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Anti-terrorism Measures

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the legislative steps necessary to counter the threat from international terrorism.

First, I pay tribute to all those in the security and emergency services and elsewhere who have already risen to the challenge over the past five weeks, and all those who have assisted in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack in New York itself.

It is the first job of Government and the essence of our democracy that we safeguard rights and freedoms, the most basic of which is to live safely and in peace. It is now necessary that we look afresh, in a measured and proportionate manner, at whether our legal framework is adequate and our security sufficient.

Although the nature and the level of the threat is different from what was previously envisaged, wholesale revision of our anti-terrorism laws is unnecessary. That is also the view of the law enforcement agencies. However, we do need specific and targeted measures, which is why I intend to introduce an emergency anti-terrorism Bill. I am determined to strike a balance between respecting our fundamental civil liberties and ensuring that they are not exploited.

Through those measures, we will reinforce action against the perpetrators of organised crime, drugs and people trafficking. Therefore, in the next few days we will introduce separate measures in the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which will now be complemented by anti-terrorist legislation. Terrorists use organised crime and trade in human misery to finance their activities. The tough new financial controls in the emergency Bill will help us to staunch the flow of terrorist funding.

The emergency legislation will build on the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Bill to deal specifically with terrorist finance through monitoring and freezing the accounts of suspected terrorists. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will spell out in more detail measures on the seizure of cash within this country and strict reporting requirements on the financial institutions. Separately, a new anti-terrorist finance unit is to be established in conjunction with my right hon. Friend under the auspices of the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

The events of 11 September have led to a new determination to co-operate at European and international level. Terrorists do not respect national boundaries. In line with the Europe-wide endeavour, I intend to include in the emergency Bill an enabling power to allow implementation by affirmative order of measures from the Justice and Home Affairs Council on police and judicial co-operation.

Regrettably, there are those who are prepared to exploit the tensions created by the global threat. Racists, bigots, and hotheads, as well as those associating with terrorists, are prepared to use the opportunity to stir up hate. It is therefore my intention to introduce new laws to ensure that incitement to religious, as well as racial, hatred will become a criminal offence. I also intend to increase the current two-year maximum penalty to seven years.

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I am examining wider powers in relation to incitement by people in the United Kingdom, against groups or individuals overseas. I am also examining additional powers in relation to conspiracy. None of those measures is intended to stifle free speech, dialogue, or debate. Fair comment is not at risk, only the incitement to hate.

Obtaining good intelligence and being able to target and track potential terrorists is essential. We need comprehensive powers to require best practice to become the norm. This legislation will therefore facilitate the exchange of information in two key areas. It will ensure that law enforcement agencies can access vital information on passengers and freight. It will also enable customs and revenue officers to pass information to the police. These provisions will remove barriers which currently prevent the exchange of information in the fight against terrorism. These will be carefully targeted measures designed to protect the public, not affecting the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

We will introduce measures to enable communication service providers to retain data generated in the course of their business, by which I mean the recording of calls made and other data, not the content. We will work with the industry on a code of practice. I wish to thank those who have co-operated so well over the past five weeks in the industry.

I think that we all accept that there is a compelling need for more effective powers to exclude and remove suspected terrorists from our country. We rightly pride ourselves on the safe haven that we offer to those genuinely fleeing terror. But our moral obligation and love of freedom does not extend to offering hospitality to terrorists. That is why, both in the emergency terrorism Bill and in a separate extradition measure, I will ensure that we have robust and streamlined procedures.

I believe that it will be possible to achieve these changes without substantial alteration to the Human Rights Act 1998. Nevertheless, it may well be necessary, using article 15, to derogate from article 5 of the European convention. That would allow the detention of foreign nationals whom we intend to remove from the country, and who are considered a threat to national security. This would occur in circumstances falling outside those permitted by article 5 of the European convention on human rights, but within the scope of article 1f of the 1951 refugee convention.

I am also looking to take power to deny substantive asylum claims to those who are suspected of terrorist associations, and to streamline the existing judicial review procedures while retaining the right of appeal. Appropriate safeguards would apply to any such derogation.

A review of extradition procedure had been undertaken by the Government before 11 September. I intend to bring forward a separate substantive measure to modernise and place our laws in the context of the new international situation. Streamlining, while retaining rights of appeal, will form part of this measure. I also intend, following an announcement to the House in the weeks ahead, to modernise our nationality and asylum system.

There are four other measures to which I wish to refer today. The first, which relates to the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, will strengthen

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security at airports and for passengers. Powers both within restricted areas at airports and aboard aircraft will all be strengthened.

