'(1) Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 (c.11) (detention) is amended as follows.
(2) At the beginning of paragraph 29(3) (duration of warrants of further detention) there is inserted "Subject to paragraph 36(3A),".
(3) In subparagraph (3) of paragraph 36 (extension of warrants)—
(a) at the beginning there is inserted "Subject to subparagraph (3A),", and
(b) for the words from "beginning" onwards there is substituted "beginning with the relevant time".
(4) After that subparagraph there is inserted—
"(3A) Where the period specified in a warrant of further detention—
(a) ends at the end of the period of seven days beginning with the relevant time, or
(b) by virtue of a previous extension (or further extension) under this subparagraph, ends after the end of that period,
the specified period may, on an application under this paragraph, be extended or further extended to a period ending not later than the end of the period of fourteen days beginning with the relevant time.
(3B) In this paragraph "the relevant time", in relation to a person, means—
(a) the time of his arrest under section 41, or
(b) if he was being detained under Schedule 7 when he was arrested under section 41, the time when his examination under that Schedule began.".' —[Beverley Hughes.]
Brought up, and read the First time. 6 pm
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I ask the House to resist amendment (a) and new clause 56. Government new clause 45 will amend paragraph 3 of schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which governs the detention of persons under section 41 of that Act. Section 41 gives a constable the power to arrest a person without a warrant whom he or she reasonably suspects to be a terrorist. As Members know, a person detained under section 41 may be held by the police for only a maximum of 48 hours, unless an application has been made asking a court to issue or extend a warrant for further detention.
Under the legislation as it stands, a court can extend the detention up to seven days if the conditions set out in that legislation are met. The Government new clause will allow detention for up to a maximum of 14 days. Its provisions come to us from the police and are considered essential by them, based on their experience of the practicalities of dealing with a suspected terrorist once in police custody. There are circumstances under which the current seven-day maximum may be insufficient to enable the police fully to investigate the offences in respect of which the individuals are detained.
It would be very helpful if the Minister told the House, although obviously without citing individual cases, which would be improper, on how many occasions in the past 12 months, for instance, the police have had difficulty in completing their inquiries into any suspected terrorist within seven days.
As the hon. Gentleman implies, I shall not go into individual cases or give any information that might be useful to those to whom the legislation might apply. However, I can tell him that in the first three months of this year 212 people were detained under those provisions. Of those, 16 went into the sixth day as a result of extensions. That does not quite answer his question, but I am afraid that I cannot answer it for the reasons I have outlined. Although the proportion is small, it has been necessary to detain a tiny number for extended periods.
I follow exactly the same train of questioning. Is it not right that last year only 16 cases ran up to the seven-day maximum? Why are we being asked to extend a period that we extended less than three years ago when we considered the Terrorism Act 2000? Lord Lloyd, who carried out an inquiry, recommended a limit of four days, and there was no pressure at all from the police or any other authority to go beyond seven.
The methods and circumstances that the police meet when investigating such cases are evolving all the time, as the hon. Gentleman may appreciate. In addition, the police have conducted a review of all significant operations over recent times. They have concluded that more than seven days may be needed in specific cases. If he will bear with me, I shall give him general examples of the circumstances in which we could anticipate that more than seven days might be needed, albeit in a small number of cases.
I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. Will she please tell the House how many of those 16 were not charged because inquiries had not been completed?
I am sorry, but I do not have that information. If I had it, I am not sure that I would provide it to the hon. Gentleman in this public domain. If it is possible outside this place for me to brief him, I will do so.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so quickly after taking a number of interventions. She is well aware that Lord Carlile is the independent assessor of the operation of the terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland. He does a truly superb job. Has she consulted Lord Carlile on these changes, and what is his view?
Yes, Lord Carlile, who is the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000, has been consulted. He has been fully briefed and he has had an extended meeting with officials. He has raised no concerns with us about the proposal and its provisions.
In dealing with some of the examples that the police are encountering, in particular and increasingly frequently there may be occasions when it is necessary to examine substances that are thought to be dangerous, and which are found on or with detained individuals, to determine whether they are chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear. This is a very time-consuming process that needs to be carried out with particular attention, and often in stages. As hon. Members will appreciate, the substances have to be retrieved in accordance with forensic procedures. Very detailed health and safety provisions exist to protect the people doing that work. I am told that the forensic retrieval itself can take up to five days. Clinical procedures then have to be applied to the analysis. This often involves a staged process, in which one stage of the analysis has to be completed and the results obtained before a decision can be taken on the further direction of the analysis, in order to determine what the substance might be. The issue of dangerous substances provides a powerful example, and I readily appreciate the arguments that the police are using as to why extended periods beyond seven days might be necessary.
