Counter-terrorism Legislation

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 30th October 1997.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:31 pm, 30th October 1997

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government's plans for reforming the existing framework of counter-terrorist legislation, including the provisions which relate to exclusion orders.

In the past 25 years, terrorism has exacted a terrible toll. Many people have lost their lives. More than 3,000 people have died in Northern Ireland alone. Businesses have been destroyed. Substantial damage has been wrought on our towns and cities. The very infrastructure of our nation has been attacked. That is not just the result of Irish terrorism. International terrorists too have cost us dear.

In the past 20 years, there have been more than 80 international terrorist incidents in this country. No one here today will forget the shooting of Woman Police Constable Fletcher outside the Libyan People's Bureau in St James's square, London in 1984, or the attack in 1988 on the Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, when 270 people were killed by the blast. More recently, there have been the attacks on the Israeli embassy, and Balfour house in 1994. Only last January, letter bombs were sent to the London offices of an Arabic language newspaper, which seriously injured two security guards.

In combating this threat, we owe an enormous debt to the vigilance of the police and the security forces. I am sure that the House joins me in paying tribute to their work. They have had many successes in capturing and prosecuting terrorist suspects. The convictions of six IRA terrorists at the Old Bailey last July are but the latest in a long line.

In Northern Ireland, there has of course been a very welcome change for the better. The IRA and a number of loyalist groups have declared ceasefires. Currently those are holding. Substantive talks between the parties have begun. There is real cause for optimism that a lasting peace may be achieved in Northern Ireland. A negotiated political settlement is—as we are all agreed—the only way forward.

However, the ceasefire in Northern Ireland and the possibility of achieving lasting peace does not mean that we no longer need special legislation to investigate, to disrupt, and to counter terrorism. There are extremists on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland who are opposed to the present ceasefires and who want the talks process to fail, as this morning's explosion in Londonderry shows.

On the international front, there is ample evidence of the activities of terrorists, whether sponsored by unfriendly Governments or acting in more or less organised groups. Some of these international terrorists may commit acts of terrorism within the United Kingdom or raise funds here, and others might use the United Kingdom as a base from which to launch attacks elsewhere in the world. In the face of such threats, we cannot—and we will not—drop our guard. Terrorists change their tactics all the time. Therefore, we must remain vigilant at all times and ensure that the police and the security forces have the powers which they need.

The current legislative framework for combating terrorism in the United Kingdom is contained principally in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996. Both Acts represent the latest versions of emergency legislation first introduced in the early 1970s in response to the very serious attacks which had taken place within the United Kingdom.

This legislation has been regarded by successive Governments as exceptional but temporary, to be removed as soon as circumstances would allow; but 25 years of attacks and the continuing threat from terrorists make a mockery of the suggestion that legislation to combat terrorism can, or should any longer be, regarded as only temporary.

What is needed is permanent legislation to deal with the continuing threat from terrorism and the terrorist. I shall say more about that in a moment, but first I shall explain the Government's intentions, in advance of new legislation, in relation to the exclusion powers of the 1989 Act. As the House well knows, the exclusion powers in the prevention of terrorism Act enable the Secretary of State to exclude from the whole of the UK, or a part thereof, anyone who he is satisfied is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism in connection with the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Unlike the powers to exclude under immigration legislation, the powers apply equally to British citizens as well as to the nationals of other states. In recognition of this, the powers have been used sparingly in recent years. Let me give the House the figures. In 1982, there were 248 orders in force. By 1994—just before the last ceasefire—the number had dropped to 74. During that ceasefire, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland revoked all the remaining 10 orders which he had made.

No order was made in 1996 or 1997 by my predecessor as Home Secretary against anyone who had not been previously excluded. This was despite the fact that the ceasefire had ended. When I took office on 2 May, the number had fallen to 22. For some years now, therefore, the power has been withering on the vine. During the last six months, I have considered 12 cases, as the law has required me to do. Of these, I have renewed two orders and either revoked or allowed to lapse the other 10.

As the House knows, the Government have long been opposed to these powers on the grounds that they were of limited utility and amounted to a form of internal exile without trial. This view is widely shared in this House and outside.

In 1987, Viscount Colville conducted a thorough review of anti-terrorist legislation on behalf of the previous Administration. In his report, Viscount Colville described the exclusion powers as "draconian", and recommended that they be removed from the statute book. He made that recommendation despite the fact that there was a continuing and active terrorist threat and that no ceasefire was in prospect. The exclusion powers have not only exposed the UK to severe criticism from our friends but have 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 therefore tell the House that—assuming the situation does not change—I am minded to allow the powers to lapse when the Act comes up for renewal next year. In the light of the recent developments in Northern Ireland, I have come to the conclusion that, at present, the exercise of these powers is no longer expedient to prevent acts of terrorism in relation to each of the 12 outstanding orders. 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 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.

