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Column 382If he cannot give me such a categorical assurance now, I will assume that there has been some slippage in the Government's stance, or that I have completely misunderstood that stance. I am happy to give way to the Secretary of State if he wishes to clarify the position.
Sir Patrick Mayhew: I readily take the opportunity offered by my hon. Friend. There has been no slippage. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have said time and again--and it does not rest only with us; the Government as a whole take the same stance--that, before inclusive political talks about future structures in Northern Ireland can take place, substantial progress must be made on the decommissioning of arms.
My hon. Friend may not like that; he may wish that I had put it in another, less realistic way. But that is the way in which the Government, the Prime Minister and--for what it is worth, and it is worth quite a lot--Mr. Bruton have put it. That is what must be achieved in the current exploratory phase of the discussions. There has been no slippage whatever. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, and will not go by highly inaccurate accounts in one or two newspapers today.
Mr. Dicks: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. If he were not a lawyer, I would suspect him of being a civil servant. Is he now saying that it is even more essential for the powers that we are discussing to be renewed?
As for exclusion orders, surely the idea is to stop IRA terrorists from coming to this country in the guise of those wanting to take part in discussions, and sending their troops here to be ready if and when things go wrong--ready to take on the British people in all sorts of ways. I suspect that, without exclusion orders--indeed, even with them--we cannot be sure that they have not already taken up their places.
The Opposition have talked of a fundamental review. If introduced now, such a review would only encourage the terrorists in the IRA to believe that what they have achieved so far can be achieved to an even greater extent. They could say, "Look--we have even persuaded the Government to undertake a fundamental review, before putting aside a single gun or anti-tank mortar." I consider it essential to hold back on any such review until we see the colour of their money--until we see how many weapons have been handed over.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) raised the question of wrongful detention. If we are to talk of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, I should point out that, to my knowledge, no one has been found guilty of either of those crimes, in which people lost their lives. Oddly enough, neither police force is now seeking any of the terrorists who committed those atrocities.
Mr. Dicks: No; the hon. Gentleman is too close to the IRA. I find it rather suspicious that both police forces have given up looking for the people who committed those dreadful atrocities. The comparison with a person who has been kept in prison for a few weeks is very poor.
Earlier, I raised with my right hon. and learned Friend the question of Gerry Adams and allegations about recourse to the European Court of Justice or the European
Column 383Court of Human Rights. I am amazed that Mr. Adams--helped by Liberty, which always seems to want to help murderers and terrorists rather than victims--should have the audacity to take the case to one of those courts to try to obtain compensation for the fact that our exclusion orders prevented Mr. Adams from coming to this country. As I told my right hon. and learned Friend earlier, rights and obligations are two sides of the same coin. How can Mr. Adams or Mr. McGuinness expect people in this country to recognise their rights when they do not recognise their obligations to the rest of us and act in a decent, humane and democratic fashion?
There would be a public outcry in this country if any indication were given that we would follow the line indicated by the European Court. I am amazed that we should even consider such a possibility, and I was grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's assurance that the Government would pay no compensation and would not recognise the decision of the European Court, if such a decision were made.
I voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, because I did not want a foreign country to have a say in the affairs of my country. Northern Ireland is still my country; I am a Conservative and unionist Member of Parliament. It seems odd that people cannot stand up and say clearly, "We will stand by our own people in Northern Ireland. We will ensure that they are listened to and that their views will be accepted by the House." I am concerned that any softening of the power will be a weakening of the Government's stance, perhaps giving the wrong message. All of us--some hon. Members anyway--live under the threat of those people. I am being told not to relax and that I should ensure that my security is as high as it was before the talks began. If that is the case, how can people, especially Opposition Members, say, "Christmas was wonderful. Everything is nice. It is all easing off." By God it is not easing off and I have an awful suspicion that, if the IRA does not get its way, it will return to weapons and bombs and we shall be sorry for any leniency and soft approach.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend and, as I said at the beginning, he will have my support in the Lobby this evening. 6.20 pm
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): I appreciate the assurance of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) that the voice of the people from the north of Ireland will be heard. I appreciate the opportunity once again to squeeze in whatever few points I can, as we are approaching the end of the debate, on a matter that is affecting my constituents probably more than any other hon. Member's in Northern Ireland or in Britain.
