Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Holt : I find nothing that I have said about the hon. Member for Brent, East offensive.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. It is unacceptable to the Chair and to the House for hon. Members to refer to other hon. Members as a terrorist's friend. I hope that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh will reflect on what he said and will make an apology.

Mr. Holt : I will apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and if you rule that what I said was an unparliamentary remark, I will withdraw that and allow the public to choose.

Column 715

Mr. Hind : When all is considered and the public look at the Bill in the light of what has happened in the Committee, they will note that on Second Reading the Opposition abstained, and many Opposition Members voted against the Bill. Opposition Front Bench spokesmen have said that they support only that part of the Bill that deprives of their funds the bankers and financiers of terrorism. Those who are so cavalier in their attitude to the safety of the British public cannot be regarded as capable of forming a credible Government. I am sure that that will be reflected in the attitude of the British public in future elections.

The British public are entitled to be protected from terrorism, and the Government will provide that protection, and have accepted their duty by truncating the debates on the Bill. After Lockerbie, Enniskillen and many other horrors, the British public will not understand the stance of the Opposition.

4.56 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : It is not altogether clear why the Government have thought fit to introduce the guillotine motion. Had they provided as much time for the later stages of the Bill as for the debate this afternoon, there might have been a perfectly adequate amount of time for consideration of these matters.

I come to the debate with no axe to grind, because the third parties have been largely excluded from the debate. The Committee is not graced by the presence of any of my right hon. or hon. Friends and we would wish to consider, at a later stage of the proceedings, a number of the extremely important matters--some of them new--that the Bill contains. Therefore, we are extremely resentful of the Government's decision to truncate the Report stage and Third Reading and to squash them into a single day. This is a contemptible procedure, and one that we cannot possibly support.

I need not re-emphasise the view of the Democrats that the Bill is necessary, as I made that clear on Second Reading. The Government must have their legislation on the statute book by 21 March, the date when the Act ceases to have effect. The official Opposition appear to be divided about whether the Bill is necessary. The speech of the shadow Leader of the House suggested that the Labour party is opposed to the Bill, and may be opposing the timetable motion in part because of that, but that is not part of our argument.

Our view is that the substance of the Bill has changed since Second Reading. This is the last time, probably for quite some time, that the House will have the opportunity to debate these exceptional provisions, which are required to defeat terrorism. Although it will be necessary, if the Bill is enacted, to re-enact its provisions by affirmative resolution, that will give us the opportunity only to reject or accept the Government's case for the legislation in total, or to respond as the Government give the lead. We shall not have the opportunity to change the content of the legislation by amendment, save where the Government decide to lay such amended revisions before us. This is exceedingly important legislation, and although we are persuaded that it is broadly acceptable, we should have time to test its provisions in full on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green) : I am confused by what the hon. Gentleman said. I appreciate the fact that he believes in the importance of

Column 716

this measure and that it has to complete the parliamentary process by a certain date. However, I am not entirely certain whether the hon. Gentleman resents it being dealt with on the Floor of the House as at present, or whether he would prefer it to be discussed at greater length in a Committee of which neither he nor I am a member and to which, therefore, we could not contribute.

Mr. Maclennan : The hon. Gentleman's intervention was entirely academic, as the Bill has practically completed its Committee Stage. The Leader of the House has made no serious complaint about the way the Bill was debated in Committee. Any objective observer taking the trouble to read the proceedings of the Committee would find that the Bill kept up with the timetable initially announced by the Government.

There was a hiccup when the Government announced that they did not intend to address the question whether a substantive change in the law should be made in response to the finding of the European Court of Human Rights. In that may lie the explanation that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) was seeking, of why the Government have introduced this otherwise wholly unnecessary guillotine.

It is worth recalling the history of the Brogan case because of its impact on the discussions on the Bill. The Home Secretary gave the House to understand in his announcement of 22 December, that, under article 15, he was embarking on a temporary derogation from the provisions of the European convention on human rights. He said that he hoped to introduce a judicial element into the procedure to comply with article 5.3 of the convention. The House waited expectantly to discover the obstacles to achieving that. We are still in the dark. When the Committee resumed on Tuesday 10 January, the Under-Secretary of State read out a letter, which some of us have read. The letter said that the Government did not expect to have reached a conclusion as to how to respond to the Brogan case in time to incorporate any necessary changes in the law before the enactment of the legislation and the Royal Assent. The date for that was given as 21 or 22 March.

