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Mr. Charles Clarke:
The political editor of The Times wrote this morning that, had I come forward with a proposal for a period between 28 and 90 days60 days,
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for examplethe Conservative Front Bench would have gone for it. I have said that that is not the case, because the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) had said that there were no circumstances in which his Front Bench would go beyond 28 days. Am I right, or is the political editor of The Times right?
Mr. Grieve: The Home Secretary will recall that, when we met, I picked my words with great care. I said that I took the view that 28 days was the outer limit of what was acceptable. If he had then come back to me and said that he had some other variant to offer, I would have had to consider it, as would all hon. Members. If he had come back and said, "We think 28 days is too short, but we have decided that 30 days is the right period", it would have been extraordinary if the House had not given serious thought to what he was saying.
The Home Secretary said that he was going to come back with an alternative, which we would have had to consider in debate. I do not know what happenedwell, I have an idea of what happened next. I think that he was prevented from doing that because the Government, greatly to their discredit, took the view that it would be better to adopt a populist stance, to browbeat MPs and encourage newspapers such as The Sun to describe them as traitors if they did not sign up to the Government's agenda, to wheel in senior police officers to behave in such a way as is incompatible with their position as Crown servants, and to tend to their politicisation in a way that is massively undesirable and which, I regret to say to the Home Secretary, we have also seen in respect of other parts of the civil service on other occasions. All those things were done so that the Government could have their way over the figure of 90 days which, as the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) so tellingly highlighted, has never had proper justification.
I believe that the House acted correctly in wanting to protect people, and in wanting to protect freedom. A balance needs to be struck between those two things, as I am sure the Home Secretary would concede. After all, if we did not have such a balance, we would sanction indefinite detention before charge, and I would not accuse even the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister of wanting to do that.
"there have been situations in which significant conspiracies to commit terrorist acts have gone unprosecuted as a result of the time limitation placed on the control authorities following arrest. This is not in the public interest, in which the prosecution of terrorist crime is of great importance."
Mr. Grieve: The sedentary intervention by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) is correct. Lord Carlile was talking in his report about setting up a rather different system, almost one of investigative justice. Furthermore, I am bound to make the point again to the Home Secretary, as it was highlighted by other hon. Members yesterday, that Lord Carlile may have had access to information to which the House was not privy. That must undoubtedly have coloured the way in which we approached this debate. Clearly, the House has to respond to the information that it receives. In fact, no justification was ever provided by the police for why they wanted 90 days as opposed to any other period. The Government adopted 90 days as their mantra on the back of a press release and two case studies, neither of which sustained the 90-day thesis.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very good case, and he is doing so very moderately. Does he agree that there are occasions on which Ministers write to all Members of Parliament to point out that a particular course is being taken, and to urge us to support it? Would it not have been the best possible course of action in this case to have written to all Members and made a coherent case which we could have contemplated in the privacy of our own offices, so that we could come to a sensible decision?
Mr. Grieve: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There is a problem here, and the Bill has suffered as a result of it. Somehow, the ordinary processes of Governmentincluding the way in which decisions are takenseem, particularly in respect of this legislation, to have been bypassed. Something strange has happened. Decision making now seems to be done informally, and those decisions, once articulated publicly, are no longer capable of being subjected to proper scrutiny because that would be seen as an attack on the Government's standing. So it has become much harder to have a debate, and the possibility of making mistakes becomes greater on all sides.
Mr. Mullin: The hon. Gentleman mentioned The Sun newspaper a moment ago. Did he notice that the victim of the July bombings whose bloodied image was used on Tuesday's front page in an attempt to intimidate us into voting in a particular way has said today that he was utterly opposed to a 90-day detention period, and that he resents the way in which his views have been misused? Presumably he must be taken to know a thing or two about terrorism.
Yes, I did note that. I thought that the tone and content of those two articles were astonishing, on both days. It was a form of intimidation, sanctioned by the Government. They certainly did not discourage it. They encouraged it; it seemed to be part of a concerted campaign of abuse, and I very much regret that. We will not get sensible legislation if that is the level
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at which debate is conducted. All I can say is that I am delighted to be a Member of a House that has withstood the pressures that we came under in that respect.
Peter Bottomley: My total was two sensible responses from readers of The Sun, and two that even The Sun would regard as not very sensible. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is likely that The Sun's tactic led to a greater number of people helping Parliament to change the Government's proposal, and that if more campaigns of that nature were mounted in the future, that might happen more often?
John Bercow: I think that it was the late Enoch Powell who said that politicians complaining about the media were like sailors complaining about the sea. It is a largely pointless and unproductive exercise. May I put it to my hon. Friend that, if we were to be intimidated by the very down-market level of abuse that has been forthcoming from some newspapers, we really would not be worthy of the positions that we hold as Members of Parliament? In regard to the comments made by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh)who wins the gold challenge cup for Blairite loyalism in all circumstancesI must point out that the observations of Lord Carlile were the expression of an opinion. That was his personal judgment, but it was not evidence based. We need to see the evidence on which the argument for 90 days was based, but it has not been forthcoming.
Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to see the evidence in order to make a judgment. We also need to hear an explanation of the arguments. The oddity of the basis on which the Government decided on three months as their period of pre-charge detention is that they were offered certain material that suggested that there had been instances in which 14 days might not be an appropriate maximum, but there was absolutely nothing to explain why the maximum had to be 90 days, as opposed to any other figure.
This was reinforced during our debate by the fact that, before he was restrained by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary appeared very fairly to indicate that he accepted that the 90-day period was not set in stone, and that he knew that there were arguments that the period could be shorter. And yet suddenly all those arguments flew out of the window. Where the Home Secretary had been conciliatory, reasonable, and apparently willing to engage in debate and discussion, suddenly the shutters came down and war was declared. If, in the Government's view, the outcome on the duration is unsatisfactory, it is entirely the Government's fault. They bear entire responsibility for the way in which they handled the matter and treated Parliament in the process.
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