I strongly disagree, however, with the view that the emergency legislation should be renewed. I believe that enormous change is taking place in the north of Ireland, that the community there is crying out for a new beginning, that the Government have not responded with the vision, the courage or the imagination to create a new dispensation of justice.
Column 384I believe that that refusal shows the Government's lack of appreciation of the fact that six months of peace and what has gone on within the community have created a radically new context within which the prevention of terrorism Act will work in future. I believe that their refusal to change has made it more difficult to start the essential work of obtaining confidence in and constructive support for a system of justice. It is a uniquely significant opportunity for us to reverse the trend that exists in the north of Ireland, to build a new system of justice that can command support and confidence and can strengthen human rights protection in Northern Ireland and for Irish people in Britain.
I believe that it is essential that a move is made now to create a new system of justice, one that is in tune with the mood of hope and peace. I believe that the political process and justice--we should not forget this point--are not separate entities within Northern Ireland. They are interlocked. They are interdependent, and one cannot be progressed in isolation from the other, as we will learn as we go further down the road. This is an opportunity lost, in my view, because the refusal even to soften the contours of the Act makes our difficult task in Northern Ireland all the more difficult. Many tributes have been paid to Mr. John Rowe, in relation to his report. I shall try to be honest. I believe that the report is flimsy. It is riddled with contradictions and, indeed, inaccuracies. It is a report on which no Government could base their future thinking. It is something that bears examination.
I make this point strongly. In the context of whatever further examination is to come, I make the plea now, on behalf of good sense, that Mr. John Rowe QC does not carry out that review. His job was to carry out a review of the legislation, yet in effect he has asked the Government, under section 27(6)(b), to review their own legislation. He has refused to do so. The contradictions run right through his entire report.
Let us start at the very beginning. Mr. Rowe tells us:
"a careful assessment must be made of the present situation in N.I. in order to judge the continuing need for the PTA".
He then proceeds to ignore that dictum, going so far as to observe, in the very same paragraph:
"I must reach a view without thinking what its effect might be". What a luxury; what myopia for someone to have who is reviewing a piece of legislation as stringent and draconian as this. He says: "I cannot have regard to such things."
Peace is what he is talking about. He also says:
"I must reach a view without thinking what its effect might be"? He is talking about peace and the changing situation. Then, of course, on page 10, he tells us:
"However, I am allowed, I am sure, to have regard to current events."
Mr. Howard rose --
Mr. Mallon: I am not giving way. I have been present since the debate began. I shall give way, as I would not like to be accused of pique.
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reconsidering. Both he and the hon. Member for Blackburn have misrepresented Mr. Rowe's attitude to the question. On page 2 of the report, when Mr. Rowe says that he cannot have regard to such things, what he is saying, quite clearly, is that he cannot have regard to signals. Those are political matters, and he is not a politician.
Column 385He does go on the say, as the hon. Gentleman says, that he can have regard to the current state of the situation in Northern Ireland in the context of making an assessment as to the risk and threat from terrorism. There is a clear distinction between those two, and Mr. Rowe has correctly and clearly identified that distinction.
Mr. Mallon: I thank the Secretary of State. I am glad that I gave way to him. The reality of the situation is that, in the very first page of the report, Mr. Rowe contradicts himself twice, and does so twice in the next paragraph as well.
Let us not end there. Let us look at his observations in relation to exclusion orders. Exclusion orders, let us remind ourselves, have been revoked by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Home Secretary says that he will revoke most of his. Even Lord Colville accepted the evidence against exclusion orders, because they are a political decision, made by politicians, without any element of judicial review. They are made without the person concerned knowing the reasons why the decision was made.
Mr. Rowe tells us, in paragraph 27:
"anyone with experience of such applications--
for a judicial review--
"knows what a strain they are"--
oh, dearie me--
"in the sense that the natural rules are not fully in place." The natural rules of what? The natural rules of justice. The man is talking about a judicial input into the decision-making process in relation to exclusion orders.
He goes further. Because the person's position would not be put, the judge therefore
"would not be hearing both sides: the rules of natural justice would simply be absent."
Those are the word of the man, the QC, who has given his judgment on exclusion orders. If that is his view of judicial input, how can he advocate that exclusion orders, which are based on the decisions of politicians who are advised by civil servants, without any argument against or legal representation, be kept intact, as he has recommended?
