§ 10.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move,That the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (Continuance) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 4th July, be approved.The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 is on the statute book because of the emergency that existed in Northern Ireland at that time. When the Bill was being debated we did not deny the then Government a Second Reading, although we had criticisms and doubts about it, because we recognised that grave security problems required grave remedies.
However, as I explained to the House on 4th April after we had taken office, it was our wish to make changes in the content of the Act, but we could not be ready with the necessary legislation before the Act was due to lapse. As the House knows, I have appointed a committee under Lord Gardiner to examine the workings of the Act, but it is only right in the interim that we should justify the decision to renew the Act for a further period without amendment.
The Act makes emergency provisions and is by its nature temporary, to cover the period of an emergency. If its provisions are to be renewed, clearly it is necessary to demonstrate that the emergency continues in force. I think it unlikely that any hon. Member, especially from Northern Ireland, would dispute the contention of the Government that an emergency exists in Northern Ireland at the present time. The harsh facts speak for themselves. At the present time, approximately 15,000 soldiers are serving in Northern Ireland on security duties. In only the past three months, 178 bombs were exploded by terrorists and there were 909 shooting incidents, 581 involving the security forces. Six soldiers, five policemen and 35 civilians were killed. In addition, 67 soldiers, 21 policemen and 458 civilians were injured and treated in hospital as a result of terrorist activity.
During this three-month period, 379 persons were charged with security 1274 offences in the courts and 138 detained under interim custody orders.
Terrorists have exploited the "proxy driver" method of delivering bombs wherein innocent people are made to plant bombs against threats to members of their families held hostage for the purpose. As a result, very serious damage has been done to city and town centres and the life of communities seriously disrupted. Young people and children were caught in the act of planting bombs, and women and girls have planted incendiary devices in shops and other busy commercial premises causing many shops to be burnt out. Attacks against security forces in rural and border areas through ambush, culvert mines and other means have continued.
In this respect—and I have no doubt that it was done by Ministers in the previous administration—shortly after arriving in Northern Ireland I walked through the middle of Belfast after it had been bombed. All I can say to those who think that this is convincing the people of Belfast that they want a united Ireland is that I wish that I had a recording of the language that was used and the description applied to their fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State went to Bangor and down into Armagh, because it was part of a piece. At the same time, I was down in Newton Butler. To see what was left of that village was quite an experience.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
Will my right hon. Friend accept that those who visit the Province from time to time will agree with his analysis? It is a terrible catalogue of disaster and tragedy. But is he saying that the Emergency Provisions Act, therefore, has not worked and that this is an argument for doing something else?
§ Mr. Rees
I know that many people who visit the Province do not support the Government's view. I know also that my hon. Friend feels strongly about these matters. But I hope that he will allow me to develop my argument. I have to recognise certain vital facts. Intimidation remains an ugly cancer in 1275 Northern Ireland and witnesses will not appear in court.
I asked for the figures of recent dates because it came to my notice that certain things had happened. Since 11th June—about a month—there have been 12 punishment shootings by terrorist organisations, nearly all by knee-capping, which is a vicious process of shooting through the knees with the intention of laming the victim for life. That is in a month. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that witnesses will not come forward unless their identities are concealed, and, even if this is guaranteed, only a very brave man will do more than give information to the police.
It is a fact of life that there is intimidation. There was intimidation during the Ulster workers' strike, as we know from people who contacted us. Information given to the police by a witness will, all too often, disclose the identity of that witness even if he were not to appear. In addition, information obtained by questioning a terrorist will ail too often disclose his identity to other terrorists. Such disclosure can be a death warrant.
Let me give but one example—the worst that I could find. Last November terrorists thought that a 15-year old boy with a mental age of five had passed information to the security forces. He was abducted from a training home by an armed terrorist and murdered in cold blood.
Given these facts, if terrorists are to be prevented from roaming the streets, there must be a procedure whereby a witness's presence does not disclose his identity and in which evidence given by the security forces does not disclose his identity.
Intimidation, including intimidation of families, exists on a terrible scale in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I may give some examples of cases where, but for the intimidation of witnesses, criminal charges would have been brought but detention had to be resorted to. I say to the right hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) that I signed orders in most, not all, of those cases because they were in my time, and I signed them on the advice of the security forces. It was my right to say "No". Perhaps I may give some very 1276 interesting examples including some in recent weeks.
There were the Bloody Friday atrocities on 21st July 1972 when bombs exploded in Belfast killing seven soldiers and nine civilians and injuring more than 100 civilians. Right hon. and hon. Members will recall seeing on television the bits of people on the sidewalk being shovelled up into bags. Some of the people who committed that outrage were detained.
There were the infamous Antrim Road murders on 23rd March 1973 when three Army NCOs were lured to a flat on the Antrim Road and there callously shot. Detention was resorted to.
There was the Divis Flats explosive device detonated as some soldiers patrolled the flats. Two soldiers were killed and two were seriously wounded, one being blinded in both eyes and the other in one. Detention was resorted to.
There was a rocket attack on Rosemount police station, Londonderry, on 14th November 1973. One of the three rockets fired in the late afternoon missed the police station and hit a nearby school.
There were the Rathcoole murders in North Belfast when four gunmen entered a workmen's hut, ordered Protestant workers to kneel, and then machine-gunned the remaining five workers, instantly killing two. That was on 31st January 1974. Detention was resorted to.
There were the murders at the Abbey meat factory where five workmen were machine-gunned as they went to work on 11th February 1974. One died and four were wounded.
There was the murder of Major Farrell, an Army recruiting officer, as he took his dog for a walk on 23rd March.
There was the Grand Central Hotel bombing on 28th March when a hijacked vehicle containing up to 500 1b. of explosives totally disrupted life in the centre of Belfast and caused extensive damage to shops and premises in Royal Avenue and 24 civilian casualties.
There was the Ballyduff shooting when a burst of automatic fire was directed into another work hut in Glengormley, killing two and injuring five others on 7th May. I signed interim custory orders.
In addition, there are numerous terrorists in detention in Northern Ireland 1277 merely because witnesses refuse to come forward and give evidence in court. For example, there are snipers in detention, one who shot dead three soldiers in less than two months; bombers who completely destroyed the GPO sorting office in Londonderry, and others who have bombed and burnt the centres of Londonderry and other towns from Lisburn to Strabane; gunmen who shot down three soldiers, killing one, in the very centre of Belfast on 13th March 1974, and made good their escape through a church, and others who only recently shot dead two police constables whilst they were on duty at the junction of Finaghy Road and the Upper Lisburn Road. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) knows very well the case involving the escape through a church.
I could go further. There have been ICOs for crimes on both sides of the border. These facts of death convince me that the existing detention procedure must be maintained until Lord Gardiner and his colleagues have had an opportunity to consider alternative methods of dealing with the problem. Would that all could be dealt with through the normal processes of the courts.
The commissioners, who have to decide whether detention orders are to be made, are required to have had experience as a judge, barrister, advocate or solicitor for at least 10 years in the United Kingdom. In practice, many are judges and others are recorders or deputy judges. They are persons with a wide experience of assessing evidence. Respondents may use solicitors and counsel to represent their interests. A commissioner may sign a detention order only if he is satisfied not only of the person's involvement in terrorism but also that the detention is necessary for the protection of the public. There is an appeal tribunal of experienced judges. There is a mandatory review system after one year, and subsequently at six-monthly intervals, by the commissioners. There is a power for the Secretary of State to refer persons for review at other times, and a power for the Secretary of State to direct executive releases. There is a problem which I recognise over delays in hearings. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will talk on this.
1278 At this point I wish to expand the announcement I made earlier today. The previous administration, as an earnest of their commitment to phase out detention, made an executive release of 65 detainees before Christmas which we fully supported. I have heard people say to me in Northern Ireland that it was the wrong 65, and so on. But 65 releases were made. Since that time there have also been a large number of releases by the commissioners within the judicial procedures laid down by the Act. The commissioners have this year, since 1st January, released in all 131 detainees—48 on first hearing and 83 on reviews.
I have now decided that the time is ripe to make a start with further executive releases. The House will realise the risks involved in such action before violence has ended. I have, therefore, decided that the initial number will be modest and spread over a period of time—a beginning which, if there is a response, can go on. If as a result of releasing a very small number today the middle of Belfast is bombed tomorrow night, or Strabane, and in a big way, that will be the answer to what I admit is only an earnest of intention.
