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First Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Monday 11 February 2002
[Mr. Nigel Beard in the Chair]
Draft Terrorism Act 2000
(Continuance of Part VII)
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Continuance of Part VII) Order 2002.
It is a genuine pleasure to be joining you in Committee, Mr. Beard. I congratulate you on your membership of the Chairmen's Panel and look forward to participating in debates under your chairmanship on many future occasions.
The order was laid before the House on 31 January. The Terrorism Act 2000 replaced the previous anti-terrorist legislation. Members of the Committee will remember our debate on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989—PTA—which was supplemented by powers specific to Northern Ireland contained in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996—EPA. Both Acts were temporary and subject to annual renewal.
The Terrorism Act 2000 provides for permanent United Kingdom-wide legislation, although the temporary Northern Ireland powers contained under part VII of the Act are still subject to annual renewal and, unless renewed, will cease to have effect at midnight on 18 February 2002.
The order will renew the part VII powers for a further 12 months with effect from 19 February 2002, ending at midnight on 18 February 2003. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is empowered to make such an order under section 112(2)(a) of the Terrorism Act. As members of the Committee will know, part VII provides for important powers, such as provisions for the Diplock courts, powers for the armed forces, powers to requisition land and powers that the police need over and above the ordinary criminal law.
Under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, the Government are committed to removing the temporary powers as soon as the security situation allows. The first step towards fulfilling that commitment was to set the temporary Northern Ireland powers into the permanent United Kingdom framework. I repeat: the Government remain keen to drop the powers as soon as the security environment allows, but that remains the critical test. The powers must be appropriate to the level of threat.
Our debate will be much assisted by the first independent review of part VII, conducted by Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act. It is the view of Lord Carlile that the part VII powers are still needed, a view shared by the Government. Indeed, they believe that the part VII powers remain
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essential to the effective work of the security forces in combating terrorism and incidents of serious public disorder in Northern Ireland, such as the annual Drumcree stand-off.
I shall refer in turn to the powers to which I have just referred. Diplock courts are in place to safeguard the interests of effective justice. They will remain necessary as long as there remains a high risk of jury intimidation. While the role of the Army in Northern Ireland is in support of the police, it needs specific powers to arrest terrorist suspects, search suspicious premises, arrest or seize weapons. Each year, the marching season requires a heavy involvement of the police and Army. The power for the Secretary of State to requisition land remains essential on certain occasions to enable the security forces to uphold the law and safeguard life. The additional police powers such as the power to stop and question after a security incident reflect the fact that the risk of such an incident remains higher in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK. Each power has been judged by Lord Carlile to continue to be necessary.
The necessity for such powers to be renewed annually is, in itself, clear evidence that the Government desire to remove them as soon as the security situation permits. Unfortunately, the last calendar year saw a continuation of violence in Northern Ireland. The dissident republicans carried out 33 terrorist attacks aimed to kill or maim, five of which were in England. Furthermore, there was a deterioration among certain so-called loyalist paramilitary groups, and a worrying slide into violence by those groups.
Hon. Members may recall that last year the Secretary of State took action to specify the Ulster Defence Association and the Loyalist Volunteer Force, because it was clear that their ceasefires had broken down. In total, during 2001, 17 people were murdered; there were 344 bombings and 350 shootings; 331 people were the victims of paramilitary shootings and assaults; and 635 people were arrested for terrorist or serious public disorder offences.
Behind such statistics is always a painful human cost. Just a few days ago, a civilian worker was critically injured by an explosive device at the Army training centre in Magilligan. He remains critically ill, and our thoughts must be with him and his family as he struggles to keep his life.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I am grateful to the Minister. I entirely agree with her comments on the civilian worker who is fighting for his life following a terrorist attack. She said that 635 people have been arrested for terrorist and serious public disorder offences, but can she break down that figure into those that were terrorist offences and those that were serious public disorder offences?
Jane Kennedy: I hope that I will be able to break that down before the end of our proceedings. I said that 635 people were arrested either for terrorist or for serious public disorder offences. The breakdown may be in Lord Carlile's report, but if it is not, I will ensure
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that we get the figures; I think that I gave them on another occasion.
Attacks such as those in Magilligan last Friday illustrate the real and continuing threat posed to security forces in Northern Ireland. There is still a good way to go in defeating the dissident republican threat, stemming intercommunal violence and public disorder, which repeatedly flares up in north Belfast and other areas, and eradicating the brutal sub-culture of paramilitary assaults. It is clear from my examples that the Government need to remain vigilant and resonant.
Against that background, we have reached the view that the part VII powers are required for a further year. In arriving at that decision, the Secretary of State and I have taken careful soundings from our security advisers. The clear message from those who use the powers, the police and Army, is that they are still needed; indeed, they are essential. I hope that all hon. Members will agree that the highest duty of any Government is to ensure the safety and security of citizens. To achieve that, we must provide the necessary powers for the men and women whose brave duty is to enforce the rule of law and provide protection. We must not tie their hands or take steps that might put them at unnecessary risk. Security normalisation measures will continue to be proportionate to the threat, and significant normalisation measures are already under way, but our assessment is that these specific powers should be retained at this time. This is the first such renewal, but the decision this year should not be taken as a precedent for future years; it is simply the first year in a five-year programme. Each year, the issue will be considered on its merits.
As I said in opening, in arriving at the decision to renew part VII we were much assisted by the independent review of powers that was prepared by Lord Carlile, the newly appointed independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000, who also provides clear advice that part VII powers should be retained. His report was laid in Parliament on 31 January, and I trust that hon. Members have read it. On the Government's behalf, I thank Lord Carlile for his report, which I found to be insightful and balanced, and for meeting the tight deadline laid down for him so soon after assuming his appointment.
The Government look forward to receiving future reports from Lord Carlile, and shall give serious consideration to the issue that he raises. He calls for early consideration to be given to the repeal of section 76, which refers to the standard for the admissibility of confession evidence in Diplock cases. In response to that recommendation, the Secretary of State has already signalled his intention to launch a consultation exercise with the repeal of section 76 in mind. I repeat that commitment today—the consultation exercise will begin very shortly.
Such prompt action provides further proof of the Government's stated intention in the Belfast agreement to make progress towards normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland as soon as possible, provided that such moves are consistent with the level of threat. Although the security situation in Northern
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Ireland still requires temporary powers that are not needed in the rest of the United Kingdom, I would point out that part VII puts in place additional safeguards in Northern Ireland that do not exist elsewhere. The order will renew the office of the Independent Assessor of Military Complaints Procedures and the code of practice that applies to the detention of terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Beard, it has been my privilege to address you and other hon. Members. I hope that I have made clear the Government's resolve to provide the security forces with the powers that they need to defeat the terrorist threat and that of serious public disorder, which sadly still remains in Northern Ireland. The renewal of the temporary part VII powers of the Terrorism Act for a further 12 months is vital to achieving that aim.
I hope to deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) at the end of the debate. I trust that I have reassured hon. Members that it remains the Government's clear intention to withdraw the temporary part VII powers as soon as the security environment permits, as part of the wider process of security normalisation. I commend the draft order to the Committee.