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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

Volume 495: debated on Thursday 9 July 2009

[Relevant documents: The Eighteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Fifteenth Report): Annual Renewal of 28 Days 2009, HC 726.]

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 18 May, be approved.

May I start, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by saying that the urgent question was granted today at 10 o’clock? My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in Manchester and the transport system is not yet effective enough to have him back here for half past 11. In response to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), I should say that I indicated that I would update the House at an appropriate time when further information came to light.

In our debates on what became the Terrorism Act 2006, the Government agreed that there should be a requirement for the annual renewal, by order debated in Parliament, of the extension of the maximum period of detention of terrorist suspects from 14 to 28 days. As the House will know, two such orders have been made since the commencement of the 2006 Act and the order today renews the maximum period of 28 days for a further period of one year, beginning 25 July 2009.

Over the past 18 months, pre-charge detention has been the subject of considerable debate—that is an understatement—in the House, including during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Bill last year. The issue has been discussed by the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). It would not be appropriate for me to go over those discussions today, because they have been, and will continue to be, an important contribution to the debate.

It is worth reminding ourselves of and reflecting on why Parliament agreed the exceptional 28-day limit. As Members will know, terrorist investigations are hugely time consuming. The increase from 14 to 28 days was necessary primarily as a result of major investigations into the use of encrypted computers and mobile phones, complex terrorist networks, the international nature of networks, and the use of more, and different, languages. From my perspective and that of the Government, public safety is paramount; it is our main responsibility.

Is my right hon. Friend going to announce to the House how many individuals have been put on pre-charge detention because there is concern about their activities?

I can give my hon. Friend those statistics. She will know that to date 11 individuals have been held for more than 14 days on pre-charge detention. As a result of what happened in that 14-day period, six of those 11 were held for the maximum of 27 to 28 days, of whom three were charged and three were released without charge. She will also know that in the past two years nobody has been held beyond 14 days.

Sadly, terrorism is with us. The situation is very fluid. We are still at a level of severe threat to the United Kingdom. The issues of encrypted computers, mobile phones, terrorist networks, international languages and the need to gather evidence abroad may well require us, in response to further terrorist activity, to take actions— I hope they will be uncalled for—whereby the use of 28 days may be appropriate.

I have heard all this before. In Northern Ireland, we had this debate year after year, and it was pretty much unequivocally proved that detention without trial was a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, rather than something that helped to reduce it. Why does the Minister think that the lessons of history can be ignored today?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s interest in and affinity with Northern Ireland. He will know that I served as a Northern Ireland Minister for two years. He will also know, as will the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), that in Northern Ireland there have been, and will continue to be, considerable terrorist threats to the security of the population. I believe that it is important that we retain these powers. We have had, over some years, debates on extensions beyond 28 days, but now, I hope, we have a settled will that 28 days provides the opportunity for detailed investigation—where appropriate, with the appropriate legal safeguards—to ensure that we protect the public, which, for me, is key.

An issue that has been raised in every one of these debates, in all parts of the House, has been the impact on communities. A whole section of the excellent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights is devoted to the need for the Government to place an impact assessment before the House. Has that assessment been done, and is it available for Members to read?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for his comments, through the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on the impact on suspects and communities. I have looked at that issue this very week, and I will commission an impact assessment shortly. If the House will allow me, I will report back to it when the final commissioning has taken place to ensure that we deal with those matters.

Why is the Minister so intent on ignoring the evidence against long pre-charge detention periods? Having served in Northern Ireland, I know that it was a recruiting sergeant for the IRA in turning communities against us. However, that question has already been asked, so let me refer him to the international evidence, which suggests that in the vast majority of countries across the world, and in most western democracies—in places such as Turkey, for example—pre-charge detention periods are less than a week. The evidence simply does not stack up.

There are, self-evidently, different legal systems with different nuances throughout the European Community. The Government judge that 28 days is a mechanism that we need, with the appropriate legal safeguards, to ensure that we protect the public—that is our first priority. The fact that the power has not been used for two years does not mean that in difficult, trying circumstances where terrorist activity could have been commissioned or undertaken, we would not need it again. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), I gave details of 11 individuals who have been through that maximum period since the legislation was enacted, three of whom were charged as a result, and who may well not have been charged had we not had that extra 14 days, with the appropriate legal safeguards.

The Minister mentions the number of individuals who were released during the 27-day period. We have discussed this extension ad nauseam in this House and in Committee. Can he indicate any level of dissatisfaction among the security services, the police and so on about having to release these individuals, because none has come my attention?

One of my responsibilities as Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism is to look at what the police are saying about these issues. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the former assistant commissioner, Bob Quick, who said in giving evidence on the Counter-Terrorism Bill:

“In some investigations, we have seen”

attack planning activity

“materialise so quickly that on public safety grounds we have had to act pre-emptively before we have had the opportunity to exploit pre-arrest evidential opportunities. That places a huge burden on the investigating officer.”

That view has been supported by the current post holder, Assistant Commissioner John Yates. Only in the past few months, Jonathan Evans, the new director general of the Security Service, has stated:

“Al Qaida and other international terrorist organisations remain a very serious threat.”

We need to be aware of that and able to take action.

I am grateful to the Minister, but he has not answered my question. As he knows, I head up the counter-terrorism sub-committee, and I am not aware of any great tensions or worries among the police or security services about the individuals who had to be released at the last moment. Am I wrong, or has he, or the Home Secretary, been under pressure about the individuals who have gone to the wire and had to be released?

It is difficult for me to comment on individual cases, but the key point is that we have used the power in respect of 11 individuals, for 28 days. Three individuals were charged in that 14-to-28 day period, and the fact that three were released because there may not have been sufficient evidence, with the allegations being dropped, does not hide the fact that without those extra 14 days there would have been no possibility of charges being made.

This is not just a question of reducing the debate to numbers and to how tough one is measured by how long the period of pre-charge detention is. There is a clear change to the threshold test, which persuaded some of the Minister’s former colleagues to change their views. Why would not the flexibility that the Crown Prosecution Service now has on the threshold test substitute for this measure? Why should we not reduce the period to 14 days? What proportion of terrorist cases, on the latest available figures, have resulted in a conviction, and how does that compare with other cases brought by the CPS? The figures I have seen show that terrorist cases continue to have a higher conviction rate than non-terrorist cases.

