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Mr. Hogg: No, it is not. After all, the Attorney-General, good as he may be, is nothing more than the in-house lawyer of the Governmentand let us not forget that that in-house lawyer provided the advice on which the Iraqi war was justified, contrary to the opinion of many of us who sit in this place.
Let us not forget that, while the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions will regulate the institution of proceedings, they will not make lawful what is expressed in the legislation to be unlawful. They merely regulate the institution of proceedings. Consequently, free speech will be interfered with by the fear of illegality.
Finally, we are told by the Home Secretary that the Bill is necessary partly to meet our commitment to the European convention on the prevention of terrorism, as established by the Council of Europe. That is plain wrong. What the convention in fact urges us to doI shall use its rather bizarre languageis to create an offence of criminalising the
Clause 1 of the Bill provides no element of intent. It is another example of gold-plating, and goes far beyond what is required under the convention, and far beyond what is acceptable in a democracy. So long as it remains in the Bill, the Bill should be rejected.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), with whom I find myself agreeing far more than is good for my sense of comfort.
May I start by praising the Home Secretary for his general approach to the legislation and willingness to make himself available to Members, and particularly for the many hours that he spent in front of Select Committees, including the Home Affairs Committee? His approach to the issue gives me some confidence that useful legislation will be produced at the end of the process. I will certainly vote for the Bill tonight, although certain aspects of it need a rethink.
It is important to get the Bill in perspective. The major changes needed to terrorist legislation have been made in previous Acts. Despite the dramatic claims that the rules have changed, this Bill is rather marginal to the issue of our security. The real battle against terrorism is not in the battle over legislation in the House but in the community and the country outside. It is in our policing, our intelligence, the development of community support, and crucially, in winning the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad.
This is a long-term fight. Once terrorism is established, it takes years to get rid of. In my view, we will be extremely lucky if we are not facing attacks such as those that we have seen in London for the next 30 years. These are not, therefore, short-term, emergency measures. To all intents and purposes, they are permanent. The fight against terrorism does not lend itself to short-term initiatives. The public need to be reassured that things are being done, but they want to be safer.
In parts of the Bill, the Government are betraying a serious misunderstanding of what is at stake. This is not a battle over what people are allowed to say; it is a
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question of how we win arguments. The key battle is for hearts and minds. We must persuade young British people from the Muslim community who feel angry about what is happening in the world, in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya, and who feel that in the west their Muslim lives are less valuable than others' and their rights less valued than others', that engagement in politics, democracy, public life and argument is the way to achieve change, not terrorism.
Against us are the extremists arguing the oppositethat there is no way forward for them in western democracy; that it is a sham, an illusion and a dead end; and that terrorist violence is not only justified but the only way. We must be careful not to feed that argument. As the Bill stands, however, it is more helpful to the propaganda of the extremists than it is in winning hearts and minds.
The Bill is drawn too widely. Let us draw briefly on the Northern Ireland experience. We banned the IRA but we tolerated Sinn Fein, not, in my view, because we thought that they were entirely separate organisations, but because we believed that it was better to draw the supporters of militant republicanism into a political process of democracy than to leave them supporting purely violent action. Today, there are organisations in the world such as Hamas. I hold no brief for it, and we have proscribed it as a terrorist organisation. Many people in our society, however, who totally condemn the London bombings, would see Hamas in a different light, as a product of the situation in Palestinesomething understandable, and for a significant number of them, justifiable; not just a terrorist organisation but one that takes part in and wins elections.
Mr. Denham: I certainly do not accept Hamas's strategy of terrorism, or its vision of the destruction of Israel. However, we make a mistake if we believe that organisations such as Hamas are indistinguishable from organisations such as al-Qaeda. One of the problems with the Bill is that it condemns such organisations and support for them in precisely the same terms as those in which it condemns support for the London bombings or 11 September. It allows for no distinction. It bans Hizb ut-Tahrir. It is designed to do that, as we know from the Prime Minister. The language of that organisation is undoubtedly extreme, and its aim of establishing a Muslim theocracy is equally extremeand is extreme in the eyes of most Muslims to whom I have ever spoken. I have not, however, seen evidence that it is actively involved in the promotion of terrorism.
