Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): No Member of this House would in any way deplore measures to prevent terrorism occurring in our country. One of the reasons many of us voted against the war in Iraq was that we realised that it would make our country even more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In my view, the Bill is an excellent example of legislation that has been introduced in a knee-jerk reaction.

The Government have to show that they are macho about the terrorist threat. We have heard assurances from the Home Secretary that the 90 day detention provision and the other clauses will be used only against suspected terrorists. However, we heard those assurances when the Terrorism Act 2000 was considered, but they did not prevent the arrest of Walter Wolfgang, after he had been removed by thugs from the Labour party conference, under—believe it or not—the Terrorism Act. A refugee from Nazi oppression was arrested under the Terrorism Act. I am not therefore comforted by the assurances that we have been given this afternoon.

Cherie Blair's statement has been mentioned several times. I signed the early-day motion to defend her from attacks in the press. If the Bill had been law and we had expressed that view in the country, we might have been affected by its provisions. It is no use people shaking their heads. I have visited the west bank and seen the oppression under which the Palestinian people live. I can understand why there have been suicide bombers there, although I do not understand it in this country. Let us imagine that a radical Palestinian heard a statement by Cherie Blair or Jenny Tonge. He might become even more radical. I am sure that it could be proved that statements by people from this country tipped the scales so that a person became militant and involved in the terrorist acts that we all deplore. That could apply to the statements that I mentioned.

The Bill contains much that is objectionable and much that I appreciate. However, it includes little that is not already covered in statute or common law. The means for tackling the terrorist threat already exists. Indeed, the Government have been successful in dealing with extremist clerics, although they have some difficulty in deporting them, but that is another matter. They have done all that they could to deal with those who were rightly arrested because of their blatant statements, which were a spur to terrorists.

Let us imagine that the Bill had been on the statute book some years ago, during the Thatcher Administration, when the Prime Minister expressed support for Pinochet and described Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. Many of us went on the streets to support Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid. I was the chairman of the Merseyside committee for solidarity with Chile after that other 9/11 in 1973. If the Bill had been law, perhaps we would have been in prison. Let us picture the situation: Cherie Blair in prison, me in prison, and, if her husband had come out in her support, I might have shared a cell with the Prime Minister. Heaven forbid, but it might have been possible.

One of the great difficulties with the Bill is its lack of a definition of terrorism. Many hon. Members have alluded to that, but I believe that the definition given to
26 Oct 2005 : Column 387
terrorism is whatever the Government of the day believe terrorism to be. The Thatcher Administration thought that it was terrorism to attack the Pinochet regime or apartheid South Africa.

I do not know what the Government consider to be terrorism. I am sure that they do not believe that tackling terrorism includes getting rid of an 82-year-old man at the Labour party conference. They do not really believe that, do they? Could not the legislation also have been used against the Greenham Common women? Were they terrorists? If someone at a CND demonstration leaves the rest of the crowd and tries to cut through the wire fence to get into an American air force base, is that terrorism? Such people could be pursued under this Bill.

I realise that the 90-day detention is an important issue, but I do not want to go into the details of the proposal because many people have already done so. I am of course opposed to it. I note that the Conservatives have also expressed their opposition to that part of the Bill. On Second Reading, we vote on the principle of a Bill, and that provision forms part of the principle of this Bill. I see no reason for the Conservative Opposition to go along with the Government on this. It does not make sense.

Mr. Grieve: I accept that it is a difficult decision. Speaking personally, however, I have to say that there is enough in the Bill that I regard as important, and that tends in the right direction, to make me unwilling to stop the Government at this stage, when they have indicated that they are prepared to listen. Of course, if they do not listen, and if the legislation remains substantially in its present form, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not be able to support it on Third Reading.

