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Mr. Charles Clarke: The discussion has been interesting. I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on several of the issues raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred to access to solicitors. I shall deal with the points that he made and with Government amendment No. 64, and the amendments grouped with it, in the same context. There is not much difference between my hon. Friend's position and that in the Government's substantive amendment No. 64 and the others. There is universal acknowledgement that prompt access to a solicitor should be the norm in any of the circumstances outlined in the provisions. However, there is a difference between us; I shall deal further with that when I have made the general case for the Government's substantive amendments.

The Government believe that in terrorist cases, as in ordinary cases under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, it should be possible in very rare circumstances--I stress that point--on the authority of a senior officer, to delay access to a solicitor. As I understand my hon. Friend's new clause, he thinks that that should not be possible in any circumstances. That is a difference between us. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) noted, it is a matter on which a balance of judgment has to be made. I shall put some flesh on that point in a moment. Before doing so, I shall explain the effect of the Government amendments.

The Government amendments will add to the Bill the circumstances in which the right to advise someone of one's detention and/or to consult a solicitor may be deferred. When the Bill was introduced, that was achieved by amendments to sections 56 and 58 of PACE and the equivalent Northern Ireland PACE order, found in schedule 13. In the course of drafting those provisions, some technical deficiencies were identified and it was decided, for the ease of the reader, that rather than merely tidying them up by amendment, they should be included in the Bill. That is in line with the provisions for Scotland set out in paragraphs 12 to 16 of schedule 7. I hope that approach will be broadly welcomed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and the hon. Member for Aylesbury made some points about the situation in Scotland. The legal position in Scotland is addressed in paragraphs 12 to 16 of schedule 7. As my hon. Friend pointed out, Scotland has a separate criminal justice system, so matters are not dealt with in quite the same way.

In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury, let me say that the criteria are slightly different, but as they are consistent we do not think that any substantial difference will emerge. We have considered the issue carefully. However, in the light of the points made in the debate, I am prepared to consider whether my assertion needs closer scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point, but the reason why Scotland is dealt with separately is--as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde pointed out--that Scotland has a separate system.

8.15 pm

The amendments do not change our policy on the arrangements for those detained under the terrorism provisions; they ensure that such people usually have a

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prompt means of communicating with a named person and/or can obtain access to a solicitor. The amendments continue to provide that those rights would usually be available as soon as practicable. They also provide that, under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, as at present--I emphasise that that is the situation that exists as we speak--and as provided for when the Bill was introduced, those rights may be deferred in certain circumstances for up to 48 hours.

The circumstances in which the rights may be deferred are set out in paragraph 2C(4) of amendment No. 64. Seven alternatives are envisaged. The first four apply in all PACE cases; the last three are specific to terrorist cases. They include circumstances in which there is reasonable suspicion that access to a solicitor will have the effect of making it more difficult to prevent a terrorist act, or to apprehend someone involved in such an act, or to gather information about the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

That is the fundamental point with which I respond to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). He asked what was different for Northern Ireland. The difference is that we are talking about terrorist legislation. That is what gives rise to the whole measure and to some of the issues that have been raised.

Mr. Bermingham: I am not against the idea of delaying the right of access; it is already acceptable in serious, arrestable offences. It is certainly acceptable in terrorist offences--because of the pursuit and arrest of other suspects and so on. The point on which I intervened is my grave concern about the presence of a solicitor during an interview. I can see no reason why that should ever be denied.

Mr. Clarke: I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes; I shall return to it in a moment.

We do not expect access to be deferred often. Records for England and Wales show that access has not been deferred in any terrorist cases during the past three years. In Northern Ireland, access was deferred in only 19 cases in 1999, in four cases in 1998, and in 33 cases in 1997. However, it is important to be able to defer access in exceptional cases. That brings me to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North and the points that he made.

It would not be sensible to bind ourselves to a position in which it was never possible to defer access to a solicitor. If I understand my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South, he appeared to acknowledge that in his intervention. That is not to suggest that the Government assume that some solicitors may have links with terrorism--any more than the fact that such provision exists under PACE for detention in non-terrorist cases suggests that we assume that solicitors might have links with organised crime. However, we must provide in law for the possibility that such a situation might occur. Otherwise, with the absolute right that the new clause provides, even if the police knew that a nominated solicitor was directly linked to a terrorist group, they would be powerless to defer access. However rare we might all believe such circumstances to be--I do not seek

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to impugn the reputation of solicitors either in Northern Ireland or Great Britain--it is surely our responsibility to ensure that such an eventuality could be dealt with if it arose.

Mr. McNamara: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. My new clause actually states that a person detained

We are arguing about being interviewed, not about the length of detention--although that might be another argument.

Mr. Clarke: It is precisely in response to the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend that a clear provision will be included in the Bill.

My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South made some points about human rights. We believe that the Bill is entirely consistent with the European convention on human rights. We have considered the matter at great length and that is why the certificate is in the Bill.

I am perfectly well aware that lawyers may challenge that view, and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) initiated an entertaining discussion on that in Committee. Indeed, the cynic would say that it is likely that the view will be challenged in law. We believe that the provisions specifically protect the processes that we have described against action in the European Court of Human Rights and under the Human Rights Act 1998.

It is in that context that I deal with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North. I am the first to acknowledge the sensitivities of interviewing a person without their having the benefit of a solicitor being present, and those sensitivities include the fact that there could be implications for the weight that may be placed in any subsequent court case on answers given in those circumstances.

Mr. Bermingham: My hon. Friend comes to the exact cause of my worry. The problem is the fact that one can draw inferences from the right to silence being exercised or from what is said during an interview. The presence of a lawyer protects the interviewer as well as the interviewee. If we have that in England in criminal and terrorist cases, why on earth are we not including it in the Bill?

Mr. Clarke: If my hon. Friend will permit me, I will come to the precise point that he has been raising throughout the discussion.

As I said, the sensitivities include the fact that there could be implications for the weight that may be placed in any subsequent court case on answers given in those circumstances. Sections 76 and 78 of PACE provide for the courts to exclude confessions or other evidence obtained unfairly, and of course it would be for the court to decide whether those provisions applied to evidence adduced in court which was obtained before a solicitor was present. That deals directly with my hon. Friend's point.

As I have said, we do not envisage access being denied other than in the most exceptional circumstances, and we have a responsibility to ensure that those detained under

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the terrorism provisions, as under PACE, are properly looked after, and that includes having appropriate access to legal advice. Equally, we have a responsibility to prevent acts of terrorism and to apprehend those involved in such acts. That is the balance of judgment that we have made.

I have tried to set out the Government's thinking in response to the points that have been made, and I am prepared to consider whether any of the matters raised need to be addressed. However, what we have said is clear and straightforward.

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