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10.23 pm

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): I support the recall of Parliament today and agree with the need to take action and introduce laws in the north and the south of Ireland together. However, when I first heard about the Bill I had several concerns. My main concern was whether it would work--would it achieve the objective that was set out for it? The theme of today's debates seems to have been that we should learn from the past. I welcome some of the safeguards that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has added to the Bill. They are a significant improvement on some of the announcements over the weekend.

There are two ways to defeat terrorism. There is the way that Britain used in Malaya in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the Serbs are now using in Kosovo, which is to take military action and wipe out village after village. No one would argue now that that is the right way, although I suspect some Opposition Members have inklings in that direction. The alternative method is the one that the Government have chosen, which is to tackle the political dimension.

It is important that we recognise the effect of anti-terrorist laws after they are passed. There have been many anti-terrorist laws passed in many countries; some of those have worked, but many have had the opposite effect and increased support for terrorists instead of diminishing it. I want to ensure that the legislation before us reduces support for terrorists.

The biggest single event this year, apart from the Northern Ireland agreement, was the reaction of the people of Dundalk to the Omagh bombing. They came out and said, "We do not want violence." That was a highly significant act. We have waited a long time for it, but the political conditions were not right before. We have to understand the effect of laws on communities, and recognise that by subjecting a community to injustices, we increase support for terrorism instead of decreasing it. That point has been made several times already this evening.

I shall illustrate that with an example dating from the introduction of the prevention of terrorism Act. A 17-year-old was travelling from Belfast to Heathrow in Christmas 1974, just after the Birmingham pub bombings. This cocky 17-year-old kid was stopped at Heathrow and asked for some identification. He said, "I don't need a passport to travel from one part of the United Kingdom to another. This is not the Soviet Union--we don't have

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gulags here." He had just been reading Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago". That kid was taken into custody, questioned for hours and accused of being a member of the IRA. I believe that a press statement was drafted suggesting that an IRA suspect had been arrested at Heathrow. Only the intervention of a senior customs officer who knew the kid resolved that situation, but I know that, 10 years later, a police superintendent remained convinced that the kid was a member of the IRA, when all he was was a stupid little boy.

The important point is that injustices occur when legislation is rushed through the House. The example I have given is a minor one, which does not compare with the cases of the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six, but it illustrates what can happen when people get caught up in events. We all want to get the terrorists who bombed Omagh, but we will not get them by quick fixes or by bad legislation, because that will trigger an adverse reaction. Let us look at how other pieces of legislation have worked: the banning of Sinn Fein members' voices has already been mentioned, but the point is that the message still came through; people could not hear the voices, but they still heard the message.

I hope that the Bill does achieve some of the objectives set out by the Government. I hope that it will be proportionate, but it would be more proportionate if some of the amendments were accepted by the Government, especially the one that would ensure that solicitors were present throughout interviews in Northern Ireland. I would also argue strongly that some of the security forces' proposals should be scrutinised carefully in respect of their practicality. We all agree on the principle, but we must concentrate on the practicalities.

Clauses 5 to 7 have been mentioned by many hon. Members, so I shall content myself by asking two questions of the Minister. What worries me is the difficulty of distinguishing between a genuine charge and a trumped-up charge. How is the question of a person's innocence or otherwise to be determined? There are clear arguments in favour of laying down in the Bill procedures relating to the sort of evidence that will be admissible.

There is also the question of state-sponsored terrorism. How would we deal with, for example, the French secret service's actions in Auckland, or with the Central Intelligence Agency's activities in Nicaragua, if British people had been involved in either?

We have been told that British Crown personnel are exempt from the Bill, but what is the position of the people whom they employ--the Sandlines of this world? Will they be caught under the legislation for carrying out British Government policy, or will they be exempt, and what will be the consequences of any such exemption?

I will support the Government tonight, because it is important that the House sends a message of unity with the Dail, but I urge them to accept the amendments that have been tabled to improve the Bill and strengthen the safeguards so that its misuse cannot lead to support for the men of evil. Those people should be given no oxygen in the political vacuum that has been created. Let us not give them any renewed hope.

I support the Government's campaign against terrorism, but far more important than what we are doing today is the message of the peace process and of what is happening in Belfast through talks between the parties. Bringing the

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remaining terrorist organisations into the peace process will resolve the problems far more effectively than the Bill ever could.

Not many people were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 who could not have been jailed under other Acts. The same will be true of the Bill when it is enacted, and I implore the Government to accept the amendments that have been tabled.

