§ 11.26 a.m.
§ The Paymaster General (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The Second Reading takes place at a time when terrorist activity in Northern Ireland continues at a high level. I hope that your Lordships will excuse me if I do not take up the House's time with statistics to illustrate the continuing magnitude of the problem. Statistics are not in any case a proper measurement of the real impact of terrorism. They cannot adequately quantify, for example, the grief and suffering brought about by the recent shooting of two young girls and a young man at a mobile shop in Craigavon or a father in front of his children in Coagh, County Tyrone, or the murder of a policeman about to visit his elderly mother in Ballycastle. None of us is under any illusion about the problems that need to be faced. As we embark upon this debate, we must all have in our minds those who have suffered as a result of terrorism and our sympathies and hearts go out to them.
I have very much in mind also the debt that we owe to the security forces in Northern Ireland—we owe them so much —and the part played by others; the judiciary, court staff, prison officers and the people of Northern Ireland themselves, going about their daily lives, who have suffered so much over so many of years.
The purpose of the Bill is to re-enact, with amendments, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts of 1978 and 1987, together with certain parts of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. The Bill is needed because the existing legislation has a fixed, five-year life and would expire in May 1992. As most of the Bill comprises straightforward re-enactment, much of it will already be familiar to your Lordships. However, as well as re-enacting the existing legislation, the Bill also contains a number of new provisions that were introduced as a result of the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Colville to whom we are much indebted for another authoritative report. It also contains a number of amendments which were introduced directly at the instigation of government.
Before coming to the main provisions of the Bill, perhaps I may say a few words about the principles which underpin the emergency legislation. Last November, in answer to a Question in another place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made a statement in which he made it clear that the Government's first priority in Northern Ireland is the defeat of terrorism from whichever section of the community it comes. There is no acceptable level of violence and, for so long as violence continues, it will be met with a firm and resolute response. Your Lordships might say that there is nothing new in that 1662 but I believe that it cannot be repeated too often. The actions of the terrorist have no place in a civilised society. Our commitment to the defeat of terrorism remains absolute. The proof of that commitment lies in the fact that after more than 20 years of wanton and horrific suffering, inflicted not just on the security forces or the people of Northern Ireland but elsewhere in the UK as well, the determination of successive administrations has remained constant that there should be a just and lasting democratic solution to the deep-seated problems of Northern Ireland.
Within that context, the emergency legislation still has a vital part to play. Much though we wish it could be otherwise, the ordinary criminal law and procedures are not enough in all circumstances to deal with the special problems of terrorism. We believe that, if criminal procedures are to deal with terrorist tactics and the problems to which they give rise, some departures from ordinary procedures remain necessary at any rate for the present time.
I emphasise that this view was shared by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. However, it is our avowed policy—once again this is reflected in the statement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State—that any departures from ordinary criminal procedures should be kept to a minimum, that emergency legislation should be kept under regular review and that, where they are no longer needed, individual provisions should be dropped. It is also an important part of our policy that the emergency provisions must contain appropriate safeguards to protect individual rights including the rights of those suspected of terrorist offences.
A further, crucial aspect of our approach is that, where additional powers are given to the police or the armed forces, they should be applied with the utmost integrity and even-handedness across the community. In his review last year, as in the earlier reports that he produced on the operation of the emergency provisions Acts, my noble friend Lord Colville expressed the view that it is not so much the powers themselves which can cause concern in Northern Ireland, as the way in which they are applied. I should like to emphasise that this point is totally accepted by the Government and by the security forces. Jointly, we have a determination to ensure that emergency powers are used only where appropriate and then to the highest professional standards. A great deal has already been achieved in this area through training, improvements to the complaints procedures, and the determination of successive commanders of both the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the army in Northern Ireland. I suspect, however, that it is an area where, however much is done, there will always be room for improvement. But a high standard is being set and, together with the security forces, we shall do everything possible to try to ensure that it is met and, wherever possible, improved upon.
In this connection your Lordships will be aware that in another place on 6th March the Government announced that they had decided to accept in principle my noble friend Lord Colville's recommendation that we should introduce an independent element into the scrutiny of the armed forces' procedures for handling 1663 those complaints which fall short of allegations of criminal misconduct. The Government regard that as a significant further development in an area of public concern. In order to give effect to that decision, we shall shortly table proposals for your Lordships' consideration.
So the House will have an opportunity to consider the detail of proposals which I hope to bring forward at a later stage. I hope, therefore, that on the occasion of this Second Reading your Lordships will be content if I say no more than that the Government envisage the appointment of an independent assessor whose function would be to keep under review the working and effectiveness of the procedures for the submission of, investigation, and response to complaints against members of Her Majesty's forces in Northern Ireland which fall short of allegations of criminal misbehaviour. Of course allegations of criminal misbehaviour are for the police to investigate. We envisage that this review work will be carried on, but, although I am ready to answer questions at the end of the debate, I should prefer to go into the detail once the amendments have been tabled. Perhaps I may just say that it is our intention that the independent assessor should also submit an annual report to my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which would be laid before Parliament.
The Government are confident that, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Colville and indeed others, such a measure will be greatly in the public interest. It will be the latest in a series of measures introduced in recent years to make the complaints process more effective, of which the most recent example was the establishment by the army in Northern Ireland earlier this month of a central complaints office to enhance existing internal army systems for the speedy and effective processing of complaints involving Her Majesty's Forces. The Government believe that the provisions which I intend shortly to lay before your Lordships will therefore be of value not only to the community but also to the armed forces themselves in helping retain the confidence and support of all men and women of goodwill from both traditions in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps I may now say briefly what are the main provisions of the Bill and try to highlight where significant changes are proposed. Part I of the Bill replaces, without significant amendment, Part I of the 1978 Act. It continues the category of scheduled offences and provides for trials on indictment for scheduled offences to be conducted by the court without a jury, which remains regrettably necessary because in terrorist cases there remains the danger of intimidation of juries. It provides that bail in such cases is to be granted only by the High Court or Court of Appeal. Part I also contains special rules on the admissibility of confessions by persons charged with scheduled offences and for reversing the onus of proof in relation to offences of possession of firearms and explosives. It also provides for the granting of remission for persons convicted of scheduled offences 1664 and for the reactivation of the remitted portion of earlier sentences. Those provisions are currently found in Part VI of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989.
Part II replaces, with amendments, Part II of the 1978 Act. It confers powers on the police and armed forces to enter premises without warrant, to search for munitions, radio transmitters and receivers, and for persons unlawfully detained, and for the purpose of arresting terrorists. It provides the police and armed forces with powers of arrest and seizure; powers to stop and question and to search persons in public places; and powers of entry and interference with rights of property and with roads. The power of seizure for the armed forces in relation to equipment used to re-open closed border crossing points is provided for the first time in this statute, but it was refined by a government amendment in another place in order to restrict the exercise of the power to a maximum of four hours. This part also creates a new offence of bypassing closed border crossing points. Part II also introduces new powers for the police and armed forces to examine documents and other material to establish whether they contain information useful to terrorists. This provision was also amended in another place so as to exclude from the exercise of the power material subject to legal privilege.
Part III replaces, with two significant additions, Part III of the 1978 Act. It continues the category of proscribed organisations for Northern Ireland and offences relating to membership of and support for such organisations. It also creates offences relating to the unlawful collection of information likely to be useful to terrorists; training in the making or use of firearms and explosives; and the wearing in public places of masks, hoods or other articles to conceal identity. This part also creates a new offence of directing the activities of an organisation concerned in the commission of acts of terrorism, which was added to the Bill in another place, and, based on a recommendation by the noble Lord, Lord Colville, also includes a new offence of possessing items intended for terrorist purposes.
Part IV, together with Schedule 3, re-enacts the power of executive detention. Part V re-enacts the regulation of security guard companies in Northern Ireland. Part VI replaces, without amendment, Part II of the 1987 Act. It contains statutory rights for persons arrested and detained in police custody under the terrorism provisions to have a person informed of their arrest and whereabouts and to have access to legal advice. It also makes new provision to allow the police to take fingerprints from terrorist suspects, without consent, in line with the law in Great Britain.
Part VII contains new provisions, which were introduced by the Government in another place, to allow for the confiscation of personal assets derived from terrorist-related activities. The existing law does not provide an effective means of depriving those convicted of such financial offences of the personal benefit that they would derive from involvement in such activities. That is what the new provisions on confiscation are intended to achieve in Part VII, with 1665 safeguards for the innocent, who, I assure your Lordships, I believe have nothing to fear from these provisions.
Part VIII re-enacts, without amendment, existing provisions in the 1978 Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations for promoting the preservation of the peace and the maintenance of order. It re-enacts the provision that widened the grounds on which the Secretary of State may reject applications for licences for new explosives factories and magazines currently found in Part VI of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It also provides for the payment of compensation by the Secretary of State in respect of property taken, occupied, destroyed or damaged by members of the security forces. This part also contains new powers, inserted on the recommendation of my noble friend Lord Colville to allow my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to make codes of practice governing the exercise of the emergency powers by the police and armed forces. It also contains new provisions introduced by the Government in another place relating to terrorist investigations.
Part IX contains supplementary provisions. As with the existing legislation, this part provides for the temporary provisions of the new legislation to be renewed annually by Parliament and to have a five year life.
That is the background to the Bill. It makes a serious attempt to ensure that the police, armed forces and the courts have at their disposal the means to protect society in Northern Ireland from the evils of terrorism. It contains strong new powers to give the security forces a sharper edge against terrorism. I confess that I make no apology for that. I stand ready to justify those powers. Equally, we believe that the Bill, supported by other measures, provides a proper range of safeguards for people who may be affected by the emergency legislation.
