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'(1) This Act shall (subject to subsection (2)) cease to have effect at the end of the period of five years beginning with the day on which the Act is brought into force.
(2) The Secretary of State may by order provide--
(a) that a provision of this Act which is in force (whether or not by virtue of this subsection) shall continue in force for a specific period not exceeding five years;
(b) that a provision of this Act shall cease to have effect;
Mr. McNamara: Later this evening, we shall debate the prevention of terrorism order for the last time, and my new clause draws attention to that. The lifespan of part VII, which deals specifically with Northern Ireland, is five years. That seems unacceptably long in the absence of a debate, which we have had in the past, to decide whether these extraordinary powers, or some of them, should be reconsidered or continued or repealed.
My new clause proposes that part VII have effect for only a year, with the provision that the Secretary of State should be able to lift certain of its requirements at times. I do not believe that that is unreasonable. Had I had the time and thought more carefully, I should have drafted it to include a renewal order so that we could consider that matter. Unfortunately, I did not do so. Even so, we have the Government's undertaking that there will be an annual independent review of the Bill's operation, but we have not had an undertaking that the review will be debated. Nor have we had an undertaking that notice will be taken of the reviewers' suggestions on additions or deletions. In the past, proposed deletions have nearly always been ignored and proposed additions have always been seized on and included.
If the Government have related part VII specially and specifically to Northern Ireland, it should be subject to statutory review. Northern Ireland is, sadly, an unhappy part of the country at present and specific legislation deals with the problems there. We hope that those problems will go away and that the Good Friday agreement will be implemented, but we should nevertheless examine the legislation, and very much so.
An associated matter has been a disappointment. The criminal law review in Northern Ireland has progressed slowly. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office has said that he hoped that it would be completed either when we were dealing with the later stages of consideration of the Bill or before Easter, possibly in the other place. I do not hold it against him that it has not been completed, but I am concerned that we are passing legislation without having a proper opportunity to review it and without any undertakings being given about the Government's attitude to that review and what changes will be made in respect of part VII. That is the burden of my case.
We are considering serious legislation specific to one part of the United Kingdom and the precedent has been that we examine such legislation every year. We should do so again. If my new clause does not meet the precise requirements, I am happy to leave it to my right hon. Friend to draft a fresh one for the other place, but I believe that the House would abdicate its responsibility if it did not at least provide for renewal orders relating to the implementation of the Bill.
Mr. Simon Hughes: The new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), whom I am happy to follow, relates specifically to part VII--the Northern Ireland section that we debated in Committee with the Minister and some of our colleagues.
I told the Minister and the Committee that it was our considered view that it was right for us to look forward to the early conclusion of special powers for Northern Ireland and right for those powers to be reviewed regularly on the basis of a report and the agreement of Parliament, but that we were happy for the end of the period concerned to remain unspecified for the moment. There is a backstop of five years. The Government would have to return to Parliament again if other existing legislation were repealed or changed once this law was enacted. We felt, however, that there must be a degree of flexibility.
As the Minister may remember, since the Committee stage, I have visited Northern Ireland to talk to people about, specifically, aspects of the Bill that relate to the Province. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the widespread view across the political parties and the community divides, and among senior members of the police service--and elsewhere--that action should be taken as quickly as possible to restore the normal processes of the court structure: hearings, trials and police procedures. They hoped that that would happen much sooner than in five years' time. No one argued to the contrary, which I found encouraging.
New clause 8 concerns a linked but different issue. We have what is, in effect, renewable legislation. The Bill will introduce permanent legislation. Even after the courteous and reasonable debate in which we engaged with the Minister in Committee, my hon. Friends and I are not persuaded that we should move, all in one go, to a UK-wide Bill of a permanent nature.
We are persuaded--indeed, we have always argued the case; I have argued it since I became my party's home affairs spokesman--that there should be UK-wide legislation, rather than legislation treating Northern Ireland separately from Great Britain. One of the reasons why I always thought that the old legislation was improper, and never voted for it, was the fact that it contained exclusion clauses, and treated citizens of one country as though they could be compartmentalised. We consider UK-wide legislation to be entirely proper, as the Minister knows.
However, we consider it dangerous to table a Bill that is not just UK-wide but much more far-reaching, without giving Parliament a chance to bring it back to see how it is being implemented. New clause 8 suggests that, once enacted, the Act should cease to have effect five years after enactment without Parliament's approving its continuance. Its maximum length would therefore be the maximum length of a Parliament, although a Government could return to it before that. We think that such a safeguard is necessary.
I will not go into details, but we need to be particularly attentive about two actions that we are taking in the Bill. We are creating permanent UK anti-terrorism legislation, and we are extending its remit. We will discuss definitions later, but I am not talking just about what is defined as terrorism; I am talking about the definition of the powers given to the authorities of the state--the police, the courts, and others.
Exceptional measures--steps towards the removal of liberty and the increasing of state powers--should be taken with great care in a democratic country. We have been careful and we are careful, but we are in danger of unwittingly not being careful if we suddenly sign up to legislation that will come back only if whichever party is in power brings it back, or if a majority in the House wants to bring it back. The new clause would enable all Members, from all parts of the United Kingdom, to debate the issue.
Let me say a word particularly to my Northern Ireland colleagues, from whose expertise--exemplified by the contributions of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis)--we benefited during much of the Committee stage. Until Northern Ireland is at peace, which we pray will be soon, we must ensure that all of us--not just a corner of the House in which Northern Ireland Members talk to each other and to Northern Ireland Ministers--can learn from their experience.
I think that subsection (2) deals with one of the two objections raised by the Minister in Committee. He suggested that the requirement for the Act as a whole to be brought back within five years was an inflexible tool. Subsection (2) would allow certain parts of the Act to be continued, certain parts to be discontinued, and certain parts that had been discontinued to be brought back. It is not inflexible: it is possible to look at each and every clause and to say, "This is right" and, "This is wrong."
Of course, if we wanted to amend the legislation, there would have to be a process allowing that, but there is no reason why we could not do what we are doing today--coincidentally. There is no reason why we should not include in our debate both a Bill to amend existing legislation and an order to continue or discontinue part of it. It would be logical to do both at the same time.
The Minister argued, perfectly reasonably, that we might need to act more quickly. In Committee, I said that I had been advised, and feared, that the Bill as drafted might contain breaches of the European convention on human rights, and that, if the European Court made a finding similar to its finding in the Bulger case in December, the Home Secretary would have to come to the House and announce a change in the law, or the procedure.
That is, of course, true. At any stage, if there is a ruling against the Government that relates to legislation, the Government must come back to the House. Let me point out to the Minister, however, that the new clause does not suggest that the legislation can come back only every five years; it provides a backstop. Of course, if we find that, despite the Home Secretary's declaration on the front of the Bill, the Bill breaches the convention, it will have to come back earlier; but I hope that members of all parties will learn the lesson that we all painfully learned in two ways two years ago.
Interestingly, in all my discussions in Northern Ireland last month, and without naming any individual--I talked to very senior representatives of the relevant parts of society--no one argued for permanent legislation. They said not only that there should not be permanent legislation in Northern Ireland--let alone in Great Britain--but that there was benefit in reviewable and renewable legislation.
One person convincingly put the following argument to me. If we have special powers and there is a group in the community that feels that it is oppressed, troubled, or likely to be the targets of those powers, it is much better for the law and order agency--the police or armed services--to be able to say that those will be reviewed in time and are not a permanent part of the state, than for people to feel that there will be no opportunity for a review that is apart from the forces of law and order.