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Mr. Soley: I hope not to detain the Committee for long. Having been involved in debates on the prevention of terrorism for about 25 years, I feel that I have built up some knowledge of the subject. One of the few encouraging aspects of the present situation is that we seem to be much more concerned about the legislation than we were before, when the Liberals and the Conservatives would often vote together to keep the prevention of terrorism Act on the statute book.

I want to make one point about the past, and I make it to the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) as well. Successive Governments, Labour and Tory, renewed legislation in the House, often in overnight debates, and they did so at times when we were locking up several
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thousand people in internment in a ship in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. We excluded people from one part of the United Kingdom to another, again   without judicial intervention, under successive Governments throughout that time.

What we are doing tonight is not essentially different. I do not use that as an argument for supporting the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) deployed one of the arguments that I used to use—that we were locking up many innocent people and, in doing so, losing support. But today there is a difference, and things have changed. I am pleased to say that the present situation is not nearly as bad as it was then. In the worst year of the 1980s, we locked up close to 6,000 people, of whom fewer than 1 per cent. were put on trial for anything to do with terrorism. The numbers now are far smaller, and the way in which the powers are used is a credit to the police. If they were used as they   were in the past, I would be appalled at the consequences, particularly for the Islamic population of Britain, who tend to be in the front line on this matter.

I must say this to the Committee, and I say it carefully: I agree with the Home Secretary that the threat from terrorism is fundamentally different. That does not mean that we should conclude that what we are doing tonight is good. I shall return to that. The threat is fundamentally different, not only for the reasons given by the Home Secretary and others about suicide attacks and so on, but because the problem is so great when a terrorist organisation seeks to kill the largest number possible. Kofi Annan made a very good speech on the subject in London, but unfortunately he made it on the same day as Prince Charles announced his engagement to Camilla, so it got no mention in the press at all. He spoke about the threat of an attack on London, the numbers involved and the impact on the world economy if weapons of mass destruction were used. It was an important speech. He also spoke of the United Nations being a target for those organisations, as people who read the transcripts from al-Jazeera and other stations will know. The problem is fundamentally different.

My issue with the Bill is the same as everyone else's. I do not believe that anyone in the House, including the Home Secretary, is happy about taking such powers. I propose a slightly different way forward. If the amendments being discussed are taken a little further, they will apparently satisfy the Liberals and may satisfy the Conservatives. We should not be content with that. We cannot continue with a situation that has gone on for 20 or 30 years, whereby we try to deal with terrorism in a way that is not suited to the British judicial system. That was the point of my intervention on the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).

Let me make it clear that I do not like what the French do, but it is important to understand that the French system is not the only one in Europe. Importantly, the Europeans deal with terrorism by locking people up for long periods without putting them on trial straight away, but they have a judicial system for doing that. The reason, as I understand it—I am not a lawyer—is that the inquisitorial system allows them to investigate the possibility of proceeding with a case, whereas the British system, which is adversarial, requires two people to be put up, one on either side, which leads to the very
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problem that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) expressed so powerfully—it makes it impossible to take evidence in the normal way in a British court. However we dress this up, we will not be able to do that.

I have great confidence in the Home Secretary, who really does work hard on these issues to move them forward. That is one of the reasons why I will support him tonight. I also think that we need to do something because the threat is very severe. However, I do not want to leave it there. We recognise that we have to do something for the present, but we cannot continue to legislate on terrorism in this way, because we will end up going round this track over and over again. I have heard many of today's arguments before in the past 20 or 30 years. I fear that what will happen is what happened during that period, when the prevention of terrorism Act was renewed every year or every few years and the same debates took place over the same concerns. We must not fall into that trap.

I ask the Home Secretary to take the lead in bringing together the political parties represented here to consider a long-term solution to the problem. We should bear it in mind that the United Nations is now recommending that there be an international definition of terrorism. That proposal appeared in the high level panel's report in January and is likely to be accepted. It is also suggesting that it should be dealt with by the International Criminal Court or considered as a crime against humanity. There is potential in those areas.

We cannot go on with the traditional British way of doing this. It has not worked very well in the past, and it is satisfying no one, including, at present, members of the Government. I should like us to find a way forward and we can do that only if the Government and the major Opposition parties work together to consider our adopting, as I have suggested, a system along the European lines whereby for the very narrow area of terrorism we have an inquisitorial system that allows evidence to be considered before a court. I do not want Britain to have an inquisitorial system generally—it has many failings, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said—but we kid ourselves if we think that the common law system provides an answer to the problem that lies at the heart of the Government's difficulties: that is, that the current British system has no way of dealing with a situation where there is enough information on an individual, either from this country or from overseas, to suggest that they might do something that will cost hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

It is that serious and I ask that we try to find a way of producing a longer-term answer than this measure. For the moment, I will vote for it in the hope that the Home Secretary will continue to make concessions and to consider other methods, but even if he makes all the concessions that the Conservatives and the Liberals want, I will remain deeply troubled by this legislation. We cannot leave it here. We have not come up with a solution to this problem in the past 20 or 30 years and we need to take a long, hard look at the way in which we approach it.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: I agree with some of the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley), but I hope that he does not end up simply voting for what we have got
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because he thinks that it is absolutely necessary. It is crucial that we spend the next few days or weeks—however long we have—trying to put adequate precautions into this legislation. I agree with him that the problem of how we deal with protecting the public against terrorism while protecting the essential values of our society and the freedom of the citizen is a critical matter to which we will have to return.

