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8.37 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I support the Bill and have good reason to do so. I do not believe that its powers will be abused by the authorities in any way. I was surprised by the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) because the Government to whom he belonged had an appalling record on civil liberties.

I admire the Home Secretary for his courage and guts in fighting terrorism which, everybody knows, is the cancer of society. I offer my condolences once again to the people of New York, who live in a city that seems to be under constant siege. With the atrocities of 11 September in mind, I broadly support the Bill's provisions. The attacks have brought home the magnitude of the threat facing the world. It is true that we have faced terrorism for many years in the form of attacks by the IRA and other groups, but the attacks on New York and Washington took nearly 200 times as many lives in one day as were taken on the single worst day of the troubles in Northern Ireland in 1974, when 33 people lost their lives.

We are dealing with an organisation willing to take terrorist activity to unprecedented levels. America may be al-Qaeda's priority, but bin Laden's own words point to his desire to extend the conflict to Americans and their civilian and military allies. To address that threat, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is proposing several sensible measures. On aviation security, for example, the Bill improves the police's ability to deal with potentially dangerous situations at airports and on aircraft. Allowing the authorities to remove someone from a restricted zone makes sense.

In the light of the threats made by bin Laden, another logical step is to tighten legislation relating to chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, including the provision to make it an offence to aid or abet the overseas use or development of such weapons. I approve of plans to allow officers to stop, question and search people travelling or believed to be travelling by aircraft within Great Britain.

Only this year, President Mubarak of Egypt announced that Egyptian intelligence had learned of a communiqué regarding a plan to load an aeroplane full of explosives and plunge it into Genoa during the G8 summit in June. As we know, if terrorist organisations are to succeed, they require funding. The speed with which money can change hands means that the authorities must be able to act swiftly. It makes sense for the Government to have the power to freeze the assets of overseas individuals or groups who support terrorist acts, even if that means acting before the European Union or the United Nations have agreed a course of action.

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Stifling terrorists' financial links may make their lives more difficult, but it will not be enough to close down their activities completely. Terrorism is often not a particularly expensive business for the terrorist, who may simply have to pay for plane tickets, van rentals and the rental of two apartments. Clearly, it will be difficult to starve organisations such as al-Qaeda of money. The American Treasury estimates the total cost of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombings at around $18,000. That is why firmer action will sometimes be necessary.

The United Kingdom has frequently taken too soft an approach to those who not only incite hatred, but are willing to offer assistance to terrorist organisations. Terrorists in this country have been given the freedom to indulge in terrorist activities and kill people, including one of my friends in my constituency. I can guarantee that those involved in terrorist activities will not be questioning their actions as we are questioning ours.

Dr. Magnus Ranstorp of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism at the university of St. Andrews said:

Bin Laden had his advice and reform committee in Britain in 1994 and lived here before he gained notoriety. Our legal system, with all its avenues of appeal, which is used to provide justice for the citizens of this country, is often exploited by terrorists and their supporters. Some of the press, politicians and human rights activists also sometimes give support and encouragement indirectly.

For that reason, I welcome the introduction of firmer detention powers. Arbitrarily detaining massive numbers of suspects would be unpopular and wrong, and as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency with a large ethnic population, I am sensitive to people's concerns. However, the Bill is targeted specifically at foreign nationals against whom there is fairly strong evidence and who cannot be sent back to their own country. We are not dealing with a catch-all measure, but with something designed very much with al-Qaeda in mind.

I believe that many human rights campaigners take a naive view of the people with whom we are dealing and wrongly charge the Home Secretary with trampling on our civil liberties. Indeed, some hon. Members have accused him of doing that. However, this is a mature, democratic country. These measures will take effect only where there is strong evidence. Law-abiding citizens who are not involved in terrorist activities will have nothing to fear.

Recent evidence has highlighted al-Qaeda's attempts to develop nuclear capabilities, which are well known to the international community. A nuclear or biological strike on this or any other country would represent an attack on our liberties. It is unfortunate that these measures are necessary, but the ruthless actions of bin Laden and his followers have left us with little choice. We have seen that in Afghanistan. A manual entitled "Military studies in the Jihad against tyrants" was found in Manchester in May 2000. It outlined the tactics that al-Qaeda operatives should employ. All the instructions were given to them. The cell structure, as they call it, that they are encouraged to use makes gathering evidence against them difficult. The 180-page manual indicates the thoroughness of the preparations that we have to combat.

In an ideal world, we would not have to take these firmer measures—I can believe that—but 11 September indicated once again that we do not live in an ideal world.

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It provided yet more evidence—somehow, some people seem to need more evidence—of the impossibility of reasoning with these people. A passage in the manual that I have mentioned states:

If we do not act at this precise moment, there is no doubt that the terrorists will.

