With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement. On 29 and 30 June, the professionalism, vigilance and courage of our police and our security and emergency services thwarted a conspiracy to murder and maim British citizens. Britain—led by London and Glasgow —stood firm in the face of threats. Our calmness and steadfastness as a nation sent a powerful message across the world that we will not yield to terrorism, or ever be intimidated by it.
Those events were the 15th attempted terrorist plot on British soil since 2001. As previously set out, the police and security services are currently having to contend with around 30 known plots, and monitor more than 200 groupings or networks and about 2,000 individuals. I think that the whole House will agree that our country—and all countries—has to confront a generation-long challenge to defeat al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist violence.
In recognition of that continuing long-term threat, we have created, among other things, a new national security committee to oversee the new office for security and counter-terrorism. Following the first meetings of the national security committee, I want to report on changes that we now recommend.
First, let me confirm to the House that in future we will publish a national security strategy, and that the first will be published and presented in the autumn to Parliament for debate and decision in this House. At the time of the spending review, we will announce a single security budget for our country. In line with the Butler report, we will separate the position of chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee from policy adviser to the Government. Thus, the sole responsibilities of the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee will be to provide Ministers with assessments that have been formulated independently of the political process and to improve across Government the effectiveness of intelligence analysis.
Today, I am also publishing the Intelligence and Security Committee report on rendition and the Government are consulting on how in future the ISC should be appointed and should report to Parliament—where possible, with hearings in public, a strengthened capacity for investigations, reports that are subject to more parliamentary debate and greater transparency over appointments to the Committee.
To strengthen the counter-terrorist capability of the police and security services, we have, since 11 September, doubled our overall investment to more than £2 billion a year. Dedicated anti-terrorist resources have also doubled. Even in advance of the spending review settlement for future years, the Security Service will, by next year, be twice the size it was in 2001.
The protection and resilience of our major infrastructure and crowded places requires continuous vigilance. I can confirm that over 900 shopping centres, sports stadiums and venues where people congregate have been assessed by counter-terrorism security advisers, over 10,000 premises have been given updated security advice, and the police will continue high-visibility patrols.
The counter-terrorism Bill will also include a new power allowing the Secretary of State to ensure additional protection for key utility sites. We have asked Lord West to oversee, over this summer, a further overview of how best we protect crowded places and our buildings and national infrastructure, from roads, railways and tunnels to bridges, water systems and utilities.
Since 1997, the Government have given the police new resources and Parliament has provided new legal powers to arrest and try terrorists. Thanks to the hard work, dedication and commitment of the men and women in the police, security and intelligence services and the prosecuting authorities, this year alone, in nine cases, a total of 30 individuals have been convicted. The forthcoming counter-terrorism Bill will propose additional penalties for terrorists charged with other criminal offences.
Our first line of defence against terrorism is overseas at other countries’ ports and airports where people embark on journeys to our country and from where embassies issue visas. To protect us in routes and places where there is the greatest threat of harm, I believe that we now need to accelerate our plans, completing the move from old and ineffective paper-based systems to real-time monitoring, which will allow us to act immediately and in a co-ordinated way across immigration, police, and intelligence.
The way forward is electronic screening of all passengers as they check in and out of the country at ports and airports, so that terrorist suspects can be identified and stopped before they board planes, trains and boats to the United Kingdom. After a review of counter-terrorism screening, and as part of the overall spending settlement for security to be set out in the autumn, the Home Secretary will enhance the existing e-borders programme to incorporate all passenger information to help to track and intercept terrorists and criminals, as well as, of course, illegal immigrants.
While new biometric visas are already in place for immigrants from high-risk countries, I can confirm that within nine months—from March next year—we will extend biometric visas to all visa applicants. From 2009, we will introduce a new, enhanced system of electronic exit control, linking the checking of passports to checking against the warnings index.
The second line of defence is at our borders, where biometrics—not just fingerprints but iris recognition—are already in use. To strengthen the powers and surveillance capability of our border guards and security officers, we will now integrate the vital work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UKvisas overseas and at the main points of entry to the UK, and we will establish a unified border force.
I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to report back by October on the stages ahead in implementation and whether there is a case for going further while ensuring value for money, but as a result of our announcement today, the first change that people will see is that, starting from next month when arriving in Britain, they will be met at the border—either sea port or airport—by a highly visible, uniformed presence, as over the next period we move, for the first time, to one single primary checkpoint for both passport control and customs.
But this, our second line of defence, has also to be complemented by a third line of defence—ID security within our own borders. While for UK citizens the first biometric ID cards will start during 2009, from the end of 2008 any foreign nationals coming to the UK for more than six months will be required to have a biometric ID. Such an identity scheme will help to prevent people already in the country from using multiple identities for terrorist, criminal or other purposes.
In the identification of potential terrorist suspects, there should also be maximum co-operation internationally, with maximum possible use made of alerts and watch lists. While Lord West’s review has found no systematic failings in our procedures for checking potential suspects, it has highlighted the importance of enhancing existing co-operation to share more information between police and immigration services and internationally across countries: within the European Union, to enable British law enforcement authorities to access immigration information on existing European Union databases; bilaterally with other member states, mutually to exchange information; and joining up criminal records databases throughout the EU, so that our authorities can quickly identify individuals who are charged with crimes, no matter where in Europe they are convicted. At a cost of £5 million, we will link the UK watch list to the Interpol database of lost and stolen documents.
In addition to the nine foreign nationals recently deported under immigration powers on grounds of national security, a further 21 foreign nationals are currently subject to deportation proceedings on national security grounds. On the same grounds, we are preventing 124 individuals from coming to our country and refusing to admit another 52 for glorifying terrorism or other unacceptable behaviour. Overall, 4,000 foreign prisoners are likely to be deported from our country this year. We have agreed repatriation arrangements with Jordan, Libya, Lebanon and Algeria, and we will now press ahead to sign more agreements.
Liberty is the first and founding value of our country, and security is the first duty of Government. The British way is that every measure we take to enhance security is complemented by additional protections against any arbitrary treatment and in defence of the liberties of the individual. We want to consult widely, and we seek—and look forward to obtaining—an all-party consensus on how we treat intercept evidence and on new provisions for pre-charge detention and post-charge questioning. The independent and cross-party review into the use of intercept as evidence in court will be led by Sir John Chilcot, and its members will include the Privy Councillors Lord Archer of Sandwell, Lord Hurd and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).
