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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February 2005, 17:02 GMT
'Humane response' to terror threat
Government plans to introduce control orders to keep some foreign and British terror suspects under house arrest have provoked a vigorous debate.

Earlier this week, thriller writer Frederick Forsyth explained what he thought of the proposals - prompting Labour MP Eric Joyce to respond.

ERIC JOYCE MP

Most people agree that global-reach terrorism presents a very real, and daily, threat to us all.

Few demur from the view that the home secretary's principle role is to preserve our democracy by defending us against that threat.

Eric Joyce MP
While no measures can remove risk altogether, these measures, albeit in extremis, will play an important part in ensuring that risk is kept to a minimum.
Eric Joyce MP

The question for us all is whether Charles Clarke's new anti-terrorist proposals strike the balance he himself seeks, between assuring our individual freedoms and protecting our lives.

It is fundamental that we should all be concerned about that balance - get it wrong and we risk the very democracy we're trying to protect. And of course there are no easy answers.

But the facts are that Mr Clarke's proposals are neither out of whack with our historical responses to grave national threats, nor disproportionate in their effect on our liberties.

And crucially, while no measures can remove risk altogether, these measures, albeit in extremis, will play an important part in ensuring that risk is kept to a minimum.

World War II internment

Let's consider where we are now, and how we got here.

Facing Hitler, we introduced internment. It was harsh and inevitably involved detaining perfectly innocent ice-cream salesmen from Streatham and teachers from Truro.

It was very sad for all who knew them, but most people at the time, and even reflecting upon it now, accepted it as a necessity. Frederick Forsyth has forgotten all of this.

Indeed, so tough were we then on refusing entry to the UK to those we considered possible threats, many of whom were running in fear, that we subsequently signed up to the very 1951 United Nations convention at the heart of our present dilemma.

Charles Clarke's solution [is] humane, accountable and measured. Not nice, for sure - but necessary.
Eric Joyce

All sovereign states today have the right to refuse entry to, or remove, anyone they think may harm their citizens. Trials don't come into it.

Equally, we agree that we can't extradite our own citizens. But many states, like the UK, also agree not to extradite anyone to anywhere they may be mistreated and the small number of Belmarsh detainees all come from such places.

The House of Lords has ruled that while citizens have rights non-citizens do not. In effect we are bound by our own constitution not to extradite the detainees, so we are therefore breaching the convention not to discriminate and must find a new solution.

Trials 'not an option'

So what next?

Judges have accepted that the present detainees present a serious threat to us but that the intelligence which convinces them of this is inadmissible as evidence in court.

Trials, ideal of course, are therefore not an option.

We could dissent from our present agreements and extradite people we believe to be dangerous anyway, and leave them to their fate. But that would be inhumane and wrong.

So should we therefore simply let these people go unchecked and accept the risk they pose - the direct consequence of Frederick Forsyth's position? Of course not.

That would be a dereliction of the government's most profound duty.

Our only practical options are therefore to work with some of the possible countries of destination to secure a safe return for some detainees, and to ensure we know exactly where those who remain in the UK actually are, and exactly what they're up to.

That's what Charles Clarke's solution does. It's humane, accountable and measured. Not nice, for sure - but necessary.


Your comments:

Let's expel this cloud of fear that drives politics in this country
Derek, Falkirk, UK
Perhaps we could go a step further and have border control checkpoints. We're almost back in WWII - once we get our identity cards and our air raid shelters built (subject to planning permission, of course). Maybe Customs and Excise, instead of looking for the cheap bottles of booze being smuggled in could be armed and ready for any further illegal immigrants rushing the borders. This used to be such a pleasant life but now I feel we are our own worst enemy. Let's expel this cloud of fear that drives politics in this country and America so that we can all start living a normal life again. I thought this was the plan from the beginning?
Derek, Falkirk, UK

I believe we are too soft on terrorists and suspected terrorists, the moment they get involved in terrorism they give up any right to their human rights, in my view. Terrorists are the minority, our governments have a human right to protect their people, the majority. Judges have too much say on the subject and do not look after the British people's human rights they are too concerned with political correctness and the human rights of the terrorists. The British people's safety should take priority over all else and if that means pulling out of the European Human Rights Act so be it.
Richard Siegert, Essex, England

