My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in his statement that we face a new situation in Northern Ireland. The peace process is moving forward with the overwhelming support of both communities in the north and of the people of the Republic, but small splinter groups have shown themselves ready to resort to appalling and indiscriminate destruction, as they did in Omagh, in a desperate effort to throw that process off course. We cannot and we must not let such groups succeed.
The devastating bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and, more recently, of the restaurant in Cape Town are further reminders, if any were needed, of the wider threat. We have to send the clearest message to international terrorist groups that we in the United Kingdom will not allow this country to be used as a base for plotting and supporting terrorist operations abroad. Britain already has wide-ranging powers to combat terrorism, but it is essential that they are kept under constant review and that we remain ready to move quickly to remedy practical deficiencies that come to light.
In opposition, we actively supported the previous Government in their rapid steps in April 1996 to extend police powers to stop and search in response to the Provisional IRA's resumed bombing campaign. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House spelled out a few moments ago, at that time the then Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), made a statement of his intention on 1 April and presented a draft Bill. With our co-operation, a guillotine motion was introduced and the debate, which finished at 1.21 am, dealt with all stages of that Bill.
Although I entirely accept that in a perfect world it is unsatisfactory to have to deal with legislation quickly and that we should never go down that road unless we have to, it is a matter of record that a Labour Government did exactly that, when in November 1974, they presented the original prevention of terrorism legislation. The Conservatives supported them at that time and, with Labour support, the previous Government introduced a more modest measure in April 1996.
I understand the Home Secretary's argument about terrorism. Does he recognise that the conspiracy part of the Bill is not confined to terrorism? For example, it could apply to an environmental pressure group that was organising a peaceful protest in Germany against the dispatch of some toxic material to Britain. Therefore, the urgency that he seeks to apply, even if it were applied to terrorism outside Northern Ireland, cannot be applied to the non-terrorist implications of the Bill.
I shall come to that. The right hon. Gentleman has had much more notice of this matter than usual because of co-operation, which may turn out to be one way. The Liberal Democrats can tear up with gay abandon the agreements to which they sign up. We live and learn. The right hon. Gentleman is wholly wrong. It is impossible to conceive of a circumstance in which what he describes as a plan to disrupt a peaceful protest in Germany would be an offence here. The right hon. Gentleman spoke on the 1996 legislation and is well enough versed in these matters to know that the Bill contains the fundamental principle of dual criminality. We never lay a charge of conspiracy to commit an offence abroad if that offence is also an offence here.
If it were an offence here to do what the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) describes, people could be charged with it because we have signed Council of Europe conventions that allow prosecutions for a wide range of offences where there is evidence of conspiracy here to commit those offences in other countries. That applies not just to EU countries, but to other Council of Europe countries, which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows include some in eastern Europe. I shall explain in more detail when I come to the relevant part of the Bill why the change is important. We have lost 28 lives in the north of Ireland—but I do not seek to make this a competition, because any person's death from terrorism diminishes us. However, 10 times more lives were lost in outrages in Dar es Salaam and Kenya, and we would have been blind and deaf if we had not recognised the need to act in respect of those as well as in respect of terrorism in the north of Ireland.
Does the Home Secretary accept that clauses 5 and 7 are substantially lifted from my private Member's Bill of some 18 months ago which his party failed to support in the Division Lobby? What is the difference between the situation 18 months ago and that of today? Sadly, many people were killed in terrorist outrages more than 18 months ago and many have been killed in such outrages since.
Up to a point, I accept my hon. Friend's intervention, but he will know from his years in the House that I seek to accept interventions because that is vital to the process of debate, especially when the House is asked at short notice to deal with such a Bill.
We ensured that the Bill that was presented by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) received an unopposed Second Reading. Although we moved amendments in Committee, as I recall we did not vote against the Bill at any stage. We had reservations about its width in the context of incitement, which is not included in clauses 5, 6 and 7 of the Bill that we are debating. As a safeguard to deal with the legitimate anxieties about how such a power might be misused, any prosecution will be subject to the explicit and prior approval of the Attorney-General. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 take account of that.
The private Member's Bill that was presented by the hon. Member for Eastbourne did not succeed because "I spy strangers" was called and the Conservative Whips were so incompetent that they could not get 40 Conservative Members to secure a quorum. I had not intended to mention that embarrassment in terms of the previous Administration's mismanagement. I hope that there is all-party support for the present measure. If the hon. Gentleman's Bill had been important, the previous Government would have made it a Government measure.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his preparedness to take interventions. I refer him to the principle of clauses 5, 6 and 7. Does he accept that there is a serious danger of incorporating in British law what pertains in countries over which we have no influence or control whatever? People in such countries might decide that some of their political opponents in exile are dangerous and should be committed to prison. The title of clause 5 does not specify the offences. It merely states:
Conspiracy to commit offences outside the United Kingdom".
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that part of the Bill is extremely dangerous and has far-reaching implications for the principles of political asylum anywhere for people who legitimately oppose brutal and barbarous regimes in other parts of the world?
I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety. Others have expressed it, and I hope that not only on Second Reading but in Committee my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be able to allay those fears. They can be allayed by reference not only to what is in the Bill but by the important fact that the Attorney-General will have the duty personally to examine every potential prosecution and, if required, he will be able to take the public interest into account. That includes some of the considerations that my hon. Friend raises.
We need not look in the crystal ball; we can look at the book. As I explained, any offences committed in countries that are members of the Council of Europe can be the subject here of a charge of conspiracy to commit those offences abroad. In addition, the offences of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit sexual offences anywhere in the world can already be put on an indictment.
The urgency is to ensure that, in appropriate circumstances, we can also charge people with terrorist and other serious offences. There is one other explanation. At the moment, we can charge in respect of terrorist offences not only in countries that are members of the Council of Europe but in the United States and India. Therefore, if the outrages committed by middle east terrorists had taken place not against the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi but against the American embassy in Delhi, and there was evidence here of a conspiracy to commit that outrage, we could have brought that charge. In all the 19 years that I have been in the House I have never once heard a representation against that power being used.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General would exercise the greatest care in judging whether an indictment should lie, and judge and jury would also deal carefully with the matter. We are dealing here with important anomalies which mean that our weaponry against those who conspire to commit terrorist offences abroad is defective. I have long believed that we should remedy those defects and, in the light of the nearly 300 people who lost their lives in those outrages in east Africa, now is the time to take action.
We shall return to the question of asylum, but the law and the practice here are categorical. Even where, from time to time, people in Britain are convicted of terrorist offences that relate to international, not Irish, terrorism, it is common practice where the offence is serious for a deportation order to be issued against such individuals if they are not British citizens. But those people are not automatically deported. Despite their previous convictions, they have rights under the United Nations convention on refugees and rights under article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which we are strengthening by its incorporation. They cannot be sent back to the country from which they came if they will then be subject again to degrading punishment.
No prosecution can be taken forward under clause 5 without the agreement of the Attorney-General. My right hon. Friend mentioned the public interest consideration that the Attorney-General of the day would apply. Would I be right in surmising that the Attorney-General may consider it important not to alienate a major trading partner and that, because of that, no action should be taken, despite there being, on the face of it, good reason for that?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General furrows his brow with some measure of disbelief at the supposition behind the question. Such a consideration would be entirely outwith the quasi-judicial way in which, in my time in the House, the present Attorney-General and—I say with great respect—his predecessors have operated.
To be specific, Osama bin Laden was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. If anyone had supported him then, would he have been caught by what the Bill proposes? Many of us, including my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I, supported Mandela when he was imprisoned for terrorism to which he confessed at the Rivonia trial. If people are now engaged in trying to topple Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, or North Korea, would they be caught by the Bill? Would the Bill apply to Sandline and to other mercenaries who provide the mechanism for this? Would it apply to the security services? My right hon. Friend must be absolutely specific. If we pass this legislation, prosecutions will arbitrarily be left to the Attorney-General. Attorneys-General can be flexible in their interpretation of the law if it is inconvenient to the Government in which they serve. That is why they remain Attorneys-General. We must not pretend that this is simply a matter of the law, the law, the law. It is a matter of governmental discretion. It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend would answer those questions.
I shall do my best but, if I fail in my right hon. Friend's eyes, as I suppose I might, I hope that he will return to the matter in Committee.
The Attorney-General's decision is simply to proceed to prosecute. He is not judge and jury. Aside from the wider issues of the public interest, the Attorney-General must, above all, take into account whether he believes that there is a case to go before the courts and then before a jury. If the case is weak, it is highly likely that the judge will throw it out before it gets to the jury or, if he allows the case to go to the jury, that the jury will throw it out. I have great confidence in the ability of British jurors to determine guilt or innocence in serious cases of this kind. I am clear in my belief that they would do so.
We are dealing here not with a clean sheet but with a highly anomalous situation where already conspiracy to commit murder anywhere in the world is an offence here, as is conspiracy to commit various sexual offences and, as it happens, some computer crimes. A conspiracy to commit terrorist offences in the United States and India is already an offence here and a conspiracy to commit any offence of any kind in any country that is a member of the Council of Europe is already an offence.
My right hon. Friend refers to the Attorney-General being a safeguard, but he is not immortal and we must worry about any future incumbent's attitudes. It is appalling to think that a person's liberty could depend on the fairness, justice and probity of one individual. Surely the Bill needs to give people the clear safeguard that, if they do something against despotic regimes abroad that is not illegal here and which we as democrats would support, they need not fear prosecution here.
Although Attorneys-General are not immortal, as it happens—this is an ad hominem point—my right hon. and learned Friend is almost immortal. Next year, he celebrates 40 years in this place. I was in his constituency yesterday in part to celebrate that great and looming day which will take place in October.
My hon. Friend's other point was also raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I do not believe for a second that, under the Bill as drafted, any idea of a charge against people who supported the African National Congress, as I did, throughout the period of apartheid, would have remotely got on its feet. We are not talking about that; we are talking about conspiracy to commit serious crime. Much of what the ANC was doing here was a crime in the vile Republic of South Africa, as it then was, but it was not a crime here. No charge can be made unless it is a crime not only in the country concerned but here. That is the essence of the dual criminality rule.
Like most people in the country, I suppose, I do not believe that Britain should be some kind of haven for those committing terrorist offences abroad. It is inconceivable that we should give asylum to those who do that. However, why do we not insert the word "terrorist" in the appropriate place in the phrase "conspiracy to commit offences"? I understand that other serious offences that my right hon. Friend mentioned, such as sexual offences, would be covered by other laws, but in order to tighten the legislation and to safeguard civil liberties, will he consider adding the word "terrorist" at the appropriate place?
We shall return to the point in Committee. The Bill tabled as a private Member's Bill under the previous Administration covered all potential offences. We supported it at that time and did not argue about the fact that it covered a wide range of offences. I know that the anxieties of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members relate principally to terrorist offences. I do not believe, therefore, that, if we excluded other offences, those anxieties would be allayed.
I shall make some progress before I take another batch of interventions. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire will be the first.
I should make it clear that, in moving swiftly to close specific loopholes, as we propose to do today, we are complementing the longer-term work already in hand comprehensively to review the prevention of terrorism legislation as a whole. My predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, began that process in 1995 when he appointed the distinguished Law Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, to conduct a thorough review of anti-terrorist measures. Lord Lloyd published his report in October 1996. I made an interim report about the future of anti-terrorist legislation to the House on 30 October last year.
I can now tell the House that work on preparation of the promised consultation paper is well advanced. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) asked why we had not met the original timetable for the publication of the paper. The answer is that we kept hoping to do so, but circumstances, particularly in the island of Ireland, kept changing. Although I understand the frustration that that has caused, which has also been caused to me and to officials in the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office because we had to keep changing the draft, it has turned out to be sensible that we did not publish that document earlier. We will publish it in the autumn.
Consideration of that document and of the legislation that should follow will provide the opportunity to deal with some of the more wide-ranging proposals for change that have been made in the past few days, including those mentioned earlier by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), which will no doubt be raised by hon. Members today. It will also be an opportunity to reflect on the practical impact of the changes to which I hope the House will agree today.
The purpose of the Bill is therefore limited. It is tightly focused and it is undoubtedly tough, but it is proportionate. I shall deal first with the provisions that concern Northern Ireland and terrorism related to it.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. We can all agree that it is important to introduce good-quality legislation to deal with international terrorism, particularly as international terrorism is changing from state-sponsored terrorism to a rather apolitical form of terrorism. Although it is important, why is it so urgent to table legislation that will not receive proper consideration? Everyone may agree on the principles, but the words of the Bill were not seen until 6.10 yesterday evening. It is incumbent on the Home Secretary to explain why a measure dealing with international terrorism is so urgent that Parliament must be recalled. Why could it not wait six or seven weeks?
Such a Bill would not wait six or seven weeks. If it were taken in normal time, it would have to wait until the next Session. These are always matters of fine judgment. Had the bombings of the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi not taken place, and had there not been the loss of almost 300 lives and the injury of many hundreds more, we would not have introduced the measure at this time, just as if there had not been the loss of 28 lives in Omagh, the House would not have been recalled to consider the legislation. It is a matter of proportion.
I spent 18 years on the Opposition side of the House where the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire now sits, trying to scrutinise Government legislation as best I could. Of course it is far better to have time to scrutinise legislation and to do so carefully. Sometimes that is not possible. I have done my best, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done, to explain the circumstances where that judgment must be made. It was made in 1974 by the previous Labour Government and again, among other times, in April 1996.
In the space of the same month, we have witnessed the single worst terrorist outrage in the north of Ireland throughout the entire 30 years of troubles there, and one of the most serious terrorist outrages on the international scene that the world has ever witnessed. Taking those facts together, it was not unreasonable for Parliament to be recalled or for the Bill to come before the House. I accept that there is a greater possibility that some of the wording is not entirely accurate. We will listen carefully to what is said today.
The parts of the Bill that have not been before the House ever before—clauses 1 to 4—will be subject to annual review, as well as to the comprehensive review that I outlined. The first review will take place in just six months, in March. With respect to clauses 5, 6 and 7, the House need have less anxiety. The words in those clauses have been in the public domain for well over two years and have been the subject of a great deal of public discussion, so clauses 5, 6 and 7 are not formulations suddenly being brought before the House.
I do not want to confuse my right hon. Friend, but may I bring him back to clause 1? Proposed section 2A (3) states that the evidence of a police superintendent shall be admissible as evidence, but prohibits committal for trial in England and Wales or conviction on that basis alone. Does the same hold for Scotland, or does the Scots legal system of corroboration provide such protection? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the police forces of England and Wales and Scotland are working closely with the RUC and the Garda Siochana in their attempts to bring terrorists to justice?
I am anxious to give way, but it is important that I continue my speech.
The Good Friday agreement, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred, was comprehensive. It covered constitutional issues, as well as a wide range of confidence-building measures affecting all parts of the community. Yesterday's events, including the important and significant statement from Sinn Fein, are a further indication of how the momentum for political progress has been maintained. That has been shown by the positive reaction from everyone engaged in the process.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall make some progress and then do my best to give way.
Political co-operation is the only future for Northern Ireland. In a referendum on 22 May, the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic overwhelmingly supported the agreement that the Real IRA and other splinter groups are now trying to undermine. The Government have a duty—an imperative—to ensure that those bent on such destruction do not succeed. The measures brought forward today in the Bill are targeted against groups that are not observing a full and unequivocal ceasefire.
As the House knows, the Dail is also meeting today to address anti-terrorism legislation. The recall today of the two Parliaments illustrates graphically that cross-border co-operation, to which the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred, has never been better. That is equally true operationally. I saw and heard that only last Friday when I visited Belfast and spoke to the Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, and the Commissioner of the Garda, Pat Byrne, who were there for a routine meeting. I am in constant contact with my opposite number in the Republic of Ireland, John O'Donoghue, the Minister of Justice there. I last spoke to him yesterday evening about the changes that the Irish Government were tabling today in the Dail.
The clear, unequivocal message is that co-operation at all levels between north and south is vital in the fight against terrorism. This Bill, together with the legislation that is being introduced in the Republic will help that process.
We believe that it is essential to act without delay. We could have acted, in part, by secondary legislation, but we took the view that such matters ought to be dealt with openly and confidently by Parliament.
The Bill targets members of specified proscribed organisations, as defined by the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 or designated in an order made by a Secretary of State. At present there are four such organizations—the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army and the Loyalist Volunteer Force. Membership of proscribed organisations generally has been illegal for many years, and the police have used the power with some success. Since 1990, there have been 195 convictions in Northern Ireland for membership. However, it has proved difficult in the past to prosecute for membership alone. The Bill addresses that problem in three ways.
First, the Bill allows statements by a senior police officer of the rank of superintendent or above concerning membership of a specified proscribed organisation to be admissible as evidence in court. That will not on its own be sufficient to secure conviction, although it will obviously be an important element in any prosecution.
Secondly, the Bill allows a court to draw inferences from the failure by a suspect to answer relevant questions in respect of that membership offence. Thirdly, it amends—
Would we not be able to take those inferences more seriously if the interviews were audio-recorded? What possible objection can there be to making audio recording a condition of the way in which the Bill is to be implemented? We have been promising for months now—in fact, for years—to start recording interviews with terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland. Is not today the right day to start?
What my hon. Friend describes already happens within Great Britain. There is no objection in principle—far from it. The House has actively supported the principle for Northern Ireland, and passed such provisions into law. The only issue that remains is when it is practical to bring such provisions into operation. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that they will come into operation as soon as the Bill does, but I can promise—the RUC accepts this—that, given the decision that the House has already made and passed into law, those changes must come into force as quickly as possible. We can come back to that in Committee.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that people want to see those responsible for the atrocity at Omagh convicted of that appalling offence. I have not had time to examine the Bill thoroughly, so will he explain in what way the provisions in the legislation that we are debating today will assist in the process of convicting those responsible for the bombing, as opposed to convicting people for the lesser offence of membership of a proscribed organisation?
The third point that I was coming on to mention is that the Bill also amends the powers of arrest in the prevention of terrorism Act so that the powers in Northern Ireland are brought into line with those that already apply in Great Britain. It was anomalous—
I should be grateful if the House would let me answer one intervention before I proceed to another. I have made it clear that, within the confines of getting through my speech, I will take as many interventions as possible.
It is anomalous that, in Great Britain, membership of a proscribed organisation is already an arrestable offence, but in Northern Ireland it is not. The amendment will mean that those suspected of the offence of membership of a proscribed organisation in Northern Ireland can be arrested on the same basis as in Great Britain.
As to the wider implications of my hon. Friend's question, the Bill gives the police and the prosecution additional powers by which they can bring a prosecution before the courts and, where the evidence is regarded as sound, secure a conviction. That is its purpose.
The Home Secretary is giving way a great deal, and I am grateful.
Gerry Adams said yesterday, in anticipation of President Clinton's visit, that violence was finished. Does the Home Secretary recall the message sent by Martin McGuinness representing the IRA leadership in February 1993, in which he said, "The conflict is over," as quoted by the then Secretary of State in Hansard on 29 November 1993? My point is, what credence does the Home Secretary give to statements from Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness on this matter?
It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I take a similar view to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on this. I welcome the statement made by Sinn Fein as a significant step forward. To paraphrase my right hon. Friend, we have to take account of history, but we cannot get trapped in it. The process begun by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), then Prime Minister, and continued by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has started a momentum to get people away from terrorism, including the majority of those who have been involved in terrorism, towards a peaceful process to secure the future in Northern Ireland.
Of course we are not dewy-eyed about that process; of course it is possible that things may go wrong; but the parties to the agreement have signed up to it. So far, they have shown rather greater determination to stick to their signature than one party in this House. The agreement was signed in April, and the parties are still sticking to it. One party in the House managed to change its mind in 24 hours, but we will not go into too much private grief on that. If, God forbid, the agreement runs into difficulties, there are various provisions within it for dealing with that.
I will give way one last time and then I must continue.
The right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that I have tried to make a point with respect to the long title of the Bill on a number of occasions with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Speaker. I now have an opportunity to put it to the Home Secretary and I hope that he will be good enough to listen just for one second.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely important to ensure that members of the Real IRA or Continuity IRA who are currently in prison, about whose membership of proscribed organisations people were not sure, should not be released? Does he agree that, if notice were given of the fact that they were members of such an organisation based on the opinion of a police officer under the provisions of this Bill, it would still not be possible for the commissioners under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which we passed on 28 July, to prevent that early release?
If there is a problem here—I put it in all fairness to the Home Secretary that I think there is—I am told by the Clerks of the House that it will be necessary to change the long title of the Bill. If that is the case, will the Home Secretary be good enough to give us an assurance that he will look into it and adjust the long title, so that the Government's objectives in the Bill can be achieved properly? Otherwise, dangerous people will be let loose whom the Government would not want to be let loose under any other circumstances.
I realised as the words were coming out of my mouth their implication in respect of my other hon. Friends. It goes without saying that every other intervention that has been made has been serious; it is just that sometimes the interventions made by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) are not serious.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being very generous in giving way. Can we clear up the
point about the audio recording not being practical? The report of the Independent Commissioner for the Holding Centres dated March 1998 says:
The Centre at Strand Road, Londonderry … already has audio-recording facilities for interviews with non-terrorist prisoners … We understand that the installations at the Centres have the means of being readily adaptable to accommodate audio-recording, as and when that is authorised.
So why does not my right hon. Friend just authorise it?
My hon. Friend will no doubt wish to pursue the point in Committee, but there is no argument about the need for audio recordings in terrorist cases. It has been the subject of great concern on this side of the House, and, indeed, on the other, for many years. The House has agreed it, and it has passed into law; it is simply a question of implementing it as quickly as possible. At this moment, I am unable to give my hon. Friend the precise undertaking he seeks about implementing it exactly when the Bill passes into law, but I give him the undertaking that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office—my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram)—and I are determined that it should come into force as quickly as possible.
I shall give way later, but I must now get on with my speech.
The Bill also gives the courts new powers to order the forfeiture of property following conviction of membership of or support for a proscribed organisation. The court will be able to order the forfeiture of any form of property if it is satisfied that it has been used in connection with the activities of a group such as the Real IRA, or believes that it may be so used. The penalties already available to the courts in these cases are severe—up to 10 years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine—but I believe that the new provision offers a valuable reinforcement. It emphasises the gravity of the offence, and pulls away the practical props that such groups need to support their work. There will be safeguards, and the forfeiture will be entirely at the discretion of the courts.
It may be of interest to the House to know that, partly because the Irish Parliament already has much more extensive powers in respect of confiscation, and partly as an indication of the seriousness with which it takes this matter, clause 17 of the Bill before the Dail today contains a provision that amends the existing law governing the confiscation of property. If property—including real property such as a farm—is used in the course of a terrorist act, that property must be confiscated. The only discretion available to the court is that it can decide not to confiscate a property if it is of the opinion that a serious injustice might arise. The burden of proof is turned. Once it has been proved that the property has been used in a crime, only in a very few cases will the whole farm not be confiscated. We are not proposing that. We are proposing that the discretion should remain with the courts.
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I must make progress.
The courts will hear anyone else who has an interest in the property before making the necessary order, but they will have a firm basis for decisive action when that is in the interests of justice.
The new provisions on evidence, inferences and forfeiture extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. It happens that prosecution for membership offences has been much less common in Great Britain, but it is important that we should act consistently.
The judicial process remains paramount throughout the changes. No prosecution in Northern Ireland or in England and Wales will be conducted without the personal involvement and approval of the relevant Director of Public Prosecutions. It will continue to be a matter solely for the courts to decide whether a defendant is guilty or not on the weight and quality of the evidence presented. The present criminal burden and standard of proof for conviction will remain.
I have already referred to the requirement for the police officer's opinion to be supported by other evidence in order to found a conviction. That also applies to inferences from any failure to mention material facts. Our commitment to the rule of law is one of the crucial differences between the principles of democracy and the evil dogma of the terrorists.
I will give way in a few moments. It is just possible that I might be about to answer the point that my hon. Friend wants to make.
Earlier this Session, both Houses gave overwhelming support to the Human Rights Bill. It is not yet law, but, as the House would expect, we have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that this Bill is consistent with our commitment to human rights and to the particular requirements of the convention. The additional inference from failure to mention material facts in answer to questions, which builds on the existing power to infer from silence, takes full account of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Murray. In that case, the court found that inferences should not be drawn from silence prior to access to a solicitor. We have specifically covered that point in the Bill.
A further important safeguard in relation to the whole of the first part of the Bill is that all the new provisions will, as I said, be subject to annual renewal. As it happens, the first occasion that the House will have to debate renewal will be in the debate on the prevention of terrorism Act next March, just six months away.
Before I move on to the second part of the Bill, let me refer specifically to three issues that have been discussed—
If I may just make this point, I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik)— [Interruption.]—oh, and perhaps to someone behind me as well. I will not quote what Iain Macleod once said about speaking from the Front Bench.
Before I move on to the second part of the Bill, I shall refer specifically to some issues that have been discussed in the aftermath of Omagh but we have not taken forward at this stage. The first relates to evidence obtained from interception, or telephone tapping.
At present, under section 9 of the Interception of Communications Act 1985, there is an absolute ban on the use of intercept evidence in any court for any purpose. Some of the intelligence available, which leads the police to a strongly held belief that someone is a member of a designated organisation, may have come, or may come, from the product of interception. It has therefore been suggested that the intercept product might be admitted specifically to support charges of membership of a proscribed organisation, or in terrorist cases more generally.
Of course I understand the view that any material that points to involvement in terrorism should be put before the courts, but there are strong contrary arguments, which include the risk of damage to operational effectiveness from wider knowledge of interception capabilities. There are also difficulties in limiting any change to specific offences.
I hope that the House will accept that it is neither desirable nor, I suggest, practical to depart from the general rule laid down by Parliament in 1985 for the narrow purposes of this Bill. However, I acknowledge the case for looking again at the regime for interception.
Aside from any other considerations, profound changes in the technology of electronic communication have taken place in the past decade, and they, together with the decisions of the European Court in Strasbourg, have made new consideration of the regime imperative. In his report, Lord Lloyd made recommendations for a limited change in this respect, and those recommendations must be considered. I can therefore announce to the House today that, earlier in the summer, I had already put in hand a comprehensive review of the interception regime, and a consultation document will be published in due course.
The second suggestion was for much wider powers to confiscate the assets of terrorists who are convicted of offences of membership of a proscribed organisation. I announced last October that I was determined to ensure far more effective arrangements, so that criminals generally could not profit from their crimes, or use wealth that had been obtained unlawfully. Work is in hand on that, and I will be making announcements later in the year. As I have already said, the Republic of Ireland is already very much further ahead of us in this respect with its Criminal Assets Bureau, and we shall we studying its arrangements with interest.
I shall now give way to the right hon. Member for Bridgwater and some others.
The Home Secretary drew attention to the significance of clause 4 and the power of forfeiture. He mentioned farms specifically. He will know the role that many have played as storage areas for weaponry and munitions over the years and of their use for the preparation of home-made bombs and the provision of fertiliser. Does he consider that it is sufficiently known that there is a power for the whole farm to be forfeited from someone who is found be assisting in such activities? Has consideration been given perhaps to announcing a short amnesty for any farmers who declare the existence of any stores of munitions and armaments or the location of equipment for the preparation of home-made explosives? It could be made clear that, if the farmers failed to take advantage of such an amnesty, their whole farm could be forfeited.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the extent of the powers relating to some other offences. As to his second point, so far as I am aware no consideration has been given to the amnesty suggestion, but I and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, believe that it is an interesting and original suggestion. I shall ensure that it receives proper consideration as part of the overall environment for decommissioning.
Proposed section 2A (4) contains a provision whereby, in order to comply with the judgment in the case of Murray, the prisoner has to be advised legally. Is it not a fact that, in Northern Ireland, the solicitor then withdraws? Would it not be sensible to allow the solicitor to remain, as he does in England? We should then have not only the benefit of the tape recording of the interview and of the presence of the solicitor, which would prevent any conflict, but, ultimately, an enormous saving of court time, as we have found in England, Wales and Scotland, where interviews are conducted in the presence of a solicitor, tape-recorded and presented without argument.
