Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Howard rose--

Mr. Soley: I will give way briefly as I am under pressure of time.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman referred to the European Court of Justice without mentioning that it upheld the substance of exclusion orders and found that they are entirely in accordance with our obligations under the European convention on human rights. The change that it asked us to make, and which we have made, relates simply to the adaptation of the procedures. On the substance of exclusion orders, the European Court of Justice found in the Government's favour. The fact that there are now so few exclusion orders shows that we use them only when we need to do so.

Mr. Soley: I think that I should claim injury time for that intervention.

The derogation that Britain seeks is intensely damaging and the Government know it. They know that we get more convictions before the European Court of Justice than almost any other European country and we cannot claim otherwise, as we used to be able to do. As one who was brought up to be proud of our parliamentary democracy and the rule of law in Britain, I do not like to see us in that position. It is legislation such as this that does that damage.

The Home Secretary is moving and he should admit it. The figures are coming down dramatically, although that is nothing to do with the ceasefire; it was happening before that. The figures are also coming down dramatically, as the Home Secretary could have said, in another area that is so damaging in the fight against terrorism--the number of people detained but not charged. At one time, as many as 95 per cent. of people detained under the Act were not charged. Can anyone think of any other Act of Parliament under which that would be acceptable? Of course not. Yet that is what we are doing under this legislation.

14 Mar 1996 : Column 1146

The figures have dropped dramatically, but the percentages are still worrying. The one area where they have not dropped is also an area where there has not been a move to the benefit of the fight against terrorism and I would ask the Home Secretary to consider it. A growing number of people are not held under a detention order, but simply questioned for fewer than four hours and then released. I am not convinced that the Home Secretary wants to help, but if he does, he should ensure that those figures are also reduced, just as the number of detentions and exclusion orders have been reduced.

This is a fight for hearts and minds. To those Conservative Members who doubt that, I simply say that some years ago I was held for several hours and cross-examined by the East German police when East Germany was still a communist state. I did not know it at the time, but they were worried because I had in my possession an unsigned cheque belonging to a German who was in fact a distant relative and who had given it to me as a present. One can dine out on a story like that for years.

One of the tragedies is that it is not only people who are held under these Acts and then released without charge who become alienated, but their families and friends. That is why I welcome the drop in numbers. In other words, the prevention of terrorism Act--a deeply undesirable Act, as even the Home Secretary seemed to admit in one of his more radical moments--is being used far less often and, in a way, rather more specifically than it was before.

If the Home Secretary had done what many of his predecessors had done and come to the House and said, "Fortunately, I have been able dramatically to cut the use of the Act and I will review it as well," many people would have said, "Hear, hear--well done, Home Secretary, keep on doing that." But he did not. He came with the intention of scoring a few cheap political points and then told everyone that he was proud of being a Conservative and Unionist. Some people would dearly love to recreate the old Conservative and Unionist party, and I know why. But I tell the Home Secretary this: he can never be a Unionist when he says that Northern Ireland is to be treated so totally and utterly differently from the rest of the United Kingdom, that people can be excluded there in the form of internal exile that the Government support. The SDLP and the Official Unionist and Democratic Unionist parties will tell the Home Secretary that that is to treat Northern Ireland as a second-class citizen and not as a proper part of the United Kingdom, so the Home Secretary should not come to the House claiming to be a Unionist and expecting to have Unionist support, because he will not even get it there, where he seeks it most.

I have been opposed to this legislation for many years. The legislation cannot be temporary when it has run for more than 20 years, and we know it. It is deeply offensive to the rule of law and to Britain's tradition of democracy. The numbers being scooped up in its net have changed dramatically over the years and we need to recognise that. It should have been a collection of information Act, because that is what it does and that is the way in which it works. It has not necessarily prevented much terrorism. It has at times, I accept, but it has also acted as one of the best recruiting serjeant majors the IRA could have wished for, enabling the IRA to claim--wrongly, in my judgment--that it could not get justice in British courts.

14 Mar 1996 : Column 1147

We are moving in the right direction, slowly. I hope that Lord Lloyd produces a more fundamental and better analysis than Mr. Rowe. I am not happy with the Rowe report. Its presentation of facts and figures is not good and some other things are missing. But I hope that my hon. Friends will abstain tonight and I hope that the Home Secretary listened to my remarks with care.

5.54 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Throughout last year, I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that we were moving to a situation where these powers were no longer necessary. If I understand Mr. Rowe correctly, however, he tells me in paragraphs 13 and 14 why I was completely wrong to take that view. It bears thinking carefully about. He says:


He continues:


It is important to note that that was written at a time when there was a ceasefire, not the time after Canary wharf. It is therefore not Canary wharf and what has happened since that makes the renewal necessary. The PTA will remain necessary even if the temporary ceasefire is reinstated.

I want to take a moment or so to explain why I believe that to be the case. I have never had any real doubt that the ceasefire was a temporary truce and a sham. At the very moment when Gerry Adams was shaking Clinton's hand, his friends were building the Canary wharf bomb. The purpose of the Sinn Fein-IRA temporary truce, therefore, was not to help phase out terrorism but to exploit our weakness and to buy time to reorganise and re-equip.

Sinn Fein-IRA has always been and remains, despite its words, a Marxist terrorist group, committed to obtaining by any means at its disposal--including violence--that which it believes in. I still see no sign of willingness on its part to compromise in any way. We therefore have no alternative but to renew the prevention of terrorism Act. Making one-sided compromise after one-sided compromise is no alternative to the PTA. Not only is treating bombers and assassins as though they were democrats not an alternative to the PTA--it is a despicable affront to the people of Northern Ireland.

Even when one accepts the need to renew the PTA, there is a temptation in a debate such as this to focus on whether we need to retain all the powers or whether, as we have just heard, some powers could be phased out. That is not what we should be considering. We should be asking ourselves what more we can do, not what less we can do, to root out terrorism. Mr. Rowe makes it crystal clear that we need each and every one of the powers that we currently have.

One can go through the entire list--proscribing organisations, exclusion orders, investigating funding, section 14 arrests, extension of detention, the port powers and the new powers that were given last year. Mr. Rowe

14 Mar 1996 : Column 1148

makes it crystal clear that the PTA is needed and that every power in it has his backing. He recommends that we renew them all.

Canary wharf and everything that has happened since therefore confirms not just the need for the Act, but the need to do more. In starting that debate on how to do more, how to extend the PTA and even the emergency powers legislation, we must begin by saying an emphatic simple no to the men of violence. There can be no compromise with evil. That is what the PTA is all about. All terrorists and their apologists must be totally excluded from the entire democratic process unless and until they renounce their terrorism and unless and until they hand over their arms and explosives. Having said that firm no, then--and only then--can we turn to the detailed debate about doing more. That is why I welcome Lord Lloyd's review, and I very much hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, when he winds up the debate, will assure me that Lord Lloyd will not only consider retaining existing powers but will be encouraged to consider additional steps to stamp out terrorism and to bear down on it rather than compromise with it.


Next Section

IndexHome Page