While it is already a criminal offence to seek training for terrorism overseas or in this country, we will consult on tightening bail conditions, and in particular on restriction of travel, in any cases where people are suspected of complicity in terrorism. We have in place a regime that allows pre-charge detention for up to 28 days. There is general agreement that the circumstances in which the police might need to go beyond even 14 days will be rare, and that will be subject to special procedures of both judicial oversight and parliamentary accountability. I detect that there is also a growing weight of opinion—including from Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation—that there might be some circumstances in which detention beyond 28 days is necessary, such as if the police have to intervene early to avert an attack, if huge quantities of material evidence need to be analysed, or if assistance from other countries is necessary.
The 2005 case cited in previous debates on this issue involved investigation of some 60 mobile phones, 268 computers, and 920 DVDs. However, the airline investigation last August involved 200 mobile phones, 400 computers, 8,000 CDs, DVDs and other discs containing 6,000 gigabytes of data, almost 70 premises searches, and inquiries across three continents. Another case involved 3,000 statements, the examination of 6,000 documents, more than 8,000 exhibits and inquiries across nine countries. During the recent period—I must make this clear to Members, in the light of a radio debate this morning—six people had to be held for 27 or 28 days.
While one of our proposals, which enjoys broad support, to allow post-charge questioning for the explicit purpose of securing evidence in a terrorism trial will reduce the risk that we will need to go beyond 28 days, the Home Affairs Committee concluded that that step will not entirely eliminate the risk. It is right to explore whether a consensus can be built on the most measured way to deal with the remaining risk. I hope that Members will agree that we should not return to the previous proposal rejected by the House, but I also hope that they will agree that there must be a maximum limit—and that that should be set by Parliament.
We today put forward four options for consultation over the coming months. One proposal that we cite in the consultation document from Liberty, to which we are grateful for engaging constructively in the debate, is that if this risk materialises, we should declare an emergency under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and allow for a period beyond the 28-day limit, for up to a further 30 days, although that would require the declaration of a state of emergency. We are also proposing for consultation—this would not require a state of emergency—an extension of the current limit for up to 28 days more or a lesser period but only if, in addition to the requirement that a judge must approve every seven-day extension, the case is notified to Parliament and subject to a timely report to it of all circumstances, and with the option of a later parliamentary debate.
This therefore means that any extension would be subject not only to a specific case being made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, subject every seven days, up to the agreed limit, to the approval of a High Court judge, and subject to the regular report of the independent reviewer, with an annual debate in Parliament but, in each and every instance, to a specific parliamentary notification procedure, to a further statement to Parliament on the individual case, and to a review of the specific case by the independent reviewer, with the provision for this House to scrutinise and debate the report and all the circumstances.
More important even than consensus here in the House is the consensus that we seek in all communities across the country. Since the attacks of 7 July 2005, communities in Britain and across the world have come together in a common front against terrorism and against the propaganda that fuels it. This requires not just the security measures we are outlining today, but that we work with all communities—and, indeed, all countries—through debate, discussion, dialogue and education as we tackle at root the evils that risk driving people, particularly vulnerable young people, into the hands of violent extremists. Here, schools, colleges, universities, civil society, faith groups—indeed, every institution in our country—have a part to play.
Last week, President Sarkozy of France and I agreed to propose the formation of a joint working group with Germany and other countries to share our experiences and develop ways to expose and defeat terrorism. We will report later this year on this work, but we can make a start today. Over the next three years, we will provide an additional £70 million for local authorities and community groups to improve the capacity of local communities in our country to resist violent extremism. This will include developing leadership programmes for young people, strengthening the capacity of women’s groups, and local projects to build citizenship. There are perhaps as many as 1,000 madrassahs in Britain, educating more than 50,000 to 100,000 young people in after-school classes. In Bradford, an agreement was reached to include citizenship education in their curriculum, and we will now offer to work with other communities on similar programmes.
We will also support a new skills qualification in citizenship and community cohesion for faith leaders. We will sponsor English-speaking imams and propose inter-faith bodies for every community in the country to build greater understanding. We will update guidance to universities before the autumn on how they can do more to protect the safety and security of vulnerable young people in particular. I can also confirm funding for a BBC Arabic channel, and an editorially independent Farsi TV channel that will broadcast to the people of Iran. Following further discussion on these and other issues, the Government will report back to Parliament on further measures that can isolate extremists who preach and practise terrorism.
Our priority as a Government is a Britain strong in security, robust in our resolve and resilient in response, so that as a nation we both defeat terrorism and isolate violent extremism, wherever we confront it and whatever its support. I hope that in doing so, an all-party consensus that will extend into every community of this country is possible, so that together we can create a stronger, safer and more cohesive United Kingdom. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and I very much agree with what he said in praising the police, the security services and the public for what they did to combat those terrorist attacks. This is an area, of course, where we can and will work together. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the threat we face from terrorism today is of a different order from the threats we faced in the past? It requires tough, consistent and rigorous action at every level: intelligence and surveillance, tackling extremism, effective policing—including at our borders—and taking all the public with us. It is not just about passing new laws.
On intercept evidence, I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has accepted our proposal for a Privy Council committee. Will he pledge to legislate immediately if the committee can find a way to lift the ban on the use of this vital evidence in court? We welcome the single security budget, but can he confirm whether spending for special branch, which carries out much of the vital surveillance work done around the country, is included in that budget, because that urgently needs to expand?
When the right hon. Gentleman was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he took the decision to freeze the Home Office budget. Now that that Department has been split in two and he has become Prime Minister, will he revisit that decision?
One of our major concerns on ID cards is that costs are spiralling and the project’s effectiveness is being widely questioned. Does the Prime Minister agree that the money could be better spent to bolster security and public safety elsewhere?
I am delighted that the Prime Minister has finally adopted our policy of a border police force, about which I have been asking him since he became Prime Minister. The immigration Minister has described that policy as damaging, disruptive and distracting, and the Prime Minister and others said that all the way through the election campaign. I am pleased that the Prime Minister now agrees with us and that questions from this Dispatch Box result in action from the Government.
The commission that I set up under Lord Stevens includes the former chief inspector of constabulary and the current head of the British Transport police. Their work is well under way. In order to prepare the policy quickly, will the Prime Minister consider turning the commission into a Government commission, with Opposition involvement, so that we may implement the policy properly and ensure that it is a proper border police force?
