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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Head-to-head: Anti-terror Laws
Proposals for sweeping new anti-terrorism laws are being debated in the House of Lords.

The emergency legislation, which includes plans to detain terrorist suspects without trial, is facing strong opposition.

Conservative party peers are urging the government to rethink and Liberal Democrat peers also have deep misgivings.

Leading Labour backbencher, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, has also voiced opposition to the Bill, calling it an "attack upon our freedom".

But Home Office minister Lord Rooker argues that the measures the bill contains are "moderate and precautionary".

Home Office minister Lord Rooker

The Bill is needed because of what happened in the United States on 11 September.

Thousands of people were murdered in cold blood: office workers; airline crews and passengers; fire and police officers; men, women and children; and people from many nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and creeds.

It is generally accepted that as we consider the Bill through its stages we should remember the terrible events of that day which gave rise to it.

Since those atrocities, the government have considered whether our legal framework and security against acts of terrorism are sufficient. We have concluded that wholesale revision of our laws is not necessary.

That is also the view of the law enforcement agencies.

But because of what happened on 11 September, we need to protect ourselves in new ways.

The terrorists re-wrote their rule book... we therefore need to do the same

As I have said previously in the Lords, on that day the terrorists re-wrote their rule book.

We therefore need to do the same.

That means enhancing our existing anti-terrorism legislation. It means ensuring that security - for example, at airports - reflects the new threats that we face.

It means recognising that international terrorists are well financed and willing to use weapons of mass destruction.

It also means tackling the effects of what has happened in our own communities; the attacks, the threats and the hatred that has been shown.

Concerns have been expressed about measures that would enable us to detain suspected international terrorists who pose a threat to national security.

The accusation is that we are seeking to introduce internment. We are not.

The home secretary already has powers to deport foreign nationals involved in terrorist activity.

However, where a safe country cannot be found to send them at the present time, because they would face torture or summary execution, we are faced with a choice.

Either to allow them to remain free in the UK, continuing to endanger our national security, or to detain them with suitable judicial oversight.

Those detained will have a right of appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) and a further right of appeal on a point of law to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.

SIAC was set up in 1997 to hear appeals in immigration cases with a national security dimension.

It is a judicial body, with a panel consisting of two judges and a security expert.

We are removing the option of judicial review because it would do nothing that is not done by SIAC and would merely add another layer to be exploited as a delaying tactic.

The Bill is a proportionate, measured and moderate response to the events of 11 September.

The Bill contains specific and targeted measures and it strikes a balance between respecting our fundamental liberties and ensuring that they are not exploited.

The problem is that in a tolerant liberal society, if we are not guarded we will find that those who do not seek to be part of that society will use our tolerance and liberalism to destroy that society.

That is a reality.

Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws

When the Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced in the 1970s--I was still a young lawyer-- we made the first huge departure from the normal rules of arrest and detention.

We made it possible to detain people for up to six days without access to lawyers or any other outsider, and it meant that the police could question those people repeatedly.

The result, as we all know, was that in a number of notorious cases, vulnerable people admitted offences that they did not commit. I refer to the cases of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, and Judith Ward, and there are others.

We learnt that changing the rules and abandoning principle does not work. Getting the cases so badly wrong introduced a poison into the legal system that affected policing generally, not just in relation to terrorist trials.

Bad laws have a price tag attached to them

Bad practice took hold and the price, in terms of distrust and cynicism, has affected the confidence of the general public in our criminal justice system. It certainly meant widespread alienation of the Irish community living in Britain.

Of course, we know what happened in Northern Ireland in the wake of internment--that was one of the most powerful recruiting agents that the IRA ever had. Bad laws have a price tag attached to them.

Rushing to legislation is rarely successful. There is no such thing as temporary legislation; it is never temporary.

Many aspects of the Bill are unacceptable to me. However, at the heart of it is my sense of outrage at the idea of incarcerating people without charge or trial. There are a number of questions we should ask ourselves.

Are these extraordinary powers necessary? The answer is that we already have the legal tools to combat terrorism.

Our own terrorist legislation is some of the strongest in the world. If people are living here in Britain and have trained, counselled or procured the recent horrifying events in New York and if we have evidence of that, there is no difficulty in prosecuting them.

If people are inciting terrorist crimes, we can put them on trial and imprison them. However, the Home Secretary wants to detain people where the evidence is not strong enough to put them on trial or is not admissible.

He wants to be able to incarcerate people without their knowing the reasons and the evidence upon which that incarceration will be based.

To any person concerned with human rights, that cannot be acceptable.

In declaring war on terrorism I understand that we were doing so to preserve freedom and basic rights. But passing this kind of legislation undermines the values we want to protect. The Bill is an attack upon our freedom.

Key stories


War view



See also:

28 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror bill is 'snoopers' charter'
28 Nov 01 | UK Politics
'No blank cheque' for terror bill
17 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Labour MPs rebel on terror bill
19 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror bill clears first hurdle
13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror laws at-a-glance
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