Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Continuance of Part VII) Order 2002

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Jane Kennedy: The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) asked a long series of questions, most of which I hope to be able to answer, although I may not be able to give him all the detail today.

Before I begin my response, I refer back to the figures that I gave earlier. I can tell the hon. Member for Reigate that it would be impossible to break them down into terrorist and public order offences, as they are global figures. I can break them down by affiliation, and those figures are already in the public domain. I apologise if I caused the noble and learned Lord Carlile a slight tremor of anxiety on this matter. His figures refer to 2000, while my figures refer to those arrested in 2001.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford made wide-ranging comments, and showed his interest in this important subject. I am grateful for the chance to elaborate on some issues that he raised.

The comments made by the noble and learned Lord Carlile on section 67(3) were not lost on the Government. In paragraph 3.6, he invites us to provide him with further submissions to this issue before the next review. The report was thought provoking in many aspects, not least in those aspects that the hon. Gentleman referred to, and we are considering many of those issues, including the use to which the police put various aspects of the Terrorism Act. We shall take seriously Lord Carlile's recommendations and the hints that he has dropped and consider those matters as openly as possible. We shall consult on the use and value of section 76, for example.

The hon. Gentleman asked how Parliament could contribute to that consultation. Members of Parliament in the House of Commons and the House of Lords could write to Ministers with their views on the subject, and we might discuss it in Adjournment debates, for example. There are many ways in which Parliament can engage in that debate. We shall consult all those with an interest in the subject, including the Human Rights Commission, the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions. We have not yet

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embarked on that exercise, but will do so shortly. I encourage Government and Opposition Members who want to participate to let me know their views.

The hon. Gentleman also asked how the Government will respond to the recommendation on section 103 regarding other people under threat. Again, I want to take that issue forward in further discussions with Lord Carlile, the Prison Service and others.

The hon. Gentleman rightly suggested that many other people might fall outside the designation in the 2000 Act. The offence is not restricted to certain people, although Members of Parliament are not specified in the Act. Section 58 is a catch-all, the aim of which is to allow the police to use those powers against individuals who are targeting specific categories of people, but the categorisation is neither specific nor limited.

Mr. Davies: Far be it from me to compete with the noble and learned Lord Carlile in the interpretation of a piece of legislation, because that is not my profession. The noble and learned Lord evidently felt that the specification of the categories of people was material because he spent some time suggesting that it was insufficient and should be expanded. It is an unfair answer to my point for the Minister to say that elsewhere in the 2000 Act there are sufficient general powers to protect other mortals, including MPs, and that it is does not matter which types of humanity are specified. The noble and learned Lord obviously thinks that it matters.

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman is right. Lord Carlile said that we should consider whether similar protection should be given to certain part-time employees, whom he lists. We shall consider that carefully before reaching a judgment.

The hon. Gentleman asked about citizen's arrest during a terrorist act. The relevant section of the 2000 Act relates to powers, which do not cover other individuals, given to Army personnel. I have frequently been impressed by the bravery and courage displayed by citizens in Northern Ireland who, from time to time, have attempted to arrest criminals such as armed robbers who seek to steal money from Securicor vans. The specific powers that we are giving relate purely to soldiers who are carrying out their duties in support of the police in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Davies: I mentioned, and bracketed in my question, the fact that section 82 states that

    a constable may arrest without warrant any person if he reasonably suspects.

As the Minister said, section 83 deals with a member of Her Majesty's forces. My point is that no mention is made of any third category of person who might undertake an arrest, which could leave people with a feeling that those who engage in a citizen's arrest are not protected. Are such people protected elsewhere, and may we have a ministerial statement on the matter?

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman has made several comments on sections 81 to 89, including on

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the issue of why seized documents cannot be photocopied. His representations are the first that I have received on the subject, and I shall consider them carefully when I read the Hansard record of today's deliberations. Lord Carlile says that the powers

    work reasonably well given the difficult operating conditions that sometimes have to be faced.

That was Lord Carlile's conclusion, but I shall take the hon. Gentleman's comments on board and consider them.

The hon. Gentleman's most important point concerned why the power under section 107 to charge somebody with membership of a specified organisation is not used. It is genuinely a matter for the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (Northern Ireland) to judge whether those powers are appropriate. Frequently we have asked the police why the powers have not been used. We constantly review their powers and discuss their usefulness. The police often find ways of bringing to court individuals who they believe are engaged in terrorist activity. They do so in ways that they have learned to be most effective. I will continue to consider that as we examine the different aspects of the powers and their use in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman referred to section 108. I hear what he says about the fact that the powers have not been used. We will continue to consider the matter and I shall reflect carefully on his comments. If I can provide further figures that might help the hon. Gentleman, I shall send them to him.

Mr. Davies: I am grateful to the Minister for her promise to consider those matters. We agree that no politician should ask the police or the prosecution service why they have not used powers in a particular case. That does not mean that Parliament, if it has given exceptional powers to the police and prosecution service, should not ask why they have not been used in general. It is reassuring that the Minister will ask that question.

The Minister did not answer my question related to Lord Carlile's comments in section 67.3 concerning the removal of the presumptive right to bail.

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman drew my attention to paragraph 3.6, and its implications were not lost on me. I take seriously all the recommendations and hints that Lord Carlile has made. I shall consider them carefully and respond in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I apologise to the Committee for being detained by unavoidable business. I would have liked to make some points, but it would be inappropriate for me to make them in Committee. I hope that the Minister will discuss some of those points in a meeting outside.

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Mr. Blunt: I am grateful, Mr. Beard, for your indulgence in allowing me to act as sweeper, particularly given the regrettable delay of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who would have made a useful contribution to the proceedings. He may still do so because several of

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my remarks relate to previous suggestions made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes).