Lord Lloyd 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 that does not mean that we cannot consider his recommendations and, if appropriate, implement them in the interim.

My right hon. 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 the proposals in the form of a consultation paper early in the new year. That paper will draw on Lord Lloyd's most helpful analysis and recommendations. Indeed, I hope that he will contribute further to our thinking.

In the interim, the police and the security forces must have the powers they need to combat terrorism. I therefore intend to seek the agreement of the House in March next year to the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. Similarly, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 expires in August next year, so my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will introduce a Bill to extend its life and to make some amendments to it. The introduction of that 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 to enable the police, the 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 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.

Our overall aim will be a framework of laws that are both effective and proportionate to the threat, against the background that the Government will never drop their guard in the fight against terrorism. I commend the proposals to the House.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

I start by thanking the Home Secretary for his courtesy in giving me an early sight of his statement. I join him in praising the bravery, courage and fortitude of our police, emergency services and security forces in the face of terrorist attack. I know that he will understand if, as a former Northern Ireland Minister who had the privilege for some time of being responsible for the security forces in Northern Ireland, I pay especial tribute to them for the work that they do; in particular, I single out the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

I also join the Home Secretary in expressing appreciation for the behaviour and character of the British people, in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who have controlled their temper in the face of vicious attack and provocation, and have refused to be swayed from the rule of law by the men of terror.

I assure the Home Secretary that we stand with him in resolutely rejecting international terrorism. I hope that he will agree that those on both Front Benches share a determination not to allow the United Kingdom to be used as a haven or a base for international terrorists. Does the Home Secretary also accept that we agree with Lord Lloyd on the need for on-going legislation, and that we look forward to the consultation paper?

The Home Secretary said that he had long opposed exclusion orders. Whatever his personal views may be, his party voted against the annual renewal of the PTA from 1983 to 1995—not acts that inspired much confidence in the Labour party. It abstained for the past two years because it sniffed an election coming. Does he accept that, while that ambivalence makes his commitment to permanent legislation the more welcome, it also means that, when his proposals emerge, they will need to be examined more carefully than usual because of Labour's record?

I have four further questions. The Home Secretary reminds us that he is required by law to examine each exclusion order. Given that 12 were revoked today, what political considerations did he take into account in deciding that they should suddenly be revoked?

Secondly, I hope that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will not misunderstand me if I say that proposals such as those just outlined to the House, introduced perfectly legitimately by Government as a review of existing legislation but while the peace process is continuing, are bound to raise—at least in the minds of some—the possibility of linkage between the two events, especially as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been associated with the Home Secretary's statement. In coming to this decision today, has he or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland received representations from members or officials of any other Government or from Sinn Fein that in any way influenced the Government's judgment in today's statement?

Thirdly, can the Home Secretary reassure the House that the decision to drop exclusion orders fully took into account any advice that he may have received from his security advisers?

Fourthly, I note that a consultation paper will appear early in the new year, and we look forward to reading and examining it, and to responding to it. Does the Home Secretary recognise that the new permanent legislation to which he referred should not be determined until the outcome of the Northern Ireland talks process is known?

The Home Secretary understands that we are fully supportive of the talks process, and I know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland realises that, too, but the Home Secretary himself pointed out that the outcome of the talks is uncertain. Will he assure the House that no change to permanent legislation will be made until the outcome of the talks is known, so that the outcome of the talks can influence the judgments that go to make up the final proposals? Finally, does the Home Secretary accept that, in the meantime, we welcome his determination to keep so-called emergency legislation in place?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I should like to place on record on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and myself a reinforcement of his expression of gratitude, particularly to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whose bravery and courage in dealing over 25 years with an appalling terrorist threat has no equal anywhere in the world.

The right hon. Gentleman tried to rework old debates about our attitude to the prevention of terrorism Act. I have only to remind him that it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who said: It is not in dispute, and never has been, that we need anti-terrorist legislation."—[Official Report, 9 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 300] That was never the issue between our parties when those matters were debated.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me four questions. I want to give him precise answers to each one. He asked whether I took any political factors into account when, as I was required to do, I examined the merits of each of the outstanding 12 orders that I have decided today to allow to lapse. The answer to that is no.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we had received any representations from any other Government or from Sinn Fein asking us to make a statement such as this. The answer on behalf of both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and myself is no.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the decision on dropping exclusion orders took account of the views of those who advise me on security matters. The answer to that is yes.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me, lastly, whether I would undertake not to introduce any permanent legislation in the House before there was a clear outcome to the talks process which is currently taking place in the north of Ireland. The answer to that is also no, and I want to explain the reason for that.