Finally, in commending the Bill to the House I remind your Lordships that the emergency legislation forms only part of the overall strategy for tackling terrorism. We shall continue to seek improvements across the broad span of our security effort, including co-operation with the Republic of Ireland, and our determination in the security field will be matched with our efforts to make progress on political development and economic and social issues. The drive against terrorism must be prosecuted on a broad front and the Bill before your Lordships will help to ensure that, for their part, the police, the armed forces and the courts have the necessary means to do the job —and in ways that ought to command the confidence of all people of good will. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Belstead.)
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for opening the debate in such an eminently balanced way, as one would expect. I join with the Minister in paying tribute to the fortitude of the people of Northern Ireland, and to the 1666 members of the security forces, who undertake their lawful duties often in difficult and dangerous circumstances, and to the judiciary, who have an immensely difficult task to discharge.
It is clear from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that the Bill is more than a re-enactment with modifications of existing legislation in this complex field. It is a major Bill creating a number of significant new powers and significant new offences which are outside the ordinary criminal law of Northern Ireland. The Bill therefore extends the scope and the duration of the current emergency legislation. It will be the principal framework which will govern the activities of the security forces and the police in Northern Ireland during the next five years.
Sadly, we must recognise that there is still a need for exceptional legislation to meet the special circumstances in Northern Ireland. Regrettably—no doubt we shall hear from my noble friend Lord Fitt if he is present later—that special criminal legislation has been a distinguishing feature of the government of Northern Ireland since at least the beginning of the last century. That is far from over. But the history of emergency legislation suggests fairly clearly that such legislation by itself is not a solution to grievances, real or imaginary. Such legislation must be accompanied by political initiative. That is why we on these Benches welcome unconditionally the political initiative of the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Therefore, while fully accepting that there is still a need for emergency legislation, we must never grow tired of repeating the familiar argument that where a society faces a ruthless internal threat to its stability, and even to its existence, the state should not be provoked into overreacting under the pressures of the passing hour. Its response must be conducted, so far as possible, within the framework of a rule of law. If it is provoked into overreacting, that will be counter-productive because the situation would be exploited by the paramilitary organisations to build up sympathy for themselves in the communities which they claim to represent and defend, and in the world beyond the United Kingdom.
We believe that two questions have to be asked about every clause in the Bill, and satisfactory answers given before the clause can be given an unqualified welcome. First, is the clause essential in order to maintain order? I readily concede that that is usually a question which is far more difficult for the Opposition to answer than for the government of the day since the Opposition do not have access to up-to-date information about the security position. Nevertheless, the question has to be asked.
Secondly, if the provision is essential, does it contain the necessary safeguards to protect the rights of the innocent suspect who is caught up in its net? Therefore the power or the offence which the Executive considers to be necessary must be balanced with the necessary safeguards to minimise the possibility of abuse, otherwise the legislation can go sadly wrong. Those two principles are acceptable to most people. I believe that in his opening speech the Minister acknowledged that that dual test is the appropriate approach to the Bill.
1667 In assessing the merits and demerits of the Bill's provisions, we are greatly assisted by three authorities. We have the authoritative and informative report of' the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, which was presented to Parliament last July. The noble Viscount is one of the greatest living authorities on the operation of existing legislation. Therefore his recommendations should carry great weight with the Government and with the opposition parties. The noble Viscount has fully earned our gratitude.
Secondly we have the advice of the Northern Ireland Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The commission agrees that emergency provisions are required for the time being. However, it believes that much more attention should be paid to building appropriate safeguards into the Bill. We are also indebted to the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland. I accept that the committee is a firm and radical critic of the case for emergency legislation.
We are mindful that some of the provisions of the emergency legislation and some of the provisions contained in the Bill were strongly criticised by members of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights when meeting in New York at the beginning of this month. It is also fair to say that that watch dog tends to judge Western democracies by higher standards than it applies elsewhere.
I turn to the provisions of the Bill. We are dismayed that the Government have been unable to accept a number of the key recommendations to safeguard human rights. They were made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and supported by the standing advisory commission. They have been ignored; they have been swept aside. It is a matter of particular regret that the Bill re-enacts the specific power of detention without charge or trial. That provision appears in Part IV, Clause 34. More than 16 years have elapsed since the power was last used. In 1987 the then Home Secretary announced that there was no intention to reintroduce detention without trial. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, came down decisively against that measure. I do not doubt that the Minister will claim that the power should be retained because the Government may want to fall back on it during the course of a rainy day. We wonder!
Perhaps I may remind the House of the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. In paragraph 11.9 of his review of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts 1978 and 1987 he stated:Detention without charge or trial is normally regarded as a symbol of authoritarian abuse of power, and there is much rejoicing in Europe over its ending".The re-enaction of the power is a blot on the Northern Ireland statute book. Indeed, its retention wholly justifies a debate in itself, and we shall return to the subject in Committee. Meanwhile, it would be of assistance to noble Lords if before the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, would be good enough to place in the Library a list of the countries which still retain that symbol of authoritarian power.
In common with the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, we are disappointed that the Government have not been able to accept the recommendation that the interrogation of detainees 1668 be video recorded. That would have been an invaluable shield to the police and to the detainees. I have still to hear a convincing explanation of why the police authorities in Northern Ireland are resisting that recommendation. What do they fear from the camera?
On the other hand, the Bill provides a number of new powers and offences which need to be modified in order to minimise the risk of abuse. In the time available today I shall comment briefly on only one power and one offence. Clause 22 creates the power to examine documents in order to decide whether they contain information likely to be of use to terrorists. The clause was improved in another place in order to protect documents which are subject to legal privilege. However, there is still great uncertainty about how it will work in practice in the hands of a soldier on duty at a checkpoint or when a house is searched. How will a soldier, a private who is a layman in these matters, be able to recognise a document that is subject to legal privilege? I am not sure whether the clause can be amended. Like the poll tax, it may well be incapable of amendment.
Clause 30 introduces a new offence of being in possession of items intended for terrorist purposes. Many people believe that to be the most significant innovation in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, told the House that the clause stems from the recommendation made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that there should be an offence of going equipped for terrorism. Most people will agree with the offence as drafted by the noble Viscount and as produced in Appendix 2 of the report. But the clause goes much wider than the noble Viscount's recommendation. It ignores one vital condition in his definition, and it reverses the burden of proof. The clause can easily be abused as a source of harassment and therefore it must be examined carefully in Committee.
The Bill will authorise the police and members of the security forces to use powers which are exceptional by any standard. Often they will be used by young soldiers working in difficult conditions. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has not given any statistics but I should like to mention one set. Many people in Great Britain would be surprised to know that in 1989 1.2 million vehicles were stopped and checked by the West Belfast Battalion. During August of that year, the battalion carried out 2,444 patrols. Those figures are to be found in the report of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. He considered that they were worth recording and so do I. Can the Minister confirm that such a scale of activity is not exceptional but is still the order?
The noble Viscount was told by the army authorities that the soldiers are not very old, are led on patrol by a non-commissioned officer in his early twenties, and they go out on duty knowing of and fearing what might happen to them. I formed that impression last year when the army allowed me to visit two permanent checkpoints on the border. I was favourably impressed by the conduct of the young men whom I saw. Nevertheless, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, was prompted by what he 1669 heard from members of the general public to express his anxiety about the way that it was said that people were being stopped and searched in the street. That is recorded at paragraphs 2.11, 2.15 and again at paragraph 5.1 of the report. He says at paragraph 5.1:Stories abound of clumsy, rude or arrogant behaviour by both military and police personnel".His words were echoed—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will know this—more forcefully by the much respected Primate of All Ireland, Dr. Daly, in the homily which he delivered on 28th March last.
It is fair to say that the complaint is not of criminal conduct but of humiliating, vexatious and provocative behaviour. It is fair to say also that the Army has sought to improve the way in which complaints are dealt with. However, clearly there is a need not merely for an independent element in the complaints procedure but also for a credible independent element in the procedure. That must be seen to be credible not merely by your Lordships in this House but by the public at large in Northern Ireland.
This morning we have learnt a great deal about the Government's intentions from the Minister's opening speech. However, we must consider very carefully whether the proposals to be introduced by the Government adequately meet the criticism, because that is a criticism which must be answered.
There are other matters which are the cause of anxiety such as the need for a code of practice relating to the use of lethal force and the absence of a right to apply for a judicial review of a decision permanently to close a border crossing. We are concerned about the scope of Clauses 27 and 58. I express the hope that we can make some modest improvements to the Bill in Committee.
I conclude by returning to one of my original points. It would be mistaken to believe that emergency legislation will, by itself, bring enduring peace to Northern Ireland. That prime objective can be achieved only along political routes. That is why we attach such importance to and strongly support the political initiative which the Secretary of State has steadfastly pursued over the past 15 months. We earnestly hope that the historic talks which will begin on 30th April on the political future of Northern Ireland will be constructive and fruitful.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, perhaps I may join the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in thanking the Minister for his extremely helpful and clear introduction to today's debate. We on these Benches believe that the passage of a Bill of this sort is a regrettable necessity. I say "of this sort" because there are significant inclusions in the Bill which the Minister mentioned and significant omissions from it with which we shall wish to engage the House. We do not believe it to be a perfect Bill, but there is incontestably an emergency in Northern Ireland as well as a long-term and long enduring problem. An emergency provisions Bill is necessary to deal with that emergency.
