§ 6 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. While this is a short Bill—just eight clauses—it is concerned with combating terrorism in Northern Ireland. The House is familiar with the emergency legislation, having debated it many times in the past.
886 Noble Lords will understand the importance and the impact of the Bill before them this evening. Successive Emergency Provisions Acts have aimed to strike an appropriate balance between ensuring that the operational needs of the security forces and the criminal justice system in countering terrorism and protecting the community are met while at the same time ensuring that the rights of individuals who find themselves subject to the operation of the provisions are appropriately protected. They have also sought to meet our international obligations under the various conventions. These instruments embody principles which we share and respect, and our compliance demonstrates to the wider world our concern to protect civil liberty while still responding robustly to terrorist violence. The changes which the Bill proposes, and which I shall describe, are intended to adjust that balance still more finely in the light of changing circumstances.
The Bill is the second of three Northern Ireland Bills which the Government are bringing forward this Session. The others deal with parades and marches and reforms to policing. Together the Bills form a package of measures aimed at improving community confidence in the handling of security, policing and public order related issues. At the same time they aim to enhance the ability of the Government, police and others to tackle effectively the difficulties which exist in these areas. The RUC has been consulted about the measures and the police are in agreement with the provisions in the Bill.
Sadly, the period since Christmas in Northern Ireland has been overshadowed by a number of terrorist murders. On 27th December the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) murdered Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright within the confines of the Maze prison. In retaliation, the LVF have murdered three Roman Catholics. Seamus Dillon was shot dead and three others, including a 14 year-old boy, were injured at the Glengannon Hotel in Dungannon on the evening of 27th December. Edmund Treanor and five others were wounded in a shooting attack on patrons in the Clifton Tavern on Cliftonville Road in Belfast on New Year's Eve. Mr. Treanor died of his injuries in the early hours of 1st January. The latest victim, Terence Enwright, who was at the Belfast club where he worked as a doorman, was gunned down in the early hours of yesterday morning. There have been other incidents—a large car bomb in Banbridge, thankfully made safe by the security forces, and a shooting attack in Fermanagh, to name but two—all of which have been deliberately mounted to try to sabotage the peace process. The groups claiming responsibility for the majority of these evils acts—namely, the INLA and the LVF—have refused to declare any ceasefire. While they are smaller than the main groups, they, and others who have not declared a ceasefire—for example, the Continuity IRA—still represent a threat, as they have shown. Their purpose is wholly negative; they have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland; they will not be allowed to succeed.
The security forces will not relax their vigilance against terrorism, whatever its source. Police investigations into all these incidents are under way: 887 arrests and charges have already taken place. There have been finds both north and south of the border. That vital work will continue.
The only way to resolve Northern Ireland's problems is through dialogue, which is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has done everything in her power to ensure as full participation as possible in the talks which resumed today. At her meeting with prisoners at the Maze Prison last Friday, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said:Recent acts of sectarian violence have once again left the people of Northern Ireland very fearful for the future. We will continue to take whatever steps are necessary to combat the threat of terrorism wherever it comes from. But the long term defeat of terrorism requires more than a commitment to support the efforts of the security forces. It requires a proper political settlement that is agreed between political representatives and widely supported on both sides of the community. Such a political settlement must address the issues and relationships which are of concern to both sides of the community. The talks process is designed to allow these and all other issues of concern to any participant to be discussed and resolved. It gives all sides an opportunity to achieve the goals which are of great importance to them without abandoning the values and principles they hold dear".I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House would echo those sentiments.
On 18th November 1997, during the Bill's Second Reading in another place, my honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Adam Ingram, said of the peace process:The most difficult tasks lie ahead. It would be misplaced optimism to underestimate the challenge that faces the two Governments and all the parties engaged in the talks. They will require vision and courage in their quest for peace".—[Official Report, Commons. 18/11/97; col. 168.]It is against that background that the House considers the Bill this evening.
The Bill has two main purposes: to ensure that the criminal justice system and the security forces in Northern Ireland continue to have available the measures that they need to counter terrorism; and to ensure that the rights of those who are affected by the operation of the counter terrorism provisions are appropriately protected. It extends by two years the life of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, which otherwise would expire in August this year. The Bill also makes a small number of important amendments to the existing provisions.
Successive versions of the Emergency Provisions Act have existed since the early 1970s. The provisions are exceptional. Parliament's consideration of their renewal each year, as required by statute, and the introduction, as necessary, of replacement versions of the Act, have proved controversial. That is particularly so when debates on the provisions have taken place during a time of ceasefire. I wish to make it clear, however, that while my party has objected in the past to particular aspects of the Emergency Provisions Act, it has never questioned the need for effective counter-terrorism legislation. For precisely that reason—the need to have effective counter-terrorism legislation—the Government announced in October last year their intention to present proposals to replace the Emergency Provisions Act and the UK-wide Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary 888 Provisions) Act with permanent UK-wide counter-terrorism legislation. They will publish their proposals in the form of a consultation paper. Your Lordships will be glad to note that work on the paper is well in hand, although some further work needs to be done before it can be issued.
The preparation of the paper has been considerably assisted by the report published in October 1996 of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Your Lordships will recall that the noble and learned Lord's report was predicated on there being lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Even against that background, his conclusion was that permanent counter-terrorism laws would be needed. I submit that there can be no question that the main provisions of the Emergency Provisions Act must be kept in place until they can be superseded by new, permanent legislation.
The legislation will be sufficiently flexible to be able to address the changing situation in Northern Ireland and the constantly changing nature of terrorism world-wide. The Bill before your Lordships this evening would achieve that short-term goal. It would keep the emergency provisions in place. subject, as usual, to annual renewal next year and the year after, if necessary, until 24th August of the year 2000.
I turn now to the detail of the Bill. As it is short, your Lordships may find it useful—and, I hope, not too tedious—if I explain its provisions clause by clause. Clause 1 does two things. It extends the life of the temporary provisions of the Act—that is to say, all of its provisions other than those that deal with extra-territorial offences and supplementary matters—from 15th June 1997 to 15th June 1999. It extends the life of the Act as a whole from 24th August 1998 to 24th August of the year 2000. The temporary provisions of the Act are currently subject to annual renewal. They have been continued in force by order until 15th June of this year. Thus, if Clause 1 were enacted unamended, and before 15th June, there would be no need for a similar order to be made this year. A further order would, however, be required in June next year, 1999, and in June the following year, 2000, were it considered necessary to continue the temporary provisions in force until the Act repealed itself in August 2000. I should add that the Secretary of State would retain the discretion she currently enjoys to suspend by order any of the temporary provisions at any time. Were she to consider that circumstances warranted it, she would act accordingly. That is to say, if during the life of the current Act a political settlement were achieved, it would be open to the Secretary of State, when she judged it right to do so, to allow such provisions to lapse.
The effect of Clause 1 is that subject to periodic renewal, as I have described, the following features of the existing Act would be retained: the schedule of terrorist offences; the mode of trial for such offences known as Diplock courts, together with associated safeguards including written judgments and automatic rights of appeal, and the different arrangements for admissibility and onus of proof; the additional powers of arrest, search and seizure for the police and Army; the specific offences against public security and public 889 order, including offences relating to involvement with proscribed organisations; the regulatory provisions for the private security industry in Northern Ireland; the regime for terrorist suspects held under Section 14 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 in the holding centres and the related safeguards in the codes of practice governing their detention; and the appointment of the independent assessor of military complaints procedures.
