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7.6 pm

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): Until the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), I suspected that most Members agreed about the scale and nature of the dangers that confront us, and that almost all considered many of the intentions and new powers in the Bill to be sensible. The prospect of international terrorism focusing on Sellafield certainly concentrates the mind on the powers of the police around nuclear plants, and the idea that terrorist organisations can accumulate money in their bank balances with impunity in this country commends the relevant parts of the Bill.

It is possible to agree with all that, however, and still to be very unhappy—as I am—with some features of the legislation, particularly the necessity of derogation from a convention to which we have only just signed up, and aspects of part 4. Those fears make it extremely hard for me today to support the Government whom I am generally proud to support in the Lobby.

The Home Secretary presented his case with great courtesy and patience, and engaged with the House. That is to his credit, and no one would doubt his sincerity—or his record of defending human rights, which he mentioned. I fear, however, that the roots of much of the Bill lie in the need to be seen to do something in the face of horrific dangers and anxieties. That is a very bad basis for legislation. Far from calming my fears, the Home Secretary played on them by citing a report in The Times, dated, I think, 15 September as a demonstration of opinion outside and the pressure under which the Government found themselves.

I am sure that there is pressure, in that the country wants the Government to do something; but, as I have said, that is a bad basis on which to legislate and to find the correct balance between the powers we have—or should have—to deal with international terrorism, and not just the protection of human rights but the maintenance of the fundamental principles of our legal system, which I consider even more important than specific human rights.

Surely the strategic test that we should apply to our scrutiny of all aspects of the Bill, and to its totality, is this: have we sufficient powers in our existing legal system, after recent terrorism legislation and the creation of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and other arrangements, to deal with the present circumstances? Only if those powers are totally inadequate should we seek more. I am not sure that that applies to some of the Bill's provisions.

I appreciate that we shall have an opportunity to discuss the derogation in a later debate. However, I remain totally unconvinced that we would be within our rights under the convention to derogate. The convention specifically says that we can derogate only

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Last weekend, looking round our constituencies, did hon. Members see the life of this nation being threatened? We saw people flocking to early showings of "Harry Potter", and others doing their Christmas shopping. We also saw the trains at least trying to run on time. The life of this nation is not at risk.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): How many attacks of the scale that we saw in New York does my hon. Friend think the United Kingdom can sustain before people say that the nation is being threatened?

Mr. Fisher: That is not the question to ask. Currently, the life of the United Kingdom and other European nations is not being threatened. Although I hope that we do not, we may well suffer the horror of a terrorist attack. None the less, one attack on a nation does not threaten the fundamental life or nature of the state. Such an attack would wound the state grievously and would be a wound that none of us wished to see, but it would not threaten the life of the nation. I believe that that phrase was included in the convention to protect against civil war or a complete breakdown of a country's system of law and order. I do not believe that it was meant to deal with a horrendous attack in another country that made us all only too acutely aware of the scope and nature of terrorism.

I commend the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the speed with which it has served the House by issuing its report. In paragraph 30 of that report, the Committee seems to say that it is not convinced that derogation is justified. I share that view. I am not a lawyer, but I wonder whether derogation would be legal if it were not justified.

Why is no other European country derogating? It is an international problem that affects us all equally, regardless of the primacy of our position in tackling the situation in Afghanistan. Although our Government of course have a prime duty to protect the people of this nation, we must consider the international dimension. Indeed, I would go further and say that we will solve nothing by deporting terrorists from the United Kingdom. Terrorists are as dangerous to this country and to the world if they are in other countries as they are if they are here. Our responsibility is if necessary to tackle terrorism in this country by means of our legal system. I am not sure that we need the extra powers that the Government are proposing to provide in the Bill.

During the Home Secretary's speech, I raised the issue of the definition of a terrorist, in part 4. Clause 21(2)(c) states that an international terrorist is defined as someone who has "links" with an international terrorist group. Considering the severe nature of the legal sanctions, guilt by association, as is implied by the word "links", is really not good enough. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that issue and accept amendments to eliminate the word "links".

