Counter-Terrorism Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 14th October 2008.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism) 3:08 pm, 14th October 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made yesterday evening by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, I come to the House this evening to set out the Government's position on the Counter-Terrorism Bill. The provisions in this Bill have always been about protecting the British people from the serious threat we face from terrorism. My approach has always been to strike the right balance between protecting national security and safeguarding the liberty of the individual. That balance is a precious and delicate one, and it has meant—quite rightly—that our proposals on pre-charge detention have been the subject of intense parliamentary scrutiny, but, for me, there is no greater individual liberty than the liberty of individuals not to be blown up on British streets or in British skies.

"We face a terrorist threat that is at the severe end of severe, and we have proposed in this Counter-Terrorism Bill a way in which the police and prosecutors could apply to a judge to enable them to continue an investigation of a terrorist suspect in the most difficult, most complex and most challenging of circumstances.

"This House has voted in favour of a reserve power, which could be used only when there is a grave and exceptional terrorist threat, and which would be accompanied by high judicial and parliamentary safeguards. But, despite the considered view of all leading counter-terrorism police professionals that these powers will be necessary and should be there, ready for use if needed; despite the opinion of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile; and despite the decision of right honourable and honourable Members of this House, the other place has tonight voted to remove from the Counter-Terrorism Bill the protections that the Government believe should be in place—not to amend; not to strengthen; simply to remove.

"My priority remains the protection of the British people. I do not believe, as some honourable Members clearly do, that it is enough simply to cross our fingers and hope for the best. That is not good enough. When it comes to national security, there are certain risks that I am not prepared to take. I am not prepared to risk leaving the British people without the protections they need. So, instead of reintroducing the proposals for a reserve power in this House, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have taken action to ensure that we have those protections in place, ready to be used if necessary. I have prepared a new Bill to enable the police and prosecutors to do their work, should the worst happen and a terrorist plot overtakes us and threatens our current investigatory capabilities.

"Some may take the security of Britain lightly; I do not. The Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill now stands ready to be introduced if and when the need arises. This would enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the courts to detain and question a terrorist suspect for up to a maximum of 42 days. Individuals could be detained only when this is authorised by a judge. The Bill's powers would automatically sunset after 60 days.

"I will place a copy of the new Bill in the Library of the House, and I will continue to press forward with the other important and necessary measures in the current Bill—tougher sentencing for terrorists, stronger powers to seize terrorists' assets, stronger powers to allow the police to remove material that they think is terrorist-related during searches, the power to take DNA and fingerprints from people on control orders, and the ability to question terrorist suspects after charge. Those measures are right and they are necessary. I want to see them in force as soon as possible. I will continue to make the case for them as the Bill progresses.

"We cannot defeat terrorism through legislation alone, but where legislation can help to protect the innocent from those who would inflict atrocity upon us, I am steadfast in my determination to do right by the British people. I deeply regret that some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision. Let no one kid themselves that this issue can be made to go away. These are hard questions—tough questions—but however much opposition Members may wish to duck them, Britain still needs to be protected. Britain still needs to be prepared to deal with the worst. I hope that when it becomes necessary to introduce this Bill, as I believe it may, we can count on their support. I commend this Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Jones Baroness Neville-Jones Shadow Security Minister, Home Affairs 3:12 pm, 14th October 2008

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We are glad that the Government have dropped the proposal to extend pre-charge detention from the Counter-Terrorism Bill. It is the right decision, given the size and nature of the opposition to this unwise proposal. The Government are also wise to drop for the time being the greater part of the proposed provisions on inquests—although the objections from this side of the House are not just about the unsuitability of the Counter-Terrorism Bill as a vehicle for those provisions, they are also about substance. But that is the extent of my gratitude, because, let me be frank, the Government are now playing the blame game.

The Government reason as follows. Parliament will not do the Government's bidding on 42 days on the Government's timetable, so they will now introduce a Bill "when needed"—which presumably means in the wake of an atrocity or an attempted atrocity. They will then attempt to force Parliament to do their bidding in time of crisis, through legislation that will not contain the parliamentary safeguards which we were previously told were so valuable, and they will try to blame the opponents to 42 days for being obliged to do that.

