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The hon. Lady referred to people not having rights in respect of getting information to and
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from their families. As I understand it, the Bill[Interruption.] I should be grateful if the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) would be a little patient. As I understand the Bill, it confers absolute rights, which have been reinforced and are stronger than the rights of suspects under existing legislation. Did she not make her constituents aware of that point?[Interruption.]
Lynne Featherstone: In his letter of explanation, Andy Hayman referred to the ricin incident that took place in my constituency. I was completely astonished at his using this as an example, because it was one of the most extraordinarily badly conducted operations that I have come across. I raised this issue publicly at the full meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, at the full board of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, and with the chair of Haringey Teaching Primary Care Trust. Had the substance in question been ricin, mass evacuation would have been necessary, but the Met did not inform the chief executive of Haringey council, the chair of the PCT or the fire chief until some 48 hours after making this discovery. I was told by a very highly placed source that the explanation for that delay was news management on the part of No. 10.
One arrestee, who was released after only two days and left the country, could have been arrested under the Bill's provision on acts preparatory to terrorism, because a white substance was found. I was shocked to learn that the ricin incident was one of the arguments used in Andy Hayman's letter as evidence in favour of the 90-day provision. It is woefully inadequate.
The police do not always get it right. After five years' involvement with the Met police authority, I have become familiar with its way of arguing. It did not get it right when Mr. de Menezes was shot. It did not get it right with the evidence produced in respect of the Birmingham six, or the Guildford four. Even Sir Ian Blair got his information wrong after the shooting of Mr. de Menezes. We have yet to hear from the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
We now have the 28-day provision, but I hope that it is only a starting point as it is not good enough on its own. More safeguards are needed. There must be special checks and balances for the handful of cases that the Home Secretary refers to, so that only they are subject to the 28-day provision. God forbid that there is another terrorist attack, but my fear is that if there is, a greater number of people will be rounded up under this law.
One of the main arguments advanced was that more time is needed because of the complications associated with encryption. According to information that I
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received, it takes a police officer 12 hours to produce a report on a computer disc for senior supervising officers. If it takes 12 hours to analyse one computer disc to produce such a report, it is simply a question of providing sufficient resources.
Andrew Miller: The hon. Lady is right about encryption, but she has missed the pointas a number of Members have throughout our deliberationsthat even an unencrypted 500 gigabytes disc of the type that I have in my own home would take many months for those not familiar with the content to go through. Therein lies the problem.
The experience in the House this week has been a sobering one. All in the House argued and fought for what they believed was right. I take exception to the implication by those on the Labour Benches that if one does not agree with 90 days, one does not take terrorism seriously.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): May I first thank the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael)? As a lifelong fan of Sunderland football club, I am over the moon to hear that anybody follows Sunderland because we are desperate for support wherever we can get it.
I welcome the concern and interest with which the Government have listened to the voice of public servants in this debate and the time and energy that they have put into letting us know what the police know. I hope that that bodes well for the future and that we listen to public servants and the organisations that represent them when we are dealing with health and education reforms.
No one is unaware of the importance of this legislation. Despite the long, sad history of terrorism that these islands have been subjected to over the past 35 years, we face a situation that, for many reasons that have been well rehearsed in this Chamber over the past few days, is unprecedented. I will not rehearse those reasons again. We have had masses of informationwhether it has been good, bad or indifferent, we have had lots of it from many sourcesparticularly from those to whom we turn when we want them to look after us and our people. They believe that this unprecedented threat warrants draconian measures that have no parallel in any period of our history. We decided, in our wisdom, not to give them the powers that they sought, but whether we agree with 28 days, 90 days or something in between, we must not let the situation that we face prevent us from looking at this law in the same way as any other. We have to be convinced that although it might be right and proper to use strong measures to counter this very real threat, we have constructed the law so that it cannot be perverted or misused in future.
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Earlier this week, I raised with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and with chief police officersthe personnel concerned with security in this countrythe way in which most right-minded people viewed existing laws as being abused during the miners strike in 198485. At that time, police were using Road Traffic Acts and section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936 to halt miners at the Dartford tunnel and tell them that they were not allowed to travel the 200 miles to Nottingham, even though people were trying to enjoy their legal right to picket. We had exclusion orders given as bail conditions, which meant that miners were separated from their families and communities, sometimes for months on end. Perhaps most seriously of all, we saw the use of the Riot Act at Mansfield and Orgreave, out of which, ultimately, no cases were proven. The impact of the application of those laws had the desired effect sought by the Government of the day, who, after all, believed that the people concerned were the enemy within. Miners and their union were prevented from using their right to picket and convince others to support them; the misuse of those laws took them out of the game. We hope that these laws will not be used in that way.
I have been advised, and I accept, that the situation is not the same as in 1984. If the Bill had been tightly drawn, so that it could never be used against anyone other than those we are facing today, I would have felt more comfortable with the proposals right from the start. I also have to face up to the fact that our job is not just to prevent innocent people from being locked up; it is also to prevent innocent people from being blown up. Like everyone in the House, I hope that I do not have to visit a mother or father in the next few years and say, "I'm very sorry that your son or your daughter was locked up when they should not have been." Bad as that would be, surely it would be worse to go and see a mother and father and say, "Sorry your son, your daughter, has been blown up. That should not have happened and I might have been able to stop it."
That is the real challenge that has faced the House over the past month. We must face up to our responsibilities. I believe that hon. Members have acted in good faith and shown good judgment. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington) is a good friend of mine, but he was also my leader and mentor for many years in my previous existence. I respect what he said today and I hope that he reciprocates my feelings.
I believe that we should have given the police the 90 days for which they asked. I accept that what we have given them represents an extraordinary step, and I look forward to the day when we are able to take it back because they do not need it any more. That day should be the real goal for all of us in the House.
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