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Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has been challenged strongly by the Leader of the Opposition and others for not tabling an amendment today proposing a detention period of fewer than 90 days but more than 28 days. Is not the real political point, however, the fact that the Opposition parties have already stated in principle that they would not support a detention period of more than 28 days, irrespective of the case made by the police?
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is right. I am not sure whether the phrase "challenged strongly by the Leader of the Opposition" is a contradiction in terms, although that may change after the Conservatives sort out their leadership.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Is it not important to understand that at the end of the 14-day initial detention period, in no circumstances will there be any application for further detention beyond seven days, and that judicial oversight then kicks in? In the debate we seem to have become fixated on the maximum period and to have ignored the importance of judicial oversight throughout the process.
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is correct and he makes the point accurately. I agree. Perhaps it is my fault that much of the debate has focused on the maximum period, rather than on the process of ensuring that the maximum is not reached.
I emphasise, as I said on Second Reading, that we are dealing with a very different threat now from the one we faced in previous decades. Recent terrorist plots have been designed to cause mass casualties with no warningsI emphasise, no warnings, sometimes using suicide and with the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.
Some hon. Members have commented that terrorist cases are no more difficult to prosecute than complex fraud cases, but I argue that there is a very substantive difference between the two. In complex normal cases, the police may build a case before arresting an individual. It may also be possible to catch criminals red-handed in the act of committing a crime such as fraud, as the repercussions are not so great if the crime is committed. The need to ensure public safety by preventing mass casualty attacks that could be catastrophic in their effect means that it is necessary to make arrests in terrorist cases far earlier in the process than in other cases. That often means that much less evidence has been gathered at the point of arrest, so more time will be needed to gather sufficient evidence to charge a suspect.
Moreover, terrorist networks are often international, which means that highly complex inquiries have to be undertaken in many different jurisdictions. I remind the House again of the investigations into the events of 7 and 21 July, which yielded 38,000 exhibits that filled two warehouses, and so on. Terrorist networks are also
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now highly capable of using technology. In recent cases a large number, sometimes in the hundreds, of computers and hard drives have been seized. Much of the data on such computers and hard drives have been encrypted and take time to decrypt. The data then need to be analysed to incorporate the outcome of that analysis into an interview strategy.
Following the debates in the House and the request from hon. Members in all parts of the House for more substance, over the past few days I have consulted advisers from the National Technical Assistance Centre, whose experts deal with the hardest and most important decryption jobs. Their advice has been unequivocal. A 14 or even 28-day period will not allow them the time they need adequately to investigate the most heavily encrypted data. They have made it clear to me that the use of advanced encryption technology by those who pose a threat to law and order or the security of the country is becoming more widespread and is growing rapidly. Encryption is more pervasive, more complex and easier to use than ever before.
That poses a significant challenge to police and investigators on two fronts. First, it means that even sifting the evidence to identify which computers require specialist investigation and decryption usuallythe experts' wordtakes a number of weeks. Each computer must be examined to assess what data can be easily gleaned and where heavyweight code-breaking is required.
Secondly, even after the protected data sources have been identified, significant additional time may be needed to decode potential evidence. NTAC has advised me that this is an extremely challenging and time-consuming task, running in the majority of the hardest cases into weeks at the very least, and often even into periods of months. Taking all this together, the technical judgment of the professionals is clear and simple. They need more time to be able to deal with such challenges. We must honour that.
Forensic requirements, too, are more complex and more time-consuming. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) made a tremendous speech last week about the bomb factory in his constituency and the issues raised by that case. We should take seriously the professional advice of the investigators, the police and the prosecutors about the time needed to enable investigators to reach conclusions.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend had a discussion with the chief constable of west Yorkshire about how he and his force will handle the potentially difficult situation following the arrest of, say, someone in Bradford and the 90 days before charge? The family of that person, his biraderi and his community will have no explanation why he is being held. That could prove extremely difficult. What advice would my right hon. Friend give the chief constable in that situation?
I have had such conversations, and that goes partly to the answer that I have to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) in response
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to his intervention. I am glad that on 7 and 8 July and the subsequent weekend, there was a substantial programme of discussions between the police and the various communities in west Yorkshire, which were particularly affected. That was extremely impressive. I spoke to many people at the time who were committed to discussing exactly the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) with the communities from which the individuals came and which were most affected, in the same way as the issues in other cases were raised in Gloucester and other parts of the country. There is only one answer: intensive discussions between the police and the local community, local community leaders and local faith leaders. I say with humility that I do not need to give advice on that to, for example, the west Yorkshire force, because I believe it is committed to doing it, but my hon. Friend is right to say that if we make the changes here, it intensifies the need for such discussions.
Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): On community involvement, does the Home Secretary accept that if the legislation is passed, it will harden support within communities surrounding terrorist cells, because it will turn people into martyrs? Undoubtedly, people will be detained on a week-on-week basis, released and found to be innocent. They will go back into those communities and say, "Look, this is the sort of state we are talking about and working against." Surely it will be hugely counter-productive.
Mr. Clarke: That is a serious point, to which I want to give some time. What my hon. Friend says is utterly wrong. It is totally wrong. If one talks, as my hon. Friends and I have done, to Muslim communities throughout the country, one finds that they are absolutely clear without equivocation that they want no part of this terrorism, they want no identification of the terrorism with what they do, and they want to take that forward. If my hon. Friend takes the trouble to examine the responses of even the families, let alone the families and friends, of those directly involved in the events of 7 July, he will see that many of those individuals were deeply shocked and felt betrayed. It is not true that the action that might be taken gives rise to the kind of threat that my hon. Friend describes.
Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): We have heard a great deal in the debate, rightly, about the issues and the implications for the police. What we have not heard in the debate are the issues and implications for the families of those who may be detained for up to 90 days. What are the financial implications? The people who are detained may be innocent. My right hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of compensation, but that does not help the families while they are living through the 90 days. The person detained may be the only breadwinner in the family, or the family may be on benefit. Has my right hon. Friend had discussions about those implications?
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