With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the need to amend the prevention of terrorism Act to strengthen the ability of the police to protect the public against the threat from terrorism.
This House voted to renew the prevention of terrorism Act on 14 March. I spoke then of my sadness and anger that these measures are still necessary to defend the citizens of this country from those who are prepared to engage in acts of terror—to kill and maim in pursuit of their ends.
We face a real threat of a continued IRA campaign of murder. No one should be deceived by the fact that for a few weeks we have had a lull. The IRA ceasefire ended with the South Quay bomb. It was followed by other bombs, one of which was planted and exploded after the announcement of a date for all-party talks. We face a serious threat from terrorism. It is the Government's clear duty to take every step possible to meet that threat.
In recent weeks, I have discussed with senior police officers whether there were any additional powers that would strengthen their ability to safeguard the public. I have listened carefully to points that they made. The proposals that I am announcing today are designed to meet the real needs that they have identified. The additional powers will be accompanied by proper safeguards to ensure that they are used only where there is a real operational requirement. They are essentially practical and technical measures, but I believe that they are necessary changes, which will increase public safety.
I shall be seeking five additions to the powers at present available to the police under the PTA. Four of them will give the police in Great Britain powers comparable to those already available to the police in Northern Ireland. The fifth will extend to the whole of the United Kingdom.
I have discussed these proposals with Opposition spokesmen. I recognise that all parties have had little time to consider the detail. The hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) have indicated to me that they will support these measures, and I am grateful for that support. I particularly welcome the co-operation of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and his recognition that these measures represent a responsible and appropriate reaction to the continuing terrorist threat.
The additional powers requested by the police are these. First, I propose to extend the powers of the police under section 13A of the prevention of terrorism Act, to enable them to stop and search pedestrians for terrorist items. That fills a lacuna in the existing powers under section 13A.
That section currently enables an assistant chief constable to authorise searches within a designated area and for a specified time, up to 28 days. Within that area, police officers may then stop pedestrians and search any baggage that they may be carrying, and they may stop a vehicle and search both the vehicle and the people in it. They do not, however, have the power to search a pedestrian to look for devices that he may have concealed about him, for example in a jacket pocket. I believe that they should now be given that power.
I propose that the new power to search pedestrians should be subject to all the safeguards that at present govern the search powers under section 13A. It would be exercisable only after an assistant chief constable had designated a specified area and only for a specified period of up to 28 days. In addition, I propose that authorisation of the power to search pedestrians would require confirmation, within 48 hours, by the Secretary of State. Prosecution for any of the offences connected with the new power would proceed only on the agreement of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
It may reassure the House to know that the existing stop-and-search powers have been invoked only in the City of London and in the Metropolitan police district in the aftermath of South Quay. In the City, the powers have been applied for the full 28 days allowed on each occasion; in the much larger Metropolitan police district, they have been applied for periods of between seven and 10 days at a time. They remain in force at the moment, and rightly so.
The police are fully aware that this new power will need to be exercised with circumspection and sensitivity. I shall ask the independent reviewer of the prevention of terrorism Act to comment particularly on its use in his annual report on the operation of the Act. As the House will know, existing stop-and-search powers under the PTA are subject to the relevant Police and Criminal Evidence Act code of practice on stop and search. The same arrangements will apply to the new power.
Secondly, I propose a new power for the police to seek a magistrates' warrant to search a list of non-residential premises for material likely to be of use to a terrorist organisation. At present, a warrant can be sought only for a search of particular premises where there are reasonable grounds for believing that terrorist material is present on those premises. The new power would enable the police to respond to intelligence that, for example, a bomb was stored in a lock-up garage or lorry park in a particular area. The magistrates could grant a warrant enabling the police to search a list of premises in that area. The warrant would be issued following an application by a police officer of at least superintendent rank and would have to be executed within 24 hours.
Thirdly, I propose a power for the police to search unaccompanied freight at ports. The law as it stands allows customs officers to search freight to seize contraband, but does not allow the police to search freight for anti-terrorist purposes. That is plainly an anomaly that needs to be remedied. It is the only one of these powers that is not at present available in Northern Ireland. I therefore propose that it should be provided to police across the United Kingdom.
Finally, there are two areas in which the current common law powers require clarification. I propose a new statutory power for the police to cordon off an area. That would be used to restrict access while the police looked for a bomb or while they were collecting forensic evidence following an explosion or following the discovery of a bomb. The current common law powers are uncertain, both as to their extent and as to the length of time for which they can operate. I believe that that uncertainty should be removed.
