Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Let the record show that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) was the first hon. Member on either side of the House, either by way of intervention or in a speech, to speak in support of the Bill.
I intend to direct my remarks solely to the proposals for 90-day detention. I say at the outset that I realise that, with the arrival of the suicide bomber in the United Kingdom, we face a wholly new form of terrorism. I accept that we have an obligation to provide the police and security services with the tools that they need to deal with that, and I acknowledge that a difficult balance must be struck between the protection of the suspect and the liberties of the subject. I accept all those things, but do not believe that a case has been made for detaining suspects for up to 90 days. What is more, the provision will lead to unintended consequences that could store up a lot of difficulties for when the Bill is implemented.
As I said when I intervened on the Home Secretary, it is unfortunate that the Government have uncritically endorsed what I still believe to be the police's first throw of the dice. The police did not think for a moment that they would get 90-day detentions. The request was their opening shot in what they perhaps thought would be a process of negotiation, so they would have been as amazed as most hon. Members who have spoken that the proposal was uncritically endorsed.
I oppose the 90-day detention because there is a danger that the power will be abused, whatever safeguards we try to put in place. The overwhelming majority of terrorist suspects are released without charge. Of the 895 people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 up to 30 September 2005, only 23 were chargednot convicted, but chargedwith any form of terrorist offence. Some 300 others were charged with other offences, some of which were quite minor, and 496 were released without any charge at all. Under the Bill, it would have been possible to hold those 496 people for up to 90 days instead of up to 14 days, as can be done at the moment.
With the best will in the world, the police will be tempted to string out the process. If they do not have to work their way through a big pile of documentation and other evidence quickly, they might wait 30 or 40 days before even getting round to starting to do that. I am not suggesting that that would always happen, but it is a reasonable supposition that it will begin to happen in some cases over time.
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Mr. Hendrick: My hon. Friend admitted that suspects were not kept for longer than 14 days in most instances. If they are not being kept for longer than 14 days, why should the police string out the process for up to 90 days?
Mr. Mullin: With all due respect to my hon. Friend, that point rather rebounds on him. If it has not been necessary to detain anyone for more than 14 days so far, it is a rather large leap to say that we now urgently need a 90-day provision.
If a time period of 90 days is now essential, why, when the police were last consulted only a little over two years agoterrorism had been with us for some time by thendid they ask for a rise from seven to only 14 days? I do not understand why their request has suddenly leapt from 14 days to 90. If they had asked for a more modest increase, I could engage with the argument.
When I looked up the way in which the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), justified the extension from seven days to 14, I noticed that some of her reasons were remarkably similar to those cited in assistant commissioner Hayman's letter. The points about the need to study computers and technology were made almost word for word. I accept that other considerations have emerged since then and that there might be a case for extending the limit, but not to 90 days, for goodness' sake.
Some Members have said that Lord Carlile endorses the proposal. I accept that he does so in his report, but not with any great enthusiasm. He does not endorse all the proposals in assistant commissioner Hayman's letter, and dismisses some of them explicitly:
Mr. Mullin: Indeed. That brings me to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Courts may find it difficult to convict on the basis of admissions or accusations that emerge after 20, 30, 40 or 50 days in custody. That may be an unintended consequence of the measure and may lead to some people walking free who should not do so. I take no comfort from the safeguard that a district judge should approve detention at regular intervals. I have a little experience in this area and, in the past, many members of the judiciary, both senior and junior, have proved remarkably gullible in believing whatever nonsense was put before them by the Crown and, in some cases, by the police. The words "national security" have only to be breathed for some district judges, magistrates and even High Court judges to roll over and have their tummies tickled. With the best will in the world, it is difficult for a judge, however senior, to turn down a request from a Crown prosecutor who tells him that the detention order is essential and that the world could be blown up tomorrow unless he renews it.
I remember a former Bow street stipendiary magistrate, a man of great experience, saying on his retirement that he could not recall a single instance in
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30 years of a policeman in the witness box exaggerating in the slightest. I accept that things have changed a little, but that gives a flavour of the difficulties that we will encounter if we let district judges deal with the problem. The Home Secretary will concede that it must be a High Court judge at least. Indeed, that must be one of the concessions in my right hon. Friend's back pocket, and it would be nice if he conceded the point in the Commons rather than the other place.
Some say that we should place our trust in experts, and that the experts who track down terrorists have a complex job, so we should listen to whatever advice they give us. I certainly listen with respect to anyone who has that difficult job, whether they are in the police or the security services, but I do not endorse blindly or automatically whatever they say, because in years gone by experts have been known to be spectacularly wrong in terrorism cases and other matters. In the mid 1970sthe situation then has a bearing on today's situation they caught the wrong people for all the main terrorist bombings. A total of 18 people were wrongly arrested. Some of those experts and High Court judges still argue in private that all the people who were captured in the '70s were guilty. They are still in self-denial and labour under a massive illusion. My message is therefore, "Put not thy faith entirely in experts."
In many respects, the Americans have thrown away the rule book when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Some hon. Members will be familiar with the process of extraordinary rendition, whereby terror suspects are kidnapped and franchised out to countries where torture is routine. I do not want to see us starting out down that road. I do not suggest that it would ever happen in this country. I am sure that it will not, but it should be a warning to us.
So, too, should the shooting of the unfortunate Brazilian gentleman in Stockwell tube station. I understand how these things happen. I well remember the atmosphere in which it took place, but it is when tensions are at their highest that we need to have safeguards in place. Was it not instructive that we subsequently learned that, the day after the shooting, the Metropolitan Commissioner had quietly written to the Home Secretary and asked that there be no independent inquiry into the shooting? The Home Secretary rightly rebuffed him. Indeed, the law requires that there be such an inquiry. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, a man held in great respect is, relatively speaking, a liberal. If he would go down that road, one can only wonder how someone of a less liberal disposition would react in those circumstances.
That emphasises the need for us always to be on our guard and to leave no loopholes in the law when it comes to inserting protections and making sure that they are watertight. I am in favour, as I said at the outset, of making the police and the security services as effective as possible in the fight against terrorism. I am not against some of the measures in the Bill, providing they can be justified, but there must be a bottom line. Although
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I might be persuaded to go along with a modest extension of the powers of detention, it will not be a very large one. We are making a mistake if we endorse the full 90 days or anything resembling it. Judging by the mood in the House tonight, I feel sure that the Government will want to compromise in the end. I look forward to that day.