1670 All of us must regret the continuation and, indeed, it seems in recent months the intensification of violence in Northern Ireland which makes necessary this legislation. However, it is necessary as long as the thugs are seeking to impose their vision of the future at the point of a gun rather than accepting the inevitability of co-existence of the communities in Northern Ireland and democratic deliberation.
I take this opportunity to thank the police and the Army for doing what is very often a thankless job in confronting and contesting the terrorists. Perhaps I may refer particularly to the predicament of the often young soldiers who make up our forces in Northern Ireland. We should all recognise what a lonely and unpleasant job it is for young men. They must feel isolated. The situation is brutalising. Indeed, when we think of how much it appears that the existence of support groups matter to our young men in the Middle East, I suggest that we should all address our minds to the question of whether we could do more to support, and support psychologically by some sense of fellow feeling, the soldiers in Northern Ireland. I raise this question briefly today and I should like to return to it later in this House.
Finally, by way of general introduction, it is appropriate to reiterate our congratulations to the Secretary of State on his patient efforts to bring together the parties in Northern Ireland. We all wish the talks well. I trust that the truce announced by the Loyalist paramilitaries is genuine despite the horrible murder last night. This is a moment of decision for the larger terrorist groups on the other side of the argument. It is a moment of decision, is it not, for the IRA and Sinn Fein, its political sponsor? They now have a window of opportunity which they could take if they wished to do so to say that they will become part of a constitutional attempt to arrive at a peaceful settlement. Those who stick to terrorism at this time are putting themselves beyond the pale.
Having said that generally we support a Bill of this sort, there are a number of anxieties which I should like to raise for the attention of the House this morning. The first is that from these Benches we have had a long-standing anxiety about the Diplock courts. They place such great stresses and strains on the judiciary to whom the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, expressed gratitude for their efforts. We continue to urge that there should be three judges presiding over non-jury cases and that juries should be used wherever possible.
Secondly and specifically, I raise the nature of the very vaguely drafted Clause 30 which states:A person is guilty of an offence if he has any article in his possession in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable suspicion that the item is in his possession for a purpose connected with … terrorism".There is a double displacement in the wording of that clause. It is extremely vague and I imagine that it will cause a great deal of discomfort in the courts. In the case of the Winchester Three, which your Lordships will recall, a radio was found in the possession of one of the suspects which could pick up police messages. How many of us occasionally find that we pick up police messages on our radios?
1671 The fact that an article has only to give rise to a "reasonable suspicion" and that it is for a purpose "connected with" could mean that almost any article could be caught by that clause. Is a coffee grinder for grinding coffee or is it for breaking up explosives into finer particles? Your Lordships will recall that a map of Winchester was found in the possession of the Winchester Three. Was that for planning agreeable country walks around Winchester or for locating the house of the Secretary of State for Defence? Is an old alarm clock in someone's knapsack for waking up someone in the morning or is it the raw materials for the construction of a bomb?
In his presentation of the Bill the Minister leant heavily on the distinguished work of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. It is worth reminding the House that the noble Viscount produced a draft and stated two requirements that the Government appear to have dropped. First, he explicitly required intentionality; that the people carrying suspected items should be doing so with the intention of committing an offence, not simply in circumstances which might give rise to a suspicion that they had such an intention. Secondly, he suggested that people's abodes should be specifically excluded. If one thinks of the contents of the average person's home it is possible for any officer of the law to construct a case that any articles obtained for ordinary domestic use could give rise to that suspicion. The Bill is too broadly drafted, and your Lordships should perhaps consider that point carefully in Committee.
My second anxiety concerns Clause 27. The clause is admirable in its intent. It deals with people who direct "at any level" terrorist activities. The intention is one that we should support; that is, to bring into the security network the shadowy Mr. Bigs lurking behind the terrorists who do the dirty work; the people who do the planning; the people behind the thugs. That intention must be right. I am sure that it will command support. Those people must be caught.
However, the words, "direct, at any level" make nonsense of the English language. In commercial usage a director is someone who directs an enterprise. Are we to say that an office boy who directs the emptying of the waste paper basket is directing at a certain level? We are torturing the language to the point where, instead or the clause being designed to catch people who plan these terrible offences, it could be used to apply literally to anyone. I cannot believe that that is the Government's intention. I understand also that it goes beyond what the RUC wants from the clause.
I have criticised one or two sins, as we see them, of commission in the Bill; I should now like to raise one apparent omission to which the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has already drawn attention. Despite the recommendations of both the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Bill fails to offer protection for the reputation of the RUC by the provision of video taping for interviews with suspects. The Colville Report said,It is hard to see how it is possible any longer to resist a system of recording the closed circuit TV signal".1672 In the light of that explicit recommendation perhaps I can ask why the Government have not seen fit to follow that advice. The Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights said,The Commission (SACHR) is strongly of the opinion that the addition of a video recording facility would be of considerable assistance".The Government have been given good and clear advice on the matter and have chosen not to take it. I wonder why. The reason for following the advice is not simply to protect potentially innocent suspects; it is also to protect the reputation of the police. We must be aware that there is now a problem of credibility. The cases of the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven and the Guildford Four have left those of us who want proper security at sixes and sevens.
The Government must take action to try and restore in every way that they can public faith in the criminal justice system. To fail to do so is not simply to fail to protect human rights and civil liberties; it is also not to lend support to our police force where it is most needed. Video recordings of police interviews would protect the police and the public from repetitions of the tragic incidents which deprive innocent men of their freedom and which have done so much to damage the reputation of the police. Perhaps the Minister can say —if not I am sure we shall return to the matter—why the Government do not feel able to follow the advice of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville.
I have been critical of one or two points in the Bill but I should say that we warmly support the new clauses designed to clamp down on racketeering in Northern Ireland. It is a problem when people who are thugs begin to infiltrate the whole system of society; to extend their tentacles into commerce and other activities. For instance, it would be interesting to know the Government's perception of the problem concerning taxi firms and cab drivers, not just in Belfast but increasingly in other parts of Northern Ireland, where there appears to be significant penetration of that important occupation. As the Minister is aware, in some places in Belfast taxis are the only means of transport available for people who are terrorists or paramilitaries of one kind or another. We support attempts by the Government to clamp down on racketeering.
We believe that the terrorists must not be defeated so much in the military sense as shown beyond doubt that they cannot win by violence. To demonstrate that requires not only effective enforcement of the law and the protection of security but also the rejection of the gunmen by the community in Northern Ireland. The Government will need to continue to pursue a twin-track strategy; that is, stern prosecution of security and great sensitivity over the limits of power and the way that that power is exercised in Northern Ireland. It is implicit in our anxieties about the Bill that we should get that balance right.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Lord Colnbrook
My Lords, I support the Bill. I use the word "support" advisedly. I do not use the word "welcome" save in one respect. I do not welcome the fact that we need Bills like this; I do not believe 1673 anybody does. We all wish that Northern Ireland was like any other part of the United Kingdom—Sussex or anywhere else. We wish that there did not exist a small group of people—and it is a small group —who are determined to destroy the existing system of government in Northern Ireland. But more than that, the Provisional IRA are on public record as saying that their objective is, first, to destroy the government of Northern Ireland and, secondly, to destroy the government of the Republic and run the whole place themselves.
So long as a body of persons who use violence, murder, bombing and other means of trying to gain their own way, exist, we need a Bill such as this. It would be totally unreasonable to expect the RUC and the army to maintain any kind of peace and law and order with only the powers that exist in the rest of the United Kingdom. It could not be done. It would be unfair of us to invite them to do so. They have a difficult enough task as it is. We have the greatest respect for them. I cannot believe that if we did not equip them with the extra powers contained in the Bill they would be able to do anything significant towards keeping the peace in Northern Ireland.
The situation in Northern Ireland is not ordinary; it is extraordinary. Therefore it needs extraordinary provisions of the law in order to deal with it. The Bill is called, as all its predecessors have been called, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. I am not sure that "emergency" is the right word. In most people's mind that is something that occurs quickly and goes away quickly. The situation has been going on for 21 years. Perhaps the Government might like to call it the Northern Ireland (Extraordinary Powers) Bill.
Leaving that aside, I welcome two matters. The first is that by introducing the Bill the Government are showing that they remain determined to ensure that terrorism is not succeeding in achieving its objectives.
The second fact, which I also welcome, is the statement made in explicit terms by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, that he supports the Bill. The impression gained from the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, if not in quite such specific terms, is that he too believes that the Bill is necessary. When I was in Northern Ireland some years ago as Secretary of State, it was a great strength to me to be able to say that these extraordinary aspects of the law had the support of all the elected representatives in the House of Commons and the whole of Parliament without there being any belief in the minds of terrorists that there was a significant body of people who wanted to sweep them away, thus giving the terrorist the idea that they would have a chance to succeed. The fact that in your Lordships' House there is not going to be an effort to stop this Bill is greatly to the benefit of law-abiding people in Northern Ireland.
Of course there are differences of detail. There are bound to be. There always has been and there always will be differences of detail. I can remember when the Diplock courts were first introduced. There was a good deal of disquiet about that. People were very anxious at the idea that juries should be done away 1674 with and that certain types of offence could be tried by a single judge. People were not at all happy. In fact, the system has worked remarkably well, but with a great burden on the judiciary, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said a moment ago. My noble friend the Minister can confirm this at the end if he is able to, but I think I am right in saying that the number of appeals against the decisions of the Diplock courts—noble Lords will remember that there is an automatic right of appeal against both verdict and sentence—is actually fewer than those from the criminal courts in cases where there are juries. That shows that the Diplock courts work and that they are accepted as working.
