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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope I may comment. I did not wish to interrupt him while he was in full flood. He said there was no evidence of the origin of the planning of the terrorist attacks in Africa upon which the Americans acted. Is the noble Lord prepared to accept that there is in fact strong evidence but it may not be available to him and to the international press?
Lord Desai: My Lords, that is why I gave the example of the Cuban missile crisis. If you have evidence you must present it in a court of law. However, because the Americans have more bombs than anyone else they do not have to do that because of Security Council power. No court of law will convict a person because someone says, "I have evidence about this but I cannot give it to you". No international court will accept that. That is the law of the bully; that is all it is.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I think in a way this will prove to have been a sad occasion in retrospect because it will prove to have been a great missed opportunity. The Government caught the tide when public opinion in the island and in the rest of the British Isles was ready for effective legislation against terrorism in its widest sense. However, they have failed to ride that tide. Yesterday in another place the debate showed this throughout 12 hours or so. I wish to quote from my right honourable friend Mr. John Major, who said,
I believe that the Bill focuses on the wrong targets. It focuses on the organisations of terror. Both the Loyalist and the Republican terrorist traditions have always been kaleidoscopic. They constantly change their patterns, certainly since 1921, when Michael Collins was murdered--on the instructions of De Valera--when he returned from London having signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
In 1966 the Ulster Volunteer Force was formed in opposition to the IRA. The IRA then became discredited and slogans appeared in Belfast, "The IRA--I ran away". The Provisional IRA emerged in 1969. Now we have Continuity IRA, the Real IRA and INLA. Am I too cynical in believing that the main incentive which persuaded Sinn Fein to sign up to the Good Friday agreement was to get its people out of prison? Sadly, I believe this release programme may have proved a huge incentive to terrorism. The "godfathers" of terrorism do not belong to these organisations or, at any rate, if this legislation goes through, they will cease to do so. The legislation is all based on proving that they are members of organisations. How many Mafia godfathers in America sit on the boards of the companies that they control? How many Communist leaders were members of the front organisations through which they used to seek to foster world revolution? They are too clever by half to fall for this.
We should be thinking in terms of the groupings which have formed the basis of terrorism in Ireland. First, there are the nationalists, those people who for 800 years, since Henry II, have felt the ill treatment of Ireland, by successive groups from this island--a very real and justified feeling. Many of them still regard the settlers as aliens, even though they have been there for 300 years. Secondly, there are the Marxists, those who believe in the united socialist Ireland. As a journalist, every year between 1976 and 1990 I used to attend the Labour party conference. I remember that I used to go with some enjoyment and certainly interest to the fringe events when Mr. Gerry Adams, who was a leading exponent of the Marxist solution, would year after year entertain us all with his fireworks advocating the united socialist Ireland. Thirdly, there are the hard men, the killers by instinct, the thugs by nature, typified by
Finally, there is the biggest group, the Mafia, the godfathers, those who live by extortion. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, we have tolerated them for far too long. Do noble Lords realise that until five years ago companies were able to claim a tax deduction for the protection money they paid to terrorist organisations, whether they were Republican or Loyalist, so in practice the British taxpayer was directly subsidising a large part of the funds of those organisations? Those organisations will not change; they are not interested in politics. Nobody can offer them a better way of life than they get at the moment.
I think that we have really missed an opportunity and that the Bill has aroused expectations which will not be met. That will produce disappointment which will be followed by disillusion. That, I believe, will be very dangerous.
The optimism of our Prime Minister is one of his most engaging characteristics. Indeed, I suspect that if one is Prime Minister optimism is almost essential as a means of withstanding the pressures of that high position. Yesterday he said:
Lord McConnell: My Lords, at this late stage I do not intend to delay the House for long. Many points I might have made have already been made ably by other noble Lords. But I should like to add my voice to the protests that have been made about the haste in which this Bill has been produced and brought before this House.
I received a copy of the Bill only when I arrived here today. We are supposed to be a revising Chamber. This is a Bill which is complicated and which deserves careful scrutiny. I cannot understand why we could not have been given even another week, as one noble Lord said, or why it could not have been left to the beginning of the next Session so that the Bill could be discussed, any defects pointed out and the necessary amendments made. It is not very complimentary either to this House or to the other place to ask them just to take the measure for granted and put it through all its stages in one day.
