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Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD):
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. [Hon. Members: "North."] I am sorry; I meant the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington), although it is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I have heard the hon. Member for Sunderland, North speak on two occasions in recent weeks, and on both occasions he has treated the House to a remarkably sound first-principles exposition.
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Today's debate offers the House an opportunity to take stock, to reflect on yesterday's events and the debates of the past few weeks, and to considerin a more measured way than was possible yesterdayhow we should proceed from here. It is unfortunate that the Home Secretary is not present, because I was going to say something nice about him. I have had substantial disagreements with him on this subject over the past few weeks, and I believe that he has made a number of mistakesand that mistakes have been made for him, notably by the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, he responded to the immediate aftermath of yesterday's vote with a remarkable degree of personal dignity, for which I give him credit. I must qualify that by saying that he rather blew it today with some of his comments about certain of his hon. Friends.
The Home Secretary also said that he found Liberal Democrats difficult to debate with. I considered that to be a remarkable piece of praise, for which I should thank him. I should have thought, though, that compared to debates with some of his own Back Benchers, debates with Liberal Democrats would be models of straightforward simplicity.
The replacement of the 90-day period and the amendment to 28 days has removed a major barrier to our support for the Bill. It indeed gives me and my hon. Friends some reassurance that we can begin to work with this Bill. For that reason, I place on record the fact that we will not oppose the Bill on Third Reading today. If others choose to divide the House, we shall not be with them. We nevertheless view the legislation very much as work in progress. It is beyond doubt that there remains substantial scope for improvement. I want to take some time to highlight a few of the remaining areas of concern from the point of view of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
On clause 1, it is important to reflect and acknowledge that we have come a very long way from the original views expressed by the Government and the Home Office earlier this summer. The continued inclusion of glorification within the clause, however, remains unsatisfactory, as does the formulation of recklessness, which needs to be fixed. Those matters will be dealt with again in the other place. The concerns of academics about many of the offences in part 1 have not had a proper or full airing. They will also have to be dealt with, sadly, in the other place. We also want to put on record the fact that we remain concerned about the lack of proper statutory defences in respect of clauses 6 and 8.
Clause 17 deals with the commission of offences abroad and it is right to welcome the substantial amendment and restriction of the clause's scope that the Government put into the Bill yesterday. It is still far from a model of clarity, however, and it may help the House if I read out the amended provision in clause 17, which refers to
"an offence under section 1 or 6 of this Act so far as it is committed in relation to any statement, instruction or training in relation to which that section has effect by reason of its relevance to the commission, preparation or instigation of one or more Convention offences".
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Is that not a classic example of where the Home Secretary was wrong to say that we had enough time to debate the Bill? Given that the House has for once improved a Bill in this place, it is a pity that the Government did not give us enough time to do the full job of improvement, so we now have to rely on the other place to do the detailed work.
Mr. Carmichael: Proceedings on this Bill have demonstrated that, if given the opportunity, this House can be trusted to do the job that it is here to do in holding the Executive to account and properly scrutinising legislation. The fact remains that the time allotted to us was inadequate for the job in hand. It worries me that we are sending the Bill to the other place with so many unresolved questions. As is the case with so many provisions in the Bill, clause 17 still suffers from the absence of a proper definition of what is meant by terrorism.
I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement from the Dispatch Box today of a review that is to be carried out by my noble and learned Friend, Lord Carlile. I greatly look forward to participating with my hon. Friends and other Members in that review. Implicit in that offer, however, is the Government's acceptance that they have not got it right. Given that we have 12 months before we can revisit the provision, we seem to have legislation that will be firing on something less than all cylinders for the course of those months, so we should not be satisfied with that. In welcoming the review, I also say to hon. Members in this place and our noble Friends in the other place that they should not feel that this is the end of the story on the definition of terrorism. If we can come up with a better definition than the current one, it is still open to my noble and learned Friend to review it, if he feels it necessary.
Clause 21 concerns the grounds of proscription and I can tell the Minister that we had an excellent debate in Committee, particularly in respect of the impact of the inclusion of glorification within the clause. It is a matter of substantial regret that we were not able to revisit that point yesterday on Report.
Finally, I want to say a few words about clause 23. It is now apparent that 28 days is the settled will of the House and I believe that it will be included in the final form of the Bill. In our view, there remains scope for improvement and I remind the House of the terms of our amendment yesterday. I am uncomfortable with the idea that 28 days should be automatically available. Liberal Democrats would prefer to put some locks on the availability of extensions from 14 to 28 days. We would like that extension to be made available only where there was evidence to be obtained from abroad or where there was some issue awaiting a further outcome of an analysis of evidence or perhaps decryption. A judge should be required to be satisfied that no other terrorist charge can be brought. Given the terms of provisions relating to acts preparatory to terrorism, which will eventually be passed with the Bill, it raises the
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bar significantly. The judge should also be required to approve any further questioning that is to be carried out.
John Bercow: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for some check or constraint on the operation of the 28-day period, as agreed in the amendment. There are two reasons why that is important. First, as I said earlier to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington), many of us voted for the 28-day period only in order to prevent something worse that would otherwise have appeared in the Bill. Secondly, there is the simple principle that, in respect of the police and intelligence services as with any other organisation, work tends to expand to fill the time available.
My other concern is much more fundamental: that the longer a person is held in custody, the greater the likelihood that eventually a court may see that any evidence obtained from that person will have been obtained under duress. Such evidence would then be inadmissible, leaving us with the prospect that, ultimately, the prosecution will be unsuccessful. In that case, either terrorists will go free or people who have had serious allegations placed against them may never have a proper opportunity to vindicate their name because they are seen to have been released on a so-called technicality.
Dr. Julian Lewis: Before the hon. Gentleman returns to the remainder of his list, will he also comment on what the shadow Attorney-General had to say about the uncertainty of the conditions in which these people will be detained? If they are detained in anything other than solitary confinement, is there not a riskthe longer they are detainedof radicalisation? On the other hand, if they are innocent, is there not a danger of them being brutalised by other prisoners merely on the suspicion that they might be guilty?
Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman's point speaks for itself and I agree absolutely. As someone who used to earn his living in the criminal justice systemmostly as a defence solicitor, but for a number of years as a prosecutorI have seen at first hand the conditions in police stations. In most cases, they are certainly not suitable for a lengthy detention, and the same is true of the conditions in prisons, particularlydare I say it?those in which remand prisoners are held. It is the ultimate irony that the conditions in which a person is held on remand are infinitely worse than those in which a person is held post-conviction.
We Liberal Democrats will be interested in exploring with Ministers how we can monitor the number of cases that may be dealt with in the extended detention period. I suggest in the broadest possible terms that we could have some mechanism for triggering a report to Parliament on the operation of this part of the Bill once a certain number of detentions has taken place. That would go some way towards addressing the concerns that were expressed earlier about what constituted a small number of cases. We, as parliamentarians, are duty bound to keep the closest possible eye on that issue.
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