I have not reached a final decision, but my present view is that it would be unwise to allow the Act to lapse at the end of May. I have no intention, however, of asking Parliament to keep the Act in operation longer than is necessary.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that in the circumstances of the Birmingham bomb outrage it was understandable that the House should rush through legislation but that it is not appropriate that we should legislate on such a sensitive area of civil liberties in that manner? Would it not be better, if we are to prolong this legislation, to have a new Bill and to debate and consider it fully in Committee, with proper regard to appeal procedures and all the consequential matters arising from this kind of legislation?
I think I would take the view of my hon. Friend if I were contemplating a position in which legislation of this sort became a permanent part of our statute law. But I do not think it would be sensible to do this in circumstances in which I believe that it would be right to renew it at the present time. I think the House will on balance agree that, with a fragile cease-fire, for me to allow the Act to lapse and then to discover that one was back in more difficult circumstances within a short time would be very rash indeed. I regard this as being essentially temporary legislation. No renewal from six months to six months will be a formality so far as my position is concerned, nor, I am sure, as regards the endorsement of it by the House, if it is so disposed to do.
Will the right hon. Gentleman recall how warmly the House welcomed last November his undertaking that, if and when this legislation came to be renewed after six months, he would not necessarily renew it in exactly its same form but would hold himself open to renew it in an altered form if necessary, taking account of experience in the meantime?
I recall that undertaking and I hope the right hon. Gentleman recalls that it was in no way an absolute undertaking. I remember saying very carefully that my undertaking did not mean that we would legislate again but that we would consider whether alterations were so required as to make legislation more desirable than renewal by order. I am sure that is almost exactly what I said. If I were persuaded that it were right to make alterations, of course I would have to consider whether to renew by legislation rather than by order. I shall consider that matter further in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. However, I gave no undertakings, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman recognises, that I would not necessarily proceed by order.
In reaching his decision, which I appreciate will rest largely on security considerations, will my right hon. Friend nevertheless pay attention to the plight of the families—I think particularly of the families in my constituency—which have been broken up as a result of the exclusion of husbands and fathers? Will he recognise that many of these families, which are well established in this country with children born and bred here, face much more serious difficulties as a result of the exclusion of the men concerned than would have been the case if they had been convicted of an ordinary offence after proper trial and had been imprisoned in this country?
I shall bear that in mind. I can assure my hon. Friend that I do not lightly endorse exclusion orders. Only 33 persons have been removed from the United Kingdom during the period of the Act. A total of 44 exclusion orders have been made, but some were revoked and others applied to people who were already outside this island. There have, therefore, been a limited number. I bear in mind the disruption of families which is involved, but I must also bear in mind that someone who is killed in a terrorist act suffers still greater disruption of family and every other aspect of existence. While the numbers who have been removed are fewer than those who have been killed by terrorist activities, I do not think I can be accused of using the Act in an excessive way.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Act has been of considerable assistance to the Metropolitan Police and to police forces generally in arresting and detecting those who are wanted for terrorist offences? Does he agree that it has also had a considerable deterrent effect on potential terrorists?
It is difficult to judge the latter point. However, I think it has been of assistance in dealing with a particular situation and has assisted the Metropolitan and other police forces. I think it has been fully justified in the circumstances of the last six months, but that does not mean that I would regard it as a legitimate permanent part of our legislation.