With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on counter-terrorism. The House will know that we face an unprecedented threat from terrorism. It is the duty of the Home Secretary to ensure that our response provides the best possible protection against that threat, on a personal, local and national level. That is why we have already increased spending on counter-terrorism to £2.25 billion in 2007-08. It is why our security services have never been better resourced. Since 2001, MI5 has doubled the number of people it employs. We have given greater powers to the police, such as increasing the length of time they can detain terrorist suspects from 14 to 28 days.
Furthermore, in April we refocused the Home Office to concentrate on more effectively protecting the public and securing our future. The new Home Office brings together responsibility for managing the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, including the new Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. In pursuit of the same objectives, we have now completed a comprehensive review of potential counter-terrorist legislation. Legislation forms a relatively small but vital part of our response to the terrorism threat. It sends a signal to those who wish to plot terror and turn people towards violent extremism that their actions will not be tolerated, as well as offering substantial protection. This threat is continuously evolving. It is crucial that our responses evolve with it, to include legislation that is effective and proportionate, to provide the maximum possible security and liberty for the law-abiding majority.
In approaching this, I have tried to incorporate three elements. First, I want to strengthen our capability to counter terrorism and protect this country from acts of terrorism. Secondly, I want to try to ensure that as we increase these powers we also, where appropriate, increase the parliamentary, judicial and sometimes public scrutiny to ensure a counterbalance against any arbitrary use of these strengthened powers. That is essential in a democratic society. Thirdly, it is my intention, wherever possible, to proceed to build national consensus on national security—in other words, to build, wherever possible, cross-party and cross-Parliament support for the measures being introduced. That is why I shall spend some time today explaining the process that I envisage as well as the measures. It is in that context and spirit that we will bring forward new counter-terrorism proposals in a new counter-terrorism Bill later this year. Today, I want to outline our approach and the main areas of the law that it might strengthen.
I start from the position that it is desirable to reach a consensus on national security wherever possible, so I want to ensure that there is extensive consultation before any legislation is introduced. Today’s announcement is only the start of that process. For good reasons, previous counter-terrorism legislation has been fast-tracked through Parliament. We have an opportunity here to do things differently. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter Terrorism and Police and I have already met members of the Opposition.
Today, following these meetings we will outline the main areas and direction of measures that we wish to pursue. We will then conduct further discussions and consultation, after which we will produce further detail, including a full Bill content paper, which will inform further discussion. It has been said to me, and I accept, that the devil is often in the detail of proposals, so we will then share draft clauses before introduction and seek the scrutiny not only of Opposition parties but of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights on key areas of the legislation.
I have also today asked Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, to undertake a report on what is proposed. In addition to discussions that we will have in Parliament, with colleagues on my own Back Benches and in the Opposition, I am also committing the Government to discussing fully with those organisations that have an interest in the proposed legislation—the police, representatives of the judiciary, civil liberties groups and communities. I hope that the House will accept that this is a more comprehensively consensual approach than we have ever taken before. It is the best way to approach establishing national security measures. To begin the consultation, I have today produced a short document; copies will be placed in the Vote Office and it will be available on the Home Office website.
I now turn to a number of specific areas, of which the first is pre-charge detention. The decision to increase pre-charge detention limits from 14 to 28 days has, I believe, been justified by subsequent events and means that we have been able to bring forward prosecutions that otherwise might not have been possible. For our part, we have made it clear that the Government’s position is that we believe it is right for terrorist cases—I stress terrorist cases—to go beyond 28 days, where necessary; but I want wherever possible to build broad agreement on the way forward. I would, therefore, like to begin discussions now on how we might do that. I am not being definitive, but one way might be to legislate now to extend the current limit while making it clear that there would be extra further judicial and parliamentary oversight if such measures were ever implemented. That would obviously continue to include judicial approval every seven days for any request to hold suspects. It might also, for instance, include further detailed annual reports to Parliament on the pattern of use of such events, with an accompanying parliamentary debate. That is one example, but we will discuss it further with all interested parties, including the Opposition.
Beyond that, there are other measures—for instance, on post-charge questioning. We are planning to legislate so that in terrorist cases suspects can be questioned after charge on any aspect of the offence with which they have been charged. With regard to adverse inferences drawn from that, we would apply the same rules for post-charge questioning as those that currently apply to pre-charge questioning. In addition, we are considering notification requirements, similar to those already in place for sex offenders, for convicted terrorists who leave prison.