Tough measures are proposed in this Bill. That seems odd, in one way, to an outsider when we also hear that unrepentant convicted terrorists, who have access to arms, are to be released. Then we have this measure to convict some other terrorists. I wonder how long they will be in prison before they are released if they are put in under these provisions? It is hard to justify these two different aspects of the Government's present policy.
A short while ago a Bill went through this House which proposed the abolition of the power to intern. Subsequently, that of course became law. Now I think the Government might take a slightly different view. When the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and I objected to the removal of this power we were regarded as almost
There is a great deal of talk about named organisations. As we have seen from history once your organisation is proscribed it is the easiest thing in the world just get another name and say, "This is a different organisation". If the Government cannot see the possibility of that happening, they are not being very farsighted. Nevertheless, I hope that some good can come out of the Bill.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I should have no problem with this Bill if the end product was not a criminal conviction but an executive decision to intern coupled with some appropriate system for appeals. Internment, in my view, is a perfectly proper response by a democratic society under threat by force of arms from a tiny minority of its citizens where positive identification is difficult or impossible but reasonable suspicion can be established. It is a blunt instrument, there is no doubt about it, and inevitably some would be interned who, if the full facts were known, would not be. However, this, like having one's mail intercepted, having one's telephone tapped, being placed under surveillance or, in a quite different context, being conscripted into the armed forces in time of war, is part of the price that citizens of a democratic society have to be prepared to pay. Imprisonment following a criminal conviction is in a wholly different category. It involves punishment for a proven offence against that society.
Some time ago a detective inspector wrote to one of the broadsheets suggesting that the fight against crime in this country would be much more successful if the courts concentrated on finding out the truth of an allegation that a crime had been committed. What he was objecting to was, of course, the standard and burden of proof and the strict rules of evidence which are insisted upon by the criminal courts. It is a superficially attractive suggestion. I think that, if he had taken a poll of the country, he would have found that the vast majority of ordinary citizens supported him. But it ignores a fundamental principle of the rule of law as we have always known it; namely, that it is far better that nine guilty men should go free than that one innocent man should be convicted. In fact, I would put the odds
Objectively, there is of course a miscarriage of justice when the guilty are acquitted, or when a guilty man has his conviction quashed on appeal because he was not given the full benefit of that weighting of the scales of justice, whether or not that was known to the trial judge or jury. However, in my book they are not miscarriages of justice. They are manifestations of the justice system as we have treasured it for so long operating as it was intended to operate. The only true miscarriage of justice is for an innocent man to be convicted and his appeal to fail; and that I am convinced is a very rare occurrence. Although with over 50 years' interest in the law I have read of one or two, I have no personal experience of such a situation.
The Home Secretary in another place, and the Minister in this House, say that the burden of proof under the Bill continues to lie with the prosecution, and that the standard of proof continues to be the establishment of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. That is quite right. But under the Bill, although the prosecution still shoulders the burden of proving guilt, it is involved with a much different and lighter burden. The police officer's opinion upon which the prosecution can rely will be based, as has been pointed out, upon a body of evidence much or all of which would be inadmissible as such. I have in mind hearsay, telephone intercepts and the opinions of others such as members of the security services. In most cases, public interest immunity is likely to make effective cross-examination impossible, or at least wholly ineffective. In many cases indeed the officer may have no personal knowledge of the matter whatsoever. He will, in a word, be performing the task of the court but without any of the usual safeguards and without the court's independence.
In addition to that, the prosecution's burden will or may be lightened by the abridgement of the accused's right of silence. As has been mentioned, the present caution unless modified will be wholly misleading. At the risk that many of your Lordships may not have been cautioned recently, perhaps I may remind them that it reads, "You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention something which you later rely on in court". In other words, it is stopping the defence ambushing the prosecution.
