Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:38 pm on 26th October 2005.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 2:38 pm, 26th October 2005

My right hon. and learned Friend makes his point brilliantly, as always, and it is the question of intent that is key. We cannot have a serious criminal offence that can be committed by negligence rather than intent. When we discussed the matter with a variety of officials, it was suggested that it was difficult to prove intent. Given what we have seen, even since 7 July, I do not think that a British jury would find it difficult to arrive at a decision on intent.

The great sticking point in the Bill remains the plan to increase the amount of time that a terrorist suspect can be detained without charge from 14 to 90 days. I shall spend most of my speech on that issue, because it is so important. In short, this is a proposal, as the civil rights group Liberty points out, to imprison someone for the equivalent of a six-month sentence. But under this provision, they will have never faced a charge, let alone a trial. And if they never do, they will be released after three months inside for no reason at all. If they did not have a reason to hate Britain when they went in, they may well have one once they come out.

A change of such magnitude—with such risks to our system of justice and even to the effectiveness of legislation—would require a really compelling argument, and that is what the Prime Minister says he has heard. I have to tell the Home Secretary that I have spoken to the police and the security services and, at his behest, I have received a Privy Council briefing, and I have heard no such compelling argument from any quarter. Indeed, I have yet to hear a convincing argument for this particular measure. I have heard good arguments, but they can all be dealt with by other means.

For example, one argument says that it takes time to crack encryption codes to access evidence on computers. That argument is dealt with by invoking the powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which made withholding such codes a criminal offence. Therefore, it would be possible to charge the alleged terrorist with that offence and hold them on that basis. We happily support increasing the penalty for that offence, as clause 15 provides.

Another argument is that our criminal law does not allow the police to interview people once they have been charged, which may be an argument for not charging them in some cases. That argument is answered by changing that rule in terrorist cases, which would be a much smaller infringement of our traditions of liberty and justice by comparison with the proposed 90-day extension, but it would achieve the same aim. The Prime Minister has said that he wants to give the police the powers that they need. But he should not simply give the police the powers they demand.

One Home Office Minister went further. She said:

"The three month period is what the police and security service say is necessary".

But we now know that that is not the case. As a security service source told The Mail on Sunday at the weekend:

"MI5 does not get involved in drawing up policy".

Rightly so. That is the role of the Government and they must fulfil it by making an objective assessment of the facts and acting accordingly. Even the Home Secretary admitted to the Home Affairs Committee—and repeated today—that

"three months is not a God-given amount".

That statement on its own blows a hole in the Government's argument.

I remind the House that the proposed increase to 90 days comes less than two years after the time limit was increased to 14 days under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. There is a genuine and fundamental objection to any further extension, but it does not just come from this side of the House.

Annotations

Julian Todd
Posted on 8 Nov 2005 10:31 am (Report this annotation)

PACE refers to The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which effectively determins the conditions of police custody. The limit is about 36 hours. It has constantly been creeping up through a variety of Acts I can't keep up with.

There are special provisions if you are a suspected terrorist (or heckle Jack Straw).

The original 7 day detention without charge on "suspicion of terrorism" provision was brought in by paragraph 29(3) of Schedule 8 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/00011--w.htm

To say that this important matter is obscurely situated doesn't describe the half of it.

The time limit was extended from 7 days to 14 days by Clause 306 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/30044--x.htm#306

Fortunately, there was a debate on this measure when it was put in, where the arguments for the extention are more specific (arguing that it can take up to 14 days to run through the staged chemical forensic tests) than they are for a 90 day period.

http://theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2003-05-20.940.2

The proposed extention to 90 days or "three months" lies buried in Section 23(5) of the Terrorism Bill

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmbills/05...


Readers are encouraged to cast their eyes over these three substantial erosions to our civil rights during a period of 5 years of national peace and security, and ask why they have to be obfuscated in the Acts this way. Is it trying to tell us something?