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Mr. Graham Stuart : If there is another atrocity, the red-top papers will call for blood, and the police will want to show that they are taking action. Is there not a danger that they will trawl the friends or associates of anyone whom they believe may have been involved, and that as a result such people will spend a long time in custody? People who have committed no offence may be convicted as though they had committed an offence that would normally carry six months' imprisonment.
Mr. Robinson: That danger is certainly there, although I do not believe that the police act in that way. I believe that they will use the legislation sensibly. Perhaps I am far too innocent and trusting.
Steps can, of course, be taken to ensure that supervision takes place. We have already talked about that. A High Court judge, for instance, might be appointed, and some parliamentary activity might be possible at the same time. Such measures could reduce, if not remove, the likelihood of what the hon. Gentleman has described.
I do not doubt that if we give this power to the Home Secretary and, through him, the police, circumstances will arise in future in which it will be deemed to have been used improperly. Let us, however, return to the balance that the Home Secretary, and indeed the House, must determine. If the Home Secretary leans towards the side of protecting liberties rather than protecting lives, there will be no redress for the people who lose lives. If he leans towards the other side there will at least be redress, however unfortunate the circumstances may be. He has still to convince us of the length of time that is necessary, but he has made a good start by convincing us that a longer period is necessary.
Yesterday I spoke in the House about a Bill dealing with electoral law. On that occasion, it was the Conservatives who had tabled a reasoned amendment. They said that they would vote against the Bill, although they also said that that would not destroy it, that it contained good things, and that they wanted it to proceed. They were pilloried by the Liberal Democrats, who said "You cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater." Now the Liberal Democrats have turned
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their argument on its head. They have left me completely confused, and I presume that they have left others confused as well.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Perhaps I can deal with the hon. Gentleman's confusion. A vote on Second Reading is a vote on the principle of the Bill. The principle that we are supporting is that there should be robust and effective measures against terrorism without the contravention of fundamental civil liberties. We feel that this Bill involves a fundamental civil liberty, and that we must therefore object to it.
Mr. Robinson: The hon. Gentleman probably was not here for yesterday's debate, but the Liberal Democrat argument was that in Committee it would be possible to make the legislation into a satisfactory Bill. It is still possible, in my view, to make this Bill satisfactory. It is still possible to change the definitions, and it is still possible to make changes to the 90-day rule. Yet the Liberal Democrats are saying "Throw out the Bill." I think that that is the wrong position to adopt, and it is certainly not the position that my hon. Friends and I will adopt.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): When I was appointed chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, some may have thought that I was a poacher turned gamekeeper, in view of the efforts that I had made over the years to expose the activities of extremists. I started to ask questions about them as long ago as 1998. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) on whether effective action was taken. I think that the answer is self-evident, given all that we have learned over the years about some of those concerned.
My work in that regard has given me a perspective on human rights. It is important to look at both sides of the argument; one side is often overlooked. I believe that my Committee's ongoing inquiry into the Government's response to terrorism is looking at both sidesand I am pleased about the constructive way in which the Home Secretary has engaged with us on the issue.
The attacks on 7 and 21 July themselves constituted gross violations of human rights. The murder of 56 innocent civilians, including four of my constituents, and the severe maiming of scores of others are not capable of legal justification. It is well established in human rights law that invoking human rights to justify the destruction of other human rights is itself an abuse of such rights and never attracts protection.
Human rights law also imposes onerous positive obligations on states to take steps to protect the lives and physical integrity of everyone within their jurisdiction against the threat of terrorist attack. Where an attack has taken place, the state is required by human rights law itself to review the adequacy of the legal measures that it has in place to protect people from terrorist attack and to bring perpetrators to justice.
The fact that attacks have taken place is highly relevant evidence in an assessment of the level of terrorist threat, which itself is relevant to the proportionality of any interference with human rights that can be restricted in the interests of public safety and
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national security. However, it remains the case that all measures taken by states to fight terrorism must themselves respect human rights and the principle of the rule of law. National rules may change, but the applicability of human rights rules themselves do not.
Mr. Cash: As the newly appointed Chairman of this important Committee, does the hon. Gentleman rule outas I think he did on the "Today" programmeany amendment to, or repeal of, the Human Rights Act 1998?
There is a big distinction between explaining and understanding a terrorist act such as a suicide bombing, and knowingly encouraging others to emulate that attack. We have to devise a wording that will deal with the particular problem of liberation movements I subscribe to the Home Secretary's view on this issue, but I realise that others do notand with the sort of statements that have so far gone unpunished by the law.
On 20 April 2004 in Westminster Hall, I referred in particular to an example of such a statement: that made by Hassan Butt, an al-Muhajiroun activist, who said that "close to 50" British volunteers had approached him for advice on emulating suicide attacks in Israel. When asked whether that meant suicide missions in Britain, he replied:
"'Yes, absolutely. When they're needed and when they're required . . . if they want to and they believe Islamically that it's allowed, then fair enough.'" [Official Report, Westminster Hall, 20 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 14WH.]
Under our existing law, that is not an offence, but under the Bill as drafted it would be. If we are to change the Bill's definitions, we have to do so in a way that does not exempt such appalling statements from potential prosecution.
In the end, this issue comes down to the question of proportionality, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said earlier. In considering the question of compatibility with human rights legislation, we must bear in mind the balancing act between the infringement of individual human rights and the human right of society at large not to be blown up.
Much of this afternoon's debate has focused on the proposed extension of the pre-charge detention period to 90 days, and I want to focus on that issue in detail. Two days ago, our Committee heard very cogent evidence from the police. We pressed them very hard on many of these issues, and I certainly recommend that all Members who have reservations about extending the pre-charge detention period read the transcript of that evidence. We heard from deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, a senior hands-on detective with a number of years' experience of such cases, and from chief constable Jones, of the Association of Chief Police Officers. If Members read that transcript, many of the reservations that have been expressed today would be answered.
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The starting point is to say that we are looking at a maximum three-month detention period, not such a period as a matter of course. The police made it absolutely clear that they want to resolve cases much more quickly than that. We were told that they hope to resolve them inside seven days, never the mind the current 14-day period, or beyond. They were keen to make it clear that they did not want to keep coming back to Parliament for further extensions, if it were felt that the period granted by Parliament on this occasion
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