Site Meter

Friday, October 22, 2010

Labour got a lot wrong on terror, I admit

Labour got a lot wrong on terror, I admit

Tony McNulty

We misjudged control orders, stop-and-search, and other civil rights issues. We must accept this and change

The horrors of the 7/7 atrocities being relived at the inquests in the Royal Courts of Justice should remind us of the danger that al-Qaeda presents. This threat has not gone away, so the Government is right to give counter-terrorism such a prominent place in its national security strategy.

Apart from the carnage of 7/7, the near-disasters of 21/7 and the Haymarket car bombs, the terrorists have failed to get through, thank goodness. This is down to the twin approach of increased resources for the police and intelligence services, and the passing of new laws. But with decreasing resources for policing, and with Ken Macdonald’s official review into counter-terrorism legislation reporting next month, Labour needs to rethink its strategy.

I was Counter-Terrorism Minister in the previous Government. We got a lot right, but we made mistakes. Some policies simply did not protect the public; others failed to strike the right balance between public safety and liberty. An important part of Labour’s renewal in Opposition will be to get its counter-terrorism policy right.

First, Labour should reaffirm its commitment to the Human Rights Act; we will not defeat terrorism by reneging on this law. Upholding human rights may sometimes be terribly inconvenient in the fight against terrorists, but it is the price of democracy. We must have confidence that our democratic values can prevail. The terrorists want us to distort and bend our democratic values as we take them on — if we do that we play into their hands.

Control orders have never been a satisfactory solution for detaining foreign nationals who cannot be deported. They were always a clumsy tool and successive legal judgments have further limited their scope. Although the coalition parties opposed them in Opposition, two control orders have almost certainly been imposed by them already since they gained power.

The current approach of using control orders for the most serious causes is no longer a sensible option. It means constant court challenges and the validity of orders being struck down by judges. The Government could use its derogation powers from Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 and carry on using control orders in all cases; but that would represent an admission that this country could not protect its citizens without moving away from the European Convention on Human Rights. This would be a propaganda prize for our enemies.

The brave and responsible option — and a big departure from Labour’s position in power — would be to scrap them. This would require, however, real guarantees that the security services and the police have the resources and manpower to keep terror suspects under surveillance.

As a minister, I put the order to renew the provision to hold terror suspects for 28 days without charge on at least two occasions and I led the case for arguing an extension to 42 days. At the time, I said that we must start from the premise that “seven days pre-charge detention is the norm, 14 days the exception, 28 days the exception to the exception and 42 days was to be used only in the most exceptional circumstances”. I also said that I hoped this controversial legislation would never be used.

I believe now that it is time to move on. No one has been held for more than 14 days without charge since the last Government dropped plans to extend detention to 42 days in 2008. Before this, only a handful of detainees — Operation Overt airline plotters — had been held for between 14 and 28 days .

This Government has extended the 28-day provision for six months while the counter-terrorism legislation review is under way. But the past two years in which no one has been detained for more than 14 days give us a new opportunity to rebalance civil liberties and public protection. It’s not soft on terrorism to revert to the 14-day limit for pre-charge detention.

It would be easy for Labour to hold up the new Government’s scrapping of Section 44 stop-and-search powers as evidence of softness on terrorism. This would be a mistake. Stop-and-search has done more harm than good: it alienated people caught up in random searches, made some young Asian men feel persecuted by the police and secured limited results.

I have stood at the dispatch box in the Commons and proposed the proscription of organisations who were “promoting and encouraging terrorism” or seeking to “glorify, exalt or celebrate terrorism”. I stand by every one of these proscriptions. Labour should reaffirm its support for such provision.

Proscription, however, should be rooted in hard evidence. Hizb ut-Tahrir, for instance, is an abominable organisation that has been associated with anti-Semitism and has flirted with supporting violence and exalting terrorism. My failure to ban HuT was used by the Opposition to claim that the Government was weak on terrorism, not least because Tony Blair said we would ban it shortly after 7/7.

But no substantive evidence about how HuT supported or glorified terrorism was ever forthcoming. We cannot ban groups simply because we don’t like them — that undermines the rule of law. Labour should not play juvenile games of demanding a ban on this week’s obnoxious group.

But on some issues we need to be tougher. Kazi Nurur Rahman — who was convicted of trying to buy three Uzi sub-machineguns — will walk out of jail soon after serving only half his sentence. This makes no sense at all. Jonathan Evans, the MI5 Director- General, has rightly highlighted this anomaly. Anyone convicted of a terrorism-related charge should be made to serve their full sentence.

There remains a real problem with foreign nationals who cannot be deported to their country of origin. We saw this recently with the case of two Pakistani students in the recent Manchester plot. They could not be deported to Pakistan, an ally, because the judges ruled that being a target of police inquiries put them at risk of torture by the Pakistani authorities.

The previous Government made some progress on “deportation with assurances”, in which the administration seeks a promise from foreign powers that the deportee will not be mistreated. Those who object to this have offered no alternative. Some court judgments have been lost on existing agreements between the UK and foreign states, but Labour must push the Government to do more on this to protect us from such individuals.

Rethinking our policies is neither a rejection of our immediate past nor a suggestion that everything we have done was wrong. But change we must, to ensure that we get the balance right between protecting the public and upholding Britain’s liberal traditions.

Tony McNulty was Minister of State for Policing, Crime, Counter-Terrorism and Security, 2006-08

Source: Times (£)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid to say that in the case of the two Manchester Pakistani suspects now that they have been fairly convicted in a court of law they should be liable for deportation.
Regardless of the threat of torture by the Pakistani services.
Done the crime now face the consequences -tough!