§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move,That the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (Amendment) Order 1975 (S.I., 1975, No. 1609), a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th October, be approved.I wish to make it clear that this is not a renewal of the Act. It is an amendment Order which was made by me on 3rd October under Section 19 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, using the urgency procedure under Section 29 of that Act, and requiring confirmation by Affirmative Resolution of both Houses. The effect is to add the Ulster Volunteer Force to the list of proscribed organisations.
The UVF was named as a proscribed organisation in 1973, but on 4th April 1974 I said that I intended to bring forward an Order to de-proscribe it. The reason for this was that there were clear signs that many of its members wished to find a way back to political activity, and I was anxious that this should be encouraged. For a time it seemed that this more constructive path would be followed, and a political wing—the Volunteer Political Party—was formed and entered the field in the October General Election.
Unfortunately, it became increasingly clear during 1975 that a number of members of the UVF were deeply involved in sectarian violence and that the organisation was departing from the path of political argument. I would remind the House, for example, that the UVF admitted the Miami Show Band murders and further indiscriminate killings of Catholics on 2nd October this year. It became abundantly clear that a large number of members of the UVF were once more wedded to violence. Actions of this kind are crimes of the worst sort and are totally offensive to society. It was for these reasons that I signed an Order proscribing the UVF from midnight on 3rd October 1975. It is this Order which I am now asking the House to affirm.
I hope that the UVF will once again turn back to political argument, and I 234 shall return to this later. What I want to do today is to put to the House some wider issues of law and order.
The year 1975 has faced us with a totally different set of security problems. In the previous two years the overwhelming feature was the campaign of virtually unrestricted violence of the Provisional IRA, though it was accompanied by an undercurrent of sectarian murder. This year there have been fewer bombs and fewer attacks on security forces, though in recent months these have been increasing, and the Provisional IRA must bear a large part of the guilt. The prime emphasis this year has been on sectarian and interfactional killings. The figures speak for themselves. In all, 207 people have been killed, of whom 188 were civilians, and of these 157 have been classed as sectarian or interfactional murders. The UVF has played a prominent part in them.
The past week illustrates some facets of the position even more sharply. There have been 74 shooting incidents, the vast majority of which were concerned with the feud between the Official and Provisional IRA. I am glad to say that a number of people have already been charged, and other inquiries are being followed up. There have also been some arms finds overnight; and another man has been murdered in this feud. This is in addition to the five people killed and 64 injured during the week. The dead include a six-year-old child and the injured three women who were shot in the knee. Indeed, during 1975 no fewer than 168 people have been knee-capped. This compares with the figure of 127 for the whole of 1974 and 74 for 1973.
This is gangsterism. There is no other word for it. It can and will be dealt with by effective policing with the full support of the Army. The people responsible must be arrested and brought before the courts. This is the very strong view that I put before the House.
The security forces have been remarkably successful. This year, as of today, more than 1,000 people have been charged with serious crimes. They include no fewer than 118 charged with murder and 77 charged with attempted murder, while 283 travelling gunmen—some at least of whom must be regarded as potential murderers—have been arrested and 235 charged. The net increase in the convicted prisoners in Northern Ireland has been no less than 35 per cent. during the last 10 months, due largely to the more serious crimes committed and the longer sentences which are in consequence awarded by the courts.
Despite the fact that the number of detainees has fallen from 545 to 175, the number of special category prisoners has increased from 1,092 to 1,465. The House will know that male special category prisoners are not in cells but live a collaborative life in compound conditions.
This gives the background to the situation with which we have to deal. The Army still provides the framework for security, but the problem is quite different from that which obtained last year and we need to use different methods. My aim is to deal with it through the police and through the courts. We are faced with crimes against society which cannot be justified on the grounds of any political cause.
It is the police who must be the principal guardians of law and order for Northern Ireland. It is the people of Northern Ireland who can make the essential contribution to ending violence by giving their help to the police—and let no one in this House, which includes hon. Members who live there, be unaware of how difficult it is for the police. As I said in the White Paper of July 1974, however, nothing would transform the situation more quickly than a determination by the whole community to support the police service and co-operate with it.
Here I again pay tribute to the outstanding part which the Army has played and continues to play in supporting the civil power in preserving law and order. A day or two ago I spent an afternoon in Newtownhamilton, Forkhill and Cross-maglen to see the conditions and problems which, on this occasion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has to face. I came away feeling extraordinarily glad that it is the British Army which is dealing with the situation that is faced out there.
It is only against this background of the Army supporting the civil power in the preservation of law and order that the present successes have been achieved. Nevertheless, as the security situation improves 236 and as the police grow yet more successful, so I would envisage the Army being able to make a planned, orderly and progressive reduction in accordance with my statement in the White Paper of July 1974. This has been my overriding aim. It is not a question of political disengagement but depends on the progress that is made in bringing gangsters to justice.
The police expansion programme which started in September last year has shown good results. The regular Royal Ulster Constabulary has grown, as I told the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) recently, by about 300 to about 4,800 during 1975, and the Reserve has almost doubled in size from 2,500 to not far short of 5,000.
Great praise is due to the Chief Constable, Sir Jamie Flanagan, and his senior officers for the leadership and dedication they have shown in meeting the demands made on them, which are far in excess of those made on any other police force. They have not been afraid to make innovations such as the "A" Squad, which was introduced in July 1975 and which has already achieved remarkable results. There have also been outstanding feats of personal courage. In the last fortnight, a young policeman with only a couple of years' service and armed only with a hand gun arrested three armed youths. It is a characteristic of the RUC that it is a new and young force, the overwhelming majority of which have only a few years' service. The whole of the force deserves praise.
The people are in the front line, but there are two points I should make clear, because it is important to be clear as we come to discuss the future in Northern Ireland. The first is the independence of the police. From the Chief Constable down to the newest recruit, their duty is to the law and to the law alone. It is not for me to give them operational directions. It is not for the Police Authority to give them operational control. It is concerned with the efficient administration of the force and with senior appointments. That is the way it should be, that is the way it is and that is the way it will continue to be. There must be no political control of a police force. The independence of the police must be complete in the sense in which I have expressed it.
237 Lawlessness must be defeated in Northern Ireland, and with their growing rate of success I am entirely confident that the police will be fully capable of doing just that. It is, of course, the police who must and do take the lead in the fight against crime. The Army, in its rôle of giving military assistance to the civil power, will continue to support the police in all parts of Northern Ireland as long as it is needed
In some areas, such as along the border and in South Armagh, the Army's rôle will remain of particular importance. As criminals are caught, brought before the courts and sentenced, then the need of the police for more widespread support from the Army will become less. That is the path we intend to follow. It is the path that I have set as a guide since I took office, and in particular since the July White Paper last year. I am convinced that it is the right path for Northern Ireland.
The House is aware of the processes leading to detention as laid down in the Emergency Provisions Act. I have not signed an interim custody order—the first step—since 9th February this year. The reason for this is that I am determined that criminals shall be brought to justice through the courts. The figures I have already given demonstrate the increasing capacity of the police to find and bring to justice those involved. This requires skilful and patient police work.
For example, at my security meetings once a week, time and again the police report to me that a man has been charged with a crime committed perhaps a year before. It hardly hits the headlines, but if I had issued an interim custody order on the man on the day after the crime, if that had been possible, it would have hit the headlines. It is sad that the slow, patient work of the police does not get the recognition that it should. I believe that the full processes of the law are a much more effective deterrent and are more acceptable to the community as a whole than any emergency procedures.
If this policy is to succeed, I must take a number of steps to deal with the unique problems of the prison system which are peculiar to Northern Ireland. I have already given the figures about the number of prisoners who claim and who are granted special category status. 238 It seems to me that nearly everyone who claims it is granted it.
Whatever was the validity at the time—and I understood and supported the action then—in the new situation I am sure that it is wrong. I want to end this system, but the hard fact of life is that it cannot be ended while so many prisoners have to serve their sentences in compounds. If I were to end it now it would mean that the people would go into the compounds, and I would have changed only the name and made no difference to the facts of life.
The key to making progress is to build new prison accommodation, and the necessary building programme has started in the Maze Prison, where 200 cells will be available this month and more will become available next year. As the House knows, work will start shortly on a major new prison at Maghaberry which will provide more cells, but in the longer term. Maghaberry plays no part in the immediate situation.
The programme at the Maze Prison will allow a start to be made in changing the present prison régime—a régime which is made worse by a prison population unnecessarily high because of the absence of a parole scheme in Northern Ireland. This has long been recognised by successive Governments. After a very detailed study, I am in no doubt that a parole scheme on the lines of that in Great Britain will not at present work in Northern Ireland. The reasons are that it is just not possible to do this kind of professional assessment work in compounds or to exercise the necessary degree of supervision when parole is granted.
Any new measure must take account of the realities of the prison situation in Northern Ireland. I propose, therefore, to ask the House early in the new Session to approve an Order in Council which will provide for the conditional release of all convicted prisoners, after one half sentence, whether or not they have special category status. Such releases will be subject to good behaviour in prison. The essential condition will be that any prisoner so released who commits a further serious offence before the full term of his original sentence has expired will be liable to serve the outstanding balance of his existing 239 sentence in addition to any other penalty the court may impose. This will be a matter exclusively for the courts. The new system will replace the present one in Northern Ireland, which gives unconditional release at the moment after two-thirds of a sentence has been served.
These new proposals will not apply to the 97 life sentence prisoners in Northern Ireland, and there will be no change in the procedure under which their cases will continue to be reviewed in consultation with the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. It is not a matter for me. If we multiplied that figure of 97 by approximately 40 it would give the equivalent number of life sentences in Great Britain.
I propose to introduce the new conditional release scheme on a phased basis over a four-month period from 1st March 1976, so that it will be fully effective by 1st July 1976. The effect of this in terms of average monthly releases will be that the present average figure of about 90 a month being released through ending their sentences will rise. I add that people refer quite properly to the number being released from detention. Every month a substantial number of people who have been sentenced are being released. This figure of about 90 a month will rise to somewhat more than double that figure for that period and then return to about its present level. That is a four-month period next year.
This new scheme will have little practical effect for those serving very short sentences, and I intend shortly to amend prison rules to provide simply that, for sentences of one year or less, the amount of remission will be increased from one-third to one-half. There are about 250 prisoners at present serving one year or less. This represents some 14 per cent. of the total of convicted prisoners.
I should make it plain that the parole schemes in Great Britain do not mean automatic release after only one-third of the sentence has been served. I understand that at present only about 40 per cent. of prisoners in Great Britain are granted parole, and although prisoners are eligible for consideration after one-third of the sentence has been served, it 240 is rare in practice for parole to be granted as early as this.
My scheme is conditional. The emphasis is on individual responsibility to live within the law. If this does not happen, then the sanctions I have outlined will apply.
The effect of this scheme and the new prison building programme will enable me to begin to bring to an end special category status. The facilities are not there for me to deal with those who have already been admitted to special category status. They will not be affected. But those sentenced for offences committed after 1st March 1976 will be accommodated in cellular accommodation and will not be able to claim special category status. Special category status is to end—slowly, I admit.
I also propose to take the opportunity to include in the forthcoming Order a number of other measures. It will provide for community service orders on the lines of those already operating in England and Wales, suspended sentences, and bail hostels.
