Clause 40

Part of Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 18th January 2007.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office 3:15 pm, 18th January 2007

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman wants to give the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny to these important and significant powers. However, the level of parliamentary scrutiny that is implied in his amendment is unnecessary and I shall explain why.

We have been through an extensive process in considering the powers in part 17 of the Terrorism Act 2000, many of which are being repealed and not being replaced. However, we are replacing those that we regard as necessary to deal with the ongoing situation and the risks that may arise as a result of it. We have already reduced to a minimum the powers in the Bill.

We all look forward to the day when the situation in Northern Ireland is as secure as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom and we work to that end, but at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, we have to prepare on the basis that an additional risk of serious public disorder exists in Northern Ireland. None of us wants it, but what happened at Whiterock shows that such events may still take place. It is a matter of record that, since last summer, the activities of dissident republican groups have caused about £25 million-worth of criminal damage. There is still a residual dissident threat and a threat of paramilitaries feeding into and off organised crime.

The remaining threat must be taken seriously and it may remain for a considerable time. All of us—the police, politicians and communities—do what we can to counter that threat and to build the conditions for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, but it is likely that these powers will be needed for some time. I will come later to the accountability mechanisms.

I will repeat what I said in an earlier debate about the role of the independent reviewer. He will report to the Secretary of State on the working of the new powers and the Secretary of State must then place his report before Parliament on an annual basis. There will be no question of the Secretary of State making secret judgments that no one knows about; the report will have to be placed before Parliament and on the record. Members of the House will be able to scrutinise the report and to ask questions about it. That is a sufficient and proportionate level of accountability; it is not necessary to return to the House every year to renew the powers in the clause.