§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)
Before we embark on the Committee stage, I wish to make it clear to the Committee that we are working on the basis of the amendment paper as at 9.30 pm today and the revised selection list that relates to the amendment paper.
The Second Deputy Chairman
With this, we may discuss amendment No. 78, in page 1, line 16, leave out'belonged at a particular time to'and insert'at a particular time belonged to or was a supporter of'.
§ Mr. Cash
I support the Bill for all the reasons that have already been given in the debate, but, when we consider the manner in which the Bill has been introduced, the extraordinary confusion that existed yesterday, when a draft Bill was made available and, subsequently, the Bill itself was properly made available only at 2.30 this afternoon, and all the other things that have already been said, the reality is that the Bill requires very careful examination. An enormous amount depends on—[Interruption.]
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. There are still far too many conversations taking place in all quarters of the Committee. May we now listen to the hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Cash
In his winding-up speech, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), used the same words that I have used in the amendment, for a very good reason. The clause lays down the basis on which organisations will be proscribed. The provisions applyif a police officer of or above the rank of superintendent states in oral evidence that in his opinion the accused—
The Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which we passed on 28 July, relates directly to the issue, because it deals with the early release of prisoners. That Act uses the word "supporter". It is well established that the word "support" means much more than merely belonging to an organisation. It is clear to anyone who has eyes to see that it is possible for people who support an organisation to 848 avoid becoming members of it so that they can provide support without being caught within the four walls of the Act.
- (a) belongs to an organisation which is specified, or
- (b) belonged at a particular time to an organisation which was then specified."
I have the support of the Minister, who used the word "supporter" in this context on Second Reading. I strongly agree with him and I am trying to be helpful and constructive in creating a framework that will work. The Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 also uses the word "supporter". In the rush to draft the Bill, the issue may have been overlooked. I argue strongly that the word should be included.
Terrorist organisations are clever and cunning. They rely on the interplay of words. They are past masters at weaving their way in and out of the liability that will attach to them under this Bill, the 1998 Act or any other legislation on terrorism. Was the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) entirely satisfied that those who spoke for Sinn Fein could automatically be regarded as spokesmen for the IRA when they said that the conflict was over, or words to that effect?
Terrorist groups have long been adept at developing covert relationships with those who front their organisations—relationships that could involve giving funds or providing some other form of support to ensure that the organisation was able to continue—without their being members of the organisation.
Furthermore, I notice that the provisions of the Irish legislation, which I believe went through today, create a new offence called "the unlawful collection of information". If the Government are suggesting that we should, as far as possible, be on all fours with the legislation in the Irish Republic, I suggest that the offence now being created—that of collecting, recording or possessing information likely to be useful to members of unlawful organisations in the commission of serious offences—is a form of provision that relates to support for an unlawful organisation within the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, but would not be directed exclusively at persons who are members of that organisation.
I do not think that I need enlarge on that point. I have made a simple point and it is open to the Government to make their case as to why, in the light of the Minister of State's remarks, the amendment should not be passed. I do not need to repeat myself. The amendment is important and I strongly suggest that my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench and the Government accept the amendment for the reasons that I have given.
§ Mr. Ingram
In many ways, I wish that it were Mr. Paul Murphy.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has made several points about the need to amend the Bill to bring the concept of a "supporter" into play. His amendment would allow a police superintendent to give evidence that the accused is a supporter of a specified organisation, but the new evidence provision in clause 1 regarding members of a specified proscribed organisation has been 849 laid down as a means of specifically targeting the wider offence of membership of a proscribed organisation. It is felt that it would not be appropriate in the context of that targeting to widen the basis of the offence to encompass support for an organisation, which is not, in itself, an offence.
In accepting the hon. Gentleman's amendment, we would be creating a new offence; but, in this legislation, we are trying to be extremely specific and targeted and to ensure that those who are members of specified organisations are brought to justice and receive their just deserts in a court of law. Therefore, I resist the amendment primarily on the basis that we do not believe that there is a need to widen the scope of the legislation.
§ Mr. Ingram
The hon. Gentleman may speak after I sit down, and so extend the debate if necessary.
On Second Reading, we heard criticism from right hon. and hon. Members of the measures in the Bill.
§ Mr. Ingram
I am trying to explain that the Government are extremely specific and targeted in what we are trying to achieve.
Extending the legislation to cover supporters of proscribed groups might not achieve our objective, which is to take out those who are actively involved and engaged in illegal activities. Indeed, extending the Bill to supporters might encourage others to begin to support the organisation, because it would extend the area of grievance, which is something of which we have to be conscious. We must not encourage the creation of a new republican family who are prepared to take actions such as those seen at Omagh and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Cash
Does the Minister not accept that the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 is absolutely specific? I have never heard a Minister reject an amendment that is perfectly clear, that uses words that he himself used on Second Reading and that is reflected in an Act of Parliament that received Royal Assent only a few weeks ago, on 28 July. That Act used exactly the same expression in relation to eligibility for release. It said:A prisoner may apply to Commissioners for a declaration that he is eligible for release"—
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. I appreciate that we are in Committee, but this is a very long intervention. The hon. Gentleman must bring it to a quick conclusion.
§ Mr. Cash
In which case, I am replying to the Minister.
The Minister said absolutely nothing about any of my points. He simply said that the Government wanted a targeted provision. For the reasons that I have given, membership of an organisation is not sufficient in itself to determine whether a person is engaged in terrorist activities.
It is perfectly clear from the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 that, if the word "supporter" is used in that context, it is precisely because the Government know perfectly well that being a supporter of such an organisation is a strong reason for being caught within the framework of that Act, and there is no reason whatever, in either logic or common sense, why the same criteria should not be applied in respect of the Bill. The Minister gave no indication whatever why he draws the distinction.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael)
Yes, he did.
§ Mr. Cash
In so far as he made an attempt to flannel, he said that he thought that there might be an encouragement to other people to become supporters. Exactly the same point could be applied to the way in which the word is used in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.
I strongly suggest to the Minister that, if and when it is established in due course that supporters have participated in what would, under the amendment, be criminal acts, and that, by default, they have been allowed to get away with terrorist activities, the responsibility will lie with the Government, and not with the mover of the amendment.
§ Mr. Cash
Emphatically yes, in my view. The person might be able to put up a defence—that he had been coerced, for example—but the fact remains that some people deliberately disguise the fact that they are members of an organisation. It is inconceivable that the Government should sell the pass in this part of the Bill. I do not know where their amour-propre comes from. What is the point of deliberately avoiding the opportunity to introduce words that were used in an Act passed only a few weeks ago for exactly the same kind of purpose, and allowing people who have taken part in a bombing, for example, to get off scot free? It is inconceivable. It is extraordinary, to my way of thinking, that the Minister can try to get away with that.
§ Mr. Öpik
Compared with our Bill, the Irish Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill seems to have been written by the Plain English Campaign. Clause 6 of that Bill makes it an offence to be at any level in a proscribed organisation and the punishment is life imprisonment. Have that clause and others been considered in the spirit of marching in step with decisions in the Irish Parliament?
§ Mr. Ingram
Many amendments have to be considered and we have tried to make progress that will satisfy everyone's needs. Support for a proscribed organisation is not an offence, because it makes no sense to make support 851 for a subset of proscribed organisations, in this case specified organisations, an offence. Much consideration was given to the Republic of Ireland legislation but, of course, we are dealing with our own specific measures. I do not know what else I can say about the matter.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is well known for detailed picking of the bones of everything. I am not prepared to move on the case that he has made and I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)
I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 21, leave out 'in England and Wales'.
The Second Deputy Chairman
With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 10, in page 2, line 21, leave out 'in England and Wales'.
No. 13, in page 2, leave out lines 44 to 49.
No. 79, in page 2, line 46 after 'belonging' insert `having belonged'.
Government amendments Nos. 61 and 62.
§ Mr. Gorrie
Amendments Nos. 3, 10 and 13 go together. We seek to clarify the position in Scotland because the Bill seems to alter Scotland's laws, which have hitherto always demanded corroborative evidence. Our concerns are shared by the Law Society of Scotland, which states in its letter to us that the Bill undermines the rule of corroboration that applies in Scotland.
As the Bill stands, a person can be found guilty of membership of an organisation on the say-so of a police officer or on the basis of some other evidence, plus the inference that is to be drawn from the person's failure to say various things. It may be a pedantic point, but an inference is not a fact and is not corroboration. As I understand it, the law of Scotland demands two witnesses to testify to facts that are relevant to the point to prove a person's guilt. The Bill changes that, to make one statement by a police officer plus an inference from a person's silence on certain matters sufficient. That is a material change in Scottish law, and it is a serious issue.
If there had been more time and the Bill had been presented in the normal way, we would have produced an amendment with better wording. As there was not enough time, we propose to delete clause 1(10) and to make two consequential amendments elsewhere to remove the drastic change in Scotland's law. One of my hon. Friends will propose an amendment to widen the issue so as to obtain evidence in addition to the police statement and the inference that will be drawn from a failure to speak. At the moment, we are trying to establish the proposals for Scottish law, because this material change should not be made lightly. We look forward to the Minister's reassurance on the issue.
§ 1 am
§ Dr. Godman
Amendment No. 13 seeks to remove subsection (10) of new section 2A in clause 1. I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) said about the principle of corroboration, which is the cornerstone of the Scottish criminal investigation system.
852 Does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that, to some extent, the principle of corroboration, which is such an important element in Scots law, is diminished by subsection (10)? I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, professors of Scots law in Scottish universities would argue for years over the wording of subsection (10). As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is not a lawyer, and in that regard we have something in common. But we are concerned, as, I am sure, are my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) and for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), because it is important not to diminish that significant element in Scots law.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that a suspect in a Scottish police station is advised of his right to remain silent when he is charged? I do not need to remind the Minister, but others perhaps should be reminded, that, in a Scottish police station, the suspect does not have the right to have a lawyer present during an investigation. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), when I reminded him of that, said that perhaps in this instance Scots law should come into line with that which pertains in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Perhaps that should be taken on board by the Government.
Will the Minister also confirm that, as a result of this legislation, the caution delivered by Scots police officers will have to be differently worded, in contrast to the caution that is part of established police procedures? If so, we need a word or two about that.
I also remind the Minister—if he needs it—that interviews of suspects in Scottish police stations are always subject to audio recordings. If we are to bring our laws in the two different legal systems in the British Isles into line in terms of the best interests of civil liberties, perhaps audio recordings should be introduced in Northern Ireland.
There are concerns here. Is there a diminution in the principle of corroboration in subsection (10)? Is there to be a change in the caution given by police officers to suspects? Can the Minister offer us the possibility that Scots law will be changed to bring it into line with this legislation where a suspect has the right to legal representation when being investigated?
I seek that clarification from the Minister, because, as I told him and others earlier, I have serious reservations about the legislation and the likelihood that it might harm people's civil liberties.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
The Committee is entitled to an explanation of the difference between the law in Scotland and that in England and Wales. Subsection (6) refers to the situation in England and Wales. I must admit that I find it easier to understand the situation there as described in the Bill, compared with the part of the Bill relating to Scotland.
