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Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 26th October 2005.

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Photo of Charles Clarke Charles Clarke Home Secretary 1:24 pm, 26th October 2005

I will give way to my hon. Friend when I have made further progress.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, a Liberal Democrat peer, said in paragraph 61 of his report published on 12 October:

"I am satisfied beyond doubt that there have been situations in which significant conspiracies to commit terrorist acts have gone unprosecuted as a result of the time limitations placed on the control authorities following arrest".

That is a strong statement, which I greatly respect. The case for an extension to three months was set out very clearly in my letter of 6 October to Opposition spokespeople and in the accompanying paper from assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, the nation's most senior anti-terrorist police officer.

Much of our anti-terrorist legislation derives from our experience of dealing with 30 years of Irish terrorism, but the fact is that we are dealing with a very different threat now and we believe that the current time limit is not well designed to deal with that new threat. Recent terrorist plots have been designed to cause mass casualties, with no warnings, sometimes involving suicide and with the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, to which Lord Ashdown referred last Monday in the quote that I cited earlier. The need to ensure public safety by preventing such attacks means that it is necessary to make arrests at an earlier stage than in the past, when there was a culture of warnings and where weapons of mass destruction did not exist as now. That often means that less evidence has been gathered at the point of arrest, which means that more time will be needed to gather sufficient evidence to charge a suspect.

Terrorist networks are often international—another difference in the evolution of the threat that we face. That means that inquiries have to be undertaken in many different jurisdictions and under different rules. Many of those cannot operate to tight time scales. Moreover, establishing the identity or even the nationality of suspects can take a long time and the use of forged and stolen documentation compounds the problem. The global nature of modern terrorism means that it is often necessary to employ interpreters. It is sometimes necessary to find interpreters who can interpret dialects from remote parts of the world. Such interpreters can be hard to find, which, together with interviews to be translated, slows down the process and restricts the amount of time available.

Terrorist cases are also highly complex. I remind the House that investigations into the events of 7 and 21 July yielded 38,000 exhibits that filled two warehouses, all of which need to be scrutinised. The same investigations required 80,000 videos of CCTV footage to be studied and 1,400 fingerprints across 160 crime scenes. As I said earlier, terrorist networks are now highly capable of using technology. In recent cases, a large number—sometimes in the hundreds—of computers and hard drives have been seized and much of the data on those computers have been encrypted. The examination and decryption of data on such computers and hard drives takes time and expertise; then, of course, the data need to be analysed in order to incorporate the outcome of the analysis into an interview strategy.