Why are the Government delaying their response to the Brogan case? What difficulties have led to this parliamentary interruption of the improperly short deliberations on the Report stage of the legislation? I hope that the Minister will give the House the answer.

When this legislation was introduced, it did not take the Government three months to decide how to act. However, we have been told that it will take more than three months to reach a conclusion on the modest issue of detention for seven days, which the European court found to be a violation of the convention. The Home Secretary is behaving in an unacceptable and dilatory fashion. He may have been unable to carry his Cabinet colleagues with him in preferring the judicial solution. If that is so, we are entitled to know. If someone outside the Government is preventing them from doing what they wish--to introduce a judicial element to review the case of those detained for up to seven days--we are entitled to know.

It has been reported in some parts of the press that some judges have said that they will have no part in it. If that is so, it is serious. If judges are saying that they will not carry out, not only the views of Parliament but the law of Parliament, we are entitled to know. It is unacceptable for

Column 717

the Home Secretary to seek to hush up this constitutional debate by confining the Report and Third Reading to a single parliamentary day.

Will the Minister convey to the Home Secretary the strength of our feeling that this issue should be debated on the Floor of the House. We must know why the Government are not yet ready to report to us. We have been told that it is because of interdepartmental

consultations--my foot! That is not sufficient explanation. These matters can be conducted quickly if the will is there. The Government's willingness to deal with the matter is clearly lacking.

Mr. Mallon : Lest the House be under any misapprehension that discussions have reached stalemate with the judiciary only, hon. Members should be aware that the Army and police are refusing to give their intelligence to that type of judicial review. That is the stumbling block which should be confirmed by the Home Secretary today.

Mr. Maclennan : The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make that speculation. The House will listen with respect to the Home Secretary's explanation. We understand that he is dealing with a difficult security matter but he must give a frank explanation to the House. We have not received any such explanation. Instead, a Bill of profound constitutional importance which continues to curtail our citizens' liberties is being rushed through the House.

[Interruption.] Some Conservative Members would like to sow the seeds of confusion about the attitudes of all Opposition Members. I have already explained our support for the Bill and our belief that it must be re-enacted. That does not diminish the constitutional importance of the measures before us, nor the seriousness of providing internal exile for more than 100 of the citizens of this country. It does not diminish the importance of holding people in detention for up to seven days.

Parliament must scrutinise and justify those matters at every possible opportunity. In future we shall not have an opportunity to amend the legislation, except on a Government motion. That is why we must be given adequate time to consider the Bill properly now. It is even more important to do so because the Government are legislating against the advice of Lord Colville, who disagreed with the way they intended to proceed on one aspect of the Bill.

Mr. Hind : I and many Conservative Members appreciate the hon. Gentleman's support for the Bill. Does he agree that, considering the point made in the European court about judicial supervision of suspected terrorists in detention, it would involve a simple Bill once consultation had taken place? With all-party support, we could get that Bill through the House quickly. Does he also agree that it is important to have widespread consultation with all those involved--as much as anything, to win their support--because they will have to operate the legislation?

Mr. Maclennan : No doubt there are those who, like myself, are willing to enable the Government to pass their legislation as fast as is reasonable, and will do the same if they introduce another Bill. I object to the fact that the Home Secretary is not telling the House what is causing the delay in his response. Why is it that we cannot incorporate the conclusion of the deliberation in the Bill if

Column 718

that proves to be necessary? Surely that would be a far more sensible way in which to proceed. We have had not a whisper of information beyond the fact that discussions are still taking place. Some of us fear that, when the Bill has received Royal Assent, we shall be told that the temporary derogation from the European convention is continuing, and will continue to the point at which it can no longer be regarded as temporary. The United Kingdom's commitment to the European convention on human rights will have then been seriously and unnecessarily weakened.

I recognise that the Labour Government thought it right and necessary to derogate from the convention to deal with Northern Ireland in 1978. It is conceivable that that will have to happen again, but it is not a light matter. It is a step that we should take only in the most exceptional circumstances. I am not persuaded that that can be said of the present circumstances. The Home Secretary has indicated what his preference is. If he intervenes in the debate, I hope that he will reaffirm at least that.

I hope also that he will tell us why it is that the House is having forced upon it a truncated procedure for further consideration of the Bill that is unrelated to anything that the Leader of the House said in his introductory remarks. It is a calumny to suggest that the members of the Committee have been unreasonably delaying progress in Committee. As I am not a member of the Committee, I read the reports of its proceedings with some detachment. I was left with the impression, however, that arguments were being advanced and followed properly, and that the timetable was being kept. The Government must do far better if they are to convince the House that it is right to guillotine the Bill.

