Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): It is our judgment that real, principled opposition is about making a stand on the key issue of holding suspects without charge. We feel so strongly on that issue that we want to oppose the Bill's Second Reading tonight. It is still our long-term aim to achieve consensus, however, and we aim to work with the Home Secretary to find alternatives to this measure in the weeks ahead.

Mr. Clarke: I believe that the hon. Gentleman does have a sincere intention in that respect, and is seeking agreement on some issues and trying to make positive proposals. He is absolutely entitled to do that. However, the time to address those questions is in Committee and on Report. If, in his view, the matter is resolved unsatisfactorily by the end of that process, he should vote against the Bill on Third Reading. I would understand that, but I do not understand why his colleagues have decided to vote against it on Second Reading.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that a number of Labour Members have grave reservations about this clause and about extending the period for which people can be kept in custody on no charge from
26 Oct 2005 : Column 332
14 days to three months? Although many of us might vote for the Bill on Second Reading, we have grave reservations.

Mr. Clarke: I certainly recognise that. I have discussed those reservations with a number of colleagues, and if I might say so, my hon. Friend put the position accurately and succinctly. The way to address such reservations is to accept that we need legislation, to have arguments and discussions inside our party and across the Floor of the House on the matters of concern, and in particular the 90-day limit and then to decide what to do.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I, too, will be voting for the Second Reading of the Bill. I am about the last person in the House to underestimate the dangers of terrorism, which some of us warned about long before what happened in the United States four years ago. On the three-month detention, however, will my right hon. Friend accept that the deep concern felt about that period is certainly not confined to the Liberal Democrats? Will there be further consultation between now and Committee to see whether an accommodation can be reached? If we want to reach a consensus, let us be frank: we will not reach a consensus on the 90 days, be it in this House, the other place or in the country at large. I hope that he can show some flexibility on that important issue.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I agree that it is right to be flexible. I have made it clear throughout that consensus is the right way to proceed, not only in our party, which is an often ambitious target, but even with Opposition Members. It would be better if we sent out a united and coherent message. In Committee, on Report and otherwise, I am ready to be flexible in discussions, if we can reach an agreement. Furthermore, it would be better if the House resolved the matter rather than left it to the other place, but that requires Members on both sides of the House to work constructively to reach agreement.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): Allowing for people's anxieties, is not our track record that detention beyond seven days has been used very sparingly since that period was extended in 2004? Is not it fair to say that the real choice that might confront the House is whether to give an advantage to the police when trying to deal with complex terrorist investigations—an advantage that can be subject to parliamentary and judicial scrutiny—or to give that advantage to the terrorist?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend's assessment is correct. That will be one of the issues that we discuss later in the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): My right hon. Friend talked about the strategy for fighting terrorism, the final part of which was the international element. The one thing that he missed out, however, is intelligence gathering, which experts tell us is a vital part of the strategy. In addition to concerns about section 44, does he accept that some clauses of the Bill limit the
26 Oct 2005 : Column 333
ability of our security services to gather intelligence from parts of the community that would otherwise come forward and provide intelligence?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is entirely correct to put the gathering of intelligence at the centre of what we do. He is also entirely correct in the corollary of that point, which is that it is important to have close relationships with the community. I pay tribute to the work that he has done to achieve that since he entered the House, and particularly since July. I do not, however, accept his suggestion that our proposals would damage our ability to achieve it.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Clarke: I shall be happy to give way, but I am about to deal with the 90-day point.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: Before the Home Secretary does that, may I ask him a question? He has referred to the House's possible reactions to the Bill as a whole, as opposed to the 90-day rule. Does he not accept that reservations about the Bill as a whole result from circumstances that have arisen in response to events? It is only a few months since we produced legislation of this kind in response to Belmarsh, which was highly controversial and which referred to none of these issues.

This Bill bears all the hallmarks of a reaction to the 7 July bombings, when the Government felt the need to do something. We were even told that the House might be recalled during the recess. Much of the Bill is covered by existing legislation. It looks as though there has been a trawl through the criminal law in an attempt to put together a tough-looking Bill, in order to demonstrate that the Government are projecting us further. In fact, most of the Bill is peripheral to the heart of the real problem.

Mr. Clarke: As one who was keen to promote the right hon. and learned Gentleman's candidacy for the leadership of his party—even if only to keep the name Clarke in lights as much as possible—I have to say that, notwithstanding my deep regret over his failure to survive the first ballot, the reason may have been a lack of homework on some of the issues that need to be addressed.

This Bill was envisaged in debate on the Floor of the House during the passage of the Bill that became the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. That is because when measures to deal with offences involving, for instance, incitement and training were proposed by the Newton committee and others, we said that we would return to them for precisely the reason that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cites: the need for prosecution. I gave the House a commitment that we would legislate on those issues during this parliamentary Session.

It is true that following the events of 7 July there are more measures in the Bill than would otherwise have been the case. We sent a list of proposals to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden and the hon. Member for Winchester as early as 15 July. That
26 Oct 2005 : Column 334
list had been prepared in the spirit of following through our proposals. The Bill is therefore not emergency legislation. Moreover, the fact that we are allowing two days on the Floor of the House for the Committee stage and another two days for Report indicates our keenness to establish the non-emergency nature of the legislation, and to put it on a proper footing.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Clarke: I want to make some progress before giving way again. I have given way a fair amount, and I will continue to do so keenly, even to some of the most experienced demagogues in the House. I know that my giving way to them will be a joy for the whole House, if not for me. I promise them that I will give way later.

Let me say something about the specifics that we shall debate in Committee and on Report. Part 1 contains several new offences. The first is the offence of encouragement of terrorism, also known as indirect incitement. It is already an offence under our law to incite people directly to commit specific terrorist attacks. We now want to be able to deal with those who incite terrorism more obliquely, but who nevertheless contribute to the creation of a climate in which impressionable people might believe that terrorism was acceptable.The Bill criminalises those who make statements which they believe, or have reasonable grounds for believing, are likely to be understood by their audience as an inducement to commit terrorist acts.

Next Section IndexHome Page