HC Deb 08 April 1987 vol 114 cc357-71

`Section 12 and Schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 shall be repealed.'.—[Mr. Archer.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Archer

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is a simple proposal. It is to repeal section 12 of the principal Act, which gives the Secretary of State power to inter someone without trial — not with a Diplock trial, not with a trial that is open to criticism, but without any trial at all. This provision places the liberty of anyone in Northern Ireland at the mercy of the Secretary of State. It is a draconian power and a worthy successor to some of those powers in the Emergency Powers Act 1920 to which a South African politician referred when he said that he would give up all the powers available to him for one section in the 1920 Act.

This provision has not been used since 1976. I do not believe that any Government would attempt to justify itsuse. It is not even in force. What is at issue is the power of the Secretary of State to bring it into force under section 33. Sir George Baker recommended that the provision should be repealed. He cited the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which said: the retention of the power, perhaps as one of the last resort, is anathema to the rule of law and an obstacle to claims that human rights are as wholly protected in Northern Ireland as they ought to be in the current circumstances". Sir George said : the case for repeal of Section 12 is pressed not only by the various bodies concerned with human rights, as is to be expected, but by many others, including those who have been involved in operating detention. A summary of their experience is that detention never worked and never will work; it is always counter-productive in the end as well as costly. One could not be clearer than that.

What is the argument about? When I raised the question on 20 December 1984 with the former Secretary of State, he said that it was important to retain the power in case of a sudden short-term crisis, which might occur when Parliament was in recess."—[Official Report, 20 December 1984; Vol. 70, c. 581.] That is not the proper approach to emergency legislation. The whole point of emergency legislation is that it is found to be vital to the public interest for the time being, but that it is clearly a distortion of the normal legal system and should be repealed as soon as we can live without it. It will not do to say, "Perhaps, one day, we will need it, so we had better keep it."

When the question was raised in Committee the Minister of State said, fairly, that he saw no prospect of that provision being used but there is always the possibility of unforeseen sudden deterioration in the security position". — [Official Report, Standing Committee D, 3 March 1987; c. 386.] Sadly, there is no Government proposal on the Amendment Paper to repeal the provision in the light of that debate. It is not for me to speculate on the tussle within the Government between the appeal of the Minister of State for common sense and fairness and the dull repetitious chant of the old guard, "You never know" and "It is better to have the individual by the throat, just in case."

It is the function of hon. Members, especially those such as Northern Ireland Ministers, to tell the old apparatchiks that we do not run this country like that and that the public would not stand for it if we tried. I hope that that is right because, if it is not, freedom is no longer the healthy plant that it once was. The Opposition, at least, will give the House a chance to say, "Here is one emergency provision for which, if a case ever existed, no shred can now be made out." When that happens to a provision that was said at its inception to be introduced as a temporary measure to deal with an emergency, it is a power that the Government should relinquish.

7.30 pm
Mr. McNamara

Hon. Members who were on the Committee hoped that there might be some change in the Government's attitude at the end of the debate on this matter. We now hope that we shall hear from the Secretary of State that that is the case.

The point that I wish to make is that internment failed. It was the strongest recruiting force for the Provisional IRA; it almost gave it legitimacy. It turned a whole community against the rule of law in some circumstances. It caused grave difficulties, and it resulted in the deaths of many people — security forces, innocent civilians and members of both communities. It failed completely in the purpose for which it was introduced—to bring an end to terrorism—because terrorism is still with us. It failed politically, because Stormont fell, the Unionists were divided and crushed, and eventually we had direct rule.

The whole history of this power has shown it to have failed absolutely—whether its aim was to preserve the Queen's peace in Northern Ireland or to be an effective tool to ensure that terrorism could not succeed or could be suppressed. Moreover, the essence of it is a complete denial of human rights. It means a person being picked up on the whisper of an unknown informer, or on the basis that he is a civil rights campaigner or active in a trade union, or that he happens to believe that the partition of Ireland is not the best solution to the problems of the 32 counties. The system failed, and the evil men who saw all the signs of it coming escaped. In the days after internment, the same evil men for whom it was intended were fighting street battles with the security forces. Internment is a complete loss, and it should go.

