§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The main aim of this Bill is to help ensure that the fugitive terrorist in Ireland can be brought to justice. In the Republic a complementary Bill—The Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Bill—was introduced in the Seanad on 10th April, has passed its Second Reading and is now in Committee.
These Bills are required because the existing arrangements for the return of fugitives from the Republic to Northern Ireland under the Backing of Warrants Act 1965 do not work for terrorist crimes. It is a regrettable fact that the perpetrator of a terrorist crime in Northern Ireland can readily escape over the border and plead that his offence was political. He has every prospect of successfully securing his release in this way, particularly if he is connected with the IRA.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want in any way to misrepresent the position, but this does work the other way round. Offenders in the North have been extradited to the South of Ireland.
§ Mr. Rees
I shall be coming to the extradition factor which is a basic reason for this Bill. I was saying that these Bills are required in view of the existing arrangements under the Backing of Warrants Act 1965, which do not provide for terrorist crimes. It is a regrettable fact that a perpetrator of a terrorist crime in Northern Ireland can readily escape over the border.
Both Bills were prepared in consultation with the Republic and flow from the discussions held at Sunningdale in December 1973. In the joint communiqué issued after that conference Her Majesty's Government and the Republic agreed that persons committing crimes of violence, however motivated, in any part of Ireland should be brought to trial irrespective of the part of Ireland in which they are located. A joint Law Enforcement 1690 Commission was appointed to study how this could be done. The United Kingdom representatives included the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lord Justice Scarman. The Republic's representatives included two judges of the Supreme Court.
Their report was issued in May last year and I explained to the House at the time that all the members of the Commission agreed that it would be feasible to confer power on the courts in both parts of Ireland so that the courts in each part would be able to try certain crimes wherever in Ireland they were committed. Both Governments agreed that this recommendation offered a solution to the problem and it is embodied in the two Bills.
It is important to realise how each Bill complements the other and that each Bill forms half of a package. There are three essential elements in each Bill and I will spell them out. The Irish Bill enables a fugitive offender in the Republic to be tried there for an offence committed in Northern Ireland. Second, it establishes a procedure whereby the court of trial can obtain from Northern Ireland evidence from witnesses who are too frightened—and I do not say that in any derogatory sense as anyone who lives in Northern Ireland will realise—to travel to the Republic to give evidence. Third, provision is made for evidence to be taken in the Republic for an equivalent trial in Northern Ireland.
Likewise, our Bill contains the three complementary provisions. It enables an offender to be tried in Northern Ireland for an offence committed in the Republic, for a request to be sent to the Republic for evidence for that trial and for the taking of evidence in Northern Ireland to support the prosecution of an offender being tried in the Republic. In the context of the Northern Ireland problem therefore it is the Republic's Bill which is supremely important to us, but one Bill is of no use without the other.
I must now indicate the background to the problem of the fugitive political offender in more detail. There is no formal extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic. The return of offenders is normally effected by a simple form of extradition under the Backing of Warrants Act 1965 whereby 1691 the police of one country execute a warrant issued in the other and the accused is brought before a court which decides whether to surrender him to the country making the request. Before taking this decision, the court must be satisfied that the offence corresponds to an offence in its own country and that it is not a political offence.
In the Republic, though not in the United Kingdom, the accused may not be surrendered if his offence is one connected with a political offence. This is an important difference between our law and that of the Republic. It arises from the provisions of the European Convention on Extradition which specified that extradition shall not be granted for a political offence or for offences connected with a political offence. The Republic of Ireland is a party to this convention but the United Kingdom is not because, amongst other things, we prefer bi-lateral arrangements. Hence the avenues of appeal open to a fugitive are somewhat wider in the Republic than in the United Kingdom.
Even if we were a party to the convention or if there were a treaty between ourselves and the Republic the problem of the fugitive political offender would remain because there would still be obligations not to surrender someone whose offence was regarded as political. It is this aspect that, as a non-lawyer, I can see is the key to an understanding of the matter.
Since the troubles started in Northern Ireland no person accused of a terrorist offence in Northern Ireland has been returned from the Republic to face trial. Twelve persons wanted for "terrorist" offences committed in Northern Ireland have now been set free by courts in the Republic on the grounds that their offences were political or connected with a political offence. A further seven are contesting their return to Northern Ireland before the courts. Some of those concerned have been accused of murder or attempted murder. There have been instances where a fugitive has returned to Northern Ireland to resume his activities.
1692 It is an affront to all decently minded people that terrorists have escaped justice and that others like them may be encouraged to seek refuge in the Republic in the hope that they, too, will escape. Members of the Government in the Republic have forthrightly condemned this situation and the backing of warrants system still works in non-political cases. But judges in the Republic have made it clear that whatever view they might hold in regard to the inhumanity of the alleged crimes—crimes which are recited in some parts of Northern Ireland and are known to ordinary people—they are obliged to follow the law as it stands.
That is the outline of the problem about which much concern has rightly been shown by this House. The solution, to which I have already referred, and with which all members of the joint Law Enforcement Commission agreed, is what may be termed the "extra-territorial" method provided for in the Bill—that is, conferring on the domestic courts of each country jurisdiction to try certain offences committed in the other. There are several precedents for taking extra-territorial jurisdiction, for example the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 and the Hijacking Act 1971.
Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 a United Kingdom citizen can be tried here for the offence of murder committed outside the United Kingdom. In this the Republic has reciprocal arrangements for Irish citizens. The Commission was satisfied that there were no legal objections to the validity of the extra-territorial method and agreed a framework within which the scheme could work. The basis of it is a range of serious offences to which the scheme will apply. These are contained in Schedule 1 to the Bill and are all serious offences where political motivation might be pleaded in defence ranging from murder and manslaughter to the common law offences of arson, kidnapping and false imprisonment.
The Commission stipulated some important principles which have been incorporated in the Bill, namely, that the accused must clearly be a fugitive, that he must be accused in one jurisdiction of a "scheduled" offence committed in the other jurisdiction; that he should be able to return to his own jurisdiction for trial if he so decides; that, the decision 1693 whether to institute proceedings shall rest with the Attorney-General in each jurisdiction; and, most important, that witnesses should not be compelled to cross the border.
The problem of witnesses exercised the members of the Commission a great deal. There was concern that witnesses might refuse to come forward out of the fear that they might be compelled to cross the border to give evidence, and without the relevant evidence the extra-territorial method would fail.
The members of the Commission were agreed that witnesses for both prosecution and defence should be given every encouragement to cross the border to the place of trial. Special arrangements for travel and accommodation can be made and both Governments will take full security measures to protect witnesses who do travel to the place of trial, but, for witnesses who are not prepared to travel, this Bill lays down a special procedure for taking evidence on commission which is described in Clause 5 and Schedule 4 of the Bill.
The Irish Bill contains analogous provisions. A request for evidence can be sent by a court to the Republic and likewise a request from a court in the Republic dealt with in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland evidence will be taken on oath by a High Court judge designated by the Lord Chief Justice. A judge can rule that the name and address of the witness shall not be made public. The trial judge or judges may have questions to put to the witness, and counsel for the prosecution and defence, and the accused, if he wishes, will be present at the hearing and can cross-examine the witness.
I mentioned the range of serious offences to which the Bill will apply. These are "extra-territorial" offences and are defined in Clause 1 which provides that any act or omission taking place in the Republic of Ireland which, if committed in Northern Ireland would be an offence under Schedule 1, shall constitute an offence in Northern Ireland regardless of the nationality of the offender.
§ Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom and Ewell)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the accused might be present 1694 when evidence is taken on commission. Does that mean that the accused will be brought within a particular jurisdiction, for example, to Northern Ireland, and be present when evidence is given there? If that is so, what is to stop somebody under the present law from seizing that person, demanding that he should be taken into custody and tried there and then for the offence which he has committed in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will deal with any of the legal aspects later. However, the circumstances that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just put forward would presumably mean that an order would have to be given by the police in the North to seize the said person. That is not likely, given the nature of the legislation. If there is any other aspect of seizure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind, perhaps it could be dealt with later.
Extra-territorial offences are those listed in Schedule 1 together with the offences in Clauses 2 and 3 and the inchoate offences as defined in Clause 6. The offences created by Clauses 2 and 3 are new. Clause 2 deals with the hi-jacking and the use of vehicles to plant bombs by proxy—a development that in the course of last year grew more and more prevalent. Clause 3 makes it an offence to escape in the Republic when in legal custody in connection with an extraterritorial offence. Extra-territorial offences in the Republic of Ireland are basically analogous to those in Northern Ireland.
Clause 4 and Schedule 2 amend the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act to enable trials of extra-territorial offences to be heard without a jury and to restrict the granting of bail and the place of trial. These provisions are made permanent but only, I repeat only, for the trial of extra-territorial offences. This has been done because, just as it would not be right to expect witnesses to cross the border, so jurors could not be expected to cross the border either in order to attend the hearing of evidence on commission.
Practical problems, not least those of providing adequate transport and security arrangements, make it impossible to contemplate bringing a complete jury from 1695 the place of trial to the other jurisdiction. There are provisions already for trial without jury in both jurisdictions in Ireland. In the Republic extra-territorial offences will be tried in the Special Criminal Court before three judges without a jury. In Northern Ireland a judge alone will try extra-territorial offences as he now does scheduled offences under the Emergency Provisions Act.
The arrangements required for the scheme of extra-territorial jurisdiction are completed by Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill. They relate to evidence and provide for the offence of perjury for making false statements. Clause 11 carries out the recommendation that prosecutions may be made only with the consent of the Attorney-General. Clause 14 provides for the commencement of the Bill, which apart from Clause 12, to which I shall refer in a moment, will come into force on such date or dates as I may appoint by order made by statutory instrument.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh) rose—
§ Mr. Rees
I shall deal with one additional point and then give way.
It will be possible to specify different dates for different provisions. This will enable the operation of the Bill to be related to the date of operation of the corresponding Irish Bill and, for example, will enable Clause 7—which, as the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) knows, is of a different nature—to be brought into operation separately from the remainder of the Bill, if desired.
§ Mr. McCusker
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me what effect the Bill, or the reciprocal Bill in the South of Ireland, is likely to have on those terrorists who are already fugitives in the Republic, and who have admitted their guilt by swearing before courts in the Republic that they committted their offences in pursuit of the Irish Republican Army ideals?