The power to set up a cordon would be subject to the authorisation of a police officer of superintendent rank. It would be of limited duration. Prosecution for any of the connected offences would proceed only with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
I also propose a power for the police to impose temporary parking restrictions in response to a general threat to targets such as Government buildings or royal residences. Again, the current common law powers are uncertain and need clear statutory underpinning. That power would also be subject to the authorisation of an assistant chief constable and would be of limited duration. Any resulting prosecutions would be subject to the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
These are clear, practical proposals. The exercise of these powers will be subject to close scrutiny. As amendments to the prevention of terrorism Act, each of the new powers will be subject to annual examination by the independent reviewer and, of course, the Act lapses in its entirety unless it is renewed each year. To help ensure that the police use these additional powers responsibly, I shall issue the appropriate guidance.
I believe that the need for these powers is urgent. I shall accordingly introduce a short Bill tomorrow, which I hope will receive Royal Assent before Parliament rises for Easter. Copies of the draft Bill are available in the Vote Office.
Let me summarise the effect of the new powers. They will enable the police to search pedestrians in a designated area; to search listed non-residential premises; to search freight at ports; and to impose cordons and temporary parking bans. They are sensible practical measures that will be subject to important safeguards. They will help the police to protect our towns and cities and to save lives. I ask the House for its co-operation in placing them on the statute book with the minimum delay.
The House has always, and rightly, been very reluctant to allow its normal time scales and procedures to be bypassed, as hasty legislation all too often turns out to be ill drafted and unclear.
We should naturally have preferred rather longer notice than the Secretary of State has given us, and we certainly would have appreciated mention of the proposals during the debate on the prevention of terrorism Act three weeks ago. Any additional anti-terrorist powers are bound, by their very nature, to cause unease. As the Secretary of State indicated in his statement, however, we shall not stand in the way of the timetable motion, and we are satisfied from the security briefing that we have received about the case that is made for the Bill.
The House will, I believe, have little difficulty with four of the five measures contained within the Bill. We accept that it is unfair to the police to expect them to use vague common law powers when they have to cordon off an area during a bomb threat, or to impose parking restrictions around vulnerable buildings. It is plainly right that the police should have the power to search unaccompanied cargo—a power that will simply place the police in a similar position to that enjoyed already by Customs and Excise.
As to the granting of search warrants, will the Secretary of State confirm that the power that he seeks in the Bill will be explicitly restricted to non-residential buildings, typically lock-up garages or industrial units? As for the extension of the powers in section 13A, the Secretary of State will be aware that in 1994 we supported that change to the law, not least because those powers can be triggered only when a police officer of assistant chief constable rank or above designates an area as one subject to a terrorist threat, and because those limited powers can apply only for a specific period. As the Secretary of State confirmed, in practice there has been one only occasion that has triggered those powers—that following the Canary wharf bomb in early February.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that although the current difference in search powers between vehicle occupants and pedestrians may appear anomalous, there are bound to be anxieties about how a power allowing outer-body searches of pedestrians may be used? I am glad that the Secretary of State has recognised that by including additional safeguards in the draft Bill, which explicitly limit searches to outer garments, hats and shoes, and which require his personal authority for any use of that power for more than 48 hours.
Will the Secretary of State consider two further safeguards, first, that he should report to Parliament regularly about the use of that power and, secondly, that the use of that power should be subject to clear monitoring, as is the parallel power in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991?
Will the Secretary of State confirm that his statement is precipitated by the resumption of violence by the Provisional IRA? Will he join me in calling for the immediate resumption of the ceasefire of August 1994? Finally, we shall continue our support for the all-party negotiations that begin on 10 June, which in our view represent the only way to secure a lasting peace in these islands.
I am grateful for the tenor and content of the response by the hon. Member for Blackburn. He asked for a number of specific assurances, all of which I think I am able to give him.
The hon. Gentleman asked for confirmation that the power in relation to the granting of search warrants will be explicitly restricted to non-residential buildings, typically lock-up garages or industrial units. I can confirm that that power will not apply to residential buildings. He asked for recognition that there would be anxieties about the power to allow outer-body searches of pedestrians. I accept that there are such anxieties, which is why I have introduced the particular safeguards to which the hon. Gentleman referred, including the additional safeguard of authorisation by the Secretary of State.
