HC Deb 11 December 1997 vol 302 cc1236-54
Mr. MacKay

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 2, leave out lines 9 and 10.

Those who watch our proceedings from outside will find it bizarre, to say the least, that we are debating rigorous anti-terrorist legislation on the very day that the leaders of Sinn Fein-IRA are invited into 10 Downing street with the Prime Minister. It will be difficult to explain to our constituents why that is happening.

The amendment would delete the clauses that refer to internment. We believe that it is right and proper that internment should stay on the statute book. Let me explain precisely why. We are not necessarily in favour of internment. The Government Whip has suggested from a sedentary position that it was not necessarily successful last time. He will be pleased to know that I largely concur.

Mr. Ingram

To avoid unnecessary debate, does the hon. Gentleman consider that the Government should not talk at all to Sinn Fein? Should anyone talk to Sinn Fein to move the peace process forward?

Mr. MacKay

I suspect that that intervention was not in order, but if you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall respond briefly. I have said on the record on several occasions that I am entirely in favour of the political talks under way at Stormont. It is right and proper that after a ceasefire has been in place for a certain time, Sinn Fein-IRA should be in those talks. We have also said that it is decidedly premature for a British Prime Minister to invite Sinn Fein-IRA leaders to Downing street. I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to confirm that yet again.

Let me explain why we tabled the amendment. We readily acknowledge that internment does not always work and that it was not successful in the early 1970s. However, it is quite conceivable that if the political talks at Stormont succeed, and we all dearly hope that they do, there will be splinter groups in both communities that do not accept their results and will resort to violence. Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of Northern Ireland and Ireland will recognise that that almost inevitably happens. I suggest that the moment when, just possibly, the Government might need to introduce internment is after a political settlement has been reached and the splinter groups resort to violence.

It is decidedly premature to take internment off the statute brook. I wonder why the Minister is bothering to do it in the Bill, not least when the Government of the Republic of Ireland are retaining internment on the statute book in Ireland, for understandable reasons. We urge the Minister to reconsider the decision. We are not asking him to introduce internment at any particular point.

Mr. Godman

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Government of the Irish Republic. The other day in the Dail, the Minister for Justice, when questioned by two deputies—I think one was John Gormley—said, as a direct response to this Bill, that his Department would review the Irish legislation on internment.

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman sits on the Government Benches, so he is well aware that a review

is totally different from action. The Government have initiated 40-odd reviews, but if they are telling me that they will all lead to action, they are very much mistaken.

Mr. Ingram

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party in opposition carried out the review, and we are now implementing it in government?

Mr. MacKay

I have never said to the Minister that this matter is one of the numerous examples of the Labour party saying one thing in opposition to the electorate and another thing when it came to power. I willingly accept that the Minister does not have the same problem of misleading the British public as his colleagues in the Department of Social Security had to face in the House last night. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to commend him, which was obviously why he made that intervention, I am happy to commend him on his consistency, even though I gently suggest to him that he is mistaken.

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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Does my hon. Friend agree that pragmatism in the approach to the problem is the key? Does he agree that what causes anxiety to Conservative Members is the fact that whereas the Government have embarked on a pragmatic policy, even to the point of being willing to speak to Sinn Fein today—even if we have anxieties about that, we can still respect that decision— they are not adopting a pragmatic policy on internment? They seemed to make up their mind about it some time ago, and are not applying their mind to the current realities in Northern Ireland.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be much better to keep internment on the statute book as an available reserve power, because that would display the Government's willingness to negotiate and look for a peaceful settlement and, at the same time, their unwillingness to dispose of any part of the armoury that a lawful, democratic Government should have in resisting terrorism?

Mr. MacKay

I concur whole-heartedly with my hon. Friend.

We are not asking the Government to introduce internment at any particular time; we are simply saying that we think that it is in their interests to have the flexibility of retaining internment on the statute book in case they need it at some time in the future. We see no possible advantage in taking it off the statute book, nor any need for it, and we are surprised that the Government are doing so. Many will be suspicious of the Government's motives, and we ask them, even at this late stage, to think again.

Mr. Mallon

I should like to restate my position, as I did on Second Reading and in Committee.

I believe that the Minister and the Government have made the right decision in terms of the integrity of the law as it applies in the north of Ireland. It is the right decision in terms of the integrity of their own political position and it is the right decision in terms of the immediate future and the future beyond that.

We had a brief discussion about the renewal of this legislation and the fact that it may not be debated in 1998. I was torn when I heard that, because my instinct is to take every opportunity to consider the legislation. But one thing I am sure of is that whatever happens in 1999, when we next debate the legislation, things will have got either an awful lot better or terribly worse. That is for sure.