In relation to arrest and seven-day detention--section 14--I remind the House that, in 1994, 353 extension orders applied in the north of Ireland. Mr. Rowe tells us that applications for an extension state the ground of arrest. On a substantial number of occasions, especially in Northern Ireland, the reason is described not as evidence or even circumstantial evidence but as "reliable intelligence".
"The precise details and source of the intelligence are not stated, and I have not seen them."
In paragraph 34 he states:
"I have read the file relating to each one."
He drew the conclusion:
"The second part of the review is, in broad terms, to see if the powers have been fairly and properly exercised. My view is that . . . they have".
His view is that they have been fairly exercised, but he has not seen the intelligence and does not know the basis on which decisions were made. However, he declares that the powers have been "fairly and properly exercised". Any lawyer would question the validity of that judgment in relation to both those matters.
Column 386There is suspicion or belief that section 14 of the PTA and sections 17 and 18 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act are being used to trawl for information. Innocent people are arrested and detained for up to seven days in search of information. We should not be surprised by that, because a former Home Secretary, Sir Leon Brittan, told us that that was exactly the case, and he gave the reasons.
"The use of the powers of detention under the legislation has acted, first, as a deterrent to persons other than the people who have been detained. "
The law in this country is being used as a deterrent against people other than those who have been detained. That is sustained and supported by John Rowe QC.
Sir Leon went even further, when he was questioned by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The right hon. Gentleman said:
"Will the Home Secretary make this point absolutely clear as it is crucial to many of us? Is he saying that it is right in a free society to detain innocent people without charge for the purpose of obtaining information from them?"
The Home Secretary's reply was remarkable. He said:
"It has been made clear not by me but by the courts that that is a legitimate and necessary use of the power."--[ Official Report , 24 October 1983; Vol.47, c.55-6.]
That finds favour with John Rowe QC, who has written this review which had garnered so much support and confidence. People in Britain should be asking the question that I am asking, because there are victims of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in this country's legal and judicial system, and its process of justice is one of those victims. People should look carefully at that.
Schedule 5(16) relates to ports and border controls. There is not a word as to how the legislation there may be softened. A person can be held for up to 12 hours without even a reasonable suspicion. People may ask, "Held by whom?" It does not have to be by a police officer. Anyone can lose his liberty for up to 12 hours at the whim, not even on a reasonable suspicion, of someone who is not a police officer. Mr. Rowe thinks highly of that, because he says:
"The checks on these persons not hitherto known were selective or random steps."
That is again a random trawl for information. Because of the issues that face us, we must look at those salient points, and sincerely and legally question the validity and veracity of the report by John Rowe QC.
The loss of mutual respect between state and citizens cannot be restored by attempts to cling to unjustifiable powers which degrade the individual by making him vulnerable to the arbitrary and capricious exercise of those powers. Those are not my words--they are much too flowery. They are from a legal authority in the North of Ireland.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act is part of the past, and must be consigned to the lumber room of history to gather dust, rather than remain an active factor in shaping the future. The justification for its continued existence, a present and real immediate threat to the life of the nation-- an emergency, as it is termed in the European convention on human rights, threatening the life of the nation--having passed, the Act ought not to be reviewed.
Column 387A new, imaginative approach should be brought to the whole problem. We are sticking in the past, at a time when we should be leading the community in the north of Ireland and in Britain into a future with a new system of justice that will never make the mistakes of the past.
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith): For the first time, the debate on this legislation is taking place in the context of peace in Northern Ireland. It is sad that some Unionist Members and some Back-Bench Tory Members do not seem to recognise the impact that our debates on this issue can have. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister for the way that they responded to peace process developments in Northern Ireland. All hon. Members, including Unionist Members, owe a debt to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. Perhaps we should bear that in mind in the debate.
Every time we look at the Act, we need to remind ourselves that it is a double-edged weapon. The vast majority of people who are picked up under the Act are never charged, let alone convicted--in many years, it is 90 per cent.--and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has said, the reason is that the Act is designed to collect information.
That is why it has played into the hands of the terrorists, and why I said to the Home Secretary, through an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), that there has always been an alternative. It was to use the security forces, and that argument is infinitely stronger now that the security forces are not as stretched as they used to be. That applies to MI5 because of the collapse in the cold war, and in Britain because of the lack of the threat of Northern Ireland terror.
