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Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): I note that the Home Secretary says that all convicted prisoners are treated in the same way. Does that apply to someone who is convicted of murder? I speak of Private Lee Clegg.Will the Home Secretary give his opinion on whether Private Clegg was a political prisoner or got political parole in circumstances when others did not?

Mr. Howard: No, the procedures that were applied in that case were identical to those that are applied in every other case. The ordinary law of the land was followed. The country will take note of Opposition Members' reactions to the unchallengeable observations that I have made.

I was dealing with the question of the ceasefire and the actions that the Government have taken since then to attempt to consolidate the cessation of violence into a lasting peace.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Speaking as a member of the Cabinet that sent in the troops in 1969 and as a member of the Cabinet following the Birmingham bombing when the Act was introduced, may I ask whether the Home Secretary has reflected on the fact that, over the whole of that period, a ceasefire was never achieved by the PTA? The work of Albert Reynolds, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and Mr. Adams secured the ceasefire. The Act, with all its risks to civil liberty, has played no part whatever in dealing with the problem of violence in Northern Ireland. All-party talks are the only way in which to deal with the situation.

Mr. Howard: I attempt to be accurate in my claims.I have never claimed that the prevention of terrorism Act

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was responsible for the ceasefire. It is not the purpose of the prevention of terrorism Act to achieve a ceasefire: its purpose is to protect the lives of innocent people in this country, to protect those who have been the victims of the bomb and the bullet for many years and to try to ensure that others do not find themselves in a similar plight.

In the months that followed the declaration of the ceasefires, we were able to scale down the more visible and inconvenient aspects of security. In Northern Ireland, soldiers were taken off the streets and all border crossing points were reopened. The number of house searches carried out under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 was reduced by 75 per cent., and the number of those arrested under section 14 of the prevention of terrorism Act also fell markedly. New investment and new jobs poured into Northern Ireland. Tourism was on the increase.

The number of detentions under the PTA in the United Kingdom for 1995 was 70 per cent. down on the figure for 1994. We constantly sought to move the peace process forward. We talked to all the parties, including Sinn Fein, at ministerial and official level, but the response to our continued requests for some gesture from the terrorists of their peaceful intent went unanswered until the evening of 9 February.

The answer was the devastating explosion at South Quay. As ever, the IRA's intent appears to have been to kill or to maim as many people as possible. The IRA's warning was imprecise and its transmission was bungled. It is with profound regret that I remind the House that two people were killed in that blast and many others were injured, some very seriously. My sympathies are very much with them and with their families. Since then, there have been further incidents, further injuries and another death.

My deepest thanks go to the emergency services whose courageous response has done much to limit the carnage planned by the IRA. No new ceasefire has been declared. I remind the House that the most recent bomb exploded without warning--despite the fact that a firm date had been set for the all-party talks, which is what the terrorists profess that they want. Instead, we are told that the IRA is offering another 25 years of bloodshed. The loyalist paramilitaries have indicated that, if there are further IRA outrages, they will match them blow for blow. That is the bleak backdrop to our debate today.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Although my right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to stress that the Canary wharf incident, and events since then, reinforce the need to renew the Act, did not Mr. Rowe recommend its renewal even while the ceasefire continued? Events at Canary wharf have merely reinforced the need for the measure.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is entirely correct.He expresses Mr. Rowe's recommendation and the Government's position with absolute accuracy.

The powers in the PTA are a necessary part of our armoury in the fight against terrorism. That is why we continue to argue for their renewal, and it is why I do so again today.

As Mr. Rowe's report makes clear, the powers to make exclusion orders deter people from carrying out terrorist acts and deprive the groups to which they belong of some

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of their experienced operators. The powers to detain, to extend detention under the Act, and to stop, examine and search those coming into or leaving Great Britain or Northern Ireland are equally vital weapons in our armoury. Of the 477 detained under the Act in 1995,19 were held in connection with international terrorism and the remainder were held in relation to Northern Irish terrorism. Some 121 of those--about 25 per cent.--were subsequently charged with an offence. Of great importance, too, are the powers of the police to investigate terrorist finances and to obtain explanation orders in relation to funds and other information found.

I am aware that the exclusion order provisions are regarded as one of the most contentious parts of the legislation. There are some who, while wholly convinced of the need for other parts of the legislation, are concerned about denying British citizens access to part of their own country. As one who remains proud to call himself a Unionist, I appreciate their misgivings and I have some sympathy with them, but when faced with terrorists who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends--who strike at our most fundamental human rights--we have to accept some measures which, in normal circumstances, we would not countenance.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): I support much of what the Home Secretary has said. However, can he explain why the citizens of one part of the United Kingdom must put up with someone walking their streets who is not fit to walk the streets of London because he is assumed to be a bomber or a terrorist? Why should the citizens of Northern Ireland tolerate that?

Mr. Howard: I know that the hon. Lady's view of such matters is different from that of some Labour Members who have intervened in the debate so far. She will know that there are many reasons for that power, one of which--I shall confine myself to only one reason in answering her question--is that, in many circumstances, it can be significantly easier to keep such people under surveillance in one part of the United Kingdom as opposed to another. That is an important way in which terrorism can be fought and combated.

Mr. Rowe's report on the operation of the Act in 1995 points out the need for the exceptional powers.He confirms that the paramilitaries have maintained their command structure and organisation throughout the past 18 months, and that murder, assault, intimidation and coercion have been planned, and carried out, in their name and under their direction. That is why he has concluded that the provisions are still needed and that the Act should therefore be renewed. His report was submitted to me before the IRA's ceasefire came to an end--as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said. Mr. Rowe's views must carry even greater force in the changed circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

As hon. Members know, the Government agree with Mr. Rowe's conclusion: it would be sheer folly to allow any of the provisions in the Act to lapse now. If any confirmation were needed, the events of the past few weeks surely put the continuing need for the Act beyond doubt.

Of course, the provisions are not used solely to counter Northern Irish terrorism. Some of the powers can be, and are, used to counter the threat of international terrorism.

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Mr. Rowe's report comments on that. The most recent examples are the charges on explosive offences, after detention and extension of detention under the PTA, of those held in connection with the car bombs outside the Israeli embassy and Balfour house in July 1994. In 1995, several Algerians suspected of involvement in terrorist acts were detained under the PTA. One of those detained is currently being held following an extradition request from France. I decided to deport one of the others on national security grounds--in the event, he decided to make a voluntary departure from the United Kingdom and I understand that he was subsequently arrested in France.

Only last week, after I had met the French Interior Minister, he told the press that France owed the successful halt to the Algerian Armed Islamic Group--the GIA--terrorist campaign, in part, to France's co-operation with the United Kingdom. Co-operation between democratic countries is essential if we are to fight terrorism effectively. Last night, a further suspect was arrested in London under an international arrest warrant produced by the French authorities.

Mr. Rowe concludes that, whatever happens in Northern Ireland, there is always likely to be terrorism of an international kind; that the manifestations of it are increasing; and that the need for the Act in order to counter them therefore remains.

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