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Audrey Wise: My hon. Friend refers to the conclusions that have been reached by his colleagues. The main conclusion, which was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), is that the measure could and should be improved. Is my hon. Friend distancing himself from that conclusion, or does he support the proposed improvements, such as those in respect of audio-recording and the presence of a solicitor?

Mr. Winnick: As a politician, I may have defects, but I hope that I have a reasonably open mind. I shall certainly study the amendments. If I believe that they are useful in furthering the Bill's aims, I will give them serious consideration, and I see no reason why I should not.

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I refer briefly to clauses 5 to 7. Britain should not be a safe haven for those who wish to commit terrorist offences. One can constantly use the argument about the anti-apartheid struggle. I was involved almost from the beginning in the anti-apartheid movement. I was not aware of any moves to commit murder of any kind abroad; nor was it ever suggested by British sources, including Tory Governments, that the anti-apartheid movement was involved in any way in conspiracies to murder abroad. That argument can be overstretched.

All Labour Members and a number of Opposition Members believed that the liberation of South Africa from apartheid was justified, and some of us are proud of what we did on that issue before and during the time that we were in the House. That does not mean that groups of people in Britain who have been given asylum--fundamentalists, much along the same lines as those who caused the atrocity in Omagh and those responsible for the terrible atrocities that have caused even more casualties in east Africa--should consider it their holy writ, with the democratic freedoms that we have, and long may they remain here, to carry out conspiracies to murder overseas. I see no reason why that should be so and I do not believe for one moment that the British people would wish it so.

I recognise the difficulties. I recognise that, as the Bill stands--this is why I have some reservations about clauses 5 to 7--there is a possibility that people who have genuinely sought asylum and been given it, who are in no way involved in the plotting of conspiracies abroad of murder or any other kind, could be caught up in its provisions. That is why I share the view of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and others that particular care should be given to those clauses. In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Preston(Audrey Wise) asked of me, I shall give even more consideration to amendments to clauses 5 to 7.

Nevertheless, despite all the reservations, I believe that we have a duty and responsibility, following the terrible atrocity at Omagh, and given the possibility that there will be other terrorist groups, breakaways from the IRA who claim that they have a holy writ, and perhaps loyalists involved in a backlash who will also argue that they have a holy writ to preserve Northern Ireland from the Belfast agreement, to give whatever support we can to measures that can prevent further outbreaks of terrorism from occurring.

There is no iron guarantee. None of us can be certain--neither those who support the measure, nor those who oppose it. But I am convinced that, on balance, we are taking the right steps. My right hon. and hon. Friends will have every justification in supporting the Bill in the Division Lobby later tonight.

7.42 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) used a phrase, which I would not have chosen, about civil rights not being important in the graveyard. Right-wing and authoritarian movements to which he and I are opposed would use that phrase rather too readily. I would put the point differently: the right to the protection of the law against arbitrary violence is an important civil right, alongside a number of other civil rights, all of which are important, such as the right not to be convicted of a crime that one did not commit. To have due process of law is an important civil right. We must address all of them.

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I start by making it clear that, despite concerns which I shall outline, Liberal Democrats believe that key elements in the Bill should be brought into law urgently. We recognise that there is a certain responsibility on us as an Opposition party, when we have an historic opportunity to achieve in Northern Ireland a peace that has been denied to the people of Northern Ireland for so many years, to give the Government some room for manoeuvre, some benefit of the doubt, on some of our concerns. But we cannot set them all aside, and I want to express some by means of amendments in the hope that the Government will improve the Bill.

The Government in the Irish Republic have already said that they are prepared to accept a number of amendments to the Bill that they are considering in the Dail today. The Government have themselves moved on a number of issues and I want that process to continue during our debates tonight. I welcome some of the safeguards that have been included in the Bill. If hon. Members were not aware of them, it was because the Home Office was so late in producing the Bill. I am grateful for the Government's co-operation with us as a party in trying to give us as much notice as they could. However, the fact remains that the production of the Bill, the clear intentions of which were set out by the Prime Minister in his speech at Omagh, was unconscionably long in coming out. That was partly because of their decision to tack on the conspiracy measures to which I shall refer again later.

We welcome safeguards such as the fact that the evidence of a police officer cannot by itself be sufficient. We welcome the annual renewal provision, which we want preceded by a review. We welcome the insistence that consultation with a solicitor must be available, and it should be clear that the solicitor can remain present, as is normal practice in Great Britain during the questioning process.

We are addressing other concerns by means of amendments, with which I shall not deal now, because we can do that in Committee; I shall simply give a couple of illustrations to explain the sort of problems that we have. Take the forfeiture provisions, which not many people have mentioned. They are useful provisions, but they can give rise to problems. The forfeiture of someone's home because weapons were stored in the roof space may be inappropriate or counter-productive when other members of the family did not know that that had been done or were subject to great coercion.

