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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 2000

Seventh Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Thursday 8 June 2000

[Mr. George Stevenson in the Chair]

Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 2000

4.30 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): I beg to move,

    That the committee has considered the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 2000.

The order was laid before the House on 22 May. The Committee will be aware that the Government introduced the Terrorism Bill on 2 December 1999 to replace both the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998. It is currently being considered in another place. When the Bill receives Royal Assent, which we anticipate will be before the summer recess, the Emergency Provisions Act will initially be replaced by provisions set out in schedule 1 to the Bill before they, too, are superseded by the Bill's enactment. However, that leaves us with a gap between 15 June, when the current provisions of the Emergency Provisions Act expire and when the Terrorism Bill receives Royal Assent in July. The order will renew the temporary provisions for that period.

The draft order will continue in force the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 from 16 June 2000 until the Act repeals itself on 24 August. The provisions will cease to have effect, however, when the Terrorism Bill becomes law in July. The order will also keep in force section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 as it applies to Northern Ireland and parts III and V of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 in so far as they have effect in Northern Ireland and relate to organisations proscribed under the Emergency Provisions Act. Together, the provisions form a comprehensive package of measures, in addition to those contained in the ordinary law, to counter terrorism in Northern Ireland. They have provided a workable legislative framework to assist the police and Army to deter and detect terrorist crime, and to bring to book those responsible for such crimes. Members of the Committee will be aware of the detailed provisions of the Act, so I do not need to refer to them. However, I shall do so, if members of the Committee so wish.

Informing today's debate is the report of Mr. John Rowe QC, the independent reviewer, on the operation of the Act in 1999. It was published on 5 June. Mr. Rowe's remit was to examine the use of the provisions and to consider whether they are still needed, and whether they have been used fairly and properly. The Government are grateful to Mr. Rowe for the time and effort that he has put into producing the report. He concluded that the temporary provisions of the EPA should be renewed in their entirety and said:

    there is a continuing need for the powers and provisions of the EPA. I have considered each provision, and my view is that generally there is a need for all the provisions.

The Government share that view, bearing in mind the fact that the provisions will be substantially amended and improved when the Terrorism Bill comes into force. Today's debate is further informed by other independent assessors. The recently published reports of the independent commissioners for the holding centres, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and Dr. Bill Norris, and of the independent assessor of military complaints procedures, Mr. Jim McDonald, have again provided reassurances that the security forces are using their powers properly.

For his part, the independent assessor of military complaints procedures concludes that the army complaints system is operating fairly and is taken seriously by all ranks in the Army. The Government are grateful to Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, Dr. Bill Norris and Mr. Jim McDonald for their admirable work, and their considered views and reassurances.

The Government are encouraged that the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland has diminished significantly. As the political settlement currently in place beds down, we hope and expect the threat to diminish to the point at which no special Northern Ireland powers will be necessary. Until that point is reached, however, we shall not leave the people of Northern Ireland without the provisions necessary to deter and detect terrorist crime and protect the community. I commend the order to the Committee.

4.34 pm

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Stevenson. You always seem to bring a pleasant afternoon.

I shall not detain the Committee for more than a moment or two. The Conservative party supports the retention of the powers. Indeed, the Conservative party will always support legislation that makes life harder for those who engage in or support acts of terrorism. I am in a pleasant frame of mind, so I shall only say in passing that this afternoon, I am, on behalf of my party, providing a level of support for the Government that they, when in opposition, did not always give us when we were in government. However, I shall do as I should. If it conveniences the Minister to know that he has the full support of the Conservative party on this matter, I confirm that he does.

4.36 pm

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): We support the order and hope that we shall not have to do so again in future.

4.36 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): Obviously, I support the order. The reality of life in Northern Ireland is that, much as we would have liked terrorism to have disappeared by now, it has not gone away. Only in the past week the terrorist organisation, the IRA, took the law into its own hands in dealing with a drug dealer by a fatal shooting. The threat to society is not yet confined even to the lowest criminals in our society but applies to anyone who steps outside the diktat of paramilitary organisations. It is an open secret that a traced member of the Provisional IRA was responsible for a recent unprovoked attack on myself. I received no warning that I was about to be assaulted, merely because I have spoken out and worked against the interests of terrorist organisations, from both the republican tradition and the layalist tradition, as I will continue to do. There is no difference in the nature of the threat that comes from terrorists on either side of our community, but there may be differences in their effectiveness and professionalism. I am reluctant to apply those terms to terrorism, but some organisations are more effective terrorists than others. It is because society faces a continuing threat that we require the continuance order.

Developments in Northern Ireland over the past couple of years have been promising, and, indeed, much has been promised. However, in respect of terrorist organisations, little has been delivered so far. It has therefore fallen on the democratic, constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to risk the democratic and constitutional base by trying to show our willingness to allow people to embark on a metamorphosis that will take them from violence to the democratic process.

There has been little or no tangible reciprocation, and not a bomb or a bullet has been decommissioned. The international inspectorate, comprising Mr. Athisari and Mr. Ramaphosa, has yet to effect genuine change in ensuring that terrorist weapons are placed in sealed and secure dumps and taken out of circulation. Given those facts, neither the Government nor society can afford to be anything other than diligent in facing the future.

We live in hope, I, like previous speakers, hope that before I leave this place a time will come when we do not require a continuation order, but that time is not now.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 2000.

        Committee rose at nineteen minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Stevenson, Mr. George (Chairman)
Borrow, Mr.
Browne, Mr.
Buck, Ms
Dowd, Mr.
Ingram, Mr.
Laxton, Mr.
Maginnis, Mr.
Mates, Mr.
Öpik, Mr.
Sarwar, Mr.
Taylor, Mr. John M.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Todd, Mr.

 
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