§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Last night I put the case for the renewal of the emergency powers Act. Today we begin the process of amending the Act in the light of the Gardiner Committee, which was set upto consider what provisions and powers, consistent to the maximum extent practicable in the circumstances with the preservation of civil liberties and human rights, are required to deal with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland, including provisions for the administration of justice and to examine the working of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973; and to make recommendations.It would not be honest of me to paint an optimistic picture of the security situation at present. I am hopeful that the people in Northern Ireland as a whole are beginning to recognise that only they can eliminate violence, and only through the established constitutional machinery of the police and the courts. But I must also tell the House that the cease-fire remains fragile and tension remains high. We cannot relax measures to deal with violence. For the time being, the Army must be maintained in Northern Ireland at a level which can contain an upsurge of terrorism; and while this risk remains, and while terrorism continues at the present level, it is necessary for emergency powers to continue. These are special provisions for the administration of justice in the courts, special powers for the security forces, and the extra-judicial process of detentioin.
If the cease-fire were to end, and terrorism and intimidation were once more to reach the horrifying levels of the past, there must be provisions for removing evil killers from the streets. As the Gardiner Committee pointed out in paragraph 148 of its report:We would like to be able to recommend that the time has come to abolish detention; but the present level of violence, the risks of 887 increased violence and the difficulty of predicting events even a few months ahead make it impossible for us to put forward a precise recommendation on the timing.The Gardiner Committee also states in paragraph 15 that, while the liberty of the subject is a human right to be preserved under all possible conditions, it is not, and cannot be, an absolute right because one man may use his liberty to take away the liberty of another and must be restrained from doing so. Where freedoms conflict, the State has a duty to protect those in need of protection. The committee also pointed out that the detention procedure is not in breach of our commitment to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as we have exercised our right to derogate. I told the House yesterday that since 22nd December 1974 I had released 276 detainees, including 10 whom I released last Tuesday. In addition, the commissioners have released a further 25 detainees during that period. Today I have directed the release of a further five detainees.
Before leaving this subject, I should perhaps mention another more general matter not directly related to detention. Hon. Members will have noted that paragraph 21 of the report states the Gardiner Committee's view that consideration should be given to the enactment of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Hon. Members will know that the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, chaired by Lord Feather, announced recently that it intended to embark on a major study of the extent to which existing legislation provides sufficient protection for human rights in Northern Ireland, including whether a Bill of Rights is needed, what form it might take and how it would relate to existing legislation. It is also possible, as we heard yesterday, that the Constitutional Convention might decide to consider the subject. Indeed, I understand that there are two motions currently on the Convention Notice Paper raising the question of Bills of Rights. In the circumstances, the Government have decided not to take any action at this stage, but we shall study carefully any proposals from the commission or the Convention. A Bill of Rights, or legislation covering the 888 human rights law, will be part of the next constitutional legislation for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
As my right hon. Friend knows, I am concerned about the question of a Bill of Rights. As the Feather Commission made a statement to the effect that it would spend at least one year in considering whether a Bill of Rights was necessary, is my right hon. Friend able to tell me whether the commission will take notice of the debates which have taken place in this Chamber on the subject of a Bill of Rights?
§ Mr. Rees
Most certainly. By nature of the law, it is not for me to tell the commission what to do, but I am sure that in the process of consideration it will be prepared to listen to people's views. It is not for me to say how the Convention might have contact with the commission if it so wished. Implicit in the commission's terms of reference for the investigation it is conducting are the terms of a possible Bill. I have learned from the Gardiner report that I received at the end of last year that it is all very well to make a report but to translate that report into legislation is not an easy matter.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that as long as Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom it is exceedingly difficult to conceive a Bill of Rights which applies to citizens in only one part of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Rees
In the context of Bills of Rights that go back in constitutional history, that is correct, but the right hon. Gentleman will note that the previous administration, under the heading of a "Charter of Human Rights", introduced several pieces of legislation which have been translated into fact and add up at least to part of a Bill of Rights. The commission is thinking about its job in the context of human rights overall. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When we come to translate the commission's recommendations into action, it will be a matter for the House at the end of the day.
To return to detention, Lord Gardiner has pointed out that there are many who are critical of the present detention procedures; in particular, I am concerned 889 about the assertion that it has brought the law into disrepute. That is certainly a view that is expressed forcefully by the legal profession in Northern Ireland. It is no reflection on the commissioners, who have carried out their onerous duties with fairness and conscientiousness, that these procedures have aroused criticism. Indeed, I should like to take this opportunity of recording my appreciation of the way in which the commissioners have discharged their duties, and my gratitude for the services they have so readily given in Northern Ireland. But the Government have decided that there is sufficient substance in the criticisms to introduce a new system. I shall deal with that in a moment.
I shall describe only briefly the clauses in the Bill dealing with the administration of justice in the courts—one aspect of the report—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be available to cover any points raised on these provisions in the winding up speech.
Clause 1 brings the law in Northern Ireland on the admission of written statements into line with the law in Great Britain and is a permanent addition to Northern Ireland statute law.
Clause 2 vests in the court the decision to have either a preliminary investigation involving witnesses or a preliminary inquiry based on written depositions at the initial hearing of a scheduled offence. At present an inquiry may be held only if the accused does not object, but, as the Gardiner Committee pointed out in paragraph 57 of its report, in the case of a person who does not recognise the court it is difficult to say whether or not he objects. Hence it is proposed that the decision should lie with the court, which can take into account any representations made by the accused or his representative.
Clause 3 enables scheduled and nonscheduled offences to be tried together where these offences are closely related. Clause 4 considerably broadens the number of judges who may grant bail to a person charged with a scheduled offence, and completely frees persons being tried summarily for such offences from any restrictions on the grant of bail.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
In the debate last night, the right hon. 890 Gentleman may remember that I raised the question of bail for members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I also referred to attempts having been made to try them in what are known as "terrorist courts" in common parlance in Northern Ireland. Will the Bill change that position?
§ Mr. Rees
As it stands at the moment, it will not. The hon. Gentleman raises an important Committee point. From what I recall of what the hon. Gentleman said last night, his point is that soldiers are held in barracks at Holywood, or wherever it might be, amongst their own kind, and the police argue that they also should be held in that way. A difficult point of principle arises, that the policeman is a civilian, unlike the soldier, but that is a matter for consideration in Committee.
Clause 5 makes it much simpler to obtain legal aid for any such applications for bail.
Clause 6 removes any reference to the Belfast Recorder's Court, as it is not in practice used for the trial of scheduled offences. Clause 7 repeals Section 5 or the 1973 Act, which allowed written statements to be admitted as evidence in the trial of scheduled offences where the witness was unable or unfit to attend the trial or could not be found. Hon. Members who attended the debates on the previous Bill will remember that the question of written statements was discussed.
Finally, Clause 8 provides that the special provisions on evidence in Part I of the 1973 Act should no longer apply to the summary trial of any scheduled offence.
Lord Gardiner recommended in paragraph 85 of his report that the existing powers of search and arrest in Part II of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 were necessary and should be retained. Moreover, I have repeatedly made clear that I would not expect the security forces to continue to operate in Northern Ireland without the protection afforded by such powers.
However, the Gardiner Committee recommended two changes to the existing powers. The first was to make clear the powers the security forces have to stop and question persons. Clause 10 puts it beyond doubt that a member 891 of the security forces may stop and question anybody about any one or more of the matters specified in Section 16 of the 1973 Act; that is to say, his identity, his movements, his knowledge of any terrorist incident or his knowledge of anyone killed or injured in such an incident. I think that this was the intention of Parliament when the provision was approved. The amendment removes any possible ambiguity.
The second recommendation was to introduce a power to search for illegally-held, or illegally-used communications equipment. Transmitters are used by terrorists to set up ambushes for the security forces, and they are used to detonate bombs. For example, booby traps are frequently set up and an observer, who may be up to a mile away from the trap, detonates the bomb by radio control when an Army patrol approaches the bait. Clause 11, therefore, introduces a power to search for and seize such transmitters. This power is analagous to the power in the 1973 Act to search for and seize munitions.
Before taking this office and before getting heavily involved in security matters, I do not think I could possibly have realised the sophistication of the equipment that is used. It is not just associated with the use of guns. Complicated equipment is coming from various parts of the world. The training to use that equipment is not something that can be done by means of a short chat lasting an hour or so. The use of such equipment involves careful training. It is important that this type of transmitter should come into legislation in the way that I have suggested. We have not thought it appropriate to include radio receivers, which, although used by terrorists, are widely held by the general public.
The Government have rejected the recommendation in paragraph 70 of the Gardiner Report that a general offence of terrorism should be created. If a person commits an act of violence we consider that the proper course of action is to bring that person to trial for his crime and not to convict him under some "catch-all" provision such as an offence of terrorism. Nevertheless, the proposal that there should be an offence of terrorism highlighted two areas where the law is deficient. There is, at present, no 892 effective method of bringing to justice persons who recruit others to belong to or to act for an illegal organisation. Nor is there any way of bringing to justice a person who instructs others in the theory of making bombs or using weapons but does not himself construct or handle the bombs or use the weapons. Therefore, Clause 12 makes it an offence to recruit others to an illegal organisation and Clause 15 makes it an offence to train others in the use of arms and explosives or to receive such training.
§ Mr. Powell
I appreciate that this may be a Committee point but perhaps there is no harm in its being mentioned now. As regards Clause 12, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied as to the form in which what he has decribed informally as "recruitment" is defined? For example, it is easy to imagine a member of a proscribed organisation, who is purporting to be a member, making a public speech in which he extols the virtues of persons who belong to it in the same way as a recruiting sergeant might extol the advantages of belonging to Her Majesty's forces. I do not know whether it is the right hon. Gentleman's view that that situation would fall within the definition, but I am sure he will agree that the definition is a matter of great importance.
§ Mr. Rees
Yes, I think that the right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I would rather my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General dealt with it later, but, in the spirit of not being legally trained, I think it is important for me to say a word or two about the matter.
What we had in mind was recruitment to an organisation. I accept the difficulties of definition. The point that I wanted to take up was the aspect of extolling what has been done. That is the penumbra around it which is so important. It is extremely difficult to deal with any clause of this nature. Historically in Ireland martyrdom has been an important aspect of the community. Talking in that way is often done by people who are not involved in violence. That is part of history. It is extremely difficult in those circumstances to use the clause as a "catch-all" provision. As I have said, this is an important issue and I am sure that it can be dealt with in Committee.
893 The Bill also introduces two other offences against public security. Since the start of the current campaign of violence and terror in Northern Ireland certain professions have been in the forefront of measures to deal with terrorism—namely, the RUC, members of the Armed Forces, judges and prison officers. As regards prison officers, they put their families at risk in a way that I had not realised. At present Section 20 of the 1973 Act makes it an offence to collect information about either the Armed Forces or the police which is likely to be useful to terrorists. Clause 13 extends this provision to information about persons holding judicial office, court officers and prison officers. There have been 17 attacks on members of the judiciary, and a judge and two resident magistrates have been murdered.
The clause will not apply to persons having lawful authority or reasonable excuse for being in possession of such information. I know from experience that sometimes men are arrested who have information on them about the movements of people. Intelligence collecting on the street corner about families is carried out. But it is important—I accept that we cannot protect everyone—that the group to which I have referred, and particularly the judges, is protected.
Clause 13 provides that it will also be an offence to collect any information which is likely to be useful in planning or executing an act of violence. Hon. Members may recall the plans that were captured last year which clearly related to the burning of large parts of Belfast. On another occasion a person was found with detailed plans for loading a boat with explosives and directing it towards a naval vessel. At present it may not be possible to charge such persons with an offence.
Clause 16 implements the Gardiner Committee's recommendation in paragraph 72 of the report that it should be an offence to wear a hood or mask in any public place or in the vicinity of other people's houses. Hoods are worn to intimidate persons in Northern Ireland. It is not always possible to prove intimidation as the very act of wearing a hood is in itself sufficient to frighten people without other action. We have, therefore, decided to make this an offence.
894 Clause 14 implements another recommendation of the Gardiner Committee in paragraph 72 of the report, that the offence of riotous behaviour should be dealt with summarily. Clause 14, therefore, provides for the repeal of the penalty of 18 months' imprisonment for riotous behaviour imposed by Section 22 of the 1973 Act; consequently the offence will become a purely summary one.
The last part of the Bill provides that the Director of Public Prosecutions must consent to any prosecutions brought under this Bill in the same way as he consents to all prosecutions brought under the 1973 Act. It also provides for minor alterations to the list of scheduled offences in the 1973 Act and ensures that any terms used in this Bill have the same meaning as those in the 1973 Act.
The temporary provisions in the Bill will expire at the same time as those in the 1973 Act, which this House yesterday approved for a further six months until 24th January 1976. Clause 21 provides for the renewal of all the temporary provisions in the Bill in the same way as the temporary provisions in the 1973 Act are renewed. I urged when in Opposition that emergency provisions should not be in force for more than six months without the consent of Parliament, and, indeed, this is the practice which I have followed as Secretary of State. Accordingly, it is my intention that the maximum period of renewal should in future be six months rather than 12 months. I propose, therefore, to introduce a Government amendment to this effect.
I turn to the specific provisions of Schedule I, which, with Clause 9, repeals Schedule I to the principal Act and provides instead new detention arrangements. The committee argued that, because the deprivation of the liberty of an individual by extra-judicial process is a very serious decision, it should be taken by the Secretary of State himself, onerous as that may be. I accept this. The commissioners and appeal hearings which were at the heart of the system introduced by the 1973 Act will, therefore he abolished. As the Gardiner Report emphasises, the introduction of the commissioners' scheme was a genuine attempt to afford a person suspected of terrorism an opportunity, consistent with security, of challenging the allegations made against him. In order to do this, such 895 a person has been able to employ a legal representative and the hearing has proceeded by way of adversarial contest, much as in a normal court. It was for the commissioner alone to decide on the basis of his inquiry whether or not the person should be detained.
The committee suggested, however, that these quasi-judicial procedures, although well-intentioned, are not appropriate if security considerations are of such overriding importance that it is often necessary for commissioners to hear evidence in camera, to admit hearsay evidence and to allow the identity of witnesses to be concealed by the use of screens and voice scramblers. I can understand the point about voice scramblers, because recognition of a voice could mean death for the person concerned or his family. Indeed, the committee argued that, because the commissioners' hearings have such an apparent similarity to the ordinary judicial process, the ordinary processes of law in Northern Ireland are being brought into disrepute.
There is also criticism of the delays which have in the past crept into the commissioners' system; the committee felt that these can be attributed to the basic unsuitability of the procedures themselves. In general, I accept the strength of the arguments, and paragraph 8 of the schedule, therefore, places sole and ultimate responsibility for the making of a detention order with the Secretary of State.
Nevertheless, there must be an advisory procedure, and this will work as follows. Where it appears to the Secretary of State that there are grounds for suspecting that a person has been concerned in the commission or attempted commission of any act of terrorism or in directing, organising or training persons for the purpose of terrorism, he may make an interim custody order. Within 14 days he must refer the case to an adviser or the order shall cease to have effect.
Where a case is referred to an adviser, he is required to consider it and report to the Secretary of State whether or not in his opinion the person detained has been concerned in terrorist activities and also whether the detention of that person is necessary for the protection of the public. When the Secretary of State receives the report of the adviser, he must also 896 consider these two points, and, if satisfied in respect of them, he may make a detention order. If he is not so satisfied, he shall direct the person's release.
While the adviser's role is, therefore, very much at the heart of the new detention procedure, sole responsibility for the making of detention orders will rest with the Secretary of State. The adviser will be able to provide an independent assessment of all the evidence, including the views of the security forces, and will thereby ensure that a full and balanced picture is put before the Secretary of State, who will then have to reach a decision.
I have given this point a great deal of consideration. In the days of the old-style campaign, when under the old process things happened in the middle of the night or on Sunday afternoons, my Ministers and I have sat considering cases brought before us by Army officers or policemen. I see the new process as meaning that the security forces will put their view to me. That matter will go to an adviser, who will look at the matter independently. In the 14-day period I shall have a chance to consider the view of the security forces and can decide my view of the situation. But at the end of the day the decision is mine as Secretary of State. I shall respect the advice I receive, but the decision will be mine, and this will apply to my successors as long as this is the law.
Hon. Members will also note that the schedule provides that a single adviser shall consider cases. This does not accord entirely with the Gardiner Committee's recommendation that a detention advisory board should be created with membership of seven holders of judicial office, three of whom should constitute a division for investigating cases. While I accept the merits of these proposals and the arguments which lead to them, it is not practicable to provide this number of judges at the present time. For this reason an adviser will sit alone, and, like a commissioner, he must hold or have held judicial office in the United Kingdom or be a barrister, advocate or solicitor of not less than 10 years' standing.
In response to the Gardiner Committee's criticism in paragraphs 153 and 154 of the report, of the quasi-judicial nature of the commissioners' proceedings, advisers will consider cases privately and 897 quite informally. There will be no legal representation at the inquiry, although a person whose case has been referred to an adviser will be able to obtain legal advice or assistance when preparing written representations to be considered by the adviser. Hon. Members will note, therefore, that the formal court setting of the commissioners' hearing is being replaced by a much less formal arrangement which I believe is more suited to the advisers' function.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I accept much of what the Secretary of State says about the reasons for having the scheme involving an adviser. However, will he go further on the specific terms of reference of the adviser, bearing in mind the difficulties that have arisen under the legislation dealing with the prevention of terrorism and the confusion which surrounds the adviser's rôle under that legislation?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall look at the matter, which raises an interesting point.
Another important feature of the new procedure is the introduction of time limits. I am conscious that I am setting the scene for the Committee stage of the Bill, and to skimp these matters would be bad for the House, and I am sure hon. Members will not expect me to skimp them. When I was on the back benches I always thought that Cabinet Ministers spoke for too long, and that is in my mind at the moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. Carry on."]
