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Column 362Ministers and to Parliament to coincide with the time, which we all hope will come, when it is judged that peace in Northern Ireland is permanent.
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) rose --
The Secretary of State made some heavy weather of there being no question meanwhile of dismantling the security apparatus. There is no question on the Labour Benches either of dismantling the security apparatus.
Mr. Howard rose --
Mr. Howard: I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's somewhat convoluted argument, but I am having considerable difficulty in doing so. The hon. Gentleman concedes that lasting peace is not a certainty. There is a difference between us as to when there should be the fundamental review to which he referred, but the House is concerned with whether these powers should be renewed now, in the existing situation. If the hon. Gentleman accepts the uncertainty and if, as he said a moment ago, the existing security apparatus with the powers that sustain it should not be dismantled, why cannot he agree with Mr. Rowe, who said that the whole Act is needed now? Why cannot he agree with the Government, and why cannot his party vote with us in the Lobby this evening?
Mr. Straw: By his attitude, the Secretary of State has just explained the reason. He knows that we sought a bipartisan agreement, not on the suspension of the powers but on the establishment of a fundamental review. We had no interest in playing party politics on this issue. I hope and believe that the Secretary of State does not either. It is interesting, however, that, for the first time in my recollection, he has used the term and acknowledged the need for a fundamental review.
I dealt with the issue of the vote in my opening remarks and in answer to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). This is a take-it -or-leave-it order. The only way in which we can express not only our opposition to exclusion orders as they currently operate and the fact that the Secretary of State, as I shall explain, is unwilling to suspend their future use, but our reservations about the decisions on the extension of detention and, above all, the Secretary of State's failure, which I continue to fail to understand, to establish a fundamental review which will be without prejudice to the operation of those powers, is by voting against the order. Mr. Howard rose --
Mr. Day: I find it difficult to accept that the hon. Gentleman mentions that in future we may recognise a permanent peace. Does he agree that the only real sign of a permanent peace is when terrorists hand over their weapons and that, until then, there cannot be real peace, only the hope of it? Given that scenario and the fact that we certainly cannot describe the present situation as permanent peace, why will not the hon. Gentleman ensure
Column 363that the powers to contain the threat of a return to terrorism are available to the Government of the day if they needed them?
Mr. Straw: I have just dealt with that. As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was explaining, I think yesterday, the issue of how one judges a permanent peace is slightly more complicated than the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying--I hope that I understand it correctly--that the only issue between him and the Government is the timing, and perhaps the nature, of the review. He also complains that the order is a take-it-or-leave-it order, but there is absolutely nothing in it about a review. So if the only difference between the hon. Gentleman and the Government is the review, why does he not vote for the order, which provides the powers that the police, the security service and Mr. Rowe say are needed if we are to keep up our guard?
Mr. Straw: That is about the poorest argument I have ever heard the Secretary of State come out with. I have answered it once already, but I am happy to answer it again. This is a take-it-or-leave-it order, and our concerns should come as no surprise to the Home Secretary because he has known of them for several weeks. If he is anxious to assist us not to vote against the order, he could bring forward what, from what he has let slip this afternoon, is evidently in his mind--the fundamental review, which I suspect he will announce in a shorter rather than a longer time.
I shall now deal with two specific issues that concern us--exclusion orders and extensions of detention. I welcome the Home Secretary's revoking of the 16 exclusion orders. One of the reasons why we believe that a fundamental review is necessary is that, the last time the case for them was examined in such a review, by Lord Colville in 1987, he found that case wholly wanting.
I have given the matter as much attention as I can, and I acknowledge the strong views of those directly involved in the fight against terrorism about the need to maintain exclusion orders. I think that the Home Secretary will accept, however, that those views can never be overriding. Politicians, such as Ministers and Members of the House, must make wider judgments.
Lord Colville looked most carefully at the balance to be struck between the practical case for exclusion orders made by people in the security forces, and such orders' collision with basic liberties. He said:
"This power is the most draconian in the present Act. It is only applicable to Irish terrorism".
