"Part IV — Bail

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 11th June 2008.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 4:30 pm, 11th June 2008

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 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 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.

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Jack Callon
Posted on 12 Jun 2008 12:43 pm (Report this annotation)

An example of a passionate argument against the government's case. I watched on BBC Parliament - see if you can locate it on the video - it's worth it. There was no passion on the other side of the argument, which suggests Diane was correct in what she said. One of Diane's great moments . . . no doubt to be repeated again and again as the government tries to get this bill on the statute books.

William Floyd
Posted on 13 Jun 2008 10:50 am (Report this annotation)

An impassioned speech. Good stuff Diane.

David Clark
Posted on 14 Jun 2008 7:55 pm (Report this annotation)

It is good to see an MP arguing with conviction on something they feel passionate about. I hope it makes those that voted against their conscience after receiving sweeteners feel suitably ashamed.

Della Petch
Posted on 16 Jun 2008 12:00 pm (Report this annotation)

I doubt it. We will only know if things are truly changing if these people have the guts to stand beside Dave Davis and say these things. Otherwise their gestures are empty and pointless.

A short time ago, Brown was hailing Magna Carta as the most important "British" document of all time, for the freedoms it gave us. I think someone must have told him it wasn't a British document, but an English one (Britian didn't exist in the 13th century). That must be why he tore it up and spit it in our faces.