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Dr. Godman: Sensible fellow.

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend says, he is a sensible fellow--I hope that my hon. Friend was referring to the Prime Minister, not to me.

Pressure will be exerted. I have had to tell some Governments--to avoid doubt, not that of Saudi Arabia--"People in this country may campaign against you, but as those people have committed no offence under the British criminal code, and their immigration status is in order, the fact that they cause you some difficulty is regrettable for you, but it is the nature of our society that we encourage dissent." If those Governments persist in their efforts, I remind them of this country's long history of encouraging dissent and that Karl Marx wrote "Das Kapital" in the basement of the British museum.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Perhaps I can be a little more precise. Let us suppose that there was a major defence contract, which was worth billions of pounds over many years, and that a Government in the middle east exerted pressure on the British Government by telling them that, if they wanted the contract, they would have to take action against a militant group, active in London in conspiring in and drawing together an international campaign. Does not my right hon. Friend foresee circumstances--not under

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a Labour Government, but under other future Governments--in which that sort of pressure could pay off?

Mr. Straw: I genuinely do not believe that that would happen. Let us assume for a moment that holders of my office, regardless of party, are completely venal and have an interest only in securing that defence contract. No member of the Government would make the decision to prosecute. First, the police would have to decide whether to investigate an alleged offence. The law guarantees the operational independence of chief officers of police. It is profoundly important under our constitution to ensure that it is not possible for the holder of a political officer, however high or mighty, to instruct a chief officer to investigate a crime because it happens to suit that person's purpose.

Secondly, clause 113 provides that,

that also applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland--

    "for an offence under any provision of this Act without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions."

I know of no Director of Public Prosecutions or Attorney-General under any Government who would give comfort to the view that the pressures that we are discussing should influence a prosecution. Moreover, were such pressures put on paper or recorded, they would have to be disclosed to the defence, which would clearly help the defence's case.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): The anxiety of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is understandable because problems exist. We can be totally safeguarded against the problem only by allowing the position to continue whereby this country could become a safe haven in which terrorists operate. The challenge that the Home Secretary issued at the beginning of his speech was that if additional powers were put in place to cover a genuine problem, the safeguards must be sufficient. The integrity of Ministers is often bolstered by the knowledge of the existence of judicial review.

Mr. Straw: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those remarks and, to pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), we should defend to the last the right of peaceful protest and dissent in this country. At the same time, we should not provide a haven for people who are plainly committing, organising or inciting terrorist acts here or abroad.

I have witnessed only one terrorist act in this country, which was the bomb that went off at the Old Bailey in--[Interruption.] I have listened carefully to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham; may I be allowed to complete my sentence?

I have witnessed directly the results of a terrorist outrage only once, when a bomb went off at the Old Bailey in 1973, although other Members of the House have witnessed far more terrible events with much greater frequency. An outrageous aspect of terrorist activity is its indiscriminate nature. If people are killed or injured, the fact that the bombs, the shrapnel and the glass carry a label marked "Animal rights" or the name of some foreign country is immaterial to those who suffer. The victims of

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such outrages are completely innocent and I hope that the House, in ensuring that the Bill is proportionate, is able to do its job of scrutinising and improving legislation. We must also think of the possible consequences of terrorist outrages in the absence of such legislation: innocent lives might be saved if such powers were on the statute book. That is the balance that we are seeking to achieve.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I want to bring my remarks to a close because I have been speaking for almost an hour.

I want to put on record the main components of the Bill about which I have not spoken. Part I contains the definition of terrorism and part II the provisions for proscription. Part III deals with terrorist property and removes the tipping-off offence. Parts IV and V introduce a range of investigative tools and other counter-terrorist powers. Part VI refers to a number of further terrorist offences, including incitement provisions. Part VII relates to temporary measures for Northern Ireland only. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Greenockand Inverclyde, we are committed to removing those emergency powers in Northern Ireland as soon as it is safe to do so. In parallel with the passage of the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to review the arrangements for non-jury trials. Working with interested ministerial colleagues, he will consider what potential exists for making changes at this stage and, if and when that is judged right, what steps would be necessary to achieve the Government's overall aim of a return to jury trial.