The Bill makes a number of changes to the existing Act. These are in line with commitments given by my party and consistent with the aim of ensuring that, as far as it is sensible to do so, the treatment of persons charged with terrorist crime mirrors the treatment of persons charged with ordinary crime.
I turn to Clause 2. This amends Schedule 1 to the existing Act so that none of the offences listed in Clause 2 will any longer be automatically tried without a jury. Some offences are already subject to existing arrangements whereby only offences which are connected with the emergency are tried by a Diplock court—that is, by a judge sitting without a jury. The Government would wish to see eventually a return to the normal system of jury trial for all criminal offences, including terrorist offences. That is not possible at present because of the prevailing risk of jury intimidation. Criminal justice practitioners advise that jury intimidation continues to be a very real and present risk where the crime committed has terrorist or sectarian connections.
Schedule 1 to the Act provides a list of offences which are commonly perceived as being likely to be committed by terrorists. These are known as "scheduled offences". While this is the case, it also confers upon the Attorney-General limited discretion to "certify out" for jury trial certain of those offences, depending on the particular circumstances in which the offence was committed. The Bill extends the application of that discretion by making it possible for more scheduled offences to be considered in the first instance by the Attorney-General, who may certify them out. Examples of offences which, by virtue of the Bill, could be certified out at the Attorney-General's discretion are the common law offence of riot; some hijacking offences; some firearms offences; some hostage taking offences; and some offences under the Explosive Substances Act.
I shall not list all the scheduled offences which are covered by Clause 2. The Government's aim is to ensure that where such an offence is not connected with the emergency, it will be possible for the case to be heard in the ordinary way. While many offences in the categories I have mentioned may be committed by terrorists, it is quite possible that some such offences may be committed by a non-terrorist, perhaps even in a domestic context; for example a firearms offence. Clause 2 makes it possible for offences committed in that context to be treated in the usual way. It is entirely proper that such a facility should exist.
Clause 3 repeals the power of detention without trial, otherwise known as internment. Some regard this as the most controversial aspect of the Bill. The Government have long held the view that internment does not 890 represent an effective counter-terrorism measure. I have already spoken of the need to strike a balance between effectiveness and overreaction. The power of internment has been shown to be counter-productive in terms of the tension and divisions which it creates. Quite apart from any judgment about its appropriateness in principle, the fact is that internment has not worked in practice. Indeed many would say it was a disaster when last used in the 1970s. There is nothing to suggest that it would be any more effective in the future. The Government's efforts at this time are focused on achieving stability and building trust within the community in Northern Ireland. We cannot envisage any circumstances in which we would seek to deprive an individual of his or her liberty without trial and without the normal safeguards that the law provides for the protection of suspects. Such action would surely run counter to the rule of law as it is understood internationally.
I shall deal with Clauses 4, 5 and 6 together. They are concerned with silent video recording and audio recording. Clause 4 addresses an omission in the existing provisions on silent video recording. Occasionally, the police require to interview at a holding centre a person who is in custody in the care of the prison authorities. Also, occasionally, a magistrate may order a person to be produced at a holding centre for questioning. Under the provisions of the Act, as currently worded, these categories of interview fall outside the requirement to be recorded on silent video. Clause 4 addresses this omission by enabling the Secretary of State, by order, to require such interviews to be recorded on silent video in the same way as other interviews conducted in the holding centres.
Clause 5 creates a new section to provide for the audio recording of police interviews of persons detained under the PTA. This is a significant step. The introduction of audio recording will provide additional protection for both interviewees and police interviewing officers against claims of verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment. It will also assist the judicial process by providing the best possible record of interviews conducted in the event that a criminal case ensues. The clause is modelled on the existing Section 53. which provides for silent video recording. It mirrors the amendment provided by Clause 4, ensuring that the order-making power conferred by that amendment will apply also to audio recording. As in the case of silent video recording, the first step will be to draw up, for public consultation, a code of practice which will govern the audio recording of interviews.
This leads me to Clause 6, which is an addition to the Bill as introduced. After consideration in another place the Government readily accepted the additional clause. It has the effect that an order bringing into effect a code of practice under the 1996 Act will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure instead of, as at present, the negative resolution procedure. Matters connected with the operation of the emergency legislation are deserving of the strictest parliamentary scrutiny and the Government are happy to support this important addition to the Bill.
891 As Clauses 7 and 8 are technical or deal with consequential matters, that concludes my description of the content of the Bill. In commending the Bill to the House I ask your Lordships to view it against the backdrop I have described—against the current security and political situation in Northern Ireland, and against the Government's longer term plans to introduce permanent measures for dealing with terrorism.
I ask also that your Lordships acknowledge the Government's positive but measured steps to make improvements, even in the short term, to the existing provisions. These improvements aim to protect further the interests of individuals, including the interests of police officers. I wish to commend all those who work to ensure the fair and consistent application of the emergency laws in Northern Ireland. I include the police, the army, the judiciary and those who administer the criminal justice system. I wish to mention the independent reviewer of the legislation, Mr. John Rowe QC; the independent commissioner for the holding centres, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and his deputy, Dr. Bill Norris; and the independent assessor of military complaints procedures, Mr. Jim McDonald.
I pay special tribute to the security forces who continue, in circumstances which many of us can only imagine, to work diligently and fearlessly to counter terrorist activities and to bring to justice those who have committed some of the vilest acts of murder and destruction in the history of this country. I pay tribute also to all those who have paid the highest price in the line of their duty, those who have suffered, and all the innocent victims of the violence in Northern Ireland. For our part the Government will be tireless in our pursuit of a political settlement and a new beginning for Northern Ireland. In the meantime, we will not leave our people without the protections they need. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—((Lord Dubs.)
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Patten
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House. I realise that I am the fourth maiden speaker during this afternoon's business. Indeed, three distinguished maiden speeches were made during the last debate. During the course of that debate, while preparing his own lucid contribution, my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon found time to send me a note which I shall treasure. My noble friend wrote,You will know that the 5th Duke of Devonshire is said to have fallen asleep during his own maiden speech".I do not know whether or not what my noble friend conveyed in that note is true; doubtless it was intended to calm any nervous feelings I might have. However, I hope that the ever helpful Library of this House will never record that I have had that effect on myself or on any of your Lordships during the course of my brief remarks.
The Library has produced a statistic at my request. Fifteen sitting weeks have elapsed since I was introduced in your Lordships' House. Some may think that to speak now is tardy; others, perhaps more old fashioned, may 892 think it somewhat pushy to speak after so short a period. Similar inquiries revealed that in 1979 when I first took my place in another place I waited 11 weeks before speaking. That was nothing like as long as one of my predecessors, Viscount Valentia, who had represented my constituency. He waited 11 years before making his maiden speech in another place. "Those were the days", some would say.
Our views are formed by our experiences when seeking to speak about any subject. Mine have been formed to a certain extent by spending some of the happiest years of my life living for part of the time in Northern Ireland, knowing many people in Northern Ireland as close personal friends, and listening to a wide range of opinions across the political spectrum. I think of the views of my noble friend the Duke of Abercorn, for example, or those of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, at whose feet I have sat on many an occasion in both the Province and here. I have followed carefully the words of wisdom about the Province from such noble Lords as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. So my views are formed by a wide range of influences and contacts in Northern Ireland.
I must also point out that in a debate of this kind it is difficult to follow your Lordships' excellent practice of being absolutely non-controversial. Even the words "Northern Ireland" are deemed by some to be controversial. At one end of the argument some would prefer "Ulster"; others would prefer "the six counties" or "the northern part of the island of Ireland", or some other politically correct phrase. I guess that I can get away with being controversial by using the phrase "Northern Ireland" because it is on the face of the Bill which has been introduced so excellently by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
I have four points that I wish to make to your Lordships. First, I sympathise, in the correct sense of the word, and understand the burdens and challenges which face any Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. In dealing with security issues they have, of course, my strong support. I listened with great care and attention to everything the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said when he reported to the House on the present tense security situation in the Province.