Differences remain and one of those has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies; namely, the power of internment. I am not really happy about that provision. In fact, in 1980 I made a change. Up to that period, under the law as it was then, the Secretary of State (me) could sweep people up and lock them up without asking a by your leave of anybody. One was constantly urged to do so. There are elements within the Province who say: "You know who all the terrorists are, why on earth do you not lock them up before they commit an offence rather than wait until they have?". So I was always under pressure to do that. Obviously, that is not a good step to take unless you really do know who the terrorists are. You think you do, but the trouble is that you do not.
The change I made at one of the renewal sessions was to require that if I or any one of my successors was to use that power he would have to come to Parliament within 40 days to get it confirmed. That did not apply before. That was a good measure though I do not know whether it applies today. If it does not, then I suggest to my noble friend that it should. I am not happy about the internment provision. I do not believe that it is going to be used. With reluctance, I support it now, but I do not know that I shall be able to continue supporting it forever.
I believe that the additional powers in this Bill are very good. The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, mentioned Clause 30, which deals with the possession of items which may be used for terrorist purposes. I understand his doubts, but I believe that it is a very good measure. For example, let us consider that very unpleasant device called the mercury tilt switch. I believe that we all know what it is. You attach it to a bomb and put it underneath somebody's car. When he drives up a slope he is blown to pieces like poor Airey Neave. That is exactly what happened to him. I cannot believe that there is very much use for a mercury tilt switch, which I give as an example, in ordinary life. If there is, then people should have to prove it. People should not be able to carry these pieces of equipment about or even own them, unless they can show that there is a really good purpose for them.
The other new power which I believe is a good measure is the power to investigate the money supply. That is very useful and highly necessary. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said, by themselves Acts of Parliament like this one are not going to defeat 1675 terrorism unless other things happen as well. He mentioned the political initiative, with which I wholly agree. If it can be done, one of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to whittle away its support. I am talking now principally about the Provisional IRA. I know that there are terrorists on the loyalist side, but I believe that their acts of terrorism are reactive. If the Provisional IRA can be caused to cease to act and to exist, then I believe that the other organisations will, too. One of the ways of achieving that is to whittle away their support. Without support in the community in some form or another, a terrorist organisation cannot exist.
But how can one do that? How does one persuade people—I am not talking about active people who will place a bomb or press a trigger but those who, for example, will lend a motor car for a couple of hours without asking why; or those who will say: "Yes, I will take your rifle and bury it in the back garden until you need it again"; or those who will run messages? If their support can be whittled away, then the terrorist will find it much more difficult to act and probably will be unable to. How does one do that? One sets about it by seeking to remove grievances. I believe that has largely been done over a number of years. That has not been achieved entirely but very largely.
People have to be shown, first, that there is nothing at all to be gained by supporting a terrorist organisation, because it is never going to win. Secondly, one has to make it more difficult for a terrorist organisation to encourage people to join it, support it or lend it a hand. If the organisation runs out of money, that is going to be very much more difficult. Anything that we can do to make certain that the terrorist organisations are deprived of money should be done. The provision in the Bill will give the RUC extra powers in that direction and I hope that it will help.
All these methods of trying to overcome terrorism are terribly slow. We all wish that they could bear fruit immediately, but they cannot and they will not. Slowly. over a period of years, I believe that they will, provided that we advance on all fronts at the same time. I return to the Bill for a moment. Provided that the laws we pass here are not draconian, but tough and fair, and people believe that, then I believe that we shall have done our job properly and that there will still be a chance that before long the hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Ireland who want nothing better than to live in peace will be able to do so.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, having listened to previous speakers who have concerned themselves very properly with what this Bill is about—namely, how to counter the distressingly obvious effects of terrorism in Northern Ireland leading to the total destruction of family life, as my noble friend Lord Belstead has said—I should like to put this subject into a rather different perspective and paint a perhaps rather different background, but following on very 1676 directly from what my noble friend Lord Colnbrook, with his great experience of Northern Ireland, has said.
It is appallingly easy to be overwhelmed by the security situation in the Province, especially when one is an outsider looking in, as, naturally, I have been for most of my life. That is borne out by the number of times I was commiserated with during my tenure of office. That commiseration was, and still is, totally misplaced. We should remember that there is another and improving facet of life there which, for the vast majority of the population, has been taking in slowly but surely in the past few years.
I first went across the water some 15 years ago to deliver a lecture. It did not take much investigation to see that life for most of the inhabitants differed markedly from life in Great Britain in terms, for example, of the ability to go shopping, as there were very few large department stores. People in Belfast and Londonderry tended to scuttle rapidly between house and shop and house again. The centre of Belfast was totally dead after six o'clock or so at night. Unemployment even then was very high and due to climb even higher during the mid-eighties.
In recent years though there has been a sea change in the social conditions in the Province, and something approaching what we on the mainland of Britain regard as normality has started to flow back to the Province. Last summer the pubs and restaurants—the latter much more numerous than for many years—were regularly packed out. The vast shopping centre in Castle Court was fully up and running; the two branches of Marks & Spencer, one in Belfast and the out-of-town one near Lisburn, were doing such good business that in some weeks they out-performed similar stores over here—and not for the first time, either. The city centre store is one of the most profitable branches, Marks & Spencer tells me, in the United Kingdom, and for a period was the most profitable. The same is true of the Britannia Building Society. Marks & Spencer is so pleased that it is planning a major expansion in its business in Northern Ireland with another three stores in Derry, Bangor and Ballymena, the last due to open on 1st June this year and the rest within 12 months. Thanks to the ceaseless whirlwind and worldwide activities of my former colleague Richard Needham, factories, works and commerce have returned to the Province resulting in the unemployment figure falling in 42 of the past 53 months. Unemployment currently stands at 98,800 on a seasonally adjusted basis, which is 26,500 lower than the peak of October 1986; and at 1.2 per cent. Northern Ireland had the lowest increase last month of any region in the United Kingdom.
These improving social and economic factors are of course just what the IRA does not want and the number of bombings has inevitably increased. A response to both these negative and positive features has been a stirring in the body politic, egged on slowly and carefully by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who has rightly gained great praise for his endeavours and skill.
I counted myself more than fortunate then, when due to the intervention of my noble friend on the 1677 Front Bench, I was asked to take up the health and social services portfolio in the Northern Ireland Office. I regarded it then, as I regard it still, as the best job in government for a junior Minister, being totally responsible for first one, and then two, government departments. Being, as I described it, a mini Secretary of State, I was able to spend 95 per cent. of my working hours with a sector of normal government, a sector which is duplicated in Wales and Scotland, though of course is rather different in England. Perhaps, on reflection, that remark is rather disingenuous, because certain things are done rather better in Northern Ireland. For instance, health and social services are combined under the control of the health boards, a system I would dearly love to see in England. But this is not the occasion to go into that in any depth. I must return to my muttons.
I had a ministerial job which in other countries would, I suppose, carry the title of Minister for Social Affairs. I christened myself quite unofficially the minister for normality and made myself responsible for relieving what I perceived as the Northern Ireland "chip". Lest this should sound patronising, let me say that it was readily admitted by most of the people at all levels of society that I met. This self-effacing characteristic was hardly surprising among people who were still affected by years of political bullying and social unfairness in the 1950s and 1960s, reinforced by this most insidious effect of terrorism, making people want nothing better than to hide their light under a bushel. In my line of work this showed itself in professionals in the health and social services fields in particular. Where on my countless visits I found good, innovative working practices going on, I encouraged people to publish in the relevant professional journals what they were up to. Indeed, on one occasion I was so horrified by a blatantly unfair article in the Health Service Journal about community care that I commissioned a riposte from a respected academic at Queen's University.
Getting closer to today's debate, I recall an occasion when a leading member of the community, a respected director of a major charity, said to me, "I would dearly love to invite Mrs. Hillery to our next launching party, but I suppose I wouldn't be allowed to." I replied, rather forcefully for me, that I had never heard such rubbish and advised her to go ahead and send the invitation on the grounds that although the answer could well have been no, the important thing was to send it. It is instructive to remember that, although I was not involved, a subsequent invitation was sent to and accepted by the Taoiseach to another event not many weeks later.
In my time of office normality showed itself in another rather more frightening way. When I arrived in Northern Ireland almost two years ago, I was told by a very senior civil servant that health service workers there did not demonstrate. I accepted this at face value until I had to make a much publicised rapid exit from a seminar at Belfast City Hospital, and another lesser known one from the Royal Victoria Hospital. Neither had anything to do with terrorism, but were political demonstrations—one against 1678 competitive tendering and the other, at the Royal, against self-governing hospitals. They could equally have happened in Manchester, Liverpool or London.
The point I am making, I hope not too laboriously, is that defeating terrorism is not only a matter of policing and having sufficiently strong laws but of persuading people to lead a normal life through the development of political, economic and social policies. However, it simply will not happen unless the rule of law prevails and indiscriminate acts of violence are stamped out. It grieves me therefore to have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. I believe, along with my noble friend Lord Colnbrook if, as I think I did, I followed him correctly, that terrorism in Northern Ireland is, regretfully, not an emergency. It is a most regrettable fact of life that people have tragically learnt not so much to live with, but to an extent to cope with.
After all, one only has to remember that the Republic of Ireland itself was born out of terrorism and that that still continues. Our response therefore should not be in the form of an emergency provisions Bill. Let there be no mistake about it: what we are debating today is an admittedly necessary Northern Ireland counter-terrorism Bill. Along with my noble friend Lord Colnbrook I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench, although I suspect he cannot do anything about this Bill, will see to it that the point is taken up when preparations for the next Bill begin in some four years' time. Having said that, I strongly support not only the consolidatory aspects of the Bill, but also the new provisions concerning going equipped for terrorism, seizing machinery used in the illegal re-opening or by-passing of closed border crossing points and the power to search for documents. It is noteworthy in this connection that, as I saw from my newspaper, the RUC recently had to pay £5,000 compensation for doing this in a way that was not in accordance with the current law.
