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Mr. Meacher: Yes; I take that point and I support what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said on this. A definition that catches all those examples goes far too wide, and in my view the Bill does not pass that second test.
A third key test is whether the Bill is drawn so loosely that it is likely to be used rather more indiscriminately in future years against persons who are not necessarily the ostensible targets? There is plenty of evidence historically that that has been the result of using wide definitions. The best example, of course, is the stop and search legislation. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which has been mentioned, has been used against anti-war protesters and arms trade protesters as well as, most notoriously, the 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): On stop and search, does my right hon. Friend agree that there are serious concerns about the additional powers that have been offered to the Metropolitan police, and that they need additional training? We must ensure that they are given additional training because any abuse of those powers will cause a further deterioration in race relations in this country?
Mr. Meacher: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, but I would go further. The existing drafting of the stop and search legislation has led to its being used in a massive number of instances, but hardly any have led to prosecution, and there is suspicionwhich may well be foundedthat the legislation is being used by the police for wider purposes. I do not think that the fault is police training; it is the laxity and looseness of the original definition in the legislation.
There are already suggestions that clause 10 might be used against animal rights protesters. Whatever one feels about that, whether one uses anti-terrorism measures against them or other protesters is another matter[Interruption.] This is arguable, but it is not being proposed that that is the purpose of the Bill.
That only confirms my point. The Bill is intended to deal with the problem of acts of terrorism, such as those which the country faced on 7 July. For it to be used in this much wider way is not sanctified, and it is for us here in Parliament to make that clear. However, those who might be affected include not only animal rights protesters, but those protesting against a revival of civil nuclear power, the replacement of Trident or genetically modified crops. It is no answer to say that prosecution could be pursued only with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. We should oppose the provisions because such catch-all legislation undermines the legitimacy of our anti-terror efforts precisely when we need to build a consensus around them. We should also oppose the insidious
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switch from defence of the state to defence of propertyor whatever the prevailing ideology of the Government of the time happens to bethat is apparent in the Bill.
The fourth test is whether the Bill will undermine the rights and liberties of the free society that it is purportedly designed to protect. Everyone agrees that the balance between liberty and security is a difficult issue. By far the most contentious issue, as we have heard this afternoon, is the proposal that terrorist suspects should be detained for up to three months. That is more than 20 times the pre-charge detention limit for murder. It would allow the equivalent of a six-month custodial sentence without a charge being brought. Apart from the breach of the habeas corpus principles and article 5 of the convention on human rightsI disagree with the Home Secretary on that pointit is difficult to believe that the provision is really necessary. The Association of Chief Police Officers says that it is needed because of the potentially huge amount of material and the possible involvement of several jurisdictions, but the same argument applies to much white collar fraud, for which pre-trial detention is limited to only four days, or one twenty-fifth of the time proposed in the Bill.
An interesting Foreign and Commonwealth Office document, which has not been mentioned today, makes comparisons between the proposals in the Bill and existing practice in other countries. In almost every case, they have a much shorter pre-charge detention limit than that proposed. Most terrorist arrests will usually follow months of previous investigations, which would allow large amounts of evidence to be compiled. If, occasionally, that were not soif an event had happened that the police were not expectinga much better compromise would be for a suspect to be charged under existing legislation and further charges added later, if appropriate. If that requires changes to the PACE code, so be it. The 90-day provision is the most serious in the Bill and it must be addressed.
A fifth test is whether the Bill will alienate those sections of the population whose support is vital to isolate and defeat the supporters of terrorism. In that context, any measures that cause Muslims to be treated unfairlyor to perceive themselves as being treated unfairlywould be counter-productive. Legislation that is too widely drawn, like this Bill, might well make Muslims who strongly condemn attacks very wary of contacting the police and volunteering crucial information. They might feel that their legitimate but critical views of middle east policy would make them vulnerable to prosecution. Equally, the banning of organisations that do not advocate terrorism, such as Hizb ut-Tahrirhowever objectionable their views arewould drive them underground and make intelligence gathering more difficult. The Bill is not acceptable on that score either.
