Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:48 pm on 26th October 2005.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 3:48 pm, 26th October 2005

I will return to some of the points made by Tony Lloyd, because I agree with much that he said.

This is a Bill that the House would do well to scrutinise with considerable rigour: first, because it was born out of crime and tragedy—the recent events in July—and Bills that are enacted so soon after such events are frequently seriously flawed; and, secondly, because it follows a raft of legislation that we have passed since 2000, in the shape of three substantial Acts. If these matters are so important, it is difficult to see why they were not included in that legislation.

I am willing to concede that there are parts of the Bill that most Members would support, myself included—particularly clauses 5 and 6, which deal with ancillary acts, and those clauses that deal with radioactive material. However, they are not the core of the Bill. One has to go to the core to determine whether to support the measure. When I go to its core, I find myself unable to vote for it. Indeed, I shall vote against it.

Let me begin with clause 23, which enables a person who is not charged with an offence to be held in custody for up to 90 days. That is deeply offensive and, while it remains in the Bill, the measure should be opposed. There are several reasons why the provision is deeply offensive and I shall enumerate them briefly. First, it amounts to administrative detention, which we deplored when it was done in South Africa under the apartheid regime. We deeply criticise the state of Israel when it does that today. Secondly, it contravenes a basic rule of English law that a person should not be held in custody for extended periods unless convicted of or charged with a serious offence.

There are two further points of a more technical nature. First, it is inevitable that the provision will bear most harshly on the ethnic and religious minorities in this country. They will say, with some force, that they are being treated in a discriminatory manner. That will increase the sense of alienation that one often finds in those communities. Secondly, I raise a point that I have previously put to the Home Secretary and to Mr. Oaten. What weight can one properly place on confessions when they are made after an extended period in custody? To put the same point in reverse: what weight can one place on accusations by detained persons of third parties when they have been detained for extended periods? The 90-day provision opens up the prospect of serious injustice.

Let me deal briefly—I know that others wish to speak—with clauses 1 and 2. First, the common law offences of conspiracy and incitement already cover much of the ground in the provisions. Secondly, the right of free speech should be safeguarded and fought for, even if it involves hearing things that one might find deeply offensive. For example, when Gerry Adams speaks of the "glorious volunteers" of the IRA, I am deeply offended. After all, the IRA murdered thousands of our fellow citizens, including four Members of this House, who were friends and colleagues of many of us who are still in this place. We are deeply offended when Gerry Adams speaks in those terms. However, I do not wish his words to be criminalised. When the BBC was banned from broadcasting such words, Labour party spokesmen rightly denounced the Government.

It is better by far that bad men reveal themselves by their words and deeds so that they can be judged than that they suppress their true intentions and gain a reputation that they do not deserve.