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5.57 pm

Mr. Bercow: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very conscious that the proceedings of the House are not exactly box office across the country. Nevertheless, a significant number of people attend to them in one way or another, in one place or another. I wonder whether you would be good enough to confirm that the reason why you have just had to go through that ludicrous charade is that we have not had time to debate the new clauses and amendments, and that the reason for that is the absurdity of the Government's truncation of the debate in the form of the ludicrous programme motion to which we were subjected yesterday.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I am simply doing what the House has asked me to do.

New Clause 45

Limit on Period of Detention Without Charge of Suspected Terrorists

'(1) Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (c.11) (detention) is amended as follows.
(2) At the beginning of paragraph 29(3) (duration of warrants of further detention) there is inserted "Subject to paragraph 36(3A),".
(3) In subparagraph (3) of paragraph 36 (extension of warrants)—
(a) at the beginning there is inserted "Subject to subparagraph (3A),", and
(b) for the words from "beginning" onwards there is substituted "beginning with the relevant time".
(4) After that subparagraph there is inserted—
"(3A) Where the period specified in a warrant of further detention—
(a) ends at the end of the period of seven days beginning with the relevant time, or
(b) by virtue of a previous extension (or further extension) under this subparagraph, ends after the end of that period,
the specified period may, on an application under this paragraph, be extended or further extended to a period ending not later than the end of the period of fourteen days beginning with the relevant time.
(3B) In this paragraph "the relevant time", in relation to a person, means—
(a) the time of his arrest under section 41, or
(b) if he was being detained under Schedule 7 when he was arrested under section 41, the time when his examination under that Schedule began.".' —[Beverley Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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6 pm

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to the proposed new clause.

New clause 56—Audio and video recording of interviews of suspected terrorists.

Beverley Hughes: I ask the House to resist amendment (a) and new clause 56. Government new clause 45 will amend paragraph 3 of schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which governs the detention of persons under section 41 of that Act. Section 41 gives a constable the power to arrest a person without a warrant whom he or she reasonably suspects to be a terrorist. As Members know, a person detained under section 41 may be held by the police for only a maximum of 48 hours, unless an application has been made asking a court to issue or extend a warrant for further detention.

Under the legislation as it stands, a court can extend the detention up to seven days if the conditions set out in that legislation are met. The Government new clause will allow detention for up to a maximum of 14 days. Its provisions come to us from the police and are considered essential by them, based on their experience of the practicalities of dealing with a suspected terrorist once in police custody. There are circumstances under which the current seven-day maximum may be insufficient to enable the police fully to investigate the offences in respect of which the individuals are detained.

Mr. Grieve: It would be very helpful if the Minister told the House, although obviously without citing individual cases, which would be improper, on how many occasions in the past 12 months, for instance, the police have had difficulty in completing their inquiries into any suspected terrorist within seven days.

Beverley Hughes: As the hon. Gentleman implies, I shall not go into individual cases or give any information that might be useful to those to whom the legislation might apply. However, I can tell him that in the first three months of this year 212 people were detained under those provisions. Of those, 16 went into the sixth day as a result of extensions. That does not quite answer his question, but I am afraid that I cannot answer it for the reasons I have outlined. Although the proportion is small, it has been necessary to detain a tiny number for extended periods.

Simon Hughes: I follow exactly the same train of questioning. Is it not right that last year only 16 cases ran up to the seven-day maximum? Why are we being asked to extend a period that we extended less than three years ago when we considered the Terrorism Act 2000? Lord Lloyd, who carried out an inquiry, recommended a limit of four days, and there was no pressure at all from the police or any other authority to go beyond seven.

Beverley Hughes: The methods and circumstances that the police meet when investigating such cases are evolving all the time, as the hon. Gentleman may

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appreciate. In addition, the police have conducted a review of all significant operations over recent times. They have concluded that more than seven days may be needed in specific cases. If he will bear with me, I shall give him general examples of the circumstances in which we could anticipate that more than seven days might be needed, albeit in a small number of cases.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. Will she please tell the House how many of those 16 were not charged because inquiries had not been completed?

Beverley Hughes: I am sorry, but I do not have that information. If I had it, I am not sure that I would provide it to the hon. Gentleman in this public domain. If it is possible outside this place for me to brief him, I will do so.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so quickly after taking a number of interventions. She is well aware that Lord Carlile is the independent assessor of the operation of the terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland. He does a truly superb job. Has she consulted Lord Carlile on these changes, and what is his view?

Beverley Hughes: Yes, Lord Carlile, who is the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000, has been consulted. He has been fully briefed and he has had an extended meeting with officials. He has raised no concerns with us about the proposal and its provisions.

In dealing with some of the examples that the police are encountering, in particular and increasingly frequently there may be occasions when it is necessary to examine substances that are thought to be dangerous, and which are found on or with detained individuals, to determine whether they are chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear. This is a very time-consuming process that needs to be carried out with particular attention, and often in stages. As hon. Members will appreciate, the substances have to be retrieved in accordance with forensic procedures. Very detailed health and safety provisions exist to protect the people doing that work. I am told that the forensic retrieval itself can take up to five days. Clinical procedures then have to be applied to the analysis. This often involves a staged process, in which one stage of the analysis has to be completed and the results obtained before a decision can be taken on the further direction of the analysis, in order to determine what the substance might be. The issue of dangerous substances provides a powerful example, and I readily appreciate the arguments that the police are using as to why extended periods beyond seven days might be necessary.

Another example that the police are dealing with concerns the use of personal computers and the requisition of hard drives, after searches of premises and arrests have been made. It can take several days for material from a hard drive to be extracted, analysed and used in the questioning of a suspect. As Members will readily appreciate, in the case of a network of computers or computers that have been used to communicate with each other, the process of analysing the content of

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several hard drives and cross-referencing and matching communications before such information can be used in the questioning of suspects takes time.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): What the Minister says is undoubtedly true, but surely it is also true of a wide range of offences, including paedophilia, for example, in which the examination of the hard drives of suspects' computers is involved. Once she embarks on this reasoning, she will have difficulty in resisting the argument that such provisions should be widely used. In practice, the suspects of such offences are released, inquiries continue and the police have to use other means to ensure that they do not leave the country or become inaccessible.

Beverley Hughes: In making that point, the right hon. Gentleman is not taking into account the fact that we are not dealing with quite the same form of investigation. In a criminal case, a particular offence will be believed to have been committed and the investigation will be focused on evidence to support a charge for a particular event. In respect of terrorist suspects, somebody is most often arrested to prevent an event that intelligence has told the police and the security services might otherwise take place. That creates a different quality of investigation and justifies the need for allowing the police an extended period in order to put the information together.

The right hon. Gentleman may also accept that, given the incidents that these provisions are trying to prevent, the order of damage to individual citizens of this country and the sheer number of people who would be injured were a terrorist event to take place, we are talking about a level of seriousness and an impact that is beyond that of perhaps not all, but certainly most, criminal offences. That is a further justification for the provisions.

I draw Members' attention to a further example that is rather different from the average criminal case, and which does take more time. Of course, very often we are dealing with people who have been arrested as suspected terrorists, and who are using false identities or perhaps even multiple identities. As Members will appreciate, this involves the making of extensive national, and often international, inquiries. Frequently—although not always—interpreters are used, and much more so than in criminal cases. Indeed, interpreters of rather remote languages may be used. Interpreters then have to be used at all stages during the period of detention for interviews. That is another factor that can lengthen the period of time required.

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