UK Liberty

Counter-Terrorism Bill debate

Lots of good speeches on Tuesday in the Commons.

David Davis on evidence:

David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden, Conservative):

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way a second time. Her argument is that the terrorists are using more and more complex techniques, which are difficult for the state to deal with, yet she cannot tell us whether the state has used the proper legal apparatus and criminal charges to overcome the problem. If she cannot make that judgment, how on earth can she judge how many days she needs?

Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary): I am sorry that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman again.

I bet you are!

Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield, Conservative): The problem with the Home Secretary‘s utterances is that we have heard all this before. A member of the ACPO TAM committee has said one thing, but the Home Secretary glosses over the fact that other members of that committee disagree. Would she like to tell the House the names of the members of that committee, and which of them support this measure and which do not?

Also let’s not pretend the ACPO is independent from the Home Office.

The Home Secretary made a silly comment about other regimes (say Iran or Zimbabwe?):

Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary): People have made the argument in terms of such international comparisons, so I have to ask Members whether they think that all things considered we have a fairer and better regime in the UK than in some other countries. Notwithstanding the difficulty of making comparisons, I think they will accept that we do.

Martin Salter seems to be on a different planet:

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour): On that point, critics of the Government have argued that Parliament is incapable of having a meaningful debate on the reserve powers mentioned in the Home Secretary’s proposals, but has not the House for many years had meaningful debate on the extension of the prevention of terrorism Act powers? Does the Home Secretary not accept that her proposals would be substantially improved if the House, instead of having to wait 30 days, had the opportunity to vote on the reserve powers within a far shorter time—say, within 10 or even seven days? We could then have a meaningful impact on the process that she is setting out.

Parliament should not be involved with what is in principle a judicial power.

Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary): I have previously expressed my surprise at the extent to which parliamentarians are willing to call their own activities a sham. The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but the proposition put forward by
the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) to the use the Civil Contingencies Act itself requires parliamentary approval. I presume that he is not suggesting that his right hon. Friend is proposing a sham.

But that isn’t a decision on the detention of an individual (a judicial, not legislative, responsibility)! It’s a vote on a state of emergency. She should resign if she can’t understand the difference. As Dominic Grieve said later, “it is strange that the Government cannot see the distinction between Parliament pronouncing on the generality of a state of emergency under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and Parliament attempting to pronounce on the detention of an individual when the facts will not be capable of being laid before Parliament at all”.

As I cannot impugn any dishonesty (Speaker forbid!) I can only conclude she is incompetent.

Now, on inquests:

Douglas Hogg (Sleaford & North Hykeham, Conservative): My right hon. Friend is being too generous to the Home Secretary. Clause 64 allows the appointment of specially appointed coroners and juries to be dispensed with in any cases where the Government think it in the public interest to do so [and appoint another coroner, and another and another]. Anything that might embarrass the Government could be deemed to be in the public interest.

David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden, Conservative): My right hon. and learned Friend has accused me of something that I have never been accused of before—being too generous to the Home Secretary. The simple truth is that the comments by the Secretary of State for Defence in the past couple of weeks on inquests and how coroners should not criticise the Government in any way adds strength to my right hon. and learned Friend’s point. We will test that proposal in Committee and on Report to ensure that it is necessary, proportionate and cannot be provided in some other way. My right hon. and learned Friend has my word on that.

On the subject of naming names:

David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden, Conservative): Incidentally, on the question of naming people who have talked to us about the issue, I should say that, given the Government’s track record on the treatment of public servants who in the public interest disagree with them, the last thing I would do is name for the Home Secretary those who have given us evidence on this matter.

But,

Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that I actually cited the most senior counter-terrorism police officer in this country, as well as the Association of Chief Police Officers? Will he dissociate himself from the dismissive comments about those senior police officers made by his Front-Bench colleague?

David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden, Conservative): The Home Secretary cited Ken Jones, the ACPO chief, at one point. I remember that when he first raised this issue I asked him directly—this is a conversation that I can repeat to her, as can he—whether he had at that point checked with the TAM committee, because I had been told by a member of that committee that he had not, and he said that, honestly, no he had not. I am afraid that the raw truth is that the headline, “Senior public official agrees with Government”, is an unsurprising one, and that many chief officers are worried about this, for reasons on which I am about to elaborate.

