§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Review of the Operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978; accepts the continuing need for temporary emergency powers; recognises the need to maintain as fully as possible the liberties of the individual; and looks forward to considering the Government's legislative proposals.
We are discussing this afternoon the late Sir George Baker's review. The Government and the House clearly need to look at Sir George's conclusions against the background of the security situation in the Province today. I have not yet had a chance, except fleetingly at Question Time, to discuss and listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members on security policy and I am glad that there is a natural opportunity to do so today. If we allow our decisions on security matters to be swayed entirely by our reactions to the latest event or the latest propaganda campaign, then we shall probably decide wrong. It we are to get our decisions right, we must look at the whole situation with clear eyes and that is what we can do today.
But first I am sure the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the work of Sir George Baker, whose last public duty was the preparation of this report. In studying it I have come to appreciate the qualities that he brought to bear on the task. It is a hard business to strike the correct balance between protecting life and property, and protecting civil liberties in a free society which is plagued by terrorism. Sir George examined that balance with diligence and sensitivity. Much of the material, is necessarily arid, but he treated it in a lively style which makes the report a good read. I believe that he accurately identified the issues which the Government and Parliament must consider when examining the provisions of the Act. We broadly agree with both the tone of his report and its conclusions, and I welcome this opportunity to listen to the views of the House upon them.
I should like first, before I turn to the recommendations, to speak more generally about the security background to them. The aim of our security policy is not to contain terrorism or to achieve an acceptable level of terrorist violence. Our aim is to eradicate terrorism and to restore peace and normality so that all the people of Northern Ireland can go about their daily lives free from fear. There are of course relationships between the security problem, the need for political development and the economic situation. The most pressing problem must, however, be the continuing violence. Bringing it to an end is our chief aim. Violence obviously brings individual tragedy, it heightens tension within Northern Ireland, it places a major constraint on political development and it inhibits investment and prosperity. So a vicious circle is created. The lack of political agreement within Northern Ireland adds to instability, and may well help the terrorists through hindering the growth of whole-hearted support for the security forces from each part of the community. Equally unemployment leads to enforced idleness and discontent, which can be exploited by the para-militaries. We have to seek progress on all these fronts if we are to secure the peace, stability and prosperity which we want for the people of Northern Ireland.
576 Faced with the tension and the tragedies caused by terrorism, some people, naturally enough are, tempted to look for short cuts in winning the battle. But in a free, open and democratic society such as ours, terrorism is best countered by the resolute application of the criminal law. We should maintain arrest-powers, court procedures and treatment in prison which are as standard as they can practicably be. That means that we should look to the police to charge terrorists and bring them before courts where independence cannot seriously be questioned, where the rules of evidence apply and where fundamental safeguards for defendants are maintained. To some to whom I have listened in the last three months it may seem paradoxical that terrorists are entitled to the protection of the judicial system which they are seeking to destroy; but I am convinced that in any democratic society that approach must be the right one. I think that it is also the only practical one, because anything else would, in the long run, produce the wrong result. If we departed from the rule of law we would leave a difficult but sure pathway and plunge into a morass in which it would be easy to sink. We would give the terrorists a line with which to rally formidable support in the Province, in the rest of Britain and abroad.
Security has undoubtedly improved since the grim days of the early 1970s. But to help the House to grasp the scale of the continuing violence in Northern Ireland, let me briefly mention some recent statistics. Since 1 July six members of the security forces and 11 civilians —Protestants and Catholics—have died in incidents arising from the security situation. In the five months following 1 July, 131 members of the security forces and 226 civilians were injured. Since 1 July there have been 105 shooting incidents and 53 explosions, and 17 explosive devices have been neutralised.
The House will see at once what those figures mean to the people involved and to their families and friends. During that period, we on this side of the water—and, indeed, in this House—have learnt vividly the realities of murder and bereavement.
Hon. Members may observe that I have not compared the figures with those of earlier periods. I would like to say a word about the handling of such figures. As the House knows, we publish the casualty figures twice a year in some detail, and we shall continue to do so: the House and our constituents are entitled to know how things stand. At present the figures show a continuing decline in most categories of violence and in the totals, and of course that is satisfactory as far as it goes. But my colleagues and I do not intend to generalise prematurely from that trend. For one thing, statistics bring no comfort to the bereaved or the injured. For another, we know that we are faced with a ruthless and sophisticated enemy who continues to have access to recruits, money, arms and explosives.
Security policy is not static. All the time we look for ways to deny that access, and to grind down the terrorists. Usually, we prefer not to speak about those ways. But I would be misleading the House if I fell into the temptation of predicting that the present relatively favourable trend would lead inevitably and without fluctuations to the ending of terrorism, which is our aim.
Before I turn to the provisions of the emergency legislation, I want to refer to the individuals and organisations who are charged with the responsibility for maintaining public order and enforcing the rule of law in Northern Ireland, within the framework established by the 577 Government and Parliament. In recent years, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has trebled in size and expanded its capabilities enormously. It is a tribute to the qualities of those in the force that that has been accomplished with the minimum of dislocation. We now have a highly competent, professional and resolute police force. The courage, dedication and sacrifice of the men and women who make up that force and its reserve place us greatly in their debt. I know that the chief constable and the police authority are determined to see that the force maintains the highest standards, and that its resources are effectively deployed to protect the community as a whole from terrorist attack and public disorder.
On Tuesday for the first time I "flew the border", to use a familiar phrase. When I met at each post soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland before, I asked them what was the main change which they had found since they had last been there. Almost all of them said it was the extended role of the RUC, and the way in which the police were now able to do work which had previously fallen to themselves as soldiers.
The establishment of police primacy, which has gone on under different Governments, is a thoroughly healthy development which we mean to maintain. We recognise that policing a divided community is a highly sensitive task, particularly when the police have at the same time to counter a vicious terrorist campaign supported by a sophisticated and insidious propaganda machine.
It would be silly for the Government, for me, or for anybody to suggest that all officers have responded to the many difficult situations that they have faced in exactly the right way at all times. From time to time individuals may lose their heads and mistakes can be made. But the same could be said for any police force anywhere in the world.
However, the record of the RUC shows that there is the will to enforce the law even-handedly and in the interests of the whole community. The police recognise more clearly than anyone that effective policing depends on their establishing links with the community and building a fund of trust and good will. Support has to be earned. It is a slow process, especially against the backdrop that I mentioned earlier. The police must maintain their efforts to win the confidence of the whole community. But it is not a one-sided business. The Government and political leaders on both sides of the community must work to remove the obstacles in the way of acceptance of the RUC as an impartial professional police force throughout the community.
In the violent campaign confronting them, the security forces at times have no option but to use force, sometimes using firearms or riot guns with plastic baton rounds. But let me make it absolutely clear that there is not a shoot-to-kill policy — nor would the Government countenance one.
When policemen and soldiers are faced with terrorists who are likely to be armed, or with dangerous riots, quick decisions have to be taken under intense pressure. However, all fatalities are fully investigated and reports go to the independent Director of Public Prosecutions who considers whether the force used was reasonable and whether there are grounds for prosecution. If there is a prosecution, it is right that the same safeguards — in particular the test of proof beyond reasonable doubt—should apply to members of the security forces as to other members of the community.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
The Minister will appreciate that this point is especially sensitive. I realise that an inquiry is being made into the recent incident in Derry. But how do the security forces operate in stopping and shooting to kill a person when no warrant for his arrest has been issued—I refer to the reply that the Secretary of State gave me yesterday—and when he has not drawn arms? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that that leads many people to think that the policy is shoot to kill and not stop and arrest?
§ Mr. Hurd
As I said, the policy is not shoot to kill. The existence or non-existence of a warrant is, of course, only part of the story. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah".] Of course it is. I have explained exactly how the rule of law applies.
Much depends on the reasonable grounds for suspicion. But I shall not be drawn into commenting on the recent incident that the hon. Gentleman clearly has in mind. As I have said, all fatalities are investigated under the rule of law. The investigation of the two fatalities that the hon. Gentleman has in mind is proceeding, and it would be quite wrong for me to dwell on the matter.
Mr. John Hulme (Foyle)
On the same crucial question whether the security forces have abandoned the rule of law and are pursuing a shoot-to-kill policy, and on the incident in my constituency, does the Secretary of State agree that the security forces clearly had considerable advance information as to the intentions of the two members of the IRA? That advance information should have given them plenty of time to take action other than execution — particularly that form of execution — had they been proceeding according to the rule of law.
§ Mr. Hurd
No. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman. I am now dealing with an understandable inquiry from the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), in whose constituency these events occurred. Without endorsing or contradicting his statement of the events, which would be improper, I must tell him that under the rule of law, which is the framework within which we are discussing these matters, these deaths are being independently investigated. I believe that that is the right way, and it would be wrong for me as Secretary of State to comment further on what happened on that occasion.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland prefer IRA men rather than innocent people to be shot?
§ Mr. Hurd
That intervention confirms my prudence in not commenting further upon these events.
Fatalities are fully investigated and the reports go to the independent Director of Public Prosecutions, who considers whether the force used was reasonable. That is the principle, and it is being applied in this case.
Behind the police stands the Army, because military support is still required by the Royal Ulster Constabulary in certain areas of the Province and in certain operational situations. That support has been unswerving, and I am 579 sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the Army commanders and soldiers who have gone about their tasks bravely and shrewdly over the years.
An invaluable contribution has been made by the Ulster Defence Regiment, which, as I and other hon. Gentlemen have seen for ourselves, provides front-line support to the RUC in much of Northern Ireland. The Government and the people of Northern Ireland will continue to need its services.
The efforts of the security forces continue to show results. Since July, 237 terrorists have been charged with serious offences, including 41 for murder or attempted murder, and 80.5 kilogrammes of explosives, 87 weapons and 8,324 rounds of ammunition have been recovered.
I should like to mention also the men and women of the Northern Ireland prison service who have faced with courage and dedication large-scale protest action within the prisons and attacks upon them outside. They are not always remembered in this catalogue. Such attacks include the assassination earlier this year of an assistant governor at the Maze prison.
I should also mention the co-operation received from the security forces of the Republic of Ireland, among whom lives have been lost in the fight against the common enemy. The co-operation between us is crucial in bringing about the defeat of terrorism, and we must work to make it stronger.
Against that background, I turn to the specific measures and recommendations in Sir George Baker's report. The operations of security forces against terrorists, and the way in which the courts deal with cases of a terrorist nature, have been helped by the various emergency measures in the 1978 Act. The Act confers on the police and armed forces special powers of arrest, search and seizure. It also provides for trial without jury in certain specified classes of serious criminal offences, and imposes stricter-than-normal bail conditions in such cases. It contains other provisions intended to make it possible to bring terrorists to justice through the courts without unduly affecting their rights. The Act also contains provisions which would permit the detention without trial of suspected terrorists, although this power has not been used since 1975, and has not been in force since 1980.
Successive Parliaments and Governments have decided that these exceptional powers should be continued only for as long as necessary. I endorse that. Such powers should be available only to the extent that circumstances render them strictly necessary.
Having studied the position carefully, Sir George Baker concluded that there was a continuing need for emergency powers such as those in the Act. I agree. So indeed does the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which after long and exhaustive studies of these problems reached a similar conclusion. We have undertaken a detailed scrutiny of the Act in the light of Sir George's report, and I believe that there is some scope for making changes which would reflect developments in the security situation and perhaps strike more precisely the right balance between individual liberties and the need to give the security forces and courts adequate powers to deal with terrorism.
I do not propose to go through Sir George's recommendations in sequence; I shall, however, set out my views in general terms as the starting point for the 580 debate. I have taken no final decisions; I wish to take careful note of what is said today, to weigh hon. Members' points and then to decide what changes in the law I should submit to the House when there is an opportunity to do so. I have sought and received comments on the Act and the review from many people and organisations in the Province—for example, I have had correspondence with the chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, whom I hope to meet to discuss these and other matters soon.
A number of Sir George's recommendations aim to bring the emergency provisions more closely in line with the ordinary law of Northern Ireland. In general I regard those recommendations sympathetically and I propose to carry them through, except for a few subsidiary recommendations which would cause undue practical difficulties and be of little benefit. Thus, I am inclined to accept Sir George Baker's recommendation for the rationalisation of police arrest powers. I have noted the declining use of the arrest powers at present possessed by the Armed Forces and Sir George's recommendation that in the light of that there should be some additional refinements to the powers. That will need to be very carefully considered, taking into account the principles and practical implications. I subscribe, too, to the principles that underlie Sir George's recommendations for increasing the scope of the Attorney-General's discretion to certify particular offences out of the scheduled, non-jury mode of trial. I am inclined to adopt most of those recommendations in that respect. However, I want to examine rather more closely the list of offences that Sir George suggests might be triable by jury in an increased number of cases.
Sir George makes a number of other recommendations designed to rationalise the emergency provisions in areas where the practices and operational needs of the security forces and the courts have moved some way since the Act was last amended. His recommendations on bail and on the admissibility of statements are good examples of that category. In each instance, the practice of the courts is somewhat different from what a superficial reading of sections 2 and 8 of the Act might suggest. Sir George endorses current practice but makes recommendations to bring the wording of the statute more closely into line with the way in which the intentions of Parliament have been interpreted by the courts. Specifically, he recommends that the Act be revised to make it clear that the onus to show reason why bail should not be granted lies upon the prosecution. In respect of admissions, Sir George suggests that an amendment to the Act might endorse what is already the well-established practice of the courts, namely, that admissions by accused persons should not be admissible as evidence when there is reason to suppose that they have been extorted by violence or by the threat of violence.
I am not sure that either of those essentially cosmetic changes to the law is strictly necessary. The way in which the courts have hitherto chosen to interpret the law is satisfactory and is endorsed by Sir George. However, I shall listen carefully to the points made in the debate before reaching a final conclusion on that.
One of the most important questions raised by Sir George is whether there is a continuing need for the detention provisions that are still contained, although no longer in force, in the 1978 Act. At present, I could bring those powers into immediate effect by order, which would 581 then have to be approved within 40 days by resolution of each House. I have thought hard about that and I should like to explain my views. Clearly, there are political attractions in complete repeal; we have come a long way since 1975 when detention was last used. I can think of no circumstances in which detention without trial would be sensible or justifiable as a settled long-term policy. The opposition that it would stir up would quickly outweigh the benefits that it could bring. Detention runs counter to the traditional concept of the rule of law.
However, one cannot exclude a sudden short-term crisis, which might occur when Parliament was in recess. It could then be difficult to secure the new primary legislation which would be needed to introduce detention in an emergency if the present powers were repealed. I would welcome the views of the House. I am tempted to repeal, but on the whole my present inclination is that it would not be prudent to deprive myself or my successors of a reserve power which I certainly hope may never be used. A similar power is of course retained in the Republic of Ireland.
A number of Sir George's recommendations arise from his concern that delays in the judicial process should be kept to a minimum. I share that concern. I shall watch with interest the field trials announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to be conducted in England and Wales into the practicability and effectiveness of time limits. I am keeping in close touch with the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor on this matter, and we shall do what we can to reduce waiting times. I know that the prosecuting authorities and the courts service have done their utmost to reduce waiting times between remand and trial and will continue to do so. In particular, I am pleased to be able to announce that the Lord Chancellor has agreed to the appointment of an additional county court judge. However, it must be said that delays can often occur at the request of the accused, in particular when the services of a particular defence counsel are awaited. We would face the greatest difficulty in restricting this freedom of choice. I take Sir George's point that we could, perhaps, increase our flexibility by allowing trials of scheduled offences to be held at courts other than the Crown court in Belfast. We must take careful account of all the security implications of this proposal.
This brings me naturally to Sir George's comments on the use of accomplice evidence, with which he dealt at length.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
Will my right hon. Friend comment briefly on the recommendation in the report by Sir George Baker relating to the length of time that someone may be held before trial? I think that he makes the recommendation that if the delay should exceed 12 months, the individual should be set free.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have said that I am worried about those delays. They are related to the practice of granting bail and to the choice of counsel. I am watching the trials taking place this side of the water to see to what extent—while not exactly imitating the Scottish law—delays can be reduced by setting time limits. I should welcome views on this as it is an area of genuine concern shared by everyone — police, judiciary and elected representatives in the Province. However, it bristles with practical difficulties.
I move on to the use of accomplice evidence. Sir George affirmed that the use of such evidence in no way 582 deprived the accused of a fair trial. He pointed out that, following any conviction in a non-jury trial, the judge had to set out his reasoning, which is not the case with a jury. The question of accomplice evidence is of course topical following the recent case based on the evidence of Raymond Gilmour. I do not wish to comment on that particular case. But I want to remind the House of part of the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in answer to a written question on 24 October last year:In Northern Ireland terrorist crime is a serious problem and the full extent of the involvement of many of the terrorists is perhaps known only to those engaged with them in their criminal activities.When one of those who has been involved in terrorism and is thus an accomplice indicates his willingness to give evidence about crimes of which he knows and in which he may have been a participant, it is the duty of the chief constable to put the full facts before the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is then the duty of the director to consider all the evidence and information before him with a view to the initiation of criminal proceedings." —[Official Report, 24 October 1983; Vol. 47, c. 3–4.]
My right hon. and learned Friend then explained that, where the evidence appears to be credible and cogent and relates to serious terrorist crime, there is an overriding public interest in having charges brought before the court, and it is the Director's clear duty to see that this happens. It is then for the court to determine whether the evidence of the accomplice is so convincing as to its content and so reliable in itself that it reaches the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. In the Gilmour case obviously the court of the Lord Chief Justice came to the conclusion that it did not.
That is a clear statement by which I stand. There is no reason to reject in principle evidence simply because it comes from an accomplice who has given information to the police. The Lord Chief Justice made that clear in his remarks on the Gilmour case. But that evidence then has to be weighed in the scales of justice. If a court rejects accomplice evidence in a particular case, it does not mean that the decision to prosecute was wrong, any more than acquittal in a case involving a member of the security forces means that the case should never have been brought. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) made a similar point yesterday. It is a question of testing available evidence in open court, and the Director's decision to proceed in each case is taken in full consciousness of his responsibility for the independent, impartial discharge of the duties of his office.
On a connected point, Sir George Baker suggested that efforts be made to reduce the number of defendants to 20 or less in trials involving accomplice evidence. There have been very few cases involving more than 20 defendants. While the Government will clearly look very closely at this issue, I am not so far convinced that trying a number of defendants simultaneously affects the standard of justice or causes undue delay. Indeed, I could imagine longer delays for some accused, if different batches were brought to trial separately.
Sir George also dealt with the composition of the court before which scheduled offences are tried, and he endorsed the present use of a single judge to try cases where there is terrorist involvement. Underlying these conclusions in the report are substantial arguments both of principle, in terms of workability and the standard of justice which might be provided by a multiple judge court, and of resources. If we are to make progress in reducing delay, we have to make the very best use of the judicial 583 resources available to us. Of course someone convicted before a single judge has the right of an appeal court, normally of three judges.
§ Mr. McNamara
I have been trying to follow the track of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, particularly when he seemed to endorse the comments of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) on the recent trial. Is the Secretary of State therefore prepared to say that it will now be policy in his Department that accomplices —supergrasses—will not be granted remission for any crimes for which they admit they are guilty, that there will be no monetary rewards, that they will not be settled in foreign lands, that they will not be taken on expensive holidays to Cyprus and elsewhere and that one can now trust the odd supergrass as opposed to the generality of supergrasses? Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the manner in which supergrasses are being used is bringing the whole system into even further disrepute?
§ Mr. Hurd
If the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he may have a chance to develop that theme. The inducements and immunities which may be offered in a particular case are revealed to the defence. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to develop this point, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will take it up when he replies to the debate.
I think that I have made clear the basis on which we believe it is right that evidence which is available and relevant should be available to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Where he decides, using his usual standards, that it provides a basis for prosecution, the prosecution should proceed. It is then for the court—we are dealing here all the time with the rule of law—to weigh the evidence that has been produced in the light of all the circumstances that have to be revealed to it. That is a perfectly fair and, indeed, the only sensible manner in which to treat this aspect.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland is in an unusually bad position to judge whether, to use the Secretary of State's words, the evidence of the supergrass is credible and cogent, because the DPP does not interview witnesses in any way? I understand that all he is presented with is statements by the witnesses and opinions formed by police officers and others of those statements. Does he not agree that if there are to be trials based on the evidence of supergrasses a new procedure must be introduced whereby, at a preliminary stage and before charges are brought, proper procedures are followed to assess, having seen the witness, whether he is credible and cogent?
§ Mr. Hurd
I do not see the need for that. We have a perfectly normal and defensible procedure—the police, the independent Director of Public Prosecutions, and then the court, who are in full possession of the facts. That procedure works well, sometimes to the satisfaction of one party and sometimes to the satisfaction of another. I do not believe that a case has been made out for changing it.
I shall move on to the next point, which is the question of the Diplock single-judge court. It will not come as any great surprise to the House when I say that I cannot see at present any way that we could, in the circumstances, 584 return to jury trials for the worst offences of terrorism in Northern Ireland. But that in no way precludes progress in taking an increased proportion of trials out of the scheduled non-jury procedure by means of the certificate issued by the Attorney-General, to which I referred earlier.
Finally, Sir George dealt at some length with the police complaints procedure. He was right to do so. A clear and trusted system for handling complaints against the police is an important safeguard for the citizen, and indeed in the long run for the police. This is particularly important where the RUC is having to police a divided community. It is too easy for complaints that are not properly made or investigated to fester or be used for propaganda purposes by those whose aim is not justice but the discrediting of the police.
