HC Deb 15 March 2000 vol 346 cc350-63

'.—(1) This Part shall, by virtue of this subsection, cease to have effect at the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which it is brought into force.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order provide that a provision of this Part shall cease to have effect.'.—[Mr. McNamara.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. McNamara

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 8—Expiry and revival (No. 2)

'(1) This Act shall (subject to subsection (2)) cease to have effect at the end of the period of five years beginning with the day on which the Act is brought into force.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order provide—

  1. (a) that a provision of this Act which is in force (whether or not by virtue of this subsection) shall continue in force for a specific period not exceeding five years;
  2. (b) that a provision of this Act shall cease to have effect;
  3. 351
  4. (c) that a provision of this Act which is not in force (whether or not by virtue of this subsection) shall come into force and remain in force for a specified period not exceeding five years.

(3) An order under subsection (2) shall be made by statutory instrument; and no such order shall be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.'.

Amendment No. 143, in page 51, line 38, leave out Clause 111.

Mr. McNamara

Later this evening, we shall debate the prevention of terrorism order for the last time, and my new clause draws attention to that. The lifespan of part VII, which deals specifically with Northern Ireland, is five years. That seems unacceptably long in the absence of a debate, which we have had in the past, to decide whether these extraordinary powers, or some of them, should be reconsidered or continued or repealed.

My new clause proposes that part VII have effect for only a year, with the provision that the Secretary of State should be able to lift certain of its requirements at times. I do not believe that that is unreasonable. Had I had the time and thought more carefully, I should have drafted it to include a renewal order so that we could consider that matter. Unfortunately, I did not do so. Even so, we have the Government's undertaking that there will be an annual independent review of the Bill's operation, but we have not had an undertaking that the review will be debated. Nor have we had an undertaking that notice will be taken of the reviewers' suggestions on additions or deletions. In the past, proposed deletions have nearly always been ignored and proposed additions have always been seized on and included.

If the Government have related part VII specially and specifically to Northern Ireland, it should be subject to statutory review. Northern Ireland is, sadly, an unhappy part of the country at present and specific legislation deals with the problems there. We hope that those problems will go away and that the Good Friday agreement will be implemented, but we should nevertheless examine the legislation, and very much so.

An associated matter has been a disappointment. The criminal law review in Northern Ireland has progressed slowly. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office has said that he hoped that it would be completed either when we were dealing with the later stages of consideration of the Bill or before Easter, possibly in the other place. I do not hold it against him that it has not been completed, but I am concerned that we are passing legislation without having a proper opportunity to review it and without any undertakings being given about the Government's attitude to that review and what changes will be made in respect of part VII. That is the burden of my case.

We are considering serious legislation specific to one part of the United Kingdom and the precedent has been that we examine such legislation every year. We should do so again. If my new clause does not meet the precise requirements, I am happy to leave it to my right hon. Friend to draft a fresh one for the other place, but I believe that the House would abdicate its responsibility if it did not at least provide for renewal orders relating to the implementation of the Bill.

I believe that in happier days, when this legislation was first considered, we hoped that the Good Friday agreement would be implemented, and that—apart from having to deal with a few dissidents—the legislation might disappear for ever. That may happen—I hope that it will—but, just in case it does not, we should have an opportunity to examine the way in which the legislation is dealt with, especially the parts introduced as a result of the terrible Omagh bombing.

6.30 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

The new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), whom I am happy to follow, relates specifically to part VII—the Northern Ireland section that we debated in Committee with the Minister and some of our colleagues.

I told the Minister and the Committee that it was our considered view that it was right for us to look forward to the early conclusion of special powers for Northern Ireland and right for those powers to be reviewed regularly on the basis of a report and the agreement of Parliament, but that we were happy for the end of the period concerned to remain unspecified for the moment. There is a backstop of five years. The Government would have to return to Parliament again if other existing legislation were repealed or changed once this law was enacted. We felt, however, that there must be a degree of flexibility.

As the Minister may remember, since the Committee stage, I have visited Northern Ireland to talk to people about, specifically, aspects of the Bill that relate to the Province. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the widespread view across the political parties and the community divides, and among senior members of the police service—and elsewhere—that action should be taken as quickly as possible to restore the normal processes of the court structure: hearings, trials and police procedures. They hoped that that would happen much sooner than in five years' time. No one argued to the contrary, which I found encouraging.