I have dealt with tape recordings, but I accept the gravamen of what my hon. Friend says. It is certainly true that the present position is slightly anomalous, because, in Great Britain, the solicitor, having been permitted access to his client, or vice versa, remains for the interview, which does not necessarily happen in Northern Ireland. There are reasons why the separate practice has grown up. I believe that the RUC will accept in the particular circumstances of this measure that the probative value of inferences to be drawn from a failure properly to answer a question may be enhanced if a solicitor is present. We shall pursue that point with the RUC and the prosecution authorities in Northern Ireland.
I am also encouraged by the Home Secretary's comments on human rights issues. The civil liberties of a group of people could still suffer—those people who are coerced into assisting with terrorist acts. It is difficult to prove coercion and so forth, but is the right hon. Gentleman willing seriously to consider amendments that might help to find a way forward so that the civil liberties of individuals who have been coerced to help will not be curtailed in a way that might contravene natural justice?
Of course we will consider amendments when they are tabled, and treat them on their merits. Obviously, coercion is a defence. The hon. Gentleman may say that he is concerned about that defence being given in open court. The RUC has had long experience of dealing with people who have suffered from being coerced, and of treating their defences in the strictest confidence.
I am pleased to see the Home Secretary giving way so often. Earlier, he spoke about confidence, and I wonder how confident he is that this legislation will result in convictions. He may be surprised to learn that, when his noble Friend Lord Mason was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, similar legislation was suggested, and it was proposed that an RUC officer could give such evidence.
I advised Lord Mason that the Government should not go down that road, first, because the RUC gets enough flak at times—internationally—when it does an excellent job, and, secondly, because, in the Dail the legislation was then being changed because Daithe O'Connell changed the whole pattern at the time. Thereafter, IRA members denied that they were members of the organisation.
How confident is the Secretary of State that this legislation will lead to safe convictions, particularly bearing in mind the fact that, when a man called Dougan was murdered just outside Belfast, people were brought to court, there were witnesses, but one withdrew at the last minute, so the DPP said that it could not proceed with the trial? There is a political dimension, and it might be worth while bearing that in mind.
The hon. Gentleman's reference to what happened in the late 1970s underlines the point that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was making. Circumstances really have changed, and we now have effective cross-border co-operation. The Governments of both countries are now determined to drive against that terrorist splinter group, and we now have a much better consensus than we had in the past.
We could argue whether correct judgments were made in the past—sometimes they were, sometimes they were not. The hon. Gentleman asked about the likely success of the legislation. To answer that, the best I can do—it is an important best—is quote the opinion given by the Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, on Ulster Television last Thursday. He said that the new legislation would be "very important", but went on to say:
there are no quick fixes, there are no magic solutions",
key to our success has to be full public co-operation",
which is absolutely true.
This measure is important. We think that it will assist the police—indeed, it is a power that they have wanted. However, I make no guesses about the number of people who will be prosecuted under it, or about the number who will be deterred by it. I hope that many more will be deterred by the threats of prosecution and forfeiture.
Obviously, I would have preferred to have time to discuss these matters in parliamentary Labour party committees and to get to the detail. I want some clarification. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are not invited to those meetings. First, under the Bill, if a senior officer is of the opinion that a person is a member of an organisation, or the person is identified as such, and the person then fails to answer questions about membership, or denies it, can he or she be convicted because of those two simple matters, or must the person be charged with some other offence?
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned in passing subsection (10) of the new section 2A contained in clause 1, which refers to Scotland, and
said that that could be dealt with in Committee. I understand that we must table amendments before the end of the debate on Second Reading if we wish them to be discussed in Committee, so I want him to clarify how that subsection will work. It clearly refers to any proceedings in which
the accused is charged with belonging to a specified organisation where the court draws an inference as mentioned in subsection (6) above"—
because the accused did not deny that he or she was a member—
any evidence that he belongs to the organisation shall be sufficient evidence of that matter.
Am I correct in interpreting that to mean that, if the person has been accused of belonging to an organisation or that is the opinion of an officer, any other evidence that is not corroborated—as it normally would be under Scots law—by a second officer would be sufficient to convict that person? Are we making such an immense change to Scots law on the Floor of the House today?
No, we are not. However, I must first correct my hon. Friend's intervention, as I think that, when he said that he would rather discuss this in a Labour party committee than in Parliament, he meant to say that he would rather have discussed it in such a committee as well as in Parliament.
Yes. We will try to get that changed in the record as well. Perhaps I can give my hon. Friend a tip. If he wants to amend the Bill, all he has to do is table an amendment to delete subsection (10) of new section 2A in clause 1, and then we can discuss it. I have never owned up to any expertise in Scots law, but my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the Member for East Kilbride, who is also a Scot—
My hon. Friend has some expertise in the matter, or has access to experts. The proposal is entirely consistent with what we are introducing for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland, but my hon. Friend will deal with it at greater length in Committee.
The Home Secretary announced a review of the use of telephone tapping to produce evidence. Will he widen the scope of that review to allow the use of intelligence information in a way that will not compromise the asset that provides it? That could be important, particularly as regards international terrorism.
To some extent it is anomalous, but intelligence obtained by electronic surveillance other than telephone tapping or interception is already admissible in court—indeed, it is sometimes admitted in court. In 1996, we discussed that at great length in our debates on police legislation. Of course, it is a matter of fine judgment on the part of the police whether they introduce such evidence, because, by using the contents, they are admitting the fact of the surveillance and intelligence, and there is a fine line.
I have been speaking for an hour, and have been anxious to take interventions, but it is reasonable now for me to press on to a conclusion so that other hon. Members can speak.
On the conspiracy proposals, I dealt with the case for those—
Perhaps my hon. Friend could let me finish my remarks. I dealt with the case for such proposals in some detail, and we will go into them in more detail in Committee.
This is not the Bill that I think some of my hon. Friends fear. It is similar to, although more narrowly defined than, the Bill brought forward two years ago, which we supported from the Opposition Front Bench. There were anxieties about whether, at that stage, the incitement provisions could have led to the problems that have been mentioned in connection with the African National Congress.
However, incitement is a much wider offence than conspiracy, and in this Bill there is no provision covering incitement. Such provision would, I accept, require detailed consideration in slow time before we could decide whether to include it.
I have already referred to the other two important safeguards—the Attorney-General's consent and the principle of dual criminality, whereby only conspiracy to commit offences abroad that are also offences here is covered.
My problem is a practical one—something that is happening today. In my constituency is an organisation called the Kurdistan information centre, which looks after about 800 Kurdish refugees on a daily basis. The police have been raiding that organisation because they believe that it has been involved in terrorism, although the organisers tell me that that is not the case. None the less, there are people there, the organisers say, who support the PKK, a terrorist organisation in Turkey, and collect money for it. Under the Bill, will that be an offence? I want a straightforward yes or no.
It is not possible to give a straightforward yes or no to a question about a particular case. With respect, I am not willing, for very good reasons, to go into details about particular organisations. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that those people—there are plenty of them in this country—who support campaigning organisations that are not planning terrorist acts abroad have nothing whatever to worry about in the Bill.
I have also, I hope, made it clear to my hon. Friends that the current situation is anomalous. It is not true that it is impossible to prosecute now for any offence of conspiracy here to commit a crime abroad. We can already prosecute for some offences in respect of some countries. Above all, we can prosecute for conspiracy to commit murder abroad, and obviously that includes terrorist murder. No one has ever demurred from that.
What we seek to do, therefore, is to bring the law into a consistent state, so that, subject to all the safeguards I have mentioned, it is possible to secure prosecutions in appropriate cases.
I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), and then, as I promised, to my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).
In the context of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), what would happen if the Turkish Government pleaded that there should be prosecutions within the United Kingdom? What would happen if the Turkish ambassador in London said that he believed that there should be a prosecution?
May I ask another related question, too? As I understand it, decisions on prosecution are taken in the context of what is perceived to be the public interest. We all know of cases in which prosecutions have not been brought because, we have been told, it would not be in "the public interest" to bring such a prosecution.
Would issues such as the allocation of defence contracts, troop deployments overseas and commercial factors form part of a public interest consideration that the Attorney-General and the prosecuting authorities may have to bear in mind when deciding whether a prosecution should be brought? That is what worries me in the Bill, and I hope that my right hon. Friend can give me a satisfactory answer.
I shall deal with those points in turn. My hon. Friend asks what would happen if the Turkish Government made representations about someone conspiring to commit offences in Turkey. Such representations would be treated in exactly the same way as any other representations—on their merits. In no sense would they determine whether a prosecution should take place. That would be decided on the evidence.
As for the public interest, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General—like anybody who fills that office—has a difficult set of judgments to make, but he makes them in a quasi-judicial way. My hon. Friend is right to say that, every so often, the Attorney-General may decide to prosecute a case, in the public interest, and be told that he has got it wrong; he may also decide not to prosecute and be told that that, too, was the wrong decision. That is in the nature of the job.
However, the fundamental ultimate safeguard, apart from all the procedural safeguards, is that prosecution will be a matter for the court—a matter for a judge and jury to decide. No court and no jury in this country would accept the kind of tendentious case that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends fear.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend; I much admire the patience that he has shown to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, the conditions to be fulfilled for a prosecution to be brought contain a lot of gobbledegook, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) tried to point out earlier. I cannot understand part of what is in the Bill, so will my right hon. Friend tell the House one thing: can a person be convicted under the Bill for something that is an offence in a foreign country but is not an offence in the United Kingdom?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. May I, in conjunction with the question just asked and in a spirit of seeking enlightenment, ask him to tell me and the rest of the House what subsection (6) of the proposed new section 1A of the Criminal Law Act 1977 means? It is to be found in clause 5, and I attempted to read it out earlier, but was stopped. Now I hope that I may legitimately do so. It deals with offences that are now being brought within the Bill.
For the benefit of hon. Members who do not have a copy of the Bill, subsection (6) says:
In the application of this Part of this Act to an agreement in the case of which each of the above conditions is satisfied, a reference to an offence is to be read as a reference to what would be the offence in question but for the fact that it is not an offence triable in England and Wales.
This is not an attempt to embarrass the draftsmen, but I have genuinely struggled with that provision for a long time. I wish to be helpful, and I should be perfectly happy to help my right hon. Friend redraft the provision if he told me what was required. Indeed, I would do so free.
I was about to accept my hon. and learned Friend's offer—until he said that he would do the work for nothing. People get what they pay for when it comes to legal advice; and I say that as someone who used to earn an honest copper at the Bar.
What that absolutely transparent sentence means—[Laughter.] It is the dual criminality rule. That is what it is; I promise. Indeed, in that belief we have the benefit, until he changes his mind, of the opinion of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary, who has been most generous in taking interventions. My question genuinely might save time in a later debate. My earlier Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to mention, covered both conspiracy and incitement to commit offences abroad. As I read his Bill—or at least, the version of it that I have—he seems to have excised the bit about incitement. Will he explain briefly to the House why he did that?
I thought that I already had. It was because we were concerned about the implications when we were in opposition, and we are still concerned about them. In criminal justice law, we should never say "never", but, if incitement were to be included, it would require many more safeguards than those in the hon. Gentleman's Bill, or in ours, in respect of conspiracy. I do not believe that it would have been justified to bring forward emergency legislation on incitement. That is why we left that part out; we shall consider it over the longer term.
It might save or curtail a speech later. Does my right hon. Friend—who has been very generous—agree with the following statement? Some cases are absolutely clear-cut, and any democratic society must have a means of combating them. For example—
Does my right hon. Friend agree that some cases are absolutely clear-cut, and that it would be absurd if any democratic society did not have the means to deal with them? For example, if a group—like the Baader-Meinhof group in the past—were destroying buildings and killing people in a friendly country, and if those attacks were planned in London or in the United Kingdom, it would be absurd if we were not willing and ready to deal with them.
In other, marginal, cases, public interest will arise—such as the case of the Kurds, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant)—but the Attorney-General is used to dealing with such public interest considerations. Every day, the Attorney-General takes decisions on the public interest. Obviously, therefore, the starting point must be that we must do something about international terrorism. There must be safeguards. If we did nothing, we would be very much open to criticism.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I accept what he says. I return to my point about the current anomalous position. If there were a Baader-Meinhof gang today, conspiring in Britain to commit offences in Germany, that could be the subject of an indictment for conspiracy under the Council of Europe provisions to which we have already signed up, but if such a group were conspiring to commit those offences in, for example, Australia, we could not. That is anomalous.
I now conclude my remarks. Although I fully understand the concerns that Members—including those on the Government and, I believe, Opposition Front Bench—have about the fact that we have had to be brought here during the recess, and about the fact that we are asked to accept and approve this legislation at some speed, I believe that there is, and will be, widespread support from both sides of the House for the proposals. The Bill really does represent a measured and targeted response to the appalling events that we have witnessed in Northern Ireland and around the world. It remedies specific difficulties that have been identified in taking action against the terrorists who are behind them.
It may well be that more will have to be done in future. I do not rule that out. I have described today the need for fuller consideration on a wide range of issues in the framework of wider work which we already have in hand. However, those longer-term considerations in no way diminish the desirability of acting now to take clear and self-contained steps that can have an immediate operational impact and a crucial deterrent effect. I commend the Bill to the House.
I shall seek to be brief. The context of the Bill is Omagh. The atrocity there caused immeasurable human suffering, and I believe that the violence of the assault on innocent men, women and children truly shocked the nation. I associate myself with everything that the Home Secretary has said about that. It was the latest and most terrible event in the violent history of the past 30 years.
We all remember that tragic history in different ways. At the end of the 1960s, I was a reporter, covering the initial descent into violence in Northern Ireland. In the 1970s, I was a parliamentary private secretary in the Northern Ireland Office when Lord Whitelaw was Secretary of State. In the 1980s, I was evacuated, like my Cabinet colleagues, from the Grand hotel in Brighton after the IRA bomb there and, more to the point, next day, as Health Secretary, visited the hospital that was caring for the injured.
Against that background, in the 1990s I have given full support, first to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) in his very important initiative, and then to the Prime Minister and his colleagues in their efforts to achieve peace.
We should be in no doubt about the intention of the people who planted the explosives at Omagh—it was to destroy the prospect of peace, which the overwhelming majority of people, both in Ulster and in the Irish Republic, showed conclusively that they wanted. It seems to me that it is very much up to the House, as far as we can influence the outcome, to ensure that the bombers of Omagh do not succeed. One way in which that can be done is by demonstrating as united a front as possible against terrorism.
Among the hopeful developments of the past years has been the ever-increasing co-operation between our Government and the Irish Government. That makes the response to terrorism immeasurably stronger. However, I suggest to the Home Secretary that none of that is to say that there cannot be debate and different views on the exact way forward. There is no monopoly of wisdom. Judgments may well be different, but let it be clear—especially to terrorists—that the aim of any such debate is to strengthen, not weaken, our defences against terrorism. I believe that the House is united on that essential aim.
We should be frank about this debate. This is not the ideal way of making law—I doubt whether anyone would try to pretend that it was. The Bill was published for the first time yesterday evening. It is expected to have its Second Reading and complete its consideration in Committee tonight—and, I suspect, tomorrow morning—and, if all is well, it will go to the Lords and become law tomorrow.
By any measure, that gives Parliament precious little time to subject the important measures in the Bill to scrutiny. I am concerned about parliamentary scrutiny—with respect to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), who said that there should have been a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, as its opinion was a crucial determinant. [Interruption.] He was corrected by the Home Secretary—although even then he did not seem to get the hint. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has gone."] The hon. Gentleman has indeed gone—doubtless to convene such a meeting.
The House would not normally contemplate the procedure that we are adopting with regard to the Bill. With respect, any of the measures before us could have been introduced in the past 18 months. Specifically, the provisions concerning conspiracy to commit an offence overseas have been a draft Bill ready for introduction throughout the Government's time in office. Therefore, although I understand and respect the Home Secretary's argument about urgency, this is not, by any standards, an ideal process.
Against that background, however, I welcome the fact that the provisions relating to Northern Ireland will need to be reviewed year by year. That is some defence. There was initial doubt about that, at least in the press. Had the 12-month review path not been chosen, it would have been our first amendment to the Bill in Committee. If we cannot have proper pre-legislative scrutiny, we can at least have the opportunity to review the workings of that legislation after 12 months. We should make that review real; I shall return to that subject later.
On the same theme, I welcome what the Home Secretary said on the admissibility of evidence derived from telephone tapping. It is entirely right that we should give thorough, detailed consideration to that proposal. We need to look at the entire position, and there would certainly have been no case for adding such a measure to the Bill. We look forward to the consultation document on counter-terrorism—with the hope that it may be published as speedily as possible, as it has been promised for some time.
I turn first to the part of the Bill that deals with the provisions concerning conspiracy to commit terrorist acts abroad. That was the subject of a Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) in the 1996–97 Session, with the support of the previous Conservative Government—the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill. I hear what the Home Secretary says about the consistent support given to the measure by the previous Labour Opposition. Actually, in the previous Parliament, Labour Members kept out of the Lobbies to prevent that Bill from being passed, but let us not make too much of that point.
The measures now proposed follow that Bill very closely. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne on his initiative, which is now near success. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who, years earlier, drew attention to the defects in the current law. Those defects, I feel, are clear. As the law stands, in some circumstances, people living in this country can conspire to commit offences overseas, knowing that they are immune from prosecution for their conspiracy in the United Kingdom. In other words, they can escape prosecution simply because their actions took place in the United Kingdom.
The point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne when he introduced his Bill. Referring to a case at the Old Bailey, he said that one of the arguments advanced by defence counsel was that, although the defendants had indeed planned to cause explosions, they had planned to cause them not in Britain but overseas. Most people today would not regard that as a valid distinction, any more than they would if the position were reversed and Britain were the target of an overseas conspiracy.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that—as I think the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) would accept—one of the troubles with both Bills was the definition of a terrorist? One man's freedom fighter might be another man's terrorist. That cliché sums up, and encapsulates, a real problem; how would the right hon. Gentleman overcome it?
May I first finish my response to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)? I do not intend to take interventions in threes, as the Home Secretary did.
This is not just my view as a layman; it is the view of Lord Lloyd, a Lord of Appeal, expressed in his report on counter-terrorism legislation. He said that the most significant additional measure that the Government could
take would be to amend the law on conspiracy to facilitate the prosecution of those who conspire here to commit terrorist offences abroad. He added:
It may take a prosecution or two before the measure takes full effect but it should then serve as a demonstration, both to those involved and to the international community, of the Government's determination to make the UK as difficult and uncomfortable a place as possible for supporters of terrorism overseas.
That strikes me as an entirely legitimate objective. It is the objective set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne, and I strongly support it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was slightly offbeat? The dual criminality test applies to the nature of the offence, but the point that my hon. Friend was trying to make did not relate to that; his point was that the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist depends on whom the offence is committed against. If it is committed against a democratic Government, the person concerned is obviously a terrorist; but if it is committed against a despotic Government, that person may well be a freedom fighter.
There will be the test of the Attorney-General, who must give advice and, indeed, permission in such a context. Moreover, the offence must be an offence in both the countries involved. If we are to seek to legislate against international terrorism, laws of this kind will be necessary, and it seems to me that the checks proposed by the Government are adequate for the purpose.
I am grateful.
I can confirm that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was correct in saying that the proposition that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter was a constant theme among those who were then Opposition Members. The point that I consistently made in defending my Bill—a point that I am sure the Home Secretary would also make in defending his—was that such distinctions were not necessary. As long as the dual criminality rule applies—as long as something is a criminal offence here as well as in the other country involved—it can be prosecuted. It may then become a matter for the Attorney-General, but he will be acting, not in a political, but in a quasi-judicial capacity—deciding, for example, whether Mr. Mandela should be prosecuted for blowing up pylons in South Africa.
I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said.
Above all, I feel that there is a general principle at stake. The challenge of terrorism is now international, as the events of the last month have shown. Appalling terrorist bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam provide a context for today's debate, although all the evidence suggests that much of the planning of those bombings took place outside the countries where people were killed and maimed. I do not think that the Government are open to criticism in that respect: they have sought to respond.
In the face of such a challenge, we cannot afford to have gaps in the law that can be exploited. The United States now has a counter-terrorism law that criminalises conspiracies to kill, murder or maim persons outside the US, so long as at least one of the conspirators commits an act in furtherance of that conspiracy in the US. In this country, the Sexual Offences Act 1993 dealt with conspiracy and incitement in this country to commit sexual offences against children abroad. It was an important step in the fight against child sex tourism, and an example of the same principle.
The Bill does not talk about killing or maiming; it talks about offences. The Home Secretary has told us that we can already deal with conspiracies to murder. How is it acceptable simply to say that, if something is an offence here and an offence there, everything is all right? The difference between here and there is that we have political processes. We have votes, and we therefore do not expect people to sabotage the electoral system—but those who have no votes might have no option but to take direct action, and then to be called terrorists.
I am clearly in an almost unique position in the House, in that I agree with what the Home Secretary has said about the clauses that we are discussing. The evidence is in Lord Lloyd's report of the inquiry into legislation against terrorism, which I am sure the hon. Lady has read. I do not think that the Home Secretary was saying that, in all circumstances, all terrorist offences were already covered by existing legislation. What he said was that some could be covered; otherwise, we would not be debating this legislation today.
As the right hon. Gentleman has quoted from Lord Lloyd's report, he must recognise that what Lord Lloyd recommended was that the law should be amended
to facilitate the prosecution of those who conspire here to commit terrorist acts abroad.
That does not include the wide range of offences referred to in the Bill.
Those were the terms of reference that Lord Lloyd was given. I am confining my remarks to terrorist offences; if the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the provisions should not be extended to, for instance, drug offences, I am not sure that I go along with him.
With respect, I think that these points can be developed later.
I want to go at least some way towards meeting the point made by the hon. Member for Preston (Audrey Wise). Clearly, there must be safeguards to preserve legitimate opposition—political opposition to foreign regimes—but the requirement for dual criminality will surely mean that, for the legislation to apply, the offence must also be an offence here in the United Kingdom. I support that part of the Bill.
Let me, however, say something in parentheses about international terrorism and the issues that we have been discussing. We have tended to debate so far on the basis that only legislation and the making of law will be effective. Obviously, we must underline the point that one of the most important measures we can take is to have as strong and effective a police service as we possibly can. It would be less than frank of me not to say that we do not like to see the signs that—in some forces, at any rate—strengths are going down. We would want to look at that closely as far as the Metropolitan police is concerned.
Our aim should be to have a general law covering counter-terrorism and the treatment of terrorists which applies to every part of the United Kingdom. The Omagh massacre proves that—for the present, at least—there is a need for emergency power legislation. According to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—this was repeated by the Home Secretary—the aim of the measures relating to Northern Ireland is to increase the isolation of the small number of individuals and groups on either side of the border who are still engaged in violence.
The Home Secretary is saying that membership of the Real IRA is already a criminal offence in Northern Ireland, but that experience has shown that it is virtually impossible to secure a conviction for that alone. Thus, we have the proposal to make admissible in court the evidence of a senior police officer that such a person is a member of an illegal organisation, and the proposal to take into account the response of the accused.
Clearly, there are important questions concerning the fairness of the measure. There is always a balance to be struck between the protection of the public generally and the chance of injustice to an individual. We cannot just shrug those issues off. We must always remember that one of the aims of counter-terrorist policy must be to keep the support of public opinion. It does no good if legislation introduced for the best possible motives results in public support diminishing.
We are talking about the balance between the general protection of the public and the rights of the individual. There are important arguments of principle on some of the measures in the Bill, and I respect the motives of those who have made them. Whatever safeguards are put in, we are still dealing, essentially, with—for example—hearsay evidence given to a court by a senior policeman. Some will find that conclusive in their objection to the Bill.
An alternative line of questioning is to ask how effective the measure will be in practice. After all the dust of debate has settled, how many convictions of members of illegal organisations will take place? I do not want to deny the strength of some of those questions, and a reasoned amendment is before the House. However, the House has a straight choice in terms of giving the Bill a Second Reading—do the possible benefits to the public generally from the Bill outweigh those objections? In my view, the possible benefits do outweigh the objections.
It is fair for the Government to say that they have modified the Bill to answer at least some of the questions. They have made it clear, for example, that the evidence of a senior policeman alone will not be sufficient for a conviction. In the same way, evidence on the initial response of an arrested person alone will not be sufficient to convict. On a more positive note, it is reasonable in principle for people convicted to risk forfeiture of money or property which might be in their possession at the time of conviction, and I support very much the important proposals made in the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King).
I see a strong case for seeking to achieve as much uniformity as possible in the measures against terrorists on either side of the border. Given the cross-border nature of many terrorist offences, that seems to be an entirely desirable aim. However, if that is to be the guiding principle of policy—I very much see the case for that—as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said today, it makes the Government's actions in removing from the statute book even the power to have internment more and more open to question.
I am not sure that the Prime Minister answered that point. The Government have abandoned the matter. The Irish Government retain the power and, frankly, I would have thought it sensible for the Government to do the same. One of the lessons is that one cannot predict the future or terrorism. One cannot predict exactly the circumstances in which a counter-terrorist law will be required. I would have thought that a prudent Government would not lightly discard measures that are in their armoury. That was the point made by the Leader of the Opposition.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that internment led to great resentment? The difference between internment and this proposal is that, under the proposal, the accused will at least know the sentence he will serve when it is imposed. Internment was indeterminate and led to resentment among Irish nationals, whether they were Catholic or Protestant.
I think that what the hon. Gentleman is arguing is that the Government's measures are an alternative form of internment, which is not exactly what I thought the Government were proposing. Although no one but a fool would say that there were not difficulties with internment, there were some successes. However, it is foolish to give away the power at this stage and not to have it even as a reserved power.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
The Bill is being introduced in the shadow of Omagh. If there is a chance that deaths and injuries can be avoided in the future by such a Bill, it deserves support. I do not intend to double-guess the police and security advice going to the Government on this issue. I suggest that one way forward is to take advantage of the 12-month review provision and to ask the Government to provide the fullest possible report in time for the debate in 12 or six months' time on the workings of the Bill in practice. We have an amendment that makes that point, to which we shall return in Committee.
Before we persuade ourselves that a Bill such as this will deal with the Continuity IRA, Real IRA, the INLA or whoever, can we remember that it is in the power of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the others in the army council of the IRA to tell those perpetrating this form of terrorism to stop or take the consequences?
Telling them to stop is entirely what those people should be doing.
That brings me to my next point. There is an issue in the debate which is even more fundamental—decommissioning. In her article in The Observer, the Secretary of State said:
In the aftermath of the Omagh bombing the confidence of people in Northern Ireland has been devastated. They need to be reassured, to feel more secure and to feel more hopeful again.
She went on to say that that was why President Clinton's visit was so important. President Clinton's visit is important, but, by itself, will not be conclusive.
I agree with the Secretary of State that our aim should be to provide reassurance and to help the people of Northern Ireland to feel more secure. However, I would have thought that those objectives would be more likely to be achieved if we could make clear and identifiable progress on the surrender of explosives and arms. In other words, we should dismantle the apparatus of terror.
It is no reply to say that, at Omagh, it appears that stockpiled explosive was not used. I agree with the comments of the leader of the Ulster Unionists in the Second Reading debate of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill:
The decommissioning of terrorist weapons has been and continues to be an important litmus test of sincerity … No one in his right mind would want those weapons to be left lying around to fall into who knows whose hands and be available for use by who knows who in the future."—[Official Report, 10 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 1097–98.]
What is clear is that the presence of explosives and firearms poses an immense threat. What would bring the greatest reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland is prisoner releases going hand in hand with the decommissioning process.