Secondly, I wish that those who comment on Northern Ireland—the chattering classes, the commentators, those who appear on television screens, the radio and newspaper pages—who have been so rapid in coming forward when Northern Ireland has been in the news would take a sustained and detailed interest in the affairs of the Province over a period of years in order not to make a flip and rapid comment but rather to help inform the people on this side of the water about the realities of the situation that the people suffer on the other side of the water. It is perhaps that lack of care and attention by most of those, although by no means all, who comment and form our opinions in this country which has led to some confusion, which I intend to address in my third and fourth points, about what the words "security" and "peace process" mean.
Thirdly, it is important that people on this side of the water recognise that security has nothing to do with colonial oppression, ideology, or party politics, but 893 everything to do with ensuring that everyone enjoys the same high level of security in every part of the United Kingdom. Security is not some tradeable option which can ever be used in negotiation.
Fourthly, and lastly, there is great misunderstanding on this side of the water about what the phrase "peace process" means. Quite rightly, to many people it means men and women of good will from democratically elected political parties coming together to try to heal the problems of three centuries of discord and three decades of turmoil in Northern Ireland. Alas, to other people on this side of the water sometimes the peace process means doing all that you possibly can to stop people firing guns and setting off bombs under you. At a time when things are moving so helter-skelter in Northern Ireland, it is important to remind ourselves that that route leads only to seeking to accommodate people who in the past have used cease-fires as a tactic rather than as a commitment. To borrow the phrase from one distinguished observer of the scene in Northern Ireland, it is critically important that all our efforts in the peace process, and as regards security, are underpinned by seeking confidence-building measures for the peaceful majority of people who live in Northern Ireland.
At the beginning of my speech I mentioned those who have, in different ways, influenced my thinking about the Province. I referred to my co-religionist, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I well remember being addressed by my Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health and Social Services, as it was called in 1981. One of the most urgent briefs on my desk when I arrived in office was a submission seeking my advice on how we should approach a manufacturer of chemical goods for elderly people in Northern Ireland which branded its products as "Gerifit".
The civil servant was an extremely distinguished man, Mr. Norman Dugdale, Commander of the Bath. He influenced a great number of junior Ministers in the Labour and Conservative Administrations of the 1970s and 1980s. I conclude by quoting not from his advice, because that would break all the conventions of government, but from some of his published poetry in a book entitled Running Repairs, published in 1983. One of the poems was addressed to new Northern Ireland Office Ministers. It is called chillingly Provincia Deserta and refers to,gentlemen newly come To live here at the Governor's Lodge. Two years from now You will be safely home again and dining out On your bizarre experiences".Mr. Dugdale went on with resonant bitterness to speak of,All punishment that is random and condign, each Adult male doubling as both predator And victim—a symbiosis which ensures All suffer in the end alike".He ends wistfully by writing of a Northern Ireland—and he was from this side of the water originally—Which will shadow you always, beckoning Still. however far your country".Northern Ireland certainly beckons me and we must ensure that within the Union of the United Kingdom it 894 always enjoys the same high level of security and the same confidence-building measures as every other part of the United Kingdom.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
My Lords, it is a real personal privilege and pleasure to follow the noble Lord's maiden speech. With typical modesty he has understated his own contributions to our national affairs. However, these are all well known to your Lordships so perhaps he did not feel that it was necessary to say more. He was similarly self-effacing in his references to his outstanding services to Northern Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland, as a Minister who was widely respected across the entire community there. I assure him that a very real reservoir of affection still remains among all classes and creeds in the Province which he served so very well. I note that in his entry in Dod the noble Lord lists one of his recreations as,Talking with my wife and daughters".There is no mention of the guillotine ever having been applied. I am not quite certain by whom a guillotine might have been imposed, but perhaps we shall hear that in due course. It seemed to me, as a bachelor, to be a very necessary device. The noble Lord's maiden speech was understandably restricted. However, I know that he can be relied upon in future to add to the sum of knowledge and understanding of the difficulties of Northern Ireland.
In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, indicated that much has changed since the Bill completed its passage in another place on 11 th December. Regrettably there has been a resumption of the murderous campaign, in some cases by sub-contractors of established and recognisable terrorist organisations and in other examples by splinter groups. Other forms of terrorism, not unconnected to the drugs scene, have sought to dominate entire communities in Northern Ireland. That, too, is very regrettable.
Defending the Bill in another place some weeks ago, Ministers appeared to be influenced by American supporters of Irish terrorism—although in fairness it must be said that those American supporters are rather less charitable when it comes to Libyan or Iraqi terrorists. Ministers appeared to be sensitive to what was perceived as the importance of confidence-building measures to secure the compliance of Irish terrorists, regardless of the demoralising impact on confidence in the minds of law-abiding people in Northern Ireland and indeed throughout the United Kingdom.
It is just possible that something positive may result from all the current high wire acts at Stormont, and more recently in Tokyo. The problem is that a so-called settlement cobbled together under the glare of the spotlights may collapse when some of the contracting parties or groups discover that the small print fails to deliver that which they had thought they were promised. In that unhappy event, there will be the usual accusations of betrayal and double dealing, resulting in the splintering of some parties which have acquiesced in the arrangement. Sadly, that has been the history of Irish politics for a century and a half. But even more 895 dangerous will be the continuing efforts by existing groupings to eliminate those whom they regard as quislings in their own ranks. We have already seen such indications but conspiracies are gaining ground, with the object of launching a co-ordinated murderous campaign before Easter.
Your Lordships may feel that I am painting a very sombre picture. I hope that you are correct. But intelligence North and South, and here in this island, convinces me that it would be supreme folly for democracy to lower its guard in this particular year.
Nor has the need for vigilance been reduced by the drama of the past few days, culminating in the bargaining by satellite from the Far East. Those signals have not been interpreted by us because they have passed over our heads and the details are therefore by no means clear. It is safe to assume that, as usual, the Dublin Government will have demanded far more than they expect to receive, and will consequently be pleasantly surprised to discover that the despised British negotiators have fallen for Irish blarney. If that does not happen this time, it will he an exception. We can only hope that this time the representatives of Her Majesty's Government will have identified the traps and "wised up".
I trust that Her Majesty's Government will have recognised that terrorist movements deal in terms of absolutes and not compromises. That is always the pattern; and that is the weakness. For a terrorist leader to settle for a devious form of words, capable of many interpretations, would put him at risk of liquidation by his own side, and the result would be an escalation of terrorism by the disenchanted, possibly on a large scale. Over decades Irish governments have been acutely aware of that truth, and it is for that reason that the Irish Republic has been wise enough to retain the power of detention which the Bill before us is prematurely throwing away. It is beyond comprehension that Her Majesty's Government are promoting this Bill—surrendering the power to detain; certifying out a whole range of offences which will result, for example, in the sort of fiasco seen only a few weeks ago in the trial of those accused in the £300,000 terrorist funding raid in Boucher Road, Belfast—the terrorists escaping conviction through an indulgence in various technicalities. And there is the Government's blind refusal to provide for the acceptance of wire tap evidence, which was used to great effect last year in trapping those IRA terrorists who came within an ace of destroying power stations throughout the South of England. On that occasion MI5 and the police forces in England were commended for their activities and their efficiency in defeating terrorism by the use of wire tap evidence.
