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8.20 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I have listened carefully to the debate and was pleased to be in the Chamber for Home Office questions earlier. It is interesting to note how many of today's questions related to MPs' concerns about constituents of theirs who felt that there was no justice in, for example, the way in which antisocial behaviour was dealt with in their communities—a fact which I will link to the debate that we are holding today. I strongly believe that what came out of the tragedy of 11 September was the fact that many people woke up to a world that they did not realise existed. They could not imagine such terrorist action happening in their worst nightmares.

The events have caused me and my constituents to question whether the 20th-century methods of dealing with terrorism, or our perception of what terrorists are or how they behave, is valid in the 21st century. As the debate after 11 September unfolded and the press, television and the House debated the international crisis, many of us discussed how people could commit such a crime. As evidence unfolded, questions were raised about people in this country who in different ways perhaps aided and abetted that crime in New York on 11 September. Whether it is a question of domestic justice, in which constituents feel under seige in their communities, or of an international situation in which they could be a victim of terrorist attack, for me—and I am not a lawyer—it is interesting to hear their voices, concerns and worries about whether the pendulum swings too far in favour of allowing terrorists to have their way.

Whatever is portrayed of the United Kingdom, and whatever arguments we may have on issues of civil liberties, I am pleased to be able to say that, looking round the world, we live in a tolerant and fairly liberal society. Our society recognises that people are entitled to rights in terms of their position. However, some of those people

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who read in the papers about the latest use of human rights or social justice or equality have started to question whether they are fair.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Caroline Flint: No, I do not want to take any interventions; lots of people want to speak and I do not want to encroach on their time. I hope that we will have a chance to debate the issue further in Committee.

How have we arrived at this point? The events of 11 September showed us all the extent to which a terrorist network could destroy thousands of lives in a matter of minutes. They showed how it is possible to bring a nation to a standstill. They exposed for many of us a new breed of non-negotiable terrorism. When those planes went into the twin towers, there were no demands or calls to say, "In exchange for this, we'll stop this." As we track events after 11 September, it is clear that bin Laden's explanations and justifications, such as the middle east situation and poverty in Afghanistan, were added on.

We cannot interact with that terrorism as we might have interacted with a different type of terrorism in the past. It is not about doing something in exchange for releasing prisoners. Over the past few days it has emerged that bin Laden could have had a hand in the beheading of the British Telecom engineers in Chechnya, so such terrorism is certainly not about clear demands. From what I have read—I am no expert—the engineers were killed purely because they might have introduced a telecommunications systems in that country which would have allowed people to have access to discussion and debate and because bin Laden wanted to destabilise European investment. Those are not demands that we could understand.

We are dealing with terrorists who have the education and finance to carry out hugely complex terrorist acts on an international basis. They do not need to be heavily armed or strapped up with Semtex; instead they use the latest technology to pursue their aims, based on small networks throughout the world. It is a new form of remote-control terrorism, which uses technology in a way that I have not been aware of before. Few could imagine the shattering of lives that it caused on 11 September, including the lives of 10,000 children who lost a parent on that day.

In the face of such actions, we need new powers to tackle the threat. Our country has a relatively liberal regime. Despite all the discussion about asylum and immigration laws, the system is fair, but the fact is that there are those who seek to abuse it. We know that asylum seekers disappear. We also know that false names are used. We found out that many of the terrorists in the United States used the names of people living in, for example, Egypt. We only need a small number—not hundreds—of highly motivated activists to carry out enormous crimes against humanity.

I believe that, when all is said and done, the debate is about striking a balance between preserving the freedoms that we all cherish and recognising the threat that we face today. We can all contribute to the scrutiny of the Bill, but few of us in the Chamber will bear the responsibility if we do not attempt to tackle a threat that might lead to a tragedy happening in central London similar to that which happened in New York.

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The Government are accused of cynicism for pushing the Bill through, but with every day that goes by, we are risking our safety. Terrorists are not awaiting legislation. Bin Laden will no doubt follow world events. As the picture worsens for him in Afghanistan, who knows what plans he has for more murderous terrorist activities around the world? Some of my colleagues have suggested that we risk making matters worse, but what is the alternative? I believe that the detention plans strike a fair balance, and we should also use fingerprinting to get around the problem of people using false names at a later date.

I turn now to police powers to ask people to remove masks or head coverings. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) told me that during elections in Qatar, where she was an observer, every woman wearing a veil was asked to remove it so that she could be identified before going to vote. If there are violent activities on our streets, the police have a right and responsibility to ask people to identify themselves. If people in the vicinity of a violent act are known to the security forces because of their activities, it is right that we should know where they were when the event took place.