I welcome the firm tone with which the Minister presented the need to extend the powers. Given that almost every day there is a victim of the extraordinary circumstances in Northern Ireland, that tone is appropriate. In introducing the order, the Minister is supported by Lord Carlile, and the private advice she has received from the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland about the requirement for the powers to remain in force.

Although I welcome the tone, I am concerned about security normalisation. The firm tone with which the Minister is presenting the order strikes a discordant note with the existing range of security provisions in Northern Ireland, and the problem of those who continue to hold arms illegally.

I should like to put a few detailed questions to the Minister. The first is about the code of practice and video recording of evidence under section 100 of the Terrorism Act. The House had the opportunity on 6 February 2001 to consider that aspect of the code of practice in Northern Ireland. I was surprised to see that the explanatory note—it is not built into the order—states:

    This Order continues in force for a further period of twelve months the provision of part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000 (which extend to Northern Ireland only) apart from section 100, which has not been brought into force.

Given that the House passed a code of practice just over a year ago, should not the order bring it into practical use? Will the Minister explain why that has not happened?

I also want to draw the Minister's attention to a possible inconsistency in respect of young persons. The Terrorism Act 2000 is robust in accepting that 14-year-olds are potentially capable of committing offences. Sections 67 and 70 apply to those who have attained the age of 14. I raise the issue with the Minister. She may not be able to deal with it immediately, but I would grateful if she could write to me, because we are currently debating the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill in Committee and we will deal with the definition of a young person at tomorrow's sitting. The Bill will widen the definition to include 17-year-olds but, as I said, sections 67 and 70 of the Terrorism Act apply to 14, 15 and 16-year-olds, but not to 17-year-olds, so that may be an inconsistency. Will the Minister ensure that the provisions in different measures are consistent in defining young persons? If the order is accepted, scheduled offences will apply to young persons in the youth justice system.

One of the powers that we are renewing relates to section 79 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which deals with remission. When the Bill was passed, that clause went entirely undebated in Committee, perhaps because it was uncontroversial at the time. Hidden away within that provision is subsection (5), which states:

    The Secretary of State may by order substitute a different length of sentence and a different maximum period of remission from those mentioned in subsection (1).

In turn, subsection (1) states:

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    The remission granted under prison rules in respect of a sentence of imprisonment passed in Northern Ireland for a scheduled offence shall not, where it is for a term of five years or more, exceed one-third of the term.

Thus under subsection (5) the Secretary of State assumes powers to overrule the position in subsection (1) if an offence is committed while this part of the Act remains in force.

I raise that issue now because the Minister will not be unaware of the enormous concern that followed the release of terrorist prisoners—those convicted of the worst offences and who were released last in the summer of 2000. When the Act was discussed in the House, its powers should have been considered in line with the revulsion that arose as a result of the release of those prisoners and the fact that no decommissioning had come forward from the Provisional IRA at the time. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford eloquently put forward the requirement for some linkage between the necessity for those who hold illegal arms in Northern Ireland to decommission and those in the shadowland of halfway between fully accepting democracy and still retaining the power of weapons, explosives and ammunition to accept fully the need to sign up to the democratic system under the fair rules that the rest of us accept.

My argument concerns the timetable. Before the Minister returns in a year to ask for the order to be renewed, I ask her to consider the approach that was hinted at by the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. When section 7 of the Terrorism Act was considered in Committee, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said:

    As we are debating clause stand part, I shall tell the Committee, as I have already privately told the Minister, how I intend to proceed with this clause and others. As I have said, I have accepted the proposition that there should be an agreed timetable, if possible, for phasing out part VII. Some say it should go now—the Minister knows that perfectly well—because the powers are exceptional.—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 1 February 2000; c. 267.]

What the hon. Gentleman had in mind about the timetable is not exactly what I have in mind. However, it was suggested that powers under part VII should be phased out over time. The order is an obvious vehicle for some linkage, and that linkage could work in both directions. If the Government want to send out a signal about what was happening in respect of the illegal holding of weapons in Northern Ireland and the fact that decommissioning was not happening on a satisfactory scale, section 79(5) of the Act could be removed by statutory instrument in a year's time. That would send a message that it was not acceptable to be convicted of a scheduled offence, while such provisions are in force, and to expect the Secretary of State to ride to the rescue towards the end of the process and deliver remission of whatever amount was necessary to release prisoners from jail before the end of the process.

We are now in a new period. On reading that part of the Act, I do not believe that the Secretary of State should have powers to order the release of prisoners or

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to change their remission dates and sentences. We will have an opportunity in a year, under the statutory instrument procedure, to send out such a signal if, for example, nothing has happened with the decommissioning of further weapons over the next year.

The opposite applies, too. If satisfactory progress were made in the decommissioning of weapons during the next year and the state of security returned to normal in Northern Ireland—and what is ''normal'' in the modern world—all the powers under part VII could be forgone. It seems sensible to hold out the possibility that the powers can be looked at individually, but to move in both directions. I have given an example of when the powers should be made more robust, particularly with regard to those who commit offences during this period, but they can be used in the other direction if satisfactory process is being made.

I know that the Government will want to make satisfactory progress, but the powers are controversial among the human rights lobby in Northern Ireland, and we clearly want to move towards a state of normalisation. The Government should use whatever statutory vehicle they can to reinforce their negotiating position, and to put pressure on the parties in order to achieve decommissioning.

I hope that during the coming year the Minister will be able to consider the powers made under part VII of the Terrorism Act and, if necessary, come back with a rather more sophisticated instrument in order to deliver the pressure—or to relieve the pressure and to balance the progress that has been made by those who are illegally holding arms.

5.26 pm

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