5.12 pm

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : The attendance this afternoon exemplifies the fact, as I would describe it, that most hon. Members are sick and tired of the lengthy deliberations that have arisen from terrorism, especially that in Northern Ireland. It is true to say that there is considerable sympathy in the House and throughout the country for the long-suffering Royal Ulster Constabulary, the armed forces and the people of Ulster. The fight against terrorism must be continuous. If we are to fail in Northern Ireland, we shall find ourselves in the position that is being suffered by the people of Beirut. Such a situation in Northern Ireland would spill over into the Republic of Ireland and into Great Britain itself.

I would have expected all-party support for the Bill. It is interesting that, when the Bill began to be considered in Committee, it had the full support of the old hands of the Labour party. It has been said that, after the Christmas recess, the Labour party returned to this place ready to cause obstruction and to slow down the progress of the Bill through Committee. We can draw our own conclusions. Could it be that the new Labour party got at the old Labour party and ensured that the Bill would be delayed by means of inefficiency?

Mr. Sheerman : If the hon. Gentleman reads the report of the proceedings in Committee, he will learn why there was a change in tempo, or a suggested change in tempo, after the Christmas recess. It had everything to do with the Home Secretary's remarks shortly before Christmas, about temporary derogation. When we returned on Tuesday 10 January, we were handed a letter by the

Column 719

Under-Secretary of State. Any change in tempo had everything to do with the Government's lack of reaction to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, and nothing to do with any change in attitude on the part of the Opposition.

Mr. Arnold : The Committee members should have dealt with that issue. The cumulative result, however, was delay, and that has thrown the entire process into danger. The delay was well exemplified by the speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who first made a good case for the Bill but then had to scrape the barrel to find reasons for delay.

Mr. Sheerman : I intervene again to complete the hon. Gentleman's education. He is not a member of the Committee. If he feels so strongly about these matters--I understand that he would not be one of those who has been dragooned by the Government Whips to come into the Chamber to contribute to the debate--and if he examines the relevant issues in detail, he will learn that, if the Committee had sat for a further two hours after 10 o'clock on Thursday 19 January, there would have been no necessity for the introduction of a guillotine motion. If he is aware of that, why has that not coloured his remarks?

Mr. Arnold : If we were able to believe that the debate, which has continued for more than two hours, is about only an additional two hours of discussion in Committee, there would be no problem. It is clear, however, that the problem is far more widespread than that. At best, it can be attributed to the Labour party's knee-jerk reaction of opting for opposition for opposition's sake. That is the best interpretation that can be placed on the Opposition's actions. The worst interpretation is that they reflect the Labour party's failure to stand firmly and solidly with the rest of the House against terrorism.

We are debating the motion with the knowledge that the existing legislation will expire on 21 March. If the Bill does not receive Royal Assent before that date, we shall have once again an influx of identified terrorists to the United Kingdom. Again, the IRA will be fund-raising in the streets of Great Britain and in our pubs and clubs. We should not allow that to happen ; that is why we must proceed quickly with the Bill.

All people in both parts of the United Kingdom would expect a united Parliament to get on with the Bill and to make progress with it. The opposition to the motion seems to be a perfect example of the obscure art of odontopedology, where the Labour party opens its mouth and puts in its foot. When measures of this sort come before the House, why is it that the Labour party has an unerring capability to back losers? Over recent months, we have seen it backing losers time and time again. A Bill of this sort will have the undoubted support of the British people, yet the Labour party seems to be doing so much to delay its passage on to the statute book.

Ms. Mowlam : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we do not have both feet in our mouth when we speak, as he does. The Government control the timetable and they were able to decide when the Bill went into Committee. They could have arranged adequate time for the Bill to be considered in Committee, by the House and by the other place. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government are incapable of doing that, or why they are incompetent?

Column 720

Mr. Arnold : Without a guillotine motion, and assuming the co- operation of all parties within the House, the Bill could be enacted quickly. It is the irresponsibility of the Labour party that has thrown the timetable into doubt and that is why the Government require a guillotine motion. They wish the Bill to meet the time limit that must be placed upon it by the expiry of the current legislation.