§ Mr. Rees
I was about to come to retrospection. The hon. Member for Armagh has put the point fairly. Retrospection is not a feature of the law, but, in as much as offences were committed, I know from 16 months more or less living in Northern Ireland, that they cannot be dealt with by the law. No 1696 new legislation can deal with something from the past.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with what I shall call the equivalent of Schedule 4 in the Irish legislation on the question of the compellability of witnesses who have been taken, as it were, outside the jurisdiction? Under Schedule 4, there is power to compel witnesses, who have been examined extra-territorially, to give their evidence as well as power to protect them. However, what will be the position in regard to sanctions against, say, witnesses in the Republic of Ireland who are reluctant to give evidence about matters that have arisen out of offences in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
I can only tell my hon. Friend that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has made the point to me that it is the intention that the Acts in both places shall be twins. Perhaps that is a good analogy. I hope that it makes the point clear.
I now turn to those aspects of the Bill which go beyond the recommendations put forward by the Law Enforcement Commission, particularly to Clause 7 of the Bill which amends the Explosive Substances Act 1883. These provisions came about because, in meeting the Law Enforcement Commission's requirements, the Irish Government wished to propose the reform of Section 3 of their Explosive 1697 Substances Act, so that anyone who committed one of the preparatory acts in Section 3 in Ireland, or an Irish citizen who does so anywhere in the world, with intent to cause an explosion anywhere in the world, can be tried in the Republic.
As this provision was to be included in the Irish Bill, Her Majesty's Government decided that reciprocal provisions should be included in our Bill. The original Irish Bill introduced in the Dail in November 1974 did not include a provision regarding the substantive offence under Section 2 of the 1883 Act, and the Irish were accordingly invited to reciprocate, which they did in the newly presented Bill which was introduced in the Seanad on 10th April 1975.
The effect of Clause 7 is to extend the Explosive Substances Act so that courts anywhere in the United Kingdom will have jurisdiction to try two kinds of explosive offences aimed at targets in the Republic. The first is conspiracy to cause an explosion, whether or not an explosion does in fact happen, and this offence is contained in Section 3 of the 1883 Act. The Republic's Bill at Clause 4 extends to preparatory acts aimed at explosions outside Ireland, enabling anyone who conspired in the Republic, or an Irish citizen who conspired anywhere else to cause an explosion, to be tried in the Republic. It was felt that we should indicate clearly that reciprocity is available under United Kingdom law.
In fact, it is already an offence triable in United Kingdom courts for anyone in Her Majesty's Dominions, or a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies anywhere, to conspire to cause an explosion in the Republic, but Clause 7 re-enacts these provisions in clearer form. This was done because the relevant provision is contained in an obscure Irish Free State (Consequential Adaptation of Enactments) Order of 1923 made at Westminster, and it is desirable, I am advised, to have the law restated.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
I believe that the equivalent legislation in the Republic did not include actually causing an explosion but only conspiring to cause an explosion. It was said in the other place that a change would be made. Has that been done?
1698 Clause 7 is a bit of an anomaly, in that it applies to the United Kingdom as a whole, whereas the other part applies only to Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. The clause does not cover a Birmingham bomber fleeing to the Republic. There is no extradition to get him back here, and there is no provision for evidence on commission.
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman referred to a debate in another place. I am given to understand that the matter has now been dealt with. I shall come to the general questions in a minute. The point about Clause 7 is that it is different in kind from the rest of the Bill and is not extradition. It is not extraterritorality, in the sense which the Law Enforcement Commission advised. I shall come to the principle of the hon. Gentleman's point in a moment.
The second offence to which Clause 7 refers is the substantive offence of causing an explosion. As there is already jurisdiction to try in the United Kingdom persons accused of acts preparatory to causing an explosion in the Republic, it is inconsistent not to cover explosions actually caused, which is the point that the hon. Gentleman made.
Clause 12, which provides amendments to the law concerned with the prosecution of offences, is not connected with the extraterritorial aspects of the Bill, but is introduced as a matter of convenience to clarify the existing law. This clause and the related amendments come into force on Royal Assent.
Some hon. Members may think that the Bill as a whole should be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom—the point that the hon. Member made—so that terrorists who escape from Great Britain to the Republic and are not handed back under extradition procedures should not escape justice but should be brought to trial in the Republic. In fact this purpose would not be achieved simply by an extension of the United Kingdom Bill. It is not something that we can just do by ourselves. It is the Republic which would have to legislate to create the extraterritorial jurisdiction required to enable Irish courts to deal with a fugitive who has committed a terrorist offence in Great Britain.
As I said earlier, the primary purpose of the main provisions of our Bill is to confer jurisdiction so as to enable the 1699 terrorist who commits an offence in the Republic and crosses the border to be dealt with in Northern Ireland. Quite apart from these provisions, Clause 7 amends United Kingdom law to allow people to be tried in the United Kingdom for certain explosive offences committed in the Republic. In order to enable a terrorist in the reverse situation to be dealt with in the absence of extradition—that is, where he commits an offence in Great Britain and escapes to the Republic— we have to look to the Irish Republic's legislation. In other words, the particular value to the United Kingdom of this package again lies in the other half of it—the Irish Bill, which enables an Irish citizen who caused an explosion in London to be dealt with in the Republic, if extradition is not possible. It is the Irish Bill which deals with the point to which the hon. Gentleman was referring.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
It is very unlikely that, for example, a bomber in Dublin who escaped to the United Kingdom would not be extradited. As the Secretary of State says, the issue concerns somebody who plots to bomb in Guildford, Woolwich or Birmingham and then escapes to Dublin. I can understand that, as has been clear, it is not for the House alone to deal with that. It will require the co-operation of the Southern Irish Republic. Have any negotiations been entered into for that purpose? If so, what success is the right hon. Gentleman having?
§ Mr. Rees
What I have learnt has come from reading the report of the Law Enforcement Commission, which was still meeting when I took office. Given the whole emotional attitude to the matter in the Republic of Ireland, I felt that it was important to deal with the problem for which I had responsibility. If negotiations on that matter had been opened, the Bill would not be ready. I have not the slightest doubt of that. It would have taken a long time to open up matters beyond what was agreed at Sunningdale. That is the point that I had to take into account.
If legislation were to be introduced here to confer extra-territorial jurisdiction in the United Kingdom for a wider range of terrorist offences, not only would this need to be based on a willingness of the Irish to pass reciprocal legislation, but 1700 the justification for the exceptional measures which would be necessary in Britain would have to be carefully considered in the light of the circumstances at the time. For reasons of geography, if for no other, the scale of the problem of fugitive offenders is not nearly as great for Great Britain as for Northern Ireland. The land border in Ireland obviously offers facilities for quick escape which do not apply between Great Britain and the Republic. The sea is a barrier, and there are controls at the ports.
That is not to say that there are no problems, but the difference in scale is a relevant factor when one would have to consider, in relation to Great Britain—this is not something which will appeal to hon. Members from Northern Ireland—major breaches in our traditional basis of jurisdiction and trial procedures, because if it were to apply here we should have to have trial without jury—that has been altered in Northern Ireland for other reasons—in order to get reciprocity with the arrangements in the South. It is not just a question of a political discussion. It is a question of altering the procedures of the courts here.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Surely what the right hon. Gentleman is saying confirms the argument advanced by the distinguished British judges who served on the Law Enforcement Commission and who recommended extradition, because that would at a stroke put an end to the immunity enjoyed by fugitive political offenders. It would apply to the whole United Kingdom. Surely that is the answer. It would not need all this complicated and cumbersome legislation.
§ Mr. Rees
It may be a second best. It may be a third best or fifty fifth best. I am saying that there is no point in proceeding with alternatives which are not mutually agreeable. This was the way forward. I have been assured by those who were present that, however much they wanted something else, they are convinced that this system can work, and that is what matters to me.
1701 Since the beginning of 1971 some 43 warrants for persons accused of terrorist offences have been sent from Northern Ireland to the Republic—the point that was made earlier. This may not seem a very large number, but the failure to bring to justice the people alleged to have committed such crimes inflames opinion, particularly in Northern Ireland, and hinders peace. In the future I hope that the assurances we have given and the provisions in the Bill concerning the confidentiality of the names of witnesses will result in more witnesses coming forward. The effectiveness of the scheme depends to a large extent on co-operation between the RUC and the Gardai Siochana, and the Irish Government have agreed to provide every assistance to help the RUC in its investigations. Similarly, cross border co-operation is essential when mounting prosecutions and both Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic have pledged that they will work closely together.
One other point that is important for discussions that will flow from now is that the Bill will exist side by side with normal extradition arrangements, which will continue in appropriate cases. If a person is released in the extradition proceedings—which are not a trial but concerned only with the return of the fugitive—it will be possible for him to be tried extra-territorially. In such circumstances it would be for the prosecuting authority to decide whether to admit evidence which had come to light in the extradition proceedings, which might well be admissible at a subsequent trial under the extraterritorial arrangements.
The Bill will not, however, be retrospective and as a result existing extradition proceedings will have to be relied on to deal with all offences committed before it comes into force. As I have explained it has always been unacceptable in this country to give retrospective effect to a law which created a new offence, and a similar view is held by the legal authorities in the Republic. The Bill creates new offences in Clauses 2 and 3 but also provides for offences committed in the Republic to be offences in Northern Ireland and these offences are "new" in the legal sense of the word.
We should have liked a solution based on an amendment of the extradition laws. 1702 On the other hand, the Republic would probably have preferred an "all-Ireland court". Thus, neither of us have got our first choice but nevertheless we are resolved to make this scheme, to which we both agree, a success.
The Bill will deny a refuge to the offender, may possibly deter him, and by its very existence should help keep this difficult matter out of the political arena in the future. Therefore, even if politically motivated crimes of violence virtually disappeared in Northern Ireland, we should still need the Bill.
The two Governments are acting as one in their desire to bring the terrorist to justice and bring to an end the violence in Northern Ireland. This Bill, and the equivalent Irish Bill, removes a hiding place for political offenders and the reciprocity on Clause 7 offers a protection to the whole of the United Kingdom.
I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
We welcome the intention behind this complicated Bill, even though it is, as the Secretary of State agrees, a second-best solution. He has already pointed out that it implements the recommendations of the Anglo-Irish Law Enforcement Commission which was set up in 1973. We regard the Bill as a first step towards dealing with what the Lord Chancellor, in another place, quite rightly called "a pernicious scandal". Unfortunately, it is no less necessary today than it was 18 months ago.