There are those who believe that the capacity for things to improve is greater than is sometimes recognised. Reference has been made to a visit to 10 Downing street today, and the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) described it as bizarre. Everything to do with what will solve the problem in the north of Ireland will be bizarre. I live a fairly bizarre life, especially for three days of the week in a place called Castle Buildings, with Sinn Fein representatives on one side of me and representatives of the Ulster Democratic party and of the Progressive Unionist party on the other. That is bizarre. It is even more bizarre that that is happening when a man was murdered in Belfast at the weekend, yet not a word, not a question was asked about which organisation might have killed him. No question was raised in the House when the leaders of loyalist paramilitarism did a bizarre thing. Guess what it was? They went to 10 Downing street to meet the Prime Minister.

Is it not bizarre that in a fundamental debate as important as this, the most bizarre element of all has not been comprehensively dealt with? I believe, and we have nothing else to hold on to except our belief, that when we come to debate the legislation again, things will have changed radically. A new beauty will have been born, not the terrible beauty of Yeats, but a beauty based on pragmatism, reality and political progress. I cannot ever foresee circumstances on the island of Ireland when internment will be used again.

As I have said before, internment has been used in every decade since the 1920s—in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Some of us are a product of those years, and our experiences on the receiving end go back long before the emergency provisions Act and the prevention of terrorism Act. I make the following prediction confidently, to whatever party is in power: never again will internment be used on the island of Ireland. If it were, it would be a fundamental acceptance almost of defeat, not of victory, and an act of ill faith in the capacity of the people on the island of Ireland to move away from violence and create a new future. It would hold to us one of the monuments of emergency legislation which has failed by the admission of every party in the House. The last thing that we want are monuments to failure rather than signposts to the hope and potential of the future.

The Government are right for the three reasons that I gave previously. I commend them on their action. I have made my criticisms that they have not gone far enough down that road of faith. I believe, however, that when we debate the legislation again in the House, the evidence will be there that the step that they have taken today is the right one.

It is in that sense of faith that I commend the Government for taking a step which is more difficult for a British Government or an Irish Government than probably any other step relating to their own legislation. I want to see the Irish Government respond—I make no distinction between bad pieces of legislation—by removing their power of internment immediately from the statute book. They know my view on that as clearly as I have tried to put it here.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I was sorry to see the amendment, which has been signed by the Conservative Front-Bench team on Northern Ireland, because I recognise that it represents a possible dent in the bipartisan approach which is critical to addressing the problems.

When I first heard about the possibility that internment might be removed from the statute book—I believe that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland mentioned it at the Labour party conference, or at a fringe meeting there—I was surprised, because I had not heard about any such proposal. I understood its significance, as would anyone familiar with Northern Ireland.

I consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), the shadow spokesman for Northern Ireland, on what consultation there had been and what notice he had had that this proposal was to be introduced. I discovered from him that there had been none, and I regretted that because it is obviously desirable, as we go forward with this difficult process, to have the closest consultation between the main parties in this country.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), along with his colleagues, has responsibility for carrying forward a process in which some of us have invested a significant part of our life as we have tried to make it succeed. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) knows, as do one or two other hon. Members, some of the pressures and hostility that I had to endure, from not just the loyalist, but the Unionist community, when I stood firmly in support of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

I saw the recent speech of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the British-Irish parliamentary body, in which she described the long process that this has been. She took her starting point as the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It was difficult to hold the line at that time; there were enormous pressures. Some will remember the famous speech that the then right hon. Member for South Down, Mr. Enoch Powell, made and the abuse directed at the then Prime Minister, now Lady Thatcher, at the time of the signing of that agreement. I was the personal recipient of some of the more direct views of the people of Northern Ireland on that subject, not least in the city hall in Belfast.

I mention that only to show that this long journey towards what I profoundly hope will be peace is a journey in which each of us who picks up the baton on behalf of the Government of this country—to carry it forward in the interests of everyone in these islands—has a heavy responsibility to ensure that every effort is made to take as many people as possible with us.

I have concerns about certain things that happen in Northern Ireland. There is a long-standing convention, which I have always tried to respect. Everyone who has taken on the ultimate responsibility in difficult circumstances—we have just passed the 10th anniversary of the Armistice day outrage at Enniskillen, an all-too-vivid memory which I shall take with me throughout my life—recognises the pressures on the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the difficult problems faced by the Minister of State who has responsibility for security in the Province. Therefore, the Opposition do not seek to second guess, carp and criticise unnecessarily; it is easier not to do so if there is consultation between the parties, because comments can be made in private.