The wide-ranging and evolving threat from terrorism will not go away. The Bill therefore sets in place an appropriate and effective range of provisions, which is proportionate to the reality of the threat that we face and of practical operational benefit. It also sends a clear message to terrorists and their supporters and is consistent with the rule of law and our democratic traditions. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.28 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for setting out the details of this very necessary Bill before the House. The necessity for such a Bill is of course regrettable, but it is nevertheless fully recognised. I should therefore say at the outset that should any Member divide the House this evening, the Government will have the Opposition's full support in seeking a Second Reading for the Bill.

Conservative Members have never shirked their duty to take the toughest stand against terrorism and to give the police and the armed forces the powers that they need to protect the public. That is why, when in government, we significantly increased the powers available in the prevention of terrorism Act and the emergency provisions Act and why we had no hesitation in backing the Government when they introduced new powers in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing last year.

We have always believed that there should be a united front across all parties in the House in the fight against terrorism, from wherever that terrorism may come and whosoever perpetrates it. It demonstrates the total determination of the House that terrorism shall not

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succeed and that parliamentary government throughout the United Kingdom will be vigorously defended. Whenever that bipartisan consensus breaks down, the only people who gain any succour are those who wish to subvert democracy and the rule of law for their own ends--the terrorists themselves.

Of course, bipartisanship in the House has never been and can never be about giving the Government a blank cheque to do whatever they like. Obviously, we all reserve the right to raise specific ideas where we think that the Government may be getting it wrong. Nevertheless, there is no doubt about one thing--the Opposition will always back legislation that makes life harder for those who engage in or support acts of terrorism. On that central point we believe passionately that the Government and the Opposition should stand as one.

As the Home Secretary has been discussing Damascene conversions, let me say that I wish that it had always been the case that the Government of the day had the vigorous support of the Opposition over such issues. I do not doubt that all right hon. and hon. Members abhor terrorism and I do not doubt for one moment their determination to see terrorism defeated, but the defeat of terrorism requires more than condemnation and more than just words; it requires a willingness to act.

That is why I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the actions of his party in opposition throughout many of the darkest days of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland, when Labour Members trooped into the Opposition Lobby to vote against the legislation. Year after year, increasingly lame excuses were trotted out one after another. I do not believe that we shall ever forget the sight of the Prime Minister, when he was shadow Home Secretary, the very night that IRA mortar bombs were raining down on Heathrow airport, ignoring the pleas of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and leading his colleagues into the Lobby to vote against the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act. That was a shoddy and shameful action for the official Opposition in the House of Commons. It is not a pattern that the present Opposition intend ever to follow. It is not without a certain irony today that it falls to the party which in opposition described much of the legislation that it is now introducing as unnecessary and counterproductive finally to have the responsibility to place it permanently on the statute book.

We all agree that terrorism is evil and that those who engage in it or support it seek simply to gain through violence that which they are denied by the ballot box. We cannot allow that to happen. Democracy cannot afford to tolerate it, let alone allow it to succeed, for to do so would fatally undermine democracy itself. So we must never be prepared--nor will the Opposition ever be prepared--to compromise democracy and terror.

Here in the United Kingdom we have lived with terrorism and the threat of terrorism for some 30 years. It has been principally, though certainly not exclusively, in connection with Northern Ireland and the facts are chilling. More than 3,600 people have been killed and more than 40,000 injured either in Northern Ireland or Great Britain as a result of the violence associated with the troubles.

We have witnessed scenes of unmitigated horror and barbarism and they are all etched indelibly on our minds: La Mon house, Warrenpoint, Enniskillen, the Shankill road,

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Greysteel, Canary wharf and, most recently, Omagh. Those are just some of them, but there have been many more and we must never forget the suffering that our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland have had to endure. Their resilience and their fortitude, along with that shown by people throughout the entire United Kingdom, has ensured that the ballot box will always prevail over the armalite.

