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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): In that vein, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is surprising that the Home Secretary does not seem to know the views on these important matters of the Lord Advocate or the Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland?

Keith Vaz: To be fair to the Home Secretary, he made it clear in response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) that he was focusing on the Crown Prosecution Service and the English situation, but he promised to answer those points. Of course, the advice of the Lord Advocate and the Procurator Fiscal Service is important to Scottish Members, but as an English Member—if I can call myself that, rather than a British Member representing a city in England—let me say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it is important that we hear the advice of the Law Officers. There are mutterings from the judiciary: we have already heard from Lord Steyn and former Law Lords. It is important that we get the whole view of the Government. I do not mind if that is represented by the Home Secretary's coming to the Dispatch Box, but he needs to come with that information to satisfy me and others who are still gravely concerned about what the Government are proposing.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: I appreciate the helpful nature of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the fact that the Home Secretary has been helpful in responding, saying that discussions will now take place, but having listened to the debate for some positive, decisive arguments one way or another about the precise time, I fear that no such arguments have arisen. If we are not careful, we will all be in a well-intentioned bargaining process.

A period of 28 days has been proposed by the hon. Member for Walsall, North, which I would vote for, because it is shorter than 90 days, but are the Government to come back with 50 days, intending to settle for 35? Is the House to be involved in the process? Will another range be tabled on Report? We are reduced to that. I accept that everybody is trying to do their best, including the police who have given the advice. The trouble is that the Committee does not want to be seen to be rejecting the police's advice following such serious allegations, but we have been given no concrete reasons why 90 days will be all right.

Having listened to the debate, I have come to the conclusion that there is no scientific explanation; these figures are being plucked from the air. We have been told a little about encryption, about which I know nothing, and about the complicated and international nature of these forms of crime but, as has been pointed out, there will be occasions when it might take 150 days to sort out some such process. We have always traditionally taken the risk of releasing people before we
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have been able fully to unravel the evidence. We are being asked to make a totally arbitrary judgment in reaction to the latest advice.

If there is no certain scientific answer to help us, we must ask what we are doing to the process in carrying out such bargaining. What are we doing to some of the fundamentals of our criminal law on which we have always relied? We are in danger of doing serious damage. We keep bouncing up the period of time. As the   hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton) startlingly reminded us, we are talking about people being locked up all day and, potentially, repeatedly interviewed for a very long time before they are released without charge because somebody finally realises that they have arrested a man of a similar name or have been misled by malicious information—and an innocent man is let free.

The basic process of English law has until very recently been that no one could be held for more than 48 hours without charge. That included holding people suspected of serious offences such as murder and arson, and those suspected of being dangerous and of having committed widespread crime. They could not be held unless they were charged and, once they were charged, the police could not carry on questioning them except under severe constraints. That was regarded as an important principle of our law.

Under the pressure of Irish terrorism, we went to seven days as recently as the Terrorism Act 2000. In 2003, we went to 14 days, and that came into effect only in January last year. The arguments put by the previous Minister of State in 2003 are exactly the same as today's. We were told that there were forensic difficulties and difficult cases, and that 14 days was required. Suddenly, since then, with no change in the concrete evidence, with no specific example before us and with nothing to say that things have become dramatically more complicated, we are whizzing up to 90 days. We are radically changing one of the fundamentals that we thought was a protection for the individual citizen in our criminal justice system, and we should not do that too lightly.

I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). My first reservation rests on the terrible damage that will be done the first time that an innocent man has to be let free without charge after three months in prison. It is not internment, it is not the Birmingham Six, it is not the Guildford Four, but it will be serious, particularly if it happens a lot. That is what terrorists look for, because they exploit such injustices and make great use of them. I fear that the use of such measures will become routine. I am sure that the police will behave very well over the next two or three years and have regard to the sensitivity of the issue. The powers will be used in only a few serious cases. In five or 10 years' time, however, there will be many more cases. The composition of the House of Commons will have changed, and it will be concerned about a different kind of serious crime. It may argue that child rapists and other offenders can be held for 90 days.

The police will say that they should have such powers. Under the old system, they did not start to investigate someone at the point of arrest. The investigation team obtained most of the evidence before they arrested their
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suspect. They had 48 hours in which to interview him, and if they could not get anything out of him, they had to set him free. I predict that, in five or ten years, it will be routine for police to say, "We have a good tip-off that Mohammed is responsible. Bring him in, and we'll start investigating." After 90 days of repeated questioning and the removal of kit from the suspect's house, they will find that they have the wrong Mohammed. That poses a serious danger to provisions to protect us against terrorism and is an affront to our justice system. The Committee should argue that the period of detention has frequently been increased in recent times, including under the two most recent pieces of terrorism legislation, so it does not accept that there is a case for extending that period beyond 14 days.

John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): I have listened carefully to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary invited to us to reflect on the proposal from our constituents' perspective. I would like to say a few words from the perspective of the people of Leeds, a city that was shocked and traumatised by what happened in the summer. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), who said that, if we are to make our communities safe, we must build trust within them. Over the years, we have made a fair effort at that in Leeds, and there is generally good trust between all the communities in my constituency as we have tried to work together.

Encouragingly, having spent weeks in my constituency over the summer break, I have seen that trust built up and strengthened through the traumas that we have faced. Despite that trust, the events of the summer in Leeds came as a complete shock out of the   blue. The community was unsighted and the events were totally unexpected. The families of the bombers themselves did not know that terror bombers were living in their midst. I am therefore a little surprised to hear Liberal Democrat Members and others say that nothing needs to change at all, because that is not the sentiment in my constituency. On the morning of 12 July, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary alerted me to the fact that No. 12 Alexander grove—a house on the very edge of my constituency—would be raided by the police as it was a suspected bomb-making centre used by the London suicide bombers, whose homes were to be searched that morning. In the Burley Lodge area of Leeds, 420 of my constituents were immediately evacuated. The police knocked on their doors and told them that they had only a few minutes to leave because there was a dangerous bomb in the neighbourhood.

After many hours, the police forced an entry into the house in Alexander grove—it was feared that a bomb would be tripped and so on. The furniture had been removed, but they found a household bath full of chemicals. They had to work out the composition and combination of the chemicals and, crucially, those materials were of a different type from those used by previous bombers in Britain such as the IRA. The scenario was quite different, and it took more than 14 days to make the house safe with the help of chemists and other specialists before the forensic investigation could even begin. If a single suicide bomber had survived and been taken into custody, how on earth could the forensics have been completed in time to bring
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a charge? I simply do not understand the rationale of people who hold fast to the 14-day limit and will not contemplate any movement whatsoever.

I pay tribute to the courage of the security services   and the police. They had to manage the situation in the neighbourhood in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, keeping people away from their homes for two days and explaining to them to the best of their ability that they were trying to make the place safe. In my visits to the neighbourhood since they returned home and in the surgeries that I have held in the Burley Lodge centre, I have asked people how they see things. They tell me that the context has changed since 9/11 and since 7 July. They think that the international context has changed as well, with transnational terrorists who move across borders and operate in the new world of IT, international mobile phones, encryption and so on. They say they hope that Parliament will take more time, if necessary, to get it right, because what they need most of all is for their communities to be made safe for everyone.

7.15 pm

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