Where terrorists are charged with general offences, we believe the sentences should be enhanced to reflect the additional seriousness that terrorist involvement represents.
The House will know that I do not consider control orders to be our best or most effective option in countering terrorism. However, having said that, we need to make what we can of them, so we are proposing a number of changes to control orders, including measures relating to fingerprinting, DNA and powers of entry that do not exist at present, but need to exist to enhance the effectiveness of not entirely satisfactory measures that would benefit from strengthening. However, we do not want to propose any amendments at this stage that might pre-empt forthcoming judgments from the House of Lords.
I accept that measures on data sharing and DNA are always difficult and controversial for the House, but we would also like to legislate to place data sharing powers for the intelligence and security agencies on a statutory basis, and put the police’s counter-terrorist DNA database on a similar statutory footing to the national DNA database. I stress that neither of those measures will alter the powers of the police and agencies to collect material.
On the subject of intercept as evidence, the Government’s position has consistently been that we would change the law to permit intercept evidence only if the necessary safeguards could be put in place to protect sensitive techniques and to ensure that the potential benefits outweigh the risks. I have not personally been persuaded that this is the case, but I accept that the right approach is to address the issue carefully and fully before deciding whether to use intercept as evidence. That is what we are, and have been, doing. However, we believe that we now need to reach a conclusion on the issue. Therefore, subject to further discussions to agree the structure and time scale, I am today confirming and announcing to the House that we will commission a review of intercept as evidence on Privy Council terms.
There has been some discussion of stop and question outside in the press. Consideration of powers to stop and question, currently available to police in Northern Ireland and suggested for introduction across the UK by the Northern Ireland Office, is at a very early stage and is currently subject to a process of internal Government consultation, and we will report the outcome of that in due course.
I believe that terrorism remains the greatest threat to the life and liberty of this nation and the many individuals who make up this country. It is the greatest challenge we face and it is important that our legislation continues to evolve to meet that threat, just as the terrorists will continue to evolve and advance their means of constituting it; but I firmly believe that any legislation to deal with that threat to national security should be taken forward with the full support of the House, where possible. I hope that the process I have outlined today will enable us to do that to the greatest effect.
I thank the Home Secretary for sight of his statement. The Leader of the Opposition and I have been in consultation with him and the Prime Minister on these matters before today. We made a number of proposals to them and we can support a number of the Home Secretary’s proposals today.
On issues of security, I agree with the Home Secretary that the national interest is best served when we can proceed on the basis of consensus, so it is very regrettable that during the consultation process the incoming Prime Minister pre-emptively made announcements through the media about matters that should be above party politics. On our side, we will continue to try to achieve consensus where possible.
We can support, in principle, several of the current proposals. First, we can support the proposals on sentencing, subject to proper judicial process. Secondly, I see no objection in principle to a number of the other measures, including one that the Home Secretary did not mention today, but which was in today’s press, and has been called the “terrorist offender register”—the travel notification arrangements.
I have to tell the House that there have been serious failures in the equivalent operation of both the sex offenders register and the control order regimes, to which the Home Secretary referred, with large numbers of escapes from control in both cases. We should remember that no legislation will work if the Government do not implement it properly—a key issue in this area.
Thirdly, we strongly welcome the intervention to lift the ban on post-charge interview of terrorist suspects. We first proposed that two years ago.
Fourthly, we have been calling for some time for the Government to lift the ban on using intercept evidence in terrorism cases. The Leader of the Opposition recommended to the Prime Minister that a Privy Council Committee should come up with a proposal for the use of intercept evidence, although the Home Secretary referred to it in slightly different terms. For that to work, the Committee has to produce its recommendations in time for the Government to incorporate them in the terrorism Bill in November, so I urge the Home Secretary to make those last two measures his first priority. They would have the greatest impact, by enhancing our ability to prosecute terrorists, which is at the end of the day the only sure way to protect the public.
When the Government previously tried to insist that 90-day detention without trial was essential to the security of the nation, the House did not believe them, and rejected the idea. Since then, the evidence is that the House of Commons was right. We are told, for example, that the 28-day limit did not handicap the complex investigation into the alleged Heathrow terror plot last August, which is presumably why the Minister for Security, Counter Terrorism and Police told the shadow Attorney-General yesterday that there was no pressure from the police for an increase beyond 28 days. Many counter-terrorism experts fear the reverse: that such a move will cause resentment in the Muslim community and damage our ability to gather intelligence—the critical weapon in our battle against terrorism.