Sir John Farr

I share the views expressed so far about the desire to end the power to introduce or use detention. However, I should have thought it impossible to choose a worse or a more inopportune time to introduce the change.

As the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) pointed out, the power has not been used for many years. However, I believe that it must remain on the statute book as a weapon in the armoury of the forces of law and order, in case it has to be utilised again. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said, to utilise it would involve a serious downgrading in the security position. But did he consult the security forces in Northern Ireland before he tabled the new clause? Has he obtained their advice on whether it would be beneficial?

I would expect the security forces to be almost 100 per cent. agreed in their answer, especially after the nights of rioting in west and north Belfast yesterday, the troubles in County Londonderry and all the other difficulties in the troubled Province. I would expect them to say, "Certainly we are with you, but not at the moment. It will be construed by the men of evil as a sign of weakness, and we cannot afford that."

Mr. Mallon

There have been two events in my life that I recall so well that I can remember exactly what I was doing and the exact moment in the day when I learned of them. One was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the other was the introduction of internment in the north of Ireland.

I remember saying to someone when I heard about internment, "This is the end of the north of Ireland as it has been known since the state was formed." I think that those words were reasonably accurate. Internment was a watershed in the history of the north of Ireland. Most people would agree that at the moment when that terrible mistake was made the north of Ireland, as it had existed until then, was finished. We should keep that in our minds today when we debate this measure.

There are very few issues in northern Irish politics about which I feel certain, but I am sure about one thing: internment will never be used there again. It has been such an utter and terrible mistake and has fostered such violence, subversion and alienation, that I do not believe that any Government would make such a mistake again. I say that with a degree of confidence and not a little hope, for, if they were to do so, it would be said not just that it was the end of Northern Ireland as it has been known since the state was formed, but that it was the end of the north of Ireland.

I do not believe that internment could ever be introduced again, given the demographic, political and social changes and the rise of paramilitary groups in the north of Ireland. In any attempt to achieve political stability that did not involve radical changes, those radical changes would have to take over.

Even at this late hour, I ask the Government to reconsider. Why should we keep on the statute book a measure that will not be used again and that, if it were used again, would be even more disastrous than in the past? Why should we not give a signpost to the people of the north of Ireland, showing that at least the Government had the conviction and the resolution to return to the highest and most normal standards—even if there were men of violence in the north of Ireland who did not wish it to happen? That would be a potent message from the Floor of the House to the people of the north of Ireland.

I ask the Government to act with resolution, because resolution will be needed, and also with realism, because, if they are realistic, they will accept that they are keeping a dead letter on the books.

The hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) spoke of what happened in the north of Ireland over the weekend. I should like to refer to that as well, but from a different perspective. Within the advice given in Northern Ireland, there is still the residue of a belief that problems can be solved by means of punitive legislation and force. The force that was used at this week's funeral must have revolted any person with any sensitivity or concern for human life and respect for the dead. It must have forced people to ask questions. It must certainly have forced people to ask why this enormous show of force was used on such a sensitive occasion when the only winners, at the end of the day, were those who were trying to manipulate it.

The argument that is advanced is that a show of force was necessary to prevent people from firing shots over the coffin. There is some validity in that argument. I f, however, we ask why shots are fired over coffins. the answer is that it is to get publicity. The net result of this ill-advised course was that they got two and a half or three days of free publicity worldwide.

One of my fears is that if this provision remains on the statute book, advice of that type will always be available. There will be those who feel that that is the way to deal with the matter and that, when they offer advice of that type to the Government, they are doing what is right. The way to prevent that type of mistake over internment from ever happening again is to make sure that that provision does not remain on the statute book.

Mr. Alton

I support what has been said. Internment will be regarded by those who write the history of the last 20 years in Northern Ireland as one of the saddest decisions that was ever taken. It led to the alienation of an already distanced group of people in Northern Ireland's minority community. I vividly recall the letters that I received and the conversations that I had with those who felt very emotional about what was happening in Northern Ireland. It caused enormous trauma. Internment led to the hunger strikes and to bitterness and death. I hope that such incidents will never be repeated.

