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Davis: Keeping our country and our fundamental freedoms safe

Speech in the House of Commons on the 2nd Reading of the Terrorism Bill

"Mr Speaker, this debate is part of a process that began before the 7th of July, but took on a new urgency after it.

On that day, we met to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and to those who rushed to save them.

We do so again today.

That day was the worst of days, but it brought out the best in the British people:

- an instinctive desire to pull together,

- an unwillingness to be cowed or bullied by the terrorists,

- and a stubborn determination to get on with life.

On the 7th July there were just a few evil men, but there were many, many more good men and women who responded to the horror with fortitude, self-sacrifice and great generosity.

That is the way we defeat terrorism; by holding firm to our beliefs.

Global terrorism is an attack on those very things - our way of life, our beliefs, our liberties, and our lives.

So let me deal with one crucial argument right up front.

The Prime Minister said recently:

"I care about one basic civil liberty which is the right to life of our citizens and freedom from terrorism".

Fine words, but we should remember that literally millions of people have died to defend all the liberties that we enjoy today.

They were secured through the sacrifices of previous generations.

Let us not be the generation that casually gives them away.

The Conservative Party has long stood for liberty under the law.

But the belief in individual freedom, in freedom of speech, and in our rights to justice, are not the monopoly of any one Party.

The whole House - every individual party and member - faces a difficult but vitally important challenge with this Bill.

We must balance the security of the nation with the rights of ordinary citizens.

So, with that warning, let me turn to the substance of the Bill before us today.

And let me start by thanking the Home Secretary for the way he has conducted himself throughout the discussions we have had over this piece of legislation.

Despite the pressures from the public, the press - and EVEN the Prime Minister - he has brought a welcome openness of mind to the negotiations.

As a result, there are many aspects of this Bill we are able to support unequivocally.

We welcome plans to create a new offence of Acts Preparatory to Terrorism. Indeed, we have called for this for some time.

We also welcome the powers to clamp down on those who take part in terrorist training or who visit terrorist training camps.

And we support powers to introduce a new offence of indirect incitement to terrorism.

All of these - and a number of other detailed aspects of the Bill - are intelligent, proportionate and, arguably, long overdue.

But there are serious issues with other parts.

We must all pause, draw breath and think through the implications very carefully indeed.

Poorly drafted counter-terrorist measures have many risks.

They can be ineffective.

They can fail to ensure the successful prosecution of actual terrorists.

They can trip over human rights legislation, or be used and abused for the wrong purpose.

They can impinge on the rights and freedoms of innocent people in their attempt to deny those rights and freedoms to the guilty.

And, as a result, they can easily create a sense of injustice which can act as the rallying call to each would-be terrorist in the country.

Time and again we see counter-terrorism measures - both statutory and otherwise - being used for the wrong things.

In 2000-2001, there were eight and a half thousand stops and searches under the 2000 Terrorism Act.

The following year, there were twenty one and a half thousand.

And last year there were nearly twenty nine and a half thousand.

The Home Secretary will claim this is partly the result of the increased terrorist threat.

He may partly be right.

What security threat was there from the hundreds of people stopped under the Terrorist Act in Brighton during the Labour Party conference?

What terrorist threat was there from an 82 year old war hero who dared to disagree with the Government?

And what danger did Miss Sally Cameron pose when she simply walked along a cycle path beside a port in Dundee?

Did Miss Cameron's usual evening stroll really require two police cars to come screaming up, as she put it in The Daily Mail, 'like a scene from Starsky and Hutch'?

Is it right that she should be held for several hours at a police station for the grave offence of walking on a cycle path?

Such examples highlight why we must look at the new proposals with scepticism until the case is proved.

And let us apply that test particularly to those that are the most controversial.

The proposed new crime of 'glorification' is one.

Today's proposal is better than that originally anticipated when the Prime Minister announced the clause back in August.

The revised version has brought together the incitement and glorification clauses of the existing Bill.

But the term glorification remains too broad. I am not convinced that it is necessary or desirable.

And the proposed law does not require that an individual intends to encourage terrorism to commit a crime.

It rests on the assumption that someone's comments could 'reasonably be expected' to incite terrorism.

This is a test of negligence, but not criminality.

It fails the Cherie test.

The Prime Minister's wife famously talked sympathetically about the motives of suicide bombers.

Unless the Prime Minister is seriously suggesting his wife should be locked up, this clause needs to be thought about again.

If it cannot be improved it must be removed.

It is one aspect we will seek to amend in committee.

The greatest sticking point, however, remains the plan to increase the amount of time that a terrorist suspect can be detained without charge from 14 to 90 days.