Subsection (6) states:the accused shall not be committed for trial in England and Wales, or be found to have a case to answer or be convicted, solely on the base of inferencesrelating to the questionwhether the accused belongs or belonged at a particular time to a specified organisation".853 There is no corresponding clear statement about the situation in Scotland. Indeed, subsection (10) states, rather surprisingly in my opinion:where the court draws an inference as mentioned in subsection (6) above any evidence that he belongs to the organisation shall be sufficient evidence of that matter.How on earth can "any evidence" be "sufficient evidence"? Will the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence be classified as sufficient evidence to convict someone? I find that difficult to understand.
A situation could arise in a court in Scotland in which a superintendent said, "In my opinion this man or this woman is a member of a particular organisation," and some inference was drawn from the silence of the accused person. That would be deemed sufficient evidence to convict. Surely there ought to be stronger evidence before a conviction is obtained.
I could see a case, although I would not agree with it, for the Government saying that any evidence that a person belongs to a particular organisation shall be admissible evidence of that matter, but to say that any evidence is sufficient evidence is a contradiction of one of the basic premises of natural justice—that there ought to be sufficient evidence before a person is convicted.
It is a pity that neither the Lord Advocate nor the Solicitor-General for Scotland is a Member of this House, and it is a disgrace that there is no one from the Scottish Office on the Front Bench to give us an explanation of what legal advice, if any, the Scottish Office has had from the Scottish Law Officers. I realise that the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), represents a Scottish constituency, but he, like me, is not learned in Scots law. We are entitled to a detailed explanation of the legal advice that was given to the Government in the drafting of the subsection.
I notice that my name has been appended to the Liberal Democrat amendment. By coincidence, I happened to table an amendment identical to the Liberal Democrats' amendment, and the Clerks of the House simply added my name to the Liberal Democrats' amendment. I have no objection, but I say that by way of explanation. Subsection (10) should be deleted, unless we are given a satisfactory account of the reason for its inclusion.
I shall address my remarks to amendment No. 13. It is an important matter, but all of us discussing the amendment must beg the indulgence of the Committee at this hour of the night. I appreciate that the present wording is an improvement on the original. However, there is still the huge matter of corroboration contained in this part of the Bill. As has been said, there could be endless debates among professors of Scots law about whether the provision amounts to a diminution of the right of corroboration, which is a centuries-old aspect of Scottish law. It is certainly arguable that inference from someone's silence plus any old piece of evidence, no matter how worthless, is hardly the strength that we have at present in Scots law, in which corroboration is required.
This loss is important in itself. It might be the case that the matter can be debated among legal experts, but in that case we should not be rushing tonight to legislate to remove the requirement for corroboration when we have not had the benefit of that expertise.
854 I should also point out that the law of corroboration is centuries old. It has seen us through wars, civil riots, commotions and disturbances, and there was no diminution of the corroboration rule during those times. I do not diminish the dreadful events of Omagh for one moment, but we have been through dreadful times these past centuries, and we have not taken this step.
There has not been time for any substantial debate. We have not had the benefit of advice from the Front Bench, from people who know Scots law inside out, or from those whose expertise lies in that area. For those reasons, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister of State to withdraw this part of the Bill so that we can have a proper look at it.
Earlier tonight, I asked my hon. Friend the Minister to confirm that the Bill would be reviewed by the Scottish Parliament. I did not mean to spring something on him unexpectedly, but the matter needs to be clarified. The Scotland Bill provides that measures to deal with terrorism remain with the United Kingdom Parliament, but it also says that Scots law and the police are matters for the Scottish Parliament.
We need clarity on that aspect of the Bill. In what way will any further look at the Bill in six months or on a yearly basis be undertaken? Will it be done in this Parliament, or will it be the job of the Scottish Parliament? I hope that the matter does not arise in the first place, and that the Government will withdraw this part of the Bill so that we can have a more careful look at it, and we do not simply throw out something that has existed for centuries because we are worried about the current circumstances, when we have gone through so much before.
§ Mr. Connarty
I adhered to the request of the Whips not to make a Second Reading speech, but I still have to put my points on the amendments in context. I make the point that we try to counter terrorism with the rule of law so the law must be effective, naturally, but also as transparent as possible so that it continues to gather the support of the people who trust us to make it the best opposition to terrorism and violence. We are looking not for infallibility but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said, credibility. In the part of the Bill that relates to Scotland, we have a problem of credibility.
I remind the Committee that I asked a couple of questions in an intervention. One was the simple question whether the opinion of a police superintendent that a person was in one of the named organisations plus the person's silence would lead to a conviction. We had a clear statement from the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office my hon. Friend the Member for East Kidbride (Mr. Ingram) that that was the case. I then asked a question about clause 1(10) on Scots law. I wished to establish that the same simple equation—the opinion of a police officer and silence—could lead to a conviction in Scotland. That is why I and other hon. Members tabled an amendment. We wished to raise the matter specifically and name the word "corroboration", which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) said was normally evidence from two different sources, two pieces of fact, or separate pieces of evidence for the same fact. Unfortunately, subsection (10) does not do that. It is such a massive change in Scots law that the simple amendment deserved some consideration by the Government. The 855 amendment stated that in Scotland we would require corroboration before the second part of subsection (10) would apply. The second part states:where the court draws an inference as mentioned in subsection (6) above any evidence that he belongs to the organisation shall be sufficient evidence of that matter.The amendment would change that part to take account of what for centuries has been the spirit and fact of Scots law, namely that evidence must be corroborated from two different sources.
I welcome some of the amendments, but feel that some are insufficient while others perhaps go too far. I welcome Government amendment No. 61, but Government amendment No. 62 needs to be explained because it seems to include conviction for past membership of an organisation.
I can think of three recent occasions when people have come to see me. They were active members of the Ulster Volunteer Force when the UVF had not pledged itself to a non-violent course. They fled Ireland when the last ceasefire finished. The UVF demanded that they be reactivated, but in the meantime, those people had put lives together and fled to Scotland.
If someone in, for example, the Real IRA had decided before Omagh to get out and to flee to Scotland, under Government amendment No. 62 he could be charged with having been a member of that organisation. Although he might not have taken part in or supported any terrorist activity, he might still be gaoled.
Amendment No. 10 deals with the inference from silence. It would remove the words "in England and Wales" and therefore would extend to Scotland, but I do not see the opinion of the officer dealt with in any other amendment.
§ Dr. Godman
In attempting to be fair minded in our criticisms of the legislation, we ought to refer to subsection (4)(b). At least now in Scotland such a suspect, before being questioned, would be permitted to consult a solicitor. Presumably, even a solicitor who was only half alive would urge a client to deny being a member of a proscribed organisation rather than to exercise his right to remain silent.
§ Mr. Connarty
That may well be the case, but the point is that one has to lie if one is a member of a proscribed organisation rather than remain silent and, as happens in the United States of America, not have one's guilt inferred from that silence.
In respect of Scotland, there is nothing to address the opinion of the police officer. Amendment No. 13 would delete all of subsection (10). That is inadequate because, if I interpret it correctly, that would mean that the Bill did not extend to Scotland. That is not the solution that we are seeking, which is to insert corroboration into the process rather than remove Scotland from the Bill's jurisdiction. An amendment that was not selected would have allowed the question of corroboration to be dealt with by the Government, in the hope that they would respect the tradition.
856 Our credibility will be undermined if we proceed with the Bill as it stands. In one fell swoop, we will retract from the process of law in Scotland the need to have corroborated evidence. That will lead people to worry that, if corroboration is not needed for this legislation, other criminals—perhaps drug traffickers—could be dealt with without corroboration. That would erode the very basis of Scottish law. I am disappointed that corroboration is not being dealt with. Perhaps the Government will think seriously during the Committee stage about how they might take that point on board.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
The amendments deal with the admissibility of evidence that is not at present allowed in Scottish courts, which is that the opinion of a senior police officer should constitute evidence of an accused's membership of an illegal organisation and that an inference can be drawn that any silence on the part of the accused about belonging to such an organisation constitutes guilt.
The problem centres on the inference to be drawn from the silence of the accused. The position in Scotland is different from that in England. In Scots law, there is no general right for the courts to draw inferences from the silence of the accused. Only in specific circumstances can such inferences been drawn in Scottish courts. The Lord Advocate told me that those include a judicial examination before a sheriff on petition because, in such circumstances, the accused has the right to be represented by a solicitor. Indeed, that is the only occasion on which inferences can be drawn from such a silence in Scots law. It is different in England and Wales, where there is a much wider right to draw inferences from the accused's silence.
Owing to that difference, under the original draft of the clause the accused could be found guilty in Scottish courts solely on the evidence of a senior police officer, who asserted that he or she was a member of an illegal organisation. To deal with that problem, the Government introduced subsection (10) of new section 2A, in clause 1, which brings the position in Scotland into line with that elsewhere in England and Wales, so that, before a guilty verdict can be found, the evidence of the police officer has to be corroborated by the inference to be drawn from the silence of the accused. With the inclusion of subsection (10), the position in Scotland would be better than it might have been, but it would also be much worse than it is at present. That seems to be the problem.
It would be wrong to support amendment No. 13, which would make matters worse by withdrawing subsection (10), leaving the position in Scotland much worse than that in England in Wales. One could then be found guilty in Scotland simply on the basis of the evidence of a senior police officer and no one in the Committee wants that. Equally, it would be pointless to support amendments Nos. 3 and 10, which are entirely irrelevant to the position in the courts in Scotland. Therefore, I cannot support the Opposition amendments.
I must take this opportunity to protest about the weakening of the Scots law of corroboration. Undoubtedly, the clause represents such a weakening of that law, which has been around for a long time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) said. That is particularly important in respect of Northern Ireland because, as many hon. Members will know, 857 Scotland is in many ways closer to Northern Ireland than any other part of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, we find both the Unionist and the nationalist traditions, particularly in the west. There is much contact between Scotland and Northern Ireland and, on occasion, it is illegal and of a terrorist nature.
I recognise the Government's need to remain vigilant, through the police and the courts, to ensure that they can control any terrorist activity between Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the real question that we should be asking ourselves is whether the measures weaken or strengthen the fight against terrorism in Scotland. I have to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that the banned organisations included in the Bill have virtually no support anywhere in Scotland. He will know that Celtic park in Glasgow is a place where one is likely to find much affinity with the nationalist cause in Ireland. Recently, at a match at Celtic park, there was a minute's silence in respect for those who had lost their lives at Omagh. Almost 50,000 people were present and only four idiots tried to disrupt the silence by shouting out. All four were thrown out of the ground and roundly booed by the rest of the supporters of both Celtic and Dundee United.
There is evidence to show that those people have no support anywhere in the United Kingdom. We have to ask ourselves whether, if we create injustices, we will begin to change that balance. If we begin to arrest and imprison innocent people and to deny to accused people the civil and legal rights that currently exist, will we change the balance and begin to build support for terrorist organisations of that sort—support that does not at present exist? It seems to me that accepting police opinion as evidence in a court of law—something that is not acceptable in Scots law at present—represents a serious weakening of that law and the rights of the accused under it.
