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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ingram: No. I ask the Committee to accept the recommendations before it. [Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The Minister does not need to give a reason; he is not giving way. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Gorrie: I am pleased that our amendment, if somewhat defective, has effectively acted as a tap which has allowed five excellent speeches from Labour Members to gush forth and spread light--to mix my metaphors--on this subject. Subsection (10) is remarkably badly worded. It may have been written by some robust Scots lawyers, but I do not think that they understand the English tongue.

I entirely agree with the interpretation of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan)--perhaps because we both come from a teaching background. Contrary to what the Minister said, the Bill states that

The Minister was contending that that was not what was meant, but clearly it is.

The clause is extremely badly written, but, because of the time constraints and because our amendment is imperfect, we will not push it to a vote. Whether some wiser lawyers in the House of Lords may consider the matter worth pursuing, I do not know. Unfortunately the two Scottish Liberal Democrat QCs were revolving in aeroplanes over Orkney, and we could not get their advice. This is an important issue and I hope that the Government will address it more carefully than they have done hitherto. However, in light of all that has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Mullin: I beg to move amendment No.5, in page 2, line 1, after 'constable' insert 'in the presence of his solicitor'.

The First Deputy Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in page 2, line 5, at end insert 'of his choice'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 8, leave out from 'offence' to 'the' in line 9.

No. 8, in page 2, line 14, at end insert 'of his choice.'.

No. 15, in page 3, line 7, at end insert--

No. 16, in page 3, line 7, at end insert--

    '( ) Every suspect to be questioned under the provisions of this section shall be informed of his rights under subjection (13) above.'.

No. 23, in clause 2, page 4, line 10, after 'constable' insert

    'in the presence of his solicitor'.

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No. 24, in page 4, line 14, at end insert 'of his choice.'.

No. 25, in page 4, line 16, leave out from 'offence' to 'the' in line 17.

No. 26, in page 4, line 22, at end insert 'of his choice.'.

No. 31, in page 5, line 7, at end insert--

No. 32, in page 5, line 7, at end insert--

    '( ) Every suspect to be questioned under the provisions of this section shall be informed of his rights under subsection (12) above.'.

Mr. Mullin: This is the first of several helpful amendments that I have tabled designed to enhance the credibility of the Bill. There is no malice in my heart. I am in favour of rounding up terrorists--I just want to be sure that we do round up terrorists and not somebody else. I do not want us to get into a lot of trouble with the European Court of Human Rights, or with the courts in Ireland.

It is in that spirit that I move this simple little amendment, which will be readily comprehensible to everyone present, to require that a solicitor be present when interviews take place. The interviews are very important--they will be the corroboration that will be required when a police officer stands up in court. It is important that the interviews should be as credible as possible.

Under the Bill as it stands, the suspect is allowed to consult a solicitor, but the solicitor is kicked out when the interview takes place. That is not good enough. It would not wash anywhere else in the UK, and I do not see why it should wash in Northern Ireland. I make no criticism of Ministers, and I recognise the serious problems that they are up against. I do not think that the problems come from Ministers. It will seem incredible to many that the Government are resisting an amendment of such obvious common sense, but the problem has arisen because, unfortunately, there are mighty vested interests in Northern Ireland.

The culture in Northern Ireland is such that even the most moderate change is likely to encounter the most strenuous resistance. That is why Ministers find themselves in this difficult position. It is not my intention to make their lives difficult. I want the Bill to be improved so that it is credible to the outside world. That is the purpose of the amendment.

The presence of a solicitor during an interview with someone charged with a serious offence is standard practice elsewhere in the UK--Scotland may be an exception, but I do not want to get into another debate about Scotland--but that does not apply to terrorist cases. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which lays down all sorts of safeguards for the rights of suspects, does not apply to terrorist cases.

The police in the UK realised long ago that it was in their interests to do things by the book and to have witnesses who were able to confirm that if necessary. They voluntarily record interviews, even in cases where they do not have to, and they allow solicitors to be present.

Of course, I look forward to the day, and I think that it may not be too far off, when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act extends to all criminal offences. It is not sensible--this was done a while ago--to exempt the most

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serious terrorist offences from the Act. It is the one area where people might think, in the light of history, that we need a few safeguards. This is not obligatory at the moment, but I am confident that that day is coming and I know that the Government are working on that.

All sensible policemen in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere in the UK, will regard the presence of a solicitor as a protection, not a threat. The policeman's evidence has to stand up in court, and these cases will be widely watched by the outside world when they come to court. The presence of a solicitor can only help.

1.45 am

I shall listen with great care to the Home Secretary because I am puzzled about why the amendment must be opposed, when it is obviously so reasonable to all people of common sense. I shall push it to a vote unless I hear something that suggests that considerable progress is about to be made.

This is the moment for the RUC. If we make the Bill conditional on the presence of solicitors and on audio recording, all their complex objections will melt away overnight like snow on the edge of a volcano. Everything that was impossible yesterday will become possible tomorrow when they realise that they will not get what they want from the Bill unless those elementary safeguards are included.

I look forward to a speech from the Secretary of State that matches the spirit in which I offer this simple little amendment because my purpose is to enhance the Bill and to make it more credible, so that we can hold up our heads in the outside world and go away from this place tonight feeling that we have done something useful.

Mr. Öpik: I add a word of support to what the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has said. It seems a matter of common sense to us and, more to the point, it is of great importance that justice is seen to be done. There are so many ways in which the Bill can fall down if it appears unjust in the eyes of the public. I will not reiterate the points that he has made, but I stress that we support his sentiment.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 propose that a suspect should be allowed to have the solicitor "of his choice." I hope that the assumption is that the choice will be within reason; I foresee enormous difficulty if the choice is limitless.

I am not convinced about amendment No. 7, which seems to remove the requirement for the suspect to make a statement where he or she has been informed by the police that he or she may be charged. I think that, on that, the Bill makes good sense.

By and large, we support the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. It is important that we are seen to be bending over backwards to ensure that no accusation can be levelled that civil liberties are being undermined by the Bill. We think that it would be helpful for the Home Secretary to give an assurance that the Government will reconsider. Perhaps they will introduce a Government amendment in another place if they do not feel able to accept the amendment tonight.

Mr. McNamara: I do not intend to delay the Committee for long.

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I take up the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). There is a contradiction in what the Government said earlier if they hope very quickly to have oral recordings of interviews. If that is the case, there can be no possible reason for not having a solicitor present. A solicitor will, in any event, hear what has been recorded. If we are to have a delay before the recording of interviews is introduced, as has been suggested, it makes sense for a solicitor to be present. There is no longer a disagreement in principle about keeping a record of the interview.

I believe that the reluctance to have a solicitor present shows a feeling that solicitors are somehow not to be trusted because if they were present during an interrogation they would pick up something, rush out and start telling other people. We encountered that nudge, nudge, wink, wink attitude when we were in opposition and were urging proper representation by solicitors at interrogations. That point is invalid if we are to have recordings. There is no reason why solicitors should not be allowed to be present.

It is possible, under the current drafting of the Bill, for a solicitor to be present on three occasions, but not to be present throughout an interrogation: he can be present before a caution is made; he can be present before the suspect is informed that he might be cautioned or charged; and he can be present before the charge is made. However, the solicitor cannot be present continuously. While the RUC is getting over the technical difficulties of not having the necessary equipment, despite provision being made six or nine months ago to have it in police stations, we should remember that most solicitors have legs or bicycles or motor cars and can attend Castlereagh, Gough barracks or the Strand police station, where special interrogations take place. They can be present and listen and we can wait for the glorious day when we have audio recordings.

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