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Mr. Dismore: No, I will not, as I have only limited time.[Interruption.] Mr. Clarke made it clear that he envisaged a maximum of three months; he did not envisage three months becoming the norm. Even if it was only two days past the 14 days that got to the point of the charge, their requirement was met.
People have questioned why the police need an extension of their powers, but Mr. Clarke provided two very good examples. The brief that we have received from the police so far refers in general terms to the ricin plot. However, Mr. Clarke told us that
"had we had this provision in 2002, the outcome of a recent court case, the so-called ricin trial, might have been very different. Mohamed Meguerba was one of the suspects in that case and it is likely that we would have held him or applied for his detention for sufficient time to find that his fingerprints were on the ricin recipe and he would have stood trial as a main conspirator in that case had he not fled the country. As it was, he was not available to stand trial".
Mr. Clarke provided another useful example of a current case in which the police foundby chance on the 13th day of detentioncrucial evidence on a computer, which led to the authorisation of charges from the Director of Public Prosecutions. The inference
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was clearthat if the computer had not been decrypted until the 15th day, the individual could have walked and probably done a runner. Mr. Clarke made it absolutely clear how much pressure is on the police, when he told us that officers are often
Many other examples and explanations are given in the evidence, fleshing out the views expressed by assistant commissioner Hayman. I strongly suggest that hon. Members read that evidence, as it answers many of the points that have been raised in the debate. If hon. Members have an open mindI suspect that many do not, but shouldthey will find that evidence to be significant. I was certainly sceptical before I heard the police, but adjusted my views after hearing them.
Searches of domestic dwellings that the police have to conduct were another example, as was the length of time required to decrypt SIM cards. Obtaining evidence from overseas was another instance of where it could take the police a very long time. It is not, as some hon. Members have suggested, a question of resources. Mr. Clarke clearly said:
I was very pleased to hear that the police welcomed judicial oversight of the process. They do not want everything to remain in the hands of the police, but approve of "robust judicial oversight" to ensure as much transparency as possible. They cited some cases where district judges had not given the police what they had asked for. Mr. Clarke said:
Having said that, I certainly agree with the conclusions of Lord Carlile that further safeguards are required. I agree that a more senior judge would be appropriate in the circumstances. Personally, I think that the best way forward is to work towards an investigating judge systemcopying the continental European systemwhere a judge is in charge of an investigation, gives directions and views the evidence. I believe that having a system of specialist prosecutors
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with specialist judges working together will provide valuable safeguards. I hope that my Committee will look further into that option in the future.
Three months may or may not be the right period for the extension, but the police have certainly made a very cogent casethey certainly did to my Committee. Many of us who heard the evidence last Monday were initially sceptical, but are now less so. For those reasons, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall support the Government tonight.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House that only about 50 minutes remain before the winding-up speeches are due to begin. Sixteen hon. Members are still seeking to catch my eye, so it is not going to be easy to find time for them all.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) suggested that the Home Secretary was trying to show with this Bill that he was macho. I believe that it was Mae West who said that, in her experience, men who were macho were not up to mucho, but I think that I can be fairer than that to the right hon. Gentleman.
I fear that I am in danger of fitting the description given by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), and of being the third hon. Member to speak in this debate to express explicit sympathy for the Home Secretary. I find myself in a great deal of agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and with the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who speaks on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party. He has as much experience of these matters as anyone in the House, and we should listen to the sentiments that he expresses.
That is not to say that we need not be vigilant in considering this Bill, which has been proposed in response to extreme events. We must always be vigilant in respect of legislation conceived in those circumstances. Moreover, the Bill comes hard on the heels of other terrorism legislation that may affect civil liberties, and we must also take into account the deeply flawed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which is passing through the House of Lords at present. All of that combines to give this Government a somewhat dubious record on civil liberties. Yet I find that, this evening, I will be passing through the same Lobby as those hon. Members who support the Government. That is because I think that, on the whole, this Bill is worth having, although it clearly needs a great deal of scrutiny. Two of its provisions, in particular, will need to be changed.
Questions have been asked as to whether all of the Bill is necessary, or whether it is merely a repetition of existing offences. However, I find it hard to see any objection in principle to spelling out the law in relation to the preparation of terrorist acts, to training for terrorism acts, and to the attendance at a place used for terrorist training. Those offences need to be spelled out.
I very much welcome the proposals for the proscription of terrorist organisations. I strongly agree with the general sentiments expressed by the right hon.