Similarly, denying the right of silence is much more difficult to do in Scots law, but it will now be made much easier as a result of the changes in the Bill. Finally, withdrawing the presumption of innocence, which is not done in Scots law now but will be done in future if the clause is upheld, represents a further weakening.
Weakening the legal and civil rights of the individual citizens of this country is not the way to tackle terrorism. In fact, it will be counter-productive. That is why I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister winds up the debate he will tell us whether the Scottish Parliament, which will begin to take over control of Scots law next year, will have the right to review the legislation.
I know that prevention of terrorism is a matter for this House, but the clause deals with the very narrow ground of the admissibility of evidence before a Scottish court, and whether the accused in Scottish law has the right to silence and to the presumption of innocence. So far as I am concerned, after next year that should be a matter for the Scottish Parliament and for nobody else.
§ Mr. Ingram
We have had a good and detailed debate. I can tell all my hon. Friends from Scotland who have contributed to the debate that the part of the Bill with which we are dealing has been subject to the robust scrutiny of Scottish lawyers. Obviously there will be Scottish lawyers who disagree with the import of what we are trying to achieve—but it seems to me that it is ever thus with lawyers; the minute we hear one opinion we shall also hear another. That applies outside Scotland, too.
858 In drafting the legislation, we have tried to bring all parts of the United Kingdom into a clear framework. Scotland had to be included, because the threat applies throughout the United Kingdom, and has to be dealt with accordingly.
My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) asked about the role of the Scottish Parliament. Like all anti-terrorist legislation, the Bill concerns a reserved matter. It falls into the reserved area and is therefore to be dealt with by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
I suggest to my hon. Friends that they could have had that debate when the appropriate legislation to establish the Scottish Parliament was going through. If they had been able to persuade others that the envisaged arrangements were not appropriate, suitable amendments would have been made. However, as terrorism knows no borders and no boundaries, we need United Kingdom legislation, and we must ensure that its application under the various jurisdictions within the United Kingdom is mutually compatible.
Terrorism is an evil and a menace. It may have particular effect at a particular time in one particular part of the United Kingdom, but at any time it could be visited upon other areas, as has happened with England in the past. For a variety of reasons, we have been able to avoid it in Scotland, but that does not mean that people of evil intent will not bring their terrorism to my homeland, and in drafting legislation we must always be conscious of that.
I shall now deal with the amendments. Amendments Nos. 3 and 10 are defective because they would extend reference to committal to Scotland, which would be inappropriate because of the criminal law that applies there. The drafting makes them defective, so on that basis I cannot ask the Committee to accept them. Clearly, they would not comply with a major element of Scottish law.
Amendment No. 13 would deny a court in Scotland the ability to convict on the basis of inferences drawn under the Bill and any other evidence supporting those inferences. The provisions of clause 1 are designed to provide a Great Britain-wide scheme whereby the courts in the various GB jurisdictions can act on inferences drawn from silence in another part of Great Britain. We believe subsection (10) to be sensible and necessary for the proper working of the clause in Scotland, so that a court may take inferences fully into account without being authorised to convict purely on the basis of inferences.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East made a strong point in support of part of that argument: he argued that acceptance of amendment No. 13 would seriously diminish the status of Scottish law, and should therefore be resisted. He made other points, which I shall try to deal with. However, on the basis of the arguments that I have made, I ask the Committee to resist amendment No. 13.
§ Mr. Canavan
Will the Minister explain the words in subsection (10):any evidence … shall be sufficient evidence"?
§ Mr. Ingram
Any evidence judged by the court would be sufficient evidence. Like my hon. Friend, I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me, as a layman, that it is for the 859 court to decide what it deems to be suitable and appropriate evidence to be taken into account. Legislation should not say what would constitute such evidence. Therefore, the term "any evidence" is something that is brought forward for consideration by the court of law, and it is judged by those sitting in judgment—and, in Scotland, the trial is likely to be a jury trial. Therefore, "any evidence" is that which is deemed appropriate by the court to be considered.
§ Mr. Connarty
Would that evidence be sufficient evidence if it was only the opinion of a superintendent of police—in a Scots court?
§ Mr. Ingram
Perhaps what I say when I come to the issue relating to corroboration or supporting evidence will deal with that. However, before I move on to that, may I deal with—
§ Mr. Canavan
Am I correct in understanding that subsection (10) means that any evidence that a person belongs to a proscribed organisation shall be sufficient evidence that he or she belongs to that proscribed organisation, so that even the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence shall be deemed to be sufficient evidence for a conviction?
§ Mr. Ingram
Well, it really is for the court to judge the strength or weakness of evidence that has been advanced to it. It is not for us in this place to decide the value or otherwise of evidence, because the judgment must be made in the court of law. In the Bill we are merely building a framework that allows those matters to be proceeded with so as to allow people to be brought to justice for their involvement as part of a specified organisation. Any evidence is sufficient, but only where it corroborates inferences, so that, where an inference is being drawn, any other evidence could be deemed by the court to be sufficient. It can be, but it will not always be, sufficient, and that is for the court to decide.
§ Mr. Ingram
I am considering that serious point, and I am trying to explain, as I go along, dealing with. 860 interventions as they arise. I am trying to explain that part of the Bill, why it exists and why we feel that it is important to ensure that Scotland is brought into compliance with the rest of GB and with the other jurisdictions affected by the legislation.
§ Mr. Foster
I am not a Scottish lawyer, but is it not the position that, in any event, the provision applies only when there is no statement by the accused? Surely any evidence that he or she is a member of an organisation would be better evidence than no evidence that he or she was not; so it applies only in circumstances in which there is no denial. Would that not be sufficient evidence in any event?
§ Mr. Ingram
My hon. Friend has made a strong point, and I accept that it refers to the matter at stake, in terms of the way in which I have amended the original legislation. However, we must deal with other groups of amendments, including Government amendments. I shall deal with issues that were raised earlier in the debate that may answer points that have been raised, rather than responding to interventions.
Government amendments Nos. 61 and 62 propose minor changes that are necessary to ensure that the provisions have similar application in Scotland to their application in England and Wales. They reflect the potential for a jury to draw inferences from failure to mention a material fact when questioned, and the importance of ensuring that those who did belong to a specified organisation are caught in Scotland as well. They are not a result of rushed drafting per se, and do not reflect the potential for any number of other terrors; they are simply minor amendments to ensure that the law has a similar impact throughout Great Britain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said that subsection (10) had been inserted as a result of the need to reflect fully certain aspects of Scottish law, and that, when it was inserted, it did not reflect those aspects fully in relation to other features of the Bill. That is why we had to table amendments Nos. 61 and 62, which I ask the Committee to support.
A point was raised about a change in the caution provisions. Let me explain. The suspect will be warned, in appropriate language, of the effect of failure to answer questions: that is the way in which the caution will apply. As for the point about the diminution of corroboration requirements, there will be no such diminution. Simply treating inferences as one piece of evidence means that that is not the case. There is only one piece of evidence for which inference would be used.
As for the right to legal representation, the accused must be given an opportunity to consult a solicitor before inferences can be drawn; otherwise, there is no change. I stress that inferences alone are not sufficient evidence, but, if corroborated, they can be taken into account. That is an important protection for those who are charged.
The Bill does not say that any evidence is sufficient evidence; it says that evidence on the issue at trial, together with inference, can be sufficient evidence.
861 I have tried to deal with the detailed parts of the Bill. Hon. Members may want to continue the debate, but I think that we have examined the issues fully, especially in view of that other matters that remain to be considered.
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The Minister does not need to give a reason; he is not giving way. It is as simple as that.
§ Mr. Gorrie
I am pleased that our amendment, if somewhat defective, has effectively acted as a tap which has allowed five excellent speeches from Labour Members to gush forth and spread light—to mix my metaphors—on this subject. Subsection (10) is remarkably badly worded. It may have been written by some robust Scots lawyers, but I do not think that they understand the English tongue.
I entirely agree with the interpretation of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan)—perhaps because we both come from a teaching background. Contrary to what the Minister said, the Bill states thatany evidence that he belongs to the organisation shall be sufficient".The Minister was contending that that was not what was meant, but clearly it is.
The clause is extremely badly written, but, because of the time constraints and because our amendment is imperfect, we will not push it to a vote. Whether some wiser lawyers in the House of Lords may consider the matter worth pursuing, I do not know. Unfortunately the two Scottish Liberal Democrat QCs were revolving in aeroplanes over Orkney, and we could not get their advice. This is an important issue and I hope that the Government will address it more carefully than they have done hitherto. However, in light of all that has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Mullin
I beg to move amendment No.5, in page 2, line 1, after 'constable' insert 'in the presence of his solicitor'.
The First Deputy Chairman
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in page 2, line 5, at end insert 'of his choice'.
No. 7, in page 2, line 8, leave out from 'offence' to `the' in line 9.
No. 8, in page 2, line 14, at end insert 'of his choice.'.
No. 15, in page 3, line 7, at end insert—`() All questioning under this section shall take place in the presence of a solicitor if the suspect so requests.'.No. 16, in page 3, line 7, at end insert—`() Every suspect to be questioned under the provisions of this section shall be informed of his rights under subjection (13) above.'.No. 23, in clause 2, page 4, line 10, after 'constable' insert`in the presence of his solicitor'.862 No. 24, in page 4, line 14, at end insert 'of his choice.'.
No. 25, in page 4, line 16, leave out from 'offence' to `the' in line 17.
No. 26, in page 4, line 22, at end insert 'of his choice.'.
No. 31, in page 5, line 7, at end insert—`() Every suspect to be questioned under the provisions of this section shall be informed of his rights under subsection (12) above.'.No. 32, in page 5, line 7, at end insert—`() Every suspect to be questioned under the provisions of this section shall be informed of his rights under subsection (12) above.'.
§ Mr. Mullin
This is the first of several helpful amendments that I have tabled designed to enhance the credibility of the Bill. There is no malice in my heart. I am in favour of rounding up terrorists—I just want to be sure that we do round up terrorists and not somebody else. I do not want us to get into a lot of trouble with the European Court of Human Rights, or with the courts in Ireland.
It is in that spirit that I move this simple little amendment, which will be readily comprehensible to everyone present, to require that a solicitor be present when interviews take place. The interviews are very important—they will be the corroboration that will be required when a police officer stands up in court. It is important that the interviews should be as credible as possible.
Under the Bill as it stands, the suspect is allowed to consult a solicitor, but the solicitor is kicked out when the interview takes place. That is not good enough. It would not wash anywhere else in the UK, and I do not see why it should wash in Northern Ireland. I make no criticism of Ministers, and I recognise the serious problems that they are up against. I do not think that the problems come from Ministers. It will seem incredible to many that the Government are resisting an amendment of such obvious common sense, but the problem has arisen because, unfortunately, there are mighty vested interests in Northern Ireland.
The culture in Northern Ireland is such that even the most moderate change is likely to encounter the most strenuous resistance. That is why Ministers find themselves in this difficult position. It is not my intention to make their lives difficult. I want the Bill to be improved so that it is credible to the outside world. That is the purpose of the amendment.