In his second question, the right hon. Gentleman sought to know whether there was any direct linkage between what I have announced today and the talks process. I gave him a categorical undertaking that there was not. What we seek, and what I believe, by their actions, the previous Government sought to do, is to establish a base of permanent anti-terrorist legislation which is sufficiently robust and strong to cope with both periods of relative peace in terms of the internal threat and emergencies such as the failure of the ceasefire, and to deal with the continuing international terrorist threat.

I give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking that there will be sufficient time after the publication of our consultative document to take full account of the views expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

As the Home Secretary knows, Ulster Unionist Members have long been in favour of a single permanent United Kingdom-wide anti-terrorism law. Is not the reality that, under the fine words of the Home Secretary, the substance is a significant relaxation of the stance of the Government with regard now to exclusion orders and also to internment, and the changes foreshadowed on arrest and detention powers? Does not considerable naivety underlie that?

As both Secretaries of State must realise, as terrorists in Northern Ireland realise that their desire to set aside the consent principle will not be satisfied, we shall see a return to violence in Northern Ireland. Indeed, we have seen violence today in Londonderry. Can the Secretary of State give us any further information on the bomb in Londonderry? I believe that Semtex was used in the bomb, which is available only to the Provisional IRA. That may be a significant development.

The Home Secretary referred to Lord Lloyd's report. He knows that, in that report, Lord Lloyd recommended change in the law on the admissibility of wire-tap evidence, something that the Royal Ulster Constabulary has sought for a long time. I know that there are arguments and foolish attitudes on the matter in some quarters, but could we not at least ensure that the law is changed in Northern Ireland, as the previous Government undertook to do, in advance of permanent legislation?

Could we also see something happen with regard to witness protection schemes? Far too often in Northern Ireland we have seen cases collapse because witnesses would not come forward. The Home Secretary paid tribute to the RUC. RUC men have been murdered and their killers not brought to justice for precisely that reason. That is something on which measures need to be taken.

Exclusion orders were a lazy and not particularly effective form of control. We need more effective forms. Can we really have that without the practices that are common elsewhere in the European Union with regard to identity cards and checks on movements of persons?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Let me deal with each of the hon. Gentleman's points in turn. He accused us of relaxing our views on anti-terrorist legislation. No one listening to my statement could objectively take that view. He confirmed his long-held opinion of exclusion orders. In reaching this decision, I took into account the view which, for example, he expressed in the House on 9 March 1994, when he said: We consider exclusion orders to be objectionable in principle. He went on to make the point in respect of non-British citizens, which is an important point, that action to exclude non-British citizens is possible under immigration law."—[Official Report, 9 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 314.] That remains the case. Later this afternoon, a Bill will come before the House to provide a proper process to give effect to such orders to exclude.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Lord Lloyd's proposals in respect of section 9 of the Interception of Communications Act 1985. That is a complicated issue. Lord Lloyd sought to distinguish between interception evidence that arose in respect of a national security investigation—which he said should be adducible in evidence—and other interception evidence, from a customs, police or Security Service intercept, in respect of the investigation of a serious crime, which he said should not be adducible in court.

That is one of the most complex of Lord Lloyd's recommendations. Many take the view that it is very difficult to draw the distinction in practice. There is much to be said on both sides of the argument about whether intercept evidence should be adducible in court; I continue to consider the matter carefully, and will be happy to take advice from hon. Members, particularly those who have had experience of the matter.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the composition of the explosives used in the bomb in Londonderry. I am afraid that I have no firm information, but as soon as we have information I shall ensure that he is informed. He also asked about the need for witness protection. The protection of witnesses in connection with anti-terrorist measures is a general but acute problem, and we are giving it careful consideration.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Is the Home Secretary aware that we join in the tribute to those who, day in, day out, risk their lives and use their skills to protect the whole community against terrorists? Is he aware that we welcome the decision to get rid of exclusion orders, which we have wanted for some time and which has twice been recommended? Will he include in his review the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Act 1996—which was rushed through the House in about a day and a half, with his support—so that we can engage in more measured consideration of its provisions?

