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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Many of us are nervous about the Bill because we have seen how the 2000 Act has been operating out in the field, so to speak. A cricketer on his way to a match was stopped at King's Cross and questioned under section 44 of that Act about his possession of a cricket bat. Police thought he might be travelling to Scotland to cause trouble at the G8 summit.
"They questioned me, searched my bag, read my notebook, and threatened to take me inside to strip search me. 'You have to admit,' said officer 216738who could legally withhold his name . . . 'that you couldn't be searched by a better looking bloke.'"
I speak on behalf of Plaid Cymru and also the Scottish National party. Clause 1 deals with the encouragement of terrorism. We are concerned about the way in which the clause has been drafted. The requirement that the accused knew or believed or had reasonable grounds for believing that other members of the public were likely to understand it as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to commit terrorist acts looks fairly reasonable, but it is not good enough. Without a more specific definition, the offence is likely to have unintended consequences, one of which, I can readily see, is the inhibition of free speech. Furthermore, it is unacceptable to create such a wide offence that will require reliance on the discretion of the prosecution as to its appropriate use.
We have heard about the Cherie Blair and Jenny Tonge test. I will not go over that again, but suffice it to say that many worthy causesand, I regret to say, many hon. Memberswill be outlawed if the Bill goes through in its current state. The law must be accessible, and those affected by it must know exactly what it prohibits. That must be formulated with clarity, so that those affected understand it and regulate their conduct according to the law.
Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Gentleman find it difficult to explain what the law would mean in this case, because not only would the speaker not have to have an intent to cause this, he would have to be telepathic in order to discover what someone might think if he spoke in that way? Many of us find that our speeches are not entirely understood, however clear we try to make them, but this makes speechifying almost impossible when we are dealing with circumstances as terrible as, for example, the fate of the Palestinians, the way in which they have been treated, and the way in which so many countries now suffer under the heel of dictators. I find it very difficult to know how one would measure one's words in this way.
The dangers of allowing clause 1 to continue unamended stem from its broadness and vagueness of definition, the lack of any intent, as the right hon. Gentleman said, and the lack of any sense of the certainty essential to a fair and credible criminal justice system. People will be unaware of the consequences of their actions, as he said, and have no control over how their words or publications might be interpreted. We are on very dangerous ground at the moment. Liberty, for example, believes that this offence is totally unnecessary anyway, because there is sufficient criminal law allowing prosecution of those who incite terrorism, a point that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made well earlier. If there is to be any new offenceI do not believe that there should be oneit must have at its core the element of intent.
Furthermore, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, anyone arguing for deposing brutal dictators anywhere in the world at any time would be guilty of a breach of clause 1. If this offence had been on the statute book a few years ago, it would have caught dissidents against Saddam, and it would certainly catch anyone calling for the deposition of Robert Mugabe.
John Bercow: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the mistake that the Government are making is that they fail to recognise what I had thought by now was fairly widely acknowledged, namely that there is a difference between a terrorist on the one hand and a freedom fighter on the other? The differences are twofold. The freedom fighter is fighting for something that in any conceivable sense can be described as freedom, and he is doing so in circumstances where there is no credible alternative because he is operating within a closed political system. Surely the Government understand that proposition.
Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman makes that point extremely well, but what is insidious is that even support for that kind of action will be criminalised in this country, and he and I and others may find ourselves before the courts in short order.
Clause 8 relates to being present at a camp where terrorism training is taking place. That again is a difficult matter. I am sure that no sensible person would find themselves in such a camp, but again in that instance there is no actus reus and no mens rea; it becomes an absolute offence. A person in such a camp might be a bit slow on the uptake and not have picked up on what was going on, but if one is there for whatever reason, that is itseven years, thank you very much. Again, that is extremely dangerous ground. Will we be breeding terrorists rather than inhibiting them by going along this particular road?
An offence is created by just being in a place at the wrong time, with no intention whatever. It is guilt by association. That can never have any place in the law of England and Wales, and it should never have any place at all. Clause 8 will undoubtedly breach article 6 of the human rights convention, and it is impossible to see how such a principle could sensibly form the basis of new criminal law in the UK.
All Members have been concerned with clause 23, which extends the period of detention. As the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) observed,
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there has never been a case where anybody has been held for longer than 14 days, so why do we need 90? Why not make it 190, or 300, while we are at it? The whole thing is ridiculous. The first question is whether we need an extension. My view is firmly that we do not, but let us be reasonable and open to argument in deciding whether to agree to some form of abridgement.
I am not at all happy with a district judge reviewing the process, because some are prone to accepting one version of the facts and one only. I am not even sure about the nature of the review. Will the detained be represented? Will they know what is being said in proceedings held in camera? Is the detained entitled to be represented, or are we to have another Special Immigration Appeals Commission situation in which absolute balderdash is dished out before the court and nobody has a chance to challenge or even evaluate what is being said?
Mr. Graham Stuart: Regardless of the seniority of the judge who conducts the review, he or she is being asked to look at evidence that has not yet been found. It is almost impossible for the judge to make a proper assessment, so protection cannot be put in place.
The provision may have come about because of the press release by the Association of Chief Police Officers within a week of the awful occurrence in July. As has frequently been said, if we rush into legislation, we often, if not always, get it wrong. If we rush into this legislation, we will get it wrong big-style. It may act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism and will certainly alienate large sections of our societythe very people we need on our side in such times. It is extremely dangerous, and we need to reflect far more on what we are doing. In the round, most of it would be covered by existing legislation in any event and is therefore, to use the famous parliamentary word, otiose. We need the current law to be properly enforced.
I have made my point clear. I do not believe that there is a case for extending the 14-day period. Under section 47(3) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, a person can be bailed during the investigation to come back to the police station. He or she can be tagged or put under curfew, and surveillance can take place. Reporting restrictions may be followed. All that is preferable to holding somebody in what might be termed administrative detention, with all the problems that we saw in Northern Ireland when that occurred over there.
We do not need this insidious part of the Bill. We do not need to alienate sections of our community. When all is said and done, we are trying to ensure freedom of speech, the rule of law and democracy, all of which are under attack in this Bill. We must all help to identify a more proportionate solution.
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