The presence of a solicitor during an interview with someone charged with a serious offence is standard practice elsewhere in the UK—Scotland may be an exception, but I do not want to get into another debate about Scotland—but that does not apply to terrorist cases. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which lays down all sorts of safeguards for the rights of suspects, does not apply to terrorist cases.
The police in the UK realised long ago that it was in their interests to do things by the book and to have witnesses who were able to confirm that if necessary. They voluntarily record interviews, even in cases where they do not have to, and they allow solicitors to be present.
Of course, I look forward to the day, and I think that it may not be too far off, when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act extends to all criminal offences. It is not sensible—this was done a while ago—to exempt the most 863 serious terrorist offences from the Act. It is the one area where people might think, in the light of history, that we need a few safeguards. This is not obligatory at the moment, but I am confident that that day is coming and I know that the Government are working on that.
All sensible policemen in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere in the UK, will regard the presence of a solicitor as a protection, not a threat. The policeman's evidence has to stand up in court, and these cases will be widely watched by the outside world when they come to court. The presence of a solicitor can only help.
I shall listen with great care to the Home Secretary because I am puzzled about why the amendment must be opposed, when it is obviously so reasonable to all people of common sense. I shall push it to a vote unless I hear something that suggests that considerable progress is about to be made.
This is the moment for the RUC. If we make the Bill conditional on the presence of solicitors and on audio recording, all their complex objections will melt away overnight like snow on the edge of a volcano. Everything that was impossible yesterday will become possible tomorrow when they realise that they will not get what they want from the Bill unless those elementary safeguards are included.
I look forward to a speech from the Secretary of State that matches the spirit in which I offer this simple little amendment because my purpose is to enhance the Bill and to make it more credible, so that we can hold up our heads in the outside world and go away from this place tonight feeling that we have done something useful.
§ Mr. Öpik
I add a word of support to what the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has said. It seems a matter of common sense to us and, more to the point, it is of great importance that justice is seen to be done. There are so many ways in which the Bill can fall down if it appears unjust in the eyes of the public. I will not reiterate the points that he has made, but I stress that we support his sentiment.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 propose that a suspect should be allowed to have the solicitor "of his choice." I hope that the assumption is that the choice will be within reason; I foresee enormous difficulty if the choice is limitless.
I am not convinced about amendment No. 7, which seems to remove the requirement for the suspect to make a statement where he or she has been informed by the police that he or she may be charged. I think that, on that, the Bill makes good sense.
By and large, we support the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. It is important that we are seen to be bending over backwards to ensure that no accusation can be levelled that civil liberties are being undermined by the Bill. We think that it would be helpful for the Home Secretary to give an assurance that the Government will reconsider. Perhaps they will introduce a Government amendment in another place if they do not feel able to accept the amendment tonight.
§ Mr. McNamara
I do not intend to delay the Committee for long.
864 I take up the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). There is a contradiction in what the Government said earlier if they hope very quickly to have oral recordings of interviews. If that is the case, there can be no possible reason for not having a solicitor present. A solicitor will, in any event, hear what has been recorded. If we are to have a delay before the recording of interviews is introduced, as has been suggested, it makes sense for a solicitor to be present. There is no longer a disagreement in principle about keeping a record of the interview.
I believe that the reluctance to have a solicitor present shows a feeling that solicitors are somehow not to be trusted because if they were present during an interrogation they would pick up something, rush out and start telling other people. We encountered that nudge, nudge, wink, wink attitude when we were in opposition and were urging proper representation by solicitors at interrogations. That point is invalid if we are to have recordings. There is no reason why solicitors should not be allowed to be present.
It is possible, under the current drafting of the Bill, for a solicitor to be present on three occasions, but not to be present throughout an interrogation: he can be present before a caution is made; he can be present before the suspect is informed that he might be cautioned or charged; and he can be present before the charge is made. However, the solicitor cannot be present continuously. While the RUC is getting over the technical difficulties of not having the necessary equipment, despite provision being made six or nine months ago to have it in police stations, we should remember that most solicitors have legs or bicycles or motor cars and can attend Castlereagh, Gough barracks or the Strand police station, where special interrogations take place. They can be present and listen and we can wait for the glorious day when we have audio recordings.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
It has oft been said during our debates on the Bill that justice must be seen to be done. Unless justice is seen to be done, the population of Northern Ireland may think that the Bill does not represent their interests. It is fundamental to the rule of law and to common justice that people should have the full right to be heard and to professional representation throughout their hearing. It is not good enough to say that they can be represented by a solicitor before a caution and before a charge is made. They should have a right to be represented by a solicitor throughout the hearing.
We are in danger of passing legislation that will result in innocent people being charged with offences that they have not committed. The House of Commons should jealously guard the interests of minorities and of people who have not committed crimes. I am concerned that ordinary, inarticulate people in Northern Ireland may be convicted of crimes that they have not committed. It is common sense that suspects should have proper legal representation. If the Government resist the amendments, they will appear to have something to hide. I know that it is inconvenient for prosecuting authorities to have articulate solicitors and barristers arguing the case, but that is not the point. Justice must be seen to be done.
I ask the Home Secretary, instead of smirking and talking to his colleagues as he is, to listen seriously to the representations being made and to consider sensibly whether the amendments are of sufficient merit to be 865 included in the Bill. We should take into account the sensible proposals advanced by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), which would create a situation in Northern Ireland that is the norm even in respect of extremely minor offences in the rest of the United Kingdom—ordinary audio tape recording and representation by a solicitor.
All the police and criminal evidence legislation has included provisions allowing individuals to be represented by a proper solicitor. Why should some of the UK's citizens, in the face of some of the most serious offences imaginable, not to be allowed legal representation? The Home Secretary should seriously consider the amendments. If he fails to do so, the legislation may be seen to be oppressive and in breach of the European convention on human rights, and thus subject to challenge in the European Court.
§ Mr. White
The amendments enhance the Bill. It is hard for an individual to admit to having made a mistake, but it is almost impossible for a system to do so.
The police are under immense pressure to get a result in respect of terrorist offences. I related earlier my experiences of about 20 years ago. If a suspect is indeed a member of a proscribed organisation, is it not important that we ensure that he cannot cry, "perfidious Albion" and say that the accusation is a set-up? There must be evidence to convict such individuals. If the suspect is innocent, should there not be a solicitor present to protect individuals, who might be as naive as I was about 20 years ago?
If the problem is that the RUC will not accept that, it is contempt of what the House suggested six or nine months ago. Joe Kennedy said that, in politics, perception is everything, but, if we do not enhance the Bill, the perception will be that we have something to hide. I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Government to take on board a sensible amendment that will give the Bill greater credibility.
§ Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)
I am sure that all hon. Members are aware that Parliament has been recalled to introduce tough—some would say draconian—measures to deal with an exceptional situation in Northern Ireland. I fully support the Bill and its underlying aim of taking out the 20, 30, 40 or 50 individuals who are pledged to undermine the Good Friday agreement, to bomb, maim and destroy innocent people and to undermine all that we have worked for. However, I could support the Bill even more strongly with the inclusion of the amendment.
Tough laws need tough safeguards. Yes, the Omagh bombing was an attack on the Belfast agreement. Yes, it was an attack on the peace process. However, as great an attack on the peace process and the Good Friday agreement would be the first miscarriage of justice that occurred as a result of the inadequacies in the Bill. I hope that we can avoid miscarriages of justice, because it is in our interests to do so. There is no coherent argument to be made against the full involvement of proper and due legal representation, so I urge all hon. Members to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).
§ Mr. Straw
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) for the manner in which he moved the amendment. I also thank all other hon. Members for their contributions on this important issue.
866 Let me start by saying to my hon. Friend that, for reasons that I have explained, I cannot accept the amendment, but I do accept and acknowledge the overall case that he made in respect of the importance of proper safeguards for the accused. Those are important, first and foremost, in the interests of justice—they are a mark of the rule of law—but they are also important in the interests of ensuring that guilty men are convicted and that our police system works efficiently.
I make no reference at all to terrorism or the north of Ireland, but I remember from my short time at the Bar more than 25 years ago that in those days only the judges' rules were available, and they were not properly enforced. Police officers used to refer to the "Ways and Means Act", which had never been before any Parliament but gave them the ways and means of obtaining confessions. Even decent police officers jealously guarded the old procedures, because they genuinely believed that those less formal methods, which were less subject to proper outside scrutiny, were in the interests of justice because they helped them to secure convictions efficiently.
We and the police have reaped the whirlwind of those methods. There have been serious revelations of corruption and an increasing scepticism on the Bench about the way in which confessions have sometimes been extracted, as well as some celebrated miscarriages of justice whereby innocent people spent many years in prison. Courts and juries have become increasingly sceptical about police evidence. It would have been far better if safeguards had been put in place much earlier, giving rise to much less questioning of the veracity of police evidence. The rare but important cases that besmirched British justice, when shortcuts were taken or corruption or violence was used, might not then have arisen.
I entirely agree that we need the greatest possible safeguards for the accused, but the Bill includes some important safeguards and others are already in place. We have already had a lengthy debate about the evidential safeguards and the fact that people cannot be convicted solely on the opinion evidence of a senior police officer or because of a refusal to answer material questions. The Bill also contains the very important safeguard that no inferences can be drawn before the defendant has been permitted to consult a solicitor.
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) referred to the European convention on human rights.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
If, according to the criteria in police and criminal evidence legislation, people in the rest of the United Kingdom are entitled to proper legal representation on comparatively minor charges, surely those accused of the most serious crimes—terrorist offence—who might be innocent and might be inarticulate should be allowed proper representation both pre-caution and post-caution and at the evidence-taking stage. I cannot understand how the Home Secretary can possibly resist the amendment.
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman's assumption about standard practice elsewhere in the United Kingdom is incorrect.
867 We are satisfied that the Bill meets the requirements of the European convention. I am delighted that, as a result of the Human Rights Bill, many Conservative Members, who were sceptical even about our signing the declaration, are becoming more and more convinced of the need for incorporation and of the benefits that it will bring. One of the benefits that it has already brought is that there is a much greater daily focus on the crucial issue of human rights and the rubric of human rights. The burden of the judgment in the Murray case was that before inferences from silence could be drawn, the person should have a right to consult a solicitor. The European Court of Human Rights did not say that a solicitor should be present throughout the rest of questioning. We have reflected Murray exactly in the measure.
There are other safeguards. Since January, there has been a mandatory regime for silent video-recording of all interrogations in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Straw
When the hon. Gentleman represented Cirencester and Tewkesbury he usually supported the previous Government, who for a long time resisted the introduction of any safeguards for the questioning of suspects in Northern Ireland. I shall not detain the Committee with an explanation of why it is silent. It is a significant advance and an important safeguard for suspects and for police officers against allegations of assault on suspects—the overwhelming majority of police officers do not go in for such practices—and it also records the general conduct of interviews.