On tackling extremism, the Prime Minister has said little about controls on terror suspects travelling abroad. Can he tell us today whether he is considering new laws? Does he agree with me that we should be using intelligence, surveillance and co-ordination to ensure that everything possible is done to break terror networks between this country, Pakistan and the middle east?
On Hizb ut-Tahrir, I ask him again why there is still no ban. It is banned not only in Sweden and Germany, but in Egypt and Pakistan. The fact is that two years ago the then Prime Minister did not say that he would look into banning that group, that he would review it or that he would consider it: he said that he would do it. Why cannot the Prime Minister make the same pledge today?
Another promise made two years ago was to deport those using websites to incite hatred and extremism. Will the Prime Minister confirm that since then only one person has been deported under those specific provisions?
On the issue of winning hearts and minds, the Prime Minister said much with which I agree, and we both agree that not enough is done today to integrate new arrivals into our country. We welcome what he has said, but will some of the extra money be used to reverse the cuts in funding English language teaching, which is so vital for the proper integration of new arrivals?
Turning to the issue of further legislation, will the Prime Minister confirm that seven people who have been given control orders have absconded? May I welcome the decision finally to take up our proposal of allowing the questioning of suspects after they have been charged? Is not that the most important way of ensuring that the police can get on with their job without introducing something that could, if we were not very careful, start to look like a form of internment?
That brings me to the issue of 28 days. We will look at the Prime Minister’s consultation papers very carefully. I have to say that we have seen the point before about the volume of evidence that needs to be gathered. What specifically in the paper today amounts to new evidence? In particular, what evidence does he have that was not available in December, because it was then that the then Home Secretary, Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor agreed that fresh evidence was needed before any further change could be justified?
Rather than passing a new law, will the Prime Minister look carefully at our proposal—and Liberty’s—to use the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which gives the Government power to detain people for an additional 30 days in time of national emergency. That would make a total of 58 days, two more than the Prime Minister has talked about, without the need to introduce a new, repressive law. The Prime Minister said in his statement that the problem is the need to declare a state of emergency, but if there was a multiple attack on our country and those powers were needed because of the pressures on the police, it would indeed be a state of emergency. Should not this House ask that Ministers prove that all existing laws are being used before they reach for new legislation?
Will the Prime Minister recognise that all the actions necessary—better use of intelligence, stronger policing, cracking down on extremists or passing the necessary laws—may come to nothing unless he is prepared to take a tough and hard-headed look at the Human Rights Act 1998? It is not just me saying that: the previous Prime Minister said that it needed reform and the previous Lord Chancellor said that there were problems with it. Will the Prime Minister now admit that the Act is frustrating our fight against terrorism? Will he work with me to draw up a proper Bill of Rights that protects our liberty and our security? Vitally, do the Government understand that what is needed to defeat terrorism is the hard-nosed defence of liberty, and we must avoid any approach that lapses into ineffective authoritarianism?
Finally, will the Prime Minister welcome with me the fact that with a border police, intercept evidence, questions after charge and a national security council, my party is playing a key role in setting the agenda in making our country safe?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the individual policies that we have put forward. The support that he has indicated for the work of the emergency, police and security services is appreciated across the House. I know that his support for the bravery in the face of violence of the people involved in the incidents in June was much appreciated at the time.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have to do more on hearts and minds, and to integrate people who have come to our country. We need to look at what is happening in some communities to see how we can bind people closer together. I agree that if we could reach a conclusion on the intercept inquiry, we should legislate as quickly as possible. I am glad that there is now all-party agreement on the issue of post-charge questioning.
The border force will be a unified border force that combines the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UKvisas at all the main points of entry. It will be a single, uniformed presence and a single checkpoint for passengers. There will be new borders officers, with immigration, Customs and police powers to investigate and detain people suspected of immigration, customs or criminal offences, all reporting to the head of the Border and Immigration Agency. As people come into a port or airport, they will see one single, uniformed presence.
The right hon. Gentleman’s other proposals will be investigated in the Cabinet Secretary’s review, but what we propose today can be implemented very quickly and people will soon see that uniformed presence at ports. If it is not exactly the same as the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal, work will be done to consider other measures he wishes to propose. I believe that it is important that we move ahead now with the unified border force that I propose, and the details are made clear in the documents.
On the issue of 28 days, Parliament is at its best when we discover common ground. It is common ground that there may be circumstances in which the police are justified in asking to go beyond 28 days. Over the course of the last few years, whatever the debates on 90 days or on this allegation or that, the Government and the official Opposition have come to the view that there may be circumstances in which more than 28 days is necessary. I hope that the Liberal party and the other parties will say that they also agree with that case. Therefore, in the rare circumstances in which the police will ask to go beyond 28 days, the question will be what we should do.
The Leader of the Opposition asked if there was new evidence that we could bring to bear since the publication of previous discussions. He agrees that we are dealing with a unique set of circumstances. International terrorists wish to maim or murder indiscriminately as many people as possible. In some cases, they are suicide bombers who have no fear for their own safety, but simply wish to inflict the maximum damage. They also seek to achieve a propaganda effect.
The new evidence is that in six cases in recent times the police have had to go to 27 or 28 days. The new evidence contained in the document before the House is simply the number of exhibits and items for investigation and the number of countries that have to be involved in an investigation before charges can be properly laid. The ricin case involved 26 countries. One ricin-related operation involved 800 passports and 2,500 forged documents. In some of the cases, thousands of documents are involved that are eventually put before the court. That is why the police have said that it is their view that they need more than 28 days.
I accept that we are talking about rare and unusual circumstances, and that it is not a power that we would wish to use other than in the rarest of circumstances. However, if we agree that we will go beyond 28 days in certain circumstances, by what mechanism can we justify to ourselves that the situation is rare, and how can we ensure that there is proper judicial oversight and parliamentary accountability? Those are the questions that we must ask.
I have looked at the proposal from Liberty to which the shadow Home Secretary has given some support. It suggests that a state of emergency would be declared, under the civil contingencies legislation—but do Opposition politicians believe that the declaration of a state of emergency in the circumstances that we have been talking about would not send out a message about how we deal with things in this country that is exactly the opposite of the message that we want to send out?