New clause 8 concerns a linked but different issue. We have what is, in effect, renewable legislation. The Bill will introduce permanent legislation. Even after the courteous and reasonable debate in which we engaged with the Minister in Committee, my hon. Friends and I are not persuaded that we should move, all in one go, to a UK-wide Bill of a permanent nature.

We are persuaded—indeed, we have always argued the case; I have argued it since I became my party's home affairs spokesman—that there should be UK-wide legislation, rather than legislation treating Northern Ireland separately from Great Britain. One of the reasons why I always thought that the old legislation was improper, and never voted for it, was the fact that it contained exclusion clauses, and treated citizens of one country as though they could be compartmentalised. We consider UK-wide legislation to be entirely proper, as the Minister knows.

However, we consider it dangerous to table a Bill that is not just UK-wide but much more far-reaching, without giving Parliament a chance to bring it back to see how it is being implemented. New clause 8 suggests that, once enacted, the Act should cease to have effect five years after enactment without Parliament's approving its continuance. Its maximum length would therefore be the maximum length of a Parliament, although a Government could return to it before that. We think that such a safeguard is necessary.

I will not go into details, but we need to be particularly attentive about two actions that we are taking in the Bill. We are creating permanent UK anti-terrorism legislation, and we are extending its remit. We will discuss definitions later, but I am not talking just about what is defined as terrorism; I am talking about the definition of the powers given to the authorities of the state—the police, the courts, and others.

Exceptional measures—steps towards the removal of liberty and the increasing of state powers—should be taken with great care in a democratic country. We have been careful and we are careful, but we are in danger of unwittingly not being careful if we suddenly sign up to legislation that will come back only if whichever party is in power brings it back, or if a majority in the House wants to bring it back. The new clause would enable all Members, from all parts of the United Kingdom, to debate the issue.

Let me say a word particularly to my Northern Ireland colleagues, from whose expertise—exemplified by the contributions of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis)—we benefited during much of the Committee stage. Until Northern Ireland is at peace, which we pray will be soon, we must ensure that all of us—not just a corner of the House in which Northern Ireland Members talk to each other and to Northern Ireland Ministers—can learn from their experience.

I think that subsection (2) deals with one of the two objections raised by the Minister in Committee. He suggested that the requirement for the Act as a whole to be brought back within five years was an inflexible tool. Subsection (2) would allow certain parts of the Act to be continued, certain parts to be discontinued, and certain parts that had been discontinued to be brought back. It is not inflexible: it is possible to look at each and every clause and to say, "This is right" and, "This is wrong."

Of course, if we wanted to amend the legislation, there would have to be a process allowing that, but there is no reason why we could not do what we are doing today—coincidentally. There is no reason why we should not include in our debate both a Bill to amend existing legislation and an order to continue or discontinue part of it. It would be logical to do both at the same time.

The Minister argued, perfectly reasonably, that we might need to act more quickly. In Committee, I said that I had been advised, and feared, that the Bill as drafted might contain breaches of the European convention on human rights, and that, if the European Court made a finding similar to its finding in the Bulger case in December, the Home Secretary would have to come to the House and announce a change in the law, or the procedure.

That is, of course, true. At any stage, if there is a ruling against the Government that relates to legislation, the Government must come back to the House. Let me point out to the Minister, however, that the new clause does not suggest that the legislation can come back only every five years; it provides a backstop. Of course, if we find that, despite the Home Secretary's declaration on the front of the Bill, the Bill breaches the convention, it will have to come back earlier; but I hope that members of all parties will learn the lesson that we all painfully learned in two ways two years ago.

After the Omagh bombing, which was painful enough in itself, we returned to the House for two days in September 1998 to pass yet more emergency legislation. That was not good legislating, as anyone involved will recall. We legislated in haste, and, as Ministers confirmed in Committee, much of the legislation has never been used. Perhaps none of it has. That is the practical implication of what was done. Sometimes—indeed, nearly always—it is better to have a opportunity to consider, to reflect on what needs to be done and to take advice. In the case of this Bill, we have taken account of a report by Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and have consulted the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which was established by a governmental statutory body. It is certainly the commission's view that we should not have permanent legislation.