On alternative methods for keeping people detained and the reasons for detaining them:

Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway, Labour):<!– | –> Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves alternative periods of imprisonment, I remind him that he mentioned in an intervention the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and its provisions to charge people with refusing to give up encryption. That power also exists under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. In so far as the refusal constitutes contempt of court, RIPA allows for incarceration, until the encryption is given up and the encrypted material translated, indefinitely—never mind 58 days, but indefinitely. In those circumstances, does he understand the Government’s argument on encryption?

A good point about time needed:

Christopher Huhne (Eastleigh, Liberal Democrat): The Home Secretary has also argued that cases are becoming extraordinarily complex. In one recent case that she mentioned, there were three terabytes of evidence on computer—the equivalent of a library a third the size of the US Library of Congress or more than 10 million books. This point is a boomerang for the Government, because an extension of a mere two weeks would be entirely useless if each bit of evidence had to waded through and assessed as the Home Secretary implies. Indeed, if it were necessary to read material equivalent to a third of the US Library of Congress within the proposed legal limit of 42 days, I calculate that that would require 238,095 police officers working eight-hour shifts. That is all the police officers in this country, plus 100,000 on loan from a friendly neighbour. [Interruption.] If the Government really believe that this is a cogent point— [Interruption.] Would the Home Secretary like to intervene? If the Government really believe that this is a cogent point, they would need to propose a period of detention far longer— [Interruption.]

On what it means to surrender power to the Executive:

Douglas Hogg (Sleaford & North Hykeham, Conservative): Before I say anything about the Bill in detail, I have three preliminary points that are relevant to the totality of what I want to say. First, we need to keep in mind the fact that there have been four substantial pieces of legislation since 2000 that have touched on terrorism. Indeed, a whole host of other powers and offences are relevant. When there is an argument for change, a compelling case for it has to be made.

Secondly, and differently, we need to keep in mind the fact that when we give powers to officials, those powers are always capable of being abused, and almost certainly will be. When we consider the implementation of powers, we should never do so from the perspective of the ideal implementation, but always from the perspective of abusive implementation.

My last point, too, is related to that. We must remember that when the House surrenders powers to the Executive, we never get them back. The effect is cumulative. Whenever we examine a Bill that surrenders powers, we must keep in mind not just the present but the past and the prospective. The overall weight is what ultimately matters.

On the Government’s claim that we should do what the police want:

Andrew Dismore (Hendon, Labour): When we visited Paddington Green, the lack of availability of police bail was mentioned—of course, police bail would not apply to major suspects, flight risks or key players. It was stated that there are often people on the fringes who are not flight risks—perhaps they were involved in funding—whose computers could be broken down while they are on police bail, subject to strenuous conditions such as those used with control orders. That recommendation came from the police who deal with such cases. So far, the Government response to that package has been to pick holes in each individual suggestion, and they have not been prepared to consider the package in its entirety. However, they have accepted that some parts of the package would reduce the pressure to go beyond 28 days.

Dismore again, on scrutiny and consensus:

The Government have not made their case. The consensus approach has been commendable, but my Committee produced a 101-paragraph report on the 42-day issue to which the Government responded in a mere four paragraphs without answering any of our arguments.

And he eloquently makes the point about the confusion of powers:

A statement to Parliament and approval by Parliament are not good enough, and we cannot debate those issues properly without prejudicing a trial. Consider how many times in this debate already we have been reminded of the sub judice rule. How on earth can we actually discuss in any meaningful way on a whipped vote the question of somebody’s liberty or continued detention? It is simply not possible to go into the level of detail necessary to consider whether a time limit should be extended for the purposes of a particular investigation. That approach confuses parliamentary and judicial functions.

A point incisively hammered home by Alistair Carmichael:

People who hope to be due for re-election in two years’ time are not the best people to trust with the liberty of the individual.

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