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Mr. Winnick: If 42 days is unfortunate and not necessary, what would have been the reaction of the
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minority community to which the hon. Gentleman referred if 90 days had been agreed to?

Chris Huhne: I entirely agree that 90 days would have been even worse. I must say that I have never understood exactly where the figure of 42 came from. Why was it 42 and not 40 or 44? I suspect that a secret fan of the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in the Home Office realised that the answer to life, the universe and everything is always 42. There does not seem to be any other basis for proceeding on 42 days.

It worries us that there is a Bill in the Library that could be introduced when the Government think that our rational faculties, as a Chamber, were completely suspended. The Government have made it clear that they would proceed with the Bill only in the wake of another terrorist outrage, when, understandably, there would be considerable moral panic in the newspapers, including some of the tabloids.

We know from history that some of the worst legislation that we have ever committed to the statute book was passed on precisely such occasions, when there was moral panic—for example, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Official Secrets Act 1920, which was passed following a moral panic under the coalition Government in the first world war.

Keith Vaz: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but is he not grateful that the Home Secretary has published a draft Bill, giving Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise it before it is introduced to the House?

Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman is usually an exceptionally acute Member of the House, so it has surely not eluded him that the Home Secretary has no intention of subjecting the Bill that she placed in the Library to a proper debate in this Chamber. No Government time has been made available for it. She has said only that, in the wake of a terrorist outrage or some such event, when it might be necessary, we could return to the matter. What that actually means is that this Chamber—we know this from history—will be asked to consider the matter again when it is most likely to have suspended all its rational faculties. Frankly, that seems absurd.

We should consider what is appropriate legislation for dealing with a terrorist threat rationally and coolly, taking into the account all the proper authorities. When we have done so, the Government have comprehensively lost the argument, and the Lords has comprehensively routed their desire to extend the period of detention without charge from 28 to 42 days. I hope that, as a result, we will allow the Lords amendments. Labours Members, especially those on the Front Bench, should be under no illusion that in the calm, cool light of day, they have lost the argument. Therefore, the supposed Bill that has been placed in the Library is no more than a fig leaf to disguise their embarrassment.

Keith Vaz: I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to know that I rise to speak in support of the Government’s position, unlike in the previous debate on the DNA database. He has made it clear to the House that the Government are not going to go beyond 28 days in the Bill. The Home Secretary has also made it clear that, because of what happened in the other place, the
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Government had to rethink their position. Quite rightly and properly, she came to the House on 13 October to say that she would not proceed with that aspect of the counter-terrorism measures.

I am glad that the Government have proceeded with all the other bits of the proposed legislation, most of which had been recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee in our report published at the end of last year. I will not go through all the bits and pieces now, because this debate is to do with 28 versus 42 days. However, the Government have taken the right approach. Governments are often criticised for not listening and not understanding the views of the public or, indeed, of Parliament, but the Government and the Home Secretary have listened on this occasion, and I am glad that she did what she did. I accept absolutely—I am surprised that anyone would not do so—the categorical assurance from the Minister with responsibility for policing and counter-terrorism that there is nothing in the Bill that will extend pre-charge detention beyond 28 days. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting the Government on this point.

Reference has been made to the draft Bill. I am not going to dwell on that matter, because that is a debate for another day. However, the Home Secretary was right, on the day on which she announced that she was not proceeding with the 42 days provision, to place in the Library of the House and the Vote Office—and to send me and other members of the Committee—a copy of the draft Bill. It is also right that Parliament should debate that Bill at some stage. There are two distinguished members of the Home Affairs Select Committee present today: the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and an even more distinguished member, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). He has served on the Committee for longer, so he is, by definition, more distinguished than the hon. Gentleman. As the Minister knows, the Committee has a very heavy schedule at the moment, but I am sure that, when we look at our schedule for next year, we shall find an opportunity to look at the draft Bill. We need to do that not in an emergency, when we are dealing with a crisis in society. The Committee needs time to scrutinise it, and I am sure that we will have the same high-quality discussions on it as we had when we considered this matter last year.

Damian Green: The right hon. Gentleman raises the timing of the Select Committee’s scrutiny of the draft Bill, but none of us knows if or when another terrorist outrage will happen. He appears to be saying that his Committee will do the necessary scrutiny work on the Bill, and I urge him to ensure that it does so as soon as possible. We do not want to debate the new Bill during a crisis, but none of us knows when such a crisis might occur.

Keith Vaz: I cannot decide on my own what the work load of the Committee is to be. There are two other members of the Committee here, and we will certainly look at the matter as soon as we can, bearing in mind our schedule of work. It is in the interest of Parliament that we do that quickly.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, because it was not easy for him to be in a minority in his party. He clearly loves his party; he has
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been devoted to it and supported it, and he very rarely rebels against it, as we can see from his voting record. He has supported the Government almost without exception over the past 11 years, and it was not easy for him to vote against them, to be the focal point of the campaign on 42 versus 28 days, or to come to the Select Committee after months of scrutiny before we published our report and to be the only member of his party to vote against the proposal. That was not easy for him, especially when Conservative and Liberal members all came to one conclusion on the matter.