I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading. We must go home to our constituents and explain that it is necessary. Times are hard and decisions are difficult, but we must bear it in mind that safeguards are incorporated in the Bill to ensure review and to uphold people's right to reasonable behaviour. We must take people with us on this, or we will do human rights a huge injustice.

8.29 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I very much hope that the House does not accept the advice of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) because, in justifying her actions, she has focused almost exclusively on the terrorism measures in the Bill. However, as she knows full well, the Bill has 14 parts, and only one deals with terrorism.

That takes me to the central theme of my remarks. I share the reservations of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but those reservations cause me to believe that we should deny the Bill a Second Reading, rather than abstain or wait and see what happens. I say that essentially for two reasons. First, I am against the process, and secondly I am against much of the content.

I shall deal first with the process, because that causes me the greatest offence. The Bill was published last week. We are discussing it three or four days thereafter. The lobby groups have not yet had an opportunity to express their views. The passage of the Bill will be complete by Monday of next week, following about two days of parliamentary discussion. That is a very odd thing to do with a Bill that infringes civil rights in many important respects and touches on terrorism in only one part.

Most of the Bill has simply come out of the Home Office's back lobby. It has a lot of stuff that it wants to put before Parliament, and it has attached it to this Bill. Part 5 deals with incitement to religious hatred, which is a very important issue, but it has nothing to do with terrorism; part 10 on police powers, ditto; part 11 on retention of communications data, ditto; part 12 on bribery and corruption, ditto; part 13 on implementation of the European Union third pillar, ditto. All those matters are important, but they are certainly not about terrorism, and yet we are subjecting them to a very tight timetable.

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Measures of fundamental importance to many of our constituents will be rushed through in two parliamentary days. That is offensive; indeed, it is a scandal.

There was a perfectly proper way forward. I suggested it to the Home Secretary, and it got some support from my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). We could have identified that part of the Bill which is urgent and touches on terrorism, put it into a short Bill of one or two parts and asked the House to push it through. We could have cleared the parliamentary timetable to enable the matter to be properly discussed. I would have been willing to do that, and I might even have been persuaded as to the merits of such a Bill, but most certainly I will not support an extraordinarily tight timetable to push through legislation most of which has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.

I turn now to content. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made an extraordinarily powerful speech, which I cannot emulate, on part 4. He is absolutely right because part 4 is deeply offensive. It concerns internment without trial. I was a Home Office Minister for two years and a Foreign Office Minister for five. When I was a Home Office Minister I argued against internment without trial in Northern Ireland. When I was a Foreign Office Minister I argued against unlawful detention in the middle east.

I seem to remember that Labour Members gave me some support when I made those points—but not now. They were, of course, right because the general arguments against internment without trial are very powerful. We normally get the wrong people; it is unjust; we depart from the moral high ground, and we alienate folk. It is a jolly bad policy to pursue. When one looks a little more closely at the detail, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway has done, one sees what a scandal it is in this case. People can be confined arbitrarily and indefinitely because of the Secretary of State's suspicion or belief. Suspicion and belief are enough to take people's liberty away.

We were told by the Home Secretary that there will be some form of appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which was set up under different legislation for a different purpose; the hon. and learned Member for Medway was entirely right about that. However, that judicial safeguard is pretty rum. To start with, the detained person does not necessarily have to know the evidence; he does not even have to be present during the inquiry and may be excluded; he may not necessarily appoint representatives of his own choice. If the Law Officer chooses to appoint a representative for him, the Bill expressly states that he is not responsible for the interests of the detained person. It is a pretty rum safeguard.

The tribunal only has to say that it may be satisfied on the grounds of suspicion or belief for a certificate to be issued. Even if the certificate is cancelled, the Secretary of State can issue another one straight away without any explanation. We were told by the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston)—and she is entirely right—that the provisions will die away 15 months after the Bill is enacted. So they will, but the Home Secretary has the power by order, or even without order, to return to the House and revive or extend that 15-month period. That is a pretty rum safeguard.

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I am hostile to the Bill because I disapprove of the process used to introduce it. It includes significant measures touching on important civil liberties, but we are proposing to rush it through in one week; that is not right, it cannot be right and the House should not do it, as it means that the Bill will not be properly scrutinised. Even if I am wrong about that—and I am not—part 4 is deeply offensive to those of us who cherish liberty. For that reason, I shall seek to divide the House, even if the only people in the No Lobby are the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer); they will be good company.

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