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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a real problem in that those who come here and use the powers of free speech to advocate, in some cases, violent action against people who may or may not be of their political persuasion are frequently given much freedom, which they sometimes abuse? I am worried about the Bill and many of its aspects that we have been examining, but I hope that my hon. Friend understands the real problem posed by people who choose to live here but abuse the very traditions that they seek to espouse.

Mr. McNamara: Laws exist to deal with those possibilities, and should be used. I frequently send to the police offensive notices that are shoved through the doors of my constituents, suggesting that they should take some action--I expect that my hon. Friend does so, as well. For example, Nazi literature about Anne Frank has been

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circulating recently to say that she never existed, and other such things that are all lies. I sought to have people prosecuted on the ground that they were inciting anti-Semitism. The legislation exists--whether it is implemented enough is another matter.

To sum up, everyone wants the people who were involved in Omagh to be brought to justice. The Bill will not result in anyone being charged with the terrible offence that took place there. It might bring the perpetrators to prison by virtue of their being members of a particular organisation, but it will not result in anyone being charged with that offence, and I want people to be charged with it and imprisoned.

The fact that the Bill certainly runs counter to the European convention, the United Nations convention and the International Criminal Court should not be thrown away lightly. Those defences exist for exactly this sort of situation. If everything were perfect, we would not need any of the conventions to protect people. We are disregarding what we have done.

The essential points on conspiracy are too widely drawn. If pressures were brought to bear, they could cover people who were properly agitating on different matters. The Bill could also lead to police harassment, which is why I suggest that the Attorney-General should have the power to initiate not only prosecutions but investigations, so that the police do not harass various exiled groups here as has been described, in the hope of picking up information, perhaps, but also in the hope of keeping them quiet for people who have commercial interests within their countries.

The Bill is dangerous, and we have been rushed into it without any proper thought. The Government have put together two conflicting ideas. During the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill in 1974, there were enormous pressures on the House. I know of them for two reasons. The first was my name and my descent. I was subject to many threats of violence--it has been a thousand times more difficult for hon. Members representing Northern Ireland, I admit.

Secondly, we were told that if we enacted that legislation, it would protect Irish people in this country who were subject to an enormous amount of abuse. Some hon. Members might not remember that, but I do. They were thrown out of factories, their windows were broken, they were threatened in the streets and thrown out of clubs. We were told that if we enacted the legislation, it would protect them. We were also told in the corridors outside the Chamber, "If you don't do this, the next step is capital punishment." Happily, that can never happen now.

Those were the pressures that we were put under when the House made those decisions in a short time. We were told that the legislation would only be necessary for six months, to get us over an unhappy patch, and that it would then disappear--it is now permanent and it has been in existence for 25 years. Annual reviews or no annual reviews, one thing we know is that we cannot amend a statutory instrument.

We are taking upon ourselves a power upon a power upon a power. People say that this Bill is proportionate. Internment was proportionate, and so was the prevention of terrorism and the emergency powers legislation. We were told that those measures were necessary to stop terrorism. Now, we are told that this measure is carefully targeted and surgical and will cover only the people who

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are involved, exactly as we were told that the smart bombs dropped on Iraq were surgical and would take out only their targets, that they would get rid of the problem and that it would all be over in two or three days, instead of going on and on, as it has.

My fear is illustrated by that headline in The Observer, which said that tougher laws would get rid of the problem. I think that tougher laws will increase the opportunities for more horror and more tough laws. It is that more than anything that may undermine the Belfast agreement.

8.27 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): First, I welcome the fact that Parliament has been recalled to consider this legislation. Obviously, because of the recall and the time scale involved, drafting and consultation difficulties have arisen and hon. Members have made a number of comments about that in this and the previous debate. Those are points of substance. Obviously, that situation is undesirable. However, those criticisms should not be allowed to obscure the basic fact that the Government were right to recall Parliament. They had no choice in the matter once the Irish Government had decided to recall the Dail. From the point of view of containing public confidence, both in Northern Ireland and more generally, our Government could not be seen to be less active in responding to the situation than the Government of the Irish Republic.

