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John Bercow : I respect the hon. Gentleman's principled opposition to the war in Iraq, but it is important in this debate to emphasise that opposition to some of the central tenets of the Bill is not confined to the anti-war lobby. There are many of us who felt strongly that the Government were justified in going to war in Iraq, and still feel that the Prime Minister was justified in the overall stance that he took, but who feel uncomfortable with, and unpersuaded by, the Government's case on these central tenets.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I respect him greatly. He wanted to put that on the record and I am glad to have allowed him to do so, although I do not think that it added a great deal to the debate.
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The question of the review clause needs to be settled in a better way. Any review clause must be debated on the Floor of the House and carried by a vote of the House. Anything in a statutory instrument may be taken off the Floor or considered in a way that does not allow full debate on the Floor, and that would not be acceptable to those who are concerned about having the Bill at all. I hope that when we get the review clause in its final form, after the Bill has been through the other place and returned to this House, the Government will ensure that we have the right to a full debate on the Floor on a proper motion and that the provision is not slipped through. Prevention of terrorism legislation passed when we were not in government was discredited by the fact that, in the early stages, we did not have those debates.
There was some to-ing and fro-ing about the word "reckless". It is a difficult word, but I first saw it in an amendment tabled by the Conservative Opposition in Committee. I do not know how one deals with that difficulty in legislation. If people do something innocently but recklessly, which part do we lean on? Do we judge their act innocent, so the police do not pursue them? Or do we judge it to be reckless and have the police pursue them, even though they may end up, days or weeks later, being deemed innocent but a little reckless? Holding them under the Bill would have a damaging effect on their life, their family and community and on the perception of them in the community, and it would also be damaging to the work of the police. I hope that we can have a provision that clarifies what we mean.
If someone knowingly does something recklessly, such as driving a car and causing an accident, that is different from doing it unknowingly. I think of a recent case in Scotland in which someone thought that they were driving properly but were in fact driving recklessly. That case went to court and the individual was fined because he should have known that he was driving recklessly. We have to get the definition of "reckless" right.
I return to the time provisions that the Bill now contains28 days; four periods of seven days. That may prove inadequate. I know that people voted for that for all the right reasons. The problem is that the House focused on time rather than process.
I was concerned about the definitions used in the Bill, especially in connection with the actions of people who wanted to encourage and support those fighting against oppression and state terror in other parts of the world. The Bill has still not got that quite right. For example, when I was a youth I went around sticking up posters for "Back from Hanoi" meetings. Representatives from the National Union of Mineworkers had gone to Vietnam to find out what was really going on, and on their return condemned what the Americans were doing to the people there. At the time, that was not a popular opinion.
Would the Bill mean that I would end up in the slammer for sticking up posters, going to meetings and handing out leaflets that told of the American atrocities against the people of Vietnam? Theoretically, the Americans were our allies, and thank goodness that the Prime Minister of the time kept this country out of that terrible debacle. We have to get our approach right as we cannot discourage peopleanywhere in the world,
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and even in this countryfrom standing up for the serious principles of human rights that have so often been abused.
I return to the question of process. Sadly, the House originally settled on a 14-day detention period. Judicial review every seven days depends on the Bill containing the strictest definition of what merits continuation, but I believe it probable that opportunities will arise to abuse the system that is being proposed.That abuse will take the form of acts of omission, and I am worried that the police will think that, in order to keep a person in detention, they will have to prove only that they are pursuing a trail of evidence, regardless of its weakness. In contrast, I think that they should have to show that they are engaged in a serious and ongoing investigation of evidence that has not yet been analysed properly. The important point is that the evidence should exist: if it does not, and the police merely hope that they will find it after holding the person for another seven days, that will be insufficient reason for continuing that person's detention.
The process has to be defined very clearly. In our discussions, we were told that such matters would be kept under review by a High Court judge and that the people in detention would be properly represented. However, I want to know in detail how transparent the process will be. Giving the people involved representation will be no good if they are told by the police that they are in possession of evidence that can be shown to the High Court judge but not to the defence representative, on the ground that it has security implications. I want the people accused under the Bill to have the right to due and proper process, but such an approach would render that process null and void.
In addition, we must make sure that the police do not think that they can hold for 28 days anyone whom they pick up. They cannot be allowed to believe that the detention period will be automatic as long as they can show that they are pursuing an investigation.
I voted for a period of 90 days because I wanted a reassurance that the proper process would be observed. The actual length of the detention period would not matter to meor to my constituents, or those in my constituency party who hold me to accountas long as the security authorities were required to show that they were pursuing a trail of evidence. As long as they could do that, detention could be prolonged by successive periods of seven days. The arguments that we got locked into about 28, 90 or 14 days were less important than ensuring that a person arrested by the police on suspicion of taking part in terrorist activity was held to be innocent until enough evidence had been gathered to allow a charge to be brought. Adopting that approach would make sure that every review by the High Court judge would start from the assumption of the person's innocence, even though there were grounds for suspicion. At every review, the police would have to prove that extending detention for a further seven days was justified, and they could do that only by demonstrating in an obvious and transparent way that they were accumulating real evidence against the person involved.
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I hope that the Bill will return from the other place with the problems to do with definition, the maximum period of detention, glorification and the response to international terror all fixed. If that is the case, the Bill will be a good one. Whoever said that the people who voted for the strongest possible Bill consistent with the wishes of the public was on the money. It is possible that the House will benefit from the way that the Bill has been debated and we may feel that the process of deliberation has been wonderful. However, if it fails to do what it sets out to dothat is, prevent another atrocity such as happened here on 7/7, or on other occasions around the worldwe will be held liable by the public.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I am sorry to begin my Third Reading speech by underlining the fact that I take very seriously the threat that terrorism poses to the citizens of this country. Much of the campaigning that is going on retains an undertone of suggestion that those who have resisted the more draconian elements of the Bill are complacent about terrorism or do not take it seriously, but that is certainly not my position.