As I have said, it is extraordinary that, time and time again, the Labour party seems to be able to back losers. Its obstruction of the progress of the Bill is an example of how it is out of step with the remainder of the country. Only last week, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) proved how the Labour party is out of step with the remainder of the country in its backing of Viraj Mendis--a law breaker, an exam failer and a marriage of convenience contracter. What is more--this is very much opposed by the British people--he is a social security sponger. Yet somehow the Labour party puts itself into the position of backing such a person. A further example is the Labour party's backing of unilateralism, at precisely the time that multilateralism is breaking through. The Labour party has an extraordinary ability to back failures. A perfect example is the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who suddenly decided that he would back capitalism. He reached that decision only a week before black Monday and the collapse of the stock market. That demonstrates his great success in backing winners.

The House must keep up the fight against terrorism. There is a background of terrorist incidents such as the Lockerbie disaster, the terrible events at Enniskillen and the discovery of the Battersea bomb factory. That shows that we must never let up in the fight against terrorism.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned the case of the Libyan embassy and said that he, a terrifically important person, called on the Government to close it. If embassies and high commissions in London are to be closed on the demand of ordinary Members, how many will remain open? How does one judge which embassies should remain open to avoid terrorism? Did the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras call for the closure of the Cuban embassy after the gun incident? He did not say what steps he would have taken after the murder of the policewoman. The killer was not identified. The head of the mission forbade interrogation, as he was entitled to do under diplomatic immunity, but the hon. Member did not tell us how he would have identified the killer or how he would have dealt with him.

It is clear that the united view of the House and the country is that the Bill should be got on with. The Government will keep up the fight against terrorism, without the Opposition's support, if necessary. I most certainly support the motion.

5.20 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) : During the past couple of hours, Conservative Members have treated us to a curious mixture of pomposity, silliness, irrelevance and malice. Terrorism affects everyone. It affects all political parties.

Conservative Members try to tar the Opposition in the eyes of the public by word association, conjuring up names such as Lockerbie, Enniskillen and Libya, and claim that the Conservatives are the only party interested in fighting

Column 721

terrorism. That is appalling nonsense. Just as everybody can remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated, most people can remember where they were when they heard of the Birmingham pub bombing. Hon. Members from the west midlands certainly can. Accusing Opposition Members of being indifferent to people's suffering and unconcerned about terrorism and its consequences is stupid and malicious beyond words. Everybody here wants to eradicate terrorism. The difference arises on the route we should take to achieve that common objective.

The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hinds) said that we have to fight terrorism with every means at our disposal. We must fight terrorism with every means at our disposal within the confines of a democratic system. The Argentine military dealt with terrorism using every means at its disposal and, in so doing, defeated its own objective. We are a democracy. If we descend to the level of our terrorist opponents and use dirty tactics, we deserve to be judged by the same standards.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : Will the hon. Member please reconsider what he has just said? Surely he is not drawing any analogy between my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Government of Argentina.

Mr. George : This subject deserves far more seriousness than that question displays. I would draw a distinction between what the Home Secretary has said and the nonsense that we have heard from behind him. Each Conservative Member who has spoken has exceeded his predecessor in stupidity, which takes some doing.

Mr. Taylor : Answer the question.

Mr. George : There is no need for the hon. Member to wave as though he is about to take off. In no way would I equate the Home Secretary, for whom I have great admiration, with a Fascist dictatorship. If, however, we resort to lunatic tactics to fight terrorism, others might make such a connection. That must be avoided.

The Bill is constitutionally important. In our parliamentary system, the Government have every right to get their legislation through as long as they have a majority. In our parliamentary system, the Oppposition also have rights. With legislation as fundamental as this we, the Opposition, have a right to scrutinise it. The man in the street who comes into the Strangers Gallery and listens to our debate would form the impression that the Opposition team on the Committee are a group of Che Guevaras, Ho-chi Minhs or guerrilla war fighters, and that the Minister was met by a group of violent assassins. That is a travesty of the truth. If such a person believed that there had been an incessant guerrilla war, he should know that it was a short war, as the Bill was introduced only in December and it will be out of Committee in January.

Anybody who reads the reports of the Committee will discover that we are up to our 14th sitting. I do not know how we can be expected to deal with such fundamental, constitutional, security-related legislation in 14 sittings. We are being castigated for having reached only clause 24, but that hardly constitutes an appalling filibuster. We have dealt with the Bill remarkably expeditiously. In addition to our scrutinising the Bill, we have heard the Home Secretary make an important statement. Late in the day,

Column 722

the Government have introduced additional amendments. I feel no shame at being charged with scrutinising legislation. In no way does taking 14 sittings to deal with 24 clauses constitute parliamentary Luddism. We have done our job of scrutiny.