However, I do accept that there should be a special parliamentary procedure if we go beyond 28 days. Therefore, I ask the Opposition to consider in detail—and obviously there can be cross-party talks on these matters—what we propose as an alternative. We are talking about rare circumstances, and in some cases the parliamentary power that we propose would not be used in any one year. Therefore, would it not be better to ask the Home Secretary to make a parliamentary notification about what has happened and prepare a report that would come to Parliament? In each case, moreover, the independent reviewer would be asked to prepare a report for Parliament as a whole and not just for the Home Secretary. Parliament would then be in a position to debate the matter in full, if it chose to do so.
It seems to me that what the Opposition parties and Liberty have suggested may be a way forward is better dealt with by the notification procedure, by the requirement on the Home Secretary to give a report, by the requirement that, if it is thought necessary, the House will have a debate on the matter, and by the requirement that the independent reviewer prepare a report in each and every circumstance.
I hope that we can have a full debate over the summer months on this and the two other proposals that have been made, in addition to the one from Liberty. I am as anxious as other people in this House that we as a nation can move forward with a united agreement on this matter. Such a consensus would serve this House well. I believe that we can find a solution to this problem if we have a debate and dialogue about it that allows people to listen to all sides of the argument.
The Leader of the Opposition asked about two other things. On Hizb ut-Tahrir—[Interruption.] In fact, the right hon. Gentleman is the last person to have corresponded by letter with Hizb ut-Tahrir, when he thanked it. However, what I say to him is that we must look at the evidence in every single case. We must be aware that when we proscribe an organisation, that should not be overturned on appeal. It is therefore necessary that we look in detail at all the evidence, and that is what I said to him that I would do. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he wished to provide me with any new evidence, and he is certainly welcome to do so over the next period of time.
As to whether a Bill of Rights is the answer to the problems of deportation, we accept that, when it is difficult to deport an individual from this country, control orders are not just the second best way to deal with the problem, but the third best too. The Government have always made it clear that that is not our preferred route, but the Leader of the Opposition has to look very carefully at the constitutional position that he is taking on this matter. On “The Westminster Hour” last year, his shadow Attorney-General was asked whether a British Bill of Rights
“would be drawn up to make it easier to deport suspected terrorists to countries which might torture them, would it?”
The answer was:
“No, I don’t think it would…It would be quite wrong to suggest it would completely transform the situation.”
In the spirit of debate and dialogue, I ask the Leader of the Opposition not to give people the impression that if he accepts the European convention on human rights, he can find an easy way round the problem of deportation by simply adopting a British Bill of Rights. Let us debate the matter in such a way that we understand the difficulties and work through them, rather than giving people the impression that a solution can be found simply by announcing a new piece of legislation that we know might not have the intended effect.
Otherwise, I feel that there is scope for consensus in other areas. I hope that, over the summer and autumn months, there will be discussions between the parties, led by the Home Secretary, about how we can work together on all the major issues to defeat what everyone agrees is the great issue of our generation. We must ensure that terrorist violence will not flourish, and that it will never intimidate this country.
The Prime Minister was right to begin with a tribute to those who had a hand in thwarting the terrorist efforts of 29 and 30 June. He might also have mentioned the members of the public who behaved with conspicuous gallantry, especially at Glasgow airport. I hope that there may some way to recognise their bravery formally, in a way to which we are accustomed.
The Prime Minister’s statement contained a great deal of detail, and we shall obviously consider it very carefully indeed. We have heard some of what has been said today before, but some of it is undoubtedly new. One thing that should be welcomed unequivocally is the rearrangement of responsibilities with regard to the Joint Intelligence Committee. If the JIC had been dealt with previously in the way that has now been set out, perhaps the misuse of intelligence in September 2002 would not have occurred.
The Government have acknowledged the case for post-charge questioning and for telephone intercept evidence, and that is plainly something that we welcome. Those are the sort of proposals that offer the best approach to terrorism, as they are practical measures that would assist successful prosecution, rather than complex measures designed to circumvent the principles of the criminal justice system.
In due course, we shall be asked to make judgments about how best to defeat terrorism in all its guises. The Prime Minister has asked for consensus, as he is entitled to, but I have to tell him that for many of us, consensus cannot be achieved at the expense of principle. The essential test for any proposed new power must always be whether it is necessary, not whether it is desirable or convenient.
Of course the public have a right to security, but they also have a right to security against the power of the state. We know that it is in the nature of the police to ask for more powers—for the best of motives but often for the worst of reasons. It is in the nature of Government to grant such powers, and it should be in the nature of Parliament to resist them.
Key questions have to be asked. What has changed in the past 18 months that merits asking Members of Parliament to change their minds about detention without charge? Which investigations in that period have been hampered by the absence of a 90-day limit, or of a limit greater than 28 days? Where is the conclusive evidence that an extension to the 28-day period is required, and what assessment has been made of the risk of fanning extremism with a detention policy that will act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, just as internment did for the IRA? Why does Britain require greater powers of detention than other comparable democracies, including Australia?
The Prime Minister dealt in his statement with the question of emergency under the Civil Contingencies Act, and he supplemented his position in response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition. It would be extraordinary if one single terrorist made it necessary to declare a state of emergency for the whole country. To that extent, I agree with the scepticism expressed by the Prime Minister, but it would be a most curious constitutional development if the alternative was that the matter should be brought before Parliament. I suppose that this is the high court of Parliament, but the suggestion that reports should be made to Parliament, followed by later parliamentary debate, seems to stand the normal provisions of our constitution—and the separation of powers—very much on their head.
Let me make it clear that we will fulfil our responsibilities, as I have no doubt will every other Member of this House, but it is worth pointing out that there are other things that the Government might have done. For example, why are there no measures to make it easier to charge people with a lower threshold offence at an earlier stage in investigations, when a prime facie case for a charge can be established? Finally, why is there no reference in the statement to the possibility of a more extensive use of plea bargaining, so that those on the periphery of conspiracies may be used as credible witnesses against those who are the principals in terrorist activity?
There is a balance to be struck—[Interruption.] I heard a Labour Member say, “Oh dear!” But he is talking about the rights and privileges of all the people whom he represents here, and we can be pretty certain that the first time one of his constituents finds himself or herself the subject of some of these provisions, he will be here to make the case that something should be done to alleviate the consequences. When we make judgments of this kind we make judgments that affect the very fabric of the society we live in. That is why those judgments have to be based on principle and not expediency.
