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Mr. Mullin: Yes, and it has not been unknown for the equipment to break down at key points, or for the attention of the officer supposed to be monitoring it to wander at key points. There are all those problems.

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I return to my point about the presence of solicitors. We want the legislation to be credible. The purpose of the amendment and the previous amendment is not to undermine the legislation; it is to make it credible. At the moment, it is not credible. It will get us into a lot of trouble if we are not careful. It will make quite a big difference if, when the police say in court that the suspect refused to co-operate, the suspect did this or the suspect did that, a tape recording can be produced.

The police in the rest of the United Kingdom got used to all this some time ago. They opposed it initially and then they found that it was in their interests. Of course it is in their interests, because they no longer have to spend hours in court and do not have to spend enormous amounts of money on lawyers arguing who said what to whom, when. It is greatly in the interests of the police and everyone involved that a credible record should exist of what is said in interviews. As a recording is the corroborative evidence--in addition to the opinion of the police officer--it will be pretty important to have credible corroboration. At the moment, we do not have credible corroboration.

This is my contribution to the Bill. I want us to have credible evidence that can be presented in court. That can be done only with audio recordings. It is not very controversial or difficult. The facilities already exist. All that is lacking is the will, and not, I think, the will of Ministers. Frankly, we are just talking about the time scale.

The Bill is an ideal opportunity to improve the time scale a little. I do not want to hear that audio-recording is being introduced as soon as possible. There was some clarification, and it was stated that the proposals would come into force on 1 January, but I think that everything that is supposed to happen under the Bill will be over by then. I want to hear that people arrested under the Bill will be interviewed in circumstances that are not controversial and in which there can be no dispute about who is saying what. That is the assurance that I seek from Ministers. In the absence of that assurance, I am sorry that I shall have to press the amendment to a vote--and this time there will be Tellers in the appropriate place.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Until this evening, I had not agreed with him on virtually anything, but the amendment carries enormous credibility.

When a case of a miscarriage of justice arises, we shall examine this legislation. Following the judgment in Pepper v. Hart, we shall read what was said by Members of Parliament as recorded in Hansard. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South did not manage to put Tellers in place for the Division on the previous amendment relating to the presence of a solicitor. I hope that my Front-Bench colleagues will be prepared to push an amendment to that effect on Third Reading.

It seems that the elementary rules of the Police and Criminal Act 1984 demand that we have an audio record, so amendments Nos. 9 and 27 are eminently sensible. I should prefer a video record, but, if we cannot have that, let us have an audio record. We have discovered this evening that the equipment is already in the courts and the cells, so why can the Home Secretary not accept the amendments? He sits there looking sullen. He accepted

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the moral arguments that I made when we debated previous amendments about solicitors, so why on earth can he not accept amendments dealing with the audio-recording of evidence given by terrorist suspects? We are talking about the most serious offences of which anyone is likely to be convicted, so why can the proper safeguards not be put in place?

If the Home Secretary wishes to carry the good will of the people of Northern Ireland and to ensure that justice is seen to be done, he should accept the amendments. If he does not, the people of Northern Ireland will ask why.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I offer strong support from the Liberal Democrats for the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). We share the concern that has been expressed across the Chamber about the cost of miscarriages of justice--the cost to the criminal justice system itself in having to put them right, but also the cost to the credibility of the entire legal system in the communities that are supposed to be served by that system.

Technology is a two-way street. It is now used effectively to catch criminals. Indeed, we spend most of our days walking past closed circuit television cameras which accurately record everything that we do. In the same way, technology should be used to protect the rights of defendants until such time as they have been convicted of a crime.

We strongly support the use of audio technology. As we have heard, the facilities already exist. There are no excuses for not proceeding with audio-recording. When in opposition, the Labour party called for audio interviews and recordings to be extended. There are specific requirements in the Bill which mean that audio-recording should be included. It is not sufficient to say that audio-recording in general is being introduced.

The Bill would introduce the key element of using inferences drawn from an interview and the responses of the accused in the interview as corroborative evidence in court. In those circumstances, it is entirely appropriate to link the gathering of the evidence with the audio recording. That should be done in the Bill through such an amendment, rather than being left simply to a general audio-recording provision, which may or may not be introduced later.

There may be security requirements whereby the Government would want certain parts of an interview, for example those in which the names of informants were revealed, to be kept secret. However, it is not beyond the wit of the courts to excise certain parts of an interview if that has to be done for security reasons. Certainly, there should be ways around that, but it is appropriate that the general tone and gist of the interview from which one is drawing inferences should be made available through the audio-recording system.

Certainly, we are aware that many of the key elements in the famous miscarriage of justice cases about which we all know relate back to the interview, as the research of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South has shown. The interview is critical--the tone and manner of the police officers and the responses of the defendant are critical to those cases. The simple, straightforward way to get rid of such problems is to make the recordings available. That is in the interests of the police force as well as of the defendant, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South said.

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We hope that the Government will accept that the amendment should be in the Bill and should not merely be put off until such a date as they choose to implement it. We shall certainly support the hon. Member for Sunderland, South if he can give us the tools whereby we can register our vote in the Division Lobby.

2.30 am

Ms Abbott: I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in favour of this modest amendment. We are discussing the rule of law in the British isles, which requires three things: first, that the public support the forces of law and order; secondly, that those forces carry out their job properly; and, thirdly, that we as legislators set in place the correct legislative framework for the first two to happen. I am not persuaded that the Bill sets out that framework.

Some of my colleagues believe that, in the aftermath of Omagh and because of the public concern, we must push through this legislation and that it is not the details but the spirit behind it that matters. However, the detail of this legislation is crucial. If it is wrong and if implementation goes wrong, we run the risk of creating a new generation of republican martyrs.

I listened carefully to the Home Secretary's arguments against an earlier amendment concerning the presence of solicitors, but I did not hear him put forward a single argument against their presence. All he had to say was that practice varies in different European Union countries. He did not show why practice should vary in Northern Ireland. I should be grateful if he would give some concrete arguments against tape recording in respect of the amendment.

The way in which the legislation is being pushed through is wrong. Tagging on clauses 5, 6 and 7 is also wrong, and I shall come to that at the appropriate time. I hope that this simple amendment, which would greatly improve this unfortunate legislation, will at least persuade the Home Secretary to offer some concrete arguments in favour of his position.

Audrey Wise: My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said earlier that he would plead with the Home Secretary to accept the amendments. I echo his wording. I rarely comment on Northern Ireland issues and I do so now with great humility because those issues are complicated. I am not one who thinks that there are easy answers to such issues; nor do I think that it is enough to say, "Civil liberties, civil liberties," and that those are an argument against the sort of legislation that is before us.

I am aware that all liberties are restrained and have limits. There are balances and compromises to be made. I am aware of that and accept it. I also accept that the Government are in a difficult position after Omagh. The Government's handling of Northern Ireland has been brilliant, to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). That is why some of us are so agitated--we do not want that spoilt now.

I am also nervous about commenting on technical issues, but I remember my mother telling me that sound came to the movies in 1930. Yet now I am told that we are in the era of silent videos. The technology is not even expensive. Even I feel competent to make a comment on it. I was thinking of saying that, if we cannot afford it, we should have a whip-round. Anyway, my hon. Friend the

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Member for Sunderland, South says that it is already there. Capital equipment is lying idle. That does not make economic sense.

There is nothing that my right hon. Friend can say against the amendment. Please, please just accept it. We want to be in the same Lobby, so just accept the amendment.

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