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Session 2002 - 03
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Continuance of Part VII) Order 2003

Sixth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 5 February 2003

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Draft Terrorism Act 2000

(Continuance of Part VII) Order 2003

2.30 pm

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 2003.

This is the first opportunity that I have had to serve under you in a Standing Committee, Mr. Amess. I welcome your appointment to the Bench—[Interruption.] I mean, to the Chairmen's Panel. It is an august position, and I look forward to serving under your chairmanship today and in future.

The draft order was laid before the House on 23 January. Hon. Members will see that the Government have decided to renew almost all of part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000. In a moment, I shall address the provisions that we believe should lapse, but let me begin by explaining our decision to renew the rest.

Hon. Members should be in no doubt of the Government's commitment to the ultimate removal of part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000. When that Act was introduced, it was made clear that the Northern Ireland-specific provisions in part VII were to be temporary. Their limited lifespan is embodied in the Act.

The provisions set Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the United Kingdom by providing powers and creating structures that do not apply to Great Britain. They are one of the clearest indicators that Northern Ireland is not like other parts of the country. They exist only because of the specific security situation there, which no right-thinking person would choose for him or herself, or, indeed, wish on another. Of course we do not want part VII to remain indefinitely—we want to see normality, peace and good order in Northern Ireland.

Our commitment to removing part VII is not only a matter of decency, but a crucial aspect of our commitment to the Belfast agreement and the peace process that sustains it. The British Government have placed themselves under several obligations, as have other parties. Those obligations are as clear as they have ever been. One obligation is the earliest possible return to normal security arrangements consistent with the level of threat, which includes the removal of emergency powers in Northern Ireland.

Let no one say that the British Government are half-hearted in their commitment to the Belfast agreement. We wrestle constantly, vigorously and in a determined fashion with the challenges raised by politics and security in Northern Ireland. We know

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that there is no credible alternative to the agreement or to expending our energies to maintain it.

Our obligation to carry forward the Belfast agreement is not unqualified by the British Government's other responsibilities. That is true of us in a way that is not true of other signatories to the Belfast agreement. We have an unquestionable and non-negotiable responsibility to protect the people of Northern Ireland from violence and terror, which is why we cannot be cavalier about security issues. We cannot disregard the lives of British citizens for the sake of grand gestures. These are matters of life and death.

The Government's determination to tackle terrorism has been made especially clear in the past couple of years. The Terrorism Act 2000 was the first single piece of permanent anti-terrorism legislation for the United Kingdom. The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 implemented further provisions in the wake of the attacks on 11 September, and the continued threat from al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist Islamic groups has focused the Government's mind on the problems of global terrorism.

There is logic to having a single piece of legislation that deals with all forms of terrorism. As the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) reminded us on Tuesday, consistency is a quality that appeals to British minds, especially those of British legislators, because it is linked to fairness. However, we must also acknowledge the complexities of the subject with which we are dealing. The term ''terrorism'' covers a broad spectrum of activity, and the law must be appropriate to the circumstances in which terrorism is perpetrated. I am sure that hon. Members agree that the problem of terrorism in Northern Ireland bears specific features which require a specific response. That means that we must make provisions for use specifically in Northern Ireland.

The community in Northern Ireland is small but fundamentally divided, therefore we try terrorist suspects in courts without juries, to factor out jury intimidation and perverse verdicts. There are illegal organisations that have great expertise and no compunction about avoiding self-incrimination and hampering police efforts, so we have special arrangements for detention, searching and questioning. There is security situation in which the armed forces are deployed in support of the police. A tradition of marching requires special public order powers. In the light of these peculiar circumstances, we have made special provisions that allow the Police Service and the armed forces to protect the people of Northern Ireland from those who would seek to disrupt, maim and kill.

Had we been pessimists, we could have incorporated the old Emergency Provisions Acts into the Terrorism Act 2000 without any indication that those provisions were temporary. Had we been seeking merely to extend the power of the security forces, we could have applied the special Northern Ireland provisions to all terrorist suspects in the United Kingdom. However, that would have been indefensible. We acknowledge the rights of the

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suspect, the detainee and the criminal and we believe that there are better ways to address the legacy of violence and mistrust in Northern Ireland than through the creation of permanent special powers for the security forces.