10.30 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): We have heard many good contributions this evening, two of which made an especially strong impact on me. One was that of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), which was the usual irrelevance that used to make me so angry, but which I can now pleasantly ignore. The other was that of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), for whom I have the highest regard, in that I know his genuine concern for the traditions of the House and the rights of its Members.

In the right hon. Gentleman's knockabout contribution--which was most entertaining; he has a talent that many of us wish we could emulate--we lost sight for a few moments of the serious issue. We are here because the largest single tragedy in 28 years of violence in Northern Ireland occurred a few Saturdays ago, and it is important to recognise that, whatever the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, if we follow him to the logical conclusion of his argument, we will have something in this country that is little better than anarchy. What he says is entertaining within the Chamber, but outside ordinary people have had to face the horror of terrorism for 28 years, and to drift down the road that he described would be to drift towards anarchy.

I do not want for one minute to diminish the horror of the Omagh incident, but I must remind right hon. and hon. Members that in 28 years more than 3,300 people have died at the hands of terrorists, among whom I must include the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), who was the commander of the unit of the IRA that placed a bomb in the window of the La Mon hotel and burned to death members of a canine club. He was commander of the unit in West Belfast that was responsible for bomb after bomb going off at Oxford street bus station in Belfast, killing many people who were going home. I do not regret that the efforts by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to bring that person to speak in the House were frustrated by the Government and by Madam Speaker.

When we view the legislation, we must consider the needs of society as a whole. I have never looked exclusively at the needs of Northern Ireland's Unionist or Protestant people. I look to the needs of society. I came into politics with the objective of helping people in Northern Ireland society to find a way to work together in partnership, sharing responsibility in a way that enabled us to have political stability and peace. I am trying to remember the age of my eldest child. He is 35 and he cannot recall a time when there was not violence in Northern Ireland.

It is against that background and not in a knockabout play on words that we must try to make a judgment. If I have anything to say to the Government it is not that I am

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concerned that the human rights of many people will be jeopardised. The human rights of people in Northern Ireland and, indeed, throughout this United Kingdom have been jeopardised only by the actions of terrorists over the past 28 years. Some mistakes have been reciprocal to the violence, but no Government set out to undermine the civil rights of people in our society.

Many of my colleagues regard me as being too liberal. [Interruption.] People may laugh, but there is always the difficulty and the danger that a Northern Ireland Member who tries to look at the interests of society as a whole is considered to be foolishly and naively liberal. People who have enthusiastically supported, as I have, the agreement of 10 April are considered by many to be naive and too liberal. It is because of my regard for that agreement that I do not want the Government to make the mistake that has been made by one Government after another. That mistake was not to take measures that endangered human rights but rather to take timid, inadequate measures that were too little and too late to protect lives in Northern Ireland.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Hull, North have said that we tried this and that and that it did not work. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, if Governments had not taken such measures, the bloodshed would have been much worse as two traditions, fearful of each other, would have been let loose, resulting in a much greater tragedy than the one that has occurred over the past 28 years.[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Chesterfield may shake his head, but those of us who have seen people fleeing to their ghettos, who have seen people move because of the intimidation of men of violence, can have little time for the simplistic arguments that we have heard tonight.

My concern is that the two measures that we are debating that will affect Northern Ireland are, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has already said in respect of one of the measures, inadequate.

I hope that the Minister will listen for a moment because I should like a response on my next point. May I have a clarification from him in respect of inferences to be drawn by the court should a person being questioned fail to mention a fact that is material to the offence and that he could reasonably be expected to mention? I refer to subsection (4)(b) of proposed new section 2A in clause 1 as it impacts on subsection (6)(a).

It seems that a substantial change is being applied in respect of questioning procedure in so far as a person being questioned will have to be given access to a solicitor before being questioned rather than at some time up to 48 hours after his arrest, as would apply if that person were being questioned specifically about, say, the Omagh atrocity.

Does that not mean that the membership offence has to be dealt with separately from any other offence, and that, in practice, arrests for membership will have to be exclusively for that purpose? In other words, is it true that the provision could not be applied where a person is first arrested in connection with a specific terrorist offence, such as the Omagh atrocity, where, for quite justifiable reasons, which I, the Minister and most hon. Members understand, the 48-hour embargo on solicitor access is

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applied, and when the matter of membership arises only as a secondary consideration? As the questioning continues a little progress may be made and it suddenly may become evident that there is one thing that can be proved based on intelligence and the questioning itself, and that is that the person is a member of an illegal organisation.


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