The Secretary of State said that it was a regrettable fact—and one could use stronger language than that—that terrorists could escape justice by fleeing across the border into the Irish Republic and claiming political motivation for their crimes. This fact has outraged a great many people throughout the United Kingdom. As the Secretary of State says, the most important part of the Bill is that terrorists should not be able to use that political motivation, which has also damaged, in the past at any rate—and I hope it will not be the case in the future—the prospects of neighbourly co-operation between the two parts of Ireland. I hope that this co-operation will improve as a result of the Bill. Any measure which 1703 helps to deal with this problem should be welcomed by the House, although we have some reservations which I shall discuss.
By agreeing to this reciprocal legislation the London and Dublin Governments have recognised their common interest in eliminating terrorism and violence throughout these islands.
We hope to see the Bill complete its passage through the House and come into effect, although we shall have many points to make in this debate. It is unfortunate that some 18 months have already elapsed since the Commission was appointed to consider:as a matter of extreme urgencythe most effective way of dealing with these crimes.
I believe that at present some 43 warrants for terrorist offences, many of them involving the most serious of crimes, are outstanding, and that 14 of these have been unsuccessfully forwarded in the past 18 months. The view has been expressed by some people in Northern Ireland that this matter has not been treated with the urgency it deserves. I do not wish to elaborate on that, but I hope that a speedy passage and determined implementation of these measures will help to allay such fears in the Province.
The Bill is only half of the total agreement between the two Governments and its success depends on the implementation of the parallel legislation, about which we have heard, which is at present going through the Dublin Parliament. The Secretary of State said that the Bills should be twins. It has been rightly pointed out that they certainly will not he born on the same day. We hope nevertheless that progress will be made in Dublin. We believe that the Government in Dublin are well aware of the importance of this legislation. On my recent visit to Dublin I discussed this with them and its importance in building up good will.
The Secretary of State will agree that effective security will be needed on both sides of the border if the Bill is to work and succeed. We are grateful to him for explaining the Bill. It is complicated. It applies an "extra-territorial" solution, 1704 namely, that the courts in each part of Ireland should have jurisdiction to try an agreed schedule of terrorist-type offences. The Bill also makes special arrangements for the taking of evidence on commission to protect witnesses. We support the view of the British judges on the Law Enforcement Commission that this is not the ideal solution. Extradition has many points in its favour, one of which is its relative simplicity. It would certainly avoid the cumbersome administrative procedures, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) has drawn attention, which will be followed in carrying out the extra-territorial system.
The learned judges on the British side took the view that international law permitted exceptions to the principle forbidding:the extradition of fugitive political offenders"—under international law—when the enormity or barbarism of the crime justifies an exception. We hold the view that the terrorists operating in Northern Ireland, whatever their motivation, fall within such an exception.It is, perhaps, a pity that that view could not be upheld by the judges on both sides.
The judges on the British side also expressed the opinion thatthere is a far greater risk of an infringement of the right of fair trial with the extraterritorial method than with the extradition method.I quote those paragraphs from the report because they show how careful we have to be in carrying out this legislation and what special security steps will have to be taken, especially over witnesses. We have these proposals as a compromise. I have already stressed the importance of good will, but the movement of lawyers, accused and judges from one part of Ireland to another will require the closest co-operation between the respective security forces and judiciaries, as will the arrangements for the protection of witnesses.
Intimidation of witnesses is a danger in any court proceedings in violent circumstances, and it will certainly remain so. However, the Bill goes as far as possible to try to deal with this danger. Clause 5 provides for the non-disclosure 1705 of names and addresses, which we welcome. I raise only one query on Clause 5, namely, whether it is necessary for a fair trial in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland that the court should be compelled to reveal the full address of a witness to the accused. In the course of the Attorney-General's reply perhaps he will comment on this.
I turn back to Clause 2, which deals with the hijacking of vehicles. This has been quite a serious problem for a long time and we welcome the creation in this clause of this new offence of hijacking a vehicle or ship. I understand that in 1974 alone some 1,300 vehicles were hijacked. We should realise that this figure does not include the theft, as I think the Secretary of State will agree, of empty vehicles, but only of incidents where people are stopped by terrorists while going about their proper business and ordered at gunpoint to deliver a "proxy" bomb or to hand over their vehicle for other terrorist uses.
This is a far bigger problem than that figure suggests. We can appreciate its size by recognising that fact. We can also appreciate the background against which the ordinary people of Northern Ireland are living at present by those figures and the other terrorists problems from which they have suffered.
I should like to deal further with Clause 3. We welcome the clause in some respects, but I am not clear about a number of points which arise. I am not clear whether the offence of escape or rescue from "legal custody" in Clause 3 is exactly reciprocated in the Irish Bill. The terminology here is slightly different. Clause 3 is entitledEscape or rescue from detention in Republic of Ireland.Does the word "detention" in this Bill include detention without trial under the Offences Against the State Act? I see the Secretary of State shaking his head in dissent. I am glad to know the answer to that point. Equally, does the term "lawful custody" in the Irish Bill include detention under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act? This point needs resolving. Or does this refer in both cases only to where a person is subject to the procedure of the courts? Is that the position? As this is agreed 1706 legislation, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General will underline the point if the answer is clear.
The Secretary of State has pointed out that the Bill goes beyond the scope of the Law Enforcement Commission's proposals, as the commission was limited by its terms of reference to the problems of Ireland. This point has already been raised and will be raised again by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers), I expect, and by other hon. Friends during the debate.
Since 1973 we in this country have gained considerable knowledge of the havoc which terror bombing can cause—at the Tower of London and in Birmingham. The inclusion of Clause 7, which extends the Bill to deal with bombing and conspiracy to bomb, is, therefore, to be welcomed. But the reciprocal legislation will be especially important on these points, although there will be real practical problems in its application. As the clause is different in kind from the rest of the Bill, whether this should be applied to the United Kingdom as a whole is a matter that my hon. Friends are certain to raise. I do not wish to go into that now.
I think that the Attorney-General will agree that terrorist crimes in this country are not confined to bombing—as the murder of Constable Tibble has tragically illustrated. His killer is now said to be in Dublin. If the clause is confined only to the causing of explosions or the attempt to cause them, what is the position of a terrorist who is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who commits a murder other than by causing an explosion, for instance by shooting, and escapes to the Republic, there to claim political motivation? Will the Attorney-General look at that point? It is apparently not covered by Clause 7. We can all think of one Britsh citizen who has in recent years claimed to be the IRA chief-of-staff. We know who that is.
An Irish citizen, as I understand it, who committed murder by a means other than causing an explosion, that is to say, by shooting, would be subject to the 1861 Act, which has recently been reactivated in Dublin. But as I understand it, that Act would not apply to 1707 attempted murder or wounding, in London or Birmingham for example. Perhaps the Attorney-General would look at that matter. I should like to hear the Government's thinking on these points explained to the House.
We must all agree that the fewer the possible loopholes there are for the terrorists, the better it will be for everyone in the United Kingdom as a whole.
I continue on Clause 7. If we confine ourselves to the explosive offences outlined here, another point arises. That is the growth of international terrorism. If a person who is not a British citizen or is not a citizen of a dependency, as described in the Bill, causes an explosion or conspires to do so in the Republic and subsequently escapes to Britain, is he liable under the Bill? If a person who is not an Irish citizen conspires to cause an explosion in Britain and subsequently escapes to the Republic, what is his position? I am talking about a person who is not an Irish citizen. The House should have clarification on these points, since it does not appear that in either case they would be prosecuted, even though extradition on our side were to operate. That may be something that the Attorney-General may have in mind in regard to the Littlejohn case, for example. It is a matter upon which the House should hear further.
As I have said, a major point of controversy surrounds the non-extension of the Bill to the whole of the United Kingdom and as to what representations have been made by Her Majesty's Government to Dublin about this. This is an important matter. We shall wish to have information on it during the debate.
The Bill represents the determination of two Governments to stand up to and try to deal with terrorism, and to deny gunmen or bombers a hiding place from which they can prey upon our citizens. Its duration is indefinite, as any such commitment should be. Certainly the Opposition hope that it will result in greater co-operation at all levels against the terrorists—between Governments, armies, police forces and the courts—so that elected leaders in Ulster will be able to work out their proposals in the future in an atmosphere which is not constantly threatened by violence.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom and Ewell)
Ever since the start of the troubled times, there has not been a person who has not been gravely concerned about this problem. It has existed from the very moment that the emergency in Northern Ireland began. Obviously, there was grave, bitter resentment among persons in Northern Ireland when they saw the ease with which persons who had committed offences could cross the long land border and disappear into the South—not only, of course, cross the border from the North, but also go across the water.
It is with shame that a member of my faith considers that there may even be a priest in Southern Ireland who has evaded what he ought to do—which is stand his trial for offences in another jurisdiction, in Scotland. I am sure that other hon. Members of other faiths would, in the same circumstances, feel the same. So this is something which has always caused the very gravest of concern to every person.
When this was raised at Sunningdale, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will recollect, all of us knew, as did anyone who had any experience of Northern Ireland, which as an Englishman I have, that there were two possible solutions, but that they were both politically unacceptable to one side or the other. One was the creation of an All-Ireland court, so that we would have judges from the Republic sitting in Northern Ireland and judges from Northern Ireland sitting in the Republic. It was known that this would be seen to be totally unacceptable to some who said that by so doing one therefore accepted the possibility of a united Ireland, and that this would be a concession given to those who sought for a united Ireland.
On the other side—and this is what a lawyer would consider to be the easiest, most sensible and most practical method—the Republic of Ireland could enter into a new mutual extradition treaty with the United Kingdom to provide for the return of fugitive offenders. But that would be impractical and politically unacceptable to the Republic of Ireland. Public opinion in the Republic would 1709 never accept that. Those are the realities which we, as practical politicians, have to understand and accept.
Once the Law Enforcement Commission was set up it was thus inevitable that there would arise out of it this compromise. The judges discussed the matter carefully among themselves. I say this with affection, but it must have been embarrassing for the judges of the Republic of Ireland to have had to put up such lame legal replies to Lord Justice Scarman and the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. So the Commission had to come up with a compromise, and this is the best compromise that could be reached. I fully accept that. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) welcomed the Bill, but we must not forget what it omits.
