The Home Secretary David Blunkett made some interesting remarks in the House of Commons yesterday:
Reduced burden of proof for terrorist offence:
11. Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): What plans he has for changing the standards of (a) proof and (b) evidence in criminal cases believed to involve terrorism.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): On Wednesday, at 9 o'clock in the morning, so that right hon. and hon. Members will have the opportunity to read it before the debate, I intend to publish a discussion document on the challenges laid down by the Newton Committee, and the challenges that were posed to us when we, as a Parliament, originally passed the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
Vera Baird : I acknowledge the difficult task that my right hon. Friend has in protecting the public from British people whom he believes to be a terrorist threat, when, almost by definition, the intelligence that informs him of that is not admissible in court, but I ask him to bear it in mind that there is a whole range of powers currently in statute that have not yet been brought into force, which could help, including in particular, in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the admissibility of hearsay, which can be second-hand, third-hand or written evidence from abroad. Using that provision could transform the picture. If what is said in the press this weekend is right, I encourage him enormously to pursue the course that he appears to have embarked on, and allow the admission of phone-tap material in court as quickly as possible.
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. and learned Friend is right, in that we want a sensible, balanced approach that protects the rights of the innocent and retains the long-standing presumption of innocence, acknowledging that all of us in the House are committed to maintaining those historic rights, while allowing us to admit evidence in a way that is acceptable. The current review of intercept is an important part of that debate. I appeal to everyone?and I will do so on Wednesday?to address these very difficult issues in a spirit that presumes that even the Home Secretary is innocent until proven guilty.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): What the Home Secretary said about the presumption
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of innocence is most welcome, but I urge him also not to interfere with the standard of proof, which would, unfortunately, undermine respect for the rule of law.
Mr. Blunkett: In the lecture that I gave to human rights lawyers and members of the supreme court in New Delhi, I did not suggest that we were intending to alter the standard of proof wholesale. I said, and my hon. and learned Friend has just said, that there are other ways forward. When I publish the paper, hon. Members will see that we are trying genuinely to find the right ways, with a lengthy consultation that will avoid anybody being bounced into any solution. All I want is that people come up with solutions, not with objections, because in the end the primary duty of Government is to protect our citizens from the undermining of their freedoms and democracy by those who know no bounds and have no understanding of the issues of punishment or prosecution when they take the lives of others through suicide bombing.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the interpretation of his remarks was bound to cause concern that there could be a weakening of the rule of law? At the same time, will he accept that those who have concerns and reservations about what he said?or what he is alleged to have said?recognise that 9/11 was not meant to be a one-off in respect of attacks on western democracies and that this country is no less under attack than it was immediately after 9/11?
Mr. Blunkett: It is precisely for that reason that I am initiating this discussion, but I do not accept the first premise of my hon. Friend's question. I did not expect a noble Baroness or, for that matter, a solicitor whom I remember well from joining in battle with her when she was defending the Militant Tendency, to be the ones whose pronouncements were reflected on, rather than the speech I actually gave in New Delhi. "
So why did he make this policy announcement in New Delhi and not, first of all, to Parliament in the UK ? Was this idea discussed even with his Home Office junior Ministers before his trip to India ? Beverely Hughes, the Minister supposedly in charge of anti-terrorism measures seemed to be unclear about what David Blunkett had actually said or meant, so presumably the Home Office has been frantically cobbling together this "discussion document" over the last three weeks.
ID Card plans:
"Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I appreciate everything that my right hon. Friend said in the statement. I want to ask him about the comment that the proposals would provide a platform for a national ID card scheme, under which, in time, all non-UK nationals would be required to register. How will we know who are non-UK nationals if we depend on employers, such as, for example, the gangmaster who allowed the men to die in Morecambe bay, to be in charge of registering? Are we reaching the point where we may have to move towards a national ID scheme for us all?
Mr. Blunkett: We are moving towards an ID scheme for us all, as I said at the end of last year. We will introduce a draft Bill in the spring for prior consideration and scrutiny and present it for the House to decide whether it wants to go ahead with the scheme that is being recommended and is now agreed by the Cabinet. Yes, we need to toughen up on gangmasters and ensure that any ID card scheme that commences with overseas nationals takes account of the terrible exploitation of clandestines that I am trying to avoid, through the measures announced this afternoon."
How exactly would illegal migrant workers and gangmasters be detected and prevented by the rest of us being forced to register and pay for Compulsory Biometric ID Cards ?