However, that will now have to be revised in a major way. It will have to say something to this effect: "You do not have to say anything until after you have had a chance to see a solicitor. But if thereafter you fail to mention something material to the defence which, I must remind you, could reasonably be expected to be mentioned and which, I remind you of this even more, includes evidence helpful to the prosecution as well as that upon which you will rely, your guilt may be inferred". It is a startling proposition that one can infer guilt from a failure by an accused person to prove the case out of his own mouth.
Much play may be made--it may be in reply; I do not think that the point has been made yet--with the fact that the police officer's opinion as to the guilt of the accused, while admissible in evidence, cannot be the sole basis of a conviction and that the same applies to inferences from the silence of the accused. However, as I read the Bill, the two together can indeed form the basis of a conviction. It may not quite be a case of nought plus nought equalling one, but it comes perilously close to it.
I suggest that this modified burden of proof which in future is to be shouldered by the prosecution bears no resemblance whatsoever to that which has underpinned our system of criminal justice for at least a century. The proposals contained in the Bill will either be ineffective, as has been suggested by many speakers in this House who are in a position to know, because the courts will be quite unable conscientiously to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt; or the provisions will constitute a charter for internment dressed up to look like the result of criminal justice. Either outcome would in my judgment be wholly lamentable. Internment rather than prosecution is the appropriate response in a situation where you have a small group of known terrorists who need to be incarcerated for the protection of the majority, and you cannot legitimately prove their identity.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, two days ago I was telephoned by a Chertsey solicitor on the subject of a small conveyance done by my great grandfather. This may sound an extraordinary introduction to a speech on a Bill of this seriousness, but its relevance I think will become apparent within the three minutes I have allotted myself.
We set to talking about the Bill. It had not then been published. We did not know that Clauses 1 and 2 were to be modified. We both felt that this was deeply offensive to anyone with a liberal legal tradition. We felt that it went against the traditions of English jurisprudence, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred. We felt that it was to be rushed through with ill-considered haste. Even if it were necessary, why had the measure not been passed 30 years ago when the whole thing started? We also felt that the likelihood of martyrs being created was substantial.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I have listened to most of the speeches and have been impressed by nearly all of them. Like everyone else, I was absolutely horrified at the outrage, in particular by the false information apparently deliberately given in order to massacre the civilians of Omagh. The phrase
In this case, despite the excellent speeches that I have heard, many from my own Bench, pointing out all the snags, I think that doing something is absolutely vital because the time is ripe. For the first time since the Irish troubles started 300 years ago, there is a consensus in the whole of the island that something must be done. The shock of the massacre has made real the vote in the republic and in Northern Ireland. That is why I support the broad intention of the Bill. That is why I put my name down to speak.
Politically, I think that it would have been impossible not to show haste in view of the fact that the Irish Government themselves are shocked into action. As many have said, for the first time there will be no refuge on either side of the Border, and the remaining terrorists should be and can be cleaned up and put where they belong. The methods have been criticised, and I am absolutely certain that the criticism will be noticed.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, spoke of Diplock and the 25-year period. It must be a tremendous tribute to the quality of the judges in Northern Ireland that so few cases have been overturned in trials by judge and jury, whereas in this country the biggest scandals have been in conventional trials. It appears to me that these judges, who have to make up their minds, must have done a good job. Secondly, I would be very much against producing the opinion of a police officer as evidence if it were given before a jury, but I know that judges do not always believe what the police say, and in their hands the evidence will be taken at its value and the rest of the evidence will come in with it. The reputation of the judges and other members of the judiciary in Northern Ireland will be a tremendous safeguard against the erosion of civil liberties which could arise from this Bill.
It is time for us to do something. It is possible that the wicked people who are left, people who have enjoyed the lack of work, the excitement, the killing and the feeling that they play a big part, can be rounded up. The peace process is important, but there is no question at all that joint efforts to eliminate the remaining terrorists are absolutely necessary.
