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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary's comments about High Court judges and the use of the sunset clause. I tabled amendments about that for Committee, and like many, if not all my hon. Friends, I am very pleased about my right hon. Friend's comments.
There is, however, one outstanding issue on which agreement has not been reached: detention for 28 days. Apart from anything else, had we been able to reach agreement on that, the House of Commons would be virtually united, and the proposal would go to the other place and almost certainly be accepted.
One thing should be made absolutely clear: there is no division among us about acceptance of the terrorist threat. As far as I know, no Member of the House is saying that that terrorist threat is exaggerated. Even if the attacks on 7 July had not happened, we know that there are mass murderers who want to bring death and destruction to our country.
Clearly, those of us who have said that, in all the circumstances, the current detention period of 14 days should be doubled to 28 days accept that the police should have that facility. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said that he was not too happy about a further 14 days, and none of us are particularly happy about a further period of detention in which no charges are brought. I voted for 14 days because of the terrorist threat, however, and am willing to see that doubled, as I have said from the beginning, and I am hopeful that my amendment might be carried today.
Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend will be aware that a number of us are totally opposed to 90 days and unhappy with the alternatives proposed. Can he explain to the House how the number of 28 days came to be presented and what its significance is, as some of us are quite puzzled about that?
I was asked that question in Committee and pointed out that it did not come from one of my research assistants, if only because I do not have a research assistant. I do not know whether it is a unique form of advanced mathematics, but given that we already have 14 days, and in view of the acute terrorist threat and the police request, I thought that it would not be unreasonablebeing a very reasonable and flexible personto double that to 28 days. If that does not satisfy my hon. Friend, there is nothing that I can do.
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Shona McIsaac: Is my hon. Friend therefore telling the House that he feels that the terrorist threat in this day and age is only twice as bad as before? If he wants Members to support 28 days, he ought to give an evidence-based case.
Mr. Winnick: I did not think that there would be any controversy about the acute terrorist threat. Anyone who tried to make out that those of us who put a different view do not recognise the acute terrorist threat would be silly. For heaven's sake, let us consider what happened on 7 July, when so many totally innocent people were massacred. Let us not go down that route.
This debate is not about the Prime Minister's authority or the standing of the Government. If some of the media, the Opposition or Whips want to play it that way, it does not mean that they are right. I do not challenge the authority of the Prime Minister in any way. I want him to stay in office, and I want this Government to succeed. I spent 18 years in opposition, and I certainly do not want a change of Government. That might clarify the position for some of my hon. Friends who think that I am playing a different game.
What this debate is actually aboutit might seem odd or eccentric to mention thisis trying to reach the right balance between our traditional liberties, the rule of law, habeas corpus, and at the same time, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), trying to protect this country from acts of terror. As far as those who are in favour of 90 days are concerned, the balance has been reached. Clearly, however, I and my hon. Friends have tabled the amendment, on which I hope there will be a Division, because we believe that the balance has not been reached with 90 days.
It should be borne in mind that not a single life destroyed by the mass murderers on 7 July would have been saved if the clause had been in operation. In view of what I have just said, I am not putting that as an argument for not having detention for 14 days or 28 days, but we should bear the point in mind.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Is it not the case that the 90 days might not have saved lives in the 7 July attack, but that that detention period might save lives in future, given the time taken to investigate atrocities that have taken place?
Mr. Winnick: The point has already been made: if we readily accept 90 days, and if the police say at some future stage that they need four, five or six months, will we simply turn round and say, "The police have required this, there is an acute terrorist threat, and we will agree"? At what stage will we say that the period of detention should be shorter than the police want? I happen to believe that 28 days is a reasonable compromise.
Another factor that should be borne in mind is that of those who were held for up to 14 days and subsequently released, no one was later chargedthe very point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan)
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in Committee. I repeat: no one who was held for up to 14 days and subsequently released was later charged, despite, no doubt, ongoing police investigations. If I may say so, we should exercise a little caution, a little hesitation, before agreeing so readily to 90 days.
Of course the police have a perfect right to request more time. I shall not go into whether the police should be lobbying for it, because I think that that is irrelevant, as are the Prime Minister's authority and the Government's standards. I want to deal with the crux of the matter. What should concern us is the balance to which I have referred.
As I have said, the police have a perfect right to ask for more time. I am not criticising the police. I do not dispute the obvious fact that they have a vital job to do in defending our country from death and destruction. Who would dispute that? But just as the police have a right to express their view, we in the House of Commons have a duty to weigh up all the factors before reaching a decision. That is our joband, no matter how many times it has been mentioned, we should not overlook the fact that three months' detention is the equivalent of six months' imprisonment without remission.
Chris McCafferty : Is my hon. Friend aware that, in concluding that 28 days was about right, he was in complete agreement with the European convention on human rights? As far as I am aware, the United Kingdom has not just signed but ratified the convention, and has not applied for a derogation in order to enact this legislation.
The right not to be imprisoned without charge, the right not to be subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, and habeas corpus itself are all basic to our very democracy. They had to be fought for. My hon. Friends and I can take some pleasure in the fact that our people did that. Even before our party came into existence, the radicals of earlier centuries fought for those rights. We cannot dismiss that out of hand. We cannot say that because of the acute terrorist threat and all the problems that we unfortunately face, those rights should be seen in a different light. They are fundamental to our democracy and to the rule of law. That is why we should be very hesitant indeed about locking people up for 90 days.
It has been pointed out that 90 days is a maximum, but a maximum is a maximum. Some people may well be held for that period. What if they are innocent? How would we like to be locked up for a period of up to 90 days if we were innocent of a charge? We can imagine the antagonism and hostility that would be felt by people who had been so detained, and we can imagine the effect that that would have. We must be very, very careful to avoid arousing unnecessary bitterness and hostility in people who are innocent.
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