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Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): We have heard a lot of argument, discussion and debate in the House. There has been a lot of intellectual haggling and squabbling to try to win the argument on the question of civil liberties and the length of time for which people should be detained. Some of the barristers and solicitors in the House, as well as others, have exercised their vocal cords to try to win the argument.
I broadly support the measures in the Bill. I recognise the unique situation in which we find ourselves in this country when fighting a terrorist threat of new complexity, with new evils and new murderous proportions. However, I was disappointed that hon. Members did not vote yesterday for a pre-charge detention period of 90 days, which the police requested for a good reason.
My constituents and I are sadly no strangers to the evils of terrorism. In the middle of the 1980s, I was subjected to murderous threats against my life by terrorists and placed under armed police protection. Terrorists in the UK who were supporters of a separatist movement in the Punjab in India murdered three law-abiding members of my constituency in Southall and included me on their murderous hit list. Kashmiri terrorists murdered an Indian diplomat in Birmingham. Those terrorists were able to enjoy the freedoms of this country that were available to them and to foster terrorism here and abroad by disseminating their message and collecting money for their evil acts in the UK. Such opportunities should not be afforded to any terrorists in the future. In summer 2001, a Real IRA bomb exploded in Ealing town centre, in my constituency. It caused millions of pounds of damage to property, but fortunately did not result in the loss of human life.
Evil and terrifying as the acts in my constituency that I have described were, they do not compare with the new terrorist threat that we face today in the wake of the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist atrocities when suicide bombers were intent on taking as many lives as possible in terrifying circumstances.
We all know that we face a new threat of chilling proportions, and we have felt the reality of such a threat with the sad events of 7 July. The new threat, with its new complexitieswith international terrorists using new technologies and computer encryptionsrequires a new response by the Government and the country. New police powers must be given to tackle it. The Government have been pushed into that situation. They have no choice but to tackle the deadly new terrorist threat to protect the people of this country.
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The threat should be met in a united way. The whole House and country should be united. Sadly, the Tories show double standards. When in government, they wanted to introduce tough laws and always claimed to be the custodians of law and order. Now, in opposition, they enjoy the luxury of opposing parts of the Bill and of voting against police advice in spite of the evidence held by the police and security services. What hypocrisy!
Three different categories of people spoke in opposition to the Bill and the 90-day pre-charge detention period. First, there were those who had genuine concerns about civil liberties. Secondly, there were those who were naive about civil liberties and the terrorist threat. Thirdly, there were those who indulged in cheap politics by opposing the 90-day amendment as a weapon against the Prime Minister and the Government.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): Surely there is a fourth category: those who believed that the doubling of pre-charge detention from 14 to 28 days to provide the necessary time for the police was useful in principle, and who were not forced to take that position, who were not hypocrites and who did not indulge in oppositionalism? That category should be mentioned as well.
Mr. Khabra: I am coming to that and will tell the hon. Gentleman why the Government had a good reason for introducing the 90-day detention. We are not dealing with an ordinary situation. It is unique. We are dealing not with ordinary criminals, but with terrorists and organised terrorist activity. They have a network everywhere and keep this country under the threat of terror. I agree with the Government's proposed detention period of 90 days. I hope that hon. Members who voted against the police advice of 90 days will not live to regret their decision. I also hope that the police will be able to halt the efforts of the murderous terrorists within the 28 days that the House, in its wisdom, has decided to give them.
Detaining arbitrarily a massive number of suspects would be unpopular, counterproductive and wrong. As a Member of Parliament with a large ethnic minority population in my constituency, I am sensitive to people's concerns. However, I am also convinced that the vast majority of my constituents supported the proposed measures to deal with the threat. The new powers would, I believe, have been used only in exceptional circumstances, where there was strong evidence and it was felt necessary for an early arrest to protect the public from terrorist attacks.
We never know how terrorists organise such activities. We know that they have the facilities in this country. Ours is a liberal country, which provides all sorts of protection, even to those who are engaged in such activities. We are dealing not with a catch-all situation, but with something that is designed with the new terrorist very much in mind. I believe that many human rights campaigners and civil libertarians take a naive view of the people with whom we are dealing. They wrongly charge the Home Secretary with trampling on their civil liberties.