Detention can be brought to an end only when violence is checked. Those who indulge in violence have it in their hands to bring it to an end. Indeed, one would hope that they would now appreciate that there is much to be gained in seeking their aims by political means. It is our hope that all in Northern Ireland, as we said in the White Paper, would participate in the political processes. It would be tragic if those now renouncing violence came from only one side of the divide. An end to violence could end detention, irrespective of the legislation.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)
I have been listening carefully to what my right hon. Friend has been saying. I understand that the Attorney-General will be dealing with the question of delays. But does it mean that where the commissioners ordered the release of 48 detainees on first hearing, they were in effect indicating that the advice on which my right hon. Friend acted, from the security forces, was perhaps not good advice? Does he not appreciate that this is one of the objections that many of us had in principle to the original 1279 legislation, and still have? What he has to be satisfied about is not just the lurid situation that he has painted so vividly but whether this measure, first, has the effect that it is intended to have and, secondly, does not carry with it the very serious danger of the wrong people being imprisoned by executive action, and very often for much more than 28 days.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
I do not think the Secretary of State intends to mislead the House, hut is not the procedure that he signs an interim custody order and then within 28 days the chief constable signs an order which keeps the man inside to wait to go before the commissioners?
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Accepting the force of the argument advanced by the Minister of State half an hour ago that one should not lecture ex-detainees, does the Secretary of State sympathise with the argument recently put by both extreme sides that anyone who was picked up and then let out and was subsequently had up on a serious crime—say burning Belfast or something like that—should then get a fairly ferocious punishment? That would be acceptable to both sides.
§ Mr. Rees
If the next time round the evidence was such that one could put the offence through a normal court, I am sure that the fact would be taken into account, but the point is that it depends on how soon afterwards the offence takes place. I have had a number of these cases. The question if someone was the subject of an ICO some time back is how far that should be taken into account at a later stage. There are all sorts of legal difficulties. The point has been put to me by members of the minority community as justification for releasing people. The problem is that if I experiment in this 1280 way and a soldier is shot, do I say to him, "Hard luck chum, I was trying it out to see whether it worked"? That is not "on" for me as a way of dealing with the situation.
Let no one be in any doubt that a ready response would be forthcoming from the Government if there were an end to violence. As a first step in the Government's policy of phasing out detention I have today ordered the release of seven detainees, and I hope to make further regular releases if the security situation permits. I intend to operate executive releases in parallel with the provision in the Act under which a detainee's case is reviewed by a commissioner at regular intervals after he has been detained. I shall examine the cases of detainees which will shortly be coming up for review and I shall consider the release in the light of the security situation. The others will proceed before the commission in the normal way. I shall continue to take fully into account the views and advice of the security forces.
When a detainee is released, all the normal welfare facilities in Northern Ireland will be available to him. We recognise the special difficulty the detainee will face. It is essential that men should not drift back into terrorism because of social and domestic problems. In addition, the Government are prepared to provide limited funds to independent organisations working in this field. Inevitably there will be risks in letting out people where independent commissioners have been satisfied that they have been involved in terrorism. Their release does not give them licence to return to violence with impunity. If the security situation deteriorates, the executive releases will stop.
I repeat that it is the men of violence who are keeping people in detention. It is the Provisional IRA who can contribute most by phasing it out, but Protestant para-military forces are involved. If they respond, so will the Government. It is our wish to phase detention out, and it can be phased out in the context of violence ceasing. We have shown an earnest of our intention. If the violence stops, we can release detainees. That would also lead to the wider question which I raised earlier in the day of the rôle of the Army.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
We all admit that it is a very serious matter we are handling tonight. One point that disturbs some of us on this side of the House is this: is it fair, because the IRA starts a campaign after releases, to blame the people the right hon. Gentleman has released? Surely that is part of their plan. The Secretary of State could release, say, seven men and tonight there could be bombings. It does not necessarily mean that it is their responsibility. I often think that the IRA has a vested interest, to keep the campaign going, in keeping internment.
§ Mr. Rees
With the numbers who are inside, and the largish numbers who have come out in a recent period, the argument about releasing people from Long Kesh, Crumlin and Derry is not that it is the seven who are responsible. The point is that, given the evidence that has put people inside, I am not prepared to put the security forces at risk. I try to go out with the soldiers once a week. It concentrates the mind. While the violence exists, if there is no Act the Army comes out straight away as far as I am concerned. I am not prepared to put people's lives at risk in this way.
It is not only the Government but those involved in violence who must show an earnest of intent. Although there are some people in both parts of the community who, I believe, are politically motivated, it is the sectarian murders that worry me most. People have deep inside them a desire to kill somebody from the other political faith. [An HON. MEMBER: "Religious faith."] Call it religious, call it what one will, but I do not believe that they are politically motivated, whatever they may say when they eventually come to be made the subject of interim custody orders or dealt with through the courts. They then say that they are political prisoners. I do not deny that some people are politically motivated. I am not giving numbers. But some people would haunt Northern Ireland for years if peace were to break out tomorrow. Stories come to me or my right hon. Friend in the mornings of Protestant girls and Catholic girls and, sadly, of the sectarian murders.
I am not taking issue with anyone about the IRA's having committed the largest number of crimes against the com 1282 munity as a whole. We are talking about sectarian murders, of people being killed because of their religion. There have been over 200 such killings, the majority of which are Protestants killing Catholics.
A recurrent theme throughout my speech so far has been the Gardiner Committee. I should like to close by discussing this committee in more detail. As I have said, the Government when in Opposition had grave doubts about this Act. We considered that the terms of reference of the Commission chaired by Lord Diplock, on which the Act was based, were too narrow and restrictive. We have always felt that emergency legislation such as this should have been dealt with in conjunction with an examination of human rights and civil liberties.
Consequently, the House may recall, the committee under the chairmanship of Lord Gardiner was set up with much wider terms of reference. They were to consider what provisions and powers, consistent to the maximum extent practicable in the circumstances with the preservation of civil liberties and human rights, are required to deal with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland, including provisions for the administration of justice, and to examine the working of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973; and to make recommendations.
That is consistent with the view that I expressed on behalf of the Opposition when I was shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I made it clear then that, given violence in Northern Ireland, the community had the right to take special action to deal with murder and violent crime. I called in aid the European Convention on Human Rights which in Article 15 recognises the right of society to take special action in this respect by derogation. The convention recognises that in modern society there are those who will seek to achieve their political ends by military means.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West may recall that I have suggested to the SDLP the need for a Bill of Rights to be considered by a commission of eminent lawyers. I then considered that a Commonwealth lawyer should be involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West will remember that I put to him that the commission should also consider 1283 the maintenance of the rule of law in circumstances such as those that have prevailed in Northern Ireland in recent years. He may remember receiving a letter from me to that effect.
The House will notice the link between the concern that I expressed on that occation and the passage in the terms of reference of the Gardiner Committee which refers to the preservation of civil liberties and human rights. One of the first things that I did when taking up office and setting up the committee was to act on the advice that I had given the previous Government when in Opposition, which was something that I had always thought it necessary to do. I made it clear to Lord Gardiner that the Government wished him to interpret his terms of reference in the widest sense. That the right hon. and noble Lord has agreed to do.
The committee has already met and issued a general invitation for evidence to be submitted to it. I trust that any individuals or organisations who wish to contribute to the coming debate on enforcing law and order in Northern Ireland whilst preserving civil liberties and human rights will avail themselves of that opportunity. The committee will be meeting regularly over the next few months both in London and in Northern Ireland. It will be treating the task as a matter of extreme urgency.
It is necessary to ask the House to renew the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973. It is the hope of the Government that we shall be able to present new legislation in the not too-distant future, based on the report of Lord Gardiner's Committee, which will provide powers to cope with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland while maintaining to the maximum extent practicable the human rights and civil liberties of the people of Northern Ireland.
I have reduced the period for which the Act will operate from a year to six months. That will be the period during which the Gardiner Committee will report. I say to the House that without such legislation the security forces cannot operate. I repeat, if that legislation is not passed then I will not order a soldier to go out into the streets of 1284 Belfast. What matters, irrespective of legislation, is that the violence shall cease.
There is a split between the two wings of the IRA—namely, the Provisional IRA and the official IRA. They argue as to the effect of the bombings and killings as they put it, and as I would put it, in certain parts of Northern Ireland and on working-class people elsewhere. We have given an earnest of intention and we require back an earnest of intention. If that is forthcoming it will be possible to phase out detention. I offer that in the same spirit as the Government have offered to Northern Ireland the chance to work together to find a political solution to the problem which has haunted Ireland for many years, and particularly for the past 50 years.
