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11 Jun 2008 : Column 379

Mr. Paul Goodman: On the subject of Parliament considering individual cases, is it not inevitable that Members of this House will either be given so much information as to prejudice any trial, or so little as to make any responsible decision making impossible?

Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; indeed, the Home Secretary gave the game away earlier today when she said, “Trust me.” Of course one starts with a presumption in favour of trusting the Home Secretary, but such trust has not always been justified in every Home Secretary who has occupied that Front-Bench post since I first entered this House, and it is not likely to be justified on every future case. Parliament can exercise an informed judgment only if the information is put before it. If the information is put before Parliament in sufficient quantity, and it is of sufficient quality to enable it to exercise that judgment, that raises precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman makes: that the prejudice to the individual may be overwhelming.

Once freedoms of the kind that we are debating are removed or even diminished, they are not easily recovered. We should never imagine that what we now take for granted was handed out by benevolent monarchs or by altruistic Governments. They were won. Sometimes they had to be seized physically, and sometimes they could be seized by political or other methods. But they had to be acquired, because the natural acquisitiveness of the Executive means that they take power to themselves as often as they can. If we give the power back, how difficult will it be to restore the freedoms and the personal liberty that we regard as so important?

It is not right to legislate on the basis of what might be. It is much less right to legislate on the basis of what might be when that involves an attack on freedom and liberty. The reason why I was a little disparaging about Stevens, Falconer, Goldsmith and Carlile was that we should not be moved by the opinions of others. On an issue of this kind, we should be moved by our own judgment, and that is why I will vote against the Government.

Ms Abbott: As has been said throughout this debate, the first duty of Parliament is the safety of the realm. It is because I believe that the proposals on 42-day detention will make us less safe, not more safe, that I oppose them. I do not take terrorism lightly. I am a Londoner and I heard the last major IRA bomb, at Canary Wharf, from my kitchen in east London. Like thousands of Londoners, I waited for the early-morning call that assured me that friends and family on their way to work and school had not been caught up in those bombings. I will not take lectures from Ministers about not taking terrorism seriously.

I do not believe, as Ministers continue to insist, that there is some trade-off between our liberties and the safety of the realm. What makes us free is what makes us safe, and what makes us safe is what will make us free. I ask the House to reflect on how we got here. Two years ago, this House emphatically rejected the proposal for 90-day detention. I do not talk very much about custom and practice in Parliament, but it is custom and practice that when the Government lose a vote on a proposal, they do not bring back a similar proposal in the same Parliament. My hon. Friends in the Whips
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Office now know why that is so: it is because losing the vote is a clue that the Government do not have the votes. The Government machinery has devoted 10 days to bone-crunching pressure on potential rebels, again because they do not have the votes. Ministers have appeared in the media saying that they have won the argument. They may win the vote, but they have emphatically not won the argument.

Two years ago, the House rejected the 90-day proposal. The issue should never have come back, and all this high drama has been caused by bringing back something that the House has already rejected. I voted for 28 days, but I remind the House that I and others did so only under duress. We believed that by voting for 28 days the debate would be finished for this Parliament and an upper limit would be established. Some of us were unwilling to go as far as 28 days. That is why we are so upset that the Government have come back with this proposal, reneging—as far as we are concerned—on a tacit understanding that voting for 28 days would finish the debate on this issue for this Parliament.

Why have the Government come back with this proposal? Speculation has raged on the Labour Benches as to what has moved the Prime Minister to take this dangerous course. Some people say that he wants to try to do something that Tony Blair could not do. Some people say that he is driven by the polls. Some people say that last year he saw an article in The Sun that said that he was soft on terrorism and he has been heading down this path ever since.

In reality and despite everything that Ministers say, nothing has changed since two years ago. The arguments that they used then about computers and complications are the arguments that they are using now. I ask Ministers to spare the House those arguments about decrypting computers. The law exists to deal with people who wilfully refuse to decrypt computer evidence.

The Government came back with a proposal that the House rejected two years ago. Interestingly, when they did so, it then took them several months to come up with a time limit. Was it to be 29 days, or 30, or 40? At one point, some of us offered to put our hands in a hat and to draw out a number for the Home Secretary. They did not have a number of days because this is not an objective, evidence-driven Bill. It is the purest politics. It is about the polls and about positioning. It is about putting the Conservative party in the wrong place on terrorism. I put it to colleagues that we should not play ducks and drakes with our civil liberties in order to get a few months’ advantage in the opinion polls. We have got here through a process that involved the wrong practical politics and was wrongly motivated.

