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Orders of the Day

Terrorism Bill

Order for Third Reading read.

12.39 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is only a little over two weeks since the Bill had its Second Reading, but I do not think that anyone could claim that it has not been subject to proper scrutiny, both in the House and in the country more generally. The Bill has, very properly, been fully discussed and debated, and what we have clearly represents the will of the House. I reject the suggestion made by some hon. Members yesterday that there has been insufficient opportunity to debate it. We held the Committee stage on the Floor of the House for two days to allow all right hon. and hon. Members to take part, we introduced a second programme motion to extend the time available on Report, and, of course, we now have ahead of us much more time for Third Reading than is customarily the case.

As the House will know, it had been my wish and that of the whole Government to proceed by means of consensus. To the degree that that has been possible, I pay tribute to my counterparts in the other parties for their co-operation and willingness to engage and talk about the various issues that we have had to address. However, I regret that it has not been possible to achieve consensus in all respects, in particular regarding the length of pre-charge detention. Nevertheless, the Government have made it clear all along that if, for any reason, consensus broke down, we would not hesitate to press ahead with measures that we felt were necessary in the fight against terrorism.

We remain of the view that the offence of encouragement to terrorism is needed and that it needs to be framed in the way in which the House has now agreed. In line with our manifesto commitment, it needs to encompass the glorification of terrorism, and I am glad that the House explicitly endorsed that again yesterday. There is no reason why people should be allowed to glorify the terrorist acts of others in such a way as to encourage others to prepare and commit acts of terrorism.

As we always intended, and announced as long ago as July, we have created new offences relating to acts preparatory to terrorism and terrorist training. We have also created a new offence of attending a terrorist training camp. No one has any good cause knowingly to attend a place where terrorist training is taking place.

Moreover, the new offences will give the United Kingdom the ability to ratify two important international conventions—the United Nations convention on the suppression of nuclear terrorism and the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism. I am sure that the whole House will recognise the importance of working internationally in the fight against terrorism. The Bill will also extend the offence of criminal trespass to cover civil nuclear sites so that we can protect them, because they are an obviously tempting target for terrorists. However—I stress this,
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particularly in the light of our debates—nothing that we are doing in any way disturbs the absolute right to protest peacefully.

Let me turn to the issue that has probably attracted the most attention—that of the maximum pre-charge detention period. Yesterday the House made a decision on that. It is perfectly proper for it to reach such a decision and I make absolutely no complaint that Members of Parliament have exercised their ability to vote in the way in which they have all individually chosen. What I do regret is that the House has chosen to ignore the professional advice of our law enforcement and prosecution agencies, which we employ to protect us from the very real threat that we face from terrorists. I believed that a maximum pre-charge detention period of 90 days was in the best security interests of the country and I remain of the view that we were right to take the course that we did. Nevertheless, and for the avoidance of doubt, the Government accept the decision that the House has taken and we will not be seeking to overturn it in another place.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Will the Home Secretary clear something up? In our discussions yesterday on this very issue, I asked him about the possibility of questioning suspects after charge. In his response, he said:

I have had the opportunity to read the code for Crown prosecutors, which says that the test of whether to charge is merely "reasonable suspicion" in cases in which it is intended to hold the suspect, and that reasonable suspicion can include consideration of future evidence. Is it really the Government's policy that people against whom even reasonable suspicion is not present should be held? That strikes me as close to internment.

Mr. Clarke: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman reheats yesterday's discussion. I reject entirely the idea that our proposals can be called internment by any other name. That is quite wrong. He should consider the issue carefully in the light of the possibility—he may reject it, but it is real—that there may be people who threaten our country whom we are not able to charge in the way that we would like.

The House yesterday also accepted the sunset clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). As I have since discussed with him, his amendment is technically defective. I hasten to say that that it is not in any sense a criticism, but simply a reflection of the fact that he cannot call on the services of parliamentary counsel. However, it does mean that the Government will need to table an amendment in another place to replace it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I welcome that. The most important consideration is that the House has an opportunity to debate every year, if necessary, the powers of detention. However much we disagree about 90 or 28 days, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reject with contempt allegations made—outside, of course—that those of us who have a different view, and 28 days was the majority decision,
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have any less understanding of the acute terrorist danger that our country faces from mass murderers? We are surely at one on this. I hope that he shares my contempt at some of the stories that have appeared today.

Mr. Clarke: To be frank, I accept what my hon. Friend says in his personal case. That is true. He has a long and distinguished record of combating terrorism in a variety of ways and has consistently argued for that. He has a different view of the appropriateness of the length of pre-charge detention, but, as I said publicly in broadcasts today, he personally acted with integrity, in a way that is within the traditions of the House.

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, however, I will not take the invitation to say the same about everyone who voted for his amendment. There were people in the House—I do not desire to name names, and I was not intending to say this unless in response to such a point—who do not fully appreciate the nature of the threat with which we have to deal. That is my view.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Does the Home Secretary accept that people in Nottinghamshire know about the threat and accept that it exists? Will he take my reassurance that my office and my phone have been busy today with people backing the 90-day detention period? They believe that he and the Prime Minister were right, and they would like that to be pursued.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for that comment. It is the case that all recent tests of opinion, as well as the feedback that I have received informally from a large number of colleagues in the House, reflect my hon. Friend's experience in his constituency. I know that he has always been assiduous in consulting his constituents before deciding how to vote on difficult and problematic issues.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I know that passions ran high, and I voted with the Government. However, does my right hon. Friend regret calling an hon. Member a ne'er-do-well on the radio this morning? It is not an appropriate term to use to describe a fellow Member of the House of any party.

Mr. Clarke: You will need to advise me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to whether or not the phrase "ne'er-do-well" is a parliamentary expression. I am genuinely not sure, so I have to be careful about using it or not using it. It is true that I used the phrase outside the House about my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). To be frank, I do not regret using it. There was a conspiracy, in which he was engaged with the Opposition Front Bench, which I thought it appropriate to draw to the attention of the House—

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