Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Part of Carers (Identification and Support) – in the House of Commons at 3:55 pm on 14th July 2010.

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Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities 3:55 pm, 14th July 2010

I am grateful for that clarification, and I completely agree with what the Home Secretary has said about Prevent.

As the Home Secretary said in her speech, the security threat is, if anything, greater today than it was a year ago. In the year since the last renewal, we have learned more, by means of Operation Overt, about the so-called liquid bomb plot, through the successful prosecution of those involved. We should remember that this involved the planned destruction of seven passenger planes all flying to North America, and is one case in which pre-charge detention beyond 14 days was necessary in respect of six people involved in that plot.

We also know now that Operation Pathway in Greater Manchester, which was a matter of speculation in the debate this time last year, is now understood to have been a serious and advanced terrorist plot. It was, thankfully, thwarted yet again by the security services. In the past year, two further organisations have been proscribed. The threat level, decided not by Ministers but by the experts in the security agencies, has been changed to "substantial" and then back to the second highest level, "severe", which means that an attack is highly likely. As we meet today to make a decision based on the evidence over the coming year, that is the position in which we find ourselves.

On Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen who studied in the United Kingdom and was radicalised in Yemen, flew from Lagos via Holland with 80 grams of PETN explosive-which successfully circumvented aviation security-sewn into his underpants, in an attempt to blow up a passenger plane over Detroit. That demonstrated first the continuing ingenuity of our enemies, and secondly the international nature of the threat.

There has been one other important development over the year: the report of the all-party group of Privy Counsellors, under the chairmanship of Sir John Chilcot, on the crucial issue of intercept evidence. When I was Home Secretary, I briefed the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister separately in their previous roles. They fully understand-as, I know, does the Home Secretary-that the Privy Counsellors found that two of the nine principles that they themselves had established in order to ensure a practical way in which to meet our shared desire to use intercept as evidence were breached during the simulations that they conducted in their course of their work. They are doing further work to see whether they can find a way around the difficulties, but the issue is obviously integral to the whole question of pre-charge detention.

I ask the Home Secretary to reconsider the response that she gave yesterday to Mr Bone, who asked why intercept evidence was not being considered as part of the review. She rightly said that it was better to consider the issue over time, but that, I believe, is an argument for spending longer on the review. I fail to see how such an important component of the argument about 28 days-rehearsed in every annual debate, and also integral to the consideration of control orders, which is also part of the review-can be separated from the overall review.

Finally, there is the important question of whether the power is being abused in the legal framework. Some Members argue that we should abandon this measure because it is not used very often, but I would be more concerned if it were used other than sparingly. As the Home Secretary rightly said, it is an exceptional measure, as Lord Carlile has pointed out, the need for it is rare, and the Crown Prosecution Service is well aware that no one should be detained for a moment longer than necessary. There is no evidence that the power has been abused, but Lord Carlile made an important recommendation in his review of Operation Pathway, proposing the granting of conditional bail by a judge for a period up to the 28th day following arrest, which would enable restrictions short of custody to be imposed while the inquiry continued. That strikes me as worthy of consideration, perhaps during the review.

In my view, the evidence is overwhelming. The statutory instrument should be approved today, and the Government should tread very carefully if the purpose of their review is to arrive at a conclusion consistent with the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment to reduce the 28-day pre-charge detention period for terrorist suspects regardless of the dangers and the overwhelming evidence.

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