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If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself, we have taken his example as far as we can and it has always been determined by the courts at a very early opportunity. The parallel, I have to say, simply does not work.
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I want to say a few words about communication, or perhaps the lack of it, between the Home Office in London and the Crown Office in Edinburgh. It will not have been lost on the House that the Home Secretary was asked three timesby myself, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)why the Lord Advocate was not asked for a view on the suitability and workability of 90-day detentions without charge in the context of the Scottish legal system. It will not have been lost on the House that on three occasions he gave no answer to that very straightforward question. I do not understand how the Lord Advocate can be asked for an opinion about the desirability of a uniform law to cover the whole of the UK without then being asked for a view on the issue of 90-day detentions. My suspicion is that the Government did not ask because they knew that they would get an answer that they did not like.
Mr. Salmond: What does the hon. Gentleman think would be the likely reaction of the House if a Home Secretary were to reveal that he had not asked the opinion of the senior Law Officer in England before producing a measure such as this? Should not hon. Members reflect on that as they consider what is being said?
Mr. Carmichael: I hope that hon. Members will reflect on that. I am a Scottish Member of this House, and for me the blatant disregard for the office of the Lord Advocatenever mind the incumbentis disgraceful and distasteful.
The House must strike a balance in the proposition being considered today. Much has been said about the views and role of the police in this debate, and we may return to that on Third Reading. Liberal Democrat Members have listened to all the contributions that have been made to the debate. We have listened to the police, and will continue to do so: that process must go on. However, we have also listened to people in those communities who believe that they have most to fear. They already feel marginalised and threatened by what they see on the streets and in the pages of the newspapers, and believe that they are most likely to be the victims of 90-day detention. The possibility that young men will be arrested and held for up to a maximum of 90 days before being released without charge will create martyrs in those communities.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): Has the hon. Gentleman given any consideration as to whether evidence gathered during 90 days of detention, with close questioning that might last up to 18 an hours a day, might be acceptable in a court of law?
Mr. Carmichael: That is a good point, and I shall deal with it in the course of my speech. The House will recall the process by which we arrived at the current rules of evidence and procedure, and the reasons for their introduction.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD):
Does my hon. Friend accept that the concerns are not only about communities that may be different from
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our own and which may subscribe to another faith? All hon. Members know that constituents regularly come to see us when a family member has been detained unreasonably, as they see it, for only 12 or 24 hours. The question that we should ask our constituents is, "Would you find this proposal acceptable for your familyfor your brother, son or daughter?" Invariably, they would answer, "No, we would not."
Mr. Carmichael: My hon. Friend reminds me of the old adage that a conservative is a liberal whose house has been broken into, and that a liberal is a conservative who has been caught speeding. He is absolutely right, though: we must approach this matter from a personal and individual perspective. To suppose that we are dealing with an amorphous mass of people in our communities who carry red terrorist labels that we can all read easily is a dangerous line of thought.
What I am saying should not amount to a revelation to the House. It is no flight of fancy, because we have been here before. As others have remarked, detention without charge is not a novel concept. We tried it in Northern Ireland, and the hon. Member for Walsall, North has noted already that we know what the consequences were.
Kate Hoey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is rather strange that, on the very day the Government are asking us to allow people to be detained without charge for 90 days, they should produce a Bill that will allow people who have done some dreadful things but who have never been chargedor who have been charged and have escapedto be released? Is not there some element of hypocrisy about that?
Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Lady and I have dealt with sufficient Northern Ireland business in the past for her to know my general view on those matters. I am not going to say it is hypocrisy, but, yes, I think it must be said that there is an inconsistency of approach between the two Bills currently before the House, a point that will not be lost.
We are charged as parliamentarians with listening to all contributions to debate and to striking a balance between conflicting and competing demands. That is what the Liberal Democrats have done. We have reached the conclusion that the Government have got the balance wrong and that 90 days will do more harm than good.
I attended the Press Gallery lunch yesterday and heard the Metropolitan Police Commissioner address it. He talked about how it was necessary to question a
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suspect, often on forensic or other evidence, especially after a charge. His position was that the police would be barred from doing so. I accept that that is difficult under the laws of evidence as they stand, but on the basis of my understanding of the law of England and Wales, I must say that it is not already impossible. Even if it were, or if there were difficulties, those difficulties could be removed by the Home Secretary coming forward with revisions to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act code under which questioning is carried on.
In Scotland, in my view, there would be no barrier to interview of suspects under caution. That is already done, and it might even be possible to give two procurators fiscal powers to raise a new petition with new charges on which they could conduct a judicial examination. That is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
I must say this about the commissioner's comments yesterday: I question his reliance on the point about questioning suspects on new evidence. The notion that somebody who has been prepared to blow themselves up will, after 10 weeks in custody, somehow be ready to co-operate, having seen the error of their ways with the police, when confronted with a piece of forensic evidence, I find difficult to accept. That sort of spin and overselling should give us pause for thought. In my view, and this was the point raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), it seems likely that the only basis on which that evidence might be forthcoming would be if the suspect had been ground down in the course of the 90 days, and that would constitute evidence that was unfairly obtained and which, as a result, would be inadmissible. That might leave us in a position in which the only time a suspect spends in custody is the 90 days prior to charge. How does that help the fight against terrorism? In our view, the bulk of cases are already adequately dealt with under the 14-day provision, and that will be sufficient.
That brings us to what my hon. Friends and I will do tonight about the different votes available to us. We shall first oppose Government amendment No. 55, which seeks to replace three months with 90 days, for what that is worth. If we are successful, we shall support the hon. Member for Walsall, North on amendment No. 1. Hon. Members must be clear that we can get to a vote on amendment No. 1 only if we first defeat amendment No. 55.
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman has put a passionate and cogent case for having absolutely no extension, not least because of what he sees as the impact on our Muslim communities. I urge him and his colleagues, therefore, to stick to their principles and vote for no extension. To do otherwise would turn all the arguments he has put forward entirely on their heads.
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