HL Deb 11 March 1993 vol 543 cc1196-210

6.58 p.m.

Earl Ferrers rose to movc, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th February 1993 be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Prevention of Terrorism Act provides the powers which are needed in order to counter the menace of terrorism in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland. Once again, last year the people of Northern Ireland had to bear a grievous burden of terrorist crime. Some 85 people died as a result of terrorism and over 1,000 were injured. There were 350 bombings or shootings in Northern Ireland. We have seen in recent months, with very great dismay, the eruption of a spate of killings which have been of a purely sectarian nature.

At the same time, there were more terrorist crimes in Great Britain last year than there had been in any year since 1974 when the Prevention of Terrorism Act was first introduced. Six people were killed during the course of 1992 in Great Britain and 224 were injured. There were more than 40 terrorist bombings in the mainland of Britain and there were four shootings. I fear that there is little doubt that the threat from terrorist crime will continue throughout the next 12 months. I can though assure your Lordships that the Government's commitment to the defeat of terrorism will also continue and that it will be undiminished.

People on the mainland of Great Britain and in Northern Ireland rely heavily upon the security forces to fight the menace of terrorist crime. In that there is no doubt that they have been well served. Thanks to the diligence—and often to the courage—of police officers, members of the Armed Forces and others, many terrorist crimes have been prevented and many terrorists have been brought to justice. Thanks to good police work—and thanks to support from the Army—the Provisional IRA's attempts to place a large bomb in Belfast city centre before Christmas were thwarted and arrests have been made in circumstances which made it clear that lives had been saved.

It will not be too hard for your Lordships to imagine the devastation and the injury which might have occurred had not two alert police officers stopped a lorry in Stoke Newington last November. The lorry contained a very large amount of home-made explosive. One of the officers was shot and wounded in a courageous attempt to arrest one of the people in the lorry, but an arrest was made, nevertheless.

Earlier last year another police operation in London resulted in the seizure of a substantial amount of home-made explosive. There can be little doubt that it was destined for outrages similar to the one which was perpetrated in the City of London in April. Other attempted bombings have been frustrated by the actions of the police or the vigilance of members of the public.

We must also acknowledge the achievements of the police in responding to bomb warnings. Many bomb warnings are inaccurate or are deliberately misleading. Others are straightforward hoaxes. Had it not been for the prompt actions of police officers at the scenes of those incidents there is no doubt that many more people would have been killed or injured.

The achievements of the security forces are reflected in the figures. In Northern Ireland last year 404 people were charged with terrorist-related offences, including 97 who were charged with murder or attempted murder; more than 300 people were convicted of terrorist-related offences; and more than 200 weapons and 2 tonnes of explosives were seized.

On the British mainland, since the beginning of last year 19 people have been charged with serious terrorist-related offences such as murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. Only two weeks ago three men were charged in connection with the terrorist bombing incident at Warrington where a gasometer was blown up, and last week two men were charged with offences, including the Harrods bombing in January. Your Lordships may also recall a recent police operation in the West Country which resulted in the arrest of two men who were subsequently charged with firearms and explosives offences. A terrorist and his accomplice recently received substantial prison sentences for planting bombs in and around London.

Those achievements have not been accomplished without cost. During the course of last year six soldiers and three officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were killed in Northern Ireland. Four hundred and fifty members of the security forces were injured. In Great Britain a special constable was shot dead and three police officers were injured. Those whom we ask to protect society against terrorist crime deserve our full support and gratitude and we must never forget their sacrifices and those of their families and loved ones.

It is against that background that I invite your Lordships to agree that the Prevention of Terrorism Act should continue in force. It should continue in force because the security forces need the powers which it provides in order to carry out their vital work against terrorists.

The Act provides a number of exceptional powers which have been specifically formulated to deal with the threat from terrorism. This year, as in each year since 1986, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross reviewed the way in which those powers have been used. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to some of the observations which my noble friend made in his recent report on the operation of the Act in 1992.

Before doing so, however, I should like to pay tribute to the contribution which my noble friend has made to discussions about the Act during a period of no less than seven years. During that time my noble friend has said much which has been constructive about the way in which the Act is administered, and, indeed, he has contributed to the form in which it at present stands.