By fortunate coincidence the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is bringing about a substantial reform in England and Wales. There is a new police complaints authority which has the new duty of supervising the investigation of complaints against the police. The independent element thus comes into play at an earlier and crucial stage. I am carefully considering and consulting interested parties to find the best way of introducing similar changes in Northern Ireland. If we can find the right procedures and the right people to work them, this could be a big step forward.
At the heart of this question lies an unbalanced proposition that the House must face. The security forces and the Government are bound by the law, and the terrorists are not. There is a price to pay for that lack of balance. I hope that hon. Members will accept that it means that a soldier or a police officer sometimes finds himself in peril of the courts over the degree of force used in operations against terrorists who know no such constraint. It means that terrorists can walk free if their friends can intimidate key witnesses. It means that terrorists can walk free once they have completed their sentences, even though the security forces and their neighbours may have reason to suppose that they are returning to their old ways. Those are facts and there is no sense in attempting to disguise them.
Voices are sometimes raised in the Province against that imbalance. It is sometimes argued that those who struggle against lawlessness should be freed in some way from the constraints of the law. As I indicated earlier, I am sure that that would be wrong. Nothing would do more to increase support for the terrorists in the Province and abroad than a suspension by us of the rule of law, or a failure by us to understand the importance of individual liberty and decent behaviour.
We are determined to support the security forces, the prison service, and the judiciary, both with the necessary resources and with our voices. They all in different ways serve as champions of the people of Northern Ireland, of their human rights and of their liberty to go peaceably about their daily lives. In turn those servants of the public suffer ferocious propaganda attacks. A mistake, a momentary misjudgment by an individual, alleged or actual, is exaggerated and turned against the institution as a whole.
Right hon. and hon. Members are rightly jealous of the duty of this House to protect individual rights. They rightly probe the details of individual cases, and no Secretary of State should resent such zeal. We must ensure that proven instances of wrong-doing do not go unpunished, but I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will understand the 585 danger of endorsing the propaganda campaigns of those who are interested not in the liberty of the individual but in the discrediting and overthrow of the institutions of the rule of law. The dupes of Sinn Fein campaigns are no friends of freedom in Northern Ireland.
In return, the House and the people of Northern Ireland can require something of the Government. We must make sure that the rule of law is a reality and that the differences in Northern Ireland law intended to take account of the different circumstances of the Province are kept to the minimum. We must make sure that where there are complaints, there is the machinery for dealing with these complaints as quickly and fairly as possible. We must make sure that the institutions of the Province are so designed, administered and staffed that they serve and are seen to serve the genuine interests of all those who live within the Province. I can give the House the assurance that we are working diligently to that end, and I commend this motion to the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'regrets the Government's delay in responding to the Report of Sir George Baker; and affirms that law and order are best served by methods of law enforcement which are seen to be fair, compassionate and non-discriminatory.'.
This debate is long-awaited and long-promised. In our discussion on the renewal of the Emergency Provisions Act on 5 July, I traced the history of the calls that had been made in this House since 1979 for a review of the Act. On 22 July 1982, the then Secretary of State finally responded to those calls with an announcement that there was to be a review. There was a further nine-month delay before he announced who was to undertake it. Then the general election caused a further delay.
Sir George Baker reported in March this year, about nine months after he began work. There was no delay on his part. That is a tribute to his enthusiasm for his task and for his appreciation of the urgency of the matter. In that time, he listened with his customary courtesy and attention to all those with something to say. He produced a careful and thoughtful report. It did not compel universal agreement. We on the Opposition Benches do not endorse all that he said—I shall elaborate upon that later—but it deserved better than it has received at the hands of the Government.
We tried to exercise patience. We did not expect a debate at once. We hoped that the Government would read the report and consider it carefully, but as month succeeded month we began to wonder whether perhaps the Government were slow readers. On 24 May I asked the then Secretary of State whether he would discuss the possibility of a debate with the Leader of the House. He replied:I regard Sir George Baker's report as an important document that the House will wish to debate. I hope that in due course time will be made available for such a debate".—[Official Report, 24 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 1235.]On 28 June, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), he said: 586All these matters will be relevant to next week's debate and perhaps to a discussion of the Baker report in due course."— [Official Report, 28 June 1984; Vol. 62, c. 1149.]On 26 July I asked him again and he said:I expect this item will come up for debate soon after we return. It is a matter for the Leader of the House but I believe that that is the understanding." — [Official Report, 26 July 1984; Vol. 64, c. 1224.]On 29 November, I asked the Secretary of State again, and he replied:Obviously, it is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to say when the debate will take place. I hope that that debate will not be delayed too long."—[Official Report, 29 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 1075.]So, Mr. Deputy Speaker, arise; the long, long night is over; we have our debate. And, would you believe it, the Government have provided a debate on the Thursday before Christmas — the day before the House is adjourned, in a week when, as no doubt the Government hoped, the House was to be occupied with uncontentious business, and when hon. Members would wish to be in their constituencies for various Christmas events connected with the elderly, the handicapped, and other local groups.
§ Mr. Archer
The House is sitting, as the right hon. Gentleman says. If the House had not been sitting, no doubt we should not have had our debate at all.
However, the week has not worked out quite as the Government expected. Indeed, few things these days seem to work out quite as the Government expect. But the debate is not as well attended as it would have been if the Government's business managers had accorded it a higher priority. If the people of Northern Ireland are told that the attendance is thin, it is an indication not of how seriously hon. Members take Northern Ireland business, but of how seriously the Government take it.
I do not say that as a personal criticism of the Secretary of State. He does not arrange the business of the House. He cannot insist on a higher priority for his subject than the Government as a whole are willing to accord it. But if the Government cared, they had no better opportunity to demonstrate their concern than by providing a debate in prime time. Now we know the rating of Northern Ireland business in the Government's book.
Of course, the Government's response to the report is the responsibility of the Secretary of State. It is a poor thing, but it is his own. I cannot help feeling that the House will be left with a feeling of profound disappointment. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to Sir George Baker, as we would expect. The debate on 5 July enabled his predecessor and myself to offer a personal tribute to Sir George who, unhappily, did not live to hear this debate.
This is not the occasion to repeat all that I said at that time, but this commission was a fitting conclusion to a lifetime of distinguished public service by a man who numbered among his many qualities the capacity to listen and to assess what he heard as objectively and fairly as possible—a quality not universally shared among people concerned with Northern Ireland. Sir George was in the tradition of distinguished judges who have reported on various aspects of the situation in Northern Ireland. If I find that I differ from his conclusions, I nevertheless recognise the mark of a seeker after truth. He did not make recommendations lightly. His proposals were restrained—some of us believe that they were too restrained—but 587 they were proposals that the Government could have accepted at once, without opening any floodgates or imposing any danger for security.
There are many people in Northern Ireland who are anxious to know the Government's reactions and to be assured that the Government appreciate the strength of feeling on the subject. The Secretary of State, very fairly, emphasised the need to preserve the standards of the criminal law. He announced that the Government had consulted widely on the recommendations, although I am not wholly clear of the need for that, because Sir George himself had already consulted. He said that he was disposed in favour of some —most, I think—of the recommendations, but that he wished to reflect further. As I understand it, he said that there will not be any legislation on the subject in this Session. That response—I say this without any joy—is not only bland and unimaginative, but uncomprehending and incomprehensible.
To set the Opposition's position in context, I hope the House will forgive me if I repeat some of what I said on 5 July. First, we have no sympathy with lawlessness. We believe that any political cause, worthy or unworthy, is degraded and distorted when it is pursued by individuals who take upon themselves the right to deal with opposition by killing or terrorising those who disagree with them. In particular, we denounce the indiscriminate violence that kills and maims without distinction all those who happen to be in a particular place at a particular time. That has been said by us so often that there is no need to elaborate.
Secondly, we appreciate the difficult task of those who have to enforce law and order. We do not underestimate the extent of the tragedies brought about by violence. We appreciate the dangerous conditions in which they work and the necessity for taking decisions quickly under pressure.
I echo the Secretary of State's tribute to the police force. As he said, the police are not universally without blame, and to suggest that they are all perfect would be as silly as suggesting that they are all petty tyrants devoid of any redeeming features. But they are entitled to ask that we bear in mind their difficulties when we discuss these matters.
Opposition Members believe that the strongest base from which to maintain law and order is a community which supports law enforcement and opposes law-breaking. That is achieved by demonstrating that those concerned with law enforcement display constant respect for the rules and that those rules are manifestly fair. Law-breakers cannot be dealt with by risking injustice to those who are innocent, and the myth that is spread by many law-breakers—that they are engaged in a war—cannot be destroyed by encouraging the authorities to adopt the slogans of war — such as "Shoot on Sight" — or the practices of war by claiming to identify the enemy before he has been convicted.
We believe it would have been better if Sir George's terms of reference had not begun with the words,Accepting that temporary emergency powers are necessary".When someone is appointed to conduct an inquiry, it is better not to begin by telling him what his conclusions are to be. The question is about what departures from normality are necessary. If they are not necessary, they are counter-productive and if they are not required to protect, they serve only to alienate.
588 In that context I turn to the question of trial without jury. That procedure singles out Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. In Great Britain the right to trial by jury is a long established and cherished safeguard for any individual who is accused of a criminal offence. Attempts to curtail that safeguard, even marginally, are properly resisted. In Northern Ireland the right to jury trial has been curtailed for 11 years.
I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill in 1973. I have recently read some of the proceedings to remind myself of how the position appeared at that time. According to the Government of the day, people were being acquitted who, because they were guilty, should not have been acquitted and it was said that those people were terrorists. The Opposition agreed that if that was the case it was unacceptable. Our position was that, fundamental as the right to jury trial is, it is not totally inviolate in all circumstances. We said that, if people who were guilty were being acquitted, there should be concern. But we also said that if the Government sought to curtail that position the onus was upon them to establish that major terrorists were escaping conviction and that they were likely to be convicted by a different form of tribunal. We said that, to justify the introduction of the Diplock procedure, the Government should establish first that the conviction rate was too low under the jury system. I recollect that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said that that was inconsistent with what had been said shortly before the debate by the then Prime Minister. The Prime Minister had spoken of arrests that had been made since the beginning of the year and said in May of that year thatsince the beginning of the year … there were 157 convictions for specific criminal offences relating to terrorism.He added:These figures speak for themselves."— [Official Report, 28 March 1973; Vol 853, c. 1323.]—and Opposition Members agreed with him.
It has not always been the Government's own case that the conviction rate was too low under the jury system. The Opposition said that, even if that was established, the Government would have to show that if the conviction rate was increased under the Diplock procedure the right people would be convicted. It is no answer to terrorism to risk convicting innocent people. The Opposition asked the Government to produce their evidence. They said that terrorists were probably escaping conviction for two reasons that had been discussed by the Diplock committee in chapter 5 of its report. They said that the Diplock committee had considered the possibility that jurors had been or would be intimidated. They did not cite any instances of intimidation, but believed that that might be happening. As evidence of the need to deny jury trial to accused people, that seemed less than persuasive. The committee considered the danger of partisan juries. It pointed out that juries were composed predominantly of Loyalists, because of the property qualification then in operation. It said that it was not greatly troubled by the possibility of perverse convictions of Nationalists, as it believed that that practice could be avoided by a fair judge, but it was more troubled about perverse acquittals, which also troubled the Government of the day. That could only mean perverse acquittals of Protestant paramilitaries, which was what the debates in 1973 were predominantly about. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and my hon. Friend the Member 589 for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) were both members of the Committee, and there are other right hon. and hon. Members who will remember the debates.
Those, in essence, were the arguments of the Diplock committee and the Government of the day for introducing the Diplock procedure. The Diplock committee actually said:It is fair to say that we have not had our attention drawn to complaints of convictions that were plainly perverse and complaints of acquittals which were plainly perverse are rare".
On Second Reading the Opposition officially abstained because we wanted to hear the Government's arguments in greater detail in Committee. We declared that we were not persuaded that the Government had made out their case for containing jury trials. I believe that we were right.
It is true that, when the Diplock procedure had been operating for a few years, I heard from people in both traditions that our anxieties had perhaps not materialised. There were few reports, if any, that the Diplock judges were convicting in cases where a reasonable jury might be expected to acquit. Indeed, there were some cases the other way. Of course, that might be another way of saying that the Diplock procedure had not achieved its stated objective to increase the conviction rate. But at least there were no complaints at that time of unfair convictions. As there seemed little evidence of dissatisfaction—
§ Mr. McNamara
There were many complaints about unfair convictions, particularly when people were being convicted on old, uncorroborated confessions which might have been obtained by violence or threats of violence, though less than torture or degrading or inhuman treatment. I shall develop the point later.
§ Mr. Archer
I wonder whether my hon. Friend and I are speaking about different periods. I am speaking about the period immediately after the Diplock procedure was introduced. If he heard complaints during that period, I am bound to say that they escaped me. Either of us could be right or wrong. I am explaining only why during that period I at least did not call for an end to the Diplock procedure. I believe that the situation has changed in the past two or three years. There have been reports of convictions which some at least profess to find surprising. I was not present at those trials, and I have not had an opportunity to read the transcripts, so I do not presume to make a judgment. I say only that there were such reports, and they coincided with the substantial fall in the acquittal rate in the Diplock trials. That rate was 57 per cent. in 1973. By 1979 it had fallen to 35 per cent. and by 1981 to 33 per cent.—all at a time when the acquittal rate in jury trials in Northern Ireland increased substantially. So the Diplock procedure was achieving its stated purpose of producing more convictions, but there were doubts whether they were merited convictions.
Sir George Baker discussed whether the judges might be becoming case-hardened. If that is said, it should not be construed as in any way offensive to the judiciary. It is because that process is virtually inevitable that trial by jury has been considered an essential safeguard of individual liberty for so long. Sir George said that he found that the judges themselves were very mindful of the danger, which does not necessarily mean that it neutralises the danger. Admittedly, it may be more difficult to sustain the suggestion as applicable to all judges, after the outcome of the Gilmour trial.
590 I have been driven to conclude that the time may have come to restore for all offences the trial method which was normal until 11 years ago. If there is then a spate of clearly perverse acquittals, we may have to think again, but it would be an important contribution to persuading people in both traditions that the Government recognise the widespread feeling that civil liberties in Northern Ireland have been steadily eroded over the past few years, and that they were prepared to consider the whole situation with an open mind.
But perhaps we can make the experiment on a more limited scale among some of the offences which are now scheduled. Sir George Baker did not go as far as that, but he recommended, in paragraphs 130 to 151, that there should be a much wider discretion in the Attorney-General to certify out of the schedule. That seems to me to be a step—albeit a hesitant one—in the right direction.
A robbery, an aggravated burglary, need not necessarily be associated in any way with terrorism. It may be carried out purely for purposes of good old-fashioned selfishness. In his study for the Cobden Trust, Mr. Dermot Walsh found that 40 per cent. of those tried by the Diplock procedure had no observable connection with terrorism.
I note that in paragraph 151 Sir George suggested that if it was thought that his proposals were too radical a judge could be given power, where there had been any attempt to intimidate or interfere with a jury, to discharge that jury and continue the trial sitting alone. That would be a possible safeguard if the Government decided to be even more radical and to begin all trials as jury trials.
On Tuesday, the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights made public some of its recommendations to the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
My right hon. and learned Friend raised a point a moment ago on which I have been reflecting as it has an important bearing on what I want to say later. He said that 40 per cent. had not, observably, been involved in terrorism. On what basis were the accused dealt with under the Diplock procedure, which is based on that section of the Act defining terrorism, when it is claimed—or, if it is the other way round, when the prosecution claim—that they were involved in terrorism? How does that 40 per cent. arise?
§ Mr. Archer
They were brought before the courts because they were accused of the specific offences in the schedule. Anyone accused of those offences is, normally, brought before the courts under the Diplock procedure.
§ Mr. Archer
As my right hon. Friend says, all the bank robbers. Yes, that is the position.
As I was saying, the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights has concluded that it is not yet possible to return to jury trial in all cases, contrary to the suggestion that I made a few moments ago. But it recommends a substantial reduction in the number of scheduled offences and enlarging the power to certify out. I am pleased to learn that the Minister is at least considering those proposals sympathetically, as I understood him.
Contrary to Sir George Baker's recommendation, the committee also proposes that, where jury trial is not used, the judge sitting alone should be replaced by a bench of three judges. When the Minister winds up, perhaps he will give us the Government's reactions to those suggestions.
591 The second matter considered by Sir George Baker was the length of time during which people in custody await trial, particularly those awaiting trial under the Diplock procedure. The Cobden Trust found that, in 1981, 60 per cent. of those they studied had been on remand for more than nine months before being sentenced and almost 10 per cent. for more than 15 months. The problem is particularly acute in relation to those awaiting trial on the evidence of supergrasses.
Most of the defendants discharged by the Lord Chief Justice this week in the Gilmour trial had been in custody since August 1982. We have heard of a number of cases where someone being held in custody awaiting trial on supergrass evidence has been told that the prosecution was not proceeding. Then, almost before the news has time to sink in, he has been rearrested to await trial on the evidence of a different supergrass.
In our last debate, I cited a letter which I had received from a lady who said that her son had been arrested and rearrested on the evidence of five successive supergrasses. She added:My son has been held since February 1982 and has been told that he will not get a trial until '85 or '86.I understand that that young man is still in custody, awaiting trial in 1985 or 1986. Last month his application for bail was considered by the Lord Chief Justice, who said that he was unable to grant bail on the present criteria, and is reported as saying that it is not the courts who make policy, nor could they override the law. That, of course, is a matter for the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise and agree that the time that that young man has spent in custody — bearing in mind the provisions for remission in Northern Ireland prisons—is virtually the equivalent of a six-year prison sentence?
§ Mr. Archer
I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for pointing that out, as it is certainly true. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the young man has not been convicted of any offence. There is no question about whether the court would have imposed a custodial sentence because he has not been convicted of any offence. He may be guilty, or he may be wholly innocent. We shall not know until he is tried. If he is acquitted, he will have spent the equivalent of a six-year sentence in custody—not because he has committed an offence, but because someone has alleged that he has committed an offence.
There are two ways of approaching the problem. We can reduce the delays in bringing cases to trial. We can try to ensure meanwhile that those awaiting trial are given bail unless there are considerations which fully justify keeping them in custody unconvicted. Those approaches are not mutually exclusive. We can and we should be examining both.
Sir George Baker addressed himself to both approaches in paragraphs 173 to 187. He considered the delays in bringing cases to trial, particularly the supergrass trials. He made a number of recommendations, which I hope that the authorities will consider. I was pleased to learn today from the Secretary of State that the Lord Chancellor has approved the appointment of a further judge.
Sir George made two proposals on bail. In paragraph 81 he recommended that section 2(2) should be redrafted 592 to provide that the onus of showing why bail is not granted should be on the prosecution, if they object to it, with a wide discretion available to the judge. As I understood it, the right hon. Gentleman said that we do not need to do that because the courts already consider bail in that way. If they already approach bail in that way, why not amend the statute book to accord with reality?
In paragraph 185, Sir George Baker proposed that any prisoner who has been in custody for more than 12 months should be entitled to bail as of right. That seems a moderate enough proposal. I hope that the Government will implement it. They cannot justify allowing this situation to drag on as though it did not matter. In a country that boasts of its freedom, that situation is quite unacceptable.
Time will not permit me to consider in detail all the recommendations by Sir George. He referred to section 8 of the Act. Subsection (2) provides that confessions by an accused shall be excluded if they are adduced by torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. There is nothing in that provision about abuse, threats, keeping someone in custody hour after hour or refusing him access to a solicitor. Detention in conditions falling short of inhuman or degrading treatment is not excluded. What is wrong with the test which applies in England and Wales, that confessions are to be excluded unless they are made voluntarily? Sir George recommended a somewhat lower standard. He proposed that the section should be redrafted at least to exclude cases where a confession is adduced by violence or the threat of violence. I hope that we shall hear in the course of this debate how the Government react to that.
Section 12 provides for detention without trial. That has been discontinued since 1975, as the Secretary of State said. Sir George recommended that, as section 12 is not used and ought not to be used, it should be repealed. He made that recommendation "without qualification".
The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not like section 12. He says that there is no evidence of the need for such powers, but that he would like to leave section 12 on the statute book in case one day the situation might justify it. That is not the proper approach to emergency powers. Emergency powers in a civilised country should not outlive the emergency which brought them into being.
Then what becomes of the power of arrest under section 11? It is clear from the Act that the power under section 11 was intended to be a prelude to detention under section 12. There is no need to provide a power of arrest for other purposes. It already exists under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. If use is no longer to be made of section 12, what is the purpose of section 11? Sir George recommended that the powers of arrest under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be brought together under one Act. He looked at section 11 which provides that:Any constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he suspects of being a terrorist.He concluded that the power was too wide. The Act says nothing about the grounds of the constable's suspicion. There may be no grounds for it; it may be wholly unreasonable. He recommended that any power to arrest without warrant should be expressed to be where the constable "reasonably so suspects", leaving the court to decide objectively whether the suspicion was reasonable.
The Cobden Trust survey found that 90 per cent. of those arrested under emergency legislation failed in the 593 end to be the subject of any charges, and that 72 per cent. of those held under such legislation were not even questioned about specific offences. The Trust asked whether those powers were not used just for the purpose of a general information-gathering exercise. We are all in favour of the police gathering information, but that it should be done by arresting and holding people about whom there is no reasonable suspicion is entirely unacceptable.
The European Convention on Human Rights provides, in article 5, that no one shall be deprived of his liberty unless lawfully arrested and detainedfor the purpose of bringing him before the competent legal authority on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence".The Government apparently believe that all their practices in Northern Ireland are fully consistent with the European convention, since in August they withdrew their notices of derogation from the United Kingdom's obligations in respect of Northern Ireland.