Finally, I hope it is not too much to ask the Government to reflect on these crucial points and to consider whether public safety throughout the Kingdom will be greatly endangered by the Bill in the highly dangerous situation created by a resumption of terrorism and the further escalation now predicted by every reliable intelligence source.
896 I appreciate, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, that there is a requirement for bridging legislation before the present legislation expires on 24th August this year. However, I ask the Government to consider the preparation of alternative fast-track legislation more appropriate to the unfolding situation, which will be made worse, not better, by all the uncertainty attendant upon every political high wire initiative which has dogged Northern Ireland, the whole of Ireland and the United Kingdom in general over the past three decades.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Lord McConnell
My Lords, the Minister rightly began with a consideration of the background to the present situation. He mentioned the Maze Prison and what has happened there. That is a very important consideration. It is unbelievable that in one of Her Majesty's prisons in the United Kingdom the conditions could have existed about which we now know and have suspected for a long time. There are men convicted of serious criminal offences, very often of killing women and children. Their political supporters refer to them as political prisoners, but anyone who thinks that they are political prisoners has a very debased view of politics. They are ordinary criminals, no matter what may have been their motives, and they have committed atrocious crimes. For the Government even tacitly to accept that they are political prisoners is quite wrong and a complete misrepresentation of the facts.
Recently, as we all know, there were two incidents, one in which a prisoner escaped dressed as a woman and the other in which there were apparently guns available within the prison which resulted in the murder of one of the prisoners. It is said that the prison staff are kept out of the prisoners' quarters and that the prisoners have mobile phones. It has been alleged that some of the prisoners have directed terrorist offences on the phone to their subordinates outside the prison. The Government and Ministers may shrug off responsibility for running a prison on that basis, but I hope that there will be an independent inquiry and that those who are found to be at fault will be removed from any positions which they hold.
For a long time weakness has been shown in the government of Northern Ireland. Much of it can be traced back to the Tory Anglo-Irish Agreement. But although it was concluded by a Conservative Government, it was enthusiastically backed by some Labour Members on the basis that it was a good step towards a united Ireland. It has, of course, resulted in a nest of civil servants being installed in a place called Maryfield, just outside Belfast, who have to approve of most of the measures and appointments made by the administration. It is time that Northern Ireland was run by British citizens of the United Kingdom, whether they originate in Northern Ireland or in other parts of the United Kingdom. It is time to have no more talk about confidence-building measures.
Apparently there is some kind of sub-committee to decide matters which seem to comprise releasing various criminals from prison. That certainly does not build any confidence for the ordinary citizen, no matter 897 what his views happen to be. It may give confidence to the organisations to which these criminals belong and which we could well do without.
There is also the question of doing away with the power of internment, as we call it. I do not suggest for a moment that at the present time, or even in the near future, it would be of use to exercise such a power, but I should like to know whether the Dublin Government have given up their power of internment as well as our having what is in the Bill. I know that I am being pessimistic, but it is conceivable that, in the worst scenario, if some kind of agreement is reached and the terrorists say that they will have a ceasefire and all their men are let out of prison, after a while they may return to terrorism. If it is on a bad scale there ought to be some way of getting the men back behind bars. I see no reason why that power—which we are unlikely to have to exercise—should be removed. Again, it is just another so-called confidence-building measure.
There is a great feeling in Northern Ireland that far too much attention is being paid to the views of terrorists. The fact that Mr. Gerry Adams was received as an honoured guest at 10 Downing Street did not inspire confidence among peace-loving people of any persuasion in Northern Ireland. It made it possible for them to say at the next election: "Vote Sinn Fein. Our leader has the ear of the Prime Minister; therefore you should vote for him". What we should try to achieve is for the republic to agree to wholehearted co-operation in seeking out terrorism and to do away with its claim to Northern Ireland under Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution. It is hard to say that those from the republic are there with impartial standing when they have a claim which they have not removed to part of the territory of the United Kingdom. Therefore, there is a great deal to be done by firmer government and greater respect being paid to ordinary decent people in Northern Ireland, no matter what their politics happen to be. They are more important than the terrorists who are so often placated.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Cooke of Islandreagh
My Lords, the Minister made it clear—and gave good reason—why the Bill must be looked at in relation to the circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland today. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, has just spoken on some aspects which I wish to amplify.
It is difficult for the ordinary, sensible and law-abiding people in Northern Ireland—they must represent about 90 per cent. of those living there—to believe what they have been seeing, hearing and reading. For some time, we—and perhaps I may include myself as being one of those ordinary, sensible and law-abiding people—have been hearing about confidence-building measures. I assume that that means confidence in government. But we have not seen any. What we have seen is a series of bribes offered on an almost daily basis to Sinn Fein/IRA. Then, only two weeks ago, a leading Protestant paramilitary, Billy Wright, was shot inside the Maze by other residents of a different faction and it was found that there were many guns in their possession.
898 Since then we have heard something of the conditions in the Maze Prison where apparently there has not been a thorough search perhaps for years; where there are no regular roll calls; where prison warders are not allowed into the prisoners' wings without permission; where visitors are not hand searched and are not even put through an electric gate, something which all air travellers accept as a matter of routine. Unfortunately, retaliatory shootings followed—one yesterday—and an attempt has been made to destroy the centre of Banbridge with a 500 pound bomb. Then, on Friday, our Secretary of State went into the prison to persuade Protestant paramilitaries to support the peace process because, it appears, she thought that the future of the talks process depended on the agreement of those paramilitaries.
All that is happening in part of the United Kingdom. It is almost unbelievable. Many people are outraged by what has happened in the past week. The only reason people can think of to explain such events is that our Government, the Government of the United Kingdom, are prepared to do anything or give anything to Sinn Fein/IRA or to other paramilitaries in order to stop them bombing London and what the consequences are to the people of Northern Ireland is not significant. It is horrific to think that that is what good, sensible people believe to be the policy. It is difficult not to give credibility to that horrific suggestion. But it is with that in mind that any legislation in respect of Northern Ireland must be examined. The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill which we are considering today is intended to extend the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act of 1996. That is necessary and understandable. But are the amendments to the Act which are proposed in the Bill intended to assist the authorities to deal with terrorism? Or are they intended to please the terrorists in accordance with the government policy which I have suggested?
The principal change in the Bill is to remove the power of internment. It seems extraordinary that that power, which has not been used for 25 years, should he removed when the omens for the future are not good. The power of detention without trial has been used effectively in the past and by the government of the republic on several occasions. Only in 1972 was it misconceived. Why remove it now when no one is to know when it may be required at short notice? To await the granting of the necessary powers by Parliament would mean that the godfathers and others on the list for detention will have gone into hiding elsewhere.
The other change incorporated in the Bill is to require audio recording of interviews, the effect of which seems very questionable. Will it help the police or will it make it more difficult to convict a suspect terrorist? Will it not make it more difficult for the police to obtain information which will identify other suspects? The merit of the clause is certainly questionable. Is it intended to help the security forces or the terrorists?
My noble friend Lord Molyneaux mentioned the question of wire tap evidence. It seems that that is something which is necessary and such evidence is 899 accepted in other European countries. Why is it not included in the Bill? It would send out a signal to terrorists that the Government intend to get on top of future outbreaks of violence.