Each year when we debate the renewal of the Act we do so with the benefit of a learned account of the way in which the police, Ministers and their officials are undertaking the duties which are conferred upon them by the Act and of the way in which they are making use of the powers which it provides. The annual reports provide a valuable insight into these matters, and they frequently contain a number of new ideas for improving the fight against terrorism or of adding to the safeguards for the individual which the Act provides.

This year, when my noble friend has completed his review of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991, he will relinquish his responsibility for this important work. He has worked at it like a Trojan, and he has brought to his consideration all the penetrating, perceptive powers of an acute legal mind, of which my noble friend is fortunate enough to be the possessor. In this respect the nation has been fortunate enough to benefit. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to join me and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in thanking my noble friend Lord Colville most warmly for the valuable work which he has done during the last seven years.

My noble friend's first recommendation, which is to be found in his covering letter to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, is that the Act should continue in force in its entirety for another 12 months. My noble friend's report then addresses the exercise by the Secretary of State of his power to exclude persons who are suspected of terrorism from Great Britain, Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom. My noble friend observes that the power had been used very sparingly in 1992 and that the machinery is working effectively.

My noble friend draws particular attention to the work of the independent advisers who review the cases of those who wish to make representations against exclusion. The advisers provide a safeguard for the individual and as such their role is an important one.

The Secretary of State also has the power under the Act to authorise the detention of a person who is suspected of involvement in terrorism for up to seven days in total. On the use of that power my noble friend's report records that the proper criteria are being carefully observed in deciding whether extensions should be granted. My noble friend then records that, as regards complaints about the police, there is nothing which he wishes to draw to the attention of Parliament. My noble friend is very satisfied with police practice in that respect.

My noble friend's report makes a number of recommendations, which we shall consider carefully. He commends continuing to review by an officer who is unconnected with the case, the circumstances under which detainees are being held, even after extensions or exclusion orders have been made. My noble friend also makes a number of suggestions in relation to police checks at ports, and he suggests that the Government should take the opportunity which is provided by the Criminal Justice Bill—which is at the moment in another place—to strengthen the Act's provisions against terrorist finances. The Government will be introducing amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill in another place with the aim of bringing the law on terrorist finances into line with many of the changes which are being made to the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986.

No one should doubt that the Government remain determined in their resolve to fight terrorist crime. We shall continue to give our full support to police officers and to other members of the security forces, and we shall ensure that they have the necessary means to conduct that fight. The Prevention of Terrorism Act remains a vital part of that effort. We must not deprive the public of the protection which the Act provides. I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th February 1993 be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].—(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for introducing the order and for the way in which he did so, which was in sharp contrast to the way in which the order was dealt with by both Front and Back Benches in another place only yesterday when there were scenes of some disorder which would not be acceptable in your Lordships' House.

I wish formally and sincerely on behalf of these Benches to endorse what the Minister said about the scourge of terrorism. The noble Earl said that the Government are united in opposition to terrorism. I can assure him that the whole House is united in its opposition to terrorism, we on these Benches no less than the Government. Secondly, I endorse his tribute to the security forces—the police and the Army—who do the dangerous and often frustrating and boring work on our behalf.

The difficulty that we have with the order is not because we are in any way soft on terrorism or that we fail to respect and honour the service of those who fight against terrorism, whether on the mainland or in Northern Ireland. Our difficulty concerns two provisions. We need to be more sure that the balance between civil liberties and the effectiveness of combat against terrorism is properly made.

The original Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced by a Labour Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who intended it to be in force for only six months. Indeed, the legislation is still called "Temporary Provisions"; and noble Lords who know anything about local government and planning consent will know that there is nothing more permanent than temporary planning permission. The Act has been in force for nearly 20 years, during which time the volume of terrorism has not decreased. I do not draw causal conclusions from that fact. I do not say that because terrorism has not declined the Act has been a failure. However, it is incumbent upon the Government to demonstrate that the undoubted acknowledged intrusions into civil liberties that are imposed by the Act are justified by the results.

When the Bill was introduced it was disliked. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, speaking from the Opposition Benches in 1974, described is as distasteful. The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, speaking as Home Secretary in 1982, referred to: the considerable inroads into the civil liberties of which we are justly proud". A succession of noble Lords who had the responsibility that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, now has, have expressed concern about aspects of the legislation. My noble friend Lord Shackleton, who was one of the first advisers, was uneasy about the exclusion provisions. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, urged that there should be restrictions on the use of the exclusion provisions in the Act. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, to whose services I gladly add my tribute and that of my noble friends, argued for the complete removal of the exclusion procedures.

