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11.45 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): The debate was called at short notice, but it has been comprehensive and has shown the House at its best. Legitimate concerns about the speed at which the legislation is proceeding have been expressed by hon. Members in all parts of the House. We share some of those concerns, but we support the measure. We are delighted that the legislation will need to be renewed each year. That is right, and it will allay many genuine fears. We suggest a further move. Before the measure is confirmed for another year, there should be a publicised review so that we can see whether there are any errors.

The Minister and I suspect that the measure will not be perfect in all respects. We all hope that it will not need to be renewed a year from now because the proscribed organisations will no longer exist. If it does need to be renewed, we need to be totally satisfied that any mistakes that have been made now can be rectified. I am sure that that would be in the interests of civil liberty and good law.

The debate has had several positive aspects. First, it has shown our Parliament united against the men of violence, appalled by what happened in Omagh, and determined to ensure that it never happens again. Secondly, all hon. Members are delighted that there is such close co-operation between our Government and security forces and those of the Republic of Ireland. Terrorism will be defeated only when there is complete co-operation north and south of the border. We are delighted to note that that seems to be taking place.

We shall vote in favour of Second Reading because, on balance, the first duty of the House, and certainly Government's first duty, is to ensure that ordinary people are properly protected. The modest measures supplement existing anti-terrorist legislation and will go some small way towards increasing the probability that innocent people will not be murdered. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) raised an important idea which must be explored further when he said that there should be an amnesty for farmers. That is a positive way forward.

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The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) suggested that Conservative Members had some form of nostalgia for internment. I refute that straight away. Neither I nor any of my right hon. and hon. Friends are saying that internment should be reintroduced now. But what I said from the Dispatch Box last autumn when advising the Government that they were wrong to take internment off the statute book was that we all hope and pray that there will be a settlement and that, if there is a settlement, Irish history dictates that splinter groups from both communities will not support it, but rather use every effort to destabilise it and extreme violence. In those circumstances, it is just possible that internment should be used.

That is precisely why the Government of the Republic have not taken internment off the statute book. We believe that, when the Prime Minister said again and again on television during the past few weeks that it is hugely advantageous for British and Irish legislation to be identical in this area, it is a glaring anomaly that the Irish Government have kept internment on the statute book while, quite wrongly, this Government removed it last autumn.

It is not good enough to say that internment can be returned to the statute book in due course. The whole benefit of internment, if ever we need it, is the element of surprise, which will be lost if we have to come back to the House first, allowing those who might need to be interned to escape. I hope that the Government will think again and admit that they made an error of judgment which is now seen to be quite wrong.

I strongly agree with those hon. Members who have said that this legislation alone will not end violence. Another important element, which I was pleased to note that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary endorsed, is the total decommissioning of all arms and explosives. A small step forward was made when Mr. Adams yesterday renounced violence. A further small step forward was taken today when it was announced that Mr. Martin McGuinness would be the negotiator or representative of Sinn Fein-IRA with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning. We welcome both those small steps.

But Sinn Fein-IRA must match those tough words with equally firm action. We must see full co-operation with the commission and that very soon must mean the handing in of arms and explosives which Sinn Fein and the loyalist paramilitary parties signed up to on Good Friday as part of the Belfast agreement.

I do not require a response now on the detailed points that I am about to make, but I would appreciate the Minister taking note of them. When I was in Omagh last week, local councillors, the chamber of commerce and members of the public were anxious on three specific points, which I am sure they have raised with him but which I promised that I would underline today.

The first point is the that Tyrone County hospital is under threat of closure and local people believe that, if it had been closed, there would have been more deaths than in fact occurred. I hope that the future of the hospital will be sensitively considered by Ministers. Secondly, the people of Omagh believe that there is an urgent need for economic regeneration and financial help for the business community. Thirdly, those shopkeepers who have lost their properties are worried about betterment and the

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additional costs that they will incur. I know that the Minister will do his best, along with this ministerial colleagues to allay those genuine fears from a brave community that is still in a state of shock and trauma.

On behalf of the official Opposition, I support the measure and shall be voting for it in the Division Lobby shortly.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I call Mr. Adam Ingram.

Mr. Corbyn: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the speech from the Front Bench, but as I understand it, the debate was to be open-ended. A number of us have been present throughout the debate but have been unable to contribute so far. Are you proposing to accept a Division at the conclusion of the speech from the Front Bench?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not comment on these matters. The hon. Gentleman should not question my judgment. I have few powers in the House, but I am entitled to call whomever I want. I have called Adam Ingram.

11.54 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that exercise of your wise discretion.

The debate is conducted in the shadow of the Omagh bomb masterminded and exploded by the enemies of democracy. It also takes place in the shadow of the terrible events in Kenya, Tanzania and Cape Town. Against that background there can be no argument about the weight that the House attaches to today's debate.

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. Many have signalled their support for the measures that the Government seek to introduce, and I am grateful for their support. However, it is clear that there are a number of outstanding questions. I shall deal with as many as possible in the time available to me. In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke for an hour and a quarter. That was a result of the number of interventions that he took, and he addressed many of the doubts and concerns that hon. Members expressed.

I shall begin by dealing with the civil liberties concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), among others. The Government are committed to human rights throughout the United Kingdom. Measures in the Bill reflect European convention on human rights rulings and concerns about uncorroborated evidence, and provide a number of important safeguards. In our view, they do not conflict with international human rights obligations, nor do they enhance the risk of miscarriages of justice, as some hon. Members claimed during the debate.

I thank the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield(Sir N. Fowler), who spoke on behalf of the official Opposition, for his general welcome for the Bill. I recognise the importance of his point about the procedure that is implied, and clearly it would have been better if matters had progressed in a different way. That

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would have happened, had it not been for the horror of Omagh and the other reasons given by my right hon. Friend in his opening statement.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield raised, as did other hon. Members, the issue of internment. I make the point that I have made from the Dispatch Box in earlier debates, because it is worth making as part of the rounded judgment on the matter. If internment over the past 20 years had been deemed to be an effective tool against terrorism at a time when terrorism was at its height, it would have been used by the previous Government. It never was. A judgment had to be made about whether, by retaining internment on the statute book, anything was to be gained for the confidence-building approach that we were trying to move forward. A decision was taken to remove it, in the light of experience. It had never been used at a time of heightened terrorist activity.

We have said all along that we will reintroduce internment if there is a need to do so. Of course that does not need to be done on the basis of a specific and immediate threat. It could be brought back on to the statute book because of a perceived change of circumstances and could be used later, if need be.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) asked about the annual review of the legislation. He rightly pointed out that there is provision for that, and went on to ask about the mechanism and whether there would be a public review in advance of that. I can give him that assurance: that is the Government's intention. It is right that the legislation should be scrutinised and assessed not just by the House, but by the wider public.

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