Lord Colville had previously explained:
"I have to agree that it is probably an effective way of getting rid of people from an area where otherwise they might cause great trouble; that it disrupts terrorist lines of communication and supply of arms, ammunition and explosives. However I am not convinced that the ends justify these means. I renew my recommendation . . . that Part II of the Act relating to exclusion orders should not be renewed . . . or not replaced in the new Bill . . . I recognise that the alternative is a hard decision, but I express the view that it would be the correct one both in terms of civil rights in the United Kingdom and this country's reputation in that respect among the International Community".
Column 364That is absolutely right. We accepted that view in 1987, and we accept it now. What lies behind it is the fact that exclusion orders apply only to people from Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) said, that is one reason why the Ulster Unionists have always opposed them, too.
We note with great approval that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, ahead of the Home Secretary's announcement today, has already announced the lifting of all orders in Northern Ireland. Lord Colville criticised what he described as the burden and the heavy work load that exclusion orders imposed on the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the armed forces in Northern Ireland.
If the peace process continues positively, it is improbable that either the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will use the power in future. We therefore believe that, pending the outcome of the fundamental review that we seek, future use of exclusion orders--de novo use--should be suspended by means of section 27 provisions.
The Secretary of State said that that was all right, but that under section 27(7)(b) there would be a period of 24 hours before the use of exclusion orders could be invoked. In fact, the period is probably shorter than that, but the Secretary of State knows that, given the other powers of detention- -we do not suggest that those should be put on ice at this stage--if the security situation changed radically, even if he had exercised his power to put the future use of exclusion orders on ice under section 27, in practice the power could be restored at a moment's notice, first by the use of the powers to detain a person against whom a potential exclusion order was to be made and then, when the order had been laid, as it could be, as a matter of urgency, by the use of the order itself.
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman has answered a question that I did not ask him. Will he now answer the question that I asked him in my speech? I said that, if the powers to make exclusion orders were removed, no action could be taken in respect of known terrorists who might want to cross into Great Britain in advance of a resumption of terrorism. If one waited until the point that the hon. Gentleman seems to think appropriate, it might be too late. That is why I said that we had to continue with the powers. Unless we did, we would not be able to keep in place any of the existing exclusion orders--those that I have retained after the review of that I undertook. They would all have to go. That is the question that I put to the hon. Gentleman earlier. May we have an answer to it?
Mr. Straw: The Secretary of State is making enormously heavy weather of what is really a simple issue. Either he intends to continue to make future use of exclusion orders, which seems to collide with the peace process, at least while there is a great possibility of a permanent peace, or he does not. If the power to make exclusion orders were put on ice, what would really happen? The Home Secretary has gone to great lengths to quote Mr. John Rowe's report, and Mr. Rowe drew attention to the fact that the power could be used at some stage in the 12 months following his report-- that would now mean during the next nine months. If the security situation
Column 365deteriorated, as the right hon. Gentleman appears to suggest it may, there is no reason why the power could not be re -established quickly.
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith): I do not think that the Home Secretary is aware of the history here. There was a time, especially in the early 1980s, when the argument against the extended use of the security services, including MI5, which was being considered as an alternative to exclusion orders, was always that the security services were stretched too far. That is one of the big changes since that time.
The security services are no longer overstretched, because of the collapse of the cold war and the changed security situation in Northern Ireland. The Home Secretary himself admitted that there were only 40 people whose movements interested him in connection with exclusion orders. The preference would be to use the security services as they ought to be used and as they are prepared to be used, rather than using internal exile.
I shall now deal briefly with extensions of detention. One of the features of democratic societies is that decisions to detain people are made judicially, by a process separate from the role of Ministers and politicians. On Monday, the House re-emphasised its commitment to the need for such a separation of powers, when it agreed without a vote to remove Ministers' discretion on miscarriages of justice and to transfer it to an independent criminal cases review commission. However, under the legislation before us decisions to extend detention are made by Ministers. In our judgment, that is inherently unsatisfactory, as was recognised by the present Foreign Secretary who said in 1989, when he was Home Secretary:
"We continue to look for a judicial mechanism".--[ Official Report , 30 January 1989; Vol. 146, c. 65.]