I am concerned about the spirit of consultation and the bipartisan approach, which has never been more important if the process is to go forward as there are some difficult issues ahead. As the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has said, it is a time when people will have to take brave decisions. Those decisions will have to be made not just by Governments from behind the security of Downing street and Stormont Castle, but by politicians out in the streets who have much less protection than I and others have enjoyed. They will have to take brave decisions that will undoubtedly upset some people in their community. In recognising the need for those decisions, it will be important that we maintain the closest consultation and carefully consider their impact.

I talked about taking risks, and I recognise that a number of steps that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have taken have pushed back the frontiers of what was previously considered acceptable. I do not necessarily agree with all their actions, but a number of them contain the necessary elements to achieve a change of attitude, provided that there can be seen to be a genuine willingness on the part of those to whom the concessions and opportunities are given to respond with a positive attitude. That will be the test and challenge facing the Prime Minister, the Minister of State and their colleagues

I have concerns about the Bill. If my right hon. Friends press the amendment to a vote, I will support them. After one or two of the appalling incidents that I faced in Northern Ireland, different options were always considered and someone always asked why I did not reintroduce internment. I rejected that suggestion because—given the background events and the manner in which internment had been introduced on that earlier occasion—I knew that many saw it as the ideal recruiting sergeant for another expansion of the IRA.

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I believe that circumstances might be different now and that some of the problems that previously existed have changed. There are arguments suggesting that the abolition of the measure would make more sense, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell suggested, the abolition of the measure may not contribute to the peace process. Eventually, with great courage and in the teeth of every possible problem, we may reach the position where the vast majority of people realise that, in the interests of peace and on behalf of the people, not just in the Province, although they are of overwhelming importance, but of people throughout these islands, we should reach some sort of agreement. However, I find it impossible to believe that we shall achieve a unanimous result and my great worry is that I fear—and the history of the island of Ireland shows—that there will inevitably be a risk of splinter groups and breakaway groups.

The final judgment, not just of this Government and this House, but of the Irish Government, the Dail and the overwhelming majority of people throughout the island of Ireland, may be not that internment is a threat to the peace process, but that it is the only way to save it: the only way to sustain the peace that has been so painfully secured may be to have internment. Despite its imperfections and the affront that it is to a normal system of democracy and justice, there may be some people who will not accept any outcome and will be prepared to continue to murder,

kill, terrorise and intimidate in all the ways that I know to my cost many people in Northern Ireland have had to suffer.

I was concerned about what the Government had proposed. The proposal would not actually change anything, as internment is not active at present; a residual power remains which successive Secretaries of State have, on reflection, decided not to abolish. It has been decided, in the course of a number of courageous steps that have been taken, not just by this Government, to retain that power. I slightly sensed that the Minister of State was trying to suggest that the present Government had invented the peace process; if anyone deserves the greatest credit for our current position it is my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) for the way in which he carried forward the process. He did that while keeping the power of internment, recognising that the power might be needed in future.

I say this with some sorrow, because I realise that others may seek to exploit my words, but others, including the Minister, may profit from them, because his action may be seen as a more courageous step if I stand up to oppose it; in front of a certain audience, that may help him on his way. He may not understand my point, but, in the world of Northern Ireland, if one person disapproves, another approves.

I profoundly hope that reintroducing internment will never be necessary and I would never have done it myself if I could possibly avoid it, but I would not take the power to do so away from a free democratic society and from the people who might ultimately depend on the Government's being prepared to come to their assistance and provide the necessary security. I would not have abolished the existing but latent residual power.

Mr. Robert McCartney

I can understand to some degree the feelings of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) about the fact that there was no consultation between the Government and the Opposition on the presentation of the Bill, but surely he, more than anyone else, realises that the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in which he was heavily involved, is the prime example of the way in which people are left feeling aggrieved if they have not been consulted. With the greatest respect, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it does not lie in his mouth to complain about the absence of consultation.

Mr. Tom King

In a way, I have made exactly the same point. My criticism of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was not based on its substance, but on the lack of consultation. There should have been more consultation and it certainly would have been preferable. Holding the views he does, the hon. and learned Gentleman must accept my remarks about the need for consultation in all things.

Mr. McCartney

That is true, up to a point, but, when the agreement was passed, I vividly recall the right hon. Gentleman telling us in the Northern Ireland assembly that, when we all got to grips with it and understood it—as if we were people of limited intelligence— we would fully appreciate how peace, stability and reconciliation would be the fruits of that great agreement. However, I have read today's edition of TheDaily Telegraph, which carries a year-by-year account of those who have been murdered by Sinn Fein-IRA, and I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the passage of time from 1985 and the roll call of the dead at the hands of Sinn Fein-IRA and the equally despicable terrorists who masquerade as loyalists provides no evidence of the peace, stability and reconciliation that foolish pro-Union people fail to recognise in the interstices of the agreement created for them by others.