The Committee on the Administration of Justice has been in communication with the Home Secretary asking him to explain how the Government reconcile article 5 with either the wording or the use being made of section 11. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is not something which can be left until the next legislative Session. It is a matter on which we are already in breach of our international obligations under the European convention.
A further matter in which we have found ourselves unable to share Sir George's conclusions relates to the supergrass trials. I gave my view on that in the debate on 5 July, and in the interests of brevity I shall not now elaborate on the subject. But it has caused great anxiety, and may indeed be the most important single factor in the widespread feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction—I shall avoid the word "alienation" if the Prime Minister does not like it—with the administration of justice in Northern Ireland.
I do not say that prosecutors should never rely on accomplice evidence. That is a characteristic of most jurisdictions. But aspects of its use in Northern Ireland in the past few years have given rise, rightly I believe, to serious anxieties. First, there are the numbers of people tried together on one indictment. I realise, as the Secretary of State told us, that the police are anxious to avoid the delays involved in a succession of trials. But I do not believe that it is possible to try a vast concourse of people on one indictment without the risk that someone may be tainted by a piece of evidence which in logic is not relevant to his case.
Sir George Baker recommended that indictments be confined to a maximum of 20 defendants. That figure is startling enough, and I hoped that the authorities would consider it too high. Any lawyers in the House would surely agree with me. But the Gilmour trial before the Lord Chief Justice, which ended on Tuesday, involved 35 defendants. Whatever other considerations may have led to their acquittal, I do not believe that it can be right to prosecute such a number on one indictment.
Secondly, for reasons which are well known, an accomplice may have an incentive to falsify his account. In England and Wales a judge will emphasise that danger to the jury, and will warn them that they should be very reluctant to convict on the evidence of an accomplice in the absence of corroboration. But we are speaking, for the 594 moment at least, of trials without a jury. However conscientiously a judge may try to keep that principle in mind, the effect cannot be the same as when a jury hears it from the lips of a judge.
Thirdly, it is of great importance that an accomplice who gives evidence should have nothing to hope for and nothing to fear from telling the truth. I say nothing about the considerations which were ventilated in an intervention earlier today by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, but if the accomplice is to be given immunity from prosecution, that should be made clear before he gives evidence, and it should be in no way conditional on the evidence which he gives. If he is not to be given immunity, he should be tried and sentenced before he gives evidence. We all agree on that; so far as I know, it is not in dispute. But the time that the person in question has to serve is still largely under the control of the authorities, and nothing can be done to eliminate that element.
When it is announced that someone who has given evidence as an informer is to be released substantially earlier than would usually be expected, inevitably public confidence in the fairness of the system will be jeopardised. I believe that if supergrass trials were discontinued, the gain in terms of restoring confidence among the community would substantially outweigh the possibility of convicting some people against whom there is no other evidence.
It is not a matter for the police; if they have reason to suspect someone, they must bring their evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is not a matter for the director. If he has admissible evidence about which it is reasonable to project a conviction, it is difficult to see why he should not place it before a court. It is not a matter for the judges. If evidence is brought before them, they can only consider it on its merits in an individual case. I believe that the time has come for the Government to introduce legislation providing that no one may be convicted on the evidence of an accomplice in the absence of corroboration. Of course the comments of the Lord Chief Justice in the Gilmour case are welcome, and we await the judgment on the appeal in the Bennett case, which I understand will be delivered next week. But the remedy is in the hands of the Government.
I hope that when he replies the Minister will have something to say on another matter which has been ventilated today and which I believe makes a great contribution to the sense of frustration and dissatisfaction. If people are to feel an obligation to observe the law, they must have a sense of assurance that the law is not only something which constrains them but something which protects them. That entails those charged with enforcing the law being seen to observe the legal limits on their powers.
In its ninth annual report, the Standing Advisory Committee says that the law governing the circumstances in which members of the security forces may fire weapons isone of the most controversial aspects of the security situation in recent years.Of course those forces operate in conditions of great danger, and sometimes their members have to make decisions at a moment's notice when they cannot be sure of all the facts. It is right that all those considerations should be taken into account when assessing responsibility for the death of a civilian at the hands of the security 595 forces. This is not a matter which is central to the discussion on the Baker report, and I might be out of order if I were to pursue it at great length today.
I commend to the Secretary of State the suggestion of the Standing Advisory Committee that when a case involving the killing of a civilian has been investigated, so far as possible the facts should be made known to the public. That does not happen when they have been considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and properly so; the director cannot make public his investigations. But a wall of silence is bound to breed suspicion. Then the commission suggests that the yellow card rules should be published and made available to the public. It also proposes a review of the whole law relating to the use of force by the security services.
The Committee on the Administration of Justice suggests examining the rules governing coroners' inquests so that there may be a feeling that the real issues have been investigated. There is great concern about this matter, and we will pursue it; ignoring it will not mean that it will go away.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
I have listened for almost half an hour to the right hon. and learned Gentleman expressing, quite properly, concern for people in Northern Ireland who may be innocent. However, in his consideration for their civil liberties, he is clearly making it more difficult for the security forces to deal with terrorism; no doubt that is a factor which he has thought about. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give some indication of what consolation I can offer my constituents and of whether I can tell them that a real effort is being made to protect them in the next 12 months, when no doubt another 50 or even 100 people will be killed by terrorists? As well as concerning himself with the civil liberties and rights of potentially innocent people, will he also consider ways of defending the basic civil right of all people in Northern Ireland—the right to life?
§ Mr. Archer
Perhaps I have not made myself as clear as I thought I had. I said at least three times that it is a matter that the Opposition have very much in mind. It is one of those matters that we must balance.
I can give the hon. Gentleman a message for his constituents—the most effective way in which we can enforce law and order is to ensure that the people of both traditions are squarely on the side of law and order and against law-breakers. I thought that I had already said that the way to achieve that would be to give a complete assurance that the rules were fair and that they would be observed by all concerned. If we can achieve that and put an end to the alienation, we shall go a long way towards protecting people from violence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell that to his constituents.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
I have listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments with great care. The amendment that he advocates seeks to delete from the Prime Minister's motion the phraseaccepts the continuing need for temporary emergency powers.Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really saying that there is no longer any need for temporary emergency powers, given the current position in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Archer
I thought that I had been discussing most of the emergency powers which exist. If the authorities already have powers on the statute book to do what is necessary, we do not need emergency powers. I am quite prepared to discuss the emergency powers one by one to determine which of them are required. The Opposition have been essentially pragmatic about this matter and essentially mindful of the need to preserve law and order. I am inviting the Government to look at each of the powers to see whether they are really necessary.
No one is calling for the Secretary of State to press a magic button and relieve all public anxieties at a stroke. It is inevitable that, in the current position in Northern Ireland, there will be disputes about the balance between maintaining proper security and retaining that respect for individual liberty that our ancestors won and which I hope the British people will never cease to cherish.
It is inevitable that there will be allegations of injustice as part of a propaganda campaign. It is inevitable that there will be errors of judgment. There can be no end to the problems until there has been a resolution of the political questions that beset Northern Ireland. That is why it is so important that the Government are seen to have the will to make political progress, and why it is important that the Prime Minister makes an effort to guard her tongue when she is dealing with sensitive issues.
But part of creating that atmosphere for political progress is to remove the sense of grievance and the feeling that things are not being done fairly. The Government must be seen to be listening to complaints, to be assessing them honestly and to be making an effort to reconcile security with justice. Without that, there can be no political progress.
It is because we are not persuaded that the Government are according the subject the urgency that it merits that we have tabled our amendment and will divide the House tonight.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The emergency provisions legislation has been on the statute book since 1973. It was introduced at a time when terrorism in Northern Ireland was rampant and the House recognised that something had to be done to provide the authorities, the security forces and the judiciary in Northern Ireland with the weaponry to combat the terrorist threat. It was styled emergency legislation and made subject to a review by the House at six-monthly intervals.
The then Secretary of State said on the Second Reading of the Bill:It is the Government's intention that none of the provisions of the Bill, if it is passed, should continue in force a moment longer than it is needed."—[Official Report, 17 April 1973; Vol. 855, c. 278.]Indeed, the then Attorney-General declared that the measures were draconian. The legislation was never intended or desired to become a permanent feature of the legal process of Northern Ireland, but I regret that it is still necessary today, and I say that as a representative of Northern Ireland.
The House may blink its eyes at the facts. I resent what the Secretary of State referred to as the "favourable trend" in security matters in Northern Ireland. But for the intervention of providence, during the past few days there would have been carnage in Hollywood, the Campbell 597 family in Londonderry would have been annihilated and seven Ulster Defence Regiment men would have been in their graves. I cannot say that that is a favourable trend.
The fact that the legislation is necessary is a savage indictment of the security policies of successive British Governments. They have refused to face the problem of terrorism in Northern Ireland and have utterly failed to deal effectively with the IRA and the INLA by resonant action on the ground. Had they done so, the need to debate this legislation would have ceased long ago.
In 1984, 11 years after the legislation was first enacted, the men and women of Northern Ireland continue to be subjected to a vicious sectarian campaign of butchery and bloodshed at the hands of the IRA and its friends. There are new victims of violence—innocent men and women cut down to satisfy the lust for blood of the Republican terrorists. We have to comfort and console widows, orphans and broken-hearted parents.
The intervention of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) was most timely. What do we say when we visit people who shed tears over the victims of violence? There is no doubt that there is still a need for such legislation. We are still faced with the shattering of family circles and the isolation of Protestants in the border areas who live in daily fear of murder by IRA murder gangs. That is the reality of the position in Northern Ireland, and it is something that the Government have long refused to face or to take action to bring to a swift and effective conclusion.
During the past two weeks we have seen the effect on the ground of measures which my party has advocated for a long time. I wish to take this opportunity to commend and pay tribute to the security forces for the efficient manner in which they dealt with terrorists caught red-handed in the act of murder or attempted murder. No tears will be shed over dead IRA men by anyone from the Protestant population, which has had to bear the burden of atrocity after atrocity at the hands of that evil organisation. Terrorism can never be appeased or accommodated. It must be put down and eliminated. While it exists, we recognise and accept the need for emergency legislation. The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland are demanding that the Government adopt a strategy which takes the initiative away from the terrorists and which will ultimately restore peace and normality to the Province.
We have heard that if we had a political settlement, all would be well. How far removed that is from the truth. If we had a political settlement tomorrow, the IRA would engage in even more violence, more bloodshed and more terrorism. When the south of Ireland had its political settlement, the worst page in Irish history was written. There was a civil war, when Irishmen fought Irishmen, and committed the most atrocious of murders. It was only when Kevin O'Higgins ruthlessly put that down, without apology, that peace was restored. We need to face that today. A strategy for the restoration of normal legal practices and traditions would be rendered unnecessary and we would not be debating this matter today, if we had a security settlement. All hon. Members could vote happily for the repeal of the legislation if we were not facing the present circumstances.
Those hon. Members who want confirmation of the true nature of the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA could do no better than read Sir George Baker's report. All hon. Members will be grateful to him for the way in which he handled that part of his inquiry. The facts are there.
598 Northern Ireland representatives have presented those facts to the House again and again, but the House has rejected and opposed them, and thrown them out.
In his report Sir George Baker lays the truth on the line. What is Sinn Fein, and what is its relationship to the IRA? Paragraph 46 states:There cannot be any reason or indeed possible doubt that Sinn Fein is not only a political wing but also a complete accomplice and partner of the PIRA, that both intended to continue using violence, and that the identity of the murderers and the other perpetrators of grave crimes is widely known.Sinn Fein is the IRA under a different hat. Membership is clearly interchangeable. The House needs to take cognisance of that. The public statements of their spokesmen demonstrate the same evil murderous thinking as that of the IRA.
I regret that, having clearly shown the fusion of Sinn Fein and the IRA, Sir George Baker stopped short of recommending Sinn Fein's proscription. Sinn Fein is not a political party in any true meaning of the term. Members of the Government of Northern Ireland have rightly refused to meet Sinn Fein members who are public representatives. However, they should carry that policy to its logical conclusion and forbid contact between Sinn Fein and Government Departments and all others.
Every right thinking person in Northern Ireland utterly abhorred the action taken by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) when he brought into the House Linda Quigley, who has been convicted as a member of the IRA. She said that she supported the IRA's view that the British Government were a legitimate target. Therefore, she supported the bombing at Brighton, when an attempt was made to murder the Government. It must be utterly abhorrent to all people that an hon. Member brought such a person into the House. I am glad that the Labour party took action about that. I wish to put it on the record that that was appreciated by the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
My impression is that the hon. Gentleman is saying that Sinn Fein should be proscribed. Is that what he is saying?
§ Mr. Flannery
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Sinn Fein should be driven underground? Is it not a fact that a large number of people voted for Sinn Fein and, therefore, that it has mass support? The hon. Gentleman says that he will drive Sinn Fein underground. Has he ever had any contact with the para-militaries who support his general viewpoint?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Sinn Fein should be proscribed, no matter how many votes it receives. That is not the issue. The issue is that Sinn Fein says that there should be violence and that a campaign of murder can be justified. I have always denounced and rejected murder. So-called Protestant para-militaries have fired bullets into my home because of my stand on those issues.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
That shows how little the hon. Gentleman knows. I trust that he will make himself aware 599 of the facts before he asks such foolish questions. If I deviated from the law, the Government and Opposition Front Benches would call for my blood. Their difficulty is that I do not deviate from the law and they cannot get anything on me to shut me up. They have tried it before and failed. They will try it again and they will fail because I act within the law, and I shall continue to do so.
If an attempt is made to subvert the democratic wishes of the people of Ulster, which were made known through the ballot box when they voted to remain within the United Kingdom, there will be resistance in Ulster. Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right. The hon. Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and for Foyle (Mr. Hume) know my views about that. The hon. Member for Hillsborough wishes to divert me from what I want to say.
The report states:It is the duty of the Government to govern, and it is fundamental to that duty that it should do everything within its power and the law to protect the right to life of every citizen including members of the security forces.It is not the duty of the Government to set up security forces to be shot by the IRA. The security forces are entitled to protect themselves. The idea that they must be shot at first, and are lucky if they are not hit, before they can take action cannot be right. Security forces must act promptly to deal with terrorists.
I entirely agree with the statement that the duty to defend and protect the people of Northern Ireland lies with the Government. It is time that they faced that duty and ensured that Sinn Fein was not permitted openly and brazenly to encourage and incite the murder of members of the security forces and the Protestant population.
In December 1983, following the Harrods outrage, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that the Government were considering imposing sanctions against Sinn Fein. Nothing has happened. It is time that that nettle was grasped. The Secretary of State needs to apply his heart and mind to that matter.
The report states that the time is not ripe for the return of jury trial for scheduled cases. I wish that it were ripe. I opposed the abolition of juries. However, it would not be right to say that we can now abolish the Diplock courts and reintroduce juries. It would be impossible, because juries would be intimidated. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) that at the time we did not have proper facts on which to base our judgment. I was perfectly entitled at the time to vote against the abolition of jury trials. My vote was justified. Indeed, the matter was carried by only one vote in Committee.
The Democratic Unionist party is realistic enough to believe that it is not possible at this juncture to reintroduce jury trials for serious terrorist cases, because of the danger of intimidation of jurors. However, I regret that we have had to go down that road, and I look forward to the return of jury trials for all criminal offences as soon as possible. Trial by jury is much preferable, and we do not delight in the denial of British legal rights to the citizens of Northern Ireland.
My party has suggested that the Government should consider seriously the proposal that scheduled cases be heard by a panel of three judges, not by one judge sitting alone. Judges in Northern Ireland do a tremendous job in the most difficult circumstances, as do magistrates.
600 Members of the judiciary have been attacked and murdered. It is not right that one judge should have to bear the tremendous burden of trying serious terrorist cases in which there may be 30 or 40 defendants. Some say that the Diplock courts should be abolished immediately, but that cannot be done. If it were done, the IRA would rejoice, for it would help the Republican campaign.
I welcome the recommendation in the report to deschedule some offences. Many offences of a purely domestic nature could satisfactorily be left to judge and jury, as could many cases of robbery and aggravated murder. Sir George has recommended greater flexibility in the cases that are certified out — treated as nonscheduled offences—and my party agrees with him. A case should go before the Diplock courts only when it is necessary. Wherever possible, a defendant should have the right to go before judge and jury.
A matter that causes great anxiety across the divide in Northern Ireland is the excessive periods that many prisoners are forced to spend on remand in custody. Remand is the worst sort of imprisonment. Prisoners are held in their cells for 23 hours a day and are let out for only one hour. That has become commonplace in Northern Ireland. Remand prisoners pray for quick trials. Although they may not be released, they would prefer to serve proper prison sentences. Those prisoners have not been convicted of any crimes, but some of them have been held for more than two years on the word of an accomplice or informer who has himself carried out some dastardly criminal deeds. Those prisoners are innocent until proven guilty, and it is intolerable that they should be held for so long before their cases are heard.
I appreciate the many difficulties with court administration, the police and legal personnel. However, it is vital that every effort is made to avoid long delays between arrest and trial. Paragraph 173 of the report states:Justice delayed is justice denied.It is a total injustice for a man to spend two years in custody on remand and then to be acquitted. He will have served the equivalent of a four-year prison sentence without having been convicted of an offence. His family and work life are destroyed. The result is that the man leaves prison completely embittered, whether he be a Roman Catholic or a Protestant, because of his treatment. Those of us who know about such matters want to avoid at all costs the release on bail of those charged with murder merely because of delays in bringing their cases to court. The solution would be to get them to court much more quickly. A person facing a murder charge could skip over the border if he got bail, and it would be extremely difficult to get him back. There is no assurance of extradition. The Government must take on board that urgent problem.
I regret the fact that some people have given a blanket endorsement to the supergrass system in Northern Ireland. It would be entirely wrong for the House to believe that opposition to the system comes from only one side of the religious divide. It does not. I voiced opposition to it a long time ago, when the supergrass system was starting. Apart from reducing the number of defendants to 20 or fewer, and criticising the delays in starting such trials, Sir George saw no injustice in such cases. I see a great injustice in the system. There are some people in prison in Northern Ireland now who would never have been convicted in a court on this side of the Irish sea. It is a well-known principle of English law that an accomplice may 601 give evidence for the Crown, and that the judge must warn the jury that it is dangerous to convict on his uncorroborated evidence unless the jury is certain of the truthfulness of that evidence.
There was a debate on this matter in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and members of the Official Unionist party and of my party were instrumental in passing a resolution. In the debate I quoted Lord Justice Lawson, who warned that the Director of Public Prosecutions should consider carefully the statement of Chief Justice Hale, who said:The truth is that more mischief hath come to good men by these kinds of approvements by false accusations of desperate villains than benefit to the public by the discovery and convicting of real offenders.In another case Lord Justice Lawson said:Nothing of a similar kind must happen again. Undertakings of immunity from prosecution may have to be given in the public interest. They should never be given by the police.In the supergrass cases, the promises were made in the first instance by the police.
I emphasise the words:Undertakings of immunity … should never be given by the police.Lord Justice Lawson also said:The Director should give them most sparingly and in cases involving grave crimes it would be prudent of him to consult the law officers before making any promises.Northern Ireland law must be in line with the law in Great Britain. I was talking to an hon. Member today who said that supergrasses are acceptable in England. But they are different supergrasses from the ones in Northern Ireland.
This is a serious matter, because we are talking about ruthless men who have committed many crimes but who have had dangled in front of them the carrot of complete immunity, a new life somewhere else and sums of money. They know perfectly well that if they get out of prison there will be someone waiting for them who they do not wish to see, so all that they must do is to drop in his name. Recently I examined the affidavit of a supergrass who had mentioned the name of a high-ranking police officer. Had that officer not been able to prove that he had a perfect and watertight alibi, he would have been in court on the word of a supergrass. We should remember that the evidence has not been corroborated by other witnesses. It is the sole word of a man who has committed serious crimes and who has been offered immunity and inducements by the police. If a person wishes to turn Queen's evidence, he should be tried by the court and sentence should be passed on him. If the court wishes to take into consideration the fact that he has co-operated with the Crown, it can do so, but the court must have the final decision.
It will be interesting to see the result of the Bennett appeal; we have already seen the result of the Gilmour case. Whether we like it or not, it discredits the courts and the police in Northern Ireland. I have often said that that appeal could be taken to Europe. If something happened there, the authority of the courts and the police in Northern Ireland would be undermined. The Secretary of State needs to think carefully about this matter. Nobody in Northern Ireland believes that these are converted terrorists who have suddenly had a change of heart and are prepared, from the best of motives, to give evidence. I do not think that the people who are handling the matter believe it either.
I took a stand in the House against internment, and I was justified, because internment did not and could not work in the circumstances. Any Government have the 602 right to have the power of Executive internment in an emergency, but it must be Executive internment only, and not a quasi-judicial system, such as the one where men stood behind a blanket and showed their feet and gave evidence in an attempt to put a legal gloss on something that was an act of the Executive. If an Executive wants to put people away because of an emergency, it should have the legislation to do it properly.
In criminal cases where an informer or an accomplice has been given a substantial inducement to give evidence the court should not convict unless there is corroboration by other evidence implicating the accused. That is only fair and just. People ask me why I want to retain the Union. I do so because I believe in the system of British justice and in the British legal system. I do not want that system destroyed. It is one of the most precious things that we have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will have other matters to bring before the House. My point is that I want to see the IRA and its cohorts put down once and for all. I support the reintroduction of capital punishment and the effective action taken by the security forces in the past fortnight, but when it comes to court cases we cannot allow basic standards of British justice to be eroded or done away with.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)
I welcome the report. I regret the death of Sir George Baker. I notice that I am in the report as being a sort of adviser. I did not realise that that was what I was doing. Like other former Secretaries of State, I was talking generally, but if I was an adviser, I am glad to have been so. I add a word of praise for Frances Elliott, who as the secretary will have done much of the detailed work.