The Home Secretary missed an opportunity to respond in the way that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister responded, by making it clear not just that he wished to get rid of the legislation--I can understand that--but that it was his intention. If only he could say, as he avoided saying on the radio this morning, "I want to get rid of this Act, and I will get rid of it if the peace process continues."
The fact that he did not do that has led many people to worry--I put it no higher than that--that he wants to keep it on the statute book as a general Act to use against terrorism from whatever source. I hope that he is not saying that, and that at some stage he will take the opportunity, although not in the middle of my speech as I have only about two minutes left, to make it clear that he intends, whether in one year or five, to get rid of the Act if the peace process continues. That is what we need to hear.
The objections to the legislation by some Opposition Members are sometimes treated as related to a civil liberties issue. Some hon. Members make that mistake. It is not a civil liberties issue. The legislation has always been a fundamental threat to our constitutional assumption of separation of power between the judiciary and the Government.
Currently, a politician can decide whether a person should live in one part of the United Kingdom or in another. Under quite a bit of pressure, not least from me
Column 388when I gave evidence in writing, that led Lord Colville to say that this was internal exile. It is the first time that it has existed in this country since Henry VIII. A politician should not have that power, not just because of civil rights but because of our constitution.
Similarly, a politician--the Home Secretary--should not have the power to decide that the police can detain a person and question him. A politician decides both those issues, and that is a fundamental assault not just on civil liberties but on our constitution. The danger is that that will become permanent. Again, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh referred to that.
The Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act 1939 was introduced to deal with a number of acts of terror that died out in 1940. The Act was kept on the statute book until 1954. We are in danger of keeping the Prevention of Terrorism Act on the statute book for a similar length of time. We need to sow confidence in the peace process. The Government have made enormous moves on this matter, and I pay my compliments to them. Why not have trust and confidence in the people of Britain and of Northern Ireland, and say that we can stop using these powers?
The Government have an opportunity today to secure automatic agreement if they stop using exclusion orders and detention powers that are used by a politician to take people in for questioning, and if they give a commitment to review or to end the use of the Act as long as the peace process continues. This is not just about party political agreement, but about many hon. Members' conviction that we in Britain have never had this opportunity before.
Despite all the bombings and killings that took place, in the previous century as a result of Northern Ireland affairs--we forget that there were many of those--the Victorians never introduced internal exile or gave power to a politician to hold people in police stations. They were right not to give that power. Every hon. Member who agrees that this policy is counter- productive, undermines the peace process and, above all, threatens all the things for which the House and this country have stood for hundreds of years will join me and my colleagues in the No Lobby tonight.
Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar): I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement of the lifting of 16 of the 56 remaining exclusion orders. We note his willingness to continue to review the remaining exclusion orders on an individual basis.
As he is aware, the exclusion orders deny the right of a United Kingdom citizen to live where they choose. That aspect of the matter was included in the joint framework document, where both the British and Irish Governments pledged to encourage the adoption of a charter or covenant of fundamental rights within their respective jurisdictions, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. A number of fundamental rights were included: the right to freedom of expression of religion, the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means, and the right to live wherever one chooses. We wanted the Home Secretary to acknowledge today the aim of his Government in that joint framework document, and to consider the necessity of the future use of exclusion orders. He and other hon. Members, including the hon.
Column 389Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), have argued that the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1994 should be renewed in its entirety on the advice of the latest operational audit produced last month by J. J. Rowe QC.
He did so advise, but he also stated that the Act
"should be kept under review in the next twelve months." It is more that a question of timing. The valuable and detailed speeches from the hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) pointed out some of the problems in the report. They showed that, if the Home Secretary could have been clearer tonight about his intention, his desire for and his timing on a general review, some of the difficulties that we have had in the House would have been avoided.
The position is uncertain. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, it has always been difficult to strike a balance between understandable and necessary caution and a response to an evolving and changing peace. The Home Secretary said that he did not want to lower his guard. He should not, but he could raise his sights. Occasionally, caution is needed; occasionally, courage is needed too.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) drew an interesting analogy with what Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, said yesterday. He stated that terrorism was no longer among the six priorities in his policing plan for the new financial year. The police have ended armed road blocks, and the redeployment of officers from central London has started. Of course, Sir Paul stated that he had kept his anti-terrorist operations intact, saying:
"You don't dismantle anything you might need at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning".