The UK is a mature, democratic country. The measures that we have been discussing will take effect only where there is strong evidence. Law-abiding citizens not involved in terrorist activity will have nothing to worry about.
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It must be emphasised that we are dealing with a completely new and dangerous situation. Terrorist and suicide bombers from across the world plan for long periods the mass murder of innocent civilians. Some Northern Ireland Members know what terrorists can do, how they organise and how much damage to the community they can cause. It is not ordinary crime where individuals are involved in murder, rape, robbery or fraud and where it is not necessary to detain suspects for a long period. When terrorism is involved and the lives of people are at risk, there is a need to detain suspects for a longer period to enable the police to investigate. When it is a well planned international conspiracy, we all know that al-Qaeda is involved.
Only yesterday a bomb exploded in Amman in Jordan. Obviously that is not the United Kingdom, so terrorists are active throughout the world. We must face the fact that terrorism is in this country. Terrorists have the motive and intention of killing as many people as possibleinnocent ordinary men, women and children. We must understand that that is completely different from other forms of crime.
The security services and the police definitely need a longer period to detain and question terrorist suspects given the nature of their planning. I hope that 28 days will be enough, but I fear that it will not behence my support yesterday was for detention for 90 days.
Those opposed to 90-day detention are forgetting these clear facts and treat the Bill as if it deals with an ordinary situation. It is not only the civil liberties of those who are detained that are put at risk. In my opinion it is complete nonsense to suggest otherwise.
The Government have a responsibility to protect the civil liberties and human rights of citizens as they go about their lives, safe from the evil threats of terrorism, so we must act to give the police the extra power that they need. The Bill's opponents can celebrate today and in future over the defeat of the Government, but they will feel sorry when terrorists strike in our cities once again.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I think that the last remarks of the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) were unworthy of him. We all hold him in great affection and we are all delighted that he escaped those terrorist attacks in 1980, not least in my case, because he affords me the rare privilege of following someone in the House who is older.
I say to him in a spirit of true friendship that if he reads the report of his speech he should reconsider some of the remarks that he made about those who voted in the opposite Lobby from him. Perhaps there were some hon. Members who were seeking to settle scores with the Prime Minister. I do not know, but it is possible. However, the vast majority of those who voted yesterday in an opposite sense to the hon. Gentleman did so because they genuinely had real concerns. It was not, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) so eloquently put it, because they were soft on terrorism. All decent Members of ParliamentI believe that most of us areare fundamentally opposed to terrorism. We all want to see our Government, and it is our GovernmentI am sorry that the Home Secretary is not presentuniting
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Parliament and the nation behind a series of coherent and sensible measures. But some of us felt that the measures contained in the Bill were not particularly coherent, and some of them had not been properly thought through.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the Prime Minister's personal courage. I do not always agree with him, but the Prime Minister has on many occasions demonstrated real political courage. He has also demonstrated on a number of occasions that he is capable of being the political leader of the nation. When he spoke on 18 March 2003 in that amazing debate before the country went to warlet us not forget that he gave the House the opportunity to vote on thathe spoke with a passion and an eloquence that I have never heard exceeded by any Prime Minister in my 35 years in the House. When he came before the House on the Monday after those despicable acts on 7 July, he spoke for the nation and was congratulated on so doing by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, by the leader of the Liberal Democrats and by speaker after speaker in all parts of the House.
I am not in any way impugning the integrity of the Prime Minister or his ability to rise to the occasion, but in this instance I do not think that he did entirely rise to the occasion. I say that for a number of reasons. First, although I do not doubt for a minute that he believed with passionate sincerity that 90 days was right, he did not do anything to convince a majority of the House that that was right. He rather acted on the "Alice in Wonderland" principle that if I say a thing three times, it must be true. He said it more than three times, but many of us were not entirely convinced that it was true.
Then there was that rather crude attemptI absolve my own chief constable, because I received no letter from himto persuade chief constables, in the apposite words of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), to act not as those who would brief, but as those who would lobby. That is not their function, important servants of the Crown though they are.
What I would like to have seen and what we did not have was a concerted attempt properly to brief Members in all parts of the House. Perhaps if we had been so briefed, more of us might have been convinced of the 90 days. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall has been so convinced, and I do not doubt his sincerity.
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