The last review of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act was in 1974 with the Gardiner report, and as a result of its recommendations the Act was amended in 1975. It is very important that investigations like Gardiner, which was on a large scale, or like this one by Sir George should take place from time to time, because when the law is derogated against to such a degree as in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act the matter should be reviewed in depth from time to time.
One of the recommendations in the report with which I disagree is the recommendation that when the new legislation has been passed it should be examined only every 12 months. When I was Secretary of State I felt that a review should be every six months, and I feel that now. When the law is derogated against in part of the United Kingdom, Parliament should examine the matter at least every six months. Twelve months is too long. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act for the United Kingdom is less of a derogation from the normal rule of law.
The need for an emergency provisions Act arose out of the violence in Northern Ireland, which still goes on. The Secretary of State was wise not to make any comparisons that are invidous to the relatives of those who are killed now. Secretaries of State are liable—we have all been guilty of it—to say that things are better, but over 2,500 people have died in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism. The proportion on this side of the, water would be 70,000. Some 30,000 people have been injured in 603 Northern Ireland and we can do the arithmetic as to the amount of carnage that there would be here on a proportional scale.
Therefore, is it surprising that normal political activities and discussions do not take place in the Province? The Secretary of State properly concentrated on the activities of the Provisional IRA and some of its running mates. They are the predominant para-military groups in terms of killing and murder, but these things happen on the other side of the political fence as well. For people on the outside there is no difference between a Loyalist murder and a Republican murder. Both are morally and politically wrong. A Secretary of State has to deal with both sorts.
It is not surprising that in the Province the two sides are polarised even more. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) spoke of South Armagh, which at one time was part of his constituency, and the way that people there feel about the Orange hall incident, about which I remember. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is not here, but such things happen in Catholic areas as well. For example, I remember the butcher of Shankill who, oddly enough, had a Catholic Irish name.
There is violence in Northern Ireland, and no Government can sit back and say that they can do nothing about it. Therefore, there is a need for emergency powers. With my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), we are looking at whether there should be any changes in the emergency powers. It is right for Parliament to do so. There may be a better way of looking at parts of the changes rather than to-ing and fro-ing across the Floor of the House. The nature of the violence in Northern Ireland has to be understood. I get easily irritated these days when I meet people who have never been to Northern Ireland who tell me that it is something to do with Marxism or the Libyans. It is Irish to its very bones, whichever part it comes from. In one form or another, it has been showing itself for a good many years.
The nature of the para-military organisations must also be examined, to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). There is the Irish National Liberation Army, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and the Red Hand Commandos, and a list of about 30 para-military organisations. They say that their aim is war and they have captains, brigadiers and all the paraphernalia of armies, with volunteers and so on. When they are killed there are little paragraphs in the newspapers referring to them in para-military terms. It is a different place from this side of the water. It is in the United Kingdom, but it is different in this respect as in many others, and I do not say that to draw any other conclusion than that we have to try to understand it.
The Provisional IRA broke away from the official IRA in 1969. I have met members of the Provisional IRA on a number of occasions and they told me firmly, "We want none of that Marxist rubbish." That is why they broke away from the official IRA. They were nationalists—republicans pure and simple. The old IRA members are the lineal descendants of the 1920 and 1922 organisations. The Provisional IRA said that, in the Lower Falls, when they wrote "IRA" on the walls, it meant "I ran away" from 604 the trouble. Out of that arose the Provisional IRA. The nature of terrorism leads on to the nature of Sinn Fein and the political groups.
The report talks about the definition of violence. This is the only legislation where a definition is attempted. However, "killing with a political aim", or whatever the words are, is not necessarily the right definition. The Orange hall terrorists, the killing by the butcher of the Shankill, the killing of the mentally retarded boy and the woman collecting the census returns some years ago who was shot in the throat were not political killings. We fall into a trap with a definition of terrorism. Perhaps we should not have one. It gives credence and an acceptability.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West said that 40 per cent. of bank robberies were dealt with by the scheduled courts, but to some extent it is better if such crimes were not dealt with in the scheduled courts. In the old days, it meant that one could be considered a special category prisoner, with all that that involved. Now it means that one can be appreciated in a certain way by one or other side of the community. A mother says, "My son was not just robbing the bank. He was doing it for the cause." We should look carefully at the definition of terrorism which was taken from the Diplock report and inserted in the early legislation.
Until today I had not realised all these implications of terrorism, but I did see its effect on compensation. In my day—this shows that sometimes Secretaries of State are hamstrung — the easiest way of obtaining money in Northern Ireland was to get one's old car, which had been imported from somewhere else in the United Kingdom, stolen, and then blown up. One then claimed that that was done by a politically motivated person and therefore received replacement money. I did not succeed in doing anything about that, but I concede that something should be done about it.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
The moral of that is that the Northern Ireland Office never changes.
§ Mr. Rees
The moral is not that the Northern Ireland Office said anything—the moral is that a new piece of legislation was needed. The moral is that that would open up legislation and then one would not know what would happen with the other provisions thereby affected.
Of course, members of Provisional Sinn Fein are involved in violence. I learnt that also when I de-proscribed UVF when I first went to the Province. I was told that the UVF members wanted to go political and did not have a political wing. They then went on an incredible murdering rampage. The UVF was later re-proscribed.
The Committee on which four hon. Members who are present today sat, including the hon. Member for Antrim, North, had views on juryless courts, detention and a number of other matters. The hon. Member for Antrim, North was right to say that we had a view on proscription. When I went to the Province, however, I saw the need for proscription. It was invidious for people to call themselves captains, majors and other titles and to prance around the Province in the open. This did not mean that the proscription charge had much use. It is a charge that is added to all the charges of the courts. I strongly believed—I still do—that it was right to de-proscribe Provisional Sinn Fein. One need not be starry-eyed about this. I and many others know about the activities of the leader of 605 Provisional Sinn Fein which believes in the Armalite in support of politics. The Provisional Sinn Fein is at war, and I understand that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) rightly said that the Provisional Sinn Fein receives votes in Northern Ireland. I am sad that people this side of the water forget that in the south there is the Labour party and Dick Spring, the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, and in the north there is the SDLP and the various Unionist parties. The Provisional Sinn Fein is not representative of the people of Northern Ireland or southern Ireland. It is a minority group. I am sad when people from my area cavort with Provisional Sinn Fein and ignore the SDLP.
The other day I received a green card and two Loyalist para-militaries came to see me for a chat. I was surprised to receive that green card from Protestant para-militaries. I have received a Christmas card from a Loyalist paramilitary organisation. Perhaps that explains something about the nature of terrorism in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Rees
Of course I did not talk to murderers, but sometimes one does not know what people are. I was surprised to note that, during the Ulster workers' strike, Loyalist politicians cavorted with para-militaries on the Loyalist side. One day, Loyalist politicians came into the castle to speak to us. They were accompanied by armed guards. They had minders alongside them with guns. Violence comes from both sides, and it is important to consider that fact in understanding Northern Ireland's future.
A fifth of the funds of the Provisional IRA come from abroad and four fifths come from home. Friday used to be bank robbery and post office robbery day. Why are not all the funds of the Provisional IRA sequestrated, as the funds of the NUM are? If the Government of southern Ireland moved half as quickly to sequestrate the funds of the Provisional IRA as our judiciary did to sequestrate the NUM's funds and the money of many of my constituents, we might get somewhere. That is a thought.
§ Mr. McCusker
The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point which was touched on by Sir George Baker in another regard. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that any IRA money is promptly lodged in the account of Provisional Sinn Fein? To sequestrate those funds, one needs to proscribe Sinn Fein.
§ Mr. Rees
I do not believe that the NUM is proscribed in this country. My point is that the funds of the para-military groups buy the weapons. Although my point about NUM funds may not be relevant, I point out that the funds need to be examined.
I was a little worried about the way in which the Secretary of State dealt with internment. It took 18 months 606 to end internment. I did not receive the support of the then Opposition. Week by week, fortnight by fortnight, I let people out of prison on the basis of the Gardiner report. The Labour party ended internment by December 1975, but that was not done with the approval of both sides of the House. I still watch what is happening in Northern Ireland. I have heard stories—when I was Secretary of State I knew that most stories were wrong, but now I do not know what stories are wrong—that discussions are occurring between the Government of the South and the British Government about the reintroduction of internment on the border. That would be wrong.
I know that many politicians in the South believe that Mr. Faulkner got it wrong in 1971. Internment was carried out in a hamfisted way at that time. If one could not get the right man, one got his brother or uncle. The figures were all wrong. The South of Ireland has a history of internment. I do not care what that history is — internment is wrong. People should be put before the courts with evidence properly collected. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that the internment provision should be taken from the statute book.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The right hon. Gentleman has expressed his opposition to internment. Does he see justification in holding in prison someone who has served a term for committing a serious terrorist offence, who is due to be released from prison and who, during his imprisonment term, has shown neither remorse nor a desire to break away from his terrorist connections? Does the right hon. Gentleman see any justification in introducing internment from that end?
§ Mr. Rees
Frankly, I do not. I understand how it sounds to someone who lives in the border areas where constituents, relatives and friends are shot and killed in a way we do not understand here. It would be self-defeating to reintroduce internment under any guise.
In 1973, when the Committee considering the emergency provisions legislation discussed juryless courts, there was talk of intimidation. I recall that the intimidation was carried out by Loyalists. Whatever the arguments about a fair trial, whenever I appear on television to discuss this subject—I have not done that for a long time—I receive the usual spate of letters, one lot calling me an IRA lover and the other a Loyalist lover. Whichever way it goes in Northern Ireland, the people are even-handed in interpreting what one says. Their interpretation depends on how they look at these aspects.
There is intimidation of jurors in Northern Ireland. In no circumstances would I be a juryman in Northern Ireland. There would be threats to the life of a juryman whether he be Protestant, Catholic, Loyalist, or Republican or whatever else. I shall not develop this point further, but it is something that I believe strongly.
I should like to finish by suggesting how the matter should be dealt with and by asking some questions. The Secretary of State will consider the report with his staff and the Law Officers, but legislation in this way is not the answer. As a former Home Secretary, I am worried about informers, corroborative evidence, the role of the police and the difference between what goes on here and what goes on in Northern Ireland.
The role of the police should be studied by a judicial inquiry. I do not know what form it should take. It could be done by a Select Committee calling evidence. I ask the 607 Secretary of State not to come to the House at first with a new Bill. We go to and fro on the Floor of the House and in Committee we divide on party lines. The Government generally obtain what they want, because of their majority. The matter deserves a proper examination. There will be no legislation this Session, so there is plenty of time for the matter to be studied.
I noticed that the report contained a section about public order. In her speech at the Guildhall the other day, the Prime Minister said that the Home Office would complete a review of public order in 1985. It has taken much time because the review started in 1979 when I was at the Home Office. That shows how difficult the matter is. The Prime Minister suggested that the review would relate to current disorders.
I have studied carefully section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936. The rest of the Act deals with marches and uniforms and so on. If we are to have new public order legislation arising out of the events of the past year, let us have a full investigation and incorporate Northern Ireland in the legislation. I am usually keen on keeping Northern Ireland separate. I do not mean that the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 should be discussed in this way—but there is much else that is relevant.
I know that Sir George Baker was probably bombarded by those people in Northern Ireland who disagree with the 50 per cent. remission scheme which was introduced in my time. It would be a mistake to change that.
What about Maghaberry prison? Maghaberry, which has taken nine or 10 years to finish, was thought by the Labour Government to be a replacement for Long Kesh or the Maze—whatever one chooses to call it. We were going to get rid of detention and special category status. We were going to have proper accommodation. The H blocks were a short-term solution. They were copied from Low Newton prison—as it was then called—a then new prison in Durham. The H blocks were built quickly by the Army to begin the process of having normal prison accommodation. We know what happened when the special category status ended. Is Maghaberry to be used as a replacement prison? Has the policy been changed? Will we continue with the Maze? What has happened to Maghaberry? I ask that because it was a gleam in our eye. We thought that we were doing the right thing, but I rarely hear anything about it now. It may not even be finished.
My next point is an intriguing one which I put from time to time in passing to the Minister of State. I have been looking afresh at the 1969 Downing street declaration. It dealt with the position of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom. The first paragraph of the declaration listed some of the people who had attended the meeting with some Cabinet Ministers and included Major Chichester-Clark, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Andrews, Mr. Porter and the Minister of Development, Mr. Faulkner. There was a six-hour discussion. The second paragraph said:the GOC Northern Ireland will with immediate effect assume overall responsibility for security operations. He will continue to be responsible directly to the Ministry of Defence but will work in the closest co-operation with the Northern Ireland Government and … the Royal Ulster Constabulary. For all security operations the GOC will have full control of the deployment and tasks of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.By 1977–78 when I was last involved, the primacy of the police had begun and the role of the Army was declining.
608 I doubt whether there are now more than 7,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland, and when one considers the normal resident battalions, one realises that dealing with terrorism is now largely a policing-UDR operation. People tell me that it is a colonial matter. It is a funny colonial matter when the whole population can be kept down by 7,000 soldiers who have their wives and families with them. That suggestion is utter nonsense.
I always thought that the Downing street communiqué that I have quoted was of doubtful legal propriety. It does not matter whether it was or it was not because things did not happen as expected, if the Army was not there in support of the civil power. It was the other way round—the RUC was in support of the Army. By 1976–77 that was changing and that change has continued. That statement, which must have been believed to have the force of law, has never been rescinded.
Should it not be, the quicker that there are fewer soldiers in Northern Ireland the better. We have depended upon them over the years, particularly four of five years ago. Matters are best handled by the RUC using normal policing methods, but changes are needed on the border. In the short term, one needs the Army on the border.
We need legislation. The House should put its mind to how the existing legislation should be altered. Important matters need to be considered, but I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North—it is perhaps unusual to agree constantly with the hon. Member—that if there were a political solution, and there is none at present, the violence would continue. There is no way of ending it. It has become a way of life. We know how it was ended in the South of Ireland, but when people talk of a military solution they are wrong, and when they talk of a political solution they are wrong.
As long as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, we have a responsibility to work with the people of Northern Ireland to start a movement towards a political solution. That is what the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 is for. The Act is not the way forward; it is part of the way forward. It must be changed, which is why I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West, but we need special legislation to deal with special circumstances.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
When the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 first came into force in August 1973, based largely on the Diplock report of late 1972, no one would have chosen to believe that its provisions would still be necessary in 1985.
The amending Act of 1975, based on Gardiner's recommendations, and the further consolidation Act of March 1978 have reflected, as Labour and Conservative Governments have recognised, a continuing need to try to provide some additional legislation to allow the police and judiciary in Northern Ireland to deal with the special difficulties inflicted on our community by terrorists.
It was right for the Government in April 1983 to invite Sir George Baker to carry out a further examination of the operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 to determine whether the legislation struck a proper balance between safeguarding the liberties of the individual and providing the security forces and courts with adequate powers to enable them to protect the public from current and foreseeable terrorist crime.
609 It is there that I found difficulty in understanding the matter raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), when he said that it was objectionable to have terms of reference for Sir George Baker which began:Accepting that temporary emergency powers are necessary".We remember that the emergency legislation was invoked in the first place to deal with the terrorism which was still current when Sir George was asked to carry out a study and make a report. In those circumstances, the terms of reference were natural. Sir George submitted his report to the Government in March 1984 and it is sad that we have had to wait until today, when the House has virtually disappeared for the Christmas recess, to debate its findings and recommendations. It is less than a worthy tribute to the efforts and dedication of the late Sir George Baker that that should be the way in which the House deals with a matter affecting the lives of everyone in Ulster. However, it is appropriate that we should debate the report before the House decides to renew the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 for a further six months later this evening.
I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West will approve of the debate, for I recall that when the House was asked to renew the Act in July he sought to justify leading 70 of his parliamentary colleagues in a Division against the proposition as a protest against the Government's failure to consider the Baker report sooner. We sympathise with his reasons, if not his action, and take considerable consolation from the fact that later tonight he will be able, in the light of Sir George Baker's in-depth investigation and subsequent recommendations, to vote for the renewal of the Act. To abstain would be to show a lack of courage and concern for the needs of a community which is under threat from terrorist killers and their fellow travellers, as was recognised by Sir George Baker. To oppose the renewal would be to capitulate to the lunatic fringe, which wants so much to bring the law, the House and the country into ridicule.
That lunatic fringe is typified by the likes of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who can mock those who have been killed and injured at the hands of terrorists, including hon. Members and their families, members of the security forces and members of the law-abiding British public in Great Britain and Ulster, by bringing terrorists to the House. Many of us recall the services that were given to Ulster by those like the right hon. Members for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). We find it difficult to equate that responsible face of Labour politics with the recent actions of the hon. Member for Islington, North.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I note that his pen portrait in the parliamentary year book states that he likes animals. I am not one lightly or irresponsibly to use the analogy that I am about to offer to the House, but the IRA members whom the hon. Gentleman brought into the House are animals in the worst possible sense of the word. I understand his pen portrait rather better now that I know that he brings such people into the House. It has been forgotten already that he brought Gerry Adams into the House.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. Gentleman chooses to bring to the House those such as Adams, Quigley and McLaughlin. They are murderers.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that those who come into the House as visitors should in some sense be restricted? Is he suggesting further that there should be controls on those who come through the doors of the House? Is he saying that Members of this place do not have a right to talk to people from Northern Ireland, or anywhere in Britain, about conditions in prisons and their particular political views? Does he accept that the newspaper reports of last weekend were deliberately blown up to avoid the vile nature of the strip searches of women prisoners in Armagh and other prisons being brought to light?
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. Gentleman should consider, as should any other hon. Member who contemplates such irresponsible action, that people have lost their lives at the hands of those like Adams, Quigley and McLaughlin. If he did not hear me make the comment a short while ago, I repeat that those people are murderers. They have killed my constituents and constituents of my colleagues from Ulster.
§ Mr. Maginnis
They have killed people in Great Britain, including members of this place. The hon. Member for Islington, North should not attempt to justify his irresponsible actions.
§ Mr. John David Taylor (Strangford)
Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the guests of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) stated that members of the Government are legitimate targets to kill? That is the type of guest that we had in this building.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am aware that that sort of guest was brought here by the hon. Member for Islington, North. I am aware also that those who entered the House as his guests would have taken advantage of the invitation to see everything that might be useful to a terrorist coining into the House with the intention of killing an hon. Member or hon. Members.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The hon. Gentleman seems to be going into a rather lengthy flight of fantasy. Does he agree that this building is a public place, that it is owned by the public and paid for by the public? Does he agree further that any member of the public is entitled to go through St. Stephen's entrance and to enter the Palace after passing through the screening process? If anyone wanted to obtain a plan of this building, he would be able to buy a history book in any bookshop in this country, or anywhere in the world, which would show him the layout. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is trying to stir up some non-story and non-issue as a way of avoiding the real causes of the problems in Northern Ireland and the real and serious violations of justice in Northern Ireland, of which apparently he approves.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I do not think that someone with the irresponsibility of the hon. Member for Islington, North will be convinced by my argument. However, it is important that it is said in the House that, irrespective of 611 whether people can obtain plans of the Palace or whether they have to pass through a security screening process, we do not want guests of the sort that the hon. Gentleman brought to the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) said, Airey Neave was killed within the precincts of the House. We remember that the wife of the Government Chief Whip was killed a short time ago, along with other members of the Conservative party, while attending a conference at Brighton. I believe that such action is morally wrong, irrespective of what the practical implications may or may not be.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I give way to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), not the hon. Member for Islington, North.
§ Mr. McNamara
I do not seek to doubt the hon. Gentleman's sincerity, and I do not question the right of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to bring who he wishes into the House. Every Member is entitled to bring guests to this place. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) said a short time ago, he spoke in this place to convicted Loyalist prisoners who came to see him.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South did not say that. They were not convicted murderers. The right hon. Gentleman is more responsible than that.
§ Mr. McNamara
At any rate, my right hon. Friend gave the impression that he knew something about them. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the antics of the press over the past weekend were wise and informed, in that basically it gave the Provo IRA a victory by suggesting that Parliament was scared? Surely it gave the IRA a bloodless headline. The press decided to blow up an incident which had taken place two months earlier, of which it already had knowledge, and about which it had been informed. When the press was informed it did not consider the matter to be worthy of comment, yet it was within a fortnight of the dreadful happenings at Brighton.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. Gentleman has some of his facts wrong. He implied that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South brought convicted terrorists to the House.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I know that the right hon. Gentleman did not do so. I am trying to make it clear that he did not behave in that irresponsible way.
Perhaps the Baker report summarises majority feelings in Ulster, in the House and in the country as a whole when it states:In my analysis of the powers I tried to be as objective as possible remembering, when striking the balance that my terms of reference required, that there are human duties as well as human liberties,"—I repeat, human duties as well as human liberties—on the one hand to equate with powers needed in a civilised community to protect its members on the other.That is certainly a justification of the need to continue to renew the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act.
612 The report was not based simply on some establishment perspective. Sir George carefully considered the stated intention of the IRA and quoted often from its newsheet An Phoblacht. He was also quick to point out that the paper emanates from 51/53 Falls road, Belfast, an address which will find Gerry Adams, head of the Provisional Sinn Fein. Here and elsewhere Sir George saw, as I do, the inextricable links between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. Having given examples of that in paragraphs 35 to 47, Sir George concluded in paragraph 50 thatcurrent and foreseeable … incidence of terrorist crime is such that there is little room for manoeuvre … it would be irresponsible to give up emergency powers.I hope that when hon. Members vote they will remember that that was the conclusion drawn by Sir George Baker.
