Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): I have no doubt about my hon. Friend's genuineness and sincerity in this matter. The police have made a case for a maximum period of 90 days. He may have some difficulty with that, but what persuaded him that 28 days is the right figure?
Mr. Winnick: My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that it was not a research assistant, because I do not have one. The period has been increased from seven to 14 days and in my view, doubling it to 28 days is reasonable. There is no great mystery here; no one is suggesting that anything underhand has happened. I feel that 28 days is a reasonable compromise. I doubt whether my hon. Friend will agree, but he has made his point.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Is it not true that the 90-day proposal will violate article 5.3 of the European convention on human rights? My friend will have studied these matters, and we heard from the Opposition that 28 days takes us to the outer limits of what is acceptable. Does he share that view?
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): My hon. Friend rightly described himself as flexible, so I put the following point to my honourable, flexible Friend. The 28 and 90-day periods have been discussed at great length in public and behind the scenes. The argument for a 90-day period is based on certain evidence put forward by the police, but some of us are struggling to understand in what way the 28-day period is scientifically accurate. Many Members are worried that establishing a 28-day period following discussions in the House today will not give the police and the intelligence services the flexibility that they need.
My hon. Friend is reiterating the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick). My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) is clearly satisfied with 90 days; indeed, if the period in question were longer, he would probably argue that the police consider it
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necessary in the circumstances. If he is satisfied with 90 days, as he clearly is, and if there is a vote, no doubt he will vote accordingly.
Mr. Bailey: My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way, and I do not think that there is a great deal of difference between our positions. However, although he said, correctly, that the idea of 90 days had been put forward by the police, he did not acknowledge that Lord Carlile, an eminent expert on this subject who has been involved in reviewing terrorist legislation, totally concurs and supports that limit. Surely that gives the 90 days further credence.
The Bill provides that detention would be divided into steps of seven days, and extensions would have to be applied for from a "judicial authority". Some of my amendments say that that should be a High Court judge. I hope that there will be no controversy or opposition to that from the Home Secretary. After all, if we are to detain people for such a time, the judge involved must rank higher than a district judge.
Mr. Cash: As the hon. Gentleman may know, I tabled a fairly similar amendment, and there are one or two others as well. The key factor is that there are High Court judges who would be completely inappropriate for such an exercise. Does he agree that it would be better to be sure that the person involved had been designated by the Lord Chancellor, as prescribed in the legislation at large, on the basis of appropriate expertise on terrorist offences? There is a cadre of people who are particularly well qualified.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab):
I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. Does he accept
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that with the 7/7 bombings, it took two weeks for the emergency services to gain access to all the sites, and a further six weeks for them to complete their examination? Had there been a surviving culpritwhich of course there was not28 days would have been too short. Does he agree that our experience of terrorist incidents so far points to the need for a period longer, on a renewable basis, than 28 days?
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): I was listening carefully to what my hon. Friend said about High Court judges, but can he draw a distinction for the House showing why a High Court judge is necessary, as throughout the judicial system we accept that judges at all levels can send people to prison for much longer than 90 days? Why would we need a High Court judge for just 90 days?
Mr. Winnick: If I may say so, with all due respect to my hon. Friendwhom I genuinely respectthat is the most surprising intervention that I have had. Here we have people who are being detained with no charge whatever. We recognise the necessity to detain them, although certainly not for 90 daysbut my hon. Friend then asks why we should worry about what sort of judge is involved. We worry because we are concerned about the rule of law. We worry because we want to ensure that, as far as possible, people who are being detained in that extraordinary situation have their cases examined by the highest possible category of judge.
I find my hon. Friend's question surprising, because this is a parliamentary democracy: our job is to defend the rule of law and the idea that in the main, people should not be in prison, or detained in any way, unless charges are brought. My hon. Friend says, "Why worry about it?" Why not let it be dealt with by some junior magistrate, perhaps, and have done with it?
Home Office figures show that 357 people were arrested between January 2004, when the 14-day maximum detention period came into force, and September of this year. Of that total, 36 people were held for more than seven days. Last year, moreover, nine people were held for 13 to 14 days. So far this year, two people have been held for the same period of time. All 11 of those held for the longer period have been charged. It is interesting to note that the 14-day period has been in operation only since January last year. That is less than two years, but today we are being asked to jump straight to extending the period to 90 days.
I have said already that we are concerned with the rule of law, but if we are not also concerned with civil liberties, we should not be here. Our job is to marry up the rule of law and civil liberties, in the circumstances of the acute terrorist danger that faces this country. Those who are content with the 90-day proposal clearly believe
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that it strikes a proper balance between civil liberties and safeguarding our country, but I do not agree. It is essential that we in the House of Commons are extremely careful about detaining people for a period when no charge is made.
It is true that, in previous periods of British history, it has been necessary to detain people. I was about 13 or 14 when I learned about what happened in 1939, when the country faced the gravest possible danger. At that time, the leadership of the Mosleyite gang was locked up, under what were known as the 18B regulations. In the circumstances that prevailed at that time, I am sure that the decision of the House of Commons was absolutely right. Incidentallyand I am not trying to make a party-political pointone Conservative MP who was also detained tried to table questions from Brixton prison. As I understand it, the Speaker of the day ruled that he was not in a position to do so.
The terrorist danger today is acute, but the situation is very different from the circumstances of 1939. We must try to find consensus and a reasonable compromise in this matter. As we have heard in interventions, some hon. Members believe that setting a maximum of 90 days' detention is the right way to proceed. Clearly, I do not believe anything of the kind.
I hope that we can reach an agreement on 28 days, and that the Home Secretary will recognise the result of our deliberations. If there were to be a free vote on this matter tonight, does anyone doubt what the House's decision would be? Would we opt for 90 days, or 45? I think that the answer is pretty obvious, unless it is argued that those of us who support the amendment do not recognise the extent of the terrorist danger that we face as clearly as others do. However, I do not believe that that argument would be correct.
For 30 years, the IRA was committed to terrorism, and it carried out terrible bombings and other atrocities on the mainland and in Northern Ireland. In that period, we did our best to protect the Irish community. We made sure that ordinary Irish people were not stigmatised or held in any way responsible for what that bunch of murderous gangsters was doing.
In the same way, we must extremely careful in our approach to the Muslim community. We know where the terrorist danger comes from. When the IRA was committed to terrorist action, it was no use looking for Muslims, Hindus or anyone else to blame, as we knew that the terrorism was being carried by people from Northern Ireland or the Republic. Similarly, we know that the terrorism that we face now is being perpetrated by a small number of people who are totally isolated, from both the Muslim community and from wider society.
If we pass into law measures that are seen by the Muslim community as against their interests, we could be in danger, if we were not very careful, of antagonising the very people whom we want as our firm allieseven though that would be the opposite of our intentions. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are against terrorism, just as the overwhelming majority of Irish people said time and again, whenever given the opportunity, that regardless of their views on Northern Ireland and whether there should be a united Ireland, they saw no justification for what the IRA was doing.
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I hope that, in reaching a consensus on a sensible approach to this matter, and if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary shows the necessary flexibility and understanding of our concerns, we will be careful not to antagonise the very people who need to be protected. As I said earlier, Muslims were among the victims of 7 July who were as innocent as anybody else. As regards the vote, I shall listen to what my right hon. Friend has to say. It would not do any harm to resolve this issue once and for all tonight, but if he indicates that 90 days will not be the final result