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We are adamant that the legislation,
will affect only those who would use terrorism against our people.
Keith Vaz: I cannot believe that any e-mail that I could send out could be regarded as dangerous. I and many colleagues, some of whom are here today, were concerned to ensure that people understood, because if my hon. Friend considers the signatories to that letter, he will see that many of them, including me, represent large numbers of members
Keith Vaz: Yes, everyone will be affected, but the figures suggest that proportionately more of those who have been detained are members of the ethnic minority communities. That is why it was extremely important that we, representing those constituents, were able to say that.
Ms Abbott: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the letter that he and other of my hon. Friends signed, the less said the better. He knows well and good what Muslim communities in this country think about the Bill, but does he not understand that it is not sufficient merely to assert that he is satisfied with the process of parliamentary scrutiny? Will he explain to us how Parliament can exercise scrutiny without having facts in front of it?
Keith Vaz: I know that my hon. Friend is upset because I did not ask her to sign the letter, but I knew that she would not sign it, so there was no point in putting the text before her. She will know very clearly from the text of that letter what it says and why it was sent out
I represent a constituency that, by 2010, will have a majority of Asian people living in it. It will be the only city in Europe in which a majority of the citizens are from ethnic minority communities. I would not vote for this measure if I felt that they would be disproportionately affected in any way.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is somewhat bizarre that those on the Conservative Benches are now praying in aid the Civil Contingencies Act when four members of the Home Affairs Committee put their names to the following words:
We considered...that Part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004 could be used in exceptional circumstances...However, we concluded that this was not an intended use of the powers under the CCA, that there were significant legal problems and it would not be sensible for a national state of emergency to be triggered in the middle of a major investigation.
My hon. Friend will not draw me down the road of criticising members of the Committee, as I am due in Monmouth on Sunday and Monday. I do not want to upset the hon. Member for Monmouth, who is not responsible for what his Front Benchers say almost in the same way as we are not responsible for our Front Benchers. However, I will say that it is very clear that the Committeethis is where all this startedmade it clear that there would be exceptional circumstances. That is what the Government have accepted. If the Government
are prepared to accept the words of an all-party Select Committeealbeit achieved in controversial ways, as was the case, because this is a controversial subjectI am happy to accept that.
May I make it quite clear that I and the three other Conservative members of the Home Affairs Committee looked carefully at the Civil Contingencies ActI was a member of the Committee that considered the Billand we quite clearly understood that there were powers within the legislation that, were they modified, could be highly sensible, highly useful and directly applicable in the rare circumstances that the Chairman and other members of the Committee agreed might exceptionally occur?
Keith Vaz: Indeed, that is exactly what the discussion was all about, but at the end of the day we concluded that there were exceptional circumstances. We did not feel that we could use the Civil Contingencies Act, which is what we said at the end of the report. But the hon. Gentleman is absolutely rightthis was considered.
Patrick Mercer: Once again, I am grateful to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee for his generosity. That, surely, is entirely consistent with the point that Conservative Front Benchers and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, have been making.
Keith Vaz: The shadow Home Secretary has always believed that the Civil Contingencies Act is sufficient for the needs of the Conservative party on this issue, but we as a Committee concluded by 11 votes to one that it was not.
I want to raise with the House the issue of community engagementmy hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has already raised itand the specific concerns of the community. I say this to my hon. Friend and others in the House: she mentioned the letter that was signed by 17 Members of the House, but obviously, as we know, not by her. However, my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood), for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar), for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) and for Tooting (Mr. Khan) all signed it.
Keith Vaz: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. To be very clear, before the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) jumps to his feet, none of those people was offered a knighthood for signing the letter. It is not in my power to give such honours. They signed the letter in good faith because they believed that the safeguards that had been offered by the Government were sufficient for the communities that they represent. Of course they have
Keith Vaz: No, I will not give way again. Of course those Members represent people other than members of the Muslim faith, but each and every one of them is respected and acknowledged within their communities. It is extremely significant that they should all have singed the letter.
Mark Durkan: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I want to ask about him and other Members who signed the letter being satisfied about the scrutiny that will be offered and the safeguards, and how those will offer protection to the communities that those Members represent. In the event of the procedure being put in place and Parliament being convened, possibly during a recess or an election, what will hon. Members tell the families and communities who come to them and whose loved ones have been detained? What will those Members say in this Chamber, and what can they say, that will make scrutiny effective and make them credible as representatives in front of their own constituents?
