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Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I have listened intently to a large amount of the debate on the Bill over the past few days and weeks. I am glad that I have the opportunity to raise a few issues today, and I will be brief.
In the early stages of the Bill's consideration, I had reservations about the Government's proposal for the pre-charge detention period of up to 90 days. I came to the opinion that there was significant movement by the Government in relation to issues surrounding the clause, brought about largely by the empowered discussion and knowledge of the House. In my mind, the proposal for seven-day judicial review by High Court judges, or by judges of the Court of Session in Scotland, and for defence representation at such hearings, addressed any sort of inappropriate use of the proposals. Having listened to much of the debate, however, I am left with the impression that our judiciary would have been unable to act in everyone's best interests in the face of a maximum 90-day detention period, which is not a view that I hold.
I think that the sunset clause would have provided a suitable way of determining whether the 90-day period worked in practice. It would have allowed both Houses to analyse its use and effect, establish the average number of detention days and then possibly suggest to the Government that the legislation should be adjusted to fit the actuality. I supported the 90-day period last night because I thought that the mechanisms were appropriate. Both police forces in my constituency, Central Scotland and Tayside police, confirmed to me that they agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland on the issue.
Gordon Banks: I did not speak to him directly, but I spoke to one of his staff officers, and was told that his position was the same as that outlined by the chief constable of Fife on behalf of ACPOS.
The police were happy with the proposal. They are the experts, and I will be guided by them. I believe that we should be guided by the
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expertsthe police and the security forcesbecause they are charged with protecting our security, and because they risk criticism and condemnation if they fail to keep us safe should further terrorist atrocities occur.
I believe that new threats require new methods, and I believe that the current terrorist threat is new to our way of life. I am not convinced that, in its present form, the Bill deals adequately with the threat that we face. Much has been made of civil liberties and rights, but it has been largely one-way traffic. What about the human rights of people in this country not to be victims of terrorismnot to be maimed by suicide bombers, or killed by religious fanatics who want to destroy our very way of life?
There has been much discussion about the 110-day limit in Scotland, and a certain lack of knowledge has been displayed. As a Scottish Member, I remind the House that the 110 days relate to the period between the charge and the case being brought to court. It never was and never will be an additional 110-day period of detention before charge.
As we have heard, the pre-charge detention period would have been used only in exceptional circumstances. Today Members have mentioned five, 10, 15 and 20 people. In my view, those are low numbers. Indeed, I fear that 28 days will prove inadequate, and that something may happen that could have been avoided if the House had adopted "up to 90 days" yesterday.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): If evidence is put before a High Court judge and is sufficient to warrant someone's detention, why is that evidence not sufficient for someone to be charged and remanded in custody?
Gordon Banks: We have had that discussion several times today and in earlier debates, and enough convincing arguments have already been made. I have spent only a short time in Parliament, but I want to say that this debate has impressed me most and that applies to both sides of the House. Despite my disappointment about the conclusion of last night's vote, I recognise the will of this democratically elected House. I simply hope that the media speculation in today's press and the words I have expressed today come to nothing.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): It is hard to stand up against the tide of opinion in this country when it is ranged against us. It is also hard in the wake of the terrorist bombing not to react to that fear. However, I believe that the House is at its best when it keeps a cool head and does not abdicate its responsibilities. It was fear in the USA that got President Bush his second term in office.
I have to say that I took huge exception to the Prime Minister calling anyone who opposed his view "woefully complacent". We are not. Sadly, I have no doubt that terrorists will strike again or that they may be trying to do so as we speak, but I do not believe that the 90-day provision will be the critical factor in stopping them. During Prime Minister's questions, we were told that
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the Muslim communitythe community that will be most vulnerable, I believe, at the sharp end of the new detention powersdid not want to be seen as standing against the Bill.
The Home Secretary challenged us to consult about the legislation in our constituencies, so I did. I consulted the secretary of the Wightman road mosque, which is just across the border in Tottenham, but serves Hornsey and Wood Green and Tottenham. I received a letter from that secretary, who is also secretary of the London Islamic Cultural Society. It reads:
Eid greetings to you and all your colleagues . . . I apologise for the delay in getting back to you in relation to the Anti Terror Bill currently being debated. Having discussed with quite a few members the general feeling/concern is:
"Many have been released without charge and are suffering mental health problems . . . these are innocent individuals. Even serial murderers have rights! We in the UK have been subjected to terrorism before where areas of the UK were bombed including MPs but at no time did the government find it necessary to bring in such radical laws . . . The Muslim community feel very vulnerable."
"to undermine our civil rights and . . . this type of law is condemned by the UK and the US as being 'undemocratic' 'illegal' and 'inhumane' when adopted by other countriesbut strangely when used by themselves it is 'protecting the country'. It reeks of double standards."
"Lynneplease understand that we in no way agree with misguided individuals compromising our safety. No! This is totally unislamic, but you have to understand that our Muslim community are scared and concerned for the safety of their children and families. These laws prohibit even the law abiding families knowing what is happening to their loved ones"
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I accept that the hon. Lady has read out her letter from people in her constituency in good faith, but it contains a fundamental inaccuracy in respect of what the proposed legislation contains. Has she written back and corrected that inaccuracy?
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