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If we look at the laws of conflict and peace, we find that the legal conventions and traditions are based on circumstances that have been overtaken by the reality of todays conflict and the nature of the enemy of
terrorism with regard to the scale, intention and capability that we are facing. We should thus approach this with as open a mind as possible and accept that we should go forward when we can reach consensus, and minimise our differences where there is difficulty. Ultimately, a decision will be made in Parliament on the matters on which we cannot reach consensus that the Government think they have an obligation to put before Parliament. In that spirit, I think that we will achieve a lot more than we could through the way in which circumstances meant that we had to proceed in the past.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend is now proposing that the decision about detaining a terrorist suspect without charge beyond 28 days in certain cases might be put in the hands of a senior judge, will he consider the further proposal that the decision about whether a terrorist suspect is tried in a court, or made subject to the special advocate procedureunder which he is not even told the charge alleged against himshould also be put in the hands of a senior judge?
John Reid: I am not sure of the premise on which my right hon. Friend asks his question. On prolonging the detention period beyond 28 days, I think that I said that the weekly judicial reviewthe present positionwould obviously continue. In addition to that, I suggested not necessarily another judge, but that an independent report could be produced, such as an annual report to Parliament on the pattern of the use of such powers. However, that is not to say that issues such as that which he raises should not be considered. Given that we will be consulting widely, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will make his views known to us. We will take his and many other views into account.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I welcome much of what the Home Secretary has said, obviously including the proposals that we have been advancing for some years. I especially welcome his consensual approach. Does he think that it was entirely consistent with that approach for his old and close friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pre-empt the statement by giving the details of what the Home Secretary told the House today to newspapers over the weekend and indeed, in return for the story, imposing on those newspapers a condition that they should not carry any comment from my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary or any other Opposition spokesman? Does the Home Secretary think that that is the best way of establishing consensus?
John Reid: The Chancellor is indeed an old and close friend. We have discussed such issues over many yearsin recent months, we have discussed them in some detail. Let me be absolutely straight about last Sundays reports. First, most of the issues that were cited not only were raised during a question and answer session with the Chancellor on Sunday, but had already figured in speeches made by him, me and the Prime Minister over a period of months. They arose out of our discussions.
Secondly, the points were made not before we had consulted others, including the right hon. and learned Gentlemans partys leader and spokesman, but after
that. In fact, everything that appeared in last weekends press had previously been given to the Members who speak for the Opposition parties. Thirdly, it is absolutely appropriate that the person who will inherit the premiership of this country in the next few weeks, all things being equal, should be fully engaged in the biggest issue facing the country: national security and counter-terrorism. I discussed the matter with the Chancellor before and after last Sunday and I will continue to do so.
Mr. Shahid Malik (Dewsbury) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is a disproportionate fear of anti-terror legislation among many British Muslims. The former leader of the Conservative party talked about my right hon. Friend the Chancellors speech and question and answer session on Sunday in which he said that legislation ultimately will not defeat terrorism and extremism and that we need to
win the battle of hearts and minds.
That is why I welcome the approach of consultation and consensus. However, does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary accept that we need to do much more to reassure British Muslims that the approach of the security services and police will be intelligence led, not beard led?