In short, this is a proposal - as the civil rights group Liberty point out - to imprison someone for the equivalent of a 6 months sentence.

But under this provision, they will have never faced a charge - let alone a trial.

And if they never do, they will be released after three months inside for no reason at all.

If they didn't have a reason to hate Britain when they went in, they may well have one once they come out.

A change of such magnitude would require a really compelling argument.

That is what the Prime Minister says he has heard.

I have to tell the Home Secretary, I have spoken to the police, the security services and received Privy Council briefings - and I have heard no such compelling argument from any quarter.

Indeed I have yet to hear a convincing argument for this particular measure.

What I have heard are good arguments, but they can all be dealt with by other means.

One argument says it takes time to crack encryption codes to access evidence on computers.

That argument is dealt with by invoking the powers in the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act which made withholding those codes a criminal offence.

And we would happily support increasing the penalty for this offence in terrorist investigations.

As a result, the terrorist would either give up the codes, or be charged and held under RIPA - allowing the investigation to continue.

Another argument is that our criminal law doesn't allow the police to interview people once they have been charged.

That argument is answered by changing that rule, maybe especially in terrorist cases.

This is a tiny infringement of our traditions of liberty and justice by comparison with the proposed 90 day extension, but it would achieve the same aim.

The Prime Minister has said that he wants:

'to give [the police] the powers that they need'.

But he should not simply give the police what they demand.

The Home Office Minister went further:

'The three month period is what the police and security service say is necessary', she said.

But we now know that this isn't the case.

As a security service source told the Mail on Sunday at the weekend: 'MI5 does not get involved in drawing up policy'. And rightly so.

That is the role of the Government.

They must fulfil it by making an objective assessment of the facts and acting accordingly.

Even the Home Secretary has admitted: 'three months is not a God-given amount'.

That statement on its own blows a hole in the Government's argument.

I would remind this House that the proposed increase to 90 days comes less than two years after the time limit was increased to 14 days under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

There is a genuine and fundamental objection to any further extension, but it doesn't just come from this side of the House.

The former Law Lord, Lord Steyn, has said that in his view the Home Secretary's proposal is an 'exorbitant and unnecessary power'.

It is particularly exorbitant when you consider that Australia has just had a heated debate about increasing the time from 48 hours to 14 days.

Our Government is looking for more than six times that amount.

In everything I have read and everything I have heard, I can say with absolute certainty the case has not been made.

It remains a fundamental sticking point between the Government and the opposition.

It is a provision we wish to see excised from the Bill and replaced with other measures before the Bill is signed into law.

And I must say to the Home Secretary, whilst I am happy to support this stage of the Bill, if these significant matters are not corrected I will recommend that my Party does not support the 3rd Reading of the Bill.

Finally, Mr Speaker, we must turn our minds to what is not included in the Bill.

As the Home Secretary will know, we have long campaigned for intercept evidence to be used in courts.

The Italian Government has recently adopted it.

Our Government is considering it.

In fact, we know from their former spin doctor's recent book that they've been considering it since 1998.

Sir Ian Blair says he has 'long been in favour of intercept evidence being used in court', claiming it 'would make my job easier'.

On this issue he is right, and we will attempt to introduce an amendment to this effect in committee.

As July's attacks demonstrated, we must all do more to stop the seeds of terrorism taking root at home.

But they are often nurtured by foreign influences.

So we must do far more to plug the gap in our defences created by our porous borders.

A new single Border Police force would help with that job.

It would be an effective force able to bring together the work of the seven different agencies within Government who are currently responsible for the task.

Once again, Sir Ian Blair has said:

'I have always thought that the idea of having a national border police force was a good idea… I am very supportive of this issue'

The Government are eager to give him his 90 days.

Let them give him effective support instead.

There are other matters of concern.

The weekend press carried leaked documents highlighting weaknesses and organisational failures in the government's anti-terror strategy.

All the legislation in the world is of no avail if the practical defences fail.

There were also reports that the government were considering our proposal of a single Minister to deal with terrorism.

Such a measure would sharpen the focus of the anti-terror strategy, and I recommend the government implement it immediately.

Mr Speaker,

This debate is not the start of the process.

Nor is it the end.

As I said at the outset, it is merely a part of it.

This Bill is not the solution to the problem, though I hope much of it will help.

We must find the balance between effective laws and fundamental freedoms; between security and freedom; between defending our way of life and defending the values that define it.

The terrorists have set us a challenge, but we will rise to it.

They want us to give away by choice the very freedoms they set out to destroy by force.

We must not do so.

It is a tough balance to strike.

But we must show that we are able to do it.

That way, our generation of parliamentarians will be able to say that we did our job.

We kept our country safe and we kept our fundamental freedoms safe too."

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