I do not carry the number of convictions in my head. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I am trying to answer to the House in an appropriate way. I will consider those issues. If the figures materialise before the end of the debate, I will give them to him when I wind up.

We judge that 28 days is a necessary opportunity, in difficult circumstances, in the event of such activity.

On the lessons to be learned from Northern Ireland, there is a difference between indefinite detention without trial—a measure that our party opposed—as it applied in Northern Ireland and the measure before the House, which retains 28 days with all the safeguards and so on. Whatever other points may be made, it is a bit invidious to make that comparison, because the two things are not the same at all.

The hon. Gentleman hits the nail on the head. He will know that internment without trial, which was used for public safety reasons in Northern Ireland at a certain time in history, is not the same as a 14-day extension to 28 days with judicial oversight. A judge has to examine the case, and I am accountable to this House and to the noble Lord Carlile, who reviews these matters. The situation is entirely different, although, if I may say so, we are dealing with some of the same problems. There might well be complex, difficult cases involving detailed trails of evidence that require a level of investigation for which 14 days will simply not suffice.

I should like to make some progress, but I shall give way finally to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South, and the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes). I have been quite generous.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has indeed been generous. Will he acknowledge from the Dispatch Box that the Home Office is not communicating effectively? In the Yorkshire bomb factory episode, it was 14 days before officers could get into the factory to start the investigation. It is critical for all of us to feel that we have a sense of what is going on, so that we can confidently support pre-charge detention of up to 28 days. I ask him to accept that the Home Office is failing to acknowledge its responsibility in that regard.

My hon. Friend makes a passionate case for the use of the power that we currently have. She will know that I have been in post for, I believe, six weeks and four days. I will attempt to examine that issue, because there is a genuine argument, in the interests of public safety, for ensuring that we make that case. What has happened over the past two years has not required the use of the power, but with the threat to the UK still at severe level we need to be sure that in the event of a plot either being thwarted or happening, those who are trying to damage our constituents and disrupt their daily lives are brought to justice within a legal framework and within the time that we have.

I give way for the last time. This is a short debate, and I want Members to be able to have their say.

I thank the Minister. Other democratic countries do not have anything like 28 days’ detention without charge. Typically, they have two to seven days. The USA and Canada have two days and New Zealand has one day. The Minister pointed out that they have different legal systems, and one difference is that they make extensive use of post-charge questioning to overcome the difficulties of getting into encrypted databases and so forth. The Government have given themselves limited powers to do that. What use has been made of them, and why cannot the Government adopt the practice of other countries by making extensive use of post-charge questioning?

We could have adopted, for example, the model used in France, where pre-trial detention can last four years and it is theoretically possible for someone to be held for that full period. We could have taken the approach of our good colleagues from Spain, who can hold people for five days before handing them over to judicial authorities, after which they can be held in preventive judicial custody for up to four years. We have not taken that approach. We have made a judgment, which will be tested again in the House this afternoon, that 14 to 28 days is a reasonable period, with reasonable judicial safeguards, to ensure that individuals can be charged. Let us not forget what this is about. It is about real threats to our community, and we need to have discussions about that.

As I have mentioned, there are not just general safeguards but specific ones in the judicial system. A Crown Prosecution Service lawyer has to make an application for an extension beyond 14 days, with the senior investigating officer present. Defence solicitors are provided with a written document in advance of each application. Applications are usually strenuously opposed, and the hearings last for several hours. The investigating officer may be questioned vigorously about all aspects of the case.

There is judicial oversight of extensions. A judge can grant an extension of less than seven full days, but he can also grant up to 14 days. That remains subject to judicial oversight. In my view, there is no contradiction between pursuing counter-terrorism objectives and providing a legal framework to defend individuals’ liberties and ensure that they are represented and have the opportunity to state their case. Pre-charge detention of 14 days remains the norm, and 28 days is for exceptional circumstances such as those my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South, described.

As hon. Members know, the threat level remains at severe. That means, sadly, that we are preparing for an attack that may be highly likely. Since July 2005, when British terrorists attacked the London transport system, murdering 52 people, the anniversary of which was only this week, there have been numerous plots against UK citizens, including in London and Glasgow in June 2007 and Exeter in May 2008. I cannot predict what might happen in the next 12 months. The 28-day limit has been used, and the noble Lord Carlile has consistently highlighted in his annual reports that he expects in the course of time to see cases in which even the current maximum of 28 days will be proved inadequate.

I believe that we have made a good case. I recognise that people are concerned about civil liberty issues, but I believe that judicial overview is sufficient to ensure that the security of individual freedoms is protected at the same time as the liberties of others in the state. I hope that the House will agree to the order. I shall try to answer points that are made in the debate, and if possible I will return to the figures that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) mentioned. If I do not have them by the end of the debate, I will certainly write to him in due course. I carry many things around with me, but not every precise figure, and I would not wish to mislead him or the House.

When we debated the last such order, the Government were in the midst of attempting to increase the pre-charge detention limit to 42 days. Having failed to convince the House of the case for 90 days, they then failed to convince Members of another place of the case for 42 days. The fact that we are here again debating an extension of the application of the 28-day limit reflects the fact that these matters are not set in concrete. The fact that the extension must be renewed annually reflects the fact that it is an exceptional power. Although we will not oppose the order, the Government should be aware that the consensus on 28 days is not in any way unconditional.

The statistics on the use of 28 days do not demonstrate to us a continuing and permanent need. In 2006-07, 10 people were held for between 14 and 28 days, of whom seven were charged and three released without charge. In 2007-08, one person was held for longer than 14 days and released on day 19. Since March 2008, no individual has been held for longer than 14 days. I wonder whether, reflecting on those figures, the Minister accepts that the evidence for the year’s extension is not completely compelling.

