Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:29 pm on 26th October 2005.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 6:29 pm, 26th October 2005

As drafted, the clause presents precisely those difficulties. While I have some sympathy with the Government in trying to consider the issue of terrorism generally, the fact is that the definition provided is hopeless to meet the problems for which we must legislate. Furthermore, as has been highlighted, clause 1, in relation to incitement, provides for an offence that can be committed negligently, not an offence of specific intent. Therefore, when those two factors are taken together, a very large number of people in this country are likely to be criminalised for their comments.

Let me make one thing clear to the Government: the suggestion that it does not matter that the legislation is woolly, because either the DPP or the Attorney-General will act as a long stop to prevent something wrong from happening, is just not acceptable. The task of this House is to pass legislation that is intellectually coherent and intelligible, not to give a blank cheque to the Government, which they can exercise through the Law Officers or anyone else at their whim.

We do not think that the offence of glorification should be in the Bill at all. I know that it was even worse in the first draft of the Bill, and I am grateful that the Home Secretary seems to have persuaded the Prime Minister to give way on the matter. One is left with the impression, however, that it has been left in the Bill specifically to save the Prime Minister's face. That is not acceptable either. Either glorification amounts to incitement of its own, or it does not amount to incitement at all. If it does not amount to incitement at all, there is no reason why it should be separately identified within the legislation. The sooner that we have an assurance from the Government that it will be removed, the better progress we will make during the passage of the Bill.

The second issue that has greatly exercised the House is that of the 90-day detention period. As I said a moment ago, there are ways in which we believe that the issue can be considered afresh. There are a number of possibilities. We certainly need much better scrutiny, as was suggested by Lord Carlile. The decisions should be taken by a senior circuit judge and not by a district judge, to which we shall return in Committee. There should be a review mechanism and an appeal process to the High Court, and I am dubious that seven-day periods are acceptable, because the judge should decide the period before a return, and the only basis for any continuing detention would have to be persuading the judge that there is a reason, in the next three, four or 72 hours, that that detention will yield benefit.

It is also astonishing that one of the provisions under the detention clause is that detention can take place in order to facilitate continuing questioning and nothing else. One moment's thought must make the Government realise that that is an unacceptable premise. In fact, any confession that is obtained will probably be thrown out by the court. The atmosphere of oppression that will be conveyed—that somebody can be detained specifically for the purpose of questioning and interrogation on its own—is one that is readily curable.

Although I have no difficulty in agreeing with large parts of the Bill, much of it is very sloppily drafted. In relation to the dissemination of terrorist literature and publications, are we seriously saying that the offence will be so widely drafted that a university lecturer handing out copies of an al-Qaeda manifesto to his students would be caught by the operation of the Act? The Home Secretary shakes his head, but as drafted, that is precisely what the legislation does.

There is much to criticise, but there is a kernel in the Bill that seeks to improve anti-terrorist powers. We accept that, which is why, in principle, we are prepared to support the Government. We are also mindful that the Government have provided a proper opportunity for the House to consider the legislation, in Committee of the whole House, a proper Report stage thereafter, and most importantly of all, a Third Reading that will be more than a 45-minute rubber stamp.

For those reasons, let me, first, thank the Home Secretary and, secondly, say that we intend to engage in a constructive dialogue. However, I also ask the Home Secretary not to end this process by saying that amendments will be tabled in another place. Either the Bill is in an acceptable condition by the time of Third Reading or it will not have our support, and—according to my impression—will not have the support of many Members in all parts of the House.

The challenge is with the Government. We intend to work co-operatively with the Home Secretary, but I must tell him that there is a great mountain to be climbed before the Bill is in an acceptable condition.