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Mr. Cash: What confidence has the right hon. Gentleman in the fact that Sinn Fein actually speaks for the IRA in this context? Does he share my concern about the lack of compatibility that the Bill appears to have with the proposals for early release, when it comes down to the question of proscribed organisations and whether the opinion of an officer has a bearing on that?

Mr. Trimble: The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in his interventions in trailing the amendment that he has tabled. As he knows, I am fairly sympathetic to it, and I hope that hon. Members will consider it earnestly.

As for Sinn Fein and the IRA, as the Government have said repeatedly, they are inextricably linked. Some commentators have said of the gentleman nominated by Sinn Fein as its interlocutor with the decommissioning commission that no one could be better equipped to ensure that the IRA does decommission, although I leave it to others to decide what can be read into that.

My colleagues and I support the Bill in principle. We have expressed our doubts about its effectiveness, but we consider it necessary for the Government to act in the present circumstances. Because of our doubts about its effectiveness, however, we think that the Government should do more. We think that it should, as soon as possible, implement the Chief Constable's proposals--and, in the present circumstances, it is most important to restore the power of internment.

A mythology has grown up about that in recent years, which is quite inaccurate. It describes the failure of what is seen as a tool. Every time it has been used in the Republic, it has succeeded. Its most recent exercise in Northern Ireland was a failure, but there were specific reasons for that. Hon. Members should study those reasons in detail, and recognise that, in dealing with what is currently a comparatively small group, the tool has a much better chance of working effectively than it had in 1971. I consider it wrong to take the rigid and doctrinaire stance that some hon. Members have adopted. Certainly, I think it wrong for Ministers to say that they oppose

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internment in the present circumstances. Whatever their private feelings may be, they should not oppose its use publicly, because in doing so they clearly undermine a threat that is posed by the Irish Government.

As I said at the outset, we in the United Kingdom cannot be seen to be less anxious and less ready to act than the Irish Government.

8.57 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). When he became leader of the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland, I expressed severe doubts about whether he could offer the quality of leadership that the Unionist people were crying out for. In recent months--indeed, for longer--he has proved me wrong by his actions and words, and I am delighted to say so publicly. The Unionists are getting the leadership that they need, and I am delighted by that.

My first point concerns the problems of emergency legislation. When we recall the House of Commons to deal with such legislation--as the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made clear--we have to be particularly cautious. We have the lesson of the Birmingham pub bombing, and any atrocity such as Birmingham or Omagh should put us on our guard. The Government are right to try to get their business through in the next two days--not least because I think that if we had asked the House to sit for a further two days, we would not have secured agreement anyway. However, the House does not have in place the checks and balances necessary to examine legislation such as this.

Although this is not the appropriate time to outline the details, the Modernisation Committee--of which I am a member--is looking at the matter. I hope that we will recommend that a Committee that examines a Bill can continue in existence after a Bill becomes law to see how it is working, and I hope that such a recommendation will be accepted by the House in the near future. That proposal was dreamt up partly as a result of the disaster of the Child Support Agency. However, we need to take a step further. Every time the House meets for an emergency debate and passes legislation, we should establish a Committee to look at the way in which the legislation works over time.

Select Committees can do that to some degree, but when an Act of Parliament crosses departmental boundaries--as this Bill does--it would be better to set up an operation to see how it works over time. I would be happy to make that proposal to the Modernisation Committee. I hope that some of my Committee colleagues, such as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), would support that. His concerns about the way in which we deal with such legislation are right. As one or two of my hon. Friends have said, when we have emergency legislation, it is all too easy to get it wrong.

A number of people said to me when they saw the Bill that it was the prevention of terrorism Act, old-style, back in drag. It is not. I was a strong and persistent opponent of the prevention of terrorism Act for many years, and it was only in recent years that I ceased to vote against it.