Let me remind the House of what is problematic about the proposal. The security services have unusually gone public and said that they are not calling for the change. The Director of Public Prosecutions, unusually, has gone public and said that he is not calling for it. I remind the House that he is the prosecuting authority. We will hear from Ministers about the police, but the police are split on the subject. We have heard about Sir Ian Blair—whose days might be numbered under the former Member for Henley; hey, that’s life—but the most senior Muslim policeman in the Metropolitan police force, Tarique Ghaffur, has said privately and emphatically that he believes that the risk to community cohesion of the proposal is not worth any marginal
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operational advantage. It is alleged—I use that word because I do not want to abuse parliamentary privilege—that he was called in by Sir Ian Blair and asked to consider his position. The police are split on this subject. Let us hear no more about the police as a whole being behind the proposal.

Frank Cook: Will my hon. Friend take account of the fact that even those chief police officers who have expressed some kind of support have done so in terms of “it could be workable” rather than “it is desirable”? Everything could be workable—Buchenwald and Dachau were workable, but they were hardly desirable.

Ms Abbott: Yes, it was said that the proposals could be workable in the future.

There are some very clever lawyers in the Chamber today, and it seems to me that much of the debate is locked into the legalities and technicalities. I come at the matter from a slightly different angle. It seems to me that, if someone is in detention for six weeks without knowing why, and they therefore have no notion of whether they will be able to get out without being charged, that detention is coercive in itself. We saw in the big miscarriage of justice cases what people will sign after only a few weeks.

The possibility of compensation which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is trying to float will put pressure on the police to charge. Some of my colleagues whom one might expect to be opposed to the change because of its effect on their communities have been seduced by the compensation package, but I have read the letter. It talks about going away and considering the subject, and says that the compensation might be implemented. How will it be sustainable to compensate Muslims for being held for more than 28 days when the police have held them completely lawfully and not to compensate others of whatever religion or ethnicity who have been held for seven, eight or nine days and have not been charged? The compensation package will not survive scrutiny by the courts.

If my hon. Friends want to vote with the Government because they want to be loyal to the Prime Minister in his time of trial, they should do so. No one will think less of them for that. But they should not vote with the Government on the basis of a shoddy compensation package that will not stand up and will never come into being.

4.45 pm

The proposal is problematic. Some colleagues say that the provision will never be used and some say it is unworkable, so why not vote for it? They say that it is just a joke and will never be used, but even if the Government never use the provision, I take exception to their saying that it is worth driving a coach and horses through our civil liberties for mere short-term political advantage.

As I said earlier, because the Government do not have the votes, they have spent the past 10 days putting good, conscientious colleagues—who naturally enough want to support the leader of their party, our Prime Minister—under incredible pressure. People whom the Prime Minister has never spoken to in his life have been ushered into his presence twice in 48 hours. The House
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should have a shred of sympathy for them. People have been offered Cuba, and no doubt governorships of Bermuda have been bandied about. Any rebel Back Bencher with a cause is confident—if they vote the right way of course—that the Prime Minister will make the statement, give the money or make the special visit. That is humorous, but is it right that our civil liberties should be traded in such a bazaar? Is it appropriate or right that we should trade votes at the United Nations on the basis of such political pandering?

The reason the Government have had to put such pressure on people is because they cannot muster the votes. They have only one argument that could sway me, as a member of the Labour party for more than 30 years: the leader of our party is in a difficult situation, there are elements in the party that do not necessarily wish him the very best, so is this the time to vote against the Government?

That argument could affect people who are loyal to the Prime Minister, do not want to see him go and do not believe that a new leader can wave a magic wand, but I tell the House this: I became active in politics in the 1980s, at a time of enormous turmoil—there were riots in Brixton, Liverpool and Bristol, “Scrap sus” was a huge issue and young black men were seen as the enemy within, just as young Muslim men are today. I came into politics because of my concern about the relationship of the state to communities that are marginalised and suspected. It is easy to stand up for the civil liberties of our friends or of people in our trade union, but it is not easy to stand up for the civil liberties of people who are unpopular, suspected and look suspicious—people the tabloids print a horror story about every day. However, it is a test of Parliament that we are willing to stand up for the civil liberties of the marginalised, the suspect and the unpopular.

