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Dr. Palmer: I made no such suggestion. I was saying that a small minority in various parts of the northern Irish community is still committed to armed violence. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with that assessment. We have to consider whether the Bill will enable the Government to stamp out, or at least remove, that minority from circulation without doing irreparable harm to human rights.

Like several hon. Members, I have reservations about the weight that the Bill places on the judgment of individual senior police officers. There have been too many cases in which police officers, being human like the rest of us, have come under pressure to solve an especially heinous crime, have found a suspect whom they felt was likely to have done it and have then taken short cuts. Given the nature of human beings, we have to accept that that will happen again, and that it is a risk inherent in this type of legislation.

For this window of opportunity, when a small, isolated group is defying the whole of Northern Irish society, it is worth taking that risk in the short term to take the group out of circulation. However, we need to avoid the temptation to create a new power that will last for as long as the PTA. Both sides of the House must recognise that this is an emergency power, which is being imposed because of a critical situation and that, in due course, we hope that it will be possible to move away from it. With that in mind, I want an assurance from the Minister that, when he makes his annual report on the state of this legislation, he will include an assessment of whether all aspects of the Bill are still necessary, whether it is still being actively applied, whether the application is satisfactory or whether the time has come to step back from this emergency power.

I said that we should proceed with the Bill despite those reservations principally because public confidence is critical at this point and it would be totally insane--and it would be seen to be insane--if terrorists planning to plant bombs in Northern Ireland fled there from southern Ireland to avoid similar provisions there. We have to match what the Dail decides in this matter--the two Governments and Parliaments need to move in step.

However, I would make a distinction for internment, which several hon. Members have raised. At present, internment is not proposed in southern Ireland. The reintroduction of that power would have a massive political impact in Northern Ireland, which could not be conducive to the present peaceful process. Those who suggest internment on the mainland have not seriously considered the impact that it would have, just as those who propose that we should break the Good Friday agreement by cancelling prisoner releases pending decommissioning have not seriously assessed the impact of that proposal.

The problem with clauses 5 to 7 can be precisely identified. Some hon. Members have said that the double test is sufficient to ensure that no one is victimised. They have said that, if an offence is a crime both here and in the other country in which it arises, there is no problem.

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The problem arises when the offence is a crime here, because we have a democratic alternative, and a crime in the other country, because opposition is not tolerated.

To give a concrete example, we talked about the African National Congress and its campaign against electricity pylons. If that were updated to today, and a group were planning to blow up pylons in a western European country, all of us would oppose it--although, because Brussels was involved, the Conservative party would support it, I suppose. We would speak with one voice within democratic western Europe, saying that such behaviour was totally unacceptable.

If the group were in a friendly, autocratic country, such as Saudi Arabia, it would be more difficult to reach a firm view. Possibly, our view of the action would in practice depend on the people who were carrying it out. There are popular and less popular opposition groups. We would be moving into dangerous terrain if we started judging the offence by whether we liked the people who were doing it, and whether we considered that they were in the democratic opposition or the fundamentalist opposition.

We could move a step further and consider the application to Iraq. If we read that the opposition there had decided to give up violent opposition to Saddam Hussein and were concentrating on electricity pylons, would we say, "This is a very serious offence; we must seize those people immediately"? Probably not.

In contrast to the private Member's Bill two years ago, this Bill provides a backstop--the Attorney-General, who has to decide whether to approve a prosecution if the possibility arises. However, as others have said, that can backfire, because at the moment if the Saudi ambassador says to us, "What that exile group is doing on your territory is shocking. What are you going to do about it?" we can say, "We are terribly sorry, but unfortunately our law does not allow us to do anything at all. Goodbye." That will not be possible in future. We shall have to say, "Well, the Attorney-General is a funny chap; he does not seem to want to do that."

We are delivering the Attorney-General into a difficult grey area of political judgment, in which either he will have to have clear, firm guidelines, as was suggested earlier, so that everybody knows where we stand, or he will have to make decisions from case to case, which will frequently cause a degree of political friction.