If my recollection is correct, when that agreement was being put through the House, the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told the House and the world at large that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was for the purpose of strengthening and securing the Union. Mr. Kinnock, then the Leader of the Opposition, told the House that he welcomed the Anglo-Irish Agreement because it was a step, albeit a small step, towards the fulfilment of the Labour party policy of a united Ireland by consent.

Mr. Tom King

The hon. and learned Gentleman might recall that, at the identical moment, Mr. Charles Haughey, who was then either the Taoiseach or the Leader of the Opposition in Ireland, was berating Dr. Garret Fitzgerald for saying that he had copper fastened partition.

Mr. McCartney

I take that point, but I would rather confine our debate to events in this House, because this House, then as now, is the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—a position that Mr. Haughey has never at any time occupied, although he had aspirations to do so.

We should bear in mind the fact that, from their viewpoint, the pro-Union people in Northern Ireland were receiving conflicting messages from those involved in a bipartisan policy. It has been rightly said that when Government and Opposition are in unctuous and pious agreement about the way forward, one thing is absolutely certain: someone somewhere—in this case, the pro-Union people of Northern Ireland—are being treated very badly. That was certainly the impression in 1985, and it is increasingly what the pro-Union people of Northern Ireland feel today. I am pleased that there is some disagreement today about the bipartisan policy, because it give me some hope that an objective assessment is being made in the House of the relative merits of the measure.

I shall speak briefly about internment. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has done some violence to the historical record on internment, because internment has been an enormously effective weapon in maintaining the integrity of, and democracy in, the Republic of Ireland. On each occasion when internment has been utilised in the Republic of Ireland to put down terrorist activities in the form of private armies, it has worked admirably.

As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, I, as a common lawyer who is very conscious of the rights of the individual, have an antipathy to internment. I agree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Bridgwater said; internment should be used as the very last option, but there are clearly foreseeable circumstances in which internment may be necessary. It is informative to note that those who have been most closely involved inside the IRA, but who have forsaken it and become its most constructive and successful critics, have all said that their ultimate fear is of internment.

No one is suggesting that internment should be put into effect, but, while it is retained on the statute book, it can be introduced in certain circumstances—for example,

when it is essential to copper fasten a peace—to ensure that an agreement arrived at among democrats is held firmly in place against attack by small splinter groups. We should remember that in a complex and modern society small splinter groups need only to have the means to shut down 10 or 12 electricity sub-stations in the City of London in order to bring down every computer there. We must not underestimate how effective a small group with modern equipment can be and the threat that it can pose. In those circumstances, it may be necessary to hold the measure in reserve.

We should retain the measure, not as a result of any feeling of oppression, but because of the speed with which it may be introduced. If it ceases to be primary legislation, we can reinstate it only over a period, thereby losing the surprise and speed of execution that may be among the most effective attributes of this ultimate safeguard of democracy. We throw away surprise, and the strength of holding it in reserve—and for what purpose? To build the confidence of terrorists. Can there be any other reason for doing so?

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It does not serve for the Minister to say, "We said in opposition that we would introduce this measure if we were the Government." That does not make it better. It provides some consistency, but some people have been known to be consistently wrong. It behoves everyone to think very carefully about the ultimate situation that the right hon. Member for Bridgwater spoke of, and to consider whether the peace that everyone hopes for, and which everyone is striving to secure, may ultimately fail because we are incapable of removing from society the small number of people who will never, in any circumstances, come into the democratic fold.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

It is appropriate to allude briefly to the situation that pertained today, when three unreconstructed terrorists—Adams, McGuinness and Ferris—were invited into the heart of democracy by the leading politician in the United Kingdom, our Prime Minister. Whether we oppose or support the Labour party, he is our Prime Minister, and representatives of our Government are sitting on the Treasury Bench. Today, they invited those people who were specifically named in a recent "Newsnight" programme as active members of the—

Mr. Trimble

The "Spotlight" programme.

Mr. Maginnis

I thank my hon. Friend. They were named in that documentary, shown on "Newsnight", as leading members of the IRA's Army Council. They were invited into Downing street to placate the threat that they still pose, which is still recognised, from the IRA to society throughout the United Kingdom.