I should like to remind the House that this is a debate about 42 days, not about the draft Bill. The Committee said:

the Civil Contingencies Act—

5.15 pm

We talked about the exceptional circumstances to which the Government referred in the draft Bill that was placed before the House on 13 October. The Opposition have talked about an emergency situation, as did Lord Goldsmith. He is a dear friend of mine and I respect him greatly, and when he was Attorney-General he supported 90 days—indeed, I too voted for 90 days—as did the previous Lord Chancellor, whom I served as Parliamentary Private Secretary. These are people of the highest possible eminence, and they accepted that there would be an emergency.

Liberty also accepts that, and even the great Shami Chakrabarti, for whom I have huge admiration, accepts that. I know that the Conservative party has also recently had huge admiration for Liberty, proving that being in opposition is a wonderful thing —[ Interruption. ] The Liberal Democrats have always loved Liberty. Shami Chakrabarti has mentioned exceptional circumstances by referring to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, because that is all about declaring a state of emergency. Let us not delude ourselves: we accept that there may be an emergency.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh also spoke about an emergency. He does not want to consider such legislation in the middle of a crisis, in which people have been blown up and the police are raiding homes and arresting and questioning people. He does not want to have the discussion then, so he acknowledges that such a situation will happen. He is right: Parliament must prepare for that in advance. A Home Secretary should not have to come before the House and make a statement, with everyone rushing around like headless chickens, and say that we have to support the Government, because if we do not we will be supporting terrorism.

Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman must recognise that the draft Bill is just a fig leaf to cover the Government’s embarrassment. Those provisions were debated extensively—including in an enormous national debate, let alone in this Chamber—and the Government lost
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the argument. All the Government are trying to do is ensure that it will be revisited at a time when rational argument will be suspended. That is not the appropriate time to make legislation.

Keith Vaz: We do not have to wait for that occasion. Of course, we are not discussing the draft Bill today, but if the Government refuse to make time available to discuss the Bill—I hope that they will make time available—the Liberal Democrats could make some of their time available to discuss it, as could the Conservatives. Indeed, if the Home Affairs Committee decides that it is something that we need to do as a matter of urgency early next year, we can look at it too. We have the opportunity to ask for time for a discussion on counter-terrorism. The hon. Gentleman is right: we should discuss these matters out of the glare of a terrorist attack, when people can put their views forward—

Chris Huhne: We have!

Keith Vaz: We discussed them in relation to 28 days versus 42 days, but I thought that he was saying that we should discuss the draft Bill. We should, and I hope that we will do so as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the Government’s position is clear. Nothing in this Bill will take us beyond 28 days, and we should stick to that position, because that is the basis on which the other place voted down the Government’s proposals and it commands the consensus of the House.

Today is the first time that I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North talk about what would happen in an emergency. I promise not to use that in evidence against him, but he did foresee the possibility of an emergency in which that Bill might be considered. If the evidence was before him, he said, he would vote for the Bill. I have not heard him say that before.

Mr. Winnick: I hope that I have not been misunderstood, because it is not a matter of an emergency. I said I would do that if there was “compelling evidence”. I am grateful for the kind remarks that my right hon. Friend made about me, but I hope that he will not work on the basis that if there is a terrorist outrage—another 7/7—that in itself would necessarily justify extending detention beyond 42 days. The fact is that no amount of pre-charge detention would have prevented the outrage of 7/7, which took the lives of 52 totally innocent people.

Keith Vaz: I agree with my hon. Friend. My comments about him are well deserved. He put that point to the Home Secretary last Thursday and asked when the provisions would come into effect—for example, on day one, or an hour after the outrage occurred. He asked whether she would come before the House with her Bill and how much time would be available to discuss its provisions. He was absolutely right. We need to pin the Government down on this point now.

I hope, as we have had the debate, that the Bill and the new clause inserted by the Lords amendment represent closure on the matter. I hope that the Government will not wait for the outrage but will make available the necessary time for proper scrutiny of the draft provisions.

Mr. Garnier: Although I frequently agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who
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is also my neighbour, the matters that we are dealing with today do not represent closure. By the very nature of the Government and the Home Secretary’s production of the draft Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, in which clause 1(2) substitutes 42 days for 28 days, they are constantly reminding us that the Home Secretary found the decision of the other place to stick to 28 days rather than 42 days deeply disagreeable.

