Counter-Terrorism Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 9:12 pm on 1st April 2008.

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Photo of Robert Marshall-Andrews Robert Marshall-Andrews Labour, Medway 9:12 pm, 1st April 2008

In the past six months, we have heard a great deal about Britishness—indeed the former Attorney-General was put in charge of it, perhaps as a consolation, but more likely as a punishment for his term in office. In truth, that was wholly unnecessary. We do not need to be taught about Britishness, or about flags and ceremonies. Britishness has many great attributes at its root, but civil liberties are not one of them. Civil liberties are not an attribute of being British. They are the defining characteristic of our nation. They are what we are.

That is not hyperbolic; I mention it simply because what comes from it is the enormously high burden and standard of proof required in this House if any Government attempt in any way to circumscribe or check those liberties. My first point, which has been made extraordinarily well already, is that there is no evidence whatever to vote for the Bill—none. Hopeful statements of desiderata are not evidence. Statements from senior police officers saying, "I would really like this," or, "I would really, really, really like this," or, "It would be very useful," or, "I need this," are not evidence. Evidence is what needs to be put before the House, and there is none, so the Bill must not be voted for.

I wish to spend a couple of moments on a matter that Mr. Garnier has just dealt with very well, so I can shorten what I was going to say. It is the entirely indigestible palliative that has been served up by the Government to attempt, as he said, to persuade the House to pass this measure. The House would be given an extraordinary power, but it is a power over the decision of the Executive that we simply cannot take. It is simply not available to us.

One can imagine the process: the Attorney-General—or the DPP, or the relevant chief of police—will say to the Home Secretary, "Look, we've found a plot. In fact, we've found two plots, or three, so we want special powers. We want to extend the limit to 42 days." In response, the Home Secretary will say yes, and she will come to the House to get our approval for what is, of course, a judicial act.

That is a complete misapprehension of the difference between parliamentary and judicial power. We can use parliamentary power to give judicial power, not to exercise it, but that is what we will be doing. Will we exercise it ad hominem? In other words, are we going to be given the names of the plotters and the details of what they have done and how they have done it, so that we can decide what we are going to do? Or will we be told, "We know things you do not know"? That is much more likely.

Worse still, will we be told, "This group of plotters has weapons of mass destruction"? It would take an awful lot to get that through this House, and even more to get it past the people out there. What would happen if that were to be said and accepted by the House, only for us to discover—again—that it was a false and duplicitous claim? The result would be that this House would be found to have connived in locking up for 42 days people—almost certainly members of minority groups—who are innocent.

We cannot take this power. There are checks and balances on courts and juries and rules of evidence that mean that we know how information comes before us. We cannot operate like that in this Chamber, because juries are not whipped. I know many judges who wish that they were whipped, but they most certainly are not.

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