As the Minister will be aware, there continue to be problems with the legal framework for pre-charge detention. The Joint Committee on Human Rights report last month raised a number of questions about the 28-day period. There are concerns that the current law does not uphold a suspect’s right to a judicial hearing, and about the amount of information that suspects are given about the reason for their detention. A recent ruling by the Law Lords on the cases of three individuals under control orders is a sign that despite all the safeguards that are in place, the right of all citizens to a fair trial means that the Government need to re-examine the nature of evidence presented to suspects. The same applies to the order before the House.

We all accept that this country faces a real and increasingly complex terrorist threat. There is no debate about that at all, but for exceptional measures such as those in the order to be acceptable to the public, the Government need to continue to make their case for them.

The hon. Gentleman is making a careful and measured case in support of the order. He participated in the previous debate on its renewal and will recall that several Members asked about the assessment of the impact on communities. Is he as concerned as I am that it has taken the Government so long to initiate the risk assessment, when it is clear from all our debates so far that our support for the measure is based, as he has just said, on the Government’s making the case?

The right hon. Gentleman anticipates my next point. I was about to say that the Government, in publishing their Contest 2 counter-terrorism strategy, have attempted to explain the nature of the terror threat and the need for robust policies to face it, but the fullest explanations are required. It is therefore pertinent to consider the concerns about Operation Pathway and the arrest of 12 students in Manchester. Hon. Members will recall that the then Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bob Quick, was forced to resign for revealing the operation. The Prime Minister told us that it was a serious plot based on solid evidence, yet not a single charge has been made. Pursuant to that and the comments of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), does the Minister agree that if talk of alarming and dangerous plots is not followed up with transparent judicial process, the wider public will not necessarily be assured of the need for intrusive and tough counter-terrorist measures?

The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling case for treating the provisions as temporary. Why, therefore, will not the official Opposition vote against them today? Are they insisting on taking St. Augustine’s position—Lord, make us virtuous, but not yet?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Our position is that we will, on balance, give the Government the benefit of the doubt on the basic condition that the order will be kept under review. I shall make some further remarks at the end of my speech that will answer the hon. Gentleman’s point.

The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. The subject is difficult and detailed and we all need to ensure that we are concentrating. I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. There is a small but vocal ethnic group in my constituency and in Teesside. None of its members has spoken to me about pre-charge detention and none has criticised it or perceived it as problematic. Indeed, members of that group work with Cleveland police. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that groups have spoken to the Conservative party or to him personally to express serious concerns about pre-charge detention? It is important to share our knowledge as well as the concerns that we clearly have.

The hon. Lady makes a fair point. Colleagues have already said that draconian measures, which are not fully explained or transparent and do not carry public support, can in some circumstances become a recruiting sergeant for those who wish to commit terrorist atrocities against this country.

May I answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor)? I have certainly received representations from the small but influential Muslim community—Sufis, who are remarkably balanced, sensible and loyal people—in my constituency, asking me to explain the implications of the order. Sources that I handled in Northern Ireland in years gone by have also expressed reservations about it. I will expand on that later, should I be allowed to speak.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that that goes some way towards answering the question about the representations that we have received. I suspect that Labour Members have also received such representations—the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is nodding. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he may wish to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor).

The Minister has reiterated the case for 28 days, relying on many of the arguments that were made previously—often for 90 days and then 42 days. Although I accept that the complex nature of some terrorist plots and the difficulty in gathering admissible evidence means that extensions will be required, can the Minister offer an update on moves to allow the use of intercept evidence in criminal proceedings? We have not heard much about that in the debate. It is now more than 18 months since the Chilcot review recommended that it was in the interests of national security to develop an acceptable way of bringing intercept evidence to court. I do not know how much progress the follow-up committee has made—perhaps the Minister can give us an update. Sir John’s new responsibilities for the Iraq inquiry will place further burdens on his time. It will be interesting to hear about that from the Minister because it bears on the case for the necessity of 28-day periods of detention.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and the House for having to leave the chamber, once the Minister has finished speaking to meet a party from my constituency. We are fortunately a long way from 90 days, which was proposed four years ago, and from 42 days, which was proposed more recently. I give the Government the benefit of the doubt on 28 days, as the official Opposition intend to do, because witnesses who gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee and were unhappy with 42 days were satisfied with 28 days. They included Ken Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions. There is therefore a case to stick to 28 days for another year, but the Government should keep the matter under review. The sooner we can get back to 14 days—or even seven days—the happier most of us will be.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments. The order must be kept under review. If the evidence suggests that the period can be reduced from 28 days in future, we will support that. However, we must examine the evidence.

From today, our support for the extension of pre-charge detention in the order will depend on what any Government are able and willing to do about two things. First, they must demonstrate convincingly to Parliament that the security situation is such that 28 days remains indispensable and cannot be shortened. It may seem self-evident, but that means that we need a proper and continuing discussion in Parliament about the security situation. Secondly, they will need to look at the legal framework governing the judicial authorisation of extended detention to ensure that it meets the procedural protections afforded not only by our common law but by article 5 of the European convention on human rights. I hope that this will give an indication of the approach that we want to take, should there be a change of Government before the next renewal.

The Government of the day have a duty to keep the people of this country secure, with parliamentary consent and public understanding, and to take the measures that are strictly necessary to achieving that end. Protection for the public and for this country must be, and can be, achieved in ways that uphold our historic freedoms and our reputation for justice and procedural fair dealing. It is in that spirit, and that spirit alone, that we make our case today and will not vote down or seek to divide the House on the measure before us.

I should like to speak to the tagged report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Select Committee starts with the premise, as it always does, that human rights law imposes a duty on the state to protect us all from terrorism, and it is on that point that today’s debate must focus.

The 28-day provision was supposed to be a temporary measure, but this is the third annual renewal debate since it was introduced in 2006. There is therefore a risk of its developing an air of permanence, as the Prevention of Terrorism Acts have. That legislation was originally aimed at Irish terrorism, but it has been renewed year after year, decade after decade.

In preparing for today’s debate, I looked at my notes for last year’s debate and the relevant report. Little seems to have changed, save that yet another year has passed without the power having had to be used. I concede that that is not, in itself, proof that the measure is not needed, but it does mean that we need to scrutinise ever more closely the question of its renewal.

