Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

David Davis: There are better ways to protect our security than giving away our freedoms

Speaking in the Home Affairs & Justice section of the Queen's Speech debate, Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said:

"Mr Speaker, the Government has approached the Queen's Speech in each of the last ten years under the misguided assumption that it can meet the challenges Britain faces by sheer volume of new legislation.

After 60 Home Office Bills introduced by this Government it is overwhelmingly clear that law-making is no substitute for law enforcement.

You can't legislate away the gun violence that has multiplied under this Government.

You can't legislate away the Government's failure to count - let alone control - immigration.

And you can't legislate away the failure to build enough prison places which has led to the early release of eight and a half thousand serious criminals since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.

When it comes to security, the Government has spent a huge amount of time, energy and resources on controversial policies that are ineffective, if not outright counter-productive.

Why is the Government wasting billions on ID cards, when the IT can be corrupted by terrorists with a gadget costing £100?

Why with two thousand individuals threatening our security is the Government wasting so much energy on a Control Order regime that monitors just 14 terrorist suspects and is so ineffective that 7 have escaped, most without trace?

And why the fixation with extending detention without trial without a shred of evidence that we need longer when it will cut off vital cooperation from local communities and when we already have emergency powers to deal with the nightmare scenarios Ministers keep speculating about.

Before coming on to the proposals from the Home Office, I can inform the Lord Chancellor that we can agree with a number of the proposals from his Department.

But I have to say they read rather like an indictment of Labour's record over the last ten years….

A Bill to guard against the politicisation of the civil service. We look forward to learning from their experience.

Reforms to require greater Parliamentary scrutiny of war-making powers. The former Foreign Secretary is uniquely well-qualified to guide us here.

And a review of the ban on protesters outside Parliament but presumably not the one on hecklers at Party conferences.

Just as striking are the omissions from the charge sheet.

Still nothing to address the constitutional mess this Government has made of Its half-baked reform of the House of Lords.

Nothing to give English MPs the same rights as Scottish ones.

And nothing on the Lord Chancellor's Human Rights Act, which the Prime Minister now briefs against in the press.

When it comes to tackling crime, the Government is exhausted. It's given up.

Violent crime has doubled.

We can argue the figures all they like.

The public know the reality they've lost all trust in what Ministers say.

The single most important measure the Government could announce would be to cut the red-tape that ties officers to their desks.

The Home Secretary claims the Government has cut 9,000 forms. But, when we ask her to list them, she can't.

So I don't expect much from Labour's fifth major review of police red-tape due in the New Year.

A Conservative Government will take the first opportunity to slash red-tape, and replace it with the direct local accountability that will get our police back on the streets, cutting crime and responding to the needs of local communities.

I understand that the Lord Chancellor is warming to the idea himself.

Perhaps he can clarify his position and tell the House in clear terms whether locally elected police commissioners will be the next policy his Government tries to pinch from the Conservative Party?

Then we've had the Government's recent statements on immigration.

It's a classic example of how they operate. How they simply can't be trusted.

Anyone reading the papers yesterday would have expected to have heard in the Gracious Speech an Immigration Bill which would cut immigration by 35,000.

Let me read one paper from earlier in the week: "A new Immigration Bill", setting out a "points-based system" which will "slash immigration by 35,000 a year will be at the heart of Gordon Brown's first Queen's Speech"

That's wrong on two counts.

First, there isn't an Immigration Bill introducing a points system in the Queen's Speech.

It doesn't exist.

It's not there.

The second reason it's misleading is the Government has said the points system, which is already in place, is not about setting a limit on immigration.

The Home Office said they couldn't predict the numbers.

The former Immigration Minister said the system was "not about letting fewer people or more people in".

And the current Immigration Minister, when asked how a points-based system would reduce the number of migrants, said he's "not the General Secretary of a Soviet-style central planning system".

The Prime Minister will be disappointed.

The Government's proposals on counter-terrorism formed a key component of the Gracious Speech.

We've heard only this week from the Head of MI5 the growing number of terrorist suspects we face. A threat level rising faster than our capacity to monitor it.