Last year, the Home Secretary said that that search had been in vain.
I accept that this is not an easy area, and I have read in detail the views of John Rowe and of Viscount Colville in last year's debate on the PTA renewal in the other place. However, there are other examples within our common law system in which a judge effectively makes a judicial decision even though not all the evidence, or even any of it, can be shown to the defendant. Ex parte applications to protect the disclosure of certain unused prosecution evidence provide one example. Another arises when the question is whether public interest immunity should apply to evidence. I do not believe that such a mechanism would be impossible to draw on if the will were there.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) was right to say that one of the reasons why this country has got into difficulty with the international courts is not that we treat terrorist suspects worse than other countries do. Despite our reservations about some aspects of the legislation, there is ample evidence to suggest that we treat terrorist suspects better than other comparable countries do.
We get into difficulties because Ministers are involved in decisions on detention, whereas in other countries--those with civil law procedures--a magistrate or some other detached person in the judicial system makes those
Column 366decisions. That is one of the practical reasons why we should continue to search for a judicial element in extensions of detention and elsewhere within the scheme of the Bill.
For the past 25 years, the people of the north of Ireland have had to live with the ever-present dangers of political violence. Two Members of the House--Airey Neave and Ian Gow--have been murdered by terrorists.
All Northern Ireland politicians have lived through periods of mortal danger. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) still carries the scars to prove that. We can neither forgive nor forget the terrible and brutal atrocities which have scarred our society. But we also have an obligation to do all in our power to stop those atrocities from happening again.
In the changed circumstances of a sustained ceasefire, now is the time to review precisely what anti-terrorist legislation we need. That would not undermine the fight against terrorism but strengthen it by ensuring that the powers needed for that fight are proportionate to the threat and that they enjoy the consent and understanding of the public of the United Kingdom. Labour wants a bipartisan approach in this area. I greatly regret that the Government have not accepted our proposals to achieve the consensus that we seek. It is for that reason--and for that reason alone-- that we will express our regret in the Lobby tonight.
Several hon. Members rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the debate continues, I must point out that many hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that hon. Members will exercise self-restraint regarding the length of their speeches, so that no one is disappointed in this very important debate.
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): I listened carefully to the precisely constructed arguments of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), but nothing he said detracts from my conclusion that it would be irresponsible and indefensible to do anything other than support the renewal of the provisions.
I think that the hon. Gentleman makes two mistakes. First, he gives inadequate attention to the comprehensive and convincing arguments put forward by Mr. John Rowe for renewal. I do not believe that I have read an independent annual report which so convincingly put forward the argument for renewal since the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act came into being.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that he does not like the powers of detention and the exclusion orders. I respect that, but he makes an entirely false deduction from that premise, and says that, because of that dislike, he and his right hon. and hon. Friends must go into the Opposition Lobby tonight. That is not the case. There is an alternative.
The Opposition could say that the overriding interest of the country is to maintain the fight against terrorism. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues can put on record to this House, the media and the country their opposition to two significant aspects of the measures. They can
Column 367nevertheless say that, despite their opposition to those points, the importance of having the means to fight terrorism is so overriding that they will vote with the Government. I suspect that, if the Opposition did that, they might conceivably find that they were not 40 points ahead in the opinion polls, but 42 points. They may feel, however, that they do not need that additional luxury. There are a number of reasons why we should renew the provisions. The first is entirely related to Northern Ireland, and Mr. Rowe rightly made much of that. He reported that there remains
"a very real threat of terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland".
He pointed out that
"activity by terrorist groups has not stopped",
and referred to assaults, intimidation, robberies, extortion, racketeering, money-collecting, the possession of firearms and explosives and the Irish National Liberation Army's continued reluctance to renounce what it regards as an armed struggle. On Northern Ireland issues alone, there is sufficient justification for the renewal of the measures.