That approach has not worked in the past. In the early to mid 1970s, the Government decided that the one way to placate terrorists was to set up incident centres on the streets of our towns, to finance those incident centres and to supply telex machines to people who were not terribly well-organised. Those people were carrying out acts of terrorism, but they were not organised in the sophisticated way that they are today. As an act of good will, the Government of the day taught them how they must become organised, how they must create a communication structure and how, in effect, they must become more efficient at the terrorism that they were carrying out against society.

That was done as a reaction to internment, which we all now admit was carried out with a degree of expedition that was unwise because the information was not available. However, the information is available today. We know today who are the godfathers, the people who do not prime or carry or plant a bomb, who do not actually put the gun to the back of the head of community policemen in Lurgan and pull the trigger, but who sanction every wicked act that is carried out in the name of the IRA and in the name of other illegal paramilitary organisations.

I do not want to embarrass him, but I have some regard for the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). I believe that he, like myself and others, sincerely wants peace throughout society in Northern Ireland. I do not doubt him for a moment, but when I heard him today describing things as abnormal and bizarre, I cast my mind back to the time when he engaged in amateur dramatics, and I thought that he had lost none of his talent. He communicated in very acceptable terms something that is fundamentally flawed—something wrong. He suggested that Governments did not have the right to employ emergency measures in an emergency situation.

The hon. Member knows better than that. He and other members of the Social Democratic and Labour party sat for more than a year in the Dublin Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, predominantly a nationalist forum, in which the IRA sat facing every other nationalist party in Ireland. Every other nationalist party in Ireland said to the IRA, "You are wrong to pursue a violent course. You must abandon violence. You must recognise that the consent of the people of Northern Ireland is absolutely necessary if we are to have an equitable and peaceful society and if you want to be part of it."

At the end of a year, in that cosseted environment, the IRA representatives pointed their fingers back at the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and his colleagues and said: "No. Consent is not on our agenda." They were telling us that they still adhered to a strategy of holding an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other. They are prepared to put the Armalite behind them and exploit the ballot box, and they will exploit the ballot box for a considerable time, as long as the Government are prepared to set up incident centres and supply them with telex machines, or to give them concession after concession as they are doing now.

There has been nothing quite as humiliating, in the entire 27 years of violence, as seeing the three top leaders of the IRA walk through the door of No. 10 Downing street today, entering what, together with this place, represented the heart of democracy. Then they came out and went in for some showboating. There was not a word about the consent of the people being an essential part of democracy;

not a word about dismantling the terrorist organisation; not a word about disarmament. There was, however, a suggestion that, if the leader of my party were willing, they would engage in another showboating exercise.

God knows how these showboating exercises will end. To please Gerry Adams and his cohorts, perhaps we shall all have to dance the conga along Whitehall—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My hon. Friend and I are good friends, because I am a Conservative and Unionist, and I support the Unionist cause in Northern Ireland. Does my hon. Friend share my view that if Mr. Adams, Mr. McGuinness and Mr. Ferris do not get their way, they will return to violence? Would he therefore agree that internment should remain part of our primary legislation?

Mr. Maginnis

The hon. Gentleman brings me succinctly back to the point I wanted to make. However we try to placate these people, their appetite is insatiable—nothing short of a united Ireland will placate them. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater said that if there were a settlement there would be splinter groups with which we should have to deal. It is much more serious than that. There is not an ounce of sincerity in Provisional Sinn Fein: the Armalite has not been put away. So when the bribes—the Danegeld—that have to be paid to keep these unreconstructed terrorists at the table of democracy run out, they will resort again immediately to violence. Then we shall have to decide how to deal with the godfathers.

Mr. Mallon

With reference to the "cosseted" situation in which I and others spent more than a year trying to persuade people that the principle of consent in relation to any change of status for the north of Ireland is the only viable democratic approach, I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing very cosseted about doing a week's work here and then heading off to spend another two days trying to convince people of the validity of that argument. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point; I, too, know how the prodigal son's brother felt—the more so given some of these antics—but surely every opportunity should be taken to put this case and to test these people out.

Mr. Maginnis

I have some sympathy with that, but when do we stop testing? When do we decide that the product is fit for human consumption? Nothing has emanated from IRA-Sinn Fein to suggest that they can be seriously incorporated in the democratic process. Today was a humiliating today for British democracy. Surely people still remember Warrington, Enniskillen and Regent's park—the list is endless.