There is no doubt that a balance should be drawn between effectiveness and concern for civil liberties. If there is to be a reduction in civil liberties, about which there is not much doubt, the Government must produce evidence that the Act is working more effectively than the alternative would do. No evidence has been produced. All the evidence that the Government have brought forward concerns the volume of terrorist crime and the success of the security forces, the police and the Army, in dealing with terrorism. I do not contest that evidence and I congratulate all those concerned in the recent successes in dealing with terrorist crime.

The measures that we object to are the exclusion provisions and the five-day extension of detention by the Executive. There is no evidence that those measures have had any effect whatever. Surely, having argued for this measure year after year, the Government would have made some attempt to show that there have been people excluded who have been intent on carrying terrorism either from the mainland to Northern Ireland or vice versa; that seven days' detention has produced evidence which would not have been available either in the first 48 hours or in an extended period approved by judges rather than the Executive.

No evidence of that kind has been produced. Under those circumstances I am not surprised that my honourable and right honourable friends in another place voted against the continuance of the order. The issues of exclusion and detention are serious matters of civil liberty. The second issue relating to seven-day detention has required us to derogate from our signature to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Better evidence should be produced to show that the measures are effective. As the evidence has not been produced, our support for large parts of the Act and for the continued successful work of those who fight against terrorist crime in this country is severely diminished.

Lord Jellicoe

My Lords, I do not rise to enter into the debate about the seven-day period of detention or the exclusion order. Those matters were explored at great length yesterday in another place.

I should like to echo the tribute that was paid by my noble friend Lord Ferrers to my noble friend Lord Colville. He has made a remarkable contribution in an area of great importance and considerable complexity over a long period in this difficult field.

The first report that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was a one-off affair, as was the report that I made five years later. The contribution that has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Colville, has been not only as a result of his acute legal mind and the thoroughness with which he has gone into such complex administrative and legal matters, but there has been a continuity of experience. I was sorry to hear that he is not going to carry on the work to which he had addressed himself with such assiduity and skill. I express the hope to the Minister that, in finding a replacement for the noble Lord, Lord Colville, there should be an attempt to secure the same continuity and that there should not be a one-off report. A great deal of the merit in the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Colville, has been due to continuity.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord said. I pay tribute to the noble Viscount for an admirable job over past years. I found all his reports most persuasive even when, in relation to one important matter, I did not share his view—namely, the question of exclusion orders.

I was mildly surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, tell us that my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead intended the 1974 Act to be in existence for six months. I read about that matter in one newspaper, as no doubt he did, but I can assure him that there is no truth in the assertion. When the Bill went through this House and another place it was made clear that given the fact that it had passed through all its stages in about four days, a further Bill would be introduced within a few months to give Parliament the opportunity of discussing the matter thoroughly. There was no question therefore that it would only be in existence for six months. Indeed it would have been pointless bringing in exclusion orders if six months later the subjects would return to Great Britain. So much for that.

The only other point I wish to make before coming to the substance of the matter is that I very much agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said about terrorist finance. I welcome the fact that the Government will take action to implement some of the recommendations he has made.

My view of the matter is quite straightforward. I support the order moved by the noble Earl. I do so in a situation in which my honourable friends in the House of Commons took the same view last evening. It is wholly right that we should discuss the order every year. Having been responsible in terms of both the discussions which gave rise to the 1974 Act and the debates we had in this House at the time, I would not deny that as a result of the passage of that legislation some innocent people have been arrested and held in custody. It would be silly to pretend anything else. Their civil rights have been affected. However, we have to face the fact that the principal civil right is the ability of our fellow citizens to live their lives without being subjected to the risk of being murdered or maimed by the Provisional IRA. A fair and sensible balance must be struck between the person who is suspected of being involved in terrorist activities and the need to protect society from the consequences of terrorist behaviour.

The question before us tonight is whether that has been done in the case of the order and the legislation on which it is based. It has undoubtedly had some unfortunate secondary consequences, but I believe that it has also safeguarded the lives of many of our fellow citizens. I do not think that there is a great deal of doubt about that.