Members of your Lordships' House were not born yesterday. This is intimidation. It is coupled with aspersions cast on the integrity of those whose judgments differ from that of the Government. They imply that we are lily-livered, not tough on terrorism and that we do not understand the threat. I reiterate that we on these Benches take the terrorist threat to this country every bit as seriously as do the Government. It is unwise of the Government to assert that the very fact of office renders their judgment superior. It most certainly does not—indeed, it can distort judgment.

This way of behaving is also unworthy of a Government who claim to put priority on consensus on national security. No one is forcing the Government to substitute a future back-pocket Bill for the back-pocket powers that they were seeking yesterday, nor to exploit fear to get their way. Let us be clear: this is the Government's choice, and it is a bad choice. If they wish to have a new Bill, they should go through the normal process. This is important, because there are dangers in taking a new Bill through in haste during a crisis. It could very well be counterproductive. Imagine for a moment the following scenario. The extended period of detention is applied to a single suspect, who then goes to trial. Would not the defence counsel argue that the circumstances of the investigation undermined a fair trial since the jury would be tempted to assume the suspect's greater guilt? I reiterate our calls for an orderly legislative process.

We know the Government's game, but what is the case? If this measure is so necessary, why did the Government utterly fail to convince your Lordships' House? Why were they not able to provide evidence to substantiate it? Why, on several recent occasions, has the Minister told us that we are safer than we were a year ago?

The Government now talk of what will be "demonstrated need" for the legislation in situations of "exceptional terrorist threat". Need arises only when the powers available are inadequate to meet the situation. This has been the pretence all along in the Government's attempt to look tough on terrorism—the pretence that they do not have the power which they need and that the country is somehow bereft of protection. That is not the case. The Terrorism Act 2000 gives the Government the right to extend normal pre-charge detention, powers which the Government have not needed to use in full and which have not been shown to be inadequate. Let us also not forget that the threshold for bringing charges in terrorism cases is lower than in other criminal cases.

If those powers are not enough, the Government have other powers and aids. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 provides for the declaration of a state of emergency. It provides the Government with powers to detain suspects for questioning in the sorts of scenarios that they envisage—following, to use Mr McNulty's words, "three 9/11s". But the Government seem curiously reluctant to use this emergency power. We have made it clear that if the Act is not perfect, we are more than willing to co-operate with the Government to amend it. We have also made clear our support for the use of intercept evidence, which will lead to more guilty pleas and fewer abortive trials. So why have the Government been so leisurely on this issue since the Chilcot report? For starters, there is an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Bill which the Government could accept.

In short, there are several measures in the legal field that the Government could take, and that we would be willing to support, that would strengthen our ability to combat terrorism without short-circuiting the system in the way now proposed. Disagreeing with the Government on 42 days does not constitute being soft on terrorism. The Government should not store things in their back pocket. If they are now putting forward a wholly new proposal, when do they intend to submit it for pre-legislative scrutiny?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:19 pm, 14th October 2008

My Lords, I regret the timing of this Statement; we in the usual channels did not agree with it. It could have taken place last night, as it did in the other place. More importantly, it might have been better if the Government had given themselves a cooling-off period to digest some of the very powerful arguments deployed against this measure in this House yesterday and the people who made them. The response has the stamp of petulance and its speed gives a hint of news management—burying the climbdown among the financial news dominating the headlines.

My greatest concern is the threat implied in the Statement that the next time a bomb goes off or a terrorist outrage is committed, the legislation will be bounced through Parliament. That ignores the lesson that we have learnt over the past 40 years under various terrorist threats: emergency legislation often gets it wrong.

As the noble Baroness implied, there is also an attempt to muzzle Parliament by the suggestion that anyone who questions any particular measure is soft on terrorism. There was far too much of that in what the Home Secretary had to say in another place last night. It is an insult to the experience and integrity of men and women in both Houses who take a different point of view. It also ignores the ratchet effect, whereby every terrorist outrage provokes more draconian responses until we end up losing the very civil liberties that we are supposed to be defending.

