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Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister congratulated himself on reducing the number of Slovak applications in Dover. Is he aware that he congratulated himself on what, under Section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, may well be an illegal objective?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did not congratulate myself on anything. I simply indicated the general understanding in your Lordships' House that this is an extremely serious problem and I ventured to offer a mild, pacific suggestion that the Home Secretary's announcement might have had something to do with the fact that yesterday there were no applications at all.

Permanent Counter-terrorist Legislation

3.52 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the plans for permanent counter-terrorist legislation which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

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    Secretary of State for Northern Ireland revoked all the remaining 10 orders which he had made. No orders were made in 1996 or 1997 by my predecessor against anyone who had not been previously excluded despite the ending of the ceasefire. When I took office on 2nd May, the number had fallen to 22. For some years now, therefore, the power has been withering on the vine. During the past six months I have considered 12 cases as the law has required me to do. I have renewed two orders and either revoked or allowed to lapse another 10.

    "As the House knows, this Government have long been opposed to these powers on the grounds that they were of limited utility and amount to a form of internal exile without trial--a view, I may say, shared by many. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in his 1987 review of the legislation, urged that the powers which he described as draconian be removed. Others both at home and abroad have called for the same reforms. The powers have not only exposed the United Kingdom to severe criticism from our friends but they have also provided an easy argument for the apologists for terrorism to use against us.

    "Taking into account the view of those who advise me on security matters, I can tell the House that I am minded, assuming the situation does not change, to allow the powers to lapse when the Act comes up for renewal next year. I can also tell the House that, in the light of the recent developments in Northern Ireland, I have come to the conclusion that at the present time the exercise of these powers is no longer expedient to prevent acts of terrorism in relation to each of the 12 cases in question. I have therefore today revoked the last 12 orders.

    "In taking a fresh look at the whole of the legislation to see how it can be improved and strengthened, much of the groundwork has been done for us by the inquiry team led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. The House will recall that he was asked in December 1995 to consider whether there would be a need for specific counter-terrorism legislation in the United Kingdom in the event of a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. His report was published in October last year. He concluded that there would be a continuing need for permanent United Kingdom-wide legislation. He made a number of detailed recommendations for changes: to the definition of terrorism, to the powers to proscribe terrorist organisations and to the powers of the police to investigate and arrest those suspected of terrorism. His report was, of course, predicated on there being a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. That desirable state of affairs has yet to be achieved. But this does not mean that we cannot consider his recommendations and, if appropriate, implement them in the interim.

    "My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I therefore intend to present proposals to replace both the current Acts with permanent United Kingdom-wide counter-terrorism legislation. We intend to publish these proposals in the form of a consultation paper early in the New Year. The paper will draw on, but not be constrained

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    by, the most helpful analysis and recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I hope that he will contribute further to our thinking.

    "In the interim the police and the security forces must have the powers which they need to combat terrorism. I therefore intend to seek the agreement of this House in March next year to the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989. Similarly, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to renew the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. The current Emergency Provisions Act expires in August next year, so she will be bringing forward a Bill to extend its life and to make some amendments to it. The introduction of the Bill will follow later today.

    "Terrorism is not now a temporary phenomenon anywhere in the world. We need a robust and clear set of powers which will enable the police, security forces and the courts to deal effectively with all forms of terrorism for the foreseeable future, with the flexibility to respond to emergencies should they arise.

    "Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, the Government envisage that some existing powers will be confirmed and placed on a permanent footing, that some will be strengthened and that others will substantially be changed. For example, it has long been our view that there should be a judicial element in the extension of detention process. The aim will be a framework of laws which are both effective and proportionate to the threat.

    "This Government will never drop their guard in the fight against terrorism."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for repeating the Statement. We also echo the last sentence of the Statement that,

    "This Government will never drop their guard in the fight against terrorism".
As long as the Government remain true to that belief and desire, we shall certainly support them in their activities.

I also pay tribute, as did the noble Lord in repeating the Statement, to all those who have suffered from the horrors of terrorism in both Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom over the past 25 years. Let it never be forgotten that it has affected people in all parts of the Kingdom and at all levels. My noble friend Lady Thatcher will remember with horror the experiences of some 13 years ago in Brighton. A later Cabinet suffered an attack only seven years ago. We live in a strange world where terrorism, which hardly existed 25 years ago, has left its mark on the whole of society.

Like the noble Lord, I pay tribute to all those in the police and security forces for all they have done over the past 25 years in combating the threat of terrorism. I too would like to emphasise the fact that they have had many successes in capturing and prosecuting terrorist suspects.

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There are only one or two points that I wish to make at this stage as regards the Statement. As the noble Lord made quite clear, there will be a consultation period and a paper coming forward from the Government. We shall have a degree of time to debate it, as agreed by the usual channels, in a fuller manner later on.

But the noble Lord would expect me to comment on the idea that the power to make exclusion orders should lapse. As I understand it, the Prevention of Terrorism Act will be renewed next year, as he made clear, and it will come before both Houses in March to be renewed for a further year. Should there be some delay in the permanent legislation, I presume that there will be a commitment to renew the Act for a further year, and the year after and the year after should it be necessary. What I find alarming is that the power to make exclusion orders should be, as it were, unilaterally given up at a time when, although the Government are making considerable progress in Northern Ireland, it is still not clear that the ceasefire is permanent.

Will the noble Lord at least comment on whether he can see a case for retaining the power to make exclusion orders--whether his right honourable friend wishes to make use of them is another matter--until the ceasefire seems more permanent or at least until the new legislation is in place? There does not seem to be a case for, as I put it, unilaterally removing the provision at such an uncertain stage.

The second point I wish to make is about the consultation period. Can the noble Lord say when it will begin and how long it will continue? When does he think that he or his right honourable friend will be in a position to put legislation before the House and on what sort of timescale does he believe that that legislation will proceed? When can we hope to see that legislation on the statute book? That comes back to the earlier point that I made about the temporary legislation being renewed and whether that can be done for one year, two years or as long as necessary.

I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement and, like him, I pay tribute to all those who have suffered and who have served in the fight against terrorism over the past 25 years.

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