The Gardiner Committee recommended that, because delay has been a serious defect in the present procedures, there should be mandatory limits of seven days for the service of the statement of allegation, 21 days for the submission of the report to the Secretary of State, and seven days for the Secretary of State's decision. I have looked at this matter most carefully. Many practical difficulties are likely to arise, however, not only in relation to the preparation of a statement of allegation but also as regards the adviser's proceedings. In order to make the' system easier to administer and also to safeguard the rights of the person detained, a simpler arrangement is being introduced.
The case of a person detained under an interim custody order must be referred to an adviser by the Secretary of State 898 within 14 days. This reduces by hall the present period of 28 days. A person detained will continue to be served with a statement in writing as to the nature of the terrorist activities of which he is suspected.
A second overall limit of seven weeks is imposed by paragraph 8. If a detention order is not made by the Secretary of State within seven weeks of the date of the interim custody order, the person must be released. Provision is made, however, in paragraph 8 for three extensions of one week each should exceptional circumstances arise to prevent an adviser from completing his report on time. Thus, to take a simple case, an adviser may fall ill just before completing his report and, clearly, some contingency measure is necessary to deal with this. By introducing an overall limit, the delays of the present system will disappear. The delays under the current system are not defensible.
On the subject of release, the Secretary of State may release a detainee at any time. He may also refer a case to an adviser for an opinion as to whether the person's continued detention is necessary for the protection of the public. In addition, a detainee will be able to request the Secretary of State to refer his case to an adviser after one year has elapsed since the making of the order or six months from the notification that a previous request had not resulted in his release.
I would also refer to the committee's concern about the availability of prison accommodation. I am glad to report that the prison building programme announced last November is going well. The public inquiry into the siting of the new prison at Maghaberry, which will be known as Moy Park, has now finished and the inspector's report is awaited. In the meantime, work proceeds at the Maze with the construction of new cell block accommodation and it is hoped that 200 individual cells will be ready by November and a further 300 by October of next year. Other schemes now in progress at various sites will provide new accommodation for 40 women prisoners at Armagh by January 1976, as well as 50 borstal trainees by December 1976 and 300 young offenders by mid-1977. Work was completed on the new kitchen at the Maze last March, and the alterations to 899 the hospital should be finished by March 1976.
One of the matters with which many people in Northern Ireland are concerned right across the board is the age—which is quite remarkable—of those involved in violence. I told the House some time ago that I had set up the Committee on Young Offenders, under Lord Donaldson, the Under-Secretary of State, and it is considering the use of accommodation for young offenders, together with the related questions of training and the procedures for their release.
It is has not yet been decided whether the new cellular blocks soon to be ready at the Maze should be used for young offenders, but, clearly, this is a possibility. It is one that commends itself to me, because it would enable the young offender to be away from the influence of older people. However, there are difficulties about providing separate accommodation for detainees. Hard-core terrorists require high security, and the Gardiner Committee's suggestion that army camps or barracks should be used for this purpose cannot be readily implemented because of the lack of suitable sites.
I have given a great deal of consideration to the Gardiner Committee's suggestions as to means of helping detainees in their return to ordinary life. A person is released as soon as it is considered that his detention is no longer necessary for the protection of the public. Once that decision is taken, any period spent at a pre-release centre would mean delaying his return home. A stay in the centre would without doubt, therefore, be unacceptable.
In the course of this morning five people will be released from the Maze. By the very nature of detention, they did not know of this beforehand. They are not prisoners who know that they have a month or six weeks or two months to serve before release. All I can say, bluntly, in the face of the Gardiner recommendations, is this. When I decided on the names of these five people two or three days ago, if they had then been told that I had decided to release them but that they had to stay for another four or five weeks in a pre-release centre, the plain fact is that this would not have been acceptable.
900 It is not easy to meet the committee's proposal that a form of special assistance should be provided for detainees on the lines of a family fund. This would mean, in effect, a scheme financed out of public funds which excluded other members of the community who have suffered from the effects of violence.
§ Mr. Stallard
Concerning the prerelease centre, my right hon. Friend is saying that he cannot tell these lads that they are about to be released because they would not accept the pre-release conditions. If it is still his intention to end detention altogether, why is it not possible to put the remaining detainees into a pre-release centre now?
§ Mr. Rees
There is a short answer to that: it would not be acceptable. I say that bluntly. I am coming in a moment to a scheme for dealing with people after release which I understand is acceptable.
The Gardiner Committee also recommended that detainees should be credited with full insurance contributions during their period of detention. Detainees already have Class II or Class III contributions paid for them by the Northern Ireland Office. This preserves their longterm pension rights and places them in a more favourable position than convicted prisoners or ordinary remand prisoners released without penalty, all of whom, if they wish to preserve their pension rights, have to pay the contributions from their own pockets.
I have considered the Gardiner recommendation sympathetically but do not feel able to accept it. The general principle is that credit of Class I contributions is not given to those not available for work, such as students, remand prisoners, and those unable to be employed because they are caring for elderly parents. Detainees clearly fall in this wider category, and I would not be justified in treating them more favourably. Moreover, released detainees are not at any practical disadvantage through the absence of Class I contributions for the period of detention. If after release they are unemployed or sick, they may not be eligible for unemployment or sickness pay, but will receive supplementary benefits, which in practice may mean more in actual money.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Is it not anomalous that so many persons in Northern Ireland who do not recognise the courts of the State are quite eager to recognise its social benefits?
§ Mr. Rees
That is a fact of life, but if in highlighting it the hon. Gentleman is pointing out something which marks Northern Ireland as different, for a variety of historical reasons, from other parts of the United Kingdom and may indeed be the basis of some of our political problems over recent years, there is no way of dealing with that, but, of course, it is possible to express it in the way that the hon. Gentleman has expressed it.
However, positive measures are already being taken which have a bearing on the matters of special concern to the Committee. They relate to the needs of both detainees and convicted prisoners, and they are based on the principle that all persons released from prison should as ordinary citizens be able to take full advantage of services available generally within the community.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Will my right hon. Friend agree that there is a vast difference between a convicted person and someone who has been interned or detained without trial? When a person has been convicted in the eyes of the law and sentenced to a specific term of imprisonment, he cannot in all justice expect any preferential treatment from any Government source, but the person who has been detained, against whom the Government can prove no offence, should have his rights protected, and it is not being extra generous to take some steps to make certain that the social benefits are maintained.
§ Mr. Rees
All I would suggest is that in Committee we can look at the benefits obtained from Classes I and II which I have already mentioned.
I propose, therefore, to use the prison welfare service, which has been expanded and is extending the range of help and advice available to prisoners during the period leading up to release. The prison welfare officers are recognised and accepted by both detainees and special category prisoners, and one of their jobs is to make sure that they are well informed on the various statutory and voluntary services available on release. 902 They maintain close links with the voluntary welfare organisations which have particular associations with the different groups of detainees and special category prisoners. They are also in touch with individuals, community groups and other bodies with an interest in this work.
I regard co-operation and trust as vital, and here I should mention the difficulties encountered by the Resettlement Association, which formed itself into a voluntary body last year to help both detainees and convicted prisoners to return to society. The association was unable to obtain the necessary support to discharge the rôle which it had defined for itself. I understand that because of this the association has decided to wind up its affairs.
It is during the weeks immediately following release that men stand in greatest need of advice and support. Following discussions with the various welfare organisations and with prisoners and detainees themselves, an office is to be set up shortly in Belfast which will serve both as an advice bureau for men who encounter difficulties after release and as a centre for co-ordinating the work of voluntary organisations. It will be manned partly by the prison welfare service and will provide the continuity of help and advice necessary to smooth the transition from prison conditions to ordinary life.
Lord Gardiner's Committee set out in some detail the regrettable consequences which followed the granting by administrative means of special category status to certain groups of convicted prisoners. It was an administrative decision taken under the previous administration. The Government acknowledge these consequences. They must also acknowledge that the decision to introduce special category status was taken in circumstances of very great difficulty, and few of us at the time the decision was taken would have been prepared to assert that it was wrong.
In any case the consequences described by Lord Gardiner's Report flow not only from the introduction of special category status but also from the great increase in the prison population and the need to keep prisoners in overcrowded and understaffed temporary prisons. If we abolished special category status tomorrow the effect on the real situation in prison would be minimal. The prisoners would still be 903 in the compounds. I would not announce a procedure which cannot be carried out. In any event, this is in the nature of Northern Ireland, and the views expressed on both sides of the community, by the Loyalist prisoners as well as by Republican prisoners, suggest that they would continue to regard themselves as special and distinct from other prisoners. That is the other side of the coin on the point which the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) made.
The real answer must lie in a combination of measures, legal and practical, to improve the whole situation in the penal system. These measures must be accompanied by a change in community attitudes and a recognition that the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders, like the prevention of crime, is the responsibility of the whole community and not just of the Government.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how a person gets political status? As he knows, we, as Members from Northern Ireland, whether or not we agree with the system, have representations made to us about ways in which a person gets political status.
§ Mr. Rees
Special category status, which is administrative, is, as I myself found in the prisons concerned, dependent on whether the people concerned are acceptable to the leaders of the compound. That is the basis of the decision. It is a measure of the lack of control which is implicit in the system, and it cannot be ended by an amendment to a Bill or by a speech in this Hosue. It is a fact of life.
§ Mr. Powell
Would it be right, then, reading what the right hon. Gentleman has said in the context of his statements about the development of prison accommodation, to deduce that Her Majesty's Government accept the intention to phase out political status of prisoners in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
When we have better accommodation, bearing in mind all the difficulties, including the decision whether to put young persons later on this year in cellular accommodation, I hope that there will be more room. That is more precise than my saying that I want to phase it out. What I can do is determined by 904 the facilities that I have in prisons in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Can the right hon. Gentleman at least say that no further granting of political status will be given?
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the submission which my party made to the Gardiner Committee; namely, that the practice had no basis in common or statute law or in any of the temporary provisions measures? Therefore, should we not start from the basis that there is no justification for it, that it is a matter of expediency, and that we should try to abolish the practice as soon as possible?
§ Mr. Rees
I can only repeat that I am conditioned by two factors: the lack of facilities, and the plain fact that in the situation in Northern Ireland, amongst the Republican special categories and amongst the Loyalist special categories—I would not like to say who feels more strongly about the nature of the status involved—whatever I wanted to do about it in terms of building and staff, I should be unable to do it. It is no good my saying what I want to do. If I said that it had to be done, I should have to put in large numbers of soldiers and increase the number of prison officers, and we would be in a position of non-implementation and bloodshed. That is the situation that I face.
The practical measures that we propose are directed largely at improving prison conditions. I have already talked about the building programme. Education and welfare staff are being increased, and it is proposed to introduce vocational training even in temporary prisons in the near future. Legal measures under consideration include new alternatives to imprisonment, including community service orders and deferred sentences, as well as revised release procedures. It is important that at some time we put our minds to this in the context of United Kingdom developments over the years.
The Bill before the House it to enable effective actions to be taken against 905 terrorism and terrorists: it is our duty to protect the public in this way. The extent to which the provisions are exercised and the time for which they remain in force depend entirely on those who are tempted to engage in violence.
Since Lord Gardiner and his committee considered the problems of terrorism and violence in Northern Ireland there has been a significant change in the nature of violence. Although any reduction in violence must be welcomed, the horror of terrorism remains. What possible motive could there have been behind the blowing up of a car which was usually used to take children to school, which savagely ended the life of an innocent 4year-old girl? What great cause were young men fighting for when they sprayed the harmless pedestrians and shoppers in a Belfast street? I find political connotation in this difficult to understand, even in an Irish context.
I am glad to be able to report that there seems to be a wave of revulsion in Northern Ireland against these senseless crimes and, through information and outstanding dedication by the security forces, particularly the RUC, 59 persons have been charged with murder so far this year, 60 with attempted murder, and 458 with other serious offences. What is more, 174 travelling gunmen have been apprehended. With permission, perhaps I may pick up one point which I have been considering since the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) raised it in the early hours of this morning concerning the nature of the ceasefire. It is not unrelated to all that we are discussing.
On the basis of setting the ground for the discussions that we have been having in recent weeks, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the continuing talks with Provisional Sinn Fein and the relationship of them to the Government incident centres. Overnight I got in touch with my people to get some more information about the incident centres which I thought would be of value to the House.
Let me take the first point first. I believe that it is of fundamental importance to put over to all shades of opinion in Northern Ireland the policies which the Government are pursuing in an effort to bring about the de-escalation of violence which permeates both communities. 906 I and other Ministers take every opportunity to expound the Government's policy publicly. Against the background of bitterness and violence, this message does not always reach the ears of those who most need to listen. This is why my officials speak to representatives of organisations such as Provisional Sinn Fein, I made clear in the House on the 14th January the need for this, and I make no apology for the continuation of such talks. This is a continuing process. Events in Northern Ireland do not stand still. We cannot say to people in Northern Ireland any more than anywhere else "We have told you what our policy is, and there is nothing more to be said."
I turn now to the role of the incident centres. I explained to the House on 11th February the nature of the incident centre arrangements. These arangements have worked very well, and they continue to work well. The security forces during the cease-fire have shown great skill in helping to bring down the temperature in the Province. But the fact of the matter is that there are many people in the Province who, for historical reasons, are likely to put the wrong construction on the security forces' actions. The incident centres provide a means by which we can tell such people the right construction, in our view, to put on those actions and so prevent trivial incidents being blown up into major confrontations. Some of the issues raised with us on the incident centre network are not settled as easily as that. The talks to which I have referred give an opportunity for exposition in greater detail of what we are doing and why. For example, the are doing and why.
The incident centre network serves an equally useful purpose to us in finding out who is doing what though the Provisional IRA has admitted some acts of violence during the cease-fire. We have been able to use the incident centre network to probe responsibility for a large number of other violent acts. I choose my words carefully here. For example, the murder of Police Constable Davis in the Glenshane Pass seems probably to have been committed by another Republican group, not by the Provisional IRA, as was freely said in Northern Ireland. It is important that we should get that clear, because it is easy to bandy names 907 around in the context of Northern Ireland. On 15th May, in answer to a Question from the right hon. Member for Down, South, who quite properly raised the matter again last night, I said:I rest completely on what I have said to the House."—[Official Report, 15th May 1975; Vol. 892, c. 631.]My objective is a permanent end to violence and these are some of the means that we are using to get them.
Finally, the RUC is responding to this new situation. Hon. Members will be aware of the further measures that were announced by the Chief Constable yesterday. The police are the key to the security situation. They must have support. I ask that all those people who express views about the police should support them.
Successive Governments have demonstrated that they will not be blackmailed by violence. Equally, they have responded to moderation. As soon as peace prevails we shall strike these provisions from the statute book, but for the present they are essential.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I do not think that the Secretary of State has any need to apologise for dealing with this very important Bill at great length. The Opposition welcome its provisions and congratulate the Secretary of State on his exposition of it. We were glad to hear it in detail, because we may be able to consider the matter in Committee, besides raising points today.
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the provisions at length, and with such lucidity, enables me to speak for a relatively short time in stating our view of the Bill which, of course, follows the recommendations of the Gardiner Report. We should have liked to have a full debate on the Gardiner Report before the Bill was introduced, as the Secretary of State knows. We regret that was not possible.
There was some reference to the Northern Ireland Committee last night. It is not for the Opposition to take the initiative in getting it going, but perhaps the Secretary of State could have talks in the proper place about that, because it would be of value.
The Bill comes at a time when, as the right hon. Gentleman said quite realisti- 908 cally, there is no ground for optimism about violence in Northern Ireland. There is still considerable political uncertainty about the future. However, we all hope that the Northern Ireland Convention will produce recommendations which will lead to some stability for the future and good results for peace.
The Secretary of State said that gangsterism is not a great cause. In the past some of us have taken part in open and honourable warfare—a very telling phrase which was used last night by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). We are talking about gangsterism not "open and honourable warfare". This should be impressed on those people who perhaps do not understand what is happening in Northern Ireland at present.
We should remain prepared for every eventuality in Northern Ireland. These amendments, combined with the order extending the Emergency Provisions Act for a further six months—as the right (hon. Gentleman said he had recommended when in opposition—which was agreed to in the House last night. are therefore very timely.
The Bill is important to the security forces, whom many of us have had the opportunity of visiting recently, and to the RUC.
I join with the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating certain politicians on their political and physical courage. On these occasions there is no substitute for personal leadership and physical courage. They have shown it in very good measure, and I hope that they will be rewarded by seeing stability and peace in Northern Ireland.
Since 12th February this year there have been claims to the operation of a cease-fire, but with the assertion by the Provisional IRA and ethers of the right to retaliate and indulge in sectarian attacks. We have seen these claims effected in the brutal killings in various parts of the Province, and I include the killing of Constable Gray in Londonderry and at least one bombing in County Armagh, both of which have been admitted by IRA spokesmen. However, the Secretary of State was quite right when he said that, by and large, there has been a general drop in the activities directly attributable to the Provisionals and in the number of random bombing attacks on the 909 security forces. None the less, one cannot say that there is not a considerable number of violent deaths and a position that needs constant security attention.
