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Clause 1

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 29th April 2008.

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Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office 10:45 am, 29th April 2008

On that point, yes it would, because the thrust of the amendment negates the clause. Members need to understand—as I am sure that they do—that this is not about fishing. It is not a carte-blanche—PACE and everything else aside—for the police to go fishing just because it is a terrorist case. I urge members to read the set of clauses carefully. It is about allowing seizure where there are no reasonable grounds, for a period of only up to 96 hours. The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield was wrong to say that there is no time limit. That period is precisely to ascertain whether the police can establish reasonable grounds, given the obscure nature of the document, to seize it in the normal legal fashion. That is all. The Committee needs to read all five interlocking clauses, which go through other points that the hon. and learned Gentleman made about copies and all the other elements, including the record of seizure and legal privilege. In that context, reinserting “reasonable grounds” would make the five clauses a nonsense and negate them entirely. This power is about the temporary removal, in these obscure situations, of reasonable suspicions, grounds for belief and the other assorted reasons why police can seize a document.

I take the point that the document could be a restaurant menu from Peshawar, al-Qaeda’s latest top 10 or something else. However, these measures are about refining and clarifying the law. I do not accept the point half made by the hon. and learned Gentleman that on reasonable grounds, the police can take whatever they like in any circumstances. We are discussing a temporary, limited power to seize documents, the origin and content of which are obscure, take them to a police station, translate them and establish whether they can appropriately be seized on reasonable grounds. I accept everything that has been said about privacy of papers.

The amendment would negate this power entirely. I say in the nicest way possible that the hon. and learned Gentleman should take the shiver out of his spine because it is not appropriate. This measure is not a sledgehammer cracking through the rule of law in any way, shape or form. He should be aware, as he clearly was not from his introduction, that there will be time limits and that clear records must be kept. Everything interlocks across the five clauses. Where appropriate, PACE and guidelines will be amended and discretion will still depend on the reasonable and temperate manner in which the police must exercise their powers.

I assure the Committee that this power is not about weakening the legal grounds for seizure, other than saying in reasonable circumstances, “We have come across certain documents. We think that they may be important to this terrorism case, but we do not know. We cannot on any reasonable grounds seize them legally. Let’s have 48 or 96 hours”—as one of the later clauses says—“to ascertain that. We can then either return them or seize them legally on grounds of reasonable suspicion.”