The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely good speech, and many Members on both
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sides of the House will wish to support his amendment, but may I draw his attention to a procedural point? Before we can support his amendment, amendment No. 55 must be defeated. Unless we can defeat that Government amendment, we will not have an opportunity to support the hon. Gentleman's excellent proposal.
We have been told that every seven days the matter will be submitted to a senior judge. I said that it should go before a High Court judge, and I am glad that the Home Secretary has agreed to my suggestion, but in my view not even that constitutes sufficient protection, or sufficient justification for the 90-day provision.
I do not accept for a moment that there is any question of a police state. I do not believe that my case for 28 days is so weak that I have to exaggerate. Nor do I believe that detention of this kind is like internment in Northern Ireland. Let me say this, however. For the entire 30 years, I was involved in the denouncing of IRA murderers and the atrocities that they committed. Who would denyand I include Conservative Membersthat internment served the interests of the IRA? Would anyone now deny the obvious?
I know that we are not discussing internment, but is there not a danger that the Muslim community, the overwhelming majority of whom are as opposed to terrorism as we are, will nevertheless feel that they are being penalised and discriminated against? I again emphasise that their opposition to terrorism is no less than ours. Of course, among the victims of 7 July were Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindusthe terrorists make no distinction. Indeed, if we said to the mass murderers, "There are Muslims who will be your victims," their response would be, "If they're good Muslims, they will simply go to paradise earlier." So we know the sort of people whom we are dealing with.
I accept that at this moment, I am probably putting forward a minority point of view so far as the country is concerned. Like all politicians, I would much rather be able to say that majority opinion is with us. I could quote opinion polls on various controversial topics that we debated in the last Parliament and on other occasions. I shall not mention those topics now, as they might provoke a certain reaction from the Opposition. I have to accept that the opinion polls on this subject are probably right: that those of us who are urging acceptance of 28 days are, at the moment, probably in
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the minority. However, if the time ever comes when the House of Commons takes decisions not on their merits, but according to the latest opinion polls, what certain tabloids are saying and those who argue, "Lock them up and throw away the key", frankly, for all the good that we are doing, we might as well pack it in and go home. We have to decide according to the issues.
How many times in the past 30 or 40 years have we taken a minority view on hanging and anti-discrimination measures, for example? Then, we were almost certainly in the minority, but we took a point a view. We did not simply follow public opinion: we led. That was our job and responsibility, and on this issue we should again give a lead.
We and each successive generation of parliamentarians are the custodians of our liberties and freedoms, all of which are very precious to us. How we combine that role with dealing with the terrorist threat is of course a decision to be reached by the House of Commons now, and I have no doubt that that issue will arise again in future. I have not been lobbying my hon. Friends. The Whips have, and that is their job. I do not complain: Whips of all Governments lobby, and ours would be odd Whips if they did not. To those of my hon. Friends who are sure about 90 days, I say, fine. But I ask those who have hesitationswho, on a free vote, would not dream of voting for 90 daysto leave aside the fact that, as we all know, 90 days or anywhere near it will not be accepted by the Lords. There will be movement back and forth between the two Houses and the Government will give way, so, one could argue, why not give in now to the elected House of Commons? To those who have hesitationswho feel, that, on balance, 90 days is excessiveI beg of you: do not vote in the Division Lobby for what you do not believe in.
Mr. Carmichael: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). In considering how they should discharge their duties in this House, Membersparticularly new Memberswould do well to remember the last few minutes of the hon. Gentleman's textbook contribution. He is right: we have to do what is right, even if it is unpopular. The Prime Minister said at Question Time earlier today that he would rather be right and lose than the reversea position with which Liberals and Liberal Democrats have become very familiar in the past 80-odd years.
Given that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) referred to the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), I should first apologise to the House on his behalf. He has not been well this week, which is why he is absent. Such absence is, however, no indication whatsoever of a lack of commitment to this issue, about which he feels passionately.
I do not feel any embarrassment in admitting candidly to the House that this is one of the most difficult issues with which I have had to struggle since being elected to this place in 2001. With the exception of the debates and votes in the run-up to the war in Iraq, this is by some considerable margin the most difficult decision that we have faced. Liberal Democrat Members realise and understand the nature of the threat posed by terrorism to our society and our democracy.
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We understand that the consequences will be severe in human terms if we get it wrong. However, we remain of the view that before going down the road that the Government have proposed for us, there must be solid evidence to justify it, and we remain of the view that, as of today, such evidence has not been provided.
Clare Short: I understand that it is widely alleged that the 7 July bombers were under some sort of surveillance and that there is enough evidence to suggest that they could have been charged with raising money for terrorism or other offences. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if that is the case, we must have a thorough inquiry to learn the lessons? If it is true that we could have prevented what happened, looking further into what happened on 7 July might lead us to some answers regarding what we are debating today.
Mr. Carmichael: The right hon. Lady makes a fine point and I would not dispute her conclusions. Indeed, the question of investigation is ongoing and I feel rather suspicious about those who have sought to thwart any such investigation.
Dan Norris: The hon. Gentleman talks about the need for solid evidence and most of us would agree with that. Already in our legal system, however, is a recognition that getting the necessary evidence is not as straightforward as we would like. For example, we know that only 1 per cent. of people are convicted in child protection cases, but we also know that child abuse is widespread and a terrible thing. Our legal system deals with that by having common law family courts that are able, if necessary in the most extreme circumstances, to take children away from people who might harm them. We have a special system. Despite what the hon. Gentleman says about the need for evidence, the key is that we cannot always prove matters as simply or straightforwardly as we would like, even though we know that bad things are happening. Surely, terrorism provides a similar example: we know that terrible things can and may happen, so we have to ensure that our legal system can deal with them appropriately.
Mr. Carmichael: My experience as a court solicitor suggests that if the hon. Gentleman believes that we can derive a legal system that will catch everyone who may ever have done something wrong, he is hopelessly optimistic.
Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman has already made three interventions in his one and I have to tell him that the protections and devices that the legal system has already produced in respect of child abuseI agree that it is a horrific areaall involve judicial supervision.