The second reason why the House would be mistaken to do anything other than support renewal relates to international terrorism. It is very often overlooked that, although the genesis of the measures lay with the Birmingham atrocity and a number of other acts thereafter, the United Kingdom remains a focal point for visitors from many nations who have brought to London in particular their own factional interests and who fight their own factional battles.
Last year, only one non-Irish foreign national was arrested under the PTA, but that was an exception. The average figure during the previous 10 years was 33, and the peak year was 1984, when 73 foreign nationals were arrested under the PTA. We must accept that international terrorism continues to be a real threat, and Mr. Rowe rightly drew attention to that. There is justification for the continuation of the Act on the grounds of international terrorism as well.
The third reason why it would irresponsible not to renew the measures is simply--as Mr. Rowe pointed out--that the powers are needed and working. On proscribing, Mr. Row wrote:
"In all circumstances it is clear that this part of the Act is needed".
On exclusion orders, he wrote:
"There is value in the exclusion order preventing terrorism . . . this part of the Act should be continued".
On terrorist funding, he wrote:
"These powers of PTA are necessary".
On arrest and extension he wrote:
"There is a continuing need for the power of arrest under section 14, and the power of extension of detention".
Mr. Rowe's conclusion--to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary drew attention in his remarks--is:
"PTA should be renewed, with every Part as at present enacted." The last reason why we should renew the powers is not insignificant. The police who were on the front line of the fight against terrorism have been found to be using the powers fairly, and they wish them to continue. The House would need a very good reason to deny them those powers, and I for one cannot see what those reasons are.
Column 368On the grounds that I have outlined, there is a compelling argument for doing nothing other than renewing the provisions.
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan): I am grateful to have caught your eye so early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I take note of what you said and I shall try to contain my remarks and be as brief as possible, as I know that other Members want to speak.
I have a vivid memory of being a young Member of Parliament 21 years ago in the Chamber and of being told of the awful atrocity that had occurred at Birmingham. The deaths of those innocent young people on the mainland of Britain was a tragedy, although I realise that similar events had occurred in Northern Ireland for a good deal longer. The response of the House 21 years ago to that event was fairly predictable. All of us were shocked, and the House represented the anger that was felt through the whole of the United Kingdom about that atrocity. Therefore, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was born. I was present in the Chamber for not all, but part, of the 36 hours it took the House to pass that legislation, and it was placed on the statute book 21 years ago. We passed it because of the feelings which we had at the time about the appalling violence of the IRA. I well remember listening to what I would consider to be the finest speech I ever heard in this Chamber, from Brian Walden, the then Labour Member for Birmingham, Ladywood. It is a great pity that we did not have the cameras in the Chamber on that occasion, so people could go back to look at that speech. All we have instead is the cold print of Hansard .
That was the time when the Act was born. I voted for it, and I continued to vote for its renewal for a number of years thereafter. But, as time went by, I, and my party, began to realise that the draconian powers--those are not my words, but words used by people who have reviewed this legislation-- contained in the Act were becoming unsustainable. The erosion of people's civil liberties and human rights, which are clearly contained in the Act, can no longer be sustained.
The Act has undoubtedly produced a very corrosive atmosphere in certain parts of the country and in certain communities. It has been counter- productive to its original intent because it has not prevented terrorism in any shape or form. Because of its draconian powers, it has damaged Britain's standing with the rest of the world. We introduced the measure 21 years ago and the Home Secretary is asking the House to renew it for a further year. Is it not a bitter irony that this Act has come of age during the time of peace in Northern Ireland?