Interestingly, in all my discussions in Northern Ireland last month, and without naming any individual—I talked to very senior representatives of the relevant parts of society—no one argued for permanent legislation. They said not only that there should not be permanent legislation in Northern Ireland—let alone in Great Britain—but that there was benefit in reviewable and renewable legislation.

One person convincingly put the following argument to me. If we have special powers and there is a group in the community that feels that it is oppressed, troubled, or likely to be the targets of those powers, it is much better for the law and order agency—the police or armed services—to be able to say that those will be reviewed in time and are not a permanent part of the state, than for people to feel that there will be no opportunity for a review that is apart from the forces of law and order.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Omagh bombing. Does he not accept that, at the time of the bombing, there was a great desire among the British and Irish Governments to work together as far as possible and to ensure that legislation on both sides of the border was consistent, so that people could not play the game of moving from one side to the other? Does he accept that that was one of the motivations that led to the legislation being introduced? Whether it was good legislation or not, does he at least accept that, at the time, the motives for introducing it were, effectively, to try to combat terrorist organisations that used the different jurisdictions to avoid detection or arrest?

Mr. Hughes

I accept that. The hon. Gentleman is right.

Mr. McNamara

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the courts in the Republic are now very reluctant to use that particular legislation and are not accepting the word merely of a senior police officer? They are looking for other things and more corroboration. We should not legislate in this country just to meet the needs of the Republic of Ireland. He might remember that, when these matters were discussed, Downing street's official spokesman issued statements saying that we did not need stronger legislation, as we already had all that we needed. All that we were doing was legislating to please the Irish Government and, incidentally, the Home Office and the Saudis.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is right. Both points raise an important issue. I was going to make a linked point. There is every benefit in being in touch with the Irish Government and the Irish Parliament and knowing what they are thinking. There is clearly every benefit in compatible systems north and south of the border to deal with people who can easily go back and forth across the border every day.

However, one of the reasons why we would be wrong to enact permanent legislation is that, at this very moment in Ireland, a review of the constitutional provisions is going on. It has not been concluded. It has touched on the Disqualifications Bill, which we considered in December and January.

There is some sense both in retaining independence, so that we can do what we think is best for this country, and in at least trying to understand what is happening elsewhere and not anticipating something: the Republic may come to a different conclusion as a result of the review. The unanimous view in Northern Ireland was that we should not have permanent legislation. One of the things that seem to strengthen that case is that there is a review of the legislation in the Republic and that it would be helpful to be able to take changes into account. If we have permanent legislation on the statute book, by definition, we will not be able to look at the matter again in the light of what is going on in Ireland.

6.45 pm

One of the places that I went to when I was in Northern Ireland again recently was South Armagh, which has suffered as much as anywhere, if not more. There were clearly differences of view about some of the details of what is going on in terms of the whole settlement process in Northern Ireland, but on one thing there was no controversy: if we had an exceptional set of powers—which are clearly needed at the moment—the people of Northern Ireland, their representatives in this Parliament and in the Assembly should be able to play a part in discussing how they should be continued.

Once we put something permanent on to the statute book, the chance of being able to have such a debate—involving Members in the Northern Ireland Assembly, listening to people in local government in Northern Ireland, talking to the Royal Ulster Constabulary—goes. It is locked in, and only the Government can press a button that unlocks it.

I ask colleagues on both sides of the House, and the Government in particular, to think again about their view that we do not need reviewable legislation. The Minister offered a concession, or came forward with a proposal in Committee that was welcome—a periodic report on the legislation will be laid before Parliament, as happens now—but it does not go far enough. There is all the difference in the political world between a report that we can read and legislation that has to come to Parliament to continue, or to be altered. I urge the House as strongly as I can to vote for our new clause, in the hope that we get terrorism legislation that Parliament can keep regularly under review at least once every Parliament.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I have some sympathy for the observations of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) on the need for impermanent legislation. He called it renewable legislation.

