Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Benn: The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not really understand the point. All war is violence against innocent people--all war, not just terrorism. The smart bombs killed 200,000 people in Iraq. I have been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were bombed after the Japanese had offered to surrender. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been there too. I saw the little children's lunch boxes that had been burned by the bombs. Do not try to tell the House that only terrorists injure innocent people.

As I heard Churchill say in this House, "The alternative to war-war is jaw-jaw." That is the tribute I pay to my Front-Bench colleagues--they started the talking in Northern Ireland. My God--what a change it is to hear the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) appealing to us to follow the line of the Dail. I never thought that I would hear that in this House.

2 Sept 1998 : Column 813

Gerry Adams--who should take his seat in this place, I might add--has appointed Martin McGuinness to the decommissioning body. Do not think that that is not serious, because it is. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and I were threatened with expulsion from the Labour party two years ago for meeting Gerry Adams. We cannot get to see him now--he is popping in and out of No. 10 all the time. If one argues an unpopular case, one must try to find the answers.

President Clinton is coming to Belfast tomorrow. He will say that he welcomes the end of the bombing, and he has said all along that those involved should not go in for reprisal bombings. That is exactly what he did when he bombed Sudan and Afghanistan. The world was as shocked by Dar es Salaam and Nairobi as it was by Omagh--more so, because more people were killed. President Clinton then threw it away by bombing Sudan.

We have no time to go into this, but it was funny that, a few months ago, President Clinton said that we should bomb Iraq because it would not let us inspect its factories. Now, having bombed Sudan, he will not agree to an inspection of the factories he bombed, because he knows that there is no evidence. What Clinton said about Sudan is what the police will say in cases involving terrorists--"I cannot tell you why I did it, for security reasons."

I mentioned an historical case earlier, and the Prime Minister rebuked me. He said that one must know history but live in the present. I agree with that, but, in 1858, the Palmerston Government fell because they introduced a conspiracy Bill, rather like this one, because the French Government wanted action taken against Orsini, an Italian who bought a bomb in London and tried to kill Napoleon III. The House of Commons--a rather more courageous place then than it is now--threw out the Bill, and Palmerston was out. Nothing much changes.

I referred to Omdurman in my question to the Prime Minister, because 10,000 Sudanese--who were held to be Islamic fundamentalists--were killed by Kitchener 100 years ago today. One of the cavalry officers who fought there sat in the House with me when I was elected--none other than Winston Churchill. I beg the House to take a proper historical perspective.

The only way to get peace, nationally or internationally, is by social justice and democracy--they provide the best guarantees. Nobody in Northern Ireland wants violence. Even the hideous and offensive apology by the Real IRA was an indication that they knew that they had no support, and INLA knew that they had to give up. That is the victory of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

I do not know whether there will be a Division on the Bill. If there is, I shall vote against it, because I think that it is a bad Bill, for the reasons that I have given. However, the important thing is that we address ourselves now--not only in Northern Ireland, but throughout the world--to the problem of how we deal with violence. It does not help to launch a cold war against Islam, or to whip people up into believing that there is only one way to deal with violence, which is more and more violence.

I put my argument respectfully to the House. The Government have done a brilliant job, but this is a bad Bill, presented to us in a bad way. It would be better if it did not go through on a vote tonight, although I know well that it will.

2 Sept 1998 : Column 814

10.13 pm

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): I wish to address briefly the provisions in the Bill that deal with conspiracy to commit offences overseas. I am glad to see the Attorney-General in his place, because most of my comments will be directed to him.

I must say to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and to the House that Hansard will show that those Labour Members who have expressed concerns about clause 5 and the provisions relating to conspiracy to commit offences overseas somehow seem to have wanted to give the impression that all terrorists are, in reality, romantic freedom fighters. If hon. Members do not believe that, just read Hansard tomorrow.

I was a Minister in the Foreign Office for a single year between being in the Department of the Environment and going to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. During that year, one thing struck me in relation to those countries with which I had the responsibility of dealing. One of our major bilateral problems with practically every one of those countries was a founded belief on their part that there were people in the United Kingdom who were using the UK as a base to plot terrorist activities in their countries.