My sixth and last point is somewhat wider, but essential. Does the policy behind the Bill take account of the wider underlying causes of terrorism and seek to redress them? That question goes a long way beyond a Home Office Bill, but it is a crucial component of our whole approach to terrorism. While in the short term we should certainly take all reasonable steps to protect our own security, we should never lose sight of the fact that
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one of the major roots of terrorism is the widespread perception of a fundamentally unjust and untenable political situation in the middle east. That recruiting ground for terrorism and al-Qaeda will be removed only when we have a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq, the creation of a viable Palestinian state and a reorienting of the fundamental
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I fear that some of the discussion that we have heard this afternoon has perhaps gravitated rather more towards the experiences of those in the criminal law than towards the questions that lie at the heart of the Bill. This legislation is about terrorism, and I would make the case strongly that we verge closely in that context on the problems that exist in a state of war, as I indicated in an earlier intervention. During our discussions on the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 in March this year, there was a failure to appreciate that the most important thing was to achieve a balancesecurity on one hand and liberty on the other. I am bound to say that I have more sympathy with the Government's position in respect of the Bill than do some of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The criteria applied under the Human Rights Act 1998 and, indeed, in respect of the European convention on human rights must be regarded as a question of proportionality in the context of the threat to public order and public safety. Indeed, during the proceedings on the former Bill in March I took exception to the line that was then being taken by Conservative Front Benchers about our complying with the obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to control orders and terrorist suspects. I thought that profoundly wrong, and I continue to feel the same way about the application of the ECHR to the Bill.
I would not want to give the slightest impression that I am in favour of taking away rights that I thought justifiable, as enacted by the House. Indeed, in a very short clause that I produced to the Bill in March, I said that nothing in any Act should stand in the way of
I believe profoundly that, whether or not a person is a terrorist or someone who incites hatred or whatever else, that person should in no way be denied the opportunity to benefit from habeas corpus, the rule of law and a fair trial. Indeed, I had an exchange with the Home Secretary during those previous proceedings, and he said that habeas corpus would apply. There was some serious doubt about that at the time, but the reality is that, in the context of the Bill, the Government have dug themselves into a substantial hole in trying to have their cake and eat it.
In my opinion, it is not possible for the Government to avoid tackling the problem of the application of the Human Rights Act 1998 to such legislation. Indeed, Lord Carlile made it clear in a well considered report that he thought that a period of up to three months was justifiable on the evidence that he heard. I hope that we hear more during our proceedings about what that
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evidence amounted to. Lord Carlile thought that the Government would have serious problems preventing the Law Lords from eventually ruling against provisions in the Bill on the grounds of the Human Rights Act. We have seen that after enormous amounts of time and delay, Belmarsh and other cases were taken to the courts and the Government's declarations of compatibility with the Act were struck down.
The remedy is simple. If the Government want to legislate for a specific purpose, based on evidence they provide, and if they can make a case on the Floor of the House and in Committee to justify an extension of the period to three months or a bit lesswhatever emerges from the debatesthey should seize the nettle and, as I suggested earlier, include the provision:
I do not need to take the House through the case law, save to say that Lord Hoffmann made it perfectly clear in a case a few years ago, as did the Lord Chancellor when the Human Rights Act was going through the House, that the 1998 Act can be amended by unambiguous subsequent legislation passed in the House. Just as it is the first priority of the Government to ensure the protection and security of the nation, so it is the first principle of the House to make up its mind about the legislation it wants to ensure that protection. That may bring us into dispute with some members of the judiciary, but it would not be for the first time over the many centuries that the House has existed. I profoundly believe that we must legislate according to the proper requirements of protection of the nation and that that should be decided in Parliament and not in the courts. That is the first and fundamental principle.
"Some of those who have given evidence to us have argued that such features of the present emergency provisions as the use of the Army in aid of the civil power, detention without trial, arrest on suspicion and trial without jury are so inherently objectionable that they must be abolished on the grounds that they constitute a basic violation of human rights."
As I made clear earlier, it is essential that if the period of time is to be extended beyond 14 days, there should be no possibility of not holding a serious review by a senior judge of the circumstances in which the person is being held. It cannot be left to district, or even circuit, judges. The cases would be few and far between, so fair processfair trial and habeas corpusmust be reinforced as the most fundamental principle on which we rely. However, that does not mean that terrorists or suspected terrorists should be given a more privileged position than they deserve.
There are extremely good reasons why the Government must take the ultimate responsibility for such legislation, but they must also act responsibly. On the whole, the legislation is right, although I am slightly worried about the definition of the glorification of
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terrorism, but we can look into that at a later stage. There are ways of dealing with the questions about trial and detention and, with respect to some of my hon. Friends, they should not be too worried about an arbitrary time of 14 days.
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