I came into politics about those issues, and I believe that if there is any content at all in Ministers’ constant speeches about community cohesion, we must offer every part of our community not just the appearance but the reality of justice and equality before the law. Everybody knows that the provisions will impact disproportionately on the Muslim and ethnic minority communities. Everybody knows that we shall not be detaining the Saudi paymasters of terror for 42 days; just as happened under internment, we shall be scraping up the flotsam and jetsam of communities. Ministers are talking about people such as my constituents, so when Muslim boys and black converts are in prison and their mothers, some of whom may not even be able to speak English properly, come to me and say, “They have had my son for five weeks and nobody will tell me why”, what do Ministers suggest I tell them about a measure that has been brought in only for short-term political convenience?

I did not come into politics to vote for such a stratagem, and despite all the current pressures on the party I will not vote for it. The case has not been made up until now and it has not been made in this debate. Of course the public are in favour of the proposal. Of course the people whose rights some of us are trying to defend are unpopular and suspect. But if we as a Parliament cannot stand up on this issue, and if people from our different ethnic communities cannot come here and genuinely reflect their fears and concerns, what is Parliament for?

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David T.C. Davies: I have the near impossible task of following one of the finest speeches I have heard since being elected to the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) need not fret: we will not be on the same side on many issues, although we are on this one. In the Home Affairs Committee and in the Public Bill Committee, I approached the subject with a very open mind. I have not been shy about expressing my view in the House that we need more people locked up in prisons; I have even argued with my Front-Bench colleagues on the subject. We need prisoners to serve longer sentences, and we need a lot more prisons to be built to house them all. I add one important caveat: people should not be locked up in prisons or police cells unless they have been charged and convicted of an offence. That is absolutely fundamental to the liberties of people in this country.

When the Home Affairs Committee took evidence, and in the Public Bill Committee, it became obvious that the Government have not properly thought out their case. They were setting all sorts of constitutional precedents that some people have not considered. For example, I think it important that if a public servant, whether they be a police officer or in the security services, believes that a certain measure will be required, it should be up to them to make a case to a Minister, and up to the Minister to make the case to colleagues on both sides of the House. Too many times in the Select Committee and the Public Bill Committee we saw that the Government were not prepared to make the case for themselves; they expected public servants to come to the House of Commons and make the case for them. That is absolutely unacceptable. If the Government cannot make the case themselves, there is no case to consider.

We have seen the selective way in which the Government have used the evidence that was put before them, and their selective quoting of the Home Affairs Committee report on the 42-day limit. There was not unanimous support for an extension beyond 42 days. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members on the Committee did not support it. Essentially, we said that if there was to be an extension beyond 42 days, there would, of course, have to be safeguards. We went along with that, rather unwillingly, so that there could be some form of consensus, and so that we did not have to divide the whole Committee on the issue. We said that although it would have to be amended, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 could be used in some form instead of the so-called safeguards that the Government came up with, to which I shall turn in a minute.

I was not in Parliament when the decision was taken to invade Iraq. I suspect that I would probably have gone along with the consensus, had I been there, because I have always thought that those bright people in all parties in Parliament must know more than me, even though my gut instinct told me that the invasion was wrong. I even trusted Tony Blair when he said, “Trust in me.” I have learned the hard way that we should never trust Ministers or assume that people in positions of power are any better than us.

I did not appreciate the way in which the evidence that the Home Affairs Committee heard was twisted and turned by Ministers. On one of the first times that the Director of Public Prosecutions gave evidence to the
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Committee, he made it absolutely clear that he was against an extension beyond 42 days, yet his words were twisted and turned. We met the director general of MI5, and I met a senior member of one of the security services. They spoke to us in confidence, but now that a statement on pre-charge detention has been published on MI5’s website, it is fair to say that we knew months ago that MI5 was not calling for the measure, yet we had to listen while Ministers gave a different impression. We have heard lots of quotes from Sir Ian Blair, and that is reasonable enough, but we did not hear about all the other senior police officers, such as Sir Paul Condon, who did not believe that any extension was justified. Throughout the process, the Government have quoted selectively.