John Reid: The present form of terrorism makes victims of Muslims twice over: first, because like the rest of us they face the danger and, sometimes, death and injury caused by terrorists; and secondly, as was the case for Irish people in decades past, because they are often at the front of counter-terrorism measures. We must understand that and, in that context, I agree entirely with the statement that we will not defeat international terrorism, nor counter terrorism at home, by using the security services and military means alone. At its heart, this, like many other things, is a battle over values. I am absolutely convinced that the vast majority of British Muslims abhor terrorism and terrorists and support the values on which this country is based, as does any other group that makes up this country. I hope that not only Muslims, but people from this countrys other ethnic minorities and minority groups, will take the chance to reassure themselves and participate in our consultation. I hope that that will strengthen the ownership of the measures and reassure everyone in Britain.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con):
Like my colleagues, I welcome the general thrust of the Home Secretarys proposals and, especially, the consensual way in which he presented them. May I take him back to the time limit for detention without charge? Given the nature of the Chancellors firm statements and the Home Secretarys indication that the Government are clearly minded to move beyond 28 days, although they want to discuss that, we can accelerate forward and recognise that the Government will ultimately make a decision about the legislation that they bring before the House and might do that despite quiet disagreement about the extension of 28 days. As the Home Secretary will sadly not be in his position at that time, will he say to his successor and the future Prime Minister that they should not repeat the disgraceful antics that took place last time, when those who were genuinely and reasonably opposed to
an extension beyond 28 days were accused of being soft on terrorism and terrorists? Will he please continue the consensus and stamp on such antics in advance so that we do not go through that again?
John Reid: The right hon. Gentleman has made his point, but I hope and expect that that will not happen. It is not for me to defend or explain the Chancellors views as reported through the media, but I know that in at least one case his viewsfor instance on intercept as evidencehave not been represented accurately in reports. I know that because I have talked to the Chancellor both before and after the reports appeared. First, we should not take all media reporting as the basis on which we exchange views; some reporting may be accurate, but some of it may not be. Secondly, I hope that all of us who are involved, including my successor and the Prime Ministers successor, will attempt to make sure that we rise above party politics on great issues and put the interests of the nation first, and I am sure that we will.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I am sure that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, will welcome my right hon. Friends consensual approach. Of course, the most important human right is the right to life and the states duty to protect it. We believe that it is possible to introduce counter-terrorism measures that are human rights compliant, as we recommended last year, and I am pleased that the Home Secretary has adopted, or is considering, a number of the measures that we proposed.
On the 28 days issue, I am appreciative of his rather more cautious approach, particularly bearing in mind the fact that a number of measures have only recently been adopted and brought into force, and we have yet to gain experience of how they operateand that also applies, of course, to the measures that he put forward today.
On pre-charge detention, may I ask him to consider the conditions in Paddington Green police station? They are not really suitable, either for the police or for the detainees. Will he see what can be done to improve conditions? They need to be made much better, bearing in mind the length of time for which people are already held.
John Reid: Yes, I will undertake to look into that. I very much welcome a phrase that my hon. Friend used: the most fundamental of human rights is the right to life. If we cease to exist we cannot enjoy any of the other rights that we want to protect.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The Home Secretary has said that he is minded to increase the detention period beyond the current limit of 28 days. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary asked the specific question of what further evidence the Home Secretary had to substantiate the belief that that is necessary. Evidence is the key word; the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General have said that we need further evidence. In a letter that the Prime Minister sent me on the issue in November last year, he said:
If we bring forward new proposals, we will do so on the basis of evidence, including on the use of existing pre-charge detention powers.
Will the Home Secretary give a simple answer to the House, confirming that if the 28-day period is increased, it will be done on the basis of evidence, and not on the basis of mere beliefs or suppositions?
John Reid: I will turn that round: our approach will be to try to argue that the evidence of the past year has strengthened the case for going beyond 28 days. That is precisely what I have said, and in a week or two, after the initial discussions, we will attempt to illustrate that point. We have already argued the case with the Opposition spokesmen. I have been absolutely plain: I have said that I do not believe that it is an open and shut case as regards the evidence; I said that I think that the case has strengthened. The police, as a result of the evidence of their experience last year, think that they can envisage circumstances in which they might have to go beyond 28 days, and they have asked us to raise and discuss the matter. In that spirit, we think that the case is strengthened, and that it is strengthened on the basis of the evidence of the past 12 months. As to whether that is sufficient to convince people to change their position, and whether the burden of evidence has got to the crucial threshold at which it will change peoples minds, we will wait and see.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that no one is likely to dispute the fact that there is an acute terrorist danger? We remember what happened exactly 23 months ago, when 52 innocent people were slaughtered. Does he recognise that Parliament has a duty and a responsibility, as it had in November 2005, not to approve measures that are counter-productive and that could alienate law-abiding people whose loathing and detestation of terrorism is no less than our own? Is it not a fact that the Attorney-General stated recently that he has seen no evidence to justify any extension beyond 28 days? If such a senior a Law Officer says that, how can we Members of Parliament agree to go beyond 28 days?