8.47 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): The Home Secretary has characterised the Bill as emergency legislation that is being introduced in response to a threat that is exceptional and beyond our past recollections. I represent a constituency that is situated very near to Birmingham. An assault on people there occurred 25 years ago. Indeed, an assault was attempted only two weeks ago. It would have been massive, had the explosive gone off, as the detonator did. People who live in London have been under assault for more than 30 years, with the threat of terrorism hanging over them. All through those years, we maintained our attachment to a basic concept of who we are as a people and what distinguishes us as citizens of this island. That includes our attachment to due process and the right to know the charges that are laid against us. At the centre of that are the courts, as well as ourselves.

The Home Secretary has issued a statutory instrument, which will be debated later, on the basis of a claim that there is a public emergency threatening the life of the nation—an issue that has come before the courts before. Lawless v. Ireland states that it refers to

I reflect on that, because no other European state has sought a derogation such as that sought by the Home Secretary. I reflect also that, in the context of the common law countries, among which we are, or rather were, pre-eminent, there is no prospect of removing these matters from the judgment of the courts. Therein lies the freedom of the citizen and even of the stranger to this shore. I do not want to see a deterioration in our regard for ourselves.

I want to speak about process, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) discussed so eloquently. Part 3 appears to be lifted from the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. In the case of that measure, the provision was deemed—that sums up the House's regard for such matters—by the Labour majority to have been discussed, although it had not been considered. It fell only because of the intervention of a general election.

Part 5, which covers religious hatred offences, constitutes a great threat to our liberty and sense of self-regard. Whatever my feelings, what are such provisions doing in a measure that is trying to deal with an emergency that threatens the nation? They should not be included; neither part 3 nor part 5 should be in the Bill.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said, implementing the European Union third pillar is not appropriate. Its inclusion is a major constitutional breach. Provisions that affect home affairs and the criminal law in this country should not be

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passed through delegated legislation. Under chapter VI of the treaty on European Union, which also deals with legal and police matters, such changes have to made through primary legislation.

The Home Office exists to protect and ensure due process under our constitution, not to hand over power so that a directive can become part of our law without proper scrutiny by those who are sent here to represent people. There will be difficulties in the upper House about implementing such constitutional provisions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, such incorporation should be done through primary legislation.

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) why the Bill included provisions on bribery and corruption. I am rather ashamed that they are incorporated at the insistence of Conservative Front-Bench Members. I did not know that and I am dismayed by the knowledge. Their inclusion is absolutely nutty.

When we strip down the measure, what is left? What is the irreducible factor that causes anxiety? I am sympathetic towards some provisions, such as those dealing with pathogens, whatever they may be. They sound menacing and frightening and should be incorporated in the Bill.

However, we must revert to the central questions with which I began. Who are we? What are we defending? What constitutes our sense of freedom and justice, which we extend to all members of our communities and those who reach our shores? I understand the Home Secretary's difficulty. I, too, believe that we should be able to reject those whom we do not want here.

However, we all know that the Home Secretary knows no more than me who enters and leaves this country. He knows no more than me whether they are of good character or conducive to the public good. He will rely on something that I have come to dread—secret information given by those who are charged with the most difficult task of all: maintaining the security of the state. They cannot reveal their sources or give evidence in open court. On that basis, we have committed terrible actions.

Northern Ireland has been mentioned, and hon. Members have referred to what happened in Diplock courts and in set-ups. Under such circumstances, the Home Secretary becomes the only king of our law. He determines what is right and wrong. I do not believe that that is right. Generations before us did not believe that one man should determine something so dreadful that, even if wrong, it would characterise an individual for the rest of his life.

The Bill is wholly unacceptable. It is only part of the rather brisk march towards a security state that I have witnessed in the 22 years that I have been a Member of Parliament. Against our traditions, we are the security state non plus ultra in the western democratic world. One has only to look at everything that we now do: we cannot have freedom of information in the way that the former Secretary of State proposed in a White Paper. Why not? Because we have more secrets and sensitive matters than any other common law country.

This is the heart of the matter: the Home Secretary hopes to bounce the House into passing the Bill, with all its 125 clauses and eight schedules. We have approximately six hours for its Second Reading. We will

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then have 15 hours at the most to deal with all the concerns of the House that I and others have described. All I know is that the Bill will go through with a massive majority, and that we cannot debate these clauses and schedules rationally in 15 hours and then have time for a Third Reading. We are now also told that there will be amendments.

The House is doing yet again what it does constantly under this Government: it is hoping that the House of Lords will assert through careful deliberation the principles that many of us on the Conservative Benches profoundly believe in. The Bill should be voted against.

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