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Mr. Straw: I wish that I could, but, for reasons that I shall explain, I cannot. There is no disagreement in principle, certainly among Labour Members, about the desirability of audio interviews during the interrogation of suspects under prevention of terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland. After a lengthy campaign, in which I was not involved--it has to be said that my hon. Friends were not assisted by many Opposition Members in that campaign, either--this House and the other place finally agreed earlier this year, by means of the passage of section 5 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, that there should be audio recordings of police interviews.

That will happen. The only issue--I accept that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) says, it is an important one--is when it should take place. My hon. Friend wants to ensure that the core part of the operation of the first part of the Bill cannot come into force until facilities for the audio-recording of the interrogation of suspects are properly in place. That would be the direct effect of his amendment.

Dr. Godman: May I ask my right hon. Friend a couple of practical questions about the use of audio-recorded interviews? Has the RUC published a training manual for its officers concerned with such interviews? Has a code of practice concerning such interviews been published? What kind of training programmes have been implemented for officers who will be engaged in them?

Mr. Straw: I am sorry; I missed my hon. Friend's third question.

Dr. Godman: It was about training.

Mr. Straw: The answer to my hon. Friend's questions shows why we could not accept the amendment unless we were also ready to accept that the implementation of the Bill could be delayed for some weeks--and we do not believe that it could. By the way, I do not subscribe to the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South that the whole purpose of the Bill will have been and gone before audio-recording is in place. The Bill's purpose will be there so long as there remains a threat--[Interruption.]--a serious threat, from splinter terrorist groups of the kind designated by the Bill. I hope that that time is as short as possible, but none of us with experience of terrorism in Northern Ireland can say how long that will be.

Ms Abbott rose--

Mr. Straw: Of course I shall give way, but I should like to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) first.

Under legislation passed only five months ago by this House and the other place, it was agreed in principle that audio recordings should be in place for the interrogation

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of suspects under prevention of terrorism legislation--but it was also agreed that a number of steps needed to be taken before that could happen.

One of those steps was that a code of practice should not only be published but come before the House and receive affirmative approval, as well as the approval of the other place. That is often a standard practice when the House wants to ensure that the provisions of a code of practice are comprehensive. Inevitably, that is bound to lead to some delay. It is not possible to achieve that until the House next sits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde asked about the training manual. Obviously, that will follow the code of practice. There was a third point, which I missed, but I am happy to give way again.

Dr. Godman: I asked about a manual, about a code of practice and about training. However, now that the Secretary of State has courteously given way again, may I ask a fourth question? Presumably, there are codes of practice for Scottish police forces, where audio-recorded interviews are commonplace. There must be a code of practice for police forces south of the border, here in England. Presumably, training can be given by those Scottish and English police officers who are expert in this field.

Mr. Straw: The RUC is not starting from scratch on that. If that is the point that my hon. Friend is making, he is absolutely right: the RUC has considerable experience.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) says that, unless we pass amendment No. 27, we shall offend the good will of the people of Northern Ireland. However, one reason why this legislation was not previously approved by the House was the considerable opposition by a substantial section of the community in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Hansard on the emergency provisions debates from November 1997 and earlier this year, he will see that opposition reflected there. People--including the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)--who have played an important role in the peace process had genuine and serious anxieties about the potential abuse of audio recordings if they were introduced into Northern Ireland. That opposition existed for a very long time.

As the Minister of State, Northern Ireland office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), told Standing Committee A, new Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan actually supports the change. It is not an issue of dispute among Parliament, Government and the RUC. My hon. Friend said:

The only issue, therefore, is timing. My hon. Friend has made it clear that--

Mr. Allan: Does the Secretary of State accept that there is also an issue of principle? An inference will be drawn

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from the responses given in the interview, and it will be crucial to know whether a suspect grunted, or gave an inarticulate response, or was completely silent. An audio recording is fundamental. A typewritten script of an interview will not reveal its entirety.

Mr. Straw: I know that it is not an alternative, but there is already the silent video-recording, which provides important evidence about the conduct of the interview. What the hon. Gentleman says explains why the whole of the House of Commons has accepted that audio recordings are better, but the question before the Committee now--

Mr. White rose--

Mr. Straw: I shall give way to my hon. Friend and then I shall return to the question.

Mr. White: If the amendment is not accepted, some people may be arrested and charged under the Act, and they may lose their defence. Either they will be terrorists who are using arguments to challenge the prosecution's case, or they will be innocent people who have been misunderstood. The amendment would resolve that conflict. It seems to me that we are unnecessarily creating problems for ourselves. That will undermine the principle of this important Bill.

Mr. Straw: As I have said, it is not in dispute that it is better if audio recordings are available, and that is the Chief Constable's view--reported by my hon. Friend the Minister.

However, the issue before the Committee is whether we can delay the Bill's implementation until audio recordings are available. The Prime Minister sought, with the Speaker's consent, to have Parliament recalled because we believed that there was an urgent situation, which required urgent changes in the law. We do believe--we would not have sought the recall of Parliament otherwise--that this legislation needs to come into force in the next two or three days, to give the police and the courts the powers that we judge to be necessary.

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

Mr. Straw: I want to finish this point, if I may.

There is no question in our mind, as I believe was reflected in the overwhelming vote in favour of Second Reading. Given that, it is not possible for us to pass the Bill with the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way, on this point?

2.45 am

Mr. Straw: No, I wish to proceed.

I do not believe that injustice will arise without my hon. Friend's amendment, for reasons that I have already explained in responding to his earlier amendments--although, of course, it is preferable for audio-recording to be there. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has explained, the original intention--before the need for the

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Bill arose--was for audio-recording to come into force from 1 January this year. My hon. Friend has explained, and I will repeat the point--

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of order, Mr. Lord. Is it in order for the Home Secretary to misrepresent the current situation? He has already told the Committee that audio facilities exist in places where evidence is likely to be taken--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair.

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