As has been said, at 9.55 pm last Thursday, the Government clearly intended to prevent the Committee from sitting beyond 10 pm. Those who read the report will see that the Government and their supporters voted to finish at 10 pm. The Opposition voted against that proposition. We were quite prepared to carry on. There are only a couple of amendments to deal with. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary should stop muttering, as his attendance of the Committee has not been 100 per cent. He was certainly not present then. We are coming to the end of the Bill. If the Government had had the guts last Thursday to tell their Back Benchers, "Don't go home at 10 pm. Let us stick it out a little longer so that we can finish," we could have finished. The irony is that we are guillotining a Committee stage which has almost ended. We are not guillotining a large chunk of a Bill, merely a salami slice.

The process of guillotining goes back to 1887. It is wrong that the guillotine should be used in this case. I advise hon. Members to read an excellent fact sheet--No. 23--produced by the Library on guillotine motions in the House of Commons. The Library has examined at what stage legislation has previously been guillotined, and how long the Committee stage has continued after a guillotine motion has been passed. Hon. Members will find few occasions when such fundamental legislation has been guillotined after so few sittings.

If anyone is to blame, it is the Government business managers--not the Home Office--who introduced the Bill late and then imposed a deadline which makes a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny. What the hon. Members for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) and for Lancashire, West said does not represent the Committee that I attended.

Ms. Mowlam : Has my hon. Friend noticed that, according to the fact sheet from the Library, the average time for the Government to guillotine a Bill is 86 hours? This Committee has sat for only 52 hours, which gives a firm indication of how irrationally the Government have acted in this case.

Mr. George : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. I made one of the longest speeches, which lasted about 40 minutes and dealt with an amendment on two serious points. Two serious aspects of counter- terrorism were disposed of in that 40 minutes. I would not wish to inflict my speech on many people except as a form of punishment, but if hon. Members care to look at it, they will see that about a third of that time was spent responding to interventions from Tory Members. My speech could have been completed about 20 minutes earlier.

Moreover, the Chairman, who certainly would not permit superfluous, irrelevant and repetitious speeches, had to ask them to let me finish my speech without such frequent interruptions. So there is no evidence of filibustering. If hon. Members make a textual analysis of the speeches, they will see that they were not excessively long. It is not right to argue that the Committee was beset with bad temper. The Opposition were not hellbent on

Column 723

filibustering, but wanted to do a proper job of scrutiny. The Committee was reasonably amicable. The travesty described by Tory Members is not a representation of fact. Anyone who is interested in a serious, objective analysis of what took place in Committee, who reads the unfair and silly speeches of Tory Members and then the Committee reports will come to the conclusion that Committee members made a legitimate expression of parliamentary opposition, as is the role of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, be it the Labour or Tory party.

Terrorism, whether indigenous or international, affects many people adversely. The rise of international terrorism must be contained. The hon. Member for Bury, South has argued that terrorism can be eradicated, but I would rather cite more learned authorities than him. Because weapons are so freely available and so many causes adversely affect so many people, either in reality or imagination, terrorism will be with us in perpetuity. It is nonsense to say that terrorism will be eradicated only by firmness. That is untrue. Even if we could eliminate domestic terrorism, which we cannot, we shall always have to deal with other people's terrorism. The Belgian people have little indigenous terrorism, but they have imported terrorism. It is dreadful to argue that Labour Members are indifferent to the consequences of terrorism. Opposition Members who have spoken hardly represent the militant edge of the Labour party. I resent my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), the former Solicitor-General, being castigated for being soft on terrorism. It is unfair of Tory Members to accuse us of indifference or, as the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) did, of being sympathetic to, and the friends of, terrorists. I am delighted that he withdrew that unfair remark, albeit with bad grace.

Our task in Committee was made more difficult, not so much by our endeavours, as by the timetable restrictions and the lateness in introducing the legislation. It was made even more difficult by the confusion consequent on the proceedings being interrupted by the Home Secretary's interim decision on the European Court of Human Rights' judgment. That the Home Secretary came before the Committee was welcome, but it took up one sitting. It is difficult for us to deal with legislation when the Government's response to an important part of it is suspended until after the Committee has completed its deliberations.