The recent report of the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights warned of the corrosive effect of open-ended departures from ordinary procedures and of the danger of special measures, introduced to deal with a temporary crisis, becoming permanent. The point appears to have been accepted in principle by the Secretary of State for Justice, who was recently reported in the press as having indicated, in a public lecture on 12 May, that UK counter-terrorism laws built up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and the 7/7 attacks on London should be reviewed and may need to be scaled back. He is reported to have said:

“There is a case for going through all counter-terrorism legislation and working out whether we need it. It was there for a temporary period.”

The Government have set out their case again today, stating that the complex nature of terrorism investigations requires the longer period of detention. However, we know from what the Minister has said, and from published documentation, that only six people have been held for the maximum of 28 days, of whom three were charged and three released. In our previous reports, my Committee indicated that detailed, qualitative information was needed for Parliament to make an informed decision. Since September 2008, three people have been convicted. There is a retrial involving other defendants, and I accept that we cannot scrutinise those cases until the retrials have been concluded, but, as I said last year, we could carry out a detailed analysis of the cases of the three people who were released. However, we were told at the time that the Home Office does not hold information on those cases, as they are an operational matter for the police, in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service. That was a surprising response, as lessons could be learned from the cases of innocent people who have been held for 28 days. Despite last year’s assurances of more detailed information being made available, it seems that all we are getting now is the Home Office’s statistical bulletin. That gives only the bare figures, which are not a great deal of use.

During last year’s renewal debate, the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), expressly accepted the need for detailed information to be made available about how the power had been used in practice when debating future renewals. Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate reported on the counter-terrorism division of the CPS in April 2009. The Government relied on that inspection in response to our inquiry into their plans to conduct a qualitative review.

As I have indicated, I am not in favour of reducing the period of 28 days at this stage. Should we not, however, pay tribute to the other place—which I do not always do—because the proposal to increase the period of detention from 28 to 42 days was carried in this House and even, unfortunately, in the Home Affairs Committee, with various qualifications, but their lordships rejected it. So, although it was carried in the Commons by a majority of nine—the number of Unionist MPs at the time—the period was not increased from 28 days, and nor should it be in any circumstances.

My hon. Friend has made his point. I would simply say that my Committee did not endorse the proposal on 42 days, even though his Committee did.

I was referring to the inspection by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate. The Government say that, on the basis of that inspection, there

“does not appear to be any need for another inspection.”

However, the CPS inspectorate has not conducted the qualitative analysis that we recommended in earlier reports. We therefore reach the same conclusion that we reached last year on the question of the need to go beyond 14 days to 28 days—namely, that we are unable to reach a view as to whether the Government have made their case. In our report, we repeat our call for a thoroughgoing review of all those cases in which the power has been exercised, with a view to ascertaining whether those released could have been released earlier, and whether those charged could have been charged earlier, on the threshold test. We simply do not know the basis of those charges.

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism has made much of the safeguards available through judicial hearing and oversight. We have grave reservations about that, however. A person who has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism has a convention right, under article 5(4), to a judicial hearing to determine the lawfulness of their detention. They have the same right to a judicial hearing under the common law principle of habeas corpus. In a number of our reports, we have expressed our concern that the current arrangements for judicial authorisation of extended pre-charge detention are not compatible with the right to a judicial hearing. We are concerned that the hearing of an application for a warrant for further detention is not a fully adversarial hearing, because of the power to exclude the suspect and his representative from the hearing, and to withhold from the suspect and his lawyer information that is provided to the judge.

We are also concerned about the adequacy of the judicial oversight at such extension hearings, because the judge is empowered to consider only the future course of the investigation and whether it is being conducted diligently and expeditiously by the police, rather than whether there is sufficient evidence to justify the suspect’s original arrest and continued detention.

Since the last annual renewal of the 28-day measure, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and now the House of Lords have held that the requirements of a fair hearing under article 5(4) include the requirement that the detained person must be given sufficient information about the allegations against him, to enable him to contest those allegations or to give effective instructions in relation to the allegations to the person representing his interests.

The statutory framework for the extension of pre-charge detention expressly provides for the withholding from the suspect and his lawyer of information that is seen by the judge, and for the exclusion of the suspect and his lawyer from parts of the hearing. There is no provision for special advocates in the closed part of extension hearings, and even if there were, it is now clear that the essence of the case against a detained person must be disclosed to that person to enable them to contest the allegations.

The decisions of the Grand Chamber on the Belmarsh regime, and of the House of Lords on the control orders regime, concerning the minimum that is required for a judicial hearing to be truly judicial in nature, make even clearer the risk of breaches of article 5(4). Unless amendments to the statutory framework are made, renewal of the maximum extended period of 28 days risks leading in practice to breaches of article 5(4).

Our report also notes with interest that our concerns about the compatibility of the pre-charge detention framework with the right to a judicial hearing following arrest are shared by the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights in its recent report. The panel also comments on the example that this sends to the rest of the world, stating:

“It is distressing to see how the slackening of procedural safeguards in countries like France, the UK and the USA, has been exploited by other States with less well-entrenched legal systems and human rights safeguards.”

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, asked about the impact of the measure on communities. Last year, we recommended that the Government seek and make available to Parliament independent advice assessing, in general terms, the likely impact on individuals of being detained without charge for up to 28 days, and—this point has not yet been raised—the actual impact, including the psychological effect, on individuals who have been detained for more than 14 days pre-charge. We should look not only at the collective impact on a community but at the impact on the individual people concerned. Every person has their own individual human rights. Human rights are personal, not collective.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Bearing in mind what the Minister said from the Dispatch Box today—it is still a puzzle to me why it has taken the Government so long to begin the process of assessment—this process should involve consultation with Parliament on how the risk assessment is going to be conducted. It should not be done solely from Whitehall for Whitehall; it should include the process of parliamentary scrutiny.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that good suggestion.

Last year, the Government undertook to conduct a risk assessment on the effect of the 28-day extension on communities. Asked when the community impact review would be complete, Lord West told the other place:

“We hope to have the initial findings out by the end of the year”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2008; Vol. 703, c. 203.]

namely 2008. A year later, neither type of impact assessment—individual or community—has been made available to Parliament.