The principal proposal in the Bill parallels that being considered in the Irish Parliament this evening. Again, our Government could not appear to be less concerned than the Government of the Irish Republic about the consequences of an appalling act of terrorism inside the United Kingdom. I underline that point because some hon. Members have focused too much on the difficulties arising from the short time scale, the drafting and all the rest and have left out of their thinking the important factor that the Government had a clear responsibility to respond to the atrocity and to demonstrate to the people of Northern Ireland and people elsewhere that their lives, interests and safety weighed in the mind of our Government as much as in that of the Government of the Irish Republic.

The Bill is in two parts, one of which has attracted quite a bit of criticism, and deals with conspiracy directed abroad. I shall make only a couple of comments about that part. Whatever arguments there may be about the technicalities and details, the basic principle to which those clauses are directed is right, because the conspiracy must be one to commit criminal acts elsewhere.

There may be difficulties about definitions, as has been mentioned, but let us take as an example the recent atrocity in east Africa--a car bomb with no warning in a busy city centre at a time of peace, with hundreds of civilians killed. I want to challenge hon. Members who criticise legislation in that sphere.

Is there any circumstance to justify such an act, whatever the regime may be?

Audrey Wise: No.

Mr. Trimble: Why, then, is there argument about passing legislation to make the planning of such acts from

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here in the United Kingdom an offence, and to try to prevent such things from occurring? [Interruption.] The legislation does not seem to me to touch in any way on any legitimate political activity, because the provisions are directed against criminal acts.

Mr. Öpik: I agree about the right hon. Gentleman's examples involving terrorism, but surely the issue is that the legislation goes further, and may prevent other examples of what might be called civil disobedience, in circumstances in which we may naturally feel that it is justified to stand up against a dictatorship or other despotic regime. To me, that is the bigger concern--that the measures would not stop at terrorism.

Mr. Trimble: The answer to that is that we are dealing with offences that are also offences in United Kingdom law.

I have two other points to make about the clauses on conspiracy, although they do not have the same weight as my first point. First, I could not help but notice clause 6, which enables the Bill to amend the law of Northern Ireland as well. To those right hon. and hon. Members on both the Government and the Opposition Front Benches who over the years have told us that we had to operate by Order in Council, and that it was not possible to make provision in Bills of this Parliament to change the law of Northern Ireland at the same time, I say, "Please look at clause 6." Clause 6 does in this Bill what we have argued for years should be done as a matter of course, and it is being done without any difficulty on this occasion. So let it be done on every future occasion, and let us have no more primary legislation by means of unamendable instruments.

My final remark about the conspiracy aspect is that one good consequence has flowed from the inclusion of those clauses in the Bill: it has given us the pleasure of the Home Secretary's presence in the House introducing the legislation today. I may wish to make some critical comments about the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) later, but I echo his thanks to the Home Secretary for the way in which he presented the Bill, and for what he said in his speech.

Obviously, I mean to focus on the legislation as it relates primarily to Irish republican terrorism, and I shall examine the substance of it as it relates to proscribed organisations. It may be worth while to remind ourselves of the background to the Bill. Although the provision is being introduced into United Kingdom law for the first time, it is not a new provision. In its original form it was introduced into the law of the Irish Republic in the Offences Against the State Act 1972.

The provision was then introduced in the simple form of making admissible before hearings of the special criminal court in the Irish Republic the opinion of a senior police officer, and providing that that opinion alone would be sufficient to ground a conviction. There was no question of any corroboration. As originally introduced in the Irish Republic, the provision was that a senior police officer could go to the special criminal court and say, "In my opinion, Bloggs is a member of a proscribed organisation," and it would be open to the court to convict on that basis.

Hundreds of people were so convicted, purely on that basis, without any corroboration. The hon. Member for Hull, North is familiar with such matters because he has

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close connections and contacts with the Irish Republic; he knows what happened. I would attach much more weight to his criticisms of the Bill tonight had I ever heard him criticise those provisions as they operated in the Irish Republic from 1972.

Any criticism that the hon. Gentleman has of the Bill before us applied in spades to the Offences Against the State Act 1972 and proceedings under it. That calls into question the approach that he has adopted to the present Bill.

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