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Millennium Holiday

51. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): What arrangements she has made for the discharging of the Government's responsibilities over the millennium holiday period. [101270]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The Government will be operating a millennium centre from 31 December to 7 January. The centre will provide briefings to Ministers and the media. All Departments and agencies have in place robust and tested business continuity plans and millennium operating regimes. As part of its MOR, each Department was required to identify the services to be delivered over the millennium period and has put in place measures to ensure that those services are delivered.

Dr. Ladyman: I congratulate the Government on that initiative. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking those who will operate that centre over the millennium period? Will he also thank all who will be providing emergency services over the same period? Will he assure me that they will be told that the only other meridian in the world is the Ramsgate meridian, that Ramsgate mean time is five minutes 41 seconds ahead of Greenwich mean time, and that therefore our celebrations--and any problems associated with the millennium--will be starting that much sooner in Ramsgate?

Mr. Tipping: I always knew that my hon. Friend was ahead of the field, although I thought it was by longer

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than five minutes. I want to associate myself with his comments, with regard not just to those working in the millennium centre, but to the doctors and nurses working in the NHS, the police, the remaining emergency services and a range of people across the utilities and in the retail sector who are there to ensure that we can remember this millennium for all the right reasons.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): May I associate myself with those sentiments? Can the Minister also assure our diplomatic and military personnel posted

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overseas that they will be able to work independently of the local conditions pertaining over the holiday period and will still be able to do the job that we expect them to do?

Mr. Tipping: A great deal of work has gone into this issue. We are determined to ensure that our overseas businesses and nationals have the right support during the millennium period. We have planned and made arrangements as far as is possible, but some embassies will be dependent on sources of supply that are outside our control. However, even for those cases, contingency plans have been made.

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Point of Order

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the cancellation of the highly desirable visit of the Pope to Iraq, that war-torn land with terrible problems, have you had any request from a Foreign Office Minister to answer my Question 55 to the President of the Council, so that it can be explained whether pressure was put on the Vatican by Washington and London?

Madam Speaker: No. I see the hon. Gentleman's question on the Order Paper, but I have had no information from any of the Departments concerned.

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Orders of the Day

Terrorism Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.31 pm

Mr. Straw: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill provides for permanent anti-terrorist powers for the police, other law enforcement agencies and the courts. Let me first explain to the House why we judge that such powers--powers additional to those of the general criminal law--are needed.

Terrorism involves the threat or use of seriousviolence for political, religious or ideological ends. It is premeditated, and aims to create a climate of extreme fear. While the direct victims may be specific or symbolic targets, they may also be selected at random. In any event, terrorism is aimed at influencing a wider target than its immediate victims.

Although all crime to some degree plainly threatens the stability of the social and political order, terrorism differs from crime motivated solely by greed in that it is directed at undermining the foundations of government. It poses special difficulties for those of us who live in liberal democracies. Our sense of outrage is all the greater because in such democracies the overwhelming majority of the population believe that there are adequate non-violent means for expressing opposition and dissent. However, we will have handed the terrorists the victory that they seek if, in combating their threats and violence, we descend to their level and undermine the essential freedoms and rule of law that are the bedrock of our democracy.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I accept the generality of the hon. Gentleman's comments, but will he help me on one point? Am I right in thinking that the actions of the Kosovo Liberation Army in combating the Serbs in Kosovo or, for that matter, those of the Kurds in fighting Saddam Hussein in north Iraq, fall within the scope of terrorism as defined in clauses 1 and 57?

Mr. Straw: I understand what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, and in one sense he may be correct, but we are talking about terrorism in this country. I will deal with what is in clause 57 in a moment. Although clause 1 has a wider coverage than the current arrangements for Irish and international terrorism, such activities are already covered in the existing definitions of terrorism. The broadening of the Bill covers domestic terrorism. We are raising the threshold for triggering the powers in the Bill above the threshold in the temporary legislation. I shall come on to explain that point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Under the previous Government, Lord Lloyd of Berwick carried out a detailed inquiry into legislation against terrorism and reported to Parliament in October 1996. He opened the third chapter of his reportby complimenting Gearty and Kimbell's publication "Terrorism and the Rule of Law". He said that the authors had identified three general principles that should govern

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any code of laws designed to counter violent subversion--equality of treatment before the law, fairness in application of the law, and respect for certain basic principles of human dignity.