When we deal with the next set of amendments, I shall speak about the statutory provision to ensure that interviews can be audio-recorded in circumstances such as those that are anticipated in the Bill. The only issue there, which is an important one and with which I shall deal on the next group of amendments, is the time that it is taking to introduce those arrangements.
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, I am. As I introduced the Human Rights Bill, it would be odd for me to introduce measures that were knowingly outwith the convention and then deny that that was the case. I hope that my hon. Friends would agree that that would be completely out of character. All Ministers make an effort to ensure that Bills are consistent with conventions.
Perhaps the most important point is whether, as a general rule, solicitors ought to be present at interrogations. They are present in England and Wales, and that is desirable. I suggest that one of the reasons for the European Court not saying that solicitors should be present in all interrogations of suspects in serious crimes 868 is that that is not necessarily the general rule in the jurisdictions of the countries that are signatories to the Council of Europe convention.
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, it is. In Scotland, a person who may be charged has the right to see a solicitor privately, but there is no requirement whatever for the solicitor to be present at interviews under the general criminal law as well as under prevention of terrorism legislation. That is a feature of the Scottish system and I do not presume to say whether it is better or worse than the system that obtains in England and Wales. However, I am not aware of serious complaints being raised in the House about the quality of interrogations and their reliability being undermined by the absence of a solicitor. In England and Wales, solicitors are present during interrogations, both under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and in practice under the prevention of terrorism legislation.
§ Dr. Godman
Many of us in Scotland disapprove strongly of the present system, but the absence of solicitors in such circumstances was supported for many years by Conservative Members when they were in government.
§ Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)
I take on board all the points that my right hon. Friend has made so far, but does he agree that he has yet to advance a single argument against this specific amendment?
§ Mr. Straw
No, I do not agree. I have advanced a number of arguments about why we cannot accept the amendment at this time.
I acknowledge that it is desirable for solicitors to be present, but systems and practices vary from one jurisdiction to another and changing those can, and often inevitably does, take considerable time. That is in the nature of this kind of exercise.
We propose to consider the matter carefully in the context of the wider consultation exercise on counter-terrorism legislation and I shall publish a consultation document later this autumn.
§ Mr. Straw
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.
869 I understand the anxieties that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South expressed. I do not dispute the principle that he raises about the importance of safeguards for the accused, but I regret that, for the reasons that I have outlined, I cannot accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Mullin
I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I know that he is in a difficult position and I do not want to make his job any more difficult.
In the Northern Ireland jurisdiction abuse has been widespread over a long period and has attracted international, never mind national, recognition. A recent United Nations special rapporteur report on the independence of judges and lawyers was highly critical of current and past RUC practices. That is what led to the present Independent Commission on Policing. Therefore, there is serious concern in Northern Ireland about this. Last week, 30 solicitors put their names to a statement expressing extreme concern.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be offended, but, if I can, I shall divide the House.
§ Amendment negatived.2.15 am
§ Mr. Mullin
I beg to move amendment No. 9 in page 2, line 14, at end insert—'(5A) But subsection (6) shall not apply unless evidence given under subsection (4) or (5) above is supported by a sound recording of the questioning or other exchanges to which the evidence relates.'.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)
With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 27, in clause 2, page 4, line 22 at end insert—'(5A) But subsection (6) shall not apply unless evidence given under subsection (4) or (5) above is supported by a sound recording of the questioning or other exchanges to which the evidence relates.'.
§ Mr. Mullin
This is the second of the helpful amendments that I am moving this evening. It concerns audio-recording. [Interruption.]
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman pursues his intervention, the Committee must come to order and settle down.
§ Dr. Godman
As I said earlier, when a suspect is questioned in a Scottish police station, the interview must be audio-recorded. In an earlier debate, I argued for such recordings in Northern Ireland police stations. Is the equipment in place there? Does it simply need to be activated?
§ Mr. Mullin
Yes, the equipment is in place. There are no practical obstacles to audio-recording. This was an issue on which I hoped that we could make progress tonight, as I know that Ministers are sympathetic. The 870 purpose of the amendment is to make the Bill conditional on audio-recording. There has been a great deal of foot-dragging on the matter.
I listened carefully to the Minister's winding-up speech on Second Reading and I acknowledged that we were making progress, but I was disappointed when I heard those fateful words "as soon as possible". We have heard them numerous times over recent months. There are no practical obstacles to audio-recording. What is lacking is the political will. Indeed, I am not even certain that that is lacking. I think that Ministers are doing their best.
The previous Government tried to persuade the RUC, without success, to accept audio recordings. On 30 October last year, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told the Labour party conference that there would be audio recordings. They were provided for in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998, which received Royal Assent on 8 April. It is already provided for in legislation. That is what makes the amendment even more reasonable than the previous one.
Lord Dubs was asked on 10 June how we were getting on with the procedure for sorting out audio recordings. He replied:Preparation of a draft code of practice governing audio-recording of police interviews with terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland is currently under way; the draft code will be presented for the approval of both Houses of Parliament as soon as possible."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 June 1998; Vol. 590, c. 90–91.]That phrase again—"as soon as possible".
I am concerned that progress is a little slow. We have here an opportunity to move a bit faster. If the House of Commons decides to make audio-recording—this is pretty basic stuff—a condition of the Bill, all the objections to it will disappear overnight. The Government will not hear any more about them. At 9.30 tomorrow morning, recording could be organised.
When I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon, he said that there were practical problems. The practical problems cannot be all that great, because some of the holding centres in Northern Ireland have the facilities installed. In his report, the Commissioner for the Holding Centres said:We understand that the installations at the Centres have the means of being readily adaptable to accommodate audio-recording, as and when that is authorised".Well, let us get on with it. I do not understand the reason for the delay—or rather, I think that I do understand the reason. It has nothing to do with Ministers. The reason is the foot-dragging by the usual people. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned silent video-recording. My goodness, that was a struggle to bring in. It took a long time. With the first lot of equipment that the police put in, the images on the video were so obscure that the whole lot had to be chucked out and they had to start again. One could not see what was happening, and the whole purpose of a video is to see what is happening.
§ Mr. McNamara
When there was a video but not an audio record, it was not unknown for interrogators to put their coat over the camera.
§ Mr. Mullin
Yes, and it has not been unknown for the equipment to break down at key points, or for the attention of the officer supposed to be monitoring it to wander at key points. There are all those problems.
871 I return to my point about the presence of solicitors. We want the legislation to be credible. The purpose of the amendment and the previous amendment is not to undermine the legislation; it is to make it credible. At the moment, it is not credible. It will get us into a lot of trouble if we are not careful. It will make quite a big difference if, when the police say in court that the suspect refused to co-operate, the suspect did this or the suspect did that, a tape recording can be produced.
The police in the rest of the United Kingdom got used to all this some time ago. They opposed it initially and then they found that it was in their interests. Of course it is in their interests, because they no longer have to spend hours in court and do not have to spend enormous amounts of money on lawyers arguing who said what to whom, when. It is greatly in the interests of the police and everyone involved that a credible record should exist of what is said in interviews. As a recording is the corroborative evidence—in addition to the opinion of the police officer—it will be pretty important to have credible corroboration. At the moment, we do not have credible corroboration.
This is my contribution to the Bill. I want us to have credible evidence that can be presented in court. That can be done only with audio recordings. It is not very controversial or difficult. The facilities already exist. All that is lacking is the will, and not, I think, the will of Ministers. Frankly, we are just talking about the time scale.
The Bill is an ideal opportunity to improve the time scale a little. I do not want to hear that audio-recording is being introduced as soon as possible. There was some clarification, and it was stated that the proposals would come into force on 1 January, but I think that everything that is supposed to happen under the Bill will be over by then. I want to hear that people arrested under the Bill will be interviewed in circumstances that are not controversial and in which there can be no dispute about who is saying what. That is the assurance that I seek from Ministers. In the absence of that assurance, I am sorry that I shall have to press the amendment to a vote—and this time there will be Tellers in the appropriate place.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
I find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Until this evening, I had not agreed with him on virtually anything, but the amendment carries enormous credibility.
When a case of a miscarriage of justice arises, we shall examine this legislation. Following the judgment in Pepper v. Hart, we shall read what was said by Members of Parliament as recorded in Hansard. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South did not manage to put Tellers in place for the Division on the previous amendment relating to the presence of a solicitor. I hope that my Front-Bench colleagues will be prepared to push an amendment to that effect on Third Reading.
It seems that the elementary rules of the Police and Criminal Act 1984 demand that we have an audio record, so amendments Nos. 9 and 27 are eminently sensible. I should prefer a video record, but, if we cannot have that, let us have an audio record. We have discovered this evening that the equipment is already in the courts and the cells, so why can the Home Secretary not accept the amendments? He sits there looking sullen. He accepted 872 the moral arguments that I made when we debated previous amendments about solicitors, so why on earth can he not accept amendments dealing with the audio-recording of evidence given by terrorist suspects? We are talking about the most serious offences of which anyone is likely to be convicted, so why can the proper safeguards not be put in place?
If the Home Secretary wishes to carry the good will of the people of Northern Ireland and to ensure that justice is seen to be done, he should accept the amendments. If he does not, the people of Northern Ireland will ask why.
§ Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)
I offer strong support from the Liberal Democrats for the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). We share the concern that has been expressed across the Chamber about the cost of miscarriages of justice—the cost to the criminal justice system itself in having to put them right, but also the cost to the credibility of the entire legal system in the communities that are supposed to be served by that system.
Technology is a two-way street. It is now used effectively to catch criminals. Indeed, we spend most of our days walking past closed circuit television cameras which accurately record everything that we do. In the same way, technology should be used to protect the rights of defendants until such time as they have been convicted of a crime.
We strongly support the use of audio technology. As we have heard, the facilities already exist. There are no excuses for not proceeding with audio-recording. When in opposition, the Labour party called for audio interviews and recordings to be extended. There are specific requirements in the Bill which mean that audio-recording should be included. It is not sufficient to say that audio-recording in general is being introduced.
The Bill would introduce the key element of using inferences drawn from an interview and the responses of the accused in the interview as corroborative evidence in court. In those circumstances, it is entirely appropriate to link the gathering of the evidence with the audio recording. That should be done in the Bill through such an amendment, rather than being left simply to a general audio-recording provision, which may or may not be introduced later.
There may be security requirements whereby the Government would want certain parts of an interview, for example those in which the names of informants were revealed, to be kept secret. However, it is not beyond the wit of the courts to excise certain parts of an interview if that has to be done for security reasons. Certainly, there should be ways around that, but it is appropriate that the general tone and gist of the interview from which one is drawing inferences should be made available through the audio-recording system.
Certainly, we are aware that many of the key elements in the famous miscarriage of justice cases about which we all know relate back to the interview, as the research of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South has shown. The interview is critical—the tone and manner of the police officers and the responses of the defendant are critical to those cases. The simple, straightforward way to get rid of such problems is to make the recordings available. That is in the interests of the police force as well as of the defendant, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South said.
873 We hope that the Government will accept that the amendment should be in the Bill and should not merely be put off until such a date as they choose to implement it. We shall certainly support the hon. Member for Sunderland, South if he can give us the tools whereby we can register our vote in the Division Lobby.
