Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4.5 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) made one point to which I should like to respond immediately. He argued that the Act had been wrongly used against protesters and demonstrators—and I could not agree more. There is no justification whatever for the Act to be used against people who are demonstrating and have every right to demonstrate. The police were in the wrong and I hope that there will be no repetition of what occurred.

I shall support the Government tonight in the Division and I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has told the House today. However, I am unhappy—it would be strange if one were not—when people are detained outside the criminal justice system. The rightful position of Parliament is to protect everyone in the country, whether they are citizens of the country, ordinary residents without citizenship or foreign nationals. We believe in the rule of law.

There is, however, a dilemma. It has been said before, and I make no apology for repeating the fact again, that as a democracy we do face a dilemma, because a balance has to be struck between protecting the country and our citizens—the first responsibility of Government and of

25 Feb 2004 : Column 339

Parliament itself—and ensuring at the same time that the rule of law applies in the normal way. It is a dilemma, and we are not the only democracy to face it.

Some people writing or broadcasting outside Parliament sometimes convey the impression that we are exaggerating the terrorist danger and that 9/11 was a one-off occurrence in western countries—a point to which I shall return in a few moments.

As we know, when the Act was being passed, fears were expressed that it would lead to a relatively large number of foreign nationals being held in detention, but that is certainly not what has happened. Although it is no consolation to the 14 people who are being held, or to their families, the number affected is very far from the number cited in some of the predictions. Some people have left the United Kingdom; they are all free to go. We know why the 14 cannot leave, but they are free to do so. I do not draw the comparison—some do—between those who are being detained here and the position of people detained by the United States in Cuba. It is very different indeed.

Mr. Hogg: I acknowledge the truth of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am sure that he would want to acknowledge that some of these people have been held for a very long time—in some cases for almost two years.

David Winnick: It is unfortunate. I cannot disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about that. If those people were not guilty, they should have been acquitted. If they were guilty, however, I should of course much prefer them to have been convicted in a court of law, having enjoyed all the legal rights of defendants. My point is that if the security authorities tell the Home Secretary that certain people are a danger, the Home Secretary must make a decision. Some hon. Members would say that any information from the security authorities should be ignored. However, as I said when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, one can well imagine the reaction—in the House, the country and the media—if, having been warned that certain foreign nationals were a danger, he took no action to put them in custody, and it subsequently turned out that the same people were involved in a terrorist outrage. He would be harshly criticised in every possible way.

In every case, the Home Secretary must decide whether to accept or ignore the advice of the security authorities about certain matters or people. That is part of the responsibility associated with that office.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is that not the whole point? The information is provided, in secret, by the security services, and is decided on, privately, by the Home Secretary. The individuals involved in this case have been in prison for two years, and are likely to be there for a lot longer. Neither they nor we know what they are charged with. They have not been convicted, and are not going to be. Is that acceptable in a modern democracy?

David Winnick: With great reluctance, I think that it is acceptable. That is why I supported the 2001 Act when

25 Feb 2004 : Column 340

it came before the House, and why I shall support the Government this evening. Critics of the Government, including my hon. Friend, should bear it in mind that there is no monopoly of concern about people being held outside the criminal justice system. I am no less concerned about that than anyone else, but I accept that there is a necessity to do what has been done. However, it goes without saying that I am unhappy with the situation, and wish that matters could be otherwise.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The hon. Gentleman's concerns in these matters are well known, but he must recognise the other side of the coin, as set out by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). Some of us suspect that the information involved is faulty, but it is still possible to end up going to war on the basis of false information. That is why we want a degree of scrutiny and insight into decisions that affect our freedoms.

David Winnick: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. To some extent, he may want to rerun the war that recently took place, but not for a moment do I doubt that his concerns are genuine, any more than I question the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). It is part of the responsibility of Members of Parliament to be very much on guard. If we were complacent about such matters—if, in the absence of a Newton committee, there had been no concern or controversy—people would question the purpose of parliamentary democracy. The fact that this debate is taking place, and that concerns and anxieties exist—and I, who support the Government's position, to some extent share them—shows that we are carrying out the duties of the House.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: One aspect of what my hon. Friend says concerns me, as it did when he intervened on the Home Secretary. He spoke of the Home Secretary's need to avoid possible stricture and criticism. However, if a serious crime takes place in the future, how can that need square with what happens in the normal practice of criminal law? The security services do not have to be involved. My knowledge of organised crime means that, tomorrow, I could give the Home Secretary the names of half a dozen people who I am convinced will commit serious crimes in the near future. Most senior police officers could do precisely the same. I could even tell my right hon. Friend the nature of the crimes likely to be committed, but he would tell me that he could do nothing because he had not a shred of evidence on which to act. When the crimes finally took place, as predicted, the Home Secretary would not be criticised—why should he be? Does not the same thing apply to terrorists?

David Winnick: No, it does not, as my hon. and learned Friend knows very well, because this is a unique situation involving terrorism. I have much respect for him, however much we disagree, but that was a surprising intervention, because he knows very well the difference between ordinary crime and the dangers of terrorism that face us.

Mr. Hogg: Further to the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews),

25 Feb 2004 : Column 341

we shrank from using arbitrary detention in Northern Ireland, yet following the argument of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) we should presumably have wanted to impose arbitrary detention to prevent impending attacks.

David Winnick: As we know, detention in Northern Ireland was undertaken by the then Conservative Government. I believe that decision was wrong. Detention in Northern Ireland was a recruiting arm for the IRA, as I said at the time, but each situation is different and we cannot compare what is happening now with what happened in Northern Ireland, although clearly the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that we can.

I should have been happier had there been a process of judicial review, as I suggested to the Home Affairs Committee when we were considering the Act. However, I was narrowly defeated by four votes to three.

I want to return to the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). We are constantly told by the police and others that terrorism remains an acute danger for this country and that it is a question not of if but when a terrorist attack occurs. Does anyone in the Chamber disagree with that? As I said earlier, it is easy to imagine the reaction were the Home Secretary to ignore such advice. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) rightly drew attention to what might happen to law-abiding members of Muslim communities who are no less opposed to violence and terrorism as we are. If a terrorist outrage occurred, some people would, unfortunately, want to incite hatred against members of particular communities.

In a footnote to page 53 of its report, the Newton committee stated that broadcasts connected with international terrorist networks

for terrorism, and that an international terrorist leader had said that

in the invasion of Afghanistan—note: not in the invasion of Iraq.

When the argument is advanced that we or the Government are anti-Muslim, why is there no mention of Kosovo? Why did the Government take action in Kosovo? The decision was controversial at the time—although not as controversial as Iraq. It is a deliberate lie that we are anti-Muslim. There was a clear and simple reason for taking military action in Kosovo: to save the lives of Muslims—not of Jews, Hindus, Christians or Sikhs. Nevertheless, those who peddle lies and use every possible justification for military action against western democracies, including the UK, like to portray us as anti-Muslim.

There can never be a guarantee that any steps we take will stop terrorism, but the Government of the day have a duty to take the measures they believe necessary to protect the people of this country. I genuinely wish that the Act—certainly part 4—could go. I certainly wish

25 Feb 2004 : Column 342

that there was no need to detain people in the circumstances in which the 14 are being held. I repeat that I am very unhappy about it—I wish it were not so—but I accept that it is necessary and that this country faces an acute terrorist danger, and in those circumstances I am willing to support the Government, although with the reluctance and hesitation that I have expressed. Nevertheless, in the end, I believe that the Government are acting correctly.

Next Section

IndexHome Page