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7.2 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I am grateful to be called to speak in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker--particularly in light of my recent point of order. It is a pleasure to be associated with the principled standtaken by the hon. Members for Newry and Armagh(Mr. Mallon), for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady). No one could accuse them of being soft on terrorism: they must live with the realities of it every day.

Although I am well aware of his general view of the world, I was a little disappointed by the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who is a distinguished lawyer and a part-time judge. I was disappointed to hear him talk quite enthusiastically about the need for rough justice. That gives us a glimpse of the judicial thinking that perhaps got us into the difficulties that we were in a few years ago.

I am as much in favour of catching terrorists as anyone--indeed, I have had rather better luck than the British authorities in tracking down the odd terrorist, without having the prevention of terrorism Act or any other such powers at my disposal. I should state at the outset that my interest is in justice--particularly British justice. I do not believe that the Act has led to the arrest and conviction of terrorists who would not otherwise have been arrested and convicted. However, I believe that it has led to the harassment of many decent people who are not terrorists.

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I accept, as some have argued, that the Act is no longer used--or misused--as much as it was in the past and I welcome that fact. I think that that is probably because of the pressure that the Opposition have maintained for the past 13 or 14 years in voting against the measure.

I accept that there might be a case for some of the provisions in the Act, which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) mentioned. Like most hon. Members who have spoken, I find exclusion orders distasteful, but they are not as effective as Ministers seem to think. One of the first people to be excluded under an exclusion order was one of the organisers of the Birmingham pub bombings. He should not have been excluded, but arrested and put on trial. On another occasion, I met someone who had been excluded who returned to the country during his period of exclusion and even visited friends in prison.

For all the talk, exclusion orders are not as effective as the Home Secretary appears to think. However, that is not the fundamental reason why I shall vote against the measure this evening. My principal objection arises from section 14(5) of the Act, which gives the Secretary of State power to extend, to up to seven days, the holding of prisoners incommunicado and without the safeguards of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That is the bottom line as far as I am concerned: I shall not vote for any measure that allows prisoners to be held incommunicado for up to seven days. I know from experience--as we all should by now--that it is possible to get anyone to confess to anything if he or she is at one's disposal for seven days and nights. Perhaps the Home Secretary or Lord Lloyd of Berwick might consider extending the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to cover those who are arrested in connection with terrorism.

My attitude will be changed not by a review, but by a change in the Act. Until the Act, or section 14(5),is changed, I propose to continue to vote against it.

7.7 pm

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West): I begin by offering the apologies--as did my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)--of my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) and for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) who, with many hon. Members from Northern Ireland and others, are in the United States at this particularly significant time.

As the House knows, the measures that we are considering today have their origins in the response to the slaughter that resulted from the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. I have a very clear recollection of those outrages, as I am sure do all hon. Members. I remember them particularly for the reaction of one Irish person who had been resident in London for more than 40 years, 15 of which were spent serving in the Royal Air Force, including the whole of the second world war. He was working for the Post Office, as he had done for 20 years. He felt unable to go to work, or even to leave the house, on the day after the bombings, not because he feared abuse or worse, but because he felt deeply ashamed at being Irish and at what had been done allegedly in his name. He was a mature, well-established British citizen who had his home and his family in London. Tragically, his experience was not unique. It has been shared by far too many other members of the Irish community both then and since. I know that that is true because that man was my father.

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In the past 25 years or so, the gunmen and the bombers of the IRA, in their culpable distortion of the tradition of Irish republicanism, far from advancing peace and freedom in Ireland, have brought untold suffering, misery, distress and disgrace upon Irish people wherever they might be. It would be hard to find a better exposition of that than the extraordinary and resonant speech of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) on the Third Reading of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill a few weeks ago. I recommend study of it to every hon. Member.

The return of the so-called bombing campaign by the IRA has had a particular significance in Lewisham, part of which I represent. The Aldwych bus bomber was staying in a flat in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice). The 171 bus left Catford bus garage on that fateful Sunday evening and the driver who, thankfully, is making a good recovery, lives in Brockley in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock). One of the tragic victims of the South Quay atrocity lived in Downham, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East. Lewisham has a large and well-established Irish community and those events have done nothing to its benefit--as is true of the rest of the country.

