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Clause 1

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 29th April 2008.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 10:30 am, 29th April 2008

I have no objection to that course of action. During discussion of the coming amendments, we will be able to look at the subsequent detail. The Minister has outlined the principle of the clause and I am content with that. As I indicated at the outset, I will not resist the clause in its generality.

The Minister has made some important points and I come back to one, although it may feature in the next group of amendments. As I understand it, he has acknowledged that we are dealing with the removal of documentation with no requirement of even reasonable suspicion that it is terrorist-linked. Effectively, this is a blanket power in a terrorism search to remove anything until the authorities—that is, the police—have satisfied themselves that it is not terrorism-related and therefore not open to seizure.

It seems to me that that raises several issues to which we can return in a moment, and that is why I will not labour my remarks at this stage. First, is removing the reasonableness test that normally applies warranted? Could it not be argued that if one goes into a place where one starts collecting material, and one has a reasonable suspicion that there is a terrorism-related matter concerning those premises, it probably is reasonable to remove documents which one cannot immediately identify? Therefore, removing the reasonableness clause might be going too far.

My second question, to which I shall return under the next group of amendments, concerns the absence of time limits. The third matter—I raise it now because I am conscious of the fact that I did not table an amendment on the issue—is about allowing the individual whose papers have been taken to retain a copy, which does not appear to be expressly provided. The more I listen to the Minister, the more I begin to think that the provision of a copy might well be one of the key things that the person concerned ought to be doing.

If it has not been shown that such papers are terrorist-related, and if the individual concerned has not been arrested—because, otherwise, other powers would kick in—the Minister must guard against legal challenges. I can well foresee a charge being mounted by a person who argues that his private papers have been seized when there is nothing wrong with them, and that quite a long time afterwards he has still not heard whether the police are going to hand them back. From the Minister’s point of view, the danger is that if those documents were required for some legal purpose, claims for damages could be made against the police and the Government if the Government have not got that right.

I shall come back to those details again under the next set of amendments. I thank you for your indulgence, Mr. O’Hara, in allowing me to stray a little bit on the generality of the clause, but it seems to me that those are the key issues. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.