I admire the passion with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts his case for the defence of civil liberties in this country; it is what marks out our constitution, and has done for hundreds of years. Protection against arbitrary acts by Government, or any vested interest, must be central to the business of the House in making sure that such things do not happen in this country. I agree with him on the issue of principle. The question we have to deal with, however, relates to circumstances in which, in the last few months, six investigations led to 27 or 28 days. I can put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman figures that show the degree and scale of the evidence, the intercontinental nature, and the multiple passports, multiple identities and multiple addresses used by terrorist suspects or potential terrorists. The scale and complexity of the investigations that the police now have to conduct in relation to the specific issue of terrorism dwarf what came before. As the Leader of the Opposition—and also, I believe, the right hon. and learned Gentleman—recognises, we are in a very different situation from that of even 10 years ago in relation to terrorism.
The question is: can we both ensure the security of the citizens of this country and protect the civil liberties of the individuals who live in this country? I believe that we can. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has interpreted our proposal for consultation as a threat to the relationship between the judiciary and Parliament. I do not believe that it is. I am suggesting that, as has been recognised by a number of people, there are circumstances in which it may be right to go beyond 28 days—unusual, rare and only in the instance of terrorism—and the question is how we can find a mechanism for dealing with those circumstances. One suggested mechanism is the declaration of a state of emergency and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly says, people question whether that is the right message to send out. However, if the Home Secretary were to notify Parliament that a case was going beyond 28 days, if at the same time the independent reviewer, whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman has agreed should play a role in reviewing all cases of between 14 and 28 days, was brought to bear so that they could look at the individual case, and if the option was left—after the report of the independent reviewer—that there could be a debate in Parliament on the issue, that is not a threat to the judiciary; it is parliamentary accountability working at its best. I hope he will understand that what I am trying to do in the proposal is to uphold the principle of independent judicial oversight, but saying at the same time that where issues of public interest are raised it is right that in certain circumstances they be debated here in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I hope that he will agree on reflection that this is a way forward.
I agree that not only should we support the emergency services, the police and the security services, but we should recognise their bravery, professionalism, vigilance and dedication to duty. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said today and I said yesterday, a way must be found in our honours system of both recognising and celebrating the work they do.
I hope there will be agreement between the parties on the other matters we have discussed, and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will use the summer and autumn period, when I invite him—[Laughter]—not to the usual talks that I have suggested, but to specific talks. As a protection, the Home Secretary will lead the talks this time. I invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party to talk about the issues over the summer months to see whether, where I find that the independent reviewer, the Home Affairs Committee, the organisation Liberty and, today, the leader of the Conservative party, all recognise that there may be a case for going beyond 28 days in certain instances, there can be a way forward on which we can find agreement in the House. I hope we will work towards that agreement.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I say to the House that these are important matters and I am anxious to call as many Back Benchers as possible? No Back Bencher has yet asked a question, and we have had more than 40 minutes on the statement. There is another statement to follow and a heavy programme after that, so may I please ask for the briefest of questions from every Member? We will try to get as many Members in as possible. Perhaps I could also ask the Prime Minister if he, too, would not mind being as brief as he can.
I thank the Prime Minister and congratulate him on the substance and spirit of his statement. It is right that he should seek consensus on these issues, and secondly, that he should seek to balance the strengthening of powers with the strengthening of scrutiny. Although the headlines will no doubt be devoted to the matter of detention, I urge my right hon. Friend to recognise that two other strategic issues should receive as much attention. The first is the development of the office for security and counter-terrorism, and within it the research, information and communications unit. If there truly is a battle for ideas and values, that integrated effort on our part is essential. Secondly, the whole of our border enforcement depends ultimately on willingness to use technological means based on identity management and biometrics. All the rest, whether a border force, increased numbers, uniforms or extended borders, will be as nothing unless we can biometrically identify people who come to this country, people who stay in it and people who leave it.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who as Home Secretary led the way in setting up the office for security and counter-terrorism. We continue—I hope—the work that he started, and I praise him for what he did when he was Home Secretary. He is absolutely right about the two issues that he raises. The first is the importance of winning what I call the hearts and minds argument—some people may put it differently—integrating people into our community while making sure that the arguments against violence and extremism, which will isolate terrorists and potential terrorists, are held right across the country. The office within the OSCT to which he referred will be very important in that regard and it is already doing important work. As I said, we will build on that, in co-operation not only with other countries but also with many communities in this country.
The debate about biometrics could itself lead to better consensus in the future. Once all the arguments are heard and debated, and the guarantees about the protection of civil liberties against arbitrariness are understood to be real protections, we may be able to move forward in that debate, too. I accept it is contentious but I agree with my right hon. Friend that we cannot have protection at our borders and e-borders without forms of identity management within our country.
May I put this to the Prime Minister? I am not persuaded as yet of the need for an extension of pre-charge detention. If the Prime Minister wants to reach agreement across the House, why does not he establish a Committee of senior parliamentarians to take evidence on the matter? That Committee would report back to the House, and the House would then be in a position to take an informed view when it came to vote.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the open mind he shows by suggesting that there ought to be more debate on the matter. The Home Affairs Committee exists to look at those very issues, and one of its previous reports said exactly what I am saying today:
“There will be cases that do provide…justification. We believe…that the 28 day limit may well prove inadequate in the future.”
That makes it “entirely possible” and “increasingly likely” that cases would go beyond 28 days. That is the all-party report of the Home Affairs Committee. If it can find a mechanism through which to debate the issues over the summer and the next few months it would be a good thing to do, but I shall look at the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s proposal to see what progress we can make in ensuring that there is proper discussion. The evidence has certainly convinced me that we need to take action in rare and unusual circumstances in which the police will need to go beyond 28 days.
My right hon. Friend carries a heavy responsibility in the fight against terrorism, but does he accept that Parliament agreed to 28 days—after the original three, five, seven or 14 days—because of the acute terrorist threat to our country, so we should be very hesitant indeed and reluctant to go further? That could be counter-productive in the fight against terrorists and their apologists, so I hope that he will continue to seek consensus. Consensus was found on 28 days, so we should be hesitant about taking the controversial steps that divided the House nearly two years ago.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I hope that, in the spirit of what he says, he will have an open mind during the debate that we will have over the next few months. I agree with him that we should rule out the original proposal that did not command support in the House. I am also pretty clear that we should rule out the idea of an indefinite period of detention, and it should be made very clear that any maximum limit will be set by the House through legislation. I also believe that the evidence that we have, and the growing views of the Home Affairs Committee, the independent reviewer, and now, I believe, the Conservative party, that there may be circumstances in which we go beyond 28 days, should be reflected in an attempt to find a consensus on whether a further number of days are necessary and in which circumstances that should be permitted.