There is a widespread belief in Northern Ireland that an amnesty will come. Special category status is thought by some to reinforce this belief. There are those who think that the special category means that the prisoner is different. He may have murdered. After the murder he may have dealt with the face of the man—and some terrible things happen. It may be felt that doing this is political and that this makes it a special category, that such people are special, and that the day will come when there will be an amnesty. I wish now to make it clear beyond peradventure that there will be no amnesty. Those who purport to believe that if murder and bombing have a convenient political label it means that they will receive an amnesty tragically mislead themselves. Let there be no misunderstanding of this.
I turn to detention. Since 1971, including those detained more than once, a total of just over 2,000 have been interned or detained. There are parts of Belfast, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) knows, where in a community living close together there is a high proportion of people who have been in the Maze. The average lime they have 241 been held in custody has been 18 months.
I have already made clear my desire to bring detention to an end, both because of the present successes in bringing people before the courts—this is an important point—and because there is a price to be paid for detention. It undermines the law. It alienates part of the community. It is a fertile ground for recruitment to the paramilitaries.
Nevertheless, it played an important part in dealing with violence in 1972–74. But I must point out that it did not end it. If the security position were to develop in such a way that detention is the right and only course, I shall not hesitate to resort to it again, and I shall seek the approval of the House to extend the relevant provisions in the Emergency Provisions Act in due course so that the powers remain available to me. But I want to make it clear that the onus of reintroduction will rest clearly, for all to see, on those who seek to gain their ends through violence when the political path is wide open for them to take.
It is my strong belief that, in the present security situation, if someone has committed a serious crime, he should be sentenced by the courts. He should not be dealt with by an executive system on an indeterminate basis. The steps which I have announced today strengthen me in my resolve to release all remaining detainees by Christmas, unless there is a fundamental change in the situation. I must emphasise, however, that no release from detention carries any immunity in the courts against prosecution. I repeat that if I have to resort to detention again I shall do so only to protect society. My aim is to release all detainees.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
When the policy of detention commenced in 1971, to what extent were the then Secretary of State and Home Secretary consulted about it?
§ Mr. Rees
Whatever happened under the legislation of 1922, 1926 and so on happened under the previous administration. I do not want to dodge the question. However, in 1971 I had no responsibility. But that is not to wash my hands of it. It is simply a short answer to my hon. Friend's question.
242 The violence will not disappear overnight. The Government want to see a permanent end to it. It was to explain the Government's policy that talks were held between my officials and Provisional Sinn Fein and other legal organisations. It was to monitor the cease-fire that the incident centres were set up. They were there for a positive purpose. They have served a useful purpose. But the changed nature of violence, the existence of various splinter groups and the events of the past few weeks have brought this usefulness into question. The opportunity for usefulness is still there, but I must say that in practice it has diminished.
What I would make crystal clear is that the Government are not prepared to abrogate their responsibility for the rule of law and the maintenance of order. We are acting and will continue to act on an even-handed basis. Those who commit criminal offences will be brought to justice. The 1,000 to whom I referred as having been charged since the turn of the year include Provisionals, Officials, IRSP, Loyalists of various hues, including UVF, and other criminals. I shall not give the precise figure, but of about 1,500 special category prisoners—people who are self-classified and who themselves when sentenced say that they want to be classified to live in compounds with certain brands of Loyalists or with certain brands of Republicans—about 900 are Republican and about 600 are Loyalist.
I give those figures to illustrate that the fact that there is no signing of ICOs—the beginning of the detention process—does not mean that people belonging to paramilitary organisations are not being dealt with through the due processes of the courts. Almost daily in the newspapers of Belfast it is reported that there has been a trial that day and that someone belonging to a paramilitary organisation has been sentenced to gaol. It is not just through detention that those who purport to be acting politically by killing and murdering are dealt with.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I apologise for not having intervened a little earlier and, therefore, for asking the right hon. Gentleman to backtrack a few passages in his speech. He referred just now to the incident centres and expressed an opinion about their diminishing usefulness, with which most Northern Ireland Members would agree—indeed, I think 243 that they would regard it as an understatement. When he said that, did he mean that it was his intention, nevertheless, to maintain them, or will he bring them to an end?
§ Mr. Rees
I expressed the view that their usefulness was diminishing. I looked carefully at the reports this morning before leaving Northern Ireland. There has been some usefulness, in terms of information which has been of use to the security forces. I prefer to leave the final decision for a while in order to see how the situation develops. Their usefulness has diminished.
Violence will not solve the problems of Northern Ireland. It will only create more violence. The other day, I dealt with the case involving the transference of a prisoner. It concerned a young person just coming up to the age of 17. It does not matter for the moment which paramilitary group he wanted to join when he went into prison proper. But it was my job to read the details of the case, to discover whether his parents wanted it, and to give my approval or otherwise. He had been involved in six murders, and it was quite clear what had sparked him off. Some three or four years ago someone belonging to his family had been killed by the other side. Violence breeds violence and, as we have seen in the events of the past few days in West Belfast, even interfactional violence. It will breed more violence. The rule of law supported by the community, who can do a great deal to keep the peace, and the political will to work together over a period of years—not weeks—can and will result in progress, which is what we all want to see.
There is a political way forward and, when the Convention Report is received, every political avenue must be followed to find a solution with widespread acceptance through out the community.
I have lived and worked in Northern Ireland for 20 months. I understand in a way that I did not before why it is that political attitudes are polarised. But I have also realised that the vast majority of both communities reject the gangster-ism perpetrated in their name. I understand why it is that the minority community do not support the IRA but nevertheless reject detention. I want to 244 end detention, but that minority community must help and play their part.
I understand and totally share the feeling in the community as a whole that lawlessness must be dealt with. This is best done by the police and the rule of law. It is against this background that I present the Order before the House, which has the effect of re-proscribing the Ulster Volunteer Force. Once an organisation is proscribed under the Emergency Provisions Act 1973 it becomes an offence to belong to it, to profess to belong to it, to solicit financial or other support for it, or knowingly to make or receive any contribution to it. Under the Emergency Provisions (Amendment) Act 1975 it becomes an offence to solicit a person to become a member of the organisation or to carry out its instructions.
This Order will increase the possibilities of bringing people before the courts.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Can the right hon Gentleman say whether this Order will also proscribe members of this force in Great Britain, or is it just applicable to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
The Order is applicable just to Northern Ireland. It is not for me to say what happens here. I have no responsibility. My judgment with regard to the UVF is in the context of Northern Ireland. It is for others to make a judgment about whether the main problem arises in Great Britain.
This Order will increase the possibilities of bringing people before the courts. I am sure that the police and the courts, with no diminution of my praise for the Army—I learned it afresh down on the border last week—believe that this is the way to proceed and that this is the way to get the support of the community as a whole. The community as a whole have had enough of gangsterism. They can help in a major way. We can help by the direction of our policy, and one important part is to begin the end of the special category, and the kudos that it gives to the people involved.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The Opposition agree with the purposes of the Order and with a great deal of what the Secretary of State said.
245 The UVF has admitted openly to serious crimes of violence, and this Order is the immediate result of its terrible 24-hour blitz of bomb and gun attacks on 2nd October which will not be forgotten for some time in most parts of Northern Ireland.
We agree also with a great deal of the other matters referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, and we welcome the intention of the Government to end the special category. This is an essential step in making it clear that terrorists and murderers cannot be dignified with a political label. This is a very important move.
We also welcome the fact that there will be no amnesty. I hope that all concerned will take note of everything the Secretary of State has said about that. If he decides to reply to this debate, it will be interesting to know whether those who cease to belong to special categories and who are the subject of a conditional release scheme will have to give an undertaking not to engage in terrorist activities. I raised this point in Committee, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember. Perhaps he will deal with it towards the end of the debate.
Although Conservative Members remain of the opinion that fundamental questions of policy should be treated on the bipartisan principle whenever possible, we have always reserved the right to probe and sometimes to disagree with the Government's security measures, as did the right hon. Gentleman when he was in opposition. Therefore, I want to raise a number of points.
We should not be prepared to become involved in any strategy of withdrawal of the Army at present. The Government have made this clear on several occasions. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said as a tribute to the Services and the police. There are certainly areas in Northern Ireland where the Government need to toughen up their security measures. In the course of my remarks I shall mention them.
Proscription of terrorist organisations such as the UVF raises a number of important questions. Many people will ask why the Provisional Sinn Fein, as the political wing of the Provisional IRA, is not included in this Order. The Minister 246 of State may wish to explain this for the benefit of public opinion. The Secretary of State, as he described in his remarks, de-proscribed the UVF and the Provisional Sinn Fein last year, adding the hope that they would find their way back to political activity. We agreed with that at the time. Some members of the UVF tried to do this but they received a negligible percentage of votes. This has led to increasing militancy.
What is the distinction between the UVF and the Provisional Sinn Fein in this respect? The Sinn Fein has made no attempt to enter democratic politics. On the other hand, it does not claim responsibility for violence as the so-called political wing of the Provisional IRA. Some find the distinction difficult to understand, especially those who strongly dislike the idea of conversations between officials and the Provisional Sinn Fein. I hope that the Minister of State will deal with this point.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
In the 1973 Act the then Secretary of State arranged for the Sinn Fein—that is, both Official and Provisional Sinn Fein—to be proscribed. Last year I de-proscribed the Sinn Fein—again, both the Provisional Sinn Fein and the Official Sinn Fein. The distinction between the IRA and Sinn Fein is a meaningful one, certainly in West Belfast and with regard to the numbers involved.
§ Mr. Neave
It may be said that those two organisations were not directly at war at that time. Public opinion in Northern Ireland is exercised about this. It is a matter which the Government should consider. Proscription is a difficult measure in itself because it will not substantially alter the activities of any terrorist organisation. Proscription may end the affront to public opinion by the open soliciting of funds and Press statements which claim responsibility for what all hon. Members regard as the most despicable crimes.
We are also entitled to ask how the provisions of the principal Act relating to proscription are to be enforced. I am considerably worried about this, as are many others. Before the Summer Recess, hon. Members who were present at the Standing Committee when we discussed this will remember that Conservative Members moved amendments to enable 247 security forces more easily to secure convictions of members of proscribed organisations. However, these were difficult points and we did not succeed. Since then there has been some consternation in Northern Ireland and elsewhere about the non-arrest of individuals such as Seamus Twomey. Many believe that if the case for membership of an illegal organisation cannot be made out against him, it cannot be made out against anyone, because he is generally believed to be chief of staff of the Provisional IRA.
On a recent visit to the Province I discussed this matter with the legal authorities and others. Although there are difficulties, I suggest that the Secretary of State should reconsider the possibility of using the system which is now in use in the Republic of Ireland. The law in this respect has to be amended to make it more effective and to give more confidence to the people. In the Republic of Ireland a statement under oath by a senior police officer that he believes an accused to be a member of an illegal organisation is accepted as prima facie evidence. There is a division of opinon here. There are those in the police who believe that it cannot be done and there are those in the legal world who believe that it is possible. Perhaps the Government will tell hon. Members their thinking on this point. There is no purpose in this House passing a statute part of which it is admitted cannot be enforced. I am trying to put forward a constructive suggestion.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I have considered this matter carefully and have rejected the system which applies in the South. If we wish to lock people up in a way which is outside the courts' jurisdiction, we should be clear—I am not talking about the South, because the South governs itself—about the matter and return to the system of detention. We would be moving away from the processes of law. I have considered it and I do not believe that it can be done. I do not interfere in what the police want to do. All I have said is that people will not be the subject of an ICO for the moment.