The fact is that the issue comes down to something very simple: if the police have enough evidence to arrest somebody, they must have something tangible to go on. I can say that as a serving police officer. A police officer cannot simply go around arresting people without any evidence that they have done something wrong, and rightly so. Of course, it might take a little while to get together enough evidence for a charge. I am sure that in the past there was a temptation to get as much evidence as one possibly could, so that the strongest possible charge could be bought, but in some ways, the case for doing that has been removed, because we are to implement post-charge questioning—a measure that all my colleagues and I fully supported. That part of the Government’s case no longer arises. As Sir Ken Macdonald said to us, if within 28 days enough evidence cannot be found to bring some charge against someone, any prosecution is likely to be very unsafe.

Many colleagues have spoken about the Civil Contingencies Act and the fact that we would have the longest detention in the western world. I shall not add to that, as I want to allow others an opportunity to speak.

One would have to be sentenced to more than three months in prison to serve 42 days, because of early release, release on tagging and all the other Government initiatives to turf genuine criminals out of prison. Somebody who has been held for 42 days or longer without charge would have done the equivalent of a prison sentence of more than three months. What is the latest proposal that the Government have come up with today to try to make those people feel better? “Okay, we arrested you at 5 o’clock in the morning, quite possibly at gunpoint, took you off, kept you there for 42 days, didn’t even tell you why we had you in there, but here’s some money. Don’t worry about it. You were innocent, but have some money”—as if that will make anything better.

I challenge the Minister. If he is serious about the Government’s proposal, perhaps he will say a word about Lotfi Raissi. He was the trainee pilot who was held in detention in Belmarsh for about five months, and was released in 2002, his career in ruins. He has been fighting ever since for compensation. If the Government are serious about compensating people and they have a compensation package, perhaps the Minister will tell us what he will do for that gentleman, who was held for five months without any charges being brought against him.

The Government have relied on emotion to try to get their case across today. They have not relied on facts. I am glad to be able to distinguish myself from rebels on
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the Government Benches by saying that if they wanted to do something about terrorism, they have had plenty of opportunity. They could, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, have done away with the Human Rights Act, which has given so much succour to terrorists. It has allowed people who we know have been involved in terrorism to come into this country. The Government have then found that they are prevented from deporting them, prevented from putting them in prison until they go back, and prevented even from keeping them in their own homes while tagged—all because of the Human Rights Act.

The Government tried to blame the judiciary, yet they brought in the Human Rights Act, which allowed the judiciary to do that. They could get rid of the Human Rights Act in a matter of weeks, if they wanted to. They could insist that people who come to this country learn our language and start to integrate, instead of allowing them to set up their own communities and maintain practices that are unacceptable in this country, such as forced marriage, polygamy and female genital mutilation, to which a blind eye is being turned by the Government. They should insist on integration, getting people to learn our language and getting them to fit in with our culture and traditions, rather than passing legislation that will do away with the liberties that British subjects and citizens have enjoyed for hundreds of years.

Just as King John had to be brought to book by the barons and the lords when they brought in the Magna Carta in 1215, if we lose the vote tonight, I hope that, once again, the Lords will come to our rescue—the rescue of the liberties of British people.

Martin Salter: It is a pleasure, I think, to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), whose constituency I look forward to visiting. We will be able to explore his predilection for Taser guns in every home, as part of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into 21st century policing. On a more serious note, I shall be quick and curtail my remarks, as a number of colleagues on both sides of the argument wish to make important contributions.

I speak as a member of the Home Affairs Committee and a member of the Public Bill Committee, so I have had a good go at the issue. I also speak as the constituency Member for Reading, West, a diverse constituency with a substantial and active Muslim population, a constituency that contained one of the people who were blown to smithereens in the 7/7 London bombings, and a constituency on which the extensive and successful Operation Overt by the Metropolitan police impacted.

Why legislate now? That is one of the crucial questions that has rightly come up in the debate. There are three issues. The Prime Minister mentioned at Prime Minister’s questions today that we have a moment of calm. We can trade quotes in the debate, but we can all probably agree that when the House seeks to legislate in a hurry, it makes a pig’s ear of it, whether that is legislation about the poll tax, the Child Support Agency, or dangerous dogs. Whatever it is, when we try to legislate in a hurry, particularly in the face of a tabloid outcry over bodies being pulled out of the latest terrorist outrage, we tend not to make the right decisions.

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