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There were two primary reasons for that. The first was that the offences against civil liberties and the reputation of this country as a democracy operating under the rule of law were devastatingly serious in one particular respect--exclusion orders. However they were dressed up, those orders were a form of internal exile--the first time that had been used in the United Kingdom since the days of Henry VIII. That was one of the reasons why the Act was so atrocious, and why I was so pleased when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary ceased to use its powers.

The other big failure of the prevention of terrorism Act was that it was not used as a prevention of terrorism Act in the specific sense. It should really have been called the collection of information Act. The measure was used to round up hundreds of people--several thousand people in some years--question them, often for several days, and release them without charge. On very few occasions throughout the years were more than 5 per cent. of those arrested and detained under the Act charged with any offence. Of that 5 per cent., a smaller percentage were charged with offences relating to terrorism. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said, the Act was a recruiting sergeant major for the Provisional IRA and, to a lesser extent, for other paramilitary groups operating out of Northern Ireland. For that reason, I was pleased to see the Act go.

Nor is the new Bill a form of internment. Unlike the right hon. Member for Upper Bann and one or two others, I do not believe that internment should be put back on the statute book. It is one thing for the Irish Government to consider internment in Ireland, but it is altogether another thing--for historical reasons, of which we are all aware--for the British Government to become involved in a policy of internment. That is not just because we got it so badly wrong, or because one of the biggest mistakes we ever made was to allow the British Army to be under the direction of what was then a biased and skewed Northern Ireland Executive. It is because the Act was inevitably going to involve British troops in exercising internment, and the history and image of that in Ireland were unacceptable.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's comments and the problems of the British Government unilaterally introducing internment, but is there not a problem with the Bill? What it purports to do is to put criminal sanctions on a test that is not very dissimilar to the test for interning people. To get away from calling a spade a spade--that, in fact, the criminal justice system cannot deal with certain kinds of terrorism--are we not making another and extremely dangerous error in bending the rules of the criminal justice system to convict people who do not fit it?

Mr. Soley: There is clearly a danger of that, but let me try to deal with that as I continue my remarks. I hope to deal with it to some extent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South has a point when he says that anyone who is picked up under the Bill should be taken to one of the police stations that operate the recording procedure; one of them certainly does. He is a bit more optimistic than I am about these things. He thinks that a lot of the criticism of audio recording will melt like snow on a volcano.

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I suspect that some of us might be more resistant to the flames of a volcano than others. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that, if that were done, it would be a significant step in the right direction. I hope that the Government will examine that while we debate this Bill.

Mr. Robert McCartney: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soley: I will, but I want to be brief because I am conscious of the time.

Mr. McCartney: The suggestion by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) that audio equipment would be the answer to everyone's difficulty ignores the fact that the real opinion that is given by the superintendent will not necessarily be based--in fact, it frequently will not be based--on any information given in interview.

Mr. Soley: That may be so, but I do not think that we are looking for perfection. In a perfect world, we would not have this Bill in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South was identifying an additional safeguard, and it is one that the RUC will have to bring in anyway. The suggestion is that we simply ensure that it applies to all these cases.

The other fundamental difference between the Bill and the PTA is that the Bill is sharply focused. By anyone's standards, the number of people involved is probably not much more than 20 or 30 in the north of Ireland--it may be less than that--so the Bill will not operate like the PTA, which swept people up in its net, questioned them and let them go.

There is no reason why the Bill should not provide for audio recording and I hope that it will do so. No doubt we will be told whether it is possible, but I hope that it is.

The other big difference from the past is the force of the vote in the referendums in the north and south of the island of Ireland. It has radically and completely changed the nature of the debate because, as the Real IRA discovered, it removed any legitimacy from what terrorists were doing. It took away a lot of water in which the fish of terrorism, if I may revert to that old saying, were able to swim.

That vote changed the mood in Ireland, north and south. We must respond to that. We must ensure that the Bill is focused. Although I do not like it and would not, in an ideal world, have it, in the context of Omagh it is necessary to do something of this nature.

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