How can we legislate on the prevention of terrorism when the Government say, "Sorry, we can't provide you with adequate information because we have not made up our mind how we shall respond to the human rights judgment"? Our task was made more difficult as too little time was allocated to the Committee.

Tory Members who peruse the proceedings will conclude, as will any fair- minded person, that on 19 January we could have completed our proceedings. The Government for one reason or another did not want that because they wanted to come to the House today and guillotine a Bill that to all intents and purposes had been completed. As has been said, they wanted to show that they were macho and to castigate us for indifference to terrorism. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West has cited often quotes from "Alice in Wonderland". I add another--that if one shuts one's eyes and says something three times, it must be true.

Column 724

Conservative Members may think that, if they point a finger at us and say that Labour Members do not care about terrorism, some people may believe it.

In some ways we do great damage to our cause by causing confusion--

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : The hon. Gentleman invited the House to study the Committee proceedings. I notice that on Thursday 19 January, the very day he has mentioned, he made a speech in excess of three quarters of an hour on one small point. Can he justify that not being a filibuster?

Mr. George : If the hon. Gentleman had been here and awake five minutes ago, he would have heard me explain that. Either his attention span is short, he was sleeping or he was absent. If he was not present, he should not point the finger at me when I have the right explanation. For his benefit, I repeat that much of the time was spent on responding to silly interventions from Tory Members who for one reason or another wished to conclude proceedings at 10 o'clock by filibustering, yet we are being accused of filibustering. My second point was that the amendment dealt with two fundamentally important elements to counter terrorism and that to spend 45 minutes on them was do do them less than justice. Furthermore, I had the protection of the Chairman, who told Tory Members to let me finish my speech because it was unfair to make so many interventions.

Mr. Sheerman : My I assist my hon. Friend? May I draw his attention to column 691 of the last sitting of the Committee, when a further two hours would have seen the end of the proceedings and the Chairman had to reprimand Tory Back Benchers and upbraid them because they did not wish to make progress? If the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) wishes to make a serious point about the longest speech, which was only 40 minutes on an important point, surely he should take into account the Chairman's criticism of Government Back Benchers.

Mr. George : I welcome that intervention.

We must combat terrorism by the means at our disposal, in conjunction with our friends and allies abroad. That can be done through legislation-- through more normal, ordinary legislation. If we can only re-create a degree of consensus we may succeed, but the task of achieving more harmony is not likely to be advanced by speeches such as we have heard from Conservative Members.

Everyone present today wants domestic and international harmony, which would allow people to lead the lives they deserve. We all agree on the goal, although there are differences between us. I hope that Conservative Members will have the good grace to realise that there are other ways of proceeding. I trust that not all of them feel affinity or sympathy with the motion. In fact, hardly anyone whom I have come across fits the caricature that has been described this evening.

I also hope that those who are impartial--I exclude the overwhelming majority of Conservative Members from this accusation--will conclude that the Committee stage need not have been guillotined unless the Government wished to guillotine it. When we proceed with the Bill tomorrow, if there is to be any prolongation--which I hope there will not--it may be as a result of formal

Column 725

guillotining. If the Government had let the Committee reach its natural conclusion, this slot in today's proceedings could have been used to deal with matters infinitely more important than allowing Conservative Members a glow of pleasure from making the emotional and rather silly speeches to which we have been subjected.

5.41 pm

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : I wish to speak because I feel that my constituents would be rather concerned if they thought that there was any danger of the Bill not reaching the statute book within the time necessary, and thus not clearing the House by the end of this month. We are debating a timetable motion, but on occasions during the debate that seems to have slipped the minds of some hon. Members. I thank the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) for clarifying his statement, because I felt that he was verging on the extremism of which he was accusing Conservative Members when he made certain allegations affecting my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. A timetable motion should not have been neccessary. It should have been apparent to both sides of the House that this was a vital piece of legislation. I have not had time to look through the reports of all the sittings and, given the way in which these things work, I am sure that not every member of the Committee has listened to every word. I have noted, however, that there were 14 sittings, making 19 sessions. A quick perusal of the documentation suggests that Opposition Members' speeches did not always feature conciseness of thought, and that has contributed to the concern that has forced my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to bring forward the motion.