Like Sir Paul, we are asking the Home Secretary to propose a change of priorities. We should have a general, full and independent review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, consider how one can suspend the power to make exclusion orders under section 27, and introduce a judicial element, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann said, to approve extended prevention orders. In that way, the Home Secretary could acknowledge the changes that are taking place, but keep the process in perspective.
It is not the case, as the hon. Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) implied, that Labour Members are opposed to anti-terrorist legislation. In the debate, we have readily acknowledged the need for it. We support proscription, to which the hon. Member for Spelthorne referred. We support the need for anti-terrorist legislation in relation to terrorist funding. Only last week upstairs, without a Division, we let through an order that was part of the PTA to facilitate seizure of assets. That went through without opposition, and it was approved by us. The changing nature of terrorism legislation is the reason why we want to have a review now. The changes in international terrorism could have been taken into account in the months ahead.
The PTA has been a contentious piece of legislation because it gives powers to politicians, police and courts that go beyond those granted by ordinary law. In the past 20 years, unity has existed among hon. Members on both sides of the House, not only in our utter contempt for people dedicated to the indiscriminate and deliberate killing of innocent people, but in our sympathy for the trauma and pain of individuals and families who have
Column 390suffered as the maiming and death have continued. They include Robert Bradford, who was not mentioned earlier. Like his friends and family, he will not be forgotten.
At the same time, it is important to give our support and thoughts to the families of people serving in the Army and police, who still suffer the loss of those near to them. We should like readily to acknowledge the efforts of the men and women in the police and the Army over these extremely tense and difficult years to minimise and contain the violence.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, the PTA was introduced by a Labour Government and supported by the Labour party for a number of years. Labour Members' concerns grew because what was initially a temporary measure began to look more and more permanent.
It also became clear year on year that, in a civilised society, it is wrong in principle to detain a suspect for nine days without judicial involvement, and to oblige a man or woman through the use of exclusion orders to live in parts of the country stipulated by politicians. In a civilised society, Governments cannot ignore the rule of law; otherwise, by their very actions, they destroy what they are trying to protect and defend.
Today, hon. Members have acknowledged that last year my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition tried to achieve cross-party co-operation for an independent review. We were unsuccessful.
Ms Mowlam: I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not find it surprising. Last year and this year, we have done our best to reach an agreement across the House. We supported the Government on the Downing street declaration, and on the framework document. We tried again to achieve bipartisan consensus on this issue. The hon. Lady should acknowledge that this year the position has moved on considerably. We have had more than six months of peace in Northern Ireland. Informal talks are beginning on how that process can move forward.
As we have often done in the House, we acknowledge and applaud what has been done by the Prime Minister, Northern Ireland Members, politicians in Dublin and, above all, the people of Northern Ireland, who deserve the peace process to continue, and who have worked desperately in the past six months to keep it going. We support the efforts of all the politicians and people in the peace process. We will continue to work constructively to try to achieve peace. I say to hon. Members on the other side of the Chamber that we want a general review by a person of independent and high status, the introduction of judicial approval for detention order extensions, and suspension of the powers to make exclusion orders. Suspension is not possible under section 27. The Government should agree not to use those powers while the peace process continues.
After the vote tonight and in the months ahead, we will continue that policy, because we believe that it is important. Such legitimate demands have wide support in the House this evening. We do not want to divide the House on the order, but we shall do so. I hope that, in the months ahead, we will not have to do so again as the peace process develops.
Column 3916.49 pm
My hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) were robust in their support for the need for these provisions. My hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke and for Spelthorne based their speeches on careful analyses and assessments of the Rowe report. In relation to the matters causing them concern, I commend to my hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne and for Hayes and Harlington the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I suggest that they study his words carefully; if they do so, I am sure that they will find that their anxieties are allayed.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) launched into a diatribe against the order and its provisions, and ended up calling for consensus. I must tell him and the Labour party that, so long as there remains a risk and a threat, there cannot be a consensus based on a suggestion that we should lower our guard, dismantle our defences against terrorism or remove powers that are necessary. That is the truth of the matter, but, of course, Opposition Members do not like to be reminded of it.
The truth is that Opposition Members will vote for the dismantling of all these provisions, and they will vote for the removal even of those powers that they regard as necessary.