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Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. He made the valuable and powerful point that there are many things besides passing legislation that we must do to reach out to the hearts and minds of those communities in this country that we need to influence. I disagree with him, however, in respect of Hizb ut-Tahrir. That organisation is more than just a vehicle for eccentric views at the extreme of the political spectrum. Throughout Europe, it has a record of publishing vicious and violentand often violently anti-Semiticpropaganda. From time to time, it may seek to cloak itself in the guise of peaceful debate, but at other times it expresses hateful and hurtful opinions.
I want to turn briefly to two aspects of the Bill that have attracted particular attention. Some of the problems associated with the offence of glorifying terrorism in clause 1it was originally clause 2have been ironed out as a result of the welcome concession that the Home Secretary has made, particularly in respect of the need for intent in the offence. Much more needs to be done, however, and matters as they stand are not satisfactory. That much was demonstrated by the interventions in the right hon. Gentleman's speech from hon. Members of all parties.
We understand what the Home Secretary is trying to get at with the proposed offence but, although he may hit that particular target, I am afraid that he may hit too many other targets as well. In seeking to address the problem that he has identified, he is in danger of criminalising statements that should be part of normal political debate. For example, the right hon. Gentleman was not able to deal satisfactorily with suggestions from various hon. Members that expressions of opinion about Zimbabwe or North Korea, railway lines in Burma or statues in Uzbekistan would be criminalised by the Bill. That needs to be looked at again.
Following the interventions that he accepted, the Home Secretary's final position was that he hoped that the provision would not have the effect that had been described, but I do not see why that should be so. For me, it remains possible that expressions of opinion of the type that I have described would be caught by the Bill. Therefore, I hope that there will be some movement in that respect.
I turn next to the length of detention before chargea very serious feature of the Bill, which we need to deal with very seriously. When the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan police makes a request for an extension of the period of detention permitted before charge, we must give it serious and sympathetic consideration. It is not a question of our doing automatically what the police request of us. The fact that the police have made such a request is surely not a reason for turning it down out of hand, and we must give it serious consideration.
We are all aware of the fact that grave issues of public safety are at stake, as the letter from Mr. Hayman makes clear. We have to accept that we are facing a terrorist threat of a different order from that in the pasta threat which can have appalling consequencesand we must listen to the police when they tell us that they need therefore to intervene earlier to protect the public.
Against that background we must give the proposals serious consideration. We should remember that Lord Carlile has broadly given them his approval, but we
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should also remember that a massive extension of the present maximum is proposed, that the present maximum was itself a very substantial increasea doublingon the previous limit, and that that increase was allowed only as recently as January last year.
As others have rightly pointed out, when the change from seven to 14 days' detention without charge was made, all the matters that Mr. Hayman mentioned in his letter must have been apparent. The police must have been aware of these matters; we should have been aware of these matters. There is nothing in the letter that tells us something about international terrorism of which we were not aware when the previous legislation was passed. We must have known about those matters then, and we should take that into account as well.
Although in balancing liberty against public safety I am not prepared without hearing more to concede what the police are asking for, I am certainly not prepared to turn their request down out of hand. I therefore hope that we shall give the matter very serious consideration in Committee and try to do the best that we can to balance public safety against the fundamental civil liberty of not being detained for an unreasonable length of time without charge.
I am not convinced by the course proposed by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) on behalf of the Liberal Democratsthat of charging the person concerned with a lesser charge and then questioning thembecause I fail to see just how many of the rights of the accused person would be preserved. The person would definitely face a lesser charge, and may face a more serious charge later. In the meantime the police could continue to question him. All the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) about questioning someone for a long time when they are held in detention not knowing their ultimate fate must apply with as much force to the hon. Gentleman's proposal as they do to the Government's. I recoil from the concept of charging someone with a lesser charge rather than the full charge; they should face the full charge at the earliest possible opportunity. So, there are problems with those provisions.
Problems also arise from the operation of the Bail Act 1976. When a person is charged, they are brought before a court, as is their right, but from the point of view of bail the court will deal with them with the lesser charge in mind, and the decision on bail may well go in the person's favour when the police are still investigating them for very serious matters. So I do not think that the hon. Member for Winchester has the answer; he needs to do more thinking.
We all need to approach this issue seriously and to give it very serious consideration. We should not adopt inflexible attitudes at this point. We should be prepared to make concessions on all sides and to strive for a spirit of consensus; to listen carefully to the reasoned arguments on both sides; and to give very serious consideration to our duty both to defend civil liberties and to protect our fellow citizens and ensure public safety.
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