Some people say that Enniskillen was a mistake, and that it was never intended that civilians should be killed. The town is in the heart of my constituency, and I know better. I remind the House that on that same Sunday, about 25 miles from Enniskillen in a place called Tullyhomman, another church parade involving youth organisations and children aged between 16 and 18 was assembling ready to move off. Right in the heart of their assembly area was a huge bomb, every bit as dreadful as the one that exploded in Enniskillen. But it was discovered and subsequently forgotten, because the discovery prevented 30, 40 or 50 deaths. It would have wiped out an entire generation in the locality. That bomb, now forgotten, was approved by the IRA's hierarchy.

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The right hon. Member for Bridgwater says that although he approves of internment being on the statute book he never saw any justification for using it. I have seen such justification time and again in the past 27 years. Instead of bolstering Sinn Fein-IRA with incident centres and telex machines, we should have been perfecting the gathering and collating of intelligence. By 1985, when our intelligence was perfect, we should have removed the godfathers by detaining them under the internment powers. Had we done so, I do not doubt that others would have filled their shoes. They would have taken the places of the quartermasters and the brigade commanders, but if one keeps removing the finance officers, production managers and sales managers from a business, that business will soon be brought to its knees.

That is not to say that we should intern hundreds of people, but I am afraid that neither the previous Government nor this one have had the courage to face up to what terrorism really means to the people who have to endure it daily.

The Government continue to cling to the vain hope that if we give the terrorist what he wants, he will eventually become a democrat. But we democrats who sit in this Chamber do not always get what we want—yet we abide by the collective decisions made here. Certainly, we question those decisions, but we abide by them willingly because we know that that is the best way of maintaining order in society. Adams, McGuinness and Ferris, and people like them, will never acquiesce in that idea. I therefore say that the Government of the time were negligent, in that they failed to use internment when they had the chance to use it at the right time.

May I comment on the rumour that the Irish Republic will review its situation with regard to internment? Despite all the clamour that there has been for the past 20 years for this jurisdiction to remove internment, the Irish Republic has never volunteered to initiate that process, because it recognises that internment is a legitimate weapon in the hands of a responsible democratic Government, and that internment on the island of Ireland must be implemented south and north if it is to have maximum effect against the terrorism of the IRA.

The case of loyalist terrorism is slightly different; we can probably contain that within our own jurisdiction, by the use of internment there. With respect to IRA terrorism, the Republic recognised that it should keep that facility as long as we had it in our jurisdiction. Unfortunately, there has not been the courage to sustain it here, so the Republic will no doubt be obliged to follow the flawed example proposed by the Government.

The word "affront" has been used tonight. The greatest affront that we can give to the electorate throughout the United Kingdom is to bow our knee to those who would use violence in place of the ballot box. Sadly, we are on that slippery slope. On behalf of my party, I support those who have proposed that the power of internment should be retained.

Mr. Godman

I shall be brief. I want to return to some of the observations made by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and a comment made by the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay).

I took note of what the right hon. Member for Bridgwater said when he warned his colleagues about unnecessary criticisms being fired at Ministers when they—Ministers—are making difficult decisions. However, the right hon. Gentleman was utterly wrong to observe that Labour Ministers claim authorship of or responsibility for the peace process. We have always acknowledged the work of the previous Tory Prime Minister in that regard. If the bipartisan approach is breaking down, it is because of the carping criticism being levelled at our Ministers from the Opposition. The Conservatives take badly to being on the Opposition Benches. One of the consequences is that they cannot support a bipartisan approach.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) on the need to ban internment from the whole island of Ireland. In response to what the Minister said about reviews, I hope that the Irish Government do not conduct too many reviews.

With reference to the rumour concerning the Irish Government's decision to review internment, may I quote from the Official Report for the Dail. Deputy John Gormley, who I think is a member of the Green party, tabled a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, asking the Minister if he will take steps to initiate the repeal of the portions of the Offences Against the State Acts, 1939 to 1984, which allow for the introduction of detention without trial in this jurisdiction in view of the intention of the British Government to remove the power to detain persons without trial from the statute book in relation to Northern Ireland. Minister O'Donoghue responded: The Government have already welcomed the intention of the British Government to repeal section 36 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, which will remove the provision for detention (internment) in Northern Ireland. The Minister went on to say: The Government are equally committed to keeping legislation covering offences against the State under constant review and to amending it in the light of changing circumstances as necessary. He finished by saying: Accordingly, it is my intention to bring proposals to Government shortly with a view to initiating a wide-ranging review"— I know that the hon. Member for Bracknell has heard that before— of legislation in the areas of offences against the State, including, in particular, the issue of internment. I would say to Minister O'Donoghue, whom I have met, that he needs to do more than review the legislation. He needs to follow the radical lead of this Government.

I said that I would be brief. I support the decision of the Prime Minister to meet those people today. Ministers must make unpalatable decisions. They have to take risks. That is what the Prime Minister has done, and he has my support.

