Orders of the Day — Prevention of Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 23rd February 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 2:52 pm, 23rd February 2005

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, because it contains excessive powers in relation to requirements on a person to remain at a particular place when such powers are not presently necessary;
gives to the Executive powers that should be exercised by the judiciary;
allows decisions to be made on an insufficient standard of proof;
fails to address the need to bring terrorists to trial on the basis of all evidence available;
and thus wrongly infringes the right to liberty of the individual."

I shall start by attempting to put this debate on a proper basis. First, the Home Secretary started with rather a good description of the state of terrorism today. I did not agree with all his five categories for differentiating al-Qaeda, but there is no doubt that it constitutes a qualitatively different set of terrorist threats than existed before. That does not mean that we should throw away all that we have learned in this country in dealing with terrorist threats in the past. It does mean, of course, that we should alter our tactics accordingly. However, we should not throw away the civilised standards of which this country has become proud over the centuries.

I want to make two other points to the Home Secretary. Yesterday, he accused his opponents on this issue of, I think, playing politics with terrorism. That accusation is neither helpful to this debate nor in any sense serious. The easy political line in this sort of debate is to tub-thump about the threats, to raise the temperature and to talk about draconian penalties for terrorists. The harder line is to raise questions of principle, liberty and the proper process of British justice. The easy but, in my view, irresponsible approach would have been to roll over and let the Government legislate in ways that reduce liberty and harm long-standing, important traditions of British justice, which might even worsen rather than improve the terrorist situation.

Secondly, the Home Secretary alleged yesterday that the alternative to what he recommends is that we do nothing. That is clearly and patently untrue. It does not reflect well on the strength of his arguments that he needs to put up such an Aunt Sally. Not only have we made alternative proposals, but I and my predecessor made a number of those proposals to his predecessor, giving the Government a great deal of time to consider them.

Let us take, for example, the proposal that has been raised several times in interventions today, and which the Home Secretary has rejected—that intercept evidence should be used in court to enable more terrorists to be brought to justice and locked up in a prison, not in their living rooms. I said to the then Home Secretary in February 2004:

"Everyone agrees that the most desirable way to deal with terrorists is to bring them before the courts. That is where the Home Secretary should be concentrating his efforts—looking at aspects of the law that make prosecution more difficult and seeing whether they can be corrected."—[Hansard, 25 February 2004; Vol. 418, c. 314.]

The Newton committee highlighted one aspect in particular on which we believe that the Government should act. Paragraph 208 states:

"In our view one way of making it possible to prosecute in more cases will be to remove the UK's self-imposed blanket ban on the use of intercepted communications in court".

We agreed. That conclusion was reached by Lord Lloyd in his 1996 review. It had the backing then of Lord Carlile and has been advocated in relation to terrorist cases for many years by Mr. Trimble. It has had the support of successive Chief Constables in Northern Ireland and of Sir John Stevens, as well as support in the United States and in other areas.

In the United States, extensive details of intercept capacity are published and are a matter of public record. They will therefore already be accounted for in al-Qaeda's behaviour, training and tactics. It is therefore difficult to see how knowledge of our much smaller intercept capacity in this country could make much difference to the training and tactics of al-Qaeda, especially when that is measured against the value of such information in court. That exchange was one year ago.