Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for reminding the House with his usual clarity of the background to this order. It is interesting that it is mainly a Northern Ireland team playing tonight; and that the legislation is aimed at what is termed Irish terrorism. However, it is also essentially a Home Office matter relating to all types of terrorism. It is merely circumstances which lead to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, moving the order and my responding to it for the Opposition.

The Minister mentioned the brutal murder of Mrs Rosemary Nelson whose funeral took place today. Other than to say that it is a most evil and disgusting

18 Mar 1999 : Column 906

attack which left me feeling very bitter, I shall save my comments until next Monday when somewhat more relevant orders will be discussed. I welcome and agree with what the Minister said on the subject.

In the global context, we agree with the thrust of the consultation paper on legislation against terrorism mentioned by the Minister. The consultation paper recognises that terrorism is changing and that the legislation must also change. We look forward to comprehensive anti-terrorist legislation which will combat internal, external and overseas threats. As the Minister suggested, this may be the last time we debate this order. Does the noble Lord hope to be able to introduce a Bill in the next Session? There are obvious advantages in having (if one may put it this way) normal anti-terrorist legislation which would cover residual domestic terrorism and acts of international terrorism.

Order-making powers under primary legislation would enable the Government to take more draconian powers if necessary. The degree of parliamentary scrutiny and approval procedures would depend upon the nature of the powers sought. Those matters will be handled by my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley when the Bill appears before the House.

Future legislation will have to cater for all likely forms of terrorism in order to avoid having to rush through suitable but knee-jerk reaction primary legislation. The consultation paper covers electronic terrorism, although apprehending an electronic terrorist presents an obvious challenge. The risk from a nuclear, biological or chemical attack is well recognised in the paper and has already been seen in Japan. No doubt the officials at the Home Office and elsewhere will be undertaking brainstorming sessions to identify all other threats and ensure that they are covered by future legislation.

There is also the challenge of ensuring that the legislation does not infringe the ECHR which the Government have so thoughtfully incorporated into UK law. The Minister covered that point and the observation in Mr Rowe's report. The UK Government are quite good on this matter. Therefore we need not be overly worried.

All Parliament can do is to ensure that the legislative framework provides the necessary tools and safeguards for use by the police and security forces. We are highly indebted to them for their efforts in preventing and detecting terrorism wherever it arises and their integrity in using those powers. I am sure the House will join me in paying tribute to their efforts and the sacrifices that they have made.

Although we cannot guarantee the elimination of terrorism, we can take the necessary steps to prevent and react to terrorist acts. Mr Rowe's report makes clear that the powers have not been abused.

The renewal of the order is necessary to protect the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland from terrorist attacks. With that in mind, we are content with the order.

Lord McNally: My Lords, this debate is again as topical as the evening headlines on our television

18 Mar 1999 : Column 907

screens. No one has ever doubted the capacity of the men of evil to make headlines. I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, upon the death of Rosemary Nelson.

The approach of these Benches to terrorism legislation has always been somewhat akin to Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons when Richard Rich advises expediency and More replies, "But where then do you hide when the wind of tyranny blows?".

We understand why the security services need special powers. But those powers have to be reluctantly given by Parliament in a free society. We believe that the legislation is necessary. We think that its renewal is necessary. We support it tonight. However, in considering legislation we must ensure that special powers for special circumstances remain just that and that unnecessary powers do not become permanent. For that reason, we welcome the constant parliamentary review of special powers.

I was interested to hear the Minister talk about the consolidation of counter terrorism measures into a single UK Act. The Minister stated that if extra powers were still retained they would be in an annex, subject to annual review. That is important. We on these Benches still regret the way in which the emergency legislation was brought before the House after the Omagh bomb. We do not believe that some of the international aspects were a genuine emergency and that Parliament was "bounced" in these matters. It is important philosophically to get the balance right between the need to counter terrorism and to underpin civil liberties. Under the pressure of terrorist threats, it is easy to have our civil liberties chipped away. For that reason, we support the Government's non-use of exclusion powers. We accept that there may be a case for comprehensive and permanent legislation. However, we give fair warning to the Minister that when that legislation comes forward, we shall be assiduous in checking it in terms of civil liberties.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Rowe earlier this year. I believe that we are fortunate in having a public servant of his quality and dedication willing to take on this work. The report was thorough and impressive. However, as the Minister noted, Mr Rowe makes a specific point about the human rights commitment that we have undertaken without recent human rights legislation. My colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, would quarrel with some of the Government's judgments as regards whether the Acts are compatible with our human rights commitments.

The Minister gave us the Government's assurances based, I am sure, on fine legal advice, but I thought that the sting in the tail from Mr. Rowe was on page 47 of his conclusions. He stated:

    "My analysis of the human rights situation in Chapter 2 does not in any way impair this conclusion"--
the conclusion that the legislation had been used properly--

    "that Chapter was intended to show what shape the future may take; and it is a future which is near at hand".

18 Mar 1999 : Column 908

That is what Ministers must take on board when looking at the new legislation which they are drafting. I do not believe that their confidence--I do not say complacency--that the legislation is compatible with human rights commitments will stand up to judicial tests, but we shall see.

The other aspect which stood out in Mr. Rowe's report appears at paragraph 114 on staffing. He states:

    "I wish to make the point that staffing levels of port officers should not be allowed to fall".
He points out that the number of immigration officers and other groups has, for cost or other reasons, been reduced. He concludes:

    "Thus, a greater burden falls upon Special Branch officers. And I emphasise that there is as much need as ever for the presence of port officers, from the point of view of both terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland, and terrorism in the international field".
The House needs to be assured by the Minister that that point made by Mr. Rowe has been taken on board and that the dreaded Treasury and budgetary constraints will not undermine the work of the security services which, as Mr. Rowe points out in the report, is extremely important at port of entry.

We will support the legislation tonight. The Minister gave a review of the present situation in Ireland, but perhaps I may make a personal comment. Your Lordships might gather that with a name like McNally my roots are in Ireland, although some four or five generations ago, from County Mayo. My Irishness was brought up to date by education by the Irish Christian Brothers, but I have never considered myself an ersatz Irishman, as do some Americans with Irish names. I am certainly proud of my Irish roots. The heavy burdens of my business forced me earlier this week to go to Cheltenham where I was reminded how many common interests the Irish and the English have in our history, culture, economy and sport.

The links between Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom have sometimes been painful, but sometimes they have been magnificent. With those roots and that background, I believe that the Good Friday agreement provides an opportunity to create something better, not just with the people of Northern Ireland but perhaps with the Council of the Isles, building on the co-operation and natural friendship between all our people.

The interesting aspect of the renewal of the Act, and the attitude of the people throughout the troubles, is that when civil societies, particularly those based on human rights, face terrorism the terrorists do not understand what makes democrats tick. We support the renewal of this legislation, but we do so on the basis of the old Spanish Civil War poem,

    "We came not for glory, honours, medals or pay We came because with our open eyes we see no other way".
We see no other way to combat the men of violence. We have no enthusiasm for legislation which restricts civil liberties. What we do have is enthusiasm for united

18 Mar 1999 : Column 909

resistance from all democrats to the men of violence because from that unity of purpose may come the circumstances which give peace a chance.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page