Repeals

Part of Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:26 am on 15th March 2000.

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Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 1:26 am, 15th March 2000

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friends the Ministers, who have listened to the debate and tried to meet the points made. I cannot support the Bill wholeheartedly, but I shall not vote against it.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State was right to pay tribute to the work of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Liberty and the Committee on the Administration of Justice. When he introduced the Bill originally, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned the work of Gearty and Kimbell in preparing the ground for Lord Lloyd's report. I declare an interest, as I was responsible for that work being produced, with the help of a considerable grant from Unison to the civil liberties department of King's College.

All the bodies that I have mentioned have expressed concern that the Bill does not meet the requirements of the European convention on human rights. Nothing that we have heard in evidence this evening has persuaded me or some other Labour Members that the Bill meets the main thrust of some of the points of the convention.

On Second Reading, I drew attention to some of the points that the Bill failed to meet, and I want to revisit them and see where we have got to.

Clause 3 deals with prescription. Article 11 of the ECHR provides for a right to peaceful assembly and asserts that limitation of that right must be proportionate. Proscription is a cosmetic part of the prevention of terrorism legislation that is little used in the fight against terrorism. We discussed that earlier this evening.

Clause 5 and schedule 3 deal with the appeals commission for proscribed organisations, as we discussed earlier. Judicial review is the first test of appeal. In the case involving gays in the military, the European Court of Human Rights said that that was not sufficient and that the case must be heard on its merits.

Clause 18 deals with the duty to disclose information. Its reversal of the burden of proof is especially dangerous, given the breadth of the definition of terrorism. It contravenes article 10 of the convention, which deals with the right of freedom of expression, in that it limits press freedom to collect information.

Clause 38 deals with the tipping-off offence, and again reverses the onus. It will stifle criticism of police and security and could contravene article 10 of the ECHR.

Clause 39 and 40 deal with powers of arrest, and will allow a constable to make an arrest without a warrant, on the grounds of reasonable suspicion. If such arrests take place to obtain information, rather than to secure a conviction, they will contravene article 5(1)(c) of the convention, which states that the intention behind an arrest must be to bring a suspect before a competent legal authority. Stop and search is contrary to the ECHR. In paragraph 2(6) of schedule 14 and clause 40(3), the right of access to lawyers can be delayed up to 48 hours. The contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) showed how that could breach article 6 of the European convention on human rights on the right of access to legal representation.

Clause 40 and schedule 7 deal with the detention of an individual for up to 48 hours and the exclusion of legal representatives from the application to extend the detention. Again, article 6 demands a right of access to a lawyer. Clause 43 deals with stop and search powers applied to anyone whom a policeman reasonably believes to be a terrorist. That is extremely dangerous, given the wide definition of terrorism, and probably violates article 8 of the ECHR on the right to privacy, unless interference is necessary in a democratic society.

Article 5(1)(c) of the convention provides for arrest, but with the requirement 'that a person is brought before a court. That provision is also contravened. Clauses 56 and 57 deal with offences to possess items and information that give rise to reasonable suspicion that they are being used for terrorist purposes. Again, the reverse onus clauses are included, which possibly breach article 6(2) of the convention on the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Article 10 of the ECHR provides a right to receive and impart information without interference from a public body, even if the ideas shock and disturb the state. That can be overruled only if the benefit to the state outweighs the cost to society. Given the current security climate, coupled with the reverse onus of proof, that would not seem to be a proportionate response.

I do not believe that the Government have faced up to the matters in the convention. I do not intend to divide the House because I think that that will be dealt with effectively and more directly by the European Court of Human Rights and, if not, by our own judges after October of this year. The Minister has, I believe, failed in that respect.

I welcome the independent review. I am only sorry that it is not followed by a guaranteed debate on the Floor of the House, plus an affirmative order, keeping the Bill in operation. The amendment that was not accepted earlier would have made the matter more complete.

It is regrettable that new clause 5 was not debated, because it dealt with the proposed Bill of Rights that is being discussed in Northern Ireland and that will be followed by legislation either later this year or early next year. It will be a problem ensuring that the contents of the proposed human rights Bill are compatible with those of this Bill. It would have been wise to wait for that legislation. I regret that we did not have the criminal law review so that we could compare the two. It is a sad thing that the other place may have it but we will not. It will make judgments that we have been unable to make.

I regret that the Bill is necessary, but I will not divide the House on it.