Mr. Wareing: I realise that that case has been made, but the vote this evening is on this Bill, and clause 23 is enshrined in it. That clause deals with the number of days for which a person can be detained. I agree with the hon. Gentleman to a certain extent: there are other issues in the Bill. However, we might want to tell the Government to go back to the drawing board. But is that needed? As I have said, they already have enough powers to take the action that they need to take, and they have done reasonably well in dealing with the extremist clerics. If clause 23 is still in the Bill at 7 o'clock tonight, I can see no reason for voting for the Bill. I might abstain on a number of issues, but I do not believe that anyone whose conscience tells them to oppose the 90-day provision could possibly support the Bill. I hope that the Conservative Opposition will join those of us on the traditional Labour Benches in opposing it tonight.

5.18 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) was a little unkind to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) when he damned him for the grave offence of offering some measure of support to the Government whom we assumed the hon. Member for Sunderland, South supported. The reality is that even the hon. Member for Stone had some misgivings about elements of the Bill.

No one in the House today—not even the Home Secretary—wants to have to deal with this kind of legislation. However, we do not find ourselves in the
26 Oct 2005 : Column 388
circumstances that we would like to be in, and we have to deal with the circumstances as they are. The former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), rightly said that the Government had two competing duties. The first is their duty to protect the lives of the citizens of this kingdom; the second is their duty to protect those people's liberties. Because that tension exists between the two duties, the Government have to strike a balance. Most of today's debate has been about determining the point at which the balance should be struck.

I said in an earlier intervention that I was struggling with one issue: in fact, there are two. First, the Home Secretary indicated that he was considering the issue of definitions, particularly in relation to the glorification of terrorism, and I hope that progress will be made on that in Committee—progress must be made, as the current position is unworkable.

Secondly, in relation to the 90-day issue, I intervened on the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) in the hope of drawing out some answer to the problem that I faced. The Home Secretary has made a strong case about why additional time in detention is necessary. We are dealing with a new world, with different technologies. The proliferation of CCTV across the United Kingdom is such that when an incident occurs, the investigating authorities can view it from various standpoints and gather information. The issue of computers was mentioned, and it was not adequately dealt with by the shadow Home Secretary's answer that although it might take time to get around the problem of encryption, a suspect who withholds information should be charged and could be held on that charge. The reality might be different. Three people might be responsible for what was intended to be a series of suicide bombings, two of whom might have given up their lives in the process. Those two might be the ones responsible for the encryption, and no matter what legal redress one might have against the remaining person, he could not decode the files even if he wanted to. That is one of a series of different possibilities that would prevent such a solution.

Mr. Hendrick : The hon. Gentleman's point, which is a strong one, is that if someone refuses to provide a key to an encrypted piece of data, the shadow Home Secretary's suggestion is that he should be charged with the latter offence rather than the potential offence, which might be much greater.

Mr. Robinson: I imagine that the shadow Home Secretary's argument is that that would be the holding charge in the first instance. That was much the argument of the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who said that he had the answer to the 90-day problem: if people were brought in on suspicion of responsibility for some terrorist incident, some lesser charger should be made against them. I do not like that option, because, in effect, we would be giving the police a wink and a nod to concoct some holding charge in order to keep the suspect in custody. That is a worse set of circumstances, because the police are unlikely to withdraw that charge later, whereas if they find, as the Home Secretary suggests, that the person is not of value to them, they can be released. They will end up being charged with what might be, in Northern Ireland language, the duff charge.
26 Oct 2005 : Column 389
I have not heard today the answer to the conundrum of how we overcome the problems associated with the longer detention period.

While I said that the Home Secretary had convinced me that a longer detention period was needed, he has not convinced me that 90 days is the right period and, to be fair to him, he has not tried to convince me of that. We need some evidence for why those 90 days are necessary. I would have thought that the provision of as short a detention period as possible is in the interests of anyone who loves liberty. Certain arguments have been advanced, and some thought that they would poke fun at the Labour Member who suggested that because the 14 days had not been exceeded, there should be no concern about a 90-day detention period. The reality is that the police will work within whatever length of time might be available to them.

Next Section IndexHome Page