Another example that the police are dealing with concerns the use of personal computers and the requisition of hard drives, after searches of premises and arrests have been made. It can take several days for material from a hard drive to be extracted, analysed and used in the questioning of a suspect. As Members will readily appreciate, in the case of a network of computers or computers that have been used to communicate with each other, the process of analysing the content of several hard drives and cross-referencing and matching communications before such information can be used in the questioning of suspects takes time.
What the Minister says is undoubtedly true, but surely it is also true of a wide range of offences, including paedophilia, for example, in which the examination of the hard drives of suspects' computers is involved. Once she embarks on this reasoning, she will have difficulty in resisting the argument that such provisions should be widely used. In practice, the suspects of such offences are released, inquiries continue and the police have to use other means to ensure that they do not leave the country or become inaccessible.
In making that point, the right hon. Gentleman is not taking into account the fact that we are not dealing with quite the same form of investigation. In a criminal case, a particular offence will be believed to have been committed and the investigation will be focused on evidence to support a charge for a particular event. In respect of terrorist suspects, somebody is most often arrested to prevent an event that intelligence has told the police and the security services might otherwise take place. That creates a different quality of investigation and justifies the need for allowing the police an extended period in order to put the information together.
The right hon. Gentleman may also accept that, given the incidents that these provisions are trying to prevent, the order of damage to individual citizens of this country and the sheer number of people who would be injured were a terrorist event to take place, we are talking about a level of seriousness and an impact that is beyond that of perhaps not all, but certainly most, criminal offences. That is a further justification for the provisions.
I draw Members' attention to a further example that is rather different from the average criminal case, and which does take more time. Of course, very often we are dealing with people who have been arrested as suspected terrorists, and who are using false identities or perhaps even multiple identities. As Members will appreciate, this involves the making of extensive national, and often international, inquiries. Frequently—although not always—interpreters are used, and much more so than in criminal cases. Indeed, interpreters of rather remote languages may be used. Interpreters then have to be used at all stages during the period of detention for interviews. That is another factor that can lengthen the period of time required.
I understand the Minister's arguments, but is she saying that because there are more investigations now, we are strapped for resources—the people to do the job quickly? Is she saying that the investigation of hard drives or chemical substances, for example, and checks with Interpol and foreign police forces now take place, but were not undertaken three years ago? When we looked at all the terrorism legislation, we provided not the two days that Lord Lloyd recommended or the four days that he recommended in exceptional cases, but seven days to allow for leeway. What has changed in those three years? Has there been a huge increase in the number of cases and, because we do not have enough people, we have to allow a longer period, or are those entirely different things? Some of us would be sceptical if the Minister said that they were.
It is not the number of cases and the need to detain people longer so that we can make proper use of the available resources; it is the growing appreciation of the increasing sophistication of methodologies used by terrorists, their access to technology, whether equipment or particular substances. There is greater evidence of more sophisticated approaches, but we also have a greater understanding of what needs to be done so that we use our investigation processes to get as much out of the investigation as possible and obtain usable evidence to press charges.
I am interested in the technical response to the terrorist threat. One of the limiting factors that the Minister is describing is the difficulty of biological assay in response to a bio-terrorism threat and the time that it takes to analyse a pathogen. I recently saw some interesting work in the Livermore laboratory in the United States on a much faster assay process. Is Britain buying into that sort of technology so that investigative processes can be speeded up for the benefit of our defences?
We are certainly keeping up to speed with all the developments in that area. I would not like to imply, nor would I like the hon. Gentleman to assume, that we have tabled the amendment extending the time limit because our technology is not as advanced as that of other countries. As I have said, hon. Members will have to make a balanced judgment. They are getting at some undoubtedly important points, which I take seriously. Detaining people, whatever we suspect them of, is a serious matter for a democracy and it is right that hon. Members should question us about it. However, at the same time, they will have to judge whether, on balance, the limitation of liberty that is being proposed is proportionate and justified in a very small number of cases in relation to the serious harm that people suspected of such activities can potentially wreak on society. Different judgments will be made about that. We have reached our judgment on the basis of the practical experience of the police and their advice to us about the period of time that may be required in an admittedly small number of cases.
