health service and our schools, and record numbers of police—actually, according to the British crime survey, crime is down—but not just that: we have introduced Sure Start, the new deal, expanded child care, better maternity pay, better maternity leave and a whole host of things for the benefit of this country. Today, we introduce measures on climate change, pensions, welfare and on tackling this country’s long-term problems relating to crime, immigration and security that give us the best chance of defeating those challenges and meeting them in the right way.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The country does not believe you.

The Prime Minister: Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what the country will believe. The country will believe that when I first entered the House, I had 40 per cent. unemployment in parts of my constituency; now unemployment there is below the national average. The Government the hon. Gentleman used to support left people literally waiting and dying for their heart operations. The Government he used to support had people working for £1.50 an hour before we introduced the minimum wage. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to remind people of that.

What the Leader of the Opposition did today shows the difficulties that he has. When it is a question of attack, he can make the attack, but when it is a question of giving the alternative, he has no alternative
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to give. The truth of the matter is that he spends most of his time avoiding difficult decisions, but when he is forced to decide, he decides wrongly. Let us look, for example, at what he says about tax and spending, since that goes right to the heart of whether we run an effective economy.

It used to be clear. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had a new fiscal rule that would “share the proceeds of growth”, so there would be less spending than under the Labour Government. But I have been through the spending commitments that the right hon. Gentleman has made and I find that he has called for more spending on prisons, more on housing, more on schools, more on occupational therapy, more on drug rehabilitation, more on police, more on the intelligence services, more on charities, more nurses and health visitors, more for child care for parents, more for child care for grandparents, and more on post offices—billions more. Then comes the Tory tax commission that proposes £21 billion-worth of tax cuts. How does he make everything add up? He has his fiscal rule —[ Interruption. ]

Let me give an example. Here is a quote from the Tory NHS campaign pack—how is this for clarity of policy? The question is:

The first line of the reply is:

Fair enough. The second line is:

and the third line is

The fact is that trying to cut taxes and spend more with the same money is not sharing the proceeds of growth; it is sharing out the disaster of the recession that this country will face.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister: No, I have given up on that.

It does not matter what the area of policy is, from the right hon. Gentleman’s bizarre idea that youngsters should go on a booze course to find out whether they are fit to booze, to his opposition to ID cards. Is it still his policy to withdraw from the European People’s party? We simply do not know. That from a Leader of the Opposition who said that the hallmark of his leadership would be consistency and sticking to his guns.

The fact of the matter is that, as the right hon. Gentleman demonstrated again today, in the end, because he has no interest in the substance of policy, he can neither understand the long-term challenges facing this country, nor meet them. The next election will be a flyweight versus a heavyweight. However much the right hon. Gentleman may dance around the ring beforehand, at some point, he will come within the reach of a big clunking fist, and you know what, he will be out on his feet, carried out of the ring—the fifth Tory leader to be carried out, and a fourth term Labour Government still standing.

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Mr. Speaker: I call Sir Menzies Campbell. [ Interruption. ] Order. Would hon. Members leave the Chamber quietly?

3.54 pm

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I begin, as is all too often necessary on these parliamentary occasions, by joining the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) in expressing sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of those who have most recently died or been injured in Iraq. In the week after Remembrance Sunday, it is surely right for us all to take the opportunity to express our admiration for the men and women of our armed services, wherever they might be serving.

I also join the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Members who have died since the last Queen’s Speech. As has already been said, they all made a unique contribution to the work of the House. Peter Law was a man who was independent of party, and Eric Forth was a man of independent spirit and lancing wit, as I know only too well, to my own cost. Rachel Squire, who was my neighbour in Fife, was a diligent Member for Dunfermline and West Fife and was loved and respected by her constituents. I, too, would like to make special mention of Robin Cook, for the progressive politics that were the basis of his successful career in Parliament and Cabinet and his dignified departure from Cabinet. Patsy Calton was a brave and valued member of our Liberal Democrat team. She is greatly missed by her colleagues on these Benches. We will never forget your kindness, Mr. Speaker, on the day that she courageously took the Oath, when she knew that she had not long to live.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) on their speeches. One of them is from Wales and the other is from Scotland: a happy coincidence, or perhaps a recognition of the importance to the Labour party of the elections to be held in Scotland and Wales next May? However, they both deserved the honour in their own right because of their significant contributions to Welsh and Scottish devolution.