The Government acknowledge in their reply to our queries their commitment to undertake a review of the impact of all counter-terrorism legislation on our communities, but they now envisage publishing a research report by late November 2009. However, the psychological impact of extended pre-charge detention on individuals will not be included within that review. Such an assessment could already have taken place in the case of those held for more than 14 days and then released without charge. We recommend again that the Government obtain and make available to Parliament such an impact assessment.

The other main new point is about the presumption of innocence. Last year, the Minister conceded that a special paper on the impact of press speculation on the right to a fair trial had not been prepared, but it “might be worth considering”. Strasbourg case law is very clear that the presumption of innocence requires Ministers to refrain from pronouncing on a suspect’s guilt before a suspect has been convicted. The approach of the Attorney-General, whereby a specific newspaper or broadcaster may have their attention drawn to risks of publication and prejudging a particular case, is very ad hoc and does not address the problem of possible prejudice to fair trials caused by Ministers commenting on cases when suspects have been arrested—even before they have been charged. In our view, the Director of Public Prosecutions should draw up and consult on draft guidance on how to avoid prejudicial comment—by the press or Ministers—following the arrest of terrorism suspects, particularly after they have been charged.

In common with the official Opposition, I do not oppose the order, and I say that simply because we have insufficient evidence to form a view either way. If renewal is sought next year, the Government must produce an evidence-based case with the analysis that my Committee has recommended for several years, especially if the power is not used over the next 12 months, bearing in mind that it has not been used over the last two years. Either way, further safeguards are needed in the light of recent judicial pronouncements—and, indeed, in the light of common law and common sense—so we look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these points.

I am always very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who made a number of good points. I have to say, however, that as with the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), I am slightly confused by the hon. Gentleman’s position, as it seems to me that this House has a very long and honourable tradition of giving the Executive powers only when the case for them is clearly made out. What we have heard from the hon. Member for Hendon, based on the deliberations of his Committee, is that the Government have not made out a case for the extension of the period of detention without charge.

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches are unhappy with the further extension of what was clearly introduced as a temporary provision. That is why we will divide the House on this issue later today. There is an old adage that there is nothing so permanent as the temporary, and there are many examples of that in our legislation, but we should not seek to extend that principle to these particular provisions.

My argument today is that 28 day pre-charge detention is no longer a necessary or appropriate length of time to detain a terrorist suspect. The Government have not made their case on that. The Joint Committee on Human Rights released its report last month suggesting, as the hon. Member for Hendon said, that the Government have not made their case, which I believe is because they cannot make such a case.

I am not naive. I recognise that the western world has changed substantially since the 11 September bombings and there is no doubt that the UK faces serious terrorist threats from sophisticated international groups intent on doing us harm. It follows that investigations into these threats will be complex, transnational and will involve difficulties such as dealing with foreign languages and computer encryption. But the methods we use to tackle those threats need to be proportionate and effective, which pre-charge detention, I suggest, is simply not.

Since 2000, the Government have drastically altered our detention periods. We have rapidly progressed from a position of seven days to 28 days of maximum detention. That is to ignore the frankly quite staggering attempts in between to extend detention to 90 days, following the 7/7 bombings, and then last year to extend it yet again to 42 days through the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Luckily, the Government were defeated due to almost universal opposition. I believe that the Government seriously lost their case on this matter, particularly if we look at some of people who peeled off and became critics. Despite that defeat, 42 days’ detention lurks as a threat on the statute book, not least due to the draft Bill that the then Home Secretary placed in the Library.

This is all part of a pattern from a Government who have an obsession with tough-sounding policies that may appease parts of the electorate but, in reality, have little impact on the problem—or, as we have heard from some hon. Members, run the risk of having a completely counter-productive impact on the problem. It seems to me that attempts to reduce the period of detention are long overdue.

Let us look at the facts surrounding the detention period. Since June 2007, no one has been held in pre-charge detention for longer than 14 days. Over the whole period reported to us, only 11 people who were terrorist suspects have ever been held for longer than 14 days and only six people have ever been held for the full 28 days; half of those, moreover, were eventually released without charge. Half were released without any surveillance or suspicion, which tells me that the innocent have been made to suffer most. This House should surely be exceptionally careful about affecting British law and the rights of the innocent.

Many numbers have been used dispassionately in the debate today, but we must not forget the human implications of what it is like to be imprisoned for close to a month. It is a terrifying and disorientating experience even for someone who is guilty, let alone for a potentially innocent person, and it can have a huge impact on their life, particularly when they do not even know what they have been charged with. How fundamental an assault on the principle that we are innocent until proven guilty is it to be incarcerated for a long period without even knowing what we have been accused of?

Two weeks should be long enough to decide whether someone should be charged with a terrorist offence or not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) pointed out, our current 28 days far exceeds the equivalent limits in other comparable common law democracies. Australia has 12 days, the United States two days and Canada allows for one day. The Minister’s answer was basically “What about France and Spain?”. We deliberately chose our comparison because these are Commonwealth countries whose traditions of law stem from the law that began in this country—namely, traditions of freedom and liberty. Let me reiterate that, as it stands, our current 28 days far exceeds equivalent limits in other comparable common law democracies. We have never traditionally compared ourselves and our tradition of liberty with that of Spain, France and other continental countries, which have a very different tradition. However, it is perfectly legitimate to compare ourselves with other common law countries.

Why do the Government insist that we need to hold people for close to one month when so many other countries manage to charge and convict with pre-charge detention periods of less than a week? Surely the Government are not suggesting that our police and Crown Prosecution Service are slower and less equipped to deal with terror threats. Are the terrorist threats we face more complex than those of our Commonwealth cousins? I think not.

We consider that the arguments previously used in favour of retaining 28 days’ pre-charge detention have been particularly weakened as other methods of combating terrorism and bringing charges have been strengthened. The counter-terrorism landscape has changed over the intervening period. The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 allows for post-charge questioning. The Chilcot report, published in February 2008, has paved the way for the admissibility of intercept evidence. Perhaps if the House were to agree with us today and vote this temporary provision down, the Government might put a little more effort into ensuring that intercept evidence is admissible in court and the security services are better resourced to deal with the modern threat.