I recall my first visit to the Maze, which must be one of the most extraordinary places that anybody can enter. I was shocked by the conversations that I had in the Maze and by the attitude of the people there. The attitude of most of them was formed during their period of internment. It provided a breeding ground that enabled the IRA and the other terrorist organisations to make many recruits.

For those reasons, I do not believe that the Government would ever contemplate reintroducing internment. This antiquated and unnecessary measure remains on the statute book, and I hope that we shall repeal it. It is very much out of line with the Secretary of State's approach. He accepts that if there is to be reconcilliation and coexistence in Northern Ireland the alienated community must be brought back into the equation.

Reference has been made to the events of the last 24 hours. They should be a useful signal to those who might be tempted to think that if battles are fought on the streets of Belfast they will bring about change. I have always disputed the view that that is the way to bring about change. The appropriate place to bring about change is in this debating Chamber. People should take their place here, whether from the Unionist or the Nationalist tradition, and work in a democratic Chamber to bring about the kind of society in which reconciliation might take place.

Reconciliation will not take place in H-blocks, through internment, or, as the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has just said, through punitive legislation. Reconciliation will be brought about by the kind of initiative upon which the Secretary of State has very bravely embarked in the last 18 months. Therefore, I hope that he will take seriously the new clause that has been moved by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer)

Mr. Flannery

I do not know how much notice will be taken of this debate, but I feel confident that if we decide to abolish internment it will command attention. The abolition of internment would weaken the hand of the terrorists. Internment strengthened their hand. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has just said, it would demonstrate that we want conciliation to be brought about in Northern Ireland. Both communities would gain from the passing of new clause 6. Internment greatly strengthened the hand of the terrorists. The Government would be taking a progressive step if they removed from both communities the threat of internment.

7.45 pm
Mr. Maginnis

I have mixed feelings about the retention of internment, which is provided for in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. Internment has been used in Northern Ireland on a number of occasions. It has been used wisely, discreetly and with discrimination.

Mr. McNamara

That is what we were complaining about.

Mr. Maginnis

I thought that that particular word might alert hon. Members.

Internment was used to take out of circulation terrorists who could not be dealt with by means of the civil law. Innocent people in Northern Ireland are being gunned down by the score, but that is seldom referred to in this Chamber. I shall quote again figures that I have quoted before. In my constituency, 181 members of the community have been gunned down, but only 27 of those murders have been solved, so 154 out of 181 murders remain unsolved. The security forces know who is responsible for many of the killings, but they continue to say to us that the civil law is inadequate to deal with the problem.

Mr. Mallon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maginnis

Not now.

My community would like internment to be used as wisely as it was used by the Northern Ireland Government on various occasions over many years. It would not wish internment to be used as it was used in 1971. Although the legislation was enacted by the Northern Ireland Government, internment was not carried by that Government. It was implemented out by the Westminster Government, who have assumed powers over security. Their information was inadequate and internment did considerable harm.

Although I do not always believe him, the Secretary of State tells us that intelligence has improved a hundredfold during the last 17 years. We now have the necessary information to effect a form of internment that would alienate nobody but that would take out of circulation the terrorist godfathers. It would provide an opportunity for those on both sides of the community who want to be rid of the terrorists to make some progress.

It is amazing that when we talk about internment we hear that it, and it almost alone, was the thing that caused the alienation of the minority community. Let us debate in the House another subject that is politically unacceptable and we will hear that it, and it alone, caused the alienation of the minority community. By now I am used to hearing that it was 50 years of Unionist Government that caused the alienation of the minority community. It is so easy for people who want to make that political point to choose anything with which they disagree and say that that was what caused the alienation of the minority community.

I am talking about the alienation of an entire community, a community alienated by terrorism. For 17 years successive Governments have done nothing to quell that terrorism. There has been almost total failure. In fact, there has been what many of us see as something approaching abject surrender to terrorists. Points of view have been put across here suggesting that one might go a little bit easier.

