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Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: The difference is the issue of scrutiny. The police have sought judicial review of the suggested procedures and their decisions in relation to this case. I applaud that. I regret the fact that we have that system in these cases, and not in others. I think that I have said all that I need to say about my view on this. We must support the police and our Home Secretary. He does not come to the House in an attempt to negate his role and authority; he comes here seeking our support following the advice of the people who are there to defend us. I shall not stand in their way, and I ask colleagues today to consider their position and support our Home Secretary and the police as they try to fight this invidious threat to our country.
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): In my brief remarks last week, I said that we must think very carefully before rejecting the advice of professionals. I am also on record as saying that, so far as I am concerned, the case for an extension from 14 days is irrefutable, but I have yet to hear enough convincing argument that 90 days is a totally justifiable time, which will guarantee that the police and security services can do all that they need to do to turn intelligence into evidence that can support charges. It is simply their best professional estimate, and we must respect that. Indeed, the Home Secretary has said since last week that the 90-day figure is not crucial. So we are dealing with an estimate and it is up to us to make a judgment.
One of the reasons why so much heat has been generated about this issue is that the Government have, only very late in the day, realised the necessity to explain and persuade. I accept that the Home Secretary has made genuine attempts in the past few days to explain more fully why this is the Government's position, but it has been too little, too late for many hon. Members. I am personally better informed than I was last weekI stress that I am speaking entirely for myself, because the Intelligence and Security Committee has not come to a view on this matterbut I believe that there is much more that can and should be put into the public domain in a more comprehensive effort to explain the complexities of the problems that face the police and the security services and why their professional advice is what it is.
To be fair, the Home Secretary has gone further this afternoon than he went last week, but what we really need is a comprehensive description of the whole complexity of the problem, and what we are getting is bits and piecesthe Metropolitan Police Commissioner comes to the Press Gallery; the Home Secretary comes here; someone else gives an interview to a newspaperbut until someone produces the whole argument, I do not believe that any hon. Member can come to a complete and proper judgment. Whatever the result of the vote on the amendment may be, I urge the Home Secretary to do that before the Bill is considered further in another place and returns to the House. I shall be very happy to explain to and discuss with him some of the arguments that should be made public, but that would have to come from the Government, rather than from me.
I am not going to vote against the proposal tonight because if it were defeated, we would simply vote on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the House would inevitably
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have to make another choice that would not be factually based. The hon. Gentleman said when he spoke to the amendment that he had decided on a figure of 28 days only because it was double the last one, not because there was a compelling argument that it was the right answer.
In Committee, many hon. Members agreed that the worst thing would be simply to arrive at a figure around which there was consensus, but which was not based on the needs and complexities of the situation that have led the professionals to tender the advice that they have. I am completely satisfied that an extension is fully justified. I am also satisfied, from what I have been told, that an extension to 28 days would be wrong and would not give the police and security services the tools that they need to cope with such a complex matter.
Sir Patrick Cormack : My right hon. Friend has the advantage of serving on the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am listening to him with enormous respect, as I always do when he speaks on such matters. Does he agree that it might be a good idea for the Home Secretary to arrange briefing sessions for Members of Parliament through which we could meet the commissioner and others and be told a little more about the situation?
Let us look at the situation realistically. If the Government are defeated on the first vote and the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walsall, North is pressed to a Division, there is little doubt that it will be passed because everyone agrees that the police need more time. However, if that amendment is incorporated in the Bill, there will be absolutely no chance of getting it out. That might be what some people want, but it is not what I want because I know that the amount of time proposed in the amendment is inadequate. I still believe that provided that we can move the debate on, sensible people will be persuaded by fuller disclosure and argument.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): In common with my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), I always listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) with respect on such subjects. My right hon. Friend said that the Government have not made their case and then went on to say, with a degree of certainty in his tone, that 28 days was patently inadequate, so will he be good enough to enlighten the House as to why? It is not at all clear to me how he knows that 28 days is inadequate.
Mr. Mates: As I was saying earlier, this is something that the Government must explain. I know about certain matters that are not in the public domain. I shall not put them in the public domain because I have been told them in confidence. I believe that those matters could be made public without damaging national security, but I am not allowed to make that judgment. It is for the Government to make that case, and if they do, I am sure that people will listen.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have worked together a great deal on such matters. I counsel
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him of the danger of giving the impression that information has come to light in discussions at which both of us have been present that is significantly different from information that is now in the public domain and that would force anyone who heard it to reach a different conclusion. Such information has not had that effect on me.
Mr. Mates: I am not saying that the information is significantly different, but that there is considerably more information than has been put in the public domain. I believe that that would help people to make a judgment. It might well be that the right hon. Gentleman will reach a different judgment from me at the end of the day. It is our right to do that, but it is everyone's right to have in front of them as much information about the complexities of the problem as is humanly possible without damaging national security. We have not reached that stage yet. It is something that the Government must do because no one else can do that for them.
Mr. Grieve: Is not the logic of my right hon. Friend's argument that the Government should not have drafted any clause on detention without charge whatsoever without first providing the information that he says is helpful? Is not the problem that the House will be called on to make a decision this afternoon that is likely to be long lasting? In such circumstances, is it not right for people to err on the side of caution when giving powers that might prove to be unjustified and unnecessary?
Mr. Mates: I agree. The Government have got themselves into this mess, and they have to get themselves out of it. I tried to make that point earlier in moderate terms, because their explanations are a case of too little and too late. We should not get ourselves into a situation which we cannot climb out of without giving the Government one more chance to be much more upfront and open about what they can tell us. Reasonable people will then be able to make a judgment on a much better basis than any judgment they will make today. I am quite certain, however, that if we were to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walsall, North, we would make the wrong decision, send the wrong signals, and we would live to regret it.
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