Statewatch News Online: Statement to parliament by the Home Secretary on new terrorist laws - 20 July 2005

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Statement to parliament by the Home Secretary on new terrorist laws - 20 July 2005

"My letter [to the other parties] out the main items which the Government believe should be included in the counter-terrorism Bill. I should stress that these proposals were drawn up before 7 July. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated in his statement last week, we are discussing with the police and intelligence agencies whether there might be further powers that they need in the light of those events and the subsequent investigation.

The heart of the Bill is the creation of three new offences. The first of these criminalises acts preparatory to terrorism in order to ensure that early intervention does not mean that those responsible, who may be planning very serious terrorist crimes, should escape prosecution. The new offence will capture those planning serious acts of terrorism.

The second proposed new offence focuses on indirect incitement to terrorism. Direct incitement to commit acts of violence is already a criminal offence. The proposal targets those who, although not directly inciting, glorify and condone terrorist acts, knowing full well that the effect on their listeners will be to encourage them to turn to terrorism. So indirect incitement, when it is done with the intention of inciting others to commit acts of terrorism—that is an important qualification—will become a criminal offence.

Thirdly, the Bill will deal with the giving and receiving of terrorist training. Our existing law already criminalises much activity that could fall within that description, but we want to close the gaps to make sure that anyone who gives or receives training in terrorist techniques is covered. Legislating for those last two offences will enable the UK to ratify the Council of Europe convention on the prevention of terrorism, which I very much welcome. The Bill will also make a number of other amendments to existing legislation, which are set out in the letter that I have placed in the Library of the House.

I am very pleased to say that when we met on Monday, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden and the hon. Member for Winchester indicated that they were, in principle, prepared to support all these measures. Of course they will want to see, and contribute to, the detail as it emerges, and I have undertaken to keep them informed of developments during the summer. I am grateful to them for their support and hope that we can continue to proceed by means of consensus. In that spirit, both of them indicated to me on Monday that they were in favour of the Government decoupling this legislation from the further parliamentary consideration of control orders, to which I gave a commitment during the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, and bringing it forward for introduction in October. They further indicated to me that they were in favour of proceeding straight to introduction, without pre-legislative scrutiny, provided that they could have early sight of the draft legislation and that the normal parliamentary procedures and timetable were followed in both Houses.

On that basis, we are proposing to bring forward the legislation as soon as practicable when the House returns. We propose to return to the issue of control orders in the spring after we have the report from the independent reviewer, Lord Carlile. He is not only the reviewer of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, because he performs a similar function in respect of the Terrorism Act 2000. He published his most recent report on the operation of that Act on 26 May and I am grateful to him for a typically thorough and thoughtful report. Of course his report was published before the terrible events of 7 July, but he has since confirmed that his overall conclusions remain. I have today published the Government's response to his report and placed copies in the Library. We have given effect to several of his recommendations and are giving active consideration to others.

In the days and weeks since 7 July, many have raised concerns about extremists who seek to come to this country to foment terrorism, or to provoke others to commit terrorist acts. I have reviewed the Government's powers to exclude such people. The Home Secretary has powers to exclude individuals on the grounds that their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public interest. There is no statutory right of appeal against the exclusion decision, but of course it can be challenged through judicial review. In addition, immigration and entry clearance officers have similar powers. Any exclusion by them would generate a right of appeal. This power is currently informed by the operation of a warnings index of named individuals. I have concluded that these powers need to be applied more widely and systematically both to people before they come to the UK and when they are here.

In recent decades, for all Home Secretaries, the criteria for exercising these powers have generally been grounds of national security, public order or risk to the UK's good relations with a third country. In going beyond these grounds, we rightly need to tread very carefully indeed in areas that relate to free speech. However, in the circumstances that we now face, I have decided that it is right to broaden the use of these powers to deal with those who foment terrorism, or seek to provoke others to commit terrorist acts. To that end, I intend to draw up a list of unacceptable behaviours that fall within those powers—for example, preaching, running websites or writing articles that are intended to foment or provoke terrorism. The list will be indicative rather than exhaustive and we will consult on it, because it is important that we work with the communities.

Where there are grounds for considering that a person has been engaged in such activities, or will do so in the UK, exclusion will be considered. I have asked my officials together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the intelligence agencies to establish a full database of individuals around the world who have demonstrated the relevant behaviours. That database will be available to entry clearance and immigration officers and will be added to the current warnings index. I should make it clear that entry on that index does not necessarily mean exclusion, but in all cases it will trigger the possibility of a decision to exclude by Ministers.

In addition to using that list to ensure that those non-conducive powers are applied more widely and systematically at the point of entry, the specified unacceptable behaviours will not be permitted for individuals who have leave to enter or remain in this country. That power arises in various categories: for those here temporarily, for example, as visitors, students or workers, or their dependants and for those with indefinite leave to remain, any breach will lead to termination of their leave or deportation; for asylum seekers, we will, as a general rule, look to detain them and fast-track their claims; and for refugees, we will consider whether the behaviours described fall within one of the categories for exclusion from protection under the 1951 refugee convention.

We have already made it clear in the changes announced on refugee status earlier this week that any breach by a refugee of the categories for exclusion will trigger an immediate review of their status. We are already consulting on changes to the conditions for leave to enter and remain for ministers of religion, and we will consider with the faith communities whether further measures are needed.

I am also urgently seeking agreement with EU and other countries on the mutual exchange of information on exclusion decisions. The power of exclusion is necessarily targeted at those outside the UK. When people who are already in the UK engage in the kind of behaviour that I have identified and described, it may well be appropriate to deport them under statutory powers. I will ensure that a consistent stance is taken in relation to both deportation and exclusions. In the past, there have been some successful challenges to proposed deportations under article 3 of the European convention on human rights. For that reason, we have actively been seeking memorandums of understanding with a number of Governments to address those legal concerns.

I am pleased to announce today that the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan have reached agreement in principle on the provisions of such a memorandum of understanding, regulating the arrangements by which assurances regarding the treatment of particular individuals can be sought prior to their deportation. The formal signing of the memorandum of understanding will be arranged shortly, and a copy of the text will be placed in the Library once the signing ceremony has taken place.

I do not in general intend to comment on the position of particular individuals. In light of recent public comments, however, the House may be interested to know that I understand that Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi is not now planning to visit the UK in the near future. If he were to seek to do so, I would of course have to consider whether his presence would be conducive to the public good. I will follow the approach that I have set out today in the case of Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed and other individuals whose names are in the public domain.

I want to conclude by applauding the efforts that the leaders of the Muslim communities are now making to improve their capacity to fight extremism and protect young people. Positive proposals are emerging from a series of meetings between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, myself and others on strengthening our capacity to fight the destructive and nihilist philosophy of those who promoted the London bombings.

As I hope that I have demonstrated, there is unity of purpose. The Government want to work with other parties to ensure that we have the most effective anti-terrorism legislation on our statute book. Similarly, we want to work with the Muslim community to isolate and weaken dangerous extremists. I am grateful to all engaged in that important work, which I hope commands Parliament's support."

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