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Mr. Barnes: Is it not also unacceptable that the IRA operates a form of external exclusion order, the exercise of which means that many citizens of Northern Ireland are kept out of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Straw: I accept entirely what my hon. Friend has said.

We remain implacably opposed to exclusion orders, and shall be saying so in our evidence to the Lloyd review. I hope that the Government will reconsider their support for the orders. They have, by their actions, recognised the force of the arguments against the orders. The number in force, as we heard from the Home Secretary, is the lowest ever. Only four were made in 1993, the last full year before the ceasefire, compared with nearly four times that number in 1987.

Moreover, it now appears that some of those who are involved in the making of exclusion orders now have serious misgivings about them. In his 1994 audit,Mr. Rowe stated simply that police officers had told him that the orders "have a real value". There is, however, a more quantified story in Mr. Rowe's latest audit. He states that the

But he continued by stating that

He explained that the opposite view was that

We now know from Mr. Rowe's report that a number of people in the security services are questioning the value of exclusion orders. The only argument in favour of the orders was their utility. If even that is now being questioned, it is surely time for us to agree to abandon their use altogether.

Whatever sincere but differing views Members may take about the merits of the renewal order, the House is united in its determination to fight terrorism with every means that is consistent with a democratic nation whose constitution is based on the rule of law. It is the Opposition's fervent hope that the Lloyd review will be the means by which we can at last achieve bipartisan agreement on the measures necessary to fight the scourge of terrorism.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House that Back Benchers' speeches are restricted to 10 minutes.

5.39 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) should understand that he fails to convince on two important points. First, he fails to demonstrate any error in our

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assumption that the greatest threat to civil liberties lies with terrorist activity rather than anti-terrorist legislation. The second flaw in his argument is that he gives insufficient attention to the fact that exclusion orders have a vital operational value in that they can interrupt the command and communications structure of terrorists and thus save life. For that reason, reluctantly, we accept the infringement of civil liberties that exclusion orders represent.

On the wider issues, I have three observations to make. The first relates to the Rowe report as a whole. The essential point to note is that it is entirely unequivocal:it is precise, and there are no ifs and buts. It states that the prevention of terrorism Act was operated effectively and properly in 1995 and that there is a continuing need for its existence in the next 12 months. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) pointed out in an intervention that Mr. Rowe came to his conclusions at a time when the IRA was still operating its ceasefire, so they are that much more valid now that we have moved out of that era. By any criteria, the House would be entirely wrong and would be acting indefensibly and irresponsibly if it did anything other than support the measure as amended with regard to exclusion orders.

Secondly, perhaps the most significant aspect ofMr. Rowe's report this year is the emphasis that he gives to the dimension of international terrorism. There has too often been a tendency on the part of politicians and commentators to regard the PTA exclusively in the context of Northern Ireland. That was always mistaken. The statistics speak for themselves: more than 21 per cent. of the people who were detained under either the 1984 or 1989 Act and who were subsequently charged were involved in international terrorism. In some years, the figure was much higher, and in one year--1987--the totals of those involved in international and Northern Ireland terrorism were virtually identical.

Mr. Rowe provides a useful potted history of the various PTAs and shows that from 1974--when the first of these Acts was introduced--through to 1976 and then to 1984, they always contained the provision to counter international terrorism. The provision was not specifically identified until the later two Acts, but those Acts were consistent with that intention from the very start.

Mr. Rowe reminds us that the Lockerbie incident occurred only just over seven years ago, that it is not yet two years since the attack on the Israeli embassy and Balfour house, and that last year 50 per cent. of the extensions of detention related to international terrorism. It is vital that we do not lose sight of that essential fact and that we continue to have on the statute book legislation which will enable a democratic society to respond to the ever-present threat of international terrorism, regardless of the situation in Northern Ireland.

Thirdly, I must express a slight concern. I notedMr. Rowe's favourable and reassuring comments about the funding of terrorism and the investigation of it. He pointed out in paragraphs 39 to 42 that there have been convictions under sections 9 and 10, and that greater use was made in 1995 of schedule 7 with regard to the making of search warrants and so on, but my concern is that perhaps the powers that we have on the statute book do not go far enough and cannot deal with one particular issue--that of fund-raising on the part of the non-proscribed political wings of proscribed organisations.

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The arguments are long and detailed so I shall say only that non-proscribed organisations can legally raise money which is channelled not necessarily into acts of terrorism--which would be contrary to the PTA--but into promoting the ideology and stance of terrorist or proscribed organisations. I hope that the Lloyd inquiry will deal with terrorist financing or promote the opportunity for wider debate because I do not believe that we have yet got to grips with it.

As I said, I believe that the House would be entirely mistaken if it did anything other than support the measure.

5.44 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith): I am sorry that the Home Secretary chose to begin the debate in the way that he did because he is playing politics, which is rather sad and not something that the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would so easily have done.

The Home Secretary spoke about the vote last year and said that it took place at the time of the Heathrow bombs. He said that we should face down the terrorists. If, after 25 years of violence, I believed that we could face them down simply by voting, I would vote with him every time. The problem is that we need to do something more sophisticated than facing down the terrorists.

The Home Secretary and one or two otherhon. Members accused my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) of inconsistency. They should watch what they say. They have been asking for cross-party support on Northern Ireland, and they will get it because we believe in the peace, but there is nothing more inconsistent than the Government condemning IRA terrorism year after year while at the same time talking to it without the House's knowledge--and I do not mean Sinn Fein: I mean the IRA. A party that talks to the IRA but then lectures us on being inconsistent has a substantial lesson to learn. The Unionists and the SDLP know that, and most of us know it, too. It is time that the Home Secretary talked to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister, who are handling the situation with a great deal more sophistication than he is.

In response to an intervention, the Home Secretary said that there were no political prisoners. I agree. A long time ago, during the hunger strike, I argued--when it was not popular to do so--that there were no political prisoners. Why? Because in this country, laws are made democratically and there is an independent judiciary to put them into effect. There can be political prisoners only when that is not the case. As an ex-probation officer,I knew that people from varying backgrounds would claim political status when they were not entitled to it and when it had nothing whatever to do with Ireland.

The Home Secretary does devastating damage to his case by justifying under the prevention of terrorism Act the power of a politician to impose internal exile and, at times, to detain. That is why there is so much concern among some hon. Members about the nature of the PTA. I am in favour of civil liberties, but the argument is not only about such liberties--it is about two fundamental concepts. The first is the rule of law and the second is how most effectively we can fight terrorism.

I shall explain why I am prepared to abstain this evening, having voted against the measure on previous occasions, and I urge my hon. Friends to do the same. The situation is changing. If the Government had the wit,

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they would have told the House that they accept what Lord Colville said in 1987, that there is internal exile, that we know that we have to get rid of it and that is why the numbers in internal exile have dropped and are so low. That is why the Home Secretary should get rid of the exclusion orders. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn said, senior police officers know that, in view of the small numbers involved, it would be more effective to use the security services, MI5 and MI6.

The worst argument that the Home Secretary could have used was that of resource implications. For heaven's sake--we have been spending billions of pounds in Northern Ireland to deal with terrorism, and the Irish Government have been doing the same. Are we seriously saying for the sake of four exclusion orders that we would not use a method which does not so much override the rule of law? If MI5 and MI6 can do the job, as I believe that they can, we should let them do it.

Let us not be dragged before international courts that we helped to establish. British lawyers wrote the laws for the European Court of Justice. We set it up, but then we allow ourselves to be dragged before it because the Home Secretary cannot move on one key issue and say that exclusion orders must go.

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