None of these examples is an emergency response to a temporary need. They equate with permanent provisions which Parliament has enacted to counter, for example, fraud and drugs. Indeed, I can only find one emergency response in the Bill, about which there has been much discussion in recent months; and in his speech the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, showed that it is set to continue. Should the situation warrant it, the Government are requesting Parliament to allow them to keep executive detention. This is a serious matter and it is only right that it should be fully aired. For my part, I believe there is no guarantee that within the five-year lifetime of the Bill the terrorist threat will decrease. Indeed, with the increasing normality that I have been talking about, I would expect it to increase correspondingly. Even with the magnificent service of the RUC and the security forces (to which I have good reason to pay a personal as well as a general tribute), terrorism could still explode, if I may be allowed to use that phrase, in terms of the number of incidents. If my worst fears are realised—and everyone in Northern Ireland will pray that they are not—internment will be the only way of dealing with the situation. If the power were not on the statute book, it would never be used, because even if Parliament were sitting, the 1679 Government would have to give notice that they intended to introduced legislation. The provision could, I accept, go through both Houses in a single day; but even this short time, given the power of radio and television, would see the disappearance of the terrorists from Northern Ireland like snow in summer. But Parliament might not be sitting. It is true that it might be recalled but, as we know from the Falklands War, that process takes even longer and the birds would have flown by the time a Northern Ireland executive detention Bill got on to the statute book.
I believe that there is an equally powerful reason why we should not get rid of the power of internment. If I have learnt nothing else in my time in your Lordships' House, it is that politics is about signals. By doing away with it, we shall be shouting from the roof-tops that we have the terrorist threat sufficiently under control and that we no longer need the one weapon that prevents a major upsurge in that threat. We would indeed do that at our peril.
I enormously regret the fact that I felt the need to speak in the way I have today in the second part of my speech. It has made depressing listening and, if anyone bothers to read my speech in Hansard, it will make depressing reading; but so do the reports of the numerous murders, bombings and fatal shootings that occur on a regular basis in Northern Ireland. Control of the situation is achievable. Indeed, in many parts of the Province it is being controlled by the admirable activities of the RUC, backed up by the UDR and the Army. But cure, alas, is not achievable. As those murderers whom we dignify by the name of terrorists continue their devilish activities, becoming ever more sophisticated in their methods and communications, so must we in defence of a normal and productive life for the population in Northern Ireland. This Bill is a necessary response.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I rise to speak as probably the only Member of your Lordships' House who is totally opposed to this legislation. It has been quite interesting to listen to the contributions which have been made thus far. All of them, apart from that of the Minister, have been critical of the Bill. In the words of one of the speakers, the necessary balance is obviously not being achieved.
I was interested to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. He painted a picture of increasing normality in the Province. He said that the response to that must be more and increased discriminatory powers in our legislation and the introduction of more offences against our constitution. That does not seem to be logical.
I have spoken in this House on previous occasions on the subject of legislation as it affects Northern Ireland and on legislation described as "prevention of terrorism" Acts. I must make it clear that I do not speak as a supporter or even as a sympathiser with any faction in Northern Ireland which seeks to use criminal acts to further political objectives. I hope that that statement will be accepted and respected by fellow Members of the House.
1680 I believe the Bill before us is counter-productive to the final objective which we all seek; namely, the elimination of terrorism, the promotion of respect for the rule of law in our country and the ability of people to live in peace with one another.
The noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, mentioned that we had been living with this emergency for 21 years. In that time we have seen a continual ratchet upwards of legislation which, as I said before, discriminates against the Irish people in our country and offends against our constitution and the rule of law—the separation of the judiciary from the Executive.
I believe that we can legitimately ask ourselves: why at this point in time do we need a Bill which actually increases and introduces more offences? It increases the authoritarian executive power to interfere with the rights of citizens. Why after 21 years do we need such an increase? We have already had many of these powers and they have signally failed in achieving the objects for which they were put on the statute book.
We must be very careful about the legislation which we put on the statute book. In this day and age, given the increase in normality to which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred, and given the political activity which is taking place under the leadership of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (with the support of Her Majesty's Opposition, the inclusion of the main political parties in Northern Ireland and the participation of the Government of the Irish Republic), I do not understand why we are seeking at this stage to enshrine more repressive legislation in statute. I believe that we are going in the wrong direction. Surely we should take this opportunity to ratchet down the discriminatory legislation which we already have against the people of Northern Ireland.
I would single out Part IV of the Bill especially. It deals with unlimited detention without trial. One of the interesting features is the inclusion of what I was going to call a charge. However, it is not in fact a charge as one normally understands the word; it is an indication of what has supposedly been done by the detained person. Such a person is allowed to know what is being held against him, but it may not amount to a criminal act. Moreover, the detained person is denied the opportunity of a trial. The whole concept offends against even the Magna Charta, which goes back almost a thousand years; yet we want to enshrine it in our statute book. It has been said that this power has not been used for many years. If that is so, why do we need it? I believe that successive Ministers have said that they have no intention of using it. But if there is no intention of using it, why is it on the statute book?
I hope that in Committee we may be able to persuade the Government to change direction a little so as to mitigate some of the worst excesses of our emergency legislation and to withdraw from the position of having powers on the statute book which we do not intend to use. The fact that those powers are on the statute book reinforces the attitude that some people have that the British Government are against the people of Northern Ireland. It could be used in a political way against all the efforts which have been 1681 made by every decent person to ensure the rule of law and the peaceful coexistence of all our citizens within the United Kingdom.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I shall not attempt to follow the wide-ranging comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, on the Bill which is before the House today. Nevertheless, I ask noble Lords to step back 18 years in time with me. I do so because the more your Lordships' House changes, the more it remains the same. Some 18 years ago I was standing in roughly this spot on these Benches speaking on Northern Ireland, and, surprise, surprise, who should be speaking for the Government but my noble friend Lord Belstead. Nothing has changed apart from the fact that he now wears spectacles. Perhaps he needs them because he is longsighted or shortsighted. Eighteen years have passed by since then. Today we have heard a galaxy of speakers of enormous experience and integrity speaking on Northern Ireland. Nearly everyone who has spoken and many of the noble Lords who have listened to the debate have been associated in no small way with the Province.
Today as at so many other times during the past 18 years and more we are discussing emergency provisions for that part of the United Kingdom which contains 1.5 million brave and independent people. I repeat that we are discussing emergency provisions. My noble friend Lord Colnbrook referred to the term "emergency" earlier today. This measure is different from the normal run of legislation, let alone the legislation that we were discussing last night which concerned criminal justice and criminal affairs in Great Britain.
The problems which give rise to the Bill before us today and similar legislation started a long time ago. I invite noble Lords to take their pick as to when the problems started within Northern Ireland, the whole island of Ireland, or indeed within the British Isles. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, to take his pick as to when the problems started. Any noble Lord who has taken even a remote interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland over the past 18, 20, 25 or 30 years will recall the same problems, phrases and comments recurring. We can in many cases recall the same speeches being repeated. I invite noble Lords to look back over the records of proceedings in your Lordships' House and another place over the years. They will find the same problems being referred to though they may be dressed up slightly differently with different flavourings and different nuances. These same problems have bedevilled all of us for at least 22 years and more. We are still discussing emergency provisions today.
What we are discussing is anathema to everything that your Lordships' House, another place and this magnificent Palace of Westminster and its traditions collectively represent. Why are we discussing this matter today? I cannot begin to attempt to answer that. I leave that to those who are still to speak and who have taken part in the debate today. My thoughts such as they are and have been on Ulster, Northern 1682 Ireland and on the whole island of Ireland have been fashioned over 20 to 25 years by such luminaries as Lord Cameron. I am not referring to the noble and learned Lord who sat on these Benches and who has now become a judge, but to his father whom your Lordships may recall presented a report on Northern Ireland to the Government in 1969. He is 91 years old and hale and hearty. I still have his report and I still learn from it. Your Lordships may also recall the reports of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Scarman and Lord Widgery. Many of my thoughts were coloured by our sadly missed noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine.
For me Ulster and its people represent something like the earth or the moon. They have a sunny side and a darker side. The emergency provisions that we are discussing today represent the darker side and they are measures of dire necessity.
Your Lordships may wonder why a Scot, and an accountant at that, has ever taken any interest in Northern Ireland and why he is speaking today on Northern Ireland. Scots and accountants tend to go with figures and statistics. The simple series of statistics that I gleaned last night will show why I feel passionately that the measure we are discussing today is one of great necessity. Since that somewhat startling day 730 weeks ago today, 12th April 1984, when I was asked to go and serve in Northern Ireland, like my noble friends Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Belstead—the latter is now in his second incarnation in Northern Ireland —during my career which spanned five and a half years, as far as I am aware 81 soldiers, 75 members of the RUC and approximately 250 civilians were murdered, killed or died a violent death as a result of terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland. That is over 400 people. Each and every one of those 400 men, women, and two or three children meant something very special to their families and relatives in Northern Ireland, the Republic and often, regrettably, to relatives in Britain. They were needless victims. For each of those victims and those who mourn them the Bill before us today is a necessity.