I am sure that hon. Members will know that there are a significant number of safeguards in schedule 8 already. We have built further safeguards into the formulation of the amendment. It is not proposed, for example, that the court should be given the power to issue a warrant authorising 14 days of detention on the first occasion on which a warrant for an extension of detention is sought. Rather, the court will be able to extend the period in the warrant for more than seven days only if the warrant already authorises detention for the maximum seven days that is currently permitted. To think through the process, the police will be able to detain for 48 hours, and if they then apply to the court for an extension, the maximum that the court can allow at that point is seven days. If further time is needed, the police will have to come before the court again and explain why. The court will have to satisfy itself of the conditions.
If I can just finish the point. We have already seen from the operation of the current provisions that the courts are rightly exercising some caution and judiciousness in respect of the periods of time that they grant. They do not necessarily grant the entire period requested: they require the police to return and, if they need to, subsequently repeat the request for an extension rather than grant three or four days in one chunk.
That is certainly how the power is exercised currently and it is what we expect in the future because of the conditions that have to be satisfied and also because the courts take their responsibilities seriously.
That certainly helps our understanding. However, I am concerned about the Minister's argument that using the procedure might stop a major incident. That is a powerful argument, but in such circumstances, the people taken into custody are unlikely to proceed if it had been their intention to do so, because their cover has been blown. When it becomes possible to link them to others, the operation would almost certainly change and others would be drawn into it. If it were believed that they were preparing to commit an offence themselves, they could be pursued on the basis of a criminal charge and the matter could be taken further in that way. The idea that taking such people into custody will not disturb an organisation's plans seems rather confused.
I do not think so. It is in the nature of these incidents that we have to deal with hypothetical circumstances. We cannot know what we have disturbed and interrupted by acting on the intelligence of the security services. I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. We have to act on the intelligence that we have. We may never know how effective it might have been in interrupting a planned operation, but we have to do all that we can on the basis of the intelligence that we possess. That means arresting people whom we suspect to be engaged in planning a particular operation or engaged more generally in activities that are likely to lead to terrorist acts as defined in the legislation.
Terrorism is a reserved matter, so the new clause will apply throughout the United Kingdom. It will come into effect by order after Royal Assent. As I said in an earlier response to a question put by Lady Hermon—for which I was grateful—the application and use of the power will be subject to annual review by the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000, Lord Carlile.
Because of time pressures, I shall not speak at great length and steal the thunder of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen who—
I am happy to do so if my hon. Friend wishes me to deal with it in that way. In any case, I was intending to deal with the amendments, albeit briefly.
Amendment (a) accepts that a period of detention greater than seven days might be required for the police to complete their investigations. Notwithstanding the interventions of Simon Hughes so far, I am grateful that the amendment accepts that principle. The problem is that it ignores the advice that we have had from the police, based on the practicalities of dealing with a suspected terrorist in custody. When I introduced these provisions, I made it clear why we think that an additional three days would not be sufficient. I have tried to outline the safeguards and, in particular, the way in which the judicial authorities will operate the new clause, only authorising extra time if the police have made a case for it. That is the ultimate safeguard.
My hon. Friend Mr. Mullin asks about his new clause 56. Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 sets out the key detention requirements, which apply across the UK, such as the period of time a person can be detained under section 41 or schedule 7, review of the detention, authorisation and access to solicitors. The way in which those various requirements are regulated varies slightly across the legal jurisdictions in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
In England and Wales, detention of terrorist suspects is covered by PACE codes of practice, in Northern Ireland it is governed by a code of practice made under section 99 of the 2000 Act, and Scotland does not have a PACE equivalent. I am talking specifically about the use of recordings, to which my hon. Friend's new clause refers. All interviews in the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000 are audio recorded and that is governed by the UK-wide code of practice for the audio recording of interviews under that Act. That code goes wider than PACE code E, which is the equivalent PACE code of practice for tape recording interviews with suspects. It allows for a consistent approach to Terrorism Act interviews across the UK, whereas PACE applies only to England and Wales.