When we are talking about internment, I do not know how we got on to the subject of a funeral. However, as that is a subject to which I can now allude, is there not a great deal of ambivalence in the attitude adopted by Father Faul? I quote Father Faul in so far as I believe that he is a man who genuinely detests terrorism. He is a man who does not want to see the terrorist succeed and who has no desire, as I suspect some people even in the Chamber might have, to ride on the back, or at least to take advantage of, the terrorist as he operates in Northern Ireland at present. Father Faul has suggested that that incident will alienate the minority — let us call it the Roman Catholic —community. If we did not prevent a display of terrorism at the funeral. the majority community and a sizeable number of the minority community would be disgusted by a display such as we saw a week or two ago when firearms were taken from a church to demonstrate that terrorism held sway in Northern Ireland. Terrorism does hold sway in Northern Ireland, so let us not try to hide that fact, and the Government have proved to be impotent in dealing with it.

Senior policemen to whom I speak suggest—they are talking about a comparative few—that if they could take only eight people out of the east Tyrone area they would have a tremendous advantage in the fight against terrorism. Those policemen are faced with a situation where they come to the courts — it does not matter whether it is Diplock courts or jury trials—and find that the evidence they are able to reveal to the court is inadequate.

That is not the only criticism that I have of the courts, but I do not want to go down that road too far, except to say that it amazed me to find in my constituency quite recently that three men caught with a 6001b car bomb, taking it in to blow apart a town that is predominantly Roman Catholic, were given suspended sentences. They were not lads; they were grown men. I observed that one was probably more likely to get a prison sentence for having 6001b of smuggled butter than a 6001b bomb. However, at least I noticed that the fourth member of the gang was imprisoned for five years. The judge apologised to him and said something to the effect "My dear fellow, you will feel that you are badly done by, but I think it is ridiculous that your fellow bombers got off scot free, so I am going to sentence you to five years"——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must come to the clause that we are discussing.

Mr. Maginnis

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for digressing.

My point is quite simple. The law is inadequate. It is proven to be inadequate. The 154 unresolved murders, out of a total of 181, in my constituency cry out for some sort of justice. I believe that by taking the known godfathers out of the community by internment we could achieve some degree of success. If the Secretary of State is not to use internment, if he is not to take his courage in his hands and give us what we need to defeat terrorism, let us not deceive the people any longer. Let us get rid of the section. Either make use of it, or get rid of it. It is only an aggravation to those who are opposed to it to have it there, and it is only a frustration to those who want it there if it is not to be used.

Ms. Clare Short

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) put before us terrible figures of the number of his constituents who have been killed and the small number of cases that have been cleared up. He went on to say that the security forces know who was responsible for the murders and therefore we should have internment because the people involved should be locked up. That is an extremely dangerous argument. I sympathise with the emotion that he must feel about the terrible number of killings, but such an argument rules out the rule of law everwhere. The police will say up and down this country that they know who the bad families are who are doing the burglaries on estates and so on. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong. If one goes around locking up individuals who one thinks are responsible, but one is wrong, one causes enormous bitterness and a sense of injustice that polarises, divides and leads to more violence, more distress and more deaths among the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Although I am sure that we all understand and sympathise with the anger that the hon. Gentleman must feel, I think that the course he suggests of allowing the security forces to lock up those who they think are responsible, without having any evidence to prove that they are responsible, is far too dangerous. If those involved, the godfathers as the hon. Gentleman called them, all known to the security forces, are six in number and are responsible for large numbers of deaths, the security forces would have to be very incompetent if they could not follow them and obtain the evidence to convict them. That leads me to suspect that they might not be correct in their suspicions and that the policy recommended by the hon. Gentleman is very dangerous. However, I note that his conclusion agrees with that of most Opposition Members. He says that if the Government are not to start using internment again, they should not have the power in the Bill. I agree with him on that, as do many of the hon. Members who have spoken.

I shall not repeat the arguments, but my view is similar to that of others who have spoken. I believe that internment was a disaster for Northern Ireland. Many innocent people were interned, which led to enormous anger and bitterness, with the families of those who were interned becoming involved with paramilitary organisations because of the anger that they felt. I saw that process at work on my visits to Northern Ireland at the time. It was a disaster which should not be repeated.

