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Mr. Blunkett: As I said, we listened and responded to the Human Rights Committee's deliberations last weekyet now the hon. Gentleman tells us that it is strange for us to table amendments. I have every intention of listening. If there are good arguments that the Government as a whole can accept, I will accept them. To do otherwise would be an example of the yah-boo politics that bring the House into disrepute. In return, I hope that, if I convince both major Opposition parties, they will do me the courtesy of giving way on matters which at present they find objectionable.
Simon Hughes: Of course. If the Home Secretary had let me finish the sentence, he would have heard me say that I hoped that the Government would try to get agreement with the Opposition on amendments tabled at this stage. We are all in the business of reaching agreement about any improvements that can be made to the Bill; I accept that, whatever the rigours of the timetable. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have tried to ensure that where agreement is possible, it is reached. Yes, we will listen and respond. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will do likewise.
To answer the question from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, many significant amendments will be needed in the Commons or the Lords if the Bill is to be acceptable to us. That might make the Bill not only shorter and more focused on terrorism, but much more limited in terms of time. Liberal Democrats see it as their job to make sure that legislation pushed through by emergency procedures has only a limited life. We see it as our job to ensure that anti-terrorist legislation deals with the dangers of terrorism, not with a lot of other issues at the same time. We see it as our job to make sure that the Home Office does not take the opportunity to clear its in-tray just because there is the convenient opportunity of less scrutiny. We specifically see it as our job to make sure that we do not take away the right of anybody in this country to go to court to test whether what the Government or the Executive are doing is right.
We had a choice to make about the attitude that we took tonight and in the days ahead. I have indicated that we will vote against the timetable motion, as the time is ridiculously short. I have made it clear that we will vote against derogation from the Human Rights Act, as we do not believe that the case has been made. However, we are prepared to let the Bill go on to the next stage.
If, in the light of the Home Secretary's last remarks, we are to be constructive, and given that the Government have a majority in the Commons, we will seek to change the Bill by amendment over the next few days. If we do not get the amendments, we will vote against Third Reading. If we get the amendments, the Bill will have been much improved by the fact that the views of the Opposition and of many Labour Back Benchers have prevailed. I look forward to persuading the Home
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I shall speak mainly to the Select Committee on Home Affairs report published today. I start by thanking the Home Secretary and his colleagues for co-operating with the Select Committee's attempt at pre-legislative scrutiny, of which I hope we shall see a great deal more.
In the short time available, we inevitably focused on part 4 of the Bill. We were anxious to publish our report and the evidence in time to inform today's debate and the subsequent Committee stage. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will find our report and the published evidence useful.
I welcome the fact that no attempt was made to rush through emergency legislation in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity on 11 September, as has happened with emergency legislation in the past. Like the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), I welcome the fact that none of the provisions is to be retrospective. However, I agree with those who say that we could have done with a little more time to scrutinise the Bill.
Despite the Home Secretary bending over backwards to co-operate with our Committee, our witnesses had to give oral evidence and express a view in public before they had a chance to see the Bill. That is not entirely satisfactory. The Bill is largemuch larger than any previous emergency anti-terrorism legislationand it would have benefited from a slightly more generous timetable.
Many of the measures in the Bill are uncontroversial and are plain common sense. They adapt existing anti-terrorism legislation to deal with the threat of chemical and biological warfare; they oblige telecom companies to keep records for much longer than they must do at present to assist with investigations into terrorism; and they enable Customs and Inland Revenue officers to work with law enforcement agencies. All that seems to me, as it seemed to the Committee, desirable.
As regards part 4, the Committee accepted, albeit reluctantly, that there may be a small category of persons who are suspected international terrorists who cannot be prosecuted, extradited or deported, and may therefore have to be detained. However, as everyone who has spoken so far agrees, that is a very large step, which we should not take lightly or with much enthusiasm. We welcome the various safeguards that the Home Secretary has insertedthe renewal after 15 months and 12 monthsand I particularly welcome what he said about his willingness to provide for a much longer debate when the time comes to renew the legislation.
We note the six-monthly review of detention in each case by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. However, we believe that there should be a sunset clause for part 4. As we all know, the history of anti-terrorism legislation is that when it is introduced, it is represented as temporary and as a response to some immediate crisis, but it has a habit of becoming permanent. I have therefore tabledas have others, probablya sunset clause which requires the Government to come back to Parliament after five years to go through the entire legislative process to obtain the powers that they seek in part 4.
We picked five yearsothers may choose a shorter or a longer periodbecause there is a precedent for it. That is what appeared in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. I believe that the Government could readily concede that measure, and I hope that the Home Secretary will reflect carefully on it. I am sure that he will.
As for the clauses dealing with incitement to religious hatred, most of the evidence that we received was scepticalfirst, about whether they would work, and secondly, about whether they were needed. Thirdly, some suggestedI was probably the person whom the Home Secretary heard on the radio this morning, although he was far too delicate to mention itthat the provisions would probably be used first against Muslims, which was not necessarily the intention. Of course, I entirely agree with his comment that Muslims should be as accountable to the law as those of any other faith, but I agree also with those who have argued that the measure has no place in emergency legislation and should perhaps return to the House in another provision that deals with this and other religious issues. If he is going to proceed anyway, as I suspect he will, this might be the moment to adopt the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and abolish blasphemy as well.
On the third pillar measures, the Bill gives the power to implement all the justice and home affairs measures, rather than those relating only to terrorism, by secondary and not primary legislation. The Committee felt that that was too broad and that the power should be confined to anti-terrorism measures. I hope that the Government will think carefully about the matter.