Can the Prime Minister tell us anything about the relationships that he has had in negotiations with the southern Government? The only part of the United Kingdom that has a land border is, of course, Northern Ireland, with the Irish Republic. What will be the reaction now, when we were all informed this morning from Northern Ireland that Operation Banner is no more? The Army has separated all its connections to security, which is now in the hands of the police.
Can I have a strong assurance from the Prime Minister that the people of Northern Ireland, especially now, as there is apparently government there, will be informed of what is taking place? I am not passing judgment on what he said. I come from a land that has been scourged with terrorism, and the baptism of terrorism is a terrible thing. My party is the largest Unionist party in the House from Northern Ireland and the largest party representing people in Northern Ireland, and we feel that every step should be taken that will hinder terrorism and give the people the peace that they need.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for playing a part in the debate this afternoon, and I thank him for being in the House today, given his responsibilities as First Minister of Northern Ireland. He knows both the dangers and the threats of terrorist violence. He also knows that in some circumstances, we must take measures that we would wish not to have to take, to deal with such a threat.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s specific question about co-operation with the Republic of Ireland and its Government, I can tell him that when I met the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, only a few days ago at a meeting where he was also present for some part, I raised with him the exchange of data within the European Union. Because we are outside the Schengen agreement, we are not part of the exchange of data, which I believe is necessary if we are to track down potential terrorist suspects. He agrees with me that both his Government and our Government should press the rest of the EU for that exchange of information.
On security and travel arrangements common to the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, I can say that the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne) is here today and these discussions are taking place, and I will ensure that the right hon. Gentleman is party to everything that is discussed on these matters.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s proposals today—in particular, the funding of the new Arabic channel by the BBC—but an extension of the 28-day limit is a question not just of getting consensus in the House, but of engaging with communities that will be disproportionately affected by any increase. When will the Prime Minister and other Ministers begin that consultation process?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I praise his work both in his community and throughout the country in bringing people together to discuss some of these difficult issues and in integrating people into the life of our country as he has so successfully done in recent years.
People will be surprised when they find out that a police investigation into one or two people can involve 200 phones, 400 computers, 8,000 CDs, 6,000 gigabytes of data and 70 premises, and cross three continents. I think that people will think that it may be difficult for the police to lay the charges that may be the right charges within a few days, and that they will understand why, in six cases in the past few months, we have gone to 27 or 28 days. But I agree with my right hon. Friend that that information is not readily known in the country at the moment, and that if we are to win this debate, and there should be a consensus on these issues, it is important that our Ministers, and, I hope, other hon. Members, can explain in the different communities of this country that this is an attempt to balance the increased need for security in our country to protect the citizens of this country—for their first right is the right to be secure and free in our country—with the need to protect against any arbitrariness in the future. I hope that we can come to a balanced view on this matter.
What proportion of the people currently being monitored and investigated for terrorism in our country have come from abroad in recent years? What impact does the Prime Minister think that his very welcome proposals to strengthen our borders will have on those numbers in the future?
I gave the figures in my statement for the number of people whom we were trying to refuse entry into this country on the grounds that we know of their previous offences, and the number of people whom we are trying to deport from our country on the grounds that they have either perpetrated a terrorist offence or been found guilty of other offences, and have been in prison, and should therefore be deported.
I told the House that the number of people being deported, which was only about 1,500 two or three years ago, had risen to more than 2,000 last year. We believe that we are on track, so that 4,000 foreign nationals who have served a sentence in British prisons will be deported from our country this year. We are stepping up to the mark to ensure that these numbers both remain on track and are achieved. We now look at such cases months before the sentence has finished. In future, we will look at those cases a year before the sentence is completed, so that we are in the best possible position to deport people. That is the information that I can give the right hon. Gentleman on the specifics.
As for international collaboration to deal with the problem of terrorists who are trying to get into our country illegally, that is precisely why I said in response to the First Minister of Northern Ireland that we need a proper exchange of data. I hope that, despite people’s views on the EU, we can agree that that is a necessary means by which Governments must collaborate to avoid terrorism in the future.
Can my right hon. Friend assure us that none of the 4,000 people who will be deported this year will be sent to countries where torture is endemic?
This is precisely why we are signing agreements with individual countries. My right hon. Friend may know that we have signed agreements with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon. We wish to sign agreements with other countries. We will move further on this in the months to come, so that we can receive the proper assurances. At the same time, however, it must be right that we should be able to deport people from our shores, either when they have been criminals in our country or when we know for a fact that they are practising or preaching terrorist violence in our country. That is why, in the spirit of what my right hon. Friend says, we will try to sign deportation agreements with more countries in the months to come.
Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the ready co-operation of the Scottish authorities—not just the police but the prosecution authorities—in securing the early apprehension of those suspected of planning and carrying out the terrorist attempts in Glasgow and London? The Prime Minister will know that a number of the things that he is proposing touch on the requirements of Scottish law—the evidential base, disclosure and possible questioning after charge—so does he see a role for the resumption of the joint ministerial committees between the Law Officers north and south of the border, and between the Justice Ministers north and south of the border, in seeking to contribute to the consensus that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to establish?
I should also welcome—as I welcomed the First Minister of Northern Ireland—the First Minister of Scotland to the House today, and I thank him for the co-operation, both over that weekend and subsequently, in dealing with a terrorist incident that started in London, but of course was designed to cause terrible damage in Glasgow. That was prevented because of the courage, professionalism and vigilance of people at Glasgow airport and the voluntary effort of people who were simply passers-by. I congratulate all the emergency services and all those people who contributed to defeating what would have been a terrible loss of life in Glasgow as well as in London.
We want to co-operate in future on all the issues that the right hon. Gentleman talks about, whether through committees or individuals contacting one another. Obviously, we must recognise the difficulties that both legal and policing authorities face, but that co-operation will continue. I am very pleased to say that both the police and the prosecution authorities have had excellent co-operation since the events of 28 and 29 June in bringing people to charge. I believe that the police co-operation has been praised on both sides of the border.