As I have said today, we are considering policing again not in the sense of Hunt and of picking up the plant in the way that was suggested, very understandingly, by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), but of finding a way of returning to normal policing. We have asked the Army to do an impossible job. In the meantime the legal way forward is for the House to await Gardiner. The real way out is to phase out detention. I have today speeded that process by starting the process again from an executive point of view. It is for others to respond.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
No one who listened to what my right hon. Friend had to say in his long catalogue of horrible crimes could fail to be impressed by the enormity of the situation and its very dreadfulness. Therefore, in challenging my right hon. Friend I am not challenging him in the sense of his desire to do well in Northern Ireland. I do not mean that in a political sense but in a community sense. I am not challenging either his bona fides or his good intentions, or those of the Minister of State.
What I am challenging is the whole issue whether his judgment is correct in this situation. This is what the argument is about. It concerns objectives and ways of achieving them. In an earlier debate the Minister of State thought that I was trying to make a cheap point when I spoke in terms of a grant of £33 per 1285 detainee. My right hon. Friend misunderstood me. I was not suggesting that in a resettlement sense. I was asking whether £20,000 was enough for that task. I am not trying to score points at the expense of anyone.
We spent nearly six weeks in Opposition—from 7th May to 25th June—examining and probing the terms contained in this measure which we are being asked to renew. Our discussions in Committee occupied 669 columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT. There were 20 Divisions, many of which were decided by the casting vote of the Chair. We all remember the sense of expectancy as we waited to see which way it would go. We were dealing with matters such as juries.
This is not an idle debate. A number of distinguished Members now holding important offices—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, the Minister of State—voted on those many issues. It is right to ask why, in the time the Government have been in power, they have not done something more positive.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
There is a technical point. The Government have been in office for four months. If I had started on the first day I took office and brought forward a Bill with a number of clauses it could not have got through the legislative processes in time.
§ Mr. McNamara
We are to debate another constitution for Northern Ireland on Monday. My right hon. Friend seems to forget that there is a section in the Act we are debating which enables us to drop parts of it. He has failed to take the opportunity to do this. If, as a earnest of the Government's intentions, they had been prepared to drop some sections—not directly concerned with internment—we would have been able to see which way things were going. The advice seems to have been that we must leave all this to Lord Gardiner. As I said to my right hon. Friend in the House last week, we are shuffling off responsibility, just as the Opposition shuffled off responsibility to Lord Diplock, because we are not prepared to take some of the decisions which should have been taken.
We are not talking just about detention. We are talking about trial without jury, 1286 on which there was a close vote in Committee. We are talking about trial before a single judge, which was decided in Committee by the Chairman's casting vote. We are talking about changing the onus of proof in certain cases, in particular in possession cases. We are talking about the admissibility of written statements ill evidence, the denial of the hearsay rule. I could go through quotation after quotation from speeches made by Labour Front Bench spokesmen on that occasion—many of whom are on the Government Front Bench now—on issue after issue, not concerned with internment, in which my right hon. Friends said that what we were doing was wrong.
I come to the question of internment—or detention as it is now politely known. My right hon. Friend will recall that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends divided the House on the question of internment when Mr. Faulkner first introduced it. When internment was being mooted early that August, I and some of my hon. Friends gave warnings about what would happen. The onus is upon my right hon. Friend to show that internment has succeeded.
I know that that is a negative argument and that one can never show what would have happened if those people had not been interned. But there have been more people, including British soldiers, killed, wounded and maimed, and there has been more property destroyed, since internment was introduced than there was before.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
My hon. Friend is using a negative argument. I visited Long Kesh when there were 1,200 internees there under the Special Powers Act. I thought at the time—and still think—that that was a great mistake. Changes have been made since then. Large numbers of internees were released by the Executive and by the previous administration, and the numbers went down. If the Act has weaknesses, as it has—and I will not go into the technicalities—is it the logic of my hon. Friend's argument that I should turn the 600 internees out on to the streets?
§ Mr. McNamara
I am coming to that. I am not trying to dodge that question. It is a point which I have consistently put in another capacity to people who have come before the House and in Committee 1287 upstairs asking for an end to detention. That is a political judgment.
I want to turn to the point which was made eloquently in Committee and which can be summed up in this way: there may well be a case for detention or a case for diluted justice, but there is not a case for both. My right hon. Friend—and I use the expression "my right hon. Friend" to mean the Government—is maintaining both those positions. This I find very hard to understand. This is why I say we are shuffling off the responsibility.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
This is the most important way of discussing what my right hon. Friend and I deal with daily. I take my hon. Friend's point. Diluted justice comes within the sphere of my right hon. Friend and detention comes within mine. The more one could deal with cases under normal methods of justice the better.
Would my hon. Friend not agree, on the question of non-jury trial, that because of intimidation it may be necessary to have some limitation on normal justice, if not to the extent provided for in the Bill?
§ Mr. McNamara
I do not accept that. My right hon. Friend gave a catalogue of the people he has caused to be detained. Yet he has said that these people will be released if violence ends. The logic of that argument is that if one shoots a British soldier one will be detained, but if one shoots a British soldier and is convicted, one must serve the sentence. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will say that the convicted prisoners will be offered some sort of amnesty. We know there are people who want that. But my right hon. Friend will come to the gravamen of the argument, which is, "Faced with this situation, do I open the gates tomorrow and say All right, boys, you may go'"? Is my right hon. Friend saying, "You are in there indefinitely until you are carried out in a box"? That is the other side of my right hon. Friend's argument. At some time he will let those men out. Or will he not let them out until they leave in a box? That is the logic of the case. My right hon. Friend must answer that question.
We come back to the question of judgment. That is what it amounts to. It is my judgment that as a result of internment certain things have arisen and will continue. The first is the fact that 1288 we have created a graduate school for terrorists on both sides of this divide. Secondly, one only increases the sense of grievance of people inside if their release is held up subject to the actions of people outside who they cannot always influence.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Some months ago I met leaders of the compounds at Long Kesh and the Maze. My hon. Friend may recall the argument put to me that those people regarded themselves as prisoners of war. I have heard that opinion expressed on many occasions.
§ Mr. McNamara
The Home Secretary, as he then was, said that we were at war with the IRA. He gave these men a status which in many ways they do not deserve. One is in an even more difficult position. They are liable to be called prisoners of war. They will acquire a status when the war is over.
My right hon. Friend cannot have it all ways. He has visited the children's wing in the Crumlin. He has seen young people there waiting to be allocated to various prisons, training schools and Borstals. Was the terrible thing said to him that was said to me by one person, that he wanted to go to Long Kesh because there he would be given special category status? This is what internment has led to.
A sense of grievance remains in the minority population and it is beginning to grow. My right hon. Friend will 'e now from his correspondence with the Unionists, as I know because it was said to me by the UWC, that it is maintained that people picked up on the street were only trade unionists doing their job. Disaffection is spreading in both communities.
The process started with a political gesture by Mr. Faulkner, who misconceived the situation on the basis of what had happened between 1956 and 1962. No matter how we change the names of the prisoners and the name of the system under which they are held, we still have internment. We therefore give an excuse to extremists on either side not to sit down and talk to their political representatives.
§ Mr. Rees
May I come to the basic point which I have to decide? Given the fault in the beginning—for which neither side of this House has responsibility—would my hon. Friend release 1289 the 600 on to the streets and at the same time leave the Army there? That is the question that I have to answer—and I am, not begging, the question the other way round. I would do the one but I would not keep the Army there one moment in that situation, and if the Army were not there I believe that there would be problems. I would not allow soldiers to be there without protection of some sort. It could not be. I have to take that decision. My hon. Friend has to assume that he is taking it and give me the right answer.
§ Mr. McNamara
I must therefore ask my right hon. Friend which part of the Act he thinks will protect the Army. In all the things that I have said to my right hon. Friend, I have never said that the Army should lose the right to arrest and to detain for four hours, although that causes many grievances in the communities. Is it detention, trial without jury or the alteration of the onus of proof to which my right hon. Friend refers?
§ Mr. Rees
I tell my hon. Friend frankly, having operated this Act, that given the situation there and no sign of the response of a reduction in violence, I am referring to powers, however modified—there may be a case for that—of detention. I do not believe that the Army could stay there without some powers of that kind. I say that having operated the system and dealing with each case firmly myself.
§ Mr. McNamara
I accept that that is my right hon. Friend's judgment. What I am entitled to say is that the Army could operate from 1968 to 1971 without internment and operated with far less violence than was produced by the introduction of internment.
Here is an Act which we are being asked to renew, which contains many faults, some of which could be improved by merely dropping some provisions. There is a whole series of social and political reasons against detention.
