Jacqui Smith statement on Counter-Terrorism Bill

Jacqui SmithMr Speaker, I come to the House tonight to set out the Government’s position on the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

The provisions in this Bill have always been about protecting the British people from the serious threat we face from terrorism.

And my approach has always been to strike the right balance between protecting national security and safeguarding the liberty of the individual.

That balance is a precious and delicate one, and it has meant – quite rightly – that our proposals on pre-charge detention have been the subject of intense parliamentary scrutiny.

But, for me, there is no greater individual liberty than the liberty of individuals not to be blown up on British streets or in British skies.

We face a terrorist threat that is at the “severe end of severe.”  And we have proposed in this Bill a way in which the police and prosecutors could apply to a judge to enable them to continue an investigation of a terrorist suspect – in the most difficult, most complex and most challenging of circumstances.

This House has voted in favour of a reserve power, which could only be used where there is a grave and exceptional terrorist threat, and which would be accompanied by high judicial and parliamentary safeguards.

But despite the considered view of all leading counter-terrorism police professionals that these powers will be necessary and should be there, ready for use if needed…

Despite the opinion of the independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, the noble and learned Lord Carlile…

Despite the decision of Rt Honourable and Honourable Members of this House…

…the other place has tonight voted to remove from the Counter-Terrorism Bill the protections that the Government believes should be in place.

Not to amend; not to strengthen; simply to remove.

Mr Speaker, my priority remains the protection of the British people.

I do not believe, as some Honourable Members clearly do, that it is enough to simply cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Mr Speaker, that is not good enough. Because when it comes to national security, there are certain risks I’m not prepared to take.

I am not prepared to risk leaving the British people without the protections they need.

And so, instead of reintroducing the proposals for a reserve power in this House, my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister and I have taken action to ensure we have those protections in place, ready to be used if necessary.

I have prepared a new Bill to enable the police and prosecutors to do their work – should the worst happen, should a terrorist plot overtake us and threaten our current investigatory capabilities.

Some may take the security of Britain lightly. I don’t.

The Counter Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill now stands ready to be introduced if and when the need arises. This would enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the Courts to detain and question a terrorist suspect for up to a maximum of 42 days.

Individuals could only be detained where this is authorised by a judge. The Bill’s powers would automatically sunset after 60 days.

I will place a copy of this new Bill in the Library of the House.

And I will continue to press forward with the other important and necessary measures in the current Bill.

  • Tougher sentencing for terrorists.
  • Stronger powers to seize terrorists’ assets.
  • Stronger powers to allow the police to remove material they think is terrorist-related during searches.
  • The power to take DNA and fingerprints from people on control orders.
  • The ability to question terrorist suspects after charge.

These measures are right. They are necessary. I want to see them enter into force as soon as possible, and I will continue to make the case for them as the Bill progresses.

Mr Speaker, we cannot defeat terrorism through legislation alone. But where legislation can help to protect the innocent from those who would inflict atrocity upon us, I am steadfast in my determination to do right by the British people.

I deeply regret that some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat, for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision.

Let no-one kid themselves that this issue can be made to go away. These are hard questions – tough questions – but however much Honourable members opposite may wish to duck them, Britain still needs to be protected. Britain still needs to be prepared to deal with the worst.

When it becomes necessary to introduce this Bill – as I believe it may – I hope then we can count on their support.

I commend this statement to the House.