At 28 days’ detention, we are already the most draconian of the common law democracies. America, with all its sensitivities on the subject, allows only 10 days’ detention before indictment. In December, the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor said that there was no evidence for extending the 28-day limit. Will the Home Secretary tell the House what has changed since then?
I have set out several proposals that we can support. Our priority must be to prosecute and convict terrorists—nothing less. That is the only way in which a liberal democracy can ensure that terrorists remain locked up until they no longer pose a threat to public safety. It does not require the House to undermine the ancient rights that millions died defending. We do not defend our way of life by sacrificing our way of life; we cannot protect our liberties by sacrificing our liberties.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for a number of the proposals and for his general approach and the manner in which we have been able to conduct our discussions, which augurs well. I extend those comments to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). I will not deal with all the points the right hon. Gentleman raised, but I will deal with two big ones.
On intercept, I can confirm that the idea of looking at the matter in Privy Council terms arose from a suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition in discussions with the Prime Minister. I was happy to accept that and I announced today that, in principle, we will do that. I am also aware, as the right hon. Gentleman will be, that the Leader of the Opposition has written to the Prime Minister in the past 24 hours to carry forward those discussions. The sooner that can take a concrete form, through the usual channels, the better. We can leave that to them, but we have the basis for proceeding and seeing whether we can examine the matter again. In the last instance, Governments cannot abrogate the responsibility to make decisions when they believe that that is in the national interest. That is why I used the words “wherever possible”. But I also believe that there is an obligation on us to try to find some way of resolving apparent impasses.
Let me deal with the issue of 28 days. The right hon. Gentleman raised two questions: the first was about what has happened in the past year and the state of the evidence, and the second was about the view of the police. On the evidence, I have said that I do not think that there is an open-and-shut case for going beyond 28 days. I do not believe that we are talking about something that is self-evident. However, the experience in the course of the last year—particularly in relation to the events of last August and the charges that followed—suggests that the evidence for going beyond 28 days has strengthened. For instance, in one or perhaps even two cases, charges were laid at the 28-day limit. Combined with the statement from the police that they can envisage circumstances in which it might be necessary to go beyond 28 days, that means that we ought to reconsider that possibility—I have not said how far beyond 28 days we should go.
On the police view, the police have not put pressure on us in the sense of saying, “This must be done, or there will be a crisis.” However, it would be untrue to infer that they have not asked me to consider the matter and to raise that consideration inside and outside Government, because they have. They have said two things: first, they can envisage circumstances in which they might have to go beyond 28 days and, secondly, that they would like me to raise the matter for discussion again, which is precisely what I am doing. I hope that that is a balanced way of presenting the issue. I personally believe, as do the Prime Minister and the Chancellor—the next Prime Minister—that it is necessary to go beyond 28 days. However, we accept that others have reservations and we therefore want to see whether we can achieve any consensus on the matter.
Finally, it is one thing to say that we should prosecute and convict. That is our earnest desire and our key priority. It is what our whole legal system is geared towards. We all agree on that, but that is not the question. The unavoidable question that confronts us all is: what should we do when there is sufficient information to suggest that there might be the possibility of murder on a massive scale through an act of terrorism, but the evidence does not reach the threshold required to allow us to bring charges? Whatever we do on intercept or post-charge questioning, it will not be a magic solution. We will still face the question of what we, as a responsible Government, should do if there is sufficient information to convince us that there is a chance that there will be murderous mass slaughter in a terrorist attack, but we cannot get the level of evidence that would enable us to bring a charge within 28 days. That question will not go away, whatever we do on the other issues.
I believe that this will be the first ever terrorism Bill that has been approached so openly and consultatively and I welcome that. The debate on a 90-day limit was dogged by the lack of a robust and open police analysis of the issue. It was clear that 28 days was justified, but that 90 days would not have been. In this consultative process, may we have at least three pieces of robust police analysis of the current situation? The first should be on the issue of the 28-day limit on detention. The second should be on stop-and-search powers. It is not yet clear that the existing legislation—sections 43, 44 and 60—is not sufficient, if properly used by the police. The third should be on the current state of play on control orders, as an operational issue for the police and security agencies, so that we can consider whether there are any further measures—other than those that my right hon. Friend suggests—that would improve the control order regime.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have found him enormously helpful as a constructive critic of the Government’s approach to these matters, as well as of specific measures. We regard the Home Affairs Committee as an essential element of the process.
