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Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister congratulated himself on reducing the number of Slovak applications in Dover. Is he aware that he congratulated himself on what, under Section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, may well be an illegal objective?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did not congratulate myself on anything. I simply indicated the general understanding in your Lordships' House that this is an extremely serious problem and I ventured to offer a mild, pacific suggestion that the Home Secretary's announcement might have had something to do with the fact that yesterday there were no applications at all.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the plans for permanent counter-terrorist legislation which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
"This is not just the result of Irish terrorism. International terrorists too have cost us dear. In the past 20 years there have been more than 80 international terrorist incidents in this country. No one here today will forget the shooting of WPC Fletcher outside the Libyan People's Bureau in St. James's Square, London in 1984 or the attack in 1988 on the Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, when 270 people were killed by the blast. More recently, there have been the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and on Balfour House in 1994. Only last January letter bombs were sent to the London offices of an Arabic language newspaper which seriously injured two security guards.
"In combating this threat we owe an enormous debt to the vigilance of the police and the security forces. They have had many successes in capturing and prosecuting terrorist suspects. The convictions of six IRA terrorists at the Old Bailey last July are but the latest in a long line.
"But the ceasefire in Northern Ireland and the possibility of achieving lasting peace there does not mean that we no longer need special legislation to investigate, to disrupt and to counter terrorism. There are extremists on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland who are opposed to the present ceasefire and who want the talks process to fail, as this morning's explosion in Londonderry shows. On the international front, there is ample evidence of the activities of terrorists, whether sponsored by unfriendly governments or acting in more or less organised groups. Some may commit acts of terrorism within the United Kingdom; or raise funds here; or otherwise use the United Kingdom as a base from which to launch attacks elsewhere in the world.
"In the face of such threats, we cannot--and we will not--drop our guard. Terrorists change their tactics all the time. Therefore we must remain vigilant at all times and ensure that the police and the security forces have the powers which they need.
"The current legislative framework for combating terrorism in the United Kingdom is contained principally in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996. Both Acts represent the latest versions of emergency legislation first introduced in the early 1970s in response to the very serious attacks which had taken place within the United Kingdom. This legislation has been regarded by successive governments as exceptional but temporary, to be removed as soon as circumstances would allow.
"But 25 years of attacks and the continuing threat from terrorists make a mockery of the suggestion that legislation to combat terrorism can or should any longer be regarded as only temporary. What is needed is permanent legislation to deal with continuing threat from terrorism and the terrorist. I shall first explain the Government's intentions, in advance of new legislation, in relation to the exclusion powers in the 1989 Act.
"As the House well knows, the exclusion powers in the Prevention of Terrorism Act enable the Secretary of State to exclude from the whole of the United Kingdom, or a part thereof, anyone whom he is satisfied is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism in connection with the affairs of Northern Ireland. Unlike powers to exclude under the immigration Acts, these powers apply equally to British citizens as well as to the nationals of other states.
"In recognition of this, they have been used sparingly in recent years. Let me give the House the figures. In 1982 there were 248 orders in force. By 1994, just before the last ceasefire, the number had dropped to 74. During that ceasefire the then
"As the House knows, this Government have long been opposed to these powers on the grounds that they were of limited utility and amount to a form of internal exile without trial--a view, I may say, shared by many. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in his 1987 review of the legislation, urged that the powers which he described as draconian be removed. Others both at home and abroad have called for the same reforms. The powers have not only exposed the United Kingdom to severe criticism from our friends but they have also provided an easy argument for the apologists for terrorism to use against us.
"Taking into account the view of those who advise me on security matters, I can tell the House that I am minded, assuming the situation does not change, to allow the powers to lapse when the Act comes up for renewal next year. I can also tell the House that, in the light of the recent developments in Northern Ireland, I have come to the conclusion that at the present time the exercise of these powers is no longer expedient to prevent acts of terrorism in relation to each of the 12 cases in question. I have therefore today revoked the last 12 orders.