Sir George made some useful recommendations on bail. He stated the need to add to section 2(5)(c) of the Act the wordsor of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve".That needs to be done, and I should like to take a little time to deal with the matter.
In Ulster, several policemen in different incidents have come into contact with known terrorists. Believing that their lives or the lives of the civilian community which they had to protect might be in danger, they opened fire, killing the suspected terrorists. That happened on two occasions, and the suspected terrorists who were killed were found to be unarmed. Probably to placate public opinion, or the opinion of a section of the public, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that those policemen should be brought before the court so that a decision could be made on whether they had acted rashly and committed a murder or were guilty of manslaughter. There were those of us who believed that they had not acted rashly, knowing the history and involvement of the people who were killed.
However, what disturbed us more was the fact that those policemen were remanded in custody in the same prison as para-military murder suspects. When their families went to visit them, they were subjected to abuse and threats from members of families of the para-militaries at the prison. I, along with my friend the late Edgar Graham, who was murdered by the IRA, went to see the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), to discuss the plight of those members of the RUC. One must give credit where credit is due, because the Minister acted speedily, recognising the difficulty, and provided for the policemen to be remanded in police custody. That immediately raised a hullabaloo from Sinn Fein supporters, who suggested that that action had been taken for some partisan reason. Sir George recognised the difficulty and suggested the amendment to the Act that I mentioned. I should like to see that done.
I should like to expand a little more on that matter. I should also like to see any member of the security forces who is charged with a serious crime arising out of a duty that he is doing being remanded into either police or military custody. In Ulster, five members of the Ulster Defence Regiment are presently remanded in custody in Crumlin road, where their families are subject to abuse and threats when they go to visit them. Because they were alleged to have gone off duty to commit the crime and then gone back on duty, they were not remanded into Army custody. That is unfair—it is a double standard. It is 613 stirring around in the pot to see whether a reason can be found to prevent those men being remanded in military custody. They were officially on duty when the alleged crime was committed. They have been in custody for over a year, and might be for the most of another year. They should also be catered for when the Act is amended to deal with the RUC and the RUC reserve.
I shall not mention some recommendations in the section dealing with bail, because they involve purely legal argument and I do not feel competent or qualified to speak on that. However, one does not need to be so qualified to see the merits, in scheduled cases, of adopting a 28 or 30-day remand in custody in lieu of the present seven days, which is meaningless and, worst of all, a waste of the courts' time. Any anomaly that that would have created in the past no longer exists, Sir George tells us, because under sections 59 and 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982, that can be done with the accused's consent. Baker admits, and I recognise, that terrorists are unlikely to he so co-operative, but it should be possible to adopt a process that would save the courts' time and, ultimately, the accused would at least benefit from having his case brought to court more quickly.
On young offenders, I find a substantial ally in Baker. The House will not want me to repeat the arguments that I used in a debate during the first week of this Session, when I spoke on SOSPs—those held at the Secretary of State's pleasure. I appeal to the Secretary of State to think this question out in the same spirit as Sir George did when he said—and it is worth hearing—I am not sentimental, but there is a case for compassion and the giving of a hope of release at however distant a date. I recommend that the Secretary of State should consider making a statement of policy about such cases and indeed all who became caught at a relatively early age in communal violence and are serving indeterminate sentences.I am grateful for the answers that the Under-Secretary has given me on that subject in the past few days, but I again urge a more radical and compassionate approach to those who were inveigled into terrorist crime at a time of communal strife when they were so young.
Baker recognises the reality of terrorism when he says that the time is, sadly, not ripe for the return of jury trial for scheduled cases. He spends much time deliberating on the merits and demerits of the single judge and of a plurality of judges, but concludes that the latter would simply not be practical in terms of the limited number of judges available. While that may be an unfortunate, if necessary, conclusion, there is no doubt in my mind that the compromise of lay assessors or resident magistrates sitting with the judge would create more problems than it would solve. I shall not go into the details, as the difficulties are spelt out by Sir George in paragraphs 127 and 128.
The Secretary of State has suggested that he may find a way to certify certain offences out of the scheduled category. I note that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and others have advocated that today. That would certainly be welcomed if it would speed up the judicial process without creating loopholes in the law which could be exploited by terrorists. Rather than taking that step all in one go, I suggest that the Act should provide — the Minister may tell us that it already does — a means whereby an application can be made for certain offences to be certified out. It could then be left, like the 614 granting of bail, to the discretion of a High Court judge. When we have experience of that, more permanent provision could be made in the Act.
I cannot agree with Baker's recommendation that the length of time for which a suspect can initially be held for questioning should be brought into line with the 48-hour period provided for in the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Let us remember that we are dealing with terrorists and that the RUC has to deal with people trained to hinder and frustrate the system. Among other things, it has to deal with documentation and medical examination and conduct inquiries to compare fingerprints, especially in cases of refusal to disclose identity. The RUC also needs time to conduct the necessary interrogation. It may have to make inquiries in the Irish Republic or in Great Britain. All those things take time, but none takes more time than the medical examinations which people held for questioning have the right to demand. If the person is co-operative and innocent, he is often released before 72 hours have passed, but if he is a terrorist it is necessary to invoke the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which enables the police to apply to the Secretary of State for extensions up to five days.
There is much to be said for Baker's idea that powers of arrest for scheduled offences and offences under the emergency provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be dealt with in one Act, but the question of the 72-hour initial holding period should not be dodged. It may often mean that there is no need for an extension, whereas a 48-hour limit would inevitably lead to applications for extensions in the majority of cases. We must seek to assist and not embarrass the police in these matters.
With regard to propaganda against the security forces, we all want to see the rule of law hold sway for citizens in Ulster, as I believe from experience it does. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North does not have that experience and perhaps absolves himself in his own mind from showing concern for anyone who is not a member of, aligned with or in some way involved with terrorist crime. I often wonder about that.
§ Mr. McNamara
If the hon. Gentleman made that statement outside the House, it would be defamatory. Is he suggesting that I have at any time, or in any way, ever supported terrorist methods in Northern Ireland, or anywhere else, or that I have ever done anything other than support absolutely the rule of law in the Province? That is what I am concerned about—the maintenance of the rule of law.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I can put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest at once. What I have said, and what I have seen in the House—I am prepared to say this outside if it gives the hon. Gentleman satisfaction — is that the hon. Gentleman has constantly shown himself to be concerned with people who have been involved in crime.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Perhaps I should clarify this so that the hon. Gentleman does not misunderstand. He has shown himself to be concerned, for example, about the two young people who were shot in Londonderry and the reason why they were shot. He has shown himself to be concerned with people involved in incidents of that kind rather than with the victims who, week in and week out, are murdered by the IRA.
§ Mr. McNamara
The hon. Gentleman must get his history right. In view of the tradition from which the hon. Gentleman comes, I remind him—he may be surprised to hear this, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will recall the fact — that I was the first Member in the parliamentary Labour party to speak in favour of understanding the Ulster Unionists and the Loyalist position, at a time when they were perhaps the most reviled sect in the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman should bear that fact in mind.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that one should not be concerned about the deaths of young people shot by British troops and equally about the deaths of people murdered by terrorists? One should be concerned about anyone's death, and the circumstances in which it occurs, if one is attempting to find a remedy for the situation in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman's problem is that he is myopic on his own side. He cannot be objective about the situation as a whole and about the whole community—both sides of it.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. Gentleman is getting quite excited about this. I am speaking of my experience of his interventions in the House. He has just repeated that he is concerned about the two people shot in Londonderry. No doubt he is prepared to use the argument that we have already heard. If the police knew that they were coming, why did they not line up on both sides of the road and arrest them when they walked into the trap? The hon. Gentleman cannot be so naive as to believe that terrorists operate like that. If there is any undue police activity, the terrorists simply bide their time and come back a week later when the police and security forces do not expect them. Then, as in the Mountain Lodge incident, four or five people may be killed. Is that the kind of action that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends wish to see? Do they want to give the IRA not just the chance to fire the first shot, but the chance to get away and bide their time so that they can kill again at a later date?
§ Mr. McNamara
I do not want the IRA to get away with anything, any more than I want the UVF or the UDR to get away with anything. I want to establish whether, if the police had reasonable suspicion that those two people were about to commit a crime, any attempt was made to arrest them before they arrived at the scene of the crime, which they had not actually attempted to commit. All that we know at present is that there will never be any trial, so we shall never be able to test the evidence. That being so, what the British Army did in that instance may have given yet another victory to the Provisional IRA, just as the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday did when they took on my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) last weekend.
§ Mr. Maginnis
First, I resent the fact that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has coupled the UDR with the IRA and the UVF. The UDR is a law-abiding, law enforcement agency, which has served for 14 years in Ulster with credit and a great deal of personal sacrifice. It is less than honourable to couple that body with terrorist organisations.
The hon. Gentleman has annoyed me so much by that remark that I have forgotten what the question was.
It is not for me to tell the Secretary of State what changes to make to the Northern Ireland (Emergency 616 Provisions) Acts or to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Acts or to tell him what new Act, if any, should replace them. The Secretary of State will bring such proposals to the House, they will be debated here and we will have the opportunity to amend them.
Like Sir George Baker, the Secretary of State and the Ministers should bear in mind the dangers facing law-abiding citizens. Many hon. Members will forget about those dangers. Many other hon. Members who speak in this debate will forget about the dangers faced by members of the security forces. It is to them, rather than to our biased minority, that I direct the attention of the House. Before the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) jumps to his feet, I must say that I am not thinking of Roman Catholics, many of whom are law-abiding and decent citizens and who are, as much as any of us, the victims of IRA terrorism. It is to the law-abiding citizens rather than to the vocal fellow-travellers of the IRA that the Secretary of State owes the first consideration, if and when he amends the emergency provisions legislation in line with Sir George Baker's recommendations.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. We are making very slow progress. Many hon. Members who wish to speak will be disappointed unless speeches are considerably shorter.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I am grateful for the opportunity to join a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in paying tribute to the late Sir George Baker and in acknowledging the work done by Frances Elliott.
Even if all one's views were not accepted by Sir George Baker, it was a very pleasant experience to appear before him. I found Sir George shrewd and sympathetic, and a delightful as well as a distinguished personality. His report may be unique among state papers for its robust and racy style. The report can almost be read for pleasure as well as for information. The Secretary of State described it as a good read—a colloquial comment upon a colloquial report.
I have a few somewhat critical observations to make on the handling of proceedings in terrorist cases. First, I agree with what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said about the possibility of a compassionate approach to young prisoners, particularly those serving indeterminate sentences. Secondly, I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer, and I certainly am not, but I agree with him that justice delayed is justice denied. There is great concern in all parts of the House about the delay in bringing alleged terrorists, or persons concerned in terrorist offences, before a court, especially when they are in custody and not on bail.
Next, I warmly agree that discretion should be given to the Director of Public Prosecutions to certify cases out of schedule. Here again, there is assent in different quarters of the House today.
Concern has been expressed about the Diplock courts. It is said that the burden upon one judge is great and terrible. If it were possible to provide assessors, that would be a great gain. The Secretary of State says that a new judge has been appointed in Northern Ireland. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies to the debate he will say something on those matters.
617 I would defend the Diplock courts as a regrettable necessity where—as in Northern Ireland—courts cannot function properly because jurors cannot perform their duties without fearing for their lives, their property or their families. I think that the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) said it all when he said that he would not be a juryman in Northern Ireland. I think that would be the answer given by any hon. Member who was asked to serve on a jury in Northern Ireland. It was because jurymen are in danger if they do their duty that the special criminal courts were set up in the Irish Republic. Sir George Baker paid considerable attention to those courts. He quoted Diplock as saying that:A frightened juror is a bad juror".There are vivid words in paragraph 99 of Sir George Baker's review. Referring to a Standing Committee which sat in 1972–73, Sir George says that:According to Sir Elwyn Jones the AG gave a 'vivid and grim account of particular cases of intimidation of jurors by IRA and UVF men … ' …An example which is clear in the recollection of one witness is of a large and powerful juryman shivering with fright and pleading to be discharged after a night of threats by telephone. The LCJ had been obliged to discharge that jury. A senior barrister remembered the trial of a 'loyalist': the subtle but effective intimidation was the intermittent beating throughout the trial of a Lambeg drum at a distance from the court but so that the sound was clearly heard by the jury.
Diplock courts are a painful necessity. However, even in the Diplock courts the central principles of our justice are maintained. The trial takes place in open court with the calling and cross-examination of witnesses. The onus is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The accused has the right to take legal advice and to be represented by a lawyer. If necessary, he receives legal aid. The Diplock courts conform to the European Convention on Human Rights which in article 6 provides, among other things, that hearings should be public, that the defendant should be presumed innocent until proved guilty, and that he should have the right to legal aid and advice and the right to cross-examine witnesses.
There are further safeguards around the Diplock courts. The right of appeal against conviction or sentence is unfettered, whereas in general in the case of a trial by judge and jury the accused has to obtain prior leave from the Court of Appeal or the trial judge. There is, moreover, the most important protection that, if a confession is admitted in evidence and the defence gives prima facie evidence that it has been extracted by ill treatment, the onus is on the prosecution to disprove that evidence.
It has recently become apparent that trial by jury does not always give satisfaction, even on this side of the water. Too much is sometimes claimed for it. In the summer of 1980, Lord Fitt, who was then a Member of this House, and I espoused the cause of the late Joseph Conlon, which was brought to my notice by a distinguished Unionist. We were convinced, as was Lord Fitt, Mr. Conlon's parish priest, Father McKinley, and Cardinal Hume, that Mr. Conlon was wrongly convicted at the Old Bailey after a long trial for possessing nitroglycerine for the purposes of terrorism. Guiseppe Conlon, as he was known, is dead, but we want his name to be cleared for the satisfaction of his relations and of justice. We have brought the case to the notice of more than one Home Secretary, none of whom has seen his way to recommend a royal pardon, although the conviction was made on forensic evidence and the expert shares our misgivings.
618 The relevance of the Conlon case to the debate can be revealed by quoting a few words which I uttered in the House in the early morning of 4 August 1980 on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I said:I have compressed into a few inadequate words a complicated case resting almost entirely on forensic evidence, difficult for the non-scientific mind to grasp. The jury's task was hard and uneviable. I cannot help wondering whether this was a case less suitable for the Old Bailey than for one of those maligned Diplock courts of Northern Ireland, where terrorists are tried by a judge without a jury. Those courts are familiar with the methods of terrorism and with such matters as innocent contamination."—Official Report, 4 August 1980; Vol. 990, c. 386.]The case rested on the fact that he had evidence of explosive material on his fingers. I should not have described the trial of Mr. Conlon as exhibiting a jury as the cherished safeguard of which the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) spoke. Such words would be a mockery to the Conlon family.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General addressed the American Bar Association in the summer, he said:in combating terrorism in Northern Ireland, the principle is that a balance must be sought to ensure that justice is done, both in the sense of justice in providing a proper trial for those accused of terrorist offences and justice to the law abiding citizen in ensuring that terrorism does not defeat the very means by which the security of the public and the process of law can be assured".
The right to live in safety under the law in Northern Ireland can, alas, be preserved today only by the limitations that Sir George Baker investigated and which the House is discussing. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General was speaking of the use of evidence of accomplices.
Speaking at Darwin college, Cambridge, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said in November 1983 that he had never understood the objection to the use of informers of which supergrasses are only one example. Perhaps I might say with the greatest diffidence that Lord Lane might not have had the situation in Northern Ireland fully in mind. We are all aware of the great danger of abuse of the system of supergrasses. The size of supergrass trials is a factor which has given rise to anxiety and which, I suppose, Lord Chief Justice Lord Lowry had in mind in a recent case. There is a responsibility to ensure that the system is not abused. A recentcase, which might have shocked and upset many people on both sides of the water, shows that the judiciary in Northern Ireland is determined to ensure that proper standards of justice are maintained.
Sir George Baker went into the logical case of proscribing Sinn Fein, meaning Provisional Sinn Fein. He sometimes says just Sinn Fein when he clearly means Provisional Sinn Fein but not official Sinn Fein.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Sir George Baker cited what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) said in the Daily Telegraph of 20 December 1983—as one newspaper neatly put it Sinn Fein is the IRA in drag".To plain men, it is difficult to understand why the hon. Member for Belfast, West has not already been arraigned under the law of sedition or otherwise. I should like to quote two distinguished Irishmen of the Republic. It is the view of the Chief Justice of the Republic, as set out in paragraph 423 of the report, that this isan evil and dangerous organisation whose object was to overthrow the state and its institutions if necessary by force".619 Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, as Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, when banning broadcasts by proscribed organisations, said:The propaganda activities of Provisional Sinn Fein in support of Provisional IRA are in our view a danger to the state.Sir George Baker comes to no conclusion about whether Sinn Fein should be proscribed. I notice that the Ulster Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party have come to a conclusion and that there is an early-day motion on the subject which has attracted some support on this side of the House. As I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not fully made up his mind. It is significant, however, that the demand for proscription of Sinn Fein comes from the front line—those who live in danger such as the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The point made by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) about sequestration is interesting and important.
I wonder whether, in due course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will come to a different conclusion. I can recall a time when not even the Provisional IRA was illegal in Great Britain, as distinct from Northern Ireland. I argued that it should be and was shot down at the party conference at Blackpool in 1973 by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Whitelaw. In 1974, however, the Provisional IRA was proscribed in Great Britain. I dare say that there will be a change of line in regard to Sinn Fein.
A short time ago, private Ian Thain of the First Battalion Light Infantry was sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder which was perpetrated during a disturbance. I shall not comment on the case as I think that there is to be an appeal. This is a most significant event. It is distressing but it refutes any assertion that the Armed Forces of the Crown have licence to operate beyond the law. The rule of law is being upheld. The Government's acceptance of the main recommendations of the Baker report is some testimony to that. There is always a temptation—and a provocation from terrorists—for the security forces and the authorities behind them to resort to excessive use of police and military power. Such action would suit the terrorist propaganda purpose.
Every effort must continue to be made to keep the sword of justice unsullied. At the same time, the theme of the Baker report is that there is no shred of evidence that the courts and the security forces would be able to combat and eradicate terrorism without the limitations of the ordinary law that we have been discussing.
Sir George's inquiry led him firmly to the conclusion that emergency powers must be retained, not for the sake of one side of the community, but for the sake of everyone in Northern Ireland. Sir George said:It is utterly unrealistic to believe, as some do, that the main powers given by the Act can be repealed tomorrow or in the near future.It was unclear to me whether the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West accepted the necessity in present circumstances for the continuation of emergency powers. When some of my hon. Friends asked him to answer that question, he failed to do so. Perhaps we shall get some clarification from the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) who is to wind up for the Opposition.
620 The amendment of the Leader of the Opposition insinuates that law enforcement in Northern Ireland is not characterised bymethods … which are seen to be fair, compassionate and nondiscriminatory.That is a defamation not only of the Government, but of the security forces who dare and endure so much for us. The Opposition pay lip service to law and order in Northern Ireland, but to make such an assertion in their amendment and to vote for that amendment is a gross disservice to law and order in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
It is disappointing that, eight months after the production of the Baker report, the Government are not yet able to give their considered reply. The Secretary of State said that he wanted to consider the views of the House, but all that he had to do was to read the debates of six months ago and those of six months before that. The views of the House have not changed. As my views have not changed since my speech on this subject 12 months ago, I shall not delay the House for long.
The debate is about law and order in Northern Ireland and about law and order for the entire community. Death and murder in Northern Ireland are non-sectarian, and more than half the civilian population killed in Northern Ireland have come from the Catholic community. We are all concerned with law and order and how to obtain it. We differ about the means.
The differences between us are genuine and I believe that law and order in any democratic society is based on political consensus. There is no democratic society that is not based on political consensus, and law and order must derive from that. When political consensus is absent, there is a serious law and order problem. That is the Achilles heel which can be exploited by any organisation. We must search for a society and framework of government that will be supported by the entire community; that will give it the strength to deal with anyone who wants to move outside the democratic process.
When I ask the Secretary of State questions about what happened in my streets on Friday, when the security forces shot two people, I am trying to uphold the rule of law. In doing that, I am upholding the democratic process. When we abandon the rule of law, whether for terrorists or anyone else, we are playing into the hands of the terrorist organisations. It is remarkable that we have still not had a statement from the Government about the facts of that incident. That is all that anyone has ever asked for. It is important that we know what happened.
Would any hon. Member tell me that if members of the security forces operating as undercover agents in plain clothes shot two anybodies dead on the streets of Leeds or London there would not be an immediate statement in the House?
It is vital that we know that the rule of law is being upheld and that we are not engaging in a shoot-to-kill policy. That would have serious implications for our community and its future. It seems from the remarks of some hon. Members that they would approve of a shoot-to-kill policy.
The search for law and order is the search for political consensus. When there is no such consensus to provide peace and stability, the law is bent and stretched, and that is what is happening in Northern Ireland. The Northern 621 Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 is an example of how the law is being bent and stretched. When that happens, there is a grave danger of promoting those who want to destroy the rule of law.
It is wrong that people can be arrested without reasonable suspicion. Anyone arrested by the police or the security forces should be arrested on the ground that there is reasonable suspicion that he is engaged in doing something unlawful. It is intolerable that a confession extracted by blackmail or intimidation should be accepted in a court of law, but that is what happens under the 1978 Act. Only confessions that can be proved to have been extracted by torture or inhuman or degrading treatment are not acceptable. Confessions extracted by intimidation or blackmail are admissible under the Act.
Reference has been made to the delays in bringing people to trial. That matter requires urgent attention. As has been said, one person has served the equivalent of a six-year sentence on the evidence of three or four supergrasses who have since withdrawn their evidence against him. But that man is still in prison.