Lord McNally: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mackie covered the opening paragraph of my summing up by making it clear that we on these Benches will support the legislation. Twenty years ago, as Member of Parliament for Stockport, I had a visit from two young boys. I was not sure whether they were sixth-formers as they were in civilian clothes. They turned out to be two young privates from the Cheshire Regiment serving in Northern Ireland. They were on leave. They wished to ask their Member of Parliament why they were there. I tried as best I could to explain that our troops were in Northern Ireland to try to hold the ring until the political process could take over. I frequently think of those young men, particularly when I hear terms like "British imperialism" and so on. I believe that is why we still
My noble friend Lord Russell made a valid point. This is not a debate between those who believe in civil liberties and those who believe in fighting terrorism. A point underlined time and again in the debate is that a liberal democracy fights terrorism only from the secure base of civil liberties and a respect for law. Sometimes I am sure that the liberal democracy must look very weak. Here we are, with the horror of Omagh, and there is a temptation, an urge to ask, "Why do we not take them out? Why do we not have our own dirty war? What is the SAS there for?" One can understand those emotions. When the response ends up with groups of lawyers debating about the rules of evidence it may seem a very weak response indeed. Yet it is the strongest response of all.
Our Parliament can take pride in the way it has responded to a monstrous outrage. It has responded in the way a civilised society responds to outrages. To make it clear that we resist concepts of a dirty war and that we believe in the political process is very important. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, is right in saying that there is a secret group ready to resume a war, but if there is they would make the same mistake as the Provisional IRA has made over the past 20 years. They cannot beat the ballot box with the bomb. We have proved too resilient in our defence of liberties in Northern Ireland ever to be beaten.
My noble friend Lord Holme said that this is a necessary and timely response. He is right. The measure offers two very rich prizes. By responding now in the way they have the Government have given the peace process the breathing space it needs. As a number of speakers made clear, it has been the most visible sign of co-operation between Dublin and London that we have seen throughout these recent troubles.
Some distinguished lawyers tonight have called into question the dangers inherent in the legislation. The Government will do well to ponder the advice they have received, not least from the Cross-Benches, and to make sure that the assurances they give about an early review are underlined in a response to the debate. The House welcomes what the Minister of State said about the Government proceeding at speed with their overarching review of the prevention of terrorism measures. We look forward to the public consultation process involved in that.
I do not intend to try to match the lawyers in looking at the Bill. I shall ask one question of the Minister, which I believe was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. Will the police officer giving this evidence be able to call public interest immunity into defence for not revealing his sources?
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in his analysis of the Bill, asks if the Government have found a unique solution. I would say no, of course, they have not. Like all British governments over the past 30 years they have responded to events. They have tried to cope with what sometimes seemed intractable
The Government, as a political leadership, are entitled to ask for backing of their judgment at this moment. In so doing, they have a duty to listen to some of the constructive suggestions made during the course of the debate: the idea of hot pursuit, the extension of seizure of assets to get at the godfathers, the question of telephone intercepts, the greater scrutiny of the intelligence services, the increased joint exercises by various authorities north and south of the border, and perhaps further pressure on the United States to cut off funding from that source.
There is a danger, in trying to eliminate or take out the terrorist, of creating the resentment that builds terrorist support. A number of speakers called for internment but the noble Lord, Lord Howell, claimed that his experience of 25 years ago was that it only worked for a time. I shall check in Hansard, but I think he said it only worked for a time. Internment itself may be attractive, but it is only a quick fix. The general verdict is that it was a period when terrorist organisations strengthened themselves. They were not weakened by internment.
I turn briefly to Clauses 5 to 7. I believe the Government have been too clever by half in slipping those clauses into the Bill. They would have had greater support in the House if they had stuck to Northern Ireland measures. The powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the comments from my noble friends Lord Holme and Lord Wallace remind us that this is not emergency legislation that can justify the recall of Parliament. It is business that was in the machine and which has been slipped in, I think, to the damage of the broader exercise we are undertaking.
I have said that these Benches will support the Government tonight. However, we think that there have been mistakes in the way the matter has been handled. Noble Lords have rightly spoken about the need to protect the rights of this Chamber as a revising Chamber. There are precedents for handling such legislation more sensitively. This House could have sat for longer this week. However, as my noble friend Lord Mackie said, the broader judgment is that this is the right time for this Parliament to make a response to Omagh--and our response is that that dreadful outrage has failed. It has failed because the peace process will continue.