There must be evidence of membership to put before a court. It is not good enough to say that one believes or thinks 248 or that maybe such is the case. If I proceeded on the basis of "think" or "maybe" in Northern Ireland, I should be proceeding against the beliefs of a large number of people. There must be evidence of membership. I have with me my Labour Party membership card. However, I do not think that many people carry a membership card of the sort of organisations about which we are talking which could be used as proof.
§ Mr. Neave
No. However, there is a need to find means of enforcing the law. We have only just passed this statute. Just two or three months later we are saying that that part of the Act of Parliament which relates to membership of a proscribed organisation cannot readily be enforced in Northern Ireland. There should be some examination of this point. The Secretary of State has graphically illustrated the difficulties of producing evidence of membership. He should consider this matter seriously.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that in 1971 when internment was first introduced it was on the word of the RUC. the police force, which advised the then Prime Minister in the Northern Ireland Parliament that it had grounds for believing that all those who were to be arrested and interned were members of illegal organisations? Subsequently it was found by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on investigating the papers, that there was no proof that those people were members of illegal organisations. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), the then Secretary of State, took a courageous step and released many hundreds who had been arrested on the say-so of the police.
§ Mr. Neave
I dare say that that is so if this is a question of strict proof. This is the view that many lawyers take. It is essential that we find a way of giving evidence to a court, perhaps by a police officer or someone else who knows that a particular person belongs to an illegal organisation. I hope that this matter will be dealt with in the winding-up speech. It is one which we have discussed a good deal in the past. Such proof requires to be according to law, but not, I believe, in such a way that it prevents police evidence being given in any circumstances.
249 There are too many violent organisations in Ulster, some illegal and some not. That is really why I am raising this point and why the Government must look at the point raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and others as to whether we ought not to review the entire matter again.
We regard the Order as necessary. However, on a wider point, I think that the Government must create an atmosphere of respect for the law in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State said that that was the function of the Government, and I think that is true. The question is, how can this atmosphere be created more effectively?
I am sure that the House will be with me when I say that we shall not be intimidated by bombs, either in London or Belfast, as the very brave example of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) has recently shown. Likewise, we should remember the ordeal of both Catholics and Protestants in ordinary homes in Ulster, hon. Members who represent Ulster constituencies, Members of the Constitutional Convention and all those in judicial office and the public services. There are also the members of the various security forces and the UDR who daily carry out their duties in a way which ought to command the respect of all civilised people.
I think that the House should know the present position with regard to the cease-fire with the IRA. The Secretary of State said in the House on 26th June:I want to go through the courts.Perhaps I may say that, whatever my views about releases from detention, I agree with him that these matters should ideally be dealt with through the courts. However, he also said,
"But if there were a military campaign with the middle of Belfast burning in the way we have known in the past, we should not be able to stand back."—[Official Report, 26th June 1975; Vol. 894, c. 819–20.]
During the bombing blitz, on 22nd September, this time by the IRA, not only was the centre of Belfast burning but so were the centres of other towns in the Province. After the UVF bombings on 2nd October, which I mentioned earlier, there were massive swoops in County Antrim and scores of people were brought before the courts—which is quite 250 right. But after the increased IRA activity there were stricter security measures, certainly—I pressed those on the right hon. Gentleman during the recess—but so far there do not seem to have been the same results. No doubt there are good reasons for this. It is perhaps due to the inability of the RUC to operate in certain IRA areas.
Like many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members on the Government side of the House, during the recess I visited South Armagh. There was a massively publicised search operation during September, but it does not seem that a very large number of terrorists were actually caught. I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that he still needs to restore confidence in the area in his determination to stamp out the threat in the area from the IRA. I am sure he could not disagree with that.
Effective policing, as the right hon. Gentleman has often said, is the only answer in an area where I have been told by the police that there are examples of children of 12 and 13 driving untaxed and uninsured vehicles on the road. It is in respect of the law as a whole, not only the law relating to murder but in the use of cars or indiscriminate terrorism, that order must be restored in Northern Ireland.
So far not all that amount of progress has been made in reintroducing the RUC, although it has done magnificently well by bringing people before the courts, into certain parts of Northern Ireland. I would instance South Armagh, Mid-Ulster, parts of West Belfast and parts of Londonderry. I hope that the security forces under the right hon. Gentleman's direction are concentrating in those areas, because the restoration of respect for the law, the ordinary law of the land with regard to domestic things rather than murder and terrorism alone, must be enforced. For a younger generation to grow up without any regard for the minor consequences of breaches of the law will bode very ill for the future. This must be done whatever constitutional solution we in this House agree upon in the future months for Ulster. The latest outbreak to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, interfactional IRA violence, is a symptom of the breakdown of civilised values, which the Government have a unique duty to uphold. In doing that, 251 although we should be ready to criticise the Government or disagree when we think they are wrong, we shall give them full support when they take measures which are essential.
The Order expresses our deep abhorrence of one violent organisation, and we therefore support the right hon. Gentleman in this matter.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I ought to begin by assuring the Secretary of State that my colleagues and I have no intention of moving an amendment to add the Labour Party to the list of proscribed organisations—so that he can continue to carry and exhibit the document to which he has recently referred.
Although we are very grateful to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the latitude given to us to discuss the wider statement of the Secretary of State, a matter which is not strictly within the terms of the order, we shall want to study the statement in detail, particularly the complicated passages about release and the ending of political status, the special category.
At first glance, however, we recognise that the Secretary of State has gone a long way towards meeting the requests which we have repeatedly put to him regarding the introduction of a parole system roughly on the lines of that obtaining in Great Britain. It may be that the conditional plan is the best we can get in the meantime. We are aware of the difficulties which would confront any Secretary of State trying to implement the English system with conditions as they are in Northern Ireland.
With regard to the special category, my hon. Friends and I disagreed with the practice of classifying some convicted prisoners as special category—entitled, as they were, to special treatment by reason of the supposedly political motive which prompted the offence for which they had been convicted. This practice, as I understand it, has no basis either in common law or in statute law, and I doubt very much whether it has any basis in any of the emergency regulations. Certainly, as the Secretary of State has said, it tends to glamorise the offenders and to 252 raise hopes of an early amnesty, thus reducing the deterrent. It should never have been adopted, and we support the Secretary of State's decision to phase it out.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the very worst feature of it is that the special category is self-selecting, because there is no judicial decision whether a person is in the special category? He comes to the camp and says, "I am so and so", and if he is accepted into the compound, in he goes.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and there are other aspects of the matter which we need not go into at present. However, I think that all of us agree that the idea of a special category was a highly undesirable exercise.
With regard to the Order, no one will disagree with the Secretary of State's decision to include the UVF on the list of proscribed organisations. Following its operations on 2nd October, I think he had very little option. But whether the mere act of proscription will make the organisation any more easily dealt with is a matter for doubt.
Presumably, if a member of the organisation is found guilty of an offence he will be dealt with accordingly and suffer a penalty. But if he is merely shown to be a member of the organisation, presumably nothing very much will happen to him and he will be allowed to go free. I doubt whether any hon. Member in the House really supposes that a proscription order by itself will make any significant difference to achieving the desired result, which is to defeat terrorism in its many forms.
For some time we have discussed murders and shootings in terms of tit for tat. I do not think we have ever clearly specified who is tit, and who is tat, and I suggest that tat is that element in the violence with which we ought to be concerned and which must first be eliminated, because that ruthless, guerrilla force which we know as the Provisional IRA is the root cause from which all the subsidiary and subordinate violence sprang. It has been the failure of successive Governments to deal firmly with that primary cause that has brought into being all 253 these do-it-yourself organisations that we all strongly condemn.
I agree that the Government cannot and should not relax their efforts until legal authority is restored and all wrongdoers are firmly dealt with. Their task in achieving that will be made very much easier once they have demonstrated their determination to ensure that terrorism in all its many forms will be defeated. Once the Government demonstrate their determination to restore the civil authority in all parts of Northern Ireland, the message will quickly get through to all levels of evil doers of every grade and they will be all the more easily dealt with, as dealt with they will have to be.
One form that that message of firmness might take is to end all contacts and talks with any terrorist body, because such talks encourage terrorists to believe that somehow or other, at some time or other, a deal will be done. We welcome the assurance of the Secretary of State that there will be no question of granting an amnesty. That will do much to reassure people in Northern Ireland, but convicted terrorists have a great capacity for deluding themselves and if we preserve in being the mechanism for doing a deal, that will make it that much easier for them to kid themselves that the mechanism will one day be activated and brought into use.
There is another part of the message that would be extremely effective. It has been referred to by the Secretary of State—and we understand his reasons for not wishing to press further ahead with it at present—and that is the question of the incident centres. This is not a strange demand for Ulster Members to make. We have said it before, and we do not apologise for repeating it, because our demand has become more relevant with every month that has passed and with every bomb that has been detonated. In our view, these incident centres can do nothing but harm and the sooner they are finally disposed of the better. However, in view of the remarks of the Secretary of State, my colleagues and I should not want to press him further on that matter now.
A major hazard lies ahead of us, and that is the Christmas season and all that goes with it, because prior to last Christmas there was a feeling—perhaps it was more than a feeling because it was based on fact and knowledge—that at long last 254 the security situation was beginning to stabilise and there were clear indications that the Provisional IRA and certain other terrorist organisations were seriously weakened and facing defeat. But then there came to their rescue various well-meaning but totally misguided persons, and no doubt their appearance was no mere accident. No doubt they received innocent, or seemingly innocent, invitations. No doubt there were hints, nods and winks, but the effect of it all was utterly disastrous.
The appearance of these people could only have the effect of weakening the Government's position, because my colleagues and I can think back to some of these television appearances and recall a well-meaning cleric appearing on the "box" and saying, "We have been talking to leaders of the IRA. We find them to be reasonable and sensible people. Tomorrow we shall talk to the Secretary of State, and if he will be equally reasonable we have no reason to believe that a truce cannot be arranged".
In all fairness, what else could the Government do but make some move in that direction and at least listen to what was being put to them? It was for that reason that my colleagues and I thought it right at that time, and in those early months of the year, to support the Secretary of State because we realised that he was having the rug pulled from underneath him by people Who we might charitably say did not really know what they were doing. Some of them ought to have known better.
I make this plea to them and to all those who might be tempted to repeat this kind of exercise. They and all Members in this House must recognise that responsibility must rest where the power lies, and that power lies here in this Parliament and with this Government. I have tried on various occasions to assure the Secretary of State—and I hope he will realise that I am sincere when I say this—that firm action by him and by the Government would be supported by all political parties in Northern Ireland—because what have any of them to gain from a continuation of violence?—and by all responsible and right-thinking citizens throughout Northern Ireland.
Finally, I beseech the Government to exploit to the full the support and good 255 will which they now have in Northern Ireland and to lead us in the crusade to rid this Province of ours of the plague of violence once and for all.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
It is ironic that we should today be discussing the proscription of the Ulster Volunteer Force because of the brutal murder of a number of Catholics in the month of October when within the past few days we have witnessed the terrible spectacle of Catholics being murdered by Catholics and some of them in an even more atrocious manner than that used by the UVF.
I suggest that the UVF is not being singled out today because of the single series of killings early in October. Since last year, when the Secretary of State tried to involve this organisation in legitimate of political action, there have been a series of murders in what has become known as the murder triangle in the North Armagh area and openly claimed by the UVF. Many innocent people have been brutally murdered by the UVF and an associate force which has not been mentioned by the Secretary of State, the Protestant Action Force, which claims to have some association with the UVF, just as the UFF, Ulster Freedom Fighters as they were called, claimed an association with the UDA.