The hon. Gentleman asked for two further safeguards—the regular reporting to Parliament about the exercise of the power and the need for the use of that power to be subject to clear monitoring. I am happy to be able to give him assurances that his requests for those further safeguards can be met.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked for confirmation that my statement has been precipitated by the resumption of violence by the IRA—it has indeed. He asked me to join him in calling for the immediate resumption of the ceasefire of August 1994, and I am happy to do so.
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about the Labour party's continued support for the all-party negotiations that are due to begin on 10 June, and I agree with him that that is the only way to secure a lasting peace in these islands.
Does the Home Secretary understand that what he has announced this afternoon will be broadly welcome to the mass of people in this country? Will he give an undertaking that if, in the use of these new powers, drugs, stolen property, offensive weapons or other smuggled materials are discovered that are nothing to do with terrorism, those discoveries will be followed by prosecutions where that is possible?
I can indeed give my right hon. Friend the undertaking that he seeks. Where prosecution is appropriate following the discovery of such items, it will take place. It would be absolutely nonsensical, were it to be the case that a search for terrorist items proved unsuccessful, but a large amount of cocaine was found in the pocket of someone apprehended, to ignore that discovery. I have no intention of permitting that to happen, so I am happy to give my right hon. Friend the assurance for which he asked.
Does the Home Secretary recognise that Liberal Democrats have consistently voted in favour of renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act and will support the additional powers where they can be shown to be necessary and effective? Does he agree that the Bill seeks to clarify the legal basis on which the police already carry out searches and cordons in the case of incidents and will continue to do until new powers reach the statute book?
Does the Home Secretary recognise, however, that in rushing such a complicated Bill through the House in one day he will almost certainly bring about defective and ineffective law, and that the proposed procedure does not give time for outside organisations to consider whether the Bill is effectively drafted? Why cannot we take the Bill in proper stages, by sitting in the House on Thursday? How long is it since the police told him that they wanted these powers? Why did he not publish the Bill at least last week, so that comment could be invited on it?
Is the Home Secretary, fresh from so many defeats in the courts or settlements that he has had to make, setting himself up before the House as an infallible drafter of Bills whose proposals can be waved through without the slightest doubt or reservation—or is his ambition to move to government by decree?
It is not true, as a matter of fact, that the powers in the Bill that I propose do no more than to regularise activities in which the police already engage. It may be true in respect of some of those powers; it is certainly not true in respect of all of them.
I confess that I am somewhat astonished by the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we should have proceeded in the normal way on Thursday. If we proceeded in the House on Thursday, bearing it in mind that Friday is Good Friday, obviously it would not be possible for the legislation to be on the statute book before the Easter recess.
My responsibility is to ensure that, if these powers have the potential to save one life during the Easter recess, the police are not denied them; that is why I have brought them forward today. I have brought them forward at the earliest opportunity available to me, after discussions and proper consideration of the requests of the police. That is why they have been brought forward today; that is why I commend them to the House.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the police face a formidable task in tackling the terrorist threat from the IRA, that the House and the country should be deeply grateful for the work that they do and that, if they need more powers, as they have requested, it behoves the House to pass this legislation with all due speed? Can he assure me that the stop-and-search powers that he proposes for pedestrians are sufficiently comprehensive to have the deterrent effect that I believe they could have?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I believe that he spoke not only for his constituents, but for the whole country. I believe that the whole country will recognise the desirability of providing these additional powers. He asked whether the stop-and-search powers are sufficiently comprehensive to constitute a deterrent. They are a measured response to a request from the police. I recognise that one must strike a balance in these matters, and that many matters have to be taken into account. In the light of the seriousness of the threat that we face, the proposals strike that balance.
Bearing in mind the dangers of rushed legislation, will the Home Secretary give the House the assurance that he has considered, or the commitment that he will carefully consider, human rights legislation in Europe and Appeal Court decisions, because there is a danger of getting legislation wrong when it is rushed in this way? Secondly, notwithstanding the fact that the prevention of terrorism Act has to be reconsidered and renewed, will he confirm that he will not seek to impose these powers, especially clause 1, on the general law should there be a return to a permanent ceasefire in Northern Ireland?
In reply to the first of the hon. Gentleman's questions, may I say that of course we have used our very best endeavours to ensure that the Bill is drafted in such a way as to be utterly consistent with our obligations under the European convention on human rights and with all relevant decisions of the Court of Appeal. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made observations a moment ago about some of the recent decisions by the Court of Appeal. It is not always possible to predict with complete accuracy how the courts will respond in particular circumstances. However, we have used our best endeavours to ensure that the legislation is consistent with relevant decisions of that court.