However, the lighter side of Northern Ireland begins to show itself. At least your Lordships' House, another place and the Government are attempting slowly to correct the climate of terror and violence that blights the Province, the Republic and Britain. The attempts of several enormously intelligent men and women of integrity to keep governments and all of us within reasonable and logical bounds are much appreciated. I think particularly in this regard of the late Sir George Baker and of my noble friend Lord Colville. I believe my noble friend has been mentioned by every speaker today. My noble friend's report makes me feel very humble because it provides such marvellously clear reading. We, and everyone in Northern Ireland, are particularly lucky to have the scholarship and wisdom of my noble friend to chide us, warn us and in no small way to guide us as we seek to derive some form of law that will enable the ever more sophisticated forms of terror and evil to be identified and for their practitioners to be brought before the courts.
1683 My noble friend Lord Belstead has explained the measures in the Bill clearly and helpfully. I am interested by Part VII of the Bill. Perhaps your Lordships think that appropriate as an accountant is not likely to die of tedium wading through figures. In another place on another occasion my right honourable friend the Secretary of State explained that the measures in Part VII merely follow those of other pieces of legislation such as the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice (Confiscation) Order 1990.
Legislation of the kind that is referred to in Part VII is already on the statute book and it applies on this side of the water in Britain. As I understand it, measures of similar ferocity are also available for those of us who are incalculably recalcitrant over our VAT and tax affairs. In such investigations documents can be demanded and requisitioned. Banks often have to produce highly confidential information to assist investigations which are already permitted under the three pieces of legislation I have referred to. Your Lordships will be aware that some measures under companies legislation can lead to draconian conduct on the part of investigators. The measures in Part VII are not some form of new and vicious legislation aimed at poor, harmless, innocent and charming persons in Northern Ireland.
It is vital for the authorities, whoever they may be to make a start. I hope that they will then make increasing progress with eliminating the enormous opportunities for fraud, racketeering and mafia-style activities. That is perhaps harsh language to use about people in an integral part of the United Kingdom, but those words were used by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
Every conceivable offence is covered in Clause 49(1) (a): intimidation, security services being run without a licence, assisting others to retain the proceeds and stealing the proceeds of racketeering. It appears that all the obvious avenues have been covered by that paragraph in Clause 49, let alone by Clause 7. It took me several minutes to unravel Clause 54(1), but I hope that I am now a little clearer about it.
I have to express my admiration for the new class of authorised investigator defined in Clause 57. I am sure that they will turn out to be very competent and courageous people. Part VII of the Bill is the only part on which I wish to comment today and I shall return to it at another stage.
I mentioned a dark and a lighter side to the situation. I should like to direct the attention of your Lordships to the brightest side of Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned by my immediate successor as Minister with responsibility for the Province in your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. He looked after the Department of Health and Social Security while for five-and-a-half years I attempted to look after the Province. My noble friend who sits beside me may have something to say about my attempts on behalf of farmers. Never once was I in any great danger; it was only my waistline that was in danger.
1684 In all those years when the affairs of Northern Ireland were discussed in your Lordships' House and in another place many speeches were made by the same participants, often on the same subjects. I am not necessarily aiming my remarks at the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. We all love to hear him. He stands head and shoulders above all of us. He may speak today. I hope that he will not think that I am suggesting that we all say the same thing.
Whatever we say in your Lordships' House or whatever is said in another place, we have to admire the brightest side of the situation in Northern Ireland, namely that quality which turns up in all our discussions—the sheer courage of each and every one of the people of Northern Ireland. They have managed to live normal lives during 22 years of violence, terrorism, lawlessness and, too often, death. At the forefront of our admiration must be the courage of the men and women of the security forces, followed closely by their dependants, friends, loved ones and relatives who live on both sides of the Irish Sea.
The number, never mind the quality, of speakers in today's debate testifies to the impact of that shining courage of the people of Northern Ireland on all of us, let alone on another place, and its impact on our attempts and our determination to see that law, liberty and freedom will flourish in Northern Ireland, let us hope sooner rather than later. For that reason I support my noble friend and I support the Bill.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, first, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for presenting the Bill in such a clear and understandable manner. I also pay tribute to the immense amount of work which my noble friend Lord Colville has contributed to it.
What I have to say is, by chance, in some respects a response to what the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said. I shall endeavour to show in practical terms why I feel that his understanding of the situation is far apart from that of people in Northern Ireland.
When solutions to the Northern Ireland problem are discussed, the political solution is sometimes talked of as going hand in hand with a military solution. On the political side, everyone except the terrorists hopes very much that some positive good will result from the Secretary of State's forthcoming talks. The other half of the equation, the so-called military solution, is, I believe, incorrectly named and is misunderstood, largely due to spurious media reporting. I feel that it should be referred to as the law and order solution.
There must be adequate and appropriate laws to enable our security forces—the police with the military in support —to carry out their task of maintaining law and order within this part of the United Kingdom. I accept that there may have to be a military solution in isolated cases where, in order to save innocent lives, minimum force results in the security forces opening fire. However, in the vast majority of cases we are talking about dealing with suspected terrorists through the due process of the 1685 courts. We hear that the well-known loyalist terrorist organisations have decided on a short cease-fire. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that, even if there is a ceasefire by paramilitary groups, those who have committed murders and terrorist offences will continue to be brought to the courts and to justice.
I should like to consider from a practical point of view certain aspects of the Bill and the need for some of the new clauses which it contains. Clause 22, which has already been mentioned, relates to the power to examine documents. The atrocities in the Province are only the end result of considerable planning and preparation by ruthless, murderous terrorists. Often, for weeks and months, information such as the names of soft targets, timings, police and army routines, car numbers and even suitable positions for placing mortars in order to hit particular targets, has been collected by groups of people. The memory cannot cope with all that information and it has to be put on paper, carried around, stored and passed on to other people. By chance, examples of such information have been found by the security forces while searching clothes, cars and houses for weapons and explosives, which they have been legally empowered to do. Details of the registration numbers of policemen's and soldiers' cars have been found. In every case this has probably prevented an attempt on someone's life.
It is quite clear that far more information could be found if a provision such as Clause 22 is introduced. I accept that there is the question of legal, medical and religious confidentiality. However, such a power is necessary in order to save the lives of many British soldiers. Furthermore, Clauses 60 and 61 will enable the Secretary of State to introduce codes of practice. I trust him to do so in such a way as to take care of the issue of confidentiality.
Clause 25, which makes it an offence to interfere with or bypass previously closed border crossings, is worth comment. First, the requirement for such a provision has been shown on many occasions when terrorists have used the crossings to mount attacks. Perhaps one of the most horrifying was the attack on Derryard on 13th December 1989. Derryard is a checkpoint on the border. But for the professionalism of the soldiers at the checkpoint all eight of them would have been killed instead of only two.
Secondly, although we must be grateful for the co-operation that our security forces receive from the Republic, it is painfully clear that the Government of that state are incapable of securing their border and dramatically reducing the raids on the North from their side of the border. Only recently it was shown how the terrorists run rings around the security forces in the South. Security was requested on the southern side of the border crossing points during an operation announced by the Secretary of State recently. Yet on 22nd March soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment were fired on from the Republican side of the border. There were two access roads: the Garda were on the wrong one. That is fair enough. Two days later the IRA repeated the attack from the other road. Surely the Garda must be able to provide better protection than that. Certain border crossings must be kept closed 1686 because the Government of the Republic are not taking effective measures against terrorists operating within that state.
At present many law-abiding Protestants and Catholics living in border areas are being condemned to an unacceptable lifestyle of delays and disruption at permanent vehicle checkpoints. As a result, those people are demonstrating for improvement and modernisation. It is not always a case of demonstrations by terrorists or even pro-terrorist people, although I suggest that the terrorists would quite like to see them open. If you crossed the border four or five times a day for shopping or to take the children to school and, in a normal, average delay you were held up for 10 minutes, but often for between 20 and 30 minutes, you would understand what it is like.
I ask the Minister to provide the money to implement the solution of which he, the RUC and the military are well aware. The problem affects more people, tourists and businesses than all the other security measures daily in operation in the Province. It is also true to say that that solution would almost certainly eliminate the proxy or human bomb threat to those locations.
Clause 30 deals with the possession of items intended for terrorist purposes. There are many examples of suspects having been stopped while obviously preparing to carry out an attack. To mention but one, a car was stopped at 4 a.m. The occupants were dressed in balaclava helmets, "Marigold" rubber gloves and overalls. When they were asked what they were doing or were about to do, they said, "We're going to play a trick on a friend". That is not a realistic answer in Northern Ireland. We must have a charge to suit that kind of activity.
Everyone probably owns something which could conceivably be used by terrorists; indeed, my wife owns many pairs of "Marigold" rubber gloves. But your Lordships should rest assured. The world's most professional anti-terrorist forces and an extremely good British judiciary can differentiate between a terrorist and a housewife. That also goes for the different articles lying around the home mentioned by some noble Lords. It is true that the Bill deals with the intent to cause terrorist incidents. It is not realistic to suppose that people will be picked up for carrying such items as have been mentioned; for example, an alarm clock or even a Parkway timer which is used to set off bombs. There may be a peg through the dial in order that, when the timer runs out, the bomb can explode. People who park their cars normally do not need that kind of interference with their timers.