According to the Home Affairs Committee report on Contest, released earlier this month,

“the UK’s counter-terrorism apparatus is first-class, effective and as ‘joined-up’ as any system of government can expect.”

Surely that makes the point again. Why do we need to do particular violence to our traditions of liberty and of trial, given that the Home Affairs Committee—and I am sure that the Government would support its judgment—says that our counter-terrorism apparatus is first-class?

I am just about at explosion point. I am really very sorry to say this to the House, but when the hon. Gentleman tells us that if the Government put in a bit more oomph or the Home Office handled its work load with a bit more urgency so that intercepted material could be used as evidence today, it is obvious that he does not know what he is talking about. Chilcot and the rest of them have been trying for months to work out how intercepted material could be used as evidence without damaging our agencies in any way. If the hon. Gentleman does not know that when he is addressing the House, he should do.

I am delighted that the hon. Lady is getting so worked up. I merely remind her that in both Australia and the United States—the United States example is particularly relevant—intercept evidence is already admissible in court. If she spent any time talking to serious investigators of both terrorism and organised crime in the United States, she would find that they think it astonishing that we are not prepared to avail ourselves of a fundamental tool for the bringing of successful prosecutions.

Let me also remind the hon. Lady that the reason it is so important for us to think about the United States is that we have such a close intelligence relationship with it. I suggest that if the United States can use intercept evidence without blowing a hole in the abilities of its security and secret services, we too should be able to do so. As the hon. Lady knows very well, this issue has been dragging on for ages.

I apologise for intervening when I have only just come into the Chamber, but an even more relevant example is Australia, where the head of counter-terrorism has stated in terms that those who do not use intercept evidence in court are not being serious about counter-terrorism.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I am delighted that he managed to hotfoot it into the Chamber to make that devastating intervention. I note that the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) is not seeking to respond to it.

As I have said, the arguments previously used in favour of retaining 28 days’ pre-charge detention have been substantially weakened, and we ought to take account of that. Moreover, the threshold test is now substantially more flexible. I believe that the real reason the Government failed so conclusively in their attempt to increase the number of days from 28 to 42 was that a whole series of serious people who had been involved in the counter-terrorism effort for many years were unpersuaded.

The Crown Prosecution Service can now bring charges on the basis of reasonable suspicion alone, even when it does not think that the chance of a conviction is greater than 50 per cent. With that flexibility, in 2007 the Crown Prosecution Service enjoyed a 92 per cent. conviction rate in terror cases—I am sorry that the Minister has not been able to give us the most up-to-date figures, but I can give him the most up-to-date figures that are available to me—and in 2008 the conviction rate was 78 per cent. Both those rates are substantially higher than the rates of conviction for other serious crimes.

Can the hon. Gentleman give us the number of cases lying behind those percentages? Percentages can often deceive.

I will happily send the hon. Gentleman a letter, but he knows as well as I do that the number of terror cases is relatively small. The crucial point is this. If we are able to prosecute successfully more than three quarters of those against whom charges are brought, the massive amount of additional flexibility still available to the Crown Prosecution Service enables it to bring charges in other cases if it so desires, and if it considers such action important to the defence of national security. It is that additional flexibility that I believe to be so crucial. It may be said that that, too, could be onerous in terms of civil liberties, but I think it far better for people at least to know with what they are charged than to be in a Kafkaesque position, floundering around unable to meet accusations against them, with the possibility of being detained for long periods without even knowing what they are suspected of doing. In my opinion, all those developments create a compelling case for a reduction in the maximum length of pre-charge detention.

I fear that I shall not be joining the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby. Although I understand all the reasons he has given, I shall support the Government. One of my reasons is that the witnesses who gave evidence against 42 days’ detention to the Home Affairs Committee—I felt that the Committee had reached the wrong conclusion, and as usual I made my views clear; I believe that I was in a minority of one—did not seem to want a reduction in the 28-day period at this stage. When the former chief of M15 opposed the 42-day period in her maiden speech in the House of Lords—again, we all make up our own minds; fortunately, the Lords rejected that—she did not seem to suggest that a reduction in the 28-day period was necessary at this stage, given the acute terrorist danger that Britain faces.

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. The difficulty is that what we were discussing at the time was a proposal for a further extension from 28 days to 42. The clear and pressing need was to defeat that proposal, as it constituted another serious attack on civil liberties. When we consider the use of these powers since the 7/7 bombings, however, and when we consider the changes that I described earlier, we see a compelling case for returning to the arrangement for which the Act originally provided, rather than applying the extension of the period without charge.

I gather than the hon. Gentleman is arguing for 14 days. As he will recall, when we debated the 42-day detention period, we discussed the Heathrow plot in excruciating detail, and we found that in one serious case someone had been detained for between 14 and 21 days. I think that the hon. Gentleman’s argument would be more compelling if he were supporting 21 days rather than 14 at this stage.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the subject of the Heathrow plot. He is absolutely right. The reason we were prepared to vote with the official Opposition on the extension to 28 days was the evidence surrounding the investigations of that plot. If the right hon. Gentleman had arrived in the Chamber a little earlier, however, he would have heard me enumerate a number of changes—in particular, the flexibility applying to the threshold test—which provide a substantially greater toolkit for the authorities dealing with terrorism than was available to them at that time. As the great liberal John Maynard Keynes once said:

“When the facts change, I change my mind.”

Indeed. As I hope the House recognises, the circumstances have changed.

I know that the Government are sinking in the opinion polls, but that does not mean that they should cling to ill-thought-out laws that they rushed through in moments of panic and fear while attempting to reassure the public that action was being taken. The end-result has been that this Government have tumbled into a counter-terrorism strategy rather like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, in that there is no exit strategy and the Government can tell us nothing about when they intend to end these apparently temporary powers. Yet, as we know from having heard from Members with experience of counter-terrorism in Northern Ireland, there are considerable dangers in a Government acting disproportionately and abandoning the moral high ground. We must not abandon the moral high ground, we must not retreat, and above all, we must not become the sort of threat that we are attempting to fight.

