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David Howarth: Would the Home Secretary care to comment on the view that has been expressed to me on the questioning of suspects after charge by Professor John Spencer, QC, who is one of the leading experts on the law of criminal procedure in this country and, indeed, throughout Europe? He says that the so-called
He goes on to say that the only possible basis that he can think of is the existence of paragraph 16.5 in PACE code C, to which he refers, and that the conclusion that we must draw is that the power already exists, without primary legislation, for the Home Secretary to create a situation in which terrorist suspects can be questioned after charge, so this part of the Bill has no point whatsoever.
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman totally misses the point. It is necessary, even under the PACE code that he describes, that a charge should be in place to go through that process. The hypothesis that we are discussing is that, in a number of cases, there is no possibility of charging on a short-term basis.
I want to move on to the central question of this part of the debate: amendments Nos. 1 and 33, which deal with the length of time for which an individual can be held. That has been a subject of massive debate in the country and in the House. We debated it last week. I said in the House that I thought it important to try to get consensus in the House, and that has been my approach throughout.
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab):
The Prime Minister has sought to make this debate a simple matter of party politics, something with which some of us do not agree. Does my right hon. Friend recall that, when he gave undertakings in the House to find a consensus, we understood that it would be not just with Opposition parties, but that he would seek a consensus of which we on the Labour Benches who had some objections and concerns would become part? I put that to him before he goes on with his prepared speech.
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Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend makes two points, one of which I do not accept and the second of which I do accept. I simply do not accept her description of the Prime Minister's motivation in terms of party politics. I do not think that it is accurate; I do not think that it is his personal motivation; and I certainly do not believe that it is the Government's motivation. As I said on Second Reading, in Committee and at other times, the question that all Members must address is how can we do our duty as Members of Parliament in dealing with the national interest and national security.
I do not doubt for a second that these are difficult questions for all of usfor my hon. Friend, for myself and for every other hon. Memberbut I do not believe that we have at any stage taken this issue from the point of view of party politics. Some have interpreted it that way. We have only to look at the media on any day of the week to see that they provide a prism through which they say that all this debate is about party politics in some respect or another. I have tried personally, when interviewed on the media, to rebut that suggestion because I do not think that it is true. I do not mean that I think that it is right but not correctly done; I think that it is an inaccurate description of the state of affairs.
I now turn to the point about consensus, about which my hon. Friend asks me. I believed and hoped as late as last Thursday that we could achieve a consensus with the main Opposition parties about the length of time that should be used. I also agree with her point that I was talking about consensus with Labour Members as well as with the Opposition parties on this question. That is what motivated me in the way that I operated. She may recallI think that she willthat I asked every Member of the House to go back to their constituencies last weekend and take the view of their constituents, talk to them and ask their police and whoever else about these questions. I hope that she would agree that many Members have done precisely that: they have gone back and talked to peopleI am sure that she is one of those who have done just thatand everyone will make their judgments on that basis.
When I had the meetings with the leadership of the Opposition parties at 11 o'clock last Monday morning in my officeI do not think that the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) and for Beaconsfield, who were present for the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, would contest thisthey said that for their part there was no circumstances under which they would consider extending beyond 28 days the amount of time for which detention might operate. That was their considered view. There was a discussion about the period between 14 and 28 days. I was of the view, which has been my view throughout, that 28 days is not long enough to deal with the police case that we have, but I was ready to entertain discussions of a shorter period that could arise. I said that publicly in a variety of circumstances.
I then came to consider the best way to deal with this situation, and the view that I came to was that there ought to be three key areas in which I ought to try to respond to the House, the first of which is the whole area of scrutiny, which we have been talking about already: the role of the High Court judge, the PACE code and the various safeguards in place, which are changes from the position when I was speaking in the House last Thursday.
The second group of issues are those that we will debate later this afternoon relating to intent, glorification and the definition of terrorismthe range of issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) particularly was pressing from our side of the argument and, in fairness, which were expressed by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I felt that I should try to respond to those points, and I believe that we have done so today, although they will be debated later in the process.
Finally, against all my best instinctsI am not a great fan of sunset clauses in generalI thought that the way to deal with the uncertainty that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) and many other Labour as well as Opposition Members have about the length of time was to say that there would be a period, 12 months, after which clause 23 would run out and the House would decide, on the evidence and on the basis of what had happened in those 90 days, whether or not it should be extended. I am ready to commit, and do commit, to a report to the House on the operation of the law on the 90-day period when the House has to decide it.
First, on reporting to the House about the operation of the 90-day period, I commit to do that so that every hon. Member can consider it. Secondly, at the behest of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, I have agreed that Lord Carlile should conduct a review of the definition of terrorism within that year, so that that conclusion would also be considered by the House when it comes to that point. Thirdly, as the House already knows, not as a result of this process, Lord Carlile will report on the operation of the control order regime during the course of that year, so that we can have a discussion in the round on those questions.
The view that I came toperhaps it is the wrong view, or not; people will have their own viewwas that that approach was a better way to address people's concerns than by introducing another figure, and I shall tell the House why. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House told me to avoid, if I possibly can, a Dutch auction of the numbers that are being pushed around in different areas. Some say 42 days; some say 60; or whatever it might be. I thought that that was quite a powerful point, and I thought about it over the weekend. I am also aware that many hon. Members came back after those consultations saying that we should take the 90-day period. That is how I got to the position where I
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am now. It may not satisfy my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, but I hope that she will accept that I have tried hard to fulfil what I said on that occasion.
Mr. Grieve: It is right that at Monday's meeting I said to the Home Secretary that our position continued to be that 28 days was the limit of what was acceptable. The Home Secretary indicated that he would incorporate several concessions in the Bill and told those present that he would table an amendment to determine whether a period between 28 and 90 days could form the basis of a compromise. I should be grateful to know why that proposal disappeared during the six hours that followed. There was never any suggestion that it was linked to the other concessions that he was making. When I spoke to him, it appeared that it would be part of a total package that we could considerso what happened to it?
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