I make no apology for looking at the provisions of the Bill in this way; it is the way in which the majority of thinking people in Northern Ireland will look at it. It should be noted, and I hope that the Government will have regard to those views and consider them when deciding how to deal with the situation in the future. If the solution to republican terrorists which the Government believe will persuade them to put away their pikes in the thatch, and if the political process and democracy in Northern Ireland are to have a future, it is necessary that the Government are honest with the people of Northern Ireland and cease to show that violence pays.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, I rise for a few moments to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Patten. As he reminded us, he was a Member of another place when we were both elected representatives. I congratulate him today on his maiden speech and hope that he will partake in debates. There will be many more debates in relation to Northern Ireland before we can ever begin to see a resolution of the conflict.
When showing visitors around the House of Lords I am frequently asked what is the difference between this place and the House of Commons. After I have explained how one gets in here, I concentrate on the fact that when we are making a speech in the House of Commons, we are at all times looking over our shoulder at the electorate and hoping to make a speech which will appeal to the constituents back home and thus enable us to be re-elected at the next election. Therefore a tribal response is given on any subject, particularly in the field of security.
Those who come from a nationalist background in Northern Ireland will be opposed to the legislation, opposed to the PTA; they will say that the legislation is not effective. Those who come from a Unionist background in Northern Ireland will say that the legislation should be kept; in fact, it should be consolidated and improved. Both sides in Northern Ireland say that this legislation is either for or against their interests. I hope that the tribal response to events in Northern Ireland from this House will be somewhat diminished.
I listened to speeches of noble Lords on this side of the House this evening and they seemed to concentrate on the awful atrocities committed by Sinn Fein/IRA. The whole House will understand—the noble Lord, Lord Patten, will recall—that since the inception of this legislation in 1973 when I was a member of the standing committee taking part in those debates, I vehemently opposed IRA terrorism. I have opposed it all my political life. Indeed, my attitude to republican terrorists throughout my political career led to my political downfall when it was perceived by republicans and 900 Nationalists in Northern Ireland that I was not engaged in the tribal support that they expected of me. No one, therefore, can question my opposition to terrorism.
As I said, the speeches on this side of the House this evening concentrated on IRA terrorism. But what has sickened me over the past weeks and months is to see people guilty of the most atrocious murders in Northern Ireland—particularly John White, who murdered my closest friend, Senator Paddy Wilson, in one of the most brutal murders that has ever taken place during these troubles, and Michael Stone, a Loyalist murderer who shot dead six people attending a funeral in Northern Ireland—being given the facility to stand in front of television cameras and give their views on what is happening in Northern Ireland. Indeed, one of my friends telephoned me and said that to see Michael Stone standing there with his staring eyes and long haircut giving his opinion to the cameras reminded him of the murderer Charles Manson many years ago.
Terrorism is not simply a question of the IRA and republicans; it means all forms of terrorism in Northern Ireland. I now sit on the government side of the House, but when I sat on the Opposition Benches any criticism that I felt in all honesty I could make, I made. But the terrorists are now going to Downing Street, or are standing in front of the cameras, or are sitting in their cells at the Maze waiting to meet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland because of what the Conservative government did a few years ago when they decided to have one of the most bogus and rigged elections in the history of Ireland, an election which was so contrived and rigged that representatives of murderers, paramilitary organisations—the UDP and the TUP—were elected. I absolve my noble friend the Minister because he was not responsible for that. However, the former Conservative Government were. That gave those organisations the legitimacy which they so ardently craved. Now they are running the prison in their own interests.
By the way, a sense of humour has been evident in Northern Ireland for many years. Within the past few days, one of the warders at the Maze, which is supposed to be one of the most secure prisons in the world, said to the press, "The Maze is like Butlin's and, unfortunately, we are the redcoats". That is the truth.
There would be no need for this legislation if we had a political solution. I want to give some advice to my noble friend. I can see the whole situation in Northern Ireland from a perspective that existed in 1973 and 1974 and is still quite obvious today. I was part of the Sunningdale Agreement. It made provision for the setting up of an executive in Northern Ireland which would combine nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants. To have been part of that agreement was the apex of my political career. What killed the agreement, which was one of the best and most far-reaching solutions that we have ever had to the problems of Northern Ireland, was the second strand, which sought to set up a body that would have executive powers. I would advise my noble friend the Minister that we are in exactly that position. If the nationalists, the Irish 901 Government, Sinn Fein and the SDLP insist on having executive powers for a Council of Ireland, that will lead to the downfall of any peace process.
I should like to see this legislation being unnecessary. We are about to go into the new millennium. I hope it will be unnecessary to have this legislation. However, I advise my noble friend to do whatever he can to ensure that those emotive words "executive powers" are not the obstacle that brings the whole process to an end.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, it is a great, if unexpected, pleasure to be following the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, whose dexterity in leaping into the gap I often have cause to admire. I would certainly want to remove any artificial suspense from your Lordships' proceedings by saying straight away that from these Benches we shall support the Bill and the renewal of the powers. How good it is to see the Labour Government now within the tripartisan consensus on this issue in a way that they found difficult in Opposition.
Before I talk about the specific provisions of the Bill I should like to make one or two points about the context in which we approach it. The first concerns the political context. It is true at all times in Northern Ireland that all situations become delicate. The language of crisis can easily be overused. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, in his outstandingly elegant and thoughtful maiden speech, was right to say that the near hysterical language of the media does not contribute to the calm and stability that is needed for progress in Northern Ireland. We are all potentially liable to use overheated words. Nevertheless, this is an unusually sensitive moment in the affairs of Northern Ireland as the talks reconvene. It is good to see the parties huddled around the glow of the talks. But they know and we know, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has just reminded us, that there are some dark and sinister figures, of both republican and loyalist persuasion, in the shadows.
I should like from these Benches to pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, who have both shown a freshness of approach, a willingness to take risks and an extraordinary willingness to pick up the telephone that would delight Bob Hoskins. I gather that the Prime Minister and Taoiseach have spoken about eight times in the past 24 hours. Indeed, it is good to talk. We should also pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who like so many of her predecessors, one at least of whom is in the Chamber this evening, finds herself the subject of criticism. I pay tribute to her for her willingness, as is the case also with Senator George Mitchell, to roll up her sleeves and get stuck in. That has made a great contribution.
We are approaching a real moment of truth in the next week or so. Can nationalists accept that the unity of Ireland is not on the agenda for generations and then only in a different Ireland, an agreed Ireland, and by consent? Can they accept that? Can Unionists accept—I have listened with interest to some notable speeches from noble Lords who are Unionists—that they must share power and parity of esteem within Northern Ireland and that they must accept a legitimate interest 902 on the part of Dublin in the rights and welfare of the minority community? We shall know very soon when we have reactions to the proposals on the table this afternoon, building on the Downing Street Declaration and the framework document in which Mr. Major's Government played such an important role. I hope that the reactions from all sides are constructive and workmanlike rather than in the overheated terms which too often characterise political debates in the Province. In fact, I have just been told that the first reaction from all parties, except possibly Sinn Fein, seemed constructive when the talks adjourned an hour or so ago. I was very impressed by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, who, in a speech which on the whole looked on the dark side, allowed that this might be a moment of progress. We must all hope that that is the case.
There is no doubt that we need the legislation that the Government have put before us this afternoon. If nothing else proves it, the events leading up to and following the murder of Billy Wright on 27th December show just how febrile the atmosphere is and why, however reluctantly, we must support the renewal of these powers. I could equally well refer to the fact that the terrorist forces on both sides are still on standby. Their structures are intact—the so-called punishment beatings continue—rather than being disbanded. As Gerry Adams said—in this, at least, he spoke candidly—the IRA has not gone away.
