Clause 25

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 18th January 2007.

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Premises: vehicles, &c.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 2:45 pm, 18th January 2007

Clause 25 takes the powers inclause 23, which we have already debated and agreed, and applies them to vehicles. The powers to stop and search a person for explosives or to stop and search someone in a car have been among the most controversial powers in Northern Ireland. They were used systematically and were seen by many as a tool for harassment because there was no requirement for reasonable suspicion. Anyone in a public place or anyone making a journey by car, whether every day for business, or for a Sunday run over the border from Derry, could be searched at any time—and that happened. Whatever justification there may have been for that in the past, when a significant number of explosions were happening in Northern Ireland, we are now at a point when the power is not necessary. Unfortunately, there are still some explosions, but the number is far less than it was.

We should not follow the logic of everything that the Government tell us about the threat of terrorism in Britain. The threat posed by al-Qaeda in Britain is far greater that that posed by domestic terrorism in Northern Ireland, yet Britain has no equivalent to the powers in clauses 23 and 25 or schedule 3. I therefore oppose the clause standing part. If people cannot justify those powers in Great Britain, given the threat of terrorism and explosions there, how can they be justified in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

I have already made it clear that it is necessary to counter the threat of international terrorism. We discussed the matter extensively in the early stage of our deliberations. In clause 25, we seek to put in place powers that will enable the police and the Army to deal with the terrorist threat that is specific to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Does the Minister not find the arguments of the hon. Member for Foyle most unusual given the fact that a number of members of his party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, who were also members of district policing partnerships and the Police Board have had their homes attacked by people who carried explosives to those homes and then threw the bombs at them?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

I give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle and members of his party; they have indeed taken a risk in recent years by showing their support for the police and the rule of law and being prepared to engage with the issues. Some of them have paid a heavy price. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to acknowledge and applaud that. They have given a lead, and it has not always been easy. If my hon. Friend wishes to respond, I am sure that he will find an opportunity to do so.

Clause 25 clarifies certain powers, particularly the power to stop and search a vehicle. That is important in respect of Northern Ireland and the type of threats  that we are discussing. Obviously, people can move vehicles round with explosives in them so we must provide such powers. There is also a power under the clause that requires someone to remain with a vehicle or to go with it when it is searched for munitions and transmitters. That is necessary as individuals could attempt to walk away from a vehicle that is being searched. We have thought through the matter carefully and believe that such powers are necessary in respect of both premises and vehicles. I encourage the Committee to support the clause.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 1.

Division number 12 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 25

Aye: 16 MPs

No: 1 MP

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.