This was a very quiet and sombre debate until the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) spoke and livened matters up considerably. There was a very passionate intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) galloped into the Chamber to make his intervention.

I find myself in precisely the same position as the official Opposition—that of putting the Government on notice. We have debated this matter at length, and it is important that the House has a proper, full debate on the issues involved, because they concern the liberty of the subject. We should therefore take time to consider the matter rather than rush in and agree a renewal. I shall therefore be in the Division Lobby with the Government—and presumably with the official Opposition—in support of the measure that the Minister has brought before the House today.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) summed up my feeling extremely well when he said that we accept the Government’s case as put forward by the Minister, but that the next time this matter comes before the House we will expect the Government to put a stronger and more effective case. That is not a criticism of my right hon. Friend the Minister’s speech; I say it because we can no longer just accept in good faith statements made on issues of this kind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has just left the Chamber, but I wish to pay tribute to him for the work he has done in this area. The fact that we have 28 days is, by and large, due to the fact that he came up with this compromise when the Government had originally suggested an extension to 90 days. That is why he and other Members also support the Government measure to renew, I think.

The Minister was not the responsible Minister when this matter came before the House at the time of the debate on 42 days, but he will recall that the concern we all had was that there was a need to give the Government these powers only if the Government were in a position to use the powers. Reference has been made to the Home Affairs Committee report on extension to 42 days. Hon. Members—especially my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North—said that we came to a conclusion that would mean the period would be extended. That is right, but it is important to put it on record that although we accepted that there ought to be an extension, there were a number of conditions that we felt it was important the Government should meet before that 42-day period was triggered. We did not say that it should just go ahead willy-nilly, but I should have realised that a combination of my hon. Friend, Baroness Manningham-Buller and Shami Chakrabarti would eventually see this measure defeated.

In checking on the constituencies of hon. Members, I was reading the “Dod’s Parliamentary Companion” report on proceedings before the House in the 177th year of Dod’s. It contains an account of the last debate we had to try to raise the period from 28 to 42 days, in which it said the Government

“scraped through by nine votes. Few could really understand why so much political capital had been expended on a 14-day extension of detention which, by the time concessions had been made, looked unlikely ever to be deployable anyway. The provision seems highly likely to be amended in the Lords, where it has already been condemned by a former Lord Chancellor, a former Attorney General and a former Director of MI5, in addition to the opposition. Then there will be the ‘ping pong’ between the Houses, and the risk of defeat yet again.”

There was no ping-pong of course, as the Government accepted the decision of the other place and as a result the 42-day proposal was defeated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made an eloquent speech that rightly drew attention to the eighth report by his Joint Committee on Human Rights. He pointed out the Committee’s concerns, which I do not think the Minister addressed so I hope he will do so when he comes to reply. Is the Whip—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie)—nodding and trying to encourage me to get on with my speech? I assure him that there is plenty of time left in the debate, with no more speakers other than the Front-Bench spokesmen, so if he will allow me to develop my arguments, I will be extraordinarily grateful.

When the Minister replies, I hope he will deal with points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. When his Committee considered the matter, it did not see that there was a case for an extension certainly beyond 28 days, or even for keeping it at 28 days. His speech was an “on notice” speech, therefore. Along with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, myself and other Members, he is putting the Government on notice that we would not be prepared to go along with this proposal on a future occasion unless additional information were placed before the House.

We have had a number of commitments from Members over the years on issues to do with this matter—I am thinking of control orders in particular. Members have stood up and made a very similar speech to that which the right hon. Gentleman is making, in which they have said, “I’m putting the Government on notice. Next year, we’re not going to do this,” but that has not then transpired. Is the right hon. Gentleman making a firm commitment that if this Government—or perhaps another Government—come forward with this proposal again next year, he will vote against it?

I think it is better to give a firm commitment than to be accused of being St. Augustine, which is one of the favourite descriptions of hon. Members in certain other circumstances. Of course we simply cannot go on renewing this order unless we have something more from the Government than, “It is a very complicated process; there are a lot of computer disks to examine; it does take a lot of time to look at these situations,” especially as the head of counter-terrorism, Assistant Commissioner Yates, is already worrying about the possible reduction in his budget that the Government are proposing or agreeing to. So yes, we have to put the Government on notice. We have to ensure that the point of scrutinising the Government in both the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Joint Committee on Human Rights is to hold them to account. They have had us on good faith, but it is time we said to them that there is a point when good faith runs out. Therefore, next time we will expect the Minister to come up with firm evidence in order to convince us that the Government have the right approach.

I am sorry to delay the Whip in his whipping arrangements, but may I raise one further point: the impact on communities? I raised this with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. It really is not good enough for the Government to come before the House every year and say, “Yes, we will have an impact assessment. Yes, we will begin consultations with communities,” and then not to do it. I am always prepared to be convinced by the Minister’s boyish charm. When he appeared before the Select Committee, he told us exactly how many hours he had been in the job, and today he has told us how many weeks and days he has been in the job, so he is obviously counting very carefully indeed. I do not expect him to say today that this is due to start shortly and that by the time we discuss it next year the impact assessment will be ready. I want to know who is conducting the impact assessment, how many people are sitting on the panel, what budget will be available, and which cities will be visited. I want detail when he comes to reply, or else I shall go back to the Library and table a whole series of parliamentary questions—I will not bother to wait for a letter as that will take too long. Is he giving me his boyish, charming smile? I will expect that kind of detail when he responds.

Absolutely. The Minister should take a leaf out of the book of the Minister for Borders and Immigration—I am talking about what happened when the Government were defeated on the Gurkha issue—and remember the importance of consulting Parliament. I am sure that the Home Affairs Committee, some of whose distinguished members are in the Chamber today, would want to be consulted, as would the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Minister should let us know precisely what is planned, because we have heard some wonderful statements from the Government about community cohesion—the Prime Minister has announced additional money and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has talked about communities working together—but we need to see detailed plans before we can support them on a future occasion.