The Act is being used for the collection of information instead of for the purpose of bringing people to trial and justice. Two priests in Northern Ireland said last week that young people going to a police station should be accompanied by somebody. That brought a howl of protest, but there is much evidence from the application of the Act to support what they were saying. Since the Act came into operation, about 60,000 people have been arrested for questioning in Northern Ireland. About 90 per cent. of them have never been charged with anything and about 70 per cent. were not even asked about specific actions in which they were supposed to be involved. I have to conclude that the Act is being used for gathering information and for pressurising people into giving information, rather than for arresting people for crimes and bringing them to justice. When those figures are applied to a specific age group within a specific section of the population it can be understood why I suggest that support is being created for more extreme attitudes and for a loss of faith in the democratic process.
It has been seriously suggested that the supergrass operation — it is called the accomplice operation in Northern Ireland— is similar to what happens on this side of the Irish sea. That is utter dishonesty. To bring 35 people to trial on the word of one person, who is described by the Lord Chief Justice as a liar, hardly does credit to any system of justice. Thirty five people were held in custody for 18 months on the basis of that evidence—the Director of Public Prosecutions approved of those charges being brought — yet the DPP decided to do nothing in the McCabe case. One is therefore entitled to ask how respect for the rule of law is to be maintained.
In the McCabe case, a woman out shopping in the morning was killed by a plastic bullet. The police, led by a chief superintendent, gave very detailed evidence to the inquest as to what had happened, but when their evidence was over it was revealed to their surprise that more evidence existed in the form of a film of what had happened. The inquest was adjourned. A detective inspector of the RUC was appointed to investigate the film and what had actually happened. As a result of his investigation, the inquest decided that a completely innocent woman had been killed. The police accepted responsibility in a private, unpublished settlement of compensation to her husband, and the conclusion drawn 622 from the film and from the detective inspector's investigation was that the evidence of the RUC members present, including that of the chief superintendent, was a complete tissue of lies.
When someone gives false evidence under oath, we call that perjury, and it is an offence. A criminal act was also committed. The DPP, supported by the Attorney-General, has decided that no further action will be taken. Hon. Members should compare that with putting 35 people in gaol for 18 months on the word of a man whom the Lord Chief Justice described as a liar. Can they then ask me to tell people to have respect for the system of justice in Northern Ireland?
We question such matters because we stand for the rule of law and for a decent application of the system of justice in order to undermine those who say that it is not possible to achieve that by peaceful and democratic means. I join hon. Members on both sides of the House who have expressed a hope that the Secretary of State will give an early reply to the request from Sir George Baker to make a policy statement on young prisoners who are held at the Secretary of State's pleasure. I acknowledge the efforts made by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), in that regard, as he has made a beginning. When he has heard the unanimous opinion of the House that we want to see a policy and compassion, I hope he will agree that there is no need for delay and that we should get on with the job.
This problem will not be solved by military or security means, because it is not a security or military problem, but a political one. It is a problem about how people live together and about how they agree on a framework for living together. From that will derive the basis for any order. Indeed, people only agree to be governed so that they can have a system of order. Tragically, we seem to disagree about that, and that is at the root of all our problems. In the past 12 months my party, together with other parties in Ireland, has made a serious effort to put forward an analysis of the problem, but the Prime Minister's response would seem to show that she does not think that the problem is serious enough to put all its aspects on the table for discussion. I should have thought that, with a problem as serious as that of Northern Ireland, everything should be put on the table for discussion to see whether it can be solved.
The Prime Minister's response would seem to imply that sovereignty is an immutable principle when it comes to the problems of Northern Ireland. Yet in other areas, when that sovereignty stands in the way of bigger problems, it is not an immutable principle. It can be softened, fudged, or whatever, if necessary. In this world there is no such thing as a sovereign state. We live in a very inter-dependent world. In our membership of the EEC our sovereignty has been pooled with that of nine other countries in order to deal with larger problems. Recently, we have had the example of Gibraltar, but perhaps the best example is that, because there is felt to be a nuclear threat, sovereignty has been conceded to an American President who can press a button which could destroy the entire human race. Americans can put their missiles on this country's soil. That is a surrender of sovereignty because of a belief that there are larger problems to be solved.
I believe that the Irish problem is such that there should be no immutable principles to stand in the way of examining how we can produce an agreed manner in which 623 the people of that island can live together. Then, and only then, shall we have the sort of law and order that every hon. Member wants.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I do not know how other hon. Members feel about this debate, but I feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. We have had this debate for so long. It may have been couched in different terms, but it is essentially the same debate. The report and the debate say loud and clear that there is no solution and that we should settle for going on and on for ever, because the problem is intractable and there is nowhere to go.
I cannot share that point of view. Indeed, I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) on this issue. As he well knows, I respect him deeply. We are good friends and have been ever since I came to the House. He says that he feels greatly irked when he hears people say that there is a military solution—that irks me too—and that there is a political solution. I do not know what the political solution is and it is not on the horizon, but I know that the solution is political, and has to be. Ultimately, it will be political, because there is no other way.
All of us have something in common. We are against acts of terrorism that slaughter and maim innocent people, many of whom do not even know that they are involved in any way. On occasion I have quarrelled with my own people when I have said that before the troops are withdrawn there must be a political set-up there. That political set-up must give birth to the withdrawal, because withdrawal does not precede such a solution. I respect the views of those who think differently, but that is my view.
The opening words of the report are damning. They say quite bluntly that the situation will go on. They say:Accepting that Temporary Emergency Powers are necessary to combat sustained terrorist violence".The report then goes on to say more or less that the violence will never end and that we must have security for ever and ever. I do not know the judge but I profoundly disagree with him. I have heard lovely things said about him. He may be a gentle, sweet and kindly man, but he was wrong. I know that he did his best, but he got things all wrong. He had to conclude—he had no choice—that the emergency powers had to continue. I do not think that. We are moving — many in my party believe what I believe—
§ Mr. Flannery
I shall not give way as I want to speak for only 10 minutes. I am sorry, but we do not want hon. Members going on for 34 minutes, as one of our colleagues did.
The judge then proceeded in the most orthodox manner to endorse all the most offensive provisions in the Act — the admission of involuntary confessions in court, non-jury trials, supergrasses, uncorroborated evidence, lengthy periods of detention for questioning without charge, internment, and arrest on grounds of suspicion. I have nothing in common with matters of that sort. The Northern Ireland problem will be sustained indefinitely, just like a conflagration, unless we stop thinking that this 624 is a security problem, important though that is, and get down to the nitty-gritty of the political problem that we all face.
The whole report is permeated with a belief that somehow security will prevent terrorism and solve the intractable problem of Northern Ireland. It will not. We shall be here for ever if that mentality permeates us as it permeates the report. There must be a political solution.
During my time in the House I have had no harsh words with colleagues, either behind me or on the Conservative Benches. I have always said that I dread anything happening to any of them, and I honourably and sincerely do. It would be ghastly if such a thing occurred. However, the stubborn refusal of Unionist leaders to believe the reality of a political solution means that the killing and maiming will continue indefinitely. Just as surely as Hong Kong must return to China, and just as surely as the British Empire had to be dismantled, so will this last foothold of Britain's imperial past one day have to be rejoined with its real motherland, a united Ireland. Unionist leaders will have to come to terms with that reality, just as my party has come to terms with it in the last few years. To deny that is not merely stubborn obstinacy which will result in such reports being produced again and again, but it is a denial of reality. This report will go into the dustbin of history just as surely as I am standing here tonight.
I wish to refer to one major piece of foolishness that Baker upholds and which is in the process of imminent collapse. My hon. Friends and I have repeatedly condemned the disgraceful use of supergrasses. As I have often said, the supergrass system is a violation of both natural and legal justice. It is one of a group of tyrannical last resorts of a system which is patently unworkable. The Six Counties have never been ruled without emergency measures, but those measures are now more concentrated in this Act. The Six Counties were purloined from Ireland by force of arms and the implied threat of armed force in 1922. Some Unionists have said that they do not believe in armed force, yet they drew a line around the Six Counties, with their inbuilt Protestant majority, and they have held them ever since by force of arms and threats to the Irish people.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that there is democracy in Northern Ireland. During the war I lived in India for many years. I saw areas where the Muslims were dominant and where the Hindus were held in subjection. The Muslims said that that was democratic because they were in the majority. The same was true of Hindu areas. However, they were two different communities.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North has often pointed out that his community is numerically larger. That is not the consensus about which my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) spoke. So long as the hon. Member for Antrim, North holds that undemocratic attitude and counts heads in the different communities, so long will this terrible problem endure.
The lack of any real democracy to uphold this synthetic state is the real cause of the fundamental problem. So long as we continue to pretend that there are not two distinct communities in the Six Counties, when clearly there are, we are bound to have a political and literal explosion—
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon.
625 Member who has just come into the precincts of the Chamber to refer to hon. Members as "animals" from outside the Bar of the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
What happens beyond the Bar of the House is beyond my responsibility. I did not hear it.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was referring to me. I was listening to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), and I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Belfast, East and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) say that people should be eliminated in Northern Ireland. I found that remark offensive, and I made that response.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member who was not in the House to misrepresent an hon. Member who had actually said that the Protestants were eliminated from the south of Ireland? Everyone knows that before partition the number of Protestants in the south of Ireland was 10 per cent. of the population, whereas it is now only 2 per cent.
§ Mr. Flannery
I thought that hon. Members were shouting at me, but I am perfectly harmless. I did not need the defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), because I know the two hon. Members too well and am aware of the things they say.
There is something morally and socially wrong about an informer, especially when he is a perjured murderer, taking money from the Special Branch to live a high life. In a previous supergrass trial the judge said that such a creature was an excellent witness, yet that witness was a perjured murderer who had tried to gain money from divulging the names of people with whom he had worked and killed. How in heaven's name can we justify that and say that we believe in honour and justice?
This tells us a lot about those people, including Sir George Baker—I am sad that he is dead—who uphold such methods. It says more about them than it can possibly say about those whom murderers and rogues such as Gilmour expose. This system was pregnant with collapse from its inception. I am staggered to believe that even now in this Chamber there are those who try to defend it and believe that there was a victory for justice by what the judge did. It was obvious that Gilmour was a rogue and a liar, and the judge would have been impugned had he not freed all the defendants.
Among those defendants might have been some people who were guilty of these things, but this nonsensical system forced the judge to free them all. That must surely herald the final collapse of the system.
There is now an attempt, which has appeared in many of today's newspapers, to suggest that by some convoluted method of thought the supergrass system is an upholder of real justice. What tortuous nonsense that is.
Britain has had to reconsider many cases involving a forensic expert where people were gaoled even though innocent. Similary, all the trials in Northern Ireland that 626 involve supergrasses should be considered afresh. Innocent people may be languishing in gaol. With supergrasses giving evidence, there is a danger that innocent people are rotting in gaol and thinking, "What kind of justice is this when I have done nothing wrong but I am in gaol because of a perjured murderer?" They will hate us in the same way as we would hate any regime that gaoled us without cause.
We should all reject the findings of the report because they are fundamentally wrong. The sense of despair and hopelessness in the report will make matters worse. It puts forward security as a solution, yet the real solution must be political.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) believes that Sir George Baker was wrong. On one aspect at least, he was right. He said thathistory has so often two or more faces.Having heard the hon. Gentleman's account of history, it is quite clear that it has more than one face. He attempted to deceive the House into believing that the map of Northern Ireland was arbitrarily drawn without consultation with anyone south or north of the border. In fact, the boundary of Northern Ireland was drawn by tripartite agreement. It was agreed by a majority vote in this House, in the Dail and in Stormont. Following that, a tripartite agreement was signed in the League of Nations. Yet the hon. Gentleman would have the House believe that it was an arbitrary decision and that Northern Ireland is being retained as part of the United Kingdom by the pressure and arms of the British Army.
The hon. Gentleman said that the answer to the problems must be political and not military. He said that he was hurt by the suggestion that there should be a military solution. He may be hurt again before I sit down because that is exactly the proposition that I shall put forward later.
It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to suggest that it is the stubbornness of Unionist leaders to recognise a political solution that brings us to the present position. In fact, the Unionist leaders, even though they do not believe that a political solution will ultimately solve the overall problem, are still trying to achieve such a solution. It is the nationalist leaders who are refusing to talk. It is the stubbornness not of Unionist leaders, but of those whom the hon. Gentleman supports that is causing difficulty in reaching a political solution—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who is babbling incoherently from a sedentary position, wish to intervene?
Although I do not agree with every word in the Baker report, it is a thorough, useful and detailed examination of the problems of terrorism in Northern Ireland. It is a careful and considered report. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I were privileged to meet Sir George, and we made known our views both orally and in writing. The House is right to pay tribute to his work.
On page 9 of his report, Baker identified the purpose of many of those who attack the emergency provisions Act. He states:There are others who attack the EPA, the security forces and the legal process including the judges and the courts not for the 627 ultimate purpose of preserving human rights and liberties but for sinister reasons. Any law for the protection of the people would be a target.
When I hear people outside the House attacking the Act, I fear that it is not because they concern themselves with the liberties of the individual, but because they wish to protect those who attack individuals in Northern Ireland who are much maligned and in danger.
The report refers to the broad security policy and Baker states what he believes and understands to be the aim of Government policy — to end terrorist crime from whatever source through the effect and impartial application of the law. The hon. Member for Hillsborough is right in saying that Sir George Baker painted a gloomy picture. Paragraph 37 of the report states:it would be foolish to assume that the terrorists may not retain a significant capability to carry out crimes of violence, at least for the near future … There are no grounds for forecasting significant changes in the existing pattern or targets of its attacks.Is it not an indictment of the Government's security policies that someone who reviews the procedures of the control of terrorism says that there is no light at the end of the tunnel? The security policies of this and past Governments have failed and have been seen to fail. They must change that policy and produce a resolute military initiative. The hon. Member for Hillsborough may well be irked now, but that is the only way to defeat the Provisional IRA. The rebellion will not be cooled and the IRA will not be persuaded by the eloquence of the Government's request to put away their guns. They will be defeated only militarily.
§ Mr. Robinson
I could do that in considerable detail, and give the hon. Gentleman books that we have published on the subject. Unlike some hon. Members who make bland statements about defeating terrorism, we have detailed what should be done to defeat it. The first priority is having the will to win. Sometimes I wonder how real the will is to defeat terrorism. People in Great Britain are often not prepared to pay the price that they may have to pay to turn the screw on the IRA. The greatest example of the Government's lack of will to deal with security in Northern Ireland may be seen in their treatment of Sinn Fein. If they had the resolve to defeat terrorism, they would take it on in all its shapes and forms, including Sinn Fein. I intend to return to that point, so I shall not transgress, although the hon. Gentleman may tempt me to do so.
Sir George Baker makes it clear that there is a warning for this and future Governments. It is contained in paragraph 35 of his report. It states:The main sources from which protection is required are the PIRA and the INLA. Loyalist terrorism now is very much reactive … I have been warned by many not to under-rate the danger and potential of Protestant terrorism. I bear that in mind with a further warning that the anger in the community which suffers the brunt of PIRA/INLA attacks must never be underestimated. Church leaders have emphasised to me that the extent of forgiveness by some of those who have suffered is indeed remarkable. I would comment that this is a Christian virtue which cannot be expected to endure forever.628 The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should not be under the illusion that the Protestant community will for ever turn the cheek when it is under attack from PIRA violence.
Like the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), I take it ill that an hon. Member should allow into the precincts of the House those who have engaged in PIRA activities and who still espouse the cause of terrorism. Hon. Members who take such a line, no doubt to ingratiate themselves with the Irish electorate in their constituencies, should attend the funerals and visit the widows and children of the victims of the people whom they bring into the House. Then they may think again before they engage in such an activity.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone rightly commented about paragraph 64 of the report. Sir George Baker deals with the position, which thankfully does not occur often, of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who find themselves on remand or in prison. I have visited RUC members imprisoned in Crumlin road gaols. The Secretary of State should know that those officers in prison are in great danger. They do not have the support of the para-military organisations. They cannot expect anyone to help them if a fight breaks out, and they are often, if not always, the targets of attack by not only the Provisional IRA and the INLA but by Protestant para-militaries.
Not only the person in prison but his visitors are in danger. They are immediately singled out by the relatives of the para-militaries as being the friends, associates or relatives of an RUC member. If a pattern emerges of their visiting behaviour, they can become easy targets. As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said, they are the objects of much abuse and ridicule when they visit their friends or relatives in prison. I have told the Minister of State that security officers are often held in solitary confinement. I hope that he will accept the recommendation of Sir George Baker and include the RUC and its reserve in the section mentioned in the report.
Another matter that several hon. Members believed it right to mention was the position of those young people who are serving sentences at the pleasure of the Secretary of State. I have met the families of many of those people. It is extremely sad, because those people, who were only children when they committed offences, are unable to plan their future lives. The youngsters have no hope because they do not know when their sentences will be terminated, and their families cannot plan for the future because they do not know when their sons or brothers will come out of prison. Many of those people have served sentences of more than 10 years.
I met the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott)—last week. He told me that in the new year a pattern would begin to emerge from which we might be able to assess what would happen to SOSPs. I considered all the SOSP cases where there has been release, but I cannot find the slightest glimmer of a pattern. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us about the nature of the pattern. Is it that after a person has served part of his sentence he is told that he can expect release? Is the pattern that, if he removes himself from the compound system at the Maze and asks to be put in a cellular block, that will be a first step on the way to release? The Secretary of State or the Minister must 629 tell us about this. At any rate, the Secretary of State must make the clear statement that is asked for in Sir George Baker's report.
The most fundamental principle of justice is that an accused man should have a trial within a reasonable time. Many of my constituents are in the third year of their remand period and still do not know their date of trial. No hon. Member could defend that. Those people have been charged with crimes that are unlikely to attract sentences of more than twice the period that they have already served. Therefore, taking account of remission, they have already served the full sentence that they would have received if they had been found guilty of the crime.
I agree to some extent with the recommendation in paragraph 185 that, after 12 months, under one set of circumstances at least—where it is the responsibility of the prosecution that delay has occurred—there should be release. Naturally, in the circumstances described by the Secretary of State, when the reason for the delay is that the prisoner is being choosy about his counsel, one could not expect that the prisoner should be released after 12 months. If the cause of the delay is that either the security forces or the DPP are compiling the necessary details for the prosecution, and finding that witnesses are difficult to bring forward, there is ample justification for the recommendation.
I move now to the proscription of the IRA. I have read with considerable interest the many remarks in the report linking Sinn Fein with the IRA, and the evidence is overwhelming. To any impartial individual, there would not be the slightest doubt that Sinn Fein and the IRA are one and the same animal. There is documentary evidence to that effect, which I have quoted in another debate. A document was found in the flat of Seamus Twomey, which shows the structure of the IRA. It said:Sinn Fein should come under Army organisers at all levels … Sinn Fein should be radicalised (under army direction) … SF should he directed to infiltrate other organizations to win support for, and sympathy to, the movement … It gains the respect of the people which in turn leads to increased support for the cell.Clearly there is no distinction between Sinn Fein and the IRA. The speeches by Danny Morrison and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) are in support of the murderous activities of the IRA.
Will the Secretary of State consider the position of Unionist councillors in particular at the moment? I can give him one example. In Belfast city council, one of my party colleagues, councillor Billy Dickson, has to sit opposite two Sinn Fein members at every meeting of the city council. They gloried the night that the IRA pumped eight bullets into him and also placed a bomb outside his home so that the security forces, when they came to investigate the event, would have been blown up and there would have been further loss of life. Yet he has to sit opposite people who support such activity, and may even do more than support it. People in the Sinn Fein organisation may be politicians by day—who knows but that they are terrorists at night? The least that can be said for the process of proscribing Sinn Fein is that it would perform an act of political hygiene in Northern Ireland politics.
The local government elections in May of next year will see the entrance into the district councils of Northern Ireland of dozens of Sinn Fein representatives. The House would not for one moment accept an hon. Member, sitting on whatever side of the House, who had been responsible 630 for condoning the killing of hon. Members, such as Sir Anthony Berry, Airey Neave and the Reverend Robert Bradford. If hon. Members were faced with such circumstances, they would think long and hard before rejecting the proscribing of such an organisation.
Sir George Baker makes it clear that the UDA should not be proscribed, and then examines Sinn Fein. If he had thought that Sinn Fein should not be proscribed, he would have said what he was prepared to say about the UDA, but he did not. Sir George Baker makes a strange statement that it is a political decision, that there is a conference occurring between the British Government and the Government of the Irish Republic and that he will leave the matter to those in another council. I wonder what gave Sir George Baker the impression that this matter was considered mutually between the Governments of the United Kingdom and of the Republic of Ireland.
Sir George Baker endorses the suggestion that, before an election occurs, candidates should take an oath that they renounce violence. If that step was taken, the complexion of our elections would be different. If the Secretary of State is not prepared to go the logical way of proscribing Sinn Fein, he could surely consider that avenue.
I say, as I have said at six-month intervals since I became a Member, that the ritual of considering the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act is likely to continue. The people of Northern Ireland have no joy in thinking of any legislation that limits or restricts their liberties. They recognise that the protection of an individual's rights must come second to the protection of a society. It is the society in Northern Ireland that is under attack.
I conclude with the words used correctly by Sir George Baker:The remedy is squarely in the hands of those who say they are waging war. Let them forswear violence and respect the right to live.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Not having spoken previously in the House in a debate on the affairs of Northern Ireland, I am bound to say that to hear this debate is a profoundly depressing experience: depressing because the violence seems to be continuing without point and without end; depressing because soldiers and police officers are still having to draw on all their reserves of courage; and depressing because violence in Northern Ireland has now become institutionalised so that tomorrow I suspect that the press will be seen to have virtually ignored this important debate.