Self-evidently, that is not happening. This is not a case of making new conditions. It is keeping to the principles that were clearly set out by the Prime Minister in his speech in Belfast in May—namely, that there should be
full co-operation with the independent commission on decommissioning to implement the provisions of the agreement".
Therefore, I welcome the news that Sinn Fein will be working with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning, but the reassurance that is wanted is that progress is being made with the surrender of explosives and arms. Nothing would do more to provide the sense of security that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wishes to achieve than that.
I agree with the sentiment that my right hon. Friend expresses, but does he agree that a substantive point needs to be examined in these proceedings? We must ensure that there is compatibility between the arrangements for early release under section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 and this Bill, so that we get a proper, parallel and mutual arrangement. In that way, no person would be given early release and then go on to use weapons that have not been decommissioned, ensuring that there is a proper security arrangement in the interests of the Republic of Ireland and this country.
That is what we all want. There are tremendous difficulties with the prisoner release process, but I will leave it as I have set it out. Basically, what the Conservative party wants will come as no surprise to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), who will reply, because we have made this point before. We want the two processes to go hand in hand. Public support depends on that.
We want the peace process to succeed and we will do our utmost to assist that. We want to bring as much reassurance as possible to the people of Northern Ireland and we believe that the proposals that we have made over past months will assist that process. We want the surrender of explosives and arms. We want, above all, in considering the Bill, to make it less likely that there will ever again be a recurrence of the terrible events in Omagh a few weeks ago. It is on that basis that we support the Second Reading of the Bill.
I welcome the modifications that have been made to the Bill since we first heard about it a week ago. It was said then that people could be sent down for up to 10 years on the word of a single police officer. Had that still been the case, I and, I am sure, one or two other Members could not have voted for it. I am glad that incitement has also been removed from the Bill.
Some of the other changes in the past week have been helpful, but I still have grave misgivings about the Bill. As others have already remarked, it bears all the signs of having been conceived in haste and I fear that we may repent at leisure, as we did with internment and the prevention of terrorism Act, both of which did little or nothing to combat terrorism but instead helped to alienate a generation of Irish people and created fertile soil for the recruitment of a new generation of terrorists.
One thing puzzled me in the speech of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), and I would have made this point if he had allowed me to intervene. I am genuinely mystified by his party's attachment to or nostalgia for internment. It was catastrophic. It had a disastrous impact.
Many of the people who were put away were not terrorists in any shape or form. Enormous abuses occurred. The quality of the intelligence used was very poor, to put it mildly, and it led to the recruitment as terrorists of a lot of people who previously did not feature on the records. Happily, we are not going back down that road, but the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield would be wise to study the tea leaves a little more carefully.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's view on what happened in 1972, but does he agree that the quality of current intelligence and the nature of the situation are now completely different? Such conditions no longer prevail.
May I just get the second sentence out of my mouth? I agree with the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), but the quality of intelligence has not necessarily improved as much as everyone here believes. The security forces rounded up Iraqis during the Gulf war, but they all had to be released without charge—the security forces got it utterly wrong again. The hon. and learned Gentleman laughs, but that is a much more recent example.
I agree: we are dealing with a very small number of people and it should be possible to identify them. The quality of intelligence available should be very good now, given the number of defections that have occurred, but the only point that I was making was in response to the ones that were made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, who harked back to the golden age of 1972, which, as the hon. and learned Member for North Down and I agree, was not quite such a golden age.
In 1972, it was said that intelligence was much better in the 1970s than it had been in the 1950s during a previous IRA threat. Every generation, it is said, has learnt the lessons of the past and its intelligence is much better, so what have we learnt that is going to be an improvement this time?
As it happens, I do think that the quality of intelligence is much better. It darn well should be—goodness knows we have had long enough to learn a few lessons.
I have three concerns about the Bill. First, I am not convinced that it will be effective; indeed, it could have the opposite effect to what is intended. During my search for the real Birmingham bombers, I interviewed a number of young men who joined the IRA in the mid-1970s. When I asked why they had signed up, they invariably gave one of two reasons—Bloody Sunday or internment.
Those who advocate more repressive solutions should bear in mind the lessons of history. I agree with what the Prime Minister has said. We should not be imprisoned in the past, but we should take a bit of notice because this is a road down which we have travelled.
If people are interested in catching terrorists—as I am; indeed, in one or two instances I have had better luck than the security services, even though they were armed with the vast panoply of powers that they tell us they need—there is no substitute for patient detective work, leading to convictions based on credible evidence. We have had some successes recently in relation to bombings on the mainland; that is the way to proceed.
My suspicions are always aroused when anonymous members of the security services are quoted, as they were a few days ago in The Daily Telegraph, as saying that they "know" who the terrorists are and would have no trouble putting them away, if only the namby-pamby politicians could be persuaded to dispense with the safeguards that we used quaintly to associate with civilisation. That is what the security services said before internment and it was a disaster. Much of their information was mistaken. I fear that that could happen again.
My second misgiving relates to the climate in which the new powers will be exercised; this is perhaps the most important point that I have to make. They will be exercised in a jurisdiction where interviews with terrorist suspects are not yet audio-recorded. That is incredible because they are audio-recorded over here.
I am not satisfied with what I have heard from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on that point. He is being given the runaround, the source of which, I suspect, comes from Northern Ireland. I am sure that he knows where to look for the source. I do not accept that there are so many difficulties—indeed, I know that there are not. The difficulty is political and it is easily resolvable. The Government could easily concede the point this evening. I do not understand the obstacle.
There is no need. The equipment is already in Irish police stations. The police can use it if they want to, but they do not want to.
After my earlier exchange with the Home Secretary, I made a few inquiries. Apparently, 1 January is the target date. That will be too late—or I assume that it will be. Presumably those who are going to be lifted under the Bill will have been lifted by 1 January. Anyone who has not been lifted is not likely to be available to be lifted. With all due respect, 1 January is not good enough. The problem is not in the Home Office, but over the water. I hope that whoever needs to be pressed will be pressed so that we can come up with a concession.
The issue is vital to the credibility of the legislation. If the Bill is not credible and the first cases that come to court collapse, we shall all look pretty silly. If the RUC is interested in producing credible evidence in court, it should be aware that what I am suggesting is the way to go about it. I am sure that the Home Secretary recognises that this is a helpful point. It is designed to make the legislation work without alienating a swathe of opinion that is well on the way to being alienated. He may have seen the statement put out last week or earlier this week by 30 lawyers in Ireland, which was signed by a number of lawyers over here. It talks of the "grave disquiet" arising from the legislative changes. It says:
Existing emergency legislation and its application has consistently led to violations of human rights and … its continued use has contributed greatly to a public lack of confidence in the rule of law.
We must bear that in mind. We want to build up the rule of law in Northern Ireland. We want the forces of law and order to be respected, as they should be in every part of the United Kingdom. The statement says:
It is astonishing therefore that it is proposed that a belief expressed by a member of that force that an accused is a member of a proscribed organisation will be sufficient".
That will no longer be sufficient, but the necessary corroborating evidence, such as it is, could easily come from another policeman. The one who has to go to court and assert with complete confidence that so and so is a member of a terrorist organisation will be a superintendent. The guy who tells him that, during interview in the interrogation centre, a chap sat silently or did not respond to questioning is likely to be a constable or even a sergeant. The corroboration will not be very serious if it consists of no more than a superintendent and a sergeant corroborating each other.
We shall also run into difficulties with the European Court of Human Rights. I am not certain that the current wording of the legislation will get through the court.
My hon. Friend is talking about the audio recording of interrogations. Is that not even more important in Northern Ireland, where such matters go before courts without juries—the Diplock courts?
That is an important point. We have to bear in mind the climate in which the powers will be exercised. Interviews with terrorist suspects are not yet audio-recorded, solicitors are routinely excluded from interviews, the courts operate without juries and the judiciary is peculiarly close to the security forces. Moreover, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which is designed to safeguard the rights of suspects, does not apply in terrorist cases. It is still possible in Northern Ireland to send someone down for life on the word of a single informer or an unrecorded or uncorroborated statement obtained after hours of relentless interrogation in Castlereagh. That is the background against which the Bill will be implemented.
There is a serious possibility that mistakes will be made and that the provisions will be seen by some as an opportunity to settle old scores. I would not be surprised to find a few people on the list who were not members of terrorist organisations, but were just called in for a conversation to remember times past. A solicitor in Northern Ireland to whom I spoke yesterday said that names were already being whispered to newspapers of people who were liable to be picked up without their being members of any of the proscribed organisations.
I do not understand how it will be possible to defend oneself against an allegation. The superintendent will say in court that he is certain that the suspect is a member of a terrorist organisation. He will then be asked the basis of his assertion. He will have to say that unfortunately all his material is covered by public immunity, and then sit down. That will not look very good. A lot of people will be watching. The superintendent may not even know the suspect whom he is fingering. He may be relying on material supplied from south of the border, or on the word of junior officers, who themselves may be relying on the word of a third party whose identity they are not at liberty to disclose. The scope for error or abuse is enormous.
I am also uneasy about the powers to confiscate assets. I hope that they will be used sparingly. The families of terrorists may know little or nothing about the activities of the convicted partner. Rendering families destitute will not win us any friends.
A lot of doors will be knocked down as a result of the Bill. Most of those at whom it is targeted—I hear estimates from people who ought to know of between 30 and 200—will not simply sit at home waiting to be lifted; most of them will disappear. A lot of the doors that get knocked down will be the wrong doors. In addition, mistakes will be made. Some of the intelligence will be out of date and there will be cases of mistaken identity. Before we know where we are, we shall be back to alienating a much wider section of the community than those against whom the Bill is targeted. The image of the RUC already leaves a certain amount to be desired. Policing by consent, which we all want, will be more difficult to achieve.
My fear is that, in the name of fighting terrorism, we shall end up fanning the flames. Just when republican terrorism appears to be imploding, we shall provide it with a lifeline. I pray that that will not be the case, but it is a possibility which we should not exclude. Ministers ought to be aware, whatever is said in the debate, that there is widespread unease in the House—and not just on this side; several Opposition Members have expressed to me their unease with this hasty legislation. It could all go badly wrong if we are not careful. That is why I have tabled amendments that I hope are helpful. One relates to audio recording, another to the presence of a solicitor. That should not be controversial—it is not controversial in the rest of the country. The Government could concede those points tonight if they set their mind to it. I am pleading with them. It would do them a lot of good, because it would make the legislation more credible in the eyes of the wider world. There is no reason why audio recording and the presence of solicitors cannot be organised overnight. The problem is political, not practical. The changes will happen only if they are made a condition of the Bill, as my amendments propose. We would then find that the practical objections melted away like snow on the edge of a volcano.
The objective of the Bill is one that we can all share—no Member of this House condones terrorism. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Government are engaged in defeating terrorism. In that endeavour, they deserve our support—they certainly have mine; I have solidly supported the Government in recent months and, provided they do the right thing, I shall continue to do so in future. But, however worthy the Government's motives, we have a duty, as the Bill goes through the House, to ensure workable, practical and credible legislation.
The Bill has been brought forward in some haste. It has been produced for perfectly understandable reasons—some of them are very good reasons indeed—in response to the public mood for action following the atrocity at Omagh, so I am not too critical of the speed with which the Government have acted. When I was younger and knew much more than I do now, I might have made exactly the same decision and introduced this legislation with great speed, so I sympathise with what the Government have done.
However, the Bill shows everywhere the signs of haste. The Government are asking the House to agree to it today and I am sure that we shall—I shall give the Government the benefit of any doubts that I might have. However, unless we are extremely fortunate, the price of the House giving its agreement today might be that, whatever the merits of the motives of the Government in introducing the Bill, it will not have been properly and fairly considered and will be shown, in action, to be defective in some of its aspects.
We are asked to endorse a policy that the Government have speedily assembled to deal with the security situation and events in Northern Ireland. It is almost bound to contain loopholes—indeed, it would be a miracle if it did not. The time available to us and the speed with which we have to act today may mean that we shall have to return to this issue and this legislation at some point, to ensure that it meets the objectives that we all share and which are the reasons for our supporting it today.
Not every aspect of the Bill is urgent. The clauses relating to conspiracy to commit an offence are not new to the House; my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) introduced a private Member's Bill with similar content. The target of those clauses—militant groups planning offences overseas—are, in the main, repellent groups and it is right that we should seek to take action. However, it is difficult and complex to define such groups and the precise point at which they move beyond legitimate overseas opposition to engaging in actions that require the Government to say, "That is intolerable and we shall take action in this country to stop them." The objective of the provisions is laudable and I thoroughly support it—let there be no doubt about that—but the definition of such groups is extremely tricky. We have already seen some examples, the most obvious being that of groups in this country supporting the Kurds against Saddam Hussein, but that is by no means the only example that will be mentioned today.
My point is simple: we should legislate with great care and it would have been better had we done so with more time for consultation and consideration. In so doing, we might produce more effective legislation and avoid injustices that we might perpetrate today, and we might not have to return to this matter, as I fear we shall. The Government deserve support for their intentions, but their approach runs the risk—I put it no more strongly than that—of producing bad legislation that has side-effects that we shall not have considered, such is the speed with which we are to deal with the Bill.
The guts of the Bill, which I suspect contain the imperative that encouraged the Government to introduce the legislation so speedily, are the clauses relating to evidence regarding membership of proscribed organisations. Of course, it has long been an offence to belong to such an organisation, but no prosecutions—certainly none of which I am aware—have been brought, because it is extremely difficult to obtain a conviction without disclosing intelligence information that, if disclosed, might imperil not only lives but the flow of such information in future.
The Bill moves the law forward a little: it provides that the prosecution can take account of the word of a senior police officer that, in his view, the accused is a member of a proscribed organisation. That is a weakening of the original briefing—it may have been misreported—that led me to believe that it would be proposed to the House that prosecutions could be brought on the word alone of a police officer. If that was the original intention, I believe that the House would not and should not have supported it, so the change to the provision in the Bill as published is welcome; however, it leaves several questions that we have a duty to consider.
Never mind the theory, or our determination to get at the evil people whom all of us want to see safely behind bars—how, in practice, in a Diplock court, with no jury, will the provision work? A senior police officer says, "That man is a member of a proscribed organisation," but the man says, "No, I'm not." What is the judge to do? Without the weakening of the Bill, the judge would have been in no position to ensure that there was corroborative evidence, but now there must be corroborative evidence. The Home Secretary was absolutely right to make the change and reword the clause because, if he had not, the result would have been executive detention.
Having said that, what is the corroborative evidence to be? Is it to be intelligence information? Is the evidence to be provided to the court—to the judge, with prosecuting and defending counsel present? Is that what is to happen in future? If so, I hope that we shall be told, because such an assurance would ease some, not all, of the concerns in the mind of some hon. Members. If that is not what is to happen, we should be told what the corroborative evidence is to be. If it is now agreed that there is need for corroboration, for the prosecution to prove the case beyond doubt and for "innocent until proven guilty" to be the presumption, how much, in practice, does the newly reworded clause add to existing law, which was the purpose of bringing the House back during the recess?
It is clear that the clause adds a little to existing law, but not as much as many people think. The senior police officer reiterates his assertion that the accused is a member of a proscribed organisation, but self-evidently he believes that, or he would not have brought the case in the first place, and he will have to produce corroborative evidence. Therefore, that provision, of itself, adds very little. The inference drawn from the silence of the accused—a novel proposition which I hope has only limited scope—adds something as well. However, the combined effect of those two provisions is far less than most of us believed it would be when we first heard that draconian legislation was to be introduced in the House.
Had the legislation been introduced in its original form, undiluted, allowing conviction without supporting evidence, it would indeed have been draconian—and actually rather objectionable. Requiring supporting evidence, as the Bill now does, presents a change that will, I suspect, make obtaining convictions a little easier, but that is not a great sweeping change and it will not make a significant material difference to the likelihood of there being convictions. Somewhere, that old Athenian statesman Draco will be holding his hands to his sides and chortling at the thought that that is supposed to be a draconian change.
Is it the right hon. Gentleman's understanding that, when an accusation is levelled against a defendant who chooses to remain silent, the court will be able to regard that silence as corroboration of the charge?
I think that what I said a few moments ago implies that that is exactly my understanding, which is why I said that I hope that the provision has only a limited perspective and will be applied only to specific matters. It is a novel proposition, and it would perhaps not commend itself to many of us other than in the special circumstances of the horrors that we have witnessed in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) made the point that we must strike a balance between the absolute liberty of the individual who is charged and the general well-being. That is a difficult balance, and I do not criticise the Government on their efforts in that direction.
There are two halves to the Bill. Clauses 5 to 7 are potentially welcome, if and when they are well drafted, but their provisions would, frankly, have been better introduced in due course, after consultation, consideration and reflection, once we knew how to make them effective, rather than being rushed through so speedily. Clauses 1 to 4 appear—again, if the original reports were right—to have been changed and, effectively, watered down. That watering down is welcome, because of the objectionable nature of the original proposition, but the legislation that we have been called back to consider is unlikely to be as effective as many people may believe.
More effective may be the further enhanced security co-operation with the Republic of Ireland that the Prime Minister spoke of so rightly and so warmly this afternoon. It has improved greatly, and I hope that it will remain at its present high level. I do not wish to press the Home Secretary on the details, but I hope that when the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach met they considered carefully how we could continue to enhance that co-operation. It would perhaps be unwise of me to suggest to the Home Secretary precisely where it could be improved, but both he and I know the areas in which improvements can be made and consolidated—made permanent, not temporary—to ensure that there is no hiding place for those who are prepared to murder both in the north of Ireland and in the south, if it is convenient for them to do so.
The Prime Minister has often articulated the views of the overwhelming majority of the population on the problem that has been faced by Northern Ireland for so long. He said at Hillsborough that this is not a time for soundbites. He certainly articulated my view in that, and it is perhaps unfortunate that the hand of history fell on his shoulder that very afternoon. He is right, however, and the fact that he is pursuing discussions both with the political parties and with the Irish Republic is a reflection of that. Let no one be in any doubt: the problem cannot and will not be solved without the two Governments working together.
The Prime Minister was right to express his determination to track down the murderers of Omagh, and I hope that we will soon hear of progress in that respect.
As we enact a Bill to toughen measures against terrorism, it is worth taking just a moment—literally, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to say something about prisoner releases and decommissioning. In the Good Friday agreement, the Prime Minister conceded the release of prisoners without immediate decommissioning, but on an individual prisoner basis and with the promise of parallel decommissioning over two years.
The Prime Minister was right to make clear the crucial point that every prisoner release was to be considered on its own individual merits and that there would be no blanket release. I have supported that approach before, both in public and in private, but it is inconceivable that every prisoner convicted and currently in prison for past terrorist offences is a born-again democrat, now safe for release. Some will not be safe for release, and that is why the Prime Minister conceded only individual consideration, leading to individual release.
I understand that the releases will soon accelerate. I hope that, as they do, the Government will state publicly—the people of Northern Ireland, in particular, would welcome the reassurance—the number of prisoners considered for release, how many are to be released and how many have been found unsafe for release. That would provide a reassurance that there is indeed individual consideration and, emphatically, not blanket release. I hope and believe, also, that the Government will continue the pressure for the decommissioning foreseen in parallel with the releases in the Good Friday agreement.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein said that the war was over, repeating the IRA message that I received in the early 1990s. That could be a cynical manoeuvre by Sinn Fein to distance itself from any further violence, or a genuine and worthwhile development and a preparation for the decommissioning that is still necessary in the process. I believe that it must come and, increasingly, as the weight of opinion in Ireland and elsewhere develops—against the weight of history, it may be said—I believe that it will begin to happen in practice.
Despite the horror of Omagh, there is still reason for hope in the process, albeit scarred by the death and misery that were inflicted. Inch by inch, we move forward and the impossible dream of a few years ago moves closer to becoming a practical reality. I am uncertain how much the Bill will contribute, but I think that it will contribute something. It is an advance—although less of one than is claimed—and, in its amended form, it is worthy of the support of the House.
I offer the Bill my support as part of the continuing process, so that the House can show—let there be no doubt or division—that it still believes that it is possible to defeat terrorism and that the democratic determination of politicians north and south of the border and here on the mainland, and the courage of the people of Northern Ireland, can and will have their own reward in a future for Northern Ireland that so many of us take for granted for our own part of the United Kingdom.
I well understand the concern that has been expressed about the Bill. I appreciate the fears that it could be counter-productive and do more harm than good. No one disputes—I certainly do not—that many mistakes were made in putting into effect previous legislation on Northern Ireland. The Government are clearly no less aware of those mistakes than the rest of the House. I recognise the concerns, and certainly do not dismiss them, but I take the view that, following the tragedy of Omagh and the measures that the Irish Government intend to take, it is right to support the Bill.
Much has been said about civil liberties. It will be a poor day for the House if the time ever comes when we are not concerned about civil liberties, the safeguarding of which is one of the most essential reasons for having a House of Commons. However, we must also be concerned about preserving life. Twenty-eight people were slaughtered in Omagh and one wonders how such an act could be committed by fellow human beings. One of those killed was a baby of 18 months; when I heard the news, I thought it likely that, in other circumstances, that child could have lived for another 85 years. Her life and the lives of her mother and grandmother were taken away by terrorism on that terrible day of 15 August. Civil liberties are crucial, but such liberties and democratic rights are not much use in the graveyard or the crematorium. If we are united on nothing else, we are united in our condemnation of that slaughter.
We are debating whether we should act along the lines of the Bill and whether such legislation would reduce the possibility of other terrorist outrages. I was interested to read the comments of Mr. Colin Parry, whose son Tim was killed in the bomb explosion at Warrington five years ago. Mr. Parry is reported to have said that he welcomes the Bill and that it is long overdue. He speaks with much sad and tragic experience of terrorism.
I have four reasons for being in favour of the Bill, although I have some reservations, particularly on clauses 5 to 7. I shall relate my remarks to Northern Ireland. First, after the Omagh atrocity, it would be difficult for most people in Northern Ireland to understand why, if the Irish Government and Parliament could bring in such measures, the British Government could not do so. The two Governments worked hard to bring about the Good Friday agreement. Why should they not co-operate closely on further action to deal with terrorism? Imagine the feelings in Omagh and in other parts of Northern Ireland if the British Government seemed to be dragging their feet while the Irish Government took the action that they said they would take almost immediately after the crime.
I presume that one of the proposed north-south bodies that will arise from the Belfast agreement will deal with terrorism and that there will be close co-operation between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The Bill illustrates the continued close co-operation between security and intelligence sources and police in the United Kingdom and the Republic.
Secondly, it is obvious that the Irish will go ahead with their legislation. I do not know whether there will be opposition to it today in the Dail, but it seems that the Irish Government's proposals will be passed almost unanimously. If those proposals become law in the Republic, people who could be apprehended there would be able, if we do not pass the Bill, to go to Northern Ireland. If that happened, how credible would be our stand against terrorism?
Thirdly, it is said that the most effective weapon against breakaway IRA and terrorist groups on the other side is the sheer revulsion among Northern Ireland people about what happened on 15 August. The same argument, of course, that further terrorist outrages are unlikely because of revulsion over the Omagh atrocity, could be used in the Republic. However, we know from experience that, irrespective of revulsion over terrorist outrages, there have been further crimes against humanity. We may recall the outrage over what happened in Enniskillen in November 1987 when 11 people were killed at a Remembrance day parade. That did not prevent eight soldiers from being put to death in Northern Ireland in August 1988. In September 1989, 11 people were killed in an attack on Royal Marines in Deal in Kent. In January 1992, eight Protestants were killed in Cookstown and, a month later, five Catholics were murdered in a betting shop. There is genuine revulsion now, but it does not mean that, in time, terrorists will not consider it appropriate to commit further outrages. We must bear that in mind.
Fourthly, without the proposed Government action the Good Friday agreement could be endangered. Some Northern Ireland politicians who are in no way involved in terrorism want to use every excuse—they have every right to do so—to destroy that agreement. If the Government do not take the action that the Irish Government are taking, it will become difficult, and perhaps very difficult within the main Unionist party, to continue to be a party to the agreement. For those reasons, and even with my reservations, I think that the Government's action is right and justified.
As the Prime Minister said, the terrorists struck in Omagh for a political reason. They were not senseless terrorists and no one would say that they were killing for the sake of killing and had no political motive. To say that would be to underestimate them. Their clear political purpose was to create such fear, insecurity and despair in Northern Ireland that the Good Friday agreement would be in jeopardy because people would conclude that it was no use and would not bring the peace, security and progress for which both Governments had hoped. The more the terrorists want to destroy an agreement that will allow Northern Ireland to be governed in the fairest possible way, the more the House should be determined that what the electorate voted for with such a large majority in Northern Ireland and the Republic should not be destroyed by terror or by other undemocratic means.
The question is one of judgment and balance. I respect the strong views of my colleagues who say that, despite Omagh and our total condemnation of what happened there, the Bill—bearing in mind what happened in the early 1970s—would be counter-productive and would provide political ammunition for the terrorists. They have reached a conclusion, but, for the reasons that I advanced, I have reached a different one. In my judgment, it is important to approve the measure, but that is the judgment of just one Back Bencher, although perhaps I have some experience of Northern Ireland matters.
My hon. Friend refers to the conclusions that have been reached by his colleagues. The main conclusion, which was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), is that the measure could and should be improved. Is my hon. Friend distancing himself from that conclusion, or does he support the proposed improvements, such as those in respect of audio-recording and the presence of a solicitor?
As a politician, I may have defects, but I hope that I have a reasonably open mind. I shall certainly study the amendments. If I believe that they are useful in furthering the Bill's aims, I will give them serious consideration, and I see no reason why I should not.
I refer briefly to clauses 5 to 7. Britain should not be a safe haven for those who wish to commit terrorist offences. One can constantly use the argument about the anti-apartheid struggle. I was involved almost from the beginning in the anti-apartheid movement. I was not aware of any moves to commit murder of any kind abroad; nor was it ever suggested by British sources, including Tory Governments, that the anti-apartheid movement was involved in any way in conspiracies to murder abroad. That argument can be overstretched.
All Labour Members and a number of Opposition Members believed that the liberation of South Africa from apartheid was justified, and some of us are proud of what we did on that issue before and during the time that we were in the House. That does not mean that groups of people in Britain who have been given asylum—fundamentalists, much along the same lines as those who caused the atrocity in Omagh and those responsible for the terrible atrocities that have caused even more casualties in east Africa—should consider it their holy writ, with the democratic freedoms that we have, and long may they remain here, to carry out conspiracies to murder overseas. I see no reason why that should be so and I do not believe for one moment that the British people would wish it so.
I recognise the difficulties. I recognise that, as the Bill stands—this is why I have some reservations about clauses 5 to 7—there is a possibility that people who have genuinely sought asylum and been given it, who are in no way involved in the plotting of conspiracies abroad of murder or any other kind, could be caught up in its provisions. That is why I share the view of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and others that particular care should be given to those clauses. In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) asked of me, I shall give even more consideration to amendments to clauses 5 to 7.
Nevertheless, despite all the reservations, I believe that we have a duty and responsibility, following the terrible atrocity at Omagh, and given the possibility that there will be other terrorist groups, breakaways from the IRA who claim that they have a holy writ, and perhaps loyalists involved in a backlash who will also argue that they have a holy writ to preserve Northern Ireland from the Belfast agreement, to give whatever support we can to measures that can prevent further outbreaks of terrorism from occurring.
There is no iron guarantee. None of us can be certain—neither those who support the measure, nor those who oppose it. But I am convinced that, on balance, we are taking the right steps. My right hon. and hon. Friends will have every justification in supporting the Bill in the Division Lobby later tonight.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) used a phrase, which I would not have chosen, about civil rights not being important in the graveyard. Right-wing and authoritarian movements to which he and I are opposed would use that phrase rather too readily. I would put the point differently: the right to the protection of the law against arbitrary violence is an important civil right, alongside a number of other civil rights, all of which are important, such as the right not to be convicted of a crime that one did not commit. To have due process of law is an important civil right. We must address all of them.
