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Friday, September 4, 1998 Published at 00:43 GMT 01:43 UK

UK Politics

Terror crackdown passes UK parliament

Baroness Jay introduced proceedings on the Bill in the Lords

Despite protests in the House of Lords, a package of anti-terror measures have been rushed through parliament in just two days.

The Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act gained Royal Assent after clearing all its stages in the Lords early on Friday morning.

As with MPs, who met to consider the measures in the Commons on Wednesday, proceedings in the Lords started with peers from all sides protesting at the haste with which the legislation is being passed.

Lord Harris of Greenwich, Liberal Democrat chief whip, said: "We are being asked to give the executive almost absolute power to put the legislation on the statute book without detailed debate in the normal manner."

Peers from other parties backed his complaints.

'Vital to act without delay'

Lord Williams: "The Bill is a proportionate response"
After Leader of the House Baroness Jay introduced the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill, home affairs minister Lord Williams of Mostyn opened the debate for the government.

[ image: Lord Williams of Mostyn:
Lord Williams of Mostyn: "Vital to act without delay"
He denied the charge of undue speed:

"We do believe it is vital to act without delay."

The package has been described as "draconian" by the prime minister and home secretary.

But Lord Williams said it was "a measured response, proportionate to the circumstances we face."

Opposition supports Bill - with misgivings

Lord Henley: "We support the Bill - with misgivings"
Conservative home affairs spokesman Lord Henley, answering for the Opposition, said it was " vital that we present a united front" against terrorism.

Therefore his side would support the Bill - though it had "misgivings", mainly about the way it was being passed.

Lord Holme, for the Liberal Democrats, said his party was most concerned about the clauses aimed at outlawing conspiracy to commit terrorist acts overseas.

'Populist haste'

[ image: Lord Holme:
Lord Holme: "Populist haste"
He said it seemed these measures had been included simply because the "Home Office could push something through with populist haste".

The measures ranged "far wider" than terrorism, he said.

Lord Holme: "A timely Bill"
But the Bill as a whole was, he believed, "timely", and his party would support it when it came to the vote.

'Fraught with danger'

The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Rev John Oliver, told the House the Bill was "fraught with danger" and raised "ethical questions about human rights and liberties".

He said he was not confident the new laws were compatible with concerns about human rights and civil liberties, and might contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Mayhew, the former Tory Northern Ireland Secretary, said he supported much of the Bill but warned parts of it were "may turn out to be dangerous law".

'Conviction by opinion'

[ image: Earl Russell:
Earl Russell: "Conviction by opinion" warning
Liberal Democrat Earl Russell, a noted human rights and civil liberties campaigner, warned of "conviction by opinion" if the powers proposed in the Bill became law.

Lord Russell, who tabled a series of amendments to the Bill, said the Attorney General's role in deciding whether prosecutions should go ahead under the international conspiracy provisions was problematic because he is both a legal and - as a prime ministerial appointee - political officer.

Labour peer Baroness Kennedy QC, a civil liberties lawyer who once acted for one of the innocent men wrongly jailed for IRA bombings in the 1970s, also criticised the Bill.

She said the government should withdraw the international conspiracy clauses.

'Hold fast to principle'

[ image: Baroness Kennedy:
Baroness Kennedy: "Hold fast to principle"
In reference to the rest of it, Lady Kennedy added that "holding fast to principle is crucial to the integrity of our legal system", and "to change the rules to deal with people we abhor is to corrode the system".

Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury, a onetime chair of the all-party parliamentary human rights group, said measures taken in the immediate wake of atrocities often led to miscarriages of justice.

Former law lord Lord Bridge of Harwich called on ministers to state "unequivocally" that it was not their intention that any judge "should place any reliance whatsoever on a police officer's opinion insofar as it is based on information that cannot be examined in court".

Crossbencher Viscount Runciman, chairman of the 1991-93 Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, said convictions secured under the terms of the Bill would be unsafe.

"Convictions will not be protected solely on the innovations contained within this Bill and, where they do, I've little doubt that the convictions stand a very high chance of being overturned on appeal," he said.

Call for internment

Former Northern Ireland minister Lord Cope of Berkeley, summing up for the Opposition, said the government made "a grave mistake" when it removed from the statute book the power of internment.

Lord Dubbs, Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman in the Lords, said the Bill "safeguarded" civil liberties, and therefore the government was "not persuaded" to re-introduce internment.

Winding up debate on the Bill's second reading, he said: "The recent evidence of the scale of the effects of international terrorism ... justifies a clear response."

A clear message had to be sent that "this country will not allow its hospitality to be abused".

On the issue of audio-recording police interrogations of terrorist suspects, the government was "determined to put the logistics in place quickly", and was "actively pursuing" its implementation with the RUC chief constable.

But he could not give a timescale for when recording would start.

He insisted the Bill was "consistent with our international human rights commitments".

Lord gave the Bill an unopposed second reading before moving on to its committee stage.

The Lords sitting is expected to go on until early Friday morning.

'Draconian' package

The new measures include:

  • Allowing people suspected of belonging to terrorist groups not following the peace process to be convicted on the word of a senior police officer,

  • Interpreting a suspect's silence as corroboration of such police evidence,

  • Allowing the seizure of a convicted person's assets if they have been used in terrorist operations.

  • Making it illegal to conspire within the UK to commit terrorist acts outside the UK.

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