The Government have always said that there is no such person as a political prisoner in the United Kingdom and I agree but, with hindsight, the provisions of the Act have run contrary to that belief. The Act has enhanced the status of prisoners because, as the Home Secretary said, the Government have had to apply for a derogation from the European court, which basically means that we are in a state of war. If that does not enhance their status, I do not know what does.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said that there appears to be some difference between the way in which the Home Secretary has operated the
Column 369provisions of the PTA and the way in which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has operated the emergency provisions Act. The justification for continuation of the PTA is the possibility that paramilitaries may go back to the gun if peace breaks down in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) gave the figures earlier. In 1994, only one person was detained under the category of international terrorism, but 1,509 other people were detained under the provisions--I think that that is the right figure--in Northern Ireland and the mainland of the United Kingdom, and nearly 80 per cent. were released without charge. It is difficult to interpret those figures to mean anything other than that the PTA is seen as an anti-Irish Act, and it is seen as such by the vast majority of law-abiding Irish citizens in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary has spelt out the justification for the Act and its renewal. The problem with the PTA, from the perspective of the principle of equality under the law, is that, whatever the Home Secretary or any of his successors or predecessors might say, the prisoners have been treated under a legal system that has not applied to ordinary criminals. They have been given a special category and denied the normal rights given to ordinary people in custody and on charge. The state has been seeking the benefit of the odious label, without accepting the need to extend to those suspects the procedural safeguards that are routinely available to non- paramilitary defendants.
The PTA has created special criminal offences for subversives and it gives the Executive wide powers of arrest, detention and exclusion of terrorist suspects, while claiming that they are just ordinary criminals. That is the paradox of the Government's thinking. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said, it is a pity that there can be no cross-party consensus on the matter. We believe that anti-terrorist legislation is required, and it is a pity that the Home Secretary did not take up the offer of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, because consensus is necessary.
In the past, because of the attitude that the Opposition take, it has been said that Labour is soft on terrorism. I resent that remark. Everyone who has had responsibility for Northern Ireland, as I did for six years on the Opposition Front Bench, has condemned the IRA and other paramilitaries for the atrocities that they have committed--as has every other hon. Member in this House, especially those representing Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and I--with some risk to my life--have never ceased in our condemnation of the IRA, so I will not take lessons from anyone who suggests that we are soft on terrorism simply because we disagree with the way in which the PTA has been used.
We are debating the renewal of the legislation at a time of peace in Northern Ireland. I was in Belfast and Derry during Christmas week and there was a palpable sense of relief among the ordinary people. Christmas week--a joyous week, when we all celebrate the birth of Jesus--and the people of Northern Ireland were enjoying the freedoms that everyone in this Chamber has come to accept as commonplace, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said. I hope and pray that the peace will
Column 370continue and that the renewal of the Act will not destabilise the peace process, but I certainly do not think that it will necessarily help it.
Mention was made of exclusion orders and the Home Secretary will be aware that last year I raised the case of John Matthews, a young man from Derry who had been taken in under the PTA. He was in a high security gaol for three months and was brought before a stipendiary magistrate. The prosecuting authorities told the magistrate that they were withdrawing all the evidence against him and the magistrate said, "You may leave this court without a stain on your character," which he did. Five minutes later, he was re-arrested and the Secretary of State signed an exclusion order. Even to this day, Mr. Matthews does not know the reason.
If the boy were guilty of any offence, he should have been tried and brought to justice in the proper way. He should not have been excluded in that way. John Matthews is in Altnagelvin hospital having his wisdom teeth removed. I hope that some of that wisdom will flow around the Secretary of State for the Home Department in future when he considers exclusion orders.
Finally, I saw an interesting piece of news on the tapes yesterday, which read:
"The IRA ceasefire has allowed police in London to boost operations against other criminals, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said today. Hundreds of officers who would otherwise be deployed countering the threat of random terrorism attacks were now working in other areas, said Sir Paul Condon . . . He was commenting at the launch of the Metropolitan Police Service's first police plan, which, in a reflection of the IRA ceasefire, does not list counter terrorism amongst its top priorities."
Those were the words of the chief of the biggest police force in London, and here we are, once again debating whether we should renew the order.
I cannot vote for this order this evening, for the reasons that I have explained. I hope that, next year, we shall not have to go through this process again. I hope that there will be stability and the peace process will solidify. I hope that the constitutional parties of Northern Ireland will get round the table and discuss the issues of the governance of Northern Ireland in a peaceful, progressive way.