Clause 17 includes international action. There is a set of Chechensnot the murderers of Beslan, but otherswhom the Russians regard as terrorists, but to whom this country has traditionally given asylum. Once the Act is operational, the Government will be under pressure to use it against them.
Far from sharpening our attack on al-Qaeda and the extreme of international terrorisma terrorism that allows no possibility of compromise or engagementthe Bill blurs the differences. It allows the extremists, in
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arguments that will take place in communities, in gyms and possibly in mosquesbut probably not in mosques at allto argue that democracy is a dead end. They will say that it is not even possible to support people whom they regard as their brothers, and who are fighting occupation and winning elections, without being silenced. They will say that it is not possible to advocate a Muslim state without being silenced, and that it is not possible to be part of a resistance movement anywhere in the world without being silenced. They will say that the terrorist route is the only way. That is the argument that will be advanced in streets and communities up and down the country, and what we must ask ourselves is whether the phrasing of clause 1 will help us to win the argument for democracy and engagement.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one way of testing the rightness of such a clause is to apply it not to the immediate political concern, but to other organisations and other situations at other times when there is not the same emotional impact? It is pretty terrifying to think that it could be applied to enthusiastic supporters of freedom in countries where freedom is denied. We should therefore be extremely careful about accepting the clause, which is my reason for voting against it.
Mr. Denham: I referred earlier to the support that I gave, openly and publicly, to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the early 1980s. Flawed though they were, that Government were a great deal better than the dictatorship that was overthrown by violenceviolence that the Bill defines as terrorism.
My position explicitly acknowledges that the world is a messy and complicated place. Political violence arises in many circumstances, and we must understand each of them and respond accordingly. We used as a country to understand that to our fingertips. In many ways, the history of decolonisation is the history of fighters being turned into statesmen and the supporters of fighters being turned into members of political parties. As we know, it did not always work, but we knew that it had to be done. We had to win the arguments of engagement, of alternative ways of doing things.
It is much simpler to say, "We do not want to understand all the different situations. All we need to do is say that this is wrong." That is what the Bill seeks to do, but I have to say that such simplicity will not work. If the Bill had the limited objective of stopping indirect incitementdirect incitement is already coveredof people living in this country to take part in terrorist actions, here or abroad, that involve the deliberate targeting and indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, I would have no problem with it. I would have no problem with a Bill that drew the line where it needs to be drawn: between what the Home Secretary described today as indiscriminate terrorism, or what could be described as nihilism, and the much wider and more complicated set of political movements that sometimes use violence in various circumstances. But it does not do that, and I am worried that it betrays a profound misunderstanding of the problem.
I am hugely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for acknowledging in this debate, and beforehand in discussions, that we need to look at
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alternative definitions of terrorism, and we will doubtless return to this issue at greater length next week in Committee. However, I do not share the view, which he circulated to the Opposition spokesmen and to me in my role as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, that the other definitions on offer are no better than that in our legislation. First, there are significant differences between them. For example, there is a significant difference between the Council of the European Union framework decision, which uses phrases such as "seriously intimidating a population" and
I am no international lawyerin fact, I am not a lawyer of any sort, for which I regularly give thanksbut perhaps equally significant is UN Security Council resolution 1566, which clearly locates terrorism primarily in terms of action against civilians. It also refers to criminal acts in a way that, I suspect, excludes genuine liberation movements and genuine violence against oppression. We could also use wording such as the following:
"any action . . . that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act."
Although such a definition would certainly catch the indiscriminate terrorist attacks on civilians of organisations such as Hamas, it would none the less draw the line in the right place. It would send a political message about exactly what it is that we are trying to tackle. It is a line that any reasonable personincluding those in the Muslim community on whom we are relying to win the argumentcannot possibly be against, whatever they might think about the situation in Chechnya, the middle east or Kashmir. Killing civilians indiscriminately for political purposes is wrong, and that is where we need to set the argument. I hope that we can return to this issue in some detail next week, and build on what the Home Secretary has said today in order to deliver an improvement to this part of the Bill.
I agree with what Members in all parts of the House have said about intent, and I hope that we can deal with that issue. I shall largely leave aside the 90-day issue, given the limited time available, but with the right combination of procedural safeguards and a perhaps more realistic assessment of the time that the police genuinely need, we should be able to reach agreement on this issue. I look to next week's debates to provide such agreement.
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