I detest and abhor the people whose names were put to the House a few minutes ago. They claim to have been associated with an armed struggle against the British Government. That is both obscene and absurd. One cannot conduct a military campaign in a mature parliamentary democracy.

Having offered that qualification, I believe that the Prime Minister was right to meet those people at No. 10, Downing street. They will claim that it is almost as historic an occasion as that remarkable day in 1921 when Griffith and Collins went along to No. 10, but it is nothing of the kind. Mr. Adams is a brilliant propagandist and he will make that claim, but he knows that this is part of the peace process.

I say to our Prime Minister, "Well done. You had the guts to do it." I support him all the way.

Mr. Öpik

These are strange days: Sinn Fein at No. 10, talks between foes, hopes for a settlement from all sides, and above all, a Province in anticipation. How far we have come. The change is this: the suppression of violence is no longer the primary motive. The primary motive is now the promotion of a peaceful and lasting settlement. To that end, internment has never been effective and it never will be.

Let us remember what internment is. It is the power to have people detained, just by giving their names to the security forces. Those people have no trial and no right of appeal. The Liberal Democrats specifically called for the repeal of internment, and we welcomed the Secretary of State's announcement in September when she said that she would do that.

When the powers were used, they were almost universally acknowledged to be counter-productive. That is why they were not used in the 1980s—not in 18 years of Conservative rule. Furthermore, even the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) said: I think that everyone, including Conservative Members, would accept that in the 1970s the introduction of this measure was clumsy—ham-fisted, even—and ineffective … It probably had the opposite effect from that which was intended."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 25 November 1997; c. 70.] If the situation in Northern Ireland deteriorates greatly and for a long time, there will be ample time to reintroduce such powers. The argument that internment might be needed in the future is not acceptable—we do not keep conscription on the back burner, just in case there is a war. Do the official Opposition argue that we must keep legislation for everything, just in case? I could not support that.

There can be no excuse for keeping such draconian powers on the statute book. The right to a fair trial is one of the most basic rights. We need to normalise Northern Ireland, as we discussed earlier. That means a move towards more normal legislation. By no stretch of the imagination can internment be regarded as normal.

As long as the powers remain enshrined in Government legislation, we might use them on the people who would benefit from the propaganda that those powers promote. Such people could use the powers to convince their foreign funders that they needed more money for their cause. Therefore, the powers are almost as counter-productive in terms of promoting the support of terrorist organisations as they are effective in apprehending terrorists.

This is an important confidence measure not just in terms of the terrorist but in terms of the communities that have often felt oppressed by the mere presence of internment powers. The assertion that losing internment makes us more vulnerable to terrorist activity is simply not acceptable. In addition, those who claim that the Government are weak in abolishing internment ignore the fact that it is a far more laudable option to work to encourage conciliatory behaviour between the communities and to strengthen empathy regarding the basic problem. 8 pm

In conclusion, I fully recognise the contribution made by the former Government in promoting the initial steps that led to the peace process. They made many mistakes along the way, but I do not take away from them the fact that the initial talk of a settlement began with the former Government. It is only fair to acknowledge that point.

However, I think that it is inappropriate for the Conservatives to try to preserve the existence of internment. I should like to think that tonight's debate is the final echo of that discredited system and will serve to remind us how far we have come from the darkest days of the troubles in the Province when internment was introduced as a panic move by those who did not know what else to do.

Mr. Ingram

I shall deal with some of the points raised in this very serious and genuine debate. It is worth mentioning that the internment issue was considered at length on Second Reading and that nearly four hours was contributed to it in Committee. Nevertheless, it is an important issue.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)—who, unfortunately, is not in his place—and to some of his speech. He brought a breadth of personal experience, as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to the debate. I did not agree with everything he said, and I regret that he is not in his place to hear me correct his assertion that, somehow or other, the Government are claiming credit for the peace process. That is not the case. We have always taken the view that we are placing bricks on foundations that others have laid.

I am reminded of the famous quote by Abba Eban who said that peace is not an event but a process. Many people have taken forward the Northern Ireland peace process. There have been many stumbles along the way and many steps backwards, but I hope that we are now moving towards a long-lasting peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to everyone who has contributed to that process.