I congratulate the Army and the police on their successes, especially in dealing with the travelling gunmen, who are a particular menace in Northern Ireland at present. It is frequently said that effective policing is the real solution to Northern Ireland. I welcome the Secretary of State's reiteration last night of his answer to me on 16th June when I asked him a question that I phrased very carefully, namely, have the Government decided that the Armyshall continue in support of the civil power until normal policing … throughout the Province is possible?"—[Official Report, 16th June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 958.]The Secretary of State replied:Yes, Sir".The Secretary of State reiterated that answer last night. It is good that he did so, in view of some of the excitable remarks that have been made in the last few weeks about the position of the armed forces in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I should like to repeat what I said in the House the other day in reply to a Private Notice Question by the right hon. Member for Down, South, because I was sincere when I said that was the policy. When the number of soldiers is reduced in Northern Ireland from time to time in a changing situation, there is always the difficulty that people will say "The Government are pulling out". Therefore, the words that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) used —"normal policing"—are the key words. People must not—I am not referring to hon. Members—jump to the conclusion that a reduction in the number of soldiers is an indication of the Government's pulling out. It is an assessment of the needs of the security forces in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Neave
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that. If, for various administrative or other policy reasons, there are further reductions, from time to time, in the Army in Northern Ireland, would it not be a good idea for the Secretary of State to repeat those words whenever that situation arises? Otherwise, directly it occurs there will be alarms about withdrawal. If he used 910 those words in future—they are not ambiguous—it would be a good thing. I thank the Secretary of State for what he said.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's recent announcement that new measures have been taken by the police to deal with sectarian assassins, and his announcement last night about the reinforcement of the police and the detective services will be welcomed by all hon. Members. Sectarian violence, whatever its source, must be stamped out. I also welcome the recent agreement among members of the Convention on that point.
None the less, we have to face the need to deal with any resurgence of violence by the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary forces in the Province. The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly stressed that he is seeking a permanent end to violence and that the evidence of that must include an end to the movement and stockpiling of arms, explosives and ammunition. We should be deluding ourselves and the people of this country if we were to pretend that there is yet convincing evidence of a plan for a permanent end to the Provisional campaign. Therefore, we welcome the strengthening of the provisions in the Bill concerning the security forces. We must hope that a temporary cessation will gather momentum and make permanence more likely. We all know that there is a massive desire for peace by all sides in Northern Ireland, but that, in itself, unfortunately, cannot prevent the operation of a small and ruthless terrorist organisation.
It was rightly said last night that one of the great dangers is that if the Convention were to move towards agreement and stability, such a compromise and expression of good will is exactly what some of these people do not want. This is why we have to prepare defences against it. It is for these reasons that Conservative Members—politely, I hope —have constantly pressed the Secretary of State, in his response to the cease-fire, about the release of potentially dangerous people. We have been particularly worried about this, as the right hon. Gentleman is well aware from private discussions with myself and others. Caution is required, especially in regard to what are called "hard-core terrorists".
911 I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind the risk involved if potentially dangerous and, above all, trained terrorists are released on the streets of Ulster at a time when there could be a conflict between rival groups. We shall continue to press him on that point. An extremely cautious approach is required. I need not labour that point any further. I have raised it frequently at Question Time.
The Secretary of State has explained to the House that the Bill implements many of the proposals of the Gardiner Report in relation to trial procedures, offences, powers of the security forces and detentions. However, it omits some of the important recommendations in the report, especially in relation to prisoners. If I may, I shall refer to them, and some of my hon. Friends will do the same.
Later in the debate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) will have some contribution to make, no doubt, on the legal points. I do not wish to make detailed comments on this aspect because the Secretary of State has already done so, and this will enable us to raise such matters as we wish in Committee.
Several of the amendments in the Bill are of a technical nature, and designed simply to improve the authority of the courts—a very important provision. Therefore, I shall deal with the judiciary in Ulster. I want to pay a special tribute to its courage and determination throughout these difficult times. The members of the judiciary have been subjected to the most extreme pressure, as the Secretary of State has said, and I should like to refer, as he did, to the murders of Mr. McBurney, Judge Conaghan and others. These showed starkly what is involved in facing the realities there. Their homes have been bombed, they have been shot at, they have received letter bombs and they have been threatened. Yet they still continue to do their duty. They set an example to us here. We should realise what they are suffering They have come through these dangers with great honour, and I hope that the House will pay tribute to them for the invaluable work that they are doing.
I do not wish to speak for very long, because many hon. Members have a great 912 interest in this subject and wish to take part in the debate.
The Bill appears to go beyond the Gardiner Report in one important respect, which I welcome. Clause 13 extends the offence of spying and collecting information about members of the security forces, which the Secretary of State mentioned in his opening remarks, to persons holding judicial office, prison officers, and others. The position of prison officers is of great importance. The right hon. Gentleman paid a moving tribute to those whose families are at risk. Clause 13 is an important recognition of the dangers which these servants of the Crown face in carrying out their difficult and dangerous duties. I am sure that it is the wish of the House that the operation of Clause 13 will afford them that extra protection.
For many people, especially lawyers, the major innovation and interest in the Bill relates to the new procedures for detention and release from detention. There is no doubt, as the Secretary of State re-affirmed on the orders that were discussed last night and this morning, that detention is necessary and that although we all wish for stability and peace, we have to face the facts. He may agree that in some ways these new arrangements will be similar to those operated after August 1971, when internment was first introduced. However, that is by the way.
The object of introducing a quasi-judicial element into the hearings was to create confidence that those detained were being held for good reason. However, we accept, in the face of experience and as the Gardiner Report points out, that to involve legal representatives in this quasi-judicial process has created more problems than it has solved. We support the change to a simpler form of detention as the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State, subject to an adviser.
The Secretary of State explained the position about the adviser, and no doubt other hon. Members will wish to raise the matter. However, I was satisfied with what he said. This is dealt with in Schedule 1, paragraph 8. Detention is now an administrative act carried out by a Government in an emergency situation, and it is probably best that this 913 should be clearly accepted. In these circumstances detention is a legitimate weapon in the hands of a democratic Government for use against organised terrorism, as the Government clearly recognise at present.
Naturally, those hon. Members who have been trained in the law and, indeed, all other hon. Members, will wish to see a return to trial by jury as soon as possible and a return to the most liberal and civilised methods. However, that can be brought about only by the permanent end to terrorism, for which we all wish, and to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.
I welcome Clauses 10 and 11, which confer on the security forces the power to stop and question and to search for radio transmitters. I do not have much to say about those clauses.
There was some interesting discussion about social security and pension rights. I should like to reiterate one point on this subject, and refer to Schedule 1, Part I, paragraph 15. This paragraph allows the payment of money to detainees at the discretion of the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman has already announced that an advice bureau, which we welcome, will be set up for people after their release. Will these payments be for the rehabilitation purposes referred to in the Gardiner Report? Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the present arrangements for rehabilitation? He has set up the advice bureau, but what is the purpose of those payments? I am sure that all hon. Members agree with the intention, if such it be, that, as far as possible, people should be fitted to go back into a normal life.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees indicated assent.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In Committee hon. Members will see that this is the situation. However, if a person has no money he may go to the only source he knows when he is released, which puts him back in the treadmill that he was in before.
§ Mr. Neave
I presume that the purpose of paying the money is as the Secretary of State says. That is probably the answer to my question, but hon. Members may wish to raise the matter in Committee. I thought that it was worth mentioning at this stage.
We should welcome the creation of the new offences of recruiting and training for terrorist organisations. The Secretary of State will have noted the point about "inviting" people to join. There are some legal points here which no doubt my hon. Friends will raise.
We also welcome the banning of the wearing of hoods, masks and other disguises in public. It is a sad fact that many young people allow themselves to be drawn into violent activities by dangerous men who manipulate them and send them out on missions. Many young people on the fringe of terrorist organisations are caught and taken before the courts, but the people who are responsible for organising and planning what they do are much more difficult to catch. I hope that the Bill will help to improve this situation.
The Secretary of State said he had rejected the idea proposed in Paragraph 70 of the Gardiner Report that there should be a "catch-all" offence of terrorism. The Gardiner Committee wanted to create a simpler statutory offence to be included in Schedule 4 of the 1973 Act to catch those people responsible for attracting, organising, training or recruiting others to commit acts of terrorism. We shall want to consider whether Clauses 15 and 16 cover that point. A simple catch-all offence creates difficulties, but we may want to strengthen those clauses for the same purposes as the Gardiner Committee had in mind. Perhaps the Attorney-General will deal with this matter when winding up.
It is difficult for people in this country to understand the extent to which ordinary citizens in Northern Ireland can be intimidated by the sight of men wearing para-military uniforms or disguises outside their front doors. It is an easy way of intimidating people, and it is not "open and honourable warfare". It is possible to intimidate by putting on a uniform and standing outside the place of business of a person who may have been refusing to co-operate with a violent organisation. Nothing needs to be said 915 or written, but the victim clearly understands the threat. I think that the clauses will help the security forces to deal with this problem. There may be discussions in Committee about the banning of invitations to join organisations.
We regard the Bill as essential for the continued prosecution of the campaign against violence in Ulster. It is easy for hon. Members on both sides of the House who sit for peaceful constituencies in Great Britain to criticise such legislation in sometimes high-sounding, rather theoretical language, without understanding the real dangers and practical difficulties encountered by ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland—it is moving to meet these people—in the face of terror.
The first duty of a democratic Government is to protect the lives of their citizens and allow them to go about their legitimate business in peace. Democracies which failed to do so in the past brought about their own downfall. Some of us were in Germany before the Second World War and saw Nazis on the streets. Some people, like me, were in Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power and saw the Nazis in action. Those who have seen that will realise the importance of this legislation.
As Lord Gardiner said in his report, the terrorist can offer the people of Northern Ireland nothing they cannot now achieve by democratic means. This House in its turn will not offer terrorists anything inconsistent with democratically expressed wishes. I end with a quotation from that excellent report:The rule of law … must be maintained in Northern Ireland not only for the sake of its people, but for the sake of all those in the United Kingdom and beyond who want freedom and peace instead of anarchy".For all those reasons, I hope that the House will approve the general intention of the Bill, subject to any points that we may wish to raise in Committee.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
As one of the hon. Members from that part of the United Kingdom which has endured the misery of terrorism, I am more than interested in any proposal that seeks to strengthen the law to deal with it. My colleagues and I generally welcome this Bill. Our only criticism is that more 916 could have been done. We hope there will be other occasions on which this will be the case.
We are all bitterly disappointed that we have to consider this legislation without having first had the opportunity to discuss the Gardiner Report in its widest context. There was some inconsistency in what the Secretary of State said last night. He suggested that the report might have been considered in the Northern Ireland Grand Comimttee, and later said that it would be improper for security to be considered in the Committee.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
What I had in mind was the sort of exposition I gave today about the terms on which an hour and a half's debate would have enabled all of us to consider the practicalities from a legalistic point of view, and that would have saved time this morning.
§ Mr. Craig
I think that is a valid point. It did not strike me that way last night. It does not change my view, however, that all of us would have benefited from a wide-ranging debate before legislation, not with a view to making life difficult for the Government, because I believe we could have assisted the Government.
The Secretary of State put the situation in Northern Ireland in the most favourable way when he said it was not optimistic. I share that view, and would, perhaps, put it rather stronger. I am somewhat pessimistic.
We must learn from the past and strengthen the law to deal with the problems of the future. I have gone quite a long way with the Government's handling of the situation that has arisen from the cease-fire and I know what the Government are hoping to gain from it. I hope they appreciate the fears many of us have about the sort of cul-de-sac situation in which the Government may find themselves.
The cease-fire—I am not decrying it in any way—has meant, in terms of positive action only that murdering and bombing have been stopped by one organisation; it has not meant that it has changed its attitude to the use of violence for political ends. People who have been released from detention as a result of the cessation of violence have given no undertaking 917 or assurance that they will not start again. Is there any undertaking that they are not going back into the organisation which got them into detention in the first place? In many quarters in Northern Ireland it is widely believed that released detainees are going back into their organisations, and one continually hears reports of a sizeable buildup in the Provisional IRA. That causes us concern.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The right hon. Gentleman has quite properly raised this matter. It is something that I consider with my security advisers. The right hon. Gentleman talks about "widely believed" reports, but is there any evidence for them? I have my own sources of evidence. Many people talk in the way the right hon. Gentleman suggested, but what evidence underlies their claims? If there is any evidence, it should be put to my security advisers for them to add to what they already know about what is going on.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that the one IRA unit which has never acknowledged the cease-fire is based at Forkhill, in my constituency, and was commanded by Francis Jordan, the terrorist who was shot two weeks ago. He was interned in 1973 and released in May 1974. I do not criticise the Secretary of State on that score. He has to make such decisions. But this is evidence of what my right hon. Friend was suggesting.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I am advised that some of the more senior people who are released act as a brake on the sort of indiscriminate terrorism we have seen in the past 18 months. It sometimes works the other way with the older man. People cannot be locked up for ever.
But I am grateful for the point made the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), and I note that he will speak to me privately. I shall pass on his information to the security forces.
§ Mr. Craig
I shall be surprised if they have not already got it. I do not want to labour the point further, except to say 918 that one cannot proceed on the basis that the IRA has renounced violence, or that the IRA organisation is so weak that it can be ignored. It would be exceptionally foolish to do that.
In addition, we have the present campaign of violence going outside the so-called cessation of violence. Whether or not it is right to describe it as sectarian violence, it is a frightening situation. There are some terribly callous murders being carried out—murders which do not seem to serve any cause or useful purpose. Men have sunk to the level of beasts. Although it may be true that some murders are sectarian, there is a growing suspicion that much so-called sectarian killing is not as random as it appears. The Secretary of State is in a better position than any of us to judge, but it would seem that in some instances the murders are committed for specific purposes, whether it is a question of organisations fighting each other, or of punishment. I am concerned about the situation in which organisations are seen to be fighting each other. If that situation were allowed to escalate it could very well lead to what is feared most—an extensive civil war.
The Secretary of State said last night that people were inventing names to describe the activities of different groups, to suit the occasion. No doubt he is right in that, but all of us in Northern Ireland would like to be assured that if there is any evidence of the establishment of such ruthless groups as the Protestant Action Force the full weight of the law will be used against them and that the powers to proscribe will be used. The community must be assured that new organisations will not be allowed to establish themselves, and that they will be made to feel the full weight of the law.
Whether the Bill strengthens the law significantly is a matter on which I should like to dwell. Its main impact is to change the law on detention. My colleagues and I welcome that. We think that the Bill's proposals constitute the only effective way to use the exceptional powers of detention without trial. The Secretary of State is right when he says that the whole legal profession agrees that the previous procedure was bringing the judiciary and the law into contempt. I shall deal with the detention proposals in greater detail later.
919 I do not want to anticipate the Committee stage, but sometimes one can be helpful by indicating in advance some of the problems that may arise. In Clause 2 there is a departure from the Gardiner recommendations. Gardiner recommended that silence be construed as consent to a preliminary inquiry, but the Government, in their wisdom, seem to have gone much further, removing the accused's right to have a preliminary investigation. I think that I would have preferred Gardiner's approach. I know that it was a right that was rarely exercised, but the fact that it was not extensively used does not mean that it was not valuable. The matter should be reconsidered.
The same can be said about Clause '3, which deals with the capacity of a court to try scheduled and non-scheduled offences together. The clause drops the safeguard of requiring the accused's consent to that procedure. The accused should have a say in the matter, and I ask the Secretary of State to have another look at the question.
Clause 4 goes a long way with Gardiner, but for some reason has not given the county court judge the right to grant bail during a trial. There can be occasions on which it would be useful and proper that the county court judge should be able to grant bail in the event of the trial's being adjourned. Nor does the clause give any power to grant bail on compassionate grounds. Hon. Members who receive representations from their constituents know how often compassionate circumstances require these matters to be considered. I believe that there would be no great risk to the safety of people in custody if there were more generous provision for bail, particularly in those two instances.
Can the Secretary of State say why, under Clause 6, the Recorder's Court is no longer to have jurisdiction in Diplock cases? I believe that it is correct to say that the City Commission is not under as much pressure as it used to be. Nevertheless, there is a feeling in Northern Ireland that cases are not heard as expeditiously as they should be, and I do not think that this is an appropriate time to be reducing the number of courts competent to deal with the Diplock cases.
At this stage there is not much that I can say about Clause 7. The next 920 clause on which I should like to anticipate the Committee stage is Clause 12, which to me is somewhat curious. I shall deal with that clause and Clause 15 together, because I believe that they are an attempt to implement the recommendation in paragraph 7 of the Gardiner Report. I very much doubt whether Clause 12 does. If it does, it does not do it very satisfactorily, because it adds to the section dealing with membership of a proscribed organisation in the existing legislation the offence of recruiting and acting under directions of a proscribed organisation. Gardiner rightly regarded that as a most serious offence.
I believe that the clause suggested in the report was admirable. It must be remembered that we all, including Gardiner, have in mind the way in which older men in the background are manipulating youngsters. I say "youngsters" rather than just teenagers advisedly. It is a most heinous crime, the way young fellows are being manipulated. Those who are guilty of it should be severely punished when they are caught. As the Bill stands, they will be subject to a maximum penalty of only five years, whereas Gardiner recommended that for an offence of that nature there should be a maximum penalty of 15 years. All those concerned with law and order in Northern Ireland, right across the spectrum, abhor the offence, and would like to see tougher action on it.
There are a number of minor points on the other clauses that I should like to deal with in Committee.
I come briefly to what I regard as the main change in the Bill, which concerns the detention of terrorists. As I go through Schedule 1 I find a number of points that I do not yet feel quite happy about, although the Secretary of State has helped me somewhat with his most useful introduction this morning, for which I thank him very much.
I was particularly concerned that we are to have only a single adviser, as opposed to the advisory board envisaged by Gardiner. I can see the objection that the Secretary of State makes to such a board when we think of constituting it from judges alone, but is there the same objection if the board is constituted from lawyers of considerable standing?
921 In Northern Ireland we have lost the right to trial by jury and a lot of important decisions are taken by one man. Whenever we can we should try to benefit from a multiplicity of minds. I favour the idea of an advisory board of two or three members rather than a single adviser. It also struck me that the hurdle for the interim custody order seems to be somewhat lower than Gardiner envisaged. Gardiner said:Where the Secretary of State suspectswhereas the Bill says:Where it appears … that there are grounds for suspectingTo many people there will not be a great distinction, but as a lawyer I can see a considerable difference. I would like to know whether I am right to draw that conclusion and whether the Secretary of State has any reason for lowering the hurdle.