I wonder whether, at this stage, the proscription that has been announced by my right hon. Friend will also apply to the Protestant Action Force, which seems sometimes to contain members of the UVF but is the Protestant Action Force when its members are engaged in murder.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
My hon. Friend has raised an important point which ties in with our discussions in Committee. The UVF is an old name going back to before the First World War. It is easy for people to change the name of an organisation from day to day. I forget whether it is 40 or 49 different organisations that one can find. As I say, it is easy to change a name, and one cannot make a change every day to allow for the various names of an organisation that is so ephemeral. That illustrates the nature of the problem.
§ Mr. Fitt
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I have a newspaper cutting here stating that the UVF recently formed what it calls the Ulster Central Intelligence Agency, composed of the UVF, the Protestant Action Force and the Red Hand Commandos. I agree that these names spring up overnight, but if someone is to be charged now with an offence and claims to be a member of the PAF, what will be the legal position? Will the Secretary of State then say that he will bring in an Order to proscribe the PAF? I realise that there is tremendous difficulty here.
As for the UVF, in 1968, before there was an IRA as we know it now, it was the UVF which engaged in the first bombings of strategic areas in Northern Ireland, with the intention of bringing about the downfall of the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O'Neill. So it is well recognised in Northern Ireland as a force which is determined to use violence to achieve their political ends, whatever they may be. Speaking as a Catholic, I believe that the UVF would be the most feared of all the Loyalist organisations outside the UFF, which also has claimed responsibility for some of the most heinous crimes.
But will proscription have any effect? I remember that, on the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act as it applied to the United Kingdom, I tried to move an amendment to include the UVF and the UFF, which are not unknown in this part of the United Kingdom. Many of their members have been charged before the courts in Great Britain. I agree with the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) that if they are proscribed in Northern Ireland they should also be proscribed in Great Britain. The Home Secretary should consider this.
In the early days of October, when so many Catholics were killed—I knew them all and attended every one of their funerals—they were killed by the UVF because they were Catholics. Within the past 72 hours or four days, an almost equal number of Catholics have been killed not by the UVF but by those who would claim to be the protectors of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. My condemnation is not selective against the UVF or extreme Loyalist forces. It is 257 levelled against anyone who uses violence, either of the bomb or of the bullet, and against the taking of innocent lives, as happens throughout my constituency.
In the past two or three days, five Catholics have been killed by the Provisional IRA. One Provisional IRA Catholice has been killed and it is suspected that another was killed by the Official IRA. There have been scores of instances of knee-capping. Only yesterday, we read in the Press that a 10-year-old girl was knee-capped—I suspect by the Provisional IRA—and it is possible that she will never walk again. My right hon. Friend was right to say that violence in Northern Ireland is not restricted to one section of the community. There are far too many people with guns.
When political category status was introduced, I thought that it was a recognition of the fact that there were people involved who honestly believed that they were engaged in a political battle to achieve their idealistic ends. I disagreed completely with it, but I know that there are people, probably on both sides, who are absolutely convinced that they are engaged in a political struggle. Many of them may be men of integrity and supreme honesty—I do not know. But I know that those responsible for the killing of a six-year old girl in my constituency last week and for shooting the kneecaps of an 18-year-old girl, those responsible for all the murders of recent weeks and days, have no right to political status because they are not engaged in political activities. They are engaged in mass murder, thuggery and gangsterism. From that point of view, I do not regret seeing the end of political status.
However, I am wholly convinced that there are people engaged in this struggle who honestly believe they have a right to act as they have acted. My right hon. Friend will have to separate those people who were legitimately caught up in what they regarded as political action and have been sentenced to imprisonment and who have not been engaged in vile murder and terrorism. There is a clear distinction to be made. I would lend myself to helping the Secretary of State in any way to differentiate those people.
But there will be difficulty about ending the special category. For example, 258 my right hon. Friend has said that he will end that status next March—
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
For new entrants.
§ Mr. Fitt
Yes, for new entrants. But my right hon. Friend also congratulated the police on their efforts to bring before the courts those engaged in violence. Next week, if a person is arrested by the police for a crime committed last year, he will still be able to claim political status. But will that end after March? If someone is apprehended after March, after the ending of political categories, for a crime that he committed when political categories existed, will be be able to claim that status or will it finish completely in March?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Could I get this right, because it is important that it should be clear in the prisons of Northern Ireland? Those sentenced for offences committed after 1st March 1976 will be accommodated in cellular accommodation and will not be able to claim special category status.
§ Mr. Fitt
As I say, there will be reason to scrutinise closely those who have been afforded political status in Northern Ireland. I hope that those who are engaged in what they would regard as a political struggle—whether the Provisional IRA or the UVF or extreme Loyalist organisations—will recognise that they have no possibility of winning the battle in which they are engaged. That applies right across the board, to the UVF and to the Republican forces. My knowledge of the situation convinces me that they will not be the victors in the long term.
The whole Catholic community is standing back in fear, terror and revulsion at the happenings over the past four or five days. So many innocent people have been killed and maimed.
259 Those engaged in this action do not have the support of the Catholic community. Last year, when the UV and the UVA were engaged in an internecine war, the Catholic community was inclined to say, "Very good: let them go on murdering each other." In the same way, I suspect that the Protestant community is hoping that at the moment the Catholic community will rend itself asunder because of the activities of these paramilitary groups.
No one has listened to me in the past. However, I make an impassioned appeal to everyone, especially to all those on the Republican side in which I would be classed because I am a Catholic and come from that community, to desist from further action so as to ensure that there is some hope of bringing normality to Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State paid a tribute to the police in Northern Ireland. Other hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland recognised that there was a problem with the RUC because of its political overtones, because it was under the political control of a Minister of Home Affairs and because it had never been accepted by the Catholics as their police force.
In Britain everyone of every political persuasion, whether he be Labour, Liberal, Conservative, National Front and so on, regards the police of this country as his police force. That was never so in Northern Ireland. The majority community always took the view that it was their police force and that it existed to implement laws which the majority regarded, rightly or wrongly, were aimed at oppressing the Catholic population. We have come a long way since then. There may be slight signs that the police force in Northern Ireland is not what it was in 1969, but more dramatic steps will have to be taken and many things done in the police force before it can be accepted by the whole community in Northern Ireland.
I unhesitatingly state that I look forward to the day when Northern Ireland police will be in full and complete control of law in Northern Ireland, because I do not believe that the British Army is the right weapon or the right 260 structure to use in Northern Ireland to try to enforce law and order.
§ Mr, Miscampbell
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. What steps have to be taken to make the police force now acceptable? That is one of the crunch issues in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Fitt
I do not want to anticipate a debate which we shall probably have in early December, but I believe that political steps have been taken, which have been obvious during the past few months, in which politicians, not of my persuasion, were involved, notably the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). Those political steps have made it clear that it is not impossible to create acceptable political structures in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. I believe that this can be done.
I shall dedicate myself on behalf of my party and the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland to that end. I hope that this will be met by a response from the representatives of the Loyalist community. I hope that we can get together and create acceptable political structures in Northern Ireland which will involve the whole community, because in that situation there will be absolutely nothing which will prevent wholehearted support from being given to the police.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
We have all listened with great interest to what the Secretary of State has said. He knows from the representations which I have made to him over recent weeks that there will be a ready welcome for his improvements to our penal system, especially concerning the phasing out of the special category status.
There are one or two matters on which I should like further clarification. The Secretary of State said that he proposed shortly to amend the Regulations and to increase remission for short-term prisoners to one-half. What is meant by "short-term prisoners"? I should also like clarification concerning the conditional release system which is to be proposed. What sort of sentence qualifies for that type of remission? Will short-term sentences be treated differently with 50 per cent. remission and no conditional release, while long-term sentences can 261 merit conditional release amounting to 50 per cent.?
§ Mr. Craig
There was also a brief reference to the fact that the Order will make provision for community service orders, deferred sentences and bail hostels. All those involved in the legal processes in Northern Ireland will welcome such proposals.
However, there is one aspect of the whole procedure which is causing great concern, and that is the abnormal time that prisoners spend on remand. I have known cases to be remanded in custody for approximately 16 months. No one will welcome such a situation. As the Secretary of State is addressing his mind to the improvement of the operation of the law of Northern Ireland, I hope that he will give early attention to this matter.
I turn to the terrorist situation. I readily concede that considerable progress has been made in dealing with terrorist offences through the courts. The record is quite impressive. However, although there has been progress terrorism is still a real threat to our community. Indeed, some of us fear that it will not be long before we have to withstand another major onslaught. I was reassured to hear the Secretary of State say that in that event he would be prepared to reintroduce detention.
However, I should have been happier if there had been some indication that we were to have a special code of law to deal with terrorism, because it is most horrible when it is reduced to the level of indiscriminate murder. I believe that the penalties are far from adequate and that we should attach a heavier penalty, perhaps even thinking in terms of capital punishment. I should like the Goverment to think in terms of a special code of law that would apply to a terror situation bearing in mind whether one has to declare a state of emergency or whether the courts will decide that the offence was committed in a terrorist situation.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, who has great experience, 262 will take the point further. Let us consider the position where someone robs a bank. Friday is bank-robbing day by paramilitary organisations, although this trend has decreased slightly in recent months. Let us assume that there is a straightforward classical robbery of a bank or a post office, that the offenders are caught and, when sentenced to two, three or four years' imprisonment, claim to belong to a paramilitary organisation. How would one decide, without the self-classification, that it was a terrorist offence? If the sentence was trebled for such an offence, it would be easy for the culprits not to claim that they belonged to such an organisation. I can see the point which the right hon. Gentleman is making concerning murder, but how would such a system work with a vast range of offences?
§ Mr. Craig
I was about to come to that point. I appreciate the difficulties, and that was why I was speculating that it might well be left to the courts to decide whether the offence was committed in a terrorist context. I was thinking particularly about bank robberies carried out by members of an illegal organisation.
We have proscribed another organisation today. If a member of that organisation commits a bank robbery, it is at least reasonable to assume that he has done so in pursuit of his membership of that organisation and, therefore, the onus of proof should perhaps switch to him.
I was a little unhappy that the Secretary of State should depart so quickly from the proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) regarding membership laws as they exist in the Irish Republic. Those laws have been very valuable in the Irish Republic, and I prefer that system to executive detention. I hope that we shall be able to look at this situation again. I do not know how many organisations in Northern Ireland are proscribed at the moment, but there are very few convictions for membership of illegal organisations. I ask the Secretary of State not to close his mind entirely to this type of legislation whereby the onus of proof can be switched to the accused in terms not only of membership 263 of an illegal organisation but of specific crimes which are being committed.
I wholeheartedly agree with the Secretary of State that, apart from laws and detention procedures, the way to defeat terrorism is by the whole community co-operating with the police and security forces. I think we can honestly report that that is happening now. I was pleased at the revulsion felt by the whole community following that awful day of UVF terrorism. I know that a lot of information was given to the police following that terrible day.