There is also the legislative context. The Home Secretary has promised a review of how the EPA and PTA might be brought together. The Liberal Democrats suggested that originally and we certainly support it now. When the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, replies, can he tell us when we shall see that consultation paper? He referred to it in his opening remarks. Will it be days, weeks or months? It is important to know as it affects the attitude of all of us to the progress of the Bill.
The noble Lord referred to the review of anti-terrorist legislation, ably conducted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. Some of its proposals have been incorporated in the legislation before us. The noble and learned Lord said in his report,Once lasting peace has been established in Northern Ireland there will continue to be a need for permanent counter-terrorist legislation to deal with the threat of international and domestic terrorism".That is why this potential consolidation of anti-terrorist legislation is so important when considering this particular Bill.
Specifically, I welcome the changes in the new Bill. I welcome the change in Clause 2, which means that the Diplock courts will in future be used by exception. There are legitimate concerns about one judge courts. It is right that in future these will have to be justified. While one can understand some of the concerns about jury trials, surely it is preferable, within the British system of justice, to try by jury whenever possible.
Clause 3, to which several noble Lords have referred, removes the internment provisions. I welcome that. When they were last used in the early 1970s they were widely regarded as being counter-productive. When this 903 was debated in Standing Committee in another place in November the Conservative spokesman, Mr. Malcolm Moss, said,I think that everyone, including Conservative Members, would accept that in the 1970s the introduction of this measure was clumsy—ham-fisted, even, and ineffective. It probably had the opposite effect from that which it was intended …".In fact, in another place the Conservative Party divided the House on this issue of the retention of internment. I do not know whether that is the intention of the Conservative Benches. I very much hope that it is not, because not only was internment in practice counter-productive but I do not agree with the argument that one should keep it hanging like the sword of Damocles in case it is ever needed. A lot of things might be needed in the future. At some point we might need to have conscription. If that were so and British security had deteriorated in such a way that we needed conscription the matter would come before Parliament, which could decide to re-introduce it.
I believe that internment is very much in the same category. It is an extreme measure which is not needed in ordinary circumstances. I do not support the argument that by keeping internment one gives some kind of signal. I believe that the reverse is true. It is used consistently by the IRA as propaganda to raise money, particularly in the United States, on the basis that the British Government resort to inappropriate measures. As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, since there is no prospect of internment being used in the near future and when it was used it was counter-productive, turning terrorists into martyrs, I believe that it is better to remove it, as the clause does. If it is needed on the statute book at a later date than let us by all means reinstate it. I do not believe that the retention of internment is a proper reaction to the situation which we now have in Northern Ireland.
Clauses 4 and 5 deal with both audio and video recording of police interviews. I ask the Minister one question about that. From these Benches we pressed for this five or six years ago. I do not have the precise chronology, but I believe that about two years ago the Government agreed that it would be appropriate. But as I understand it, there is still no silent video taping of interviews taking place. Obviously, the process set out in what I now recall was the 1996 legislation was quite lengthy. But what is the position now? How long will it be before there is silent video recording?
I have one or two final points. I believe that the issue of the right to silence when a solicitor is not present, which was raised in the Murray case and has been discussed in your Lordships' House, has not yet been answered by the Government. Your Lordships will recall that the issue arises where people may be refused access to a solicitor. If a presumption of guilt is likely to be drawn from an interviewee's silence, having a solicitor present becomes much more important. That was the issue that Murray took to the European Court of Human Rights. The Government now intend to incorporate the European Convention into British law, but they do not seem to have solved this problem. To put it crudely, I believe it is a question of having a 904 solicitor present, in which case the right to silence can be construed more constructively. So what plans do the Government have to bring us into line with the European Convention in this respect?
Finally, I wish to raise a point which comes from Mr. John Rowe's report of the operation of the legislation in 1996. It shows that the waiting time for prisoners to be brought to trial in Northern Ireland is still quite excessive. That is a matter on which the previous government said they would try to take action. Mr. Rowe reported that in 1996 it took 27 weeks to get cases to the point of arraignment. That is against 29 weeks in the previous six years, on average. So there has been no real improvement. If one adds the further time taken through to trial, a period in excess of six months is the norm for prisoners on this kind of charge in Northern Ireland. That appears to be quite excessive. When the Minister replies, I shall be grateful if he can indicate whether there is going to be any progress in that regard. With those provisos, we shall support the Bill in its progress through the House.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate made much more so by the elegant maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Patten. I used to call him "my right honourable friend" but always, I hope, "my friend". He served in the Northern Ireland Office, which is not all that exclusive a club as these things go. There were quite a number of us. But he is a very distinguished member of that club. As often when he speaks, he improved my literary education at any rate. I shall look, rather belatedly I admit, at the poem to which he drew our attention. He gave us good reason to look forward with pleasure and interest to his future contributions to your Lordships' debates and to what one might call more things to come.
I now turn to the Bill. Like others who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, at the conclusion of the Back Bench contributions, I hate the necessity for this Bill and emergency provisions. But no one should doubt at all that there is that necessity. We hope that the time will come when we can relax these powers both in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. It is good to think about that time, but it has not yet come. So I support the renewal of these powers. My reservations are about those clauses of the Bill which do not renew certain of them.
In general, the powers themselves are necessary in Northern Ireland because of the existence of terrorists of all tribes, or whatever description the noble Lord. Lord Fitt. prefers. Terrorists are determined to substitute the terror of bombs and bullets for democratic decisions. No democracy can accept that. The first duty of any democracy is to defend itself against force and anarchy. As my noble friend Lord Patten said, security is not a tradeable option.
As a matter of fact, I believe that republican terrorism has made co-operation between the north and the south of Ireland much more difficult over the years. It has hardened attitudes and closed minds throughout many decades. So-called loyalist terrorism claims to be solely 905 reactive; to be an attempt to meet terror with terror and to prevent republican terrorism from defeating democracy. That claim seemed to have some validity at times, but it will completely collapse if the loyalist terrorists break the ceasefire before the republicans do.
In any case, the ceasefire on both sides is incomplete and has deteriorated in the past few days, as has already been drawn attention to in this debate. The list of incidents, killings, punishment beatings, bombs and arson testifies very strongly to that.
But we all know, too, of the statements by republicans and others that the ceasefire, such as it is, is merely a political tactic. We know that the arms and explosives are still out there in the hands of all sides. As long as those arms and explosives are there, with people willing to use them, we need the most effective emergency provisions that we can devise to support the security forces. I join in the tribute that the Minister rightly paid to them at the end of his remarks.
Of course, we all hope that the current talks will make such provisions unnecessary in respect of terrorism based in Northern Ireland, but we shall still need to discuss United Kingdom anti-terrorism measures in a much broader context, and we shall be doing that later this year when we see the White Paper. In any case, it is difficult to be confident about the outcome of the current talks. It is difficult to judge the handling of the talks from outside, particularly when things appear to be moving quite quickly, as today, or even, I suspect, to judge the progress of the talks from the inside. However, I am certain that it is a difficult and delicate process and I do not want to say anything to make it more difficult.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, drew our attention to the Maze Prison and particularly to the visit by the Secretary of State and to the other things that have come out since. The problem with the Secretary of State's visit is that it emphasised and built up the role of convicted terrorists in the decisions on peace. Everybody who knows Northern Ireland knows that, whether we like it or not, prisoners' opinions are a factor. However, there should be no doubt that we do not like it. As has been pointed out, those prisoners have been convicted of hideous crimes against other human beings. The fact that those murders and other crimes have been committed in an attempt to terrorise the democratic process does not make them more acceptable than murder for some other purposes. Indeed, if anything, I think that that makes them worse. After all, if those terrorist crimes succeeded in their aim, that would open the door to more and more terror.