On this side of the House, we believe we need a renewed effort - across all parties - to confront and scale back the terrorist threat.

Mr Speaker, we will join with the Government in supporting every effective and appropriate measure with that aim in view.

We have called for the introduction of post-charge questioning of for years. We hope the Government will take swift action on this.

We will look closely at the arrangements for using DNA in terrorism investigations.

And we will look carefully at the workability of proposals for monitoring those convicted of terrorism offences, after their release with the Government's woeful track record of enforcing control orders firmly in mind.

There are areas where we will urge the Government to go further.

We intend to bring forward concrete proposals in the context of the Bill to fully ban Hizbullah's activities in Britain; take action to ensure that charities are not used to finance groups engaged in terrorism; and review the Government's confused approach to banning extremist organisations that preach hatred and violence against this country.

We want to see a zero-tolerance approach to those involved in terror.

Mr Speaker, I had intended to avoid commenting on the question of intercept evidence, in light of the cross-party review underway.

But since there was no mention of the review in the Queen's Speech and since the Home Secretary felt able to brief newspapers that she was hardening against any change in the law, I no longer feel so restrained.

Foreign intercept evidence is already used in British courts.

Intercept is used in nearly every US prosecution of organised crime and terrorism the FBI and US prosecutors say intercept is more often than not the decisive evidence that secures a conviction.

Using intercept would be cost-effective because, where used, it often results in an early guilty-plea and encourages cooperation with the police.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, the last Attorney General and senior officers in the Met have called for intercept to be used in our courts.

The Home Secretary now briefs that she is concerned about compromising the value of intercept as an intelligence-gathering tool.

And yet every other country has found a way to protect sources.

Terror suspects are already acutely aware that they may be monitored but they still use mobile phones.

And if in any specific case, there is a particularly serious objection, the answer is simple. You don't use that intercept in that case.

That's why the Australian Director of Public Prosecutions said:

"If you are not using intercept, you aren't being serious."

Now let us turn to the vexed issue of extending detention without charge.

We remain open to cross party dialogue, although internal Government consultations appeared to have settled the matter.

Their Security Adviser, Lord West, states that:

'We have to show absolutely that we really do need this'.

The Home Secretary's answer to the Home Affairs Select Committee?

'I accept that there has not been a circumstance in which it has been necessary up to this point to go beyond 28 days.'

The last time this House had this debate, the so called 90 day debate, the government did not present any evidence that 90 days was necessary. Instead they presented an argument that it might be necessary if certain circumstances came to pass. The end result of this was that, the government was defeated in this House for the first time in ten years.

Regrettably, a circumstance very like the one they described came to pass, in the alleged Heathrow plot of August 2006. It was alleged to involve a simultaneous attack on ten airliners, and that attack was believed to be imminent. It involved a large number of people, a large number of locations, some potentially hazardous, and a large number of computers, all of which raised problems of evidence gathering. It involved information from a foreign intelligence agency. And because the threat was thought to be imminent, the police had to move earlier than they would otherwise choose, before all their evidence was gathered.

It was almost an exact replica of the imaginary case that the government had said would need 90 days.

So in practice did they need 90 days? Not a bit of it. Of the defendants, 15 were charged by 19 days or less. Five suspects were kept beyond 19 days. Two of those were charged at the 28 day point.

Was the full 28 days needed to collect the evidence in any case? No.

Indeed there has been no case in which 28 days has prevented a subject being charged.

The next question is whether the police could have gathered the key evidence any more quickly than they did.

I spoke to some senior members of the police team who ran this investigation. My strong impression was that the investigation was well run, and that the team did a very capable job. They clearly did all that was necessary in the time available.

The question that has to be answered in the context of this argument is: If they had needed to do it faster, could they have done it faster?

So I asked the police whether they instituted three shift working for the evidence gathering process. Did they work night round the clock? No, they said.

I asked them whether they drafted in any forensic or IT staff from other forces. Not necessary, they said.

I asked them a number of other questions about the techniques and management of the evidence gathering process. It was quite clear that there were ways of accelerating some aspects of the process when it becomes necessary.