I will try to make sure that we give a balanced view—including the view of the police—of where we think the case has strengthened, or indeed moved in the other direction, in relation to going beyond 28 days. I would merely point out that I have not mentioned any figure today. I have not referred to 50 days or 90 days. I have said that I can envisage the need to go beyond 28 days, but that was said in the spirit of opening a discussion.
I want to make it absolutely plain that discussion on the stop-and-question powers is going on inside Government. I did not raise the matter, and neither did the police in mainland Britain. It derived from one source. However, it is also evident that at least one source has major misgivings about it. The problem is that the source is the same in both cases. [Laughter.] We will carry on with the consultation on these matters.
I warmly thank the Home Secretary for his statement and the cross-party spirit in which it was delivered. If his successor and the incoming Prime Minister are able to maintain that approach, and if we are all able to ensure the right balance between the defence of our customary British liberties and the new security measures, we as an Opposition party will seek to play a full and constructive role in the process. Will he confirm that there is scope for us to introduce other proposals and ideas that are not in his statement? For instance, we could explore the use of plea-bargaining procedures to encourage informants on the periphery of terror plots to provide more information, and we could look at the threshold test used by the Crown Prosecution Service when bringing charges in terror cases. Will he confirm that we will be able to introduce such things over the next few months in time for the debate on the Bill in the autumn?
The Home Secretary has said that control orders are full of holes. Will he confirm that far from just operational tinkering of the existing control order regime, there will be scope for its wholesale review? Does he agree that if we are able to build on the apparent cross-party view that there is a real case for expanding the possibility of questioning post charge, it will significantly diminish the case of those who believe that we need once again to reopen the vexatious and time-consuming debate on the period of detention without charge that can take place?
On the first point, people will be able to put forward other proposals—I hope that they will. I do not think that we have a monopoly of wisdom on this. This is a national question of national security, so a national effort that includes contributions from everyone is to be welcomed. I will pass no comment on the individual measures that the hon. Gentleman suggests, except to say that they are interesting proposals that we should look at.
The hon. Gentleman asks the question of whether doing x will lessen the case for doing y. I do not see this as a zero-sum game. Whether or not we have intercept evidence and post-charge questioning, I genuinely believe that we are confronted with a difficult question. I understand why those who are committed to the present legal traditions find the question so difficult. However, there are times when there is a disjunction between inherited legal conventions and frameworks and the present reality, because things arise that have never been imagined or anticipated.
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 today’s 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.
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 procedure—under which he is not even told the charge alleged against him—should also be put in the hands of a senior judge?
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 review—the present position—would 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.
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?
The Chancellor is indeed an old and close friend. We have discussed such issues over many years—in recent months, we have discussed them in some detail. Let me be absolutely straight about last Sunday’s 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 Gentleman’s party’s leader and spokesman, but after that. In fact, everything that appeared in last weekend’s 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.
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 Chancellor’s 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?
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 country’s 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.
Like my colleagues, I welcome the general thrust of the Home Secretary’s 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 Chancellor’s firm statements and the Home Secretary’s 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?
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 Chancellor’s views as reported through the media, but I know that in at least one case his views—for instance on intercept as evidence—have 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 Minister’s 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.
I am sure that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, will welcome my right hon. Friend’s consensual approach. Of course, the most important human right is the right to life and the state’s 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 operate—and 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.
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?
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 people’s minds, we will wait and see.
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?
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.
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 admissible—again, we support that—he 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 detention—in other words, internment.
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 threat—and threat has two elements to it: intention and capability. People have an untrammelled, unconstrained intent to murder people in their thousands—as they did in New York—or 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.
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.
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 Court’s 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 country’s Government that they can decide whether someone who is not a citizen is entitled to live here.
I agree with some of the hon. Gentleman’s 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 particular—the Chahal judgment, with which the hon. Gentleman will be very familiar—which 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 today’s threat—the 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.
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.
I profoundly disagree, not surprisingly, with my hon. Friend’s 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.
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?
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.
