Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Continuance of Part VII) Order 2002

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Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): I reiterate the Minister's congratulations to you, Mr. Beard, on your nomination to the Chairmen's Panel. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I do not think that I ever served on this Committee as a Back Bencher in former days without taking the opportunity to say how unsatisfactory in principle I found this manner of reviewing legislation. The very fact that hon. Members are placed on this Committee without having either volunteered or expressed interest in the matter, with little time to prepare and without special facilities to do so, makes it unsatisfactory. The fact that, even if we were so minded, we could not amend a Government proposal, makes a mockery of this procedure, particularly when the matter under discussion is so important and—as the Minister rightly said—has many constitutional ramifications.

The matter is important, so I will not take up any more time with the broader issue of whether Parliament does justice to itself and to the public's expectations of what I hope is an effective democratic legislature with this particular manner of legislating on secondary measures. Nevertheless, I set some store by repeating, as I always have, my feelings on the subject, which I know to be widely shared—it is not at all a party political matter.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): The hon. Gentleman has made a strong point, but is he not disappointed that the Liberal Democrats are not represented in the Committee today and that they have not even taken the trouble to turn up?

Mr. Davies: I had noticed their absence. The hon. Gentleman's point is fair. I do not know whether the Liberal Democrats bother to read Hansard, so perhaps they will never realise that their absence has been missed.

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The matter is particularly important because the Terrorism Act waives some of the fundamental liberties that we are all brought up to believe are the birthright of every citizen of this country, such as rights to jury trial. The Act reverses the burden of proof in the matter of the possession of arms or, in some cases, certain types of document. The presumptive right to bail and the protections afforded by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 are also waived. Those are serious issues and we should not waive such rights lightly. That is why this debate is important and should not be subject to a procedure that is sometimes regarded as all too perfunctory.

Nevertheless, I agree with everything that the Minister said on the principle of the matter. We have to balance the rights of the accused against the rights of the innocent public. Faced with the threat of terrorism and the danger of mass murder, that balance must be different from that which we strike in more normal times and in parts of the country where the terrorist threat is not so intense. In principle, I agree with the hon. Lady. I echo her thanks to Lord Carlile who, unlike the Liberal Democrats, is in the Room; we appreciate his presence. We look forward to receiving reports from him for so long as it is necessary to have the special regime established in part VII of the Act.

I have eight or nine significant questions, some of which derive directly from the report. I shall leave the most important until last. The hon. Lady has referred to the recommendation to change section 76 of the Act, which deals with PACE. I hope that she has not missed Lord Carlile's strong hint concerning bail, which is in section 67, on pages 10 and 11 of the report. He says in paragraph 3.6:

    I intend to keep Section 67(3) under particularly close scrutiny.

That is a pretty broad hint. He continues, in paragraph 3.7(b), saying that

    there may well be no need at all for Section 67(3) as in practice judges are applying precisely the same standards to scheduled and non-scheduled offences respectively.

A judge's reporting that there might be no need for a section seems close to a recommendation that it should be modified or removed. That is a matter on which the Government would be wise to focus. If a broader hint were required, it is given in paragraph 3.6. Lord Carlile says:

    Doubtless H.M. Government will think it appropriate to provide me with submissions on this issue prior to my next review of Part VII.

Can the hon. Lady give us a flavour of her thinking on section 67? Has she reacted to Lord Carlile's hint and—if this is the only opportunity we shall have to discuss the matter for another year—can she tell us whether she feels that we should retain the section in its present form or modify it?

We welcome the fact that there will be consultation on section 76. Can the hon. Lady clear up some procedural points? Will there be a formal opportunity to debate the matter in the House during the consultation period or should we make proposals in

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writing to the Secretary of State? There may be various intermediate positions between the regime created by the Terrorism Act and the situation created by the application to Northern Ireland of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in the form in which it exists in the rest of the country. We might introduce compulsory video recording, while providing for what Lord Carlile delicately called the more protracted questioning that is sometimes necessary in cases of terrorism. I shall be grateful if the hon. Lady will tell us how Parliament can contribute effectively to the consultation exercise. Perhaps Select Committee recommendations will be invited; it would be a courtesy if the Government were to do that. If changes are going to be made, will they be made by order, under section 99—an extraordinary, Henry VIII section of the Act in that the Secretary of State can change the Act at will in many ways—or will it require primary legislation?

A further question arises from Lord Carlile's report. It relates to section 103, which, as the hon. Lady knows, creates an offence of possessing information that relates to, and, it is implied, endangers, a constable or a member of Her Majesty's forces, the holder of judicial office, the officer of a court, or a member of the Prison Service of Northern Ireland. The section is ambiguously drafted, although I suppose that there is no point in quibbling, as Parliament has already voted it on to the statute book. Anyone reading the section without referring to the guidance in the Government's explanatory notes would be confused, because of the dual use of the term ''a person''.

The offence is to collect information that would endanger such people. Lord Carlile recommends that the list of such people be extended to include, for example, nurses and social workers in the Prison Service and other comparable categories. In thinking of other comparable categories, I thought, ''What about Members of Parliament?'' They have been the victim of terrorist attacks and murders and their names have often appeared on terrorists' lists of targets. Rather than thinking of all the professions that might by virtue of that profession be exposed to such a threat, we should perhaps exclude that slightly invidious list of trades and professions. Perhaps it could be an offence to produce information or allow access to Government information that could be used by terrorists or to keep for a nefarious purpose information that could be used by terrorists who want to endanger other people. There might be cause to consider a further change to section 103 beyond that proposed by Lord Carlile. I should be interested in the hon. Lady's reaction to Lord Carlile's proposals.

