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Mr. Gummer : Is it not always true that there are two arguments for destroying human rights: one is, "We have never had a situation like that before"; the other is, "We have no intention of making it worse later on"? Both those arguments are very dangerous, and this House should not accept them.
Mr. Wallace: I agree. It is ironic that the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which tries to win hearts and minds in Northern Ireland, has been laid before the House today, while the Prime Minister is trying to attack hearts and minds in Islamic communities up and down the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister learned one lesson in Northern Ireland, which he has chosen to ignore, perhaps because of The Sun.
My hon. Friend is making a superb speech. I put it to him that the intervention by the hon Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. McFadden), who will see the point if he reflects on it, was extremely injudicious. Precisely the same argument could, and in due course will, be made in relation to members of paedophile rings who download and study computer files. At present, no request for
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detention for 90 days without charge has been made by the police, but if we start on the slippery slope, we will go further down it.
Detention for 90 days is an affront, and it will not cure the problem. Yesterday, I heard Commissioner Blair speak to the Press Gallery. Ironically, most of his speech was about communitieshow Operation Trident works with the communities in areas of inner-city London to defeat drug dealing and gang warfarebut he chose to disregard the importance of communities in solving terrorism.
Counter-terrorism is about two things. First, it is about information and getting ahead of the terrorist cyclebeing there when terrorists are preparing and catching them red-handed. Secondly, it is about prevention, and if one risks people who will helpinformersone extends rather than defeats terrorism.
Mr. Denham : In many ways, this debate is very sad. This Bill will have a marginal effect on our overall security and the balance sheet is depressing. The truth is that the Prime Minister and Ministers have expended more effort on winning the votes of MPs than they have on winning the hearts and minds of young Muslims, and more energy has been expended on getting MPs into the Lobby than has yet been spent drawing young people in our communities into dialogue and debate.
The cross-party approach that was rightly struck in July is now self-evidently in tatters, with hon. Members being urged to vote for party advantage. The stakes have been raised to a height that is not justified by the intrinsic merits of the issue, the handling of which has damaged the fight against terrorism. That need not have happened.
We are here because no demand was made for the most basic explanation from the police about why 90 days are needed. All that the Home Office had received in writing when the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister backed 90 days was an ACPO press release and two sides of A4 detailing two cases, neither of which made the case for 90 days. There had been no proper police working group, no systematic assessment of their experience and international experience, no discussion of options, and no evaluation of the difference between 30, 60, 90 or 120 days.
The House deserves better than that. The lack of confidence and trust that has run through today's debate comes from that basic decision to back 90 days before receiving a proper assessment. We are now in a difficult situation. My personal view, which will shape my vote, is that had that proper assessment been made it would have supported an extended period that went beyond 28 days. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), with whom we have discussed the matter. I will vote for 90 days because the choice is between that and 28 days, and I am sure that 28 days is too short.
In that case, why have I made such a critical speech? It is because the process matters. Casual decision making, poor-quality discussion and a lack of proper assessment
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might have got us broadly to the same right place as a proper assessment, but the difference between a good process and a bad one matters.
If the Government and police between them could not produce a proper assessment, the House should do that in the months to come. I intend to consult members of my Select Committee on requesting that we should carry out the inquiry into the police case that the Government should have carried out. I hope that we can join members of other relevant Select Committees to do that.
We need not be in this situation. If Ministers had told the police in August when the ACPO press release arrived, "We will give your ideas a fair hearing, but do the assessment and produce the evidence", in my view this House would be agreeing an extension significantly beyond 28 days
Mr. Denham: I said that it is my view. I believe that we would have been doing this with none of the controversy or damage. I hope that the lesson is learned. The energy that has been put into this parliamentary debate should be directed out there in communities winning hearts and minds in the battle against terrorism.
Mr. Cash: I wish to make a few simple points about the relationship between the Bill and the Human Rights Act 1998. The Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have all said that if necessary they would amend that legislation.
If ever there were a case for disapplying the Human Rights Act, especially article 5, to a measure, it is this Bill. The Joint Committee on Human Rights made it clear that there were serious problems with the Bill's compatibility with article 5. Lord Carlile made a similar point. We know that the Attorney-General has given an opinion. The Solicitor-General claims that he has not given an opinion. The Home Secretary clearly said in the House that there was an opinion before apologising for the fact that he should not have said that.
Unless the Human Rights Act is disapplied to the Bill, the debate will have been a waste of time because the Law Lords will apply it, thus preventing the measure from being compatible with it. When that happens, it will render the whole exercise a complete waste of time. We must disapply the Human Rights Act.
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab):
I want to say at the outset that I shall support the Government in the Lobby this afternoon. However, I have tabled an amendment, which would provide for
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a period of detention of up to 60 days. The reason for tabling amendment No. 33 is simple: we support the Government's position because we believe that the case is compelling and we want to support the police.
Like other Lancashire Members of Parliament, I have a letter from the acting deputy chief constable of Lancaster, Julia Hodson, who urges us to support the Government so that she and her colleagues can protect the public in the way that they wish. My plea is simple: if amendment No. 55 fallsI sincerely hope that it does not; it has my support28 days is not long enough because, as a Liberal Democrat Member said, it is insufficient for the police to do their work. In their recent evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the police referred to one case in which, if they had printed out the computer data that they had recovered, it would have made a pile 66,000 ft high. That is the sort of challenge that the police face and they need our help to meet it.
Sir Patrick Cormack : The Government have treated the House badly in their handling of the matter. They have not briefed Members adequately. Had they done so, we might have reached a collective view. I appeal to the Home Secretary to do that even at this late stage, before the Bill completes its passage because it will come back, mark my words.
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