I do not call into question the motives of those who take a different view, as does the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I believe that there are few, if any, people in Parliament who do not wish to join the struggle against terrorist activities. That is why, like him, I deplore the foolishness of the charges and counter charges made in the House of Commons last night. The attempts made by so many to pray in aid the opinion of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, to demonstrate that he was on their side of the controversy provided one of the most childish series of exchanges I have ever read in Hansard.

I turn to one particular matter before I come to the substance of the question relating to exclusion orders. I have stated my opinion on two previous occasions on the Brogan case which was decided by the European Court of Human Rights, so I do not propose to go through the arguments again this evening. But, in the light of that judgment, I would undoubtedly on balance have preferred to have had judicial intervention. However, there are, I accept, substantial difficulties about that. In any event, that issue in no way weakens my view that the order should be approved this evening.

A great deal of the dispute about the legislation—and this was indicated in the speech we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—relates to exclusion orders. That is what I now intend to deal with. When I was at the Home Office, I saw a substantial number of papers relating to applications for exclusion orders. Many of the people concerned had close associations with the Provisional IRA and in many cases would themselves have been involved in terrorist acts if they had been permitted to remain in Great Britain. When there was significant doubt, the Home Secretary rejected the applications for those orders.

It could and will be said, "Well, if the evidence existed, why were they not charged with a criminal offence?" Probably all of us would have far preferred a situation where they could be charged with a criminal offence. But there are substantial difficulties about that on some occasions. There may be clear, or indeed overwhelming evidence, sometimes from sensitive sources, that a person is consorting with terrorists, aiding and assisting them in every way, providing safe houses and even preparing to involve himself in acts of terrorist violence. But there can be a significant gap between that and persuading a jury beyond reasonable doubt on clearly defined terrorist charges.

There can now be a further difficulty. In some cases the prosecution can be required to disclose the source of information which has come into the hands of the police. The consequence of that in a number of criminal cases—I am not now dealing with terrorist offences, but it could apply to them in exactly the same way—is that prosecutions have had to be thrown away in the criminal courts because the police were not prepared to run the risk of their informants having their identities disclosed. If they had been disclosed, it could have caused the informants' almost instant execution. If that is true in the case of ordinary criminal offences, how much more likely is it to take place in the case of terrorist activities in Great Britain?

My view is quite straightforward. It is that without the exclusion order many of those people might have been able to commit the most serious offences and cause the deaths of, or hideous injuries to, men, women and children before they might have been able to be charged. Speaking for myself, that is a price I would find entirely unacceptable.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, spoke with great moderation: I hope to do the same. Perhaps I may consider for a moment what the implications would have been if, as looked likely at the beginning of last year, a Labour Government had been elected. A new Home Secretary would, I assure the House, have been given the clearest advice from the police that the consequences of dropping the power to exclude would lead to an increase in the level of violence in our cities. That is quite certain. Almost certainly, given the fact that these days everything leaks into the newspapers, even when that is not always intended, there would have been no doubt in the public mind about what the attitude of the police was.

Ministers are entirely entitled to ignore such advice. But what would have happened when the bombs started to explode? What would have happened if those who had been excluded from Great Britain as a result of the exclusion order process had returned to this country and one, two or more had eventually found themselves charged with terrorist offences in the courts in this country? When the public got to hear of what had happened there would have been the most tremendous uproar. Consequently, it is a matter of considerable doubt whether the belief that to get rid of the exclusion order is as easy an option as is sometimes maintained.

There would have been an even more difficult problem for the new government. At present, the IRA does not permit many of its frontline terrorists to enter Great Britain for fear of their being detained under the terms of the Act and ultimately excluded. It is concerned that one of them—or indeed more than one—might, despite counter-interrogation training, during the seven days in which they can be held disclose information to the authorities. In Great Britain we have seen the consequences of what second division terrorists can do. Often, because of inexperience, a number of them have been caught. Were exclusion orders to be removed, I believe that they would be replaced by even more dangerous and experienced men.

In the circumstances, if there had been a change of government at the beginning of last year, it is very hard to believe that after considering all these options and receiving this advice a new Home Secretary would have cheerfully abandoned this power. If by chance he had—given the fact of the inevitability of a fairly significant level of terrorist violence in this country—I suspect that within 12 months legislation would have been reintroduced into Parliament giving the Home Secretary once again the power to exclude on very much the same basis as we have at the moment.

