Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

Session 2005-06 / PN No. 44


The Commons Home Affairs Committee publishes their report into Terrorism Detention Powers today, Monday 3 July 2006.

The Committee consider that the nature of the terrorist threat to the UK has changed, with a number of consequences for police work. There are an increasing number of cases where arrest comes earlier than usual, because the arrests are primarily intended to protect the public by disrupting and preventing terrorist activity. Therefore, it may be necessary to detain people for longer while an investigation continues. But this preventative element of detention is a significant new legal development which was not given clear and explicit recognition in the Bill. Any legislation should recognise this important new purpose of pre-charge detention.

The Committee is also clear that there should be appropriate judicial oversight when arrests are made under the Terrorism Act, both to enable proper independent consideration to be given where an arrest is to be made for its disruptive and preventative value, and to provide for a continual reassessment of whether alternative methods, such as tagging and control orders, would be appropriate.

The Committee say they would have expected the case for 90 day detention to be better made by the police, and while it is reasonable for the Government to rely on police advice in such matters, it is unsatisfactory that the case was not critically challenged.

The Committee conclude that none of the evidence it reviewed would justify a maximum detention period longer than 28 days, but it is possible that there will be cases in the future that do provide that justification.

The process of the Terrorism Bill through Parliament was divisive and many of the difficulties the Government experienced arose from the speed with which the Bill was drafted and presented. It may be necessary to extend the maximum pre-charge detention period again, and it would be unacceptable for this to be done through secondary legislation. The Committee suggests an independent committee, possibly modelled on the Newton Committee of Privy Counsellors, to keep the maximum detention period under annual review and advise Government.

The Committee also considers some of the alternatives to longer detention. It states that the use of intercept evidence has universal support outside Government, and assumes it will now be recommended. There will be cases where preventative measures are necessary but a charge is not possible. The Committee believes that the use of control orders, tagging and bail to disrupt terrorist conspiracies and protect the public should be considered at every stage of the process of judicial oversight of arrest and detention.

John Denham MP, Chairman of the Committee, said: "In this case, my Committee's inquiry has done the job of examining the arguments for extended detention that should have been done before the Terrorism Bill was introduced.

"We are convinced that the nature of the threat has changed, and so therefore has the response. Earlier arrest, which means longer detention, is serving an important new function in disrupting and preventing terrorism. However, on an issue like this, the trust and confidence of the public and the Muslim community specifically is absolutely crucial, we cannot afford divisive arguments. Any new legislation should not propose longer than 28 days detention unless the evidence is compelling, and we propose a new independent body to keep this under review."

Notes to editors:
1. This is the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2005-06, HC 910.
2. Media enquiries or bids for the Chairman John Denham please contact Jessica Bridges Palmer, tel 020 7219 0724 / 07917 488 447 (24hrs), email: bridgespalmerj@parliament.uk

The Committee membership is as follows:
Rt Hon John Denham (Chairman) (Lab) (Southampton Itchen)
Mr Richard Benyon (Con) (Newbury)
Mr Jeremy Browne (Lib Dem) (Taunton)
Mr James Clappison (Con) (Hertsmere)
Mrs Ann Cryer (Lab) (Keighley)
Mrs Janet Dean (Lab) (Burton)
Mr Shahid Malik (Lab) (Dewsbury)
Margaret Moran (Lab) (Luton South)
Gwyn Prosser (Lab) (Dover)
Bob Russell (Lib Dem) (Colchester)
Martin Salter (Lab) (Reading West)
Mr Richard Spring (Con) (West Suffolk)
Mr Gary Streeter (Con) (South West Devon)
Mr David Winnick (Lab) (Walsall North

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