I start by making it clear that, despite concerns which I shall outline, Liberal Democrats believe that key elements in the Bill should be brought into law urgently. We recognise that there is a certain responsibility on us as an Opposition party, when we have an historic opportunity to achieve in Northern Ireland a peace that has been denied to the people of Northern Ireland for so many years, to give the Government some room for manoeuvre, some benefit of the doubt, on some of our concerns. But we cannot set them all aside, and I want to express some by means of amendments in the hope that the Government will improve the Bill.
The Government in the Irish Republic have already said that they are prepared to accept a number of amendments to the Bill that they are considering in the Dail today. The Government have themselves moved on a number of issues and I want that process to continue during our debates tonight. I welcome some of the safeguards that have been included in the Bill. If hon. Members were not aware of them, it was because the Home Office was so late in producing the Bill. I am grateful for the Government's co-operation with us as a party in trying to give us as much notice as they could. However, the fact remains that the production of the Bill, the clear intentions of which were set out by the Prime Minister in his speech at Omagh, was unconscionably long in coming out. That was partly because of their decision to tack on the conspiracy measures to which I shall refer again later.
We welcome safeguards such as the fact that the evidence of a police officer cannot by itself be sufficient. We welcome the annual renewal provision, which we want preceded by a review. We welcome the insistence that consultation with a solicitor must be available, and it should be clear that the solicitor can remain present, as is normal practice in Great Britain during the questioning process.
We are addressing other concerns by means of amendments, with which I shall not deal now, because we can do that in Committee; I shall simply give a couple of illustrations to explain the sort of problems that we have. Take the forfeiture provisions, which not many people have mentioned. They are useful provisions, but they can give rise to problems. The forfeiture of someone's home because weapons were stored in the roof space may be inappropriate or counter-productive when other members of the family did not know that that had been done or were subject to great coercion.
I find myself in a difficult position, because we must consider the case of people who co-operated with the Provisional IRA in ways that we might deplore and who are now committed to a ceasefire, but who are in a locality where they are subject to duress by ex-Provisionals who have gone over to the so-called Real IRA, the small splinter group that is continuing the horrific violence. There is a lot of coercion in that respect and we would not help in communities if we finished up turning people out of their homes. The courts are required to hear representations from people in such situations, but people may be frightened to bring forward such representations, so I counsel caution on the part of the authorities in using those forfeiture provisions. We have tabled an amendment to tighten that up.
Another example is the inference drawn from silence. People who have been involved in the Provisional IRA may be frightened of incriminating themselves in respect of what they did when the Provisionals were involved in violence, even though they have no truck and no involvement with those who are continuing the violence now. There are some practical problems where the Bill could be tightened up a little and we have sought to do that by way of amendments.
As will be apparent from what I said earlier, my biggest concern is the inclusion of such extensive conspiracy provisions which do not arise from the Northern Ireland situation, are not part of a joint effort with the Government of the Republic and do not have the same urgency about them. The Home Office is pulling a fast one. The Prime Minister said earlier that the Government "took the opportunity" of the recall of the House to bring in these provisions which the House has had before it previously. That phrase gives the game away. The Home Office has been successful in getting Bills into the legislative programme, but it has more in the cupboard and this is one of them. I am not unsympathetic to some of the things that the provisions are intended to do, but this is not a good vehicle with which to deal with them.
Lord Lloyd recommended in his report that the Government should introduce provisions relating to terrorist offences planned in Britain but committed overseas—conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts overseas—but he did not envisage wide powers that extended far beyond terrorism. For example, those powers could involve a group that planned an act of civil disobedience in another country that had no terrorist character to it whatever. An environmental group that decided to blockade the departure of a ship from a German or Polish port by bringing a lot of little boats into the way of that ship would be committing a criminal offence in that country and might be committing a criminal offence in this country, but that would not be an act of terrorism and it is not what was envisaged by Lord Lloyd; nor do I think it is what is envisaged by the Government. If there is a case for wider conspiracy powers, this is not the place to deal with that.
The provisions are in the Bill and we can vote against those clauses when we come to them, but there are some things that the Government could do. They could ensure that the conspiracy aspects of the Bill were limited to terrorism. We have tabled amendments which the Government could easily accept that would do precisely that. We have tabled other amendments to provide some further restriction to protect the legitimate opposition to repressive regimes. There may be some element of justified violence in opposition to other regimes—not terrorism. Even for Governments with which I disagree, I do not want groups in Britain planning bombs that would kill and maim hundreds of civilians even in Iraq, let alone anywhere else. I do not want terrorism planned in this country. However, the position is difficult with regard to countries where there is a civil war or organised military opposition to a repressive regime, and we must be much more careful about that. We have tabled amendments designed to address what the Attorney-General might consider in those circumstances.
Although the reasoned amendment includes some of our concerns, we do not support it because, by its nature, it is designed to defeat the entire Bill. For that reason, we cannot support it. We believe that parts of the Bill should go ahead, as I shall explain by way of conclusion.
First, the terrible event at Omagh and all the suffering that came from it brought about an even more overwhelming desire among people in all parts of Ireland to proceed towards peace than had already been apparent in the votes that they cast in the referendum. There was already a clear democratic determination to seek to bring about peace. The revulsion from Omagh spread that desire deep into all communities in the north and the south. That calls for a response from Parliament. That is why it is right for Parliament to be recalled and for us to consider urgent measures.
Secondly, members of the republican splinter groups that continue to operate are very determined people indeed. They are highly trained and taught not to answer questions during interrogation. By their very decision to continue the violence, we know that they are extremely dedicated to their cause. The police and authorities need some limited extra armoury to deal with them. However, as the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), said, we should not exaggerate what the limited provisions will achieve.
The Prime Minister did not help his case by claiming that the measures were draconian. They are not. In some respects, they are unusual in our system and they need particular safeguards, but I believe that their impact will be more limited than was suggested. They could help to secure prosecutions if a court can be satisfied on more than one ground that the accused are involved in that dreadful continuing violence.
The final reason why we think it is important to support the inclusion of at least some of the provisions is that we have argued for years that we should be working jointly with the Parliament of the Irish Republic, the Dail, on legislation that runs as far as possible in parallel, so that no community can say that the British state is imposing its will on Northern Ireland or that the legislation is sectarian.
The Governments of the two countries, who must take action in the circumstances, are trying to provide a legal framework within which the declared wishes of the Irish people for peace can be given effect. Those wishes could not have been more clearly expressed. They came from north and south, Protestant and Catholic. Across the communities of Northern Ireland, people have had enough of violence.
The view that I am presenting, which is shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends, is that elements of the Bill may help to give effect to that desire for peace. They are part of the wider process and the taking of a historic opportunity. For that reason, we are prepared to support them, despite our reservations. We hope that, before the night is over, we will have improved the Bill in a number of respects.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I beg to move,
That this House, whilst expressing heartfelt sympathy to the families and friends of those killed and injured in the terrorist bombings in Omagh, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Cape Town, and wishing to see the perpetrators of these evil deeds speedily brought to justice, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill of which hon Members have had sight, in draft for less than 24 hours, which is a contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the procedures for the newly established and welcome International Criminal Court; which gives power to senior police officers which past miscarriages of justice in England alone would not justify,
and fails to discriminate between nations abroad which are democratic and respect human and civil rights and those which are undemocratic, tyrannous, fail to respect democracy, human and civil rights, repress their populations and pay scant regard to the rights of women.
I shall read from a judgment, which states:
Just consider the course of events if this action is allowed to proceed to trial. If the six men fail it will mean much time and money will have been expended to no good purpose. If the six men win, it will mean that the police are guilty of perjury, that they are guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were invented and improperly admitted in evidence and the convictions were erroneous.
The judgment continues:
This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say that it cannot be right that these actions should go any further.
That was the judgment of Lord Justice Denning, then Master of the Rolls, before the Court of Appeal in November 1979 on the Birmingham Six. I quote that judgment because in that case the defence had the opportunity to examine the evidence, to examine the policemen and to go through all the statements that were made. Of course the defence did not know that the police were lying through their teeth, that the forensic evidence was doubtful and may also have been tampered with, and that the defendants had had the living daylights knocked out of them in order to obtain the confession.
Lord Denning said that that was an appalling vista. The entire establishment would collapse—the police, the justices, the prison service—yet in that case the police evidence was open to examination. What will happen under the Bill?
A policeman will go into the dock and say, "Mr. X is, in my belief, a member of one of the proscribed organisations." The defence will say, "My client denies that. Where is your evidence?" The policeman will say, "I cannot show you my evidence, because it is covered by a public interest immunity certificate. You cannot look at it. But that is my belief, and I know all about it. I have spent 50 years sniffing out terrorists. I have known them man and boy. I can tell a terrorist by the way that he will not look you straight in the eye. And he has an Irish accent"—or an Iraqi, Malaysian or Kurdish accent, or some other accent—"and I know them." The judge will look at the distinguished policeman, who has served years in the counter-terrorism squad, and say, "We must pay attention to what he says."
The accused will say, "I am saying nothing." On the basis of that, and on the basis of the policeman's evidence, which cannot be examined, that person can be convicted. He cannot be convicted on one of those grounds alone, but he can be convicted on both in conjunction. If that is the case, the word of a single police officer is to be taken. When the matter of the word of a policeman and the accused remaining silent was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), it was not contradicted.
Let us consider the safeguards. In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I must say that, since it was announced that the word of a policeman alone would be the criterion, and that was greeted by an outcry, some progress has been made. The Bill now requires corroboration, weak though that may be. I concede that, but the weakness of that corroboration depends on the accused. The second rule that has been made so that the Bill does not fall foul—on the face of it—of the European convention on human rights and the Murray case is that the suspect must have access to legal advice at some time before he is subject to a caution, a suggestion or a charge.
What happens if the solicitor says, "Say nothing—that is my advice to you"? The suspect says nothing and, coupled with the other matters that we have mentioned, is found guilty. What happens if the solicitor asks to see the evidence and the police say, "Sorry, it is subject to a public interest immunity certificate"—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) thinks that I am getting it wrong, so I will give way.
My hon. Friend is getting it wrong. I suggest that the solicitor would ask at the police station and then at the hearing what was the basis of the police officer's evidence. If the police officer says, "I am not prepared to tell you," how can the man answer questions? So the corroboration goes. If the case gets to the Crown court, the solicitor asks again what is the basis of the public interest immunity certificate. The judge in the case will have seen the evidence on which it relies. The judge will monitor the trial thereafter. If points come out that tend to show that what is said to be in that hidden evidence is not so, the question of immunity begins to move. Historically, immunity has moved in a number of cases, and prosecutions have cessated.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but that is not necessarily the case. It will depend precisely on what action the judge happens to take. It will not depend on the benefits of what my hon. Friend thinks will happen. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend—I understand the point that he makes—I do not think that what he says happens in real life. I base my opinion on Lord Justice Denning's saying what an appalling vista that would be.
The other point is access to a solicitor. We shall have—as we already have—two tiers of law. People in this country will have the benefit of a solicitor sitting beside them all the time and an audio transcription of the proceedings. As was said earlier, audio recording saves a lot of time and bother. There can be no contradiction. The recording is there. The suspect has said it.
However, in Northern Ireland that does not apply. A person may be informed of his right to access to a solicitor for advice, but the solicitor does not sit in on the interview. We do not have audio recording in Northern Ireland, although as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has pointed out, we could have it within a week if the RUC pulled its finger out, because the equipment has been available for a long time. If necessary, the RUC could take everyone down to Strand road police station for interview, where we know the information is—[HON. MEMBERS: "Equipment."] Sometimes it was where the information was as well.
My point is that an accused could be done for refusing to incriminate himself, and on the word of a policeman, subject to whatever caveats my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South may make, without the protection of proper legal advice during the interrogation. I put it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that that will create real difficulties if one person is found to be wrongly accused or it is felt that a person has been treated unfairly. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South suggested that as many as 300 people could be affected by the Bill. That is a lot of people among whom to start dissent. That is more likely to undermine the Good Friday agreement than the evil of the Omagh bombing. We know why the Omagh bombing was done. It singularly failed.
In providing access to a solicitor, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was trying to meet the problems raised by the European convention on human rights with regard to access to advice. People will recall that the judgment in the Murray case was that the length of the period of detention coupled with the absence of legal advice amounted to a denial of that person's human rights, and therefore a breach of the convention.
However, the court also drew attention to the increasing possibilities of compulsion as a result of the denial of the right to silence and the inferences that could be drawn from it. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend has met that point. Nor has he met the need to balance the rights of the accused and the rights of the prosecution. There is no equality between the two in such cases, so I believe that the Bill runs foul of the European convention. Certainly the United Nations Human Rights Committee drew attention to that matter.
When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary came to the House to speak about the international criminal court and the great step forward that had been made, the right to remain silent and to have no inferences drawn from that was specifically written into the convention. So we are in breach of all three conventions.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to that point.
I suggest that questions regarding the seizure of property will also cause problems under the European convention on human rights. By merely allowing a person to make his case before the judge when a decision is being made about a seizure of property and not giving him a fair and balanced opportunity of a trial in which to defend his position, the Government will fall foul of the European convention on human rights on the right to private property. Where people have different interests in a piece of property—land, a house or a car—one cannot just seize it under the European convention if that will punish another person. It would be wrong for that to happen without providing an opportunity for the third party to defend his position.
So we are in breach of the convention, because there is no right of cross-examination or right to examine the evidence. There is a lack of balance in the court and in the way in which seizure of property takes place. I suggest to my colleagues that, despite the statements that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made in moving the Second Reading, the provisions in the European convention are not met in the respects that I have outlined, and probably in many more.
However, I suggest that there is a way around that. If the Government are so confident, they can accept my amendments which would ensure that the European convention on human rights was specifically taken into consideration whenever a decision was taken under this legislation. If they can accept that, we can move on.
I am sorry to interrupt a second time, this time not by request. In any court or jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, one point that any competent lawyer would put to the judge, on sequestration—as in drug trafficking cases—or in respect of the case generally, would be whether the European convention on human rights had been contravened, because we have just incorporated that convention into our law.
We have not. People whom we are led to believe will be dealt with speedily will have the protection that was available in 1971, when they were given notice that they were going to be lifted and then disappeared from the jurisdiction or hid. If the Government are so certain, they can include their provision in the legislation. That is all I am arguing. It seems a reasonably sensible course to take.
Some people regard the provisions as internment by another name. One argument, which is not especially strong but which should at least be mentioned, is that membership is a continuing act. People can be sentenced for a specific offence—for having been involved in an incident—but once they are released, can they then be picked up for membership? Can the sentence that they have served be used as evidence of their continuing membership if they refuse to deny it? That argument leads some people to talk about the reintroduction of internment.
I shall deal briefly with the question of conspiracy. There seems to be great unhappiness in the House about how this has been dragged in—an unhappiness that I share. The question of conspiracy goes far beyond Omagh and anything connected with it. It has pre-empted Lord Lloyd's discussion documents and the document to be introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that conspiracy will be a matter for review, but I am not sure whether he said it was going to be under the terms of the prevention of terrorism legislation or under the general consultative paper on conspiracy. However, I am certain that we should not be dealing with the matter in this way and at this time. That is why I have tabled an early-day motion to which reference has already been made.
No distinction is being made between the types of regime to which the Bill is going to apply. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that we already have an agreement with the United States, India and all the countries of the Council of Europe. That is absolutely right, and there is a specific reason for our having an agreement with those countries. Those countries observe the rule of law; they have standard procedures, an independent judiciary and presumptions of innocence. But what about the Emirates, Iraq and many other countries, where none of the proper standards apply? Despite that fact, we are saying that we are going to introduce legislation that would make it an offence for people to seek to use violence—not necessarily to kill—to overthrow a regime.
People talk about the African National Congress. Money was put in the defence and aid fund to help people accused of terrorism, and those people knew that the money was there to help them. It is a very fine line that we are drawing. What would happen if, for example, an organisation in this country planned a campaign of violence, but did not intend to kill anyone, with the aim of creating democratic structures in Saudi Arabia? That would be caught by the Bill, but the aim of those people would be democracy, elections, the rule of law and an accountable Government.
What if people wanted to campaign, quite properly, and perhaps went in for some violence against the Taliban regime and the objectionable way in which it treats women? Perhaps the only way to achieve change is to seek to subvert the Government, which would be an offence in this country and would cause those involved to be prosecution and prosecuted here. People do not have to be foreigners to be caught by this provision; British subjects could be caught. Not only could people be caught by the legislation, but if they planned to do something and then did not do it, they could be done for not doing it, according to the strange clause that mentions omitting to commit an offence.
Is there not a sharp distinction to be made? People in Britain have every right to campaign against the Saudi Arabian regime for very good democratic reasons. Fortunately, what they do not have the right to do—I hope that they never will—is to conspire to commit terrorist acts. What about Kenya? My hon. Friend says that a distinction should be made between democracies and dictatorships. Even recognising all the blemishes in Kenya's legal system, would it have been right for people in Britain to plot to commit the outrages that caused the death of hundreds of people in Kenya recently?
My hon. Friend's final comment makes my case. There is no distinction between regimes in this sort of legislation. How do we distinguish between a good terrorist and a bad terrorist?
Let me put it this way: how do we distinguish between a good freedom fighter and a bad freedom fighter? My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) will say that the answer lies in the strength, feeling and objectivity of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General. That is splendid, but let us now go back to the Saudi example.
Let us presume that the Saudis, like the Indians and others, are getting fed up with certain people in London; and if we want our big contracts renewed, and if we want to sell a few more Hawks, we have to deal with those people. That is not an idle threat—we should remember what the Malaysians did over the Pergau dam and other matters. This problem also goes to the root of many other issues.
What happens where there is a de facto Government but not a de jure Government?
Does my hon. Friend recall the campaign mounted by Conservative Members three years ago to have Dr. al-Masari, a member of the Saudi Opposition, deported from this country because he was said to be jeopardising British commercial interests? There was an attempt to override the provisions of human rights legislation on the grounds of the commercial interests of organisations in this country. Is my hon. Friend aware that almost every country complains that people living in exile or those who form part of an opposition have either treasonable or terrorist intentions?
Order. I remind hon. Members that sedentary interventions do no good and that the interventions are too long. Also, the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) should remember that the convention is to address the Chair. Although he does not mean to do so, he is facing in the wrong direction, but it is only a small matter.
I was referring not to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) or any other hon. Member, but to Dr. al-Masari, whom my hon. Friend mentioned and whose views of a certain racial minority were almost Nazi-like—perhaps the word "almost" is unnecessary.
I accept what my hon. Friend says, but that does not detract from what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said, or from my argument that, if one has good defence contracts, one is likely to be safe—that was my only point—no matter how tyrannous one's regime. Indeed, there is a real suspicion that those parts of the Bill have been introduced merely to give way to international pressures to defend Britain's commercial interests as a merchant of death.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a real problem in that those who come here and use the powers of free speech to advocate, in some cases, violent action against people who may or may not be of their political persuasion are frequently given much freedom, which they sometimes abuse? I am worried about the Bill and many of its aspects that we have been examining, but I hope that my hon. Friend understands the real problem posed by people who choose to live here but abuse the very traditions that they seek to espouse.
Laws exist to deal with those possibilities, and should be used. I frequently send to the police offensive notices that are shoved through the doors of my constituents, suggesting that they should take some action—I expect that my hon. Friend does so, as well. For example, Nazi literature about Anne Frank has been circulating recently to say that she never existed, and other such things that are all lies. I sought to have people prosecuted on the ground that they were inciting anti-Semitism. The legislation exists—whether it is implemented enough is another matter.
To sum up, everyone wants the people who were involved in Omagh to be brought to justice. The Bill will not result in anyone being charged with the terrible offence that took place there. It might bring the perpetrators to prison by virtue of their being members of a particular organisation, but it will not result in anyone being charged with that offence, and I want people to be charged with it and imprisoned.
The fact that the Bill certainly runs counter to the European convention, the United Nations convention and the International Criminal Court should not be thrown away lightly. Those defences exist for exactly this sort of situation. If everything were perfect, we would not need any of the conventions to protect people. We are disregarding what we have done.
The essential points on conspiracy are too widely drawn. If pressures were brought to bear, they could cover people who were properly agitating on different matters. The Bill could also lead to police harassment, which is why I suggest that the Attorney-General should have the power to initiate not only prosecutions but investigations, so that the police do not harass various exiled groups here as has been described, in the hope of picking up information, perhaps, but also in the hope of keeping them quiet for people who have commercial interests within their countries.
The Bill is dangerous, and we have been rushed into it without any proper thought. The Government have put together two conflicting ideas. During the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill in 1974, there were enormous pressures on the House. I know of them for two reasons. The first was my name and my descent. I was subject to many threats of violence—it has been a thousand times more difficult for hon. Members representing Northern Ireland, I admit.
Secondly, we were told that if we enacted that legislation, it would protect Irish people in this country who were subject to an enormous amount of abuse. Some hon. Members might not remember that, but I do. They were thrown out of factories, their windows were broken, they were threatened in the streets and thrown out of clubs. We were told that if we enacted the legislation, it would protect them. We were also told in the corridors outside the Chamber, "If you don't do this, the next step is capital punishment." Happily, that can never happen now.
Those were the pressures that we were put under when the House made those decisions in a short time. We were told that the legislation would only be necessary for six months, to get us over an unhappy patch, and that it would then disappear—it is now permanent and it has been in existence for 25 years. Annual reviews or no annual reviews, one thing we know is that we cannot amend a statutory instrument.
We are taking upon ourselves a power upon a power upon a power. People say that this Bill is proportionate. Internment was proportionate, and so was the prevention of terrorism and the emergency powers legislation. We were told that those measures were necessary to stop terrorism. Now, we are told that this measure is carefully targeted and surgical and will cover only the people who are involved, exactly as we were told that the smart bombs dropped on Iraq were surgical and would take out only their targets, that they would get rid of the problem and that it would all be over in two or three days, instead of going on and on, as it has.
My fear is illustrated by that headline in The Observer, which said that tougher laws would get rid of the problem. I think that tougher laws will increase the opportunities for more horror and more tough laws. It is that more than anything that may undermine the Belfast agreement.
First, I welcome the fact that Parliament has been recalled to consider this legislation. Obviously, because of the recall and the time scale involved, drafting and consultation difficulties have arisen and hon. Members have made a number of comments about that in this and the previous debate. Those are points of substance. Obviously, that situation is undesirable. However, those criticisms should not be allowed to obscure the basic fact that the Government were right to recall Parliament. They had no choice in the matter once the Irish Government had decided to recall the Dail. From the point of view of containing public confidence, both in Northern Ireland and more generally, our Government could not be seen to be less active in responding to the situation than the Government of the Irish Republic.
The principal proposal in the Bill parallels that being considered in the Irish Parliament this evening. Again, our Government could not appear to be less concerned than the Government of the Irish Republic about the consequences of an appalling act of terrorism inside the United Kingdom. I underline that point because some hon. Members have focused too much on the difficulties arising from the short time scale, the drafting and all the rest and have left out of their thinking the important factor that the Government had a clear responsibility to respond to the atrocity and to demonstrate to the people of Northern Ireland and people elsewhere that their lives, interests and safety weighed in the mind of our Government as much as in that of the Government of the Irish Republic.
The Bill is in two parts, one of which has attracted quite a bit of criticism, and deals with conspiracy directed abroad. I shall make only a couple of comments about that part. Whatever arguments there may be about the technicalities and details, the basic principle to which those clauses are directed is right, because the conspiracy must be one to commit criminal acts elsewhere.
There may be difficulties about definitions, as has been mentioned, but let us take as an example the recent atrocity in east Africa—a car bomb with no warning in a busy city centre at a time of peace, with hundreds of civilians killed. I want to challenge hon. Members who criticise legislation in that sphere.
Is there any circumstance to justify such an act, whatever the regime may be?
Why, then, is there argument about passing legislation to make the planning of such acts from here in the United Kingdom an offence, and to try to prevent such things from occurring? [Interruption.] The legislation does not seem to me to touch in any way on any legitimate political activity, because the provisions are directed against criminal acts.
I agree about the right hon. Gentleman's examples involving terrorism, but surely the issue is that the legislation goes further, and may prevent other examples of what might be called civil disobedience, in circumstances in which we may naturally feel that it is justified to stand up against a dictatorship or other despotic regime. To me, that is the bigger concern—that the measures would not stop at terrorism.
The answer to that is that we are dealing with offences that are also offences in United Kingdom law.
I have two other points to make about the clauses on conspiracy, although they do not have the same weight as my first point. First, I could not help but notice clause 6, which enables the Bill to amend the law of Northern Ireland as well. To those right hon. and hon. Members on both the Government and the Opposition Front Benches who over the years have told us that we had to operate by Order in Council, and that it was not possible to make provision in Bills of this Parliament to change the law of Northern Ireland at the same time, I say, "Please look at clause 6." Clause 6 does in this Bill what we have argued for years should be done as a matter of course, and it is being done without any difficulty on this occasion. So let it be done on every future occasion, and let us have no more primary legislation by means of unamendable instruments.
My final remark about the conspiracy aspect is that one good consequence has flowed from the inclusion of those clauses in the Bill: it has given us the pleasure of the Home Secretary's presence in the House introducing the legislation today. I may wish to make some critical comments about the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) later, but I echo his thanks to the Home Secretary for the way in which he presented the Bill, and for what he said in his speech.
Obviously, I mean to focus on the legislation as it relates primarily to Irish republican terrorism, and I shall examine the substance of it as it relates to proscribed organisations. It may be worth while to remind ourselves of the background to the Bill. Although the provision is being introduced into United Kingdom law for the first time, it is not a new provision. In its original form it was introduced into the law of the Irish Republic in the Offences Against the State Act 1972.
The provision was then introduced in the simple form of making admissible before hearings of the special criminal court in the Irish Republic the opinion of a senior police officer, and providing that that opinion alone would be sufficient to ground a conviction. There was no question of any corroboration. As originally introduced in the Irish Republic, the provision was that a senior police officer could go to the special criminal court and say, "In my opinion, Bloggs is a member of a proscribed organisation," and it would be open to the court to convict on that basis.
Hundreds of people were so convicted, purely on that basis, without any corroboration. The hon. Member for Hull, North is familiar with such matters because he has close connections and contacts with the Irish Republic; he knows what happened. I would attach much more weight to his criticisms of the Bill tonight had I ever heard him criticise those provisions as they operated in the Irish Republic from 1972.
Any criticism that the hon. Gentleman has of the Bill before us applied in spades to the Offences Against the State Act 1972 and proceedings under it. That calls into question the approach that he has adopted to the present Bill.
First, may I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I am legislating not for the Republic of Ireland but for the United Kingdom, and that I have a status here that I do not have there? Secondly, may I draw to his attention the fact that I have, of course, always supported the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in its objection to those provisions in the Offences Against the State Act?
None the less, as I said, I would have given much more weight to the hon. Gentleman's criticisms of the Bill had I heard him express criticism of the Irish legislation in anything approaching the terms that he has used this evening.
I want to carry the story onwards with regard to the experience in the Republic of Ireland, where the legislation was effective from 1972 until about 1975 or 1976. During that period, several hundred people were imprisoned on membership charges. Then the republican movement adopted a different approach.
During the earlier period, the republican movement followed its traditional approach of refusing to recognise the court, so the special criminal court had only the opinion of the police officer. Nothing else was said—or at least, the only other thing that was said was the prisoner refusing to recognise the court. The court could then proceed to convict on that basis.
The republican movement then switched from a policy of refusing to recognise the court to one of contesting the actions. People would go into the witness box and say on oath, "No, I am not a member of that proscribed organisation." Nothing further was said.