The same sort of problem arises when I look at the Gardiner statement about the reasons for detention. Gardiner advised that the reasons for detention were to be served on the suspect within seven days from an interim custody order. The Bill merely says "As soon as possible." This is another instance of an area in which Northern Ireland Members have practical experience. We all know of the great anxiety that is caused in families as a result of delay in serving the reasons for detention. Under the old system the delay at times was great. It would be reassuring for everyone if there were a fixed period, such as seven days or, perhaps, a little longer in which time reasons had to be served.
I notice that the criteria for the advisers' recommendations are much looser than those suggested by Gardiner. It is said in the Bill that the criterion should bethat the detention of that person is necessary for the protection of the publicwhereas Gardiner spoke of the release seriously endangering the general security of the public.
These are two different things. I feel that the right approach is to ask the question: would the release endanger the general security of the public? I prefer that to what is in the Bill. Gardiner also recommended that the adviser should have power to summon persons and documents. I can see no such power in the 922 Bill. If I am wrong I would like to be corrected and if I am right I would like to know whether there is any reason for this omission.
It is worth looking at the timescale suggested. The Secretary of State knows far more acutely than I the confusion that arose from the timescale under the old procedure. Gardiner had a maximum of five weeks. The Bill provides for a period of seven weeks, with a possible extension to 10. If the Secretary of State feels that he needs that sort of period I do not think any of us will quibble. We know the value of a well-defined period to the families and relatives of these people. That ought not to be longer than necessary.
Another aspect about which I am a little perturbed is the business of advice to the Secretary of State on release, particularly when we see releases taking place, as they are now, ahead of what appears to be a political agreement. I know that the Secretary of State's test is the existing level of violence. Many people will interpret his actions in another way. Gardiner suggested a release advisory committee. The Bill merely says there should be reconsideration by the advisers after one year and then at six-monthly intervals. Apart from this scheme, will the right hon. Gentleman refer to the advisers any release that he proposes to make, irrespective of the question whether it is in the scheme? In other words, if the right hon. Gentleman were releasing under an understanding arising out of the cessation of violence, would the detainee go before the advisers in every case?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
These are matters which must be studied with care. The release of persons is in the hands of the Secretary of State of the day. I have a Civil Service unit which monitors this task and provides me with information, making a list available. There were, for example, the five this morning. I cannot imagine every case going forward. On some occasions I like advice. I prefer to have someone else to look at it. To do that in every case would be wrong. This has nothing to do with any agreement. It is a continuing process. I give a lot of time, properly, to considering the list of releases. It is my judgment. Some cases are easier than others. There are instances when having someone else to 923 look at a case helps me to make up my mind.
§ Mr. Craig
I thank the Secretary of State, but I am still confused. The Bill requires the Secretary of State, after one year, to refer each detainee to an adviser. There is provision for the detainee to request referral. Does it follow that the Secretary of State must refer every proposed release to an adviser rather than to this Civil Service committee?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
What the Bill says is that if I have not released someone after a year the case goes before the adviser. That is a protection for the detainee. It is not the case that if at some time in between I decide to release someone, the case has to go before the adviser, unless I want advice.
§ Mr. Craig
I think I have it now.
The question of time is important here. It is a matter of reassuring the public rather than myself. Schedule 1(5) can give a false impression, in the same way that the 28 days under the old system gave a false impression. If they read the Bill quickly, people will think that there must be a decision within 14 days. I hope that something will be done to make it clear that it has only to be referred within 14 days and that a decision is not envisaged within that time. Paragraph 6 of the schedule gives detainees only seven days in which to prepare their objections. This is the only right the detainee has to challenge detention. He has no right to appear before an adviser. He will need more time to consult a solicitor, to check the facts alleged, and so on. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to see whether the detainee can be given more than seven days in which to prepare his case.
I hope that I have not unnecessarily anticipated the Committee stage, but there are some points that I should like to think about again before Committee. If the right hon. Gentleman can help me in the meantime, I shall be very grateful.
While we welcome the Bill, we look forward to another opportunity to review the law and the treatment of offenders under the law. A great deal is left in the air by the Bill. There have been passing references, for instances, to special 924 category prisoners. This is an important issue. I know the difficulties in dealing with it, but I ask the Secretary of State to consider parole, so that, through an imaginative parole system we shall fairly quickly be able to get rid of special category status.
I know from experience that many people in Northern Ireland are left in acute uncertainty because, rightly or wrongly, they had understood that the Gardiner Report would result in new decisions relating to special category satus in a new parole system. As the Member for Belfast, East, I tend to get many inquiries about this, and I can see the disappointment in the faces of my constituents when I say that the Government have not made up their minds about it.
§ Mr. Marlyn Rees
This morning I indicated very carefully the wider considerations, and I hope to address the House on those wider aspects, linking them with procedures in Great Britain. I had not realised that in Northern Ireland that aspect of the law is in some ways in advance of Great Britain. If the right hon. Gentleman reads my speech carefully, he will see that I dealt with that point particularly.
§ Mr. Craig
I appreciate that very much. Those of us on this bench can give our pledge to the Secretary of State and the forces of law and order that we are always ready to assist in the improvement of the law to deal with the serious problem of terrorism. We hope that before long we shall be able to report considerable progress.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Of necessity, this debate and the debates yesterday have taken on the atmosphere of a full-scale Northern Ireland security debate. This was necessary, and it will ease some of the suspicions which have been rampant in Northern Ireland over the past few weeks, particularly throughout the period of the ceasefire.
My remarks will, as expected, again be in opposition to the continuation of detention. I recognise that the Secretary of State is trying to bring detention without trial to an end, but he should move much more quickly. He said that releases have taken place this week, and 925 some even this morning. I am grateful for that, although the numbers are small.
But then the Secretary of State begins to display a lack of confidence in the political situation as he sees it. He elaborately explains the new detention procedures and describes the projects for building a number of prisons throughout Northern Ireland. I fervently hope that those procedures and those prisons will be unnecessary. I hope that political decisions will be made in the Convention which will end the present troubles.
I took offence at what the Secretary of State said about protecting the insurance rights of those detained in detention centres. I have always believed that unless a person was brought before a court and properly convicted he should be regarded as innocent of any crime. In those circumstances, it is not unduly generous to protect their insurance rights: it is only justice. Again, I distinguish between those properly convicted before a court, often before a jury, who cannot expect the same consideration as those who have been interned or detained without trial. The Government should not take great credit for protecting the rights to pension and social benefits, which are of importance not only to the person detained but to his wife and children in the years after release.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked what the criterion was for political status. I believe that my right hon. Friend said that it was whether those in charge of the compound were prepared to accept someone. I know that there are difficulties here, that some people may be claiming political status who do not have a patriotic thought in their heads, who may have no cause but the cause of being a criminal. Anyone in political life in Northern Ireland tends to quote the case which helps his point of view, but I can think of a very sad case which was condemned by all reasonable people in Northern Ireland.
This concerned a woman who was murdered by a set of other women in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. It was one of the most brutal and callous murders that have ever taken place in Northern Ireland. Throughout the trial, the paramilitary organisation of which the accused 926 women claimed to be members—the Ulster Defence Association—completely dissociated itself from them because of the horrible circumstances of the case. These were that two young girls beat this woman's brains out with a brick, taking a long time to do it, even taking time off for a smoke before the woman was eventually killed.
The UDA said that it had nothing to do with those involved; yet I understand, that as soon as the girls were convicted the Northern Ireland Office received a message saying "We are now prepared to accept those found guilty of this heinous crime into our compounds. They were, after all, acting under the orders of the UDA." Those people have been granted political status.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
This is a vital point. The crime to which the hon. Gentleman refers was an atrocious and frightening crime, of a magnitude perhaps unparalleled during these troubles. Would the Secretary of State tell us whether the UDA told him that those people were acting under its orders, as the hon. Member alleges?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
What is at issue is acceptance into the compound. That is a different matter. My hon. Friend is entitled to draw conclusions. However, it was the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) who raised the point.
§ Mr. Fitt
I do not wish to misrepresent the position. I am certain that I have read UDA statements to the effect that it was prepared to claim those who were convicted as its members. Therefore, those people were given political status.
To illustrate that case, I am aware of other people on the Republican side of the political divide who have also been guilty of horrible murders. They have also claimed political status.
I recognise that there are people on both sides of the religious and political divide in Northern Ireland who are politically motivated. Rightly or wrongly, they believe that they have a cause. To some extent, I can understand what motivates them, although I can never for one second justify their part in the campaign and their acts of violence for the achievement of their political ends.
927 There is a criminal and gangster element which is being afforded the luxury of political status in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State may say that the ending of political status cannot be contemplated at present. I hope that there will be no necessity for further political status prisoners because the campaign of violence may taper off with the deliberations of the Convention coming to a successful conclusion.
Both yesterday and today the Secretary of State drew attention to the changing pattern of violence and to the sectarian murders which have occurred. He said that it might be all too easy to blame one organisation. I asked him a question yesterday. I ask it again today. Does he accept that there is a force called the Protestant Action Group, which has claimed responsibility for a number of vile murders?
I made one point yesterday. Having checked my facts, I repeat it. The Loyalist para-military organisations, the UVF and the UDA, especially the UVF, have said in their journals published periodically in Northern Ireland that they have been responsible for murders in Northern Ireland, even though the victims were not identified with subversive activity. They said that they had information which the general public did not possess. I possess a newspaper cutting, which I can give to the Secretary of State, according to which they said that they had received the open co-operation of the Army, that the Army had given them the names of subversive persons, and that they engaged in assassinations. I do not know how true that is. However, if there is an iota of truth in it, it must give real cause for concern throughout Northern Ireland and these islands. Unless all the people of Northern Ireland respect the police, the UDR and the Army as being a legitimate peacekeeping force, acting impartially at all times and not showing bias in favour of one community or the other, we can never expect them to respect the security forces.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North asked the Secretary of State whether he would put the police in a different category from those who were liable to be affected by the emergency provisions Act—in other words, treat the police differently from those coming within the 928 ambit of these provisions. I do not think that that would be right. We are desperately trying to build up confidence and trust in a police service in Northern Ireland which will be acceptable to the whole community. If it appears that the police are treated differently from other citizens, there might be cause for suspicion. If there is one bad apple in a barrel, we all know what happens.
Policemen and members of the security forces in Northern Ireland have cast doubts on the impartiality of the security forces. The police should be subject to the laws which apply to every other citizen in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman argues that the police in Northern Ireland should be treated the same as the police anywhere else. However, the members of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are, under this provision, given a special category. Surely it is only fair that the other members of the forces of the Crown who are combating terrorism should stand on the same platform. That is the point which we argue. There is another point which I hope to develop later about the discretion of the Attorney-General to bring people to court.
§ Mr. Fitt
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that if the police are to be treated in a special way, as opposed to the status given to the other members of the security forces, the UDR or the Army, there would seem to be a lack of justice.
I draw another case to the attention of the Secretary of State. It may have been drawn to his attention before. Perhaps it could be more appropriately dealt with by the Secretary of State for Defence. I refer to a newspaper report in the News of the World of 11th May 1975, which also appeared in other newspapers, to the effect that Clifford Burrage, a former lieutenant of the Green Howards, who had seen service in Northern Ireland in 1971, wrote a letter in 1975, after he left the Army, to the parents of the young boy whom he had murdered in Belfast.
§ Mr. McCusker
The regiment to which this soldier belonged is currently serving in my constituency. The soldier concerned has a record of gallantry and 929 has set an example second to none. I doubt very much whether on the evidence which I have, the admission was made in the terms in which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is making it. I should hate to think that he would say something here today which could blacken the reputation of a person when he does not know all the facts. While he has the right to raise this matter, I think that he should consider his words very carefully.
§ Mr. Fitt
I am not influenced by the fact that the Green Howards are now serving in the constituency of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). I have already discussed that with the Ministry of Defence.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to a newspaper report in which it is clearly stated that Lieutenant Clifford Burrage wrote a letter in 1975 to a Mr. and Mrs. McLarnon in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, in my constituency of North Belfast, in which he said that he had killed their son.
§ Mr. Fitt
The letter said that Mr. and Mrs. McLarnon's son was not engaged in terrorist activities at the time, but he felt bad because the day before he had been hit over the head with a bottle, and out of revenge he shot their son. That is the effect of the words in the letter which was published.
That person has now left the Army. As far as I am aware, no action was taken against him—regardless of whether it is necessary to take action now, whether action should have been taken at the time, or whether an inquiry should have been held into the death of young Mr. McLarnon at the time.
The report of such a case in the Press gives cause for suspicion in other cases where conflicting statements have been made by the Army and those who were involved in possible activities against the Army.
The communities in Northern Ireland must make an all-out effort to support the security forces. Hon. Gentlemen will be aware of a broadcast which took place the day before yesterday in which a Methodist minister made an appeal. He was asked by the interviewer whether he thought 930 that people who were aware of terrorist activities should inform the security forces. The Methodist minister said that he would not go as far as to say that. Full support for the security forces is not limited to one community in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It would be wrong for the hon. Gentleman to indict the whole Church and the whole Protestant community. This man is theologically worlds apart from me and other people in Northern Ireland. I was flabbergasted when I heard that statement, and I should like publicly to dissociate my colleagues and myself from it. We believe that people who have information about murders or terrorist activities should get in touch with the police and support the authorities. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in making that appeal to all his constituents.
§ Mr. Fitt
I did not attempt to identify this individual minister with the whole Methodist congregation in Northern Ireland. I know of many hundreds of Methodists and other clerical spokesmen in Northern Ireland who are dedicated to bringing violence to an end. I drew the House's attention to the broadcast to show that there are people, even within the majority community, who, perhaps because of lack of courage or because they live in a dangerous area, do not dare to come out openly in support of the RUC.
From my political standpoint, support for the RUC has many difficulties, but nothing that I or my colleagues have said can be taken as lending support to anyone who engages in violence—certainly not the Provisional IRA, which regards me as a political enemy. I would not want to change my position because of fear or cowardice.
My opposition to detention is not because I give support to the IRA or to anyone who has ever had any association with men of violence. I find it a little dishonest when Unionist spokesmen now say how dangerous it would be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to end detention immediately. They say that the Secretary of State must delay ending detention because those who are released return to violence. We heard a completely different story when there were some Loyalist detainees. I should not like to think that the burning issue 931 of internment was being brought down to the level of whether the internees were Republican, Catholic, Protestant or Loyalist. It is a matter of justice whether a man should be incarcerated and taken away from his wife and children without a specific charge being brought against him.
It is dishonest for Unionists to attempt to place restrictions on the Secretary of State's acceptance of the responsibility for releasing detainees. My right hon. Friend shows courage in accepting full responsibility for any further releases from detention or internment. The procedure of the commissioners being responsible was a farce. Hon. Members representing constituencies throughout Northern Ireland expressed objections and opposition to that procedure. It is right to clear the air and identify the person who has responsibility either for ending detention or for keeping it in existence. That responsibility now lies fairly and squarely on the broad shoulders of my right hon. Friend.
The commissioners gave the procedure a veneer of respectability, but it brought the whole judicial process into disrepute. There was no legal justification for it. I accept that the Secretary of State wants to bring detention to an end, and I hope that he will do so as quickly as possible. I hope also that he will not be influenced by people who may try to restrict his efforts by saying that people who have been released have returned to violence.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) said that rumours abound in Northern Ireland to the effect that detainees who have been released have gone back to violence. I do not understand his justification for saying that. I know many people who have been released who have not gone back to violence; indeed, many have left the country. The right hon. Gentleman made those observations about rumours with the intention of restricting the Secretary of State's freedom of movement. I urge my right hon. Friend to continue in the direction he has chosen to go and, within a short time, to make certain that detention without trial in Northern Ireland is ended, never to return.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) in regretting that the House has not had an opportunity to discuss the Gardiner Report. We deplore the failure of the Secretary of State to put the report before the House and to give us a full opportunity for debating it.
It is deeply to be regretted that the Gardiner Report did not contain as an appendix the submissions made by the political parties which appeared before it. I have studied all the submissions carefully, and some important submissions which were made are not mentioned in the report. One of those submissions was made by the United Ulster Unionist Party. The House well knows that long before any Protestant was interned I opposed internment and raised my voice against it. I ran into severe opposition when I said that the commissioners' trials were bringing the law into contempt. I was rebuked by the then Conservative Attorney-General, who stated that what I said about commissioner's trials was unfounded and false and that witnesses did not appear behind screens. I am glad that the Secretary of State, with great openness, admitted that the commissioners' trials brought the law into contempt, and that they are now ended.
Right from the beginning I opposed internment, but that attitude was not shared by my hon. Friends, and those who speak today adhere to the attitude they took then. I freely admit that some people changed their minds, and that Protestants who today say that they are opposed to internment at that time denounced me vigorously for daring to say that internment was wrong. I opposed it both in principle and in practice. It was sold to the people of Northern Ireland by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Brian Faulkner, as a practical solution to the terrorist campaign. The bringing in of internment was supposed to end terrorism.
I knew that internment could not work, for two reasons. First, the announcement of internment was made in a political context. On the one hand, the apprentice boys were banned from marching in Londonderry—that was a sop to 933 one side—and, on the other, people were to be detained or interned—that was a sop to the other side. The time has come when sectional interests should not be considered in the fight against terrorism, and the law should be seen to be even-handed.
I knew that once that political decision had been made we should run into heavy trouble. I think that most hon. Members will agree that a Government can never say that they will never take powers which in normal circumstances they would not dream of taking. In certain circumstances a Government must retain the right to take certain powers. An hon. Member who advocated that the Government should say "We shall never take this particular action" would be wrong. That view would not be accepted by the House.
The sad thing is that the circumstances have changed. The fact is that the police are not operating in certain areas. I welcome the openness which the Secretary of State displayed when, in a letter to me, he set out the areas in which the police cannot operate and in which there is no normal policing. That being so, and the circumstances having greatly changed, the Secretary has a responsibility to deal with terrorism. No other course is left open to him but that which is advocated in the Bill.