John Reid: I agree with most of what my hon. Friend said, including about the fact that the Attorney-General takes a view on the subject. He takes a legal view, but lawyers and Law Officers are not the only people who have to make decisions about legislation. That is why in a democracy we elect politicians, and the job of politicians, among other things, is to decide whether the laws of the country need changing. That is why it is appropriate that Parliament consider the issue, rather than our just taking the view of a Law Officer, or of lawyers.
Where my hon. Friend is right, and where I agree with him, is that there is an obligation on us to scrutinise the issues and to ensure that, if the cherished liberties of this country are to be changed in any way, it happens only on the basis of evidence that has persuaded us, and only when there are safeguards that prevent the arbitrary misuse of such powers. That is why I have tried to include elements that address both of those things in what I have said today.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD):
May I clarify what the Home Secretary is setting out as his personal view? Is he really saying that even if there were questioning after charge, which we have always supported, and even if phone-tapping evidence were
admissibleagain, we support thathe would still think that there was a case for extending detention without the person being told the charge against them to beyond 28 days? If that is what he is saying, he should not be surprised that some people think that what he is asking for is preventive detentionin other words, internment.
John Reid: It is what I am saying, but I do not classify internment in the way that the hon. Gentleman does. I return to the question that he has to answer in the context of a new phenomenon of threatand threat has two elements to it: intention and capability. People have an untrammelled, unconstrained intent to murder people in their thousandsas they did in New Yorkor potentially millions, and they potentially have unconstrained capability, through radiological, chemical and other means. That is a new phenomenon. In light of that new phenomenon that we have to confront, the question that he has to answer is what happens when there are reasonable grounds for believing that people might actually do that, but we have not reached the level of evidence that would allow us to charge them. That is the question that we all have to answer. Of course we would prefer to charge them; we want to prosecute, and we wish to convict, but the issue is this: given the complexity of the questions, if we cannot reach that threshold within 28 days, do we just say, Tough; we will have to take the risk that there will be a mass murder of thousands? That is the question that we all have to answer. I do not have the solution to that today, but I am suggesting that it is a question that we cannot avoid.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): The overwhelming majority of the substantial and very diverse Muslim communities in my constituency are united in abhorring terrorism. Indeed, many members of those communities are here precisely because they fled terrorist regimes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is hard to overstate the extent of anxiety among those communities about the way in which they often feel targeted by anti-terrorist measures, and does he agree that the extremist minority is very good at exploiting those fears? I assure him that if we proceeded with stops-and-question powers without ensuring that we deal with the moderate majority, and without explaining and encouraging understanding of the measures, that anxiety will be intensified.
Consensus in the House is not the same as consensus in the community. It is not good enough to expect the Muslim communities to participate in the discussion. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to reach out into those communities, particularly to young Muslims, to ensure that they take advantage of the measured and lengthier approach to developing the next stage of legislation and that we can bring them on board so that they understand what we are doing and why?
I think that I agree with every point that my hon. Friend raises. I merely point out at this stage that we will not put forward for consultation the stop-and-question powers to which she referred because we have not finally resolved that inside Government. Perhaps it gives her a degree of reassurance that that will take place before any consultation outside. I hope
everyone will get involved in the consultation outside, including through their representatives in the House. There are hundreds of people in the House who represent every section of British society, and I hope that they will continue to make their views known, as my hon. Friend has done.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): One of the great gaps in our counter-terrorism strategy is our inability to detain or deport dangerous foreign terrorists. That is the result partly of decisions of our own courts, partly of a European Court decision and partly of the European convention on human rights. Has the Home Secretary come to any conclusions about whether we can resolve the issue through domestic legislation, in which case will he introduce it soon? If that is not possible, what steps is he taking to try to get the European Courts judgment changed, or to get an amendment to the European convention that will enable us to do that? It is surely a fundamental characteristic of a countrys Government that they can decide whether someone who is not a citizen is entitled to live here.