Once again, an example of politicians using the culture of fear to infringe upon civil liberties which have been in place for hundreds of years. Of course any sane person would agree with strict punishment for anybody found guilty of terrorist activity, but how can we, a supposedly free and civilised society, agree with the notion of internment without trial and house arrests - all potentially on the behest of one man who need satisfy no legal burden of proof criteria?
Paul, London, UK

Mr Joyce says: "Judges have accepted that the present detainees present a serious threat to us but that the intelligence ... is inadmissible as evidence in court." Why is it inadmissible? If the evidence is so compelling then surely changing the law to make such evidence admissible would satisfy both the right to a fair trial for the detainees, and the need to protect the public from the dangers which our leaders are so eager to remind us of.
Ollie, London, UK

I think Mr Forsyth is nearer the mark with his comments. Every day when I leave my house for work, there's a one in 100,000 chance I'll be killed by terrorist action and a one in 5,000 chance I'll be hit by a car. Even though the choice isn't really mine to make, I understand the chances involved and I'm quite willing to accept the risks of both.
David Lawrence, Bristol/UK

Mr Joyce's argument was flaccid and offered no good grounds for the abrogation of our civil liberties
Keith Wright, Aberdeen, Scotland
Eric Joyce seems to have made a career out of being an apologist for this government. No matter what the decision it takes, he can be found backing it to the hilt no matter how poor the decision or how good the arguments against it. Mr Forsyth's comments were well thought out and reflective of someone committed to the ideas of human freedom and individuality. Mr Joyce's argument was flaccid and offered no good grounds for the abrogation of our civil liberties which his government propose.
Keith Wright, Aberdeen, Scotland

I'm not sure I agree. While government's principle duty is of course to protect its citizens, I'm not sure giving Charles Clarke the right to infringe liberties without giving reasons or evidence to the person in question is "balanced." While Eric Joyce's argument for saying trials are not an option seems logical, he accepts as the foundation the axiom that some evidence may be inadmissible. My question for him is - why is this? I fail to see any reason why phone taps, for example, should not be allowed (even Liberty don't dissent from that!), and there's nothing to stop government legislating to allow other evidence in such cases, if the threat is as serious as he'd have us believe. Or is Mr. Joyce concerned that the evidence they have is as credible as that over Iraqi WMD, perhaps?
Ged, Rotherham, UK

Judges have too much say on the subject and do not look after the British people's human rights
Richard Siegert, Essex
I believe that we are too soft on terrorists and suspected terrorists, the moment they get involved in terrorism they give up any right to their human rights, in my view. Terrorists are the minority, our governments have a human right to protect their people, the majority. Judges have too much say on the subject and do not look after the British people's human rights they are too concerned with PC and the human rights of the terrorists. The British peoples safety should take priority over all else and if that means pulling out of the European Human Rights Act so be it. I speak with many of my day to day contacts about this subject and I have yet to find one person who does not agree with my view.
Richard Siegert, Essex, England

Nonsense from the very beginning, Mr. Joyce - how many people find terrorism to be a "daily" threat? Most people are more concerned about picking up the kids from school, avoiding the traffic on the way to the office or booking their next holiday. If people were really worried that terrorism was a daily threat, they wouldn't leave their homes. If these people are a threat, put them on trial and prove it!
Ed, Cambridge

Thank goodness Eric Joyce has brought some sanity and balance to this debate
Nick Elliott, Matlock, UK
Thank goodness Eric Joyce has brought some sanity and balance to this debate to counter Frederic Forsyth's ludicrous article. He seems to site our perseverance with the IRA for thirty years and "but we won" as justification for now doing nothing to solve a real problem. He quotes the fact that 3000 civilians plus 900 soldiers and police died in doing so! Is he really saying that it would now be better to take 4000 violently killed victims than to try to solve with new legislation this real problem? Try selling that idea to one of the mothers, sons etc of those victims. Stick to fiction - this is the real world in 2005.
Nick Elliott, Matlock, UK




SEE ALSO:
Terror powers expose 'tyranny'
30 Jan 05 |  UK Politics


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