To me the Bill is obnoxious. In principle I do not like it. I felt at the beginning that it would not add anything to the situation but would, rather, inflame it. However, we now find a different situation arising. I should like to see the Secretary of State dealing with the present detainees on the basis of their belonging to a proscribed organisation. After all, they claim, by going into a Provisional IRA compound, to belong to a proscribed organisation. Why cannot the law take its course and let those men be charged with belonging to that organisation? If they stand trial and they prove that they do not belong to it, the law must take its course and they must be released.
There is great feeling in Northern Ireland because on one occasion the Secretary of State says "These men are detained because they are a danger to the public", and then says, a few months later, that he is able to release them. People naturally ask "How were they 934 a danger and a threat to society only a few months ago when they are now no longer a threat?"
Is it not a fact that there has been a build-up of Provisional IRA activity in the Market area? I fear from the reports that are coming from that area that the Provisional IRA is now stronger than it has ever been before. In that context I put another question to the right hon. Gentleman. Is it not a fact that in the case of the dreadful murder of Miss Michelle Connor, who, was murdered in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford), the police are now following the line of inquiry that her father had connections with the, Provisional IRA, that he wanted to cease having those connections, and that he was threatened by the IRA that it would kill him? Is it not a fact that the police are now following that line of inquiry?
Of course, as the Secretary of State has said, it is not right for people quickly to judge a situation without getting the facts. It is easy to say that responsibility lies on one side of the fence or the other. Some time ago two prominent Loyalists. Mr. Anderson and Mr. Hall, were shot in the Shankill Road. Everyone suggested that it was an internal feud within the UDR. That was the suggestion that was brazenly put forward in all the newspapers. However, the two people who appeared before the courts were Republicans. It has been proved in a court of law that Republicans shot those two Loyalists. I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), could give us illustrations from the other point of view.
I turn now to matters concerning the police. I believe, along with the Secretary of State, that policing is all-important in Northern Ireland. I hope that very shortly the members of the SDLP, represented by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, will be able to join other members of the Convention in calling on all sections of the community to give their support to the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as they seek to do their duty in all parts of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Does the hon. Gentleman not express appreciation for what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has said in his criticism of members of the majority community who 935 did not give full support to the police? In so doing the hon. Gentleman implicitly gave his own support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Surely we should acknowledge that.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I gladly accept that, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his own clarification. We must all face the facts of life in Northern Ireland, and it is clear that the SDLP cannot find its way publicly to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary. However, I hope that in the near future, and as the Convention continues, the SDLP will be able to give its support. The hon. Member for Belfast, West already knows my attitude on that issue.
I find it hard to understand why a difference is made between the police and the members of the security forces. Under Section 5 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1973, bail cannot be given at magistrates' courts for scheduled offences. Such offences must go to the High Court. The High Court judge can grant bail. However, Section 3(5) provides that:This section applies to persons who have attained the age of 14 and are not serving members of any of Her Majesty's regular naval, military or air forces.We had a case recently in which accusations were made against a police officer and the officer was not able to secure bail. At the same time, accusations were made against a member of the British Army and he was allowed bail. The RUC man was put into custody. That does not help the RUC in its fight against terrorism. Note 2 of Schedule 4 reads:An offence under section 18, 20 or 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 shall not be a scheduled offence in any particular case in which the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland certifies that it is not to be treated as a scheduled offence.The Attorney-General has the right of discretion. However, in a case that caused great trouble in Northern Ireland, and which caused the police to cease carrying out their duties so as to establish their case, we had a policeman going to a terrorist court for trial without being granted bail. That does not help the RUC. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not present whilst I am dealing with these matters. It does not help the police to be accused by terrorists 936 of committing certain acts and to find that one of their members has to stand trial in a terrorist court. This is a point I must make with some force, and I do so as the United Ulster Unionist spokesman for the police.
I have another case that I wish to mention which is now before the courts. I do not want to comment on the case, but I ask the Attorney-General to assure the House that in future the RUC will be treated on a par with members of the British Army and of Her Majesty's other security forces. This is a very important issue. Representations have been made to me by the police in Northern Ireland, and there could be serious problems involved. The police are carrying out some great work, and are risking their lives. We know that one policeman was barbarously shot to death on the walls of Londonderry. Members of the IRA, irrespective of the protests, issued a statement glorying in the fact that they had planned the murder in cold blood, and they continue to claim the right to shoot policemen in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to help us on this matter. If he takes action, he will be doing a great service to the police in Northern Ireland.
I wish to mention special category prisoners. I welcome the openness of the Secretary of State. He is the first Secretary of State to tell the House publicly that the way to achieve political status is to become leader of a compound. That is a sad commentary on the present system in Northern Ireland. If we wish to establish law and order in the streets of Belfast we should begin by establishing authority and discipline in our prisons. I have had experience of the system because I have been a prisoner on two occasions, and I conduct a religious service in Crumlin Road Prison every week. I know what the Secretary of State is up against. I feel strongly that a date will have to be announced and that it should be made clear that beyond that date nobody will be able to attain any political standing. We must now deal with the political standing of prisoners and the whole question of special categories.
It is repugnant to the ordinary prisoners who are in prison for petty crimes that they are put under the strictest prison supervision and perhaps have to visit the cells of special category 937 prisoners as orderlies to deliver food. The special category prisoners treat ordinary prisoners with the utmost contempt. The ordinary prisoner wears prison clothes and comes under the jurisdiction of prison discipline, whereas some of the special category prisoners—men who have committed diabolical crimes—sit in their cells dressed in their own clothes, and tell the other prisoners what to do. That does not lead to proper discipline in the prisons. I know that we cannot stop this practice immediately, but surely the Government must declare their views.
I hope that the Government will carefully examine the parôle system. Surely there must be some way of bringing the law in Northern Ireland in line with that in the United Kingdom. The parôle system generally is based on good conduct, and the work which prisoners carry out. Unfortunately, special category prisoners do not do any work. This is very bad, for Satan finds plenty for idle hands to do. When men are locked up and have nothing to do, they can even study the very things for which they were put in prison in the first place and the very things from which society would like to wean them away.
I appreciate the remarks made by the Secretary of State in his speech today. However, I believe that there should be a clear declaration by the Government that they will put an end to the special category system in such a way that it will seem that justice is seen to be done to all concerned. If the parôle system can come into effect, so much the better.
I wish to pay tribute to the governors of the various prisons and to the prison staff, who have a difficult job to do and do it extremely well. I agree with the Secretary of State that a prison warder puts his family in jeopardy by taking the job. I pay tribute to the work done in prisons, and particularly to the work carried out by prison welfare officers. They are humane people, who do their best for each prisoner, irrespective of his crime. They take a personal interest in prisoners' families and in their social and family needs. These people tend to be forgotten, and therefore this needs to be said.
938 I must say that in my representations to the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues I have always found a helpful response. I should like to refer to the case of Mr. Frank Newell. There is great alarm in Northern Ireland about the case. I uderstand that there is nothing the Secretary of State can do about the situation until fresh evidence is made available to him. I hope that in the near future that evidence will appear.
Frank Newell is now serving an eight-year prison sentence, but the Ulster Volunteer Force has publicly declared that it was responsible for the crime which Mr. Newell is alleged to have committed. He was not at the scene of the crime and he is not a member of that organisation. Statements have been made in the Press and on radio and television by the UVF saying that it is responsible for that crime and stating that its personnel carried it out and that its members planned it and executed it. Yet Mr. Newell is now serving eight years in Crumlin Road Prison for a crime for which the UVF claims responsibility.
Feelings are being whipped up about this case in Belfast. I say on behalf of Mr. Newell that he utterly condemns the violence which has resulted at some protest meetings. He knows that violence does not help him in any way. The people responsible for the crime should come forward and say so. I hope that new evidence will soon come to light and that this unfortunate man will know that justice is being done in his case.
There has been difficulty in the case of a Mr. Gusty Spence in regard to independent medical examination. I am glad to say that that has now been resolved by the Northern Ireland Office. I should like the Minister concerned—one Minister who is interested in police matters is present—to take note that it would be helpful if, in cases where independent medical evidence is sought by a prisoner, there could be some quicker way of achieving this end. It took a very long time indeed before the Northern Ireland Office was able to tell the relatives of Mr. Spence that he could have an independent medical examination.
This Bill is of the utmost importance. There are many aspects of it which deal with a situation which will soon no longer prevail in Northern Ireland. I trust that in Committee we shall be able to make 939 some suggestions to the Ministers concerned that will strengthen the Bill and make it more useful in the battle against terrorism.
I do not believe that any political solution will automaticaly eradicate terrorism from Ulster. I believe that there are hard-line individuals who can be dealt with only by the force of the law. Even if a perfect, unanimous solution comes out of the Convention, there will still be these hard line people to be dealt with. I believe that the law must take its course and that justice must be seen to prevail in these cases.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
It is tragically appropriate that we are debating the Second Reading of this emergency measure. I should like briefly to draw the attention of the House to three important aspects which are not so much contained in the Bill as related to it.
The first is the absence of a coherent release policy required as a safeguard for society. There are three great areas of apprehension concerning this absence of a coherent release policy.
The first is that leading officers in Her Majesty's Forces stated, prior to the cease-fire, that they were convinced that many terrorists released from detention would again enter fully into the fray of violence. We recognise that that has not been the case since the so-called cease-fire, but it is at this point that the second great area of apprehension emerges. It was dealt with very fully by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), when he stated that there was now a great deal of evidence that many people were returning to the organisations which in the past were overtly responsible for violence in Northern Ireland—particularly the Provisional IRA.
The third great area of apprehension which demands a coherent release policy arises from the fear that the Provisional IRA may be purchasing time through the cease-fire in order to re-group and re-organise. In this connection we welcome the comments of the Secretary of State last evening and the comments which we anticipate he will be making at the end of this debate, but 940 we cannot ignore these fears and apprehensions. One of the measures which would help alleviate these fears would be to set up a code of practice, of procedure, that would convince the people of Northern Ireland that detainees were not going to be released willy-nilly but that there would be definite and very real safeguards.
Gardiner has attempted to indicate the need for this kind of safeguard and the need for a coherent release policy, but his efforts are indicative rather than definitive, and we believe that the Secretary of State should address his mind to presenting to this House at a later stage a fairly rigid and coherent release policy.
At this stage I should like to mention the subject of young offenders, to which the Secretary of State referred. Some of us were rather perturbed to read in the Press in Northern Ireland recently that one young offender was not being sent to any kind of institution because there was no detention centre in Ulster to deal with young offenders. I think that this state of affairs is dangerous, for two reasons.
The first is that if, as in this case, the Belfast judge gives the young offender a suspended sentence, the court then ceases to have its power as a deterrent. Detention centres are needed for the young people, if only to retain their respect for the court's deterrent power.
Secondly, we need detention centres for our young offenders if only to remove them from the hard-core experienced terrorists. There are quite a number of 16-year-olds in prisons in Northern Ireland who need at this early stage to be removed from an atmosphere in which they can acquire more of the expertise which is undoubtedly imparted in adult prisons, where future acts of violence are discussed. They must somehow be redeemed, and in order to achieve this they must be separated from the hardcore people.
Thirdly, I draw attention to the unfairness of releasing detainees—while sentenced prisoners who have committed similar or perhaps lesser offences remain inside—because of unequal policing facilities and the consequent need for a policy of parôle or amnesty.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the great problems of policing in 941 Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) stated that it is recognised by the Northern Ireland Office and this House as a whole that there are in Northern Ireland still "no-go" areas where there is no proper policing. This has an insidious kind of chain reaction, because in the predominantly Republican areas the police cannot make arrests and bring offenders to the courts, and detention of suspects is the order of the day.
We have listened to the Secretary of State time after time clearly stating that there are people detained who have been guilty of the most vile crimes. But now we find that these same people are being released—indeed, there is a date envisaged by which all detainees will be released—so we have in essence a state of amnesty for men who have been guilty of vile deeds. These are not my words but those of the Secretary of State. This surely must lead us to consider again the whole question of parôle, and even perhaps amnesty, for prisoners who have committed lesser offences.
In my view, there is another important deficiency in the Bill. It is that there is, surely, a desirability for a three-man Diplock-type court.
I should not like what I am about to say to be misunderstood as a generalised criticism of the Northern Ireland judiciary. However, there are many legal minds in Northern Ireland who feel that the quality of the expressions of the judiciary over the past 12 months or so have declined somewhat. We can understand that, in part at least. Such has been the overwhelming and daunting task which has faced them, that it is almost humanly impossible to get through the volume of work with which we are asking our judges to grapple. But the fact remains that the quality of judgments and sentences has been open to question. Because of that, there is surely a need not to devolve the total responsibility to one man but to share out the responsibility. Therefore, I suggest that we consider the possibility of a three-man Diplock-type court.
The reason for this is not just the volume of work and the great onus upon one man. It is also the fact that not only in Diplock but also in Gardiner we have emphasised the importance of the 942 offender's right to appeal. I think that we should be in a much stronger position to argue that if there were three minds addressed to his crime or trial this would be compensation for losing the right to a jury trial. I do not think that we should underestimate the point which is being made here. We must do our utmost to compensate for the loss of a jury-type trial.
Gardiner says that we must get back to jury trials as quickly as possible. But if we had a three-man court, I am sure that it would go some way to convince a prisoner that he was being compensated somewhat for the loss of a jury.
I return to the problem of appeals. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North referred to the case of Mr. Newell. We have made much of the right of appeal in our courts. However, I believe that many people will think twice before exercising their right of appeal in the light of Mr. Newell's sentence being doubled subsequent to the exercising of this right. I hope that I am right about this. If not, no doubt I shall be corrected. But this House would do well to remember that no such provision or power for a sentence to be doubled exists in this part of the United Kingdom.
We must encourage the exercise of this right of appeal. But if the case of Mr. Newell is not corrected, it will undermine the willingness of many prisoners and perhaps even detainees to exercise this right.
I promised not to take too much time, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate. I offer these points for consideration as we move from this stage to the Committee stage.
I conclude by saying that I welcomed the words of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who said that we were not dealing with a matter of mere theory. That becomes all too apparent to anyone who has to visit a home such as the O'Connor home, the home of the little girl who was blown to pieces, and to anyone who has to visit the home of a young man of 25 who was slaughtered and, in some way, try to find words of comfort for a widow of 25 left with two children. What we are doing is not a matter of mere theory. It is a matter of the utmost importance for Northern 943 Ireland and for the return of normality to every section of the community in Northern Ireland.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) is himself in the front line, and I salute the courage with which he and his colleagues from Northern Ireland have carried out their public duties in recent months.
I was glad that the Secretary of State took for his principal text two sentences from the report of the Gardiner Committee which I had myself underlined as being basic to the problems which we are considering today. Those sentences read:While the liberty of the subject is a human right to be preserved under all possible conditions, it is not, and cannot be, an absolute right, because one man may use his liberty to take away the liberty of another and must be restrained from doing so. Where freedoms conflict, the state has a duty to protect those in need of protection.I was glad also that the Government accepted the recommendation of the Gardiner Committee in its robust view that, since detention is an administrative act, both the immediate and the ultimate responsibility for it ought to rest with the Secretary of State himself.
Of course, it is right that there should be a review of particular findings. But it is always dangerous to try to blur the distinction between the executive and the judiciary. Terrorism puts a strain on the fabric of the law, and it is natural that we should try to block every loophole and deal with every fresh stratagem adopted by the terrorists. But there is a danger that in trying to block these loopholes we shall make the law so detailed that on occasion it becomes absurd.
I am not entirely happy about Clause 13 of the Bill, which seeks to amend Section 20(1) of the 1973 Act. This is the clause which deals with collecting, recording, publishing, communicating or attempting to elicit any information with respect to the movements of members of the Armed Forces and the police, and it extends this protection to the judiciary.
I am second to none in my praise for the way in which members of the judiciary in Northern Ireland have carried out their duties. I wonder whether this 944 attempt to restrict the collection of information is wise and whether many prosecutions have been carried out in the past 18 months under Section 20(1) of the original Act. We could be in an absurd position if the clause remained unamended. For example, if the Secretary of State invited the judges of Northern Ireland to have dinner with him and his private secretary asked the judges to say whether they will be attending that dinner, technically an offence would be committed under the clause. It would be up to the Secretary of State to prove that this was harmless information.
When we move into the area of trying to limit the collection of information we tread on dangerous ground. Considering the scope of the Official Secrets Act at present, one wonders whether these provisions are really necessary. I am also curious about why the Government have decided not to act on the recommendation in paragraph 74 of the Gardiner Report:We recommend that it be made a summary offence for editors, printers and publishers of newspapers to publish anything which purports to be an advertisement for or on behalf of an illegal organisation or part of it.That recommendation is noticeably absent from the terms of the Bill. I wonder why.
During the debate my attention was riveted by the remarks of the Secretary of State about the scope of political status for many prisoners in the prisons of Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman outlined a horrifying situation. I wonder whether there is any other country in the world where a Minister could stand up before Parliament and say "We have lost control of our prisons". This is a wholly unprecedented admission on the part of the Government.
In the past I have been an opponent of "no-go" areas in the main cities of Northern Ireland. I find it disturbing that we now seem prepared to tolerate "no-go" areas in our prisons. I can well understand that, given the shortage of both staff and accommodation, it is difficult for the administration to set the situation right overnight, but I cannot understand why fresh recruits to political status should be allowed in the prisons. Surely the new prison arrivals can be dealt with in a different fashion 945 from those who have been accorded political status in the past. Why must we keep adding to the numbers who are placed in that special category?
I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that in Northern Ireland policing is all-important. But for a considerable time to come it is obvious that the Army will have to continue to play a major rôle in supporting the civil authorities. I have always fervently supported the right of the individual in Northern Ireland to full protection from the Government, but I do not believe that it is right to keep large forces there indefinitely. So long as the Army is overstretched, the terrorists can claim that they are scoring some sort of limited victory. If, therefore, without undue risk, we can reduce the number of troops in Northern Ireland to the point where there is no great strain on the Army in carrying out this commitment, we shall have strengthened our position rather than added to our risks.