My final points relate to intercept evidence. Again, I am sorry to disappoint the Whip, but this debate lasts only an hour and half. I do not know whether anybody has been arrested or detained in Leeds, but this issue affects the whole country and the liberty of the citizen, so I should be grateful if he allowed me, without hurrying me along, to finish this small contribution. I say to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that my Committee’s report recommended that intercept evidence should be used, because we felt that that was the right approach to take. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South that this has to be done carefully, but it should not be done so carefully that we never get it implemented. At the time, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House in which he said he was in favour of this.

So let us adopt these sensible proposals and try to make progress on this matter. Let us all put the Government on notice that next time we will not nod this through; we will be much more critical if the Minister does not come up with the goods.

I have to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) that I was 52 years old on Sunday, so I gratefully accept his compliment about boyish charm.

I note that the tone of the debate has been one of putting the Government on notice. The Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East have all taken that approach, and I hear it in the spirit in which it was given. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is trying to test the House today, and that is a perfectly legitimate position to take. I suspect, given the soundings that we have taken in this debate, that I know what the result will be, but we will shortly see what happens.

I wish to make my remarks reasonably speedily. Again, the key thing for me is protecting the British public. We talked earlier about the 11 people who have been held for more than 14 days’ pre-charge detention, six of whom have been held for the maximum 27 to 28 days. As I mentioned, three have been charged and three have been released without charge. I can inform the House that two are facing trial very shortly on serious charges, and one was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment last December. That conviction and sentence may not have happened—the information may not have been brought forward—without the 14 to 28 days’ maximum provision being put in place. That is what I believe this is all about.

I accept again—this has been debated today—that there have not been any incidences in the past two years. This is a temporary power and the measure provides for it to carry on for one further year, if the House supports it today. I hope that we will examine the situation in relation to potential and actual terrorist activities in the next 12 months and, if need be, make the case that I have made today that there are difficult issues that may need further assessment during that 14 to 28-day period.

I wish to touch briefly on a couple of the points that have been made. The issue of intercept evidence was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. As the House will know, the Government remain committed to using the best evidence available to enhance the ability to bring prosecutions. The Privy Council review has taken place under Sir John Chilcot. We will be considering that and I hope that we will make announcements on these issues shortly. A copy of the progress report of the advisory group has been placed in the House Libraries so that Members can look at these serious issues that need to be resolved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon was concerned about judicial oversight, which was mentioned by his Committee. We have always maintained that judicial authority should be in place to determine the application for extended detention and to ensure that, as is the case in Northern Ireland, the original legality of the arrest is examined when it is questioned by the detainee. He will know of the recent case involving Duffy and others in Northern Ireland, which followed the tragic murders earlier this year, in which those issues were addressed as part of the consideration.

My right hon. Friend rightly says that this has always been the Government’s argument and that we have always questioned it. Since last year we have had the decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the Belmarsh cases and the decision of the House of Lords in the control order cases, both of which speak to this very point about what proper judicial scrutiny means in such cases. Both those decisions point to our current arrangements being inadequate.

The recent House of Lords judgment was mentioned by a number of hon. Members, including not only my hon. Friend but my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. We are at the moment considering the impact of the judgments in the case of AF and others. We do not accept that there is an automatic read-across to all proceedings involving closed material, but we are examining the issue and, again, I very much hope that we will be able to respond shortly. We have already written to the High Court to explain that we will be responding to the judgment shortly.

This is a quick question. Will the Minister set a deadline for the consideration of the admissibility of intercept evidence, bearing in mind the precept that work always expands to fill the time available?

I have given a clear commitment, not only today but in Home Office questions on Monday, that we will respond to this judgment shortly. We are examining the issue in detail and we have written to the High Court to explain that we are examining it. As ever, I have given a commitment to report back to the House.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman used the word “Kafkaesque” when he said that people could be charged without knowing what they were being charged with. I wish to make it clear to the House that that is not the case; suspects are told why they are being detained and what allegations are being investigated, and as much detail is given as is possible within the constraints of an ongoing, fast-moving criminal investigation.

The Government have made the case for this measure, which seeks to provide for a one-year extension, although I appreciate that there is some scepticism.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, may I ask whether the Minister will deal with impact assessments and risk assessments?

My right hon. Friend anticipates my peroration on these matters—I hope it will be made with boyish charm.

From my perspective, there are some key issues here. We have made the case for this measure. I accept that there is a need to examine risk assessment issues—we will examine those—and how we provide confidence in the community.

I will give way in a moment, but I am trying to answer the questions my right hon. Friend asked about the assessment that we are making of the impact on the community. They are being discussed in government this very week, and I have examined them. I hope I shall shortly be in a position to make some announcements on those issues. I cannot make such announcements today, but I will do so shortly and I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and his Committee, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and his Committee.

Again, my right hon. Friend has referred to assessments of the impact on communities, and I welcome that. However, he has not mentioned the impact on individuals—that is a point that my Committee made this year and last year. Will he confirm whether an assessment will be made of the impact on individuals? Will he also answer the point about ensuring that trials are not prejudiced by statements made in the media or by Ministers?

Again, it is a self-evident truth that trials should not be prejudiced by statements to the media. I very much hope that everyone involved in these issues will examine them. It is important that, as part of the detention procedure, people do not have their trials compromised by statements made outside the situation.

I would like to finish the point that I am trying to make in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. He has mentioned assessments of the impact on individuals and on communities. This week, I have looked at those issues in government, and I shall be making statements on them shortly. I cannot do that today, but I hope that my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East will accept that these matters are before us.

Before the Minister gets to his peroration, I hope that he will deal with the point about the flexibility of the threshold test, especially as he has experience not only of the Home Office but of the Ministry of Justice. He is therefore in a very good position to tell the House how much extra flexibility is now available to prosecutors to bring charges so that these provisions are unnecessary. Will he deal with that issue, because he has not mentioned it?

The House may recall that this point was mentioned during my initial contribution. We have made a judgment that the extension from 14 to 28 days is needed because of the threats to our communities from individuals who try to damage them. We are trying to balance the liberties of individuals with the liberty of society as a whole, and I commend the order to the House.

Question put.


That the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 18 May, be approved.