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Mr. Clarke: I am glad to set the historical record straight. I think that the hon. Gentleman will concedehe will correct me if I am wrongthat at no point during the meeting held in my office last Monday morning did any representative of the Opposition parties raise the idea of a sunset clause or a review[Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker. The matter was raised on the Floor of the House, but not during that conversation.
I said to the Opposition parties that morning that I would spend the rest of the day talking to colleagues in the House to test their opinions. I personally attended at least three meetings of Labour Members at which we discussed their views of the state of affairs. A lot of people put their views strongly, but there was not unanimity. Some people strongly felt that we should support the police and go for 90 days, while others strongly felt that the period should not be extended at all. We had frank discussions.
After those meetings and discussions, I had to come to a view on the best course of action to follow, which I did at about 8 o'clock that night. I went for the option of putting the sunset clause before the House because it seemed to be the best way of addressing the matter and enabling all hon. Members to examine the practice of the system and reach a view on how to take things further forward.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): In that recitation of what happened on Monday, the Home Secretary conveniently overlooked the fact that after the meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, he told the media that he would be tabling an amendment to provide for a shorter period of detention. How long did the Prime Minister have to detain him before he decided not to proceed with that amendment?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely correct that I did say that to the media after the meeting. He is also entirely correct that I was present at the meeting of the parliamentary Labour party meeting that the Prime Minister attended at which precisely these questions were discussed. I will address the question of detention that the right hon. and learned
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Gentleman raised with the Prime Minister earlier today. I can give him the example that he seeks from evidence given by Peter Clarke to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
To answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier question, I shall quote what Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said about whether the time period would make a difference. DAC Clarke said that he could point to a particular case as an example of terrorists evading justice because of the lack of such a provision. He said:
"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 and so the jury were not able to benefit from his presence in the court. I cannot say whether the jury would have come to a different decision"
Mr. Howard: The Home Secretary will know that I originally raised this matter with the Prime Minister months ago. I asked for a briefing to test whether, if a 90-day period had been in force, it would have led to the apprehension of people who could not otherwise have been apprehended. The Home Secretary must know that the case to which he refers does not in any way justify the 90-day period. The evidence did not take 90 days to materialise. Will he now confirmthe Prime Minister refused to do so earlier todaythat there is not a single case to which the police or anyone else can point in which evidence that became available 80 or 90 days after arrest was sufficient to charge the person who had been arrested?
Mr. Clarke: It is striking that the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes his point in such a way. He is right in one essential respect: we tried to work with him and his colleague, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), over the summer to address these questions. He is right that we organised a briefing on Privy Council terms to consider such questions for him and his right hon. Friend. He says that he is not convinced by the case. He is entitled not to be convinced by the casethat is his rightbut I believe that the case put by DAC Clarke to the Joint Committee on Human Rights was a powerful and effective argument for a 90-day provision.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con):
Like many hon. Members, I have not been party to any of the discussions since last week, about which I make no complaint whatever. The Home Secretary's comments a few moments ago suggested that his approach to other
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parties and his Back Benchers was made on the basis that the Government were sticking to 90 days, but asking whether they could get 90 days so long as they improved judicial review, or added a sunset clause. In other words, they were saying, "Take the pill; we'll try to put some sugar on it." However, although he has cited one caseI shall not go on about that because I am making an interventionhe has not addressed the fundamental case. If it is to be the rule that after people have been held for 14 days and there is still no evidence to justify charging them they may be held for 90 days, what is the argument for 90 days? He says that he deplores Dutch auctions, but the time periodthree months in allseems to have been plucked out of the air. A man could be repeatedly questioned during that time in the hope that something would turn up that would enable him to be linked with a terrorist plan.
Mr. Charles Clarke: I give credit to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his consistency because he made that argument in Committee, too. He also voted against the Bill on Second Reading, as he was entitled to do. My answer is the same argument that has been put through the whole of the debate. There is a compelling case for extending the current 14-day period.
Mr. Clarke: The police and the prosecution service have come clearly and unequivocally to the view that in their professional judgment 90 days is the appropriate time. The suggestion of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) that the police and the prosecution service have simply plucked some figure out of the air is utterly wrong. The reason the Prime Minister asserted today during Question Time
Mr. Clarke: I will give way in my own time, when I have made my own argument, to the people to whom I think it is worth giving way. [Hon. Members: "Ooh!"] There we are; that is what I will doI think that that is called parliamentary democracy, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am making the point simply and straightforwardly that we should take the professional judgment of the police, who actually deal with situations such as the one at Russell Square tube station, and the advice of the prosecutors extremely seriously.
: I was grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for agreeing to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) on Monday morning.
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He said earlier that he was not in favour of a Dutch auction, having thought about the matter at the weekend, but he gave all those present at the meeting on Monday the clear impression that he would table an amendment to provide for a shorter period of detention. Indeed, some of us were surprised that such an amendment was not tabled that day. When was he overruled by the Prime Minister?
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