We also have what I regard as a lack of honesty within the detention procedures. If I as Secretary of State detain a man because I regard him as dangerous, I do not pass it on to the chief constable or to commissioners or to appeal because that brings the whole law into disrepute. There are a host of arguments political, 1290 judicial and practical as to why we should not renew the order. I do not believe that we should renew it.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
This debate is of the utmost importance to all the people of Northern Ireland because it affects both communities. I have made my position absolutely clear on this matter, but let me tell the House what worries me. We have had put before the House some of the dark and terrible realities of the Northern Ireland situation. We have heard about the monstrous atrocities carried out by the terrorist organisations—and, in the main, by the Irish Republican Army.
In vivid language—language which must have brought this House to the stark realities of the dark shadow that lies across Northern Ireland—the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, having catalogued these terrible crimes, said that he had signed detention orders. He went on to say that if there were a response he would consider further releases. In other words, he made the point that if the violence came to an end, eventually all these people would be released. He was suggesting that people who had committed dastardly acts would escape without any punishment whatever.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
If it had been possible to carry out these proceedings through the normal courts of law, the situation would be different, but what happens if there are no normal processes of law? What the hon. Gentleman says does not weaken my argument but strengthens it. He talks of going through the normal process of law, but that assumes that society is normal.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
But the process of law must be exhausted first. I agree that in an emergency terrorist situation special powers must be made available, but the commissioners' hearings have become an absolute farce. It must be emphasised that there must be a respect for the law. If the judicial process is seen to have become the farce it now is, there can be no respect for the judicial system.
Perhaps I may illustrate what I am saying by citing the case of a certain prisoner—whose name I will not mention because of his family—who in the Northern Ireland High Court was told by the 1291 Lord Chief Justice that his word could not be taken since he was regarded as totally unreliable. The Lord Chief Justice told him that he could not accept his evidence. Yet on that person's evidence a man is in Long Kesh tonight.
When the man's evidence was presented before one of the commissioners, the counsel who pleaded his case pointed out to the commissioner what had been said about the man in the High Court action in Northern Ireland, and the commissioner refused to take his evidence. He said, "I cannot accept this witness as a credible witness. I will expunge from the record what he said." But another commissioner took a different attitude and said that he was prepared to accept that unreliable witness. Consequently, there is tonight a man detained in Long Kesh. How does that man feel towards society? That man can have no respect for the judicial system. Northern Ireland is a small place and, what is more, people are inter-related and inter-married. They are all affected when one of the family is detained.
We could have a long debate tonight about the very structure of Long Kesh and about things which go against the grain of any human being. Nobody knows more than I do that there are terrible difficulties.
However, I want to return to the time when internment was introduced in Northern Ireland and to say that it was introduced in the wrong manner. The Apprentice Boys of Derry were banned from marching—banned to please the Roman Catholics—and the Roman Catholics were interned by Mr. Faulkner to please the Protestants. A country cannot be run by placating one side and then placating the other. But it was in those circumstances that internment was introduced. Then came this Act. We all know what happened upstairs. The Tory Whip was annoyed with me because I was appointed by the Tory Party at that time to sit on the Committee, but I did not vote in the way which might have been expected of me because I had strong views about certain parts of the Act.
The argument tonight has tended to pinpoint detention, but there are other matters in the Act of which the House should take cognisance. When we destroyed or took away trial by jury in 1292 Northern Ireland we helped weaken the people's respect for the judiciary. I want to put on record that I resented the way in which the Protestant community was slandered upstairs by the then Attorney-General who said that the Protestant community jurymen could not be relied on to do their duty. Jurymen come from a particular part of the community; not everybody serves on a jury. There is a property qualification. Jurymen have a stake in the community.
I made a protest about this matter in the Committee. I have today been refreshing my memory about those protracted committee meetings upstairs. I would like to see the jury system of trials restored in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
It has been said that we cannot have a jury system because of intimidation, but I suggest that it is easy to get at a single judge—and judges have been shot at in Northern Ireland—and it is easy to get at witnesses, because witnesses become known, but that it is harder to get at juries because juries are picked, and in Northern Ireland they are picked by a long elimination process. It is not so easy to get at juries. The argument against juries has never been properly established. We asked the previous Attorney-General questions about juries. We have asked whether there have been perverted juries, and what was the extent of their perversion. We have a situation where, in discussing this Act, we are discussing many other matters than detention.
There is one question which I want to put to the Secretary of State. Has this Act worked? Are we defeating terrorists? Every morning, people in Northern Ireland wake up and listen to the early morning news, which is always a sad catalogue of what has happened during the night. I do not think that this Act as an instrument is effective in the defeat of terrorism in Northern Ireland. I readily admit that some special powers are necessary in a situation of this kind, but I believe that a better measure could be developed than this one.
I come back to the commissioners. A commissioner hears a case and signs an order to detain a man. The man then goes before other commissioners on appeal, and he is still detained. That being the case, how can the Secretary of 1293 State suddenly decide that the man can be let out? This has happened. Men have had hearings before commissioners, have appealed and lost, and then as a result of executive action they have been released. I wonder about the evidence that was presented to the commissioners and how it could have changed suddenly so that the Secretary of State was able to let the men out.
The Secretary of State has asked whether we want every door in Long Kesh suddenly opened, allowing all the detainees to spill out. I think that means must be devised whereby those who are considered to be guilty of crime are brought before the courts. We have diluted justice, with special terrorists' courts being set up, and the onus of proof is changed. There is no jury. There is a single judge. But if such a system is established, it should be used to the full. Every person who is thought to be guilty should be brought before such courts. When, and only when, that type of law is exhausted, if the Secretary of State thinks that a person is a danger to the community, the right hon. Gentleman can exercise internment. In such a case, he will be responsible, and no one else, and he is answerable to this House for his action.
At present, if I talk to the Secretary of State about a case, he says that it has gone before a commissioner, the commissioner has said, "No", the case has gone to appeal, and the appeal has been dismissed, and he adds, "But I will look at the papers." But if I am able to say to him, "You are responsible. Why has this been done?", I can argue the case on behalf of the person concerned. Internment is a running sore in the Province. There are differences of opinion among Protestants about it, but that is a fact that this House must grasp.
I and my colleagues do not propose to vote at the conclusion of this debate. But I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if at the end of this period he has not brought in some amending legislation to deal with this matter in an effective manner, we shall have to vote solidly against any further extension of these powers.
There may be hon. Members who feel that they have to vote against this order. That is a matter for their consciences. But this is a serious matter. It is one 1294 that this House needs to study with great care. I regret that these powers are being renewed without any amendment. I regret that nothing has been done. I welcome the fact that Lord Gardiner is to hear submissions, and my party will be putting certain submissions to his committee. We shall encourage those in Northern Ireland who have serious grievances in their minds to go before the committee to put forward their arguments.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) began his speech rather like an Old Testament prophet on the doctrine of retribution—or was it vengeance? After that I agreed with much of what he said about Long Kesh. The truth is that until one has been there and seen those acres of barbed wire and the young people marching and being told about arms training, one has no idea of what it is like.
I want to start my speech with a factual question. A lot has been said about Long Kesh. But what is happening about the women's gaol in Armagh? This nineteenth century gaol, with all these young women cooped up in it, is in a sense quite as anger-making as Long Kesh.
I will not go in detail into the letter written to me by my right hon. Friend on 26th June about the case of Miss McKee other than to make one point. It does not seem satisfactory that so many months should elapse between the visits of the various commissioners. Therefore, may I ask whether there are any plans for reviewing the situation in the Armagh women's prison in the same way as has been suggested for Long Kesh?
The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) made me terribly uneasy. However, I will not go into the Lobby with him tonight because I think that my right hon. Friend has achieved something. It may be only a start, it may be only a pioneer project, and certainly it is no panacea. However, he has released seven people from Long Kesh today.
I do not underrate this achievement. I suspect—my right hon. Friend cannot say this, but I can—that it was done in the 1295 teeth of the most fierce opposition by the chiefs of staff, for very understandable reasons. The chiefs of staff could say, "Our soldiers are risking their lives to get certain suspects into Long Kesh and off the streets and you, the civilian politicians, are letting them out." That is a heck of a thing with which to confront any Secretary of State, because the morale of the British Army is at stake.
By an act of considerable political will the Secretary of State, undoubtedly backed by the Cabinet, has overcome the strong feelings of the chiefs of staff. This is a considerable success. Therefore, having listened carefully to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central and having observed this gesture and act of successful political will, as I interpret it, on behalf of the Government, I cannot bring myself to go into the Lobby against the order.
§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I was hoping to get further support from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because it is all too rare that Northern Ireland politicians elected to this House can find any area on which to agree. I certainly agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).
