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Counter-Terrorism Bill

1st April 2008

Jonathan Djanogly speaks out against extending the current detention-without-trial period of 28 days.

8.52 pm

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I shall first address the issue of increased detention-without-trial periods. I certainly support my right hon. Friends and others who have spoken so strongly on that issue today. I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) was indeed powerful. The current period of 28 days is already the longest for detention without trial in the western world, and I do not believe that it should be extended unless clear evidence is submitted to show that it would improve national security. No such evidence, to my satisfaction, has been provided today.

As the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) pointed out very well, after a speech from the Home Secretary that lasted almost an hour, we had still not heard why the specific period of 42 days, rather than any other number of days, is necessary. The Home Secretary should come back to the House and explain why she needs 42 days. Accordingly, I find it hard to see any good reason for increasing terms of detention without trial-except as a way of chipping away at our citizens' civil liberties. Like the Government's little-supported ID cards and their control orders, this proposal will undermine our fundamental freedoms while doing little to bolster our security.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman cast his mind back two years to when the Government were getting into a big frenzy about 90 days? They did not get that, and time has shown that they did not need it, either. They have not even needed to use 28 days. All that shows the red herring of the case for 42 days, as he is rightly arguing.

Mr. Djanogly: Yes, indeed. The Government did not provide any evidence then, and they have not provided any now. They would be better advised to concentrate on keeping convicted terrorists locked up. Instead, we hear that two men convicted of terrorism, who present a real danger to the security of our country, have been let out under the Government's early-release scheme.

In dealing with sentences for offences with a terrorist connection, I find it hard to justify the proposal that such a "terrorist connection" should be an aggravating factor in the sentencing of an individual, as proposed in clauses 29 to 31. A crime is a crime and should be punishable as such. Militant groups draw great propaganda mileage from the "martyrdom" of suicide bombers, promising recruits that paradise lies on the other side of the detonator. Why should there be any differentiation in the sentencing of a so-called "terrorist" nail bomber who acts alone on behalf of no particular neo-Nazi cause and a gunman who murders, but whose motive is unclear? Both are murderers and should be punished as such.

We should treat terrorists as the criminals that they are, and the Minister should recognise that there are dangers here. The question is whether the offence should be aggravated for plotting or causing multiple murders, rather than terrorism.

On forfeiture, the Bill makes several amendments to previous legislation, but they are loosely drafted and might have unintended repercussions. The somewhat vague wording in proposed new section 23 of the Terrorism Act 2000 that forfeiture can be applied to property that an individual

"intended should be used, or had reasonable cause to suspect might be used, for"

the purpose of terrorism has the potential to undermine the rights of a person completely unconnected with the terrorist offence. For example, it may result in the forfeiture of a home shared by a terrorist suspect with his family, despite the fact that the family was entirely unaware of the terrorist activities being carried out in, let us say, the suspect's bedroom.

Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan police senior counter-terrorism officer, has warned against destroying the trust that

"fundamentally affects the level of support, and of course intelligence that we receive from communities".

Members have spoken about the need to maintain intelligence. This provision has the potential to perpetuate the erosion of trust, and I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on how that could be prevented.

The Government sometimes seem to take the standpoint that to legislate is to police. That is as wrong here as it has been with many other of the 3,500 or so new criminal offences that they have delighted in creating in the mistaken belief that they are thereby being tough on crime. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) called it the just-in-case principle. Heavy-handed use of provisions such as proposed new section 23 could make ethnic minority groups feel persecuted.

We need to catch and punish the wrongdoers without alienating the innocent community within which they live. I support the concept of allowing post-charge questioning, which I also feel would significantly lessen the need for an increased detention-without-trial period. It is sensible for police officers to have the opportunity to question further a terrorist suspect on the same terrorism-related offence for which they have been charged. I have a concern, however, that these provisions do not seem to allow for any judicial scrutiny of the process. Would it not be wise to implement a process whereby judges had some say as to when and how such procedures were applied? That could help to ensure that the provisions were used consistently, and only where necessary.

There is one area on which the Government have often uttered strong words but failed to deliver, and they fail again in this Bill: the effective banning of extremist organisations that preach hatred and violence. There is no doubt that our police and security forces have been doing a magnificent job in protecting our country. The number of foiled terrorist attacks in the past few years is testament to that. However, they can do only so much, and it is our job to suggest measures that will help to protect our country. Banning extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and Hezbollah, which incite violence, radicalise our children and encourage mass murder, will help to achieve that.

The Government must take another careful look at the potentially very dangerous groups that they are allowing to exist and grow within our country. I appreciate, however, that while banning such groups is technically easy, undertaking that in the context of building trust with the relevant communities in our country will be a much harder feat to achieve than passing the Bill.

8.58 pm

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