I support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I listened carefully to what he said. He talked about an independent review, whereas the hon. Gentleman talked about a periodic report. I was not on the Committee, but an independent review sounds more powerful than a periodic report. If an independent review has been promised, that is reassuring.

I agree with my hon. Friend that such a review should be debated in the House, so that all sorts of concerns can be raised. There are some powerful elements in this part. I mention three at a glance: clauses 97, 98 and 99, which deal with the independent assessor of military complaints procedures, the code of practice on police and Army powers and the code of practice on video recording respectively. A debate such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend would give us the opportunity to voice concerns about the imperfections of those clauses, or about where they could be strengthened or modified.

It may not be feasible in parliamentary terms, but my view is that it would be better to submit such an independent report to a Select Committee for examination. A three-hour or five-hour debate in this place does not allow for the cross-examination of Ministers that a Select Committee hearing allows.

With respect—it certainly does not apply to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office—I have heard Ministers brush aside questions on important issues from the Opposition and others. That cannot be done within the framework of a Select Committee investigation. I am not suggesting for one moment that he conducted himself in that way when I questioned him, but I make a serious point. It is one that I made in relation to the Sierra Leone affair. I told the Foreign Secretary at the time that it was good that he had offered to make a statement from the Dispatch Box, but that it would be better for all concerned that that matter should be subjected to a Select Committee inquiry.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I hope that the hon. Gentleman did not think that I was arguing that we should not have an annual report or an opportunity for the matter to be taken before a Select Committee. The question is whether we also have the ability over a longer period—five years as opposed to every year—for Parliament to be able to make a positive decision that it wants the legislation, whole or in part, to go on. They are not incompatible.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful for that clarification and reassurance. I thought that I was listening intently, but I must have strayed a little.

If we are to have independent reviews, I believe that a Select Committee is a better instrument for monitoring the implementation of legislation, especially controversial legislation such as this Bill. Such legislation ought to be renewable rather than permanent.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey mentioned that he had been to South Armagh recently. I visited a police station in the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) where the RUC officers are working extremely hard to develop good community relations in a nationalist community. It is essential that legislation does not impede that sort of remarkably fine work.

I am asking for renewable rather than permanent legislation.

Mr. Shepherd

I commend to the Government the purposes behind the new clauses. The Bill, as we all understand, gives extraordinary powers to the Executive. It is appropriate to have what is, effectively, a sunset clause—perhaps the Government can draft something suitable.

I am a believer in sunset clauses. The House has too little opportunity on a general range of legislation to review its workings under the necessity of having to justify it. A sunset clause gives the Government an opportunity to explain their stewardship of these extraordinary powers. I say this gently because it is important that where such powers are available to the Executive they must justify their exercise of them. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for giving the House the opportunity to pause to consider an important point.

Mr. Lidington

No one in the House would quarrel with the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) for the Executive, whichever party happens to be in government, to be held to account for the exercise of the powers given to them by counter-terrorist legislation. These are far-reaching powers.

The debate is about the most appropriate mechanisms for holding the Executive to account and subjecting Ministers to sustained questioning over their role as custodians of the legislation. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills have set out eloquently the case for the sunset clause.

I should mention the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The Opposition are satisfied that the provisions already incorporated in the Bill in clause 11 I provide adequate safeguards in respect of the special powers for Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland alone. We are not persuaded by the hon. Gentleman's argument for new clause 3.

New clause 8 was spoken to by the Liberal Democrats. The arguments for the sunset clause were powerful and well put and it would be wrong to dismiss them, but there is a compelling counter-argument. The first Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill was introduced by Lord Jenkin, then Home Secretary, in the immediate aftermath of the Birmingham bombings. Probably everybody assumed at the time that the powers would be needed only in respect of a crisis arising from terrorist violence in Northern Ireland, perhaps spilling over to the mainland of Great Britain. Everybody assumed that, within a few years, it would be possible to revert to normal criminal justice powers and legislation without the need for the special provisions. Sadly, that has not been the case. As the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) can testify, the need to be vigilant against terrorism in Northern Ireland remains to this day.

