Labour faces revolt over terrorist law

Click to follow
LABOUR faces two backbench rows this week over its decision to stop opposing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as up to 30 MPs prepare to rebel against the party leadership.

The row coincided with a tough statement yesterday by John Major, who stood by his denunciation of Wednesday's IRA statement and warned again that progress towards a settlement in Northern Ireland would go ahead "with or without Sinn Fein".The Prime Minister added that he would not put up with the "age-old Stalinist denunciations we got the other night".

On Tuesday Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, will face a meeting of Labour's backbench Northern Ireland committee, several of whose members are hostile to the new policy. Other critics plan to raise the issue at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting on Wednesday.

A week ago Mr Straw said in a television interview that Labour would end its 15-year opposition to the anti-terrorism laws, recommending that MPs abstain instead. The emergency provisions of the Act, due to be voted on in the Commons this month, were introduced by Labour in 1974 but tightened by the Conservatives in 1981. They have provoked opposition on civil liberties grounds.

Mr Straw will argue that the policy change was a result of the Government's agreement to a review of the Act, announced in January. He will also point out that the use of its powers in relation to Irish terrorism has dropped dramatically in recent years. However, Opposition whips expect critics, including Dennis Canavan, Jeremy Corbyn and Dennis Skinner to defy the recommendation and vote against on principle.

Irish government sources yesterday gave a cautious welcome to the granting of a visa to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams to visit the US for St Patrick's Day this month. Dublin believes that allowing the trip will boost the influence of peacemakers within the republican case. The Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, said in Bangkok that he hoped the granting of the visa would "strengthen Sinn Fein's hands" in urging the IRA to restore the ceasefire.

There was a different tone from Mr Major, also in Bangkok, who continued his verbal offensive against the IRA although he did not condemn the granting of the visa. Despite the difference of emphasis between the two prime ministers, there were signs that Mr Major was deliberately adopting the role of hard man - quite possibly with Mr Bruton's "assent".

He said he would give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt "when they say something to give them the benefit of the doubt about", adding: "I have given them enough benefit of the doubt over the last few months." He wanted to see Sinn Fein enter "democratic politics" but it should not think that if it did not do so "the democratic process will hang around for them".

The view that the peace progress depended solely on its participation was equivalent to saying that "Sinn Fein and people who throw bombs around can block the democratic process. Parliament doesn't accept that. The Irish parliament doesn't accept that. John Bruton doesn't accept that".

He declined to comment on his 50 minutes of informal talks with Mr Bruton in the Thai capital where both men have been at the EU-Asian Summit, beyond saying that it had been a private "stocktaking" exercise.

Asked if he agreed with the Irish that Wednesday's IRA council statement was not its last word on the joint communique issued by the two prime ministers that day, he said: "If this is not the last word, good." But he warned: "I will react if and when I get positive information."

He continued: "If it was a preliminary response, it was an inefficient, ineffective and inappropriate one."

Sinn Fein is expected to attend the "proximity" talks beginning tomorrow in Stormont, although it can only deal with the two governments via officials.