"In taking a fresh look at the whole of the legislation to see how it can be improved and strengthened, much of the groundwork has been done for us by the inquiry team led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. The House will recall that he was asked in December 1995 to consider whether there would be a need for specific counter-terrorism legislation in the United Kingdom in the event of a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. His report was published in October last year. He concluded that there would be a continuing need for permanent United Kingdom-wide legislation. He made a number of detailed recommendations for changes: to the definition of terrorism, to the powers to proscribe terrorist organisations and to the powers of the police to investigate and arrest those suspected of terrorism. His report was, of course, predicated on there being a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. That desirable state of affairs has yet to be achieved. But this does not mean that we cannot consider his recommendations and, if appropriate, implement them in the interim.
"My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I therefore intend to present proposals to replace both the current Acts with permanent United Kingdom-wide counter-terrorism legislation. We intend to publish these proposals in the form of a consultation paper early in the New Year. The paper will draw on, but not be constrained
"In the interim the police and the security forces must have the powers which they need to combat terrorism. I therefore intend to seek the agreement of this House in March next year to the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989. Similarly, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to renew the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. The current Emergency Provisions Act expires in August next year, so she will be bringing forward a Bill to extend its life and to make some amendments to it. The introduction of the Bill will follow later today.
"Terrorism is not now a temporary phenomenon anywhere in the world. We need a robust and clear set of powers which will enable the police, security forces and the courts to deal effectively with all forms of terrorism for the foreseeable future, with the flexibility to respond to emergencies should they arise.
"Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, the Government envisage that some existing powers will be confirmed and placed on a permanent footing, that some will be strengthened and that others will substantially be changed. For example, it has long been our view that there should be a judicial element in the extension of detention process. The aim will be a framework of laws which are both effective and proportionate to the threat.
I also pay tribute, as did the noble Lord in repeating the Statement, to all those who have suffered from the horrors of terrorism in both Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom over the past 25 years. Let it never be forgotten that it has affected people in all parts of the Kingdom and at all levels. My noble friend Lady Thatcher will remember with horror the experiences of some 13 years ago in Brighton. A later Cabinet suffered an attack only seven years ago. We live in a strange world where terrorism, which hardly existed 25 years ago, has left its mark on the whole of society.
Like the noble Lord, I pay tribute to all those in the police and security forces for all they have done over the past 25 years in combating the threat of terrorism. I too would like to emphasise the fact that they have had many successes in capturing and prosecuting terrorist suspects.
There are only one or two points that I wish to make at this stage as regards the Statement. As the noble Lord made quite clear, there will be a consultation period and a paper coming forward from the Government. We shall have a degree of time to debate it, as agreed by the usual channels, in a fuller manner later on.
But the noble Lord would expect me to comment on the idea that the power to make exclusion orders should lapse. As I understand it, the Prevention of Terrorism Act will be renewed next year, as he made clear, and it will come before both Houses in March to be renewed for a further year. Should there be some delay in the permanent legislation, I presume that there will be a commitment to renew the Act for a further year, and the year after and the year after should it be necessary. What I find alarming is that the power to make exclusion orders should be, as it were, unilaterally given up at a time when, although the Government are making considerable progress in Northern Ireland, it is still not clear that the ceasefire is permanent.
Will the noble Lord at least comment on whether he can see a case for retaining the power to make exclusion orders--whether his right honourable friend wishes to make use of them is another matter--until the ceasefire seems more permanent or at least until the new legislation is in place? There does not seem to be a case for, as I put it, unilaterally removing the provision at such an uncertain stage.
The second point I wish to make is about the consultation period. Can the noble Lord say when it will begin and how long it will continue? When does he think that he or his right honourable friend will be in a position to put legislation before the House and on what sort of timescale does he believe that that legislation will proceed? When can we hope to see that legislation on the statute book? That comes back to the earlier point that I made about the temporary legislation being renewed and whether that can be done for one year, two years or as long as necessary.
I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement and, like him, I pay tribute to all those who have suffered and who have served in the fight against terrorism over the past 25 years.
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