The latest chapter in our country's ill-fated "war on terror"
Last night MPs debated the latest depressing chapter in our country’s ill-fated “war on terror”. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is full of the kind of unsafe, unfair policies which the Coalition appeared to reject when it reduced pre-charge detention, curtailed powers to stop and search without suspicion and tempered aspects of the draconian control order regime.
But, in a devastating about-turn, this Bill proposes a package of ill-targeted, exceptional measures including:
- Passport seizure and retention powers which are rife for discrimination and will divert attention from powers of arrest;
- A regime of exclusion orders which risks exposing British citizens to torture or delivering them into the hands of terror-factions;
- Provision which seeks to breathe new life into a widely discredited Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure (TPIMs) regime, that has consistently failed to tackle serious criminality through a system of civil restrictions;
- New data retention powers which mirror the blanket powers sought under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), rejected by the European Court of Justice;
- Provision for the Home Secretary to refuse authority to travel to whole categories of passenger on grounds as crude as nationality;
- Statutory terrorism prevention duties for a whole range of public bodies, embroiling professionals such as teachers in counter-terror policing, risking mistrust and alienation; and
- A provision which will remove the requirement for a warrant for the interception of all post sent from, and received in, the UK.
Senior Members of the House from all parties were outspoken in their concerns, particularly on chilling proposals to exclude British nationals from the country by Executive fiat. Former Conservative Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, reminded the House that:
“it is a fundamental principle of the common law in this country that an individual, unconvicted – the presumption of innocence applies – should be free to reside in his own land. The principle of exile, as a judicial or even an administrative tool, has not been tolerated in this country since the late 17th century.”
The link to crude, medieval exile was taken up by former Shadow Home Office Minister, Chris Bryant. He told the House that exclusion orders “would in effect, result in the exile – albeit short-term and temporary – of British citizens, in many cases to other countries. All history suggests that such action further radicalises people and makes them more dangerous enemies to this country.” Former Lib Dem Leader and member of the Intelligence and Security Committee Sir Menzies Campbell made short work of the Temporary Exclusion Order (TEO) scheme in a principled and passionate speech: “if the right to return is a matter of principle, it can neither be capable of modification nor subject to conditionality…I respectfully say that if the principle is as inviolate as has been suggested, any such intervention must be contrary to law and practice.” SNP Home Affairs Spokesperson, Pete Wishart, confronted the Government on a demoralising return to the form of its predecessor: “they are almost right back to where the Labour Government were in supporting the creation and maintenance of an anti-civil libertarian state.”
Presented with a Bill which is low on vision and short on ambition, many Members urged Parliament to remember the broader context. If this is a battle for hearts and minds, let’s address the fact that we have accepted just 90 refugees from the bloody Syrian civil war; the fact that the UN World Food Project will be forced to suspend its food voucher programme for Syrian refugees facing starvation due to a funding crisis. At home let’s reflect on plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and threats to withdraw this country from the system which gives voice to the post-World War II consensus on the protection of basic rights and freedoms.
Perhaps the most salutary message of last night came from the recipient of Liberty’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award, former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC: “We will not stop terrorism or prevent young people from going to participate in terrorism, by whatever methods of law we pass in this House, however draconian they might be; we will stop this phenomenon when we can persuade people that the virtues of our society, which are many, despite some of its drawbacks, are very considerable and that its values should be respected.”