The Bill seems to recognise the fundamental human right of the citizens of Northern Ireland—indeed, of all the citizens of this country—that they should not be killed by terrorists and that they should not be in jeopardy of having their legs blown off or their children kidnapped. The Bill will, in small part, strengthen the hand of the Government in this struggle.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Like several hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome the main provisions of the Bill, with qualifications. I should like it to be known that the welcome that has come from almost every quarter of the House is shared by the Liberal bench.
Like others who have spoken, I must touch on the background provided by the present situation, including the cease-fire and the kinds of violence that have been seen to develop in a period in which Provisional IRA activity has been substantially, if not totally, reduced. This period is highlighted by two kinds of violence which are extremely horrifying and present particular difficulties to the security forces.
The first is the even greater use of systematic murder as a weapon in inter- 946 nal or inter-organisational conflicts and feuds in both sections of the community. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) referred to this matter, to which reference has been made on other occasions. It is an extremely disturbing and horrifying development.
Even more disturbing is the extent to which we have seen the psychology of violence in action in even more mindless ways. Since the level of Provisional IRA activity has dropped, we have seen the extent to which people in Northern Ireland, who are in the fever grip of violence, have found a pretext or a rationalisation for that violence. Perhaps the word "pretext" underestimates the extent to which they have convinced themselves that because of their commitment to some group or organisation they have a right to get guns or bombs in their hands and use them. It is a kind of blood lust which seems to have gripped a number of people who take a sinister delight in the use of violence for its own sake.
We have seen a number of television interviews with people who have been involved in violence in the North, but who are now sheltered far too comfortably in the South. We have seen the way in which the people engaged in violence talk about their motives and say "We were defending our people and looking after our community. We had to use guns." These are pretexts or, in some cases, rationalisations for a delight in violence by people who give little or no thought to the consequences of their actions. It shows the extent to which the existence of political conflicts of various kinds have provided a framework within which people who are not sane or capable of controlling their own actions can use guns to engage in violence. This is a particularly horrifying feature of the situation. It will never be removed until all the people of Northern Ireland recognise the importance of bringing such people to justice and ensuring that they are locked up, out of harm's way. This gives particular importance to co-operation with the police and the security services. By the same token it is important that we do our best to remove the remaining niggling doubts and difficulties which in various sections of the community hinder co-operation with the security forces. That co-operaton is essential.
947 It will be difficult for some people on both sides of the community to get over their initial reaction that violence is ultimately justified when their beliefs about the future of their country are threatened. That belief is there, and we can understand why it is there. However, if people in Northern Ireland want to stop this kind of violence they will have to fly in the face of their own deep-seated convictions and say, "We shall not tolerate violence or see it used, even by those people who purport to be defending our cause and who say that they are on our side." Psychologically that is difficult to do when one has lived for years with a defensive feeling of trying to retain something which one considers is threatened by another section of the community. That change must take place, and it is all the more important that such factors as we can remove—such irritants and difficulties as we can take away—should be taken away.
In that context many provisions in the Bill are welcome. We welcome not only the main thinking behind the Bill, but its attitude towards detention and its recognition that detention is undesirable, should not be continued for longer than possible, and should be seen for what it is—an emergency action carried out by the executive and in no sense the kind of justice for which we strive. That implicit recognition is welcome.
Some of the specific features of the Bill are also welcome—for example, the extension of bail, which is provided for in Clause 4. Even at a time of accepted emergency, it is right that we should try to preserve and extend the right of bail. The extension of Clause 5 in respect of legal aid is equally welcome. It was an anomaly in the 1973 Act which is happily redressed by the Bill.
Clause 7, which repeals the whole of Section 5 of the 1973 Act, which deals with the admissibility of written statements by certain witnesses, is again something we welcome.
The Gardiner Report identifies the weaknesses in the old system—the lack of opportunity for cross-examination and the impossibility of checking the accuracy or quality of statements which were regarded as admissible under the 1973 Act. The repeal of Section 5 is, therefore, particularly welcome.
948 There are other areas of legislative anomaly which the Bill rectifies—for example, the inclusion of the power to search for radio transmitters and the whole aspect of dealing with recruitment for proscribed organisations. These are extensions in the Bill which are particularly welcome and which should be of assistance to the security services, both in the direct powers that they confer on those services and in the extent to which they can improve the climate within which the security services work.
Having welcomed those clauses, I should like to look at the queries, the omissions and the matters that might give rise to concern. I should like to mention an apparent omission—although it may not be an omission, and I am not clear from looking at the schedule what the position is. The Gardiner Committee recommended that the offence of escaping or assisting escapes should be added to the list of scheduled offences, to eliminate the discrepancy which existed in the law as it stood. I am not entirely clear whether Schedule 2 covers the point or whether the Government have not carried out the recommendations which the Gardiner Committee made quite strongly. The committee said:We recommend that this inconsistency should be removed by inserting in the list of scheduled offences the offence of escape and the related offences such as assisting escapes and rescuing persons under sections 25 to 33 of the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953".That may be covered, but I must admit that to a layman's mind it is difficult to disentangle it from the mass of material in the schedule.
On Clause 3, to which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred and which deals with scheduled and non-scheduled offences being tried in the same court, I still have some queries and doubts. It is quite right—indeed, it is a welcome improvement from the point of view of the prisoner who is potentially shuttled between two courts—that the much simpler and more obvious course of trying scheduled and non-scheduled offences in the same court should be pursued. However, the Gardiner committee refers to the non-scheduled offence which is "associated with" the scheduled offence. That form of words does not appear in the Bill. Whether it is covered by the law in every case and 949 does not need to be included I am not entirely sure.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. S. C. Silkin)
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the ordinary rules in relation to applying to the court to sever offences will apply, and the court normally acts on that principle when deciding whether or not to sever.
§ Mr. Beith
I am glad to have that authoritative legal interpretation of something at which I can only guess. I am pleased to note that that will not prove to be a problem.
The Gardiner Committee recommended a number of other things some of which we would like to have seen in the Bill and others of which would not appropriately fall within it but which are bound to give us cause for concern when we consider implementing the main Gardiner recommendations. The Gardiner Report refers to the control of the sale of detonators, cross-border traffic, and fertilisers that can be used for explosive purposes—we should note that. There is the aspect of proscription, on which we touched last night and on which the Gardiner Committee came down very strongly, saying that there was a distinctly uneven application of proscription. We need not go over that today, but we should realise that it is part of the same problem.
In paragraph 21 of the Gardiner Report there is a clear indication about the importance of the political and social developments. I need hardly spell that out, because it is part of the whole context of the debate. That paragraph mentions the van Straubenzee Report and the importance of dealing with discrimination in private employment as something that should be dealt with along with the committee's other recommendations. It is difficult to pick on any concrete basis on which we could say that the Government had successfully proceeded along these lines.
If there is one absence from the Bill which gives rise to concern—I am sorry that the Minister of State is not present, although I appreciate that he has had a long stint already and he did reply to a Question on this matter from me at Question Time yesterday—it is the issue 950 of the police complaints procedure. The Gardiner Committee was quite clear and unequivocal in its belief that an independent police complaints procedure was desirable. The Committee said:We believe that the introduction of an independent means of investigating complaints against the police would be an important step towards restoring universal confidence in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and we recommend that this should be established. It should also be considered whether such new procedures should be extended to deal with complaints against the Army.Throughout the debate hon. Members have rightly stressed the importance of establishing confidence in the Royal Ulster Constabulary throughout the community. This measure alone could not do that. Many more things are involved. I find it extraordinary that the Government should be dragging their feet on this particular, very clear and unequivocal Gardiner recommendation. Yesterday, the Minister of State said that the Department had decided to await the decision of the Home Secretary in respect of Great Britain. I find this a very lame and feeble excuse. I do not believe, given the different context and the different order of problems in Northern Ireland in relation to the police, that we should be waiting for a decision which, in terms of Great Britain, is taking an unconscionably long time but which, in the rest of the United Kingdom, apart from Northern Ireland, is governed by different considerations. They are important and pressing, but not quite so pressing as the situation that faces the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
I cannot view with equanimity the Government's apparent bland willingness to sit and wait for discussions between the Home Secretary and the Police Federation which have next to nothing to do with the RUC in this respect. The RUC obviously has its own views, and its representatives will have their views about what form the independent complaints procedure should take. I am convinced that we should be proceeding to make provision in Northern Ireland, given the nature of the problem there, and that to hinge non-implementation of such an important Gardiner recommendation on the time that it is taking to deal with the police forces of the rest of the United Kingdom is a great mistake, and one of the few really significant failings 951 in the Government's attitude in dealing with the Gardiner Report.
Lest either the Secretary of State or the Minister of State, who have both been in and out of the Chamber in the last few minutes, should think that I am generally attacking their dealings with the Gardiner Report, perhaps I should say that I welcome the extent to which they have tried to incorporate its provisions in the Bill. I regard this omission as a major one and, in another capacity, I have to deal with the long time it is taking for us to make any progress in the rest of the United Kingdom on the police complaints procedure.
I do not see how we can afford to wait on these very slow proceedings. I hope that the sort of attitude I have been encountering at Question Time on this matter will not long persist, and that the Government will recognise that it will be possible to act within the broad lines of the Home Secretary's proposals for the rest of the United Kingdom.
There is enough information for us to avoid Northern Ireland's getting wildly out of step with the rest of the United Kingdom. We could proceed on similar lines on both sides of the water, and I do not see the necessity, given that the situation in Northern Ireland is so much more pressing, for this fearful delay. With that qualification I welcome the Bill.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
No Act of Parliament is perfect, and a Bill is tar from perfect when it has not been through a Committee stage. I hope the loopholes and "grey areas" in this legislation can be removed at a later stage.
I am disappointed that the Bill does not give effect to many of the recommendations in the Gardiner Report. When it was published five months ago, the report received a general welcome in Northern Ireland and was more widely read than most reports of its kind, possibly because there was great respect for Lord Gardiner and for Lord McDermott, a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, who was a member of the committee. Lord McDermott's membership guaranteed that plain Ulster common sense would always be present to curb 952 any tendency towards an academic approach to what are really very practical problems and this is borne out by Lord McDermott's remarks at the end of the report.
I welcome the extension of offences against public security and public order, but I cannot help feeling that to the public the organisers of terrorism seem less obnoxious when the Government, on their own admission, enter into a fairly continuous dialogue with them.
The Gardiner Committee recognised that many of the most dangerous terrorists did not commit specific offences themselves, but were responsible for encouraging others. What is the purpose of the Bill if the Government continue to talk to people responsible for organising and directing terrorist offences? The ordinary person finds it difficult to understand how the Government can justify dealing with terrorist leaders on the one hand and trying to bring the backroom boys of terrorist organisations to court on the other.
No matter what the Secretary of State may say, the people of Northern Ireland are convinced that there has been a deal with the Provisional IRA. After five years, how can the Government justify the failure to capture, through the security forces, David O'Connell and Seamus Twomey, both of whom have made well-publicised visits to the North? Both have been photographed attending funerals in the North, and they were both interviewed on television last year—
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I agree entirely with what the Gardiner Report says in paragraph 76 about interviewing terrorists on television and contact with terrorist organisations.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Can the hon. Gentleman explain what he means about the supicion in Northern Ireland of a deal with the Provisional IRA? Does he mean a deal as to the conduct of the cease-fire, to use the word it employs, or a deal on the constitutional and political future of Northern Irleand?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
If the hon. Gentleman tours Northern Ireland he will find that this suspicion exists. The people wonder what agreement the Government have 953 entered into with the leaders of the Provisional IRA. These discussions are still going on with officials of the Northern Ireland Office. People rightly assume, until evidence is put before them to the contrary, that, in order for the so-called cease-fire to be agreed, the Government must have offered the IRA terms which it found very satisfying. That is what causes me and many others in Northern Ireland grave disquiet.
I regret that the Bill does not include provisions to curb the dangerous freedom given to television to inflame public opinion by parading wanted men before the cameras. The Attorney-General, who is to wind up this debate, is seeking an injunction to restrain publication of the Crossman diaries. I would have thought there was a far greater warrant to prevent the reporting of views of wanted criminals. Surely everything should be done to stop these people from getting publicity on television and radio and in the Press.
I have looked in vain at the Bill to see whether the powers of the security forces have been extended to enable them to restore law and order in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible. I find nothing that assists them. Even the possible use of identity cards, which I have advocated for many years, has not been included. This would be an asset to the security forces and, having spoken privately to members of the security forces, I find most of them agree with me.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I have put this suggestion to the security forces and it has been rejected. In the situation in Northern Ireland it would be very easy for identity cards to be manufactured by the ton all over the shop. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view, but he is not entitled to say that a private chat is a basis for saying that the security forces are in favour of his idea. The advice I have had, which I have accepted, is not in favour of it.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I have heard the Secretary of State make similar statements on previous occasions. His advice differs from the views expressed to me by members of the security forces. I cannot go any further than that. He says that the cards could be reproduced. Of course 954 they could. They could have been reproduced in the last war by any German spy working from Eire through Northern Ireland into Great Britain. The use of identity cards is a means of waging war against the terrorists.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
It is not nonsense. We must use every weapon we can. If identity cards saved a single life, they would be a great help to the people of the Province. More than anything else in the current situation, the security forces need a good intelligence service. However good the intentions of the Bill, it will achieve nothing if intelligence on the terrorists is not forthcoming.
Since the so-called cease-fire, the sources of intelligence have virtually dried up. That is what some members of the security forces have told me. I know the Secretary of State disagrees and I am not surprised, because he could not agree with me and continue the policy he is advocating.
When the Secretary of State's civil servants carried on secret negotiations with the Provisional IRA, one of the bargaining counters must have been the vital question of collecting information. Since the so-called cease-fire started in December, little information about the Provisional IRA has come into the hands of the security forces. Effective policing in the sense of continual surveillance of released IRA terrorists does not exist, and many of them go across the border to train in camps there and return, retrained, refreshed and re-armed. Can we have an assurance that there is surveillance maintained on these hard-core terrorists being released from the Maze and Magilligan?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to give me that evidence so that I can pass it to the security forces? I should be pleased to do that. This sort of chit-chat about what is heard on the quiet is not good enough in the context of the situation in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I have to relate to the House and the Secretary of State what is told to me privately. I cannot reveal the name of a particular police officer or member of the Armed Forces. But I hope that the Secretary of State will at least give 955 some weight to what I say, and not just dismiss it out of hand, as he is now doing.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he has the names of people who have crossed the border and come back? Is he saying that he knows about it, or is it simply chit-chat for the sake of a nice little political argument on a Friday afternoon?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I deeply resent what the Secretary of State has just said. As a Member of Parliament for a Northern Ireland constituency, I am very conscious of the grave situation in the Province. I have done more than most people to try to make sure that people do not engage in terrorist activities or join para-military groups. The right hon. Gentleman should accept that I am a very responsible person. I resent the observation that he has just made, and I hope that he will apologise for it.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Has the hon. Gentleman the evidence that he said he had? Is he prepared to give it to me, or is this just political chit-chat?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I said that I had spoken to police officers and members of the security forces. I know their names, but obviously I do not have the information that the police and the Army have. But they are concerned and worried about it. They are not just relating to me something which is absolute nonsense in order to get me disturbed, so that I in turn get the Secretary of State disturbed. I am anxious to see peace restored in Northern Ireland. I want to see an end to killing in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State should not always put on an injured air when someone expresses criticism. Every one of us—not just the Secretary of State—is concerned about the protection of the individual in Northern Ireland. His manner just now did not do him justice.
Confidence in the police depends in the end on the success of the RUC in bringing criminals, whether political or otherwise before the courts. I find little in the Bill which will enable the police to deal more effectively with terrorism. It is sad that the SDLP has not come out in support of the police. Whatever the motives of the SDLP, this hinders the work of the police in curbing sectarian violence. I hope that it will give 956 its wholehearted support to the members of the security forces.
Why does the protection of servants of the Crown in Clause 13 not include civil servants employed in the Prisons Branch of the former Department of Home Affairs, now part of the Northern Ireland Office? Is there a simple explanation? Why does it not include civil servants employed in the incident centres which were established—I do not suppose that the Secretary of State will disagree with me about this—to liaise with the Provisional IRA?
In his opening speech, we had the remarkable statement by the right hon. Gentleman that the Provisional IRA was not responsible for a particular recent murder. He said that he knew because the Provisional IRA had been in touch with the local incident centre. Who tests the information offered by the Provisional IRA? Who knows whether the Provisional IRA is speaking truthfully? It may say that the murder of a policeman was the responsibility of some other breakaway Republican organisation. But the Provisional IRA could well be responsible and be able to wash its hands in public, saying "We are maintaining the cease-fire", although the Secretary of State would agree that a number of people have been murdered by the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland, since the beginning of the year.
It is ridiculous to have the incident centres for just one para-military organisation. If one has them for one, one would need to have them for all the others as well. It is sad that the Secretary of State created the incident centres, because their creation gave a status to the Provisional IRA.
The Gardiner Committee held its first meeting in June 1974, and it reported in January, five months ago. Terrorism has been going on in Northern Ireland for years. The intolerable and long delay in implementing a few of the Gardiner Report's recommendations shows that the Government are not seized of the need to deal rapidly with the very dangerous and volatile situation.
I regret that there has been no indication from the Government that they intend to reverse the ridiculous decision of the previous Secretary of State to give political status to certain convicted 957 criminals. The Gardiner Committee says at paragraph 108 of its report:Nevertheless we recommend that the earliest practicable opportunity should be taken to end the special category. The first priority should be to stop admitting new prisoners to special category.Can the Secretary of State give us the assurance that no more convicted persons will be admitted to the special status of political prisoner? It means only that anyone who is tempted to commit an act of violence will do so in the belief that he will have all the privileges and benefits of being a political prisoner. That is something we should all avoid.