It was no surprise that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made such an assured contribution. A man who helps to create the Welsh Assembly and then copes with the Countryside Alliance has a rare talent.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East also made an excellent contribution. It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to describe oneself as a wee, round, Scottish, feisty woman. She has a formidable political reputation in Scotland, which, I suspect, is part of the tradition of powerful Labour women such as Jennie Lee, Alice Cullen, Jean Mann and others.

Mr. Salmond: And Helen Liddell.

Sir Menzies Campbell: And Helen Liddell, too. I suppose one had better say that in case one finds oneself needing consular assistance in Australia.

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The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East showed an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish football to such an extent that I wondered whether she was going to argue for the resuscitation of Third Lanark.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Or Rangers.

Sir Menzies Campbell: If I may say so, this is not an occasion for sectarianism.

This is a remarkable parliamentary occasion because the Prime Minister is introducing a programme of legislation that he will not be in place to complete. I cannot remember any instance of that in recent history. This is truly power without responsibility.

There are plans for an 11th education Bill, a 12th health and social care Bill, an eighth terrorism Bill and a 24th criminal justice Bill since the Prime Minister took office in 1997. That leads to the conclusion that after nearly 10 years in office the Government and the Prime Minister are still chasing the same elusive goals and headlines. This is a rush from judgment towards legislation. The Prime Minister is trying to legislate his way into history.

The Government and the Prime Minister suffer from a statutory addiction. Since 1997, the Government have passed 365 Acts of Parliament and more than 32,000 statutory instruments. The legislation runs to more than 114,000 pages. Before the Prime Minister was elected, he told us that his priority was “education, education, education”. Since he was elected, his priority has been legislation, legislation, legislation.

Everyone knows that by legislating less Governments can legislate better. By devoting time, resources and scrutiny to complex issues such as antisocial behaviour they can be much more effectively addressed. In the case of antisocial behaviour, they can be more effectively addressed by one piece of legislation rather than the four already passed and the one proposed in the Gracious Speech.

We need a regular and effective system to repeal legislation that has served its purpose. That is why we have proposed a freedom Bill, designed to facilitate the systematic removal from the statute book of laws that are no longer required. Since 1997, the Government have created 3,000 new criminal offences—to the profit of the lawyers and the bewilderment of the citizens. We need to repeal outdated, unworkable and unnecessary legislation.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The BBC website—it might have been inaccurate, of course—when it reported this so-called freedom Bill, said that among the other Acts that would be repealed was the one requiring suspects to give DNA samples. Is that one of the proposals of the Liberal Democrats?

Sir Menzies Campbell indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw: Was, therefore, the BBC website inaccurate about that?

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Sir Menzies Campbell: It would appear so. There is no opposition to suspects being obliged to give DNA samples, just as those of us who have some familiarity with those matters know that they are obliged to give samples of hair and of blood, and of semen in some circumstances. But the issue is the maintaining of DNA information in the central register of people who have never been charged and of the DNA details of the 25,000 children on the central register. We say that that is wholly inappropriate in a free society; we say that that is why the register should be reviewed.

However, Parliament has a duty—

Mr. MacNeil: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir Menzies Campbell: No.

Parliament has a duty to consider every proposal in the Queen’s Speech on its own merits. Where the Government’s proposals promote freedom and fairness, and promote the environment, we shall support them, but where they do not we will oppose them.

Mr. MacNeil: May I have an assurance that, in the discussion of the repeal of certain laws and Acts, the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 is perfectly safe?

Sir Menzies Campbell: We should remember that Lloyd George played a certain part in the gestation of that Act, but we do not claim that as a particular achievement. If I may say so, I think that legislation of that kind is entirely appropriate, but I would not wish to comment on a continuing investigation.

The proposed terrorism Bill will be central to the Government’s legislative programme. As I understand the Prime Minister, he is anxious to ensure that he can receive unanimous support from the whole House. However, I want to suggest to him the test that hon. Members have to apply in these circumstances. Let me express it by referring to Hansard:

That statement was made from the Opposition Front Bench by the then shadow Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister. We shall take that principle with us into consideration of any and all the legislation that his Government might introduce.

We all accept that terrorism threatens liberal democracies in the physical damage and human suffering that it causes, but it also threatens liberal democracies in the political and legal responses it may provoke. In totalitarian countries, terrorism and the threat of it are used to justify repression and the extinction of human rights, but in liberal democracies terrorism provides a more subtle temptation for draconian legislation. However, we should hold to the presumption that individual liberty and personal freedom will always be maintained unless there is overwhelming evidence that they need to be restricted because the very existence of the state is threatened.

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