The Home Secretary was in a rather petulant mood today, for understandable reasons. For the past two weeks, he has tried to be the reasonable face of the Government, but I do not think that he did himself much justice when he started to suggest that some hon. Members are less opposed to terrorism than he is.
I take the threat of terrorism extremely seriously. Over the past fortnight, I have taken as active a part as possible in discussions about the Bill because I think that terrorism is one of the most serious problems that will face this Government and their successors for years to come. The climate of the recent past proves beyond doubt that the citizens of this country face a grave threat of random terrorism, and will do so for a long time.
It is not possible to guarantee complete protection, however dramatic the measures put in place. I have a dreadful feeling that more bombs will explode from time to time, with the concomitant political reaction. It therefore behoves us all to consider very seriously how we will tackle the problem. If we can, we should act on a consensual, cross-party basis to protect our population and minimise the terrorist threat.
Many factors outside the Bill are involved. For example, how will we approach resolving the mounting conflict between the Muslim world and the rest of the world? How will we address the question of the relationships between this country's Muslim community and their fellow British citizens, and how can we make sure that we avoid producing growing numbers of alienated young men who can be radicalised and turned to fanatic activity?
Those are important questions, but the key will be to get right the balance between, on the one hand, the force that we apply to security and the fierceness with which we crack down on those who propagate terrorism in this country with, on the other hand, our belief in personal liberty and individual freedom and our need to protect the values of our society that the terrorists want to threaten.
When faced with a terrorist threat, it is worth asking what the terrorists' ambitions are. It is no good dismissing them all as mindless fanatics or brainless
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extremists, as some are very sophisticated and intelligent people indeed. One of the main aims of terrorists attacking a civilised society is to provoke an overreaction by that society's authorities. The best present for terrorists is to introduce repressive measures that help them politicise and mobilise the elements in the community with which they identify. Those people might then be persuaded that their sense of injustice and deprivation is so strong that it justifies extremism.
I take the Bill and the terrorist threat very seriously, but the Government have totally mishandled the matter from the start. They have kept on suggesting that criticism of the more difficult measures is the result of complacency, in Parliament and elsewhere.
In passing, I assure the House that I have not approached the Bill from a party-political or partisan basis. I was one of those who voted against it on Second Reading, and that was not the approach of my party. Many hon. Members have made their own judgments about the Bill and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington) was eloquent and graphic when he demonstrated how people have not merely followed the party line. If the Government need more reassurance, they have proposals forthcoming on education, health and welfare, where they might expect my support on their more well-judged measures. It is no good saying that all Conservative Members are opportunists and that the opponents of the Bill are motivated by ill will towards the Prime Minister or any such thing.
My opposition to the legislation so far has been on the basis that I regard it as extremely ill considered. It does not add much, if anything, to our protections against the risk of terrorism. I rather think that it was motivated by a desperate desire to do something in response to the appalling events of July. At the time, the Government were seized with the feeling that they did not know what else to do. I cannot get rid of the feeling that, essentially, the Bill is gesture politics. I hope that we do not have more gesture politics if we have more terrorist outrages.
The bombs in July were not caused by any gaps in our legislation. We have 200 pieces of anti-terrorist legislation already on the statute book. So far as I am aware, the bombs in July were not caused by the outpourings, however distasteful and unpleasant, of some bizarre, extreme preachers, encouraging people to do what they did. The reaction, at a time when the public were frightened as a result of the horrors on the underground and when the Government were in something of a political panic about how to react, was to suggest that tough legislation and a provision to deport mad mullahs from our territories would be the answer that a strong Government would implement to minimise the chances of that happening again. Since then, we have gone into more detail. Some measures in the Bill, such as offences about preparing and training for terrorism, might add something, but at its heart I still suspect that this is gesture politics, padded out with measures to make it look more convincing.
It worries me that, time and again during our proceedings, the Bill has been driven forward with disparaging remarks about opponents in this House and elsewhere and with a disregard for those who are concerned about the rule of law, civil rights or individual liberty. I expect editorials in The Sun to talk about left-wing judges challenging this, but the present
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Prime Minister and the former Home Secretary have got into the habit of allowing their lips to curl when they describe lawyers, liberals and others who are sensitive about individual rights. That is a most unhealthy development. I am a lawyer and, I think, a liberal on a large number of matters. I was not a very liberal Home Secretary. I brought before the House the renewal of terrorist legislation, suspending provisions of the European convention on human rights. I was opposed by my shadow, the present Prime Minister, for going too far. I was a more liberal Home Secretary than any of my successors. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was a more liberal Home Secretary than any of his successors. The last truly liberal Home Secretary was Lord Hurd. Since then, we have been going down hill. I had hoped that the new Home Secretary might reverse the trend, but the pressures he is under now are not making it easy for him.
The reasons why I remain against the legislation are, first, my suspicion that it is gesture politics and, secondly, because as we examined it in Committee and on Report, the frailty and thinness of most of its contents have become increasingly evident. My main reason, that it is gesture politics, has been touched on by others. It is difficult to see what almost all its provisions add to the present provisions of the criminal law. Incitements to violence by people preaching in mosques can be dealt with under the present law. It has been a decision of public policy not to prosecute some of the more self-publicising, wild preachers because a judgment has mistakenly been made that that would cause more trouble than it was worth. There is scarcely a new provision in the Bill that could not be covered by a prosecutor under some existing charge, if the evidence existed to proceed against someone engaged in terrorist activities. Therefore, it is ill-considered legislation, which has caused terrible trouble. We now shall see whether anything worth while can be produced from it when it goes to the House of Lords.
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