Does the Minister agree that, as the noble Baroness said, we have an armoury of measures already on the statute book that could and should be deployed against terrorism? Is it not an insult to both Houses to make a Statement overriding the view of this House, particularly where the legislation lacked a majority from the Government's supporters in another place? As the noble Baroness said, in dealing with terrorism, the Executive should follow two important principles. It should follow an orderly process and it should look, as far as possible, for cross-party consensus. Pursuing 42 days in the way that the Government are doing ignores both of those principles.

Both the Statement and the laying of the Bill last night raise important constitutional issues about the relevance and importance of the views of the Houses of Parliament to the Executive. The Government are wandering out onto very dangerous ice, and I urge them to think again.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism) 3:22 pm, 14th October 2008

My Lords, first, as I mentioned last night, there is absolutely no way that I think that anyone in this House is anything other than extremely loyal to the nation and the population of this nation. We may have different ways of going about things, but that is absolutely correct. I have to say, as a rather rough and ready sailor, that if I felt that someone did not feel that the safety of this nation and our people was one of their prime concerns, I would jolly well talk to them about it. That is not the way that I make assessments about the issue, because I am sure that all of us feel that desire; we all want to look after our people; but perhaps we have different ways of thinking about how that should be done. That is quite acceptable and it is a very good thing at times to go into that debate.

Noble Lords made very clear last night their views on the clause and provisions in the current Counter-Terrorism Bill. I was saved from being in the Guinness book of records only by the fact that the number was a British top figure rather than a world top figure, but it was a fairly substantial vote. Notwithstanding that, as I said yesterday, I still firmly believe—and all those whom I call the real experts believe—that there will be a case where we will have a number of people in custody and more than 28 days will be required.

Therefore, it is very important for us to think about how we handle that. I was asked yesterday on the Floor of the House, "Does this mean that you would let the fact that this has happened cause risks to this country? How will you handle it?". As I said yesterday, of course we would handle that in some way. We would face that and get through it. I also pointed out, however, that there would probably be rapid and therefore bad legislation, because, I am afraid, Parliament's record when something like this happens is that people stumble through legislation that is often far too draconian and dangerous.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said that he was pleased with the 42 days. He felt that this should be final and that there would be no opportunity to do this when bombs were suddenly going off and people were being killed. There is a tendency for that to happen. Putting the Bill on to the statute book means that there will be no opportunity for overreaction, so I see no difficulty with it sitting there. It will have to be argued through the House. The prime safeguards—the judicial ones—are in there, as they were in the CT Bill that we put through.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, made specific points about coroners. All those issues are being slipped into the draft coroners Bill, which makes absolute sense. We need to approach all of them in the context of that Bill, where they can be looked at in the round. That is a far better way of dealing with them. She also said that we are forcing Parliament to go down a certain route. As I say, we are avoiding the possibility of something draconian and probably oppressive happening when one of these incidents occurs and we need more than 28 days, which I am sure will happen. I said yesterday that any Government in power would regret the fact that there was no back-pocket measure. Anyone in power will be pleased that there is something that they can push in at short notice that will not be too draconian.

The noble Baroness also touched on consultation and how much we try to deal with people. I have been told by a number of people that we have had greater consultation than there has ever been on a Home Office Bill. This went on and on for months and a number of concessions were given. People have joked and accused me falsely of U-turns. A very different option was on the table last year, so we had a massive consultation. I am afraid that it did not succeed, but we still have this worry and fear—I am sure this will happen—that we will need more than 28 days at some stage.

I have been accused of saying that we are safer. Some of the measures that we have put into place in the past 15 months have made us safer, but that does not mean that we are safe. The threat is huge. It dipped slightly and is now rising again within the context of "severe". There are large complex plots. We unravelled one, which caused damage to al-Qaeda, and the plots faded slightly. However, another great plot is building up again, which we are monitoring. We have done a great deal to protect ourselves and to look after our water supplies, our resilience, underground trains, our preparedness and communications. We have done all the things that we need to do, but the threat is building—the complex plots are building.

The Civil Contingencies Act was mentioned. We well know from all the experts that that Act is not the appropriate way of covering this threat. Intercept is not a silver bullet. We are proceeding with the intercept work and implementing the Chilcot provisions with all haste on a cross-party basis, so I do not think that we have been faulted on that.

