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

I agree with my hon. Friend—[Interruption]—except that I do not agree with him about supporting this case. There are real problems with the extension beyond 14 days, such as the oppression of the individual. My hon. Friend Mr. Grieve, the shadow Attorney-General made the point that, given the ECHR and the Human Rights Act 1998, we would have to change the PACE rules to ensure that people were not oppressed. A whole series of problems would arise from such an extension, and it would probably end up being counter-productive in terms of producing evidence in court.

Such an extension would be particularly exorbitant given that Australia, which has faced every bit as much of a terrorist challenge as we have, has just had a heated debate about increasing the time from 48 hours to 14 days. Our Government are looking for more than six times that amount, but Australia is not even considering a 90-day proposal. Given everything that I have read and heard, I can say with absolute certainty the case has not been made. It remains a fundamental sticking point between the Government and the Opposition. It is a provision that we wish to see excised from the Bill and replaced with other measures before the Bill is signed into law. As I have told the Home Secretary already, although I am happy to support the Bill on Second Reading, if those significant matters are not corrected, I will recommend that my party does not support the Bill on Third Reading.

Finally, we must turn our minds to what is not included in the Bill. As the Home Secretary will know, we have long campaigned for intercept evidence to be used in courts. The Italian Government have recently adopted its use; our Government are considering it. In fact, we know from their former spin doctor's recent book that they have been considering it since 1998. Sir Ian Blair says that he has

"long been in favour of intercept evidence being used in court", claiming that it

"would make my job easier"'.

On this issue, he is right, and we will attempt to introduce an amendment to that effect in Committee.

As July's attacks demonstrated, we must all do more to stop the seeds of terrorism taking root at home, but they are often nurtured by foreign influences, so we must do far more to plug the gap in our defences created by our porous borders. A new single border police force would help with that job. It would be an effective force that could bring together the work of the seven different Government agencies that are currently responsible for the task. Once again, Sir Ian Blair has said:

"I have always thought that the idea of having a national border police force was a good idea . . . I am very supportive of this issue"

The Government are eager to give him his 90 days. Let them give him effective support instead.

There are other matters of concern. The weekend press carried leaked documents highlighting weaknesses and organisational failures in the Government's anti-terror strategy—Project Contest. All the legislation in the world is to no avail if the practical defences fail. There were also reports that the Government were considering our proposal of appointing a single Minister to deal with terrorism. Such a measure would sharpen the focus of the anti-terror strategy, and I recommend that the Government implement it immediately.

This debate is not the start of the process—nor is it the end—as I said at the outset, it is merely a part of it. The Bill is not the complete solution to the problem, although I believe that much of it will help. We must find the balance between effective laws and fundamental freedoms, between security and freedom and between defending our way of life and defending the values that define it. The terrorists have set us a challenge, but we must rise to it. They want us to give away by choice the very freedoms that they set out to destroy by force. We must not do so. It is a tough balance to strike, but we must show that we are able to do it. In that way, our generation of parliamentarians will be able to say that we did our job: we kept our country safe and we kept our fundamental freedoms safe, too.