In terms of the future, in the welcome event, for which I am sure we all very much hope, of a return to peace in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman will know that the learned Lord Lloyd of Berwick is considering what powers will be necessary. I shall not give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he requests, because if Lord Lloyd concluded that powers such as these are necessary in the long term, that view would clearly need to be given the most careful consideration. That will be looked at in the context of Lord Lloyd's report.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the powers to which he has referred will be widely understood and accepted by the majority of law-abiding citizens? Can he confirm that the power to stop and search pedestrians is intended to extend the powers of the police to look, in particular, for devices as opposed to the more general run of offensive weapons? Can he amplify his statement that those powers would be subject to the regulations made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I can confirm that the main purpose of the powers to stop and search pedestrians is to enable the police to find incendiary devices. Such devices have been used on a number of occasions and are now of such a size that they fit perfectly easily into a coat pocket. That is the main target of the powers to stop and search pedestrians. In the context of monitoring, the normal PACE powers will apply, as I think was anticipated in my hon. Friend's question.
As the Home Secretary has said, for the greater part these powers bring the law in England and Wales a little closer to the law in Northern Ireland. However, is it not the case that the way in which the IRA has resumed its campaign makes the point that it does not regard as significant the administrative and legal boundaries within the United Kingdom and that we need a more comprehensive response by the United Kingdom as a whole, and not simply in legislation, but otherwise? Does he agree that there is an overwhelming case simply for a single United Kingdom-wide anti-terrorism Act, directed against not just IRA terrorism but terrorism generally?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, that matter is being considered and it will be open to Lord Lloyd to make a recommendation to that effect. The hon. Gentleman demurs from what I say, but I doubt that he would be enthusiastic if I presented on an emergency basis the kind of comprehensive legislation that he seeks. It is sensible to await the deliberations of Lord Lloyd in looking at that aspect of the matter.
While I recognise that the Northern Ireland peace process is not the direct responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend, does he agree that there is very little hope of that peace process working unless terrorism is thoroughly defeated? Does he further agree that that requires counter-terrorist measures of the utmost vigour and imagination and that the measures that he has announced are certainly part of that, with their powers of search and intelligence acquisition? In the light of that, will he look to other Governments who have the same common interest, or say they have, in the defeat of terrorism? Will he urge his opposite number in Dublin to consider the same sort of powers, so that we really can defeat terrorism and see peace go forward in these islands?
Of course, I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the need for firm and effective counter-terrorist measures. I am grateful to him for his support. I believe that these powers will add significantly to the armoury of the police in dealing with terrorism. The possibility of such powers being introduced in the Republic of Ireland are, of course, a matter for the Irish Government. I assure my right hon. Friend that discussions on those matters between the two Governments take place quite regularly.
I am one of the Opposition Members who supports the bipartisan approach, but who voted against the prevention of terrorism legislation on the grounds that it contains civil liberties problems and that in many areas it is counter-productive to the peace process. Is not that the case with the measure that is now before the House and which contains some draconian provisions? For example, the 28-day provision might aid the IRA rather than help to contain it.
I do not think that any of these provisions would be counter-productive. In many ways, one ought to pay particular attention to the views of the police on that question. They are close to the circumstances in which these powers have to be exercised, and it is not in their interests for the powers to be counter-productive. If that was their view, they would not have requested them.
Either today, or tomorrow during the course of the debate, can my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear whether the new powers under section 13A of the PTA which he hopes to introduce will allow for random searching within the specified area, or must a police constable have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a particular individual, car or bag contains illegal substances? Can he say whether, during a search of outer garments, when a police officer thinks that there may be devices contained within inner garments, that officer can continue to detain that person for a closer search elsewhere? I support the plea by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), that before long, but after proper consideration, an all-UK anti-terrorist law should be introduced.
I note what my hon. and learned Friend says about the possibility of all-UK legislation. As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Upper Bann, that matter is certainly being considered by Lord Lloyd. Under these proposals, the powers of search allow police officers to search pedestrians without having specific suspicion in relation to those pedestrians. That is really the point of the powers.
My hon. and learned Friend asked about a power to search beyond the outer garments. The Bill does not provide such power: it will depend upon the extent to which the police officer, having carried out a search of the outer garments, has suspicion about the person.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that all the powers that he seeks could have been announced to the House over a fortnight ago, when we were discussing the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act? To ask the House to pass this legislation, which will be subject to a guillotine, on the penultimate day before the recess, without adequate opportunity properly to examine the terms and content of the Bill or to take proper outside advice, would in itself be sufficient ground to vote against the measure. Will the Home Secretary also confirm that the new powers of stop and search that he suggests would, provided that they are properly authorised, negate section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?
