Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con):
The debate has been fascinating, especially because of the range of views that have been expressed and the lack of certainty about the direction from which a different view would be voiced. It must be apparent to the Government that they face a major challenge over the Bill. The tenor of
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the contributions shows that many hon. Members feel the most serious disquiet about the impact of the proposed legislation on civil liberties in this country.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend echoing the fact that many of us do not support the Government. I am sure that he will assure me that we lend support for the Government's returning with a much better Bill. We cannot and will not support loss of civil liberties and of freedom of speech.
Powerful contributions have been made. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who said that he was unable to support the Bill, voiced serious doubts about its operation and highlighted the fact that the provisions are so widely drawn that they would cover expressions of opinion. Most people would regard it as improper to criminalise those.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), in another powerful speech, clearly expressed his anxiety that a wide range of legislation, which the Government could use, already exists to cover incitement. He thereby cast doubt on the necessity for clause 1. Those doubts were echoed by the hon. Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who made a powerful speech about his anxiety that, far from improving community relations in this country, the Bill would undermine them.
John Bercow: As one who did not make a powerful speech, or, indeed, have the opportunity to make a speech at all, I stress that many colleagues are simply not prepared to support the Bill at this stage because it contains too broad a range of powers, which are too vaguely defined and threaten too much damage in return for too little benefit. It is quite simple.
Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend makes up for the lack of opportunity to make a speech with a characteristically powerful intervention. I do not disagree with the anxieties that he expresses, although I shall try shortly to explain why I personally feel comfortable in supporting the Government on Second Reading.
Hon. Members who, broadly speaking, believe that the Bill is worthy of support and that there is good in it, made some important contributions. I was especially struck by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) who provided a reasoned analysis and powerful arguments for why he believed that the period of detention would have to be extended from 14 days. He was joined by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who always approaches our deliberations from a different angle. Nevertheless, we have to consider it.
The hon. Members for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) had a great deal to say about community relations. That
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must be a starting point. There is no point in the House legislating ad nauseam to create new structures to try to stop terrorists, because we know very wellI am sure that the Home Secretary will be the first to acknowledge thisthat the way to stop terrorism in the long term involves two things. The first is adequate security. The second is pinching terrorism out at its source by making it completely unacceptable in any section of our community. Those must be our two aims, but I have to say to the Home Secretary that the Bill does not address either of them, because it looks specifically at the legislative functions by which a greater penal policy can be directed towards the issue.
Ms Abbott: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Muslim community is united against terrorism, but expressing great unhappiness about the Bill? Its members have followed the Bill with considerable attention and believe that it is targeted at them. Given the concern in the community, is not the fact that the Bill contains a provision for 90 days' detention without trial unlikely to create the kind of community co-operation that will help us to fight terrorism?
Mr. Grieve: I do not disagree with the hon. Lady. What worries me particularly is that the 90-day period appears to have been plucked out of the air with very little justification. During the passage of the Bill, the Government are going to have to engage in a proper dialogue with Members of the House to explain why 90 days is an appropriate period, as opposed to 16 or 28 days, six months, or anything else.
The Conservatives do not wish to get involved in a Dutch auction with the Government. Our question is: why should there be an extension from 14 days, which already represents a considerable extension of the existing practices? Are there any alternatives that might make it unnecessary to extend the period at all? We shall listen to the Home Secretary and other Ministers to establish whether they can come up with any coherent arguments as to why the period needs to be extended. However, any extension of the period beyond 14 days will, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) rightly said earlier, have the capacity to create martyrs. There would be nothing worse for community relations than individuals being released from custody without charge after six weeks of detention. I cannot think of a better recruiting sergeant for terrorism or disaffection.
The problems faced by the Government start with the definition of "terrorism". I accept that we adopted a definition in the 2000 Act that may have been appropriateI emphasise the word "may"in the context of domestic terrorism in the United Kingdom. However, one of the effects of the Bill will be to extend it to a worldwide definition. I hope that the Home Secretary will have taken on board from today's debate the fact that the definition is now completely unacceptable, unless we are saying that violence for political ends can never be justified in any circumstances. If that is the case, I have to say to the Home Secretary that I am not quite sure what we are doing in Iraq. We must face the fact that we have long accepted that there may be occasions on which such justification exists.
