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Orders of the Day

Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr.   Peter   Hain): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I turn to the Bill itself, I should like to draw the attention of the House to a statement issued last night in the name of the Loyalist Volunteer Force indicating that what they describe as their "military units" have been ordered to stand down. As the House will know, over the summer the LVF and the Ulster Volunteer Force have been engaged in a grisly feud, which has cost four lives. I welcome any move that brings such murderous violence to an end.

The statement is, therefore, a step forward which I   hope will give encouragement to those who are working to establish the primacy of politics in their communities. Of course, words must also be matched by deeds from all loyalist groups. What we need to see is the full decommissioning of all paramilitary arsenals and a complete and permanent end to all paramilitary and criminal activity from all paramilitary groups. In welcoming the statement, I can also say that hearing the president of Sinn Fein use the words "the war is over"—words that we have wanted to hear for such a long time—is a further sign that we are continuing to move in the right direction.

We are all haunted by what has occurred in Northern Ireland during the troubles. Members of the House and the other place have been personally affected. Others will have vivid memories of scenes of terrorist atrocities reported in the media.

During the loyalist and republican terrorist campaigns more than 3,000 people lost their lives, families have been torn apart and victims left bereft. In 1972 alone, the worst year of violence, 497 people were killed and nearly 5,000 were injured. So far this year, there have been just five fatal attacks. Those are, of course, five deaths too many, but nevertheless the situation has changed dramatically from the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s.

The legislative response to terrorism has also changed over the last 30 years as the counter-capability responds to the level of threat. In particular, special provision has been required to counter terrorism and for the use of the armed forces in support of the police. Those provisions have evolved over time in response to changing terrorist tactics to ensure that the agencies can respond effectively to terrorism.

The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 was the first piece of legislation to focus on tackling the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland. It provided non-jury Diplock courts to overcome problems of juror intimidation by paramilitaries and gave special powers to the police and armed forces in Northern Ireland to stop, to search and to enter premises. It applied only in Northern Ireland.

Following attacks by the IRA in Birmingham in 1974,   Parliament passed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, which gave additional
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powers of arrest and detention to police and applied throughout the United Kingdom. Those Acts were extended and renewed a number of times in subsequent years. The Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 was passed as a response to the Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998.

All of that legislation was re-enacted and extended, culminating in the Terrorism Act 2000, which was intended to combat all forms of terrorism, not just terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland. The 2000 Act placed anti-terrorism laws largely on a permanent footing in the United Kingdom, in line with the recommendations made by Lord Lloyd of Berwick's "Inquiry into legislation against terrorism" and the proposals in the Home Office consultation document, "Legislation against Terrorism". However, the 2000 Act continued to contain temporary provision that was designed to tackle the specific threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland and that applies only there. Those temporary provisions are contained in part VII of that Act.

Since the 2000 Act was passed, there have been further changes to the permanent law on terrorism. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the   Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 further refined and extended the range of options available to deal with   the terrorist threat. The Home Secretary has now   brought further measures before Parliament to strengthen our capacity to tackle the latest threats from terrorism.

The Northern Ireland temporary powers have also evolved since they were first enacted in 1973, responding effectively to the particular threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland at any given time.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State's opening remarks. Will the order-making power in clause 1(3) be subject to the negative procedure of the House or to its affirmative counterpart?

Mr. Hain: The affirmative procedure will be used, given the importance attached to that matter.

Those provisions have been on a temporary footing since 1973, but have been necessary to tackle the security situation. They were never intended to be permanent, and we have always remained committed to their ultimate removal, once the security situation allowed. The provisions expire early next year. Without further legislation, provided by the Bill, they would not be available beyond 18 February 2006.

We have reviewed the necessity for the part VII provisions each year. Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000—I am indebted to him for his continuing work—has conducted his own external review. I received a letter from Lord Carlile this morning—I have placed a copy in the Libraries of both Houses—in which he said:

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I refer to the Carlile report and agree with the Secretary of State's sentiments, but why are we having this discussion before that report has been published?
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Mr. Hain: I received Lord Carlile's letter only this morning. Obviously, the debate on Second Reading has been scheduled for a while, but I want to place on record again the fact that he does invaluable work in advising the Government in this respect on Northern Ireland, and we are very grateful to him indeed.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Did Lord Carlile's letter indicate the sources from which he anticipated that further acts of terror would come if the regulations were relaxed?

Mr. Hain: No, the letter did not indicate that, but allow me to cite another of the important points in Lord   Carlile's letter that the hon. Gentleman and the House will want to hear. He said:

The word "proportional" is very appropriate.

Each year Parliament has approved the continued use of the provisions and agreed that they are an appropriate response to the threat. Earlier this year we identified several provisions relating to bail and the treatment of juveniles that were no longer needed and took them out of force. Last year, we lapsed a provision on port and border controls with no ill effect. All that has happened because the security situation in Northern Ireland has improved and other structural and legislative developments have meant that some of the provisions are no longer necessary.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Given that the letter that the Secretary of State quotes is obviously of considerable importance to the debate, would it not be prudent to provide all hon. Members who intend to participate in the debate with a copy, so that we do not all have to trail off to the Library? If the right hon.   Gentleman is citing that letter, I stress that it is reasonable for every one of us to receive a copy because otherwise we will be at a disadvantage during the debate.

Mr. Hain: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I saw the letter only in the mid-morning. I have only had the chance to look at it and refer to it in my speech. I shall put a copy in the Library as soon as possible.

Lembit Öpik: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a sense I am making a procedural request, so perhaps I   should not have asked that question of the Secretary of State. Would it be possible for you to arrange for copies of the letter to be provided to hon. Members, because it would be helpful to all of us during the debate?

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