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Mr. Soley : This will probably be the last time that I discuss this issue, with which I have been involved since the 1970s in this House. I address my remarks to a number of Conservative Members who have spoken, including the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).
When the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham was a Home Office Minister, he used to lecture me on why I should not try to criticise the prevention of terrorism Act. At that time, we were excluding people within the UK and picking up several thousand people a year, of whom we charged less than 1 per cent. with terrorist offences. Before that, the right hon. and learned Members for Rushcliffe and for Sleaford and North Hykeham supported Northern Ireland internment orders, which resulted in several thousand people being interned on the Secretary of State's say so with no judicial involvement whatever, which was a total breach of habeas corpus.
Conservative Members' indignation is not right. I do not say that just to score a political pointit could be argued that I do so in view of the historybut to make the point that we must not continue to legislate on terrorism in this way. For some 30 years, we have legislated on terrorism, which is a central problem for the British judicial systemthis point applies to other systems, too, although perhaps it applies to ours in particularbecause in dealing with terrorism, we are trying to stop something happening.
British law is good at dealing with situations in which an offence has been committed. If the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), re-reads his speech, he will see that his party's position is muddled. He wants to introduce a legal process to deal with someone who has committed a crime, whereas the Billthis is why the Conservatives and Liberals supported the old prevention of terrorism Actis designed to stop something happening.
If anybody has any doubt about the seriousness of the situation, they should examine the UN report on terrorism, "Threats, Challenges and Change". A couple of weeks ago, Kofi Annan discussed the profound and serious threat to London of a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction, which we must take seriously. I fully understand the Home Secretary's
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position when he argued that the legislation should be executive, because we are trying to prevent something from happening and are not dealing with an offence that has been committed. The Bill is a way of trying to assess intelligence in order to prevent such action. However, because of the feeling in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was absolutely right to make these changes, and I particularly welcome the annual renewal of the legislation.
We must take our time to get the legislation right. After the election, the three main partiesI hope that the minor parties will participate, toomust find a structure in which we can come up with a system to deal with an ongoing terrorist threat, which Kofi Annan and the UN report say will continue for some decades yet, which will be international and suicidal and which will aim to kill masses of civilians.
That is what we have to deal with, and it would be a good idea for the parties to agree a broad structure. We should consider a new Act that deals with acts preparatory to an act of terrorism. We should consider the possibility of importing, difficult as it will be, the narrow area of European law whereby the inquisitorial system is used for terrorism, or the Irish system of special courts. Those are all options that we are not currently considering. I certainly do not want to go back to what the Tories did when they rammed legislation through, often late at night when nobody was around. They complain about three hours of debate today, but they did it at 1 o'clock in the morning. That was an appalling way in which to legislate on terrorism.
I make my final plea to the Tories and the Liberals, who have a duty not only to support the Bill today but to come back after the election and join in all-party talks to set up the appropriate Committee structure in this House to examine the procedure and then come up with legislation that we can all live with over the coming years.
Mr. Shepherd : I support the Lords in all their contentions in respect of the Bill. This comes down to a question of trust. I listened to the Prime Minister today when he asserted, as he often does, that only he and his Home Secretary can judge the security of the citizen, the security of this nation and the balance between the two. I do not accept that proposition. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) pointed out, he took us to war on a supposition[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Hon. Members may say, "Oh!", but that fundamentally undermines our confidence in a Government whose assertions put at risk our liberty, freedom, custom and history.
I stand by those things that have seen us through the most desperate hours in the life of this nation. The security of this nation is secure in our hands if we have access to due process. This Government have sought to strike away the most fundamental liberties that we need to secure our own freedom[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) may shout at me, but the truth is that this is what this House stands for. We are meant to be able to hold up these standards,
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and they should not depend on the House of Lords reminding us where we come from and what this is all about. I urge this House to continue to support the House of Lords and to give us the opportunity to consider this legislation again in a sensible, measured and proper way, because the way in which it has been debated is a denial of due process, which is what the whole argument is about.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): The legislation that is before us this evening is some of the most serious and important that we will ever be called upon to consider. I think that there is now a recognition right across the House that there is a real and serious
Ms Blears: This is serious and complex legislation. I think that there is now widespread recognition of a real and serious terrorist threat of a different nature from that which we faced in the past. The amendments put forward today represent significant progress. I am grateful to all my hon. Friends for the constructive way in which they have engaged and the suggestions that they have made. We now have significant judicial involvement in all the orders that we seek. We have consultation with the police on whether prosecution is possible, because that is always our preferred route. We have examined the standard of proof and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) made it clear that we are considering preventive orders, which seek to anticipate what might happen, and assessments of intelligence and risk. I therefore believe that our standard of proof for reasonable suspicion for the non-derogating orders is correct.
The Bill includes a series of checks and balances. We have proposed annual renewal and three-monthly reports to Parliament on the way in which the measure works. We will have an independent review of how the Bill works in practice. The sunset clause that Conservative Members propose is unrealistic for the practical reasons that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) set out.
A sunset clause is inappropriate for another reason: it could send the message to terrorists, who will be watching our debate closely, that we are uncertain about what we want to do to ensure that we have a proper legal framework to tackle terrorism in our country. We have tried to establish a legal framework that balances national security with individual liberty, but it is vital that we convey the message that we want to make this country the most hostile environment in which terrorists could consider operating. That is why we need a series of control orders that are proportionate to the threat that we face and non-discriminatory, in compliance with the European convention. Our amendments will achieve that.
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