Previously there was a code for Northern Ireland and administrative systems in England, Wales and Scotland, and that led to considerable inconsistency in approach and the Government's decision to lay down a code of practice in the Terrorism Act 2000. Because we already have a code of practice that goes wider than PACE code E, I ask my hon. Friend not to press his new clause, or I shall ask the House to resist it.
Although my hon. Friend's new clause refers specifically to recordings and to the application of PACE to recordings, I am aware that he may have concerns that go wider than the recording issue and relate to how people are treated in detention and whether some of the other codes of practice under PACE should apply to people detained under the 2000 Act. I know that my hon. Friend has had a detailed letter from the Home Secretary today in response to an informal meeting that took place with members of the Home Affairs Committee on that point. The Home Secretary has laid out an explanation of how code C of PACE—about the way in which people are treated, including the conditions, the framework for interview sessions and the general conduct of the police—applies to persons arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act. I hope that that explanation satisfies my hon. Friend. Code C also recognises the slightly different procedures on some points that are found in schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000, and that are required to deal with terrorists and the different circumstances of such offences. As I said earlier, the investigations are often not of a particular offence but of suspicions about potential hypothetical situations. Therefore, the PACE codes in their entirety cannot apply because they cannot accommodate those different characteristics.
PACE code C applies generally and the new code goes wider than PACE code E on the recording issue. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend is assured that the general circumstances that apply to all detainees under PACE apply to people detained under the 2000 Act.
My hon. Friend the Minister is right to say that I received a very helpful letter from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary today. I want to be sure that detention for up to 14 days will not be used as a device for breaking down people who have not broken down in the first seven days of detention.
I completely understand the point about technology and so on, but I want to be certain that the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent what I have described from happening and to ensure, for example, that interrogation of a person will always take place in the presence of that person's solicitor. My hon. Friend the Minister has dealt with the point about tape recordings. I seek her assurance that the provision will not be used to break down people who have not broken down previously.
As I have said, for people detained under the Terrorism Act 2000, the procedures involved in interview sessions, and the conduct of those sessions, will be governed by PACE code C. No difference in procedure is involved there, and I am awaiting clarification in respect of my hon. Friend's question as to whether solicitors always have to be present. My hon. Friend may be aware that, in cases such as we are discussing, some differences exist between schedule 8 of the 2000 Act and PACE code C in connection with legal advice, how quickly it has to be provided, and so on. However, in general terms, all the provisions in respect of interview sessions and conduct will continue to be governed by PACE code C.
In addition, the provisions covering the responsibilities of the senior investigating officer and the custody officer remain the same. The senior investigating officer constantly has to review developments as the investigation goes on in order to satisfy the overarching obligation in paragraph 37 of schedule 8 to the 2000 Act, which demands that the police must constantly assure themselves that the two criteria for detention, of which the court must be satisfied, continue to be met.
In addition, at each change of shift by the custody officer—that is, every 8 to 12 hours—a recorded welfare interview is carried out to ensure that the prisoner is in good health, requires no medical assistance, and that everything is as it should be. There is therefore no difference between the conditions for people detained under the terrorism provisions and those for people detained under criminal procedures.
My hon. Friend asked whether a solicitor would always be present. I am advised that the solicitor can be excluded from interviews only during the first 48 hours, as provided under section 41 of the 2000 Act. The solicitor is present during any period of extension after the 48 hours.
I hope that I have answered the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South. I commend Government new clause 45 to the House.
The new clause is not an ill reflection on the Government, but it is a dreadful reflection on the state of our society that the Government should feel the need to come to the House and ask for such a draconian extension of powers. In any other circumstances, I think that most hon. Members would regard that extension as a very serious matter. It remains so, but it may be justified by the state of the threat to which this country is subject. I hope that the Government would never otherwise ask the House to approve individuals being detained for up to 14 days without charge, while criminal investigations against them take place.
The Opposition will certainly not stand in the way of powers if they are needed to prevent a serious terrorist threat to this country—although I am bound to point out that there will be quite a long delay before they reach the statute book. In the meantime, although the Government have, presumably, assessed the threat as serious, the power does not exist.