Is it not clear, as the Home Secretary says, that, even if a peace settlement is secured in Northern Ireland, there will remain a need for anti-terrorism legislation because of the existence of threats from many different quarters? Such legislation must therefore contain sufficient safeguards to be capable of being placed permanently on the statute book. Does the Home Secretary recognise that it must safeguard the life and limb of members of our communities, but must also not hand a victory to terrorists by taking away basic liberties to which we have grown accustomed, but about which they care not at all?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks.

The Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Act 1996 was indeed pushed through the House very quickly with the support of the official Opposition. I make no apologies for that: the powers were needed, and—despite the claims made by, I think, the Liberal Democrats that they would somehow lead to the end of civil liberties and civilisation as we know it—the simple truth is that they have been effective, and have been used proportionately. I am not aware of a single allegation of abuse of those powers.

Of course, as we are considering permanent legislation, we shall consider all the existing temporary legislation and whether it should have a place in the permanent legislation. That includes the additional powers Act.

The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, right to say that, in framing legislation, particularly permanent legislation, we must secure a balance between the importance—the imperative—of protecting the public and security forces, and the importance, which he mentioned, of not handing a victory to terrorists by stooping to their methods. That is what we aim to do in the consultative process, and in the legislation that will follow.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's approach. A proper and permanent law, framed in a way that respects both the rule of law and democracy and the fight against terrorism, is long overdue. What disturbed so many of us in the past were the exclusion orders, which were outside the rule of law and not only damaged the country's international reputation but were a permanent and continuing propaganda victory for the Provisional IRA.

Will my right hon. Friend not worry too much about sniping from Conservative Front Benchers? At the same time as lecturing us some years ago on the prevention of terrorism Act, they were engaged in secret talks with the Provisional IRA—although, of course, they denied that until forced to admit it. I think that a little less hypocrisy in general on the issue is welcome, as is the reassertion of British values, democracy and the rule of law. [Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Whose is that telephone that is switched on? I shall not call another hon. Member until it stops.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am happy just to listen to questions, but I fancy that hon. Members might like answers as well.

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and pay tribute to him for his unstinting work in the search for peace in Northern Ireland. He is right to chide some members, not all, of the previous Administration. I recall that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) made much about our approach to exclusion orders. It happens that, during the ceasefire, he lifted 39 exclusion orders. When it had broken down and terrorist activity was resumed, he lifted more exclusion orders than I have lifted until today. The facts speak for themselves.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Will the Home Secretary always bear it in mind that measures which may build confidence within some parts of the community can also lessen it in others?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, I can, and for that reason we have paid careful attention to the balance of the proposals, and shall do so all the way through this process.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

Were all 12 of the exclusion orders that my right hon. Friend has today revoked signed against republicans? Does he not agree that, notwithstanding the need to be ever vigilant against the vicious activities of terrorists, internal exile and internment should have no place in a mature parliamentary democracy?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The answer to my hon. Friend's last point is yes. In reply to his first point, I can tell him that, of the 12 orders which were outstanding this morning, 10 were in respect of alleged IRA terrorists and two were in respect of alleged loyalist terrorists.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I generally welcome what the Home Secretary has said. In particular, I welcome the fact that he will ensure that the police and security forces will have the powers they need. Having served in Northern Ireland and seen the effects of internment, I am ambivalent about it. However, should the RUC wish to keep the reserve power of internment in its locker, will the Home Secretary take notice of what the RUC says and keep it?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am afraid that I must say to the hon. Gentleman that we are not ambivalent about internment. We do not think that it has any role to play in combating terrorism and I understand that the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary supports our proposals to remove the powers of internment from the statute book.

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott Labour, Wigan

My right hon. Friend will be aware that not many people here today voted for the prevention of terrorism Act in 1975. I was one of them, and I continued to vote for the PTA until it became apparent that some elements of that temporary measure offended human rights. One of them was on exclusion orders. During my time as Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, I very much opposed the provision of those exclusion orders in the PTA.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the story that I told him about John Matthews, a young man who was arrested—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Excuse me. We have questions on statements, and I have not yet heard a question from the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott Labour, Wigan

My right hon. Friend would be aware—would he not?—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am trying to protect the interests of the many hon. Members who are seeking to put questions. There are many such Members, particularly on the Government side, not all of whom will be called if we go on in this fashion.

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott Labour, Wigan

I take your admonition, Madam Speaker.

A young man was let free from a magistrates court and then rearrested, and an exclusion order was placed on him. In opposition, my right hon. Friend promised me that, once in government, he would get rid of this. I thank him for his promise today.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I remember the detail of the case, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls Conservative, Teignbridge

Putting this legislation on a permanent basis is obviously a good idea and the Home Secretary is to be complimented for it, but will he pause for a moment and think about this proposition? He seems to be saying that, because exclusion orders are not used very often, they need not be on the statute book. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), he said that he had taken account of the advice from the security forces and, a few moments ago, he said that the Chief Constable had positively advised against internment.