I join those who have paid tribute to Sir George Baker. On occasions I had the privilege of appearing before Sir George when he was a judge in court. He was a judge who was characterised by equal measures of sharpness of mind and courtesy. Even among judges, equality of those attributes is rare.
I wish to comment particularly on some of the aspects of the Baker report dealing with the nature of the courts hearing criminal trials, and with the quality of the evidence that is placed before those courts. Before dealing with specific matters, it is as well to remind myself, and possibly some hon. Members, that the legal system which is meant to operate in Northern Ireland is the same common law based legal system that operates in England and Wales—the common law of England. It is not by any means an infallible system, but it has stood the test of 631 time. It is certainly a good deal less fallible than half of the common law of England, which is effectively what operates in some of the criminal courts in Northern Ireland.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) that it is regrettable that Sir George Baker's terms of reference were so limited and so restricted that he was not asked to investigate whether temporary emergency legislation was effective or even necessary. I believe that those who face the worst problems caused by the violence in Northern Ireland, those who face daily the prospect of death because of that violence—the citizens of Northern Ireland, the police and the armed forces who have to attempt to keep order in those circumstances—deserve a more wide-ranging investigation than Sir George Baker was able to carry out, because his terms of reference were so restricted.
While at present I accept the need for the type of legislation under consideration tonight, the absence of any independent and ongoing monitoring of the operation of the legislation is a matter of great anxiety. From time to time there have been reports on the circumstances in Northern Ireland, and reports upon the prevention of terrorism provisions applicable to Great Britain; but, as yet, no effort has been made openly and continuously to scrutinise whether such legislation is needed. As a result, much of the evidence—even the evidence in as careful a report as the Baker report, and even bearing in mind the long list of distinguished witnesses and bodies giving evidence which appears at the end of the report—is anecdotal or based upon opinion; and we all know how opinion is the prisoner of imagination.
Although today I feel that it is necessary for the emergency provisions to continue, unless some ongoing scrutiny is provided, and unless the House is given more open and more reliable evidence, beyond anecdote, of the effect of the provisions, it will become more and more difficult to support such legislation. Violence for political ends is a hateful contempt of freedom and justice; and such emergency powers are, to an extent, a denial of freedom and justice. Before we perpetuate such denials of freedom and justice, limited perhaps though they be, it is essential that a more coherent and persuasive body of evidence is available to the House.
I do not believe that it can be gainsaid that the powers contained in the emergency provisions legislation have had a drastic effect upon the common law of England as it has been applied in Northern Ireland since the provisions first came into force.
I am gratified by many of the Secretary of State's remarks made in his characteristically thoughtful and careful way. It is good to hear that changes will be made in line with at least some of the recommendations of the Baker report, although one is bound to be anxious as to whether the Secretary of State was committing himself to go all the way with Baker.
I shall give just a few examples of the way in which the common law has indeed been drastically affected by the emergency provisions. We hear of trials with more than 20 defendants. There has been a great deal of discussion in the past few days about the Gilmour trial. I disagree with the Secretary of State. I do not for one moment believe that a multiplicity of defendants shortens the trial of all those defendants when one considers the matter 632 overall. Trials of 35 defendants would no longer be allowed in Great Britain. One has only to look at the fiasco of the Bristol riots case some time ago to see how the experience of multiple-defendant trials has been extremely unhappy in England and Wales.
I venture to suggest to the Secretary of State, with all the force that I can command, that a much more just judicial system operates if one has a few defendants only in trials; and if the trials are broken into small parts and are thus shorter. If the Secretary of State believes that 20-plus defendant trials will produce justice, he is sadly deluding himself.
The Bail Act 1976, applicable to England and Wales, contains the presumption that the person who has been charged is entitled to bail. The onus is upon the Crown to prove that the person should not have bail. The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978, section 2, reverses that presumption. Section 2 is such a "belt and braces operation" that, as Sir George Baker points out, section 2(4) is wholly meaningless. It provides that a right of appeal is not prejudiced, but such a right of appeal has never existed. It seems extraordinary that such a provision has existed for so long.
In England and Wales, the only mode of trial on indictment has been by jury. I deplore the talk that that might be changed in certain cases. I hope that we shall see no decline in England and Wales of the right to jury trial for those on indictment.
There is no right at all to jury trial in Northern Ireland for scheduled offences. Indeed, there is no possibility of jury trial for such offences, save in certain restricted circumstances under schedule 4. It is important to remember that jury trial has been withdrawn for many non-terrorist offences. Many robbery cases have no terrorist connection: they could be tried in Northern Ireland as justly by jury as anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)
How else can trials be held and perverse verdicts be avoided other than under the present system? Jurors have shown that they are not prepared to convict accused persons who share their religion or where they are liable to be nobbled.
§ Mr. Carlile
The hon. Gentleman has raised a fair point, but if he hears me out he will find that I am not saying that Diplock courts should not exist. I am arguing that Diplock courts should be used only in restricted circumstances. They should not be used—there is no justification for doing so— in cases of ordinary crime with no terrorist connection. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would not disagree with that view. I should be surprised if he did.
I note from schedule 4 that one of the scheduled categories of offence is that of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Those of us who know the law, or some of it at least, are aware that offences of actual bodily harm are tried daily in magistrates' courts throughout England and Wales. When the Secretary of State comes to consider in detail the descheduling of offences, I hope that he will go much further than he appears to have done so far. Indeed, I hope that he will go beyond Sir George Baker's recommendations and will seek to deschedule wherever possible.
However, I am bound to accept that there is a residual category of case, but only that, and that the Diplock courts may have to continue for reasons which have been 633 discussed on many occasions. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider three-judge rather than one-judge courts. I accept that there are manpower problems, but alterative arrangements could be made, possibly by the introduction of judges from across the water to try civil cases in Northern Ireland. By that means it might be possible to have three-judge criminal trials in whatever system succeeds the Diplock courts.
One of the problems of the Diplock courts is that of delay. Trial delay is so great that false confession is often the short way to release. If someone is arrested and is faced with the choice of trial in a Diplock court, possibly two or three years after the date of arrest, or a quick hearing of a guilty plea, the chances are that he will decide to make a false confession, plead guilty and be released earlier. That cannot be an acceptable system of justice within the United Kingdom.
Section 8 as now drawn makes it very likely that tainted confessions will be allowed in evidence in Northern Ireland. Indeed, that must have occurred in many trials because of the restricted nature of section 8, to which the Secretary of State fairly referred. I have examined in great detail Sir George Baker's alternative section 8, and it is a valiant effort to produce something that is fair. Nevertheless, Sir George Baker's section 8 also leaves the great risk— indeed, the certainty, in my view —that tainted confessions will continue to be given in evidence in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State and I, and several others, spent many hours—many all too forgettable hours—discussing in great detail the admissibility of confessions in relation to what is now, sadly, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. I cannot for the life of me see why the same provisions as are now contained in that Act should not apply in relation to confessions in Northern Ireland. I say to the Secretary of State that a tainted confession is a tainted confession is a tainted confession. The risk of tainted confessions continuing to be a matter of course in courts in Northern Ireland will in no way be diluted if the Baker recommendation on section 8 is adopted.
The final example that I should like to give of injustices that can arise under the present Act relates to powers of arrest, though I take it that the Secretary of State—I hope that I understand him aright — is prepared to introduce the requirement of "reasonable suspicion" into powers of arrest where now all that is needed is "suspicion", whether reasonable or not.
Supergrass trials have been mentioned in the debate, not surprisingly. Many hon. Members have great misgivings about supergrass trials. Lord Lowry, in his courageous decision in the Gilmour case, exposed the danger of supergrass trials. With respect, I do not believe that the Secretary of State has really got the point about them. Whereas in England and Wales the Director of Public Prosecutions will allow a case to go to court only if he believes that the evidence of an informer is not only credible and cogent, but, in practice, to some extent at least corroborated, knowing full well that in any event he has to satisfy the tests that will be set by a jury —nobody sets standards better than a jury when it comes to judging evidence—in Northern Ireland, the Director of Public Prosecutions knows that the trial will not be heard by a jury. He knows that he does not have to satisfy the diverse but telling demands made by a jury when it 634 examines the veracity of a witness. He knows that the supergrass class of witness has itself become institutionalised so that acceptance is all too easy
I take issue with the Secretary of State's statement that the Director in Northern Ireland allows cases to go for trial only if he believes that the evidence is credible and cogent. The fact is that, because of the nature of his office, he has no way of judging whether the evidence of the supergrass is credible and cogent. Only a court can make that judgment. In my view, it is wrong for people to be convicted on the evidence of witnesses more tainted than any ever seen in the past in courts in the United Kingdom, without the advantage of at least some independent corroboration.
Many other issues arising from the Baker report could be considered in detail. I hope that at the least when the Secretary of State produces legislation it will give effect to all the Baker recommendations. That would go some of the way. I consider that the Government's response to the Baker report has been slothful in the extreme. It may be because there has been a change of Secretary of State that there have been delays, but that is no excuse. The Government have been far too slow and have lost the opportunity to place legislation before this Session of Parliament. We should have had the legislation by now.
The common law is a green and fertile field, able to adapt itself to change. The sooner Northern Ireland comes back into the open arms of the common law, the better. I hope that when the legislation is introduced it will hasten that day.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
I join the Secretary of State and others in paying sincere tribute to the late Sir George Baker and to the meticulous way in which he prepared and submitted his report.
It was enlightening to read in paragraph 21 that during his many visits to the Provinceto get the 'feel' of the overall situationSir George found thatfor the most part Northern Ireland is a peaceful and pleasant land in which to live and work.That opinion is shared by almost everyone who has visited the Province, and I am pleased that it has been recognised that life goes on fairly normally and that the Government have acted responsibly in their support and provision for the needs of the Province.
The report covers a very wide range of issues. If we all made detailed contributions on all those matters, we should be here for far longer than is possible. Therefore, I shall confine my remarks to those aspects of specific concern to my constituency. North Belfast is recognised as one of the most deprived and disturbed areas of the city and includes the equivalent of the Crown court as well as Crumlin road prison, which houses all the remand prisoners of Northern Ireland.
The houses of a large proportion of the Loyalist prisoners are in my constituency, so I am naturally involved in many issues which concern them. In this context, I support the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about paragraph 35, when he said that Loyalist terrorism was very much reactive. Recent attacks alleged to have emanated from Loyalist para-militaries fully bear out the observation in the report that Loyalists have 635responded to PIRA and INLA violence by sporadic attacks directed at specific members or supporters of those organisations but also, at random against Catholics.I never have condoned and never will condone any form of violence from whatever source. I put that on record again today.
Having shared the traumatic experiences of my constituency over the past 15 years, I agree with the statement in paragraph 35 thatthe anger in the community which suffers the brunt of PIRA/INLA attacks must never be underestimated.I have known many such reactions at first hand, as have many of my colleagues who have spent many days and nights among the community trying to defuse the many situations which threaten the spill-over into uncontrolled physical violence. It is in situations of that kind that one hears the suggestion that there is a great difference between those who act in defence of their country and those who act against it.
Paragraph 163 deals with accomplices — variously described as converted terrorists, informers or supergrasses. In my constituency, this is an extremely emotive issue as so many of those now incarcerated in prison are there on the evidence of such persons. To give credence to the emotion that surrounds this form of evidence, the families of those imprisoned say that those prisoners are there on the evidence of people who have repeatedly taken part in serious criminal activities and have agreed to give evidence for the prosecution against participants in the same crimes.
The word "supergrass" has been used to denote that type of witness for the prosecution. There is no other word with the same meaning. "Accomplice" is a wider word covering anyone who has taken part in a crime. The former is more appropriate to describe those who were working on behalf of the police at the time. "Converted terrorist" —a term used by the police and by representatives of the Government—is only suitable for those who have genuinely repented. It is totally unacceptable that that term should be applied to dangerous and evil men who have undergone convertion for the sole purpose of obtaining immunity, avoiding a long prison sentence, and receiving financial compensation.
We have now been informed that there will be no more immunity from prosecution. However, the suspicion remains that certain steps can still be taken to secure an early release or be given a new identity. I am also deeply concerned about the unduly long and complicated cases, referred to in paragraph 116, where a judge sitting alone has to assess evidence against a large number of people — perhaps between 30 and 50. It would seem impracticable that one man should have to give judgment against such a large number of people in trials lasting for six months or more. That is borne out in paragraph 172, which states:I share the doubts of some witnesses about the wisdom of having so many defendants, so many charges, such delay in starting and such long trials.
It is recommended in the review that efforts should be made to reduce the number of defendants to 20 or fewer and to reduce the delays in starting and the length of the trials. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State mention the fact that he is considering the appointment of another judge.
636 In paragraph 164, the report questions whether a person should be convicted on accomplice evidence alone. I maintain that that is totally unsatisfactory, as it could be interpreted as a matter of political expediency rather than of the public interest. There have always been informants, and evidence from such informants has always been accepted, notwithstanding the fact that it was considered as dangerous evidence because there is usually a motive other than the simple desire to tell the truth.
As I drive past the prison, I worry about the fact that so many prisoners are on remand for so long. The problem is partly attributed to the lack of court space and the small number of senior Queen's Counsel involved in many trials. Nevertheless, I agree with the statement in paragraph 174 of the report that the loss of liberty isjust another form of detention.In those circumstances, it is impossible to conclude that there is no injustice. Prisoners are sometimes held on remand for two years or more. That causes great stress, particularly on prisoners' wives and children who suffer greater poverty than any other one-parent families, because wives feel that they must provide the prisoner with all the items allowed for by the prison authorities. They already provide clothing, as remand prisoners are not obliged to wear prison uniforms.
The prison houses men from every constituency in Northern Ireland. Many families have to spend nearly a full day travelling in order to visit the prisoner for half an hour. Many families are ostracised by the community because of associated guilt, and so the lengthy remands can cause irreparable harm.
In paragraph 450, in connection with his visit to Crumlin road prison, Sir George mentioned the family centre which provides facilities for people visiting the prison or attending the courts. He is lavish in his praise for the services offered. However, he is not completely accurate when he states that the centre is run by NIACRO. In fact, the project is jointly managed by NIACRO and the Save the Children Fund. Both those organisations should be given credit for their attempts to alleviate the stress occasioned by the visits. I am heartened by Lord Lowry saying in paragraph 170:We will accept but one standard of proof in criminal cases, namely, proof beyond reasonable doubt.That has been borne out by recent events.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
This has been an interesting and constructive debate. I must do the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) justice. Although he made a lively speech, I am sure that he wants peace in Ireland. Although I do not agree with his method, speeches that he has made since I have been here are based on his desire for peace. He denounced the Baker report as proposing just more of the same. He should be aware that the terms of reference were, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, drawn by the Secretary of State, not Sir George Baker, and drawn narrowly. The late Sir George has done a great service to the community in Northern Ireland by examining in detail how the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 has worked. The House can take heart from many of his recommendations.
I cannot add much to what hon. Members who have supported the recommendations have said about delay in bringing cases to trial. Such delay is an injustice. The 637 recommendation for the release on bail of anyone who is not brought to trial within 12 months should be considered. It is wrong that people should have to wait 12 months and more.
In response to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's challenge, I should like to say that I agree with him about the Baker report's proposals concerning detention. It recommends that section 12 be repealed. We must retain that reserve power, however. I hope that it will never be necessary to use it, but circumstances in which the Secretary of State needs to exercise those powers might arise during the long summer recess, for example.
There is anxiety in Northern Ireland about police complaints. They are necessarily subjective. It is difficult to prove accusations and to confirm what has happened. The report advances the idea of tape recording interrogations. The Government should consider that when framing replacement legislation.
I listened carefully to what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said about suspicion and reasonable suspicion. His views should be considered by the Government, and the Baker report paid considerable attention to that matter. The report concludes:I have become increasingly more convinced that any provision of the EPA which may save even one life or bring even one guilty terrorist to conviction and sentence should be retained until the para-military forces forswear terrorism unless there is a powerful convincing reason for repeal or amendment.Sadly, the paramilitary forces have yet to forswear terrorism and, therefore, I cannot see any powerful convincing reason why the Act should be repealed or substantially amended.
Sir George said that when the Government bring forward new legislation it should not include the words "emergency provision" or "prevention of terrorism", and that the Protection of the Peoples Act would be a more acceptable way of showing all parties that we want to leave the circumstances of terrorism and emergency and all that is conjured up by such words. Sir George thought that a subtle change in the title of future legislation should be considered. He said that he was not convinced about the title that he suggested, but we should note his suggestion carefully.
Sir George Baker did a great service to the community of Northern Ireland and I hope that the Government will note many of the constructive comments made from both sides of the House and that it will not be long before legislation embodying many of the suggestions made in our debate is brought before the House.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). He followed the debate with interest and made some substantial and important points.
The review of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 was announced on 8 April 1983, but it had long been called for, and the Labour party called for such a review in a statement by its national executive committee in 1981. At that time we recommended in a policy document that a review of the Act should be given high priority.
The concern of the Labour party, and of others, which gave rise to that view was based on the unease that was felt that such emergency provisions should lie on our statute book. It was felt that if they must lie on the statute 638 book, not only should they fall within the scrutiny of the House, but they should be the subject of a review and that, following such a review, any recommendations should be considered and, if necessary, acted on.
The Labour party was particularly worried about part II of the Act which deals with powers of arrest, detention and search. Our concern has been reflected from all parts of the House in this debate. We still believe that deprivation of liberty under sections 11 to 14 does not conform with the requirements of article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, it is noticeable that section 11 exercised the mind of Sir George Baker and gave rise to some recommendations from him. The meat of section 11 lies in subsection (1) which provides thatany constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he suspects of being a terrorist".Such a person shall not be detained for more than 72 hours after the arrest.
Some of the objections which Sir George reflected and voiced involved the fact that the power of arrest might be exercised on suspicion rather than on reasonable suspicion —a distinction not immediately apparent to a layman, but certainly apparent to a barrister, and often vital, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) know, in the eyes of a judge.
Sir George's other concern was that detention may be for as long as 72 hours. That also gave some concern to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). Sir George recognised that as the provisions of the ordinary law of arrest were insufficient—that was his conclusion—other such provisions would be required to be codified for Northern Ireland in a new Act. That was one of his recommendations. Another of his recommendations dealt with the extension of the initial holding period of anyone arrested under section 11. He felt that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, or, if not available, one of his junior Ministers, may in any particular case extend the initial holding period by a specified period or periods not exceeding five days in all.
Sir George also felt that the powers of arrest for scheduled offences and offences under the prevention of terrorism and the emergency provisions Acts should be all part of one and the same Act for Northern Ireland. Others, too, have expressed their concern at the powers of section 11. Indeed, they were referred to earlier by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West.
A summary of evidence from the Cobden Trust's research on the operation of the emergency legislation in Northern Ireland, which was presented to Sir George Baker, revealed that section 11 was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and endorsed by Parliament — that is, as the precursor to internment. Indeed, 72 per cent. of the Cobden sample of people held under the emergency legislation in 1981 were not questioned about any specific offence. A high percentage were clearly not suspected of involvement in any specific offence, but were detained solely for the purpose of information gathering.
Again, according to the Cobden Trust's written evidence, 90 per cent. of the arrests under the emergency legislation do not result in charges being preferred. In his report Sir George confirms that figure for a 10-month period in 1980, but asks the pointed question whether there could be a solution that avoids the alienation of the 639 minority community while at the same time enables the RUC to take as effective action as possible to stamp out terrorism.
It is pertinent to ask whether it is true that arrests are made for the purpose of information gathering. Those are the allegations of academic writers as well as of the Cobden Trust, in claiming that arrests are frequently made not only to gather information but low-grade intelligence at that and that the power of arrest is all part and parcel of the surveillance and harassment that is inherent in the powers of the emergency provisions legislation.
Those suspects in the Cobden sample had not, it is true, been physically abused, but they were insulted, threatened, offered bribes and denied access to their solicitors. Indeed, 48 per cent. declared that they were subjected to obscenities and insults about themselves or their families, while 38 per cent. claimed that pressure was put on them to pass on information to the police. Again, 19 per cent. declared that they were asked about their political views.
It is true that none alleged physical abuse, but 76 per cent. of those in the Cobden sample who asked to see their solicitors were refused access, and none saw his solicitor within 48 hours. The common law appears to be suspended when it comes to Northern Ireland. Viscount Simon, in the well-known case of Christie v. Lleachinsky, declared thata citizen is entitled to know on what charge or suspicion of what crime he is seized".That is not so in Northern Ireland under the emergency provisions legislation. It is sufficient, as Baker points out, to say that there is an arrest under section 11 on the ground that the person is suspected of being a terrorist.
The word "reasonable" to which I referred earlier would convert what is in effect a subjective test into an objective one recognised by common law jurisprudence. The lack of the word simply means that if there is an honest, genuine suspicion — without any reasoning, proof or straws in the wind to back it up—a court cannot inquire further as to whether the arrest was lawful.
In this instance, I am reminded of the powers of the French juge d'instruction, which is so alien to our own concepts of justice, who can arrest and incarcerate on the principles of an intimate conviction of the guilt of the person he wishes to accuse. That principle is now regarded with some unease in France, let alone in our own country, yet here we find it entrenched in legislation for Northern Ireland. I am not entirely sure what the man on the Clapham omnibus would think of such a lack of reasonableness, but I am sure that many hon. Members would feel a certain disquiet if any of their constituents were so held.