I thought it ironic that when he realised the scale of the public outrage one of the spokesmen of one of the splinter groups moved his children to a place of safety. In fighting terrorism, the capacity of the terrorists to commit outrage means that there are no places of safety--not in the jumbo jet, the shopping centre or the restaurant. The real safety lies in driving terrorists to the margins of our society and in cutting off both their political and their financial support.
However, the peace process is under way and it now has a broader base of support than it has had for 30 years. We should welcome the presence in Northern Ireland today of President Clinton who has been a decisive influence in pushing that process forward.
Finally, I take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who said that the Prime Minister had to be an optimist. I think we must all be realistic optimists if we are to push this process forward. The strength of the debate has been that the politicians and the lawyers, from whichever angle they have brought their expertise, have been determined that peace will be delivered to Northern Ireland on the basis of respect for civil liberties and the rule of law because we know that it can come no other way.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, after such a long as well as, in many respects, remarkable debate, your Lordships will be glad to hear that I shall be brief and that I shall not attempt in any way to make a comprehensive reply or to address every issue that has been raised.
We strongly support the efforts which this Government, in succession to the Conservative Government, have been making to bring about peace in Northern Ireland. They have carried on the process extremely effectively since picking up the baton. We support the agreement and the assembly. I pay tribute to all those who have been involved in both the process and the assembly and to all those who are involved in it now.
However, we are very unhappy about this way of legislating. I am in no way complaining about the recall of Parliament in response to the terrible outrage in Omagh. I echo everything that has been said about the horror of that outrage. However, it is wrong to legislate in this precipitate way following that outrage.
The Bill was published less than 36 hours ago--and it has already been through another place. The draft Bill has been available for just over 48 hours. There were leaks before and, of course, some limited Front-Bench consultation, but neither is a substitute for publication and, as I have said, nobody has had more than 48 hours in which to study and consider the Bill.
I am not necessarily even complaining about emergency legislation being put forward, provided, of course, that it will be effective. However, I am complaining about all stages having to be taken so precipitately.
As far as the Northern Ireland clauses are concerned--that is, Clauses 1 to 4 and the supporting provisions at the end of the Bill--such precipitate legislation can be justified only if immediate implementation is planned so that another day or two of delay while we continued the debate in a more normal manner would have damaged its implementation. Of course, it may be that a raft of arrests under this legislation will start tomorrow and over the weekend. By Monday--certainly by Tuesday or Wednesday--we shall know whether another day or two could have been spared to debate the Bill before its implementation began. I do not wish to press the Minister to respond to that and to tell us whether there will be such implementation--it would be quite wrong of him to do so--but by the middle of next week we shall be better able to judge whether such precipitate implementation of the Northern Ireland clauses was necessary.
I am not worried so much about the consideration given to the legislation by Members of this House. I have been impressed today by the way in which your Lordships have buckled down to study the Bill and have produced wise and valuable insights into it and into what it does or does not do. However, it is also important that legislation is considered by others outside and that the points raised by your Lordships in the early stages of debate on a Bill can be considered by the Government and taken account of at later stages when they have been thought through.
It is not that the main proposal in the early clauses about the evidence of police superintendents is a new proposal. We have heard this afternoon that it was considered by, among others, Lord Diplock many years ago. It is not as if an outrage like Omagh--perhaps not quite as horrific but a similar outrage--was unpredictable. Indeed, it was widely predicted in this House, by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and by many others from these Benches and throughout the House and, for that matter, by those outside the House. It has always been obvious that on this occasion, as at previous times in Irish history, breakaway groups would be doing their damnedest to achieve this kind of outrage--yet the Government's reaction to it has given the impression that there had been no planning with regard to such an event, otherwise we might have had before us some effective legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said a few moments ago that he understood that something must be done as a result of the Omagh outrage. I understand and share that sentiment entirely, but the real words are, "Something effective must be done", not just anything for the sake of amusing your Lordships for a day or a night and filling the newspapers. I do not think that anybody who heard the formidable speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, or, for that matter, other speeches in this debate, can believe that the Northern Ireland clauses are likely to be effective when put into practice in the courts. I wish that it were so, but I do not believe that it is likely to be so, particularly after hearing this debate.