Within the space of one year, high commissioners from a number of Commonwealth cousin countries came to see me. The high commissioners for India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all, in their own ways, in reference to their countries, put forward moderate, proportionate cases for why they believed individuals in this country either had committed terrorist offences in their countries or were planning terrorist offences. They were concerned not about embarrassment, incitement or anything of that type, but about offences being committed.

The Government have said that they have introduced this part of the Bill because of the terrorist offences that were committed in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Consider just how many people have been murdered in recent months and years by terrorists in Karachi alone--many more than were killed tragically in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Therefore, it must be right for the UK to take action, if possible, against international terrorism and for us to ensure that there is no suggestion of the UK being used as a base for terrorist activities being planned overseas.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): The Home Secretary told us that, in relation to India, the power that is being taken in this Bill already existed. Is my hon. Friend saying that the Foreign Office was unable to use that power--if so, the taking of it for more countries seems to be valueless--or was it simply that the power was not in place when he was in the Foreign Office?

Mr. Baldry: My hon. Friend moves me on to the next point that I wish to make. In the past, the line of Government generally--certainly the line of the previous Government and, I suspect, that of this Government--to such requests and representations has been that it has not been general policy to seek to prosecute offences committed outside the territory. This Bill will mean that all Governments will expect the UK to take action.

If an ambassador or high commissioner comes to the Foreign Office and says to Ministers there, "We have reason to believe that an individual or group of individuals

2 Sept 1998 : Column 815

who are resident in the UK either have committed or plan to commit and conspire to commit an offence overseas. We expect action to be taken." If action is not taken, it will seriously poison bilateral relations with those countries.

Therefore, my request to the Attorney-General is that he take the earliest possible opportunity--I appreciate that he will not have the time tonight--to explain to the House, and, more important, to the rest of the world the process that will be followed in all this. Which Government Department is going to have the lead? If an ambassador or high commissioner has evidence from his Government of terrorist activities being undertaken or planned in the UK, does he go to the Foreign Office or the Home Office? Who then will undertake an investigation?

Is there to be a clear understanding that, if a Government with diplomatic representation at the Court of St. James make a claim that they consider to be valid--that someone who is resident in the UK is conspiring, or has conspired to commit an offence in their country--that will be investigated by the appropriate police force in the UK? Is there to be a clear understanding that, if the officers in charge believe that an offence has been committed, those individuals will be arrested and the matter will be referred to the Attorney-General?

The Attorney-General also has to explain other issues publicly and clearly. The Attorney-General will not be involved in a case until the papers are referred to him. If there is sufficient evidence for police officers to arrest someone on the belief that an offence has been committed under clause 5 and the Attorney-General decides not to prosecute, he will have a great responsibility, because the Government of the country concerned will feel that the United Kingdom has let them down. It will not be sufficient for the Attorney-General to say simply that he has not prosecuted because it is contrary to the public interest. That could sour our relations with the country concerned for a long time. Clear criteria will have to be set out on the circumstances in which the Attorney-General may decide not to institute a prosecution.

The Government also have to explain, not just to the House, but to the rest of the world, the provision in the Bill for Ministers to overrule the Attorney-General's decision to institute a prosecution. Which Minister or Department will take the lead? Will it be a matter for the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary? It will not be sufficient simply for a Secretary of State to say that he considers prosecution to be against the public interest. That could poison relations with a friendly country. The conditions and criteria under which Ministers can intervene to stop a prosecution will have to be clear.

I support the provisions in the Bill and I believe that many friendly Governments around the world will also support them. I suspect that many colleagues who go to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference this year will find that many from elsewhere in the Commonwealth will welcome the provisions. We have to recognise that, when we have introduced the provisions, there will be an expectation around the world that they will be implemented.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said that some of the provisions on Northern Ireland may not work, but they are important presentationally. It is

2 Sept 1998 : Column 816

not sufficient to say that clauses 5, 6 and 7 are there for presentational reasons and are window dressing. The rest of the international community will expect us to act on the provisions. They will want a clear understanding of how the Government will act and the processes that they will introduce to ensure that the provisions can be implemented.

I very much hope that the Attorney-General and the appropriate lead Secretary of State will make the fullest possible explanation at the earliest opportunity of the processes to be used. I suspect that many Governments around the world will want a clear understanding of what the Government intend. They will want to be sure that we are genuine in our intent to take action and that the measure is not simply window dressing by the Government.

Next Section

IndexHome Page