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
This has proved to be a fairly wide-ranging debate. I believe that it must be wide-ranging, because it deals not only with the Bill but with its background. This is proper, as we hope that the Bill will be one of the roots from which peace and, eventually, prosperity will grow in Northern Ireland.
I have no doubt that in the future we shall hear many comments about the repressive nature of this legislation from those who will be affected by it. But those who will shout the loudest are those against whom the law is particularly aimed. It is a law which is repressive only to the criminals in our society.
It is wise to remind the House that only this week another country, one of the most populous countries on earth, found it necessary to imprison people without trial, in order, it was said, to protect its society. It is only reasonable that this country should take the powers necessary to protect our society against the attacks made upon it.
The Secretary of State said that when in opposition he recognised the need for such powers. I suspect that since he became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he has progressed and become even more convinced of their necessity, in view of the horrors he has encountered in that responsible office.
I welcome particularly the fact that the Bill provides that the Secretary of State is to be solely responsible for the detention of persons under it. The IRA is engaged in a political act and it must be answered by political action. If the buck has to 958 stop somewhere, it should stop with the politicians in this country, and not with the judiciary.
There is no acceptable level of violence in Northern Ireland, any more than there is an acceptable level of violence in this country. I hope that the Bill will be a first step towards eliminating the remaining levels of violence in Northern Ireland. However, before the penalties which are provided in the Bill can be applied, we must catch up with the evildoer. If this is so, it is necessary that the security forces should be well prepared and supported by this House. The Secretary of State said that the security forces could not protect everyone. Yet that is the ideal to which we should be working. If the right hon. Gentleman finds that the forces under his control are incapable of protecting everyone it is time to ask what more can be done to maintain the peace and to preserve the security of every individual in Northern Ireland. Every step that can be taken to increase the mobility of the police and the Army and to increase the security of the people by still more personnel should be taken.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with two other matters. One was training in the use of transmitters used for exploding various devices in operations against the security forces. The other item concerned a boat loaded with explosives and aimed at a ship which was being used as a security barracks. Is it not a fact that the plan to seize that vessel originated in the Irish Republic? Is it not also a fact that the training in the use of these transmitters must take place in the Irish Republic since the extensive use of transmitters that would be necessary in the training period would be sufficient to draw down the security forces of the Crown upon local training areas?
If this is so, may I ask what steps have been taken to ensure that the Southern forces are doing their job? Good intelligence is a vital necessity if this measure is to be brought fully into force in Northern Ireland. When we have a lessening level of IRA violence being matched by a lowered profile on the part of the security forces a gap is created in the security of Northern Ireland. There is a gap in the intelligence system of the security forces concerning the illegal importation of weapons and explosives. While it is true 959 that most types of explosives will deteriorate, it is the case that plastic explosives last for a long time. It is possible that the IRA is now getting its hands on such explosives.
The principal difficulty about prophets is that when they are proved wrong they are no longer likely to be regarded as reliable, but we have to try to assess the future actions of the IRA in Northern Ireland. It must be made clear that the IRA believes that it is being treated by this Government as the equal of the Army and other security forces. It is purely in this context that it claims the right to retaliate whenever it believes that a breach of the cease-fire, or truce—call it what you will—has occurred.
We have only to look at the incident in Londonderry when Police Constable Paul Gray was foully murdered. It is claimed that that was retaliation against a police search. The Secretary of State gave the IRA claim a certain amount of substance by retaliating and stopping releases. Did the right hon. Gentleman stop the releases purely because of the murder of Constable Gray? Did he include the murder of Constable Davis, in the southern part of County Londonderry? He was killed less than two weeks later. I have also been told that it is the IRSP which is now suspected of this murder. Are we to take it for granted that the release of detainees is tied purely and simply to the activities of the IRA? Did the Secretary of State ignore the activities which occurred in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), when the IRA leader was shot in the act of planting a bomb? Is that not an act of terrorism, and, if it is, how many such acts must the Provisional IRA commit before the ceasefire is seen to be at an end?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
That is a fair point. In the course of last year when the IRA compaign was on, a substantial number of releases was made by the commissioners. Releasing is done not only in the context of the cease-fire; much of it goes on on an individual basis. What I and my officials have said, here and to Sinn Fein, is that when there is a permanent cease-fire, and I can only take account of that, we shall be in a position to do away with legislation of this nature.
§ Mr. Ross
I think the right hon. Member for his intervention. Are we, then, to be assured by his remarks that whenever a cease-fire occurs people will be released? What is meant by a "permanent cease-fire"? How long must elapse without Provisional IRA activity before all detainees are released?
The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that he regarded the cease-fire as the only way to peace. I doubt it. The only way to peace is to convince the IRA that it will not win. The truth is that it is not yet convinced. The IRA apparently believes one thing is happening with the cease-fire while the Government believe another. The penny is bound to drop. When it does and the IRA realises that there is a difference of opinion and it is not being treated as the equal of the security forces or of this House it will be furiously angry. There will be major retaliation. I see the right hon. Member nodding. What will happen when that situation, which I believe is inevitable, comes about? Will the IRA then be faced and militarily defeated so that we will be in a position to move forward towards a secure and reasoned peace in Northern Ireland?
There always seems to be a distinction drawn in this House and by political figures in this country between Sinn Fein and the IRA. One of the leading members of Sinn Fein is Maire Drumm. Her daughter was recently picked up carrying a gun and ammunition. Where is the dividing line there? The right hon. Gentleman wrote to me on 25th June concerning a Question which I had put to him about an incident at Dungiven in my constituency. In that letter he says:In no case were the participants of various marches which had taken place wearing paramilitary dress or behaving in a military manner".I am sorry to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he is incorrect.
On 30th March, in company with a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I was proceeding to my house from the direction of Glenshane when I was stopped by the police under the command of Inspector Bryson at Dungiven Roman Catholic Church. The reason for the hold-up of traffic was to permit a number of men—about 15 to 20—to 961 march across the road in military formation, wearing black berets and jerkins, the normal dress of the IRA.
I am further informed by a friend in the village where I live that a further march has taken place since then. I am trying to get details of that march and when I do I will let the right hon. Gentleman know about it. I must express my regret to the House that I cannot record these meetings. Unfortunately, such incidents have become so common that people do not take notice of them now.
Turning to the Bill, I have some misgivings about the special category prisoners and the long trail of disaster which that has brought, which I fear will extend into the future. I should like the Secretary of State to do something concrete about this and to overcome the tragic mistake of his predecessors. It is something that he inherited. It helps all the myths of terror and violence among the extremists, Roman Catholic and Protestant. That is helped by such an incident as the return of the extremist Price sisters, the Roman Catholic murderers, to Northern Ireland, and the non-return of Protestants.
The name of the new police organisation—the A Squad—is a tragic mistake. The IRA will say that this is the return of the A Specials—the old Black and Tans. It was psychologically foolish to call that force by that name.
Finally, we should ask how we get rid of the necessity for the Bill. That can be achieved only with political stability. This House is the apex of power in this country and, since the apex of power in any country is the power of taxation, I believe that the problems of Northern Ireland's under-representation, compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, should be considered. We should receive greater representation here whether or not there is a Government or Parliament in Northern Ireland. Then we shall have political stability and the necessity for this unfortunate Bill will disappear.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
Earlier today we heard a typical performance by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I regret that he is no longer here, because what I have to say I would 962 prefer to say to his face rather than behind his back. The manner of his speech was more familiar in a Northern Ireland context than that which we normally have from him here.
The hon. Member made a number of scurrilous attacks. Apart from innuendoes about Her Majesty's Forces, he attacked a gallant ex-Service man and the majority community by reference to the comments of a Methodist clergyman. But I want to refer particularly to his reference to a report in the News of the World some weeks ago.
I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that the hon. Member for Belfast, West has had that report for two weeks. It purports to refer to a letter in the possession of one of his constituents. The hon. Member would have us believe that he knows all his people, that he is almost on Christian-name terms with them. I should have given more credibility to his claims if he had had the actual letter and was prepared to refer to its contents than to a tattered copy of the News of the World.
The community that the hon. Member represents is noted for the expert legal and propaganda advice that it has available to it. If there is any substance in his allegation, I am sure that the normal processes of law and order would already be under way.
§ The Attorney-General
Having made that remark, would the hon. Gentleman also make it of his hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)?
§ Mr. McCusker
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman would specify exactly what he is referring to, perhaps I would.
§ The Attorney-General
I thought that the hon. Gentleman had heard his hon. Friend's remarks and my right hon. Friend's question to him asking for evidence of matters of which he was speaking, which he did not give.
§ Mr. McCusker
Certainly, I should like to believe that if my hon. Friend makes such remarks he should be able to provide evidence for them. I have little sympathy for the comments that he was making or the Secretary of State's reply—
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
In fairness to the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), he did not actually traduce any individuals.
§ Mr. McCusker
Yes, I accept that also. It can be argued that one can speculate about terrorist activity and that that is different from virtually accusing individuals, by name, of murder.
I have referred before to what I consider to be the phoney cease-fire in Northern Ireland. I have been criticised for that, and perhaps it would be best to refer to it in the context of my constituency as an incomplete cease-fire. The Secretary of State will accept that, as the Member for Armagh, I know of sufficient evidence in my constituency to cause me to throw grave doubts on the sincerity of the attempts by the Provisional IRA to establish what it calls a cease-fire.
There have been about 150 shooting incidents in the six months of the ceasefire. UDR patrols have been mined, a postmaster at White Cross has been murdered and there was also the diabolical murder of three dog exhibitors coming home from a show in Eire. All these things force me to say that there cannot really be a cease-fire. I have had to take that attitude consistently over the past six months.
I was prepared at one stage to say that the IRA activity in the south of Armagh was cowboy activity outside the control of the Dublin hierarchy. But the display at the funeral of the terrorist who was killed and the support which that funeral received from the IRA hierarchy forces one to concede that that activity has the stamp of approval. I do not know why, but that is the reality.
When I question the cease-fire, it is not because I have not enjoyed the benefits. Everyone in Northern Ireland has been able to take some consolation from the little relief that it has offered us. I welcome that, and I hope that it will continue, but in that situation, it is my duty as a public representative to examine it, question it, and try to establish its validity.
I do not take the view of some hon. Members opposite that out of sight in Northern Ireland should be out of mind. 964 Simply because the terrorists are not engaging in the same activities as last year, that is no reason to believe that they will not engage in them again. I believe that it is only by means of an open and candid debate on this situation that we shall arrive at the reality.
Last night my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) tried—as have some of my other hon. Friends today—to raise the question of the background to the cease-fire. He tried to establish the reality of the situation because it is of tremendous significance to us. I have considered this matter for a long time within the context of my own constituency. Perhaps that was too blinkered and parochial a way in which to look at it. It was only when the Feakle clergyman made his wild speculation, to which I do not attach much credibility, that I was forced perhaps to look at the wider scene. When I did so I became concerned.
The Irish Times dated 27th May, stated:The Provisional IRA's truce with Stormont Castle is now much less likely to break down through misunderstanding or the activities of uncontrollable militants.Since February 10th, Provisional IRA Leaders have 'sold' their truce to supporters by arguing that they obtained definite promises from the British Government. The statement of the Feakle clergymen lends enormous weight to these arguments.Having read that, I was forced into a situation in which I had to establish evidence to lend weight to the comment in the Irish Times. I do not wish to refer to the casual comments—perhaps that is underestimating them—made by various IRA incident centres following shootings and murders in various parts of the province. I wish to consider the case of the people who represent the Provisional IRA, to the extent that a former British Government were prepared to fly them to London to negotiate peace with them. If we look at what they say, we must take cognisance of their words in a different manner from those of their spokesmen in Londonderry, Newry or Strabane.
The first evidence which I obtained concerned two comments made by Seamus Twomey, the man in charge of the Provisional IRA Council. On Easter Sunday, 965 30th March 1975, at a ceremony in Belfast, he said:The IRA is prepared to fight and has been kept in a state of readiness. There can be no permanent cease-fire until its main demands are met.Seamus Twomey is one of the most important and influential men in the war council of the Provisional IRA. His words cannot be brushed aside the way we can brush aside the comments of the various incident centres.
In Carrickmore, in County Tyrone, on the same day, David O'Connell said:In the consequence of a breakdown in negotiations we shall not be found wanting in employing more direct and decisive means of securing our objectives. English rule must be ended even if this required five more years of hard fighting.We must accept that two men, who are the leading spokesmen of the Provisional IRA, said in categorical terms that they at least believed—irrespective of what the Government believes—that negotiations were taking place, or that at least something was happening which they recognised as negotiations.
On the same day Rory O'Brady said in Londonderry,If the British want to leave Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein will help them on their way.In the context of his other remarks we could interpret that as supporting the comments of the other two men. He was accompanied on that day by Martin McGuiness, the former Provisional leader in that city.
In its Easter message from its headquarters in Dublin, the Provisional Sinn Fein claimed that the truce had had the desired effect and that Britain had indicated willingness to give consideration to the IRA's basic demands.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not jump to conclusions. I have quoted the evidence which I tried to establish of what the IRA see as the situation.
More recently on Sunday 15th June, at the Wolfe Tone Commemoration at Bodenstown, addressing 4,000 Frank Card, who apparently took some part in talks with Northern Ireland officials, said:These young men and women, the very heart of fighting Ireland, have pledged loyalty to the leadership.. well knowing that before the inevitable withdrawal of the Crown forces, talks must take place with the enemy. If our 966 demands are not met in full the fight will be resumed and the gallant struggle over the past 6 years will not be betrayed at the conference table."'Attending that ceremony were Messrs. Rory O'Brady and—surprise, surprise—Sean MacStiofain.
They are the most influential Provisional IRA spokesmen I can find. I tried to elicit from them their view of what had happened in the past six months. If it was only at that level, we might wonder precisely what they were doing.
This message has been translated right down throughout the organisation, and it has, obviously, been the motivation for the discipline that has been instilled in the organisation throughout Northern Ireland, except for that small section of County Armagh which I represent. It has been done by way of broadsheets. For example, in the news sheet of Ferga O'Hawlon Cumann, of the Provisional Sinn Fein, Monaghan, the faithful are exhorted in this way:We simply want the Brits to get out of our country once and for all. The Republican Movement is negotiating with the Brits about their withdrawal and the Convention will only hinder this departure.That message, translated down through the ordinary members of the Provisional IRA, is saying "Our cease-fire is an extension of our struggle, another phase in the war and, as the IRA sees it, we are now negotiating."
I pose virtually the same question as was posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South. In simple terms, who is fooling whom? I do not believe that the Secretary of State is fooling us, or trying to fool us. Is he trying to fool the Provisional IRA, or is the leadership of the Provisional IRA trying to fool the rank and file of the Provisional IRA? I do not know the answer to either of those two questions, but no matter what the answer is, there will be a very dangerous consequence if I accept what the Secretary of State tells me. The bitterness which is bound to emerge when the reality of the situation becomes known could match, if not exceed, in ferocity many of our experiences over the past four or five years. My comments are designed not to bring that about sooner but to put forward the situation as I see it. It will 967 not go away if I forget about it. We have to acknowledge the reality and take action to handle it. I welcome this legislation as going some way towards handling the ultimate situation which will develop.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
Our debates today and last night have been wide-ranging. The two debates are really one. By the Irishness of our procedure we have emphasised that we are talking about Ireland, in that we renewed last night an Act that we intended to amend extensively today.
As has been said by many hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), we must give a great deal of time to Northern Ireland debates. If we wish to rule Ulster by direct means we must be prepared to give up time, which may be difficult to find, for that purpose.
I am sure that many hon. Members would have preferred to discuss the Gardiner Report before debating the legislation which arises out of it, in the hope—perhaps a vain one—of changing the legislation that is laid before the House. The Gardiner Report to some extent has been overtaken by events. It came out almost simultaneously with a cessation of attacks on our military forces and a diminution in the bombing. Much that the Gardiner Report recommended is not reflected in the legislation before us. If the emergency had continued at the intensity experienced last Christmas, more might have been done. I hope that the present slackening in the attacks is not a short-term illusion but a real change in the situation in Northern Ireland. Certainly there is much in the Gardiner Report which we must attend to urgently and which I shall deal with later.
The Secretary of State, both last night and in his opening words today, has forcefully reminded us of his reiterated view that the present situation means that detention is necessary for him to govern the Province. This is the dilemma he faces, and it was extremely well summed up last night by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), when he said, about the Secretary of State:We have understood, too, what has been his aim and his strategy in the gradual un- 968 winding of detention."—[Official Report, 26th June 1975; Vol. 894, c. 824.]The right hon. Gentleman then went on to note the Secretary of State's need for freedom of action, which he said in present circumstances he undoubtedly needs. It is the gradual unwinding which we are watching, at the same time as the undeniable freedom of action which the right hon. Gentleman rightly demands from the House, which sums up for me and for many of my right hon. and hon. Friends the approach that we should adopt. It sums up the support which we give the Government in these matters. Of course, it is sometimes a difficult balance.
There have been moments of quiet in Northern Ireland, but the enviable historical capacity of English people to forget what is happening is a great danger. They do not remember all the time the difficulties that the Government of the day are facing in Ulster. I sometimes think that perhaps a small portion of Ireland's eternal memory would be of some value to England. That would be so if we could take aboard just a small portion.
The difficulties in Northern Ireland will not disappear below the horizon because at this moment we are enjoying a period of cessation as regards the attacks on our troops. We are very far from peace in Ulster. If we have to retain detention, let us consider the consequences. If the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) were present I would be inclined to ask him, bearing in mind his views on detention which he has made clear on a number of occasions, whether we should simply open the doors or adopt the more gradual and more common-sense approach? If detention has to be retained, my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself welcome the new schedule. It has been said by a number of people that the quasi-judicial approach was unfair. As a lawyer, I believe it was unfair not to the offenders but to the law, which it brought into disrepute. That is what Gardiner thought and that is what has been said by a number of Members in this debate.