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman has considerable knowledge of these issues because of what happens in Northern Ireland, so we listen to him with enormous care, but the proposed safeguards are sufficient. The Home Secretary will not come to the Dispatch Box and discuss individual details of cases: she cannot do that.
Keith Vaz: I assure the hon. Gentleman, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central, that under the emergency provisions proposed by the Home Secretary there will be redress for those who feel that they have been treated unfairly. In my view, the procedure is very simple. It will allow the House to decide whether to endorse what the Home Secretary is proposing, and that is good enough for me.
As I have told the Home Secretary in conversations with her, and said publicly in articles that I have written, I am also concerned about community engagement. It is clearly important for us to bring communities with us; we cannot win the war on terrorism unless we do that. Only last week, the Home Secretary announced the provision of £12.5 million that she hopes will be spent on preventive work in the community
Keith Vaz: I think that the money will be of great benefit to the people of Islington and Hackney, and to those all over the country, as they seek to work and engage with the Government on this issue. I do not think it right for us to feel that we cannot carry communities with us, although I am keen to ensure that the resources that the Government are allocating are allocated fairly and do the job that they are intended to do.
Finally, let me say something about references to the director general of MI5 and the police. I have not heard the director general of MI5 sayto me or to the Committeethat he wants the period to be extended from 28 days to 42, and the Government are not maintaining that he has said it to them, because that is not his job. The job of the director general of MI5 is to advise the Government about the threat. In his speech, which was presumably on the recordif he did not want it to be reported, he should not have made it to the Society of Editorsthe director general, Jonathan Evans, was very clear indeed. Some of the facts have already been given by the Home Secretary. At least 2,000 individuals who are believed to be a direct threat to the safety of our citizens are currently in the United Kingdom, there have been 20 known plots, and 200 suspect groups are being monitored. There have been 15 attempted terrorist attacks in Britain. It is a matter of record, because it is in our report, that the Committee met the director general of MI5. We were not prepared, quite rightly, to discuss what he said to us, but he has said publicly that those threats exist, and are real and growing. That is the advice that he can give.
In their evidence, the policeSir Ian Blair, Peter Clarke and othersmade it clear to us that they wanted the current period to be extended. I think that Sir Ian Blair talked about up to 60 days. The police have made the case, and it is not for the security services to do so; nor is it for the Director of Public Prosecutions to do so. I have enormous respect for Ken Macdonald, and we readily agreed that he should appear before the Committee because he had not given evidence for its 2006 report. He made it clear that he did not consider the current period sufficient, but he also said that it was not up to him to decide whether it should be extended. That judgment can be made only by Parliament, and he will deal with whatever Parliament decides.
Keith Vaz: It is part of the debate, but it is not a conclusive part of the debate to say that because Jonathan Evans has not said that he wants an extra 14 days, we are not prepared to give him those 14 days. That is for us to decide.
I hope that the dialogue will continue, but I firmly believe that the Home Secretary has conducted this matter properly, giving Members of Parliament an opportunity to express their concerns. Let me end by saying this to her. If she were proposing a permanent extension from 28 days to 42, I would not vote for this measure. I shall be voting for it because it is an emergency, temporary provision that will allow a permanent situation to be dealt with for that very short period. I know that the Home Secretary has given us those guarantees, and I look forward to her repeating them when she winds up the debate.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). In my speech, I shall first explain why an extension of detention without charge matters to ordinary people and their freedoms, then I shall examine the weakness of the Governments case for such an extension and the feeble parliamentary safeguards offered by Ministers, and finally I shall argue that such excessive powers may be seen as illegitimate by substantial sections of our nation, and may act as a recruiting sergeant for the extremists.
Let me begin by trying to explain why the powers of executive detention contained in the Bill and the amendments are so serious. They are not powers that apply just to other people; they are powers that could apply to any one of us here today. We could be arrested on our way home, in a case of mistaken identity, and locked upif the Government have their waynot for one day or seven days, but for six weeks. What would a persons employer think? What would their family think? Surely, they might say, the police could not really detain someone without some pretty clear evidence, using powers under a terrorism Act. As every street gossip will tell you, there is no smoke without fire.
We know, however, that of the six people who have come close to being detained for close to the existing limit of 28 days, half have been released without charge or any subsequent proceedings. Indeed, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is no longer in the Chamber, it is inevitable that if these powers go on to the statute book they will be used for lower-priority cases, because the easier cases will have been dealt with first. The number of innocent people who are detained under the new powers is therefore likely to be particularly high.
Jacqui Smith: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that one of our amendments would limit the use of an extended period of pre-charge detention to the most serious terrorist offences, which would carry a life sentence for those found guilty?
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