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I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. He has told us that the CPS in England and Wales supports 90 days. What view has he obtained from the Lord Advocate and the Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland?
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Mr. Clarke: I believe that that is their position as well, but I must not mislead the House. I have focused more, in a way that the hon. Gentleman will think outrageous, on the position of the CPS, but I commit to write to him with clarity on that point as he has just raised it with me.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am grateful to the Home Secretary, who is being very generous in giving way. If this provision went through and someone were detained for 90 days and then released due to insufficient or no evidence to bring a prosecution, should they, or would they, have any right of redress if they had lost their job or experienced substantial loss of earnings or other inconvenience?
Mr. Clarke: Not under these proposals. Howeveragain, I emphasise the point, because it was raised with me by the Home Affairs Committeewe are ready to look at that if positive proposals are made in this area. But I must say again, and emphasise it very strongly, that we are talking about a tiny number of cases under very deep judicial scrutiny throughout the whole process that operates here. That point was made in interventions earlier, and it is the key point.
The position of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North is clear and his point was well put. In this serious matter, all of usevery single Member, accountable to their own electorate and constituentshas to weigh the relationship between the operational and professional advice we have had from the police and prosecutors, which takes a certain direction; the issues of principle, which motivate many of us in different ways, and possibly in ways that will be different for different people in the way that they operate; the safeguards that I say I am ready to talk about in respect of how we move forward; and, of course, the issues of politics.
Politics should not be too much a part of this. It is always part of what we do, by definition, and it is a great thing[Interruption.] There is nothing wrong with that; I very much agree. We are in politics, and it is a worthy and noble life. That is what we should do. I hope that the politics here is the fundamental elected representational politics of the relationship between usall of us, from whatever partyand our communities and the people we have to deal with. I hope that people will talk to their own communities about these issues as the Bill goes through the House.
The crux of the matter is the issue of the maximum period for which it should be possible to detain a person. As the Committee will be well aware, the Bill extends the maximum duration for which a terrorist suspect may be detained prior to charge from 14 days to three months. I emphasise that the Government believe, and I believe, contrary to some assertions, that there is a compelling casethe word "compelling" was one used by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) on Second Readingwhich is strongly supported by the police, for change in the interest of offering the best possible protection for the people of this country.
At the service yesterday in St. Paul's, I talked to people who suffered from the bombs in London. I can tell the Committee that they want protection so that this kind of thing does not happen again. We all want that, but we have to think how to do it. That is why the police,
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by the way, have come to their view. They are thinking, "How can we do it? What should we do? How should we address this going forward?" That is why they have made the proposal.
I remind the Committee that the factors in consideration include the need to intervene early in terrorist cases; the complex and international nature of the networks; the volume of material; and the increasing use of technology such as encryption and computers. The case for an extension was set out clearly some considerable time ago, and we have published it fully.
Despite what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said about the clause stand part debate, I believe that there is now widespread recognition in the House that an increase beyond 14 days is necessary. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North for acknowledging that in his amendment. There is also a growing understanding, although I know that the Liberal Democrats in particular do not accept it, that the alternative solutions put forward do not solve the problems. We must face up to the time issue in a direct way.
I acknowledge, however, that the House has not reached a consensus on the Government's proposal to increase the maximum period to three months. My view is that we ought to seek consensus because we need the strength of a consensus decision, as I have described. I regard the police case as persuasiveI think that it is the right casebut I must also acknowledge the fact that many people have expressed strong reservations.
My view is that the issues should be resolved in the House. My proposal, which I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North to accept if he is ready to do so, is that we engage in urgent discussions with colleagues on both sides of the House to see whether we can reach consensus on a figure of more than 14 days. On that basis, we would bring forward a Government amendment on Report containing whatever that agreed figure was. Of course, if agreement could not be reached, the amendments now before the House could also be tabled on Report for debate.
In the trade-off between the protections and safeguards that I described and the length of time, however, I believe that genuine discussion across the House is beneficial. I do that in a spirit of flexibility and openness. I also believe that all Members would benefit from another week to discuss the issues with constituents, local police, local community organisations, and perhaps the mosques in a given constituency. Parliament will do its job better if those discussions take place.
I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend has said. There is undoubtedly an argument to resolve the issue tonight on 28 days. At the moment, because of the Government's position, I doubt whether there is a majority for 28 days. Therefore, on the basis that the Home Secretary will put forward a figure of substantially less than 90 days on Report, there is a case for allowing the matter to go forward to Report and then to table amendments accordingly. I emphasise again, however, that if it is a question of 90 days being dropped, and of 80 or 75 days being put forward, that is
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totally unacceptable. If we are to get a consensus, my view is that 28 days is the preferred figure. My right hon. Friend can always come back to the House later, perhaps in 12 months, and say that it is essential to increase the period, and we can consider the matter then. On that basis, I would be willing not to press my amendment.
Mr. Clarke: I very much appreciate my hon. Friend's approach. To give him the assurance that I think that he seeks, however, it is my view and the Government's entirely genuine view that we need to seek this consensus and get an agreement to deal with these various matters. I hope that colleagues will reflect on what he has said when they consider what to do later this evening. I assure the House that we will continue the discussions.
On that basis, I have now set out the Government's view on all the issues. I ask the House to accept amendment No. 9 and invite those in whose names the remaining amendments and new clauses in the group stand to withdraw them.
Mr. Mates: The whole House will have been impressed by the Home Secretary's flexibility. To give credit where credit is due, he is clearly listening to many people's concerns. I am torn between my instinct to support the objections to the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) has put with great clarity and force, and my experience and knowledge, which pull me in the other direction.
We have heard a lot of talk from a lot of Members, all of whom have a little bit of knowledge about computers or encryption, this or that. If I may proffer some advice, a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. It is not one issue or another that has led not just the police butI am glad to have had the Home Secretary's confirmationthe security services to the unanimous view of all those who work in this area that an extension of time is needed, and that it is up to the police to suggest what that period should be.
What we are discussing, in a vastly more technological age and in the face of a threat to the country that is completely different from any it has experienced in the past from, for instance, the Irishan entirely international threat, with no boundaries recognisedis the turning of intelligence that can be gathered into evidence that can be used to prosecute. Trying to achieve that strikes me as not a libertarian but a practical issue. If it now takes longer, because the process is so much more complex, to produce from intelligence evidence on the basis of which a person can be charged and convicted properly in court, that seems to me a perfectly reasonable way to proceed.
I hope that in the discussions that the Home Secretary has told us he will have with our Front Bench, the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and all who have expressed an interest, he will be able to pray in aid some of the reasons why the security forces feel as strongly as they do. I know that they are reluctant to divulge their reasons, but perhaps we could be given some indication.
When citizens' lives are at stake, Members must think very carefully before rejecting the advice of professionals who have all the facts at their disposal,
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and who make honest and straightforward recommendations to the Government of the day, using professional knowledge and expertise that we, inevitably, cannot share.
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