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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Are not the circumstances requiring the additional time, which many of us find difficult to accept, applicable before the Home Secretary has at his disposal the palette of lesser offences envisaged in the Bill? Would it not be a much more satisfactory solution to charge people with committing acts preparatory to terrorism or of withholding information in order to put them before a court in a proper way? Is that not preferable to holding people without charge?
Mr. Clarke: There are two points there. First, in the circumstances that I described in my earlier remarks, it is not clear that evidence has been collected for acts preparatory to terrorism within the requisite time scale. Secondly, the Government are looking closely at whether any form of legal evolution, if I may put it like that, might be beneficial in respect of lower or higher charges. We are prepared to consider that possibility, whose implications go wider than this Bill. There will be concerns about that proposition, but it is reasonable for us to consider it and determine what might be done. At present, however, we do not see how it would help the situation.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con):
Clearly, massive issues of natural justice are involved in
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the 90-day proposal, but there are also serious questions about its effectiveness. A person might be held for 90 days while evidence is pursued, but if that pursuit fails, he or she will be released after, in effect, spending three months in jail. In that case, will not the state have created a martyr to the cause that it is trying to defeat?
Mr. Clarke: That is a possibility, which is why extensions of the detention period will be subject to judicial review at each stage. Moreover, when the police decide whether to seek judicial agreement to extend the period of detention prior to charge, they will take into account precisely the considerations that the right hon. Gentleman outlined. He raises a legitimate point, but given the very small number of cases that are likely to arise, I do not think that the outcome that he suggests is either likely or realistic.
Mr. Khan : My right hon. Friend has said that Lord Carlile supports the extension proposal. However, Lord Carlile has criticised the Bill for the inadequacy of the protection given to suspects, and has recommended eight separate safeguardsincluding the use of an examining magistrateto be employed if consideration is being given to detaining a person for more than one month. Given that the recommendations are unlikely to be included in the Bill, will my right hon. Friend concede that there is no possibility for hon. Members, even in Committee, to recommend detention of more than 28 days?
Mr. Clarke: I do not concede that, but I will concede that the points raised by my hon. Friend and Lord Carlileand I emphasise that Lord Carlile supports the Bill in principlerequire us to look at the safeguards that have been suggested. We are certainly ready to do so, both in Committee and outside it.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Andy Hayman makes a pretty strong argument in his submission, but I accept that the extension of detention from seven days to three months is dramatic and rather arbitrary. In the past, the judiciary have demonstrated a very strong commitment to protecting human rights in such cases. Would not the sensible and balanced procedure be to pass enabling legislation in respect of the extension, but to put its scrutiny, process and management into the hands of those who have demonstrated both expertise in and concern for human rightsthat is, the judiciary?
Mr. Clarke: I appreciate that the judiciary has a strong role in this process, but so does Parliament. It is important that we put in place a proper review process, so that the House can come to a view from time to time on the operation of the legislation. That is the way to go.
I want to return to a point that I tried to make earlier. The Government are fast establishing a track record of accepting recommendations from the security forces without giving them a sufficiently
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rigorous examination. Will the Home Secretary explain what evidence he has seen to back up his contention that the detention period should be lengthened? Specifically, why has an extension to 90 days been chosen?
Mr. Clarke: I reject the hon. Gentleman's charge completely. Perhaps I should have done so earlier, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). It is completely and utterly false to suggest that the police come up with a proposition to which we all say, "That's all right then." When we ask the police for their assessment of a situation, they give it. We take that assessment seriously, because the police have high levels of professional expertise and competence in dealing with matters of forensics, encryption, international relations and so on. That was demonstrated most recently here in London in July. They understand the problems that they are trying to wrestle with very clearly, and the old days of good cop, bad cop are gone.
I take the police seriously, but I scrutinise what they say. However, even if I did not do that, this House and everyone else wouldand rightly so. I ask hon. Members to be a little more even handed than the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), and to scrutinise what the police say while bearing in mind the possibility that they might be right.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Earlier, my right hon. Friend spoke about the need to comply with the European convention, and I endorse what he said very strongly. However, this country gives off very strong signals when it changes its laws on terrorism. Any change here is used as evidence by other countries that they can do the same. Given that, is this aspect of the Bill compatible with the European convention?
Mr. Clarke: This aspect of the Bill is compatible with the convention because the whole Bill is compatible, but my hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I discuss how to deal with terrorism with colleagues in the EU, the US, Russia and other countries, yet our legal system adopts a different approach from many others. That is why I referred to the report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about how these matters are dealt with in a variety of other jurisdictions and systems. I acknowledge that completely different legal systems are involved, but in the EU and other countries people can be held for very long periodsup to four yearswhile charges are investigated. We must look at that, and I accept that legal systems vary widely. However, we discuss these questions a lot, and I repeat that the Bill is compatible with the European convention.
: My right hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way, and I have a simple question about the Crown Prosecution Service. Specialist prosecutors are used for a range of offences, including domestic violence and street robbery, but are they used in terrorism cases? If not, should not consideration be given to developing their use in that respect? In that way, the option of charging people with lesser offences for
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which they can be remanded could be investigated proactively before any extension of detention were considered.
Mr. Clarke: I can answer my right hon. Friend directly: yes, there are specialist prosecutors in the areas that he mentioned, and I accept his recommendation that their use should be developed. However, it is important to note that the CPS's expertise in these matters has led it to support the changes proposed in the Bill. People sometimes say, "Don't trust the experts." I suppose that that is a good guide in many walks of life, and better than saying, "Trust the politicians, they're not experts in anything." The truth is that we should take the views of our experts seriously, whether they be prosecutors, police or something else.
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