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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): We have engaged in a good and serious debate, and we have heard a range of different views expressed from all parts of the House. The issues that we have discussed are not appropriate ground for political point-scoring, and we have not heard any today. I hope that the debates in Committee and on Report will feature the same constructive tone.
We are all struggling to reconcile the issues of security and liberty. How, in our free democracy, do we protect our citizens from harm while at the same time protecting the fundamental values that are so precious to every Member of Parliament? How, in particular, do we protect our freedom to speak, and to debate serious ideas on which we have deeply opposing views, while maintaining a sense of respect and upholding the right of decent people to go about their business in peace and safety?
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I ask Members to remember what happened on 7 July. More than 50 innocent people were murdered by terrorists who did not care how many innocent people they killed. More than 700 people were injured, many of them seriously, and their whole lives will be affected. I say that not in order to make my arguments easier to present, but because it is always in my mind as we struggle to get the balance right.
We are not talking about a theoretical situation. This is not an academic debate. The threat is real. We have been attacked, and we must now find the best way in which to protect the people of this country, while upholding and strengthening our values.
Clare Short : Does my right hon. Friend agree that before 7 July the worst mass-murder terrorist attack on civilians was the Birmingham pub bombing? Immediate anti-terror legislation followed, and then the wrong people were arrested, although they were given a full jury trial. There is no doubt that in my city, the alienation of the Irish community that resulted from all that created a breeding ground for sympathy for terrorist activity in Northern Ireland. Does my right hon. Friend believe that we are remembering the lessons of those events?
Hazel Blears: I absolutely believe that we have learnt the lessons. Of course we must have safeguards in our legislation, but we must also have legislation that gives us the necessary powers to disrupt terrorism, to prosecute more terrorists, and to bring terrorists to justice within a proper legal system and according to the rule of law.
The Bill contains much that is good, but inevitably today's debate has focused on the clause 1 offence of encouragement to commit terrorism and the extension of the maximum period of detention in clause 23. I emphasise "maximum period of detention". I shall respond to as many points as possible, but I shall not be able to deal with all of them. We shall have a good opportunity to debate them in Committee.
The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said that we should scrutinise the Bill and that there should be challenges, scepticism and questioning. That is what the House is good at, and I think that we will end up with legislation that is practical and effective. My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy)I pay tribute to his extensive experience in Northern Irelandsaid that the events of 7 July were unprecedented in our country. Like many other Members, he recognises that the terrorist threat that we face now is significantly different from the Irish threat in many ways. I agreed with his sensible and practical observations.
I was grateful to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) for his acknowledgment of the way in which we have approached the issue. We are trying to secure consensus. I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman and his party are to vote against Second Reading, because I genuinely do not believe that that is the right approach. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about clause 1 and the extension of the period of detention, he can debate those matters in Committee. The Bill contains a range of measures that will protect the people of this country.
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The hon. Member for Winchester said that in his view, there are alternatives to the 90-day limit that will work. We will explore them in Committee, but I point out to him now that the idea of charging suspects with a lesser offence has some serious faults. First, it is dishonest. Charging somebody with a minor offence simply as a ruse to keep them in custody is not the right thing to do. Secondly, it might not work. In order to get the evidence for the lesser offence, it might be necessary to decrypt a computer, which would take longer than the period in question in any event. Such an approach could also be inefficient and divert police resources towards dealing with minor offences, when they should be concentrating on the major offences in question. Indeed, such an approach could prove dangerous. Someone could be let out on bail because they were charged with a lesser offence, and then commit further offences. However, we will explore all those issues in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) raised issues relating to the offence of glorifying and encouraging of terrorism. I point out to all Members that if we seek to make a distinction between good terrorism and bad terrorism, we will get into very dangerous territory. Terrorism is wrong. We should not encourage people to kill, murder and maim others, even in the interest of political change. That will prove a really important dividing line as we continue our discussions.
John Bercow: The argument is not about the distinction between a good terrorist and a bad terrorist; it is about whether there is a distinctionas many of us believe there isbetween a terrorist and a freedom fighter, and if so, what that distinction is. Does the Minister not acknowledge the difference?
