Previous Section Index Home Page

Having talked to members of the Security Service and highly placed police officers, I believe that the same phenomenon has been noticed already. The only way in
1 Apr 2008 : Column 708
which we will win this battle is through a concerted, orchestrated and thoughtful approach to, and use of, intelligence. If we get that wrong, we might as well give up—we can deploy as many gunmen, riflemen, policemen, soldiers or cameras as we like, but unless we have human intelligence sources, we will take casualties. We will. We must not allow that to happen.

In my last few seconds, I say this to the Government. The Minister, I know, is an extremely reasonable and sensible man. Please do not make the mistake again. We got it horribly wrong. Many people perished on both sides of the divide—security forces, terrorists and non-sympathetic civilians in Northern Ireland. Let us not get it wrong again. Let us understand that our liberties and freedoms are more important than anything else. Above and beyond anything else, the Government should study history and not pass the most powerful possible stick to our enemies.

8.16 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am pleased to follow a fellow member of the Home Affairs Committee.

Let us at least agree on one thing: no one in this House is soft on terrorism or has any desire to be passive in the face of an ongoing and acute terrorist danger. The atrocities of 7/7 came as no surprise. Of course, the four mass murderers were not under suspicion and had not been detained in any way. Outside the Government, there is a consensus on pre-charge detention—namely, 28 days. It is unfortunate that this issue has been brought forward. If there were a free vote, the Bill would undoubtedly be defeated by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons.

I am disappointed that, having been defeated in November 2005 over the 90-day question, the Government decided to bring the issue back—without, as I will go on to say and as has been emphasised in the debate, any evidence to justify that. Why 42 days? Of course, the idea of 56 days was bandied about for some time. The only explanation for the period being 42 days is that the Government believe that with a trigger mechanism and the rest, that is the proposal that they have the best chance of getting through Parliament. Otherwise it would be 90 days again—or 60 days, or 56 days. They have picked the figure without any evidence.

Let me make my position clear. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said that as far as he was concerned, 14 days was sufficient. If that were my view, I would not have proposed doubling the figure. I believe not that 14 days is sufficient, but that 28 days is necessary in view of the terrorist danger. Let me make another point that may come as a surprise to some. If there were compelling evidence, which could hardly be challenged, that it was necessary to go beyond 28 days, I would support it, because I believe that a country’s security and safety must always come first.

However, there is no such evidence. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) has decided not to support any extension beyond 28 days. When Sue Hemming, head of counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on 5 December, she was asked on more than one occasion about her views on the number of days for which a suspect should be held. She said:

1 Apr 2008 : Column 709

As a member of the Home Affairs Committee, I was present when the Director of Public Prosecutions gave evidence and said that he was satisfied with 28 days. The piece in The Times today means that that goes to a wider audience. Those two very important people, who are much involved in the prosecution of terrorists, are not asking to go beyond 28 days, and it is difficult to take the view that they are somehow soft, or passive, on terrorism.

Let us not forget that in non-terrorist cases the absolute maximum period for which a person can be held is 96 hours—four days. To those who say that we do not sufficiently understand the complexity of terrorist cases, with all the evidence that needs to be dealt with, my response would be that 28 days is already seven times the period for which a non-terrorist suspect can be held. Surely that demonstrates that we have an understanding of the work that the police undertake.

Sir Peter Soulsby: My hon. Friend has referred to the overwhelming evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee and others. As a member of that Committee, can he confirm that its fundamental conclusion was that no case had been made that 28 days was inadequate, and that the subsequent discussion about special circumstances is little more than an attempt to provide a fig leaf, and an inadequate one at that, to enable the Government to attempt to justify, unsuccessfully—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. That intervention is too long, especially as we are in a very tight time-limited situation.

Mr. Winnick: It may have been long, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I fully agree with every word that my hon. Friend said.

For terror suspects we have increased the period to seven days, to 14 days and, less than three years ago, to 28 days. This is not the first time that Parliament has faced the challenge of how to bring about the necessary legislation to protect the country and at the same time defend our traditional liberties. One of the most important of those has been mentioned by Opposition Members, but let there be no doubt that it is important to Labour Members as well—the right that has been built up over centuries whereby a person should not be held for a lengthy period without being either charged or set free. We should not undermine that right any more than is absolutely essential. That is why I believe that, having gone as far as 28 days, and without any evidence to justify an extension, we should leave it at that.

Mention has been made of the police. Sir Ian Blair wants an extension from 28 days. However, it is interesting that former senior police officers, including Lord Condon and Geoffrey Dear—a former chief constable of the West Midlands—are clear in their own minds that an extension is not necessary, and, moreover, that one would be counter-productive. Are they soft on terrorism? Are they unaware of the acute terrorist danger that this country faces?

