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Emily Thornberry : I must begin by declaring an interest. I practised for 20 years as a criminal defence barrister in the chambers of Mike Mansfield, I am married to a lawyer, and my mother-in-law was a magistrate who served the east end for some 20 years. More important, however, I represent an area that lost 12 people on 7 July. Many more were injured, and many, many more were very frightened by what happened.
I am grateful for the opportunity to explain why, despite what I am sure my constituents would, on the whole, want me to do, I cannot give wholehearted support to the Bill. I have grave reservations about the idea of locking people up for 90 days when there is not sufficient evidence on which to charge them. I was glad to hear from the Home Secretary that he would listen to us, and consider what constitutes a proper amount of time. Personally, I do not think that people should be locked up for 14 days without being charged, let alone 28 days, but compromise is essential. We must reach a consensus, which is why I attached my name to the amendment proposing a 28-day period of detention.
I do not think it would be in the interests of my constituents for the Bill to proceed in its present form because I genuinely do not believe that it would make my constituency any safer. The way to make a constituency safer is to hold its communities tight and close. That would make the constituency healthier and a better place in which to live, but it would also make it safer, because it would enable us to trust each other. We can give information to the police when members of our communities are threatening us. If we separate our communities so that we cannot trust each other, we will not make them any safer.
Our criminal justice system is based on the idea that we canand domake mistakes. Experience from my chamberswhich dealt with the cases of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and Stephen Lawrencedemonstrates that it can make mistakes. What concerns me deeply is the possibility that some scared, innocent Muslim teenager will be arrested on the say-so of someone else and a police officer's hunch, and locked up for 90 days. If that teenager is then released and returns to City and Islington college, what will others in the college have to say about British justice, and to what extent will we be divided among ourselves?
We are all trying to do the right thing. We are all coming from the same direction. I know that throughout the summer the Home Secretary and many of his Ministers have worked hard, as have many members of my party, to ensure that we work with our communities, but if we make a mistake we may end up divided.
I also speak as a member of the Anglo-Irish community. I was too young at the time to have any memory of internmentI am not suggesting that this provision is anything like internmentbut we have a collective memory and we have to learn from our experiences. When I was a teenager, I certainly felt that an unfair law was being directed at families such as mine. As a result, we were not quite needed or wanted.
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We were marginalised by such legislation, and I am deeply concerned that this Bill might be seen as a direct attack on our Muslim communitieson my constituents and their younger brothers and sons. That is why I have such concerns. It is wrong in principle to lock someone up for 90 days when there is not enough evidence to charge them; nor, to take a pragmatic approach, does it make us any safer.
I was elected less than six months ago. I was not elected to vote with the Tories, and I certainly was not elected to vote with the Liberal Democrats. I do not want to do that. I want to vote with my Government, and I want them to do the right thing. I am very glad to hear that they are thinking again about what the right thing to do is on this really important issue.
At the end of yesterday's service, which I attended with the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and a number of other Members, prayers were said. One prayer was led by the Rev. Nicholas Wheeler, who ministered to the victims at King's Cross. His prayer, in which I joined, was:
"God of truth . . . we thank You for the women and men of the police and security services, who brought order out of chaos that dark day. Guide them as they endeavour to make London a secure place for all, in which law and liberty work together for peace. Receive our thanks and hear our prayer."
Mr. Gummer : I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). I share her distaste at voting with the Liberals, but I am sorry that she happened to use this occasion to mention it. Those of us who have had the privilege of being in this House for as long as she doubtless will be recognise that when appalling things happen it is all too easy to move too far down a particular road in order to compensate for one's failure to handle the situation sufficiently early.[Interruption.] Although what happened in London is wholly different from events such as those that led to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, or from the Marchioness disaster and the decisions taken after[Interruption.]
On every such occasion, we sought to take action because public opinion demanded it, and because the circumstances were so peculiar a response was demanded of the kind that we would not normally accept. That is why I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates). This is a moment at which this House has to be very careful about taking at face value the good, sensible advice of those whose only commitment is to telling this House what they would in all circumstances most want. It is we who must strike the balance. It is we who must try to understand that it is not just about wishing to prevent this immediate terrorist outrage; we must also ensure that the community in which we live is less likely to support, even tacitly, terrorist activities. In that context, the Northern Irish parallel is vital. In the north of
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Ireland we have, on occasionmy party has been more guilty of this than anymade decisions on the basis of the immediate threat that have undermined our ability to deal with the longer-term threat, because whole communities have ceased to believe that the law is equally on their side. For me, that consideration meant that I had to vote against the Bill in its entirety.
We will defeat terrorism in the end only when the communities within which the terrorist hides, or upon whose tacit support the terrorist depends, withdraw any scintilla of support. In this case, we start with a community that is determined to exclude the terrorist, and which knows that terrorism is not the way to respond, however strongly they may feeland I share those strong feelingsabout the way in which western nations have operated, particularly in the middle east.
Those of us who were against the war, and who are unhappy about the uneven-handed attitude, particularly of the United States, to Israel and Palestine, understand why those people should be concernedand we are proud that our Muslim minority have stood firm against terrorism. I want to keep them there, and I think that we are more likely to do that if we extend the number of days for which people can be locked up without charge by as little as is necessary.
Apart from the appeal to "those who know"an appeal that I have always found rather difficult to takeI have heard no good reason for extending the number of days at all. However, I too would be prepared to go for a compromise, so long as the period was as limited as possible. I hope that those on my party's Front Bench will not be led astray to move too far in the direction of the 90 days, because in the end every extra day for which an innocent person is held in prison without trial increases exponentially the possibility that that person will go back to his or her community and say, "This system does not work. It means that people like me have been held unnecessarily, when I am guiltless."
Finally, I say this to the Home Secretary: the difficulty for his case is the experience of the past year, when so few people have been held for the longer period, when those who have been held for that period have so rarely been charged, and when severe damage has already been done to community relations in the communities from which they come. I beg him to realise that the balance that is necessary must be one that takes strong account of the fact that, as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, we want to build within this country communities that differ but which share one thingthat the rule of law is established for all of us and protects us all equally. It must not be seen as something that affects some people in a way in which it does not affect the majority.
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