If, in future the Secretary of State thinks that it is necessary to introduce internment, surely he should come before the House and seek those powers. It is such a serious move and change that we should not simply have powers in legislation lying on the table to be picked up whenever the right hon. Gentleman feels like using them. As I read the Bill—I can hardly believe that I am right — the right hon. Gentleman can start doing that tomorrow without any permission from the House of Commons. He could go home tonight and decide that., as he was getting a bit irritated, he would start interning a few people. That is outrageous and extraordinary.

The Government may argue—I do not agree —that internment is a solution that they may have to consider in future. I say seriously to the Secretary of State that, even if he believes that, he should withdraw the powers from the Bill and give us the undertaking that if he ever proposes to introduce internment he will bring a new Bill before the House of Commons and let us debate it, rather than use those powers on his own, without even having a debate in the House.

8 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) suggested that we should have an opportunity to debate a new Bill prior to implementing detention. I humbly suggest to the House that to some extent that is what happened with the tragic use of detention in the 1970s. In other words, instead of using the power correctly and selectively, the Government signalled their intention for weeks, so that the people who should have been lifted had long since gone. There was bungling of other intelligence. As a result, the whole community was flabbergasted and incensed.

The emotional arguments that have been put forward against the principle of selective detention are suspect in themselves. It has been suggested that detention has been used on only one occasion in Northern Ireland and that it had a tremendous impact upon the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who remembers it. Selective detention had been used before then. I believe it was not detention but an accumulation of attacks, which ultimately was a challenge to the state. I believe that that was mishandled for well over a year and that conflagration was bound to come, just as we have seen with the apparently successful settlement of an internecine feud recently. The paramilitaries in Belfast and throughout the Province are now unleashing their forces against the state rather than against one another.

We should at least examine what this is all about. It is easy for an hon. Member in the House to say that the security forces are incapable if they cannot bring the evidence to a court of law, which would bring conviction. Even in the normal process of justice, when we sit in a court, we are never terribly sure who is the accused—whether it is the person bringing the charge or the person in the dock—because we bend over backwards to put the weight of evidence in favour of the accused. The only legislation that has been introduced to the opposite effect has been the most recent Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which places some responsibility upon the accused to prove his innocence rather than on the prosecution to prove guilt.

In dealing with hardened terrorism, when we start the normal process of British justice and give the benefit of the doubt to the accused, it is extremely difficult to be sure that there is cast-iron evidence that will stand up—whether it is forensic, collaborative evidence or accomplice participation. All such evidence, at whatever level, can be suspect.

I recognise that there are divided opinions in Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was one of the first to speak against detention, and there are others who are not in favour of detention. Frankly, I still believe that selective detention is a weapon in the armoury of any democratic state, which it cannot willingly throw away without deep consideration.

I call in my support not, I suspect, a biased Unionist, not even anybody with suspicious religious convictions, but the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the former Prime Minister of the Irish Repulic, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, who have both said in my presence that no democratic state should throw away the armoury of selective detention. It may he debatable whether it should be used in certain circumstances or in a particular case. It had been suggested in the debate that we should take it away from our legislation and that if we want to use it on another occasion we should have a debate in the rational atmosphere of the House of Commons while the terrorists, who should be moved on quickly, continue to do their dirty business or get offside so that they cannot be apprehended. That is the height of lunacy. While I can sympathise with some aspects of the arguments in the debate, I believe that it would be folly to remove the provision from the statute.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I disagree strongly with the arguments that have been put forward today by the representatives of the Unionist party. It is a good sign that they have come back to the House, and I welcome that, but internment in itself would be wrong on the grounds of civil liberties. Of that there is no doubt at all. That is not to deny for one moment the sheer evil of a sustained terrorist compaign. As we know, most of that terrorism comes from the Provisional IRA and sister organisations on that side of the sectarian divide, but there is terrorism on the other side, which I am sure hon. Members will not wish to deny.

To a large extent, the debate is like last week's debate on capital punishment. I did not speak in that debate, but I strongly took the point that to bring back capital punishment for terrorists would play directly into their hands. No matter what the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Fein may say publicly about opposing capital punishment, we all know instinctively that they would like that. They would like it for all the reasons that were deployed in the debate last week.