The problem is not that any member of the Committee is irresponsible. I am sure that Opposition Members are upright and clear about the need to combat terrorism. Some, at least, of their remarks are concise, and no doubt their approach to the legislation is responsible. I am sure that they share the views of a former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who said, when discussing the introduction of an earlier Bill to deal with terrorism :

"Unpleasant as are the powers contained in the Act, they are, in my view, necessary in order to prevent the far more serious consequences of terrorist violence."--[ Official Report, 21 March 1979 ; Vol. 964, c. 1520.]

Opposition Members who take that view will, I am sure, be aware that some of their colleagues are not so responsible. They are, I am afraid, extremely confused. I happened to notice that last year the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said : "Conservative Members uphold the Act year after year when innocent people are being terrorised."--[ Official Report, 16 February 1988 ; Vol. 127, c. 942.]

That shows not just confusion, but severe confusion, about whom the Bill is trying to protect. It is trying to protect innocent citizens of the United Kingdom, and doing so, as the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South said, means that there must be tough provisions. To take the view that those provisions are causing unnecessary hardship to suspected terrorists seems perverse in the extreme.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr.

Column 726

Flannery) is not in the Chamber at present, but he was present a little earlier. Did the hon. Gentleman give to my hon. Friend that he intended to refer to him and attack what he had said? My hon. Friend may have an answer to what the hon. Gentleman has said. He may have been talking about people who are not suspected terrorists, but have been held for some time and then released. That has happened, after all.

Mr. Taylor : I note the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I would have hoped that the hon. Member for Hillsborough would continue to listen to the debate with the same interest that I have shown. If he feels that I have misquoted him on 16 February 1988--I have his speech before me--I am sure that he knows what he can do to rectify that.

Mr. Heffer : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have always known it to happen in the House--until now, apparently--that hon. Members who are about to refer to, or attack, other hon. Members give them notice. It seems that in the last few years Conservative Members have dispensed with that practice. I think it worth while for us to be told if we are to be attacked, and thus to have the opportunity to be present and at least try to answer or express a view. If that is now not the practice of Conservative Members, it means that they have sunk even lower than I thought.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have the hon. Gentleman's point. If one hon. Gentleman is going to refer to another, it is normally common courtesy to inform him.

Mr. Sumberg : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) may have been referring to me. In my speech, I referred at some length to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I did not tell him that I was going to do so because I had expected him to be in the Chamber for the whole debate, which I thought was not an unreasonable assumption.

Madam Deputy Speaker : I think that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was referring to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor), who now has the Floor.

Mr. Taylor : I am grateful to you for your reasonableness, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have no desire to attack any hon. Member who is not present ; I would rather attack hon. Members--if "attack" is the word--when they are present. As I have sat through the whole debate, I was not able to notify the hon. Member for Hillsborough that I wished to quote him. I hoped that he would stay in his place.

I am sure that Opposition members of the Committee will be responsible. I note that the timetable motion allows a further sitting of the Committee on 24 January which can continue until 11 pm, so that there will be no restraint on the way in which Opposition Members debate the two extra new clauses which they have said are so important to them. Judging by past performance and speeches in this House, some of their hon. Friends are less responsible on these matters, so the timetable motion is important because it also has a bearing on Report and Third Reading. It is at that stage when, I am afraid, the normal channels to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the

Column 727

House referred could be found to be less than reliable. If that were so, there is a grave danger that the House would not proceed in an orderly way with its business before the end of the month. In those circumstances, the Bill would fall foul of the date of 22 March, which would be outrageous.

My constituents and the constituents of my hon. Friends would justifiably feel that our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had not acted promptly enough if he was not able to push the business through by the end of this month. For those reasons, I entirely accept that a guillotine motion is needed. It will enable the Bill to take its course by the end of this month, with sufficient time, still, for reasoned argument and--as the hon. Member for Walsall, South said was necessary--for a proper scrutiny in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading.

People in the United Kingdom do not want the police to be handicapped in fighting terrorism. They do not want terrorist organisations to be free to operate. The Government cannot afford to wait for terrorist crime to be committed before bringing in legislation. I do not think that anyone would dispute that there are controversial provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. There are many provisions which hon. Members on this side of the House would have preferred not to be introduced had they not been so necessary. We are dealing, however, with a highly charged situation. The people in Northern Ireland and on this mainland, who would be affected, would not understand it if legislation was not in place. The risks for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be too great if there were any signs of the sort of extremism in certain quarters of the Labour party frustrating the Bill's passage through the House. In those circumstances, I entirely support my right hon. Friend's action and I ask the House to do so tonight.

5.52 pm

Next Section

  Home Page