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I do not think I need take any lectures from the hon. Member for "loyalty, south-west" about sticking to my principles. But let us deal with principle. What is the principle at stake here? There is no principle that says that 14 or 28 or 90 days is right. The principle at stake is that nobody should be deprived of their liberty unless there is evidence on which to do so. The question is whether that is an inviolable principle,
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and clearly it is not; that has always been our position. That was why we supported the extension to 14 days in the first place. The question then is where the line should be drawn and how we reach that point. A responsible parliamentarian can get to that point only by relying on the evidence provided, and that is the weakness of the Government's case. They simply have not provided the evidence.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must avoid circumstances in which people are detained with no good reason and that the length of time14, 28 or 90 daysis not the issue. However, surely the review clause, which would bring the provisions back to Parliament with a report about how the powers had been used and give us the ability to change the law if necessary, provides protection and would mean that the police and the judges would ensure that people were detained only when absolutely necessary.
Mr. Carmichael: If that has been the price of the hon. Gentleman's support today, he has sold himself too cheaply. Review is meaningless. We know how review will work in this place and we know the pressure that will be applied. It is incumbent on us, for the sake of those people who may be caught by this legislation in the next 12 months, to get it right now, not to wait for some review in a year's time. However, the hon. Gentleman does me and the House a favour, because he calls the provision a review clause, and we must be clear that that is exactly what it is. The Government's amendment is no sort of sunset clause.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this House cannot abdicate its responsibility to judicial oversight, because sometimes the judiciary gets it wrong? I think of the case of the Birmingham Six and Lord Denning's comments about the "appalling vista", which led him to ignore overwhelming evidence that those men were innocent and to keep them incarcerated for many years longer.
My own experience of time limits that operate in Scots law does not reassure me that the Government's proposals for judicial oversight every seven days provide any meaningful protection. I have seen several applications brought before the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland for extensions to the 110-day limit on custody that have been nodded through. We must not forget that judges watch the television and read the newspapers like the rest of us. They are as susceptible to pressure from the media and the prevailing circumstances as anybody else, and we know that that has happened in the past.
If we move to 28 days, it is important that locks and safeguards be put in place. A simple change to 28 days is not a deal that we should accept. As outlined in amendment No.29, the least that we want is that
"the specified period may only be extended . . . pending the result of an examination or analysis which is to be or is being carried out with a view to obtaining relevant evidence, or . . . for the purpose
That would make it clear that any extension to 28 days would be allowed only in very narrowly circumscribed situations. The decision should be taken by a judge and he should be satisfied that no other terrorist offence can be charged. The judge must also approve the nature of any further questioning. I suggest that those would provide meaningful safeguards, whatever length of time the House opts for today.
I am now in my second Parliament. For much of my time as a Member, I have heard comments about the strength of the House. Its standing has often been traduced and demeaned. Our debate today offers us an opportunity to put that right, to tell the Government that they have got it wrong and for the House to stand up against the Executive. I hope that we shall not pass up that opportunity.
I have probably put more written questions to the Home Office in the past four years than most of my colleagues in the House put together. I am passionately interested in the activities of the Home Office, especially the processes and procedures that the police and other criminal justice institutions employ in the execution of their duty. I have frequently and regularly met operational officers, officers who write operational guidelines and the officers and agencies who review them.
My interest, for constituency reasons, has centred on the investigation of serious sex offences, and I have spent years trying to ensure that the practices and procedures employed in the investigation of those serious crimes are robust. But they are not: procedures are constantly revised in the light of operational experience. The procedures and guidelines governing the investigation of such crimes were laid down years ago. With hindsight, they proved open to abuse by many different parties, but I know absolutely that when the police first got to grips with the reality of the undisclosed sexual abuse in the UK, they pulled together existing informed knowledgeas they will in relation to terrorism offences. They did so because that is their professional duty, and that is what the authorities have also done in the face of the growing spectre of terrorism.
It is a source of regret to me that with few exceptions, few of my colleagues in the House have ever troubled themselves to object to, or scrutinise, the practices and procedures employed by the police in the interrogation of sex offenders. I understand that, but colleagues are far quicker to leap to the defence of terrorist subjects, and their rights, than to those of a serial sex abuser. Why? Terrorists and sex abusers violate everything that
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we hold dear. Why do we operate double standards for scrutiny of the legal procedures governing sex abuse and terrorism investigations?
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I have worked with the hon. Lady and have publicly praised her for her work in support of people wrongly accused of sex abuse. However, the case that she purports to makethat those wrongly accused of sexual crimes were the victims of inadequate policingdoes not assist her arguments in favour of the Government's proposals. Surely, she needs to be careful about translating her antipathy towards police behaviour in sex cases into support for possible police behaviour in terrorist cases.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I accept those words of caution and I understand what motivates my colleague, the hon. and learned Gentleman, in saying them, but I am trying to demonstrate that when our country is faced with people who commit heinous crimes, the police have to settle down and begin to develop guidance and procedures to tackle those crimes.
We all expect, and hope to achieve, a state of perfection in such operational guidelines, but we never reach it. I know that from my experience of dealing with how sex crimes are investigated. When the police ask for 90 days, they do so because they think they need 90 daysnot 28 days. I also know that when they make that consideration they have not carried out the objective research that we would expect of them to justify that period, but they are providing us with their best view at the time. I am interested in giving them the tools for the job.
I intend that we go back and check how well the procedures are being executed. Members have welcomed judicial review, and I am glad that we are giving the police the opportunity of judicial review, but we must not emasculate them at this point. We would not argue in the House for such leverage in relation to sex abuse. We would say that those involved must do the very best that they can because of the individual's potential to inflict huge damage on our society.
I am bewildered by some of the arguments about terrorists that I have heard in the House. They may well be innocent individuals, but let us not forget that people are arrested in this country every day although they are innocent of the crimes that have been committed. We arrest them not for the joy of it, but because we believe that they may have committed a crime. We do great injustice to that individual, their family and their society, but we would not resist doing what we need to do to protect the greater good. So I will vote today for the 90-day period. Although I suspect that I know the weaknesses of the police and the criminal justice authorities better than most other hon. Members, I still will not deny them this opportunity.
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