As I have said, the opinions of prisoners matter in Northern Ireland. The whole difficulty of the talks is that unless the terrorists and their godfathers accept whatever agreement can be reached, peace will not result. However, every time that one builds up the terrorists and extremists at either end of the spectrum, it takes away a bit more of the initiative from the democratic parties which should be at the centre of the talks and from the law-abiding people whom they represent, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, referred and among whom he rightly included himself.
906 Therefore, the reductions in the emergency powers in this Bill are part of that same process of easing the pressure on the terrorists. If it were being done in exchange for concessions, for movement towards agreement or for some change of expressed attitude, it could be acceptable, but at present there seems to be no change of attitude by the terrorists whatsoever. None was visible in the visit to No. 10 by Mr. Adams and his colleagues and none has been visible on other occasions. Our fear is that all these concessions, of which this Bill is a part, are being given for nothing in return.
We hear today that the Irish Government have backed the proposals being scouted by the Prime Minister from Japan. We have had no opportunity to study the details of this afternoon's events, but I hope that that indicates a more positive attitude from the Irish Government than we have sometimes seen in the past, rather than a falling into Irish traps by the British Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, suggested.
It is no good the Irish Government constantly telling British governments to be balanced while they are wholly partisan in their views. They also have to take some risks for peace. They constantly press for "confidence-building measures" directed at republicans and nationalists, but they should also consider measures that they can take to build the confidence of unionists, starting with an agreement to rid their constitution of its offensive clauses as part of any settlement. Perhaps I should add that those clauses are offensive not only to unionists but also to international law. Without that, the unionists are bound to see any potential agreement as a potential notch in a ratchet towards the domination of the north by the south.
I believe that if Irish governments for 75 years since the creation of the state had assiduously tried to build up the confidence of the unionists, they would have got much further towards all-Ireland co-operation. The decline in the number of Protestants in the Republic of Ireland over those years is a measure of attitudes there, and those attitudes have accordingly shaped the attitudes of the Protestants in the north.
Co-operation between the two parts of the island is possible. There are plenty of examples to show those who doubt that, but the best is to watch a game of rugby when Ireland is playing any other nation. That shows all-Ireland co-operation in full swing. Co-operation is possible, but the domination of one part of the island by the other is not going to be forced on either part of Ireland. That is why the definition of "cross-Border bodies" is so important. I hope that the appeal made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, will be listened to carefully.
I am afraid that I am inherently cynical in my view of Irish governments because the one with which I had to deal was that of Mr. Haughey, but he seems to be being dealt with now anyway. As it happens, I got to know Bertie Ahern before I went to the Northern Ireland Office, when we both worked in other capacities, and I believe that the present government in the Republic of Ireland are of a different character. They could and should look to their own position as well as criticising others. I hope that they have taken a step in that direction today.
907 However, much as we hope for the success of the talks, we are certainly not there yet. That is why this Bill extending the emergency powers is necessary. It is also why I think it unwise to relax protection, as the Bill does.
As the Minister indicated, the most important clause in this respect is that ending internment powers. We all accept that internment did not work 25 years ago and, indeed, that it was counter-productive. However, that is not the only example of internment that there has ever been on the island of Ireland. In any case, the intelligence on which internment depends crucially for its success is much better now, partly because of the advances in electronics but also partly because of the tremendous skill and effort put into it over so many years. The fact is that internment is the one threat that makes life difficult for the godfathers. Those who carry out these dreadful deeds can sometimes be caught and convicted. Those who manage terrorism are much more difficult to catch or to convict.
At intervals during the past few years, it has been thought that internment might be re-introduced—and the mere thought that it could happen disrupts the terrorist organisations most effectively. Besides, anyone who knows Irish history can envisage the possibility of the British and the Irish Governments—as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, told us, the Irish Government have retained such powers—wanting to prevent small bodies of extremists making a settlement reached by more moderate people impossible to implement. If we take away the power of internment from the statute book, it cannot be used effectively.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, there is a crucial difference between conscription and internment. Surprise is essential if internment is to be effective. We shall return to that argument in Committee.
I am also concerned about the recording of interviews. It is well known that the interrogation of suspect people can yield all kinds of information both directly and incidentally but only if the suspect can be absolutely sure that the terrorist godfathers do not know that the information has been given. This is one respect in which fighting highly organised and totally ruthless terrorist organisations is fundamentally different from dealing with ordinary crime. Members of terrorists organisations are carefully trained in resisting interrogation and comprehensively threatened about what will happen if they talk. If recordings may be disclosed to others involved in the defence of the accused, less intelligence will be forthcoming; and intelligence is the single most important element in combating terrorism. That is something to which we shall return in Committee.
Clause 2 of the Bill heightens the role of the Attorney-General by making him—or possibly her at some stage—decide in each case whether a particular matter should go to a Diplock court. We have been brought up to believe that the Attorney-General makes decisions based solely on legal considerations and not political ones. However, the Attorney-General is a politician and even if he is absolutely scrupulous he is 908 not seen to be making decisions solely on legal grounds. People expect politicians to be influenced by political considerations even when they do their best not to be. The position is a peculiar one. The Attorney-General found this out the other day, if he did not already know it—I am sure that he did—when the son of the Home Secretary got into trouble. But the provision in the Bill is altogether more serious. It will make it appear as if every decision as to whether a case should go to a Diplock court is a political one. Even if it is not it will unarguably he a decision of a politician. That is the difficulty with this clause. However, we shall return to that matter later in our discussions.
Overall, like the noble Lord the Minister and others who have spoken, I believe that this Bill is essential. We need emergency powers. They do not by themselves cure the problem of terrorism. Talks and everything else are important to achieve that end. However, the emergency powers have helped to contain terrorism. Without them we would be in much greater danger. We need this Bill. We shall try to strengthen it at later stages, but the Bill is needed for the sake of democracy.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this interesting, useful and important debate. I believe that terrorists try to undermine democracies in two ways. First, they use the gun and the bomb. Secondly, they seek to undermine the institutions which are the real reason why democracies exist. Therefore, we need to arm ourselves with the legal powers and proper security forces to deal with those who use the gun and the bomb, but we must do it in such a way that the fundamental basis of our democracy remains. I believe that, looking at the events of the past 25 years in Northern Ireland, many of the fundamental principles of democracy are still there. That is a sign of our strength.
The intention of the Government in this Bill is to make sure that the right balance is struck and that we have the right powers to deal with terrorists who still kill, murder and maim in Northern Ireland while at the same time we move a little closer to the principles of democracy, some of which have been slightly weakened over the years. We want to make Northern Ireland as normal and as similar to other parts of the United Kingdom as possible. Those are the principles that underlie the Government's approach, which I believe have been well understood in many of the speeches made this evening.
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on his maiden speech. I do not believe that he is a bit pushy. If being pushy is to make speeches such as the one made by the noble Lord then I hope that he will become more pushy than he has been so far since becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. His speech merits further consideration and rereading in Hansard. I believe that he put his finger on many of the key issues that underlie the difficulties in Northern Ireland and the way in which we must move ahead. I believe that he and I went to the other place as a result of the same election. I have followed his very successful political career with interest and look forward to his 909 further contributions, pushy as he wants them to be, to the deliberations of this House. He put his finger on some of the key issues that underlie the Government's approach to Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, is one of the most experienced Members of this House in terms of his knowledge and understanding of Northern Ireland and he must be listened to with the greatest of respect. He painted a depressingly sombre picture of the situation there. I should like to take issue with him on one or two points. I deal first with the question of wire tapping. The noble Lord is aware that this is a complex issue. There is a need to balance the desirability of adducing evidence with the requirement to protect intelligence-gathering techniques. That dilemma has bedevilled the matter in Northern Ireland. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary confirmed last October that the Government were considering precisely that issue. A review is under way. It is being conducted in a serious and comprehensive way, as the noble Lord would expect. The issue is an important one and we are determined to get it right.