I welcome the considered way in which my right hon. Friend has tackled the issue since taking office and I welcome all that he has said today. On the issues relating to communities and service delivery to communities, will he ensure that the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Home Office join up to ensure that the services that we deliver to the community are effective across the board? Will he also encourage more of the national Muslim organisations to take a key role in tackling some of the theological issues that lead to people being drawn into extremism?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and I praise the work that he has done in bringing people together. He and the Home Secretary have talked about the issue. I hope that they will be able to continue their dialogue on these matters, and that we can draw on his expertise and the knowledge that he has built up over the years as an incredibly successful representative in his area and region. I know that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has been speaking, and will continue to speak, to many of the faith organisations. They are very much part of the debate—indeed, they are right at its centre—and we want them to be part of the debate moving forward. I hope that we will be able to present a fuller report on some of these issues in the autumn, having consulted the very people he is talking about.
In October 2006, the then head of MI5 told us that the police and security services were monitoring 30 known plots, 200 groupings and 1,600 individuals. The Prime Minister has confirmed today that it is still 30 plots and 200 groupings, but he said that there were 2,000 individuals. Can he say a bit more about the extra 400 people who have come into our reckoning in the past nine months? Are they people we have allowed in from overseas, or are they young British nationals who have become radicalised? Please could he give us a bit more information?
The reports are provided to us by the security services. We are talking about people who are being regularly monitored because of the risk they pose to the British people. They are living—and have probably lived for some time—in British communities. We have to face up to the fact that we are dealing in some cases with suicide bombers who are prepared, as British citizens, to murder and maim their own fellow citizens, whatever their religion. In some communities, we have a number of cells operating and we rely on our security services and our policing effort to do something about it. I am not in a position to distinguish between different nationalities at this stage. Obviously, with the hon. Gentleman having raised the matter, we can look at it, but he would not expect me to report to the House in that sort of detail when we are dealing with a police investigation.
On the question of detention without trial, the whole House will examine the Prime Minister’s proposals very carefully. However, does he accept that there are pragmatic reasons, as well as reasons of principle, why the House so decisively rejected any period longer than 28 days? It is by no means certain that there is a consensus, even among senior policemen and prosecutors, on the need for any extension. The new information that he mentioned earlier about the complexity of investigations was very much part of the debate about 90 days and in that sense is not new to the House. There is the issue that alarm is being caused in communities by the notion that people can be lifted and held without charge for months at a time. In that sense, it might well prove counter-productive. So the issues are not just issues of principle; they are also pragmatic issues and issues of how best to secure our national security.
I am grateful for the views that my hon. Friend expresses, because they are very much part of the debate. The scale of the investigations—for example the airline plot that I mentioned—is of a substantially and qualitatively different nature compared with some of the previous investigations. We are dealing with large amounts of data and, in some cases, with multiple passports, addresses and bank accounts. In some cases, the police do not know the identity of the person they have arrested for some time, because that person is operating under the cover of so many passports, identities, addresses and bank accounts. That issue is increasingly relevant in investigations. If we agree that we are in a qualitatively different position in terms of the threat from al-Qaeda-related activities, we have to consider the security measures that are necessary.
I hope that my hon. Friend will also bear in mind the fact that—because the debate has been so long-lasting —we have taken into account all the issues that have been raised previously. So if we were to move beyond 28 days, that would be subject to a case being made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, to the approval of a High Court judge every seven days, to a regular report by the independent reviewer, and to a debate in Parliament on that. If we went beyond 28 days in any instance, Parliament would have to be notified and a statement would have to be made to Parliament. There would be a review of the specific case by the independent reviewer in a timely fashion and provision for the House to scrutinise and debate a report on the circumstances surrounding the case.
I believe that we are combining the need for enhanced security and the protection of the lives of individuals with a recognition that there should be no arbitrariness in the way in which we treat individuals. Therefore we need not only enhanced judicial oversight, but proper parliamentary accountability. I hope that over the next few weeks and months my hon. Friend will look at the specific provisions, which I believe meet all the points that were eloquently made in the debate previously. I hope that she will bear it in mind that the proposal for 90 days has been dropped and that no one on this side of the House is proposing an indefinite period of detention.
What is being offered as an alternative to the Prime Minister’s proposal on 28 days is not just one thing, as he said, but a combination of at least three things: post-charge questioning, wire-tap evidence, and changing the prosecutors’ code to allow earlier charging. Why does he reject that combination of three things in favour of his proposal, which to all intents and purposes is internment?
We are not rejecting it at all. We are saying that it is possible to complement the measures by a measured approach to what should happen after 28 days in circumstances that are rare and possibly very unusual, but where there is general agreement that we may have to go beyond 28 days. Again, I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at what we are writing in both as protections for the rights of the individual and so that Parliament can be properly informed on these matters. I hope that he will accept that there is a growing body of opinion that believes that going beyond 28 days may, in certain circumstances, be necessary. However, we are responding to what I believe is his view that there should be fair protections for the rights of the individual. I hope that, over the summer months, he will look at the specific proposal and see whether there is a potential consensus.
On the question of the protection of critical infrastructure, my right hon. Friend will be aware that the EU, as well as NATO, is already preparing policy. Will the joint working party to which he referred, which will liaise with Germany and France, also work with the EU and NATO so that we have a concerted and coherent approach across Europe to the protection of critical infrastructure?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I know that he takes an interest in these matters. Although the working party that we are talking about is about hearts and minds in relation to isolating violent extremists and supporting mainstream and moderate opinion, I agree that there is also a need for cross-Government discussions on how best to learn the lessons of how to protect our infrastructure. That is as true of roads and railways as it is of vital utilities, nuclear power stations and other important infrastructure in our countries. We will draw on the lessons from other countries, as he suggests.
May I commend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the consensual way in which they are attempting to approach the issue? However, may I also observe that if the leader of the Liberal Democrats can contemplate lowering the threshold of evidence required to charge a terrorist suspect, and if even Liberty can contemplate extending the period of detention—albeit by declaring a state of emergency—then there is no magic number of days that resolves the issue of principle when it comes to how we deal with non-state actors who are prepared to commit mass-casualty attacks on the British population? Therefore, will the Prime Minister undertake at least to allow the inquiry that he is setting up to consider Lord Carlile’s proposal? There is a case to be made that setting a higher and higher threshold of days creates more alarm among the public than the exceptional circumstances in which we might have to detain someone for more than 28 days.
