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Lord Glentoran: I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is not in his place. From this side of the Chamber, I rise to support the Government. Although we have an immense respect for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, to say nothing of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, it would be inconsistent for me to attempt to persuade the Government to remove these paragraphs in this part of the Bill which is clearly for Northern Ireland emergency situations.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government have never disguised the fact that these are serious provisions. As we acknowledged at the time they were introduced, they take the law to its very limits. Nevertheless, the Government believed then, and continue to believe now, that the provisions were an appropriate and proportionate response to the serious threat posed by active dissident groups opposed to the peace process.
That threat was demonstrated at its most deadly by the appalling events in Omagh on 15th August 1998. Despite all the existing legislation and the information and intelligence available to the security forces, it was not possible to prevent the bomb that detonated in the heart of Omagh on a busy Saturday afternoon, killing 29 innocent men, women and children. That atrocity reminded us all that there were extreme elements which were determined at all costs to frustrate the will of the people expressed in their support for the Good Friday agreement. It was vital that the governments took action, North and South.
Unfortunately, that threat has not gone away. Dissident groups remain violently opposed to peace. There have been a number of attacks in recent months in Northern Ireland and, although it is still too early to be definitive, last week's bomb attack at Hammersmith Bridge may also underline that the threat is still very real.
However, the Government also recognise the need to comply fully with our human rights obligations and with the natural requirements of fairness and justice. Our guiding principle is that where powers are introduced which go beyond the normal criminal law, as these undoubtedly do, appropriate safeguards must be built in to ensure that they are not used inappropriately.
I can assure the Committee that the judgments which were made in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights were made only after the fullest consideration, otherwise my noble friend Lord Bassam would not have made the declaration he did under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act. In that respect, it is important to note the safeguards which are in place in this clause.
First, Clause 108 requires that a police statement must be given by a senior officer of at least the rank of superintendent, and must be given orally, with the opportunity for cross-examination by either party or by the judge. That cross-examination can examine the basis on which the police officer makes his statement.
Finally, as was discussed in relation to the earlier amendment, this provision is targeted very specifically at only a small number of organisations in Northern Ireland which remain wedded to violence. Currently, there are only four specified organisations to which Clauses 108 to 111 apply: the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA, the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders.
I also remind Members of the Committee that these provisions are kept under review with regard to their continuing requirement. They can at any point be "switched off" by order. That review process will take account of the approach of the government of the Republic of Ireland to their equivalent provisions since cross-border co-operation has been an important factor in their history.
Like many noble Lords, I look forward to the day when stringent, indeed draconian, measures such as these can be removed from the UK statute book. I sincerely hope that that day is not far off. But I believe that it would be premature to dispose of an integral piece of our armoury at this stage. I commend Clause 108 to the Committee.
Lord Goodhart: I am grateful in particular to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, for his speech. He repeated the arguments which he persuasively addressed to the House in September 1998.
I am afraid that I am unable to accept that there are adequate safeguards in the Bill. First, the fact that the opinion must be that of a middle-ranking police officer--a superintendent--rather than someone more junior is not a form of safeguard. The safeguard in subsection (3)(b), that no one can be found to have a case to answer solely on the basis of the statement, is of little value, and it seems that there is a dilemma. If there is evidence to justify conviction without taking into account the opinion of the police officer, why give evidence of the police officer's opinion at all? If, on the other hand, the police officer's opinion is an essential piece of the jigsaw leading potentially to conviction, we shall run up against the problem pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd; namely, that no judge brought up in the traditions of the courts of Northern Ireland, which in this respect are plainly the same as those of Scotland, England and Wales, will accept that evidence as the basis for conviction. I talk about the "judge" because it is almost inevitable that such trials will be held under the Diplock procedure.
The fact is that any society which regards itself as governed by the rule of law, as we certainly do, must apply the rule of law even when it is inconvenient and frustrating for it to do so. And here I do not use the expression "human rights"; I use the expression "rule of law", which is a different and older tradition. It certainly goes back many centuries in this country. I do not believe that Clause 108 satisfies the tests of the rule of law.
It is not my intention today to seek to divide the Committee on Clause 108, but we may well return to the issue on Report. I withdraw my opposition to the Question that Clause 108 stand part of the Bill.
The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 172 refers to page 6, paragraph 32, of the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which draws attention to the fact that Schedule 14 permits information obtained by authorised officers to be passed on to listed person or,
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I can well understand the thinking behind the amendment. Indeed, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in its report encouraged your Lordships' House to probe the need for such a wide provision allowing the Secretary of State to add by order to those to whom information acquired by examining or authorised officers might be made available and for what purpose. I hope that today I shall be able to allay any underlying concerns.
First, this type of provision is not novel. Indeed, a similar provision is to be found in Sections 21 and 22 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in relation to the supply of information acquired by immigration officers. I am sure that the noble Viscount is aware of that because I recall that his noble friend Lord Cope moved a similar amendment to that Bill when it was before your Lordships' House.
In the case of the Terrorism Bill, the provision concerns information acquired by an examining officer or an authorised officer. The point of the provision in both cases is, of course, to provide flexibility for the future, but with safeguards.
At the moment, the key frontier control agencies with which the police, as examining officers, work, and with which it makes good operational sense to exchange information, are Customs and Excise and the Immigration Service. Closer co-operation and working relationships between them are developing at all times. In addition, the police work closely with their colleagues in the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. All those organisations are named on the face of the Bill.
However, I believe that one can say fairly that in framing new anti-terrorist legislation we have tried as far as possible to be "future proof". We have added the new provision concerning the seizure of cash at borders by authorised officers. With that in mind, it seems prudent to us to provide the Secretary of State
At the moment we do not plan to use the power. If we had other organisations in mind, of course we would name them on the face of the Bill. However, times change and links with other agencies may develop or relevant responsibilities may change. It could be to the general benefit of all concerned that the supply of information to other agencies is sanctioned.
The Bill proposes that the addition of a further agency to the list of those to whom information may be supplied should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. We consider that to be the appropriate level of scrutiny in these circumstances. It is an important power which concerns the passing of information to third parties and it is right that this level of safeguard is provided.