1 earlier: Tom Brake
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who has consistently held his views on this issue over many years. I have a lot of sympathy with what he has said. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), for whose views I also have much sympathy.
I want to comment on a point made by the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe). I know he is an honourable man, but he made an unfortunate comment which I suspect was down to an over-enthusiastic, wet-behind-the-ears political novice who is working in his office at present, who got a quote from the Labour agents’ handbook suggesting that the coalition Government’s proposal is some kind of political stitch-up for the benefit of the Deputy Prime Minister. That was an unfortunate comment, and it demeans the hon. Gentleman, because it has no credibility whatever. To suggest that the coalition Government would put the country’s security at risk is extremely regrettable, and I wish he had not made that remark.
I would prefer it if this debate did not have to take place, but I realise that we cannot allow control orders to lapse without anything in their place. I therefore welcome the fact that this is a temporary renewal, and that, as the Minister said, this will be the last occasion
of its kind. We have a very clear milestone—31 December this year—by which the alternative arrangements need to be in place.2 earlier: Jeremy Corbyn
I more or less entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission courts involve that concept of the special advocate who does not know—or, rather, may well know but cannot share with his client, the defendant—what the charges are against that person, and how the defence is to be mounted. Franz Kafka wrote about such circumstances extensively and with great passion. It is possible that descendants of Franz Kafka are working away in the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office or some grubby basement somewhere.
We are talking about the creation of a miasma of untrustworthy or untrustable sources. There might be a case against an individual, but that individual does not know what it is. His advocate might know what it is, but cannot tell him and can say only, “Do not worry—I will try and get you off. You want to know what you are charged with? Oh, I cannot tell you that.” Hello? Let us get real. If we believe in a proper judicial process, let us practise a proper judicial process.
I feel very reluctant to support any anti-terror law that departs from the principle that anyone who has been charged must know what the charge is, must be able to defend himself against that charge, and must be either found guilty or acquitted, depending on what evidence is presented and what the court decides at the end of the process. That principle, surely, is the best defence of a free society. Departing from it weakens a free society and damages all of us.
It is disappointing that the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), is not present to comment on its report. I want to make three brief points about the summary. The Committee calls on the Government to
“urgently review all existing control orders to ensure they are compatible with the findings”,
but it was not clear to me from the Minister’s earlier contribution whether that had happened, so perhaps he will tell us in summing up.
One of the other Select Committee recommendations was:
“The Director of Public Prosecutions should be asked to consider whether a criminal investigation is justified in relation to each of the eight individuals subject to existing control orders”.
Again, I am not clear whether that has happened. I apologise if I missed something the Minister said, but I would be grateful if he would say what has happened in that respect.
The Select Committee also said:
“We do not accept the Government’s reasons for not providing this opportunity”—
for pre-legislative scrutiny—
“and recommend that it be published and made available to Parliament”.
If the Government have measures to introduce on control orders or anti-terror in general, that is clearly an important and major piece of legislation. This House has slowly and reluctantly dragged itself from the 18th century into the 19th and the 20th, and although we have not reached the 21st yet, we do have a process of pre-legislative scrutiny. Therefore, I think a Bill should be published as early as possible so that the House can thoroughly examine it and we can have a serious debate on it before it reaches the light of day. These are serious and important issues. We are talking not about just eight individuals’ lives, but the whole principle of a democratic and free society.
We put in place control orders, secret courts, special advocates and all kinds of special measures, and we have a Security Service that is not public and that is unaccountable. We also have charges that are unknown against individuals who do not know what the charges against them are. That creates a rather unpleasant Kafkaesque secrecy surrounding our society and our lives. It does not make us any safer, and it does not make the world any safer; actually, it contributes to making the world a more dangerous and precarious place.
I hope the Minister understands both my reasons for making these points and why many of us hold these views. It is reasonable and fine for him or the Secretary of State to ask for opinions and views from the security services and the police; of course they should ask for their views. They should also, however, ask for the views of the judiciary, advocates, civil liberties groups and the people who spend their whole lives trying to defend the civil liberties of all of us. Their views are equally legitimate and important.