Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-122)


11 OCTOBER 2005

  Q120  Steve McCabe: I just want to ask how big a police state with how many additional police officers and intelligence agents do you think we need to have before organisations like yourselves will be satisfied that our human rights have been protected from potential terrorist threats and can you give me any idea how much it is going to cost?

  Dr Metcalfe: I am afraid I cannot give you a cost estimate, but I can state with some confidence that I would be far happier with a large police force and strong—

  Q121  Steve McCabe: Yes, maybe, but I just want to know how big? Do you want a policeman on every corner, for every household?

  Dr Metcalfe: Well, let's just say a large police force with strong safeguards on human rights would be better than a small police force with no human rights safeguards.

  Mr Smith: I think the truth is that the police have worked for a long time with what they have got at the moment and the case really to extend this to three months is not really made. The police produced the example that on the 50th computer there was the damning, smoking gun, if I can use that sort of mixed metaphor, but what about where you go through the 50 computers and there is not a smoking gun and you move inexorably to a situation where any one of the police officers, whatever their number, just says, "Round up the usual suspects". That is not the kind of state we want and, as sure as eggs is eggs, if what we want to do is to stop there being another outrage like 7 July and to detach people of violence from their surroundings, then to go down this way where you can pick up people on virtually no evidence, hold them incommunicado for up to three months and then sling them back, which is what will tend to happen because they will not get the evidence and we have had the statistics on this and we know that there 20-odd prosecutions on 750 arrests, the dangers of enacting this proposal are enormous and they are irrespective of how many police officers we have.

  Q122  Mr Winnick: Dr Metcalfe, you make the comparison about the right to life between those who were destroyed in the mass murder of 7 July and road accidents. I do not, and presumably nor do my colleagues, see any possible comparison. I am just wondering if you or Mr Smith, though perhaps it is not Mr Smith's own views, but I wonder if you, Dr Metcalfe, would like to explain that to the close relatives of those who were murdered or, for example, the woman who had both legs amputated above the knee and tell them that there is a comparison between what happened on 7 July and what happens in a road accident.

  Dr Metcalfe: Let me be clear, that those who have suffered the loss of their family and friends and relatives on 7 July have my greatest sympathy and I think it is absolutely right that the Government should take the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom very seriously. What I would say to those who were victims or relatives of victims would be, "Yes, the Government is right to take action, but we are concerned that what the Government is doing is an over-reaction and your friends and loved ones lived in a society in which they enjoyed freedom of speech, freedom of expression and so on and it is very important for us to continue to safeguard the values under which they lived and not to give way to legislative panic, not to give way to hasty measures which actually have the effect of undermining everyone's freedoms". I would say that in relation to the comparison I made between victims of terrorism and road deaths, yes, it is a horrible way to die, but I am pretty sure it is a horrible way to die in a car crash as well and we do not want the Government to be focusing a disproportionate amount of legislative resources and using this as a justification simply by reference to the right to life. If you are going to treat every life equally, then you have to treat every threat to life equally.

  Mr Smith: I think the general point is that the response must be proportionate, targeted, effective and precise.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. It has been a very useful session and I hope that the transcripts will help to inform the debate which will take place when the legislation is introduced in the House of Commons. Thank you very much indeed.

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