It is fair to add that Sir George Baker points out that he has no evidence to suggest that suspicion, as against reasonable suspicion, has been a factor in a decision to use section 11 for the purposes of arrest. Nevertheless, he concluded that resonable suspicion should be required when a constable arrests without warrant, and recommended that this should be included in the new arrest powers which he proposes in substitution for section 1(1) and section 13(1).
The Army also has powers of arrest. Section 14 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act allows soldiers to arrest anyone suspected of committing any offence. Such persons may be held for four hours. This 640 was introduced at a time of no-go areas, when the police could not enter certain vicinities in certain districts. The four hours were intended to give the Army time to identify the person and to transfer him or her to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There never was an intention to confer a power of interrogation upon the Army, but this power has exercised the mind of Sir George Baker, who has had to consider whether it contravenes article 5 of the European convention and article 9 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The criticisms of these powers are legion. There is the criticism of reasonable suspicion; that the concept of any offence is too wide; that the arrested person should be told in plain language of the offence to which his arrest refers; that few arrested persons are actually handed over to the RUC; that four hours is too long; that the power is arbitrary and is used for harassment, intelligence gathering, screening and indiscriminate house searches; that the questioning should be limited; and that the power of the Army should be to arrest only when under police control.
Earlier the Secretary of State said that the support of the Army had been unstinting and unswerving. Sir George points out in his report that the supporting role of the Army is to deal with a situation which has been described asthe worst protracted, the most lethal, and the most destructive, of any experienced by any Western European country since 1945".However, he takes on board the criticism that this section does not accord with article 5 of the European convention and, therefore, recommends the addition of the word "reasonable" as an adjunct to suspicion. The Standing Commission on Human Rights also believes the wording of section 14 is too wide. Sir George therefore recommends a change of the wording to the arrest of a person by a member of the armed forceswhom he reasonably suspects of being a terrorist or a member of a proscribed organisation or of committing, having committed or being about to commit any act of terrorism or violence or of rioting or an offence involving the use of an explosive, explosive substance or firearm, or of making or possessing a petrol bomb.
The common law of the land for England and Wales—I believe that this writ should run in Northern Ireland—is that a person is prima facie entitled to his freedom and is required to submit to restraints on that freedom only if he knows in substance the reason why it is claimed that the restraint should be imposed.
The word "alienation" appears in the Baker report. It is frequently used by other commentators. There are those in Northern Ireland who argue that it is a much abused word. Some say that alienation does not exist. Indeed, the Prime Minister, at her famous press conference following the last Anglo-Irish summit, declared that "somehow this word alienation has crept into the vocabulary." She added:I don't think it's a good one.
Yet for many who perceive the moving Irish scene, a sense of alienation does run deep among the 38 per cent. minority population. There is alienation of one culture from another, one ethos from another. There is alienation through discrimination which has nothing to do with colour but a great deal to do with creed. There is alienation through unemployment and a deteriorating social and economic condition caused by, among other things, Thatcherite policies throughout Great Britain.
The Opposition would welcome any step—however small, however hesitant—that will seek to remove that 641 sense of alienation and bring the minority and the majority communities in Northern Ireland together. That is why we endorse the positive recommendations, as opposed to the negative ones, in the Baker report.
There are those who take the view—and the National Council for Civil Liberties is one such organisation—that the emergency powers exacerbate the alienation of a significant minority of the population and thus acts as an obstacle to political progress. Political progress, of course, would make dispensable both this report and the emergency provisions themselves. Political progress would lift a great weight from those who live in Northern Ireland.
But it was Lloyd George who said many years ago, in 1938:I believe that peace must first be found in the minds and the hearts of men.
Sir George has anxiously touched upon that aspect of the fundamental conflicts that are extant in Northern Ireland.
Essentially, the emergency provisions Act encompasses a complex tale of human rights, civil liberties and safety in Northern Ireland, and seeks to strike a balance between emergency powers to combat sustained terrorism and the rights of the individual. The question that Sir George has asked himself is whether the provisions of the Act strike the right balance between the need on the one hand to maintain as fully as possible the liberties of the individual, and on the other to provide the security forces and the courts with adequate powers to protect the public from current and foreseeable crime. As other hon. Members have said, I also regret that Sir George has passed away since the report was published. He was known for the quip that everything in life is foreseeable, as long as one has the foresight. That is certainly true of events in Northern Ireland.
One thing that is foreseeable is continued terrorist violence. The Secretary of State was right to tell the House that, while there may be a limitation of the violence that we know, its recrudescence is not, and can never be anticipated as being, far round the corner.
I should not seek to anticipate the following debate. But if violence does remain with us, we must ask ourselves whether the right balance is being struck between attempts to curb violence and bring the guilty to justice and the civil rights and liberties of all those who live in Northern Ireland. We therefore reach a confluence between those who have a heightened perception, and rightly so, of the need to develop civil rights and the urgent need and desire of the security forces to limit terrorist crime and violence. In this sharpened controversy, one thing stands out as a rock in the argument. It is that over the years—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) set a figure of 2,500—the most valuable civil right of all in Northern Ireland, the right to live, has been taken away.
As Sir George Baker said, if that right is denied, no other right is of any use. The right is recognised and protected by article 2(1) of the European convention. He further said of it:Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law.In his report he extends that toa right to life and to live free from the fear of terrorist violence, coercion and threats, and from injury loss or damage by their criminal activities.642 Many centuries ago the famous poet John Donne put it better than any barrister or hon. Member could, when he said:Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind".
All hon. Members see with great sadness the death, injury or maiming of anyone by violence in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we shall all have a deep and lasting interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland, until the violence ceases and the problems are resolved.
The House will not be surprised to learn that the most emotive issue, possibly because it is the most obnoxious, relates to the evidence of an accomplice who is a supergrass, or a copper's nark as he was known in former times. There is nothing new about the concept of immunity from prosecution on the turning of Queen's evidence. It sent Oscar Wilde to prison for two years in 1898.
There is something obnoxious about a supergrass who is sometimes paid £10 a week and sometimes £70 a week to provide evidence against fellow citizens, who cannot get right the dates of birth of his children in court, who, if press reports are to be believed, gambled heavily at the state expense, and who, when finding himself in a court of law as a witness, saw his evidence cast aside by a Lord Chief Justice as "unworthy of belief'.
Sir George Baker pointed out that in the two years to December 1983 information provided by criminals who had elected to give evidence had led to about 1,000 charges in respect of serious offences, of which about 20 per cent. were murder. He also pointed out why people are concerned about the supergrass strategy. Many hon. Members have made observations about it tonight.
Sir George Baker's comments are as pertinent as those of anyone. He said that there was something morally or socially wrong about an informer, that an informer can and probably does abuse the system, that there is no corroboration, that the innocent might be convicted, that there is a danger that to obtain immunity the supergrass will say what the police want to hear, that it might be a propaganda weapon for terrorists, and that it lowers the law in the community's esteem.
Baker appended his own refutation of the various criticsms. He pointed out that there had always been a possibility of abuse. He deemed it advisable to get corroboration if possible. In the case of those who are innocent and who may be proven guilty, he pointed out that not a single concrete case had been presented to him, which shows how difficult it is to prove a double negative. In the case of the propaganda weapon for terrorists, he points out that it is only natural for them to try to persuade as many people as possible that it is unfair, thus neutralising the grave danger in which they find themselves.
None of those appended comments refutes the criticism that has been cited. It is especially significant that there is no appended comment against the two major arguments against the use of supergrasses — the danger that the accomplices will say what the police want to hear, and that the practice lowers the public's esteem for the law.
If there are to be draconian powers and practices, and if they are to be maintained in force, it is essential that the authoities present clearly stated arguments and evidence that these powers are necessary.
I have participated in my first major debate on a major subject. The House has listened with rapt attention to the various points made during the debate. We are discussing 643 the powers in Northern Ireland through which the security forces operate. They touch on justice, civil rights and human liberties, which are the bases of our society.
At a press conference in November the Prime Minister took the proposals of the All Ireland Forum and, on three separate occasions, said "Out", "Out", "Out". The Opposition believe that it is time that the supergrasses were out. It will soon be time for the Diplock courts to be out, and the concept of arrest without reason should also be out. It will be the greatest epitaph to Sir George that if the positive recommendations in his report are accepted by the Government they will pave the way towards some reconciliation in Northern Ireland and provide a step forward, however hesitant or small. That is why I commend the Opposition amendment to the House.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
We have had many interesting and constructive speeches in the debate, some more vigorous than others. Some hon. Members strayed widely into general security policy, while others concentrated on aspects of Sir George Baker's report and made suggestions for amending the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978, which we shall be renewing after this debate.
I emphasise the Government's concern to protect life and civil liberties in Northern Ireland to the fullest possible extent. As the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) said, the first and central right is the right to life, which must be protected as the first priority. The Emergency Provisions Act remains an essential element in the drive to eradicate terrorism — I emphasise the word "eradicate"—from life in Northern Ireland and to bring about a return to normality in the Province. Of course, it has been a focus of concern on human rights grounds, and I shall deal with that later.
I assure those right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in the debate that, although I may not manage to reply to each point now, I shall read carefully all the speeches and consider all the points when we come to frame our legislative proposals in due course.
Sir George Baker's review of the Act was the first thorough independent examination of its operation since 1975. I pay tribute to Sir George Baker for the way in which he undertook his task. His wit and wisdom, patience and courtesy, and his insight into the problems of the Province struck everyone who had dealings with him during his review. Sad though we are that he has died since he completed the report, it will be seen as a fitting climax to a life of great distinction.
During the debate, the Government have been engaged in a listening exercise to prepare ourselves for the legislation that we shall introduce in due course. Three fundamental questions must be answered at the outset. Do we need the powers? Have we been dilatory in introducing proposals in response to the Baker report? Was Sir George Baker circumscribed by his terms of reference?
I believe that we need the powers and that they will remain for the foreseeable future, although of course they will be amended. However, their essence will remain a major part of the battle against terrorism. We must accept that the position in Northern Ireland is different from that on this side of the water. That was summed up graphically 644 in the comment of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who said that he would not be a juryman in any circumstances in Northern Ireland. Sir George Baker drew attention to a relevant and important quotation from Lord Lowry's dictum at the end of the McGrady case, when he mentioned the pressures that were put on the courts by those who come before them. He said:This war is being waged by organisations which style themselves armies and observe military procedures, but it has not invaded, and will not be allowed to invade, the courts. The rule of law has prevailed and will continue to prevail there. We will accept but one standard of proof in criminal cases, namely, proof beyond reasonable doubt.
That gives a flavour of the pressures under which the courts have been, and a flavour, too, of the determination of the courts and the judges in Northern Ireland to ensure that the courts are not corrupted and invaded by the activities of those who seek to subvert their position in society. We shall need these powers. We shall be looking carefully at amendments that may need to be made to them, but for the foreseeable future they will be an essential feature of life in the Province.
Having said that, the Government cannot legitimately be accused of being dilatory in their response to Sir George Baker's report. Bearing in mind how these matters touch on the delicate balance between the need to preserve security and ensure that guilty men are arrested, convicted and put behind bars, and the need to preserve the civil liberties of the vast majority of the people in the Province, it was right carefully to study Sir George Baker's report and to listen to the views of the House of Commons, as we have done today, and then, in due course, to prepare our legislative proposals. Every minute or week spent on making sure that we get those recommendations and the balance right will have been well spent.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Has the hon. Gentleman had consultations with other parties outside the House in the intervening period? Will he explain a little more clearly the reasons for the delay in considering the Baker report?
§ Mr. Scott
A number of other organisations have made their views on the operation of the emergency provisions clear to us, not least the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland. They have all made representations in writing, or in other ways, and we shall bear them in mind, as well as listening to the views of the House.
Whatever his terms of reference, Sir George Baker was not circumscribed by them, and he was prepared to make a judgment as to whether emergency powers were important and essential in Northern Ireland. In paragraph 468, he said:It will be a long, hard road. It is utterly unrealistic to believe, as some do, that the main powers given by the Act can be repealed tomorrow, or in the near future.Whatever the terms of reference may have said about the continuing need for emergency powers, he reinforced that in the strongest language possible.
Some detailed points have been raised. I reassure the hon. Member for Middlesbrough and others who raised the question of the concept of reasonableness in terms of suspicion. This is the one part of the report about which the Government are convinced, and we shall be moving to meet that recommendation.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) raised a point that is tangential to the provisions of the Act, but to which I shall refer. I reiterate what my right hon. Friend said 645 when he opened the debate. There is not, and never has been, a policy of summary execution or shoot to kill in Northern Ireland. The law provides that any person may use only such force as is reasonable, and both the police and the Army in Northern Ireland have to operate within the law. They have specific instructions as to how they should behave. If they breach those instructions, their members are liable to prosecution through the courts like any other member of the community.
The hon. Member for Foyle raised a particular case about the deaths of Fleming and Doherty, and queried why a statement was not being made. This case is being investigated by the police, and a full report will then be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It cannot be right for a Minister to make a statement about such cases that could prejudice the outcome of investigations. At the moment, it is much better to allow the process of investigation, with papers going to the DPP for his decision, to be carried through.
§ Mr. Scott
I have seen this opportunity to make this statement. I should have thought that most people understood, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland, how one could easily prejudice these cases by Ministers or others leaping in to make statements. I have said it now, and it is on the record, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that.
§ Mr. Archer
Are the Government sympathetic to the three proposals of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights — making public the yellow card instructions and the reports of investigations after they have been investigated, and a general review of the law on the subject?
§ Mr. Scott
I should like to consider them with the suggestions that have been made during the debate. In due course, I shall make clear the Government's view on those matters. This is not the appropriate time for the Government to state a firm position, although in odd cases we have made up our minds.
The evidence of former accomplices has been a theme running through this debate. It is right that the House should take careful note of the worries expressed in the Northern Ireland community about some aspects of the so-called supergrass system. Obviously, we all share some of those concerns. As has been said in the debate, there is nothing new in the concept of accomplice evidence or its use in Northern Ireland, anywhere else in the United Kingdom or, indeed, in the Western world. It would be wrong for the police to turn away evidence that might bring violent criminals to justice. There are people walking the streets of Northern Ireland today who are alive or unmaimed because dangerous men have been put away through the evidence provided by informers.
The responsibility for assessing the worth of that evidence must rest upon the courts. It is not for Ministers to judge whether their evidence is worthy and should stand up, nor is it for Ministers to make moral judgments about the character of informers who come forward with that evidence. The recent acquittals of defendants accused on the evidence of Raymond Gilmour and the comments of the Lord Chief Justice underline the objectivity of safeguards provided by the Northern Ireland judicial 646 system. It does not cast doubt on the principle of the use of accomplice evidence. In finding the defendants not guilty, the Lord Chief Justice said:An accomplice or informer, or someone who is both, can tell the truth and can command acceptance as a witness of the truth, but he needs to be impressive to overcome the handicaps inevitably associated with his position.The courts have to deal with that aspect. They must judge each case on its merits and come to a view on those who come forward to give the evidence. It certainly cannot be right for Ministers to step in and say that in no circumstances should such evidence be brought before the courts.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley. West (Mr. Archer) raised the issue of certifying out more offences from the scheduled list. In principle, I endorse what Sir George Baker said about widening the Attorney-General's discretion to certify particular cases out of the scheduled mode of trial. We shall study carefully the list of offences that he suggested should be brought within the Attorney-General's discretion. For some of those offences — most notably robbery and aggravated burglary — it would be difficult for the Attorney-General to take a rationally based decision. Nevertheless, it will be possible to take a considerable stride in the direction put forward by Sir George Baker, and in due course we shall let the House know what we have in mind.
I do not believe that there is any evidence to suggest that the criteria for bail are interpreted by the courts in Northern Ireland less liberally than they are on this side of the water. Sir George Baker said that 42.52 per cent. of applications for bail under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act were granted between 1978 and 1982. I do not believe that there is any real evidence to suggest that judges in Northern Ireland are not continuing to use their good sense over bail and, therefore, there is no need to extend the Bail Act 1976 to the Province.
One of the other major worries expressed—I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State share that worry —concerned the delay between arrest and people being brought to trial. That would worry anyone. Hon. Members have made the point that justice delayed is justice denied, and there is a considerable element of truth in that. The Director of Public Prosecutions, the courts and the police continue to cope well, bearing in mind all the circumstances, in processing the large number of cases involving serious offences with which they must deal.
The average time between arrest and trial fluctuates according to a variety of factors, not least the rate of arrest. In the first six months of this year, the average waiting time from first remand for terrorist type offences was down to 42 weeks from 46 weeks in 1983, although the figure of 46 had showed an increase from the years immediately before.
We shall continue to monitor the position and to ensure the fullest co-operation between the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts to make the process as rapid as possible. As the House has already been told, it has been agreed that an extra county court judge should be appointed. He has not yet been selected and is not in post, but we hope that that appointment will relieve some of the pressures on the court.
One of the major causes of delay is the fact that the defence is allowed to wait until counsel of its choice is available. It would be difficult to take that right away, but it adds to the delays which frequently occur between arrest 647 and trial. The Government will do their best on the administration side by encouraging co-operation between the various authorities involved to ensure that delays are kept to the minimum.
The hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) mentioned the recommendations about adding the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve to section 2 of the Act. It would put them in the same position as members of Her Majesty's forces who are not covered by that section. The Government are disposed to accept that recommendation. The main practical effect would be to permit policemen to be remanded into police custody.
The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South mentioned the opening of Maghaberry prison. It is not yet open. A considerable amount of work has to be done to it to update the design which was found to be less than satisfactory and to take account of the recommendations made by Sir James Hennessy in the aftermath of the Maze escape. I hope that the prison will be ready to accept prisoners by the end of 1985. I hope that we can make up our minds about its role within the prison system before it is opened.
The death of Mrs. McCabe was mentioned. The Director of Public Prosecutions twice considered the case and twice decided that there was no case for prosecuting anyone. He saw the film that had been produced and took it into account when coming to his decision. The test of evidence before a civil court, which is where the matter was settled recently, is different from the test of evidence in a criminal prosecution. I do not want to go any further than that.
A number of hon. Members mentioned those young people—some of them not now so young—who were sentenced to be detained during the Secretary of State's pleasure. I can reiterate what I said before, most notably in the Adjournment debate in answer to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, that I share the anxiety of hon. Members and take a close interest in such cases. Five SOSPs and two life sentence prisoners have had dates fixed for their release in 1985. We must bear in mind the youth of the person when he committed the offence, the seriousness of the offence and how central he was to the murder and his behaviour in prison. But above all we must bear in mind the safety of the public and the possibility of an offender becoming reinvolved in terrorist activities and continuing the activities which sent that person to prison in the first place. Bearing all those factors in mind, I hope over the course of the next few months to see further progress in getting some of those young people back into society and, I hope, playing a constructive part.
There has, in a sense, been a ghost at the debate in the shape of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). I defend his right to bring into the House anyone he wishes, but we also have the right to condemn him for exercising his judgment in that manner. By his action he has shown himself totally unfit to be a Member of this place or to have—[Interruption.]
I commend the Act to the House and I recommend the House to vote against the Opposition's amendment. The Act is an essential part in guaranteeing the safety of people in Northern Ireland.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 53, Noes 170.650
|Division No. 59]||[10 pm|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Bell, Stuart||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Bermingham, Gerald||McNamara, Kevin|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Marek, Dr John|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Michie, William|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Clarke, Thomas||Nellist, David|
|Clay, Robert||Parry, Robert|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Pike, Peter|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Prescott, John|
|Deakins, Eric||Randall, Stuart|
|Dobson, Frank||Redmond, M.|
|Dormand, Jack||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Soley, Clive|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Flannery, Martin||Welsh, Michael|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Winnick, David|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Hume, John||Mr. Norman Hogg and|
|Kennedy, Charles||Mr. John McWilliam|
|Alexander, Richard||Forth, Eric|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Amess, David||Fox, Marcus|
|Ashby, David||Freeman, Roger|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Gale, Roger|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Galley, Roy|
|Baldry, Tony||Gow, Ian|
|Batiste, Spencer||Greenway, Harry|
|Beggs, Roy||Gregory, Conal|
|Benyon, William||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Ground, Patrick|
|Blackburn, John||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Bright, Graham||Harris, David|
|Brinton, Tim||Harvey, Robert|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hayes, J.|
|Burt, Alistair||Hayward, Robert|
|Butterfill, John||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hirst, Michael|
|Cash, William||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Chope, Christopher||Holt, Richard|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hooson, Tom|
|Colvin, Michael||Howard, Michael|
|Conway, Derek||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Coombs, Simon||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Cope, John||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Couchman, James||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hunter, Andrew|
|Dicks, Terry||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Dover, Den||Jackson, Robert|
|Dunn, Robert||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Durant, Tony||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Evennett, David||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Fallon, Michael||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Favell, Anthony||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Knowles, Michael|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Knox, David|
|Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)||Lang, Ian|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Renton, Tim|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Lester, Jim||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Lilley, Peter||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|McCrea, Rev William||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|McCusker. Harold||Rowe, Andrew|
|Maginnis, Ken||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Major, John||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Mates, Michael||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Mather, Carol||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Scott, Nicholas|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Nicholson, J.||Speller, Tony|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Spencer, Derek|
|Parris, Matthew||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Steen, Anthony|
|Portillo, Michael||Stern, Michael|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Powley, John||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Ward, John|
|Taylor, Rt Hon John David||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Watts, John|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Wheeler, John|
|Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Thurnham, Peter||Wilkinson, John|
|Tracey, Richard||Wolfson, Mark|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Wood, Timothy|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Yeo, Tim|
|Walden, George||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)||Mr. Michael Neubert and|
|Waller, Gary||Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Review of the Operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978; accepts the continuing need for temporary emergency powers: recognises the need to maintain as fully as possible the liberties of the individual; and looks forward to considering the Government's legislative proposals.