There is one other matter that we did not consider as a Committee: extension of the powers of the MOD police, all of whom can be armed, to arrest anyone in connection with any offence in any area, albeit subject to a request from a police force. I believe that the last Armed Forces Bill contained a measure that fell at the last election to confer new powers only in life-threatening situations. The measure before us seems to be an improvement. I welcome the comment of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretaryindeed, I had intended to make the same suggestionthat, if the MOD police are to have these powers, they should be subject to the Police Complaints Authority and perhaps also to Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. However, perhaps that is not possibleof course, he will have taken advice on the matterand the powers should be limited to terrorism-related incidents.
I recognise, as did the entire Committee, that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Many of the measures in the Bill are necessary and reasonable, but some go too far and take powers that are too wide, and I hope that some limits will be placed on them during our brief consideration of the Bill.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I congratulate him and his fellow Committee members on their speedy work in producing the report to which he alluded. In discussing that report, I congratulate also the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) and the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the speedy work that they have done. I am sure that it has informed the debate considerably.
If there is any purpose in this Chamber any more, it is to provide members of the oppositionI refer to the official Opposition, the Liberal Democrats, members of the other smaller parties and, indeed, the members of the opposition that I see seated on the Government Bencheswith opportunities to bring to public attention from time to time the ideas that masquerade as considered policy and high principle and which are turned, almost without question, into law.
We have already had an excellent debate. The Home Secretary, who has just left the Chamber, was generous in giving way, as was my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, who made an especially effective contribution. I hope that, if he and other hon. Members question the utility, let alone philosophy, of the Bill or parts of it, the Home Secretary will pause, listen and perhaps even consider what we have to say before sweeping all before him. He said that he would do so, and I hope that he is as good as his word. The victor's laurels do not take long to wither. Although the first stage of the crisis in Afghanistan may perhaps be ending successfully, our duty to unpick legislation, ask the simple questions "Why?" or "What for?" and test propositions almost or even to destruction goes on.
The Home Secretary has a number of arguments at his disposal in support of the Bill. We will have to take some of them on trust, because the evidence upon which he relies is drawn from the secret services. I accept that he cannot tell us everything, but if he wants us willingly, rather than grudgingly, to accept the need to disapply certain provisions of the European convention on human rights barely a year after the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force and to accept in a spirit of co-operation that what were so recently thought to be essential freedoms should be curtailed, he needs to be more open with us and, if I may say so, to avoid insulting the very people whom he needs to apply and carry through his new restrictive provisions.
It is not an argument in favour of detention without trial to say that those who are prepared to uphold the present law against the Executive are ill-motivated. The Home Secretary is clearly proud of the fact that he is not a lawyer. I am sure he is entitled to the proud heart that evidently beats so fiercely in his breast, but he has recently made it an article of faith to vilify judges and lawyers. Ten days ago at The Spectator magazine and Zurich parliamentary awards lunch, at which he was the honoured chief guest, he repeated what he had said only a few days before in accusing lawyersI paraphrase so as not to give the slander excessive currencyof being a money-grubbing vested interest group. Lawyers of that calibre may exist, or it may be that his sense of anger arises from a conversation with the Lord Chancellor.
Lawyers and judges are and must be independent of Government, but they will apply whatever laws, good or bad, that we pass. If we pass laws that have consequences that the Government did not foresee, it is a problem that the Government and Parliament must deal with in a rather more intelligent fashion than by abusing the judiciary and the legal profession. The term "Kill all the lawyers" is not a new motto, but nowadays it has greater resonance in Zimbabwe than it should have in this country. It should certainly have no resonance in the Home Office.
The Government's case is apparently based on a public emergency. The Home Secretary declared last week that we were in a state of emergency so that he could avoid the consequences of the very convention that his Government brought into our law last year. However, what is the evidence to show that such an emergency exists or had to be proclaimed except as a device to sidestep this Government's own legislation?
Humbug often masquerades as high principle. The signs of political camouflage in the British domestic arena are already emerging. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Government's proposal in the Bill to make it a crime to incite religious hatred. We do not need a law to make that type of behaviour illegal, and nor would it serve the purpose for which some of its proponents hope: deterring anti-Muslim unrest in this country and allowing Britain to be seen as fighting terrorism and not Muslims. Every citizen of this country has the right to expect that the law will protect him from bodily harm as well as safeguard his freedom to worship and to express his views. That does not mean that those who disagree, wish to evangelise in favour of another religion or want to express views that others may find abhorrent should have to curtail their activities or run the risk of prosecution. Parliament should not be in the business of standardising opinion or entrenching orthodoxy. Nor should it make courts of law arbiters of what is right, wrong or acceptable in religious or philosophical controversy. Such debates should take place in the columns of newspapers, in books, on public platforms and in pulpits. The criminal law should protect citizens, not ideas. Plenty of laws make the use or threat of violence against human beings a criminal offence.
It is a mistake to confuse race and religion; they are not always interchangeable. They should not be likened as they are in the Bill. If the Government whip Parliament into passing a law that outlaws incitement to religious hatred but will not define religion and list the religions that are to be covered by the statute, its use to stifle debate and free expression can be foreseen. The Government may not want the law to do that or to be used to that end, but those who are more intent on curtailing than respecting free speech will employ it in precisely that way.
The lengthy Bill, heavy with constitutional and legal implications, will receive a Second Reading. I trust that here on Wednesday and next week and in the other place later, further work will be done and that in the short interval, the public will learn exactly what we are doing in their name. Perhaps it is worth saying that if we are prepared to cast aside essential freedoms to gain temporary security, we are likely to lose both freedom and security.