Here we come to a crucial point that hon. Members on both sides of the House have missed in the context of the Bill before us. The Bill, like its counterpart in the Irish Republic, says that the opinion of a senior police officer is admissible as evidence. It says nothing about the weight of that evidence; it merely makes it admissible. It does nothing to change the basic rules that apply in criminal trials with regard to the presumption of innocence and the requirement to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
Those rules still obtain both in the Irish Republic and here. So a bit of evidence is being introduced—the opinion of a senior police officer. Under the Bill, a little bit of corroboration may be introduced as well. Again, however, admissibility says nothing about weight. The police evidence will be matched by an assertion under oath by the accused, and other information may be introduced by the accused, too.
The court has to consider whether in those circumstances there is proof beyond reasonable doubt, or whether the presumption of innocence should be upheld. The actions of the Irish special criminal court in the 1970s were clear; once the statement of the senior police officer was matched by the denial of membership by the accused, it could not be said that the accused was guilty of the offence beyond reasonable doubt, so the number of convictions rapidly dropped off.
That has remained the position in the Irish Republic until now. The Irish Government now recognise that their 1972 legislation has become ineffective, and, in the aftermath of Omagh, they made a decision. Indeed, they anticipated the problem and did some homework on it beforehand. They decided to see whether they could revive the legislation by introducing an element of corroboration.
I have grave doubts about whether that will be effective, because the problem that vitiated the original 1972 Act provisions will still be there. An element of corroboration will be introduced, but will that have sufficient force to outweigh the denial of membership by the accused? I have very grave doubts about that.
I have spoken to the Irish Government about the matter. They believe that the legislation will be effective. They have taken soundings. Although I do not know the nature of those soundings, they believe that it will be effective and that they will be able to secure convictions. I do not know the Irish judiciary and I have not spoken to anyone who practises in the Irish courts, so I am not in a position to gainsay the Irish Government's belief that they will be able to secure convictions on the basis of the legislation.
I very much doubt whether we shall secure any convictions in Northern Ireland on the basis of the Bill. I say that on the basis of what little knowledge I have of the judiciary in Northern Ireland and of the practising legal profession in Northern Ireland. I believe that it will be very difficult to obtain convictions. The mere fact that one is introducing these things or saying that they are admissible as evidence does not mean that there will be convictions.
I think that I may claim to have considerable experience of the judicial process and the behaviour of the judiciary in Northern Ireland, and that experience would confirm entirely the conclusions that the right hon. Gentleman has drawn.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that element of corroboration, which in this case may have a little more weight than the elements of corroboration that I was referring to in terms of the Bill. I have grave doubts, reinforced by the comment—
My right hon. Friend may not have been in the Chamber this afternoon when I raised this matter on a point of information. Is it not a fact that the pattern that was adopted by the IRA when Daithe O'Connell denied that he was chief of staff has consistently been followed through by leaders of the IRA in Northern Ireland during this last period? At the level of corroboration, if people who murdered Robert Dougan at Dunmurry were followed to the place where they were unloading their clothes, where the police caught them red-handed, and yet, because one witness withdrew, the prosecution did not proceed, is there any likelihood of corroboration being brought on the word of an officer in the circumstances that my right hon. Friend is referring to?
My hon. Friend has graphically illustrated, using the example of the Dougan case, the difficulties that exist with these matters. I am not sure that my recollection is correct on this, but I think I should correct him as to who was responsible for the change of policy by the republican movement in the mid-70s. I do not think it was David O'Connell; I think it was Martin McGuinness who made the change. He was the first person to recognise the court, in the 1970s, and that reflected the weight that he had in the republican movement even then.
Earlier, I said that I had my doubts about whether there would be many convictions—
It is not unimportant for us to express our horror at events at Omagh, but is the right hon. Gentleman saying that we have convened today merely to pass a Bill that will be ineffective in securing convictions for membership of proscribed organisations and, perhaps more important, will have absolutely no effect on the security forces' ability—we wish them well in their efforts—to secure convictions for the atrocity at Omagh?
I said at the outset that I believed that it was right that the House be recalled and that it was right that it consider legislation parallel to that in the Irish Republic. I also mentioned the Irish Government's belief that the legislation would be effective within their jurisdiction—and, of course, most of the people responsible for the atrocity reside within their jurisdiction, so that suggests a possibility of effectiveness.
I expressed doubts about what I consider to be the likelihood of effectiveness in Northern Ireland, but of course I cannot predict the future any better than can anyone else in the Chamber. I am merely expressing a view as to that likelihood.
I have said that, in my view, judges in Northern Ireland, in Diplock courts, with their legal background, knowing the presumption of innocence and the need to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, may not convict often in the circumstances that will pertain. One's concern about the circumstances where there might be convictions relates not to Northern Ireland, but to England.
All the criticisms that are made regarding the consequences of hasty legislation—I listened to the examples taken by critics of the Bill—relate to England. If there is a danger, English juries constitute the danger, because English juries have produced not all, but most, of the miscarriages of justice that have occurred. The example of the past 30 years shows that a person is in more danger of a miscarriage of justice from an English jury than from a Northern Ireland judge sitting alone in a Diplock court.
With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman must bear in mind the fact that the seeds and roots of the great legion of miscarriages of justice that have arisen under the prevention of terrorism Act are the fact that police officers lied in the witness box.
In Northern Ireland we have also had cases of police officers who have not acted with absolute probity, and we have had what I believe to be miscarriages of justice, from similar roots, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe that the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland have a much better record of detecting that than juries, which tend, especially in circumstances like this, to react emotionally to the circumstances. That is the problem here. It is paradoxical, but if we are dealing with a terrorist situation there is a very strong argument for limiting the involvement of juries in those cases. That is a more general point, which I mention but shall not develop.
I have some reservations about the Bill's effectiveness, but I have expressed, and I emphasise, my belief that it was necessary to introduce it. I have no doubts about the present Irish Government's determination to respond to the current situation; I believe that they intend to respond effectively to it. They believe that the legislation that they are introducing in their jurisdiction will be effective. I hope that they are right, but, because I believe that they are genuine in their intention, and because they believe that it will be effective, I think it becomes necessary for us to act in concert with them. If we failed to introduce similar legislation in this place, we would undermine their efforts, and it would be a terrible situation for us to be in, especially after all the criticisms that we have made of Irish Governments over the years, when I and my hon. Friends have felt that previous Irish Governments have not been as effective as they could be. It would be terrible, having made those criticisms, if our own Government were not to act effectively enough.
That brings me to the point that was raised by several people regarding internment. I believe that the Government are making a serious mistake in not restoring it to the statute book. The power of internment is still on the Irish statute book. It is not being exercised at the moment, but the power is there, so that, should the need arise, it can be used immediately, rapidly, as a surprise, in the circumstances that it should be. As was pointed out earlier to the Prime Minister, internment will not work unless it is imposed as a matter of surprise, but one cannot do that unless it is on the statute book.
Internment is on the statute book in the Irish Republic, and the Irish Government have said that they have not ruled it out. They are threatening republican splinter groups that internment might be used. That threat, however, is undermined by the fact that the legislation is not on the statute book in the United Kingdom, and so cannot be used immediately. I heard the Prime Minister assert that it could. I hope that he is right. I have grave doubts about whether it is possible to introduce it as a matter of surprise, in advance of the legislation—to arrest people and then call the House to pass the legislation to give a legal basis for the arrests that have occurred.
That is a very dubious way of proceeding, but that is what the Prime Minister implied. I hope that he is right. I hope that, somewhere in Whitehall, the homework has been done and contingency plans exist. If that is the case, it would be a good idea for the Government to make that clear because, until it is made clear, the threat that is implicit in the Irish Government's position is being undermined by the failure to act in the United Kingdom.
I would very much prefer to see Government restoring the power to the statute book. Restoring the power does not mean that one exercises it, but it means that it is available.
During the Prime Minister's statement, I referred to the measures that the Chief Constable of the RUC has put before the Government. One of those is the restoration to the statute book of the power to intern. The chief Constable has told the Government that the RUC would like to see the power to intern restored to the statute book. The Home Secretary said that the Home Office is considering the matters that the Chief Constable of the RUC has put before it; that is one of them. It should be acted on as soon as possible. I believe that the Chief Constable's other proposals should also be implemented.
Reference has been made to the interception of telephone conversations. There is no good reason for not putting that on the statute book. In view of the hour, I will not elaborate on the matter; but the arguments against interception are based on the belief in some quarters of Customs and Excise that English punters are so stupid that they do not realise that telephones are tapped. I do not think that belief is founded in fact. People forget that everyone must communicate. Even if people communicate in code, or in a roundabout way, they still have to communicate, and such communications could be used for the purpose of convictions. In other countries, intercept evidence is repeatedly seen to be used as the foundation for proceedings against organised criminals.
The Chief Constable mentioned other matters: changing the rules on disclosure of evidence, changing the law with regard to the admissibility of accomplice evidence—that is important in practice—and widening the scope of authorised investigators, under the emergency provisions Act, to deal with terrorist acts as well as terrorist financing. Those are all important measures, for which the RUC has been asking since at least 1993, and I think it is time that the Government responded more seriously.
I want to make some points about the groups against which the Bill is directed. Earlier, the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) referred to what he described as a two-tier system of proscribed organisations. Whatever weight that may carry generally, I think it right for the legislation to be targeted—and the real target in this instance is the group that calls itself "the Real IRA", or "the IRA", which we know to be closely associated with the Continuity IRA.
As currently drafted, the Bill also covers two other groups, the Irish National Liberation Army and the Loyalist Volunteer Force. Both those organisations, however, have recently declared a ceasefire—and there is more reason to believe that declaration than there was to believe the hurried statement made by the Real IRA when it discovered the extent of popular outrage in the Dundalk region.
Following the INLA' s declaration of a ceasefire just over a week ago, it has—judging, at least, by what has appeared in the press—received assurances from the Government that, after a matter of months, it will be included in the prisoner release scheme. It would appear, then, that the Government are treating the ceasefire as substantial, and are moving towards recognition of it.
I hope that at least the same consideration will be given to the ceasefire declared by the Loyalist Volunteer Force. The declaration may have been made cynically, in the hope of securing releases, but the fact that a ceasefire has been declared, and the fact that—interestingly—the LVF has offered to decommission weapons should be explored urgently by Government. If one group—any group—started to decommission weapons, the impact on other groups would be substantial.
The Minister of State knows—I have made the point to him, and to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—that the caution displayed by the Northern Ireland Office is giving rise, in some quarters, to a suspicion that the Northern Ireland Office does not want the LVF to start decommissioning, because that might embarrass other groups. I have said that I hope that is not the case, and that I hope the Northern Ireland Office will act more vigorously in responding to the offers that have been made. The question of decommissioning obviously arises in this context. As was said earlier, I think that this is the important litmus test establishing whether the ceasefire is genuine. The genuineness of the ceasefire is made a condition in this legislation, as it was in the sentences Bill.
I welcome what Sinn Fein has said today in appointing a spokesman who will act as interlocutor, or go-between—call it what you will—with the decommissioning commission. I hope—as the commission hopes—that that person will embark on the task with the intention of bringing about actual decommissioning within a short period. Certainly, my friends in the Northern Ireland Assembly and I will not consider Sinn Fein's commitment to peaceful means to be genuine in the absence of some actual decommissioning.
What confidence has the right hon. Gentleman in the fact that Sinn Fein actually speaks for the IRA in this context? Does he share my concern about the lack of compatibility that the Bill appears to have with the proposals for early release, when it comes down to the question of proscribed organisations and whether the opinion of an officer has a bearing on that?
The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in his interventions in trailing the amendment that he has tabled. As he knows, I am fairly sympathetic to it, and I hope that hon. Members will consider. it earnestly.
As for Sinn Fein and the IRA, as the Government have said repeatedly, they are inextricably linked. Some commentators have said of the gentleman nominated by Sinn Fein as its interlocutor with the decommissioning commission that no one could be better equipped to ensure that the IRA does decommission, although I leave it to others to decide what can be read into that.
My colleagues and I support the Bill in principle. We have expressed our doubts about its effectiveness, but we consider it necessary for the Government to act in the present circumstances. Because of our doubts about its effectiveness, however, we think that the Government should do more. We think that it should, as soon as possible, implement the Chief Constable's proposals—and, in the present circumstances, it is most important to restore the power of internment.
A mythology has grown up about that in recent years, which is quite inaccurate. It describes the failure of what is seen as a tool. Every time it has been used in the Republic, it has succeeded. Its most recent exercise in Northern Ireland was a failure, but there were specific reasons for that. Hon. Members should study those reasons in detail, and recognise that, in dealing with what is currently a comparatively small group, the tool has a much better chance of working effectively than it had in 1971. I consider it wrong to take the rigid and doctrinaire stance that some hon. Members have adopted. Certainly, I think it wrong for Ministers to say that they oppose internment in the present circumstances. Whatever their private feelings may be, they should not oppose its use publicly, because in doing so they clearly undermine a threat that is posed by the Irish Government.
As I said at the outset, we in the United Kingdom cannot be seen to be less anxious and less ready to act than the Irish Government.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). When he became leader of the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland, I expressed severe doubts about whether he could offer the quality of leadership that the Unionist people were crying out for. In recent months—indeed, for longer—he has proved me wrong by his actions and words, and I am delighted to say so publicly. The Unionists are getting the leadership that they need, and I am delighted by that.
My first point concerns the problems of emergency legislation. When we recall the House of Commons to deal with such legislation—as the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made clear—we have to be particularly cautious. We have the lesson of the Birmingham pub bombing, and any atrocity such as Birmingham or Omagh should put us on our guard. The Government are right to try to get their business through in the next two days—not least because I think that if we had asked the House to sit for a further two days, we would not have secured agreement anyway. However, the House does not have in place the checks and balances necessary to examine legislation such as this.
Although this is not the appropriate time to outline the details, the Modernisation Committee—of which I am a member—is looking at the matter. I hope that we will recommend that a Committee that examines a Bill can continue in existence after a Bill becomes law to see how it is working, and I hope that such a recommendation will be accepted by the House in the near future. That proposal was dreamt up partly as a result of the disaster of the Child Support Agency. However, we need to take a step further. Every time the House meets for an emergency debate and passes legislation, we should establish a Committee to look at the way in which the legislation works over time.
Select Committees can do that to some degree, but when an Act of Parliament crosses departmental boundaries—as this Bill does—it would be better to set up an operation to see how it works over time. I would be happy to make that proposal to the Modernisation Committee. I hope that some of my Committee colleagues, such as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), would support that. His concerns about the way in which we deal with such legislation are right. As one or two of my hon. Friends have said, when we have emergency legislation, it is all too easy to get it wrong.
A number of people said to me when they saw the Bill that it was the prevention of terrorism Act, old-style, back in drag. It is not. I was a strong and persistent opponent of the prevention of terrorism Act for many years, and it was only in recent years that I ceased to vote against it. There were two primary reasons for that. The first was that the offences against civil liberties and the reputation of this country as a democracy operating under the rule of law were devastatingly serious in one particular respect—exclusion orders. However they were dressed up, those orders were a form of internal exile—the first time that had been used in the United Kingdom since the days of Henry VIII. That was one of the reasons why the Act was so atrocious, and why I was so pleased when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary ceased to use its powers.
The other big failure of the prevention of terrorism Act was that it was not used as a prevention of terrorism Act in the specific sense. It should really have been called the collection of information Act. The measure was used to round up hundreds of people—several thousand people in some years—question them, often for several days, and release them without charge. On very few occasions throughout the years were more than 5 per cent. of those arrested and detained under the Act charged with any offence. Of that 5 per cent., a smaller percentage were charged with offences relating to terrorism. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said, the Act was a recruiting sergeant major for the Provisional IRA and, to a lesser extent, for other paramilitary groups operating out of Northern Ireland. For that reason, I was pleased to see the Act go.
Nor is the new Bill a form of internment. Unlike the right hon. Member for Upper Bann and one or two others, I do not believe that internment should be put back on the statute book. It is one thing for the Irish Government to consider internment in Ireland, but it is altogether another thing—for historical reasons, of which we are all aware—for the British Government to become involved in a policy of internment. That is not just because we got it so badly wrong, or because one of the biggest mistakes we ever made was to allow the British Army to be under the direction of what was then a biased and skewed Northern Ireland Executive. It is because the Act was inevitably going to involve British troops in exercising internment, and the history and image of that in Ireland were unacceptable.
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's comments and the problems of the British Government unilaterally introducing internment, but is there not a problem with the Bill? What it purports to do is to put criminal sanctions on a test that is not very dissimilar to the test for interning people. To get away from calling a spade a spade—that, in fact, the criminal justice system cannot deal with certain kinds of terrorism—are we not making another and extremely dangerous error in bending the rules of the criminal justice system to convict people who do not fit it?
There is clearly a danger of that, but let me try to deal with that as I continue my remarks. I hope to deal with it to some extent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South has a point when he says that anyone who is picked up under the Bill should be taken to one of the police stations that operate the recording procedure; one of them certainly does. He is a bit more optimistic than I am about these things. He thinks that a lot of the criticism of audio recording will melt like snow on a volcano.
I suspect that some of us might be more resistant to the flames of a volcano than others. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that, if that were done, it would be a significant step in the right direction. I hope that the Government will examine that while we debate this Bill.
The suggestion by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) that audio equipment would be the answer to everyone's difficulty ignores the fact that the real opinion that is given by the superintendent will not necessarily be based—in fact, it frequently will not be based—on any information given in interview.
That may be so, but I do not think that we are looking for perfection. In a perfect world, we would not have this Bill in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South was identifying an additional safeguard, and it is one that the RUC will have to bring in anyway. The suggestion is that we simply ensure that it applies to all these cases.
The other fundamental difference between the Bill and the PTA is that the Bill is sharply focused. By anyone's standards, the number of people involved is probably not much more than 20 or 30 in the north of Ireland—it may be less than that—so the Bill will not operate like the PTA, which swept people up in its net, questioned them and let them go.
There is no reason why the Bill should not provide for audio recording and I hope that it will do so. No doubt we will be told whether it is possible, but I hope that it is.
The other big difference from the past is the force of the vote in the referendums in the north and south of the island of Ireland. It has radically and completely changed the nature of the debate because, as the Real IRA discovered, it removed any legitimacy from what terrorists were doing. It took away a lot of water in which the fish of terrorism, if I may revert to that old saying, were able to swim.
That vote changed the mood in Ireland, north and south. We must respond to that. We must ensure that the Bill is focused. Although I do not like it and would not, in an ideal world, have it, in the context of Omagh it is necessary to do something of this nature.
I think that the entire House accepts that the vote on the Good Friday agreement transformed the debate on Northern Ireland, but that vote still does not make it right that people can be interned on the word of a senior police officer. The change in the political debate does not make the civil liberty infringements in the Bill right.
With respect, if my hon. Friend had been here for most of the debate, she would not have made that intervention. That point has been addressed a number of times. It is not as she thinks it is. Perhaps she needs to read the debate and she will understand why.
There is another important issue. Since 1981, the core of the Labour party's policy to achieve change in Northern Ireland has been that the British and Irish Governments should act together. To be fair, such action was first taken by Lord Prior. He was the first to begin to achieve a coherent policy between Britain and Ireland. We knew that to ask the Unionists or the republicans to come out of their trenches was almost impossible unless the two Governments held the ring, as it were, and led the way forward. Since Lord Prior developed that policy, which was continued by the previous Prime Minister and has been magnificently carried forward by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State, the situation has been transformed. It is the core of what we are trying to do. If the Irish Government judge that action is needed to deal with the threat of a repeat of what happened at Omagh—it is important to remember that two other large bombs planted in city centres by the Real IRA could easily have gone off and killed as many people as were killed at Omagh—we have to take that seriously. We have to listen and act in concert with the Irish Government when possible, not just to rubber-stamp what they do, but to recognise that they have for many years borne the brunt of the problem, even though we have not always given them credit for having done so. The desire for common consent between Britain and Ireland should drive us together.
My final point relates to the second part of the Bill. As I have said a couple of times, its provisions cause more anxiety than those relating to Northern Ireland. The main reason for that is the Nelson Mandela question. I was satisfied some time ago by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's assurance that we could not have acted against Nelson Mandela if such a provision had been in force, because my right hon. Friend has removed any reference to incitement. People can campaign or argue—they can even praise the bombing in Kenya and Tanzania, as a couple of representatives of a particular Islamic group did on television recently. No action would follow from that. Given some of the other things that those people said, one could argue that action should be taken against them under the Race Relations Act 1976, but that is another matter. The point is that they could not be prosecuted in this country for what they said about the bombing. Campaigning, speaking, raising money or distributing leaflets would not be an offence. That is important.
The Home Secretary is aware of my anxieties. The person who says, "Murder Saddam Hussein," would probably by signed up by MI6 and offered the facilities to carry it out. I joke, but only slightly. In the case of some dictators, such as Adolf Hitler, we know—
Like the rest of us, my hon. Friend has read the Bill. Is he aware of the references in clauses 5, 6 and 7 to decisions under law made in other countries—countries outside the Council of Europe over which we have no control? Such countries may brand people as terrorists on the basis of no evidence. Such people could subsequently face prosecution in this country for legitimately pursuing democratic ends in their country.
My hon. Friend is wrong. Two things are needed: there needs to be an offence in the country concerned; and that act needs to be an offence here. If it is not an offence here, there can be no prosecution. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Conspiring."] The Minister who sums up the debate will no doubt make the point, but let me answer. Conspiring to kill someone here is an offence. It would also inevitably be an offence in another country. The difficulty comes when we are dealing not with an obviously dictatorial regime, such as those of Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler, but with a more shadowy, in-between case, such as Saudi Arabia, where we are unhappy about civil liberties. Nobody will be returned to such a country.
The issue is whether a person should be prosecuted in a country with a poor human rights record. The Home Secretary's answer is that the Attorney- General would have to make the political decision on whether to do so. I should like an additional safeguard requiring the Attorney-General to take account of the human rights situation in that country. That would also give a power of judicial review in the event of an Attorney-General feeling that he or she must act against an individual in cases where many would argue that, although the act involved was a criminal offence both here and in the other country, it was one that, in the circumstances of that country, could be understood. That is the difficult area that we are trying to root out.
We are not simply concerned about not sending people back, because that would not be done under the Bill in any case. The legislation would not apply in cases where an action was an offence in a dictatorial country, but not here; the action has to be an offence here as well.
I should like my hon. Friend to consider a case with which everyone here must be familiar, even though it goes back to the second world war. We live in a democracy, so it is, of course, an offence to blow up bridges in this country for political ends. However, during the second world war, when brave citizens of France blew up bridges in the effort to defeat the Germans, we not only supported them, but funded them. Would not such action fall foul of the Bill?
With respect, I have already answered that question. Let me give a more up-to-date and perhaps better example than the one that my hon. Friend raises to demonstrate why that would not work. The example is one of someone being prosecuted in this country for taking action in the areas of Palestine occupied by Israel. The reason why it would not be possible to do that is that, in the United Nations' view, the area is occupied; in other words, it is the second world war situation that my hon. Friend describes brought up to date.
My final point, and it is a crucial one, which it will not be possible to address today, is that we are developing a global approach to deal with terrorism. It is profoundly difficult to get that approach right, because terrorism challenges both democracies and autocracies. The name of the game is to try to find a way of dealing with terrorism that is directed at countries that are capable of change in a democratically legitimate way. A matter that we must consider in the longer term, and one of the things for which I commend the Government, is their signing up to the International Criminal Court, which probably offers the long-term solution to dealing with terrorism.
If we can deal with the problem on an international basis and, in the not-too-distant future, arrive at an international approach to terrorism—perhaps a convention, containing the safeguards of free trials, a proper legal system and democratic procedure—we shall have achieved something positive. The danger is that, because we have all been brought up in a world that is polarised and stuck in the past, we are trying to legislate on the basis of those past experiences. The world has changed dramatically and will continue to do so. We should look for an international structure if we are to tackle the problem in the right way in future.
I have experienced a unique sense of deja vu as I have sat listening to the debate, because it was from this very seat 24 years ago that I made my maiden speech during proceedings on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, which was introduced in 1974 by the noble Lord Jenkins as a result of the Birmingham and Guildford bombs. It was difficult to take the legislation through very quickly—although not as difficult as today, because the House was actually sitting at that time—but it was right then and it is right now. I fully agree with those hon. Members who have said that it is necessary that we take the measures contained in the Bill.
I am sorry to say that I do not go along with the civil liberty arguments that have been made, because the greatest civil liberty of all is the liberty to live one's life in peace, unaffected by terrorism and terrorist bombs. I do not propose to go into the many contributions from Labour Members, save to answer one question posed by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). He asked: what is the difference between a good terrorist and a bad terrorist? There is a perfectly simple answer: there is no such thing as a good terrorist. All terrorism is to be deplored, and all conceivable measures must be taken in a democracy to prevent it from occurring.
The Central Intelligence Agency funded Osama bin Laden to engage in terrorist activity in Afghanistan against the Russian army. I was totally opposed to the Russian intervention. Was that terrorism to be denounced; if so, why did the Americans finance it and build the headquarters for it that they bombed a few days ago?
I hope that I made it clear that all terrorism should be denounced. There is no excuse for any terrorism whatever, and we should do all that we can to prevent it.
I may have a perspective on internment that is unusual in the House, in that I am totally opposed to it. I was in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s when internment was introduced, and I saw its consequences. As someone said, it was the best recruiting sergeant that the IRA ever had. I agree completely, however, with what the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said: although it was wrong then, it is nevertheless part of the armoury to combat terrorism. I cannot foresee any circumstances in which I would want to introduce it—indeed, the issue came up from time to time while I was in Northern Ireland, during especially bad phases of violence, and I was always against it because I thought that it would do more harm than good—but that does not mean that we should remove the option altogether.
I sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider, with a view not to introducing internment, because there is clearly no case for it at present, but to having it available. The one development over the past four or five years that has been good and constructive is that the British and Irish Governments are becoming ever more at one in the measures that they have taken in the fight against terrorism. In the face of that growing convergence, the Government threw out the ability to introduce internment four or five short months ago. The Irish did not do the same, and that is significant.
There is no use having internment on only one side of the border: that is an absolutely empty gesture. One argument that was made in the 1970s and 1980s was that it would have been pointless for us to consider introducing internment in Northern Ireland because it was perfectly clear that, in the prevailing political climate, the Republic would never do so, so we would simply have been repeating the mistakes of the early 1970s.
To be effective, internment has to be total on both sides. It has to be done as a precise, surgical, surprise operation; otherwise, the people whom we seek to inter are not there and we are bolting the door after the horses have left. The Prime Minister was wrong today—or wrongly advised—when he said that it was a matter of judgment. The judgment concerns whether we have the ability to introduce internment in circumstances that we cannot foresee, but the fact is that, if we do not have that ability in our law, we cannot do it—unless the Government are suggesting that they can round up everybody and then come to the House to seek retrospective legislation for an action that would otherwise not be legal.
I cannot understand why the Government are deliberately choosing not to have that weapon in their armoury. I do not believe that we would use it now—I would not have considered using it after Omagh, but what if we have four, five or six more Omaghs and it becomes clear that a small nucleus of people is determined to continue the violence and that, as now, there is no public support for those people? However, that weapon would be available if circumstances arose under which it should be considered.
One reason for the failure of internment was the sympathy of the whole nationalist community for those who were interned. Many were interned wrongly and there was great public sympathy for their cause. As of today, there is no sympathy whatever for the cause of the Real IRA, or other such splinter groups, whatever they call themselves. There is simply disgust at and abhorrence for what they are doing.
If it became a question of judgment on whether to introduce internment, the decision would not be taken in the same scene. We would be dealing with a small number of people and it might be the right action to take, except that we cannot now take it. That is a silly policy and, in the light of what I have said, I hope that the Government will look at the matter again.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the introduction of legislation for internment would alter the balance about which he speaks? There is no support for the terrorist in any of the communities in Northern Ireland, but the mere fact of introducing such legislation would alter the equation.
