Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 26th October 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South 4:45 pm, 26th October 2005

Not just yet, if my hon. Friend does not mind.

I intend to direct my remarks solely to the proposals for 90-day detention. I say at the outset that I realise that, with the arrival of the suicide bomber in the United Kingdom, we face a wholly new form of terrorism. I accept that we have an obligation to provide the police and security services with the tools that they need to deal with that, and I acknowledge that a difficult balance must be struck between the protection of the suspect and the liberties of the subject. I accept all those things, but do not believe that a case has been made for detaining suspects for up to 90 days. What is more, the provision will lead to unintended consequences that could store up a lot of difficulties for when the Bill is implemented.

As I said when I intervened on the Home Secretary, it is unfortunate that the Government have uncritically endorsed what I still believe to be the police's first throw of the dice. The police did not think for a moment that they would get 90-day detentions. The request was their opening shot in what they perhaps thought would be a process of negotiation, so they would have been as amazed as most hon. Members who have spoken that the proposal was uncritically endorsed.

I oppose the 90-day detention because there is a danger that the power will be abused, whatever safeguards we try to put in place. The overwhelming majority of terrorist suspects are released without charge. Of the 895 people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 up to 30 September 2005, only 23 were charged—not convicted, but charged—with any form of terrorist offence. Some 300 others were charged with other offences, some of which were quite minor, and 496 were released without any charge at all. Under the Bill, it would have been possible to hold those 496 people for up to 90 days instead of up to 14 days, as can be done at the moment.

With the best will in the world, the police will be tempted to string out the process. If they do not have to work their way through a big pile of documentation and other evidence quickly, they might wait 30 or 40 days before even getting round to starting to do that. I am not suggesting that that would always happen, but it is a reasonable supposition that it will begin to happen in some cases over time.