All I will say in the final analysis is that having this measure in place is useful and will stop us passing something too draconian. What we need to do now, and what I would like to do, is to put this behind us and try to avoid being party political, because there are provisions in the Bill that are extremely important. I have tried in my entire time in this post to focus on the really important things for the nation and not to be political because, rather as in some other areas, that is the most important thing.

Photo of Lord Dear Lord Dear Crossbench 3:30 pm, 14th October 2008

My Lords, I should like to pick up on a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and refer the Minister to two short comments in the Statement made yesterday in another place by the Home Secretary. She said:

"Some may take the security of Britain lightly. I do not", and:

"I deeply regret that some have been prepared to ignore the terrorist threat for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision".—[Hansard, Commons, 13/10/08; col. 621.]

Bearing in mind that many noble Lords who spoke or voted yesterday have had a long and, at times, very dangerous association with the terrorist threat, can the Minister reassure the House, by disassociating himself from those statements, and, if not, why not?

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the incidental advantages of abandoning this part of the Bill is that we will be spared any more lectures from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones?

Noble Lords:

Order!

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, that is perfectly in order. Does my noble friend agree that what we saw last night was a large number of Tory backwoodsmen, who very seldom attend this House, turn out in a deliberate attack to embarrass the Government? If they had sat through the debate, particularly the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Tebbit, and had listened to the arguments, they would have voted differently. As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said, many Conservatives opposite will rue the day.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I share my noble friend's view that some of us may rue the day that we do not have a back-pocket measure. Late last night, I sat at home looking at Hansard. I looked at the balance of how the argument went and I thought that it was good and fairly well balanced. In fact, I thought that we had done rather better, so I was horrified at the total score at the end. I would not attack the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, on the same basis. I was impressed that she said that it was her Government. At times in the media I have had the feeling that she is the Minister for Security, so I was not surprised by that statement.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, do the Government consider following the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and do they seek to establish cross-party consensus beyond a political divide? To that end, might they even consider setting up a Select Committee, inviting Members of this House who have practical experience in the gathering of terrorist intelligence to serve?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. The thrust of his feeling that counterterrorism should be removed as far as possible from political aspects is right. I do not believe that setting up a Select Committee would be right. The mechanisms in place already allow the sort of debate required.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the remarks made by the Home Secretary are singularly unhelpful if she is trying to establish a bipartisan approach to this issue? Perhaps I may reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said. Some of us who obviously have had involvement in terrorism take enormous offence when remarks such as those that the Home Secretary made last night in the House are made. I hope that he will emphasise that very strongly. Would he answer the question asked by my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones? Will there be pre-legislative scrutiny of this measure?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord King. I understand that. I hope that I have never in anything I have said given an indication that I think other than that people are acting with the interests of this nation and our country at heart. I am sure that my right honourable friend will be aware of what has gone on in terms of debate in this House. On pre-legislative scrutiny, the draft Bill is in the Library. When an incident happens, it will have to go through the normal process in both Houses.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, I commend my noble friend on the way he is handling this, not least because I was one of the people who for a number of years opposed very strongly the old Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was far harsher than the Bill as it enabled politicians to exclude a person from one part of the UK to another without judicial oversight as well as many other things that are not allowed under the Bill. At the time both the Conservative and the Liberal parties accused me of being soft on terrorism, said that the IRA would be delighted, and so on. The way to deal with this may be simply to say that this is a rather belated apology from the Front Benches of the Conservative and Liberal parties to me for what was said in the 1980s.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that while some people may have turned up to vote last night who do not come every day, the most noticeable thing yesterday was the very large number of those who claim to be government supporters who did not come and vote for their Government?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I am not sure that I totally agree with that. I was rather pleased by the number who did vote with the Government, but there were one or two notable exceptions. Some of those did surprise me; in one case, for example, the person had been a strong supporter of 90 days. That was somewhat surprising.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs

My Lords, the Statement is full of implications concerning the lack of patriotism among Members of this House. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, whose integrity we are absolutely sure of, has not used this opportunity to dissociate himself from the Home Secretary's comments, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, asked him to do.