That is again a matter of judgment. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman because, if the Government had not repealed the legislation earlier in the year, its reintroduction would not be an issue. That does not mean that a Government cannot admit that they have done something wrong and decide to put it right. I am not advocating the introduction of internment; I am saying that it is one of the weapons that we should have. The Government's true position came out in the Prime Minister's final answer, and that may have been innocently echoed by the hon. Gentleman who said that internment legislation would send the wrong message to the terrorists. I am afraid that that begs another question: what is the right message?
Since Good Friday, we have been in the business of sending messages; the Government need to be careful, because the problem is that all the messages are going one way. There have been firm assurances about decommissioning. Has anything been handed in—one gun or other weapon, one piece of explosive? The quid pro quo for decommissioning is the release of prisoners. Some of the worst prisoners have been rushed out of Irish gaols, although such people have not yet been released from ours. Lord Mountbatten's murderer is free. Was there any quid pro quo for that? How about 10 tonnes of Semtex in exchange for the murderer of Lord Mountbatten? No, because it is said that that would send the wrong message.
I offer a word of caution on this matter. Do the Government intend to continue in that way without bringing people up to the mark to deliver what they have promised? If they do, we shall increasingly alienate the decent majority in Northern Ireland and some people in this country who wonder why all the traffic at the moment is one way. I hope that the Government have it in mind to issue some timetables and put Sinn Fein-IRA feet to the fire over the matter. I hope that, before there are mass releases of prisoners from Northern Ireland gaols, there will be some concrete signs and not just good intentions.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann welcomed the appointment of Mr. Martin McGuinness to the body that will look into decommissioning. Mr. McGuinness will have to change his tune because, only six short months ago, he said that not one bullet would the IRA ever give in. That was his position, but now he is part of the organisation that is looking into decommissioning. If that is a road to Damascus conversion, I welcome it.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about sending messages. Does he agree that the Good Friday agreement was a breakthrough and that it gives real hope for peace in Northern Ireland? Does he further agree that, if the Government had not abolished internment, that agreement would not have been reached?
The hon. Lady must ask the Government about that. I do not know whether that was another of the messages that were sent at the time. If it was, it was the wrong message. Of course I do not question the fact that the Good Friday agreement was good, but at the moment the only people who are keeping to the agreement are on this side. Sinn Fein-IRA have not done any of the things that they have undertaken to do. Has there been any decommissioning or any move towards it? Has anything been handed in? Has there been any reduction in punishment beatings or knee cappings? Those things are, and must be, part and parcel of bringing peace. But Sinn Fein-IRA do not call that violence; they call it community policing.
I have already given way to the hon. Lady and I want to be brief.
I commend the Government on introducing the Bill, which I shall support, but I hope that they are listening. There is a limit to what they can expect to be given while we get nothing back in return. So far, if I may put it this way, the good guys have had precious little back for what we have given. I hope that, before the prisoners are released from Northern Ireland gaols, we shall demand and see concrete signs of the good intentions that Sinn Fein-IRA say that they have being put into practice so that the sort of weapons that set off the Omagh bomb—not the fertiliser, but the detonator, the primer and possibly a small amount of Semtex—are no longer available to those people to cause destruction. If we go on accepting their good faith, we may wreck rather than cement the Good Friday agreement.
I propose to be brief, as I have already made many of my points by way of intervention.
When I first heard about the proposal to recall the House and to discuss these two matters, my hackles went up, the hairs rose on the back of my neck and all the defensive mechanisms in me as a libertarian came to the fore. As time went by, I resisted the temptation of invitations from television and messages in the press and, for once, I sat down, waited, watched and listened. In doing so, I learned something and many of my prejudices evaporated.
Yet more prejudices have gone with the passage of time. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) debated whether the proposed clause would work with frankness and honesty, and I pay him the great compliment of saying that he got it just about right.
Internment has been replaced by a method of prosecution for membership of a list of proscribed organisations. Those proscribed organisations will disappear with time, just as many of their forebears have gone. With them disappears the necessity for this part of the Bill. I seek an assurance on that from the Home Secretary. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman nods. Once there are no proscribed organisations, there will be no need for this part of the Bill and it will go into the past.
When I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) at his invitation, I sought to show what happens when public interest immunity matters are raised. Let us consider what happens in real life in a police station. I speak with some 30 years' practice in the law. I declare my interest as a practising barrister who has been involved and is involved in such cases day by day.
A solicitor goes into the police station. Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1996, which the Labour party supported in opposition, the first thing that the officer has to do is give the evidence. The solicitor asks on what evidence a charge is based. The officer no doubt says that it is intelligence which he is not prepared to disclose. Then the advice is given to the client that he should, of course, answer the question. It was suggested that the solicitor would say that he should not answer the question. That would be the most stupid advice in history. It would be stupid, dishonest and dishonourable to the defendant. If the defendant is saying that he is not a member, he should say it loudly and clearly.
If the police decide to make a charge, the case then goes to court. Assuming that the Home Secretary once again gives in to my simple suggestion that solicitors be allowed to attend the interview and, so that there is no argument about it, the interview is tape-recorded—I see no reason why it should not be—there will be no argument. The court—it will be a court with a jury—will hear what was said. The jury will then decide whether that interview amounts to corroboration. If it does not, we know from the Bill that there will be no case to answer at the close of the prosecution case because the word of a single officer is not enough to secure conviction.
If, however, the officer says that the information is confidential and subject to public interest immunity, the judge will have heard the basis for that. That is how the system works. If matters arise during the trial that show that that is not so and that there is no basis for what was said, the judge will intervene. That is his continuing duty in a criminal trial in this land. There is a slight difficulty in the Diplock courts, where the judge is both judge and jury.
The judge knows what sensitive information is. If it is merely informant tittle-tattle, as is often the case, the judge will give it the weight that it deserves. If it derives from observation, interception or tapping, the matter will be left to the jury, who will not know the basis of the assertion by the police officer. It will be a matter for the jury to decide, on the evidence that they have heard, whether they are sure beyond reasonable doubt that that man or that lady is guilty.
That is a pretty good alternative to internment. The person knows that he has had a fair trial. The issue has been aired in public and a jury has decided—not a police officer, but a jury.
There is great concern, especially among Labour Members, at the suggestion, especially by Ulster Unionists and some Conservative Members, that internment should be reintroduced. Does my hon. Friend think that the Bill would give power to the RUC to take people into custody and hold them for a very long time on remand, which would in effect be a form of internment, knowing full well that the chances of getting a prosecution were extremely limited?
I thought that the time had come for a little levity in the proceedings.
There comes a time when a suspect must be charged or released. If he is charged, the case must go before a court and it is then subject to investigation by the court. There is the opportunity to apply for bail, which will be granted on the basis of the strength of the evidence and other matters. My hon. Friend asks whether the Bill proposes interment by another name, but that is not so: it is an alternative to internment. A specific allegation must be made against the defendant. He cannot simply be locked up, given no rights and let go at the end of an indefinite period. That is what brought the hatred and horror in Ireland. That is the point that I tried to make earlier, but I did not get much approval from the Ulster Unionists.
If a person is to be incarcerated, he has the right to know why. That is why the Murray case was decided as it was. If the Home Secretary wants to keep clear of the European convention on human rights and all the other jurisdictions, all that he needs to do is to put in the Bill the right to a solicitor, and allow the solicitor to remain present and the proceedings to be tape-recorded. The prisoner's rights will then be protected and there will be no further trouble in that respect.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, when he speaks of a suspect in a police station being accompanied by a lawyer, he is referring to an English police station? A suspect in a Scottish police station does not have the right to be accompanied by a lawyer during the investigation.
That is tragic. The law in Scotland should be amended. The English law is correct in that respect. I am asking the Home Secretary to extend it to Northern Ireland, so that the law is equal in every part of the country for all crimes, terrorist or non-terrorist. I do not like the word "terrorist". A crime is a crime. If I blow someone up, it does not matter whether it is for his political beliefs or because I want to blow up his property. I am still a criminal and he has still been blown up. People should remember that. Crime is crime, and it ought to be dealt with.
My attempts to understand clause 5 began as a nightmare. Well, I took the advice. I did what most good lawyers do. I went and talked to my friends. One takes one's piece of paper with one and says, "Hey, Jim," or "Hey, Jane, what does this mean?" I spent the whole of last night—not literally—walking around various places in the Temple. I will not report where, or what the beverages were, but I gathered from many senior colleagues their interpretation of clause 5. They were not very polite until we began to understand the language. Then it became obvious what clause 5 was all about. It is, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier today, a means of bringing into effect an anomaly that already exists.
When previous attempts were made in various private Members' Bills to prosecute people abroad, I was worried about the incitement provisions. The Bill does not include incitement. It avoids that pitfall. It says in simple language that, if something is a crime in England and a crime in, for example, Patagonia, the legislation applies. But if it is not a crime in England or not a crime in Patagonia, the legislation does not apply. That already happens, for example, in drugs cases. Again, I declare my interest. I have been involved in such cases. In one case, drilling pipes in Spain were found to be full of cannabis, but the conspiracy originated in the United Kingdom. My client happened to be somewhere near. He was acquitted, I do not know how, by an English jury. In another case, a lot of bootlegging was going on. If someone is bootlegging in Spain, France or Belgium, he can be tried in the United Kingdom on the conspiracy count because he conspires to commit a crime in the European area.
Incidentally, the crime has to be one that carries a sentence of more than two years in prison. Petty matters are not covered. I hope that when we consider the matter—perhaps it should be considered again in some detail—we will bear it in mind that, in the European context, there is a limitation to crimes subject to a two-year prison sentence. The crime has to carry a sentence of more than two years, so we do not get bogged down with petty crimes.
As I understand it, the Bill deals with crimes that are crimes in this country and in other countries. I was thinking earlier today what a farce it was that we could prosecute someone in England for conspiring to import from Spain £100 million-worth of cannabis, as in the case to which I referred, but we are stuck if we want to try someone for conspiring to import £200 million-worth of cocaine from Colombia. That is lunacy. This attempt by the Government to recover their position is a worthwhile attempt which needs support.
I concede immediately that the drafting of clause 5 leaves much to be desired. For example, one proposed subsection refers to a judge of the Crown court. The cases with which we are dealing are, in my respectful submission, so serious that, under proposed subsection (10), which says:
In the Crown court the question whether the second condition is satisfied shall be decided by the judge alone",
the judge has to decide not only what is or is not a crime in this or that country but in certain cases whether the Government of a country is de jure or de facto. Take Burma as a classic example. Is the junta the Government of that country or are the democratic persons elected some years ago the Government? Those are the questions which will have to be considered. Therefore, I suggest that clause 5 needs further amendment and consideration. I hope that, even though we may pass the Bill into law in the next few days, it will be brought back to the House very soon. I seek again from the Home Secretary an
assurance that it will be brought back soon so that it can be considered in the light of further discussions and advice, and amended accordingly.
Clause 5 is horrendous. It is designed to deal with criminal conspiracies when the country in which the crime is intended to be committed and that in which it is thought up are different. I have tried to be as brief as possible. I have some reservations. I promised the Attorney-General that I would put formally on the record my view that, while he is the Attorney-General, I am not too worried about bad cases getting into court. However, I will be worried in the future. [HON. MEMBERS: "Distant future"] The distant future, I hope. I hope that the matter can be reconsidered later and that the technicalities and other matters can be tidied up in a way that makes plain what we seek to do.
For once, I wish a Bill on civil liberties a fair passage.
There seems to be among some hon. Members a strong conviction that, after Good Friday, everything changed in Northern Ireland. They should look at what we have been through since Good Friday. The people of Northern Ireland have a right to question the strong and fierce language used against them when they say anything that does not side with, condone or support the Good Friday agreement.
Since Good Friday, 37 people have been murdered by the terrorists. Since Good Friday, every paramilitary group supposed to be on ceasefire has breached the ceasefire and the terms of the Mitchell principles of non-violence, so much so that two groups had to be expelled from the talks because of their misbehaviour.
Six hundred and ninety-one people have been injured as a result of paramilitary-inspired violence. There have been 75 separate bombing incidents that include the atrocity at Omagh, Banbridge and Moira, as well as a growing list of largely unreported fire bombs and incendiary devices, many of which have destroyed businesses. There have been six car bombs; there have been 89 separate punishment shootings carried out by all the paramilitary groups; there have been 55 serious assaults carried out by paramilitary groups; and more persons are detained in custody this year than during the mid-1970s when the troubles were at their height. We might say, "Some peace process!"
The Government claim to be doing everything possible to counter those violent acts, but there is little evidence to prove the Government's claims. The Government are not tough on terrorism or the causes of terrorism. The quarterly report on the working of the prevention of terrorism Act indicates a severe dropping off in activity by the security forces to prevent terror. From Good Friday to July, the Government's own figures show that the police and courts failed to charge or convict one person for one single act of terror, for withholding information or for assisting the flow of terrorist funds. In the same period, only one person was charged under section 9 of the Act. That is a record not of success, but of failure; and there is little prospect of the record being improved, given the Government's lack of will to tackle the terrorists.
The concession process has seriously compromised the Prime Minister's ability to deal with terrorists. The people of Ulster are asking how long the concessions to the terrorists will go on. We heard the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) say that there was no such thing as a good terrorist. I agree with that, but there is a difference in the Acts that we are producing. One set of terrorists is put on one side and one set is put on the other. Someone said, "Aye, but they had declared a ceasefire." It is some ceasefire when they are still carrying out those terrible acts of terror.
That record makes the people of Ulster afraid of what will happen in the days ahead. The House must face up to decommissioning. Once again, we have heard talk today about decommissioning and statements about what was said in the agreement. To hear some hon. Members, one would think that the agreement was strong on decommissioning. What does it say? It states:
All the participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use"—
mark these words—
any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement.
Mark those words:
to use any influence they may have",
but not to use all their influence and not to take any steps. So, nothing in the agreement says that participants must decommission within two years.
As long as arms and explosives are available, we will have repeats of Omagh. I am sad when I hear politicians saying, "Surely this is the last time. It will never be repeated." They said that about Moira, after that they said it about Banbridge and after that, about Omagh. God alone knows where the next strike will come.
The House needs a baptism of reality, and it needs to face up to what is really happening in our troubled Province at present. On the Prime Minister's most recent visit, my colleagues and I told him that he had the opportunity at that juncture to deal with the matter and to tell all the paramilitary groups, "No prisoner releases until the guns are handed in." I was amazed at the right hon. Gentleman, who replied, "Would you keep innocent people still in prison?" I said, "Innocent people! The people you are letting out of prison are not innocent. They are as guilty as the people who carried out the Omagh bombing."
The IRA prisoners who are coming on to the streets of Northern Ireland are intent on joining the Real IRA. We have only to look at the names of people in the Real IRA to realise that—people such as Michael McKevitt, who was the IRA quartermaster-general and a man with immense influence over those who are at present in prison but are about to be released. What about Liam Campbell? I have also mentioned the three people from the Omagh area who were taken in by the police.
I asked the Prime Minister a simple question: if the law that we are asked to pass had been on the statute book, could those prisoners have been held and taken to court to prove themselves guilty or not guilty? The right hon. Gentleman did not give me a yes or no answer. If the Bill is to act properly, those people have to be rounded up, but the tragedy is that they will have disappeared by the time we get through the business.
I have heard some talk here about internment. I was in the House when internment was in force, and I believe in Executive internment. I believe that it is an act of a Government; it is not a judicial act, and it is not carried out in a judicial way. The Government say that they will put a certain person away, and they put him away.
People talk about the failure of internment, but what did the Government do at that time? They sewed on to the exercise of internment a quasi-judicial commission. People said, "We never knew who made the accusations against us, but we were put away." What did the Government do then? They hung up an army blanket in a room in the prison. If someone who had been interned wanted to appeal against it, he stood, and all he could see was the brown boots of the fellow behind the blanket. The commissioner asked, "Do you know this man?" and a voice from behind the blanket said, "Yes." "Is he a member of a terrorist organisation?" "Yes." All right, down he goes.
That procedure would have riled any section of the community, and Protestants, Roman Catholics and Jews who were interned were angry with the system. It went against any iota of decency and democracy—but that is not what we are talking about with the Bill.
Someone said that we were advocating internment. No; as the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) rightly said, the person will be charged, but will have an opportunity to answer the charge. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, told us why that law is not working now in the south of Ireland, because of the change of approach. It is true that it is not working, yet we are now putting our hand to this measure to bring us into line with that law.
I hope that, when the Bill is passed, we shall see action by the Government, and such people will be taken out of circulation—but they will still be given the opportunity to go to court and stand trial. They will be able to have their day in court. No one wants an innocent person behind bars, but everybody wants the murderers of all those people behind bars.
Our trouble today is that many such people are to be released into our community. This is not a good day for our Province, or for the House. None the less, I shall vote for the Bill, because at least it is sending a signal, and saying, "You bombers of Omagh cannot do that without our taking these measures against you."
This has been a remarkable debate, and I would like to identify some of the issues that it raises. First, I believe that most people will welcome the recall of Parliament. As you will remember, Madam Speaker, I wrote to you asking for the House to be recalled long before the Government suggested it, because the problem of terrorism relating to the bombing in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and the American response, seemed to me to raise important matters.
Secondly, on the legislation, a fairly substantial body of Members are not happy about the way in which the Bill has been presented to us on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Indeed, I am not happy about that myself. As an old parliamentarian, I was pleased to hear Members on both sides of the House claim that the legislature still has some sort of role in a world dominated by Ministers, spin doctors, media commentators and so on.
The third thing on my mind as I listened to the debate was the fact that it provided me with an opportunity to say what I deeply believe—that the Belfast agreement is by far the most important and significant achievement by the present Government in the 16 months that they have been in power.
I have long thought that the war in Northern Ireland—the war in the United Kingdom—was our biggest single domestic problem, and I think that the Government's handling of it has been absolutely brilliant. In a minute I shall discuss the implications of that, but it is because it has been such a successful policy that I am totally opposed to the Bill that they have introduced. If I may be allowed briefly to explain the various elements in that argument, perhaps the House will listen to me.
I have sat in the House for nearly 48 years now. We all bring our personal experience to bear when we look at problems, but I have been thinking of the policies that have been advocated during my time in the House of Commons. It was said that Stormont would solve the problem of violence in Northern Ireland—it failed; that direct rule would put it right—it failed; that the prevention of terrorism Act would eliminate terrorism—it failed; that the Diplock courts would be the only way to deal with terrorists—they failed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I went to the Crumlin road court one day, and we heard two Diplock trials being conducted. I had never seen such a thing before; it was a remarkable experience: a judge; a supergrass—an informer; the families behind armour-plated glass; the courtroom full of guys with submachine-guns. In one court, a Catholic judge was trying a Protestant terrorist; in the other, a Protestant judge was trying a Catholic terrorist. Afterwards, I went to the welfare, and there were the families from both communities, denouncing British justice because it was nothing whatever to do with the justice of which we boast.
I was in the Cabinet in August 1969, when sending in the troops was the great answer. In fairness, Jim Callaghan, Roy Hattersley and so on genuinely believed that it would solve the problem. Then there was the broadcasting ban; we would not allow Gerry Adams, as he was then, to broadcast—oh, no. That applied in the Republic as well as in the north. Then, when the ceasefire agreement was announced in 1994 by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and Gerry Adams and Albert Reynolds, what did the then Home Secretary do? He prevented Gerry Adams from coming to London to address a meeting in the House. All the policies failed—every one.
The tribute that I pay to Ministers is that, by engineering the discussions, by bringing about the Belfast agreement and by bringing about the victory in the referendum and the election, they have made greater progress in dealing with terrorism than has been made by any other measure that I have mentioned. Of course, after a war—and it has been a war—there will always be examples of violence, but to try now, in the face of Omagh, to revert to one of the failed measures is very foolish: a matter of bad judgment. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), speaking as a Back Bencher, honoured us with his experience. I thought that what he said about that was absolutely right.
The Bill is not necessary. It will not be effective. It does infringe civil liberties. It is no good saying that civil liberties do not help you if you are in a grave. Not only are civil liberties morally right, but they protect societies from violence because people are not tempted to violence by their denial. In addition, as many hon. Members have said, some of these measures, when used in the past, have recruited for violence, and there is a danger of abuse.
In my opinion, therefore, this is a thoroughly bad Bill. The fact that it is being pushed through on a single day will not help. No doubt, in five years' time, there will be many television programmes describing how Parliament got it wrong on the Bill, because the media are very, very clever at discovering the mistakes that they contributed to.
The second half of the Bill relates to conspiracy to commit offences outside the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) drew an interesting aspect of clause 5 to my attention. It reads:
Nothing in this section …imposes criminal liability on any person acting on behalf of, or holding office under, the Crown.
I had asked whether the limitation on terrorism abroad would affect MI5 and the security services. I did not get an answer, but it is in the Bill.
On the issue of international terrorism, the House must surely know that, just as the right of self-defence is accepted in international law, if a nation loses its liberty people have the right to win that liberty—by force, if necessary.
Clinton is coming to Northern Ireland tomorrow. George Washington was a terrorist against George HI. In the old days, no one could get into America without swearing that they did not believe in the overthrow of the Head of State by force. I used to say, "I agree with you: George Washington was wrong." They did not like that very much. [Interruption.] Of course they did not like it, because George Washington was a terrorist.
I dare say that Edmund Burke, my predecessor as a Bristol Member, could have been caught under the Act for supporting the Americans at the time of the revolutionary war. But are we really going to say that anyone who supports groups who are trying to get rid of Saddam Hussein is guilty of terrorism?
I spoke in Trafalgar square in 1964, in the week of the Rivonia trial. As anyone who reads the transcript of that trial will see, Nelson Mandela admitted that he was a terrorist. The next time I met him, he had won the Nobel peace prize and was President of South Africa. The number of people whom I have met who spent time in British prisons and ended up having tea with the Queen—for what that is worth—is a reminder that all the anti-colonial movements involved an element of force.
Surely the point is that those who opposed the people cited by the right hon. Gentleman—whether we are talking about George Washington, Saddam Hussein or Nelson Mandela—had no democratic rights, and no means of exercising such rights. That is not the position in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has repeated exactly what I said—that those whose democratic rights are removed have a basic entitlement to use force. I take his point, but there are countries in which that situation exists. Is it the case that, if we in Britain support people who are trying to secure democratic rights that dictatorships have denied them, we will be liable to be charged with promoting terrorism?
What I am saying could not be clearer. Of course I am basically a believer in non-violence—a supporter of Mr. Gandhi. When he came to London and the press asked him what he thought of civilisation in Britain, he said, "I think it would be a very good idea." Gandhi was in a British prison, and Gandhi was a believer in non-violence. But we must be absolutely clear about this: if we want to deal with violence—as the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) pointed out—we must have a politically democratic system. When there is such a system, there is no justification for violence.
I hope that nothing that I have said implies that I have any sympathy for the Omagh bombers, or any of the other bombers in Northern Ireland. When we consider the second part of the Bill, we are considering a different situation.
Surely no one is describing terrorism as violence of any kind for political means. There are political situations in which violence can be justified by almost anyone who does not have a pacifist temperament. The point about modern terrorism is that it is indiscriminate, and is aimed at innocent people. It is not directed against Heads of Government, soldiers or policemen; it kills men and women from all backgrounds and of all nationalities who just happen to be there.
We oppose the blowing up of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the blowing up of aeroplanes over Scotland or the blowing up of people in Omagh not because we disagree with the political aims of those responsible—although we do—but because hundreds of people were killed who were not party to that. The obvious intention was to create terror and instability at the expense of innocent people, and that justifies fairly draconian legislation and international co-operation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not really understand the point. All war is violence against innocent people—all war, not just terrorism. The smart bombs killed 200,000 people in Iraq. I have been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were bombed after the Japanese had offered to surrender. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been there too. I saw the little children's lunch boxes that had been burned by the bombs. Do not try to tell the House that only terrorists injure innocent people.
As I heard Churchill say in this House, "The alternative to war-war is jaw-jaw." That is the tribute I pay to my Front-Bench colleagues—they started the talking in Northern Ireland. My God—what a change it is to hear the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) appealing to us to follow the line of the Dail. I never thought that I would hear that in this House.
Gerry Adams—who should take his seat in this place, I might add—has appointed Martin McGuinness to the decommissioning body. Do not think that that is not serious, because it is. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and I were threatened with expulsion from the Labour party two years ago for meeting Gerry Adams. We cannot get to see him now—he is popping in and out of No. 10 all the time. If one argues an unpopular case, one must try to find the answers.
President Clinton is coming to Belfast tomorrow. He will say that he welcomes the end of the bombing, and he has said all along that those involved should not go in for reprisal bombings. That is exactly what he did when he bombed Sudan and Afghanistan. The world was as shocked by Dar es Salaam and Nairobi as it was by Omagh—more so, because more people were killed. President Clinton then threw it away by bombing Sudan.
We have no time to go into this, but it was funny that, a few months ago, President Clinton said that we should bomb Iraq because it would not let us inspect its factories. Now, having bombed Sudan, he will not agree to an inspection of the factories he bombed, because he knows that there is no evidence. What Clinton said about Sudan is what the police will say in cases involving terrorists—"I cannot tell you why I did it, for security reasons."
I mentioned an historical case earlier, and the Prime Minister rebuked me. He said that one must know history but live in the present. I agree with that, but, in 1858, the Palmerston Government fell because they introduced a conspiracy Bill, rather like this one, because the French Government wanted action taken against Orsini, an Italian who bought a bomb in London and tried to kill Napoleon III. The House of Commons—a rather more courageous place then than it is now—threw out the Bill, and Palmerston was out. Nothing much changes.
I referred to Omdurman in my question to the Prime Minister, because 10,000 Sudanese—who were held to be Islamic fundamentalists—were killed by Kitchener 100 years ago today. One of the cavalry officers who fought there sat in the House with me when I was elected—none other than Winston Churchill. I beg the House to take a proper historical perspective.
The only way to get peace, nationally or internationally, is by social justice and democracy—they provide the best guarantees. Nobody in Northern Ireland wants violence. Even the hideous and offensive apology by the Real IRA was an indication that they knew that they had no support, and INLA knew that they had to give up. That is the victory of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
I do not know whether there will be a Division on the Bill. If there is, I shall vote against it, because I think that it is a bad Bill, for the reasons that I have given. However, the important thing is that we address ourselves now—not only in Northern Ireland, but throughout the world—to the problem of how we deal with violence. It does not help to launch a cold war against Islam, or to whip people up into believing that there is only one way to deal with violence, which is more and more violence.
I put my argument respectfully to the House. The Government have done a brilliant job, but this is a bad Bill, presented to us in a bad way. It would be better if it did not go through on a vote tonight, although I know well that it will.
I wish to address briefly the provisions in the Bill that deal with conspiracy to commit offences overseas. I am glad to see the Attorney-General in his place, because most of my comments will be directed to him.
I must say to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and to the House that Hansard will show that those Labour Members who have expressed concerns about clause 5 and the provisions relating to conspiracy to commit offences overseas somehow seem to have wanted to give the impression that all terrorists are, in reality, romantic freedom fighters. If hon. Members do not believe that, just read Hansard tomorrow.
I was a Minister in the Foreign Office for a single year between being in the Department of the Environment and going to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. During that year, one thing struck me in relation to those countries with which I had the responsibility of dealing. One of our major bilateral problems with practically every one of those countries was a founded belief on their part that there were people in the United Kingdom who were using the UK as a base to plot terrorist activities in their countries.
Within the space of one year, high commissioners from a number of Commonwealth cousin countries came to see me. The high commissioners for India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all, in their own ways, in reference to their countries, put forward moderate, proportionate cases for why they believed individuals in this country either had committed terrorist offences in their countries or were planning terrorist offences. They were concerned not about embarrassment, incitement or anything of that type, but about offences being committed.
The Government have said that they have introduced this part of the Bill because of the terrorist offences that were committed in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Consider just how many people have been murdered in recent months and years by terrorists in Karachi alone—many more than were killed tragically in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Therefore, it must be right for the UK to take action, if possible, against international terrorism and for us to ensure that there is no suggestion of the UK being used as a base for terrorist activities being planned overseas.