Even if there were to be an established and enduring peace in Northern Ireland, there still remains a case for permanent counter-terrorist legislation. The first recommendation of Lord Lloyd when he summarised the conclusions of his review of counter-terrorist legislation was that When lasting peace is established in Northern Ireland there will continue to be a need for permanent anti-terrorist legislation. He went on to argue—we will come to this in later amendments—that new legislation should apply not just to violence related to Northern Ireland but to terrorism throughout the United Kingdom, covering domestic as well as international terrorism.

I fear that organised and ruthless terrorism is not some temporary feature of the political landscape but is endemic. We have seen examples of middle eastern terrorism which has, on occasions, spilled over into the United Kingdom and other European countries and we have seen what has happened in Tokyo. I can recall that, at the time of the Gulf war in the early 1990s, there were acute fears in this country that Saddam Hussein, in order to further his campaign, would seek to sponsor or promote acts of terrorism in allied capital cities so as to try to induce the populations there to withdraw support from the United Nation's alliance which was confronting him over Kuwait.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said about the assumptions in the 1970s when the prevention of terrorism legislation was introduced in the wake of the Birmingham bombings and his views on the on-going problem of terrorism. I do not disagree with him. However, in the context of new clause 3, is that not an argument, if not for a sunset clause, for some form of subsequent review of whether the powers as cast should be changed, revised or muted? After all, terrorism, even if it is a permanent feature of the landscape, is likely to change its form.

7 pm

Mr. Lidington

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need for regular and thorough reviews of the legislation, but I doubt whether new clause 3 provides the best mechanism for such reviews. The Government have offered us an annual review. In Committee, the Minister said that the Government were minded to appoint an independent examiner—someone in the tradition of Mr. John Rowe and Lord Colville—to examine from an outsider's perspective the operation of legislation and to report to the Government. I should hope that, subsequently, the Government would ensure that the examiner's report was fully debated by both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that one of the difficulties in Lord Lloyd's analysis of the matter was the failure to explore the difference between permanent counterterrorism legislation and renewable counter-terrorism legislation? The latter would maintain the House's rights and responsibilities to deal with the matter in primary legislation, and would also allow the Government of the day to get out of the other trap. In a world in which the character of terrorism changes as quickly as economic circumstances change, if we try to deal with the matter in permanent legislation, we will inevitably be forced towards adopting much too broad a definition of terrorism, thereby casting long and dark shadows over the nature of democratic society and open government. A sunset clause would get us out of that predicament.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. That intervention was far too long. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) could also perhaps deal with that matter in the debate on the next group of amendments.

Mr. Lidington

The difficulty that I have with the argument being made, quite honourably, by the hon. Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) is that we could end up deluding ourselves into thinking that we were supporting counter-terrorism powers that were in a realistic sense temporary.

We have to acknowledge that the character of the international political environment in which British Ministers, British security and intelligence agencies and British police officers have to take their decisions has changed, and that it has probably changed irrevocably. It has been a change for the worse, but we have to come to terms with that change. There will be a need for us not only to remain vigilant about how Ministers and officials exercise the powers that they have been given in statute, but to ensure that our legislative safeguards are kept up to date, so that we are able to respond to what I fear might be the proliferation among terrorist groups of yet more deadly weapons.

Professor Wilkinson's report, which was appended to Lord Lloyd's, mentions the fact that, in the next few decades, chemical, nuclear or biological weapons might fall into the hands of terrorist groups which are prepared, if not to use them as such, to use them as instruments of blackmail and coercion. We have also to ensure that our legal arrangements are kept up to date with whatever new technologies become available to terrorist groups.

The best way of approaching that issue is to build on the process of annual review, which the Government have offered to us; to ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to demand of Ministers that they introduce amending legislation as and when it is demonstrated to be necessary; and, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) said, to use the Select Committee system that is available to us. I should certainly hope that not only the Intelligence and Security Committee, which would have an important role to play in the matter, but the Select Committees on Home Affairs and on Northern Ireland Affairs would interest themselves in the detail of how those powers are exercised in future.

Coupled with the formal procedure of annual review and annual report that the Government have already offered, the Select Committees—with the interplay of question and answer that they allow, and their capacity to subject Ministers to sustained interrogation, rather than simply allowing them to make an introductory speech, and then wind up the debate, giving way as frequently or infrequently as they choose—are a better way of approaching the matter.