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Alan Simpson: The hon. Gentleman will recall the debate in the House two weeks ago about the extension of the list of proscribed organisations. Included on that list was the Islamic Jihad Union in Uzbekistan. Many Members raised concerns about the inclusion of that organisation and, a matter of days later, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan wrote in The Guardian that there was no basis for substantiating the allegations that had been made about it, that they had come from the Uzbek Government and that we had no embedded intelligence sources of our own in the region. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the provisions relating to encouragement in the Bill would place hon. Members in an invidious position, in that, if we sought to defend an organisation that had been improperly proscribed as a terrorist organisation, we would be committing a terrorist offence under the encouragement provisions?
Mr. Grieve: As drafted, the clause presents precisely those difficulties. While I have some sympathy with the Government in trying to consider the issue of terrorism generally, the fact is that the definition provided is hopeless to meet the problems for which we must legislate. Furthermore, as has been highlighted, clause 1, in relation to incitement, provides for an offence that can be committed negligently, not an offence of specific intent. Therefore, when those two factors are taken together, a very large number of people in this country are likely to be criminalised for their comments.
Let me make one thing clear to the Government: the suggestion that it does not matter that the legislation is woolly, because either the DPP or the Attorney-General will act as a long stop to prevent something wrong from happening, is just not acceptable. The task of this House is to pass legislation that is intellectually coherent and intelligible, not to give a blank cheque to the Government, which they can exercise through the Law Officers or anyone else at their whim.
We do not think that the offence of glorification should be in the Bill at all. I know that it was even worse in the first draft of the Bill, and I am grateful that the Home Secretary seems to have persuaded the Prime Minister to give way on the matter. One is left with the impression, however, that it has been left in the Bill specifically to save the Prime Minister's face. That is not acceptable either. Either glorification amounts to incitement of its own, or it does not amount to incitement at all. If it does not amount to incitement at all, there is no reason why it should be separately identified within the legislation. The sooner that we have an assurance from the Government that it will be removed, the better progress we will make during the passage of the Bill.
The second issue that has greatly exercised the House is that of the 90-day detention period. As I said a moment ago, there are ways in which we believe that the issue can be considered afresh. There are a number of possibilities. We certainly need much better scrutiny, as was suggested by Lord Carlile. The decisions should be taken by a senior circuit judge and not by a district judge, to which we shall return in Committee. There should be a review mechanism and an appeal process to the High Court, and I am dubious that seven-day periods are acceptable, because the judge should decide the period before a return, and the only basis for any
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continuing detention would have to be persuading the judge that there is a reason, in the next three, four or 72 hours, that that detention will yield benefit.
It is also astonishing that one of the provisions under the detention clause is that detention can take place in order to facilitate continuing questioning and nothing else. One moment's thought must make the Government realise that that is an unacceptable premise. In fact, any confession that is obtained will probably be thrown out by the court. The atmosphere of oppression that will be conveyedthat somebody can be detained specifically for the purpose of questioning and interrogation on its ownis one that is readily curable.
Although I have no difficulty in agreeing with large parts of the Bill, much of it is very sloppily drafted. In relation to the dissemination of terrorist literature and publications, are we seriously saying that the offence will be so widely drafted that a university lecturer handing out copies of an al-Qaeda manifesto to his students would be caught by the operation of the Act? The Home Secretary shakes his head, but as drafted, that is precisely what the legislation does.
There is much to criticise, but there is a kernel in the Bill that seeks to improve anti-terrorist powers. We accept that, which is why, in principle, we are prepared to support the Government. We are also mindful that the Government have provided a proper opportunity for the House to consider the legislation, in Committee of the whole House, a proper Report stage thereafter, and most importantly of all, a Third Reading that will be more than a 45-minute rubber stamp.
For those reasons, let me, first, thank the Home Secretary and, secondly, say that we intend to engage in a constructive dialogue. However, I also ask the Home Secretary not to end this process by saying that amendments will be tabled in another place. Either the Bill is in an acceptable condition by the time of Third Reading or it will not have our support, andaccording to my impressionwill not have the support of many Members in all parts of the House.
The challenge is with the Government. We intend to work co-operatively with the Home Secretary, but I must tell him that there is a great mountain to be climbed before the Bill is in an acceptable condition.