In view of the late stage at which the provision has been introduced, it is difficult for us to take a reasoned view as to whether it is necessary. I am very mindful of what the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration told the House a few moments ago and I am fully aware that there are issues of secrecy and confidentiality about the reasons, which may or may not exist, that the police have been unable to conclude their investigations into suspect terrorists whom they have arrested. I can understand that if the police release a suspected terrorist after six days, they will not necessarily indicate to him that they have done so only because they have not had time to collate the evidence against him, but will simply say that the time is up and he is being released.
The weakest part of the Minister's argument, however, was her inability to provide examples from past investigations where the police felt that the power was absolutely necessary. I am mindful of the reasons that she gave us, but I very much hope that, even if it is on a Privy Council basis, some information will be supplied to my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin or to some other suitable person in my party, to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee or to Liberal Democrat Members, so that we can make a proper assessment of the need for such a draconian power. To introduce such a power in peacetime is unprecedented. Detention for 14 days without charge is a very long time indeed.
The hon. Gentleman is describing the weakest part of the Minister's argument, but would he address the strongest point of her presentation? The Minister referred to the assessment made by Lord Carlile. He has striven hard to normalise the Northern Ireland legislation on terrorism and has found no fault in the provisions in the Bill. Surely to goodness, that should weigh heavily in the Opposition's decision this evening.
I am sure that Lord Carlile's opinion will be taken into account. However, I am sure that the Minister will readily accept our difficulty: the proposal has been made at a late stage of the Bill's proceedings and it is draconian. I am sure that the Minister will not disagree. If the provision goes into the statute book, I very much hope that it is kept under constant review, with a view to its removal from the statute book as soon as possible, because I do not like the idea that individuals could be detained for up to 14 days without charge. That is a serious matter.
Indeed, the extension of the power to seven days was already a serious matter, although I fully accept the justification for doing so. One can only assume that the Minister's view is that the threat and its nature go far beyond that posed by, for example, the IRA even at the height of the troubles. The Minister alluded to some of the reasons for her view. She mentioned chemical, biological and radiological weaponry and the need to carry out tests. Those are grave matters and we shall take them seriously into account. We shall certainly not oppose the new clause at this stage.
However, I hope that between now and the scrutiny of the proposal in another place there will be an opportunity to hold full briefings for Members of Opposition parties about the background reasons for the new clause, in so far as the Government can give them. Will the Government also give us some detail about the trouble experienced by the police in respect of the seven-day rule in the past?
The Minister provided some examples of hypothetical problems, but there is an enormous difference between a hypothetical problem and one that has actually occurred. We must be careful that we do not end up with a situation in which, because the police think that the provision might be a useful tool in a hypothetical setting, we simply say, "Yes, of course you must have it." It is offensive to civil liberties that people should be detained for 14 days.
I shall pick up on a very important point raised by Mr. Mullin—the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs—in relation to new clause 56, which he tabled: the longer a person is detained, the more worrying the weight and reliability of any evidence obtained from that person. We would not want challenges to be made under the Human Rights Act 1998, on the basis that the confession statement made on the 12th or 13th day should be excluded because the total circumstances of detention were such that it would be quite wrong to admit that statement. That is a hypothetical possibility, but it is one against which the Government should guard and be very mindful.
I do not wish to take up the House's time, so I simply tell the Minister that we will not oppose the measure at this stage, but we will keep it under review in the hope that it will be debated fully in another place. We would like to hear an explanation of the necessity of including the measure, in so far as the Government can provide one, particularly because it is not as though it will come into operation tomorrow in any event.
We appear to be in a period of great threat and I have no reason to disagree with the Government's assessment, given the explanations that they have provided, but where we will be in October, or whenever the Bill becomes law, is another matter. So, for a period at any rate, the police will not enjoy this power, which they appear to be seeking as a matter of urgency. I very much hope therefore that, at the end of the consideration of the Bill, we will be able to be fully confident of the necessity of including this draconian measure.
As Mr. Grieve says, this is quite a large power for the Government to seek, and they have done so at rather a late stage—I think that I got a telephone call the Friday before last—so my Committee and, indeed, the House have not been able to give the proposal the consideration that it perhaps needs, although the Home Secretary was very generous in making time available for an informal meeting to discuss this and one or two other last-minute additions to the Bill.
Although the Minister, for reasons that I perfectly understand, is not able to give hard examples of why the power is needed, I am able to give hard examples of how we got into the mess on terrorism some years ago. Let me say at the outset that I completely understand and accept that things have moved on light years since then, and I do not suggest that we are back there, but I am suggesting that I do not want the House to approve of things that might take us back in that general direction.
