Further written evidence to be reported to the House

Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark 10:30 am, 6th May 2008

On a point of order, Mr. Bercow. I am grateful for your indulgence.

This weekend The Sunday Times ran a story about the commentary given by Sir Ian Blair to the Committee. The story appeared to show that there was—how shall I put it?—confusion in his mind about the number of terrorist outrages that had been interdicted, either between 2000 and now or between 2005 and now. My impression was certainly that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner was suggesting that the number of outrages had occurred in a much tighter time scale than had previously been reported in the public domain.

Has the Clerk of the Committee received any representations from the Metropolitan police on that subject? Have you, Mr. Bercow, seen any commentary from the Press Association on the matter? If, as I am suggesting, the rest of the Committee is as confused as I am, might we recall Sir Ian Blair to restate his evidence?

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. The Hansard of our proceedings records the hon. Member for Reading, West asking:

“how many serious terrorist plots the police and the security services have disrupted since the London bombings of 7/7?”

Sir Ian’s answer was:

“I will stretch to something like 12, but where would you get to, Bob?”

Bob Quick replied:

“I am still being briefed on the very complex history to fighting terrorism, but my understanding is in the order of about 15 occasions.”——[Official Report, Counter-Terrorism Public Bill Committee, 22 April 2008; c. 15.]

That ended up splashed on the front of two London newspapers, but the Committee and I, on reading The Sunday Times, discovered that that factor had been exaggerated by 100 to 150 per cent., depending on whose version one took. I rang the Clerk as soon as we were in this morning—I thought I must have missed a correction from the Metropolitan police, because there is a reference to the Metropolitan police attempting to make a correction. There has been no communication with the Committee. If that had not been in the newspapers, the Committee would be in complete  ignorance of the main advocate for a change in our legislation exaggerating his case by 100 to 150 per cent. That is a serious matter.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful for the point of order, with which I will deal in a moment. First I will take the third in what I suspect is a sequence.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. I am sure that every member of the Committee accepts that it is possible for someone inadvertently to make mistakes when giving evidence. What troubles me more than the apparent inaccuracy is, as was just said, that it seems to have been corrected to the press, but not to us. One would have expected a letter to wing its way to the Committee in the same way as we had from the coroners, explaining that an error had been made. I was puzzled. I wondered whether a letter had come to my office on Thursday or Friday that I had missed. However, I understand today that that is not the case. I should have thought it a grave discourtesy to the Committee for a correction to be issued to the Press Association, but for us not to be notified first.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his point of order, and to both of his hon. Friends for their points of order. To help the Committee, I will set out the position as I understand it, as clearly as possible.

On the afternoon of 22 April, the day on which the Association of Chief Police Officers gave evidence, the organisation contacted the scrutiny unit in an attempt to correct a mistake in its evidence that morning. ACPO was advised by the scrutiny unit that is could not make a correction in that fashion, by telephone, orally, and that the proper course was to correct the mistake through the production and circulation of a written memorandum, which would be seen by all members of the Committee. I have to advise the Committee and those who raised the points of order that no such written correction has been made. I was asked whether representations had been made directly to the Clerk of the Committee—the answer is no. I was asked whether I had been contacted or been on the receiving end of representations—again, the answer is no. I was asked whether I had been contacted or been on the receiving end of representations—again, the answer is no.

I am familiar with the article that appeared in TheSunday Times. I would simply say, with reference to what the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said, that I regard it as a grave discourtesy for someone who knows that he or she has made a mistake and is advised of the proper course by which to correct it, not only to fail to do so, but to appear to find another avenue through which to put the record straight. The Committee should be told directly if a mistake has been made, and it should be told in the proper formal fashion. I feel sure that ACPO will study the Hansard record of our proceedings this morning and I hope that that written memorandum of correction will be winging its way to Committee members before long.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. Since it was my question that led to the answers, I associate myself with some of  the remarks—if not the tone—of Opposition Members. However, it in no way weakens Labour Members case to have the exact, accurate information in front of us. It would not be appropriate to have the commissioner back, but a written memorandum of evidence would be appropriate. Would it be in order for you, Mr. Bercow, to write on behalf of the Committee to the commissioner, requesting that information forthwith?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