§ Ms Abbott
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in favour of this modest amendment. We are discussing the rule of law in the British isles, which requires three things: first, that the public support the forces of law and order; secondly, that those forces carry out their job properly; and, thirdly, that we as legislators set in place the correct legislative framework for the first two to happen. I am not persuaded that the Bill sets out that framework.
Some of my colleagues believe that, in the aftermath of Omagh and because of the public concern, we must push through this legislation and that it is not the details but the spirit behind it that matters. However, the detail of this legislation is crucial. If it is wrong and if implementation goes wrong, we run the risk of creating a new generation of republican martyrs.
I listened carefully to the Home Secretary' s arguments against an earlier amendment concerning the presence of solicitors, but I did not hear him put forward a single argument against their presence. All he had to say was that practice varies in different European Union countries. He did not show why practice should vary in Northern Ireland. I should be grateful if he would give some concrete arguments against tape recording in respect of the amendment.
The way in which the legislation is being pushed through is wrong. Tagging on clauses 5, 6 and 7 is also wrong, and I shall come to that at the appropriate time. I hope that this simple amendment, which would greatly improve this unfortunate legislation, will at least persuade the Home Secretary to offer some concrete arguments in favour of his position.
§ Audrey Wise
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said earlier that he would plead with the Home Secretary to accept the amendments. I echo his wording. I rarely comment on Northern Ireland issues and I do so now with great humility because those issues are complicated. I am not one who thinks that there are easy answers to such issues; nor do I think that it is enough to say, "Civil liberties, civil liberties," and that those are an argument against the sort of legislation that is before us.
I am aware that all liberties are restrained and have limits. There are balances and compromises to be made. I am aware of that and accept it. I also accept that the Government are in a difficult position after Omagh. The Government's handling of Northern Ireland has been brilliant, to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). That is why some of us are so agitated—we do not want that spoilt now.
I am also nervous about commenting on technical issues, but I remember my mother telling me that sound came to the movies in 1930. Yet now I am told that we are in the era of silent videos. The technology is not even expensive. Even I feel competent to make a comment on it. I was thinking of saying that, if we cannot afford it, we should have a whip-round. Anyway, my hon. Friend the 874 Member for Sunderland, South says that it is already there. Capital equipment is lying idle. That does not make economic sense.
There is nothing that my right hon. Friend can say against the amendment. Please, please just accept it. We want to be in the same Lobby, so just accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Straw
I wish that I could, but, for reasons that I shall explain, I cannot. There is no disagreement in principle, certainly among Labour Members, about the desirability of audio interviews during the interrogation of suspects under prevention of terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland. After a lengthy campaign, in which I was not involved—it has to be said that my hon. Friends were not assisted by many Opposition Members in that campaign, either—this House and the other place finally agreed earlier this year, by means of the passage of section 5 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, that there should be audio recordings of police interviews.
That will happen. The only issue—I accept that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) says, it is an important one—is when it should take place. My hon. Friend wants to ensure that the core part of the operation of the first part of the Bill cannot come into force until facilities for the audio-recording of the interrogation of suspects are properly in place. That would be the direct effect of his amendment.
§ Dr. Godman
May I ask my right hon. Friend a couple of practical questions about the use of audio-recorded interviews? Has the RUC published a training manual for its officers concerned with such interviews? Has a code of practice concerning such interviews been published? What kind of training programmes have been implemented for officers who will be engaged in them?
§ Mr. Straw
The answer to my hon. Friend's questions shows why we could not accept the amendment unless we were also ready to accept that the implementation of the Bill could be delayed for some weeks—and we do not believe that it could. By the way, I do not subscribe to the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South that the whole purpose of the Bill will have been and gone before audio-recording is in place. The Bill's purpose will be there so long as there remains a threat—[Interruptionj—a serious threat, from splinter terrorist groups of the kind designated by the Bill. I hope that that time is as short as possible, but none of us with experience of terrorism in Northern Ireland can say how long that will be.
§ Mr. Straw
Of course I shall give way, but I should like to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) first.
Under legislation passed only five months ago by this House and the other place, it was agreed in principle that audio recordings should be in place for the interrogation 875 of suspects under prevention of terrorism legislation—but it was also agreed that a number of steps needed to be taken before that could happen.
One of those steps was that a code of practice should not only be published but come before the House and receive affirmative approval, as well as the approval of the other place. That is often a standard practice when the House wants to ensure that the provisions of a code of practice are comprehensive. Inevitably, that is bound to lead to some delay. It is not possible to achieve that until the House next sits.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde asked about the training manual. Obviously, that will follow the code of practice. There was a third point, which I missed, but I am happy to give way again.
§ Dr. Godman
I asked about a manual, about a code of practice and about training. However, now that the Secretary of State has courteously given way again, may I ask a fourth question? Presumably, there are codes of practice for Scottish police forces, where audio-recorded interviews are commonplace. There must be a code of practice for police forces south of the border, here in England. Presumably, training can be given by those Scottish and English police officers who are expert in this field.
§ Mr. Straw
The RUC is not starting from scratch on that. If that is the point that my hon. Friend is making, he is absolutely right: the RUC has considerable experience.
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) says that, unless we pass amendment No. 27, we shall offend the good will of the people of Northern Ireland. However, one reason why this legislation was not previously approved by the House was the considerable opposition by a substantial section of the community in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Hansard on the emergency provisions debates from November 1997 and earlier this year, he will see that opposition reflected there. People—including the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)—who have played an important role in the peace process had genuine and serious anxieties about the potential abuse of audio recordings if they were introduced into Northern Ireland. That opposition existed for a very long time.
As the Minister of State, Northern Ireland office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), told Standing Committee A, new Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan actually supports the change. It is not an issue of dispute among Parliament, Government and the RUC. My hon. Friend said:The Chief Constable recently said that he no longer considered that audio recording would deter his officers in the pursuit of terrorist crime, and that is his judgment. He did not say that because he wanted to be politically correct, but because he, too, has taken on board the assessments that have been made and the benefits which will flow from the introduction of audio recording."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 25 November 1997; c. 110–11.]The only issue, therefore, is timing. My hon. Friend has made it clear that—
§ Mr. Allan
Does the Secretary of State accept that there is also an issue of principle? An inference will be drawn 876 from the responses given in the interview, and it will be crucial to know whether a suspect grunted, or gave an inarticulate response, or was completely silent. An audio recording is fundamental. A typewritten script of an interview will not reveal its entirety.
§ Mr. Straw
I know that it is not an alternative, but there is already the silent video-recording, which provides important evidence about the conduct of the interview. What the hon. Gentleman says explains why the whole of the House of Commons has accepted that audio recordings are better, but the question before the Committee now—
§ Mr. White
If the amendment is not accepted, some people may be arrested and charged under the Act, and they may lose their defence. Either they will be terrorists who are using arguments to challenge the prosecution's case, or they will be innocent people who have been misunderstood. The amendment would resolve that conflict. It seems to me that we are unnecessarily creating problems for ourselves. That will undermine the principle of this important Bill.
§ Mr. Straw
As I have said, it is not in dispute that it is better if audio recordings are available, and that is the Chief Constable's view—reported by my hon. Friend the Minister.
However, the issue before the Committee is whether we can delay the Bill's implementation until audio recordings are available. The Prime Minister sought, with the Speaker's consent, to have Parliament recalled because we believed that there was an urgent situation, which required urgent changes in the law. We do believe—we would not have sought the recall of Parliament otherwise—that this legislation needs to come into force in the next two or three days, to give the police and the courts the powers that we judge to be necessary.
§ Mr. Straw
No, I wish to proceed.
I do not believe that injustice will arise without my hon. Friend's amendment, for reasons that I have already explained in responding to his earlier amendments—although, of course, it is preferable for audio-recording to be there. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has explained, the original intention—before the need for the 877 Bill arose—was for audio-recording to come into force from 1 January this year. My hon. Friend has explained,and I will repeat the point—
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
On a point of order, Mr. Lord. Is it in order for the Home Secretary to misrepresent the current situation? He has already told the Committee that audio facilities exist in places where evidence is likely to be taken—
§ Mr. Straw
I am not misrepresenting any situation; I am merely trying to explain why, with great sadness, I cannot accept my hon. Friend's amendment, and also to explain that we are taking steps to ensure that audio-recording is introduced as soon as possible and before the date previously marked down for it—1 January.
We are working hard to introduce the draft code of practice, on which there will have to be consultation. The draft code will then have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament as soon as possible within the time frame that has been laid down. We are also seeking to ascertain—my hon. Friend will understand that this has arisen only in the last two or three days—whether the administrative procedures that we can put in place will mimic the code before it becomes law, but once the draft code is available. I shall give hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, further information on that—not today, but as soon as such information becomes available.
I hope that the Committee will accept my explanation of why we cannot accept the amendment, and that we feel sadness and regret; but I hope that the Committee will also accept the determination of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Minister of State and me to ensure that these arrangements are introduced as soon as humanly possible.
§ Mr. Mullin
I do not question the seriousness with which Ministers are pursuing this matter. I know that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have made a little progress even today—and we would not have made that progress if the amendment had not been tabled. I am confident that we can make a little further progress, because I think that the problem lies with the RUC. I accept that the present Chief Constable—the new Chief Constable—is signed up, but I do not think that many of his colleagues necessarily are. There has been great foot-dragging on that matter. The facilities already exist. Audio interviews already take place in Northern Ireland—they just do not happen to take place in terrorist cases. All we are talking about is using the same facilities, and perhaps the same people who do the interviews, in terrorist cases.
