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6.50 pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch): The Home Secretary strove magnificently to defend a number of indefensible propositions. Following that unstinting praise, I hope that he regards the rest of my speech as friendly fire.

The historian A.J.P. Taylor argued that Napoleon III learned nothing from the mistakes of history other than how to make newer and bigger ones himself. I think the House will prove to be like that tonight—Napoleonic and ill judged in its attitude to the Bill.

Not since the panic and hysteria that overcame the British establishment in the aftermath of the French revolution has the House considered such draconian legislation. Habeas corpus was suspended twice—first between 1794 and 1801 and subsequently in 1817. The Minister responsible was Lord Eldon—a member of the vilest troika ever to rule Britain. The second member was Castlereagh:

A psychopath, before he went mad and cut his own throat he converted a Dublin riding school to a den of terror where anyone remotely thought to be connected with rebels against the Crown was flogged with the cat o'nine tails until either bones showed beneath the flesh or he betrayed his friends. Now there is a thought for a Home Secretary looking for good ideas to tackle terrorism.

The third member was Viscount Sidmouth, the Home Secretary and perhaps an exemplar for the current incumbent. He prospered through inheritance and corruption, waged war against the British people, set up an army of spies whose good works resulted in the execution of many liberal reformers and introduced a stream of laws to put down free speech as well as an Act of Parliament to prevent public meetings of more than 50 people for any purpose whatever:

Unbelievably, the troika prosecuted war against the French with no fewer than 470,598 citizens under arms in a population of just 10 million. Yes, there is much for today's troika—the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary—to chew over here. But let them beware before they go ahead with the legislation—a rag bag of the most coercive measures that the best

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mandarin minds from the Home Office can produce, which are manna from heaven for any future or present Home Secretary who wants to establish a police state.

Mr. McWalter: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Sedgemore: No, sorry.

When the troika of Eldon, Castlereagh and Sidmouth died, the people of England rejoiced and danced in the streets. We would not want that to happen if any of our modern troika died, would we?

The Bill clashes with habeas corpus, judicial review, the rule of law, the notion that justice should be public and be seen to be done and checks on the arbitrary power of the authority of the state, including the Home Office, the security services and invisible commissioners. It threatens freedom of expression with an extended version of the infamous blasphemy laws and invades privacy on the internet and God knows what else—we have not seen its full implications—so perhaps we should pause for a moment lest history judge us badly.

The fundamental fault line of the Bill lies in its refusal to accept the checks and balances of our constitution and its assertion, adumbrated with inelegant clarity by the Home Secretary, that the Executive must be all-powerful and beyond criticism. Our Home Secretary and our Government genuinely and sadly believe that the Executive can justify any action if it is given legitimacy by a compliant Parliament that has long since consigned to the dustbin of political history the notion that our primary function is to check and call to account the Government of the day.

For the Home Secretary, the judiciary is there to be lectured and mocked. Was there ever a more populist person guaranteed to get a cheap laugh as he tries to bring the law and its practitioners into hatred, ridicule and contempt? According to him, MPs know best, lawyers suck and the law is an ass to which only airy-fairy civil libertarians such as me pay homage.

In Shakespeare's "Henry VI, Part II", a bloodthirsty, Blunkett-type character snarls:

Theatrical simpletons and bar-room drunks may enjoy that approach, as will those MPs who, for whatever desperately sad reason, need to stay on message. The rest of us will treat it with scorn.

Yes, the judges have sometimes failed us, but invariably by going along with the conventional establishment wisdom and the dictates of the establishment. Everyone knows that, at the height of the second world war, Lord Atkin, a judge, pleaded with his brethren that they should be more than

Who today will plead that MPs should be more than mice nibbling cheese at the Home Secretary's table?

This bad legislation is as unnecessary as it is draconian, as theatrical as the declared emergency is phoney, as beguiling as the chants of approval that will come from those for whom justice is a chimera. To those on these Benches who intend to support the Bill tonight, I suggest that they remember that its most avid supporter is that infantile cretin who edits The Sun and that our Foreign Secretary has given a ringing endorsement to the views

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of the aforesaid Mr. David Yelland. Need I say more? I shall not support the Bill at any stage, and I very much hope that others, too, will refrain.

6.58 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): That is a remarkably hard act to follow, so I hope that the House will show compassion if I fail to match the eloquence of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore).

