|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): The hon. Gentleman referred to the Omagh bombing. Does he not accept that, at the time of the bombing, there was a great desire among the British and Irish Governments to work together as far as possible and to ensure that legislation on both sides of the border was consistent, so that people could not play the game of moving from one side to the other? Does he accept that that was one of the motivations that led to the legislation being introduced? Whether it was good legislation or not, does he at least accept that, at the time, the motives for introducing it were, effectively, to try to combat terrorist organisations that used the different jurisdictions to avoid detection or arrest?
Mr. McNamara: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the courts in the Republic are now very reluctant to use that particular legislation and are not accepting the word merely of a senior police officer? They are looking for other things and more corroboration. We should not legislate in this country just to meet the needs of the Republic of Ireland. He might remember that, when these matters were discussed, Downing street's official spokesman issued statements saying that we did not need stronger legislation, as we already had all that we needed. All that we were doing was legislating to please the Irish Government and, incidentally, the Home Office and the Saudis.
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is right. Both points raise an important issue. I was going to make a linked point. There is every benefit in being in touch with the Irish Government and the Irish Parliament and knowing
However, one of the reasons why we would be wrong to enact permanent legislation is that, at this very moment in Ireland, a review of the constitutional provisions is going on. It has not been concluded. It has touched on the Disqualifications Bill, which we considered in December and January.
There is some sense both in retaining independence, so that we can do what we think is best for this country, and in at least trying to understand what is happening elsewhere and not anticipating something: the Republic may come to a different conclusion as a result of the review. The unanimous view in Northern Ireland was that we should not have permanent legislation. One of the things that seem to strengthen that case is that there is a review of the legislation in the Republic and that it would be helpful to be able to take changes into account. If we have permanent legislation on the statute book, by definition, we will not be able to look at the matter again in the light of what is going on in Ireland.
One of the places that I went to when I was in Northern Ireland again recently was South Armagh, which has suffered as much as anywhere, if not more. There were clearly differences of view about some of the details of what is going on in terms of the whole settlement process in Northern Ireland, but on one thing there was no controversy: if we had an exceptional set of powers--which are clearly needed at the moment--the people of Northern Ireland, their representatives in this Parliament and in the Assembly should be able to play a part in discussing how they should be continued.
Once we put something permanent on to the statute book, the chance of being able to have such a debate--involving Members in the Northern Ireland Assembly, listening to people in local government in Northern Ireland, talking to the Royal Ulster Constabulary--goes. It is locked in, and only the Government can press a button that unlocks it.
I ask colleagues on both sides of the House, and the Government in particular, to think again about their view that we do not need reviewable legislation. The Minister offered a concession, or came forward with a proposal in Committee that was welcome--a periodic report on the legislation will be laid before Parliament, as happens now--but it does not go far enough. There is all the difference in the political world between a report that we can read and legislation that has to come to Parliament to continue, or to be altered. I urge the House as strongly as I can to vote for our new clause, in the hope that we get terrorism legislation that Parliament can keep regularly under review at least once every Parliament.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I have some sympathy for the observations of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) on the need for impermanent legislation. He called it renewable legislation.
I support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I listened carefully to what he said. He talked about an independent review, whereas the hon. Gentleman talked about a periodic report. I was not on the Committee, but an independent review sounds more powerful than a periodic report. If an independent review has been promised, that is reassuring.
I agree with my hon. Friend that such a review should be debated in the House, so that all sorts of concerns can be raised. There are some powerful elements in this part. I mention three at a glance: clauses 97, 98 and 99, which deal with the independent assessor of military complaints procedures, the code of practice on police and Army powers and the code of practice on video recording respectively. A debate such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend would give us the opportunity to voice concerns about the imperfections of those clauses, or about where they could be strengthened or modified.
It may not be feasible in parliamentary terms, but my view is that it would be better to submit such an independent report to a Select Committee for examination. A three-hour or five-hour debate in this place does not allow for the cross-examination of Ministers that a Select Committee hearing allows.
With respect--it certainly does not apply to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office--I have heard Ministers brush aside questions on important issues from the Opposition and others. That cannot be done within the framework of a Select Committee investigation. I am not suggesting for one moment that he conducted himself in that way when I questioned him, but I make a serious point. It is one that I made in relation to the Sierra Leone affair. I told the Foreign Secretary at the time that it was good that he had offered to make a statement from the Dispatch Box, but that it would be better for all concerned that that matter should be subjected to a Select Committee inquiry.
Mr. Simon Hughes: I hope that the hon. Gentleman did not think that I was arguing that we should not have an annual report or an opportunity for the matter to be taken before a Select Committee. The question is whether we also have the ability over a longer period--five years as opposed to every year--for Parliament to be able to make a positive decision that it wants the legislation, whole or in part, to go on. They are not incompatible.
If we are to have independent reviews, I believe that a Select Committee is a better instrument for monitoring the implementation of legislation, especially controversial legislation such as this Bill. Such legislation ought to be renewable rather than permanent.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned that he had been to South Armagh recently. I visited a police station in the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) where the RUC officers are working extremely hard to develop good community relations in a nationalist community. It is essential that legislation does not impede that sort of remarkably fine work.
Mr. Shepherd: I commend to the Government the purposes behind the new clauses. The Bill, as we all understand, gives extraordinary powers to the Executive. It is appropriate to have what is, effectively, a sunset clause--perhaps the Government can draft something suitable.
I am a believer in sunset clauses. The House has too little opportunity on a general range of legislation to review its workings under the necessity of having to justify it. A sunset clause gives the Government an opportunity to explain their stewardship of these extraordinary powers. I say this gently because it is important that where such powers are available to the Executive they must justify their exercise of them. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for giving the House the opportunity to pause to consider an important point.
Mr. Lidington: No one in the House would quarrel with the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) for the Executive, whichever party happens to be in government, to be held to account for the exercise of the powers given to them by counter-terrorist legislation. These are far-reaching powers.
The debate is about the most appropriate mechanisms for holding the Executive to account and subjecting Ministers to sustained questioning over their role as custodians of the legislation. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills have set out eloquently the case for the sunset clause.
I should mention the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The Opposition are satisfied that the provisions already incorporated in the Bill in clause 111 provide adequate safeguards in respect of the special powers for Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland alone. We are not persuaded by the hon. Gentleman's argument for new clause 3.
New clause 8 was spoken to by the Liberal Democrats. The arguments for the sunset clause were powerful and well put and it would be wrong to dismiss them, but there is a compelling counter-argument. The first Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill was introduced by Lord Jenkin, then Home Secretary, in the immediate aftermath of the Birmingham bombings. Probably everybody assumed at the time that the powers would be needed only in respect of a crisis arising from terrorist violence in Northern Ireland, perhaps spilling over to the mainland of Great Britain. Everybody assumed that, within a few years, it would be possible to revert to normal criminal justice powers and legislation without the need for the special provisions. Sadly, that has not been the case. As the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) can testify, the need to be vigilant against terrorism in Northern Ireland remains to this day.
Even if there were to be an established and enduring peace in Northern Ireland, there still remains a case for permanent counter-terrorist legislation. The first recommendation of Lord Lloyd when he summarised the conclusions of his review of counter-terrorist legislation was that