I am also less than convinced by the nature of the provisions on trial and detention in part 4 and by the overall treatment of evidence. The Home Secretary and I had a previous exchange on that issue. He defended himself by saying that the provisions were all to do with inadmissible evidence. Although, as I said, I am not a lawyer, as I have always understood it the rules on inadmissible evidence are based on the nature of that evidence, such as whether it was hearsay, rather than on

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its source. The crucial issue in this legislation is to protect a source such as the security services. Are we happy that people should be indefinitely detained and imprisoned on the flimsy basis of evidence that they will never hear? I do not believe that we can be.

I am also extremely perturbed about the speed at which we are being asked to move. The Home Secretary said that we have had 10 weeks to examine the matter. Today we are considering not the wider intentions that he announced 10 weeks ago but the actual wording of the Bill. We are passing legislation, and wording is everything. As Thomas More understood, if we do not cling to the wording of the law, when the wind blows we shall have nothing to protect us. We are producing loose wording to define "terrorist", and wording that is misguided in other respects.

I am grateful to the Home Affairs Committee and to the Joint Committee for moving so fast in producing their reports, which none the less show the precise nature of the problem. One Committee met on 8 November, and both met on 14 November. They have had a chance to examine the issues only since the Bill was published. The Bill itself has determined the speed at which we have proceeded. Historical precedent—such as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989, which is a trivial but real example—shows that, when we move fast, we seldom pass good legislation. The implications of legislation cannot appear immediately. It is only when members of the public test an Act's wording against all the circumstances to which it may apply that we truly see the issues on which we were legislating.

Despite all the semi-sunset clauses that the Home Secretary has included in the Bill to enable us to review aspects of it, I believe that we are moving too fast. If we cannot properly scrutinise legislation, we shall serve neither the House nor the country well.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Time is up.

7.17 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): The world order changed on 11 September, and so must we. Many thousands of my constituents are directly involved in the consequences of that change, whether they are serving in Her Majesty's forces, working at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down, or working on anthrax vaccines at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton Down. This is not, however, an entirely emergency Bill. Some things never change, and one of them is Whitehall's propensity to see a good thing and turn it into a Christmas tree. Today we are considering an early and a very large Christmas tree. Some might even allege that it is a leylandii.

Some of our constituents are very concerned about the legislation. My constituent Mr. Guy Nicholls of Salisbury e-mailed me to say:

Feelings are running high. Although I accept some parts of the Bill and believe that any Home Secretary would wish to see loopholes tightened and closed, I have difficulties with other parts, the first of which is part 5,

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on race and religion. One of the greatest strengths of British parliamentary democracy is its tolerance. The British, and I think the English in particular, are tolerant people, but part 5 smacks of intolerance.

There are two broad reasons why I cannot support part 5. As a member of the Church of England, I deplore the intolerance that I sometimes sense both among the Wee Free Presbyterians and in Roman Catholic dogma. However, as an Anglican and an Englishman, I tolerate their right to express a hugely divergent view, and I would not wish to see Free Presbyterians in the Hebrides locked up for denouncing the Bishop of Rome for whatever reason. I first face up to the principles. Legislation should not seek to control all outward actions by telling us what we should or should not do. If it did, our society would be totalitarian. The rule of the law is intended to establish and sustain for society as a whole—for all our citizens—what the Christian tradition calls the common good.

Criticism of another person's race is morally unacceptable; criticism or rejection of religious beliefs or practices is not only acceptable but desirable. The claims and practices of religion are in principle public claims and should be open to public examination and critique. It is such examination and critical reflection that can lead a person towards a change in religion, or, indeed, towards religion itself. Freedom for such examination and critique is an important part of religious freedom. Can the Government and the courts be sure that the Bill will be capable of publicly distinguishing between criticism or rejection of religious beliefs and practices, and expression of religious hatred? We should avoid a legal change that threatens openness to scrutiny and criticism.