Even if those involved are not compelled to do that, there is nothing to prevent them from doing it voluntarily. The police on the mainland have done voluntarily many things that they were not obliged to do by police and criminal evidence legislation. I acknowledge the progress that has been made today, which I welcome. I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for that progress. However, to move things on and to concentrate minds, I wish to put the amendment to the vote.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 43, Noes 199.879
|Division No. 359]||[2.49 am|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)|
|Alan, Richard||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Berth, Rt Hon A J||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Berry, Roger||Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Best, Harold||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Blunt, Crispin||McAllion, John|
|Borrow, David||McDonnell, John|
|Breed, Colin||McNamara, Kevin|
|Burnett, John||McWalter, Tony|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Mullin, Chris|
|Canavan, Dennis||Öpik, Lembit|
|Caton, Martin||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Rendel, David|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Cotter, Brian||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cousins, Jim||Stunell, Andrew|
|Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Webb, Steve|
|Davidson, Ian||Wise, Audrey|
|Fyfe, Maria||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Ann Clwyd and|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Mr. Donald Gorrie.|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Denham, John|
|Alexander, Douglas||Dobbin, Jim|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Barron, Kevin||Doran, Frank|
|Bayley, Hugh||Dowd, Jim|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Edwards, Huw|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Ennis, Jeff|
|Beggs, Roy||Fisher, Mark|
|Betts, Clive||Fitzsimons, Lorna|
|Blizzard, Bob||Flint, Caroline|
|Boateng, Paul||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Foulkes, George|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Gapes, Mike|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Gardiner, Barry|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||George, Bruce (Walsall S)|
|Browne, Desmond||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Goggins, Paul|
|Burden, Richard||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Caborn, Richard||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Cann, Jamie||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Caplin, Ivor||Grocott, Bruce|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Grogan, John|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hanson, David|
|Clelland, David||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Coaker, Vernon||Healey, John|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Cohen, Harry||Heppell, John|
|Coleman, Iain||Hewitt, Ms Patricia|
|Colman, Tony||Home Robertson, John|
|Cooper, Yvette||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Cranston, Ross||Hope, Phil|
|Crausby, David||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Cummings, John||Hoyle, Lindsay|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Darvill, Keith||Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Hurst, Alan|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Illsley, Eric|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Ingram, Adam|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Jamieson, David||Raynsford, Nick|
|Jenkins, Brian||Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Rooney, Terry|
|Jowell, Ms Tessa||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Ross, William (E Lond'y)|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Rowlands, Ted|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Roy, Frank|
|Kidney, David||Ruane, Chris|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Ruddock, Ms Joan|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Savidge, Malcolm|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Sawford, Phil|
|Laxton, Bob||Sheerman, Barry|
|Leslie, Christopher||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Levitt, Tom||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Linton, Martin||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Lock, David||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Love, Andrew||Soley, Clive|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Spellar, John|
|McCabe, Steve||Stevenson, George|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|McNulty, Tony||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|McWilliam, John||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Mandelson, Peter||Stringer, Graham|
|Martlew, Eric||Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Michael, Alun||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Miller, Andrew||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Moffatt, Laura||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Moran, Ms Margaret||Timms, Stephen|
|Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Touhig, Don|
|Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)||Trickett, Jon|
|Mudie, George||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Norris, Dan||Wareing, Robert N|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Watts, David|
|O'Hara, Eddie||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Olner, Bill||Wicks, Malcolm|
|O'Neill, Martin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Organ, Mrs Diana|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Wills, Michael|
|Pearson, Ian||Wilson, Brian|
|Pendry, Tom||Winnick, David|
|Pickthall, Colin||Woolas, Phil|
|Pike, Peter L||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Pond, Chris||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Pope, Greg||Wyatt, Derek|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Purchase, Ken||Mr. Mike Hall and|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Mr. Graham Allen.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 3 am
Mr. Ö pik
I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 24, at end insert—'(6A) If both subsections (3) and (6) apply, the accused shall not be committed for trial in England and Wales, or found to have a case to answer or be convicted, solely on the basis of inferences drawn and statements admitted as evidence under those subsections.'.
The Second Deputy Chairman
With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 17, in page 3, line 7 at end insert— 880() No person shall be convicted of an offence under section (2)(1)(a) above on the basis solely of the cumulative effect of the opinion of a police officer under section 2A(2) acting together with any inference or inferences drawn under section 2A(6)(a).'.No. 33, in clause 2, page 5, line 7, at end insert—() No person shall be convicted of an offence under section 30(1)(a) above on the basis solely of the cumulative effect of the opinion of a police officer under section 30A(2) acting together with any inference or inferences drawn under section 30A(6)(a).'.
§ Mr. Öpik
The purpose of the amendment is to probe a potential anomaly in the Bill. We want to understand whether a combination of subsections will produce a different outcome.
The new section 2A(3) to be inserted by the Bill says:If this subsection applies—(a) the statement shall be admissible as evidence of the matter stated, but(b) the accused shall not be committed for trial in England and Wales, or be found to have a case to answer or be convicted, solely on the basis of the statement.Subsection (6) makes a similar provision, that the accused shall not be found guilty solely on the basis of inferences drawn from a failure to make a statement on the issue.
However, the Bill does not say what should happen if the criteria in both subsections (3) and (6) apply. Is it the Government's intention that an accused should not be found guilty on that double criterion alone? Our assumption is that an individual should not be found guilty solely on the basis of subsections (3) and (6) both applying.
In an interesting and pertinent point, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said earlier that the Bill was not a breakthrough, but an additional opportunity for us to legislate to make it more difficult for terrorists to operate, and a little easier for us to bring them to book. However, if the collective effect of fulfilling the criteria in subsections (3) and (6) entitled the court to find the accused guilty, that would be more than just a reduction in the level of evidence required; it would almost be a change in principle of the barrier between guilt and innocence. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the Government intend such a dramatic change to apply.
We do not intend to push the amendment to a vote, but we should be grateful for clarification from the Minister of what the Government intend should be the collective effect of subsections (3) and (6). If the Minister feels that the amendment would be useful, we should be pleased to hear him express an intention to accept it as it stands, or to take it away and substitute a Government amendment in another place.
§ Mr. McNamara
The amendment standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is somewhat similar to that moved by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), so I do not intend to delay the Committee too long. I merely wish to make the point that it appears, that, on the basis of the information we have and what appears on the face of the Bill, although the fact that a person has exercised the right to silence will not of itself convict, and although the single opinion of a police officer will not of itself convict, both put together will convict. That seems wrong.
881 I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to reconsider their position. I shall not rehearse the Second Reading debate, but the points made then by hon. Members on both sides—some of whom supported my amendment, some of whom did not—expressed grave concern that that combination of factors, without any additional corroboration or evidence, would not only be sufficient to send a person to prison for a considerable time, but might result in him and his family losing their house, their possessions and other assets. It cannot be right that, on the flimsy basis of a policeman's opinion and a person's decision not to make a statement, not only should that person suffer a heavy prison sentence, but so much else should be put at risk.
§ Mr. Ingram
The amendments would prevent an accused person being committed for trial or convicted solely on the basis of the admissible evidence of a police superintendent or more senior officer and an inference drawn, when considering whether the accused is a member of specified organisation, from failure to mention a material fact. Therefore, the amendments would undermine the fundamental thrust of the legislation, which is designed to make it easier to secure conviction for membership of a specified organisation.
The Government have already taken full account of the civil liberty concerns, by ensuring that neither of those two new evidential changes is sufficient on its own. Having done so, they see no reason to make further changes that would reduce the impact of what is proposed.
Hon. Members need to be reminded that nothing in the Bill alters the criminal burden and standard of proof required to obtain convictions. It remains the case that a court would need to be satisfied on the evidence, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accused was guilty of the membership offence. We have introduced specific and targeted measures to try to bring to justice those who belong to specified organisations. The amendments would weaken that, and prevent that objective from being achieved. That goes against the fundamental principles of the legislation, so I urge the Committee to reject the amendments.
§ Mr. Öpik
I am horrified that the Minister is under the impression that we are trying to weaken the legislation. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and I are simply trying to clarify the position. I apologise to the Minister if I have frightened him with my comments.
Is it the Minister's understanding of clause 1 that, if both subsection (3) and subsection (6) were fulfilled, that would mean that the individual was necessarily to be found guilty of the offence; or would the court be entitled to take both those pieces of information and add them to the general deliberations to decide whether or not an individual was to be found guilty and convicted?
§ Mr. Ingram
The hon. Gentleman did not frighten me. I was trying to explain the effect of the amendments, and I saw him nodding as I did so. The two evidential changes could result in a conviction only if the courts so decided. It is not for me or for the Committee to decide. The evidence would be subject to scrutiny either by a Diplock court or by jury courts in the rest of the United Kingdom.
882 If the RUC pressed a case, and the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales or Northern Ireland accepted its arguments, there would have to be a reasonable certainty that a conviction could be obtained, as those involved would realise that otherwise the very principle of what we are trying to achieve could be undermined. The RUC would be sure of its ground before pressing a case.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) rightly referred to the robustness of the legal system in Northern Ireland, and we have full protection in the jurisdictions in Scotland and in England and Wales. It is for the courts, not for me, to decide whether there should be a conviction, but I can say that a conviction could—not necessarily would—happen on the basis of the two elements.
§ Mr. Beith
I want to draw the Committee's attention to the difficulties that could arise if someone who has in the past been involved with, say, the Provisional IRA, has resisted answering questions because he does not want to incriminate himself for his former activities. The evidence of the police officer may not be soundly based, and that person may have failed to answer the questions, not because he is guilty of belonging to a proscribed organisation that has not called a ceasefire. There is a risk that, if the two elements alone are relied on, wrongful convictions will be secured. We hope that the courts will watch carefully for that.
§ Mr. Öpik
We are a little uncomfortable about the provisions. The Minister will have noticed that I nodded with a great deal more sincerity on the second occasion than on the first. I can delight him with the news that I think that his position is entirely clear. We may want to return to the matter, but I thank him for his clarification.
§ Mr. McNamara
What the Minister said is important for the record. He said that the changes could lead to a conviction, but that it is not for him but for the courts to say that they would. We all accept that. We are being told that two flimsy pieces of evidence that are insufficient individually could result in a conviction. I am unhappy that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) is happy to accept that.
§ Mr. Öpik
To clarify the position, we are concerned about the matter, and it may be useful to consider it further, perhaps in another place. At least we have had clarification from the Minister about where he stands on the matter. I have also ascertained from his response that he recognises that someone who meets the two criteria will not necessarily be convicted. That does not go as far as we or the hon. Member for Hull, North would like, not least because the evidence could be flimsy. However, I accept that the issue may need to be further considered, and we do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendments made: No. 61, in page 2, line 46, after `court', insert having belonged'.
§ No.62, in page 2, line 48, after belongs' insert or, as the case may be, belonged'.—[Mr. Ingram.]883 3.15 am
§ Mr. William Ross
I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 3, leave out lines 10 to 12 and insert—'(a) it is listed as a proscribed organisation under the provisions of section 30(2) of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996.
§ The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
With this, it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 34, in clause 2, page 5, leave out lines 10 to 12 and insert—'(a) it is listed as a proscribed organisation under the provisions of section 30(2) of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996.'.
§ Mr. Ross
The amendment's intention is clear. It seeks to replace the provisions in the Bill relating to the legislation that was passed earlier this year with the provisions in the 1996 legislation. It addresses one of the Bill's key defects.
The Bill's scope is limited. It applies to only a small number of terrorist organisations that are presently admitting that they engage in terrorism that is directed at Northern Ireland's constitutional position. The Provisional IRA alleges that it is not so engaged. It is presently milking the agreement for all the political clout that that gives it, but we must not shut our eyes to the fact that PIRA may change its view and its attitude when the milk stops flowing.
To keep PIRA peaceful, or apparently peaceful, the Government have decided to concentrate on the small terrorist organisations that are engaged in a murder campaign. Some earlier comments implied that it was possible to deal with those small groups by security measures, but that such methods should not be used on the larger ones because they have political, intellectual support. If the Government say that it is possible to deal with one organisation by security measures, I cannot understand why Governments did not similarly deal with the major ones over the past 30 years.
The Government ignore the fact that the changes to Northern Ireland's constitutional position that were brought about by the violence of the larger terrorist organisations gained for those organisations the electoral support that they currently enjoy. I—and, I think, most people in Northern Ireland—see no difference whatever in the carefully planned murders of members of the security forces over the years, the murders of Senator Barnhill in Londonderry, of Airey Neave in the precincts of the House or of Ian Gow, who, like Neave, was murdered for the simple reason that he had thought out for Northern Ireland a system of government that would work, or any of the other PIRA murders.