However, the law is not enough without the resources to bring suspects to court. Recently, we have seen the most barbaric, bloody saga of tit-for-tat killings carried out by mindless killers, most of them so-called loyalists. These are not the spectacular human bomb attacks, but seemingly daily killings for the sake of killing. They are not always in what, in England, would tend to be called "Indian country". They happen throughout the Province, including my own area, and I do not live in "Indian country". Such an increase shows a reduction in the deterrent value of the security forces. Crime statistics in Great Britain 1687 are used to show such trends. There was a Question today relating to the numbers of police and the prevention of crime. I believe that I heard my noble friend Lord Ferrers say that there would be an increase of perhaps 700 policemen in response to the statistics. I am glad to hear that. It is clear that, although no reasonable amount of resources will ever stop all terrorist activity, there is an optimum level above which terrorists and tit-for-tat murderers cannot run rings around the security forces in all areas at the same time, as we have seen recently.
It is common knowledge that the RUC has consistently requested an increase in manpower of over 400 during the last few years. Why is the only fully automatic fingerprinting machine in the Metropolitan Police headquarters in London? Police and military commanders have requested more soldiers. I do not normally call for more troops. However, the CLF and his staff must know their business. If the House can so easily respond to an increase in crime within the remainder of the United Kingdom, I wonder why it does not happen for us in Northern Ireland.
In my local village of Brookeborough three months ago, a good friend of mine, Collum Stevenson, an ex-policeman, was shot dead. During the previous months, there had been two other attempts, both investigated by the security forces. Are we saying that, after continuing murder attempts within a few months in a little village five miles from the border on the main Belfast-Enniskillen road, the security forces were incapable of preventing his murder at the third attempt? That is only an example. There have been other cases.
The Government may say, "But where does the money come from?". Let us look at the alternative that we are experiencing at present, let alone all the people who have been killed since Christmas. In one day, several stores were fire bombed. The cost was £25 million. A reassessment of the priorities should take place urgently.
There is much frustration in all circles in Northern Ireland that the security policy is not more successful. However, let us guard against the pitfalls of ill-advised statements such as a recent one from the normally well respected Archbishop Cahal Daly. He talked about withdrawing military protection from the RUC in strongly Republican areas. He knows perfectly well, because he talks to the RUC, that it will not go to those areas without that protection. So I suppose that security should be withdrawn in the face of terrorism. The archbishop's statement was not very useful. We know what happens when the security forces are withdrawn from areas. There is no doubt about it: we have terrorism; we have knee jobs, head jobs and murders.
I support the legislation and look forward to a better future in the Province. Perhaps I may reassure noble Lords. We are always talking about the lack of powers of the judiciary and the system in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I may quote last week's News Letter in Northern Ireland whose headline was:Are you tight there, Michael?".The article stated: 1688A train ran over a man who lived to tell the tale, Craigavon Magistrates' Court was told yesterday. Michael McAvoy, 23, was found unhurt after a train passed over him. McAvoy, of Shankill Street, Lurgan, was fined £20 for trespassing on the line and £65 for being drunk at the time. Magistrate Fergus McCartan said the `bizarre incident could only have happened in a Hollywood film'. … The police and an ambulance were called but McAvoy had not been injured. Patrick Moriarity, defending, said his client was 'glad to be alive, because he could very easily have been killed'. He said McAvoy had a drink problem and, amid laughter, the RM remarked: 'He very nearly cured it'. Mr. Moriarity said the escape had a profound effect on McAvoy, so much so that he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous".
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, I intervene for only a few moments to give the House something of my experience. When the emergency legislation was going through another place in 1973, I opposed it with great vehemence and supported many amendments to the original legislation. One amendment which I supported then and which I have felt justified in continuing to support throughout the years that have elapsed since is that the Diplock courts should have more than one judge. They should have either three judges or assessors. I know that the existence of that one judge causes great resentment in Northern Ireland.
If it is about anything, the legislation is about attempting to isolate the terrorist to make certain that he does not have any support within the community. I know from experience—and it must he obvious to anyone who knows the situation in Northern Ireland—that the IRA, as a terrorist organisation, could not exist if it did not receive support from a significant section of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. There is absolutely no doubt, nor can there be any querying of it, that far too many Catholics—members of the minority religion of which I am a member—give succour and support to the IRA. One must ask why they give such support. Is it because Catholics are now being ill-treated and classed as second-class citizens and because they are not being given the social justice and understanding to which they should be entitled?
There was a time when that could have been said, a time when the Catholic community was seriously mistreated by a succession of Unionist Governments. I was myself a victim of that mistreatment. That was why I played a reasonably prominent part in the 1960s in the demand for civil rights in Northern Ireland. Since then Labour and Conservative administrations at Westminster have put through legislation which to a large extent has remedied the grievances which have existed in Northern Ireland within the Catholic community. As I read newspaper reports and maintain contact with Northern Ireland, I am happy to say that Catholics can now aspire to the most prominent and eminent positions in government, the Civil Service and local government. They would not have had that opportunity before the imposition of direct rule.
What is it that still makes Catholics give their support to organisations such as the IRA? There are many historical reasons. Many of the hostilities that exist in that community, or indeed any other part of 1689 the United Kingdom, can never be remedied by legislation put through this House. The memories and hostilities have existed for a period of about 400 years and many of them will never be erased until, as some see it, there is a united Ireland and the border is abolished. It is hard to foresee the day when there will be absolute peace in Northern Ireland. I would certainly support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in wishing the present Secretary of State every success in his attempts to find a political solution, although one must have serious doubts about it. If and when such a solution is found it will not stop the men of terror and violence in Northern Ireland.
When one condemns the violence of the IRA one does so because it has been so obvious over the past 21 years. One must be ever mindful of the terrorist tactics of so-called Loyalist or Protestant organisations. Since the House broke up for the Easter Recess I have listened to Radio 4 every morning. Over a period of 18 days it was announced that 10 people had been killed. That may not mean an awful lot to people here but to the relatives of those victims and their communities in Northern Ireland it means a lot. Reviewing the latest catalogue of horrible murders, one thinks immediately of the two young girls killed mercilessly in a mobile shop in Portadown. The circumstances and ramifications of those atrocious murders and the emotional effects on those within the communities of Northern Ireland had to be experienced to be believed.
There was a time when I would have gone into the lobbies and voted against legislation of this kind, but the years which have elapsed and the coffins I have carried to the various cemeteries have made me recognise that in Northern Ireland there is an emergency. The suggestion has been made by a former Secretary of State that we should not refer to this as emergency legislation but as special powers. Given the experience he has had of Northern Ireland, I should have thought he would have known that the special powers Act 1922 applying to Northern Ireland was a major source of the uprising and discontent that took place. The term "special powers" has a particular connotation in Northern Ireland which would inflame even the most moderate of people in the minority community.
This Bill has two added provisions to take account of racketeering. I believe this to be a very important inclusion. It used to be thought in this House and in another place that the major source of IRA finance came from the Noraid organisation in America. Undoubtedly, a lot of finance came from that source, but from my own knowledge and what I hear from people living in Northern Ireland, the majority of the finance is generated from racketeering within the island of Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland. I believe the Government should spare no effort in an attempt to deal with that source of finance, because without finance the IRA cannot continue to pay its volunteers or to buy more arms. By the way, I think there are so many arms lying buried in the Republic of Ireland that the IRA will have a source of supply for years ahead.
1690 The noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said the IRA was a small group. No one has ever been able to ascertain just how small or large it is. A statistic given to me recently indicates there are more Catholics in the RUC in Northern Ireland (over 1,000) than IRA activists involved in terrorism. I believe that gives an indication that only a little part of the Catholic community supports the activities of the IRA.
This legislation should be designed to counter terrorism but, most of all, to take account of the feelings of the minority community and to drag them away from giving any form of tacit support to the men of violence. It is readily understood in Northern Ireland that the so-called Loyalist terrorist is more easily arrested and sentenced because the Protestant community has more faith in the security forces and does not give the same support to so-called Loyalist terrorists as that given by Catholics to the IRA.
I hope that when the Bill goes through its Committee stage the Government will listen to those Members of this House who are concerned to see the eradication of terrorism from Northern Ireland. The best way to do that is to ensure that the security forces—the British Army, the RUC and the UDR in particular—do nothing which will in any way antagonise those members of the Catholic community whom we are trying to dissuade from giving support to terrorism.
An awful responsibility rests on the shoulders of every member of the security forces, in particular the soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the RUC. It is in their interests not to antagonise the minority community and to bend over backwards to ensure that the minority Catholic community is convinced of their impartiality and that they are acting, not as a bigoted or sectarian force, but in the interest of the whole community. If we can ensure the legislation is so designed that it will isolate the terrorist from the Catholic community, to a great extent we shall have succeeded in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland in the years that lie ahead.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. It has been not only a thorough but also an extremely well-informed debate. In particular, I should like to say a word of thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for their support on behalf of their parties for the need for special provisions to deal with the terrorist situation in Northern Ireland. Both noble Lords asked penetrating questions and made trenchant comments about individual clauses in the Bill. I shall attempt to answer some of those questions. These are matters to which we shall return later when the House is in Committee. However, I repeat that I am grateful for the noble Lords' general support.
Perhaps I may give one example of what I mean. There are entirely new provisions in the Bill on racketeering. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has just spoken about that matter in a most supportive way. My noble friend Lord Colnbrook also spoke in support from his previous experience. In this context, 1691 I was also grateful for the words of my noble friend Lord Lyell who quite rightly drew attention in certain respects to the similarity of these provisions with the serious fraud legislation which is already on the statute book.
Perhaps I may also say how right I thought it that my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale spoke about the good things in life that are to be found in Northern Ireland. It is the case—if I may say so from my much briefer experience than his—that through their own hard work and integrity, many people in Northern Ireland have made it a pleasant and prosperous land. Prosperity is a very important element in the fight against terrorism.