I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) could not have been more forthcoming by making a call for assistance to be given to the RUC and the Army in their difficult task. Had he done so, I am sure that it would have helped the situation and would lead to a political settlement. I am not trying to score cheap political points. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's difficulties and welcome the steps that he has taken. I merely ask him to hurry the pace a little, because I detect a great willingness all over the Province to have a speedy decision and restoration of law and order. That will come from the lead that politicians can give, from the agreements that politicians can enter into and from the support that politicians can give to the forces of law and order.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
I welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the phasing out of detention by Christmas and his reiteration of what he has already said on this matter. However, there is one point on which I disagree about detention. My right hon. Friend seemed to think that in the years 1972 and 1973 it was conducive to cutting down a great deal of the violence. I suggest that much of the violence was caused by the creation of detention in 1971 and that that was the reason for rent strikes and people joining paramilitary organisations. The great lesson to be learned is that a precipitate and clumsy stroke like that can cause far more harm than the immediate good which it might at first appear to create. In this instance 264 internment created no good and brought long-term disruption to Northern Ireland.
Dealing with parole, my right hon. Friend said that in any case of conditional release, if the releasee were convicted of another serious offence, he would have to serve the remaining part of the sentence from which he was released. How is "serious offence" to be defined? Is it associated with terrorist activities? Would it come under the offence of terrorism under the present legislation, or under another offence outside that area? This is important.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I used the word "serious" because I was giving advance notice of the scheme. It will be defined in the Order that I will introduce. The difficulties of definition will be seen more clearly then. I used the word "serious" in the sense of "important".
§ Mr. McNamara
If a person kills somebody by drunken driving, that is important, but it has nothing to do with terrorism. That is why I am seeking to draw a distinction. It is a matter about which we should be very certain.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) spoke in glowing terms of the system in the Republic of Ireland of convicting people in special courts on the say-so of a senior police officer. One of the main difficulties in Northern Ireland has been the grave suspicion attached to the police force by not only the minority but parts of the majority community.
This situation was highlighted in the period leading up to detention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, by the poor information given to the executive, with the resultant difficulties. If we put the police in that situation, we might ruin the tremendously good work that they are doing. Conviction rates are now higher among people of both communities because both communities are coming forward with information about terrorism and other offences. To ruin all that by putting a policeman, albeit a special policeman, in the witness box on oath to say what he believes to be true without producing positive evidence would be counterproductive.
265 The only reason that system succeeds in the Republic is that the Garda is generally accepted by the whole population. All the good work being done in the furtherance of my right hon. Friend's policy, which is direct and correct, of bringing people to court, getting convictions and having them sentenced properly, could be put at risk. It could be as useless an expedient as detention in trying to deal with a very difficult situation.
The same argument applies to the proposal put forward by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East regarding a special system of law. My right hon. Friend said that he would get rid of political status. He says that if a man breaks the law, he is a criminal. We may not like the law and we may seek to change it by democratic methods. The paths to democracy in Northern Ireland are now open as they were not before. However, if we create a special law, we shall be going back to everything associated with the Special Powers Act. Everything that was evil within that Act, which was a cause of great concern, would come back again. If we introduce a system whereby we say "That man is guilty of that offence, but, bingo, we shall put him under another special law and bring him up before a special court", we shall be going back to the old system.
§ Mr. Neave
The hon. Gentleman has given reasons, which no doubt the House and the Government will consider, for rejecting what I suggested. However, I think that he will agree that the Government should consider how the law regarding membership of a proscribed organisation can be enforced. If the Southern Irish system is not suitable for Northern Ireland, has he any suggestion about how the law should be enforced?
§ Mr. McNamara
I believe that the law should be enforced by being administered impartially, by our giving every help and succour to the police force in times of difficulty, by ensuring that the police force is seen to be independent of political motivation and pressure, and by the police acting in the interests of the whole community. I believe my right hon. Friend's policy is beginning to bear fruit in just that way. The hon. Member is suggesting we should put the whole thing at risk once again.
266 In a sense, we are going through a charade in banning the UVF. As my right hon. Friend has admitted, his hand was forced by the events of 2nd October. I am not certain that banning any organisation is ever of any value, even in a political terrorist situation, but at least under this Order evidence will have to be produced of membership and involvement in the activities of a proscribed organisation. That is the difference between the situation in the North and that in the Republic where the same degree of evidence does not have to be produced for a person to get a six-month prison sentence. In the Republic the case is decided merely on the word of a senior police officer. A similar policy in Northern Ireland in the past has been disastrous.
§ Mr. McNamara
The right hon. Member is asking me to answer for the sins of my right hon. Friend, who is well able to do that for himself, but I am prepared to absolve him. The difference is relatively simple. We are phasing out detention and hoping that it will never be reintroduced. If it is reintroduced, it will be in a completely different political climate. The grounds for introducing it in 1971 are gone—Stormont is gone, the alleged discrimination against one part of the community is gone and the roads towards political democracy and progress are open to everyone.
The police are gradually getting away from any involvement in politics and, because the situation has changed, our position is strengthened if it is necessary to reintroduce detention. There is a difference in attitude among both communities towards the police, who are seen to be becoming more impartial.
I hope that we shall not hear pleas from any part of the House for members of the SDLP to make speeches urging support for the police force. That would be counter-productive. They must do that in their own time and in their own way. The real test of acceptability is that people are giving the police information 267 and are helping them. It is not right to refer to a case which is sub judice, but if that case is proved, the fact that the police succeeded will be far more significant than any speeches that could be made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
My hon. Friend quite properly raises the matter of evidence in relation to the existing law. This Government will never introduce a system, in the nature of the society in Northern Ireland, under which extraordinary methods of law are used on the say-so of the police. It would be fatal to the police. I would not want anybody to think I am considering such action. It is vital for the police to be accepted in the community. There is grave suspicion, wrong but understandable, in one part of the community. There must be no thought that I am considering such action. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter in the way he has.
§ Mr. McNamara
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am sorry to have excited the attention of so many hon. Members, because I wanted to keep my speech brief.
It is important that a criminal should be treated as a criminal and not given special status. It is important that we do not use detention again, and therefore my right hon. Friend's policy should have the support of the whole House. It is of great importance that there should be adequate schemes for the rehabilitation, retraining and accommodation of released prisoners so that they can play their rightful part in society and pursue legitimate political aims in a democracy which is free from terrorism and fear and in which every man can get up and say his piece.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I welcome the introduction of this Order. I suppose that the outlawing of the UVF is a step in the right direction, although such action tends to drive groups underground and make police surveillance more difficult. However, no doubt the decision has been carefully weighed.
Some people think that a change of emphasis is required in dealing with some of the ghastly crimes committed in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for 268 Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has made many pleas to the terrorists for humanity, peace and decency in the years that he has been in the House, and they have been repeatedly ignored. The Secretary of State told us that 207 people had been killed in Northern Ireland this year, and if one multiplies that figure by 40, it is the equivalent of more than 8,000 people killed by terrorism in mainland Great Britain. I wonder whether the penalties and deterrents are adequate and whether there is not a case for a more energetic form of action against terrorists from both communities who perform these ghastly crimes in which innocent people suffer and lose lives or limbs.
For years we have heard well-meant and well-intentioned pleas like those of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who has often said that he believed that we had turned the corner and that the end of terrorism was near. We must look at the facts. After seven years, the bloodshed and tyranny in Northern Ireland are as bad today as they have ever been.
Northern Ireland is rapidly becoming, if it is not already, synonymous with blood and despair. It is right to proscribe the UVF and a number of other organisations in Northern Ireland, but it is about time we considered the introduction of severe penalties for those who so wantonly kill and maim innocent people in the sort of incidents we have already heard described so graphically.
Innocent people who have no responsibility for the political state of Northern Ireland are murdered in the most terrible ways. Is it not about time that, instead of making these pious pleas, we considered the re-introduction of the death penalty for murders and crimes of this nature when innocent persons are killed, either through a bomb explosion, or because of a deliberate act of terrorism? Members of proscribed organisations, including the UVF, who are responsible for the death of an innocent person should run the risk of suffering the death penalty.
It has become apparent that these people live by the most bloody methods. They are completely ruthless, and six or seven years' of platitudes in this House have got us nowhere. I do not say that the approaches of successive Secretaries of State have not been absolutely right. Successive Ministers and Governments 269 have sought a political solution, and their efforts must be redoubled. Nevertheless, any Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would have his arm immeasurably strengthened if the Northern Ireland judiciary had the power to sentence a terrorist to death for causing the death of an innocent person.
When we discuss Northern Ireland, many strange ideas are inevitably put forward. One which emanated recently from the Conservative side of the House was for the imposition of martial law in Northern Ireland. Of course these ideas must be considered, but even if martial law were introduced and even if it had the effect, which I do not think it would, of clearing the Province of terrorists and terrorism and of restoring a state of security, it would be impossible to maintain that situation. The long and winding border between the North and the Republic would prevent that. No one who has suggested martial law has also suggested a fortified border. Without such an arrangement, it would be impossible to prevent continuing infiltration from the South.
The only course to follow is the present painstaking one adopted by the Secretary of State. In general, we fully support the Government's policy on Northern Ireland. I personally admire the way in which the Secretary of State has steadfastly maintained an attitude of complete impartiality and has striven as hard as possible to find some common political ground by which a sense of stability can be reintroduced into Northern Ireland. That task would be made much easier for him and for his successors if they had behind them the additional assistance of a law under which the thugs who live by bloodshed would know that they would receive the ultimate and just retribution of the death penalty. I support the Order.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has suggested imposing the death penalty for acts of terrorism. I can think of no better way of creating an even worse situation than already exists. Whether it was Protestant or Catholic who was subjected to that penalty, the upsurge of terrorism that would follow would overshadow any good, if there be any, that might flow 270 from that penalty. I therefore hope that the Government will reject that suggestion.
I noticed some Opposition Members nodding in agreement with me as I was saying that, but I think that their nodding will cease as I develop my speech. What I am about to say will not be popular on that side of the Chamber. Indeed, certain of my hon. Friends will not be particularly happy with the points I shall make. Nevertheless, I believe that those who participate in Northern Ireland debates must show that they speak with a firm conviction. Whether their views are acceptable to their party is irrelevant.
I want to look at this issue in the long term. We repeatedly and inevitably discuss questions affecting security, the police force and the Army. It is, however, from the policy of the Government that all other things stem. Even proscription of an organisation is an act of policy.
I believe that the Government's attitude is fundamentally wrong, because it accepts the continuance of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom. That is its basic premise. Northern Ireland is a part of Ireland and the perspective should be the establishment of a united Ireland. Those are my views and they have been the views of Labour Party conferences. Nothing has happened in recent years to suggest that the Labour Party has in any way changed that policy. I am therefore addressing myself to complete disengagement from Ireland.
Some people suggest that for Britain to make such a declaration at this time would result in a tremendous upsurge of Orange activity in Northern Ireland, to the detriment of the Catholic population. I cannot answer that sort of suggestion in detail. Certainly such a move would be most unpopular with the Protestants in Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Thorne
The majority in Northern Ireland, but the minority in Ireland. The Catholics might be a 40 per cent. minority in Northern Ireland, but they represent a majority in Ireland as a whole.
§ Mr. Thorne
I did not say that the people wished for the change to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am addressing myself to what I see to be the solution. If you have evidence to establish that the majority of people in Ireland reject what I am suggesting, no doubt you will produce that evidence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must address the Chair differently if he wishes to address the Chair.
§ Mr. Thorne
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I addressed you as Mr. Speaker, but I looked at the hon. Gentleman because he raised the point.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. He keeps saying "you" and obviously means the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates).
§ Mr. Thorne
These niceties of discussion in this Chamber become a trifle irksome at times. [Interruption.] I agree that the Irish question, too, is irksome at times.