Hazel Blears: What we have is a definition of terrorism, and if somebody is guilty of terrorism, they are guilty of terrorism. The path on which the hon. Gentleman is embarking in seeking that dividing line will lead him into significant and considerable difficulties; but we shall see.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) also dealt with the offence of encouraging terrorism, and he said that such an offence could amount simply to somebody being offended by something that was said. This offence is not about offending somebody. It has to be likely that those hearing the statement in question will be encouraged to emulate terrorist acts; that is a world away from having a debate and simply saying something that somebody does not agree with.
Mrs. Ellman: Does the Minister agree that the carnage that happened in London is part of a global activity, and does she agree that inciting and glorifying the murder of civilians in Iraq or in Israel is incompatible with claiming to be against the committing of the very same acts in this country?
Yes, and my hon. Friend puts the point extremely well. This Bill is about saying that terrorism, wherever it occurs, is wrong. People should not murder, maim and kill others in any context.
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My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made the absolutely valid point that legislation alone will not resolve the problems that we face. It is about winning hearts and minds, good policing, effective community relationships and better intelligence. But I say to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central that we need to think very carefully about this issue. If we are to limit terrorist offences simply to civilians, will that suggest that it is legitimate to attack police officers and innocent members of the armed forces? That is a very difficult distinction to make, but we will explore it in Committee.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made his usual passionate speech on this issue; he will doubtless participate in our subsequent debate. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should have allowed the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) to intervene. He spoke in favour of the Bill, and I was grateful for his emphasis on ensuring that our measures are proportionate to the threat that we face.
I was disappointed by the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)he is not in his place, but he apologised to me in advance for his absencemade about the police. He said that if they could use a longer detention period, they might sit on the records for 30 or 40 days. If he had personal knowledge of the work that the police have done since 7 Julyof the effort that they have put into the investigations, and the thousands of hours of CCTV footage that they have examinedhe would realise that they are not likely to sit on documents for that long without taking action. Of course they are keen to minimise the detention period.
I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) for the Bill's provisions. He has some concerns, and I am sure that we will debate them in Committee. My hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made extremely good speeches. I am particularly grateful for the action of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury in supporting his local community and for the stand that he has taken on these issues, sometimes in difficult circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, who is now Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has looked at these issues in great detail and I welcome what he said about the Bill representing a proportionate response in human rights terms. I greatly welcome his support.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) made a telling contribution about his shock at the events of 7 July. I have been out on many visits to the Muslim community across the country, including Leeds, and I found some excellent work going on to bring people together to face the threat.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) about the importance of keeping engaged with young people.
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Together with the Muslim community, there are now seven groups working with women and young people to tackle extremism, and seeking to secure the support of imams and mosques. I have to say that the young people have probably formed the most exciting working group so far, which has come out with some excellent suggestions about road shows and how they can work to tackle extremism. I am delighted about that.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) rightly raised international issues. I can tell him that our international strategy is acknowledged as one of the best, and we intend to continue to support other countries in fighting terrorism.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) set out, in an excellent speech, how the world is changing and how the terrorists threaten everything that we believe in. I welcome his support for the Bill.
The Bill addresses difficult issues that represent some of the most important ones facing our country. I entirely acknowledge that legislation alone will not be enough to protect our people, but it is vital that we have sufficient powers to intervene early to disrupt terrorism and to prosecute terrorists and bring them to justice. That is what the Bill is all about. It is about ensuring that we have on our statute book the legislation necessary to meet the ever-changing and ever-evolving threat of international terrorism that we face.
We are desperately trying to strike the right balance. We must have a society in which we respect the rule of law. There will always be tension between our rights as individuals and the rights of the community. I was in the Library quite late last night, after a lengthy debate on another Bill, and I thought about how people have dealt with those tensions over the years. Those tensionsover securing the balance between security and liberty are nothing new. It was John Stuart Mill who, more than 100 years ago, effectively summed up that tension and the balance that we are trying to strike today, when he said:
That is the balance that must be struck: in exercising our freedoms, it is sometimes necessary to restrain other people's freedoms. Tonight, we are focused on getting the right balance. I look forward with great anticipationand, dare I say, pleasureto the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House, during which we can further explore some of the complex and challenging issues.
I am absolutely convinced that, on the Labour Benches, we want legislation that is practical, workable, effective and will protect the people of this country from the undoubted terrorist threat that we face. I think that the first responsibility of any Government is to protect their citizens while, at the same time, safeguarding the fundamental freedoms that make our democracy one under which people want to live and bring up their families. I am determined that that is what we will do. I commend the Bill to the House.
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