As I indicated, I do not support the renewal of powers of this sort with a light heart. Nor, as I said, do I doubt the honourable motives of those who take a different view. My view on the matter is clear. Without the renewal, our defences against terrorist violence would be gravely weakened and the safety of the British public put at considerable risk.

7.31 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I recall vividly making an appeal in 1974, when this Act was first introduced in another place. I said at the time that the Act seemed to be very necessary in the wake of the terrible atrocities in Birmingham and elsewhere. I said then, as I have said repeatedly in both Houses, that the threat of terrorism in Great Britain, particularly in Northern Ireland, and over the past few years here, is of such importance that it should not be a political issue between the two main parties in this House. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and I totally agree with him. I thought that what happened yesterday was absolutely disgraceful. It was disgraceful for both the Government and the Opposition to attempt to score nit-picking points.

I resent anyone from the government side of the House trying to say that Labour is soft on terrorism. My association with the Labour Front Bench and with many Members who are not on the Front Bench has led me to think that they are as opposed to terrorism as anyone who sits on the government side of the House. The two points which divided the Opposition and the Government are of importance. But they are not of such importance as to allow free rein to the dispute which took place yesterday.

In promoting the order this evening, the Minister said that he thinks the security forces in the United Kingdom should have our full support. I do not believe that anyone would dissent from that. But, unfortunately, within the ranks of the Labour Party (I certainly do not blame the Labour Party) there are some rabid Sinn Fein supporters. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will be aware of someone who was once his colleague in the GLC who wrote an article in the Guardian this week which is a total and absolute apology for the IRA. It is a scarcely veiled attack on the security forces, not only in Great Britain but in Northern Ireland.

In the article a whole series of untruths and calumny are levelled at the security forces. It mentions the alleged use by MI5 of young boys in the Kincora home scandal. It goes on to say that Captain Robert Nairac, who was brutally murdered by the IRA, led an assassination squad. The writer levels a whole series of charges. He is regarded by the IRA as one of their greatest defenders. But he also happens to be a Labour MP, elected under the democratic process in the constituency of Brent. When the IRA are looking for friends, they do not have very far to look. People who give voice to such opinions call into question the bona fides of the Labour Party.

I fully accept that the Labour Party is as anxious to protect life and limb here in the United Kingdom as I am. But it has expressed genuine concern on the question of exclusion orders. In every debate that has taken place on the emergency legislation I have voiced my concern over exclusion orders, perhaps from a different aspect. Some people would say that they disagree with exclusion orders because they infringe the civil liberties of the citizen. I have objected because I do not see why terrorists in the United Kingdom, in London, Scotland or Wales, should all be dumped into Northern Ireland. I never wanted to see Northern Ireland used as a dumping ground for people suspected of terrorist acts in other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that that is a legitimate concern. When the Minister brings this legislation to the House he knows that people feel passionately about it—about civil rights, about the infringement of civil liberties and about the protection of the life and limb of their constituents.

The Minister in another place said that 81 exclusion orders are extant at the present moment. I think that the Minister should be asked and he should be able to tell us—perhaps I may receive a reply—how long those 81 orders have been extant. When were they granted? Have people been excluded for the past 10, 15 or 19 years, or some of them only recently? The Minister said that only two exclusion orders were granted last year. If a Right-wing Tory Minister of Home Affairs could find it in his heart to grant only two exclusion orders last year, I suggest that a Labour Home Secretary would not have found any great difficulty in dealing with the problem.

I turn now to the question of giving support to the security forces. I have lived most of my life in Northern Ireland under the threat of terrorism. I believe it is incumbent upon all those people who are elected by the democratic process and who look after the interests of their constituents to do everything they can to give support to the security forces.

I regret to have to say this of the party which I formerly led, the SDLP. But in February this year (only a month ago) in Belfast City Council a Motion was put forward by a member of the Alliance Party in which he sought to give the freedom of the city to the bomb squad, who had just succeeded in defusing the four-thousandth bomb. Some of the bombs which the bomb squad succeeded in defusing were near my home, both at the front and the back. I believe that that was a gesture which the Belfast City Council should have proudly made in respect of the people who defused those bombs, which could have taken a massive toll of life, both nationalist and Unionist. The party which I formerly led walked out of the city council. Its members would not vote. They left the council short of its two-thirds majority. Actions speak louder than words. I believe that that was a disgraceful thing to do. I do not believe that that party can in any way justify those actions.

