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Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): The Leader of the House said that the Family Law Bill would have its Second Reading in this Chamber on Monday week. What attitude do the Government intend to take to the decision in the other place to support pension splitting? Does he not agree that that is an important move in the right direction, to ensure that women's rights are protected and promoted?

Mr. Newton: The hon. Lady will know that the Government always carefully consider comments and changes made in another place. That consideration is continuing and I am not in a position to reveal its outcome this afternoon.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) rose--

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) rose--

Madam Speaker: It is my practice to call only Members who have heard the statement. I do not know whether the two hon. Gentlemen who want to be called did so. Were they in the Chamber when the Leader of the House made his statement? [Hon. Members: "No."] In that case, obviously, I cannot ask Members to question a statement that they have not heard.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 94H(1) (Scottish Grand Committee (Sittings)),

Question agreed to.

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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

[Relevant document: the memorandum relating to this instrument contained in the Eleventh Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (House of Commons Paper No. 34-xi of Session 1995-96).]

4.28 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): I beg to move,

Madam Speaker: I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion:

I have put a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

Mr. Howard: The first item--the order--renews the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 for a further 12 months. The second--the regulations--makes some minor amendments to schedule 2 to the Act which will bring the procedures under which exclusion orders are made into line with European Community law following the judgment given in the Gallagher case.

On the renewal of the PTA, I should like to begin by thanking Mr. John Rowe QC, who has once again conducted the annual review of the legislation and whose report informs our discussions today. His clear conclusion, following wide consultation and an entirely independent scrutiny of the operation of the Act in 1995, is that it should be renewed--and in its entirety--for a further 12 months. Before explaining why the Government have decided to accept his recommendation, I should like to say something about the background to this debate.

Since the first Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act in 1974, successive Home Secretaries have come before the House to argue the case for renewal. Not one has undertaken that task without feeling both sorrow and anger that such measures are, and continue to be, necessary to protect and defend the citizens of this country from those who are prepared to engage in acts of terror--to kill and to maim by bomb and by bullet. The sadness I feel today must be at least the equal of that felt on any such occasion over the past 20 years.

This is the third year in which I have asked the House to renew the Act. On each occasion, the backdrop to the debate has been different. On the first occasion, in 1994, the IRA's campaign was in full flood. Indeed, as the House may recall, I was just winding up the debate when news reached me of the mortars that had fallen on Heathrow airport less than an hour before. I appealed then to the whole House to unite with the Government so as to send a signal to those responsible for that campaign that the House was united, that it was

To my regret, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield(Mr. Blair), who now leads the Opposition and was then his party's spokesman on home affairs, rejected that call. The Labour party voted against the Government and against the continuation of the powers in the Act.

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Last year, I brought a renewal order to the House against the backdrop of a cessation of violence by the IRA and a subsequent ceasefire by loyalist paramilitaries. I was able to point to the hope felt by many in Great Britain and Northern Ireland that the threat from terrorism would recede. At that time, for the first time for many years, the people of Northern Ireland were able to go about their daily business without fear of violence from republican or loyalist paramilitaries. For the first time for many years, there was no imminent threat of IRA violence in the towns and cities of Great Britain.

I argued, nevertheless, for the renewal of the Act because the terrorists had retained their structure, their organisation and their arsenals intact. They had retained the capacity to strike whenever they chose. It would have been irresponsible for any Government, in such circumstances, to have dismantled their defences and allowed the powers in the Act to lapse. Again I invited the Labour party to support the Government, but Labour Members again voted against the Act's renewal. They opposed the renewal because, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) told the House, they considered the power to make exclusion orders a form of internal exile; because the Act provides for the deciding voice in any decision to extend detention under the PTA to be that of the Secretary of State, not a judge; and because there was, in their view, a need for a general and comprehensive review of anti-terrorist legislation then in force.

The Labour party has now, I understand, decided to change its position to abstention because one of those points has fallen to the ground with the Government's announcement of the inquiry by Lord Lloyd of Berwick. The other points that were raised last year are apparently less crucial than they were. I am pleased to see some change in the position of the Labour party even if, as I shall explain later, I do not believe that it goes anything like far enough.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith): It would have helped if the Home Secretary had started with a different tone and recognised the total condemnation of terrorism by both sides of the House. He did not do that in his opening remarks.

The Government's position has changed, too, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows it. The number of exclusion orders and of people detained have been dropping consistently for some years. That does not mean that the principle of exclusion is all right, but it does mean that the Government are at last recognising what Lord Colville and many in the House have argued--that the use of the powers needed to be phased out. The Government have cut their use and, for that, I am grateful.

Mr. Howard: I am coming very precisely to the use of the powers and the fact that it has indeed been possible to use them on fewer occasions than in the past. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said.

Since the ceasefire, the Government have, as the House knows, spared no effort to consolidate the 1994 cessation of violence into a lasting peace.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that political prisoners played a very considerable role in persuading paramilitaries in both communities to bring about the cessation of violence?

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How does he explain the total absence of generosity and imagination, which the Government promised if a cessation of violence came about? Why has Patrick Kelly still not been repatriated to the Republic of Ireland? Why are four life sentence prisoners serving parole in the United Kingdom rather than being returned to the Republic of Ireland? Why are republican prisoners in Belmarsh prison treated so differently from others in the Prison Service? Why has he not shown the generosity and imagination that the Government said would be shown to political prisoners who played such a tremendous part in bringing about the cessation of violence?

Mr. Howard: There are no political prisoners in this country. The prisoners to whom I believe the hon. Gentleman has referred have been convicted of crimes against the ordinary law of this country, such as murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and other very serious violent crimes. They are treated in exactly the same way as others who have been convicted of similar crimes and who pose similar risks of escape.

Mr. Madden indicated dissent.

Mr. Howard: Since the hon. Gentleman shakes his head, it may be appropriate to remind the House that, after the ceasefire was announced, IRA prisoners who had been convicted of most serious offences attempted to escape from Whitemoor prison. One shot at and wounded a prison officer during the escape attempt. That is the reality behind the hon. Gentleman's question. He does not serve any purpose by trying to mislead the House or the country with the kind of language that he used.

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