How do the majority of law-abiding people in Northern Ireland view the so- called "ceasefire and peace process"? They see that it is to the advantage of the terrorists, especially the IRA, as the IRA can dictate when that peace will be broken. In the interim, the Government are dancing to a tune of concessions in order to keep the Provisional IRA sweet. Mr. Rowe refuses to be won over by IRA blarney or promises that the violence is over permanently. The truth is that the IRA has no intention whatever of decommissioning or surrendering arms. It remains today one of the advanced terrorist organisations in the western world, with the greatest possible killing potential. I am amazed at Members of this House who visit Northern Ireland and say that all is well. All is not well. If they visited people in the constituencies of hon. Members represented here, they would see that they are targeted by the IRA and the police have warned them that they are in danger. They should go to the homes of people who have
Column 371been told that, for safety's sake, they must leave the home in which they have lived all their lives. Is that what the House believes peace is?
One has only to look at what has taken place during the period when hon. Members have eulogised the wonderful spirit of peace. Mr. Rowe said that the
"risk of terrorism continuing is a real one."
That is a factual statement, because terrorism is continuing. The report does not try to mask the reality that the IRA could, at any moment, resume its military terrorism. It has not stopped its vicious and atrocious assaults, nor stopped funding its organisation. From the Provo ceasefire to the close of last year, there were 70 incidents. Perhaps the House agrees with Mr. Maudling's view that there is an acceptable level of violence. In January, nine vicious assaults took place. I do not know how one draws the distinction between knee-capping a person and giving that person a bit of towel to bite on as nails are driven through a stick into the calves of his legs. I do not know what hon. Members would prefer to have done to them. That is supposed to be peace.
The rate at which the IRA is stealing cars throughout Belfast, taking them to west Belfast, removing their engines' ancillaries and selling them is colossal. It is beyond even the police to reckon how many incidents of that type are happening all over the city. At midnight on 17 January, two soldiers sustained serious head injuries on the Antrim road. On 29 January, two petrol bombs were thrown in Strabane. A man was injured by a shooting incident in Monagh Pass. The Army defused an incendiary device in a shop on the Newtownards road. The Army disposed of a bomb at Woolworth and another bomb in Habitat in Belfast. The Army disposed of a further bomb in North street. A number of Orange halls have been attacked at Maree, Bawn and Pomeroy. In January, five armed robberies in Northern Ireland were all carried out by terrorists. Yet we are told that there is peace.
I remind the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who talked about the wonderful spirit at Christmas, that we have had IRA ceasefires at Christmas for a very long time. They are nothing new. We need to come down to what is really happening in Northern Ireland and how people there feel. There can be a permanent peace only if the terrorists' arms--their capability to kill, maim, bomb and destroy--are taken from them.
Whereas at first Ministers used the word "surrender", they now use the word "decommission". Today, we heard on our radios and televisions the voice of Mr. McGuinness from Londonderry saying that there can be no question of the IRA giving up any of its arms until the British Army and the RUC give up their arms, and every licensed gun in Northern Ireland is handed in. He said that only then will it be time to talk about the IRA surrendering its arms. Is that the basis on which this so-called "peace" is to be made?
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster): Does my hon. Friend agree that many people in Northern Ireland have expressed great anger at the Secretary of State's statement in the United States of America that a "token" gesture will be required of the IRA before Her Majesty's Ministers will enter into talks with murderers like Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein?
Column 372Rev. Ian Paisley: From what we saw on our television screens of the Secretary of State, I was amazed that he went to America to make that announcement. Why did he not tell it to us in Northern Ireland, given that we are most concerned about it?
Rev. Ian Paisley: It is not a matter of semantics. What did cross the Secretary of State's lips was the fact that there could be a gesture with a small amount of arms handed over and that faith could be put in the word of the terrorists that they would cease their activities. The Secretary of State will no doubt hear for himself the reaction of people in Northern Ireland.