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MPs warn law would turn Cherie Blair into a criminal

London Independent/Ben Russell and Nigel Morris | November 3 2005

MPs of all parties lined up to maul the Government's anti-terrorism proposals yesterday.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats joined an insurrection by Labour backbenchers as they savaged the Terrorism Bill during an unusual line-by-line debate on the floor of the Commons.

They condemned proposals for a new offence of glorifying terrorism before turning their fire on to highly contentious plans to give police powers to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge.

Dominic Grieve, the shadow Attorney General, protested that the glorification law could criminalise anyone who justified violence carried out by the African National Congress and by the Bosnian resistance against Serbia. He added: "The glorification of Robin Hood is likely to be covered by this."

Kenneth Clarke, the former Tory chancellor, said there was nothing in the proposed legislation that would make the public safer. "It's ridiculous, it's absurd, it should never have been brought before us ... it has been dragged together from all over the place to give the impression of a dynamic, tough government taking firm action," he said.

John Denham, a former Home Office minister and the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the former US president George Bush would have fallen foul of the Bill when he called on Iraqis to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf war.

Alistair Carmichael, for the Liberal Democrats, described parts of the Bill as "opaque" while others "border on the impenetrable".

He said: "It fails a very basic test and that is it is one of the fundamental principles of natural justice that laws should be sufficiently clear that the citizens can regulate their conduct by them."

Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, said George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia would have been caught by the Bill. "The far-reaching consequences of the Bill in its current form are so draconian as to virtually provide a Bill that could have been drafted for us by al-Qa'ida ... We are doing what al-Qa'ida sought to do by other means and we will not be thanked by society for it," he said.
Bob Marshall-Andrews, Labour MP for Medway, proposed amendments forcing prosecutors to prove intent when taking cases of alleged incitement to terrorism to court. He said Cherie Blair's famous statement of sympathy with Palestinians driven to resist the Israeli government would have been illegal under the "odious" proposed ban on glorifying terrorism."

Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, signalled a partial climbdown, denying that people could be charged with incitement as a result of their own negligence. "I am prepared to say that there are legitimate concerns and I will continue to discuss that issue," she told MPs.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, faced a second torrent of criticism as the Commons moved on to discuss plans to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge.

Mr Grieve said the plans were "at the outer limits of what would currently pass scrutiny under the European Convention on Human Rights".

He said: "Merely to say you can detain somebody beyond 14 days for the purpose of questioning strikes me as being really a very unpleasant concept."

David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, said that MPs should not introduce the 90-day detention simply because the police had requested it. "That does not seem to me to be right and not fulfilling the functions of the Commons."

Shahid Malik, the Labour MP for Dewsbury, said that only 11 people had been held up to the current maximum of 14 days without charge - "there seems to be no example in the last two years of any one case where detention would be justified to 90 days".

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