Several of my questions are not germane to Lord Carlile's report, but it would be in the Committee's interest to have some preliminary answers from the Government in order to enable understanding, discussion and progress following our proceedings. The first relates to sections 82 and 83, which provide for power of arrest and define the powers of arrest of constables and members of the armed forces respectively. There is a difference between the two in that, if I recall correctly, members of the armed forces

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may arrest people for only four hours, which seems a modest limitation. How does the provision affect the common law principle of citizen's arrest? It is possible to envisage circumstances in Northern Ireland in which a citizen or group of citizens might be in a position to seize someone who was engaged or might be engaged in a terrorist act. We do not want to discourage such gallant behaviour if it makes sense in particular circumstances. The rights of such a citizen arrestor are not defined or, indeed, touched on in the provision, and an explanatory statement by the Minister would be extremely helpful.

Secondly—among the second set of questions; I believe that we are up to about the fifth in total—section 88 restricts what can be done with documents seized because of an assumption or presumption that they have been or are being used by terrorists, are owned by terrorists or are likely to be helpful to terrorists. It contains an extraordinary provision—at least to me; perhaps the hon. Lady will explain why I should not consider it extraordinary—that such documents cannot be copied or photographed. That seems odd. If we are able to seize documents that are directly relevant to terrorist operations or planning, it seems important that copies should be made and be made available to the intelligence services and able to be compared with future evidence that might emerge, for example. The provision seems extraordinary. I was unable to find any debate on the matter in the original Committee discussion list. However, I conducted merely a cursory search, so I might have overlooked it. The reasons for that limitation are a mystery to me and, as we are reviewing this part of the Act, I wish the Minister would explain them.

With regard to Northern Ireland, section 89 overrides one of those fundamental rights—the right to silence. That has subsequently been overridden in English and Scottish law, in several ways. I want the Minister to state whether any complaints about that have been made to the European Court of Human Rights. Cases are currently before that court that relate to the apparent denial of the right to silence to persons who were subject to questioning by Department of Trade and Industry inspectors in relation to alleged offences under the Financial Services Act 1986. If that can be a ground for complaint, can the Minister assure hon. Members that there are legal safeguards that would prevent the waiver of the right to silence that we are discussing from also being a ground for complaint?

Finally, I turn to the most important question. It is a constructive question, which is posed in the context of support for the renewal of this part of the Act. It relates to section 108, which caused considerable controversy during the Bill's progress through the House, and led to the acceptance of several Opposition amendments. The Opposition agree with Lord Carlile of Berriew that, in relation to the specified offences, where a senior police officer, which the Act defines as an officer of superintendent rank or above, certifies that he has information that someone is a member of a banned organisation, that should be taken into account by the court—although the section makes it clear that that is not a basis in itself for an indictment

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or a conviction. Although that might be considered to be a peculiar provision with regard to the traditional principles of our common law and jurisprudence, we are not resiling from it. On the contrary, we were right to support it, and I wish to know why it has not been used. Of all my questions, that is the one that I most wish to be answered.

When the controversy about the matter raged, the Government insisted that the power would be useful, and that it would assist in gaining convictions—otherwise they would not have proposed it, and defended it against considerable opposition from, among others, much of the legal profession and some of the academic legal profession.

It stuck in the throats of hon. Members on both sides of the House to support that power, because all of us hold to the same tradition and the same fundamental values. However, although there was a strong consensus in the House to accept the power, it has not been used. The Minister stated that 17 terrorist murders were committed last year, but she knows that, since the Belfast agreement, there have been about 100 such murders—perhaps she can give me the exact figure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate asked how many of the 635 arrests that have been made under the Act have been for serious offences. That was a good question, because nobody has been arrested in Northern Ireland in relation to any of those 100 murders. That is unsatisfactory and worrying. Recently, there was a conviction in the Republic of Ireland of someone who played a part in the Omagh murders, and I congratulate the Republic, the Garda and that country's prosecuting authorities on that success.

However, we are still waiting for further progress in the pursuit of the people who committed those murders. I am not blaming the Police Service of Northern Ireland—or the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as it was previously titled—for that. I have long supported it for its professionalism and dedication, and I also have no reason to make any disparaging suggestions about the prosecutors and the prosecution service in Northern Ireland. However, we are still waiting for some further progress in pursuing those murders. I am not accusing the Police Service of Northern Ireland—formerly the RUC—of anything. Far from it, indeed, as I have always been a great supporter of that police force for its professionalism and dedication. I have no reason to make any disparaging suggestions about prosecutors in Northern Ireland, or the prosecution service, but we need to know why so little progress is being made in pursuing the murderers.

We would all agree that murder is the worst crime of all, so why has the section never been put to use? That is a curious fact, which may have something to do with the Government. Perhaps the police or the prosecution service do not like using it or, perhaps, they have not found an opportunity to use it. We need an answer to that question, which is being asked for the first time in the House of Commons, although it has probably been asked many times privately and in

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the minds of many people in Northern Ireland. As the powers exist, why are they not used?

The power is not related simply to internment; it is not a power simply to arrest and hold people on suspicion. Section 108 makes it clear that no one can be convicted on a statement by a senior police officer alone. We explicitly gave that power to the law enforcement agencies, after much debate and discussion. The law and order position in Northern Ireland has not improved but may be said to be deteriorating in some areas, and there has been an unprecedented degree of paramilitary threats and beatings. Slightly fewer murders have occurred than in former times, but there are still far too many. We look forward to the authorities actually using the powers that Parliament has given them, when they are in a position to make good use of them.

5.1 pm

 
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