For example, in the Price sisters case some of the gang were taken off the aeroplane just before it took off for Dublin. If they had got to Dublin they could have marched round Dublin waving streamers and saying "We blew up the Old Bailey, we blew up Scotland Yard, and nothing can be done about it." Nothing could be done about it not even now, and that is what is omitted from the Bill. Since December 1974 it may be that if a bombing resulted in murder or manslaughter that could be dealt with as murder or manslaughter. In the Price sisters case that was neither murder nor manslaughter, so the case could not be dealt with in Ireland under the new law.
And just think what would happen if after a murder by bombing of certain people in the United Kingdom the perpetrators got away to the Republic of Ireland and were prosecuted by the Irish authorities. Such prosecutions rest upon the evidence of many people. There is always a great deal of forensic, scientific and police evidence. Such trials take weeks and sometimes months. One trial this year at the Central Criminal Court lasted many months, others are taking place, and there are more to come. Are all the police offices, scientific witnesses, bystanders and other witnesses to be taken across to Dublin to give their evidence? I hope that they might agree to, but it is difficult and it would not be possible to prove murder or manslaughter unless that evidence were given over there.
1710 It may be said that this evidence could be taken on commission. Is it possible to take that kind of evidence on commission? Is it to be read at the trial? The witnesses are not seen at the trial and cannot be challenged, and there is not the same atmosphere. Thus, it is a tremendous problem, and no one who has considered the Bill can ignore these difficulties.
While we are dealing as practically as we can with the problem vis-à-vis Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, we omit, and are obliged to omit, the problem which arises when offences are perpetrated here and the perpetrators escape to the Republic. In passing, may I say how remarkably efficient the police have been so far in preventing such escapes—certainly in the case to which I referred.
There are two matters which bedevil the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The first I have spoken of many times before and that is the persistence with which the Republic puts the Irish State case to the European Commission on Human Rights. I would not mind if individuals did that, but the fact that the Republic of Ireland and its Ministers have persisted in that course involving allegations against British Ministers—
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about conscience, I hope that he will parade his conscience before the House. The senior officers of one State and Ministers of the State are saying to another State "This is what you have done and you must take the responsibility". At the same time they are saying "Let us negotiate"—
§ Mr. Fitt
If the Irish Government felt that they had a case to bring before the European Court, are not the British Government prepared to abide by the decision? The British Government uphold law and order in this country and we are recognised throughout the world as a country with great respect for law and order. It seems that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not prepared to accept that the British Government will be found guilty. It may be that they will be completely exonerated.
§ Sir P. Rawlinson
The process before the European Commission after it has come to a conclusion is that there is consultation and there may be reference to Ministers or alternatively to the European Court. A great deal of the process has still to be gone through.
All I am saying, as one with affection for and relations within the Republic of Ireland, is that I very much regret that the Government of the Republic of Ireland have persisted in that State application. If individuals had cared to bring it, so be it. But once a State levels an accusation against another State it is difficult for the accused State to react on a certain line and to take a certain attitude when facing accusers, who may well refer to persons over whom the accused State has no control, accusers who say that Ministers have responsibility for infamous acts.
I believe profoundly in the importance of good relations between Dublin and London. But that action has bedevilled the relationship between those who otherwise would be considered to be friendly indeed to the Republic of Ireland. Secondly, good relations are certainly bedevilled by escaping fugitives, which is a matter that causes resentment.
As have many other hon. Members, I have had letters from soldiers saying what they are doing in Northern Ireland. One man wrote to me saying that a person who had committed infamous murders in Northern Ireland had got away across the border and was being treated as a perfectly free person and was able to do as he liked. That soldier said that he had had his own particular views on Ireland before that happened but his view had changed as a result. What can one reply except that the judges in the Republic of Ireland have to carry out the law? I make no criticism of them. I do not blame the judges, who have criticised harshly those who have made applications to dismiss extradition proceedings. The judges are in a straitjacket caught by the law as it is in the Republic of Ireland.
I therefore welcome the Bill which goes some way to deal with this problem, but we should not overlook what it does not do. Until that problem has been tackled and until there is negotiation between Ministers and officials of the Republic of 1712 Ireland and the United Kingdom there will always be a feeling of bitterness and anxiety amongst those who otherwise would long for a solution to the Anglo-Irish problem.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I doubt very much whether any of my right hon. and hon. Friends, or any section of the House, will display any great degree of enthusiasm for this measure.
It may be appropriate that in the same span of seven days the House has wrestled with the weightly problems of hare coursing and sex discrimination and now this Bill. Like a second marriage the Bill is a triumph of hope over experience. In fairness, let me say that I do not believe that the present administration, left to their own devices would have willingly gone in this direction. Nor, I suspect, would they have selected the route chosen in December 1973 by the former Conservative administration, which, deaf to all warnings, steered straight on to the rocks. The Sunningdale wreck is now submerged apart from the section of the hulk with which we are now concerned.
The House will have gathered that we have serious reservations. First, we have reservations as to the prospects of the matching measure in Dublin that is to be approved by the Dail. I understand that it is meeting with considerable opposition—so much so that it has had to be witdhrawn from the Lower House on a motion carried by only two votes. Further, I understand that it is now with the Senate. It is not very difficult to guess what its fate will be when it returns to the Lower Chamber.
Our second reservation concerns the effectiveness of legislation which, on the admission of the Law Enforcement Commission, is based on considerations of expediency and not on any requirement that the law should be sound. We have had further confirmation of that today. It seems that each side took different views as to what the ideal situation should be. They could not secure agreement and they settled for a compromise which both sides knew was not likely to be effective, which did not make for good law.
Looking at the Bill as it stands, it seems to me that the Government missed a great opportunity some six months ago. 1713 As was indicated by the Lord President in the House and later confirmed in correspondence which he had with my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and myself, at that time the Government were giving serious consideration to extending the Bill to cover the whole of the United Kingdom. On 7th January 1975, to be exact, we promised our full support for the principle that the United Kingdom should be treated as the complete political entity that we all rightly claim it to be. Therefore, we reject the grotesque statement in Paragraph 38(c) of the Law Enforcement Commission's report, which reads:the proposal is the most appropriate since politically motivated offences of violence are, in effect, offences committed in both parts of the island and against the island as a whole irrespective of the jurisdiction in which they are committed.Whatever the intention, that paragraph clearly implies that Northern Ireland is an entity distinct from the rest of the United Kingdom. For Ulster Members it may be some consolation to note the contradiction contained in Paragraph 39(e) of the same report, the closing words of which read:Moreover, the terms of the Constitution of Ireland could embarrass judges of both the Republic and Northern Ireland when sitting outside their own jurisdictions, since it is inconsistent with the legislative sovereignty in Northern Ireland of the United Kingdom Parliament.The failure of the report and of the Bill clearly to recognise the United Kingdom as not only a political entity but as one legal jurisdiction is as objectionable to us as the Sunningdale Agreement itself, from which both matters sprang. My right hon. and hon. Friends will seek at a later stage to remedy this major defect. I trust that the House will recognise our sensitivity on matters which in internal legislation within the United Kingdom appear to weaken our position within that kingdom. The House will also accept, I am sure, that our sensitivity is greatly increased when it comes to dealing with international agreements with another sovereign State, as is the case in this measure.
It has been suggested that the Bill is an alternative to the most obvious and sensible solution—namely, extradition. In our view the Bill is not an alternative and certainly not an adequate substitute. 1714 The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may have been nearer the mark when he said that the Bill may not be second best but 55th best. I think that that estimate was much more accurate.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The United Kingdom element in the Law Enforcement Commission—not the Northern Ireland element—never pretended that it was a substitute. It was quite clear that in its view there was no moral justification for refusing extradition given the situation obtaining in the entire British Isles at that time.
As regards the refusal to grant extradition and the right of States to sustain such refusal, we can see, and we have seen, examples of this kind of legal conflict between sovereign States. For example, if so-called freedom fighters have the sympathy and support of a neighbouring State, it obviously becomes difficult for the Government of that State to accede to demands that criminals and terrorists be extradited. Sympathy, however mistaken, might be understandable though not acceptable in that kind of case.
I turn to what to my mind is the key question—namely, by what stretch of the imagination can the Government and Parliament of the Irish Republic, or the courts of the Republic, uphold the claim to political status of men of violence who, by common consent and by their own admission, have degenerated to the level of gangsters and have been operating for motives of gain and little else?
Extradition would not seem to be a particularly harsh demand in the context of what is virtually common citizenship throughout the whole of the British Isles.
In no challenging sense I sincerely ask the Government and Parliament of the Irish Republic to look again at the issue of extradition in the light of recent developments. I give one example—namely, the fierce infighting that is taking place within the various terrorist camps for the spoils and cash rewards of terrorism.
We must ask ourselves whether all responsible authorities should not now be asking what sort of cause is being served by any of the terrorist organisations anywhere in the South of Ireland and, indeed anywhere in the United 1715 Kingdom. In whose interest is it that these men should be allowed to go free? I do not think that such an appeal needs to be addressed to my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who has given such a helpful lead in the Northern Ireland Convention. I trust that that will continue and that it will broaden into general support for the forces of law and order throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. It is my view that the only form of a united Ireland worth anything at all is an Ireland united in a determined effort to stamp out terrorism, gangsterism and thuggery in the United Kingdom by whatever name it goes.
Finally, let me restate our disappointment at the severely limited benefits of the effects of the Bill. We will share the disappointment of Her Majesty's Government and this House if the Eire authorities do not deliver their half of the package. However, despite these fears and reservations, my colleagues and I will not seek to obstruct the passage of this measure.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Since there is universal support for the objectives of the Bill, I thought that the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) was a little churlish in his attitude to the Bill. There is no doubt that although the Bill contains deficiencies, it is based on legislation which is clearly the product of a long and painstaking series of negotiations. Obviously, the parties have not been operating against the easiest of backgrounds. We know that great efforts have been made to bring about the effective enforcement of the law. Although it may be accurate to describe these provisions as second best, they are nevertheless a considerable achievement. We can only hope that the Bill will become law as soon as possible.