Last year and the year before I sat in this House and listened to the different sentiments which were then being expressed. I remember the apologetic way in which the Conservative Government introduced the legislation. I understand the reasons why they were apologetic. The Labour Party, which I support, was then in Opposition. Hon. Members of the then Opposition were more than apologetic. They showed their total and vehement opposition to the legislation. I was a member of the Committee on the Bill which is now an Act. I have with me copies of the debates in Committee. If the Secretary of State, the Attorney-General and the Minister of State were to read what they said then, they would know that opinions cannot be changed as quickly as that.
§ Mr. McNamara
I hope that my hon. Friend and I will be going the same way later tonight. But, in fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, we should look very carefully at what he 1296 said in those debates about internment and detention. My hon. Friend will have noted that I did not quote what my right hon. Friend said then because he argued with the same consistency tonight. On every other of those points, however, he was with us.
§ Mr. Fitt
I am being rather more specific than my hon. Friend has been. I was prepared to look at the votes on Divisions in Committee. In all those Divisions there was complete unanimity by the Labour Members and myself. Many of the decisions were taken by the casting vote of the Conservative Chairman of the Committee. Things have not changed as dramatically as would enable my right hon. Friends, in all consistency and in all conscience, to have an attitude now that is completely different from that which they then adopted. Surely the Attorney-General cannot have changed his previous position on the abolition of jury trials in Northern Ireland. He previously put forward very cogent reasons why they should not be abolished. He said that if they were abolished in one part of the United Kingdom, the repercussions would be felt throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
We all put forward our cases then in all conscience. The questions which must be asked now are these: first, are my right hon. Friends the Attorney-General, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State convinced that they were wrong then and that they are right now? Or are they saying that it was purely politics which animated them in expressing the sentiments which were expressed in that Committee? If these questions are not asked by hon. Members, they are being asked by people throughout Northern Ireland.
As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, detention does not affect only the man who is detained. It affects all his relatives. That is why the Catholic community and, for the first time, many of the majority community are beginning to understand just how divisive and contentious detention can become.
I have certain questions to put in the light of the Secretary of State's opening remarks. In justifying detention and internment—and they are the same thing—is he saying that they are continuing because of the horrible crimes of 1297 violence? He referred to the case of a 15-year-old boy who was abducted from a detention centre in Northern Ireland and brutally murdered, allegedly by the Provisional IRA, because he was suspected of giving information to the security forces. He said that detention was resorted to in the case of the murder of three soldiers on the Antrim Road not far from my home. He said that detention was ordered when the Rathcoole murders took place and when there were murders at the Abbey meat factory.
How does he know that the people concerned were involved in these cases? Both Protestant and Catholic extremists are involved. What information did my right hon. Friend get and where did he get it? It enabled him and his predecessors to sign these ICOs. Is it a fact that five people—and this matter affects me personally—were detained in Long Kesh on suspicion of having murdered Senator Paddy Wilson at about this time last year? Is it a fact that two of these people were subsequently released by the commissioners and are now free? If that is so, it proves that there is no case for having the commissioners. If it is known that people have been engaged in murder, people against whom the Army has laid information, and those people are then released by the commissioners—and the Secretary of State is powerless to do anything about the matter—why were they detained in the first place? Either we accept that the commissioners are stupid and do not know their job because they are releasing murderers on the streets, or, if that is not the case, there is no justification for having the commissioners in the first place.
There have been quite a number of men arrested and detained by the Army, taken to an interrogation centre—Castlereagh is the current location—and ICOs have been signed against them. They are then brought before the commissioner within 28 days. Some hon. and right hon. Members might think in terms only of 28 days, but the actual period can be much greater. It can run into months and years. At the first hearing the commissioners might find that the person has not been involved in an offence and he is released. But what has happened to that person in the meantime? He might be a Catholic working for a Protestant employer, which would be the majority of 1298 cases, or he might be a Protestant working for a Catholic employer. Once he has been suspected of having had a part in an illegal organisation, he loses his job. No firm can afford to do without an employee for a period of five, six, seven or eight months.
Once a detainee is released from detention he is a marked man. No matter how innocent he may have been, there is always the suspicion that he was involved on the side of either Republican or Protestant extremism. His life is in danger after he has been released. People who have been released at their very first hearing before the commissioners find that their lives are in danger and that they have lost their jobs. Their children and wives are suffering, and there is no provision for compensation.
That was one of the matters we discussed at length in Committee. We opposed the previous Government because we believed that some form of compensation should be paid to a person who was arrested and detained and subsequently found to have been totally innocent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), ably supported by the hon. Member for Antrim, North, was correct to say that this is not only a question of detention and internment. There are 31 sections and five schedules in the Act. In the years to come this Parliament will not feel proud that it had to put such legislation on the statute book. It has always laid claim to be the protector of democracies and the whole democratic concept not only in this country but throughout the world. The order is a matter for which it will never have reason to forgive itself.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
My hon. Friend will recall that the argument when the Bill was being considered was very much a question of "Do you have detention or a diluted form of justice?", as I described it. My hon. Friend may say that we do not need either. If he does not, it is his duty to tell the House which of them he opts for. We have heard this argument of attack from several hon. Members on both sides of the House in the debate, but none has yet told us. "I would choose this and not the other".
§ Mr. Fitt
My right hon. and learned Friend puts forward a reasonable point of view. I do not believe that the Act has in any way contributed to peace in Northern Ireland. That is the reality of the situation. Even though it might include the people who were involved in the murder of Senator Paddy Wilson, I would advocate that the detention centres be opened and the slate be wiped clean, and I would be hoping against hope that that would in some way lead to a new political impetus.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I know that this point matters to my hon. Friend perhaps even more than to Members on the Opposition benches, although I do not know where they live. The hon. Gentleman lives in conditions at the bottom of Antrim Road in which I should not like to live. I am not making a cheap point here, but, given that fact, would he agree that the British Army should be left in the area?
§ Mr. Fitt
That was the point that I was about to make. I must relate the attitude of the British Army to detention, emergency provisions and to the political strike that took place in Northern Ireland some three or four weeks ago. I would never have thought that it could ever be envisaged in the United Kingdom that the Army would dictate to the Government, whatever political colour the Government might be. I would never have believed it possible that the Army would dictate.
I am now saying that it is my firm belief that the Army was reluctant to take action during the course of the strike which brought about the downfall of the Executive and the Sunningdale Agreement. It may be that some Northern Ireland hon. Members on the Opposition benches did not have a great deal of faith in the Sunningdale Agreement or the Executive, but it is my feeling—and I say this with some knowledge of what I am talking about—that if the Army had acted sooner, the Executive would still be in existence. I do not say that in a personal sense.
I believe that the Army is now saying to the British Government, "If you release the internees we are leaving Northern Ireland tomorrow." If the Government believe that that is the right political decision to take, they will have to take that decision. When an army is in a position to dictate to the Govern 1300 ment, we are getting to a dangerous state. It is something which we have never heard or thought we would hear of in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I think that it is important to get this absolutely right. During the days of the Ulster Workers' Council political strike my hon. Friend knows that the Executive—and my hon. Friend was the Deputy Leader—made a request to the Government for the movement of petrol to a certain number of stations. I issued that instruction to the Army and it was carried out. On no occasion did the Army say "No" to any request that I made of it. I am not going into the wider argument of how we should deal with an industrial dispute in the electricity industry or with detention. I have the job of giving orders to the British Army and there has been no occasion on which it has refused to carry them out.
Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
But does the hon. Gentleman accept it?
§ Mr. Fitt
I do not accept it fully. I would be less than honest if I did not inform the House of my reservations in view of what I know has happened in Northern Ireland. I know that the release of internees is a major problem as a result of the Army's attitude. I am not saying, and I have never said, that every internee was completely innocent of the charges brought against him. I have never said that and I would not dare to say that now. I could go on to say that there may be some internees who are guilty of some crimes, but we have heard what my right hon. Friend has said tonight. He has listed a catalogue of offences. If there were not people in Northern Ireland who were absolutely convinced that the people who were responsible for the Abbey meat factory murder, the Rathcoole murders, the 15year-old boy murder, the murder of the three soldiers and the murder of Paddy Wilson were those who have been interned, there would be such opposition that the running sore of internment would not exist.
1301 I repeat what I said earlier. The Secretary of State has said that as an earnest of his intention he has released seven internees. I cannot accept that as an earnest of his intention. The figure is derisory in Northern Ireland terms. It will not be accepted by anyone. At least the Conservative administration, following the Sunningdale Agreement released 65 internees. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) on the Opposition Front Bench will know that the figure of 65 was treated with derision. How much worse will it be when the figure is only seven? I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be better to release no one until he is in a position to release a substantial number.