We are in a privileged position in Northern Ireland. We do not look at the results of violence, then develop our security and contingency policies to meet the next outrage. We are tackling the root causes of terrorism: community hostility, historic mistrust, and the back-and-forth antagonisms of the past generation and the preceding centuries. Those problems are being addressed. I see the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) smiling—I look forward to hearing his contribution later.

The peace process that produced and sustains the Belfast agreement deals with those problems. Since the suspension of the devolved institutions in October last year, the Government have been involved in talks with all parties, and that process is continuing. The Government hope that the talks might produce a new leap forward in the peace process, but, for now, we need both politics and security measures.

Whatever extraordinary steps towards peace we have seen, whatever developments may emerge from the current talks and whatever hope we may all harbour for the future, we do not yet enjoy a normal security situation. There are so-called punishment beatings, sectarian riots at the interfaces, alleged intelligence gathering and dissident groups outside the peace process that would happily see it fail. In light of these continuing difficulties we have decided to renew part VII.

In making the decision, we relied in great part on the advice of security advisers. The Police Service and the Army have been instrumental in explaining the use and importance of the part VII powers to them. They have illustrated the effects of allowing the various powers to lapse and demonstrated the continued need for them.

Useful and fruitful consultations with the security forces have enabled us to identify a number of provisions that we believe could be allowed to lapse, and we make the following recommendations with confidence. Our reason for allowing the provisions to lapse is the same in each case: it is that we can. We must be able to justify the retention of temporary provisions rather than their lapse, and in the following instances we are unable to do so.

I will outline the provisions. Subsections 97(1) and (2) of the Terrorism Act allow the Secretary of State to confer port and border control powers on members of the Army by specifying them as examining officers. Members of the armed forces could be designated to stand at airports and docks to examine people arriving in Northern Ireland, as police officers and customs officials may do at present. However, that power has never been used and its use has never been sought. The Police Service believes that, in the current situation, there is there is no operational requirement for the power to be retained, and the Army thinks that little would be lost if it were allowed to lapse. If a situation ever arose in which the armed forces were required to

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take such a role, we believe that their existing stop-and-search powers under part VII would be adequate.

Paragraph 36 of schedule 4 would allow the Secretary of State, instead of the courts, to make a restraint order; thus, the police would avoid having to disclose sensitive material. It is many years since that power was used and the police do not consider that there is any current operational need for it; they would instead seek restraint orders through the courts. Hon. Members will no doubt be aware that Lord Carlile has recommended that paragraph 37 also be allowed to lapse. We will give that further thought, because some questions have arisen about the significance of that provision and its relationship to paragraph 36. I therefore intend to launch a consultation on that provision.

Paragraphs 19 to 21 of schedule 5 allow the Secretary of State, instead of the courts, to authorise a search of premises in the investigation of terrorist finance or direction offences. Again, that means that the police would avoid having to disclose sensitive intelligence or techniques. It is many years since the power was used and the police do not consider that there is any current operational need for it; they would instead seek such warrants through the courts. Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act, agrees with the Government that those provisions may safely be allowed to lapse.

Committee members will also be aware that Lord Carlile has raised the possibility of allowing section 67(3) and (4) to lapse. Those subsections set out the limitations on granting bail in terrorist cases in Northern Ireland. We are keen to consider that possibility, but we are aware that the issue is complex and that various consequences might be entailed. We shall therefore consult on that matter before making a decision.

There are issues that Lord Carlile has raised in his report that the Government will want to explore carefully, such as the possibility of resident magistrates granting bail in terrorist cases and the possibility of extending the list of protected groups in section 103 to include part-time as well as full-time prison officers. Both measures sound like good ideas, but it is not my habit to rush into things without careful consideration, especially when there is as much at stake as there is in the temporary security provisions of the Terrorism Act.

I know that Lord Carlile will keep a careful eye on the workings of part VII. His efforts are invaluable. He has ensured that the Government's attention has not wandered from the important issues surrounding our security legislation. His most recent report will give the Government much to consider in the coming weeks and months. For now, we know that the temporary provisions of the Terrorism Act need to be renewed and for that reason, although it is never pleasant to say and this is not a decision to be taken lightly, I commend the provisions of the draft order to the Committee.

2.43 pm

 
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