So this legislation is on the statute book again. The Home Secretary said that last year only 17 detention orders had been granted by him and that 10 of them were for four days and the other seven for seven days. Would it be right to ask the Home Secretary whether any convictions arose from the seven orders that he granted allowing for detention of seven days? A Member in the other place gave some figures. The figures he quoted were frightening. He said, of the period since the Act came into force, that, in the past 19 years 7,192 people have been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, of whom precisely six have been convicted".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/93; col. 973.] Those figures do not add up. There is something strange about them. The person who mentioned them is a skilled parliamentarian and if those figures are right, it seems that the Act is being used, as has been alleged, for fishing purposes—to bring people in, because they live in an Irish constituency, to try to gain information from them in relation to terrorism.

This Act, for however long it may be renewed, or however long we may be afflicted by the scourge of terrorism, will also raise in the minds of people who are concerned about the liberty of the subject grave doubts as to whether it is achieving the aims it set out to achieve. The disquiet expressed by the Opposition in another place is serious but not so serious that the Government could not have accepted the amendments. Had they done so, we would have had unanimity. All the elected representatives in Parliament would have expressed their opposition to terrorism and agreed on the best way to deal with it. Before we debate this measure again, I hope that such agreement will be found between the Front Benches in another place.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. He made some comments which I wish to echo; namely, that in all our deliberations on the subject we should seek the widest consensus on ways to tackle the problems that beset not only the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the United Kingdom but the people of Ireland in the island as a whole.

It has been said before that this Act has been on the statute book on a temporary basis for 19 years. Since I entered your Lordships' House in 1985, I have risen to speak against the Act and oppose it. As an aside I say to your Lordships that I do not intend to try to divide the House on the Act this evening, but obviously if any other noble Lord sought to do so, I should willingly support him in the Division. The Act has been in place for 19 years; yet we still have a significantly high level of terrorism.

It is worth remembering the draconian provisions of the Act; detention without charge or trial, and the exclusion procedures, which effectively allow for a form of internal and external exile, again without charge or trial. They strike at the very heart of the concepts of law, fairness and due process of the British system of justice. As a result the Act does immense damage. The fundamental reason why I stand here year after year arguing against the provisions of the Act is because I feel that in fact it contributes to terrorism. I feel that very strongly.

I differ slightly from the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. He quoted an article by Ken Livingstone which appeared in The Guardian. The noble Lord's interpretation was that Ken Livingstone was arguing the case for the IRA. I did not see the article in that light. I saw it as a means for someone of stature in the British political establishment effectively to convey the way in which some people in Ireland saw the actions of the British Government and the British security forces. I had not been aware that such was the way that a number of people in Ireland saw the actions of our security forces and the operation of our laws. I believe that Ken Livingstone did us a service. It is only by trying to understand how other people see us and our acts towards them that we can hope to make progress. The article reinforced my perception of how the provisions of the Act contribute to the operation of terrorism.

It is late and though I could speak for a long time on the subject I do not intend to do so. But I have one question to put to the Minister. I have been very concerned about reports in the media. It is difficult to explain but I shall try. The Government appear to suggest that they are concerned that the fight against terrorism is becoming confused with the fight against crime. They want to reinforce the distinction between their fight against terrorism and their fight against crime. Let me make the point that, as a British citizen, my feeling is that when people shoot other people, blow them up or threaten to do so, they commit criminal acts. The more we can demonstrate through our words and actions that we treat such acts as criminal acts, the better. To suggest that certain criminal acts are in fact terrorist political-type acts does no good in terms of the argument against such vile and horrific criminal deeds, which are perpetrated by a number of different criminal groups. It is not just the IRA: there are a number of so-called terrorist groups which commit those horrendous criminal acts. The quicker we can get a consensus right across the political spectrum in this country to agree that these are criminals who are perpetrating criminal acts and the criminal law should deal with them, the better. I hope that we can develop that consensus. I want the Government to set my mind at rest and assure me that they do not seek to portray the actions—criminal activities—of so-called terrorists as terrorist acts rather than criminal acts.