Many people were detained on 9th August 1971, and they cannot be blamed for any of the bombings and murders that have taken place in the three most tragic years that we have had since then. I suggest that as an earnest of the intentions of this Government the right hon. Gentleman should release those people who were interned originally on 9th August 1971. I could accept that, and the people of Northern Ireland could accept it. The slate could be wiped clean, and we could get rid of all the antagonisms and hostilities that have existed for so long in Northern Ireland between the minority population and those who formed the Unionist Government prior to the imposition of direct rule.
I am not a member of the Labour Government, but I have supported them since I came to the House and I shall continue to do so on all the major issues—and tomorrow will be another example, with the debate on the Bill to repeal the Industrial Relations Act. But on this occasion I can speak only for my constituents in Northern Ireland, and I shall be voting against the Government tonight.
§ 11.31 p.m.
Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I have only just come into the Chamber, and I have heard only part of the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I realise the gravity of the problems that are being discussed, but I was a little disturbed, because the hon. Member does not speak simply as a back bencher on this matter. He does not talk without some sort of authority, and I think that it is an unhappy thing that it 1302 should be left on the record that when the Minister responsible has given an undertaking that at no time did the Army refuse to carry out political instructions, or neglect to carry them out, or carry them out with reluctance, the hon. Member for Belfast, West still speaks with a double voice.
After listening to the right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member said that he hoped that what the right hon. Gentleman had said would continue to be the case, and then he said that he did not accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement in its entirety. The hon. Member's views would not have been important if he had been talking as an ordinary back bencher and had not been closely associated with these matters, and if he had been talking more or less from instinct, or a hunch, but in view of the authoritative position that he held as deputy in the Executive until only a few weeks ago I feel that the record should have it straight: are the hon. Member's doubts justified, or should be accept completely and entirely the undertaking given by the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I want to make it clear that any instructions that have been given to the Army have been carried out.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Harlow)
I listened with considerable sympathy to the case put forward by my right hon. Friend this evening, and I want to place on record the admiration that I have for the courage, energy and dedication that he and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State have consistently shown in their endeavours to bring peace and political progress to Northern Ireland.
I also want to point out that I am utterly horrified by the relapse into barbarity in Northern Ireland, illustrated by the catalogue of acts of violence, viciousness, inhumanity and murder—not only those acts referred to by my right hon. Friend but the many other instances of which hon. Members are only too well aware.
I have nothing in common with these methods. I should not dare to offer any justification for the crimes that have been perpetrated, whether by the Provisional IRA, the official IRA, paramilitary Protestant groups, paranoic 1303 murderers, or anybody else. Unfortunately, however, the emergency provisions for internment just have not worked, and we have to face that fact this evening. The violence has not ceased, sectarian strife has not diminished, and in those circumstances we must ask ourselves whether we shall bring peace and progress to Northern Ireland by perpetuating what has been done for the last couple of years.
In 1969, I visited Northern Ireland as part of a Labour Party delegation. I am one of those hon. Members of this House who, because of their interest in a number of these problems, have been associated with efforts to raise the issue of civil rights in Northern Ireland. I believe that the present state of affairs and the inhumanity that one sees in Northern Ireland have arisen because for too long we were prepared to push on one side the civil injustices and the denial of human rights to people in that area.
What does internment do to the people about whom we are concerned tonight? I believe that it imparts a heroic quality to the inmates of the camps; that it makes them heroes in the eyes of their own communities. We can therefore say that at best it converts thugs into heroes, and at worst it results in the unjust detention of men who should not be there and so creates a feeling of injustice which spreads throughout the community.
My right hon. Friends did not introduce the system of internment, they inherited it, but if they soldier on with it in the way that appears likely, in the long run, in the eyes of history, the responsibility for the system will be foisted upon them. They should therefore think carefully about the situation and realise that upon their shoulders may be placed the responsibility for all that may ensue as a result of internment.
The reputation of Britain has been besmirched by what has occurred in Northern Ireland. We have allowed a precedent to be created which may be used in other parts of the United Kingdom to deny civil liberties to people. We must, therefore, ensure that an effort is made to depart from the road along which we are now travelling.
1304 I would have preferred some sort of package deal. I understand it when my right hon. Friend says that, if only the men of violence would stop, he would be prepared to end internment. I know that that is a sincere statement. Unless we take the initial step it may be that violence will not be ended. My right hon. Friend quoted cases of people whom he said have nothing that could be described as political motivation. I ask him to think seriously whether internment stopped such people. We have to try to create an atmosphere in which such people can be tried and put behind bars as, unfortunately, we have to put others behind bars, so that the whole community can see that they are guilty and deserve to be there, instead of being allowed, in some cases, to masquerade as heroes.
We must recognise that in all civil wars, and in Northern Ireland we have a suppressed civil war, terrible crimes are committed. History demonstrates that men are prepared to commit the most heinous crimes and at the same time to risk the most barbaric punishments when they believe that they are doing something in the name of a cause. The history of struggles in many parts of the world shows that however terrible the punishment may be—and it is by no means the most terrible punishment which the British Government are carrying out—it does not work.
There is no way out from the present impasse of violence and strife by maintaining internment and the panoply of emergency provisions. I do not believe that the only way forward is to abolish them at a stroke. What is necessary is some sort of package deal. If these provisions are approved once again without voices being raised to express the sort of sentiments I am expressing, it would be greatly to the detriment of future hopes for dealing with the issue.
I hope my right hon. Friend will understand that many of us who feel very strongly about this, and are taking a strong line, do so not because we feel a complete lack of sympathy with what he is seeking to do. It is because we believe that in our action lies the only way forward in Northern Ireland. I certainly believe that the only argument he can adduce here that will convince many of 1305 us that it is necessary to carry on with these powers is that they will stop future violence. I do not believe that he has done that. I do not believe it is possible to demonstrate that, and in those circumstances we ought to recognise that these powers ought not to be renewed. We very much hope that they will soon go, so that we shall be able to make a new effort to deal with this tangled and terrible problem.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
No hon. Member on either side of the House could possibly complain about the House looking closely at an order of this kind, which is of fundamental importance. I am probably the only speaker in this debate who can claim to be totally consistent.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I except the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). He was a persistent nuisance to me, as he has been to his own party—as he is entitled to be to both.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
The hon. Gentleman had better go to bed if he is getting tired. When we come down to it, we shall find that there is more in common between the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) and myself than he might suppose.
I would be less than human—although I am a kindly man, as the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State know—if I did not pause to reflect on the irony of something I said to the Attorney-General coming true. Last summer towards the end of the long-drawn-out proceedings to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central referred, I said to the Attorney-General that the time might come when I should be listening to him recommending to the House the extension of the procedures which he had with considerable ability and great assiduity opposed throughout, as had the Secretary of State. That experience has within it the most terrible warning for Oppositions. The Opposition never know when they may find themselves in Government. Nowadays it is wise to be cautious about what one 1306 says in Opposition. In my friendly, kindly way, I will leave it at that.
At Question Time on 27th June, in answer to a Question from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), the Minister of State said that there could not be amendments to the Act by way of the orders but that there could be deletions. That is a clear and unexceptionable statement of fact, but from it I gained the clear impression, as I suspect did other hon. Members, that there would be deletions. I am not complaining, because I do not think that there should be deletions. We all know that the Minister of State would not intentionally mislead the House, but he may unintentionally have misled the House, and some difficulties may have arisen from that.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
There could easily have been deletions. Because of the minor nature of one or two of the deletions I thought it better to leave it to the Gardiner Committee. I accept full responsibility for that.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I realise that the Secretary of State has responsibility, but I think that some of the difficulties arose out of that statement.
Since the Government took office it has been borne fully upon them that the powers contained in the Act, unpleasant as they are, are absolutely necessary to the operation in Northern Ireland. I never hid from the House, and nor did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers)—who with me piloted the Bill through the Committee—how distasteful we, as lawyers, felt the Bill to be.
When the Attorney-General replies, I hope that he will make one thing clear. When the Secretary of State referred to "certain releases" he meant the release of detainees. He spoke of rehabilitation. That also referred to detainees.
This is very important. I suspect there are some hon. Members of the House who have the impression that the Maze prison is concerned solely with detainees. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) might well give that impression; "acres and acres of cages", as I remember his words; "young people drilling" was another phrase he used. There are young prisoners who are not detainees in the Maze prison. 1307 There are substantial numbers of special category prisoners in the Maze prison who are permitted to wear ordinary civilian clothes, and who to the uninitiated, casual observer might appear to belong to the same category. I do not suggest that the hon. Member was uninitiated. He took care to distinguish one cage from another. It is important, however, that that impression should not get abroad. I do not think the Secretary of State intended to interfere with the sentences legally imposed upon special category prisoners who were convicted.