On 15 November, in reply to a written question tabled in the other place, the Minister of State, Home Office, Lord Rooker, said:

In other words, motherhood and apple pie. But racial hatred and religious hatred are not the same, and we cannot simply extend the law on the first to cover the second.

Article 18 of the 1948 universal declaration of human rights gives a clear definition of religious freedom, which is at risk under the Bill. Religious freedom is an immunity and freedom from coercion, and any legislation that threatens that freedom is unwelcome. The least that the Government must do if they want the support of people who think like me is to amend the Bill so as to recognise the major difference between race and religion—one is a fact of life, and the other is not.

The notes that Home Office Ministers have kindly provided, which have already been quoted, state:

Who decides? By whose standards, culture and traditions will a policeman or a court judge decide? The provision is entirely unsatisfactory, and I cannot support it.

Part 6, which covers weapons of mass destruction, and part 7, also give me great concern. Like the Research Defence Society, I am worried that domestic terrorism

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remains a serious problem and that the position of medical and scientific researchers, who have already been subject to outrageous and violent attacks by animal rights extremists for the past 20 years, is not being dealt with. You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in the past year extremists have fire-bombed the cars of 11 people connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences, and attacked several people personally, injuring them gravely.

Several of my constituents have been attacked and bombed and had their lives made a misery. The lives of people working at Porton Down for the protection of our forces, who are engaged in defending the liberties of this country, are being ruined by domestic terrorism. That should have been covered in the Bill.

I turn to the part of the Bill that deals with Ministry of Defence police, Atomic Energy Authority police and British Transport police. There is a lot of good sense in the Bill. The fact that the British Transport police and AEA police are being given extra power and jurisdiction is welcome. I should like the Home Secretary or the Minister who is to wind up tonight to explain what point we have reached with the legislation on mercenaries. The Home Secretary was kind enough to be frank about the matter when I raised it in the House last month. The Export Control Bill was not deemed the right place to include measures on mercenaries, but this Bill is part of a terrorism package and might have included some. What is the Foreign Office up to? It appears to be dragging its feet.

The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has already referred to Ministry of Defence police. I spent the first three months of the year in the Standing Committee that considered the Armed Forces Bill, which dealt with that matter. My advice to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench would be broadly to welcome the substantial changes that have been made to the proposed measure. It was pushing their luck to try to tag the measure on to the Armed Forces Bill, and it is pushing their luck a little further to tag it on to this Bill. A lot of probing needs to be done. The revision is sensible, and I welcome it. The wording is quite different; it has been substantially rewritten. However, we still have no independent control for Ministry of Defence police—independent, that is, from the chain of command of the military—or independence for the chief constable, to whom the Secretary of State can still effectively give orders. There are no proper discipline and complaints procedures either. I was therefore delighted to hear the Home Secretary say that the matter would be included in new legislation next year.

No formal agreement or legal arrangements have been made with the Police Complaints Authority. There is no formal discipline or conduct procedure regulated by Parliament. Ministry of Defence police have no formal or independent police committee or authority. There are no formal inspections by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, although that was promised. No legal liability for torts has been defined, and so on. What has happened to those standing arrangements at a high level? My hon. Friends need to home in on that.

The future role of Ministry of Defence police could be as a gendarmerie, which Britain currently lacks. They are used in Kosovo to great effect, and the matter should be reviewed. In devising a long-term strategy for the Ministry of Defence police, we should consider whether

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they should be an armed gendarmerie for international peacekeeping operations, if that is the way the world is going, rather than using any more of Her Majesty's forces.

There are good bits and bad bits to the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is aware. My constituents want terrorism defeated, and I am robust in that objective. However, we must ensure that we do not extinguish the ancient freedoms that the House has guarded so well for so long.

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