The confiscation clause, Clause 4, applies only to those convicted of membership of an illegal proscribed organisation, so that can be of only limited effect if the prosecutions for membership are of limited effect. Incidentally, I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that it does not apply only to ill-gotten gains. It applies also to any assets which might have been used or might be used in the future in the opinion of the court--however it will decide--in the commission of terrorism.
I am all for attacking terrorists' finances. When I was Security Minister for Northern Ireland I laid great emphasis on that aspect of the work of the RUC and everybody else in the security forces in attacking the terrorists' finances as effectively as possible. In our discussions within the Northern Ireland Office, I made frequent reference to the fact that Al Capone was convicted of tax fraud and not the many murders and so on for which he was responsible. But this clause will be of only limited effect because it applies only to those convicted of membership.
What would be more effective? That is the difficult question which everybody has had to face for many years. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, suggested intercept evidence in his extremely powerful speech. As on several other occasions this afternoon, we were reminded once again that judges were advocates first. He brought his old skills to bear on that proposition. I certainly believe that it should be examined extremely carefully although I know that there are indications also in the other direction.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, indicated important similarities as well as crucial differences between what is proposed in this Bill and internment. The comparisons are all in favour of internment. It was a grave mistake for the Government to take off the statute book the powers of internment because it avoids the judicial problems about which we have heard so much this afternoon. But in addition, by taking it off the statute book, the Government have completely lost the element of surprise which is so essential to its working.
Of course, to be effective internment must be carried out both north and south of the border. As has been said frequently this afternoon, the co-operation between the Government of the Republic and the Government in Northern Ireland is one of the great benefits of the present situation. When I served in the Northern Ireland Office, the government of the Republic were under the command of Prime Minister Haughey and we did not receive such good co-operation as is available at present. I am very glad that that co-operation exists because it is of exceptional importance in everything to do with combating terrorism.
My noble friend Lord Patten, who told me that he was unable to be here for the winding-up speeches, talked about hot pursuit. I believe that at present hot pursuit can be conducted in the hours of daylight up to five miles across the Irish border. It would be a great benefit, as a result of the Anglo-Irish co-operation, to extend that to, perhaps, 25 miles and its application should be extended to all times of day because terrorists often move by night.
There are other issues; for example, joint control rooms and even joint patrols between the RUC and the Garda. That happens frequently on land borders in other parts of Europe. Army-to-Army communications are very important. That has always been resisted by the Irish Government but would be of great benefit. All those are effective measures which I hope will flow from the increased Anglo-Irish co-operation.
Many references have been made to the sentences Act and the prospect of the release of prisoners under that Bill. The link is contained in this Bill. It is part of a rather unusual oddity--a sort of two-tier provision. This Bill provides that the conduct of cases involving the offence of membership of a proscribed organisation will depend on what that organisation is. It will still be an offence to be a member of PIRA but a police officer will not be able to give evidence in the way described in this Bill. He can do that only if the accused is charged with being a member of the Real IRA, Continuity IRA,
On the subject of the LVF, will the Minister tell us whether the Government have received, as has been suggested, an offer to decommission from the LVF. That would be extremely valuable, particularly when added to the tiny step in the direction of decommissioning taken by PIRA, not an organisation which falls under this Bill or specified under the sentences Act. If the Government have received an offer of decommissioning, will they tell us what has been their response to it? I assume that they will welcome the offer, provided that it is genuine.
I turn briefly to Clauses 5, 6 and 7. As has been said, the previous Conservative government supported similar proposals contained in a Private Member's Bill a few years ago. We still believe that it is right to legislate; but not like this. The doubts expressed today on Clauses 5, 6 and 7 are eloquent testimony to the need for the proposals to be debated properly before being put on the statute book.
Questions remain, for example, about the way in which those clauses apply to any offence, not only to terrorism, because they will apply extremely widely provided that the Attorney-General gives his fiat for a prosecution unless the Attorney-General is overridden by the Secretary of State, a most unusual provision to which we shall return in the later stages of the Bill.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and others said, there is not even the same excuse for so severely truncating the debate on those clauses as there is for truncating the debate on the Northern Ireland clauses.
We all support the peace process and we shall not stand in the way of the Bill, although we shall be discussing some of the detail in the course of the subsequent stages, as we are right to do. But the overwhelming conclusion of the debate has been that this is the wrong way to legislate. At this stage the only way out of that for the Government is to provide for further consideration by Parliament in the future in one of the ways that has been suggested, preferably on the basis of proper independent reports. Acceptance of Clause 8 last night in the other place was a first step in the right direction but we shall pursue that in the later stages as the only remedy now available to us when legislating in this very precipitate manner.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging debate about the underlying principles of this legislation. If the issues we were discussing were not so serious, I should say that this has been one of the most interesting and absorbing debates which I have had the privilege to hear in this House. But, of course, the issues are desperately serious.
I should like to reply to some of the broad matters of principle raised by your Lordships before moving on to address specific points raised by noble Lords. I start with the Northern Ireland terrorism-related part of the
Many noble Lords have raised the question of internment. The Government are not persuaded that internment is appropriate at this time. Indeed, that is why we deleted the internment provisions in legislation some months ago in this House.
In another place, and again today, there has been a wide range of views about the likely effectiveness of the legislation before us. Some have suggested that the new provisions will make little difference, while others see great potential and a few have sensed dangers in the measures. It is my experience that predicting the impact of legislation is a dangerous business. After all, convictions are solely and rightly a matter for the courts. But the Government believe that these measures will be a valuable addition to the anti-terrorist legislation and record the view of the Chief Constable of the RUC that while they are very important there are no quick fixes and magic solutions. Only yesterday I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation with the chief constable. He emphasised that this Bill was an important measure but that there was no simple answer to the problem of terrorism.
I am also conscious of the need for safeguards in this legislation. This was pursued in another place yesterday and throughout the debate today. A range of matters has already been raised and some will be the subject of detailed debate in Committee shortly.
I commence by setting out the safeguards that are included. The evidence of a police superintendent regarding membership would not be sufficient for conviction. The inferences from a failure to mention a material fact when questioned would not be sufficient for conviction. No inferences may be drawn before access to a solicitor. The Director of Public Prosecutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will personally review each case to be brought under these convictions. Legislation has been passed to enable audio recording under the EPA 1998. That Act requires procedures to be followed to pass a code of practice through your Lordships' House and in another place following the affirmative resolution procedure. The Government wish to bring forward that provision as soon as practicable. In Northern Ireland silent video recording was fully introduced from May 1998, although it was operable in Castlereagh from January; in Northern Ireland an independent commissioner for the holding centres has been appointed to oversee the procedures concerned with those held there. He reports annually. Together these represent significant safeguards which recognise the importance that this Government attach to human rights.
I deal first with Clauses 5 and 6 and the whole question of conspiracy. The Government believe that the provisions on conspiracy are important. The recent evidence of the scale of the threat of international terrorism, by which I mean both direct evidence of the carnage in East Africa and the clear requirement for a web of support and preparation in other countries, justifies a clear response: action that can help the law enforcement agencies to develop a more effective practical response and send a clear deterrent message that this country will not allow its hospitality to be abused.
The loopholes in the existing law on conspiracy--the illogical patchwork of countries and offences--cries out for rationalisation. That is precisely what the Bill seeks to do. If we are to do it for terrorist offences it will be difficult both to achieve and to justify the exclusion of other offences. First, it is difficult to define terrorist offences in a way that ensures that all relevant activity is caught. Secondly, we do not want this country to be a haven for planning organised crime such as international fraud or drug trafficking any more than we do for terrorism. Thirdly, the provisions of the 1996 Private Member's Bill in another place, largely replicated here in respect of conspiracy, were available and familiar from earlier debate. We believe that it is right to take the opportunity of this Bill today to introduce this wider measure with the safeguards and protections that we have discussed. These are dual criminality--that is, only matters which are offences in each jurisdiction are caught--and the requirement for the consent of the Attorney-General bearing in mind public interest considerations. These provisions do not threaten legitimate political activity. The Attorney-General's discretion and ability to consider the wider public interest will safeguard hard individual cases.
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