Having said that at the outset, I feel that there are one or two deficiencies which it is reasonable to criticise. Although it is true that retrospective legislation in substantive criminal law is regarded as an alien concept, that is not altogether true when dealing with matters of procedure. I recall the situation in regard to the Treason Act 1945 when the procedure was simplified for the trial 1716 of Joyce and Amery. There was a radical restructuring of the procedure in regard to the treason law. Although the persons concerned were outside the United Kingdom, the fact is that that was a piece of retrospective legislation. It did not change the substantive nature of treason but it changed the nature of the procedures involved.
I believe that retrospective application of this Bill would not be unreasonable when we bear in mind that a large number of persons have been able to flout the law, and indeed have gloried in doing so for a considerable time. Those offences would be regarded as offences in any society and those concerned should be brought to justice as soon as possible. Perhaps it is impracticable to have second thoughts on this matter, which may involve twin legislation in the United Kingdom and in the Irish Republic. It may not be possible to do any more in that respect. However, it is necessary that that criticism should be made.
It is a pity that the whole United Kingdom is not subject to the provisions of Clause 7. At the moment there is a lull in regard to the bomb outrages, but nobody can be certain that this will be continued. It is some months since the last explosion occurred, but as a representative of the City of Birmingham, which was subject to possibly the worst outrage of the lot, I should be pleased if something were done to bring about a further extension of this legislation to the whole of the United Kingdom.
It is surely not unreasonable for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to consider this point with his opposite numbers in Dublin. I accept that the Dublin Government are as keen to end outrages of this nature as are the United Kingdom Government. In many ways psychologically their task is more difficult than that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because his attitude is in no way ambivalent—which perhaps is not the case in regard to all the subjects of Northern Ireland. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable if something more were said on this topic.
It is true that most of the offences which have been perpetrated have led to a trial. The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson) said that it was only a matter of chance that the Old Bailey bombers 1717 were caught. They were caught because the rail strike delayed their escape. One cannot be sure that the same thing will not happen on similar occasions in the future. There may be a glaring anomaly in that respect and I hope that something more will be done to cover the situation.
I wish to refer to Clause 2 which contains a number of new offences. Rightly, the hijacking of vehicles is included in the offences brought within the scope of the Bill. Perhaps it is a drafting omission and it may not be a matter of great importance, but one wonders why the hijacking of aircraft is not included. I know that this does not happen very often, but there have been spectacular instances involving the hijacking of aircraft in recent years and surely it would be reasonable to amend the Bill to include that category. Perhaps the Minister can deal with this matter in his reply to the debate.
We should all commend the Bill and speed it on its way. There was a time when there was a degree of mitigation in dealing with political offences. There are still parts of the world where that might be a reasonable view. I refer to people who commit a certain kind of offence in the Soviet Union or in South Africa and who may still enlist a good deal of sympathy. But the concept of political offence has been debased by the events in Ireland. One has less and less sympathy with persons in almost any circumstances who plead that kind of defence for their acts.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
I should have intervened when my hon. Friend was dealing with hijacking. For the sake of accuracy, I should inform him that it is already an offence under the 1971 legislation to hijack an aircraft. This provision is included in the schedule.
§ Mr. Lee
I am obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend, and of course I accept what he says.
I hope that the legislation will be rigorously enforced. The real test will be when the time comes for the taking of evidence outside the jurisdiction of the respective countries which are concerned to see that witnesses are protected so that they may give evidence. In certain cir- 1718 cumstances there may be reluctance by witnesses to come forward. Often a reluctant witness can be a bad witness, but he is often better than no witness. No doubt the Minister in replying to the debate will refer to the question of reciprocity in regard to the compellability of witnesses in the Irish Republic.
I should like to deal with the subject of the disclosure of witnesses' names and addresses. In many instances involving non-political criminal trials witnesses' names and addresses are written down and not disclosed to the defendants. Those names may be disclosed to legal advisers but they are not shown to defendants. I cannot see why there should not be a similar safeguard in the situation covered by the Bill.
When we disclose the names of witnesses in circumstances such as these we reach a situation in which there will be feedback of that information to another terrorist organisation which will wreak vengeance upon the persons concerned on both sides of the border. We forget the basis of this Bill. Terrorism knows no frontiers. Frontiers are increasingly less of a protection for anyone these days, given a determined, ruthless and fanatical body of persons willing to carry out terrorist acts.
It would be wrong of us not to welcome this Bill. We must congratulate the Minister on what is a piece of patient good work which we hope will produce good results in repairing a situation in which there has been a glaring deficiency for a long time past.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
The hon. and learned Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee)—
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
The hon. Gentleman appears very learned.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth asked us to speed the passage of the Bill. I think that we should do so. I hope that his words will find an echo across the Irish Sea.
It is often said that the best is the enemy of the good. We welcome a Bill which has been described several times in the debate as second best, and once, 1719 by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), as fifth best.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) told us that fugitive offenders have been extradited quite easily from north to south. He asked why that should not happen the other way. Why not, indeed? Extradition would be the most appropriate way to deal with this problem. It was extradition for which Sir Robert Lowry and Lord Justice Scarman argued so forcibly in the law enforcement commission set up after Sunningdale.
We must be realistic. We must welcome any attempt—especially an attempt made in the two sovereign Parliaments, working together I hope—to end what the Lord Chancellor described in another place on 24th February as a pernicious scandal.
Like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth, I should like to refer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) called the non-application of the Bill to the whole of the United Kingdom. That point was first made in Parliament by Lord Brookeborough in the other place. To meet it it would be necessary for the two Parliaments to legislate differently from what is at present before them. I suppose that it would be necessary for the legislation to be so drafted as to enable courts in the Republic to take evidence in Great Britain from witnesses, especially those of Irish origin, who would be unwilling, because fearful—and no blame to them, as the Secretary of State said—of crossing the sea to testify.
We make no difficulty and should make no difficulty in surrendering to Irish justice any political fugitive offenders from the Republic within British jurisdiction. The Littlejohn case, if it proves anything, proves that. Mr. Littlejohn has the right to feel aggrieved when he is in gaol and Father Burns, for example, is at large in the Republic. We have the right and the duty to press for reciprocity and to place it on the record of the House that we ought to have something better than this—if not, by an extradition treaty, which is the ideal, at least by an improvement of this legislation such as I have suggested. Surely, reciprocity—the word used by 1720 the hon. Gentleman—is in the interests of the Republic as well as of the United Kingdom.
Members of Parliament are not likely to forget the Birmingham bombing—least of all the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth—or those at Aldershot or the Old Bailey. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson) made the point that, thanks to the vigilance and efficiency of the police, and perhaps because of an element of chance, a number of persons were arrested and tried in this country.
Suppose that, in the future, persons were guilty or suspected of such atrocities. They might recur, although I hope that they will not. Suppose such persons escaped to the Irish Republic, where they were apprehended and later released by a High Court Judge in Dublin using perforce—no blame to him—words such as were employed by Mr. Justice Finlay on 29th July 1974, when he said:I am not entitled to have any regard to the fact that the admitted activities of the present applicant"—the person it was proposed to extradite—seem to breach any concept of humanity or any civilised form of conduct.Consider these circumstances, if they were to occur in future. After Birmingham, there was a brief outburst of deplorable violence against the persons and property of Irish residents. Reprisals can never be jusified. They offend against honour and interest alike. They serve the purpose of terrorism.
But if those accused or suspected of slaying or mutilating British people in Britain or of blasting their shops, homes and pubs, were to be set free, so that they could glory in their exploits on Irish soil—because the defence of political motive is pulled like cloak across the face of murder—we would be foolish to assume that evil passions might not be stirred between some of our people and the Irish who live as respected persons amongst us. I said that reciprocity was in the interests of the Irish Republic. Relations between London and Dublin would surely be set back. They have improved remarkably under successive administrations, both here and in Dublin. Security forces on both sides of the border have been working together with more effect and determination than heretofore. In all that 1721 there is nothing derogatory to the sovereignty of the Irish Republic or of the United Kingdom.
Terrorist movements seek the overthrow of constitutional democracy throughout Ireland and common action against a common enemy is common sense.
In his opening speech the Secretary of State described the present immunity enjoyed by fugitive political offenders as an affront. The Bill does not go all the way to wipe away that affront. I do not build too much on this Bill. The Senate in Dublin has dealt with it but the Dail has not yet started with it. That is the position as I understand it.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the Bill is still in the Senate, where a filibuster is taking place, one Member having spoken from 8 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. the following morning. I am sure that no Member of Parliament would want that sort of speech.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am obliged. The situation is less advanced than I had thought. The lower House in Dublin has not yet begun its consideration of the measure, although parallel legislation is being discussed in Parliament today.
I should like to ask one small question of the Government spokesman who will wind up the debate. Assuming that we pass this Bill, are we to presume that the Queen will not be pleased to give her assent to the Bill until the appropriate stage has been reached in Dublin?
The Government of the Republic, together with the other parties at Sunningdale, described the problems which this Bill is intended to solve as of extreme urgency. The Sunningdale meeting took place one and a half years ago. Parliament is rightly making an act of faith in the Irish legislators, some of whom we were happy to welcome to the Palace of Westminster recently.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I do not intend to speak at any great length but I wish to draw attention to the political aspects of the Bill, and, in view or the political atmospheres that are 1722 slowly being created in Northern Ireland, I want to avoid saying anything that would lead to a falling off in the trust and confidence that we are very slowly and tentatively building up. I rise only to say that the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) will be interpreted in Northern Ireland in many different ways.
The reason for this legislation and its equivalent in the Dail was brought about by the Sunningdale negotiations. Those talks did not exclusively relate to the problem of law and order or the problem of violence in Ireland. They related to the whole political situation. A valiant attempt, which did not succeed, was made by all parties at Sunningdale—those representing Northern Ireland's political interests and representatives from the British and Irish Governments—to create new political structures allied with legislation designed to bring to an end the terrible campaign of violence which Northern Ireland has suffered for so long.
