Mr. Lidington: Several of the amendments in this group were tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends and me. I had a good go at the subject in Committee, so I shall not detain the House overlong. This is an important subject, as both sides of the Committee recognised. The Government propose to substitute for the authority of the Secretary of State the authority of a judicial authority to determine applications by the police for the extension of detention permitted under clause 40 and schedule 7.
When the Brogan case was originally judged by the European Court of Human Rights, the United Kingdom decided to derogate from the human rights convention in respect of terrorist offences to do with Northern Ireland. The reasons for that decision were important. I understand that the present Government approach the subject from a different perspective and that they have long been committed to the principle of substituting judicial authority for ministerial authority, but I still have concerns that I want to air in the House.
We have just debated the question of proscriptions and deproscriptions. The Minister and I agreed that it was properly the responsibility of a Minister and not of a judge to examine sensitive security and intelligence and to come to an informed conclusion about whether a recommendation should be made to Parliament for the proscription of a terrorist organisation. An analogy can be drawn between that and the proposals in this group of amendments.
The amendments cause us to consider what should happen when a senior police officer is in receipt of sensitive security and intelligence information about the activities or plans of a terrorist suspect. Let us assume that that officer decides that it is necessary, for the furtherance of his terrorist investigation, to apply for an extended period of detention for the individual involved. Should scrutiny of that sensitive information be the responsibility of a Minister, or should it be the responsibility of the sort of judicial authority that the Government propose to establish? Strong arguments can be made that such scrutiny should be performed by the Executive, and not by any judicial authority.
When the previous Government considered this matter, two arguments above all influenced the decision that Ministers took. The first was the general argument that the responsibility was to form a decision on the basis of sensitive information, and that that was not analogous to judicial involvement in public interest immunity hearings or in extensions of detention under PACE.
Under the PACE procedures, the defendant is told the nature of the evidence on which he has been arrested. He is also told the reasons why his continued detention is necessary. In contrast, the procedural safeguards that the Government propose for extended detention under the counter-terrorism arrangements offer fewer safeguards to suspects, because of the sensitivity of the information in question.
In those circumstances, the previous Government thought it right that responsibility for extensions of detention should remain with the Secretary of State. I believe that, in the aftermath of the Brogan case, the Northern Ireland judiciary was very reluctant to take on that responsibility.
I ask the Minister, when he responds, to take account of the arguments that I have adduced. Is he confident that the judiciary of Northern Ireland in particular is ready and willing to take on the extra responsibilities that the Government propose to impose on them?
Mr. McNamara: Schedule 7 is interesting, dealing, as it does, with the provisions under clause 40. Paragraph 26 deals with the extension of detention for up to seven days. I welcome--because I have campaigned for it in the past--the introduction of the judicial element into the procedure when applications are made for extensions of detention. However, I am not certain about the procedures that are being followed in this case.
In the past, we were told that the fact that every case went to the Secretary of State acted as a safeguard in preventing an extension of detention. An examination of the statistics, however, suggests that in every case that went before the Secretary of State--or nearly every case--the extension was almost automatically granted. Therefore, the procedure's justification as an additional safeguard for the person being detained was not such a safeguard. That is not surprising, because one arm of the Executive was asking another arm of the Executive to carry out a certain function.
A person who is detained will now be able to make an application to the resident magistrate or to the county court to deal with his or her case. The main fault with that procedure is that the suspect, or his lawyer, or both, may be exempted from the court proceedings and therefore will not see, hear or know the grounds upon which the decision is being made. While judicial intervention is to be welcomed, deciding such cases will place an onerous duty on the Northern Ireland judiciary, particularly if cases take place in the absence of the person detained or of his or her legal representative. They will need to bear that in mind, and not follow what seemed to be the practice of previous Secretaries of State.
Under the current system, an application must be made to extend a period of detention from 48 hours up to five days, and then a further application must be made for a further two-day period, up to a maximum of seven days. Under the new procedure, however, it appears that the judicial authority will be able to order an extension for a full five days. If that is the case, the provision may fall short of the desires and wishes of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which seemed to indicate that four days was a sufficient period in which a person could be detained without being brought before a judicial authority for a second occasion.
Mr. Simon Hughes: Two points arise. Following the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on the Conservative amendments in the group, may I say that I understand the particular Northern Ireland circumstances of the judiciary that make the argument? However, the House would find it inconsistent if, having asked for judicial oversight of applications in the previous group of amendments, I suddenly supported him in seeking to move it from the judiciary to Ministers.
However, on the second issue, I am more concerned--as is the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)--about the time limits. We went around this circuit once in Committee, as members of that Committee will remember. I draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that, unusually, on this occasion the Government are going beyond what was recommended by the independent review. Lord Lloyd's review considered how much extra detention should be allowed if a warrant was obtained. The answer was four days in total. That matter was picked up in page 36 of the Government's consultation paper, paragraph 8.21 of which states:
If we could not come back to the Bill, we would have to legislate for the worst-case scenario in five, 10 or 20 years. There will be an annual report, but we will not necessarily have an opportunity to reconsider the
I caution the House, and ask the Minister to justify why we should go beyond the recommendation made by the Government's adviser by nearly doubling the period that he recommended, not on the basis of clear evidence that four days has not been adequate, but on the theoretical basis that seven days would be more advantageous to the authorities. The latter is self-evident.