In the mid-1970s, there was a series of major terrorist offences on the British mainland—the M62 coach bombing, the bombings at Guildford and Woolwich and the Birmingham bombing—all of which occurred within 18 months of one another. In total, 18 people were convicted in connection with those bombings, and they were all sent away for very long periods. I think that I am right in saying—I say this off the top of my head—that 10 of those 18 people signed confessions in custody, explaining how they had carried out those bombings. In due course, all those confessions proved to be false. There is evidence that, in some cases—certainly, in the Guildford case and possibly in that of Judith Ward—those who took them knew that they were false when they were obtaining them.
In addition to the terrorist cases, there have been a number of other cases where people have been convicted of murder solely on the basis of confessions obtained in police custody, often with no other evidence whatever. One or two people convicted of murder on that basis in the 1970s or early 1980s are still in jail today.The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was introduced in the mid-1980s because of all that, and it laid down a strict regime for how people should be treated in police custody. The same provisions have been gradually extended to terrorism legislation, as the Minister explained a moment ago. Although there is a complicated tangle of schedules and codes, by and large, the standards laid down for the treatment of suspects in custody are more or less the same, with one or two minor exceptions. For example, the length of time that a solicitor can be withheld from someone is 36 hours for serious criminal offences and 48 hours for terrorism. We want to keep it that way. It will not make it any easier to combat terrorism if people own up to things that they did not do, as that will have to be unravelled years later, apart from the fact that those who did carry out whatever the atrocity would get away with it.
I listened attentively to the hon. Gentleman, even when I left my place for a moment to correct something. In the context of Northern Ireland, I was on the Standing Committee that reviewed the code of practice for video recording introduced under the Terrorism Act 2000. I assure him that there was wide consultation on the code and that the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland raised no objection to it. The hon. Gentleman's fears in relation to past cases would not be realised in the future. The system has been tightened up greatly, to the benefit of everyone, including police officers who are often wrongly accused of misusing or abusing defendants in custody.
Yes, I accept that that is so. All I am saying is that I do not want us to agree to anything that would send us back in the direction from which we came. We got into rather a big mess, and although it is true that these standards now apply, such as those governing the recording of interviews in Northern Ireland, they were not achieved without a struggle. Indeed, as for recording, the usual suspects resisted until almost the last moment in some cases.
No. If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I do not want to get distracted by going down that particular alleyway.
I tabled new clause 56 in the hope of flushing out these points from the Minister, and she has given the assurances that I sought. She has also explained the various relevant schedules, which I wanted on the record rather than in a friendly letter from the Home Secretary. I am grateful for that, and I will not press the new clause to a vote. All that I would say is that once such a power is conceded it is rarely taken back again, and I fear that it will be with us for a long time.
I take a similar approach on this matter to that expressed by Mr. Grieve. The proposition has come late in the day, as the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has said. We have therefore had no chance to consider it in detail in Committee, which is a disadvantage. It strikes me that the speed with which it was introduced was unnecessary, because if it were really urgent, we would not be legislating now with a view to implementation in the autumn. The case for changing the law to double the period for which people can be held without charge surely cannot be so urgent that it was only thought of two weeks ago and so urgent that it needs to be introduced today. I am unhappy about the procedure, and the Government have not explained how it is justified.
The questions that I asked the Minister, and amendment (a) tabled by my hon. Friends and by me, are meant to test that proposition, as the Minister understood. She has made arguments, which I understand, and the police have put a case to her. A second disadvantage is that nobody has independently verified the justification for that case—there has been no opportunity for the matter to go to the Home Affairs Committee and for it to take evidence on it. There has been no chance for the matter to go to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for it to take evidence, look into the human rights implications and consider its compatibility with our international obligations. My understanding is that it would not be the normal procedure of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to look into these matters on a routine basis. None the less, it would have been possible to speak to it and to get its view. Although the Minister made it clear that Lord Carlile of Berriew has been informed of the proposition, he has not reported on it. He has produced annual reports and recommended various changes, but he has not recommended the provision. Its only source is the argument of the police, which is backed up by the Government's willingness to introduce it.