Without doubt, it is right to reassess the country's security needs in the aftermath of 11 September, but, having said that, dramatic claims that the world changed that day should be treated with caution. International terrorism has been a growing reality since the mid-1970s at least and, from one point of view, 11 September horrifically showed its long-existing potential rather than the birth of something new.

When, periodically, the Government create new anti-terrorism measures, the proposals should be tested against strict criteria. Are they appropriate to the threat? Will they be effective in combating terrorism? Do they contain proper safeguards against the abuse of those new powers? Should the new measures be categorised emergency and temporary, and therefore subject to further parliamentary scrutiny, or mainstream, more permanent legislation? When all those are posed about the Bill, they are serious questions indeed.

My first and main concern has already been expressed by other hon. Members and I need refer to it only briefly. The reckless speed with which the Government are taking through Parliament a Bill that touches on supremely important issues of human rights and individual liberties is scandalous. It is wholly unacceptable that our deliberations should be subjected to such a curtailed and arbitrary timetable. It can be predicted with a degree of confidence that a Bill rushed through with such speed will before long be found to be deficient in some way. A 124-clause measure cannot possibly receive the attention that it deserves within the Government's proposed timetable.

Part 4 deals with how to treat foreign nationals in the United Kingdom who are believed to be involved in terrorism. Without doubt, ideally the answer would be through criminal law. I accept that that cannot always be the case: that there are circumstances in which evidence of terrorism, the source of that evidence and the nature of that evidence, if made public, could both jeopardise the source and endanger life. The dilemma that faces the Government—a dilemma significantly of their own making—arises from the existence of articles 3 and 5 of the European convention on human rights.

As it is entirely unacceptable to allow foreign nationals involved in terrorism to wander around the United Kingdom plotting and conspiring, either article 3 or article 5 must become non-binding. Reluctantly, I accept that there are circumstances of national emergency in which the practice of internment is the lesser of evils: it is not right, but it can prevent a greater wrong. It was used very successfully by the British Government during the second world war, and has been used successfully twice by Irish Governments in their dealings with the

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IRA. It proved counter-productive only when intelligence was deficient. I therefore view part 4 with more sympathy than do some of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend says that in certain circumstances intelligence was deficient, and criticises the use of the internment provision on that basis. Does he not agree that there is always a high risk of intelligence being at least in part deficient?

Mr. Hunter: There is always that potential ultimately, but I think the circumstances of the early 1970s, when internment was not a success, no longer prevail. The quality and quantity of our present intelligence is far greater than it was in historic circumstances.

I do not quarrel, in principle, with the proposed role of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. I believe that the exclusion of appellants and their lawyers can be justified on grounds of national security. I note that the Attorney-General may appoint a special advocate to represent an appellant's interests. I understand that the Government do not propose any derogation from article 6 of the convention, which states that although the press and public may be excluded from a trial in the interests of national security,

The legal question that interests me is whether, in the prevailing circumstances, the Government can legitimately provoke the powers of derogation in article 5. The European Court has said that the article can be applied only when there is

I think that whether we face an emergency that threatens the life of the nation may be open to considerable doubt. The greatest threat to the security of the United Kingdom from terrorism is still the threat of Irish terrorism, and the non-applicability of the Bill to such terrorism is a matter of concern.

As for the question of making incitement to religious hatred a crime, I share the widespread conviction that the Bill's proposals may prove unworkable and should therefore be dropped. Moreover, I consider the need for such a new law highly questionable. I do not agree with Mr. Rowan Atkinson and others who argue that comedians may fall foul of the provisions—there is and should be an enormous difference between exposing to ridicule what is deemed to be absurd, and inciting hatred—but I do agree with the pressure group Justice that these measures, apart from constituting a sop that the Government want to throw at the Muslim community, will prove divisive and impractical, and breach fundamental rules relating to freedom of expression.

I feel that the key to much of our dealings with the Bill should be to look at each part separately. We should ask whether, if an individual part of it had been law before 11 September, it could or would have helped to prevent the catastrophe of that day. As for the proposals relating to incitement to religious hatred, the answer is no—and the same can be applied to many other aspects of the Bill.

Plenty can be done to make the country a safer place. We can be granted more resources for the police, better witness protection, the admission of telephone intercepts as evidence in terrorist trials, and a greater willingness to

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enforce deportation orders when they do not infringe article 3. Some of that may require abrogation of international treaties or curbing of the power of the judiciary, but most can be achieved under existing legislation and without this Bill—a Bill that will become bad law because it is being rushed through with such unseemly haste.

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