For those reasons, I am not prepared to support this group of amendments.

Mr. Charles Clarke

This has been a useful debate. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged, the issue was debated very fully in Committee. I am delighted to return to the subject now.

New clause 3 and amendment No. 143, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), would time-limit the Northern Ireland-specific provisions to one year. New clause 8, tabled by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), would provide for the expiry and revival of the Bill every five years. That provision is identical to the hon. Gentleman's new clause 2 in Committee, which we debated for 45 minutes, on 8 February.

I shall deal with the detail of the two specific proposals. First, however, I should like to make a couple of general points about the role of Parliament in all this.

As has been generously acknowledged by various speakers, the Government have sought to respond to the concerns expressed on Second Reading by establishing an annual report process, which was not in the Bill on Second Reading. We listened to comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and felt that there was merit in the case for producing an annual report.

I can also confirm that we did, indeed, commit ourselves to that report being prepared by an independent person. The document would not be internal and secret but out in the public domain. I should like to place that commitment on record now—as I did in Committee—as it is helpful to do so.

It is important that we should have a little discussion about Parliament's role in dealing with this form of accountability. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) used a good phrase—explanatory stewardship—to describe the role, and he was quite right about that. The question is how best stewardship can be explained. A wide range of parliamentary devices is available. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde mentioned Select Committees, which are the first possibility.

As all hon. Members who have served on a Select Committee will know, the Select Committee process can indeed be far more effective than a general process in the House. One of my first duties after being elected to the House was to serve as a member of the Treasury Committee. I am sure that the Governor of the Bank of England would agree that the regular interrogation to which the Committee subjected him and the Monetary Policy Committee on their policy on setting interest rates was much more rigorous than a regular debate in the House, or some other process, would have been. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, we also have the Home Affairs Committee, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee. They are an important part of the process. The House also has the capacity for debate in a variety of forms—a short debate on the Adjournment, or a more substantial debate, such as we are having today.

Contrary to the comments of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, it is not the provision that will serve as a backstop, but this Parliament. If ever one wanted evidence that this Parliament has been a backstop in our consideration of such issues, one would only have to study the way in which legislation has been dealt with, often very rapidly, by the House. Although I take the point about consideration, the suggestion that there is any inflexibility in Parliament's ability to consider new legislation as circumstances change is simply not correct. It is a fact that over the years—in this as in other matters—Parliament has shown a tremendous readiness to respond rapidly to the issues raised by changing events such as judgments by the European Court of Human Rights, or by more dramatic events such as bombs and explosions, which require issues to be dealt with differently.

My response to the general discussion—before moving on to the particulars of the two proposals—is that it is quite wrong to describe Parliament as inflexible in its ability to address such questions. The reverse is true: Parliament has tremendous flexibility to achieve by a variety of different means the explanatory stewardship suggested by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. It would be unwise to opt for one constitutional straitjacket in seeking to address it.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Of course there is the flexibility that the Minister described. Can he confirm that clause 124, which provides for a report, does not necessarily trigger a parliamentary yes or no process? More important, looking back over any number of years, the two circumstances in which the Government come to the House to seek changes are when the are obliged by a court judgment to do so or when they are seeking more power. Governments do not readily seek to give up power even when there is a large clamour outside telling them they should do so.

Mr. Clarke

I am not sure that that analysis is correct. In certain circumstances Governments seek the withdrawal of power as a result of events changing. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office suggests that that has happened recently in respect of the EPA.

The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North are aimed at time-limiting the Northern Ireland- specific provisions to one year from the date on which they are brought into force. There would be no power to continue the provisions beyond that point—nor could a provision be brought back into force if it had been lapsed by order.

I shall set out again the Government's position on the Northern Ireland-specific measures. I am happy to do so as it is very important. I emphasise strongly that the Government wish to move to the position where there are no Northern Ireland-specific measures. The aim of the Bill is to have a UK-wide approach to combating terrorism. We remain strongly committed to this—indeed the Good Friday agreement requires us to remove the emergency powers in Northern Ireland as soon as the security situation allows it. That is our intention and desire.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State made the point that the test of a normalised society is to achieve that common basis. That is what we seek to do. It is an important policy consideration.

