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Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I have promised to give way to three of my other colleagues, but as my hon. Friend is standing, I will give way to him.

Mr. Mullin: Would we not be able to take those inferences more seriously if the interviews were audio-recorded? What possible objection can there be to making audio recording a condition of the way in which the Bill is to be implemented? We have been promising for months now--in fact, for years--to start recording interviews with terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland. Is not today the right day to start?

Mr. Straw: What my hon. Friend describes already happens within Great Britain. There is no objection in

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principle--far from it. The House has actively supported the principle for Northern Ireland, and passed such provisions into law. The only issue that remains is when it is practical to bring such provisions into operation. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that they will come into operation as soon as the Bill does, but I can promise--the RUC accepts this--that, given the decision that the House has already made and passed into law, those changes must come into force as quickly as possible. We can come back to that in Committee.

Dr. Lynne Jones: I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that people want to see those responsible for the atrocity at Omagh convicted of that appalling offence. I have not had time to examine the Bill thoroughly, so will he explain in what way the provisions in the legislation that we are debating today will assist in the process of convicting those responsible for the bombing, as opposed to convicting people for the lesser offence of membership of a proscribed organisation?

Mr. Straw: The third point that I was coming on to mention is that the Bill also amends the powers of arrest in the prevention of terrorism Act so that the powers in Northern Ireland are brought into line with those that already apply in Great Britain. It was anomalous--

Mr. Cash: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I should be grateful if the House would let me answer one intervention before I proceed to another. I have made it clear that, within the confines of getting through my speech, I will take as many interventions as possible.

It is anomalous that, in Great Britain, membership of a proscribed organisation is already an arrestable offence, but in Northern Ireland it is not. The amendment will mean that those suspected of the offence of membership of a proscribed organisation in Northern Ireland can be arrested on the same basis as in Great Britain.

As to the wider implications of my hon. Friend's question, the Bill gives the police and the prosecution additional powers by which they can bring a prosecution before the courts and, where the evidence is regarded as sound, secure a conviction. That is its purpose.

Mr. Robathan: The Home Secretary is giving way a great deal, and I am grateful.

Gerry Adams said yesterday, in anticipation of President Clinton's visit, that violence was finished. Does the Home Secretary recall the message sent by Martin McGuinness representing the IRA leadership in February 1993, in which he said, "The conflict is over," as quoted by the then Secretary of State in Hansard on 29 November 1993? My point is, what credence does the Home Secretary give to statements from Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness on this matter?

Mr. Straw: It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I take a similar view to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on this. I welcome the statement made by Sinn Fein as a significant step forward. To paraphrase my right hon. Friend, we have to take

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account of history, but we cannot get trapped in it. The process begun by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), then Prime Minister, and continued by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has started a momentum to get people away from terrorism, including the majority of those who have been involved in terrorism, towards a peaceful process to secure the future in Northern Ireland.

Of course we are not dewy-eyed about that process; of course it is possible that things may go wrong; but the parties to the agreement have signed up to it. So far, they have shown rather greater determination to stick to their signature than one party in this House. The agreement was signed in April, and the parties are still sticking to it. One party in the House managed to change its mind in 24 hours, but we will not go into too much private grief on that. If, God forbid, the agreement runs into difficulties, there are various provisions within it for dealing with that.

I will give way one last time and then I must continue.

Mr. Cash: The right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that I have tried to make a point with respect to the long title of the Bill on a number of occasions with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Speaker. I now have an opportunity to put it to the Home Secretary and I hope that he will be good enough to listen just for one second.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely important to ensure that members of the Real IRA or Continuity IRA who are currently in prison, about whose membership of proscribed organisations people were not sure, should not be released? Does he agree that, if notice were given of the fact that they were members of such an organisation based on the opinion of a police officer under the provisions of this Bill, it would still not be possible for the commissioners under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which we passed on 28 July, to prevent that early release?

If there is a problem here--I put it in all fairness to the Home Secretary that I think there is--I am told by the Clerks of the House that it will be necessary to change the long title of the Bill. If that is the case, will the Home Secretary be good enough to give us an assurance that he will look into it and adjust the long title, so that the Government's objectives in the Bill can be achieved properly? Otherwise, dangerous people will be let loose whom the Government would not want to be let loose under any other circumstances.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. I will think about it, take advice and come back to it in Committee.

Mr. Mullin: I am sorry to be a nuisance--

Mr. Straw: I realised as the words were coming out of my mouth their implication in respect of my other hon. Friends. It goes without saying that every other intervention that has been made has been serious; it is just that sometimes the interventions made by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) are not serious.

Mr. Mullin: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being very generous in giving way. Can we clear up the

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point about the audio recording not being practical? The report of the Independent Commissioner for the Holding Centres dated March 1998 says:

    "The Centre at Strand Road, Londonderry . . . already has audio-recording facilities for interviews with non-terrorist prisoners . . . We understand that the installations at the Centres have the means of being readily adaptable to accommodate audio-recording, as and when that is authorised."

So why does not my right hon. Friend just authorise it?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend will no doubt wish to pursue the point in Committee, but there is no argument about the need for audio recordings in terrorist cases. It has been the subject of great concern on this side of the House, and, indeed, on the other, for many years. The House has agreed it, and it has passed into law; it is simply a question of implementing it as quickly as possible. At this moment, I am unable to give my hon. Friend the precise undertaking he seeks about implementing it exactly when the Bill passes into law, but I give him the undertaking that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office--my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram)--and I are determined that it should come into force as quickly as possible.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down) rose--

Mr. Straw: I shall give way later, but I must now get on with my speech.

The Bill also gives the courts new powers to order the forfeiture of property following conviction of membership of or support for a proscribed organisation. The court will be able to order the forfeiture of any form of property if it is satisfied that it has been used in connection with the activities of a group such as the Real IRA, or believes that it may be so used. The penalties already available to the courts in these cases are severe--up to 10 years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine--but I believe that the new provision offers a valuable reinforcement. It emphasises the gravity of the offence, and pulls away the practical props that such groups need to support their work. There will be safeguards, and the forfeiture will be entirely at the discretion of the courts.

It may be of interest to the House to know that, partly because the Irish Parliament already has much more extensive powers in respect of confiscation, and partly as an indication of the seriousness with which it takes this matter, clause 17 of the Bill before the Dail today contains a provision that amends the existing law governing the confiscation of property. If property--including real property such as a farm--is used in the course of a terrorist act, that property must be confiscated. The only discretion available to the court is that it can decide not to confiscate a property if it is of the opinion that a serious injustice might arise. The burden of proof is turned. Once it has been proved that the property has been used in a crime, only in a very few cases will the whole farm not be confiscated. We are not proposing that. We are proposing that the discretion should remain with the courts.

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