The right hon. Member indicates his disagreement with the proposition that he should release special category prisoners. I am sure that is right. They have been through due process and courts of law. They have been convicted. Their sentences should be followed through in the usual way. It has been helpful that that should be made clear. We refer only to detainees.
I refer next to the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). He has changed his position on this matter. He now thinks that it would be preferable, out of two disagreeable alternatives, to return to internment at the behest of a Minister rather than to detention with a form of legal process. That was not his original view. I have a cutting here to remind us. The hon. Member will recall that when Diplock and his colleagues first reported, he welcomed the report and said that at times stern measures were necessary to deal with terrorism. He added that many of the Diplock proposals had been put to the then Secretary of State by himself and his own political associates.
Since that time he has taken a different view. I believe that he is wrong. I do not care for internment at the behest of the Minister. I do not positively care for detention with a form of legal process. But I have no doubt that the second is preferable to the first. It is in the interests of those concerned that there should be a form of legal process even if it falls well short of what generally we would regard as acceptable.
When I wound up the recent defence debate I told of an experience of mine. It was directly relevant to the dis 1308 cussions we had then. I give it very shortly again. As we cannot read each other's speeches, it may be worth repeating. It sums up well the problem faced by the Secretary of State.
I gave as an example my experience then of having close dealings with a battalion of the Parachute Regiment who were at that time, and subsequently, in the Ardoyne. I told of how bitterly those young men resented the allegation that they were uncivilised and boors, and how admirably they conducted themselves and brought peace to a difficult part of Belfast. I had been approached by leading members of the Roman Catholic community from that part of Belfast asking me to use such influence as I had for the tour of the paratroopers to be extended because they had brought peace and because "the bad men were locked up in Long Kesh". When a deputation from the National Council for Civil Liberties came to see me—not, on this issue, a very balanced deputation—and we were discussing why the Ardoyne was so peaceful and the lights were on. one of those concerned said, "The bad men are in Long Kesh." I said, "Exactly."
This is the difficulty facing the Secretary of State, as it faced his predecessor. He has been getting a statistical reduction in incidents—this has not been as fully brought out as it might have been—but to achieve that he must have the equipment first, of trial by one judge. The account given by the previous Attorney-General of the misuse of justice by juries, I think, totally convinced the House. There must also be certain powers of search for the Army and there must be powers of detention.
Every country which has had some form of detention has faced the problem of how to phase it out. It is instructive to look at the experience of other countries. Kindly reference has been made to the initiative of the previous Secretary of State in releasing 65 detainees towards the end of the year. It would help us—I should be the last, of course, to press Ministers on security matters if it was their judgment that details should not be disclosed—if the Attorney-General could tell us how many of those 65 have been redetained or charged.
The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) feeling very deeply about this 1309 matter, just as we on this side do, said, unlike the hon. Member for Belfast West (Mr. Fitt), that it was not practicable to release every detainee at once. He was taking an appropriately pragmatic view. He was pressing for quick action—I do not want to put words into his mouth—but he was not saying that every detainee should be immediately released. In that he was right. The problem for Ministers is not the principle of releasing them—no Minister of any Government I can imagine in this country wants detention for an unlimited period—but the question of scale and timing, of how many of those released may demonstrably return to the previous practice of bombing and shooting for political and other ends.
There are some hon. Members who should do as the Secretary of State has said he does—spend a period with the Army out around the streets and reflect that we are asking the soldiers to act within the law. We must be virtually the only nation in the world—this is sometimes a sore point with the soldiers—who, faced with an insurrection of this kind, rightly ask our young men to risk their lives but to act within the law. Almost any other nation I can think of would have allowed them to go outside the law.
But if we are to require that discipline of them—and in my view it is a right and proper discipline, and in my experience the great majority of them accept that it is necessary—we in this House must make sure that we give them the appropriate legal armoury. That is our half of the compact with these young men whose lives are at risk at our behest and on the Secretary of State's instructions.
When one is in the position of a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or of one of his Ministers and is responsible for the lives of these young men, one has to make a judgment in favour of giving them a legal framework rather than the reverse. The Secretary of State cannot be criticised for so doing, and we shall support him in the difficult judgment which he has to make.
§ 12.1 a.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
What we are discussing tonight is whether this House should renew for a period of six months, and six months only—although a further renewal could 1310 take place—the provisions of the 1973 Act. We are considering the order against the background that the present Government have set up a committee of inquiry under the chairmanship of a most distinguished Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, and containing among its members persons of the greatest possible experience both of the conditions in Northern Ireland and generally of the law and of human rights.
It is wrong for anybody to suggest that what we are now doing is giving our accolade to this Act as though we took the view that it were something that should stand for all time. The very point of asking for a renewal for six months only when we could have asked for renewal for a longer period is due to our hope that before the six-month period is up the committee chaired by the noble Lord will be able to give the House its report and that we shall be able to act on it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said that future Parliaments would not be proud of this legislation. I agree with him that this is not the kind of legislation which any Parliament wishes to see on the statute book—nor are the conditions which made this legislation essential in some form or other, whether or not we agree with all of it, such as we can be proud of.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said he hoped that it would be possible to restore as soon as possible the full and ordinary right of trial. I agree with him. I have said time and again in the past that what we were dealing with in terms of Part I of the Act was a form of diluted justice. We had to satisfy ourselves by the closest questioning of the Government of the day whether each individual clause of the Bill, as it then was, was necessary and whether every part of every clause was necessary. I am sure the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) will not take the view that anything less than the fullest possible inquiry and diligence on the part of the opposition in those circumstances would have been justified.
When we come to the question of renewal there are a number of major dilemmas. There is a major dilemma on the question whether the conditions that 1311 exist today are such that legislation of this kind needs to be on the statute book at all. Everything that has been said tonight, and everything that we know about conditions in Northern Ireland—conditions of terrorism and intimidation—must surely indicate that something is necessary to enable certain people to be either kept out of harm's way or brought to justice. Those people may have friends who can intimidate witnesses, juries or judges, or anyone else connected with a case. Some are people against whom one cannot mount a case under the judicial provisions of the Act, and they have to be dealt with under the other procedure. That is the first dilemma, and I hope that there will not be any real difference of opinion about that.
The second major dilemma which has been referred to in the debate is the question whether, given that there are those conditions and that there must be special legislation to deal with them, it is necessary that we should have both a system of detention or internment and a system, such as we have in Part I of the Act, in which the normal safeguards of trial by jury and the various rules which we are used to in this country are watered down. Is it necessary to have both of these, as well as the soldiers who are there to protect the population of Northern Ireland from violence and intimidation? In listening to some of my hon. Friends, and to the hon. Member for Antrim, North, I thought how easy it always is to attack first one Part of the Act and then the other Part, and, in that way, to give an impression that one can dispose of one Part or another, yet never to come down to the particular Part which they suggest should be disposed of. I got the impression from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West—I may have misunderstood him on this, because he did not seem to complete the point in which case he will correct me—that because he was so concerned to end internment or detention he would be prepared to accept something less in terms of the judicial process.
If the position is that one thing or the other is necessary, I think it is right that hon. Members who speak against the order should say plainly what they think ought to be done awa ywith. If they are not able to give an answer to that which 1312 is a perfectly reasonable stance, they ought to be prepared to say that it is perfectly right and proper, and indeed necessary, that a body such as the Gardiner Committee—with experts who have experience of conditions in Northern Ireland and who wish to see the maximum amount of human rights and civil liberties in Northern Ireland, consistent with the situation there—ought at least to be given the task of advising the House, first, on the dilemmas involved and, secondly, on other matters that have to be considered in relation to the detailed provisions of the Act.
§ Mr. McNamara
My right hon. and learned Friend will recall that in Committee he came down strongly in favour of one side of that dilemma. Why does he now recommend that that should go to the Gardiner Committee? Will he advise the Government to that effect?
§ The Attorney-General
What I may advise the Government is a matter between me and the Government. I am saying that, whatever my personal judgment is it may not be correct, and that it is reasonable that my judgment and that of the Secretary of State and the Government should be subject to the detailed examination that will be given to all these procedures by the committee and that, at the end, we should be in a position, having read the committee's report, to make up our minds in a more informed way as between the two possibilities. It may even be that we shall have to accept something on the lines of both parts of the Act. I hope that that will not be necessary. But, before we have that report, I do not see how we can make an informed judgment and cast away completely one or the other.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that it is not just the task of that committee to scrutinise legislative suggestions? Is not it the job of the legislature itself to scrutinise, and are not we doing that tonight?