What was the advice on exclusion orders? I suspect that it was not that the security forces were calling for the removal of exclusion orders—it was just that they were saying effectively that they could live with their removal. Which was it?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I said in my statement and again in answer to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) that I had taken full account of the advice on security matters. I am not going to go into detail on the advice, but, if I had been advised that it was unsafe to lift the exclusion orders, I would not have done so.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South

I welcome the Home Secretary's statement. This legislation has been long due for an overhaul. Since my election to Parliament, I have voted against all anti-terrorist legislation. I share his and everyone's desire that terrorists should be caught, but the bottom line is that we should not hold terrorist suspects incommunicado for up to seven days and nights without access to the protections that suspects in other serious criminal cases enjoy. Will he give an assurance that, when the review is completed, the new legislation will protect the rights of suspects, so that some terrible mistakes will not be repeated?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand my hon. Friend's point. I made it clear in my statement that we have long believed that there should be a judicial element in decisions about extensions of detention. I have no doubt that the other circumstances in which people are detained will be the subject of considerable debate when we publish our consultation document.

I accept the need to ensure that there is a real balance between the rights of suspects and the imperative of the police and security forces, on infrequent but regulated occasions, to detain people in wider circumstances than arise under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That is the issue. We will examine it in great detail, and we will be grateful to my hon. Friend for his views, too.

Photo of Ms Jenny Jones Ms Jenny Jones Labour, Wolverhampton South West

In the proposed legislation, will my right hon. Friend consider measures to confiscate the assets of terrorist organisations, to cut off their economic supply line for repeating their acts of terrorism?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Those points will be among the elements of the consultation document.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall Labour, Leicester South

As one of those who down the years has dealt with these matters, I warmly welcome the decision that my right hon. Friend has announced today. I remember, as he will, being labelled the terrorists' friend, which was and remains a gross calumny. I am pleased to be reprieved by his decision today.

When my right hon. Friend introduces his more general legislation, what criteria will he use to ensure a minimum distortion of our traditional civil liberties?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. What we need is permanent legislation that balances the need to protect the safety of the public and the security forces against the need to ensure that suspects who are detained under the powers have proper rights, proportionate to the accusations they face. Also, the powers must be graduated according to the terrorist threat that exists at any particular time.

We all have to acknowledge that there is now a continuous threat of terrorism, certainly international terrorism, and there may be a continuing threat of terrorism arising from the north of Ireland. Therefore, we need permanent powers that are flexible enough to deal with a situation in which the threat is relatively low, as well as emergencies where the threat becomes high.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I thank the Home Secretary for ending the exclusion orders. It is a long overdue and welcome development. Can my right hon. Friend say a little more to the House about the judicial element in detention orders, and explain why all those in detention should not have the same access to courts as anybody arrested in the normal course of events for any other alleged or suspected criminal act?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

This House has accepted over 25 years that the provisions under which terrorist suspects can be detained should be wider than those under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 because of the nature of terrorist activity. Ultimately, whether that should continue will be a judgment for the House and for the other place. It is my view that there should be that distinction but that there should be safeguards for terrorist suspects when they are detained.

We have always taken the view that one way to protect terrorist suspects is by having a judicial element in the extension of detention decisions rather than it being a decision by the Secretary of State, which is the current position under the primary legislation and which cannot be changed until that legislation is altered. How that judicial element is exercised will be considered when we are drafting the consultative document, and we will welcome the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as I have said many times in the past, it does not really matter whether I am killed by a terrorist or a crook—I am still dead—that the person who kills me is still a criminal, and that therefore the rights and duties in respect of interrogation should be the same? Surely we must now recognise that terrorism is a crime, and should be treated and dealt with as a crime.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand my hon. Friend's point, but the simple truth is that most jurisdictions across the world, including the Republic of Ireland and many continental jurisdictions, draw a distinction between the powers needed to investigate serious but non-terrorist crimes and those needed to investigate terrorist crimes, because of the nature of the organisation behind terrorists.

We face some serious organised criminal gangs but on the whole they are not backed by states, which is the case in some forms of terrorism. That is the reality in much international terrorism and, in the past, has applied to IRA and Irish terrorism. We have to take account of that different reality in formulating the powers needed within the new anti-terrorist legislation.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Thank you. We shall now move to the business statement.