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Mr. Charles Clarke:
On the conduct of the hon. Gentleman, he should acknowledge to the House that he decided and said clearly, publicly and directly to me on Monday morning, in my office and then afterwards to
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the media, that 28 days was at the outer limit of what the Conservatives might accept. He said that there was a debate between 14 days and 28 days, and was essentially saying that if we negotiated within that range, he might go to 28 days, but that was it. That is what he said. As far as consensus and the Opposition were concerned, that is when the shutters came down.
Mr. Grieve: It is quite right that I said that 28 days was at the outer limit of what I considered to be acceptable, and that is a view that many Members of the House would hold. Some Members of the House would hold that 14 days, under the existing terrorist legislation, is already a long time, and not something that we should celebratewe might be forced to accept it reluctantly, but we certainly should not celebrate it. I also said to the media, and, I think, to the Home Secretary, as I remember, that that is our position, but we understand that the Home Secretary is coming up with other options and the ball is in the Government's court. Those were the very words that I used. The ball remained in the Government's court, because we never heard anything further from the Government about the matter.
Mary Creagh: The hon. Gentleman says that Lord Carlile's report was on something else, but I was referring to his report on the Bill, in which he discusses clause 22. He also describes his own inquiries and processes as an independent reviewer. He is the person whom the House has charged with reviewing the Terrorism Bill. Why is his opinion not important, and why does the hon. Gentleman think that he and his party are in a better position than the independent reviewer appointed by the Government to review the Bill? Do the Opposition somehow have a greater understanding of the police and the processes involved in the case? On the 90-day point, will he support a move to the investigative magistrate model, which is in place in other European countries? Does he not agree that if there is any chance of mass-casualty terrorism, certain people should not walk our streets?
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Lady is not doing herself much credit, certainly on the final point. First, as far as an investigative magistrate system is concerned, the Government have at no stage suggested that that is the policy that they wish to adopt. I only point out that there is plenty of evidence to show that the system of investigating magistrates, which exists in some continental countries, is not free of difficulty, particularly in respect of miscarriages of justice, which she might do well to ponder.
That said, I have never taken the view that our system is necessarily perfect, but it does provide safeguards. As we have debated, there are ways in which, in my view, one can both detain people and carry out the investigation pre-chargeand post-charge, if we applied the rules correctly for post-charge questioningnone of which require investigating magistrates and prolonged periods of detention before someone is brought to trial, which is not a satisfactory state of affairs.
As for Lord Carlile's opinion, we should consider it, and I certainly treat what he has to say with very considerable respect. He is knowledgeable and also has
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access to information to which Members of the House are not necessarily privy. All that adds to the strength of any of the recommendations or views that he expresses. They are views, however. If Lord Carlile simply gives a view on 90 days without the police providing an explanation as to why that is the period required, we are here to apply our independent judgment, not just to say that because some expert or anyone else has pronounced on the subject we should follow that slavishly.
There was an interesting moment in yesterday's debate, as the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) will recollect, in which two members of the Intelligence and Security Committee who had both seen similar documents came to very different conclusions as to their content. I respect both those Members. I must face the fact, however, that that highlights that we should not suspend our independent judgment just because someone else says that we should do something. Yet the way the Government treated the House was such that it was our obligation to do so. The more the Home Secretary told me that it was my obligation to do so, the more reluctant I was, because I was elected above everything else to defend people's freedoms. I do not intend to abdicate that duty to Lord Carlile or anyone else.
We are happy that we are in a position to support the Bill, and will do so if the House divides. We believe that the Bill is still capable of being approved. As an official Opposition, we can only express our thanks to those on both sides of the House who have made it possible to turn it into a document that merits and commands support.
Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) (Lab): I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak today, because unfortunately I was not able to be present on the two previous days on which this matter was discussed, as I have been away on Council of Europe and Western European Union business.
I listened carefully on Second Reading to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I thought that he made a pretty fair case for allowing the Bill to continue, and making any alterations or amendments at subsequent stages. I respected that because, initially, I was going to vote against the Bill on Second Reading. My one concern throughout was the 90-day clause. I am extremely grateful to and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on at least making a less draconian measure by obtaining a 28-day clause. Some of us in the House, who might well be in a minority, do not think that a good case has been put forward to justify any extension from 14 days. I have heard people saying consistently that evidence has not been put forward to justify 90 days. If evidence has not been put forward to justify 90 days, it has not been put forward to extend from 14 days. In those terms, nothing concrete was laid down.