Having said that, we are faced with a terrorist situation which is a very great danger to individuals and a scourge to Northern Ireland society. It is the duty of government to respond by ensuring that the law in Northern Ireland enables the police, supported by the armed forces and the courts, to protect the public and deal effectively with terrorism. I echo what my noble friend Lord Colville said in his report. We must ensure that the law is equipped to deal with changes in terrorist tactics and with developments in terrorist capabilities. That is the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, who asked me, as he had every right to do, why there was a need for this Bill now.
I say in passing that the Government agree with my noble friend Lord Colville that the case for emergency provisions needs to be made out afresh on a regular basis and a decision taken by Parliament on their retention. That is the proper way to proceed with temporary provisions dealing with an emergency—that word has been commented on in this debate and I shall not comment upon it myself, but the word is emergency—and it is the reason why the Government gave both the 1987 and 1988 Acts a fixed five-year life. But the principal recommendation which came out of the Colville report—and the Government agree with it—is that the main emergency provisions remain necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, took the Government to task for not accepting many of the recommendations—as the noble Lord asserted—for safeguards. With respect, I do not think that that is so. The Government have accepted the recommendation to create an enabling power to make codes of practice relating to the exercise by the police and armed forces of their powers under the emergency legislation. That is an important step forward. Taken together with the publication of the guide to the emergency powers, it is a clear indication of the Government's commitment to the disciplined exercise of emergency powers. That is a point that was made forcefully and eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, at the end of his speech.
But in addition we have taken very seriously the report's observations on armed forces' complaints procedures. The noble Lord will certainly recognise that. The announcement has been made today about bringing forward amendments so far as that is concerned. The report made a number of other proposals concerning access to families and solicitors and we are considering those sympathetically. The 1692 only substantive recommendation in regard to safeguards that we rejected concerned video recording. That was a matter on which both the noble Lord, Lord Holme (who made it clear that there would come a moment when he would simply have to leave the Chamber) and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, spoke.
I assure noble Lords that we have carefully considered the recommendations of the report in respect of that matter. We acknowledge the concern about interrogation procedures. It is therefore with some regret that the Government have concluded that it would be wrong to introduce video recording of interviews with terrorists. In the Government's view, the essential position remains that which was set out in the report of the Bennett commission of inquiry into interrogation procedures in Northern Ireland. It recommended that closed circuit television should be installed in the holding centres under the supervision of a uniformed inspector or chief inspector but that video recordings should not be introduced. The report concluded that:the argument that recording increases the inhibitions of the suspect is perhaps less forceful in relation to video recording than in relation to tape recording, but it does not disappear entirely … the evidence of our police witnesses, and our own impression, is that some suspects need to be allowed certain room for manoeuvre in what story they tell afterwards if they are to he frank with the police at the time when they are interviewed".I should not want noble Lords to think that I am simply putting that aside and saying that that has gone. It is a matter which I know noble Lords take seriously. I have listened carefully to what has been said and I should like to give further thought before we come to the next stage of the Bill.
Several noble Lords spoke about executive detention. Briefly, having carefully considered the Colville report, we feel, nonetheless, that it is an option that we need to retain on the statute book because, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, reminded us in his speech, the terrorist threat remains acute. As my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale argued very strongly, given the seriousness of the threat, the Government do not regard it as sensible to close off options which could be available. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked me to put in the Library a list of the countries which have executive detention. I shall write to the noble Lord, placing a copy in the Library, and do my best to reply to him. Of course, at the very head of the list of countries which retain executive detention is the Republic of Ireland.
§ Lord Belstead
I shall not, my Lords, cross swords with the noble Lord about that at the moment. However, standing so close to the problems of terrorism, perhaps it is just worth the noble Lord considering that possibly two countries may have some reason for maintaining what they do not wish to maintain on the statute book but feel that perhaps they need to do so at the present time. Let me leave that particular point because I think we shall be returning to it.
1693 My noble friend Lord Colnbrook, from his considerable experience—here I give the point to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—said that he had reservations about this matter. I consider it important that my noble friend reminded us that when he was in office as Secretary of State, he introduced the provision by which the Government had to come back to Parliament within 40 days if detention were to be brought into effect. I hope that your Lordships will attach some importance to that provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised the issue of Clause 22 which concerns the examination of documents. I was most grateful to my noble friend Lord Brookeborough for outlining so clearly the need to have that power. Because people forget things, terrorists must and do commit to paper important terrorist information. That is why this provision is in Clause 22 of the Bill.
The noble Lord, perfectly reasonably, said that one has the exception for legal documents and asked how that would be protected. I ask him to look later on with some care at Clause 22(3). It contains the exclusion for those items subject to legal privilege. Nevertheless it will be apparent to your Lordships that the police and armed forces will need to see such items in order to ensure that they fall into the excluded category. Otherwise it would be open to anyone simply to claim from the back of the car in which they were sitting that the documents were subject to legal privilege without more ado. However, Clause 22(3) makes it clear that as soon as a member of the armed forces has reasonable cause for believing a document to be an item subject to legal privilege, the examination of that document must cease. That is an important safeguard which I hope will be welcomed by the House. Of course there are other provisions in the clause which make it clear that the person undertaking the search has to write down what the search does and who has been conducting it. I believe that that is a very real safeguard.
It may further reassure noble Lords to know that it is the intention of the Chief Constable of the RUC and the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland to issue force orders to the police and armed forces on the exercise of that power; and I believe that training will play an important part.
The noble Lord also spoke about the new offence of possession. He said that he would have preferred the draft offence of my noble friend Lord Colville. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, questioned the application of the offence for possession of items at home. Clause 30 is based pretty closely on the proposals of my noble friend Lord Colville. It was he who suggested that the new offence would need to be applied to possession of items at home. I refer noble Lords to the report of my noble friend Lord Colville when he said that the idea is adaptable to possession of such items at home. I regret to say that the police and armed forces have plenty of evidence of homes being used in Northern Ireland for the construction of improvised explosive devices —mortar bombs and other weapons. That is what we are after in Clause 30.
1694 The noble Lord, Lord Holme, at the same time attacked the vagueness of "article". He believed that it was too wide. It is the essence of the offence that the combination of articles, together with time, place and circumstances, need to be sufficient to prove guilt. Those are the elements that have to be present. The clause makes it clear that it is a defence for a person charged with the offence to prove that at the time of the alleged offence the article in question was not in his possession for such a purpose connected with the commission, investigation, instigation or preparation of acts of terrorism. My noble friend Lord Colnbrook said that he was glad to understand that because there are such apparently everyday items which, in certain hands, can cause such terrible tragedies. My noble friend referred in particular to tilt switches.
I have deliberately gone into some detail because I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Holme, may feel, when they have had the opportunity to consider what I said, that the drafting of the clause is tight and, I hope, fair.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised what is almost the most important point today, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said. It is the need for civility by the security forces in particular towards a community which finds itself in a minority in an area. Perhaps I may put it that way. The Government are at one with Archbishop Daly in believing that the public has the right to expect the very highest standards from its servants in the police and the army. That is why, in answer to the Question in another place last November, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said that it is one of the matters which we very much have in our sights at all times. That is why I spoke at some length about army complaints when I began my speech.
The offence of directing was raised by the noble Lord. Lord Holme. I shall not refer to that today. He also spoke about taxi firms and racketeering. That is a very important point. As I believe some noble Lords will be well aware, it has been publicly reported for many years that certain taxi firms and associations operating in Northern Ireland have made substantial contributions to terrorist organisations. The RUC is aware of the problem and action and certain inquiries continue. Your Lordships would not wish me to say more on that today.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough spoke about force levels. To put the matter on the record, there are currently 12,778 members of the RUC and RUC Reserve in Northern Ireland. Yes, there has been a bid for an addition to the RUC. However, my mind goes back to 17 years ago when I worked in Northern Ireland. I believe that I am right in saying that the numbers in the RUC were about one third of the numbers today. Therefore, there have been increases as the years have gone by, and, quite rightly, for this, the most hard-pressed police force in the United Kingdom. The number of soldiers in Northern Ireland at the present time is over 16,500, with—let us never forget—over 6,000 of those splendid men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I hope that my noble friend will forgive me if I do not speak further on that today.
1695 My noble friend spoke also about permanent vehicle checkpoints. I take on board what he said about wanting to make them better. He knows about the matter from personal experience of living in Northern Ireland. He is absolutely right. We have to try to make checkpoints work as well as they can. However, the money for that has to come out of the same purse as the money for everything else in Northern Ireland. We shall do our best. I have taken on board what my noble friend said.
The issue of the Diplock courts was raised. If the noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Fitt, will forgive me, I shall not speak on the individual points that they made. However, my noble friend Lord Colnbrook asked a specific question about the right of appeal against judgments in Diplock courts. He asked whether those rights of appeal compare very well with appeals from other courts. The facts that I have are these. In the majority of cases before the Diplock courts, the accused pleads guilty. In those cases where a not guilty plea is made, the rate of acquittals is almost the same as the rate from ordinary jury trials. However, the number of successful appeals also compares favourably with the number from ordinary courts. I hope that your Lordships will take comfort from those statistics. I shall not today go down other roads which were opened up by what was said about Diplock courts. We can return to that.
I conclude by thanking your Lordships again for taking part in the debate. Without wishing in any way to sound complacent—because Northern Ireland legislation is the last area where one should have any complacency—I believe that the case for the Bill in principle has been made out in today's debate. The Bill would not represent any change in the Government's security policy in Northern Ireland, however, which remains that terrorism must be defeated through the resolute and even-handed application of the criminal law. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.