The hon. Gentleman makes the powerful general point that we are in unique circumstances, which he has described. I am glad that he put his case in the way that he did. Opinion is moving in this country. For example, post-charge questioning has also been proposed by Liberty, which we would perhaps not have expected it to do a few years ago. The very fact that Liberty has joined the debate on what might happen in circumstances in which we need to go beyond 28 days suggests that it is possible to find a consensus on the issues across the spectrum. I do not know that I necessarily agree with him that some authority other than Parliament should set the final or ultimate number of days for which people can be detained before a charge is put, but of course that, too, can be a matter for the debate, because there are four options in the discussion document. He may wish to make his own representations during discussions over the summer months.
I welcome the introduction of e-borders and the electronic screening proposals, but will my right hon. Friend consider London Luton airport’s offer to pilot some of the initiatives, which will increase passenger safety and speed up proceedings at airports? Will he also undertake to look into international co-operation, so that we can ensure that websites that exist to recruit and train terrorists are taken down as a matter of urgency?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is not only a member of the Home Affairs Committee, but represents a constituency with an airport, Luton, which is a very important part of our airport network. She is right to suggest that where airport authorities want to work with us to increase security, and want to pilot some of the means by which we do so, we are very happy to co-operate. I can see the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), who has responsibility for immigration; he will talk to my hon. Friend about how we can co-operate on those projects.
The Prime Minister has announced that he is publishing the Intelligence and Security Committee report on extraordinary rendition today. I regret that he decided not to make a full statement on that important subject, too. Did the US authorities ignore vigorous protest from our security authorities about the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, and will the Prime Minister take this opportunity unequivocally to condemn the policy of extraordinary rendition—that is, the practice whereby many people have been kidnapped by US authorities and taken to places where they may be tortured?
Where people are at risk of being tortured, we have been very clear about our objections to such a policy, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should read the report. There will be other chances for us to debate the details of it, and I am not going to condemn the US authorities in the way that he suggests.
Will the Prime Minister explain a bit more about the existing repatriation agreements with non-convention countries, and other such agreements that are due to be signed? Will he give an undertaking that in future we will sign such agreements only with convention countries, and that there will be monitoring of what happens to prisoners who are returned to a country, and of any charges or ill-treatment that they might face on their return?
My hon. Friend raises very important points, but it is in the interests of this country for more countries to be prepared to sign repatriation agreements with us. Over the next few months, I hope that we will be able to report to the House—there will be chances to debate this—that countries that hitherto have not been prepared to sign these agreements will do so. I think that that is for the benefit of us and of those countries, in the long run, so I will not wholly go down the road that he suggests. I will say, however, that when we sign these agreements, we will report to the House so that the House can debate them.
The whole House will support my right hon. Friend in his efforts to secure consensus among the leaders of the political parties on the issues that we are discussing, but does he agree that there will be occasions when the Government and the Prime Minister will have to take decisions on security without consulting other politicians?
My right hon. Friend has experience of Government, and he rightly suggests that decisions that have to be made, and made quickly, will be made. However, on this particular issue, which has been contentious for the House, and on which there has been a big national debate, I believe that there is movement in opinion, and I believe that it is the duty of the House to see whether we can reflect those changes in opinion by trying to reach consensus. I do not apologise for trying to seek consensus on the issue.
Does not the six-month threshold for the requirement for foreign nationals to have biometric ID leave a large loophole for would-be terrorists, who might seek to come to the country for a shorter period? Obviously, there is a serious issue of cost, and we cannot get away from that, but apart from cost, is there any reason why that threshold should allow a period as long as six months?
I hope that we can join the debate, because the hon. Gentleman appears to be supporting identity cards.
Well, the hon. Gentleman supports biometric visas, which are the equivalent of identity cards for people who have been in the country for more than six months. I hope that we can debate the issue in future, because it seems to me that e-border controls, which we can tighten up, and border controls—we have made proposals on them today—can work properly only if we complement them with an ID system, such as the one that he proposes for foreign nationals in this country, and such as the one that we propose for British citizens in the long run. Let us join the debate and see whether we can get consensus, although it may not be with the Front Benchers of the two Opposition parties. It may be that we can draw on the changes that are taking place in the Conservative party, and that some Members on the Opposition Back Benches will support us.
I warmly welcome today’s statement, but I ask the Prime Minister to accept that in the debate on the scrutiny of intelligence and security, there appears to be a desire for inquiries to be more open and accessible. The Intelligence and Security Committee regularly and scrupulously takes evidence from the security agencies. Is that not a valuable part of open democracy that should be maintained?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. She has done a very valuable job and has distinguished herself in taking up the work of that Committee, which has resulted in today’s report; we have also had very good reports from it in the past. The reason why I favour a reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee is not to lose the uniqueness of what she describes, which is the ability of parliamentarians to talk to the security services about matters that it would clearly not be in the interests of the country to report widely. There is a second reason why the Committee should take the form that we suggest: it ought to be able to tell the country, through its work, about the important efforts made, and energies used, by the security services in the interests of our whole country. That is the part of the work of Select Committees that other Committees can undertake, and we must find the means by which the Intelligence and Security Committee can do that, in the interests of the security services and parliamentary accountability. I applaud the vital work that is being done, and I know that the security services appreciate it, from our discussions with them of some of the big challenges that they face, but we ought also to think about a public role, which I think will enhance the security services and the reputation of Parliament.
I urge the Prime Minister to look again at the plans for e-borders, which are based around the check-in process. Technology already in use in America frequently does not pick up problems until after the aircraft has taken off. I urge him to look instead at the technology available off the shelf, much of it developed in Britain and in use in countries such as New Zealand and some of the Gulf states, which starts the process at the point at which people purchase their tickets.
We are looking at that, and if the hon. Gentleman has particular expertise that he wishes to bring to bear on these matters, I know that my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for immigration will be very happy to talk to him about it. We must benefit from all the new technology that is available, but I appeal to the hon. Gentleman as someone who I know has thought a lot about the issues: we must recognise that a combination of e-borders, border control and some form of identity management will be necessary for the future.