The Home Secretary told us that, in relation to India, the power that is being taken in this Bill already existed. Is my hon. Friend saying that the Foreign Office was unable to use that power—if so, the taking of it for more countries seems to be valueless—or was it simply that the power was not in place when he was in the Foreign Office?
My hon. Friend moves me on to the next point that I wish to make. In the past, the line of Government generally—certainly the line of the previous Government and, I suspect, that of this Government—to such requests and representations has been that it has not been general policy to seek to prosecute offences committed outside the territory. This Bill will mean that all Governments will expect the UK to take action.
If an ambassador or high commissioner comes to the Foreign Office and says to Ministers there, "We have reason to believe that an individual or group of individuals who are resident in the UK either have committed or plan to commit and conspire to commit an offence overseas. We expect action to be taken." If action is not taken, it will seriously poison bilateral relations with those countries.
Therefore, my request to the Attorney-General is that he take the earliest possible opportunity—I appreciate that he will not have the time tonight—to explain to the House, and, more important, to the rest of the world the process that will be followed in all this. Which Government Department is going to have the lead? If an ambassador or high commissioner has evidence from his Government of terrorist activities being undertaken or planned in the UK, does he go to the Foreign Office or the Home Office? Who then will undertake an investigation?
Is there to be a clear understanding that, if a Government with diplomatic representation at the Court of St. James make a claim that they consider to be valid—that someone who is resident in the UK is conspiring, or has conspired to commit an offence in their country—that will be investigated by the appropriate police force in the UK? Is there to be a clear understanding that, if the officers in charge believe that an offence has been committed, those individuals will be arrested and the matter will be referred to the Attorney-General?
The Attorney-General also has to explain other issues publicly and clearly. The Attorney-General will not be involved in a case until the papers are referred to him. If there is sufficient evidence for police officers to arrest someone on the belief that an offence has been committed under clause 5 and the Attorney-General decides not to prosecute, he will have a great responsibility, because the Government of the country concerned will feel that the United Kingdom has let them down. It will not be sufficient for the Attorney-General to say simply that he has not prosecuted because it is contrary to the public interest. That could sour our relations with the country concerned for a long time. Clear criteria will have to be set out on the circumstances in which the Attorney-General may decide not to institute a prosecution.
The Government also have to explain, not just to the House, but to the rest of the world, the provision in the Bill for Ministers to overrule the Attorney-General's decision to institute a prosecution. Which Minister or Department will take the lead? Will it be a matter for the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary? It will not be sufficient simply for a Secretary of State to say that he considers prosecution to be against the public interest. That could poison relations with a friendly country. The conditions and criteria under which Ministers can intervene to stop a prosecution will have to be clear.
I support the provisions in the Bill and I believe that many friendly Governments around the world will also support them. I suspect that many colleagues who go to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference this year will find that many from elsewhere in the Commonwealth will welcome the provisions. We have to recognise that, when we have introduced the provisions, there will be an expectation around the world that they will be implemented.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said that some of the provisions on Northern Ireland may not work, but they are important presentationally. It is not sufficient to say that clauses 5, 6 and 7 are there for presentational reasons and are window dressing. The rest of the international community will expect us to act on the provisions. They will want a clear understanding of how the Government will act and the processes that they will introduce to ensure that the provisions can be implemented.
I very much hope that the Attorney-General and the appropriate lead Secretary of State will make the fullest possible explanation at the earliest opportunity of the processes to be used. I suspect that many Governments around the world will want a clear understanding of what the Government intend. They will want to be sure that we are genuine in our intent to take action and that the measure is not simply window dressing by the Government.
I support the recall of Parliament today and agree with the need to take action and introduce laws in the north and the south of Ireland together. However, when I first heard about the Bill I had several concerns. My main concern was whether it would work—would it achieve the objective that was set out for it? The theme of today's debates seems to have been that we should learn from the past. I welcome some of the safeguards that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has added to the Bill. They are a significant improvement on some of the announcements over the weekend.
There are two ways to defeat terrorism. There is the way that Britain used in Malaya in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the Serbs are now using in Kosovo, which is to take military action and wipe out village after village. No one would argue now that that is the right way, although I suspect some Opposition Members have inklings in that direction. The alternative method is the one that the Government have chosen, which is to tackle the political dimension.
It is important that we recognise the effect of anti-terrorist laws after they are passed. There have been many anti-terrorist laws passed in many countries; some of those have worked, but many have had the opposite effect and increased support for terrorists instead of diminishing it. I want to ensure that the legislation before us reduces support for terrorists.
The biggest single event this year, apart from the Northern Ireland agreement, was the reaction of the people of Dundalk to the Omagh bombing. They came out and said, "We do not want violence." That was a highly significant act. We have waited a long time for it, but the political conditions were not right before. We have to understand the effect of laws on communities, and recognise that by subjecting a community to injustices, we increase support for terrorism instead of decreasing it. That point has been made several times already this evening.
I shall illustrate that with an example dating from the introduction of the prevention of terrorism Act. A 17-year-old was travelling from Belfast to Heathrow in Christmas 1974, just after the Birmingham pub bombings. This cocky 17-year-old kid was stopped at Heathrow and asked for some identification. He said, "I don't need a passport to travel from one part of the United Kingdom to another. This is not the Soviet Union—we don't have gulags here." He had just been reading Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago". That kid was taken into custody, questioned for hours and accused of being a member of the IRA. I believe that a press statement was drafted suggesting that an IRA suspect had been arrested at Heathrow. Only the intervention of a senior customs officer who knew the kid resolved that situation, but I know that, 10 years later, a police superintendent remained convinced that the kid was a member of the IRA, when all he was was a stupid little boy.
The important point is that injustices occur when legislation is rushed through the House. The example I have given is a minor one, which does not compare with the cases of the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six, but it illustrates what can happen when people get caught up in events. We all want to get the terrorists who bombed Omagh, but we will not get them by quick fixes or by bad legislation, because that will trigger an adverse reaction. Let us look at how other pieces of legislation have worked: the banning of Sinn Fein members' voices has already been mentioned, but the point is that the message still came through; people could not hear the voices, but they still heard the message.
I hope that the Bill does achieve some of the objectives set out by the Government. I hope that it will be proportionate, but it would be more proportionate if some of the amendments were accepted by the Government, especially the one that would ensure that solicitors were present throughout interviews in Northern Ireland. I would also argue strongly that some of the security forces' proposals should be scrutinised carefully in respect of their practicality. We all agree on the principle, but we must concentrate on the practicalities.
Clauses 5 to 7 have been mentioned by many hon. Members, so I shall content myself by asking two questions of the Minister. What worries me is the difficulty of distinguishing between a genuine charge and a trumped-up charge. How is the question of a person's innocence or otherwise to be determined? There are clear arguments in favour of laying down in the Bill procedures relating to the sort of evidence that will be admissible.
There is also the question of state-sponsored terrorism. How would we deal with, for example, the French secret service's actions in Auckland, or with the Central Intelligence Agency's activities in Nicaragua, if British people had been involved in either?
We have been told that British Crown personnel are exempt from the Bill, but what is the position of the people whom they employ—the Sandlines of this world? Will they be caught under the legislation for carrying out British Government policy, or will they be exempt, and what will be the consequences of any such exemption?
I will support the Government tonight, because it is important that the House sends a message of unity with the Dail, but I urge them to accept the amendments that have been tabled to improve the Bill and strengthen the safeguards so that its misuse cannot lead to support for the men of evil. Those people should be given no oxygen in the political vacuum that has been created. Let us not give them any renewed hope.
I support the Government's campaign against terrorism, but far more important than what we are doing today is the message of the peace process and of what is happening in Belfast through talks between the parties. Bringing the remaining terrorist organisations into the peace process will resolve the problems far more effectively than the Bill ever could.
Not many people were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 who could not have been jailed under other Acts. The same will be true of the Bill when it is enacted, and I implore the Government to accept the amendments that have been tabled.
We have heard many good contributions this evening, two of which made an especially strong impact on me. One was that of the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), which was the usual irrelevance that used to make me so angry, but which I can now pleasantly ignore. The other was that of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), for whom I have the highest regard, in that I know his genuine concern for the traditions of the House and the rights of its Members.
In the right hon. Gentleman's knockabout contribution—which was most entertaining; he has a talent that many of us wish we could emulate—we lost sight for a few moments of the serious issue. We are here because the largest single tragedy in 28 years of violence in Northern Ireland occurred a few Saturdays ago, and it is important to recognise that, whatever the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, if we follow him to the logical conclusion of his argument, we will have something in this country that is little better than anarchy. What he says is entertaining within the Chamber, but outside ordinary people have had to face the horror of terrorism for 28 years, and to drift down the road that he described would be to drift towards anarchy.
I do not want for one minute to diminish the horror of the Omagh incident, but I must remind right hon. and hon. Members that in 28 years more than 3,300 people have died at the hands of terrorists, among whom I must include the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), who was the commander of the unit of the IRA that placed a bomb in the window of the La Mon hotel and burned to death members of a canine club. He was commander of the unit in West Belfast that was responsible for bomb after bomb going off at Oxford street bus station in Belfast, killing many people who were going home. I do not regret that the efforts by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to bring that person to speak in the House were frustrated by the Government and by Madam Speaker.
When we view the legislation, we must consider the needs of society as a whole. I have never looked exclusively at the needs of Northern Ireland's Unionist or Protestant people. I look to the needs of society. I came into politics with the objective of helping people in Northern Ireland society to find a way to work together in partnership, sharing responsibility in a way that enabled us to have political stability and peace. I am trying to remember the age of my eldest child. He is 35 and he cannot recall a time when there was not violence in Northern Ireland.
It is against that background and not in a knockabout play on words that we must try to make a judgment. If I have anything to say to the Government it is not that I am concerned that the human rights of many people will be jeopardised. The human rights of people in Northern Ireland and, indeed, throughout this United Kingdom have been jeopardised only by the actions of terrorists over the past 28 years. Some mistakes have been reciprocal to the violence, but no Government set out to undermine the civil rights of people in our society.
Many of my colleagues regard me as being too liberal. [Interruption.] People may laugh, but there is always the difficulty and the danger that a Northern Ireland Member who tries to look at the interests of society as a whole is considered to be foolishly and naively liberal. People who have enthusiastically supported, as I have, the agreement of 10 April are considered by many to be naive and too liberal. It is because of my regard for that agreement that I do not want the Government to make the mistake that has been made by one Government after another. That mistake was not to take measures that endangered human rights but rather to take timid, inadequate measures that were too little and too late to protect lives in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Hull, North have said that we tried this and that and that it did not work. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, if Governments had not taken such measures, the bloodshed would have been much worse as two traditions, fearful of each other, would have been let loose, resulting in a much greater tragedy than the one that has occurred over the past 28 years.[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Chesterfield may shake his head, but those of us who have seen people fleeing to their ghettos, who have seen people move because of the intimidation of men of violence, can have little time for the simplistic arguments that we have heard tonight.
My concern is that the two measures that we are debating that will affect Northern Ireland are, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has already said in respect of one of the measures, inadequate.
I hope that the Minister will listen for a moment because I should like a response on my next point. May I have a clarification from him in respect of inferences to be drawn by the court should a person being questioned fail to mention a fact that is material to the offence and that he could reasonably be expected to mention? I refer to subsection (4)(b) of proposed new section 2A in clause 1 as it impacts on subsection (6)(a).
It seems that a substantial change is being applied in respect of questioning procedure in so far as a person being questioned will have to be given access to a solicitor before being questioned rather than at some time up to 48 hours after his arrest, as would apply if that person were being questioned specifically about, say, the Omagh atrocity.
Does that not mean that the membership offence has to be dealt with separately from any other offence, and that, in practice, arrests for membership will have to be exclusively for that purpose? In other words, is it true that the provision could not be applied where a person is first arrested in connection with a specific terrorist offence, such as the Omagh atrocity, where, for quite justifiable reasons, which I, the Minister and most hon. Members understand, the 48-hour embargo on solicitor access is applied, and when the matter of membership arises only as a secondary consideration? As the questioning continues a little progress may be made and it suddenly may become evident that there is one thing that can be proved based on intelligence and the questioning itself, and that is that the person is a member of an illegal organization.
The hon. Gentleman raises a fundamental issue—whether in those circumstances there would have to be a preliminary inquiry to determine whether such a person was a terrorist falling within the proscribed classes, which would enable the regulations to apply to him before he could then, in a subsequent terrorist offence, such as the bombing, be subject to the proofs that the new regulations provide.
Yes. The hon. and learned Gentleman will, I think, agree that in terms of complementing the existing legislation that enables us to deal with terrorists, this will be pretty useless. That is the point to which I should like a response.
I note that in proposed new section 2B in clause 1 the Secretary of State has the power to specify any organisation that she believes
has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire.
I am pleased that this part of the legislation refers to specified organisations. I do not want, and I do not think that we need, a great broad brush. I am content with that, but I would be interested in hearing details of the logical basis on which the Secretary of State makes that judgment.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to a number of incidents. I shall refer to three, which relate to the IRA, the UDA and the UVF respectively. Those are not specified organisations, nor are they likely to be. They are supposed to be observing a ceasefire—perhaps they are the "good terrorists" of the hon. Member for Hull, North.
The IRA, as we all know, shot Mr. Kearney and left him where he was bound to bleed to death. They callously killed him and we know that the senior member of the Provisional IRA was responsible for that incident. It is common knowledge. As we say, the dogs in the street know it.
There was an incident in Londonderry in which two Catholic brothers were shot. It is now known that that was by members of the UDA—I believe they have been charged—who have carried out other acts of terrorism for that organisation. That is admitted.
Most recently, there was the heist in east or north Belfast in the past week, when up to nine members of the UVF were caught trying to hijack a load of cigarettes or whiskey—I cannot remember what it was—in order to fund that illegal organization.
It is not the discretion of the police that worries me, but the discretion of those in charge of the Northern Ireland Office who are still dominated by the euphoria of the 10 April agreement. Whatever I might think of that agreement and however much I may support it, I am not overwhelmed by euphoria. I know that there is an uphill struggle that must be completed before the agreement can yield what we want it to yield. The politics of headlines and of soundbites are not enough at this time.
What were spoken of as voluntary contributions from various political organisations or paramilitary-linked political parties in the past are no longer to be voluntary contributions. In so far as those organisations have signed up to the Stormont agreement, those have become obligations, which must be met. The Government must stop trying to implement the agreement unilaterally. To do so is to destroy it for those of us who would be its strongest supporters. We will lose the confidence of society and with it our ability to carry the agreement forward in the way that we would wish.
I caution the Government seriously and without rancour to reassess how they legislate. Whether they will be persuaded to ameliorate the Bill tonight will be important. It needs to be stiffened up. I shall give an example of one of the nonsensical aspects of the Bill. One of the most impractical provisions in the Bill is that in clause 4(3), which refers to the forfeiture of the property of convicted terrorists. That should be able to happen, but what will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland do with the house or the pub somewhere in south Armagh when it is forfeit? Will she be able to sell it to another resident in the area? We know that it cannot be sold to another resident in the area. So should I expect to see our Secretary of State ordering the bulldozers down? It will be a little bit like more historical times—firing the thatch. I do not think that we are going to indulge in that either, so let us be very careful about property. I am not terribly sure that it can be disposed of. The worst thing that we can do is to seize property that cannot be disposed of and allow the person from whom it is seized to repossess it without paying any penalty.
There is increasing evidence that financial resources are held by terrorists and terrorist organisations. They are not being tackled at present because those who hold illegally obtained finances are supposed to be observing a ceasefire. There must be equity before the law for everyone. I do not believe that it will weaken the agreement one iota, harm the Government or harm any of us to have that equity before the law demonstrated as it should be demonstrated.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Government are serious about tracing illegal funding, one of the best places for them to start is with public expenditure in Northern Ireland? They should check up on all the miscellaneous expenditure by contractors, many of whom are still paying protection money.
That is something that, in the more than 15 years that I have been in the House, I have repeated again and again. I have heard colleagues raise this point. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it again. The Government must seriously look at the massive embezzlement of public funds—for example, the giros that go to convenience addresses. I know that that is not peculiar to Northern Ireland, but it has a significance in terms of terrorism there.
There are many things that one would want to get off one's chest on an occasion such as this, but I conclude by reminding the House why we need more stringent anti-terrorist legislation and why we cannot be content to finish with what we have in front of us tonight. I hope that the Government are serious when they say that they are examining the possibility of using wire-tap evidence and investigating other matters that have been suggested by the Chief Constable. I believe that those who have been involved in the process that led to the agreement are being forced, many of them reluctantly, to move inch by inch inexorably towards a democratic process, or at least towards decision point, where they have to jump the psychological hurdle from the Armalite and ballot box strategy to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. As they move, others are drifting away to the Real IRA and perhaps to other organizations—who knows? Those people have to be stopped now before they make an impression on the young.
No one has been caught for the Omagh bomb. No one has been charged. Young people will be impressed that Mr. McKevitt and others whom I could name have managed to elude the Brits, the Irish Government and the Dail. If they are not brought to justice, that will help with recruitment. For that reason, we should be trying to co-operate as far and as actively as we can with the Government of the Irish Republic—yes, to the extent of at least getting internment back on the statute book.
I do not think it is a secret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann and I met the Taoiseach in the wake of the Omagh bomb. Talking about the measures that he was going to introduce, he said that he had no intention of introducing internment at this stage, but that his great problem was that he may need it. He said that he intended ruthlessly to suppress the Real IRA, and if he wanted to intern, he would. He said that only one thing would hinder him—the fact that we did not have the ability to match and assist him because we no longer had internment on the statute book. I leave the Home Secretary with that thought, and I hope that he will respond.
The Bill comes at a critical moment in the development of the peace process. I believe that, for most of us, the presumption is favourable in the sense that we have to assume that now, after the Omagh bomb and after the successes of the peace process, it is sensible to take further action to crack down on the small groups that are defying the peace process. Realistically—one needs realism in dealing with the Ulster problem—that was not possible when there were very large organisations with broad popular support, but it now appears possible to isolate the small groups that are still defying public opinion across the whole of northern and southern Irish society. That provides a window of opportunity that the Government are seeking to seize through the Bill.
Despite comment in the media to the effect that the whole of northern Irish society is now behind the peace process and that people have revolted against the Omagh bomb, it would be a dangerous illusion to assume that there is not a small group of people still willing to use and committed to the way of the bomb and the bullet. After every atrocity, there has always been a group of such people; there are still such people today, and there will be in the foreseeable future.
I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the 250,000 people who voted no in the referendum—the number who now agree with them is growing—are to be associated in any way with those involved in armed violence alleged to be directed towards wrecking the peace process.
I made no such suggestion. I was saying that a small minority in various parts of the northern Irish community is still committed to armed violence. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with that assessment. We have to consider whether the Bill will enable the Government to stamp out, or at least remove, that minority from circulation without doing irreparable harm to human rights.
Like several hon. Members, I have reservations about the weight that the Bill places on the judgment of individual senior police officers. There have been too many cases in which police officers, being human like the rest of us, have come under pressure to solve an especially heinous crime, have found a suspect whom they felt was likely to have done it and have then taken short cuts. Given the nature of human beings, we have to accept that that will happen again, and that it is a risk inherent in this type of legislation.
For this window of opportunity, when a small, isolated group is defying the whole of Northern Irish society, it is worth taking that risk in the short term to take the group out of circulation. However, we need to avoid the temptation to create a new power that will last for as long as the PTA. Both sides of the House must recognise that this is an emergency power, which is being imposed because of a critical situation and that, in due course, we hope that it will be possible to move away from it. With that in mind, I want an assurance from the Minister that, when he makes his annual report on the state of this legislation, he will include an assessment of whether all aspects of the Bill are still necessary, whether it is still being actively applied, whether the application is satisfactory or whether the time has come to step back from this emergency power.
I said that we should proceed with the Bill despite those reservations principally because public confidence is critical at this point and it would be totally insane—and it would be seen to be insane—if terrorists planning to plant bombs in Northern Ireland fled there from southern Ireland to avoid similar provisions there. We have to match what the Dail decides in this matter—the two Governments and Parliaments need to move in step.
However, I would make a distinction for internment, which several hon. Members have raised. At present, internment is not proposed in southern Ireland. The reintroduction of that power would have a massive political impact in Northern Ireland, which could not be conducive to the present peaceful process. Those who suggest internment on the mainland have not seriously considered the impact that it would have, just as those who propose that we should break the Good Friday agreement by cancelling prisoner releases pending decommissioning have not seriously assessed the impact of that proposal.
The problem with clauses 5 to 7 can be precisely identified. Some hon. Members have said that the double test is sufficient to ensure that no one is victimised. They have said that, if an offence is a crime both here and in the other country in which it arises, there is no problem. The problem arises when the offence is a crime here, because we have a democratic alternative, and a crime in the other country, because opposition is not tolerated.
To give a concrete example, we talked about the African National Congress and its campaign against electricity pylons. If that were updated to today, and a group were planning to blow up pylons in a western European country, all of us would oppose it—although, because Brussels was involved, the Conservative party would support it, I suppose. We would speak with one voice within democratic western Europe, saying that such behaviour was totally unacceptable.
If the group were in a friendly, autocratic country, such as Saudi Arabia, it would be more difficult to reach a firm view. Possibly, our view of the action would in practice depend on the people who were carrying it out. There are popular and less popular opposition groups. We would be moving into dangerous terrain if we started judging the offence by whether we liked the people who were doing it, and whether we considered that they were in the democratic opposition or the fundamentalist opposition.
We could move a step further and consider the application to Iraq. If we read that the opposition there had decided to give up violent opposition to Saddam Hussein and were concentrating on electricity pylons, would we say, "This is a very serious offence; we must seize those people immediately"? Probably not.
In contrast to the private Member's Bill two years ago, this Bill provides a backstop—the Attorney-General, who has to decide whether to approve a prosecution if the possibility arises. However, as others have said, that can backfire, because at the moment if the Saudi ambassador says to us, "What that exile group is doing on your territory is shocking. What are you going to do about it?" we can say, "We are terribly sorry, but unfortunately our law does not allow us to do anything at all. Goodbye." That will not be possible in future. We shall have to say, "Well, the Attorney-General is a funny chap; he does not seem to want to do that."
We are delivering the Attorney-General into a difficult grey area of political judgment, in which either he will have to have clear, firm guidelines, as was suggested earlier, so that everybody knows where we stand, or he will have to make decisions from case to case, which will frequently cause a degree of political friction.
I seek two assurances in that regard. First, if the United Nations has passed resolutions relevant to the case, the Attorney-General should have to take them into account. Again I am taking the South African example. I believe that, if there is a resistance campaign that is sufficiently clearly in the right to attract United Nations support, no British Government should imprison people for non-terrorist acts in support of that campaign.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the House is the only body capable of making the judgment that he suggests, the idea of which I appreciate? If that is the system that he wishes to see in operation, would it not work effectively only through an annual report to the House saying which countries fall within the criteria and which without, so that the House could debate and decide the matter?
That is an interesting proposal; it would really throw the fat in the fire if we attempted to classify the world's nations into those to which we were prepared to support opposition and those to which we were not. I suspect that most British Governments would prefer to delegate such decisions to the United Nations Security Council, where we have a veto, but where we can also achieve a broader view.
The second assurance that I seek from the Minister is that the legislation should be used sympathetically in cases in which an organisation breaks the law only because it has been denied democratic options. I believe that, if there were a democratic alternative to illegal action, most of us would have little time for any group that did not take that alternative, but I hope that, if one did not exist, and the group were operating with restraint, the Government would view its activities in a somewhat different light.
Despite those reservations, I support the Bill. I believe that, in the last resort, that is our duty to the peace process and to the leaders of the political parties behind the peace process, who have taken a not inconsiderable personal risk; above all, it is our duty to the people of Northern Ireland, who have voted so overwhelmingly for the peace process and who look to us for their protection and support, to carry through that process into a durable peace for Northern Ireland.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Because of the lateness of the hour, I shall be brief. I am sure in common with many right hon. and hon. Members, I was pleased to break my holiday to come back and debate this important issue. It is enormously significant. I believe that everyone, from whichever side of the House they speak, agrees that the House should have been recalled in this way. I do so because I fully support the main thrust of the Bill.
One of the things about being on holiday that gives one a sense of perspective about these debates is the fact that one inevitably reads newspapers that are at least a day old. As I followed the discussions about the likely contents of the Bill, I acquired a sense of perspective. I noted from what I read that the word "draconian" was being bandied about. I believe that even the Home Secretary would accept, with hindsight, that this was a silly and demeaning bit of spinning, even by the Government's standards.
Then, this morning, as I sat fuming on the runway while my plane was waiting to obtain air traffic control clearance, I reflected that my colleagues in the House would be much better informed than I about the contents of the Bill. I was relatively reassured, therefore, to return to find that, in fact, colleagues had been able to get their hands on a draft of the Bill only at a very late stage yesterday. Indeed, different versions seem to have been floated past us as the debate has developed.
There have been delays in drafting the Bill. I accept that, in some cases, those were due to genuine changes of mind about the balance that should be achieved on individual issues. I accept what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), the shadow Home Secretary, said about the fact that we must accept some imprecision on these occasions because we accept the basic aspirations of the Bill.
I have said that I am in favour of effective and comprehensive anti-terrorist legislation. That is one reason why I introduced my Bill, the Jurisdiction (Conspiracy and Incitement) Bill, as a private Member's Bill. It is also why I shall dwell on clauses 5 to 7 of the Bill before us—clauses which, because of that very private Member's Bill, have already received scrutiny by the House in the recent past.
Terrorism can touch us all, whether we are talking about Omagh or about the quiet Sussex lane where my predecessor, Ian Gow, was murdered by the IRA. When I introduced my Bill, it struck me that it was an extraordinary loophole in our law that apparently people could conspire and incite to carry out such terrible acts in other countries without breaking English law. That is why I am interested in effective anti-terrorist legislation, not in petty wrangling about what happened to my Bill. I pay tribute to the Society of Conservative Lawyers, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), who, some years ago, presciently foresaw the problems that would have to be addressed in the Bill.
However, undeniably, when my Bill was before the House, it was Labour Back Benchers who forced a vote on the motion "That strangers do withdraw", and, despite the honeyed words of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) supporting my Bill, when it came to it, the official Opposition, as they then were, failed to go into the Division Lobby to support my Bill. Indeed, I remember Labour Members being shooed out of the Lobby by the then Labour Chief Whip.
However, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who has been consistent in his intelligent interest in my Bill and this Bill, and in his reservations about my Bill. In his earlier remarks he recognised his role, and that of his party, in the demise of my Bill.
Before the hon. Gentleman rewrites history too much, he must surely concede that, had he received the full support of the Government on whose behalf he was acting as agent with his private Member' s Bill—that is, if a sufficient number of Conservative Members had been asked to attend on the relevant day—there would have been no problem.
From the start, part of the difficulty was that no, or no adequate, safeguards were written into that Bill, but many Labour Members were happy for the Bill to proceed once the sifting mechanism with the Attorney-General had been added. However, the hon. Gentleman must surely accept that the Conservative Government had acted with insufficient commitment in not properly supporting his Bill by ensuring that Conservative Members were there.
I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's second set of points later in my speech, when they will arise naturally. As for his earlier comments, as I have said, I do not wish to become involved in a wrangle about whose fault it was; I am merely saying that it is not for the current Home Secretary to take credit for having always supported this Bill. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea, East for his consistency throughout the stages of my Bill, and, indeed, for his attitude to the current Bill, but I agree with him that we should not rewrite history. It is important for these matters to be put on the record.
The Bill has a long and distinguished provenance. I leave aside my own involvement, before which we had Lord Lloyd's report and the report of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, which I have mentioned. At the time of my Bill, I was grateful for the enthusiastic support of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who was then Home Secretary. It was ironic at the time—this was reflected in the comments of the hon. Member for Swansea, East during the debates—that the House had only recently supported a very similar measure applying to paedophilia and other activities in foreign countries.