I find myself in a difficult position, because we must consider the case of people who co-operated with the Provisional IRA in ways that we might deplore and who are now committed to a ceasefire, but who are in a locality where they are subject to duress by ex-Provisionals who have gone over to the so-called Real IRA, the small splinter group that is continuing the horrific violence. There is a lot of coercion in that respect and we would not help in communities if we finished up turning people out of their homes. The courts are required to hear representations from people in such situations, but people may be frightened to bring forward such representations, so I counsel caution on the part of the authorities in using those forfeiture provisions. We have tabled an amendment to tighten that up.

Another example is the inference drawn from silence. People who have been involved in the Provisional IRA may be frightened of incriminating themselves in respect of what they did when the Provisionals were involved in

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violence, even though they have no truck and no involvement with those who are continuing the violence now. There are some practical problems where the Bill could be tightened up a little and we have sought to do that by way of amendments.

As will be apparent from what I said earlier, my biggest concern is the inclusion of such extensive conspiracy provisions which do not arise from the Northern Ireland situation, are not part of a joint effort with the Government of the Republic and do not have the same urgency about them. The Home Office is pulling a fast one. The Prime Minister said earlier that the Government "took the opportunity" of the recall of the House to bring in these provisions which the House has had before it previously. That phrase gives the game away. The Home Office has been successful in getting Bills into the legislative programme, but it has more in the cupboard and this is one of them. I am not unsympathetic to some of the things that the provisions are intended to do, but this is not a good vehicle with which to deal with them.

Lord Lloyd recommended in his report that the Government should introduce provisions relating to terrorist offences planned in Britain but committed overseas--conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts overseas--but he did not envisage wide powers that extended far beyond terrorism. For example, those powers could involve a group that planned an act of civil disobedience in another country that had no terrorist character to it whatever. An environmental group that decided to blockade the departure of a ship from a German or Polish port by bringing a lot of little boats into the way of that ship would be committing a criminal offence in that country and might be committing a criminal offence in this country, but that would not be an act of terrorism and it is not what was envisaged byLord Lloyd; nor do I think it is what is envisaged by the Government. If there is a case for wider conspiracy powers, this is not the place to deal with that.

The provisions are in the Bill and we can vote against those clauses when we come to them, but there are some things that the Government could do. They could ensure that the conspiracy aspects of the Bill were limited to terrorism. We have tabled amendments which the Government could easily accept that would do precisely that. We have tabled other amendments to provide some further restriction to protect the legitimate opposition to repressive regimes. There may be some element of justified violence in opposition to other regimes--not terrorism. Even for Governments with which I disagree, I do not want groups in Britain planning bombs that would kill and maim hundreds of civilians even in Iraq, let alone anywhere else. I do not want terrorism planned in this country. However, the position is difficult with regard to countries where there is a civil war or organised military opposition to a repressive regime, and we must be much more careful about that. We have tabled amendments designed to address what the Attorney-General might consider in those circumstances.

Although the reasoned amendment includes some of our concerns, we do not support it because, by its nature, it is designed to defeat the entire Bill. For that reason, we cannot support it. We believe that parts of the Bill should go ahead, as I shall explain by way of conclusion.

First, the terrible event at Omagh and all the suffering that came from it brought about an even more overwhelming desire among people in all parts of Ireland

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to proceed towards peace than had already been apparent in the votes that they cast in the referendum. There was already a clear democratic determination to seek to bring about peace. The revulsion from Omagh spread that desire deep into all communities in the north and the south. That calls for a response from Parliament. That is why it is right for Parliament to be recalled and for us to consider urgent measures.

Secondly, members of the republican splinter groups that continue to operate are very determined people indeed. They are highly trained and taught not to answer questions during interrogation. By their very decision to continue the violence, we know that they are extremely dedicated to their cause. The police and authorities need some limited extra armoury to deal with them. However, as the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), said, we should not exaggerate what the limited provisions will achieve.

The Prime Minister did not help his case by claiming that the measures were draconian. They are not. In some respects, they are unusual in our system and they need particular safeguards, but I believe that their impact will be more limited than was suggested. They could help to secure prosecutions if a court can be satisfied on more than one ground that the accused are involved in that dreadful continuing violence.

The final reason why we think it is important to support the inclusion of at least some of the provisions is that we have argued for years that we should be working jointly with the Parliament of the Irish Republic, the Dail, on legislation that runs as far as possible in parallel, so that no community can say that the British state is imposing its will on Northern Ireland or that the legislation is sectarian.

The Governments of the two countries, who must take action in the circumstances, are trying to provide a legal framework within which the declared wishes of the Irish people for peace can be given effect. Those wishes could not have been more clearly expressed. They came from north and south, Protestant and Catholic. Across the communities of Northern Ireland, people have had enough of violence.

The view that I am presenting, which is shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends, is that elements of the Bill may help to give effect to that desire for peace. They are part of the wider process and the taking of a historic opportunity. For that reason, we are prepared to support them, despite our reservations. We hope that, before the night is over, we will have improved the Bill in a number of respects.

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