In all my public statements I can never be in any way connected at any time with giving support to violent organisations. The hon. Member for Antrim, South said that this Bill was the remains of the Sunningdale Agreement, that the rest of it had sunk, like a hulk, to the bottom of the sea. There will be many people in Northern Ireland who will say that this legislation was part of a political package that was created at Sunningdale, that all the other aspects and agreements which were then arrived at have gone and that we are now left with this last issue. In these circumstances there will be many people in the Republic of Ireland who were associated with the Sunningdale Agreement, and there will be members of extremist organisations and people who support the campaign of violence, who will say to the Irish Government and the Irish people, "Why implement this aspect of Sunningdale to the total exclusion of all the other aspects which were brought crashing to the ground by the Ulster workers' strike last year?" I am aware how delicate an issue this is. I am not expressing an opinion one way or another on the legislation except to say that I have never supported anyone who has been engaged in violence. I do not like this Bill, any more than the 1723 Act which conferred special powers in Northern Ireland, or the emergency provisions or prevention of terrorism legislation which is on the statute book here. However, if it is necessary to implement such legislation both here and in the Republic, those in political control must recognise what is is designed to achieve, and undue difficulties must not be placed in the way of those who are trying to eradicate violence from these islands.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I am sure that the House realises the spirit that motivates the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I am sure that it also recognises the political significance of some of the things he said today. I trust that his comment that undue difficulties should not be placed in the way of those who have to implement this legislation will be noted. We do not think the Bill is the best way of dealing with the problem, but we are practical men and it is the only way open to us at the moment. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland who support the hon. Member for Belfast, West will respond to his appeal not to obstruct the forces of the Crown in trying to carry out this legislation. That statement will be most welcome in Northern Ireland particularly among that part of the community which supports the forces of the Crown.
We are here taking an act of faith. Perhaps the House is not aware just how brave that act of faith is. However, there is certainly no enthusiasm in the Dail Eireann or in the Senad Eireann for this legislation. The House should be acquainted with the following facts. An equivalent Bill to this was introduced into the Dail in Dublin on 28th November 1974. It was due to be given a Second Reading on 12th December 1974, but it got lost until 9th April 1975. A motion was then put before the Dail to have it discharged and the Bill withdrawn. The Dail has therefore not yet considered the Bill.
On 10th April the Bill was introduced into the Seanad and there was a peculiar occurrence there. A vote was taken on the First Reading, which is a unique event. There was a narrow majority in favour. Those who have been following the progress of the Bill will have noted 1724 how slow this has been. The Bill is now, I understand, in Committee.
It is being said that it is hoped that a new atmosphere can be created between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Parliament of the Republic as a result of this legislation. However, one has only to read some of the vicious and scurrilous attacks that have been made in the debates there upon British authority, and especially upon the security forces of the Crown as well as upon the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to realise how irresponsible are some of the members of the Seanad. One Senator, Mr. Bernard McGlinchey, has taken it upon himself vigorously to oppose the Bill. I understand that on one occasioin he spoke for five hours and on the next he spoke for over 10 hours about the Bill. He told the House that the RUC was thescum of this earth and no Government in the Republic at any time should introduce legislation of this kind that would co-operate and collaborate with that scum".As an Ulster representative I take this opportunity of defending the good name of the RUC. Remarks of that kind made in the Seanad of the South can only cause the most bitter and deep resentment in the North of Ireland. The same applies to other attacks made on the British Army and upon the security forces in general.
The learned Lord Chancellor, in speaking in another place, said that he hoped—and there was every reason to hope and believe—that the complementary Irish Bill to that which is now being considered will pass through the Dail. I think that is a vain hope. The previous Government of the South, the Government of the Fienna Fail Party, has declared publicly through its spokesman that, should this Bill become law, it will immediately be taken to the High Court and challenged on a constitutional basis. So we are by no means today assured that this Bill, as far as the South of Ireland is concerned, will ever reach the statute book.
Can we have an assurance today from the Government Front Bench that until it is law there will be no progress made concerning its coming into operation in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I indicated at the beginning that, with the exception of one or two other clauses, there would be no point in implementing it unless the other half was through the Dail Eireann.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am grateful. In a complex Bill of this kind—especially to laymen and to the general public—it is good to have that firm assurance. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is very well aware of the deep resentment felt in Northern Ireland at the fact that people are extradited from the North to the South and then, when warrants are brought in the South, these warrants have to be refused.
As an Ulster representative, I would add that we are not casting any reflection at all upon the courts of the South of Ireland, nor are we casting any reflections on the judges who have to administer the law in the South of Ireland, for on numerous occasions the judges have pointed out that they have no other option before them. They have condemned in strong language—and all honour to them—some of the deeds of those whom the authorities have sought to extradite to Northern Ireland, yet they have had to admit that under their present law these persons cannot be extradited. So it is not the fault of the judges, and we should give honour to these judges where honour is due to them.
I should like to say a few words about extradition. When the learned Attorney-General replies to the debate, would he care to tell us whether he agrees with the British judges in their appropriate extradition in Chapter VII. It should be pointed out to the House that the judges were very strong in regard to this matter. I notice that the former learned Attorney-General mentioned the weakness of the case brought against the arguments for extradition.
The British judges, who saw that extradition was the right way to deal with this problem, said in the Report of the Law Enforcement Commission, in their final submission, thatthe right to refuse extradition is that of the requested state: it may be waived and confers no right on the alleged offender: by waiving the right a state commits no breach of international law since there is no rule or principle which compels a state to grant asylum".1726 In the submission made by the judges from the Republic they tried to hide behind international law in saying that this was a valid reason for the refusal of extradition.
I should like the learned Attorney-General to comment, if he would, upon that final submission in the Report of the Law Enforcement Commission.
The commission went on to say in its report thatinternational opinion distinguishes between purely political offences and terrorist acts, especially those which endanger innocent lives; and recognises the validity of exceptional measures for the latter class of acts".Surely the time has come for "exceptional measures" to be taken. One can hardly judge the people of Northern Ireland for their resentment when a policeman can be brutally murdered and when those who have carried out the act can escape across the border and then glory in the fact. The sad thing about this Bill is that when it is passed it will make those people absolutely secure and, as it were, build up a firm buttress around the sanctuary, because there will be no going back on offences already committed.
The Report of the British Judges, in their final submission, said thatthere is no internationally recognised distinction between the propriety of trying a fugitive political offender and surrendering him to the authorities of the place of the offence.That is a vital point. What is the difference between trying them in the South of Ireland or sending them back to the North of Ireland, where they committed the offence, to be tried?
I should like the learned Attorney-General to comment on those final submissions, because I think that here we have the very heart of this matter. It should be recorded—I thought that the Secretary of State skimmed over this rather too lightly—that extradition was the first choice of the British members of the Law Enforcement Commission, who in Chapter VII recommended it as the most effective means of dealing with this problem. But the strange thing is that the judges from the South would not recommend it at all. That, to me, is a sad commentary upon their attitude.
Perhaps Senator Mary Robinson, a well-known Member of the Southern 1727 Senate, can throw light on this. She is a constitutional lawyer in her own right. Speaking in the Senate on 29th April, 1975, in the Second Stage—resumed—of the Criminal Law Bill 1975, she said:Looking at the extradition method, it is worth putting on the record of this House that, having examined the detailed arguments on both sides of the case for using the normal extradition method by designating certain types of offences which would not benefit from the classification of being political offences or connected with political offences so that persons could be extradited for them, I would express the personal opinion that the arguments put forward by the British team on the Law Enforcement Commission were much stronger and much better argued than the Irish arguments. However, when the four Irish members of the Law Enforcement Commission are united in opposition to this possibility it is not a political reality to consider that proposal.The tragedy of this Bill is that politics have overshadowed what should be a real legal issue, and it is on that issue that the people of Northern Ireland rightly are concerned. Who could judge them for not being concerned?
We welcome every effort to deal with terrorism. We welcome every plan that may be put forward. But this is—as a noble Lord said in another place—an ingenious method. It is not a straightforward way of doing it. It is the result of compromise. It is because the British Government have had to concede to the Southern Government that this Bill is now before us.
What makes it more perplexing, and causes more resentment to the people of Northern Ireland, is that it has been sold in the South of Ireland as an extension of Irish law across the border and a strengthening of the constitutional claim of the South over Northern Ireland territory. Mr. Michael O'Higgins, the Leader of the Senate, told the senators that this Bill made no judgment whatever on the legitimacy or otherwise of the Northern Ireland Government. They are suggesting that there is to be a commission, that judges from the North are to take evidence, and that they will recognise that evidence in the courts of South. But they still question the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland State.
These are the matters which we, as representatives from Ulster, on behalf of our people rightfully resent, and we must enter our protest against them. But having said that, we do not want to 1728 hinder any effort, no matter how weak it may be, to try to deal with something which is tearing the heart out of our Province. I trust that if this Bill gets through the Senate and the Dail, it will be applied with vigour and that we shall see those who have put their hands to the dastardly deeds that they have committed being brought to justice.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said about the speeches made in the Dublin Senate. They do not serve the cause of peace in Northern Ireland very well. But I understand that the Senator who engaged in the lengthly filibuster was told by the Minister of Justice that he could forgive him for speaking for so long and for speaking so loud, but not for being so boring. I learned that from a report in the Irish Independent. I have not had the advantage of reading Official Report of the proceedings, but I do not believe that those speeches will help feelings in Northern Ireland.
This Criminal Justice Bill, with its counterpart, which is, as we have said, making such slow progress through the Dublin Parliament, is meant to cure the present ridiculous and grave state of affairs whereby IRA terrorists can laugh contemptuously at the efforts of the police in Northern Ireland to have them returned to the Province to stand trial for their vile and violent crimes. This measure, and more particularly the reciprocal legislation in the Dail, is a complicated and roundabout way of achieving the worthy aim of handing out justice to terrorists.
The fact that it is complicated was confirmed by the Lord Chancellor in a speech in another place. Worse still, it is cumbersome, bearing in mind that the trial judges, the counsel and all the other staff, together with the defendant or defendants, must travel into the Irish Republic or, vice-versa, from the Republic into Northern Ireland. All that entourage will have to be protected by the Security Forces in Northern Ireland and Eire throughout the period of taking evidence on commission, which could last some time. That will further tax the security forces in Northern Ireland, who are already overburdened, and I feel that 1729 the trial judges may be the subject of attacks by terrorists in Northern Ireland.
It is extraordinary, therefore, that we should have before us this piece of legislation, with all its difficulties, legal and otherwise, when all that the situation requires is that the Irish Republic should extradite the wanted men who at the moment are living happily in the Republic.
The considered opinion of the distinguished British judges who formed part of the Law Enforcement Commission was ovewhelmingly in favour of extradition. I shall not repeat the portions of the report read by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North, but there is no doubt that those distinguished British judges devastatingly demolished the arguments put forward by the Eire judges who argued against extradition.