The establishment of a united Ireland and our disengagement from Ireland constitute the perspective to which I address myself. In order to achieve those ends we must establish structures and institutions in the North that will encourage Catholics and Protestants to work together. There are those who will say straight away that that is what the Government have been in business for over several years, that they have not achieved it so far, and that it is not achievable. I do not accept that, but it seems to me that there are certain conditions for achieving it.
I am sure that the British Government are prepared to give positive encouragement based upon a clear and unmistake-able statement of our intention to disengage. The alternative in my view, irrespective of what may emerge from the Convention, is another patched-up job which retains Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and which will subsequently produce periodic outbursts of violence varying in length and intensity. We may have several years of relative peace, but inevitably there will yet again 272 be an upsurge of violence as long as Northern Ireland is seen and held to be a part of the United Kingdom.
Under partition the Catholic minority in the North of Ireland have been deemed to be people without the same rights as the majority here. There has been constant evidence of injustices arising from that. I used to travel to Belfast fairly frequently years ago, and I can remember being told again and again "If you are an Orangeman or a Mason you are 'in' in Northern Ireland. If you are a Catholic, you are in difficulty." That situation has continued over a long period, and has caused many of the present difficulties. Catholics have been denied civil rights and discriminated against.
We on the Labour Benches have many times urged the drawing-up of a Bill of Rights that would seek to protect minorities in Northern Ireland. The announcement of the introduction of a Bill of Rights as part of the statement that I seek from the Government of their intention to disengage is still relevant. It could still be drawn up. It would address itself to some of the difficulties experienced by minorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke this afternoon of certain improvements in the matter of internment, and they are to be welcomed.
I am certain that it will be necessary to retain troops in Northern Ireland for some time. At one stage I took the view that it was possible—in fact, necessary—for us to withdraw troops in the short term because of the continuing situation. However, I now see only too clearly that if they were withdrawn now, extreme Right-wing elements in Northern Ireland would take advantage of the situation to perpetuate the absence of the civil rights of defenceless minorities.
The basis of an agreement to constitutional changes providing for disengagement from Ireland can be worked out, with the participation of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the Republican Government and our own Government. It might take a year or two, but over that period it would be possible to reach such an agreement on the basis of a clear declaration of the kind I have described. I recognise that there is no prospect of any eventual change without such a declaration. The 273 longer we put it off, the worse the situation will be. Only when we have made it can we begin to build the dialogue that can produce the necessary constitutional changes.
In the meantime, the troops' rôle in Northern Ireland would be to ensure that there is democracy, to protect the civil liberties of minorities, in a way that we have not seen hitherto. They would have behind them a Bill of Rights that we had agreed should apply until the Irish people themselves determined, in their own way, the form of government appropriate to their situation. It is not for me to speculate on what that form of government would be, but it seems to me that a federal type of government would be perfectly feasible in Ireland.
The problem of Northern Ireland is not merely a matter for those who reside there. It is very much one for the people of England as well. I represent a constituency with a 40 per cent. Catholic vote. [Hon. Members: "Ah."] In that constituency there are a variety of approaches to the problem of Northern Ireland. I tell those hon. Members who said "Ah" that when I speak of a 40 per cent. Catholic vote, that does not mean that those 40 per cent. who are Catholics have a monolithic view of the solution to the problem of Northern Ireland. They have several.
My belief is that Members of Parliament must take cognisance of the growing bodies of opinion throughout Britain with similar approaches to the problem. One section of the community says "We should withdraw from Northern Ireland because it has brought us nothing but trouble over the years and some of our lads are being called upon to die for reasons that we consider to be irrelevant." That is one shade of opinion that is often put forward in my constituency.
There is another body of opinion which says that we should withdraw from Ireland because Ireland belongs to the Irish people. It is said that the Irish people should determine the character of their political life and Ireland's social and economic circumstances. They say that those matters should not be subject to any control from London.
§ Mr. Thorne
No, Mr. Speaker. It is a little confusing when one hears the mumblings that come from the benches opposite. I sincerely hope that the mumblers will get into the debate later.
Some people view the matter from the standpoint of the majority in Ireland. Whatever the motivation, there is a growing United Kingdom demand for our disengagement. The constitution of a new all-Ireland State, some may argue, should stem from the previous attitudes of British Governments. I reject that approach. I believe that we have to accept the same sort of criteria for Ireland that we seek to apply in other countries when we talk about the right of self-determination. I believe that the Irish have the right of self-determination.
§ Mr. Thorne
I can only answer one point at a time, Madam. I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for referring to you as "Madam". That clearly is not appropriate. The constitution which Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not mind the hon. Gentleman promoting the corporal to sergeant all the time, but I hope he will bear in mind that this is a short debate in which there are strong feelings to be expressed. Other hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to express their feelings.
§ Mr. Thorne
That means that I shall have to cut my speech. I respect your views, as always, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I close by asking the Government to consider seriously that which they have been unwilling to consider for the best part of 20 or 30 years—namely, a complete disengagement from Ireland so that the Irish people can determine their own future.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
The only comment I wish to make on the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) is that the hon. Gentleman has come so far from his marching support for the "troops out" movement to his present position that there must be hope for him yet.
I accept that the Secretary of State has no alternative but to bring forward the Order following the UVF's acceptance of responsibilities for various atrocities. However, I regret that the Order displays the same self-deception as was demonstrated by the de-proscription order of May 1974. It was then quite obvious that the Government wanted to legalise the Provisional Sinn Fein and perhaps, incidentally, the Official Sinn Fein. To prevent a Loyalist reaction the UVF was included. At that time the UVF was in a period of claimed cease-fire. It also claims to have a political voice to express. That made it easier for the Government.
However, I believe it has become increasingly clear why the Government wanted the Provisional Sinn Fein de-proscribed: namely, to enable them to talk to it. It enabled the Government to negotiate with the Provisional Sinn Fein. It enabled them to agree a ceasefire which defies description—based on what I know to be a cease-fire. Further, it enabled them to set up the incident centres.
I welcomed the view expressed by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) when he touched on the issue of self-deception. Of course, he will remember that the Government were able to move the 1974 Order at a late hour of the night in May with the collusion of one of his Front Bench colleagues. I intended to speak on that Order but because I was more innocent in the affairs of the House than I am today I was prevented from doing so. If I had spoken on that occasion I would have objected to the Order. I would have objected on the same basis as I object today. It is my contention that we must view these matters in an evenhanded fashion.
If we are to de-proscribe the UVF and to declare it an illegal organisation we are blinding ourselves to reality to suggest that the Provisional Sinn Fein is 276 not exactly the same thing. The 1974 Order was moved the day after the Prime Minister thought it sufficiently important to make a statement in the House concerning plans which had been found in a Belfast suburb outlining the IRA's proposals for escalating the violence and introducing a greater element of sectarian killings. It may well have been that some of the events in my constituency put into operation some of those long-term plans.
At that stage the Secretary of State chose blindly to pretend that the Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are two separate and distinct organisations. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and myself that they are inexplicably intertwined, and that to all intents and purposes they are the same thing. It was O'Brady and Drumm who led the Provisional IRA funerals this week and who delivered the orations. It was Joe Cahill a fortnight ago who sat at the top table of the Provisional Sinn Fein conference in Dublin, a conference that was addressed by the army leaders of the IRA. It must have offended the hon. Member for Belfast, West and his constituents just as much as my constituents and myself to hear Pronsias McAirt or Frank Card, in common English, apologising or putting forward the voice of apology on behalf of the Provisional IRA for the murder of a 6-year-old child. He put over the apology in such a way that made it obvious that he had probably written the statement himself.
That is the body we are supposed to accept as a legal political organisation. If the UVF needs to be declared an illegal organisation, then Provisional Sinn Fein also needs to be the subject of a similar declaration. It was the Provisional Sinn Fein which provided the propaganda battle. It manipulates the emotions in the Catholic ghetto areas. The incident centres are an invaluable part of the Republican terrorist campaign. When we consider the folly of the ceasefire and the fact that it is considered a cease-fire, we can appreciate the importance which can be attached to Provisional Sinn Fein spokesmen.
Reference has been made to the successes of the security forces. It would be wrong for the House to blind itself by 277 the statistics of the Secretary of State. Since the cease-fire, and in my constituency, Postmaster Elliot has been murdered at Silver Bridge. No one has been apprehended or charged. Three dog fanciers have been killed outside Newry and no one has been apprehended or charged. Four soldiers have been killed at Forkhill. Again, no one has been apprehended or charged. Detective Constable Anderson was murdered on 9th July at Lurgan. No one has been apprehended or charged. William Hanna was murdered on 26th July at Lurgan. No one has been apprehended or charged. George McCall was murdered on 16th August at Charlemont. No one has been apprehended or charged. Mr. Kerr was murdered on 17th August in Armagh city. No one has been apprehended or charged. William Meeklim was murdered on 18th August in Newton Hamilton, and again, no one has been apprehended or charged. Two Gaelic fans were murdered on 24th August at Newton Hamilton. No one has been apprehended or charged.
There was the case of William Frazer on 30th August at Whitecross, when again nobody was apprehended or charged. There was the case of Joe Reid on 31st August, with nobody apprehended or charged. Then on 1st September five Orangemen at Tullyvallen were killed, and yet again nobody was apprehended or charged. There was the case of Andrew Baird on 22nd September, at Portadown, again with nobody being apprehended or charged. Furthermore, two soldiers were killed in South Amagh, again with nobody being apprehended or charged.
Therefore, it is all very well to produce statistics to show success in the anti-terrorist campaign, but I have to look at these matters from the point of view of my constituency, and I see no such success.
§ Mr. McCusker
I am referring specifically to County Armagh. Most of the murders in the area to which the hon. Gentleman refers were committed in 278 County Tyrone. I meant to go on to say that members of the Miami Showband were shot in County Down. Then there were incidents involving a darts club in County Down, and also Bingo players in the same county. I am referring to my own constituency. I included two Catholics when I mentioned the two Gaelic fans. Again, nobody has been apprehended or charged with murder. In view of all this, what success can I attribute to the drive by the security forces?
After some of the incidents at the beginning of September in County Armagh we were assured that certain action would be taken in the southern part of the county. A total of 1,500 troops were rushed into Crossmaglen, but in broad daylight, three miles from Crossmaglen, six armed masked Provisional IRA men mounted a road block and stopped a Press car whose occupants were on their way to Crossmaglen to report on the operation.
I took a Member of this House to County Armagh to show him the situation there, and I had to offer him a gun to protect himself, when we got to a certain area, because there is no guarantee that anybody else would protect him. He did not take it, but it was offered.
§ Mr. McCusker
Nobody else could have protected him. He was being taken into an area where one has to rely on one's wits and ability to get oneself out again.
Cross-border roads have been closed and in the past fortnight they have been opened. If the Army intended to close those roads it should have kept them closed. If that was not its intention, it should not have been done in the first place. It will help nobody if the Army loses face in this way.
I had a telephone call on Sunday from a family in Tullyvallen two of whose members had been murdered, and I was told that the Provisional IRA was operating openly at a road block only 300 yards from their home.
I have to listen to the Secretary of State congratulating himself on the success he has had in certain areas. I ask the House to look at my constituency and to ask whether this has any relevance to the true situation. The right hon. Gentleman must decide whether he wants to defeat the 279 Provisional IRA. I hope that he is coming to the view that it can be defeated. It can and must be defeated. I hope that some of the things that the right hon. Gentleman has said today show that he is prepared to defeat the Provisional IRA.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)
I share the concern of many hon. Members about the basis of this Order, which adds the UVF to the list of proscribed political organisations.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) made some telling points about the manner in which the law can be enforced, and raised the question of whether it was being enforced. I do not sit for a Northern Ireland constituency, but I have no doubt that hon. Members from Northern Ireland could give a great deal of evidence about members of so-called proscribed organisations. I wonder to what extent the law is being brought into greater disrepute by the Order. It is to the subject of disrespect for the law that I wish to address my remarks, particularly the effects of detention.