§ Mr. Silkin
Of course it is a function of the legislature, and the legislature will decide, if the House Passes this order, after having had the most careful study made by the Gardiner Committee, helped by those actually engaged in doing the work on both parts of the Act in 1313 Northern Ireland. I have already seen a number of the memoranda which may be produced to the Gardiner Committee and I have been asked by the committee to give it my own views.
At the end, I hope that an informed report will be placed before the House upon which hon. Members will be able to make up their minds and exercise their judgments. In the end, it will be for the House to make up its mind what should be done. In considering that, the House has to bear in mind that the provisions of the Act are such that we can renew it as a whole or with the omission of certain parts—but we cannot amend it. From what I have seen in the three or four months in which I have been Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, I believe that it may be necessary eventually to put forward amendments to the Act in the form of a Bill which will have to go through Parliament in the ordinary way. It may be found that it will not be a matter simply of omitting here and there, and otherwise renewing the Act.
I have spoken of the major dilemmas, but I invite the House to consider one or two of the minor dilemmas on which we hope to have the views of Lord Gardiner's committee.
Dealing with detention, in Part II, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) said that he regarded detention as a purely administrative matter and did not want it dressed up as though it were something different by the system of commissioners and the complications to be found in the schedule dealing with detention. That is an understandable view. The hon. Member for Antrim, North holds a similar view.
In that context, the Gardiner Committee will have to consider whether it is right that people should be subject to administrative detention and that their fate should be in the hands of the Secretary of State and his Department, without any possibility of telling some independent person, or body, "You have the wrong man. You have made a mistake. You should be seeking someone else for the offence which is the occasion for the order which has been made."
I take the view that that kind of procedure is desirable, but my hon. Friend takes a different view. That matter can properly be dealt with by the Gardiner 1314 Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend will put his views to the Gardiner Committee, so that it may properly consider that matter.
§ Mr. McNamara
The Gardiner Committee can be made aware of my views, because they are stated clearly in the records of this House. My right hon. and learned Friend said that an individual may say to the commissioners, "You have got the wrong man." How can an individual say that, if he is refused access to the evidence that has put him there in the first place, as can happen?
§ The Attorney-General
I am fully aware of the difficulties of this procedure. It is a matter for consideration whether the procedure is or is not of value. That is a matter on which the Gardiner Committee may be able to help us.
Perhaps I may cite another example.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham
Before my right hon. and learned Friend goes on, may I put one point to him? The Secretary of State said that the Attorney-General would deal with this point in his remarks. Some of us found it difficult, and others found it impossible, to accept the idea of imprisonment by the Executive, even for a month. I understand that, in practice, because of delays of between three and six months before the commissioners hear cases, there is imprisonment by the Executive for not one month but periods extending from four to seven months, which is even more unacceptable. Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on that point?
§ The Attorney-General
I was about to come to that point on the review procedure, because that procedure affects what my hon. Friend said. I agree that it is intolerable that someone who may not be the right person to be detained for a particular matter should be held in custody for as long as seven months before coming before a commissioner to put his case and then, perhaps, being released. Nobody can defend that situation. However, there are a number of reasons why this may happen. They are reasons concerned partly with the small number of commissioners' courts—although the number is being increased—but, most of all, with the immense strain that is being imposed on the legal profession in Northern Ireland, which is unable 1315 to cope with all the proceedings with which it has to deal.
That brings me to the dilemma which I hope the House will accept is a proper dilemma for the Gardiner Committee to examine. We do not accept that it is right that people should be held for seven months without trial, but what is contributing largely to that situation is the provision in the schedule that, in addition to the administrative review by the Secretary of State, there is the automatic review by a commissioner after a person has been in detention for a year. We know that if the review procedure by commissioners were got rid of it would be possible to reduce the delay considerably from seven months for the initial hearing. Therefore, we must consider whether that is the right course to take.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) will be aware that many people will say that to abandon a system of review of that kind is to abandon one of the proper safeguards of the citizen. A further dilemma for the Gardiner Committee to consider is whether the greater evil is delay or the abandonment of that safeguard.
I shall not go through the Act and recite the various matters that might have been omitted. We have considered a number of sections very carefully indeed—that is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of State gave the reply that he did which has been referred to—to see whether it was possible to omit parts of the Act, when renewing it in this way, without doing violence to the Gardiner Committee's consideration, the benefit of which we shall ultimately have. Although there are no doubt sections which we could have omitted—indeed, we could have done so in some cases purely as a matter of window dressing—we did not think that it would be right to do that. Having given very full consideration to each of the sections that were under review, we thought that it would be better, in the long run, that the Gardiner Committee should look at the Act as a whole
§ and report to the House, because the Committee may well take the view that certain sections need to be amended and certain need to be improved. We thought that it would not be right, in cases in which we thought that there was a possibility of omitting sections altogether, to take that step.
§ I hope, therefore, that the House will take the view that we have, on balance, taken the right course here. There is a great deal in the Act that needs careful study by the legislature, but with the help of an expert committee to assist it in reaching the right conclusions on these various matters.
§ Whatever doubts some hon. Members may have about certain parts of the Act, I ask the House to allow it to continue for this further period of six months, giving the undertaking that the Gardiner Committee will make its report as rapidly as possible and that when the Government have considered that report they will be in a position to come forward with proposals for whatever new legislation is required. One hopes that they will do so in a very much better atmosphere in Northern Ireland than exists today, and in the light of the political solutions which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned earlier today.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee rose—
§ The Attorney-General
I was about to answer, as far as I could, the hon. Member for Wokingham, who expressed uncertainties about the effect of the policy of release from detention. I cannot give him an answer tonight as to how many of those who were released before Christmas have been re-detained. There have been some. I undertake to see that the hon. Gentleman gets an answer within the next two or three days. I hope that that will suffice. I hope that with that assurance both he and his hon. Friends will join myself and my hon. Friends in supporting the order.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 98, Noes 17.1317
|Division No. 70.]||AYES||[12.23 a.m.|
|Archer, Peter||Brown, Bob (Newcastle upon Tyne, W.)||Cox, Thomas|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Crawshaw, Richard|
|Beith, A. J.||Buchan, Norman||Cunningham, Dr. John A.(Whiteh'v'n)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Carmichael, Neil||Dalyell, Tam|
|Boardman, H.||Cocks, Michael||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Booth, Albert||Coleman, Donald||Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lawrence, Ivan||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. S. C. (S'hwark, Dulwich)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Small, William|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth||Lyons, Edward (Bradford. W.)||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Eadie, Alex||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Spearing, Nigel|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Maclennan, Robert||Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth, Fulh'm)|
|English, Michael||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Strang, Gavin|
|Fowler, Gerry (The Wrekin)||Marks, Kenneth||Tinn, James|
|George, Bruce||Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)||Tomlinson, John|
|Gilmour, Rt. Hn. Ian (Ch'sh' & Amsh'm)||Meacher, Michael||Urwin, T. W.|
|Golding, John||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Grant, John (Islington, C.)||Millan, Bruce||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Miller, Dr. M. S. (E. Kilbride)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hamling, William||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Watkins, David|
|Hardy, Peter||Murray, Ronald King||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Harper, Joseph||Oakes, Gordon||Whitlock, William|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Orme, Rt. Hn. Stanley||Wigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)|
|Hatton, Frank||Ovenden, John||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.E.)|
|Hawkins, Paul||Owen, Dr. David||Winstanley, Dr. Michael|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North)||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hunter, Adam||Pavitt, Laurie||Woodall, Alec|
|John, Brynmor||Pendry, Tom||Young, David (Bolton, E.)|
|Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Perry, Ernest G.||Young, Sir George (Ealing, Acton)|
|Jopling, Michael||Price, Christopher (Lewisham, W.)|
|Judd, Frank||Radice, Giles||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lamborn, Harry||Rees, Rt. Hn. Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Mr. Walter Johnson and|
|Lamond, James||Roper, John||Mr. James A. Dunn|
|Atkinson, Norman||McGuire, Michael||Stallard, A. W.|
|Bennett, Andrew F. (Stockport, M.)||Madden, M. O. F.||Thorne, Stan (Preston, S.)|
|Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.)||Newens, Stanley (Harlow)||Wise, Mrs. Audrey|
|Cryer, G. R.||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)||Prescott, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Latham, Arthur (Cityof W'minster P'ton)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Mr. Kevin McNamara and|
|Loyden, Eddie||Skinner, Dennis||Mrs. Maureen Colquhoun|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The resolution on the business of the House earlier today determined that the House would sit for three hours on the order or until one o'clock, "whichever is the later". Who has the authority to change the decision of the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Only the House itself. When the Question was put there was no hon. Member on his feet, and therefore I had to put the Question.