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Friday, September 4, 1998 Published at 08:18 GMT

Terror crackdown becomes law

Irish terrorists: facing a crackdown under the new law

New emergency measures designed to crack down on terrorism have become law after being rushed through parliament in just two days.

The Lords debate the emergency Bill: the BBC's Carole Walker
The legislation, which was described by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as a "proportionate response to deal with small and evil groups of violent men" whose aim was to wreck the Northern Ireland peace process, makes it easier to prosecute suspected members of banned terrorist organisations.

MPs and peers had been recalled to parliament to pass the legislation after last month's Omagh bombing which killed 28 people in Northern Ireland.

The Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act gained Royal Assent after clearing all its stages in the House of Lords early on Friday morning.

Police action awaited

It aims to end difficulties police have faced in bringing prosecutions for membership of the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA, the INLA and the LVF.

[ image: RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan must decide whether to act]
RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan must decide whether to act
The Act also targets people conspiring in the UK to commit crimes abroad. The Act mirrors laws passed by the Irish Parliament.

North and south of the Irish border, people are now waiting to see whether the new legislation will bring about a police blitz on terrorist suspects.

But some MPs continued to criticise the way in which the legislation was rushed through Parliament.

Fury at rushed process

Former Tory minister, Alan Clark, dubbed it "focus-group facism".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's a very dangerous combination. What you're getting is gesture politics."

[ image: Government haste under fire: Alan Clark]
Government haste under fire: Alan Clark
He added: "You have serious infringements of civil liberties. That people can be convicted on the word of a senior police officer is ridiculous.

"It's kind of focus group fascism. You know: 'Oh look, there's a great row about this and we must be seen to do something and let's get going and never mind Parliament.' They're a lot of old fogeys. They want to make long-winded speeches."

Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews said: "This is a draconian measure.

Anger at the use of the parliamentary process
He went on: "I have never seen a single Bill which so effectively removes civil rights across the board, and that it is done in this way, with MPs having absolutely no time properly to consider it, is bound to make bad law."

But Labour MP Gerry Bermingham said the Bill was straightforward and understandable.

"We had a particular situation here which required a certain amount of speed. The issues themselves were fairly straightforward. I think most MPs actually understood what was going on," he said.

Reserved support

The debate in the Lords opened with protests at the rush.

[ image:
"A united front": Lord Henley
Lord Harris of Greenwich, Liberal Democrats' chief whip, said: "We are being asked to give the executive almost absolute power to put the legislation on the statute book without detailed debate in the normal manner."

Conservative Home Affairs spokesman Lord Henley said it was " vital that we present a united front" against terrorism.

Therefore his side supported the Bill - though it had misgivings about the way it was being passed.

[ image: Attack on
Attack on "populist haste": Lord Holme
LibDem Lord Holme said his party was most concerned about the clauses aimed at outlawing conspiracy to commit terrorist acts overseas.

He said it seemed these measures had been included simply because the "Home Office could push something through with populist haste".

Lord Holme: "A timely Bill"
But the Bill as a whole was, he believed, "timely".

Lords gave the Bill unopposed second and third readings after nearly 11 hours of debate.

The main measures:

  • Allowing evidence from a senior police officer to be used in prosecutions of people suspected of belonging to terrorist groups not following the peace process,

  • Interpreting a suspect's silence as corroboration of police evidence,

  • Allowing the seizure of a convicted person's assets if they were used for terrorism,

  • Making it illegal to conspire to commit terrorist acts outside the UK.

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    In this section

    Key events since the Good Friday Agreement

    Splinter groups threaten peace

    Punishment beatings: A grip of fear

    LVF link to Red Hand terrorists

    The long search for peace

    Two centuries of tradition

    Inside the Orange Order

    Continuity IRA - the struggle goes on?

    Northern Ireland facts and figures

    A fond farewell to Northern Ireland

    The Good Friday Agreement in full