Surely the same, to a large extent, applies to internment. Again, it would be a powerful propaganda weapon for the Provisional IRA. It would be able to show that people had been taken in and locked up and not convicted of any offence, because, in essence, that is what it is all about. They would be placed in confinement, not because of proceedings in court, but because they had been suspected of various offences. That goes against the grain of what we believe to be the rule of law.

Not only is the Provisional IRA affected. I am very pleased about the fact that when Provisional Sinn Fein stood for the first time in elections in the Irish Republic it received less than 2 per cent. of the vote. As I have said on several occasions, that somewhat undermines Sinn Fein's claim to speak in the name of 1798 and 1916.

If internment took place once again, if a feeling grew in the Republic that people were being locked up without just cause, it would be argued that that was the case not because they were terrorists, but because they happened to take a nationalist point of view. I wonder whether the vote for Provisional Sinn Fein would increase in such circumstances. What would be the effect in other places abroad, such as America, where there is anti-British feeling —and I believe that I am right to describe it as such—over Northern Ireland? What would be the effect among people who are not willing to consider the facts or to recognise that terrorism is precisely terrorism? Would we not be playing into their hands? That would be a shortsighted move and would be counter-productive. It could only play directly into the hands of the terrorists.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that the Secretary of State should not have his powers over internment. If such a circumstance were to arise, the Secretary of State should have to come to the House and argue his case accordingly. For those reasons, I strongly disagree with the arguments that have been put forward by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth).

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

Before I respond to the points in the debate, may I state that I regard it as a privilege to be able to join in the proceedings. I read with great interest the reports of the debates that took place in Committee. As an observer I must state how much I respected the constructive approach taken throughout the discussions in Committee.

I hope that those hon. Members who served on the Committee feel that the Government have in a significant number of areas sought to respond to those discussions. We will shortly come to a number of Government amendments that have been tabled in direct response to points made in Committee. I hope that hon. Members will feel that that is a proper response.

I have also had the opportunity to read the debate that took place in Committee about this new clause. An amendment was tabled in Committee on this subject, but was not voted upon. I understand why my hon. Friend the Minister for State and others believed that this matter should be brought to the Floor of the House for a fuller discussion. I welcome the fact that the House has had the opportunity to hear both sides of the argument and to consider the difficult issue of how to deal with terrorism and fight and combat it as effectively as we can under the rule of law. It is right that we should consider the place that this provision might or might not have in that context.

Arguments have been raised about the merits of introducing detention. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) was the only hon. Member to advocate the introduction of selective detention. He made it clear that he would prefer to see it introduced now, but if it was not to be introduced he said it was more honest and straightforward to abandon the power and seek a fresh authority if we decided to change the policy. I recognise that others did not argue the case for detention. Indeed there were strong criticisms of it. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) made his concerns clear—as he did in Committee—about the damage that he believes is caused by the existence of the provision and the extra propaganda weapon that it gives to those who seek to attract support to their cause and who try to maintain alienation and not to work for reconciliation.

8.15 pm

As I understand the argument of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, this is a question not whether we should have detention now, but whether the power should remain on the statute book to be exercised in a particular circumstance. All the points that I could have made have been eloquently made already in the debate. There is considerable force in the comments made by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone about the different situation that presently exists. It is fair to point out that the previous introduction of internment was made under the Northern Ireland Government in 1971. We inherited it through the introduction of direct rule and it continued to operate under new arrangements. Clearly there were great problems and a new situation now exists. Intelligence is now very much better and in certain circumstances many among the security forces would argue that there is a possibility that the provision could be operated in a very different way.

However, it would be difficult to defend the position from arguments that the misrepresentation and the propaganda weapon that the provision would provide and the apparent abandonment of the normal conventions of the rule of law would be valuable ammunition—I use that term in the metaphorical sense—to the terrorists to allow them to argue the case that they were not living in a just society, and that they were entitled to the support of others in their fight for fairness and justice. This is a difficult matter to make a judgment upon.

It is appropriate that I should reply to the new clause. It is the responsibility of the holder of my office to think very carefully before reaching a balanced decision about whether it would be right to surrender the emergency reserve provision. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev Martin Smyth) used that phrase. I have not heard it, as he said he has directly from the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) or from the former Taoiseach. The hon. Gentleman said that no responsible Government could lose from its range of possible measures possible recourse to such a power. I am aware that the power exists in the Republic and I have heard similar comments elsewhere.