Nor should we forget the efforts of the police and the armed forces. I have no hesitation in commending their dedication, professionalism and sheer courage in facing the full force of the terrorist onslaught over the past 30 years. In particular, it is timely again to recall the sacrifice of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the thin green line that has literally stood between the rule of law and the descent into anarchy, and not just in Northern Ireland. As both the Metropolitan police and the Garda would be the first to acknowledge, the RUC is the first line of defence for mainland Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The RUC has paid a terrible price: 302 officers have been murdered and more than 9,000 have been maimed or injured. No police service anywhere is more deserving of our praise. Therefore, I willingly join those who have already congratulated the force on the award of the George Cross. Without the RUC, the opportunities that we see in Northern Ireland today would not exist. Everyone who cares about the rule of law owes the RUC the most profound debt of gratitude.

Conservative Members unreservedly welcome the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, including the establishment of the Executive and the devolution of powers to the Assembly. In our view, the Belfast agreement offers the best hope for a lasting peace underpinned by stable political institutions. There is at long last the possibility that the politically motivated violence that has characterised and scarred the past 30 years might become a thing of the past. But we are also certain that, if all sides are to move forward with confidence, the Belfast agreement will have to be implemented in full. In other words, devolution must be accompanied by the decommissioning of all illegally held terrorist arms and explosives. There can be no place in government--I hope that the Home Secretary, when he is not as distracted as he has been for the past 10 minutes, will agree--for representatives of fully armed terrorist organisations that seek to cling on to their weapons of murder and mayhem.

Of course, the security situation is much improved. It is undeniable that life in Northern Ireland for many people is decidedly better and that there is a real determination that things must not go back to how they were, but we would fool ourselves if we refused to acknowledge that the peace that exists in Northern Ireland today remains very much an imperfect peace.

Terrorist organisations on both the republican and the loyalist side remain firmly intact. Their command and control structures have not been dismantled. Their capacity and capability remain undiminished. Paramilitary beatings and shootings have not ceased. As Mr. John Rowe pointed out in his most recent review of the EPA:

Even if the Executive succeeds, as we all must hope that it does, and the main paramilitary groups do decommission, it would still be folly to discount the

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possibility of threats from splinter groups. The history of Irish republicanism is littered with splits. The Omagh bomb, the single worst atrocity of the past 30 years, was carried out by the republican splinter group calling itself the Real IRA.

We should not underestimate the ability of any of those groups--or, indeed, the so-called loyalist groups--to destabilise Northern Ireland. For those reasons, we strongly support the inclusion of the existing powers contained in the EPA in part VII of the Bill. Equally, in recognition of the fact that we do not want those powers to be retained for longer than is necessary, we agree that they should remain temporary provisions, subject to annual renewal by Parliament.

That said, the movement in Northern Ireland is overwhelmingly in the right direction and the outlook today more positive than at any time since 1969. Like every hon. Member, we want that process to go on and to succeed, but it is not just from Irish republican, or so-called loyalist, terrorism that the United Kingdom has suffered--the threat from other forms of domestic terrorism and, indeed, from international terrorism, remains potent.

I do not wish to rehearse those threats in detail, but I refer the House to appendix F of the Lloyd report prepared by Professor Paul Wilkinson, which graphically illustrates their scope and nature. We are all mindful that next week is the 11th anniversary of the bombing of the PanAm jet over Lockerbie, which resulted in the deaths of 270 people from 21 nations. That atrocity is now the subject of proceedings under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

I come now to some of the specific provisions in the Bill. Anti-terrorist legislation was introduced to deal with specific and, it was hoped, short-term terrorist threats. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974--the first such measure--was passed in response to the Birmingham pub bombings of that year, and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 followed the Diplock commission in Northern Ireland. Both those measures were intended to be temporary but, due to the prolonged terrorist threat, with a few significant revisions they have taken on a permanence that could not have been envisaged.

The positive developments in Northern Ireland have made it opportune to look again at that legislation, which is why the previous Government invited Lord Lloyd to do so in 1995. We agree entirely with his conclusion--which is the assumption that underpins the Government's approach--that there will remain a continuing need for counter-terrorism legislation in the foreseeable future. That being the case, we therefore also accept Lord Lloyd's opinion--which is, after all, common sense--that we should combine the existing prevention of terrorism and emergency provisions measures into one piece of permanent, UK-wide, legislation.

I listened to the earlier debate, but the Opposition can broadly accept the Bill's new definition of terrorism designed to cover the range of terrorist activity. However, we may wish to probe it a little in later stages.

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