1 Apr 2008 : Column 710

In an interview over the weekend, the Home Secretary said that we had to be careful because if we rejected what was being proposed, there could be a backlash. Well, there may be a backlash—I hope not—but it would be a poor day in the House of Commons if we made a decision not on the basis of the evidence and the facts, but because of some fear that what the Home Secretary described might happen.

I understand that we are not going to vote tonight. However, I hope that those of my hon. Friends who believe that what is intended is wrong, and that there is no justification for it, will decide to vote against it at the appropriate time on Report. It would be wrong—I would go further and say that it would be disgraceful—if the House of Commons decided to go beyond 28 days’ detention without the evidence that is absolutely essential to justify a longer period. I can only hope that despite the Whips and all the pressures that all Governments—not just this one, by any means—apply, this proposal will be defeated in due course.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are not going to get everyone in if we stick at eight minutes, so to try to help the participation rate, after the next eight-minute speech I will reduce the limit to six minutes in an effort to get more hon. Members in.

8.25 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I remember his speech in the debate last time round, when we were discussing 90 days’ detention, and I was struck by the similarity of many of the points that he has made tonight. I think that that is because what we have in the Bill is not so much a strategy as a rather loose and disparate collection of tactics. That lack of overall strategy is the cause of the Government’s problems, and it is why these days we seem to have almost a Bill a Session on this subject.

I feel very uneasy about several of the ways in which the Bill seeks to blur very important divisions within our constitution, especially in relation to the position of Scots law and the way in which that produces some exceptionally convoluted procedures. The position of Scots law has been subject to a particular lack of regard in the preparation of the Bill. That causes me great concern, and given the limited time, I want to concentrate most of my comments on that.

The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) made a good and well-reasoned speech in which, as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, he listed a whole range of people whose views have been sought. When I asked whether he had sought the views of the Scottish Law Officers—the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General—he said no, because the Scottish Parliament has its own Committees. It does indeed, but they will not consider the Bill because it is of UK-wide application, and is to be debated and voted on in this House alone. It will ultimately then be applied, one would hope, by the Scottish Law Officers. I would say gently to the right hon. Gentleman that if the views of the Director of Public Prosecutions are worthy of consideration, surely the views of the Solicitor-General
1 Apr 2008 : Column 711
and the Lord Advocate, as head of the prosecution service in Scotland, must also be worthy of consideration. That is a point that not only the Home Affairs Committee but the Government should take on board—and one of which all Scottish Members should be particularly mindful.

The House may recall that when we discussed 90 days’ detention, it was a matter of some controversy that the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Executive had not been consulted at all. I was eventually able to intervene on the Home Secretary today to ask her whether the Lord Advocate was in favour of an extension to 42 days. It is remarkable that she did not answer the question. I was mildly concerned that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing was sitting there mouthing and nodding his head as the Home Secretary was speaking, saying, “Yes, she is,” suggesting that the Lord Advocate did support the proposal. I hope that when he responds to the debate he is able to make clear what representations the Home Office has received from the Lord Advocate, because there is nothing on the record so far, and that is a matter of significant concern for Scottish Members.

One of the most worrying aspects of the convoluted way in which the Government have sought to introduce 42-day pre-charge detention is the blurring of the roles of this place, as a legislature, and the judiciary, as supervisor of the individual liberties of the citizen. I consider myself to be exceptionally ill-equipped, as an elected politician, to play the role that the Government seek to give, particularly if we were in the highly febrile atmosphere following a terrorist outrage. People who hope to be due for re-election in two years’ time are not the best people trust with the liberty of the individual.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to concentrate on that point. The Government seem to be attempting to empanel this House as some sort of grand jury, but one that will not possess any of the facts of the case.

Mr. Carmichael: The creation of a grand jury would be a novel concept for any jurisdiction in the United Kingdom, and it is not one that we should enter into lightly or unadvisedly.

I am particularly concerned about clause 27, which relates to the jurisdiction to try offences committed in the United Kingdom. In short, it allows a criminal offence committed in Scotland to be tried in England. I put it in those terms, and although it could operate the other way round, it is, however, virtually unthinkable that an offence committed in London would ever be tried in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. I ask myself why on earth the provision is necessary. The law already provides for cross-border elements to be taken into account, and that is often a feature of drug-trafficking cases. If an offence is mostly or wholly committed in Scotland, the case should be investigated and tried there. Anything less—and the clause represents a lot less—is an insult and disrespectful to Scots law.

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman will note, as I did, that the Glasgow bombers will return to England under English jurisdiction for trial in courts there, but does he share my suspicion about the fact that this clause arrived late? It arrived at the same time as the
1 Apr 2008 : Column 712
Labour party was talking about transferring powers from Holyrood to Westminster. The top of the list in any agenda is terrorism.

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman, with his contacts in Edinburgh, probably knows more about that than I do.