So to summarise, in no case to date has the 28 day limit created a problem, and furthermore it is almost certain that the evidence gathering and sifting can be accelerated.

Certainly if the necessary resources are provide.

The House should not forget that cross-party cooperation delivered range of new offences to enable the police to charge anybody - anybody- involved in a terrorist plot.

Acts Preparatory to terrorism.

Encouragement to terrorism.

Dissemination of Terrorist Publications.

Terrorist training offences.

in addition to possessing information for terrorist purposes, recruiting for terrorist training and inciting overseas terrorism.

What has been lacking is the determination to make full use of the powers we already have in law.

The previous Home Secretary understood these arguments, and came up with another scenario.

He said "What if we have not one Heathrow style plot, but 5, all at once? We would be overwhelmed."

That is the circumstance under which we argue that the government should evoke the state of emergency provisions in the civil Contingencies Act.

These powers are quite sweeping, and they include the power to hold without charge for up to 30 days, over and above any period under existing legislation.

So in a state of emergency the government already has the power to hold for up to 58 days. And the scenario described by the previous Home Secretary would have involved 50 airliners coming under attack so would clearly constitute a state of emergency.

Such a power would require the government after the event to justify its case both to the House of Commons and the courts. For an incursion of liberty like this, that is a good thing.

The government complains that this process - which they designed - would alarm the public. This from a government that habitually issues bloodcurdling assessments of the threat, and describes it, as the biggest threat since the second world war.

I consider this objection nonsense. Firstly because it underestimates the British public. A public that withstood 3000 deaths under the Northern Irish troubles, and that faced that many deaths in a night at the height of the Blitz.

Second, because the public would expect a state of emergency if there was a threat to blow 50 airliners out of the sky.

And third, because there would be no immediate need to declare a state of emergency…only before the expiry of the current 28 day limit at which point the exigencies of the situation would be all too clear to the public.

The Home Secretary has also been suggesting that this demonstrates that we accept the need to move beyond 28 days.

This is a facile argument. It should be clear that we do not accept the need to extend detention without charge, based either on the evidence of operations to date or the most horrendous hypothetical scenarios dreamt up by Ministers.

Let me explain the matter to her by quoting from a document that I would hope she has already read. The House of Lords judgement that struck down the government's arguments on control orders last week.

Lord Brown said: "[The right to liberty] represents a fundamental value and is absolute in its terms. Liberty is too precious a value to be discarded except in times of genuine national emergency. None is suggested here."

"Except in times of genuine national emergency." That is the condition, the requirement, before giving up our fundamental liberties.

And this is the crux of the matter. Rather than have a temporary, declared state of emergency , the Government wants a permanent, undeclared state of emergency.

To choose that is to reject the tradition of liberty in this country paid for by hundreds of thousands of British lives in the last century.

The government argues that the enemy is getting more sophisticated, the plots more complex and that demands more time.

The presumption is that the plotters get better, but we do not. I don't accept that defeatist argument. It is one we will explore in great detail when we come to the Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

And the House should heed the warnings from those on the front-line in counter-terrorism about the counter-productive implications of extended detention without trial.

Former Head of MI5, Stella Rimmington, warns against this 'increasingly draconian' measure.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan warns us to 'take great care not to over-react, not to do the job of the terrorists for them.'

The Met's senior counter-terrorism officer, Peter Clarke, warns against destroying the trust that 'fundamentally affects the level of support, and of course intelligence that we receive from communities'.

Even the current Head of MI5 cautions that: 'The terrorists may be indiscriminate in their violence against us, but we should not be so in our response to them.'

Mr Speaker, extending detention without trial, like ID cards, like Control Orders, will undermine our freedoms.

But it won't make us safer. In fact, it risks making the threat worse.

Mr Speaker, many in this chamber today are wearing a poppy. Those poppies symbolise an enormous sacrifice.

Tomorrow morning at 11 o'clock many of us will be standing at regimental plots in the grounds of Westminster Abbey paying our respects to those soldiers who paid for our freedom with their lives.

Our freedom was bought at a very high price. We on this side will not give that freedom away without very good reason indeed."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech