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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hardly dare say that I am sympathetic, but no. The purpose of the amendment is entirely admirable. It is to enable members of the public to have access to information on request which would help them to make informed judgments about the way in which the FSA is carrying out its functions. Access to information to enable greater understanding and transparency is of course right, but the new clause is in fact unnecessary because the authority will be a designated body, as the noble Lord anticipated, for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Bill, which was not published in its present form when the Food Standards Agency Bill was first introduced and therefore will be required to make disclosures in accordance with the requirements under that Bill when it is enacted. One of the stated purposes of the Freedom of Information Bill is to extend progressively the right of the public to have access to information held by public authorities.
Lord Saatchi: I fear that this is another example of what I described previously. The Government are prepared to express sympathy but are not prepared to act slightly more decisively. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in introducing this order in another place last week my right honourable friend the Home Secretary indicated that this could be the final debate on the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act if, as the Government hoped, it was replaced with a new Terrorism Bill to be debated in this House shortly. The proposal to replace the Act recognises the sad fact that even the establishment of a lasting peace in Northern Ireland does not entirely remove the threat of terrorism. But I do not propose to dwell too much on the proposed new legislation which noble Lords will soon have an opportunity to debate in detail. Instead, I shall concentrate on the renewal of the existing Act.
We must ensure that those in the front line against terrorism continue to have all the tools necessary to do their job effectively. The PTA is a critical part of that tool kit, and that is why it is essential for it to be renewed, probably for the last time, until, subject to parliamentary approval, new legislation can be brought into force.
I should first comment on the human rights aspect of the order. Noble Lords will recall that the Government undertook on 2nd November 1999 to ensure that where a draft order was subject to the affirmative resolution procedure the Minister moving the instrument would inform Parliament whether he or she was satisfied as to its compatibility with convention rights. This House will have expected my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and me to have given this matter very careful consideration. The question of human rights has been raised on many occasions in respect of this particular piece of legislation, not least in comments by members of the present Government while in opposition.
The mechanism for extending detention under Section 14 of the Act has caused most disquiet over the years. Detention can be for a period of only 48 hours unless the Secretary of State extends the period for anything up to a further five days on application by the
Noble Lords will have the opportunity to note that the Terrorism Bill seeks to address this particular concern by requiring applications for extension of detention to be made to a judge, sheriff or designated magistrate, as the case may be. We believe that the judicial character of the hearing for an extension will fulfil the procedural requirements of the convention in relation to Article 5.3 and enable the removal of the derogation. In the meantime, the derogation continues to be necessary.
The House may also have been aware of judgments last year in the Divisional Court in respect of Sections 16A and 16B of the Act in the case of Kebilene and others. Noble Lords may recall that Section 16A makes it an offence to be in possession of an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that it is possessed for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, while Section 16B makes it an offence to collect or record any information which is of such a nature as is likely to be useful to terrorists, or to possess a record or document containing such information, unless the accused can show that he has lawful authority or reasonable excuse.
The Divisional Court held that both offences breached Article 6.2 of the ECHR because the reverse burden of proof provided for violated the presumption of innocence. But in the Judicial Committee of this House the Divisional Court's finding regarding Section 16A was not upheld, and proceedings in the case under Section 16B had meanwhile been discontinued.
The Government continue to believe that these offences are a proportionate response to the circumstances of the fight against terrorism. I hope that the House will understand if in the time available I restrict my detailed comments on the issue of ECHR compatibility to those provisions and I report that, like my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, I am satisfied that all of the provisions that we seek to renew tonight comply with convention rights.
Before I move away completely from discussion of ECHR issues I turn to the report on the operation of the Act in 1999 prepared by John Rowe, QC. As ever, I am indebted to him for the care and attention that has gone into the compilation of that report.
Now let me look at the events of the past 12 months. In the context of Northern Ireland it has been a period of mixed emotions. Full implementation of the Good Friday agreement has dominated the headlines. The year has been characterised by periods of immense optimism interspersed with the concern that the momentum generated by the signing of the agreement in April 1998 was slipping and the decision of the House and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to suspend the devolved institutions.
In respect of terrorism related to the affairs of Northern Ireland, 1999 witnessed a welcome reduction in terrorist activity both in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain. Even so, there were 124 shootings and 82 bombing incidents recorded in Northern Ireland; and there we see still tragic and unnecessary deaths. In all, seven people died in Northern Ireland in 1999 as a consequence of terrorist violence. Perhaps I may remind the House of two of those deaths. In June, Elizabeth O'Neill was killed in her home by a pipe bomb thrown through the window. And the House will, I am sure, recall the horror of the death, just over a year ago, of Rosemary Nelson, murdered in an act of sheer brutality as she left her home in her car. They are terrible reminders of a time all of us in this House and beyond wish so much to see relegated to the past. But they are reminders, too, of why we should not be distracted from the search for peace.
We need not look far either to be reminded of the threat international terrorism poses. Two explosions in the space of an hour in the centre of Madrid left an army officer dead and heralded the start of a new campaign of violence by the Basque separatist group, ETA, following the announcement in December of an end to its 14-month cease-fire. Further attacks, sadly, have since followed. The Italian terrorist group, the Red Brigade, has also recently resumed attacks.
These are not, of course, campaigns that will necessarily affect our shores, but the occupation early last year of the Greek Embassy in London, and similar types of demonstrations in Europe and further afield in support of the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, show only too readily that terrorists do not recognise borders and will ply their trade wherever they can. We shall continue to play our role on the international stage and do our utmost to secure peace and stability, but it is equally important to have in place effective counter-terrorist measures to deter those who would seek to perpetrate terror and to assist those whose task it is to investigate their crimes.
I return now to the report prepared by Mr John Rowe QC which informs our debate today. Mr Rowe concludes that the powers in the PTA, including the powers of arrest, detention and stop and search, were used carefully, appropriately and proportionately in 1999. There are similar comments on the importance of port powers to the overall police effort, and he is satisfied that they have been used properly. This is very reassuring, and I am pleased to note his conclusion that they should remain in force.
I have noted in particular his comments on the security situation in Northern Ireland. I have already recognised that there are still those in Northern Ireland who remain wedded to the old ways of violence and intimidation; and, tragically, there has been evidence supporting his assertion that attacks on the community were in preparation. Only last week police in Northern Ireland discovered 500 pounds of explosives in a vehicle as a result of which four people have, I understand, been charged with offences related to the possession of explosives.
But we should not lose our sense of perspective. Politicians on all sides are striving to make politics work, to make those who advocate the use of violence realise the futility of their ways, and the overall level of violence remains far below that experienced prior to the main paramilitary cease-fires.
Looking at some of the other issues raised in Mr Rowe's report, I was pleased also to note the reference to the smaller number of complaints from the public about the operation of the Act in 1999. It is pleasing also that Mr Rowe felt able to comment on the apparent care that was taken when looking into those complaints.
In conclusion, while the Terrorism Bill to which I have referred will, I believe, provide new, modernised counter-terrorism legislation proportionate to the threat, we cannot in the meantime expect those fighting terrorism to do so without the present powers of the PTA. It is vital that we maintain continuity and that the existing powers remain available for the next few months through the renewal of the current legislation until new legislation is enacted and can be implemented. I beg to move.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the order. It is clear from Mr Rowe's extremely clear report that it is right and necessary to extend the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as the order does, for a further 12 months. I join with the Minister in thanking Mr Rowe for his diligent and very thorough review of the workings of the various provisions.
As the Minister said, before long we shall debate at some length the new Terrorism Bill. Therefore I do not need to discuss much of the detail at too great a length at this point. However, I am satisfied both from Mr Rowe's report and my own observations that the threats from terrorism to our democracy and to our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland and Great Britain remain real and dangerous.
The situation as regards Northern Ireland is not as bad as it has been at some periods over the past few decades, but the Minister referred rightly to the murders and beatings of recent months and the findings of explosives and other bomb-making equipment. Mr Rowe records that in his report, together with evidence of planning, preparation and training. This is no time to relax.
We all know, too, as Irish history tells us, that when in the past there has been a settlement there has also been, I think on every occasion, a break-away group of those who did not accept the terms agreed but carried on with violence. At present the Good Friday agreement has its problems, as we know. There is, therefore, double reason to continue the protection to our people, our society and democracy against both break-away groups and perhaps mainstream groups of terrorists. One can be very sure that if they thought that we had dropped our guard in the slightest, some would seek to take advantage of that apparent weakness.
I want to draw attention to three aspects of Mr Rowe's report. First, in Chapter 3 he records that the number of complaints against the usage of port powers--one of the most important powers in this legislation--is "infinitesimally small". In a later paragraph he states that there were only 31 complaints resulting from 16,000 patrols in Northern Ireland. We can take comfort from those figures that the powers are not being misused but are being properly used.
The second matter concerns terrorists' finance. Since having responsibility for these matters in Northern Ireland, I have emphasised the importance of that aspect. Extortion and rackets form the basis of a high proportion of terrorist crime; that is terrorists of all opinions. Mr Rowe points out that in the past 12 months there have been an average of eight armed robberies a week in Northern Ireland. They are in addition to the counterfeiting, extortion and so forth, referred to in paragraph 36. That is an important aspect and it must receive great attention.
As regards this order, the Home Secretary assured another place that this year there are no gaps in it--there was previously an unfortunate gap--and that is a welcome reassurance. I am in no doubt about the need for the order and I believe that the House should support it.
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