The stark truth is that Dublin refuses to return fugitive offenders on the basis that their crimes were political or politically motivated. As a result, extradition has been a one-way traffic, with Britain fulfilling its part as a responsible, friendly neighbour and with the Irish Republic, while expressing grief at the obscene crimes committed by the terrorists, regretting that it cannot extradite the criminals.
Despite the so-called IRA cease-fire, the catalogue of deaths, unfortunately, continues unabated. It must be said at once that it is not all the work of the Provisional IRA. We have sectarian killings and we have internecine war scarring the face of Ulster, and all must clearly condemn any terrorist activity, whether it be by Protestant or Roman Catholic, or by Loyalist or Republican. But we must bear in mind that the Provisional IRA is still active. Its members kill and then escape across the border to sanctuary in the Republic. That is what we are up against in Northern Ireland. That is what the security forces have to face in dealing with these men.
A constituent of mine was murdered only a few weeks ago. He and two companions, after coming from a dog show in Cork, were killed as they entered Northern Ireland. They were innocent men and were not connected with any political organisation. My own cousin, living a few miles from the border in Fermanagh, 1730 had a bomb planted at his bungalow, which was partially demolished. He had a miraculous escape, but, unfortunately, his wife was killed. She was an innocent woman, with no ill will towards any person, yet she was a victim of members of the Provisional IRA who came across the border and sped back again to the hell holes along the border. I say "hell holes", because the people who practise these atrocities are living in a hell even though they may not realise it. They go across the border to Dundalk and other places in the Republic knowing that they can relax there in perfect safety and engage in the training which will enable them to carry out further atrocities in Northern Ireland. That is why extradition is urgently necessary.
As I said to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when I intervened in his speech, this measure is a very poor second-best which protects persons who have committed acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland, and escaped to the Republic. They cannot be brought before the courts as envisaged under this legislation, and in my judgement this is a serious defect.
There is a remarkable mood sweeping through Northern Ireland. Although the majority may feel anger at the killing, for example, of a Protestant, that anger is not directed towards the religious minority. That is a radical change. Unfortunately, sectarian killings, allegedly in retaliation, do not help the situation. But there is this change of atmosphere, and the great majority of people in Northern Ireland are now getting together—I should like to see them acting in better unison—and facing the terrorists who are destroying the Province.
I am sure that the Attorney-General will agree, however, that at least it can be said that the Protestant terrorists are pursued relentlessly and brought to trial in Northern Ireland. In the case of IRA members, they can—and many do—seek sanctuary in the Irish Republic. That is a serious weakness when the great majority of people in Northern Ireland want peace, and want the terrorists brought to justice.
With this new attitude and new atmosphere in Northern Ireland, it is sad that the Government here did not hold out for extradition when it was argued for 1731 so forcefully by our judges who sat on the Law Enforcement Commission. It is sad, too, that the Eire Government did not agree to extradite these fugitive offenders. The Eire authorities can argue, and have argued vehemently, that persons sought for political offences should not be extradited, the reason being that they should not be tried and sentenced for offences connected with politics, but it is nonsense, while holding this view and rejecting extradition, to enunciate the principles and practices set out in the Bill and the reciprocal Bill before the Irish Dail and Senate. For the whole point of extradition and of this extra-territorial legislation is the same—the apprehension and the imprisonment, if found guilty, of the fugitive political offender.
That is the reality, and the British judges on the Law Enforcement Commission stated this in their argument for extradition. Therefore, I cannot see how the Eire authorities can say, "We will not extradite persons because of political offences" when they actually intend, under this legislation, to try such persons before their courts for political offences, or what they say are political offences—although I do not regard them as such.
I would like briefly to refer to the report of the Law Enforcement Commission and the statement made by the British judges in support of extradition. They said:One looks in vain for any principle or practice under which, while denying the propriety of extradition, a state claims the right to prosecute fugitive political offenders within its territory".Again, they said:We think that the argument against the use of the extradition method is misconceived … the two Governments having agreed that persons committing crimes of violence, however motivated, in any part of Ireland should be brought to trial, there is no room for immunity on the ground that the offence is political.Of course, the Eire politicians received support for their stand from the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he created the special status of "political prisoner". That was a foolhardy decision, and an abject capitulation to terrorism, and this Government must be experiencing grave difficulty in getting rid of the status as recommended by the Gardner Report. It was a grave mistake, and it is a millstone round our necks. 1732 I cannot forgive the right hon. Gentleman for creating that status, which is now enjoyed even by the Price sisters after their murderous campaign in England.
The previous Eire Government—the Fianna Fail Government—however, were not disposed to face up to their responsibility, and their attitude has not changed, as is witnessed by their attacks, in the Senate, on the reciprocal Eire legislation. Will it be possible, under this and the Eire legislation, to ensure—I hope that it will be possible, and I direct my remarks to the Attorney-General—that there will be no unreasonable disparity of sentence between the Ulster and Eire courts? Nothing would help more to bring the law into disrepute than for widely differing sentences to be imposed, thereby creating a feeling of injustice. I wonder how this can be done, since even in this country there is some disparity between sentences.
§ The Attorney-General
Since the hon. Gentleman directs his remarks to me, I would say that of course the two Bills seek together to ensure that the maximum penalties for the same offence will be the same. But any hon. Member of this House would agree with me that there is one vital safeguard for the courts—whether here or there, there must be the independence of the judiciary. We cannot possibly ensure that the courts of one country, or, as the hon. Gentleman has himself said, one judge, as against another, will always have the same standard.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I agree with what the Attorney-General has said about the independence of the judiciary, but I regret to say that sentences which have been meted out to persons who have appeared before the Eire courts for terrorist offences have not matched sentences imposed by courts in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and it would be totally unfair—I think, anyhow, and I am looking at this as a lawyer—for a person to receive a lighter or heavier sentence merely because he had the good or ill fortune to appear in one country rather than another. That is the point that I am making.
I end with two brief points. I believe that this Bill will be a lawyers' paradise. In the Irish Republic the constitutionalists will have a field day. I do not know 1733 about the possible situation in Northern Ireland itself, but it will be some time before anyone is finally put behind bars, having gone through all the various appellate courts in Eire.
As far as I am concerned, this measure is second best, but at least if it means the conviction of terrorists in the Irish Republic, if it saves just one life, it will have accomplished something—and it is on that basis that I support the Bill.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
I do not think anybody in the House would have any doubt that in reality this Bill is second best—and it is second best because there has clearly been a lack of political agreement with the Irish Republic as to what should be done. But we have now to face up to the political reality, and if we cannot get the best, which clearly would be the simplest, most practical solution of having a mutual extradition agreement with the Republic, we must accept what we can get if that goes at least some way to achieving the purpose we all want to achieve.
Extradition would be best, and I agree with the views expressed by many hon. Members supporting the case argued by the British judges in the commission. I rely particularly on the passage which speaks of the exception, where the enormity or barbarism of the crime justifies an exception. It has always seemed to me very difficult to accept that a man who puts a bomb in a crowded public-house filled with young soldiers and Army girls, intending that as many as possible should be killed or maimed, should, if he escapes to the Republic, be able to say "Oh, yes I intended to do that, but of course it was a political act."
The points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson)—with all his experience—about the difficulties that would follow where witnesses in a case had gone to Dublin, are practical points. If we cannot have extradition, this is as good as we are going to get. We must bear in mind the comment of so many hon. Members on both sides of the House about the major omission with regard to those—I give the example of the Price sisters—who would have escaped if they 1734 had not been taken off the plane, and would have been in Dublin, and for example, Liverpool people of Irish descent or Irish relationship being unwilling to go to Dublin.
I support what has been said by so many about the extension affecting those in Dublin who are not to be extradited or sent back for crimes of terrorism committed in this country, so that the judges who will try them in Southern Ireland should at least have powers equivalent to those which will give under the Bill to the judges in Northern Ireland.
When I intervened on this point in the speech of the Secretary of State the right hon. Gentleman said that this would require many alterations to our law because of the "no jury" trial, and the rest. I do not accept that, because it is a one-way traffic. If a bomber blows up a pub in Dublin and comes here, we always allow him to be extradited. It is only when it is the other way round that difficulty will occur. We cannot go on relying upon public restraint. We cannot expect the public to maintain the restraint that has been shown—with a temporary fracture after Birmingham—particularly in London and Guildford, if this kind of thing goes on and the perpetrators of crimes escape to Dublin.
Those who commit these horrible and abnormal crimes should be brought to justice. I believe that the public demand that. They demand that they should be brought to justice, if the Governments of the two countries cannot agree to mutual extradition, at least by making available to the judges in Dublin all of the evidence that would be available if such people were tried here, without involving those many witnesses, such as scientific officers, who would be required to go to Dublin. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell gave graphic examples of the numbers of witnesses who would be needed.
It does not seem beyond the limits of credulity that this extension, even if only one-way, should be made to cover those offences in Great Britain when the offenders are in Dublin—
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
I appreciate the importance of the point which the hon. and learned Member is 1735 making. Would he, in turn, offer to the House some suggestion whereby it would be possible under British law to make available in Southern Ireland the statements of witnesses bearing in mind the difficulty that all trials in Britain are jury trials and such statements would not have been taken here before a judge and jury? How does he overcome the difficult constitutional problems involved?
§ Sir M. Havers
With respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I am not sure that he has a valid point. I do not think that he has been present throughout the whole debate. What I am seeking to suggest is that the reciprocal provisions contemplated in the Bill between the Republic and Northern Ireland with regard to the court of trial, the court in whose country the offender is, should be extended when the offender has committed a crime in Great Britain and is not to be returned to Great Britain because of the present restrictions, because of a political connection. Such a person will then be tried in Dublin. We ought to provide in Great Britain the same facilities to the court in the Republic as will be provided in Northern Ireland in similar circumstances.
§ The Attorney-General
I want to be clear what the hon. and learned Member is suggesting. I am sure he does not mean this, but it sounded as though he was saying that all of this would be done simply by adding to our Bill. I am glad to see that the hon. and learned Member dissents from that. It is right to make it clear that that is not so.
§ Sir M. Havers
The right hon. and learned Member interrupted me before I had completed. I was about to finish by saying that we invite the Attorney-General to initiate discussions with his opposite number in the Republic to see whether the Republic will also make similar provisions. This cannot be done unilaterally. It requires the agreement of both sides. I accept that political reality is often a long way from what we would wish. It is important to remember that public restraint, which has been so much evident, cannot be relied upon for ever.