I was particularly struck by what the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said about the experience of Mr. Paul Woodhead, who happened to be an innocent Irishman in the wrong place. Although it should be placed on record that his family in Dublin quite understood why security forces here and in the Republic had to take certain precautions, one can imagine their horror when the Gardai turned up on their doorstep to tell them that he had been seriously injured--I am pleased to hear that he is recovering--and that he was suspected of having been deeply involved in an IRA atrocity in London.

As has been said, tonight's debate is about means and not ends. There can be no dispute that all hon. Members are resolutely determined to stop the inhuman brutality of terrorism wherever it may occur and whoever perpetrates it. The discussion centres on the effectiveness of the proposed measures and the circumstances to which they apply.

The Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, among others, have made it plain that the circumstances are different now from what they were a year ago. The Home Secretary said that the circumstances had not been the same in any of the years in which he has dealt with the matter. The Government's agreement to establish a review, under Lord Lloyd of Berwick, of temporary and emergency powers to counter the terrorist threat--for which we have been pressing for a number of years--is most positive. Some hon. Members may feel that it is not change enough, but without doubt the most negative change since last year has been the ending of the IRA ceasefire and the assertion by Sinn Fein that the peace process is finished.

Our forthright response is twofold. First, we should state categorically that the search for a lasting peace with security in Britain and Ireland will never be over--under any Government, here or in Dublin--until it has achieved its end. The only choice is about whether any party or group wishes to take the necessary steps to join in that endeavour. It will never be easy, but that is inevitable.

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Secondly, no democratic Government or society can allow those who use violence, subversion and intimidation to have a veto over progress towards the just settlement that is craved by the overwhelming majority of decent people throughout these islands.

One of the most insidious threats to democracy from those who sponsor and practise terror is that they provoke a disproportionate response from those they attack, which they can then use as a spurious retrospective justification for their actions. There can never be any doubt that terrorism will be resisted by all necessary means, but we must always ensure that we do not fall into that devious trap.

In a recent written answer, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who is not in his place, stated:

I am certain that all hon. Members will agree. Certainly Opposition Members do--it is a model of its kind. The only argument that arose when I quoted that sentence to the Minister when the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill was discussed in Committee, concerned how the current proposals compared with that standard.

We are dealing with an entirely reasonable and legitimate subject on which hon. Members have strong views. The measures have far-reaching consequences. There should be no doubt that we are prepared to take whatever action is appropriate to defend democracy, its citizens and its freedoms against any group that threatens it, but in our unflinching determination to do so, we must be certain that we do not make an already difficult task harder by neglecting or overlooking the very values for which our society stands.

Some hon. Members have asked what store we set by Lord Lloyd. Others, most notably the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), clearly do not understand the purpose of the Lloyd review. It is plainly absurd for him to assert that it has nothing to do with Northern Ireland. Not only was it announced in the House on 9 January by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but Lord Lloyd will be assisted in his deliberations by Mr. Justice Kerr, who has been appointed specifically because he is a judge in the High Court in Northern Ireland. It is absurd for the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that there is no impact on Northern Ireland.

It is disingenuous in the extreme for the Home Secretary to minimise what he feels will emerge from the Lloyd review. I would say that it is unworthy of the Home Secretary to be so inflammatory, but it may be unworthy of the office of Home Secretary rather than the Home Secretary himself. We do not prejudge the outcome of the Lloyd review.

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) said that he would prefer there to be a single, comprehensive package of anti-terrorist legislation. That is precisely what we have been pursuing and urging on the Government for many years. We hope that Lord Lloyd will be able to make such a recommendation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn explained that we have strong reservations about the current legislation but, as he also made plain, we have no

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objection to the bulk of its provisions and are in favour of their continuing. Indeed, there might be a case for strengthening some of them. It seems odd that the Home Secretary should diminish what is likely to emerge from the Lloyd review--

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