It is not appropriate for me to contact ACPO to request that it send a memorandum. The procedure is that, having contacted the scrutiny unit and been advised of how to put the record straight, it falls to ACPO to do so. As I have just said, I am sure that ACPO will see the Official Report of our proceedings and I would expect it, in the light of the points of order raised on both sides of the Committee, to hasten, formally, in writing, to correct the record.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for flagging up the point about a recall. It is up to the Committee to programme further evidence sessions before 15 May, if it so wishes. It would be appropriate for those seeking that opportunity to go through the usual channels in their attempts to do so.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. That may be an appropriate point to say that our problem is that we are about to debate the provisions to which the evidence relates. There is a certain absurdity in asking for the record to be corrected when the evidence about the actual position cannot be obtained from the police and the record corrected before we debate that important issue, which is of the most significant national concern.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

The hon. Gentleman is making the point that the situation is unsatisfactory. He is right. It is. However, we are where we are. I have made the formal position clear. ACPO will not have missed it. It will not be beyond the wit and ingenuity of Committee members to deduce what they wish and to make their arguments in their own way. We cannot interrupt the business of the Committee.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr. Bercow. I should like to move that the Programming Sub-Committee meet as soon as possible.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am not aware that there is any enthusiasm for such a proposition on the Government Benches. Ministers or their representatives are free to signal if there is, but I do not sense that that is the case.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. Looking at the matter sensibly, a memorandum reaching the Committee quickly would probably clear the matter up. The problem is that we have no power to demand a memorandum from the Metropolitan police. In the meantime, our only leverage to obtain a memorandum is to call a Programming Sub-Committee and to move towards summoning the commissioner and Mr. Quick back before us. If we do not do that, we will run out of Committee time before we know what has happened. That is the anxiety of Committee members.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I note what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, but having created a good pudding, it is perhaps unwise for him to over-egg it.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. I concur that the situation is unsatisfactory. I also remind the Committee that that will not alter one jot the principled arguments before us. Is there any member of the Committee who would take the matter any less seriously whether there had been five or six major terrorist plots or whether 5,000 people instead of 10,000 people had had their lives endangered? That is an absurdity.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has put his views clearly on the record. Members will wish to avoid eliding into the debate that we are about to have. We have the opportunity to have that debate, which we will, but not before I have had a chance to hear a point of order from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. The matter has possibly run its course in Committee this morning, but will you confirm that, in the absence of any correction from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, it is entirely proper for the Committee, to use the language of the Bill, to draw an adverse inference?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to draw me into debate and argument. He will know that, whatever the temptations, I must not be so drawn. I wanted the points of order to be made, because they are serious and came from representatives of all three parties on the Committee. However, the arguments will not improve by virtue of further repetition. We need to move on to the main business of the Committee.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing), Home Office

Further to that point of order, Mr. Bercow. I deliberately refrained from intervening earlier, but I accept the serious points made. I hope that, as a consequence of our deliberations, the correction will be forthcoming in a written memorandum. You are quite right that it is not beyond the wit of the Committee to ensure that ACPO has the import of our deliberations this morning rather earlier than from the Hansard record. All the points made were entirely fair, underscored by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, who made the fairest points.

I rise to speak on different matters, if I may. I say to the hon. Member for Reigate that, notwithstanding the debate we have just had, if he is serious about securing further evidence sessions, they will be dealt with as normal, through the usual channels. Notwithstanding our lack of generosity this morning, there will be a keener ear for such deliberations if they are serious and substantial.

I welcome you back to the Committee, Mr. Bercow. I am sure that you are having great fun juggling paternity leave and the Committee, and I am pretty sure too which you regard as more fun, despite our deliberations.

On a more serious and substantive point, it would be useful if Committee members would let officials know whether they will attend tomorrow’s seminar on intercept as evidence and on coroners, or whether they are less enthusiastic than they once were for such a seminar. If they are tardy in their response, we will be organising a further session between Committee and Report stages to deliberate with Bob Quick just those complexities that we will debate in a moment in relation to pre-charge detention.

I should relate to the Committee our brief discussion, which was, roughly, that as the substantive item is schedule 1, I do not intend to deliberate for an unusually long period, as I normally do, on either clause 21, when we finish part 1, or clause 22, which is merely a gateway clause into the schedule. That is the appropriate way, as you have indicated, to carry on our discussions.

Finally, with no churlish intent at all, I should like to welcome the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington and wish him a happy birthday.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his kind remarks and for the information that he has helpfully provided.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.