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Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I am pleased to see the Home Secretary giving way so often. Earlier,

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he spoke about confidence, and I wonder how confident he is that this legislation will result in convictions. He may be surprised to learn that, when his noble Friend Lord Mason was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, similar legislation was suggested, and it was proposed that an RUC officer could give such evidence.

I advised Lord Mason that the Government should not go down that road, first, because the RUC gets enough flak at times--internationally--when it does an excellent job, and, secondly, because, in the Dail the legislation was then being changed because Daithe O'Connell changed the whole pattern at the time. Thereafter, IRA members denied that they were members of the organisation.

How confident is the Secretary of State that this legislation will lead to safe convictions, particularly bearing in mind the fact that, when a man called Dougan was murdered just outside Belfast, people were brought to court, there were witnesses, but one withdrew at the last minute, so the DPP said that it could not proceed with the trial? There is a political dimension, and it might be worth while bearing that in mind.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman's reference to what happened in the late 1970s underlines the point that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was making. Circumstances really have changed, and we now have effective cross-border co-operation. The Governments of both countries are now determined to drive against that terrorist splinter group, and we now have a much better consensus than we had in the past.

We could argue whether correct judgments were made in the past--sometimes they were, sometimes they were not. The hon. Gentleman asked about the likely success of the legislation. To answer that, the best I can do--it is an important best--is quote the opinion given by the Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, on Ulster Television last Thursday. He said that the new legislation would be "very important", but went on to say:

and the

    "key to our success has to be full public co-operation",

which is absolutely true.

This measure is important. We think that it will assist the police--indeed, it is a power that they have wanted. However, I make no guesses about the number of people who will be prosecuted under it, or about the number who will be deterred by it. I hope that many more will be deterred by the threats of prosecution and forfeiture.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Obviously, I would have preferred to have time to discuss these matters in parliamentary Labour party committees and to get to the detail. I want some clarification. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are not invited to those meetings. First, under the Bill, if a senior officer is of the opinion that a person is a member of an organisation, or the person is identified as such, and the person then fails to answer questions about membership, or denies it, can he or she be convicted because of those two simple matters, or must the person be charged with some other offence?

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned in passing subsection (10) of the new section 2A contained in clause 1, which refers to Scotland, and

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said that that could be dealt with in Committee. I understand that we must table amendments before the end of the debate on Second Reading if we wish them to be discussed in Committee, so I want him to clarify how that subsection will work. It clearly refers to any proceedings in which

    "the accused is charged with belonging to a specified organisation where the court draws an inference as mentioned in subsection (6) above"--

because the accused did not deny that he or she was a member--

    "any evidence that he belongs to the organisation shall be sufficient evidence of that matter."

Am I correct in interpreting that to mean that, if the person has been accused of belonging to an organisation or that is the opinion of an officer, any other evidence that is not corroborated--as it normally would be under Scots law--by a second officer would be sufficient to convict that person? Are we making such an immense change to Scots law on the Floor of the House today?

Mr. Straw: No, we are not. However, I must first correct my hon. Friend's intervention, as I think that, when he said that he would rather discuss this in a Labour party committee than in Parliament, he meant to say that he would rather have discussed it in such a committee as well as in Parliament.

Mr. Connarty: Before.

Mr. Straw: Yes. We will try to get that changed in the record as well. Perhaps I can give my hon. Friend a tip. If he wants to amend the Bill, all he has to do is table an amendment to delete subsection (10) of new section 2A in clause 1, and then we can discuss it. I have never owned up to any expertise in Scots law, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the Member for East Kilbride, who is also a Scot--

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): But not an expert.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend has some expertise in the matter, or has access to experts. The proposal is entirely consistent with what we are introducing for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland, but my hon. Friend will deal with it at greater length in Committee.

Mr. Connarty rose--

Mr. Straw: I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that answer as satisfactory. We will return to the matter, I promise.

Mr. Sayeed: The Home Secretary announced a review of the use of telephone tapping to produce evidence. Will he widen the scope of that review to allow the use of intelligence information in a way that will not compromise the asset that provides it? That could be important, particularly as regards international terrorism.

Mr. Straw: To some extent it is anomalous, but intelligence obtained by electronic surveillance other than telephone tapping or interception is already admissible in court--indeed, it is sometimes admitted in court. In 1996,

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we discussed that at great length in our debates on police legislation. Of course, it is a matter of fine judgment on the part of the police whether they introduce such evidence, because, by using the contents, they are admitting the fact of the surveillance and intelligence, and there is a fine line.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Straw: I have been speaking for an hour, and have been anxious to take interventions, but it is reasonable now for me to press on to a conclusion so that other hon. Members can speak.

On the conspiracy proposals, I dealt with the case for those--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Will my right hon. Friend give way on that matter?

Mr. Straw: Perhaps my hon. Friend could let me finish my remarks. I dealt with the case for such proposals in some detail, and we will go into them in more detail in Committee.

This is not the Bill that I think some of my hon. Friends fear. It is similar to, although more narrowly defined than, the Bill brought forward two years ago, which we supported from the Opposition Front Bench. There were anxieties about whether, at that stage, the incitement provisions could have led to the problems that have been mentioned in connection with the African National Congress.

However, incitement is a much wider offence than conspiracy, and in this Bill there is no provision covering incitement. Such provision would, I accept, require detailed consideration in slow time before we could decide whether to include it.

I have already referred to the other two important safeguards--the Attorney-General's consent and the principle of dual criminality, whereby only conspiracy to commit offences abroad that are also offences here is covered.

Mr. Grant: My problem is a practical one--something that is happening today. In my constituency is an organisation called the Kurdistan information centre, which looks after about 800 Kurdish refugees on a daily basis. The police have been raiding that organisation because they believe that it has been involved in terrorism, although the organisers tell me that that is not the case. None the less, there are people there, the organisers say, who support the PKK, a terrorist organisation in Turkey, and collect money for it. Under the Bill, will that be an offence? I want a straightforward yes or no.

Mr. Straw: It is not possible to give a straightforward yes or no to a question about a particular case. With respect, I am not willing, for very good reasons, to go into details about particular organisations. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that those people--there are plenty of them in this country--who support campaigning organisations that are not planning terrorist acts abroad have nothing whatever to worry about in the Bill.

I have also, I hope, made it clear to my hon. Friends that the current situation is anomalous. It is not true that it is impossible to prosecute now for any offence of

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conspiracy here to commit a crime abroad. We can already prosecute for some offences in respect of some countries. Above all, we can prosecute for conspiracy to commit murder abroad, and obviously that includes terrorist murder. No one has ever demurred from that.

What we seek to do, therefore, is to bring the law into a consistent state, so that, subject to all the safeguards I have mentioned, it is possible to secure prosecutions in appropriate cases.

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