Mr. McNamara

Will the Secretary of State explain why it does not apply on the mainland of the United Kingdom?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman's question would lead me to a much wider discussion if I had to recount the distinctions and differences in that matter. The fact is that the position is different. In some ways, that is perhaps the understatement of the evening. There is obviously a difference in the level of problems that we face in Northern Ireland with regard to terrorism.

Mr. Mallon

Is it fair to quote the opinions of two political leaders in Ireland that are not on record as far as I know? Is it fair for the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) to quote an opinion which is not on record and for the Secretary of State to take up and use such an opinion? As I understood it, from the way in which the point was made in the House, those opinions may have been voiced as private opinions in private conversations.

Mr. King

I am trying to respond to the debate and to the points that have been made. If the hon. Gentleman checks Hansard, he will see that I said that I had not heard the hon. Member for Foyle and the former Taoiseach use that phrase. But I understand the argument and have heard it elsewhere.

The question is whether we can ignore the unforeseeable. I recognise Sir George Baker's forceful recommendation that the powers should be removed, but chapter 6 of the report, on the detention of terrorists, says this: The question is whether to repeal these provisions. This appreciation was written before the Darkley chapel killings on 20 November 1983 and the Harrods' bomb explosion. I have reviewed my conclusions having regard to the universal condemnation and loathing since expressed. I have altered nothing. Sir George Baker reviewed his recommendation against those events to see whether it still stood. Interestingly, he accepted implicitly that, because of those events, he should go back to see whether it was necessary to reconsider his recommendation, which had not been published at the time of those events. He believed that the events did not justify his changing those views.

The question that I put to the House is this. Could it become necessary to reconsider the position if there was a sudden deterioration in security or if a serious problem arose in the ability of the courts to deal with terrorist crimes that might necessitate emergency action for which the alternatives were all unpalatable or full of difficulties? I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Minister of State in Committee: there is no prospect of the powers being brought hack into force. But there is always the possibility of a sudden deterioration in the position. I should tell the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that it is not an untrammelled power or one that I could exercise without reference to the House. The hon. Members for Belfast, South and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said that speed and surprise are important elements if the power is to be effective, but there is no question of my exercising it without reference to the House. For it to be effective, it would have to be confirmed by the House.

Mr. Alton

The Secretary of State has given that welcome assurance. Sir George Baker said in conclusion at paragraph 236: If 'doomsday' arrives in whatever form it will be the duty of the then Government to bring any necessary legislation before Parliament immediately. He went on to say that, after the Birmingham bombing, that was precisely what the Government did. Given that the powers could be exercised rapidly, why does not the Secretary of State accept the Opposition's arguments?

Mr. King

The power exists, but there is no proposal to reintroduce it. As Sir George Baker said, detention is phased out in fact but kept available in law. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said that a problem could arise while the House was in recess. We must consider whether, in all the circumstances, we can be sure of being able to act promptly. We must then assess whether this reserve power, with all the problems that it created and all the background history, is none the less the least worse approach to an as now unforeseen problem which no Government could stand idly by and fail to tackle.

Mr. Archer

The Secretary of State has puzzled some of us. A few moments ago, he assured us that he could not activate the power without reference to the House.

Mr. King

I said that it would have to be confirmed by the House.

Mr. Archer

I am still not wholly clear. Does the Secretary of State mean that he might activate the power without reference to the House and act under it before the House had an opportunity to consider it? That is the problem about which some of my hon. Friends were worried. But if he says that he needs the power in case the House is in recess, it negates the argument.

Mr. King

I could act under an order, which could come into effect immediately, but it would be subject to affirmative resolution of the House.

This must be a matter of judgment. I am also conscious that it is a matter of perception. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) mentioned the attitude of the security forces. I consulted them to discover the perception that would exist. If the power was removed, even though it is not used and is held in reserve, people might think that Parliament was not even prepared to treat it as an ultimate fallback. We have heard lucid accounts which represent fairly the feelings of many people, especially in the border areas, but in other parts of the Province too, as well as the challenges, dangers and tragedies to which they have been exposed. If we accepted the new clause, those people might perceive that the Government and Parliament were not prepared, in an emergency, to make available that weapon in the armoury of the state in this respect.