In paragraph 3.1, Lord Lloyd went on to say:

In preparing the Bill, I have sought carefully to follow those four principles.

There is, however, a wider issue, particularly now, which is whether the threat of terrorism today is such that it justifies any specific legislation. The counter-terrorist legislation currently in force goes back to 1974, to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill introduced into this House in late November of that year, a week after the terrible bombings in Birmingham in which 21 people were killed and 180 injured. On Second Reading, the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, said:

To underline that, the powers in the Bill were subject initially not to yearly, but to six-monthly review.

Despite the hope in 1974 that the need for counter-terrorist legislation would be short-lived, those powers--with amendments and additions--remain in force a quarter of a century later. In the interim, more than 2,000 people have died in the United Kingdom as a result of Irish and international terrorism, and thousands more have been injured. The toll would unquestionably have been greater without the anti-terrorist powers, and above all without the courage and commitment shown by members of the police and security forces over 25 years.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I endorse the tribute that my right hon. Friend has paid to the courage of police officers and armed forces personnel. Part VII of the Bill deals with Northern Ireland, thesystem of non-jury trial there and the appointment of an independent assessor of military complaints. If decommissioning occurred before the end of May to the satisfaction of General de Chastelain, the two Governments and the politicians of Northern Ireland, what implications would that have for the implementation of the Bill?

Mr. Straw: I shall deal with that point in more detail when I reach part VII, which is included in the Bill because the emergency provisions Act that covers Northern Ireland is due to expire next August. It was felt appropriate to bring these matters together. It is the fervent wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House

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and of the people of Northern Ireland that the emergency provisions should be withdrawn as soon as possible. One of the Bill's main purposes is to provide permanent counter-terrorist legislation that is not specific to Northern Ireland. We hope that so-called Irish terrorism will wither on the vine. If the Bill is enacted, either part of part VII--what amounts at present to the EPA--or the whole of it will be open to withdrawal by affirmative resolution of the House. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will want to take such action as soon as he judges it to be safe.

My hon. Friend's intervention reminds us that there is now a better chance for a lasting peace in the island of Ireland than at any time that any of us can recall. However, not everyone on either side of the religious divide is signed up to peace. It is only 16 months since the carnage at Omagh in which 29 people died and more than 200 were injured. In the same month, August 1998, there were particularly horrific examples of international terrorism, when bombs exploded outside United States embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing 257, mainly local, people and injuring thousands of others.

Lord Lloyd's inquiry was one of the most thorough ever conducted into the nature of the terrorist threat. Writing before Omagh, Dar es Salaam or Nairobi, Lord Lloyd concluded that, even when there was a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, the need for counter-terrorist legislation would remain. He recommended, however, that the legislation should cease to be specific to Northern Ireland, and that a new Bill should be brought in to put the provisions on a permanent footing.

The Government have accepted the central conclusion and recommendation of Lord Lloyd's inquiry: that even when what we judged to be a lasting peace had been achieved, there would remain a requirement for specific counter-terrorist legislation. We have consulted widely on how that recommendation should be effected. I point out to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that, in effect, that process of consultation has been going on for at least three years, since the publication of Lord Lloyd's report. This time last year, I published a consultation document entitled "Legislation against Terrorism", and last Thursday I published a summary of the responses received. The Bill is thus the consequence of that long, open and deliberative process. In view of that, I hope that the House will accept that the examination of these provisions by a Special Standing Committee--which I understand the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey proposes--is not necessary.

In preparing the legislation, I have kept much in mind the four principles set out by Lord Lloyd, and the need to act fairly and proportionately. The Bill is not intended to threaten in any way the right to demonstrate peacefully--nor will it do so. It is not designed to be used in situations where demonstrations unaccountably turn ugly. Should any unlawful activities occur in such circumstances, the powers available under the ordinary criminal law will, as now, suffice.

I shall deal with the new definition of terrorism that we propose in the Bill, and with its application to all forms of terrorism. However, I make it clear that the new definition will not catch the vast majority of so-called domestic activist groups. To respond to a recent example,

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I know of no evidence whatever that Greenpeace is involved in any activity that would fall remotely under the scope of this measure.

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