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John Bercow: My hon. Friend very shrewdly avoided the elephant trap that had been laid for him by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and I hope that he will not now fall into an alternative trap. May I put it to him that it is not merely a question of safeguards or of the existence of a sunset clause, valuable though both those things can be, but of the evidential base, if such base there be, for an extension of time? It is not a matter of saying, "Some people think two plus two is four, others think two plus two is six, so we will compromise on five." It must be a matter of principle, and the Government have not yet made a case, by providing examples, for any sort of extension. We cannot accept some sort of cobbled-together compromise in the name of a quiet life.
We will listen to what the Home Secretary has to say in response to what I think will be widespread disquiet about the proposals. That will colour what we do at the end of the debate. There are several options. There is an amendment allowing for 28 days' detention. I indicated that I did not want to get drawn into the question of periods, but if I remain dissatisfied at the end of the debate about three months' detention, 28 days is certainly a lesser evil and more readily controllable. On top of that, we will have to consider seriously whether we can support the clause at all. While there might be justifications, if the Government cannot give them in the course of debate, there can be no basis on which we can sign up to it. If we simply allow it to drift to Report next Wednesday, all that that does is to defer the clash that will come.
In the past, when dealing with these Home Office Bills, I have on several occasions ended up standing up at the Dispatch Box late at night on ping-pong between this House and another place, which has acted as the only protector of civil liberties in this country. I do not want to do that again if I can avoid it. It is an
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unsatisfactory process, as the Home Secretary acknowledged the last time it happened, just before the general election. I therefore hope that the Home Secretary will take in good part the comments that have been made and respond positively. But if, as I slightly fear, the Government simply intend to bulldoze their way towards 90 days, without providing the foundations for doing it and the safeguards that should surround it, we will not be able to support him, and indeed we will oppose him vigorously.
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) concluded his remarks with a reference to the House of Lords. Clearly, some Members outside the Governmentperhaps in the Government as wellhave no reservations at all about the 90 day-period, are absolutely happy with it, and so be it. We do have reservations. Obviously, I have many reservations, to say the least. However, I do not work on the assumption that it does not matter what we do here, because we know that the House of Lords will not agree to 90 days. My view is not that we should leave it to the House of Lords but that the elected Chamber should try to reach a consensus, which is why I have tabled amendments in what I hope is a constructive way.
I accept that the issue is controversial. Detaining people without charge is in itself controversial. I have gone along with it on the basis that we face an acute terrorist threat. I am not one of those who have, at one time or another, minimised the terrorist threat. Indeednot just shortly before 7/7 but in the Home Affairs Committee and in questions to Ministers, under the previous Administration as well as since 1997I have referred to the threat of terrorism and the fact that people come into this country who want to cause maximum damage. I leave aside those who were responsible for 7/7. I wondered why such people had been allowed into the country in the first place.
Perhaps we can reach a consensus, however difficult that may be. I am willing to go along with the notion that a longer period than 14 days is required. I do not stand fast on the 14 days, or I would not have tabled my amendment. There are those who oppose any increase, including, perhaps, other Labour Members, and there may be some who argue that there should be no period of detention at all. There are also, as I have said, those who are happy with what the Government propose. My view is that a direct increase from 14 days to 90 is not justified. I have heard no justification, apart from the Home Secretary's statement that the police happen to share the Government's view. I do not think that that is sufficient justification. I do not think that jumping from 14 days to 90 is justified simply because the Home Secretary has been toldand if he says he has been told, I am sure that he hasthat the police asked for the extension. That does not strike me as right, or as fulfilling the functions of the House of Commons.
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Mr. Hendrick: My hon. Friend is probably aware that the police have given their reasons for supporting the 90-day period. First, it would allow time for computers to be decrypted. Secondly, it would give them time to gain access to difficult sites where forensic evidence might be stored, such as tube trains. Thirdly, it would allow time for difficult negotiations with other police forces around the world, in which communication might be difficult and interpretation might be required. Does he not accept those technical grounds? Perhaps, rather than engaging in a Dutch auction to decide on the number of days, we should accept the police's technical reasons.
Mr. Winnick: Would my hon. Friend say the same if the police favoured four months, six months or nine months? Of course the police will try to justify the extension. We all recognise that they have a very important role to play in defending our country, but I do not agree that the fact that the police have said this, that and the other is sufficient reason for the House to go along with it.
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): What my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) says is not borne out by statistics. Since the change in the law in 2004, there have been 11 instances of detention for 13 to 14 days, and in all of them the detainee has been charged. There have been 12 instances of detention for between seven and 13 days, and in all of them the detainee has been released without charge. In none of those cases has someone been rearrested once the computer has been decrypted or further evidence has been gathered. I know of no case from the past two years in which an extension to 90 days would have been justified.
"In Committee, on Report and otherwise, I am ready to be flexible in discussions, if we can reach an agreement. Furthermore, it would be better if the House resolved the matter rather than left it to the other place, but that requires both sides of the House to work constructively to reach agreement."[Official Report, 26 October 2005; Vol. 438, c. 332.]
Mr. Winnick: Any private conversation that may or may not have taken place between my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and me will remain private. I see no purpose in having private gatheringsif there were any such gatheringsand then telling the House of Commons. But I am sure that in responding to the debate, my right hon. Friend will explain again what he said last week, and I will listen very carefully.
I have repeatedly been asked whether I will force the amendment to a vote. I do not know. I am minded to do so at this stage, but I am a flexible sort of personas I have always beenand I shall listen very carefully to what my right hon. Friend says. The gap between the Government and me on terrorism is pretty narrow. We
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recognise the dangers, and that certain emergency powers have to be taken. We recognise that 7/7 is not necessarily a one-off, leaving aside 21/7, which we must not speak about because it is sub judice. Does anyone in this House believe that there is no acute terrorist threat? Does anyone believe that the massacring of totally innocent people that took place on 7/7they included Muslims, as well as Christians, Jews and Sikhscannot happen again this year? The differences between my right hon. Friend and me are pretty narrow, but they are extremely important, otherwise I would not be speaking to these amendments.
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