That is the question I wish to put. I hope it is clear enough. The way it has come across has not been terribly clear in terms of the media. I hope we can develop right across the political spectrum a consensus that we are totally opposed to attacks on human beings and property, that they are essentially criminal and anti-social, and that they will be portrayed as such all the time.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the matters that we have been discussing this evening are of the greatest importance. I am grateful to your Lordships for the constructive and reasoned way in which the debate has been conducted. No one likes the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Of course not. They are strong, tough and infringe liberties which people normally expect to enjoy. But terrorism presents a real threat, not only to the lives and wellbeing of the people of this country but to the democratic process itself. When that happens one has to take exceptional measures.

I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said he thought that the Act contributed to terrorism. I found it difficult to follow the logic of his argument. I was surprised also when he said that these acts are really criminal and not terrorist acts. He tried to say that the acts of the terrorists are no more than criminal acts. They are more than criminal acts; they are terrorist acts by which people blow up and deprive other people of their rights indiscriminately. One cannot emphasise too strongly that, bad though crime is, terrorism is pernicious. It operates irrespective of people. Its purpose is to try and achieve with a bomb and a bullet what is not achieved by a ballot and democracy. That is the reason why it is an offence against democracy.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, made an impressive speech. He said that it was difficult to obtain a fair and sensible balance between people being murdered and maimed and civil liberties. He was absolutely correct. I was grateful too for his robust defence of the exclusion orders. Of course they are tough; they are extremely hard and have an important effect. He was correct when he said that, if we give way on that, instead of having what he called "second degree" terrorists—and heaven knows they are bad enough—we would then see first degree terrorists as well.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was understandably concerned as to whether the intrusion into civil liberties is justified. It is always difficult to assess the effectiveness of what is essentially a preventive power. But I am convinced that it has played an important part in preventing and investigating terrorist activities. As I said in opening, since the beginning of 1992, on the mainland of Great Britain, 19 people have been charged with serious terrorist-related offences after having been detained under the Act, and of the 1,795 detentions under the Act in Northern Ireland in 1992, 459 people—26 per cent.—were charged with an offence. That is the highest percentage since 1986. One can glean from those figures that the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the charges under the Act justify its existence.

My noble friend Lord Jellicoe paid tribute—I was grateful to him for doing so because he too has been a rapporteur in the past in regard to the Prevention of Terrorism Act—to my noble friend Lord Colville, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Harris. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe said that he hoped that the successor would be a person who would stay for longer than one year. We shall do our best to find a successor to my noble friend Lord Colville who will maintain the high standards that he set. It will not be easy. We shall also seek to ensure that his successor carries out a series of annual reviews.

With regard to the proposed exclusion orders to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred, I am grateful for what was a compelling speech. I agree that it is an important power and one that has prevented and will continue to prevent acts of terrorism.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was concerned about exclusion orders using Northern Ireland as a dumping ground. That was an unfortunate expression, though not an original one. In exercising the powers of exclusion, which in fact are exercised rarely, it has never been the Government's intention to use Northern Ireland as a dumping ground. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary seeks to frustrate and disrupt the plans of those who deliberately come from Northern Ireland to the British mainland to commit, or assist in the commission of, terrorist offences.

The noble Lord referred also to various figures quoted by his right honourable friend Mr. Kaufman. I believe that his right honourable friend consulted the wrong statistics. There were only six charges leading to five-year sentences in relation to offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. There are few such offences. There have been hundreds of charges for all kinds of crimes, including murder and other serious terrorist-related offences, and there were over 50 sentences in excess of five years between 1984 and 1992.

With regard to the length of exclusion orders—another matter referred to by the noble Lord—he pointed out that at the end of 1992 there were 81 extant exclusion orders made by the Home Secretary, who made only two new orders in the course of last year. All exclusion orders run for a period of three years and a further order may be made at the end of that time if the Secretary of State remains satisfied that the proper criteria have been met.

The powers contained within the Act are exceptional. They are hard powers. But we believe that they are necessary in order to protect the country from terrorism so far as one is able. It is the prime business of government to ensure the protection of the people of this country. When terrorists have the advantage of being in a position of surprise, it is up to the Government to take every conceivable measure to prevent them making use of that element of surprise.

I know that the powers are matters of concern to your Lordships. I am grateful to your Lordships for expressing your anxieties so courteously and appropriately. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at two minutes before eight o'clock.