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Mr. Öpik: Is the Home Secretary completely satisfied that the Bill will not fall foul of the ruling in the Murray case?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I am. As I introduced the Human Rights Bill, it would be odd for me to introduce measures that were knowingly outwith the convention and then deny that that was the case. I hope that my hon. Friends would agree that that would be completely out of character. All Ministers make an effort to ensure that Bills are consistent with conventions.

Perhaps the most important point is whether, as a general rule, solicitors ought to be present at interrogations. They are present in England and Wales, and that is desirable. I suggest that one of the reasons for the European Court not saying that solicitors should be present in all interrogations of suspects in serious crimes

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is that that is not necessarily the general rule in the jurisdictions of the countries that are signatories to the Council of Europe convention.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: It is in England and Wales.

Mr. Straw: Yes, but it is not the general rule in Scotland.

Dr. Godman: That is right.

Mr. Straw: Yes, it is. In Scotland, a person who may be charged has the right to see a solicitor privately, but there is no requirement whatever for the solicitor to be present at interviews under the general criminal law as well as under prevention of terrorism legislation. That is a feature of the Scottish system and I do not presume to say whether it is better or worse than the system that obtains in England and Wales. However, I am not aware of serious complaints being raised in the House about the quality of interrogations and their reliability being undermined by the absence of a solicitor. In England and Wales, solicitors are present during interrogations, both under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and in practice under the prevention of terrorism legislation.

Dr. Godman: Many of us in Scotland disapprove strongly of the present system, but the absence of solicitors in such circumstances was supported for many years by Conservative Members when they were in government.

Mr. Straw: I accept what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

One of the advantages of devolution to Scotland is that such a matter can be considered at greater length, and if the people of Scotland wish to change it, that will be a matter for them.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): I take on board all the points that my right hon. Friend has made so far, but does he agree that he has yet to advance a single argument against this specific amendment?

Mr. Straw: No, I do not agree. I have advanced a number of arguments about why we cannot accept the amendment at this time.

I acknowledge that it is desirable for solicitors to be present, but systems and practices vary from one jurisdiction to another and changing those can, and often inevitably does, take considerable time. That is in the nature of this kind of exercise.

We propose to consider the matter carefully in the context of the wider consultation exercise on counter-terrorism legislation and I shall publish a consultation document later this autumn.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

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I understand the anxieties that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South expressed. I do not dispute the principle that he raises about the importance of safeguards for the accused, but I regret that, for the reasons that I have outlined, I cannot accept the amendment.

Mr. Mullin: I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I know that he is in a difficult position and I do not want to make his job any more difficult.

In the Northern Ireland jurisdiction abuse has been widespread over a long period and has attracted international, never mind national, recognition. A recent United Nations special rapporteur report on the independence of judges and lawyers was highly critical of current and past RUC practices. That is what led to the present Independent Commission on Policing. Therefore, there is serious concern in Northern Ireland about this. Last week, 30 solicitors put their names to a statement expressing extreme concern.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be offended, but, if I can, I shall divide the House.

Amendment negatived.

2.15 am

Mr. Mullin: I beg to move amendment No. 9 in page 2, line 14, at end insert--

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord): With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 27, in clause 2, page 4, line 22 at end insert--

Mr. Mullin: This is the second of the helpful amendments that I am moving this evening. It concerns audio-recording. [Interruption.]

Dr. Godman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman pursues his intervention, the Committee must come to order and settle down.

Dr. Godman: As I said earlier, when a suspect is questioned in a Scottish police station, the interview must be audio-recorded. In an earlier debate, I argued for such recordings in Northern Ireland police stations. Is the equipment in place there? Does it simply need to be activated?

Mr. Mullin: Yes, the equipment is in place. There are no practical obstacles to audio-recording. This was an issue on which I hoped that we could make progress tonight, as I know that Ministers are sympathetic. The

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purpose of the amendment is to make the Bill conditional on audio-recording. There has been a great deal of foot-dragging on the matter.

I listened carefully to the Minister's winding-up speech on Second Reading and I acknowledged that we were making progress, but I was disappointed when I heard those fateful words "as soon as possible". We have heard them numerous times over recent months. There are no practical obstacles to audio-recording. What is lacking is the political will. Indeed, I am not even certain that that is lacking. I think that Ministers are doing their best.

The previous Government tried to persuade the RUC, without success, to accept audio recordings. On 30 October last year, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told the Labour party conference that there would be audio recordings. They were provided for in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998, which received Royal Assent on 8 April. It is already provided for in legislation. That is what makes the amendment even more reasonable than the previous one.

Lord Dubs was asked on 10 June how we were getting on with the procedure for sorting out audio recordings. He replied:

That phrase again--"as soon as possible".

I am concerned that progress is a little slow. We have here an opportunity to move a bit faster. If the House of Commons decides to make audio-recording--this is pretty basic stuff--a condition of the Bill, all the objections to it will disappear overnight. The Government will not hear any more about them. At 9.30 tomorrow morning, recording could be organised.

When I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon, he said that there were practical problems. The practical problems cannot be all that great, because some of the holding centres in Northern Ireland have the facilities installed. In his report, the Commissioner for the Holding Centres said:

Well, let us get on with it. I do not understand the reason for the delay--or rather, I think that I do understand the reason. It has nothing to do with Ministers. The reason is the foot-dragging by the usual people. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned silent video-recording. My goodness, that was a struggle to bring in. It took a long time. With the first lot of equipment that the police put in, the images on the video were so obscure that the whole lot had to be chucked out and they had to start again. One could not see what was happening, and the whole purpose of a video is to see what is happening.

Mr. McNamara: When there was a video but not an audio record, it was not unknown for interrogators to put their coat over the camera.

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