I believe that when the review is completed the noble Lord will be able to see how we have dealt with the points that he has made this evening. The noble Lord referred to negotiations from Tokyo and suggested that the Irish Government were calling the tune. I do not believe that that is right. The propositions that have been put forward stem from extensive discussions with the parties. They will be subject to further discussion with the parties. It is not the case that the Government have capitulated to demands made by the Irish Government. We adopt a robust attitude to the discussions, as do the Irish Government. We have not capitulated. We have sought to feed into the talks what we hope is a basis for agreement among the parties. Both the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have been involved in this process, and that is right and helpful. The Prime Minister sees it as his duty to do all he can to ensure that the talks move forward. But all of us are clear that it is the participants in those talks who are the key players in reaching a settlement, and that is how it should be.
I deal now with the question of internment raised by one or two noble Lords. In this Bill, the decision has been taken to get rid of the power of internment. Frankly, it has not worked. The Government cannot see any circumstances in which they would wish to use the power of internment. It is fundamentally a process that is against the rule of law and undermines democratic principles. The Government believe that to get rid of the power is sensible and signals their adherence to the rule of law and democracy. We do not believe that it in any way weakens the power of the Government to deal with terrorism. The use last time of internment to deal with terrorism was a failure. We believe that the use of internment would strengthen the terrorists because it would give them a further argument in their communities against the Government and we want to deny them that.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and other noble Lords referred to recent events in the Maze. An independent inquiry into recent events in the Maze is now under way. That inquiry is being led by Mr. Martin 910 Narey, director of regimes in the Prison Service of England and Wales. In addition, there is to be an inspection of HM Prison Maze by the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales, General Sir David Ramsbotham. No one can be other than dismayed by recent events—both the escape and the existence of a firearm—in the Maze. I very much hope that both the inspection and the independent inquiry will enable us to find out what happened and be clear as to what further action should be taken.
The inquiry and inspection teams will make themselves available to receive representations from political and other interested parties. The reports of the inquiry and the inspection will be published and made available to political parties. A series of measures designed to improve the security and safety of inmates and others have already been introduced. The RUC is undertaking a full police investigation into the death of the prisoner, Billy Wright.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, talked about co-operation with the Irish Government on security. The Irish Government's determination to combat terrorism has been well illustrated over the years—for example, by recent finds of explosives and associated arrests in the republic. I am sure that your Lordships will welcome that recent success by the security forces in the Republic of Ireland.
The noble Lords, Lord Cooke, Lord Patten, Lord Molyneaux and Lord McConnell, talked about confidence-building measures. It is widely accepted in the House that there is a need to build trust and confidence on both sides of the community, and that that is crucial to the development of the peace process. The Government have consistently adopted a fair and even-handed approach to the issue of confidence-building, despite what some people with malicious motives sometimes suggest.
We have taken measures in respect of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee. We are taking steps to pay tribute to the victims of violence, which is a matter of importance to the unionist community. We will continue to act to build confidence throughout the community in Northern Ireland. But confidence-building has to be a two-way process. It is not the responsibility of the Government alone. The biggest confidence-building measure would be a permanent end to violence, and the achievement of a political settlement, acceptable to both sides of the community, which could pave the way for a brighter future in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, described the changes in the Bill as concessions. As I have explained, the changes to the existing Act contained in the Bill are not concessions, but are justified on their merits. They include the removal of the power of internment for the reasons that I have already explained, and the introduction of audio recording, which has the support of the Chief Constable. I can assure the noble Lord that the Bill has nothing to do with concessions, but represents measures by the Government which we believe will improve existing powers.
I always listen with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, because of his enormous knowledge and his background in Northern Ireland. I take on board his 911 comments. I can assure him that the Government will continue to work tirelessly towards finding a solution which will achieve sufficient consensus within the talks. We are aware of the sensitivities to which he referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked about the timescale for the publication of the review. That work is urgently in hand. There are issues of some complexity to be explored, as he will understand. I hope to see the consultation paper published as soon as possible. I hope and expect that that will be a matter of weeks rather than months. I cannot at this stage predict a definite timescale for its completion. I can assure the noble Lord that intensive work is taking place. I am afraid that I cannot go further than that at the moment. It is a matter which we see as one of urgency.
The noble Lord asked also when silent video recording would be introduced. I expect it to be introduced next month. I hope that that will give him some reassurance. He talked also about delays in bringing people to trial. The administrative time limit scheme was introduced in 1992. It is based on the type of regime that will be required if the statutory time limit provisions in Sections 8 and 9 of the Emergency Provisions Act should be commenced. To date, over the lifetime of the scheme, applications relating to 59 scheduled defendants would have resulted in their being released on bail had a statutory time limit scheme, along the English lines, been in force. Some long-standing problems need to be considered in the round; for example, it is anomalous that there is no statutory provision for time limits for non-scheduled remand cases, which form the bulk of the caseload.
My right honourable friend has therefore charged the comprehensive cost-cutting and spending review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland with considering how to introduce statutory arrangements for tackling delay in the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland. The delays are too long. We have to find ways of tackling them.
The noble Lord asked also about the case of John Murray, and representation by solicitors, and how that will affect the European Convention on Human Rights. The Murray judgment has been studied carefully by the Government. A number of options are being considered in response. It is a complex matter which raises issues about the treatment of suspects under emergency and criminal law. Wide consultation within government has been necessary. I hope that we can make some progress, but the noble Lord will accept that it is a difficult point, because of the need to strike the right balance. It has sometimes been alleged that solicitors present in such circumstances have themselves come under pressure from terrorist organisations outside. That means that information that they have obtained may get into the wrong hands. We have to strike the right balance on this matter.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holme, for his overall support for the Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for his qualified support for the Bill. The Secretary of State visited the Maze not to negotiate, but to make it clear that talks are the only way to reach a settlement, and that an overall settlement is the only way to tackle the 912 issues which are of concern to the prisoners. There is no doubt that the Secretary of State did the right thing. If the talks had collapsed because she had not taken that step, she would have been to blame. She did the right thing. The fact that the talks resumed today is at least some evidence to support her decision.
The noble Lord, and other noble Lords, referred to audio recording. We of course have to get the balance right between intelligence and evidence; that is to say, between not giving away intelligence and securing evidence. The police support the change to having audio recording. There will be better evidence in the courts as a result of the audio recording process. The noble Lord. Lord Cope, talked about the Irish Government's role. Like ourselves, they recognise the crucial importance of building confidence in the talks. They have already made a commitment to amend Articles 2 and 3 as part of an overall settlement. That is the right way forward. We agree that that is an important and vital step.
I hope that I have dealt with all the main points that have been made. I hope that it is clear that the Government will not be soft on terrorism; that we shall ensure that the security forces in Northern Ireland have all the means at their disposal to deal robustly with terrorism; that we also value democratic principles. The move we are making in the Bill represents a good balance and therefore the way forward. The security situation in Northern Ireland is as I have described it. Some terrorist groups remain active and represent a serious threat. There can be no question of leaving the security forces without the measures that they need to counter that threat.
I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House. It will provide the means to counter terrorism and enhance existing protections until the Government can bring forward the new legislation to which I have referred.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.