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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): This has been a good debate and I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part. Although our audience is a little depleted compared with yesterday, some important issues have been raised. The Bill has had a fairly eventful passage through the House. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) asked why we did not introduce it in the immediate aftermath of the events of 7 July. We gave undertakings that we would deal with the Bill in normal time as far as we could, so that it received proper scrutiny in the House and was not dealt with by way of emergency legislation. I thought that had broad support.
The Bill is the better for having had that scrutiny. I cannot say that I am entirely happy with all the changes that have been made to it, but in some respects genuine amendments have been made which help to strengthen it. Everybody is, therefore, engaged in a fairly sensible debate in the main and we will see what happens when the Bill returns from the other place.
All I say to Members of the other place is that the major issues have been debated at length here and Members of this Chamber have voted on many of them. I want Members of the other place to take note of the fact that we are considering issues of national securitythe safety of our nationand it is therefore right and proper that the elected Chamber take a view. I ask them to take the issues on which we have voted extremely seriously.
I asked the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) whether he could find it in his heart to acknowledge that clause 1 was better now than in its original form. He said that it was worded slightly better. I regard that as a major concession from the Opposition Front Bench and I am delighted about that.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman finds the concept of glorification distasteful; I find people who indulge in glorification more than distastefulthey are a genuine and serious threat to the security of the nation. We will have to disagree on that basis.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for his support for various aspects of the Bill. He made several points, including one about the threshold test. The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) has raised that matter on several occasions. It is slightly lower than the evidential test in terms of what the prosecutor looks to bring. He suggested that charging on the basis of the threshold test rather than the evidential test would be an easy alternative to a lengthier pre-detention period. I am not sure whether he knows that, if one charges on the basis of the threshold test, one must get the evidence to fulfil the evidential test within one or two days of choosing to charge on the threshold test. It is not the panacea or solution that he suggests.
Hazel Blears: I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene but I have only a few minutes and I want to deal with as many points as I can. I simply wanted to ensure that he was aware of the details.
Many hon. Members have asked whether post-charge questioning could be a useful additional tool in minimising the period of detention or even obviate the need for extending periods of detention. It would not fulfil the latter aim. If anything, post-charge questioning would be an additional tool, but it would not mean that all our problems with lengthier investigations had gone away. When it is in the interests of justice for detainees to have put to themand have an opportunity to comment oninformation about the offence that has come to light since they were charged or informed that they might be prosecuted, one can question post charge, but the defendant must agree to be interviewed. No hon. Members mentioned that fairly large caveat to post-charge questioning.
Hazel Blears: I am reluctant to give way. The hon. Gentleman spoke for half an hour at the beginning of the debate and it is therefore only fair to allow me to respond to the issues that have been raised.
I want to comment on the paper from Andy Hayman. The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said, in a very fair contribution, that he was simply not convinced of the case. We must agree to differ on that. However, he said that the evidential case contained insufficient information to convince him. In the cases that Andy Hayman outlined, it is difficult to specify 90 days rather than 89, 91, 84 or 92. I ask hon. Members not to fixate on that.
The police said that, in the circumstances that we are considering, their best professional advice was that an extended period of detention to 90 days in a small minority of cases, and subject to extensive judicial
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scrutiny, would give them the powers that they believed were necessary to conduct their investigations, bring the proper charges and have a better chance of bringing a successful prosecution.
In one of the casesa genuine case, which is sub judice so we cannot go into many detailsthat Andy Hayman outlined, he said that police were unable to put many key pieces of evidence to the suspects after the 14 days had expired. They could not put them to the suspects in an interview because they were not discovered until after the detention period had elapsed. If one cannot put the evidence to the person who is the subject of the charge, one cannot get an explanation of the circumstances of the evidence and, when one gets to trial, the evidence is much weaker. I presume that the hon. Gentleman has read Andy Hayman's paper in great detail, because he is the kind of Member who would. That paper contains a series of examples that have, in some cases, perhaps been brushed aside too lightly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) made an excellent contribution, and I am very grateful for his support. I know from our correspondence that he has genuinely struggled with these issues, and with the question of how to strike the right balance. I am pleased to have been able to write to him and other hon. Members to set out the position with regard to industrial disputes, and to give them the reassurance that these powers are to be used only in the case of terrorism, and not in the case of legitimate protest. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he raised those issues. He struggled with them, he came to a decision, and I am delighted that he supported us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty)his constituency is slightly closer to home than the Falklandsraised important issues. I was pleased that he supported us. I want to reassure him that, in regard to the recklessness test, there will have to be a realistic prospect of conviction, and it will have to be in the public interest. It would not be in the public interest to prosecute people who were perfectly innocent and who could have failed to appreciate the effect of their statements. My hon. Friend made the important point that perhaps we have become a bit too fixated on the length of time for detention, rather than concentrating on the process. He said that he would have been happy with 90 days, if not longer, provided that he was reassured about the scrutiny process. I was interested in the way in which he put that argument. He asked for an assurance that 28 days would not be the norm, and that it would be a maximum. I am happy to give him that assurance. That provision will be subject to regular review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) made an excellent speech, in which she clearly showed that she will not be the recipient of the gold challenge cup for Blairite loyalism, and that she is an active, intelligent[Interruption.] No, I have not won it either. I have the ultra-loyalist cup for being a member of a Labour Government. My hon. Friend is an active, engaged Member who has taken these issues extremely seriously. She raised important issues about safeguards for university lecturers and librarians. The Bill does contain safeguards, but I have no doubt that she will
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continue to follow up that issue. Her passionate advocacy of the rights of her constituents was greatly appreciated.
I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks), and the way in which he expressed his sincere concern for the security of his constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) also supported the Bill, and emphasised the new complexity and the evils of terrorism that we face. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) gave a clear and cogent explanation of the difficulties of obtaining evidence, which brought something extra to the debate. I was also grateful for his expertise in challenging Liberal Democrat Members on the question of detention.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) made a very moving speech in which he set out some of the difficulties that we have grappled with, and recognised the integrity of all the parties. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) welcomed the changes that have been made to the Bill. I am happy to reassure him about the massive extra investment that we have put into the security services to strengthen our intelligence capacity and capability. He mentioned intercept evidence, and we will continue to keep that matter under review, as I know that it is of concern right across the House.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) again raised some of the issues that he raised yesterday. I can reassure him that this is not about gesture politics. The measure on offences preparatory to terrorism is really important. On direct and indirect incitement, we do not have indirect incitement on the statute book at the moment. Also, there are differences between the terrorism that faces us now and the terrorism that we have faced in the past. Certainly the emergence of suicide bombers is something that we have not seen in the past, and it presents a real challenge for us to deal with.
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