My question concerns the detail of the Bill, and I do not believe that the noble Lord has responded to any of the questions put to him in this regard. Given that it is still within the ambit of pre-charge detention, what does the Minister expect to happen if there is, say, another alleged hijack attempt such as that carried out in 2006 and those of us from the Muslim community are contacted, as we always are, with information from the Home Office confirming that arrests are taking place? Does he expect us to come into this Chamber, to be told nothing, and then blindfold and with hands tied, have to vote for this Bill? Will he consider the implications of this measure for the Muslim community at a time of crisis when the possibility of civil disorder will arise—particularly in the light of comments about patriotism that have been made—resulting in even greater friction in the community and certainly to the drying-up of any intelligence or information that might lead to a successful trial?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept, as I have said a number of times, that I would not impugn at all the motives of any noble Lord in this Chamber. In my 15 months here I have not met or talked to anyone who is anything other than caring of our nation and our people. That is absolutely the way I feel about it. I hope that the noble Baroness does not think I feel anything else, because I do not.

We have to be careful of incidents—they are hypothetical and we have to think them through. What will happen is that when the DPP and the police feel that we desperately need more than 28 days, the Bill will be brought before the other place and this House and will be debated. I am sure that everyone will consider it fully, even though it will be pushed through. I do not believe that it will be as draconian as it might be, and certainly not as dangerous as if, say, someone were either to let off or be in the process of trying to detonate a dirty bomb while some people were still exposed to it. In that sense at least, the Bill is constrained. That is how I see its introduction.

Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I see that the Government intend to press ahead with their proposals on post-charge questioning. Is the noble Lord aware that if post-charge questioning were made subject to judicial authorisation, those proposals would have a far easier passage through this House?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, will be raising various issues when we debate the Counter-Terrorism Bill later in the week. I would rather not comment at the moment, but wait for those debates.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, a few moments ago the Minister rather disarmingly said that he was just an old sea dog. Can he say from his experience that when a boat has been holed below the waterline, is taking on water and is limping into port, the crew and the captain will take comfort from the fact that the next thing they are going to be asked to support is a boat that has not been built and can be launched only in a typhoon?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, that leaves me reeling at sea. I certainly think that we should start pumping, but I shall not say any more than that.

Photo of Lord Ryder of Wensum Lord Ryder of Wensum Conservative

My Lords, if the Minister feels that he has done well when 50 per cent of his noble friends have not supported him in a Division, I would hate to follow him into a real battle. Has he considered that the draft emergency Bill might have to be introduced during a summer recess and that Parliament would have to be recalled? In those circumstances, it would be imperative for it to receive pre-legislative scrutiny. Otherwise the prospect of passing the Bill in a summer recess after Parliament had been recalled in an emergency would be absurd.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that Parliament would be recalled. He needs to beware of saying that no one would follow me into battle because they have done on a couple of occasions and I had no difficulty with that. On pre-trial scrutiny, clearly I have got the wrong end of the stick and I should like to come back on it.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, there seems to be a total genuineness among people of all parties, both in this House and the other place. It seems to me—I hope I am not looking at it too naively—that everyone is essentially asking the same question: how do you cater for an exceptional case which does not fit within the rubric of the 28-day detention rule? I think that is a fair way of putting it. The fallacy is that the answer must be to make it 42 days. The exceptional case may be as little likely to fit into 42 days as it is into 28 days. In other words, those of us who are arguing for a baulk on extended detention time are looking down the wrong path. The point was mentioned by the Minister last night when he said that there could be lengthy periods of detention if we develop that side-by-side with sophisticated communication advances. The only alternative—this could well be the basis of a cross-party agreement—is to look down a totally different path, the judicial path. Once a case nears the 28-day limit, it should be left to the discretion of a senior judge, or a panel of senior judges, to allow any period of time, in appropriate tranches, even if that came to 50 days or 100 days. The difference would be that the citizen would not be in the hands of the calendar with all the checks and balances that we have now; but would be at the mercy of the courts.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point. I can assure him that I will be looking very closely at any other ways of ensuring that, if we get to a position of people at 28 days, we are able to gather the evidence necessary to make a charge or to say they have to be released. There may or may not be other ways of doing this but, at the moment, we believe there will be a case that goes beyond 28 days and that the police and DPP will ask us to do it. This effectively emergency measure has been provided and will be put in place when that occurs. If we find before then some other way of doing this, I will jump at it. This is one of things I was trying to look at over the past eight months but, whether it was threshold tests, CCA or putting money in to do these things quicker, there was not a way I could see of doing it. That is why we have arrived at where we have got to.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend listen carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has said? In his intervention there were the seeds of a possibility and I beg my noble friend not to dismiss it lightly. It is incumbent on this House to act speedily and effectively to the terrorist threat. I do not think any of us has the right answer at the moment. We have the possibility of acting effectively and speedily, but that requires the consent of both sides. Put aside what happened last night. I do not think that the Opposition have come to the right conclusion and I am not sure that the Government have. Think again.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his interjection. I certainly will not dismiss lightly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan; as I hope I made clear before, I will think about it. As regards putting things behind us, I could not agree more. I should like to put this firmly aside, get the important things that still remain in the Counter-Terrorism Bill on the statute book and press on with trying to make the country safer.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Attorney General), Home Affairs