John Reid: I agree with some of the hon. Gentlemans comments. I have long said that control orders are not even my second-best option. In many cases deportation would be the second-best option. Next to that, detention would be. Beyond that, full control orders and surveillance might be, so we get to the fourth option, which sometimes feels like trying to keep soup in a sieve. Then, ironically, people who are sometimes those who have most bitterly opposed the strengthening of my powers, point out how inadequate they are for controlling terrorist suspects. I agree with that.
However, the conclusion that we would need to derogate from or abandon the principles enshrined in the European convention on human rights is not a right conclusion. We certainly need to appeal against one judgment in particularthe Chahal judgment, with which the hon. Gentleman will be very familiarwhich was made by the European Court before we had a Human Rights Act in this country, and even before we had a Labour Government. I believe that that decision is very wrong, and we are appealing and doing everything we can to reverse it. We are appealing on the back of one case, and considering appealing on the back of a second case.
There is a growing awareness throughout Europe that that decision and its implications are extremely serious, and that we need to try to ensure that we strengthen our European convention to take account of todays threatthe intention and capability that was not envisaged when we brought in the European convention from the circumstances of the mid- 20th century. There are now individuals who have the potential capability of wreaking misery and death on a massive scale that 60 years ago was within the grasp of only a sovereign state. There are now individuals and networks of individuals who are capable of doing that, and we need to ensure that our powers are strong enough to encompass that challenge as well.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab):
The major counter-terrorism decision taken by the House was our
decision to go to war in Iraq, with the aim of eliminating the threat of terrorism to British citizens. It did nothing of the sort. In fact, that threat and the reality of terrorism became worse because of that decision. Will my right hon. Friend please understand the position of those who opposed the measure the last time it was introduced? If any new proposals are introduced which are seen by a significant minority in this country as excessive, unfair and discriminatory, that will not reduce the threat of terrorism, but increase it. That will be counter-productive and increase the feeling of alienation among many young Muslims in this country, a large number of whom remain disaffected.
John Reid: I profoundly disagree, not surprisingly, with my hon. Friends premise, which is muddled and ahistorical. If the intervention in Iraq had been the cause of acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom, the acts of terrorism in Birmingham in 2000 would not have happened, because they came before the intervention in Iraq. People would not have been arrested in Canada for terrorist-related offences, because Canada was not only not in Iraq, but opposed the intervention vociferously. People would not have been lifted in France for terrorist-related offences as recently as three weeks ago. The premise from which my hon. Friend works is ahistorical and not only not evidentially based, but contrary to the historical evidence. However, I shall continue to try to persuade him.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): On another aspect of deportation, is the Home Secretary aware that in a number of terrorist cases resulting in convictions there appears to have been a connection between the commission of terrorist offences and the influence of extremist preachers and extremist figures? In August 2005, just after the London bombings, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would immediately establish new grounds for the deportation of people involved in fostering violence in that way. In a written answer to me at the end of March this year, I was told by the Government that there had been only one such deportation for fomenting acts of terrorism. I understand that there may have been one since then, but will the Home Secretary reconsider a more vigorous approach which does justice to the scale of the problem of the extremist preachers and their wretched influence?
John Reid: The hon. Gentleman would no doubt accept that although there have been limited numbers of people prosecuted under the measures that we brought in to counter the glorification of terrorism and the spread of terrorist preaching, that is not surprising, given that the measures have been put into effect relatively recently. But they do work and they are being used. Yes, we will look again at how we can strengthen that in its operational form or introduce any other proposals that are necessary in order to accomplish our objectives in that area.
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