I do not accept the last point made by the hon. Gentleman—it is not right at all. Since the introduction of the prevention of terrorism Act, it has been recognised that there is a case for particular measures to deal with the terrorist threat. In relation to an earlier announcement, no decision had been reached on this matter when the prevention of terrorism Act was renewed. In many ways, I should have liked to be able to refer to it when the Act was before the House. However, as no conclusion had been reached on it, and as it was still under discussion and consideration, I did not think that any useful purpose would be served by mentioning it at that stage. It may have been decided not to bring these measures forward.
I have introduced these measures at the earliest opportunity, having reached a conclusion that they were necessary and justified. Once that decision was reached, it was incumbent on me to bring them before the House at the earliest possible moment.
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that the murder of two young soldiers at Lichfield city railway station is still remembered with sadness by many people in my constituency. The proposals that he has announced today will be welcomed in Lichfield and Mid-Staffordshire as a whole. Does he believe that there will be any delays or difficulties because of the provision that he has announced today, that there would have to be approval by the Secretary of State for the Home Department for police constables to have stop-and-search powers for more than 48 hours?
My right hon. and learned Friend has had discussions with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). Therefore, does he know whether the Labour party will vote for the provision, abstain or vote against it, as it did for the prevention of terrorism Act?
The dreadful murders to which my hon. Friend referred are remembered far beyond Lichfield and Mid-Staffordshire. We shall take every possible step to prevent a recurrence of acts of that kind, which is why we have brought forward these proposals. The authorisation of the Secretary of State will not negate the ability of the police to exercise the powers during the 48-hour period, which have to be confirmed within the 48-hour period. If they are not confirmed, they will fall when the Secretary of State announces his decision. Until that moment, those powers are available for use by the police.
In relation to the Labour party's attitude, I have acknowledged the extent to which it is prepared to co-operate, and my understanding is that it does not intend to stand in the way of the legislation. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Blackburn for what he said, and tomorrow we shall see the precise form of that co-operation.
Does the Home Secretary agree that this is a draconian measure? If it is logical to rush it through the House tomorrow, so that it is in place for the Easter recess—as the Home Secretary said—would it not be logical to time-limit the Act so that it lasted for only three months? The House would then be able to return to it and legislate more slowly and more carefully. The powers to stop and search and the powers to stop people having access to their own homes are draconian. It would be logical to scrutinise such powers very carefully.
The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is not sensible. If concerns develop about the operation of these powers—and I do not expect them to—there will be ample opportunities for hon. Members to express those concerns, without going to the lengths suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
If these powers are so important for the police, to enable them to combat terrorism, many of us are finding it hard to understand what has happened or who has intervened to make this issue so urgent for tomorrow. Why on earth could not the Home Secretary at least have hinted at it when the PTA was debated on 14 March? It is clear that these provisions are draconian and, as always, they will bear disproportionately on working-class communities throughout the United Kingdom.
If the Home Secretary really wants to see a restoration of the ceasefire, why does he not repatriate Irish prisoners to the Republic of Ireland, which he has been able to do for the past five months but has failed to do so far—instead of ferreting around and trying to find measures of this sort to restore his extremely damaged reputation?
The purpose of these powers is to protect working-class communities in this country—and I think that they will recognise that and value the extra protection that the powers will provide.
Does the Home Secretary recognise that many people do not think that the PTA has served the country well and believe that it is a serious attack on the civil liberties of a large number of people? The amendments that he has proposed today—to be rushed through in an atmosphere of crisis tomorrow—amount to a return of the sus laws by the back door, with an open-ended commitment to keep those new powers there when surely, as a confidence-building measure towards the peace process, we should be getting rid of the PTA and the anti-libertarian aspects that go with it.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his point of view, but I think that it is not widely shared outside the House, and it certainly is not widely shared inside the House. This is not, in any sense, a return to the sus law—and it is quite wrong to give any indication that it is. These are tightly restricted powers, available on the designation of a particular area, for a particular time, in particular circumstances, by a senior police officer. Although I recognise that the hon. Gentleman holds his views strongly, he has served no useful purpose in seeking to confuse people about the extent of the powers that I propose. The powers are very limited and they are not, in any sense, a return to the sus laws.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I believe that these measures are necessary and that they constitute a balanced response to the threat that we face. I very much hope that they will gain support from both sides of the House.