I wholeheartedly support the Secretary of State's policy aimed at doing away with detention. I appeal to him not to give way to the temptation to reintroduce detention. It brings into disrespect the law that we are trying to maintain in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, we state that we want a society that respects law and order; on the other hand, we seek to impose on that society a system of law and order that people cannot respect.
Under the detention processes the laws of evidence are suspended. Under that system people can give evidence behind a screen and the defendant himself may be removed from the court and may not hear what is being said against him. Oral and written evidence may be introduced which would not be accepted in courts in other parts of the United Kingdom. We must ask ourselves to consider to what extent a person is given a fair trial in those circumstances.
I believe that the processes are wrong and that we must look at their effect on the system. I have a letter dealing with the case of somebody in Northern Ireland who has been wrongfully detained. The 280 net result has been that members of his family, previously not concerned with the IRA, have promptly joined it. That is one of the effects of detention, and it cannot be denied.
We must look at the effect of detention in a wider context. During the summer on behalf of an organisation I visited a Middle Eastern country to ask about political prisoners. Finally, I met an official in the Foreign Office there and mentioned the names of the prisoners in whom I was interested and I instanced the procedures and trials that they follow in his country. The retort from that official was "Just look at what is going on in your own country in Northern Ireland". We must bear these matters in mind when we seek to condemn the procedures elsewhere. These procedures are taking place on our own doorstep and we must answer for them.
I do not suggest that we live in a police State, or that there is such a situation in Northern Ireland, but I believe that it is the beginning of a police State when court procedures in Northern Ireland exist as they do at present. From that point of view alone we are running a risk in Northern Ireland.
We have heard a great deal about special categories of prisoners. I am not in favour of such procedures. If a man commits a crime, he is a criminal, but under the procedures in Northern Ireland, involving special categories of prisoners, people are tried without due process of law. Has this proved a deterrent? In face of the present serious problems, it does not appear to have done so. It may be that deterrence works in certain parts of the world—but only because those countries are prepared to embrace a system of punishment that is inconceivable to us in this country. I believe that detention should be done away with, and I welcome the Secretary of State's commitment in this respect.
The Secretary of State outlined details of a scheme whereby he would give remission of sentence to those who had been imprisoned. As I understand it, he said that these persons, if they committed a further offence, would have to serve out their remitted sentence. There appears to be some confusion here. It seems that this is simply carrying across to the Northern Ireland situation the suspended 281 sentence principle, whereby if a person commits an offence and is given a suspended sentence but subsequently reappears before the court, he has to serve the full amount of the suspended sentence.
A point which has been made repeatedly is that if we have so-called political prisoners, we must concern ourselves with the problems of rehabilitation. This point has not been adequately dealt with. I appreciate that we are faced with the problem of finding the money. I hope that money can be provided to give Northern Ireland suitable rehabilitation centres for those who come out of prison.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
There are many in the House who will be grateful to the Secretary of State for the information that one of the disastrous anomalies in the penal system of Northern Ireland is to be removed—that of special category status for certain prisoners. We are also grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for widening the debate somewhat and thereby enabling us to deal with some law and order issues. We have heard a great deal about inter-faction conflict and internecine conflict, but it must be borne in mind that one of the grave problems facing Northern Ireland is the continual violence and destruction perpetrated by the Provisional IRA while a cease-fire or truce is in existence with that organisation.
Instances of the activities of the Provisional IRA are legion. As recently as September there were atrocities in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). In my constituency there has been the destruction of a police station. The Secretary of State will recall the earnest warning and the sincere advice given by hon. Members with regard to the advisability of creating incident centres and the warnings given about their rôle in the truce between the British Government and the Provisional IRA.
Regrettably, the Secretary of State seems to have fallen into the simple yet sinister trap of involvement with the Provisional IRA. My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh rightly made the point that there was no distinction between Provision Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. Having fallen into the trap 282 of involvement with this destructive terrorist organisation the Secretary of State will find it impossible to extricate himself without exposing himself to the charge of harassment and suppression of the minority community should he seek seriously to deploy the troops in Northern Ireland against the Provisional IRA.
The brilliance of the IRA manoeuvre lies in its simplicity. If the British Government decide to act contrary to the "advice" given by the Republicans controlling the incident centres, once again the old rallying cry will erupt in the so-called minority sections of the community—"Unite to oppose British aggression." It is a war cry which is emotive, irrational and illogical, yet the awful consequence of that war cry would be that all the IRA atrocities, the death and murder due to the activities of the Provisionals—even the murder of a 6-year-old child recently—would be forgotten. Once again we should find the minority misled and misguided, yes, even by some politicians as well as by the murderous rabble with which the British Government have effected a more than formal relationship.
This kind of simple trap is deeply to be condemned. The IRA ploy is sinister in that any terrorist group can destroy or attempt to destroy with impunity, yet the cease-fire or truce continues so long as that group is not connected with those who are allegedly the signatories to the cease-fire, or the allegiants of that group which has agreed to the cease-fire. What do we find? We find that a growing number of maverick IRA groups continue to bomb, murder and maim. The level of anti-IRA activity remains at an inadequate level because of a commitment to one group of terrorists. What is to stop terrorists from taking action under another name when they know of the unwillingness of the British Government to grasp the nettle and defend part of the United Kingdom?
If the Secretary of State thinks that the cease-fire or truce and the incident centres determine the level of violence, he is naive in the extreme. The level of IRA violence and activity are determined by many other factors, perhaps including the progress or otherwise at the Convention. But the British Government's contact and pleadings with this illegal organisation is not a determining factor. I am 283 not one of those who divorce consent from authority. Therefore, I recognise the difficulty of re-introducing in full the police presence into areas in which residents have been brainwashed by thugs and irresponsible politicians to reject the RUC.
If I may reply to a statement made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), I would point out that the police force is not acceptable in some parts of the minority community not because it has been brutal and discriminatory, but because there has been an unwillingness in those areas to support the police force since the inception of Northern Ireland. There has been rather an eagerness to oppose Northern Ireland, to show open hostility to the custodians of law and order and to lay the blame on a so-called sectarian police force for this kind of reaction.
The Secretary of State must take immediate steps to rob violent men and their passive office boys in incident centres of any credibility. He must do this by giving himself the opportunity to appeal direct to every decent citizen in Northern Ireland, Roman Catholic and Protestant, and encourage them to recognise the need for effective policing and for an effective security policy throughout the Province. For God's sake get rid of the silly centres and break any relationship with the Provisional IRA through the Provisional Sinn Fein! Do it now, for the sake of Ulster!
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
May I at the outset make clear to the House and particularly to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), who is not now in the Chamber, that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) did not for one moment propose, either for himself or for the Opposition, that Northern Ireland should adopt the Southern Irish expedient of putting away members of illegal organisations on the say-so of an officer of the Garda Siochana not below the rank of chief superintendent. My hon. Friend asked whether the Secretary of State had given consideration to this as a possible alternative to detention which the Secretary of State, with the warm approval of his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, 284 West (Mr. Watkinson), means to bring to a speedy end. My hon. Friend did not advocate this as a matter of policy and I think that Hansard will bear that out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon and I recently visited Dublin. There we were encouraged, as the House had been encouraged, by the courage and constancy of the Government in Dublin at grips—as are our own Government—with terrorism. Upon the defeat of terrorism hangs not only the safety and cohesion of the United Kingdom but the peace and, indeed, the existence of the Irish Republic.
On this side of the water we are watching the process of the criminal law jurisdiction legislation. Democratic institutions and civilised life throughout the British Isles are in peril. If there is any certainty in the politics of our neighbour, it is this. Responsible statesmen there are anxious that the forces of the United Kingdom should continue to soldier on in Northern Ireland in support of the civil power until normal policing is possible throughout the Province.
I do not think that the view expressed by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) would receive a warm welcome in Dublin. There is no burning desire there to assume the administration of Northern Ireland, where an overwhelming majority of the people, including many Catholics, voted in successive elections and in the border poll to remain citizens with us of the United Kingdom.
The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs of the Irish Republic, Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, said recently on a BBC television programme that the main achievement of the IRA had been to widen the differences in Northern Ireland and to eliminate counter-organisations of extremists on what he called the Protestant sideof equal brutality and greater numbers".Of such is the Ulster Volunteer Force which has committed, and has gloried in, murder.
I do not think that any hon. Member would dissent from what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said about the UVF. We applaud his condemnation of all murder gangs, whatever flag they befoul. It takes courage to say 285 what the hon. Gentleman said. That is a virtue of which the hon. Gentleman has not been deficient—I am sorry that he is not present to hear me say this—although many members of the Opposition have often disagreed with him and will do so often again.
Nearly everyone will agree that on both sides of the Irish border and the Irish Sea there is need for reassurance that the Government mean to extirpate the IRA, which the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) described as the "root cause" of the troubles. The UDF has been properly proscribed.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) asked "What then of the Provisional Sinn Fein?" and the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) referred scathingly to the incident centres. We do not hear very much from the Treasury Bench about them, but anyone visiting northern Ireland learns of the resentment which they have aroused, especially perhaps amongst Catholic people and Catholic politicians.
It is with the Provisional Sinn Fein that unnamed officials of the Northern Ireland Office have day-to-day, and perhaps night-to-night, contact, while members of the Constitutional Convention, elected by their constituents, complain that they are held at arm's length by the same set of civil servants.
I thought that the hon. Member for Antrim, South made a strong point when he said that these contacts, which suggest that everything is negotiable, weaken the assurances we heard today by the Secretary of State—which we accept—that there will be no amnesty for terrorists.
The hon. Member for Armagh spoke of the anarchy in that country. He spoke also of bitter resentment aroused by the toleration of illegal, but televised, paramilitary funerals. When such incidents occurred this side of the water there was much indignation. Action was taken in London under the Public Order Act 1963. We do not need much knowledge or imagination to grasp the fact that it is much more difficult to enforce a law of that kind in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, when uniformed IRA men parade in Belfast before the populace and cameras there is a deplorable effect on public morale. Few, if any, insurrectionary organisations have attuned their guerrilla 286 operations more closely to the mass media, and in this way the propaganda of the Irish Republican Army gains access to the screens of millions.
We await the report of the Constitutional Convention. The more constructive political approaches there are in Northern Ireland, the more likely there is to be a crescendo of bombs and bullets. There is nothing that terrorists detest more than a coming together of the law-abiding. We must, I fear, expect terrorism to sink to the lowest depths of indiscriminate atrocity. But no one, either here or abroad, should be deceived because the British are easy going, rather insular and slow to anger. We must steel ourselves and do our duty to our constituents.
Tribute has been paid to Her Majesty's Forces, whether the Regulars or the Ulster Defence Regiment. We owe much to those who, incredibly, carry on their businesses, farms and occupations by day and yet manage to patrol by night, month after month, year after year, and to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve.
What are the security forces doing? Sometimes it is suggested that they are engaged in holding a ring between opposing factions until politicians contrive conciliation and compromise. That is a dangerous contention.