Quite properly the Secretary of State has taken it upon himself to make the final decision as to what is to happen. I am glad that he has adopted that 969 approach. I commend him for the forthright tone which he used this morning when he said that he would decide the matter.
I also support the view that there should be only one adviser. I do not believe that having further advisers would help, because in the end the Secretary of State must make up his own mind. What he clearly wants is a clear and independent opinion from one person. Two or three advisers might well disagree. In those circumstances, how would the right hon. Gentleman act? Would he take the majority view? How would he come to a decision? I believe that the right hon. Gentleman wants a clear view from an independent person which he can accept or disregard, the right hon. Gentleman making the final decision. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will give great weight to any advice that he receives, but in the end, as the Americans say, the buck must stop. It seems that it must stop in this instance with the Secretary of State.
We have discussed special categories on a number of occasions. Like many other hon. Members I have voiced my disagreement and disquiet on the whole position of special categories. I am well aware of the accommodation difficulties that face the Government, and it would be ludicrous to say that there can be any immediate change. I accept that. I also noted that the Secretary of State, without making a commitment, said that he would like, if possible, to get rid of special categories. There is something obscene about a great nation which has to allow prisoners to be categorised by the decisions of petty gauleiters. That is what we are faced with. That is why I return to a part of the Gardiner Report, which I hope will be given the greatest urgency.
It is not necessary for us to legislate for more prisons; it is being done administratively, in any case. But surely it is right that we should press the Government as hard as we can and ask for a clear undertaking that every step will be taken to get the prisons open so that at least we can have a chance to begin phasing out special categories.
There is something a little odd—perhaps it says a good deal for our judicial processes—that in the worst terrorist situation in Western Europe, we are prepared 970 to go through months of a public inquiry to consider whether a prison should be built here, there, or somewhere else. I do not think that there is another nation in the world, tormented as Britain has been over the last five years by this problem, which would spend time in appointing inspectors to listen to objections from here, there, and everywhere by those who do not want in their area a prison which they know is needed and they would like to see built—but want to go somewhere else.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
In view of what was said in the House on this topic, I know that the hon. Gentleman would not seek to suggest that the villagers were responsible for the delay. I attended some of the hearings of the inquiry—not to "incite" anybody, the Secretary of State will be glad to know—and I found that the most substantial objections were being advanced by those representing the interests of agriculture and industry which are to a great extent involved in the site and which make a contribution to the employment situation in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I was not suggesting that constituents were in any way involved. Possibly I am being a little undemocratic, in the sense that I feel that sometimes I should like to see a few short cuts, but they are not always available to us.
I should like to turn to a subject that is noticeable by its absence. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) asked, in an intervention, whether there should be three judges involved in hearing cases. It is worth recalling the passions which were raised three years ago about having that number of judges, and the fears that were expressed about getting rid of juries. There has now been an acceptance of how well the courts have worked under the present system. I have visited these courts and I find that they are a startling experience to a lawyer who has been involved in many criminal trials. The atmosphere in such a court is totally different. It is as though the judge was sitting to find out what had happened in an industrial injury case. He intervenes, he asks questions, and so on. It is a totally different atmosphere but none the less it has worked, and I pay 971 tribute, as other hon. Members would wish to do, to the members of the judiciary who have served so well in those courts.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South also raised the question of the three judges' courts. It is not my task to bat on the side of the Attorney-General in this matter—he can look after himself very well—but I simply do not know where the judges would come from in Northern Ireland, and I cannot think of anything worse than importing judges into the Province from outside. Secondly, I see no possible reason to assume that three lawyers sitting together would necessarily produce a better judgment than one.
Be that as it may—and dealing now with jury trials and non-jury trials—when the Attorney-General replies, perhaps he will be good enough to inform us of his thinking on the problem of the way in which to use the discretion, very clearly given to him by Schedule 4 of the original Act, to declare that certain scheduled offences should be tried, albeit that they are scheduled offences, by a jury. It has been suggested that this is certainly one way—if properly dealt with—that might overcome some of the difficulties of police and others who are facing trial, when it is felt to be unfair that they should face trial without a jury.
I have in mind page 22 of the Gardiner Report. The Attorney-General will be very familiar with the remarks made in the House in 1973 concerning the limit to the discretion given to the Attorney-General of the day. If he would care to tell us how he views his duties in that regard, I am sure that the House would be well pleased.
I welcome cautiously the Secretary of State's words this morning about a Bill of Rights. I, too, would have grave doubts about it if it were simply to be something differentiating Ulster once again from the British mainland. On the other hand, it may be thought that there are things that could be done in Ulster, and perhaps in Great Britain, which would help people's rights.
All I want to say now is that, whatever rights are being denied in Ulster today, certainly there are no rights worth one person's life, or one attack on a 972 single person. The injustices—if there were injustices, and I am not going back five years—that stirred people up at the very beginning of the troubles have been largely cured by successive Governments. Whatever injustices now remain, there is nothing that we cannot solve through proper parliamentary procedure. Force has no part to play in it.
I shall deal only briefly with the legal changes. As to bail, I am inclined to think that policemen are civilians and probably ought to be treated as such. There was an intervention by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast, East concerning the possibility of certain judges giving bail. I wonder whether the Attorney-General would clear up the question raised at that time, when it was suggested that county court judges would not be able to give bail. As I understand the position, as long as a county court judge is sitting in a court constituted to try scheduled offences, the judge has the right to give bail as and when he feels it appropriate.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
I am obliged to the Attorney-General. Then, I, too, can be commendably brief. The details in the legislation which we are now passing seem sensible. They are details of the kind which any legislation requires after a year or two of working.
I welcome the right to question. Apparently there was an ambiguity, and clearly some provision was intended in the 1973 Act. I am sure that no one who served on the Standing Committee at the time had any doubt about what was intended.
Then there is the legislation about transmitters. The sophistication, about which the Secretary of State spoke, which is now lamentably employed in Ulster, means that some provision must be made.
On recruitment, recruiters and instructors, again I welcome the Government's decision. I am glad that we are to have this power.
As for gathering information, we had a very happy moment when my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) suggested that the secretary to the Lord Chancellor, who asked a number of judges to dinner, might find herself in some difficulty in getting together the list of names in order to set up the dinner 973 party. That need not worry us too much. The information has to be obtained unlawfully. This, too, is a sensible provision.
Thus, in a situation which I describe as one of modest hope for Northern Ireland, we welcome this legislation. It is modest hope on two fronts. I get the strong impression that the Convention may do more than many of us feared it would. We have at the moment, albeit tenuously, a cessation of attacks on our troops. But there are hard-line men in Ulster who will never be disuaded. One of the paradoxes is that there are men so incensed, so dedicated and so fanatical that if the Convention were to succeed, and if Catholics were seen sitting down with Protestants, the very success of the Convention could take us back to the situation which we all hope and pray that we shall not have to face.
This is legislation which can be commended to the House.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Mr. Samuel Silkin)
Perhaps I might begin by welcoming the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) on what I think is the first official occasion that he has represented the Opposition on the Front Bench. I am sure he will not misunderstand me if I say that I hope that that will be his position for many years to come.
When we were in Opposition we gave the 1973 legislation a very searching scrutiny. We were right to do that because it was a measure which made, as we thought, many erosions and many holes in the system of justice as it was known. We felt that it was right to consider carefully the extent to which they were justified. Among other things, we said that when we returned to power we would wish to review the workings of the Act as soon as we could. It was for that reason that we decided to set up the Gardiner Committee—a very high-powered committee with an excellent chairman which has done a first-class job, as I think all hon. Members will agree.
Perhaps I might be allowed to spend a moment or two in reminiscence. I remember when, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, I approached Lord Gardiner informally about whether he would be willing as a very important public duty 974 to accept the chairmanship if it was offered to him. As one would expect, he immediately agreed to do so. However, he went on to say "But I hope that it will not interfere with the course in sociology that I am taking in the Open University, to which I am giving 16 hours a week." I am glad to reassure the House that, as one would expect, he took the examination and passed.
We have given the very fullest consideration to the report, very much on the basis that there is a burden upon the Government, if they disagree with it, to show why. We have considered it especially in relation to those provisions of the 1973 Act about which widely felt anxiety was expressed during the debates on that Act.
Thus, we have reviewed the case for non-jury trials in the light of our own experience of them. The hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North was quite right to draw attention to the fact that there has been little or no criticism of the way that the judiciary has coped with the task of conducting those trials. That is the more significant because certainly in Northern Ireland—perhaps even Ireland as a whole—the tradition of using juries, even in civil actions, has been retained much longer than here. There is no doubt on the clear evidence of what I, exercising my function, have seen, that the judges have gone a very long way in interpreting and deciding upon their powers to allay the kind of anxieties that we had about some of the provisions of the 1973 Act. That also applies very much to the Director of Public Prosecutions and his staff.
The exercise of my own discretion has been referred to, and I shall deal with that matter further in due course.
In deciding whether to certify out a trial which comes prima facie within the schedule, I have been most closely concerned with this issue, because the right to trial by jury lies at the very heart of our judicial system—in a sense even more so in Northern Ireland than here. It should be known and understood that every case in which trial for a scheduled offence is proposed is considered personally by me in order to decide whether I should order the ordinary procedure or leave it to the Diplock procedure. That is a matter entirely for my discretion, and I do not, as I am sure the 975 House appreciates, lightly refuse to certify out so that the ordinary procedure can take place.
However, I have been greatly helped by the way in which the judiciary has interpreted its powers and the law. For example, the way in which Section 6 of the 1973 Act has been interpreted has shown a deep-felt concern for the traditional protection of the citizen and has certainly mitigated many doubts and anxieties.
The Diplock system was advocated primarily on the basis of intimidation of both jurors and witnesses. In Opposition we took the view—I believe rightly—that it was our duty to make a very searching scrutiny of that justification. However, in the practical application of my own powers I have been extremely impressed with the rather different aspect of possible bias whether for or against the defendant, sometimes depending on where he lives, on what his job is, whether he is a member of the security forces or a civilian, and factors of that kind. I have found it necessary to take that sort of factor into account in making my decisions. I therefore accept and welcome both paragraph 21 and paragraph 62 of the Gardiner Report, the latter of which removes any possible fetter on my discretion which might arise from the remarks of the previous Conservative Government's spokesman in 1973.
The hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North, who asked me about this, will, I know, agree that if I were to say, for example, that I would so exercise my discretion that in no case of a police officer who is alleged to have committed a scheduled offence while on duty would I do other than certify out—that is to say, that I would in every case order trial by jury—I would not be exercising my discretion.
If that is to be done, it would be necessary, therefore, for my powers to be removed. It could be done only by legislation which expressly excepted police officers in the execution of their duty from the operation of the schedule. An amendment to the Bill or some other Bill would have to be tabled and carried into law. Therefore, I have to do my best with the discretion I have.
976 It is right that I should take into account all the factors. I seek as best I can—and it is not by any means easy in the context of the situation in Northern Ireland—in each particular decision to try to ensure that justice will follow upon that decision. When I speak about justice I mean justice to the public as much as justice to the defendant. It is for that reason and because of the many and varied factors that have to be taken into account that it would be wrong, indeed impossible, for me to say in advance that I follow a particular rule or guideline in relation to the exercise of that discretion.
What I have said applies not merely to the civilians but—fortunately much more rarely—also to the members of the security forces. For example, there have been very few charges against the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and not very many, although rather more, against members of the Army. I have to look at all the charges in exactly the same way, taking into account the factors to which I have referred.
Experience has also led me to question to what extent each of these detailed Diplock provisions is really needed, whether in the context of trial by judge alone or by summary trial. The Gardiner Committee similarly questioned that need. Its recommendations have given effect to that process of questioning the need. The committee has taken the view, which I accept and which the Bill implements, that if a case is suitable for summary trial, the need for the stringent provisions of the 1973 Act could hardly be justified. That seems to me to be a very sensible approach, and the Bill, therefore, removes those provisions where either summary trial actually takes place or where the Director of Public Prosecutions certifies that in his view the case is fit for summary trial. The reason for that is that one would not wish to put at a disadvantage a defendant who, for his own reasons—as he is entitled to do in a case which is triable by indictment—elects for that trial although the prosecuting authorities are willing to allow summary trial.
The bail pending appeal provision is a very good example of what I have been saying, where a relaxation of the rigidity 977 of the original Act has been recommended by the Gardiner Report and we have accepted it. In some cases the committee, in the light of experience, considered that certain sections of the 1973 Act were unnecessary, even apart from the question of summary trial. Generally, therefore, the Bill gives effect to the committee's views—for example, in Clause 7, which repeals Section 5 of the Act.
I have been particularly encouraged by the fact that in the course of the very wide-ranging debate there has been little or no criticism of those proposals by the Gardiner Committee which we have incorporated in the Bill.
A substantial number of Committee points have been made, and I do not complain about that. I hope that hon. Members will not expect me to deal with all of them. Some hon. Members have properly said that they mentioned them today so that they might receive a more informed answer in Committee. I shall therefore confine myself to the relatively few points on which an answer in more general terms will suffice.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and, I believe, the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North asked why some of the Gardiner recommendations were not being put into effect. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred particularly to the procedure for complaints against the police. Hon. Members must appreciate that, whatever is decided on that subject and others, this Bill cannot possibly be the vehicle for such decisions. It is confined to amending the 1973 Act, with the exception of one clause which operates generally upon Northern Ireland law, and the Bill is set in the context of the emergency provisions.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) asked about the effects of Clause 12. I hope he will forgive me if I say, as one must in reply to questions of that nature, that of course it will be for the courts to decide how that clause will be interpreted. Nothing I say, therefore, can be taken as binding the courts. The right hon. Gentleman's point was whether the implied appeal to people arising from a public speech or something like that would fall within the provisions of the clause, a case which is distinct from the more obvious example 978 of where he might come to a person and ask him to join a particular organisation.
All that I can say about that is that it would very much depend on how it was put. I would not rule out the possibility that words used in a public speech which a court would construe as being an invitation to join a particular organisation would fall within it. They could well do so. But this is a matter which can be examined more carefully in Committee. If it is thought necessary to tighten up the provision, no doubt my right hon. Friend will carefully consider any suggestion that that should be done.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) was concerned about restriction of information. It is no doubt a very proper concern. But we are worried about the possibility—indeed, there have unhappily been instances of it—of people performing a function in connection with the courts being murdered in their homes or as they go about their normal business. The 1973 Act already provides for restriction on obtaining information which would enable terrorists to perform those acts. Although I cannot give the exact number of prosecutions, I am told that it is well into double figures. In looking at that provision again, we have thought that it is a valuable protection that should be extended somewhat. That is the reason for the clause to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention.
Many hon. Members have properly referred to special category status. This is something which we inherited. I make no criticism about that. I think that the general feeling is that something should be done to phase it out as quickly as possible. My right hon. Friend entirely agrees, and said so in his opening speech and in answer to questions about it. I do not think that any hon. Member regards it as other than something which should be speedily ended. But that must depend upon the ability to provide the cellular accommodation and so on which will enable people to be segregated. That is to be done as rapidly as possible.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) spoke about paragraphs 70 and 71 of the Gardiner Report on the meaning of terrorism. He wondered whether we might have accepted the Gardiner proposals to expand its meaning. I am not 979 sure that to give effect to what Gardiner wanted it is necessary to accept the Gardiner amendment. I am by no means sure that when one speaks in this context of political acts one is not including sectarian acts which have a plainly political motive.
Whether or not that be so, we felt that a better way of carrying out the intentions of Gardiner than the specific proposals, would be to make offences as clear and specific as possible, so that people are left in no doubt about what they are told they must not do, under penalty of punishment. That is what we have tried to do in Clauses 15 and 16. These are matters which, if they do not go far enough, or if they are too wide, can be looked at in Committee.
I was asked by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) and the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North about the Gardiner proposals for an advisory board on detention. I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think in a slightly different context, take the view that we have taken in the light of experience. It is a view that was debated in 1973, at that time in the context of courts. Two or three judges are not really practicable in these circumstances. We maintain that view in relation to the advisory boards.
If we make it absolutely clear that the decision to detain is an executive act, an act of my right hon. Friend and not the outcome of a quasi-judicial procedure, my right hon. Friend's task should be interfered with as little as possible. It is for that reason that he is given the power to consult the adviser, who will no doubt be a lawyer. If we build that up and create a bench of three judges or three lawyers it will be more difficult for my right hon. Friend to exercise his own judgment. It is more likely that he will feel, if three judges are unanimous, that it will be difficult for him to reject their view. We want it clear that this is an administrative and executive procedure and not a judicial one.
I said in answer to the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North that a county court judge will be able to grant 980 bail in respect of a person charged with a scheduled offence. I am told that this is not altogether so. The judge may do so only when adjourning the trial of the person so charged when trying that case. I think that that was what both of us had in mind, but, in case anybody did not, I make the point clear.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) talked about certain suspicions among people in Northern Ireland, and said, in effect, "I know, but, unhappily, it would not be right to reveal my sources." I am sorry that he is no longer here. My right hon. Friend asked him for evidence but he did not feel that he could provide it. When peripheral matters are raised and particular persons and incidents which have caused anxiety are mentioned, I feel strongly that the more people talk in that way with the authority of this Chamber, the more they increase anxiety. If these things are said here and reported, they attain some credibility, even though based on nothing more than suspicion—as the hon. Member agreed.
In the context of the delicate negotiation in the Convention to find a basis for harmony between the two sides of the sectarian divide, nothing should be said here to increase the feeling that there are unbridgeable differences. It is not for me to preach to the House, but the less of that kind of discussion we have in a debate like this the easier it will be for the Convention to reach a unanimous recommendation and for the Government to put it into practice. Building up peripheral matters like this can only make agreement more difficult to achieve, which many hon. Members believe is a real possibility, and for which we all hope.
I commend the Bill to the House. I hope that hon. Members will give it the scrutiny in Committee which they have promised. It is a useful Bill which should be welcomed, and evidently has been welcomed, on both sides.
§ 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).