On balance, I reach the judgment that, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said to the Committee, I cannot recommend the House to accept the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:

The House divided: Ayes 80, Noes 168.

Divison No. 141] [8.28 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Alton, David Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Kennedy, Charles
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Leadbitter, Ted
Barron, Kevin Leighton, Ronald
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Beith, A. J. Litherland, Robert
Benn, Rt Hon Tony McNamara, Kevin
Bermingham, Gerald McWilliam, John
Boyes, Roland Madden, Max
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Mallon, Seamus
Campbell-Savours, Dale Marek, Dr John
Canavan, Dennis Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Clay, Robert Maynard, Miss Joan
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Meadowcroft, Michael
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cohen, Harry Nellist, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) O'Neill, Martin
Corbett, Robin Park, George
Corbyn, Jeremy Pike, Peter
Cunliffe, Lawrence Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cunningham, Dr John Raynsford, Nick
Dalyell, Tam Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Dewar, Donald Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Dixon, Donald Skinner, Dennis
Dormand, Jack Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Eastham, Ken Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Spearing, Nigel
Flannery, Martin Strang, Gavin
Foster, Derek Wainwright, R.
Garrett, W. E. Wallace, James
Golding, Mrs Llin Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Wareing, Robert
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central) Welsh, Michael
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Winnick, David
Howells, Geraint Young, David (Bolton SE)
Hoyle, Douglas
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hume, John Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Allen McKay.
Janner, Hon Greville
Alexander, Richard Browne, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bryan, Sir Paul
Amess, David Bulmer, Esmond
Ashby, David Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Aspinwall, Jack Chapman, Sydney
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Colvin, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Conway, Derek
Baldry, Tony Coombs, Simon
Batiste, Spencer Cope,John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Cranborne, Viscount
Bellingham, Henry Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bendall, Vivian Dorrell, Stephen
Benyon, William Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Blackburn, John Durant, Tony
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Eyre, Sir Reginald
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fallon, Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Farr, Sir John
Bottomley, Peter Favell, Anthony
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Fletcher, Sir Alexander
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fookes, Miss Janet
Brinton, Tim Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brooke, Hon Peter Fry, Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Gower, Sir Raymond Powley, John
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Price, Sir David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Raffan, Keith
Hargreaves, Kenneth Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Harris, David Rhodes James, Robert
Harvey, Robert Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hayward, Robert Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Heddle, John Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hicks, Robert Rowe, Andrew
Hind, Kenneth Ryder, Richard
Hirst, Michael Sackville, Hon Thomas
Holt, Richard Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Scott, Nicholas
Jackson, Robert Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Shelton, William (Streatham)
King, Rt Hon Tom Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knox, David Silvester, Fred
Latham, Michael Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lawrence, Ivan Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lee, John (Pendle) Speller, Tony
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Spencer, Derek
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Squire, Robin
Lightbown, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Lilley, Peter Stanley, Rt Hon John
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Stern, Michael
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lyell, Nicholas Sumberg, David
Macfarlane, Neil Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Temple-Morris, Peter
McQuarrie, Albert Terlezki, Stefan
Madel, David Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Major, John Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Malins, Humfrey Thornton, Malcolm
Malone, Gerald Townend, John (Bridlington)
Maples, John van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Marlow, Antony Waddington, Rt Hon David
Mather, Sir Carol Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Walden, George
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Waller, Gary
Merchant, Piers Ward, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Watson, John
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Watts, John
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Miscampbell, Norman Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Wheeler, John
Moate, Roger Whitfield, John
Moynihan, Hon C. Wiggin, Jerry
Nicholls, Patrick Winterton, Mrs Ann
Norris, Steven Winterton, Nicholas
Onslow. Cranley Wood, Timothy
Ottaway, Richard Woodcock, Michael
Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Pawsey, James Tellers for the Noes:
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Mr. Michael Neubert and Mr. Francis Maude.
Powell, William (Corby)

Question accordingly negatived.

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