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The Prime Minister: I am sure that everyone will respect and agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): In view of the criticism, which a number of people have made, that the Government are going too far, what would have been the position if, following the terrible tragedy at Omagh, and against the background of what the Irish Government are proposing at this very moment in the Irish Parliament, the British Government had taken no further action against terrorism? If that had been the position, how would that have gone down among those in Omagh who lost their loved ones, and others who wait at the bedside while their dearest and loved ones receive the most urgent medical treatment, and, for all we know, may be seriously injured for the rest of their lives?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right; I do not think that it would have been understood if we had not responded. We must respond carefully and responsibly, but respond we must; first, to show that, both in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland, we will have the toughest possible responsible measures against terrorism. Secondly, because this is a group with absolutely no interest in the political process, it is important to have measures that enable us to deal with its members on the basis of stopping them committing these appalling acts of terrorism.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): If it is our dearest wish that this is the last such outrage that ever occurs in Northern Ireland or in the island of Ireland, and as, if terrorism is to be eradicated, it will be necessary for co-operation of the closest kind between the Irish and

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British Governments and people to continue, will the Prime Minister accept my support for the fact that Parliament meets today, on the day that the Dail is meeting, to discuss legislation that can combine against the common enemy? Will he recognise that, although, over the years, there have been periods of good co-operation, it has often been difficult to sustain it throughout that period? As the two Governments are joint trustees of the Good Friday agreement, I very much hope that it will be the wish--I am sure it is--of the House that that close co-operation in dealing with any remaining terrorists will be fully sustained.

The Prime Minister: I agree with that entirely. As the right hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone else, the fact that the British and Irish Governments are working so closely together, and the fact that public opinion in the whole of the island of Ireland, in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom--all that opinion--is behind the agreement, is vastly different from anything that has been known before. Those elements provide the context within which these measures can be carefully targeted--made to work--but they act alongside a political process that gives us a chance of a lasting, peaceful settlement.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle): May I express my deep appreciation to the Prime Minister for what he has said today, and also to the leaders of the two main Opposition parties? I have no doubt that, as the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) made clear, what they have said will also be deeply appreciated by the people of Omagh.

In the past 30 years, the people of Northern Ireland have suffered terribly. One in 500 has lost a life, and one in 50 has been maimed or injured--yet far the worst atrocity in all those 30 years is what happened in Omagh, where 28 people lost their lives, some of them children. I have seen many of the deaths, but one of my worst experiences was looking at the coffins of those children, with life in their faces as they lay dead in their coffins.

As the Prime Minister rightly said, the objective of the people who did that was to derail the agreement that had been endorsed so overwhelmingly, not by this House alone, but by the people, north and south. The powerful reaction of the people--the people of Omagh in particular, but the people north and south--demonstrated that our common humanity entirely transcended the divisions of our people.

It is our duty now to translate that common humanity into reality by working to implement the agreement that others tried to derail, to create a society in which the differences of our people are fully respected and in which we work together--and, by doing so, to build an eternal monument to those who have lost their lives on the streets of Omagh: that they will be the last generation to have so suffered.

I received a copy of the legislation that is before us just as I arrived here. It is detailed, and very important. Given the statements about it that have been made by leading lawyers and human rights groups, my party and I will have to study it in depth before responding to it; we should not respond in a hurry. I call on everyone,

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however, to give full support to the authorities on both sides of our border, so that those who carried out this terrible atrocity can be brought to justice.

The Prime Minister: I fully share the vision of the future that the hon. Gentleman has set out, and has done so much to promote. As for the legislation, of course it is important. It very much follows what I said when I went to Omagh myself, but of course it is important for us to study it, assess it and see how it works. That is precisely why we shall have to keep it under review and renew it each time, as a House. There is that built-in mechanism to ensure that it works properly, and in the way we intended it to work.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): I welcome the Prime Minister's statement. On top of today's Bill, however, can he be more specific about the improvement in security co-operation with the Irish Government since Omagh, to which the Secretary of State referred in an article in The Observer on Sunday?

The Prime Minister: Without going into the details of the co-operation--which I know the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to do--I can say that the actual working together of the Garda and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the services on either side of the border, has been immensely close. That has applied both to the attempt to track down the people responsible for this--to track down the members of this organisation--and, in particular, to working extremely closely in respect of any intelligence that can be gathered to prevent any similar attacks in the future.

Most of the people I have talked to who are engaged in the police or the security services in Northern Ireland say that the co-operation is closer than anything they have ever known. I think that--as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said a moment ago--that co-operation is in part driven and underpinned by the will of the people, north and south, which is the importance of the Good Friday agreement and the referendum. Those two elements, in combination, give us the best chance.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): While sharing everything that the Prime Minister said about the horror of the Omagh bombing, may I plead with him to take an historical perspective? Violence has characterised the relations between Britain and Ireland over many years, and many of us have sat in this House when anti-terrorist legislation has been introduced, yet the only gain there has ever been was when this Government had the wisdom to open negotiations with the nationalists, which made possible the Belfast agreement, the referendum, the Assembly and the prospect of peace in the future. May I urge the Prime Minister not to take any action that might look as if it were going back to some of the old legislation, which was repressive and ineffective, and did not contribute?

On the wider question of terrorism world wide, the world was shocked by the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. However, I was astonished that the Prime Minister supported the bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, as it is contrary to the UN charter and international law that any country can bomb any other country in reprisal for anything done to its own nationals in a third country.

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I finish on the historical perspective. Will the Prime Minister remember that, 100 years ago today, 10,000 Sudanese were killed by the Army under General Kitchener? We may not remember that, but people in Sudan do. They were bitterly disappointed that we did not support them when their factory near Khartoum was bombed by the United States, which has been quite unwilling to agree to an inspection of that site to see whether the bombing was justified.

The Prime Minister: On my right hon. Friend's latter point, I am afraid that I simply have to disagree with him. Countries that are state sponsors of terrorism must recognise that action will be taken if they sponsor terrorism and if terrorists based in their country take action against their nationals abroad. I believe that article 51 of the UN charter provides a justification for that. I also point out that, although no one was killed in the strike against the Al Shifa factory in Sudan, almost 300 people were killed in Kenya and Tanzania in those bomb outrages--95 per cent. of whom were innocent passers-by.

On my right hon. Friend's first point, my view is that we must learn from our history, but we should not be mesmerised by or live in it. We must recognise the importance of targeting the measures carefully and of taking account of the possibility of a backlash in the republican community. That we have done.

We must also recognise the two big differences in the present situation. First, we march in step with the Irish Government. As we have said before, that is a huge difference from previous situations, and a huge difference from the history of the past 30 years and measures which have been taken. Secondly, we are not dealing with terrorist groups with a political basis, as was the case with the old terrorist groups which operated in Ireland for a long period. They had real support, real votes, and a political basis. We are talking about people who have no support anywhere and no votes, yet are prepared to use weapons of terror. In the circumstances, we must be prepared for a carefully moderated, sensible and well-targeted response.

We can have all the political processes in the world, and we can have complete agreement across all the mainstream political parties--indeed, we have that now in Northern Ireland--but the terrorists could carry on operating. In the exceptional circumstances that exist, I believe that we are right and justified in saying that we have a political process that must work, but that we must take exceptional measures to mop up the last recalcitrant and renegade terrorist groups that are prepared to threaten the future of Northern Ireland.

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