I hope that the Attorney-General will at least keep open those options and see 1736 whether an extension can be agreed by the Eire Government. It does not seem to be a politically serious move for them. There might be objection by a number of those who feel that this is going too far in association with Ireland. I do not believe that. It certainly would not affect our system of justice in the way the Secretary of State suggested when I intervened because it would merely require those available to attend and give evidence in the circumstances contemplated by the Bill in the Ulster situation.
I want also to touch upon the question of retrospection which was raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Lee). Retrospection has always been treated, particularly by lawyers in this place, as being offensive when it makes illegal an act which at the time it was done was legal. That situation would not arise here. The act would have been illegal at all times. The issue that arises is whether, the act having been committed, the offender is in a country which is treating political connections as being a sufficient reason, however barbarous the crime, to resist returning him to the country where the crime was committed. It is not an ordinary case of retrospection. It is a case where in our view, the crime having been committed, the offender remains the offender thereafter. It is only because of a political view that is taken that he is not returned to the country where he committed the crime. Retrospection in the true sense does not apply.
I invite the Attorney-General to consider this before Committee stage and to discuss it again with his opposite number in the Republic. It seems wrong and offensive that those who have committed the offence and benefited by the strict interpretation—if I may put it that way—of the Backing of Warrants Act, should be able to remain at liberty in the Republic, untouched for crimes committed in this country and in Northern Ireland before the Bill receives the Royal Assent although in reality they are continuing offenders, not having been brought to justice.
Apart from those comments and apart from echoing the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell, I welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
It is a matter for gratification that there has been a general welcome for this Bill, however much it may have been described as second best—as we accept it must necessarily be. When the promotion of legislation or anything else depends upon more than one party we have a situation in which it may be necessary to accept second best, because it is not possible to get agreement on the best. But it is not merely that factor which affects the decision of the Government to promote this legislation.
The Sunningdale communiqué, which I should say was concerned with violence in Ireland—at that time we had not experienced the Birmingham bombings, and so on—charged the British and Irish Governments jointly with setting up a commission to recommend, as a matter of extreme urgency, the most effective means of dealing with those who commit crimes, whether in the North or South of Ireland. It is this with which the Bill is concerned.
Difficult as was the task given to the commission, and I am sure that hon. Members would wish to thank its members for their clear and comprehensive report, it was concerned to take note of and give accord to the urgency. What we have to consider when talking about the possibility of improvements and extensions, particularly as a result of matters which have come to the fore since the Sunningdale conference and since the Commission was established and reported, is the balance between getting on with legislation with the degree of urgency thought to be right, and seeking to alter it, which would mean further discussion and agreement or disagreement between the parties concerned.
I shall say more about the specific question of Great Britain later. I hope that all hon. Members will bear in mind that that is a highly important factor. I am sure that they all wish to see this legislation—which was described by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as the twin legislation in the Republic—on the statute book as rapidly as possible.
It has been said in criticism of the Bill that extradition would be much better. All hon. Members would agree that in 1738 the many cases which arise out of this legislation it would be preferable if both we ourselves and the Government of the Republic took precisely the same view about extradition. However, unhappily, that is not the case. Unhappily, the members of the commission from the Republic—which included two judges whose charge it would be to put into effect the law of the Republic of Ireland as they know it—took a view different from our own. I do not suggest for one moment that the view which was taken by our judges, which corresponds to the way in which we interpret the saving of political offences from extradition, is a wrong view. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) wanted me to associate my legal opinion with theirs. Of course, I would not dissociate my legal opinion from theirs, but I hope that the hon. Member and the House will understand that the matter is not merely between this country's Judiciary and the Republic's Judiciary, because differences exist on this very question of the political exception to extradition in other countries also.
In view of some of the remarks that have been made, I must point out that we are not providing an alternative to extradition processes which already exist. We are providing an additional process and an additional means of bringing offenders to justice.
§ Mr. McCusker
I wish to raise a point which is really an extension of the point that I put to the Secretary of State. Does what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said mean that if those fugitives, currently in the Republic, who have escaped extradition, were apprehended in Northern Ireland, they would still be brought to justice? Could their sworn statements in the Republic be used to convict them?
§ The Attorney-General
If persons have committed offences against our law in the past, we are, and always have been, entitled to apply for their extradition. If extradition were granted they would return and we would try them. The Bill recognises what the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) referred to as the political realities, and one includes in those realities the fact that judges in the Republic have committed themselves to a particular view which 1739 they would no doubt give effect to in the courts. In the light of that we are providing an additional means of bringing people to justice. If the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) is saying "You should provide it in relation to those who have committed offences or who are alleged to have committed offences in the past", that is to say, that there should be retrospection—a matter to which the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon referred—what is happening in law is that new offences are being created by the two Bills in the two countries, and therefore—
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Gentleman asks "Why?" That is how the legislation operates. Matters which were not offences in the countries concerned will now be offences, as a result of this legislation. There may, of course, be times when it is right to consider whether, even so, retrospection is justified, but I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon—who, I know, thinks very deeply about these matters—will agree that one should hesitate for a long time before accepting the principle that one is entitled, because one knows that someone who has committed an offence in another country is present in one's own country, so to legislate to enable that person to be tried in one's own country for that offence, although one could not do so before the legislation was enacted. It is a very serious new principle, and I suggest to the House that we should consider its implications very carefully and for a long time before we accept that it is right.
§ Mr. McCusker
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman has misunderstood me. In years to come there is a strong possibility that some of those people who have been guilty, or who may be guilty, of offences will return to the North to visit their families, and so on. If they are apprehended in the North, shall we be able to bring them to justice there?
§ The Attorney-General
I am sorry; I did not fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course, anyone who has committed an offence in Northern Ire- 1740 land may go on a world tour and eventually come back to Northern Ireland, and the courts of Northern Ireland will be able to deal with him in the ordinary way. We do not require this Bill to ensure that that objective is secured. The Bill is required because there are many people who dodge across the land borders, which we know is only too easy to do. Indeed, that is one of the distinctions between the North and South of Ireland, as opposed to Great Britain and Ireland. That fact has to be taken into consideration when considering the extent to which the provisions of the Bill should be extended. I shall deal with that matter now, because in my view it is probably the main additional point of principle which has arisen out of a number of the speeches that have been made.
Many questions have been levelled at me on matters of detail. I hope that if I do not answer each one of them, those hon. Members who have asked me about particular points will accept that they are matters of detail which can be dealt with in Committee. However, I shall look through the Official Report of the debate and do my best to ensure that any point that has not been adequately answered receives an answer.
I come then to the question of the extension of the provisions of the Bill to offences committed in Great Britain. Although the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon put the point in a particularly clear way, it did not seem to me that all hon. Members had achieved quite the same clarity of understanding of the question. If we are dealing with crimes committed here—with the type of crime exemplified by the reference to the Birmingham bombers, the Price sisters, and so on—and with people who have slipped through the net, notwithstanding the controls at the ports, airfields and so on, and have reached the South, we are dealing with people who are subject to the law of the Republic rather than the law of this country. Therefore, when hon. Members speak in general terms about that situation, what is being asked for is not amendment to our law but amendment to the law of the South. We should have to ensure that the Republic was prepared either to amend its existing Bill or to introduce new legislation to cover that gap in the protection which we seek to give.
1741 I entirely take the hon. and learned Gentleman's point that we might be able to help matters if we inserted into our Bill, in advance, a provision whereby, in the event of the South's being willing to go that far, there were, ready-made, the commission system, and so on, but until we have reached agreement on that—if we should reach agreement—it would be premature and, indeed, unnecessary to insert such a provision, because there would have to be many amendments to our legislation, apart from those to introduce the system into this Bill. It is better to keep the Bill, complex as it is, as simple as we can, and get it through as quickly as possible, rather than complicate it still further by inserting, in anticipation, something which may be and remain otiose.
I am asked whether we have sought to persuade the Irish Government to agree to that much broader extension—an extension that was not contemplated by Sunningdale, as I have explained by quoting a passage from the communiqué. All that I want to say about that is that my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland have had discussions with Mr. Cooney on a wide range of issues, and I have no doubt that if the Government felt that circumstances were such that that sort of extension was desirable or essential discussions on it would follow. We should no doubt see whether the Irish felt that that degree of extension of their legislation as well as of ours, might be put into effect. But at present there is no agreement about that. There is agreement about this Bill, and I suggest that we should get on with the Bill as fast as we can.
§ Sir M. Havers
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give his opinion on the question whether an amendment on those lines, if the House accepted it, would be helpful or harmful in any negotiations with the Republic?
§ The Attorney-General
I have not taken part in negotiations. It is not part of my duties to do so, so far, at any rate. But I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman received his answer indirctly if he was watching my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has been involved and who plainly feels that such an amendment 1742 would be harmful rather than beneficial. It is a matter on which I am willing to accept the benefit of my right hon. Friend's experience and knowledge.
What must be made clear—I hope that I have made it clear—is that it is not enough to say "Let's extend the Bill". "Let's put more into it." That would be totally ineffective without the agreement of the Republic and without the Republic's promoting a new Bill—the House has heard that the Republic has not been without difficulty in promoting the twin of the present Bill—or trying to amend the twin of this Bill, when I have no doubt that the same difficulties would arise.
We have tried to go as far as we can in this direction. The Republic has gone some way by the amendment of its own law of extra-territoriality in relation to homicide, and both countries are going further in relation to explosive offences, which are being made extra-territorial in both countries, subject to certain necessary limitations.
Therefore, the House must accept that at least we are dealing with the major types of violence to which, unhappily, we have become accustomed here and in Northern Ireland and in the South—not only murder but explosive offences, offences involving a high level of violence. I do not believe, and the Government do not believe, that one can at this stage go any further than that.
I am glad to note that no voice has been raised to suggest that the Bill is not essential. It will certainly help, even if it may not help as much as many of us would have wished. I hope that the general support which has been given to it in principle will also be shown when it reaches its later stages, because the most important thing of all is to get it on to the statute book as rapidly as possible. Let us by all means set an example, if that is the right word, to those in another part of the world, so that both countries get their legislation on to the statute book at the same time, and we then go forward and operate it.
§ Question put and agreed to
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).