The Home Secretary will not drop the bone. She will not let the matter go. She is behaving almost like Violet Elizabeth Bott rather than a rational Home Secretary. She refuses to see that she has lost the argument and she will go on stamping her feet. The draft Bill represents the stamping of her feet. I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and all the others who advanced arguments against the 90 and 42-day limits. I have grave doubts about the 28-day limit, but that is the decision that both Houses of Parliament have arrived at. We ought to stick to that for the time being.

It is tempting for a Government who have been defeated in the unelected House—a Government who managed to get the provision passed in the summer only by what I shall call an unusual majority, as I do not want to use unparliamentary language—to try to achieve their goal of a 42-day limit. I accept that politically and in terms of public relations such a defeat is very embarrassing and rather annoying, but it will not do for the Government to produce a moose under the table, as they say in Alaska—that is, what we used to call an elephant in the room—and to pretend that we cannot talk about it. The draft Bill is sitting in the Library and the Vote Office, partly as a threat and partly as a piece of Violet Elizabeth Bott-style spoiled child behaviour.

Clause 22 of the Bill as it went to the other place, which has been knocked out by Lords amendment No. 4, defined something called a “grave exceptional terrorist threat”. Such a threat meant

Such an event is the precise trigger that would get the draft Bill out of the Library. I urge the Government and the right hon. Member for Leicester, East to ensure that the draft Bill or the concepts that lie in it are thoroughly discussed in an inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee. Along with the right hon. Gentleman, I was a member of that Committee in the early 1990s and I seem to remember that, regardless of its party political majority, we discussed matters of serious importance to the home affairs remit in a collegiate fashion.

Keith Vaz: I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that I will put the point that he makes to the Committee at its meeting tomorrow, and ensure that the matters that he has raised will be considered.

Mr. Garnier: I am extremely grateful. It is reassuring that some part of the House of Commons will have the opportunity to discuss the draft Bill in a relatively calm and consensual environment. Of course there will be individual disagreements, but I have a suspicion that the Committee as a whole will produce one report. It is highly unlikely that there will be a split.

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Keith Vaz: I have learned one thing since taking over as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee—never predict what it will do. There were lengthy and complicated discussions over the last report on counter-terrorism, and members of the Committee from all parties are very robust on this issue.

Mr. Garnier: And so they should be, but I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Committee—Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat—will come forward with a considered view on the matter and produce a report that will be not only worth his producing but worth our debating. I hope that he will suggest to his Committee tomorrow that it should hold such an inquiry and that, once it is done, the Committee can persuade the Leader of the House to allow time on the Floor of the House for the report’s conclusions to be debated. I am sure that he and his colleagues will play a very active role in that debate, when it comes.

I want to make it clear that the House should not be satisfied with what the Government have done so far. I am delighted that they have accepted the Lords amendments and are not asking this House to reverse them. I think that that is a very sensible way forward, but I am concerned that in the absence of a report from the Home Affairs Committee and of a debate on the Floor of the House, we will find that we have to do something about a terrorist threat that is both “grave” and “exceptional”.

The concept is extraordinary, if I may say so: by its very nature, a terrorist threat is grave and I should like to think that it is exceptional, but what happens if it is grave but not exceptional or exceptional but not grave yet none the less a terrorist threat? Irrespective of the clumsy language that has now been taken out of the Bill, I should like to think that the Government will react in a rational way to the next, or any future, terrorist outrage. I have absolutely no way of telling whether there will be one, or when, or what form that outrage might take, but it is reasonably certain that we cannot rule such a thing out.

We therefore need to be adult about this matter, and to realise that there will probably come an occasion when we again have to consider 28 or 42 days’ detention. However, I want to do that in the light of some better advice from the Home Affairs Committee and of a debate on the Floor of the House. What I do not want is to see the Home Secretary in her Violet Elizabeth mode come screaming in here the day after a hideous bomb outrage and demanding that we immediately enact her draft Bill.

Damian Green: My hon. and learned Friend has mentioned the debate about 28 as opposed to 42 days, but it is worth putting it on record that many of us regard 28 days as an exceptional circumstance. We look forward to the day when we feel confident enough to reduce that figure as well.

Mr. Garnier: That was a compromise arrived at and brokered by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). Were it not for his amendment, I think that we would be hovering somewhere above 50 days and trying to get some reduction from the 90 days that the then Government were trying to achieve. I agree
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with my hon. Friend that 28 days is in many respects a jurisdictional aberration, but it is where we are. We have settled on that figure for the moment, but I hope that a time will come when we can reverse it back to 14. I hope that we might even get it down to seven, although I do not see those circumstances in the immediate future.

I urge the Government not to rush to the Chamber after some hideous event, buoyed up—or rather fuelled—by the natural emotional outrage of the public and individual Members of Parliament, and think that they can put through an inadequate or improper piece of legislation. The fact that something has been sitting on a shelf in the Library for weeks, months or years does not constitute scrutiny or rational appreciation.

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