In addition, I can announce that we will expand the role and jurisdiction of the British Transport police, together with those working on enforcement from the Ministry of Defence and the Atomic Energy Authority. We will ask the House to agree to widen their powers beyond the boundaries of particular sites. I am also seeking powers to provide the police and customs services with the authority to demand the removal of facial covering or gloves. That is a basic requirement to enable identification where finger printing or other biometric tests are important.

I am also including in the Bill clauses on nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological materials, generally described as weapons of mass destruction, which will cover the intention to use, produce, possess or participate in unauthorised transfers of those materials. At the time of the millennium, a great deal of work was undertaken to ensure the security of key utilities. I want to assure the House that both in the Civil Contingencies Committee, and more widely, we have examined and put in place further work to update our preparedness, preventive action and remedial steps, should they be necessary.

The United Kingdom has some of the world's best counter-terrorist expertise. Working together with international partners, we are taking every step to protect ourselves. Those plans are continually reviewed and tested. There is no immediate intelligence pointing to a specific threat to the United Kingdom, but we remain alert, domestically as well as internationally.

I know that many in the House will agree that strengthening our democracy and reinforcing our values is as important as the passage of new laws. If, therefore, we do not rise to the challenge and provide through our democratic institutions the commitment and will to face down terrorists, our economy, social well-being and quality of life will suffer. The legislative measures which I have outlined today will protect and enhance our rights, not diminish them. Justice for individuals and minorities are reaffirmed, and justice for the majority and the security of our nation will be secured.

On 11 September, families lost their loved ones, and the threat of terrorism touched us all. If we fail now to take the necessary action to protect our people, future generations will never forgive us. That is why I am asking for the wholehearted support of both sides of the House in demonstrating that this Parliament, our democracy and our judicial system are capable of rising to the challenge, and of doing so swiftly and effectively.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I should like to thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy in giving us an advance copy of the statement and a briefing. He will be aware that, as far as his principal objectives are concerned, he has our support. Like him, we wish to see changes in our law that will increase the effectiveness of domestic measures against terrorism.

We share the Government's view that legislation is required to increase the effectiveness of our counter-terrorist enforcement. However, does the Home Secretary agree that, too often in the past, over-hasty

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legislation has proved inoperable in practice? Does he agree that the best guard against that danger is detailed scrutiny, which teases out the implications of the legislation to determine both whether it will be effective and whether it poses any undue threat to our fundamental liberties? Can he assure us that those critical measures at this critical time will be debated in detail on the Floor of the House? Is he aware that we will resist using the emergency legislation as a means of addressing problems of law enforcement outside the field of terrorism?

We are delighted that the Home Secretary accepts that the duty of Parliament in a crisis of the kind that we now face is to maintain a careful balance between public safety and individual freedom. We welcome his agreement that public safety demands changes to the law that will enable him to refuse entry to those foreign nationals whom he judges a risk to national security. But does he agree that he also needs to be able to remove such dangerous individuals from this country if they are already here?

In the light of the Chahal case, the Singh and Singh case and other jurisprudence associated with the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act, does the Home Secretary accept that such removal of dangerous individuals poses a significant legislative problem? Does he accept that the internment or indefinite detention powers that he signalled in his statement today may not provide a workable means of avoiding that problem? Will he confirm the view taken by his predecessor that Parliament can legislate to alter the effect of the Human Rights Act?

With reference to laws against incitement to religious hatred, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that although the whole House will wholeheartedly agree with his desire to protect vulnerable communities—and in particular, vulnerable Muslim communities during the present crisis—the Opposition will need to be persuaded that the drafting of the legislation will achieve this admirable effect without, as he so rightly said, curtailing proper freedom of speech?

Turning to the proposed EU framework directives, does the Home Secretary share our view that there is a fundamental difference between the proposed directive on combating terrorism and the proposed directive on European arrest warrants? We all support the principle of the proposed directive on combating terrorism. That will force other EU counties to adopt legislation parallel to our Terrorism Act 2000. But does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we certainly should not let the current crisis drive us into abandoning either the principle of habeas corpus or the principle of a person being presumed innocent until proven guilty?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the proposed directive on European arrest warrants might threaten those principles? Does he acknowledge that many of us, in all parts of the House, will have very grave concerns about implementing those directives through affirmative orders? Does he agree that there should be urgent review by the Scrutiny Committee?

Does the Home Secretary recognise the strength of the case for introducing sunset clauses to legislation in all these difficult areas, so that the House, and Parliament as a whole, can have the opportunity with the benefit of hindsight regularly to reassess both the effectiveness of the legislation and its effect on individual freedom?

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We will engage constructively with the Government as the legislation proceeds, but we shall perform the proper role of an Opposition under these circumstances—probing, inquiring and bringing likely effects to light. Let us hope that the combined efforts of all of us in this House and in the other place will be sufficient to produce a rarity in British legislative history—fast law that is also good law.

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