I agree that terrorism poses an unprecedented threat and is continually evolving. I welcome the Home Secretary’s approach to strengthening the counter-terrorism capability, while putting in place corresponding parliamentary and other scrutiny as a bulwark against arbitrary misuse of powers. I welcome also his intention to proceed on the basis of consensus, and his statement that in advance of a new Bill there would be a content paper, the sharing of clauses and early engagement with the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Will he undertake early communication with the Minister for Justice in Scotland, who I know shares our concerns on these matters? There are some issues in today’s statement that we will need to consider more fully, such as the use of DNA, but we welcome things such as post-charge questioning with the correct legal protections. We would welcome the use of intercept evidence, but I understand the Home Secretary’s caution and support the Privy Council approach.
Might not pre-charge detention post-28 days still run counter to the right not to undergo arbitrary detention? Is it not still the case that evidence gathered after 28 days may not be admissible in a court of law? If he has not already done so, will the Home Secretary commit to having a legal opinion prepared by the Government’s Law Officers and published, so that all of us in the House can see the legal position in respect of post-28 day pre-charge detention?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a host of points. It is not normal to publicise the advice of the Law Officers, for obvious reasons, and I will not break that convention. I thank him for the welcome that he gave to various aspects. We look forward to receiving any contributions to the consultation from him and his party. I have no doubt that in the course of that we will be in contact with the Scottish Executive. I have already briefly met the First Minister and congratulated him—at the Scottish cup final, in which we both took an interest. I am sure that we will contact all the devolved institutions—Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland—on these matters because although the responsibility is at the level of the nation state, at the national level as opposed to nationality, it affects everyone in our community.
One of the difficulties of comparing the length of time for which people can be detained without charge is the fact that we all have very different legal systems. The French have an inquisitorial system that allows them to detain for a considerable period—certainly for a lot longer than 28 days, and in some cases for years. It has been suggested to me that we should look further into having an inquisitorial-type system for terrorist suspects. That would be a pretty fundamental thing to do, but we are prepared to look into any suggestions that come forward. At the moment, however, we have no plans to do anything of that nature.
I welcome in particular the Home Secretary’s indication that he wishes the Joint Committee on Human Rights to be actively involved in scrutiny of this matter and I hope that he will accept that knowing the Government’s actual position on possible amendment of the European convention on human rights is critical. On two occasions now, the right hon. Gentleman has indicated that, in the absence of the reversal of the Chahal judgment, he believes that there may be a need to amend the European convention, but in giving evidence to our Committee Lord Falconer specifically said the opposite. May I genuinely suggest that the Home Secretary add that to the limited list of matters for internal Government consultation, so that before we consider the draft legislation we can know the Government’s backstop position on that very important human rights convention?
The Government’s position is quite clear. We think that the Chahal judgment is wrong and we are appealing against it. That is our position and if we are not successful in that appeal, we will have to look further into it. It is as simple as that. What I have done today is say that no one in government takes the view that any alternative, however hypothetical, amounts just to abandoning the terms and principles of the European convention on human rights. We all have an obligation to make sure that legal conventions—domestic and international—accord with today’s reality. That is what we do in every other walk of life. Taking the view that any particular piece of legal or constitutional apparatus is somehow unchangeable, irrespective of the changes in the world around us, is not a sustainable position.
Some of the technologies that UK counter-terrorist agencies use for intercept and surveillance are so sensitive and advanced that we do not even share them with some of our closest allies. Is the Home Secretary convinced that bringing intercept evidence into court will not undermine the ability of those agencies to carry out their job by giving away some of their methods, therefore putting into doubt our ability to counter future operations?
No, I am not convinced that this can be done without the disadvantages outweighing the advantages. I am in the opposite camp, as I am persuaded—certainly at present—that the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages. I agree with the intelligence and security services in that case. However, it is obvious that others, including the hon. Gentleman’s own spokesman and party leader, take a different view. We think that the best way to deal with this, at the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman’s party leader, is to have some independent assessment based on Privy Council terms. My personal view at the moment is exactly as the hon. Gentleman outlined. We ought to be very careful to ensure that we do not win the minutes in a few of these cases but by following those methods lose the hours in the fight against terrorism.
I used powers to stop and question extensively in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and as far as I am aware I never once got any useful intelligence from them. I believe that those powers were often misused to harass people and I know that they alienated parts of the population who were entirely innocent. All in all, in my opinion, they were thoroughly useless and dangerous. May I ask the Home Secretary to look at the lessons of history before going any further with what I consider to be deeply flawed proposals?