My Lords, the noble Lord has effectively dissociated himself from the insults that were thrown at this House by the Home Secretary yesterday and about those who oppose the Government's plans. He heard the debate. Will he convey to the Home Secretary and those advising her that the main objection to the proposal that she put forward was that people would be kept for up to 28 days when there was not even a reasonable suspicion that they had committed an offence? If after 28 days those who were investigating did not have in their mind a reasonable suspicion that the person detained had committed a terrorist offence, then it would be just internment by another name. To extend the time limit to 42 days is ridiculous as well.

The last I heard, there were 14 computer analysts employed by the Home Office. Let us assume that the figure has doubled to 28. How long would it take them to decrypt and look at the 400 computers that were involved in Operation Overt, to which I referred yesterday? Could they do it between 28 days and 42 days? Obviously they could not. The whole scheme has been nonsense. It is ridiculous to have another Bill of this sort coming forward in which these mistakes and misunderstandings are maintained.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I am afraid that I have to take the noble Lord to task. It is nonsense to suggest that we go into a pub, pick up eight people and say, "Let's get these chaps and keep them in detention while we try and find some evidence". The Security Service, GCHQ, SIS and SO15 have been involved. These people have been monitored, tracked, listened to and spotted; we have seen who they are talking to. If, after a great debate between the Security Service, SO15, the police and the Home Office, we feel that they are a real risk to this country, we finally say, "Let's act now". The police might not want to because they do not have the real evidence even though they know that those people are about to do something. We have to say—and I think this is absolutely right—"No, act now, because we do not want large numbers of our population to die".

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

I will not give way, my Lords. These are not people dragged in off the street—it is a very different situation. This makes me slightly annoyed because we do not do that. We put a huge effort into this; we do not scoop up little innocent chaps at a football match and throw them into detention. That is not what they are.

Noble Lords:

Cross Bench.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I must make this point to do with computers. I have looked at the number of people involved, and there are choke points which make it impossible—it would not matter if we had 10,000 analysts. There are also the problems of going into other jurisdictions. If you go to Pakistan, they are not always 100 per cent helpful and there are countries which will not help. These things all take time, so it as not as straightforward as has been said.

Photo of Baroness Manningham-Buller Baroness Manningham-Buller Crossbench

My Lords, I support the Minister in his analysis. It may help the House, in thinking about this issue, to differentiate between intelligence from whatever source, whether it comes from overseas or is from a human source regarding what one person said to another. It is not admissible in evidence because it is hearsay. It is being developed to try to make it evidence on which to charge people. During the 28 days, intelligence that has been collected has been seen by the CPS and is shared with the police who will consider what of that intelligence amounts to evidence on which people can be charged. This is a proper process.

There has been too much confusion in Committee between intelligence, which is in most cases imprecise, incomplete and insufficient when it comes to charging people, and evidence which, quite rightly, meets a high standard before it can be used. That transition is what happens in a period of reasonable suspicion.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Security and Counter-terrorism)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, for that interjection. She put far more eloquently than me, because I became slightly stroppy, exactly what I was trying to say. It is not as straightforward as that.

I slightly misled the House earlier. The coroner provisions will be in the fourth Session Bill, which will deal with coroner issues. It is not called the Coroners Bill.