Against all that background, I was a trifle taken aback when I heard the Prime Minister say in his statement earlier today:
We are therefore taking the opportunity of Parliament's recall to put into law long-held plans to make a criminal offence of conspiracy to commit offences outside the UK.
As I put it to the Home Secretary, what is the difference between then and now? There are no degrees of terrorism, whether it is hundreds in Nairobi or a single much-loved local Member of Parliament. When I introduced my Bill, a case was proceeding in the Old Bailey, which I quoted, in which those responsible—or allegedly responsible—for bombing the Israeli embassy here in London were using this very defence. It was a very current issue then, as indeed it is now.
I merely make the point—more in sorrow than in anger—that, if my Bill had received the support from all parts of the House that it deserved at the time, it would have been on the statute book for some 18 months.
Finally, let me touch on the reassurances that were in my Bill, and are in this Bill, for those on both sides of the House who have expressed concerns about civil liberties. The question of dual criminality, which has been discussed at length, is a major safeguard, ensuring that any offence that is brought before the courts must be an offence in this country as well as in the other country. If, in Iraq, for example, it is a criminal offence to publish pamphlets criticising Saddam Hussein, that will not be actionable in the courts in this country. We have, of course, the normal rules of the English legal system to protect the accused: charges must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt.
As for the safeguard of the Attorney-General, I think, with respect, that some Labour Members are misguided in regard to the sort of political decision or judgment that they think the Attorney-General may be called on to make in certain cases. I do not think that there is a major difference between this Bill and my Bill in that respect. In the earlier instance, the Director of Public Prosecutions became involved in the decision to prosecute; but, in any event—this was an error that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) fell into—the Attorney-General has always had the power to intervene in any prosecution in this country, under the nolle prosequi rule, if he sees fit.
There has been considerable agonising, both today and during the stages of my Bill, about one man's terrorist being another man's freedom fighter. That is not a problem with which Labour Members need wrestle; it does not come into this Bill, as it did not come into my Bill. Terrorism is not defined as such, and, as we said at the time of my Bill, it would be very difficult to define it. We must merely establish that a criminal offence has been committed both in this country and in the other country, and that it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
I emphasise that neither my Bill nor, I believe, this Bill was ever intended to discourage peaceful political protest and dissent from a foreign regime. After all, we are the country that allowed Karl Marx to sit in the reading room of the British museum, writing "Das Kapital". Long may such activity continue.
We will continue to be a safe haven for such people—not for those who abuse our hospitality by plotting mayhem and criminal acts overseas. We will ensure that those who abuse our hospitality by planning criminal actions in foreign countries—friendly or otherwise—are subject to our laws, and that has not been the case so far. For those reasons, and a number of others, I am happy to support the Bill.
I wish to explain briefly why I have put my name to the reasoned amendment, and I want to confine my remarks to the aspects of the Bill that deal with Northern Ireland. I want to say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), that it would help a large number of Labour Members and others if they would concede the point about having audio recordings of interviews in every case from day one, and if they would accept the provision that solicitors remain with those facing charges while interrogations take place.
I am going to say things that I do not mean to be offensive, and I do not want to upset people—especially colleagues from Northern Ireland. However, I will say directly to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in particular that he and some of his colleagues seem much happier living in the past than facing up to the future.
Regrettably, some of my Front-Bench colleagues do not seem to have appreciated what I regard as the highly significant developments in Northern Ireland since the dreadful outrage in Omagh. Things that happened before the House was recalled in response to what happened in Omagh give grounds for considerable hope and optimism. After the outrage in Omagh—and however sickening it was—the group that claimed responsibility for it, the so-called Real IRA, for the first time ever did not simply apologise, but went on to announce that they were no longer going to commit acts of violence. INLA had said earlier that they had given up violence.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein said that violence was
a thing of the past. Over, done with and gone.
Too many in this House, including the Government—perhaps they are too near it—have missed the real significance of those statements. What is important are some of the reasons that lie behind those statements. There is no question but that that is exactly the outcome that the Government, and all those who put their hands to the historic Good Friday agreement, wanted. They wanted the community in Northern Ireland to show that it was fed up with violence, and that it wanted to take the gun out of Irish politics.
The Secretary of State, in an article in The Observer, spoke about
the small number of individuals in groups on either side of the border who are still engaged in violence. These people have no support in the community.
That was demonstrated by the referendums on both sides of the border which endorsed the Good Friday agreement. Over the whole island of Ireland, nine out of every 10 people who voted in that referendum supported the agreement and made it clear that they had had enough of violence. However, they made something else clear.
This is what I think is being missed, and why Sinn Fein, the Real IRA and INLA have made the statements they have. In that referendum and in the reaction to the outrage in Omagh, the people of both traditions in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, the people in the Republic of Ireland—were saying that they were no longer going to hide the men and weapons that make these acts of terrorism possible. They were saying that they would no longer supply them with the information that has helped those on both sides of the argument, let it be said, and has made this violence possible.
Colleagues anywhere in the House can say to me that I am being wildly optimistic about this. What I argue is that at least this is a possible and credible explanation. It goes beyond the mere euphoria of that hard-negotiated Good Friday agreement and the result in both the referendum and elections in Northern Ireland that followed. It is of profound importance.
We all know—colleagues from Northern Ireland must know better than I, but we know it from other parts of the world—that no terrorist organisation can survive for any length of time without some support in the communities on whose behalf it claims to act. These groups cannot exist in isolation. They need people to provide the alibis, the information, the so-called safe houses to hide the people who have committed acts of terrorism and to hide the weapons under the beds, in the cupboards or wherever it is.
My interpretation of what has happened in Northern Ireland is that those facilities that have been available in both communities have now been withdrawn; otherwise, why would INLA or the Real IRA have made the statements that they have? There was no need for them to do that. My strong view is that it is at least open to that interpretation—they have now recognised that, if you like, their life support system has been withdrawn by the communities on which they previously relied.
The hon. Gentleman demonstrates the point that I made earlier about his great wish to live in the past. He knows as much as I do about the people who were responsible for the Omagh outrage—nothing. He may have his suspicions as to who they are and where they live. Indeed, some Northern Ireland Members have given names in this Chamber today. That is not proof and evidence.
I say to the hon. Gentleman again: please at least consider the possibility that the withdrawal of the life support system from these terrorist groups is really what has made them realise and accept that violence will no longer win support from those communities in Northern Ireland. That is my view. It will not be shared universally—I acknowledge that—but I ask the hon. Gentleman and others at least to consider it.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in particular and to his Front-Bench colleagues: what saddens me about their proposals is that implicit in them is the suggestion that nothing has changed in Northern Ireland, and that the only proper response to Omagh is to pile more anti-terrorist legislation on to what we have already.
The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) reminded us that he was in the House on the night the prevention of terrorism Bill was introduced—as a temporary measure to last for six months. So was I, although we voted in different Division lobbies. I come to the issue as a representative of the city of Birmingham, so I feel that I have a special responsibility to make judgments on what the Government are proposing for Northern Ireland.
It is no good pretending that legislation such as the prevention of terrorism Act will beat terrorism. It has not done so, and it will not, as the past 24 years have demonstrated. The Act has given a bonus to those on both sides who have engaged in violence by giving them martyrs—people in prison who can be used as recruiting sergeants and to raise cash.
The PTA has also done something more damaging. On the perjured evidence of police officers under oath, it persuaded jurors to convict the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and others in a long line of serious miscarriages of justice. Police officers lied on oath—officers whose word, together with the silence of the accused, could send someone to prison for up to 10 years under the Bill. We should all know what we are doing if there is a Division on Second Reading.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) gave us a quote from Lord Denning. The PTA led Lord Denning and a series of distinguished judges over many years to dismiss with contempt the appeals of those wrongly convicted of terrorist offences. The Birmingham Six fought for 15 years for the justice to which they were entitled.
Short cuts with justice lead inevitably to miscarriages of justice. Replacing the presumption of innocence to which a defendant is entitled with a presumption of guilt—as the Bill does, in my view—is wrong and risky, and encourages the police to take short cuts. The opinion of a police officer is not evidence; it is an opinion. As the Home Secretary has confirmed, if a defendant remains silent in the face of an accusation, that can be interpreted as corroboration of the opinion of a police officer. This will surely take the Home Secretary to the European Court of Human Rights, so I wonder what the justification is for running a real risk of miscarriages of justice.
Of course there should be a response to evil acts of major terrorism, but the proposals must face the tests of reasonableness, effectiveness and how they are likely to play with the public. They fail on each count, and will do nothing to encourage and support the strong majority in both parts of Ireland who have made it clear that those who turn to them for help in terror will no longer get it.
Nobody in their right mind would ever justify what happened in Omagh a few days ago. In my objections to several parts of the Bill, I hope that hon. Members will not consider me soft on terrorism. Perhaps I could be considered tough on civil liberties and the need to avoid denials of them. That might ring a bell with the Government Front Bench.
On such an important issue, some emergency action is needed in the national interest. Surely, such briefing as was available to Labour Back Benchers last week should have been made available to the rest of the House—[Interruption.] That there was some correspondence has been confirmed to me by some Labour Members; perhaps they were not telling the truth. In any case, there should have been some ground work before today, because the Bill is important and far-reaching.
The Government's attitude leaves a lot to be desired. The Bill was made available only at 5.55 pm yesterday, to be debated through all its stages today. The way in which the Bill is being dealt with has broken new ground in the House. It is the Government's fault that the unanimity of condemnation of what happened at Omagh has not been translated into unanimity of support for the Bill. Perhaps, if we had all had time to reflect, consider and reasonably discuss amendments with Ministers, we would be a little less fractious in the Chamber this evening.
The concept of introducing the opinion of a senior police officer as admissible evidence is a novel and highly dangerous one. I echo the views of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who made a fine speech on that point. Of course, opinions are often given as evidence in court. Such opinions will normally be the evidence of people who are experts in their field and who have been called as witnesses to assist the court. They will not be witnesses for the defence or for the prosecution, but witnesses to assist the court. That is what expert witnesses are. Their duty is not to secure a conviction—
I speak as a practising barrister. I shall gladly develop the point, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to argue it.
I do not want to take issue with the hon. Gentleman, but I have to tell him that, in my experience, witnesses, including expert witnesses, are called for both prosecution and defence to give their opinion in criminal cases.
If the hon. Gentleman reflects on that, he will realise that their first duty is always to the court. He might like to check that and to apologise in due course.
The value and quality of experts' evidence vary from one case to another and the evidence is sometimes flawed. The one fundamental flaw is that such evidence is too partisan, and that is the crux of the matter. This evening, the cab driver who brought me from Paddington asked me what was going on in the House of Commons and I told him. I could not explain much, because I had not seen the Bill; I was not in a position to explain anything other than what I too had read in the press. His comment was, "How can the policeman be independent in those circumstances? He wants to secure a conviction."
That comment may or may not be right. I am not anti-police—I speak as the son of a policeman and the brother of a serving policeman—but at the core of my argument is whether we are to entrust police officers with that extra role, which I believe goes beyond the bounds. In every walk of life, every trade and every profession, there are good and bad, but to have a bad policeman in this situation is to guarantee miscarriages of justice as surely as we are debating this point today.
After carnage such as that which occurred in Omagh, one can imagine a policeman being extremely anxious, upset and—quite naturally—angry. He would want to secure a conviction—to clear the books, as it were. That is the sort of background against which miscarriages of justice have occurred from the 1970s onward, which led to the formation of the new commission. That commission is still considering cases that are outstanding.
The Bill says that such evidence alone would have to be tested, and that is a welcome safeguard, but one can easily imagine that a defendant would feel disadvantaged if he had little evidence to support his case and a senior police officer was there to give an opinion on whether he was a member of a certain organization.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) blamed miscarriages of justice on what he called English juries. Far be it from me, as a Welshman, to defend English juries, but that is a ridiculous proposition, because if juries were persuaded by tainted evidence that was clearly not their fault.
We all know of the inequities involved in the sus laws and the way in which they worked in London, putting, in my view, unrestrained power in the hands of some police officers who misused it.
The Bill says that a senior police officer's evidence alone cannot secure a conviction, but the frightening thing is that such evidence, coupled with the exercise of what was, until very recently, an inalienable right to silence, would be enough to secure conviction. In other words, the opinion of an interested party, coupled with the suspect's silence, would be enough. That is a radical departure from the normal practice under the law obtaining in England and Wales.
I believe that the right to a fair trial is being undermined. We could all quote senior lawyers, civil liberties groups and others but, with all respect to them, we do not need their opinion because we need only look at the Bill and what it sets out to do. I am concerned, because people might exercise their right—or what was their right—to silence because they are not able to express themselves adequately or for a wealth of innocent reasons.
On clauses 5 to 7, I am not satisfied on the Mandela question. Consider, for example, the PKK, the Kurdish group fighting state terrorism and murder by Turkey. Its members might consider violence the only way of combating that terrorism—I do not know what they might be planning—in which case they would be in the firing line under the Bill. Their legitimate right to defend themselves from being gassed and bombed by the state would, it seems to me, be taken away. Other examples could include the Tamils. I am no supporter of violence for any political ends, but I live in a democracy in which we can argue our case rather than being bombed and gassed.
No one can deny that the events in Omagh were horrible, inexcusable and vile, or that measures should be taken to ensure that such an incident never happens again. With regret, I cannot in all conscience say that the Bill is the right vehicle. I believe that we should have had far more time in which to reflect and discuss. The great danger is that the very intention of the Bill, to defeat terrorism, will be completely subverted, and that it will fan the flames and create martyrs once again. I am thinking of the internment in the 1970s, which was known as the IRA's recruiting sergeant. Legislation in haste may well lead us to repent at leisure. The trouble with the Bill is not simply that it could increase difficulties in Ireland but could also negate the basic civil rights of many people throughout the United Kingdom.
Hon. Members have spoken about the need to move in tandem with the Republic of Ireland. I agree, but surely that does not mean speeding downhill without any idea of a destination. There should be more opportunity to discuss the Bill because it is not receiving reasonable scrutiny. I raised that with the Prime Minister earlier. We are not doing our job properly and to do that more time should have been allowed.
Hurried law is often bad law, and in that context one thinks of the poll tax and the Child Support Agency. The consequences of getting the Bill wrong are far more serious than the consequences that flowed from those flawed and disreputable pieces of legislation. If we legislate in haste we shall repent at leisure. I sincerely hope that I am wrong, but I have great forebodings about the Bill.
The debate was called at short notice, but it has been comprehensive and has shown the House at its best. Legitimate concerns about the speed at which the legislation is proceeding have been expressed by hon. Members in all parts of the House. We share some of those concerns, but we support the measure. We are delighted that the legislation will need to be renewed each year. That is right, and it will allay many genuine fears. We suggest a further move. Before the measure is confirmed for another year, there should be a publicised review so that we can see whether there are any errors.
The Minister and I suspect that the measure will not be perfect in all respects. We all hope that it will not need to be renewed a year from now because the proscribed organisations will no longer exist. If it does need to be renewed, we need to be totally satisfied that any mistakes that have been made now can be rectified. I am sure that that would be in the interests of civil liberty and good law.
The debate has had several positive aspects. First, it has shown our Parliament united against the men of violence, appalled by what happened in Omagh, and determined to ensure that it never happens again. Secondly, all hon. Members are delighted that there is such close co-operation between our Government and security forces and those of the Republic of Ireland. Terrorism will be defeated only when there is complete co-operation north and south of the border. We are delighted to note that that seems to be taking place.
We shall vote in favour of Second Reading because, on balance, the first duty of the House, and certainly Government's first duty, is to ensure that ordinary people are properly protected. The modest measures supplement existing anti-terrorist legislation and will go some small way towards increasing the probability that innocent people will not be murdered. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) raised an important idea which must be explored further when he said that there should be an amnesty for farmers. That is a positive way forward.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) suggested that Conservative Members had some form of nostalgia for internment. I refute that straight away. Neither I nor any of my right hon. and hon. Friends are saying that internment should be reintroduced now. But what I said from the Dispatch Box last autumn when advising the Government that they were wrong to take internment off the statute book was that we all hope and pray that there will be a settlement and that, if there is a settlement, Irish history dictates that splinter groups from both communities will not support it, but rather use every effort to destabilise it and extreme violence. In those circumstances, it is just possible that internment should be used.
That is precisely why the Government of the Republic have not taken internment off the statute book. We believe that, when the Prime Minister said again and again on television during the past few weeks that it is hugely advantageous for British and Irish legislation to be identical in this area, it is a glaring anomaly that the Irish Government have kept internment on the statute book while, quite wrongly, this Government removed it last autumn.
It is not good enough to say that internment can be returned to the statute book in due course. The whole benefit of internment, if ever we need it, is the element of surprise, which will be lost if we have to come back to the House first, allowing those who might need to be interned to escape. I hope that the Government will think again and admit that they made an error of judgment which is now seen to be quite wrong.
I strongly agree with those hon. Members who have said that this legislation alone will not end violence. Another important element, which I was pleased to note that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary endorsed, is the total decommissioning of all arms and explosives. A small step forward was made when Mr. Adams yesterday renounced violence. A further small step forward was taken today when it was announced that Mr. Martin McGuinness would be the negotiator or representative of Sinn Fein-IRA with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning. We welcome both those small steps.
But Sinn Fein-IRA must match those tough words with equally firm action. We must see full co-operation with the commission and that very soon must mean the handing in of arms and explosives which Sinn Fein and the loyalist paramilitary parties signed up to on Good Friday as part of the Belfast agreement.
I do not require a response now on the detailed points that I am about to make, but I would appreciate the Minister taking note of them. When I was in Omagh last week, local councillors, the chamber of commerce and members of the public were anxious on three specific points, which I am sure they have raised with him but which I promised that I would underline today.
The first point is the that Tyrone County hospital is under threat of closure and local people believe that, if it had been closed, there would have been more deaths than in fact occurred. I hope that the future of the hospital will be sensitively considered by Ministers. Secondly, the people of Omagh believe that there is an urgent need for economic regeneration and financial help for the business community. Thirdly, those shopkeepers who have lost their properties are worried about betterment and the additional costs that they will incur. I know that the Minister will do his best, along with this ministerial colleagues to allay those genuine fears from a brave community that is still in a state of shock and trauma.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the speech from the Front Bench, but as I understand it, the debate was to be open-ended. A number of us have been present throughout the debate but have been unable to contribute so far. Are you proposing to accept a Division at the conclusion of the speech from the Front Bench?
I do not comment on these matters. The hon. Gentleman should not question my judgment. I have few powers in the House, but I am entitled to call whomever I want. I have called Adam Ingram.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that exercise of your wise discretion.
The debate is conducted in the shadow of the Omagh bomb masterminded and exploded by the enemies of democracy. It also takes place in the shadow of the terrible events in Kenya, Tanzania and Cape Town. Against that background there can be no argument about the weight that the House attaches to today's debate.
I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. Many have signalled their support for the measures that the Government seek to introduce, and I am grateful for their support. However, it is clear that there are a number of outstanding questions. I shall deal with as many as possible in the time available to me. In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke for an hour and a quarter. That was a result of the number of interventions that he took, and he addressed many of the doubts and concerns that hon. Members expressed.
I shall begin by dealing with the civil liberties concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), among others. The Government are committed to human rights throughout the United Kingdom. Measures in the Bill reflect European convention on human rights rulings and concerns about uncorroborated evidence, and provide a number of important safeguards. In our view, they do not conflict with international human rights obligations, nor do they enhance the risk of miscarriages of justice, as some hon. Members claimed during the debate.
I thank the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who spoke on behalf of the official Opposition, for his general welcome for the Bill. I recognise the importance of his point about the procedure that is implied, and clearly it would have been better if matters had progressed in a different way. That would have happened, had it not been for the horror of Omagh and the other reasons given by my right hon. Friend in his opening statement.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield raised, as did other hon. Members, the issue of internment. I make the point that I have made from the Dispatch Box in earlier debates, because it is worth making as part of the rounded judgment on the matter. If internment over the past 20 years had been deemed to be an effective tool against terrorism at a time when terrorism was at its height, it would have been used by the previous Government. It never was. A judgment had to be made about whether, by retaining internment on the statute book, anything was to be gained for the confidence-building approach that we were trying to move forward. A decision was taken to remove it, in the light of experience. It had never been used at a time of heightened terrorist activity.
We have said all along that we will reintroduce internment if there is a need to do so. Of course that does not need to be done on the basis of a specific and immediate threat. It could be brought back on to the statute book because of a perceived change of circumstances and could be used later, if need be.
The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) asked about the annual review of the legislation. He rightly pointed out that there is provision for that, and went on to ask about the mechanism and whether there would be a public review in advance of that. I can give him that assurance: that is the Government's intention. It is right that the legislation should be scrutinised and assessed not just by the House, but by the wider public.
The Bill for the Scottish Parliament is in place and we are entering into a debate on amendments to the Scottish legislation. That is a matter to which my hon. Friend may return if she so wishes, but clearly the first review—in March next year—will take place before the Scottish Parliament sits.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) raised in a number of interventions questions about the long title of the Bill, including issues relating to the release of prisoners. Nothing in the Bill affects the prisoner release programme under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. However, a prisoner cannot be released under that Act if he is likely to become a supporter of a specified organisation such as the Real IRA. If the RUC or any other UK force has intelligence to the effect that a prisoner will become a supporter of such an organisation, that information should be passed to the sentence review commissioners appointed under the Act and will be taken into account by them when considering whether to release a prisoner.
The Minister may note that he has just used the expression "a supporter of": that is not what clause 1 says. It refers to a person who "belongs to an organisation". The amendment in my name uses the words that he just used—"or is a supporter of". I should be grateful for his confirmation that that amendment would be acceptable in those circumstances.
If the hon. Gentleman's amendment is called for debate, we should discuss it during that debate rather than at this stage, given the progress on the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and others made very strong points about the confidence that would be created in the legislation if audio recording were included in clauses 1 and 2. We are actively looking at ways of implementing that suggestion. I would have liked to be able to announce this evening that we were implementing it. He is aware, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intimated, that we already have the provision on the statute book. We are introducing codes of practice and there was an intention to implement it at an early stage. We are now looking at ways in which that can be done as quickly as possible. I give my hon. Friend the commitment that every effort will be made to seek compliance with that approach.
The phrase "as quickly as possible" has been around for some months now. I want to know whether people arrested under the Bill will be subject to audio recording when they are interviewed in holding centres.
I am trying to give my hon. Friend as strong an assurance as I can on this point. I have taken on board the strong representations that he and others have made in this debate, and in the time available—the past few hours—I have been considering ways of implementing audio recording. That effort will continue in the days ahead.
The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made a valuable contribution to the debate, and I welcome his general support for the measure, especially for the clauses relating to Northern Ireland. He is right in his assessment that the House would not accept the word of a senior police officer as being sufficient to prosecute. For that reason, the Bill has been drafted to bring other elements into play. He is also right in his assertion of the importance of co-operation between the United Kingdom Government and the Irish Government, and between the RUC and the Garda Siochana. He has played his part in bringing about much of the positive development in the co-operation between the Governments and the police forces in the two jurisdictions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) made another of his strong and informed contributions. He brings considerable knowledge to the issue, and I thank him for his very robust defence of the measure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North made several detailed points. He spoke specifically to the clause relating to forfeiture and asserted that it conflicted with the European convention on human rights. Clause 4 provides for forfeiture orders on conviction for membership of specified organisations. It is similar in its impact to section 13 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. The legal advice that I have is that it does not breach the ECHR. My hon. Friend has his opinion, but our advice is different. In these cases, the trial will be concluded in the normal way. The question of forfeiture arises only in the event of conviction. It will be considered case by case in the courts, and any person claiming to have an interest in the property has a right to be heard by virtue of clause 4(4).
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) also raised issues relating to the forfeiture elements of the Bill and to the safeguards for dependants. We shall probably be able to discuss that when we consider the Bill's remaining stages. However, I have checked on that very point, and I am advised that inclusion of specific safeguards is not necessary because the court will already take account of such matters. Again, we may want to deal with that in due course.
I thank the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) for his comments. He said that there was a need to recall Parliament—indeed, many right hon. and hon. Members commented on the correctness of that approach—and that there was a need to act in concert with the Irish Government. I noted his comments about internment. I think that I have responded to the remarks made by other hon. Members on that issue.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann made several specific points, one in relation to the recommendations that the Chief Constable of the RUC has said he would like to be implemented in law. All those issues are now being considered as part of the comprehensive review of anti-terrorism legislation, and they will be given due weight.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann also mentioned the Irish National Liberation Army and the Loyalist Volunteer Force and their current approach towards the ceasefire. Every encouragement will be given to those groups to prove that their declaration of a ceasefire means what they say, in words and deeds. If, on the evidence, we are satisfied that their ceasefire is unequivocal, they can be treated as other groups that have implemented unequivocal ceasefires.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann also asked about the effectiveness of the membership provisions in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already given a frank assessment of this matter, drawing on the Chief Constable's views. Convictions are a matter for the courts. An independent judiciary is essential in any democratic country. It is the Executive's role to provide the legislative framework within which that judiciary works. The proposals are important additions to the anti-terrorist laws available to the RUC.
It will be important to assess how the legislation works. After all, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South has predicted that large numbers will be subject to the new powers, while others have argued that no one will be arrested. We have different opinions on how the legislation will take effect, and only time will tell. In any event, it will be done via the due process of law, not by the determination of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) asked two questions. First, he asked whether a conviction was possible on the basis of a superintendent's opinion and inference from a failure to mention a material fact. The answer to that question is yes.
Secondly, my hon. Friend asked whether subsection (10) of new section 2A in clause 1 would alter the law of evidence in Scotland. Scottish law normally requires two pieces of evidence for a conviction. The provision allows for a conviction for membership to be on the basis of some evidence and an inference drawn from failure to mention a material fact, which makes the provision the same in Scotland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Without it, the inference could not be taken into account in deciding whether the accused were guilty as charged. We may be able to debate that matter again at length when we deal with the remaining stages of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) raised a number of issues in a strong contribution to the debate. On the most important—the relevance of the inferences element of the Bill—the ability to draw such inferences will apply in any case in which the accused has been charged with the membership offence. The fact that other offences have been charged is not relevant. The inferences that can be drawn relate only to membership of a specified, proscribed organisation.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the disposal of property and what would happen to seized property that could not be disposed of under clause 4, the forfeiture clause. That is dealt with in the detailed regime in schedule 4 to the PTA. Property can be sold. A receiver can realise land and pay the proceeds to a proper officer—that is, a court clerk. Any balance in the hands of the officer is treated as a fine going into the public coffers. Of course, that is subject to any claim that another person might have over the property.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I think that he missed the point that I was trying to make about the inference aspect of the Bill, in so far as I was asking whether, because of the different times at which access to a solicitor is possible, the new provision would be complementary to the existing provisions, or whether it would have to be treated separately.
I am probably still misunderstanding the point at this late stage. The inference cannot be brought into play until the accused has the opportunity to speak to a solicitor, which is an important protection for the individual in those circumstances. The point about inference is that it relates only to membership or alleged membership of an organisation, and can be used only in such circumstances. Clearly, an officer could be investigating other terrorist-related crimes when he comes across the possibility of membership. Those issues are separated out. The inferences to be drawn from silence relate only to the second element and not to the first. I hope that that has answered the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) asked about the continuing need for the measures in the Bill. Since it has been designed to deal with a specific set of circumstances, it will remain in force as long as it can be put to good effect. I mentioned the need for a comprehensive review of anti-terrorism legislation, which we are undertaking, and the Home Secretary has given assurances on that and on the annual review that will take place, in line with a published report.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned clauses 5 and 6. In deciding whether to bring a prosecution under those clauses, the authorities, including the Attorney-General, will consider the public interest, the human rights situation in the country in which the offence is to be committed—[Interruption.]