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Mr. Waterson: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Norman Fowler: I give way to my hon. Friend and mentor.

Mr. Waterson: I am grateful.

I can confirm that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was correct in saying that the proposition that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter was a constant theme among those who were then Opposition Members. The point that I consistently made in defending my Bill--a point that I am sure the Home Secretary would also make in defending his--was that such distinctions were not necessary. As long as the dual criminality rule applies--as long as something is a criminal offence here as well as in the other country involved--it can be prosecuted. It may then become a matter for the Attorney-General, but he will be acting, not in a political, but in a quasi-judicial capacity--deciding, for example, whether Mr. Mandela should be prosecuted for blowing up pylons in South Africa.

Sir Norman Fowler: I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said.

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Above all, I feel that there is a general principle at stake. The challenge of terrorism is now international, as the events of the last month have shown. Appalling terrorist bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam provide a context for today's debate, although all the evidence suggests that much of the planning of those bombings took place outside the countries where people were killed and maimed. I do not think that the Government are open to criticism in that respect: they have sought to respond.

In the face of such a challenge, we cannot afford to have gaps in the law that can be exploited. The United States now has a counter-terrorism law that criminalises conspiracies to kill, murder or maim persons outside the US, so long as at least one of the conspirators commits an act in furtherance of that conspiracy in the US. In this country, the Sexual Offences Act 1993 dealt with conspiracy and incitement in this country to commit sexual offences against children abroad. It was an important step in the fight against child sex tourism, and an example of the same principle.

Audrey Wise (Preston): The Bill does not talk about killing or maiming; it talks about offences. The Home Secretary has told us that we can already deal with conspiracies to murder. How is it acceptable simply to say that, if something is an offence here and an offence there, everything is all right? The difference between here and there is that we have political processes. We have votes, and we therefore do not expect people to sabotage the electoral system--but those who have no votes might have no option but to take direct action, and then to be called terrorists.

Sir Norman Fowler: I am clearly in an almost unique position in the House, in that I agree with what the Home Secretary has said about the clauses that we are discussing. The evidence is in Lord Lloyd's report of the inquiry into legislation against terrorism, which I am sure the hon. Lady has read. I do not think that the Home Secretary was saying that, in all circumstances, all terrorist offences were already covered by existing legislation. What he said was that some could be covered; otherwise, we would not be debating this legislation today.

Mr. Beith : As the right hon. Gentleman has quoted from Lord Lloyd's report, he must recognise that what Lord Lloyd recommended was that the law should be amended

That does not include the wide range of offences referred to in the Bill.

Sir Norman Fowler: Those were the terms of reference that Lord Lloyd was given. I am confining my remarks to terrorist offences; if the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the provisions should not be extended to, for instance, drug offences, I am not sure that I go along with him.

Mr. Öpik rose--

Sir Norman Fowler: With respect, I think that these points can be developed later.

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I want to go at least some way towards meeting the point made by the hon. Member for Preston (Audrey Wise). Clearly, there must be safeguards to preserve legitimate opposition--political opposition to foreign regimes--but the requirement for dual criminality will surely mean that, for the legislation to apply, the offence must also be an offence here in the United Kingdom. I support that part of the Bill.

Let me, however, say something in parentheses about international terrorism and the issues that we have been discussing. We have tended to debate so far on the basis that only legislation and the making of law will be effective. Obviously, we must underline the point that one of the most important measures we can take is to have as strong and effective a police service as we possibly can. It would be less than frank of me not to say that we do not like to see the signs that--in some forces, at any rate--strengths are going down. We would want to look at that closely as far as the Metropolitan police is concerned.

Our aim should be to have a general law covering counter-terrorism and the treatment of terrorists which applies to every part of the United Kingdom. The Omagh massacre proves that--for the present, at least--there is a need for emergency power legislation. According to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--this was repeated by the Home Secretary--the aim of the measures relating to Northern Ireland is to increase the isolation of the small number of individuals and groups on either side of the border who are still engaged in violence.

The Home Secretary is saying that membership of the Real IRA is already a criminal offence in Northern Ireland, but that experience has shown that it is virtually impossible to secure a conviction for that alone. Thus, we have the proposal to make admissible in court the evidence of a senior police officer that such a person is a member of an illegal organisation, and the proposal to take into account the response of the accused.

Clearly, there are important questions concerning the fairness of the measure. There is always a balance to be struck between the protection of the public generally and the chance of injustice to an individual. We cannot just shrug those issues off. We must always remember that one of the aims of counter-terrorist policy must be to keep the support of public opinion. It does no good if legislation introduced for the best possible motives results in public support diminishing.

We are talking about the balance between the general protection of the public and the rights of the individual. There are important arguments of principle on some of the measures in the Bill, and I respect the motives of those who have made them. Whatever safeguards are put in, we are still dealing, essentially, with--for example--hearsay evidence given to a court by a senior policeman. Some will find that conclusive in their objection to the Bill.

An alternative line of questioning is to ask how effective the measure will be in practice. After all the dust of debate has settled, how many convictions of members of illegal organisations will take place? I do not want to deny the strength of some of those questions, and a reasoned amendment is before the House. However, the House has a straight choice in terms of giving the Bill a Second Reading--do the possible benefits to the public generally from the Bill outweigh those objections? In my view, the possible benefits do outweigh the objections.

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It is fair for the Government to say that they have modified the Bill to answer at least some of the questions. They have made it clear, for example, that the evidence of a senior policeman alone will not be sufficient for a conviction. In the same way, evidence on the initial response of an arrested person alone will not be sufficient to convict. On a more positive note, it is reasonable in principle for people convicted to risk forfeiture of money or property which might be in their possession at the time of conviction, and I support very much the important proposals made in the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King).

I see a strong case for seeking to achieve as much uniformity as possible in the measures against terrorists on either side of the border. Given the cross-border nature of many terrorist offences, that seems to be an entirely desirable aim. However, if that is to be the guiding principle of policy--I very much see the case for that--as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said today, it makes the Government's actions in removing from the statute book even the power to have internment more and more open to question.

I am not sure that the Prime Minister answered that point. The Government have abandoned the matter. The Irish Government retain the power and, frankly, I would have thought it sensible for the Government to do the same. One of the lessons is that one cannot predict the future or terrorism. One cannot predict exactly the circumstances in which a counter-terrorist law will be required. I would have thought that a prudent Government would not lightly discard measures that are in their armoury. That was the point made by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Bermingham: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that internment led to great resentment? The difference between internment and this proposal is that, under the proposal, the accused will at least know the sentence he will serve when it is imposed. Internment was indeterminate and led to resentment among Irish nationals, whether they were Catholic or Protestant.

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