I understand that the police think that they need the powers and that the case for longer detention might have changed. However, it strikes me that we must be careful that the case is justified on historical fact. I am sure that that is why the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked how often the seven-day ceiling had been reached and it is also why I asked the number of times that the police have detained people for the maximum time permitted. The answer was 16 times in the most recent full year for which figures are available and the Minister told us that it happened a further 16 times in the past three months. Such information might strengthen the case for extending the period, but only for extending it by a little.
Liberal Democrat amendment (a) would change the period of detention to 10 days. Lord Lloyd of Berwick proposed a period of two days in 2000, although he made the concession of a four-day period in exceptional cases. The Government then asked for the period to be changed to seven days. However, doubling that period within three years could be a step too far.
Liberal Democrats are, of course, consoled by the facts that there will be judicial oversight and that the police will have to go to the courts to make their case. We are reassured that the Minister reported that the magistrate does not necessarily grant the whole period and often insists that the police come back after a day or two, which means that only small periods may be granted. Although our worries will not make us oppose the measure today, we shall try to get to the bottom of the matter in the House of Lords. It might be the case that we should accept the extension of the period by only a further three days—the 10-day period that we have suggested—or that there should be a sunset provision so that the extension of the period would last for only a year or two. Parliament would then legislate again if it wanted to retain the exceptional measure. Irrespective of the justification for a significant removal of people's civil liberties and a significant increase of the state's power, we must be careful not to do that without having the opportunity to recover the position in more normal times, as Mr. Mullin said.
I have always greatly admired what the hon. Gentleman has said on human rights. I know that he will accept that the most fundamental right is the right to life. It is important that we remember that we are facing terrorists who will use all sorts of appalling weapons, such as biological weapons, that we did not see in Northern Ireland during the 30 years of IRA terrorist violence. Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the campaign of terrorism throughout the world in the past week and fortnight and remember that we are trying to preserve the fundamental right of life in the battle against terrorism?
The hon. Lady does perfectly well to remind us of that and she knows that I share that view. Those who are determined to commit the most unspeakable offences, with no warning, against unknown numbers of people—often entirely innocent people with no relation to the issues that concern the perpetrators—deserve to be caught, arrested and dealt with by society in the most serious way possible. She is right that such terrorism is in a different league from even that during the many years of the Northern Ireland troubles.
That point explains why, if I had the choice, I would rather that there were a slightly longer period for which people could be detained before charge. It is better to restrict liberty in such cases under careful judicial oversight than to go down the road of detaining people indefinitely without trial. One of the great constitutional changes of recent years means that people are this very week being held in custody, perhaps indefinitely, and their cases are being taken up by the courts. It is a greater loss of liberty to detain someone indefinitely without trial. That is why we are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt and to allow a slightly longer period to investigate whether a case really has been made. A person can then be charged if there is a case and released if there is not. That is a less severe restriction on someone's liberty in the interests of the greater good than locking people up indefinitely so that they never know when they might be released.
Those are the balances that we seek to strike and they involve the most important and difficult issues. It is our job to scrutinise the Executive. We may propose a limited duration and, possibly, a slightly more limited extension than the Government advocate when the Bill is considered in the House of Lords.
As Simon Hughes said in his concluding remarks, the judgments are difficult, and the international context in which they are set makes them even more difficult and sensitive. I agree that the civil liberties of individuals who might be suspected of terrorism is important, not least for the reasons outlined by my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin, but we have to balance that against the civil liberties of all the citizens of this country who also have a right in a democracy to expect to live their lives free from the fear and possibility of harm by people who act in that way. It is increasingly necessary to balance the public good against the rights of individuals.
It might help the House if I set out the safeguards. In trying to strike a balance, we must recognise that the context is very different from what it was some years ago, as Lady Hermon and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said. The Terrorism Act 2000, and schedule 8 provisions for the extension of detention in particular, is subjected to PACE code C and specific codes of practice under that Act. There must be judicial authorisation after 48 hours for any extension of detention and there is access to solicitors throughout unless there is good reason to exclude that arrangement in the first 48 hours only. There is audio recording of all interviews and video recording of all interviews in Northern Ireland. There is a detention review throughout by the police and an annual review by Lord Carlile, who I am sure will examine the issue. Northern Ireland also has an independent commissioner for detained terrorist suspects.
Although that might not assuage all concerns completely, especially if they are based on points of principle, it is clear that there is a battery of safeguards. I hope that they give some comfort to hon. Members.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.