It is also dangerous to assert that terrorism cannot be beaten, as we sometimes hear stated. This country has experience of guerrilla war. Terrorism was defeated in more than one territory overseas. If that can be done amongst strangers, it can be done in this troubled part of the homeland.
The Secretary of State called for Catholic co-operation. He was right to do so. At the risk of being criticised by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central for saying something counter-productive, I state that Councillor Connelly made a fine speech when he praised the RUC as a force to which Catholics might well be pround to belong. I have found great confidence amongst the ordinary people of Ulster, belonging to different parties and of different persuasions, in the Chief Constable, Sir Jamie Flanagan.
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman misinterpreted what I said. I said that it was not for us to tell the politicians how, 287 when or why but that they should proceed in their own way and in their own time. Therefore, I was not criticising Counsellor Connelly.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that. Many members of the SDLP show great courage in difficult and dangerous circumstances. It is for them to choose their own time to make the statements which should be made.
Policing is the key. That has been said often by Front Bench speakers on both sides. We cannot expect co-operation unless we can give protection. What matters is the will to win.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), with the experience of a former Minister of Home Affairs, suggested that there should be a special code for the punishment of terrorists. The right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) want the introduction of the death penalty for terrorists. The hon. Member for Preston, South put a contrary view. We know that many of our constituents want the restoration of the death penalty. That matter should be calmly considered without emotion by the Government.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West spoke of his visit to the Middle East. Israel has been one of the most successful States in grappling with terrorism. There is no death penalty in Israel. What is Israel's secret?
I conclude by offering Her Majesty's Government the backing of Her Majesty's Opposition for all the measures and all necessary expense to give the security forces the means and, above all, the intelligence to hunt down and bring to justice in courts of law the mafias of murder.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
I am sure that the whole House will agree with the final words uttered by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government have turned their attention to emphasising the use of the law in the strictest sense.
The debate has been hard-hitting, but reasonably so considering the subject. It has also been constructive. I have known 288 debates on Northern Ireland over many years that have been far from constructive. We seem to have reached a stage when ideas can be examined. Those ideas may be accepted or rejected, but nevertheless a common thread has run through the debate.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) made some telling remarks about proscription. The developing aspects of policy which the Secretary of State laid before the House this afternoon deal with the difficult questions of special category, the release of convicted prisoners and the ending of detention. The Government are not spelling out their policy in a period of calm but are showing that they have a consistent and constructive policy. They recognise the rôle played by the RUC and the Army and, at the same time, look forward to more constructive political developments following the Convention's report.
The Government recognise that the proscription of an organisation probably raises more questions than it solves. If the Order is accepted there will remain seven proscribed organisations, but we want to get rid of all proscription.
As the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) said, we de-proscribed the Provisional Sinn Fein and the UVF last year to encourage political dialogue to take place within the Province. There are other political organisations in Northern Ireland which do not measure up in any way to the political parties in the rest of the United Kingdom. We hoped that the de-proscription of the UVF and Sinn Fein would lead to increased political activity. I spent some time talking to the people within the UVF when it was de-proscribed and trying to encourage them to go along political lines, to fight elections in the normal way and to advocate their own philosophy and policy. This appeared to be bearing fruit, but unfortunately, as we have seen over a period, the idea of political activity has been completely rejected. The people who had tried to pursue political activities were rejected and the law of the gun and gangesterdom took over. Faced with this situation, the Government felt that they had no alternative but to proscribe the UVF in the interests of the decent and ordinary people in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Members for Abingdon and Armagh and several other hon. Members 289 wanted to know why in proscribing the UVF we were not also proscribing Sinn Fein. I want to make clear that the IRA is proscribed. Reference was made to members of that military organisation operating in Northern Ireland. I should like to take this opportunity to make clear that there has never been and is never likely to be immunity for people such as Mr. Twomey.
The security forces are absolutely free to operate under their terms and not under the direction of the Secretary of State. All that the Secretary of State has said is that, in following his policy, he will not sign an interim custody order. Any person who is arrested will have to be proceeded against through the courts in the normal way.
§ Mr. Fitt
Will my right hon. Friend state clearly whether the Government's intention is that all the remaining detainees will be released by Christmas this year? If that is so, the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland—particularly the Catholic community land—will be glad to hear that news and will seek to ensure that those who are released will not again be involved in violence.
§ Mr. Orme
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear to the House that that is his desire. He hopes to release all detainees before Christmas unless there are exceptional circumstances which prevent his doing so. That is certainly the Government's intention. That policy has been widely welcomed in all quarters. In the past, there have been differing views on this subject.
During the period when the Secretary of State has been releasing detainees, the prison population has increased by about 400. That is an indication of the success achieved by the security forces and the policy that is being pursued. According to the evidence of people who live in Northern Ireland in difficult areas and whom the Government respect, many of the people who commit atrocities are involved not in political activity but in sheer gangsterdom. It is almost impossible to attribute any motive to them for these deeds. That is why the Government and the Secretary of State want to unfold this policy.
290 When an organisation is proscribed, people who commit offences have to be charged. They have to be proceeded against in the normal way and proof has to be shown in the courts. Such prosecutions are not always successful. The action taken by the Secretary of State has been of assistance to the security forces in Northern Ireland. If it had not been, the Government would not have pursued this policy.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest asked whether the Government had considered introducing similar legislation to that which is in force in the Republic with regard to members of proscribed organisations. The Government have considered this matter and rejected it for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) so lucidly explained. If we are to gain the confidence of the minority community, this type of legislation in Northern Ireland could be extremely counter-productive. It would need only one bad case or one issue to destroy a great deal of the work that has been done to involve the minority, especially in policing.
Much has been said about the ceasefire, the incident centres and the action that the Government have taken. The statements on Government policy that have been made to the House have set out the position. Explanations have been given. The incident centres were for monitoring purposes only and have not been used for other purposes. The case that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made about amnesty is an indication of the Government's determination to ensure not only that there is justice but that their policy is operated fairly. My right hon. Friend is watching the situation but he believes that it should be left as it is at present.
I turn to the question of the IRA and Sinn Fein. If a member of the political wing of the IRA openly states that he is involved in or takes part in violence, he will be dealt with without hesitation. I am sure that assurance is unnecessary, but no guarantees have been given to any individual in Northern Ireland. The Government stand firm on that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) raised some 291 interesting points, in particular the issue of capital punishment. Situations could be re-created in particular circumstances which would be absolutely disastrous. My views on capital punishment are well known, as are the views of most other hon. Members. I am opposed to capital punishment. However, in a Northern Ireland context it would be absolutely disastrous. My hon. Friend mentioned a declaration and said that the matter should be dealt with by Britain issuing a declaration and withdrawing. Mr. Lynch made a point about a declaration only last week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to this matter over the weekend and said that the question should not be posed to the British Government but should be put to a million people in Northern Ireland. When we receive an answer to that question, the Government can re-examine the issue.
These measures are short-term and interim ones for Northern Ireland. There is no simple, long-term answer. The questions of detention, special category and the UVF are all part of a continuing process. Our policy has a definite thread and is leading in the right direction. I believe that this has been generally accepted by hon. Members this afternoon.
I turn to the murders in South Armagh, in that triangle, not least the constituency of the hon. Member for Armagh. I am informed that of the 118 people charged with murder a large number have been Republicans who have been operating in these areas. They include those who have been involved in the Bayardo Bar bombing and in incidents elsewhere. The security forces, including the Army with the assistance of the RUC, are operating in every part of Northern Ireland, not least within the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We want to be successful in this matter.
§ Mr. Fitt
I appreciate that the Minister is trying to illustrate the number of people who have been detained, arrested and charged with murder. He mentioned the Bayardo Bar. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but in case someone takes the opportunity to sneer I should point out that that bar is not in South Armagh.
§ Mr. Orme
It was not a slip of the tongue because I did not go into detail. I know it was in Belfast. I was speaking 292 in shorthand, in effect, because I was dealing with South Armagh. I was also dealing with West Belfast and other areas. I believe that the hon. Member for Armagh fully understood the point.
The hon. Member for Abingdon asked whether there would be any undertaking when special category prisoners were released. The answer is "No". This has been tried in the past without success. It would not be successful in the future. The policy that my right hon. Friend has outlined, which deals with conditional discharge and with what would happen if those who are discharged become involved again in violence, is an indication of what the Government propose.
§ Mr. Powell
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is coming to the question of special category, but, if he is not, perhaps I might put to him a point for clarification now. It was in reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that the Secretary of State repeated that the special category would not be allowed for persons convicted of offences committed after 1st March next. Has there been some change of mind about this as, in the indication which he helpfully, in the light of this debate, gave to a number of hon. Members, the Secretary of State said that the admission of new prisoners to special category would come to an end at the earliest possible date, which at the moment he thought would be 1st March? Quite obviously "new prisoners" means persons convicted—becoming prisoners—for the first time. These, therefore, are two different dates of commencement.
If there has been a change of mind or if the Government still have this matter open, may I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that there is great advantage in adhering to the proposition of new prisoners as from 1st March, as it would surely be disadvantageous that after 1st March special category should still be considered on some historical basis, which would not seem to be reasonable as between one prisoner and another and which will serve only to perpetuate the system? Having taken the opportunity of the right hon. Gentleman giving way, I am asking only that this matter should be reconsidered if necessary and clarified in due course, if not this evening.
§ Mr. Orme
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. Perhaps I may repeat that those sentenced 293 for offences committed after 1st March 1976 will be accommodated in cellular accommodation and will not be able to claim special category status. I can see the sort of points that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) raised a similar point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will obviously consider the points raised when the Order is laid, and there will be time for consideration of this matter. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will accept that as an assurance.
I was saying that in this regard no signed statements would be requested, because this would be counter-productive.
The Government feel that proscription is not only necessary but essential at this stage—not because we like it, but we see no alternative. We feel that the strands of policy that have been developed this afternoon are based on the reality of the situation in Northern Ireland. They will be pursued by the Government during the coming weeks and months, which could be crucial for the development of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Miscampbell
Shall we be able to debate the Order? The point raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is of great importance. Clearly we shall be faced with a situation in which, if the explanation now given by the Government as to the special category is adhered to, not only will there be no trials at least until this time next year at which people will not be eligible for the special category but, worse still, anyone coming to trial in, say, two or three years from now for an offence committed today could still be getting special category provision.
It would seem to be extremely sensible to impose a time limit, so that the crime had to have been committed after such and such a date. There ought to be a further date so that, no matter when the crime was committed, there would be a final date on which this is all finished, otherwise we shall have a farcical situation years from now with people still going into the special category.
§ Mr. Orme
We shall look at this matter. It is very complicated and difficult. The Government are faced with the 294 question of numbers and accommodation. We shall not get any absolutely perfect and smooth transition in which everyone fits into a firm package. Nevertheless we shall examine this point. Certainly it is useful to have had it raised this evening.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
There is one other aspect of the special category of prisoners that seems to have got lost in the general melee of discussion about them. That is the problem of the long-term prisoner and the 97 life prisoners, of which no doubt there will eventually be more. At some stage I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will contend that the special category status of prisoners should disappear entirely. At what point is it intended that these long-term and life prisoners shall lose the special category status which they are allowed at present?
§ Mr. Orme
Because of what we have said this evening, these people cannot be affected. The House might as well face up to this difficult problem. There may be possibilities, as the numbers reduce and circumstances change, that the situation will change. However, we must say very clearly that the status of those people who have at present claimed political status will remain. The proposed legislation will deal with new prisoners on and from 1st March next year.
§ Question put and agreed to.