The clause has fundamental procedural and constitutional implications. The Lord Advocate has absolute prosecutorial discretion over crimes committed in Scotland, and I see no good reason for changing that. The constitutional position of the High Court of Justiciary is protected by article 19 of the treaty of Union. Clause 27 undermines it in an unwarranted and unjustified way.

Mr. Grieve: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carmichael: I would love to give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I have already taken a couple of interventions, and it would be unfair to others who are seeking to speak.

The questions that the Government have to ask are manifold. Under which rules of procedure will admissibility of evidence be judged? Will it be judged under the rules of the jurisdiction through which it is obtained or those of the jurisdiction in which the trial will take place? The Bill is absolutely silent on that. I have no doubt that co-operation between Scotland and the rest of the UK could be improved, but it is not necessary to drive a coach and horses through the constitutional settlement and the position of Scots law in Scotland in order to do so. I hope that that point will be considered carefully when the Bill goes into Committee.

8.34 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Like most Londoners, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard about the 7/7 bombings, and, like thousands of Londoners, even though I did not have a friend or relative caught up in the bombings, I had friends and relatives on their way to school, college or work who, had their journey been 10 minutes earlier or later, would have been caught up in them. Those of us on mainland Britain who lived through the IRA terrorist bombing campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, and now through 7/7, do not want to be told by Ministers that if we query some of the provisions of the Bill, it is because we take terrorism lightly.

The other thing that I remember about 7/7, apart from the fear and concern I had about people close to me in the 40 minutes it took to understand where the bombings were and who had been hurt, was the calm, courage and resolution of ordinary Londoners in the days following. This arbitrary proposal to push pre-charge detention beyond 28 days does not do justice to the calm, courage and resolution of ordinary people.

The problem with the Government’s proposal, as speaker after speaker has set out, is that there is no solid public policy reason for it. I have followed the debate closely. I confess to the House that I have in my time worked for Liberty, which has become a bĂȘte noire
1 Apr 2008 : Column 713
of Ministers, but I share that honour in common with Cabinet Ministers and others. I have followed the debate with great interest, therefore, and I believe that the reason behind the resurrection of this proposal, it having been blocked in this House not so long ago, is political positioning. It relates to focus groups, polls and putting the Opposition in the wrong position on terrorism. It is a matter of manoeuvring and positioning—there is no solid public policy basis for it at all.

When pressed, the Home Secretary talks about needing the Bill just in case. I have heard of just-in-time deliveries, but never of just-in-case legislation. The Home Secretary puts herself in the position of a prudent, west midlands housewife who keeps tins of salmon in her larder just in case someone should drop by. She has to have ludicrously draconian legislation, just in case something should happen. I put it to those on the Treasury Bench that we should not drive a coach and horses through civil liberties just in case. That is no basis for introducing proposals that this House emphatically rejected not so long ago.

It is clear that there is no solid public policy reason for the proposal because of the way in which the figure has bounced around randomly, like balls on a billiard table—90 days, 56 days and now 42 days. I began to feel as if someone would put their hand into a hat and come out with a figure. The random nature of the figure gives the lie to the idea that there is a considered public policy basis for the proposals. We have heard every law officer, past and present, who has spoken out publicly on the legislation reject the need for it. We have heard that the encryption argument—that we need all this time to deal with encryption on computers—is nonsense. A law exists to deal with people who refuse to allow that process to go forward.

Ministers are not talking about what I and others would like to hear them talk about, which is the effect of the proposal on our communities, particularly the Muslim community and the wider Asian community. The best speech in the debate was the one by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who described so vividly the effect of draconian, ill-thought-out, anti-terror legislation on the law-abiding Catholic communities in Ireland and in mainstream Britain at the height of the troubles.

I believe that we will experience a parallel problem here with our Muslim and wider Asian community. It is no accident that the Government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission is threatening to take them to court if the provision is accepted. Everyone knows that it will have a disproportionate effect on the Muslim and wider Asian community. Ministers cannot claim that imposing such draconian internment on that community can aid community cohesion and the flow of solid intelligence. As was said earlier, it is not a human rights, but a security argument.

Like other hon. Members, I was a Member of Parliament in the 1990s when we voted on the prevention of terrorism Acts, and the notion that a short debate, late at night, with a whipped vote and all the media pressure to vote one way constitutes acceptable parliamentary scrutiny—not to mention the idea of our becoming some sort of grand jury—is laughable. I am embarrassed that some hon. Friends
1 Apr 2008 : Column 714
think that that is a sustainable argument. I will not vote against Second Reading, but unless something is done about the proposal to push pre-charge detention beyond 28 days, I and many others will vote against that specific provision on Report.

We are not considering, as some hon. Members have suggested, a choice between protecting lives and protecting human rights. To protect lives, we must block the ill-conceived, unnecessary proposal to push pre-charge detention beyond 28 days. That is the way to make ourselves secure, protect lives and fight terrorism most effectively.

Next Section Index Home Page