The Home Secretary began his appeal to the Committee by reminding us of the extremely serious threat that we face from terrorists in this country and stating that there were some cases that could not be proceeded with by an ordinary criminal prosecution in the ordinary process of the courts. Last week, he implied that many of his critics did not accept either of those points, so for the avoidance of doubt I should say that I agree strongly with both of them. We obviously face a very imminent terrorist threat. It is the duty of the Home Secretary to organise the defence of the country against such threats, and one cannot proceed by an ordinary trial in all cases. But there I pause. If we accept all that, and accept that we have to deal with it, we must make it clear that we must not allow those arguments to induce us to agree to things that we would regret upon careful consideration and which damage our society at the same time as they protect it.

7.45 pm

We have lived with the terrorist threat for most of the past 20 or 30 years. To be fair, I would be prepared to concede that it has probably got slightly worse, but only because its practitioners now include people who will commit suicide themselves, whereas at least the terrorists of the IRA and the Angry Brigade tried to escape from the scene of the crime. Nevertheless, we have had to protect this country against many dreadful terrorist outrages—they were no small-scale incidents. In the time that I have been in this House, there has been a bomb in Westminster Hall. Colleagues and Members of this House have been killed by terrorists. We have seen big spectaculars. We can argue about who carried out particular attacks, but there is no doubt that Irish terrorist bombs killed a lot of young people in a packed space in a pub in Birmingham and a lot of people in a pub in Guildford. There have been the outrages at the Old Bailey and the Grand hotel, Brighton. Serious terrorism is not new to this country—it is not something of which we first became aware after 9/11 in the United States, although that outrage was even worse than anything that we had experienced.

As a result, we have sought to take precautions. The danger is that we will be tempted to keep going ever further out of a sense of fear and a spirit of revenge against those who perpetrated the last outrage. Fear is no guide to judgment whatsoever. The Home Secretary was not doing it today, but whenever I see, as I sometimes do, the Government resorting to trying to whip up fear of terrorism to take us into measures that we would not otherwise contemplate, we should all beware of going down that path.

I entirely accept that there are occasions on which one cannot have an ordinary prosecution—for example, where one is not quite sure what the man has done, let alone able to prove the crime that he has committed, or where one is not quite sure what he is planning, but has very good reason to believe that he is planning some
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major outrage and has to protect against it. There are also cases where one cannot have a jury because it will be intimidated and threatened, where one cannot let the man see witnesses because they will be intimidated and threatened, and where one cannot let the accused person see all the evidence because, if one has got the right man, he will discover the one thing that he wants to know—exactly how one found out what he was planning, which would be of great assistance thereafter.

I recognise all those difficulties, which we have had to face in the past. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush was, again, right to say that we have been doing this for 20 years. When I was Home Secretary, and when the worst had passed and we were not interning thousands of people, the Labour party had the present Prime Minister as its shadow home affairs spokesman. I seem to recall—I do not think that he ducked out of it—that he led for his party in its vehement objection every year to the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act on the grounds that exclusion orders were non-judicial, that they had no evidence behind them and that we had a draconian security process.

I mention that not in order to turn this into a partisan debate—which the Home Secretary had stopped doing, although he was obviously doing it in his public performances last week—but to remind the Committee how matters can slip and where we can be taken if every time a Government come back to this House with prevention of terrorism measures we are persuaded by the exigencies of the moment to give up yet one more protection and to go one step further. That is why I decided, when I heard about this Bill and when the Home Secretary made his statement, that we were taking a big leap by suddenly giving the Home Secretary—a Minister; a member of the Executive—the power to deprive a British citizen of his liberty and not making that a judicial action by an independent judge or member of the judiciary through some constrained judicial process. I am glad to say that we seem to be making some progress in pulling back from that, but we have to pull back a whole lot further, because this is a very important step.

I am tempted to say that, looking back over the years, some of the silliest pieces of advice that I was ever given urged me to do certain things on the grounds of security, protection of the national interest and prevention of terrorism. The second most silly have been on the grounds of health and safety: the blood is made to chill in the face of what might happen if one does not take some essential step. One has to count to 10 and say that the step is basically stupid, illiberal, unacceptable and disproportionate and that, if this society does not stop giving and receiving such advice, we must fear where we end up.

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