The intention of those murders, and the evil spirit that drove their perpetrators, was exactly the same as the intention behind the Omagh bomb. The intent of the terrorists was to murder people who stood in their way or to terrorise people into doing that which they would not otherwise do. That is the purpose of political terrorism.
The Bill ignores the major terrorist organisation, and, most significantly, it ignores the activities of Sinn Fein-PIRA. It seems to ignore all the murder activities of PIRA that are not sanctioned by the present leadership. The Government seem to be willing to come down with a heavy hand only on the small organizations.
§ Dr. Palmer
We are aware that the hon. Gentleman is not one of those who support the Good Friday agreement, 884 because he feels that agreement with Sinn Fein is undesirable. Does he agree that the amendment is an attempt to pursue his opposition to that agreement by other means?
§ Mr. Ross
Certainly not. It is an attempt to treat all terrorist organisations in exactly the same way. If the hon. Gentleman waits for me to finish my remarks, he will see exactly what I am trying to do.
The Bill applies the criterion of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 rather than that set out in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996. In so doing, it diminishes the number of terrorist organisations that fall within the ambit of the Bill. No truer words have been uttered than those that fell from the lips of Gerry Adams when he said PIRA had not gone away. It has not gone away. It is still there. It still has its organisation, its weaponry, its Semtex and the capacity to engage in massive violence should it so desire. It has no intention of going away until it accomplishes its goal of a united republic of Ireland.
At present, as I said, PIRA is engaged in milking agreements for every drop of influence and power that it can achieve, but some day it may well decide that this agreement has taken it as far as it is possible to go, and at that point there is a danger that it will once again consider violence—either it or a successor organisation. With its structure and weaponry intact, it could rotate from peace to war very quickly indeed. It may not happen, but, given the history of republican violence, prudence should be the order of the day when we are creating this legislation.
I and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) tabled a number of amendments to provide a safety net of measures to meet the possibility of sudden and massive violence from such a quarter. Sadly, only two have been selected, which disappoints me somewhat. The others would have placed on the police rather than the Secretary of State the responsibility of declaring, in court if need be, that an organisation and its individual members were again involved in terrorist violence.
I hope that the fact that the amendment was not selected simply means that the responsible Minister will accept the advice of the police and other security forces, and make that advice a determining factor in deciding whether an organisation is specified as engaged in terrorism should the need arise. I hope that he will be guided solely by that advice, and not by short-term political expediency. It would be atrocious if such advice given by the security forces were to be ignored for such short-term hopes of political gain.
The other amendment not selected, although I thought that it fell well inside the scope of the Bill's long title, would have restored to the statute book the power to intern, a power foolishly removed by the present Administration. That power is much needed, given the demonstration of the IRA's capacity to enforce its decree that the Real IRA should cease its violence. PIRA issued that decree because it considered that the violence was damaging to the Irish republican cause. It said so, simply and clearly, and we should not ignore what it said.
885 Nor should we ignore the words of Mitchel McLaughlin when interviewed shortly after the Omagh bomb. He was asked why he condemned it, and he said that he could not do anything else in the circumstances, or words to that effect. That was a telling interview. If the Minister has not seen it, I advise him to look it up, because it would be instructive, even for him.
The amendments under discussion bring all the terrorist organisations within the ambit of the Bill. In so doing, they perform a valuable service by removing the distinction that has been created in recent months between good terrorists—those terrorist organisations not currently engaged in an active murder campaign for political and constitutional ends—and the bad terrorists, who are. [Interruption.] The Minister may laugh, and his hon. Friends may find that amusing, but the people of Omagh did not find it amusing two weeks ago, and I did not find it amusing over the past 30 years.
If the amendments were accepted, they would allow the Secretary of State to take into account the punishment shootings and the beatings that are the method by which the larger terrorist groups keep control. It is they, not the smaller organisations, that are in charge of their various areas. The other smaller fish swam in the sea created by the Provisional IRA and the Protestant paramilitary organisations in their own ghettos.
If the Secretary of State is eager to discover the extent of the involvement of those groups in such activities, she should inquire of the RUC whether the weapons used in recent punishment shootings in Belfast, one of which ended in the death of the victim, have a history of being used by PIRA. Perhaps she is already aware of the answer. The Minister will know from my remarks that I am aware of the answer. It would be instructive for the Committee if he would tell us the extent of the Government and police knowledge in that regard.
Without the changes that my amendments would accomplish, the Bill will be a dead letter—of that I have no doubt. "Savage assault by a dead sheep" are words that spring to mind. A telling remark to that effect was once passed in the House. That is the most likely outcome of the Bill.
Large sections of the community in Northern Ireland have the impression that the intention is to create an illusion of determined action when none is intended. If the legislation is considered effective, why was it not introduced 30 years ago?
In May this year, I wrote to the Chief Constable and asked him a simple question—whether he could provide me with information about the number of murders committed by terrorists over the past 30 years for which no one had been brought to court. His answer, which arrived in a letter dated 29 July, stated that the total number of murders attributed to terrorists was 2,719. The number of cases in which charges were brought—only those cases where a person or persons were charged with the offence—was 938. The number of cases where no charge was brought—the unsolved murders—was 1,796. Charges were brought in just over 34 per cent. of cases. There may be a few more, as some cases are still in the pipeline.
If the House and the Government are prepared to forget 1,796 murdered people, I can tell those on the Front Bench that the people of Northern Ireland are not. The 886 people who committed most of those murders are those in the Provisional IRA, who are outside the ambit of the Bill. They should be brought firmly within it.
§ Mr. Ingram
I do not think that I will be able to convince the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) of the merits of my argument, and he has not convinced me of the merits of his. We come from entirely different understandings of where we are, where we are going and what we hope to achieve in Northern Ireland. History was mentioned in earlier debates. I do not want to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that he is trapped too much in history. He is not looking towards a new horizon. If we do not begin to look towards those new horizons, we shall never achieve them.
The legislation is specifically targeted. The measures deal with specific organisations: The hon. Gentleman's amendments would make the evidence and inference provisions bite on convictions for membership of all proscribed organisations under the Northern Ireland legislation. He has made that clear. He wants everyone to be included in the legislation. However, his approach ignores all the recent developments, and the substantial and significant statements made in the past 24 hours by Sinn Fein and, by implication, the IRA. That is an important development.
Only time will tell whether those developments have full effect, but we have to give encouragement to such developments, as we have to give encouragement to the so-called loyalist paramilitary groups who are on unequivocal ceasefires in our judgment. We have to make the best judgment—it is a fine judgment at all times, and at all times it is put under close scrutiny. That scrutiny is dependent on the very best intelligence and information made available to us by the Chief Constable of the RUC and the security forces. Those judgments are based on better information than the hon. Gentleman is able to pick up from gossip, rumour and innuendo from other people. Our judgments are based on facts and facts alone. That is what makes a better quality of judgment.
To widen the scope of what we seek to do in the Bill would not be productive in terms of what we are trying to achieve overall in the peace process in which we are engaged. The Bill is a specific, targeted measure. It deals with a particular group that we know about and other specified groups that I mentioned in earlier debates which may be moving into a different frame of activity. If that is the case, it is to be welcomed.
That is why I catalogued in my winding-up speech on Second Reading all the events that had taken place. Most of the events were attributed to the Real IRA. There is a new grouping out there. It is a smaller grouping. It does not have the full support of the wider Republican community. That is clearly the case. Statements have been made to that effect. Gerry Adams certainly supports that view, if we can take those expressions of opinion at face value, and I think that it is right that we do so.
So we have a different landscape to deal with now. We are dealing with a specific group of organisations. If any other group breaks its ceasefire, it moves from its current status to become one of the specified organisations. We will constantly keep that under review.
887 I come back to the earlier point about how long this legislation will prevail. If we go back to the position in which we have been for the past 30 years, it may apply to other groups, and it may be around for some time. We hope not. If we are right, and it is not around for a long time, we shall have succeeded in our objectives with the specified groups referred to in the legislation.
I cannot ask the Committee to accept the amendments. I would prefer it if they were withdrawn, but if not, we shall oppose them.
§ Mr. William Ross
I cannot say that I am disappointed in what the Minister has said. It is perfectly in keeping with the policy that the Government have been following these many months past—in fact, since they came to office—of buying off the Provisional IRA regardless of the unsolved murders.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I rise because the Minister nodded in disagreement with my hon. Friend's comment. The tragedy is that clear cases of breaches of ceasefire even in the past six months have been overlooked. Sometimes those who think that we are living in the past fail to remember that we live in the Province. The fact that the Government are acting on better intelligence than that of which we are aware is not necessarily a correct argument, given that the Government know that people from the Provos have committed heinous offences but have not been brought to justice for various reasons. When one considers the past, one must bear it in mind that it was a Labour Administration who de-proscribed PIRA and allowed it to grow and develop.
§ Mr. Ross
In the light of the Government's attitude, which is not going to help the long-term interests of Northern Ireland or, indeed, of the United Kingdom, and as they are clearly unwilling to accept any sensible point of view, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. The Government will find out eventually that my assessment is correct.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. MacKay
I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 3, leave out lines 24 and 25 and insert—`(b) is not complying in full with the Belfast Agreement (Cmnd 3883)'.This is a probing amendment, but we believe that it would strengthen the Bill. I can say precisely what is behind it. We should now make sure that organisations that are not complying in full with the Belfast agreement are proscribed. We are looking specifically at those that are not co-operating with the decommissioning commission.
It is not good enough for an organisation simply to say that it renounces violence and is operating a ceasefire. We believe that an organisation can renounce violence and operate a ceasefire only when, as it says in the Belfast agreement, it is co-operating with the decommissioning commission and ensuring that the large arsenals of guns and explosives are handed in over a two-year period. Unless that happens, it seems that we have no reason to believe that the paramilitary organisations on both sides of the community divide can be taken at their word when they say that there is a cessation of violence or a ceasefire.
888 We commend the amendment to the Committee. It would strengthen the Bill and would also put further pressure on paramilitary organisations to decommission. As I said on Second Reading, I greatly welcome the announcement—yesterday's announcement, as it is now—that Martin McGuinness had been appointed by Sinn Fein-IRA as its negotiator or co-ordinator with the commission. That is a welcome first stage. We need to see the loyalist paramilitaries doing the same fairly quickly. I know that that is a wish that the Minister and the Prime Minister share. I commend the amendment, although I suspect that we are not going to get much further.
§ Mr. Ingram
We are all watching the clock, as there is very little time on this part of our proceedings. We have covered a wide range of issues in the past three hours, but it is a pity that we have not—
§ It being three hours after the conclusion of proceedings on Second Reading, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order [this day], put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings to be concluded at that hour.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Amendments made: No. 61, in page 2, line 46, after `court' insert 'or jury'.
No. 62, in page 2, line 48, after 'belongs' insert
`or, as the case may be, belonged'.—[Mr. Ingram.]
§ Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.