Also on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) mentioned what had happened in years gone by when the police had misused anti-terrorist legislation. Like him, I am pleased to say that there has been a tremendous improvement in that areathere must have been, because I get precious few complaints about anyone being wrongly detained
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by the police. A long time ago, however, police in the north-east committed two of the worse abuses of anti-terrorism legislation that it was possible to see. I do not need to remind Members that, as recently as the Labour party conference, it was reported that a persistent heckler had been interviewed by the police under anti-terrorist legislation. We therefore still need to be very careful when we extend any powers without proper countermanding and modifying measures.
John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that he did not think a case had been made so far for any extension of the detention period. I should point out to him that many of us voted for the "28 days" amendment only because we knew that if it were not passed, the original three-month detention would remain in the Bill. We had to make a tactical judgment.
Bill Etherington: It is always a great pleasure to accept a correction from such a talented politician. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman: that is why I referred specifically to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North. I too am very pleased that the detention period will be 28 days rather than 90for it is fairly obvious that the Bill will be passed today, although I shall vote against it.
Let me now refer to a couple of issues that are near and dear to me. I am no less concerned than any other Member about the need to wipe out terrorism. I was as horrified as anyone by the happenings of 7 July, which will live with me for the rest of my life. I am also conscious of what was said some time ago by Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I have great respect for Sir John Stevens, with whom I had dealings when he was in the north-east. He was right to say that no matter what was done and no matter how hard people tried, there would be times when certain acts of terrorism could not be prevented, but that we were duty-bound nevertheless to make every effort to minimise it.
Will the Bill lead to any cessation of terrorist activity? I hope so, but I have my doubts. I am not aware that any of the four bombers of 7 July were on a suspect list. [Interruption.] I hear Members saying from sedentary positions that they were. I never heard that, but I may be wrong. I think that, in any event, we should consider another important factor: civil liberties.
A couple of weeks ago, during a debate on identity cards, I expressed my increasing concern about the gradual but unremitting reduction of civil liberties in this country. I was not elected to be part of a regime that would curtail civil liberties, unless it could be shown beyond doubt that such action would benefit society. I still have those doubts. What happened to Magna Carta? What about habeas corpus?
The Home Secretary says that he will not accept the term "internment". Someone who is incarcerated without trial is interned: there is no doubt about that. No one needs a PhD in English language to realise that that is internment. I shall be honest, and say that I find it extremely distasteful. If someone is interned on suspicion, surely that suspicion will be strong enough to be turned into a criminal charge in a very short time. It should not take 28 days. If we are going to lock people up, there should be some semblance of evidence that the suspicion is soundly based.
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I shall vote against the Bill. No doubt certain people will accuse me of being a bit of a luddite and not being concerned about terrorism. I have already explained my position, and can do no more than that. Let me, however, say one or two further things that need to be said.
There has been a good deal of conjecture about pressure being put on Labour Members to support the Government over the 90-day period. I have never suffered any arm-twisting or intimidation. Never in 13 years has anyone from the Whips Office threatened me in any way. The Whips have tried to persuade me, as is their right, and have occasionally succeeded; but they would not have succeeded on this occasion. I have made my position plain, and it has all been very civilised.
One person has telephoned me to say that the 90-day period seemed satisfactory. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who is not here now but who says that he has been inundated with calls supporting the 90 days, I have received only one, and have received only one letter over the past fortnight. We should be careful about so-called public opinion, however. The people who say that they are in favour of severe punishment and are not too bothered about the civil liberties of others are soon at our surgery doors if a family member or friend is suffering what they describe as an injustice.
I want to say a few words about the Prime Ministermy right hon. Friend the Prime Minister: let me make that very plain. I have received an appeal to the effect that someone should support the Prime Minister, because he is coming in for a lot of criticism. Let me say this. I respect the integrity of my right hon. Friend, and I will never doubt that he is a well-meaning and genuine person. That does not mean, however, that I must agree with all his politics. It does not mean that I have no right to question his judgment on this issue. My right hon. Friend has been convinced by the argument for 90 days; I have not.
The proposal for 90 days emanates from the security services. I recall that the security services managed to convince my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that there was a danger of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That has since been proved to be untrue. I do not doubt that the security services do a very good jobI am sure that they do their bestbut they do not always get it right; and, unlike us, they are not accountable to the electorate or the public. They just get on with their work.
Ultimately we must make the decisions here, because ultimately it is we who will be held responsible for them. I still think that, even with the amendment to 28 days, this is a bad piece of legislation which we will regret. Although I hope that it may go some way towards combating terrorism, I have severe doubts.
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