If I thought that the security situation would allow for that in one year's time, I would be delighted to accept the new clause. Of course I cannot predict the security situation in a year's time—and neither can anyone else. The key is flexibility. Clause 111, which amendment No. 143 seeks to remove, time-limits the part VII provisions to five years. It allows powers to be switched off by order and to be revived if it is proved they are needed.

Let me deal with a specific point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North. He suggested that the temporary Northern Ireland provisions would remain on the statute book for five years without the need for parliamentary approval. Clause 111 provides that part VII lapses after 12 months unless renewed by an affirmative resolution order for further periods of 12 months, up to a maximum lifespan of five years. That renewal will be informed by the annual report in all the ways that we know, and on the operation of the Act under clause 124. So there is a parliamentary approval process.

Although I sympathise with the thrust of what my hon. Friend said, his amendments would tie the Government's hands to a degree that I cannot accept. There have been too many events reminding us of the terrible situation.

My hon. Friend referred to the criminal review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assures me that it will be published soon, so as to enable further debate and consideration of these issues.

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my assurances that the Government remain committed to dispensing with the part VII powers as soon as it is safe to do so and will not press his amendments further.

7.15 pm

We reject the proposal in the Liberal Democrat new clause for the same reasons that we rejected it in Committee. Lord Lloyd concluded: once lasting peace has been established in Northern Ireland, there will continue to be a need for permanent counter-terrorist legislation to deal with the threat of international and domestic terrorism. I referred in Committee, and I shall do so again today, to the extract from pages 4 to 5 of his report, in which he sets out the reasons—as clearly and eloquently as anyone has been able to do here. At paragraph 1.20, he states: From my interviews with the police, the Security Service and other counter-terrorism specialists in the UK and overseas, I am convinced it would be a mistake—indeed, that it would be folly—to assume that a few years of relative freedom from acts of international terrorism here meant that the threat had largely gone away. There are two reasons for that view. First, to measure the threat merely in terms of the number of planned attacks which have been carried out in the UK would be to ignore the substantial effort which goes on, largely in secret, to avert such incidents. Evidence which I have seen and heard, though I cannot set it out here, persuades me that, although the immediate threat is low, international terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to carry out attacks against UK interests, at home and abroad. The second cause for caution is that developments in world politics and the changing nature of terrorism have made it difficult to predict what the future holds. Chapter 4 of Professor Wilkinson's report deals with some of these factors. Regional and national conflicts which have generated terrorism, or have the potential to do so, will continue throughout the foreseeable future. The complex problems in the Middle East and North Africa will remain the most important factor, not least because of the pronounced anti-Western position adopted by some of the parties involved. As the "weapon of the weak" terrorism is likely to remain an attractive option to those engaged in regional power struggles, facilitated by the ever-increasing international freedom of movement of people, goods and information. The UK, together with some other Western countries, is particularly liable to be caught up in these struggles because of the number of communities of foreign nationals who live, or seek sanctuary, here. That is a powerful argument. It is why the Government have accepted this central recommendation of the report.

As we said in the consultation paper,

the Government believes that there exists now a clear and present terrorist threat to the UK from a number of fronts and that a terrorist threat is likely to continue to exist for the foreseeable future even when a lasting peace in Northern Ireland is achieved. It gives me no pleasure to say that I believe that to be a frank assessment of the position on the basis of serious consideration and advice.

We have had so-called temporary provisions on the statute book for 25 years. The time has come to face the fact of terrorism and be ready to deal with it for the foreseeable future. We need to make the powers permanently available, although the fact that those powers are available does not mean that they have to be used.

The Bill removes some of the most extreme powers that have been used in the past, such as internment and exclusion orders, and introduces judicial extensions of detention.

The Human Rights Act 1998 will be fully implemented by the time that the Bill comes into force. That is an important new safeguard.We are providing Parliament with an annual report to allow for full consideration of these issues. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who asked for that provision. There is a full opportunity to discuss the issues in great detail. I am sure that that will continue, and on that basis I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw his new clause.

Mr. McNamara

I accept what my hon. Friend said about part VII. It is only unfortunate that it does not apply to the rest of the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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