I seek two assurances in that regard. First, if the United Nations has passed resolutions relevant to the case, the Attorney-General should have to take them into account. Again I am taking the South African example. I believe that, if there is a resistance campaign that is sufficiently clearly in the right to attract United Nations support, no British Government should imprison people for non-terrorist acts in support of that campaign.

Mr. Grieve: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the House is the only body capable of making the judgment that he suggests, the idea of which I appreciate? If that is the system that he wishes to see in operation, would it not work effectively only through an annual report to the House saying which countries fall within the criteria and which without, so that the House could debate and decide the matter?

Dr. Palmer: That is an interesting proposal; it would really throw the fat in the fire if we attempted to classify

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the world's nations into those to which we were prepared to support opposition and those to which we were not. I suspect that most British Governments would prefer to delegate such decisions to the United Nations Security Council, where we have a veto, but where we can also achieve a broader view.

The second assurance that I seek from the Minister is that the legislation should be used sympathetically in cases in which an organisation breaks the law only because it has been denied democratic options. I believe that, if there were a democratic alternative to illegal action, most of us would have little time for any group that did not take that alternative, but I hope that, if one did not exist, and the group were operating with restraint, the Government would view its activities in a somewhat different light.

Despite those reservations, I support the Bill. I believe that, in the last resort, that is our duty to the peace process and to the leaders of the political parties behind the peace process, who have taken a not inconsiderable personal risk; above all, it is our duty to the people of Northern Ireland, who have voted so overwhelmingly for the peace process and who look to us for their protection and support, to carry through that process into a durable peace for Northern Ireland.

11.9 pm

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Because of the lateness of the hour, I shall be brief. I am sure in common with many right hon. and hon. Members, I was pleased to break my holiday to come back and debate this important issue. It is enormously significant. I believe that everyone, from whichever side of the House they speak, agrees that the House should have been recalled in this way. I do so because I fully support the main thrust of the Bill.

One of the things about being on holiday that gives one a sense of perspective about these debates is the fact that one inevitably reads newspapers that are at least a day old. As I followed the discussions about the likely contents of the Bill, I acquired a sense of perspective. I noted from what I read that the word "draconian" was being bandied about. I believe that even the Home Secretary would accept, with hindsight, that this was a silly and demeaning bit of spinning, even by the Government's standards.

Then, this morning, as I sat fuming on the runway while my plane was waiting to obtain air traffic control clearance, I reflected that my colleagues in the House would be much better informed than I about the contents of the Bill. I was relatively reassured, therefore, to return to find that, in fact, colleagues had been able to get their hands on a draft of the Bill only at a very late stage yesterday. Indeed, different versions seem to have been floated past us as the debate has developed.

There have been delays in drafting the Bill. I accept that, in some cases, those were due to genuine changes of mind about the balance that should be achieved on individual issues. I accept what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), the shadow Home Secretary, said about the fact that we must accept some imprecision on these occasions because we accept the basic aspirations of the Bill.

I have said that I am in favour of effective and comprehensive anti-terrorist legislation. That is one reason why I introduced my Bill, the Jurisdiction

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(Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, as a private Member's Bill. It is also why I shall dwell on clauses 5 to 7 of the Bill before us--clauses which, because of that very private Member's Bill, have already received scrutiny by the House in the recent past.

Terrorism can touch us all, whether we are talking about Omagh or about the quiet Sussex lane where my predecessor, Ian Gow, was murdered by the IRA. When I introduced my Bill, it struck me that it was an extraordinary loophole in our law that apparently people could conspire and incite to carry out such terrible acts in other countries without breaking English law. That is why I am interested in effective anti-terrorist legislation, not in petty wrangling about what happened to my Bill. I pay tribute to the Society of Conservative Lawyers, and tomy hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who, some years ago, presciently foresaw the problems that would have to be addressed in the Bill.

However, undeniably, when my Bill was before the House, it was Labour Back Benchers who forced a vote on the motion "That strangers do withdraw", and, despite the honeyed words of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) supporting my Bill, when it came to it, the official Opposition, as they then were, failed to go into the Division Lobby to support my Bill. Indeed, I remember Labour Members being shooed out of the Lobby by the then Labour Chief Whip.

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