Clearly, the internment issue provokes very strong views. The reality is that internment involves a decision by Government to deprive individuals of their liberty without trial and without the normal safeguards that the law provides for the protection of the accused. In Committee, these words were spoken: Opposition Members believe that internment is undeniably an infringement of civil liberties. It would be folly to pretend otherwise. It would be equally foolish to deny that when internment was introduced in the 1970s, it was a disaster. It was entirely counterproductive, and it left the IRA stronger. The Committee should not spend much time discussing these issues. It should acknowledge that internment is an infringement of civil liberties and that it failed drastically in the past."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A,, 25 November 1997; c. 77.] They were the words of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who unfortunately is no longer in his place—although he was in the Chamber earlier. Those arguments justify everything that the Labour party has said consistently, both in opposition and in government, as to why internment should be removed.

Internment does not achieve any of the objectives that some hon. Members have offered as justification for it. It does not bring stability within the communities: historically, it has increased community tension. It causes serious damage to respect for the rule of law, strengthens terrorist organisations, creates political prisoners and, ultimately, prolongs the violence. Every major review and examination of internment has found conclusively that internment has no place in a democratic society. The 1975Gardiner report criticised both the theory and the practice of detention under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973.

In 1980, the detention provisions were allowed to lapse—although they remained on the statute book—under a Conservative Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who said that the lapsing of the powers would be an expression of confidence in the minority community's rejection of terrorism. In 1990, Lord Colville reviewed the matter again, and he considered in detail the difficulties associated with the operation of internment and its repercussions for the nationalist community. He said: perhaps the most sinister by-product was the tendency actually to strengthen terrorist networks through increased hostility and criminal skills among those detained. He went on to criticise trenchantly the way in which internment operated. In 1995, the matter was considered again by Mr. John Rowe QC as part of his fundamental review of the EPA. His view was also straightforward: he recommended that the provisions should not be re-enacted.

Why are we having this debate tonight? I hope that it does not signal a breakdown in the bipartisan approach. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater made some telling points on that subject. I hope that the House will not divide on the amendment—although I know that the official Opposition have organised themselves on that basis. Such an action could be read as a breakdown in the bipartisan approach.

When the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) moved the amendment on behalf of the Opposition, he did not take account of the debates in Committee when I set forth justifications for the Government's action. I have touched on those reasons only briefly this evening. The hon. Gentleman did not challenge the arguments of those experts who have conducted thoroughgoing reviews of the internment provision. if he had done that and knocked down those arguments, a Division tonight could be justified. We are moving the process forward slowly.

Mr. Maginnis


Mr. Ingram

I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman spoke for 20 minutes tonight and he set out his arguments in detail in Committee. I am trying to explain why we have taken this decision.

Not one of the arguments that I advanced in Committee and that were explored on Second Reading has been challenged by the hon. Member for Bracknell. He did not attempt to take on those issues, but he intends to divide the House tonight.

Mr. Maginnis


Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman is very persistent.

Mr. Maginnis

I am grateful to the Minister. I have one question for him. He has been part of the process that has made concession after concession to the IRA in the past weeks, culminating in the abandonment of internment tonight. Will he tell us one advance that has been made in respect of the IRA's abandoning terrorism? If he can give us one example, we shall be impressed.

Mr. Ingram

Both a loyalist ceasefire and a ceasefire on the part of the Provisional IRA are in place. We are moving the process forward. No one believes for one moment that it will be easy. There are many difficulties ahead, but we all have a contribution to make in taking forward the process. Abraham Lincoln was mentioned earlier in the debate. He said, "I may walk slowly, but I never walk back." That is a very apposite quote in the context of Northern Ireland. If we go only forward and not back to the old positions, major progress can be made.

I shall conclude, because these points have been made in previous discussions of this aspect of the legislation. I ask the spokesman for the official Opposition to consider his position. There are no cheap political points to be made. I understand the strength of feeling, but I ask him to consider the fact that every time previous Governments tried to achieve peace in Northern Ireland, they had the full co-operation of the Labour Opposition. We are now in government. The hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to justify his position, but he did not do so in his brief opening comments, so a Division on this issue is wholly inappropriate.

Mr. MacKay

Will the Minister tell us whether he voted for all the emergency provisions Acts that we introduced? The answer is no. The Labour Opposition used to vote against them or abstain. Given that he acknowledges that we feel deeply about this issue, it is unreasonable of him to say that by voting against the Government—which we shall do—we are no longer taking a bipartisan approach. That is unreasonable and unfair, and I hope that he withdraws those remarks.

Mr. Ingram

That is helpful, but the right hon. Member for Bridgwater implied that that was a possibility, and I am responding to the points that he made. If it is not a breakdown of the bipartisan approach, that is good.

The hon. Gentleman asked me for my past voting record. He should do his own research, because it may surprise him. Labour Members tried to maintain the bipartisan approach. A great debate took place on this issue.

The Labour party opposed previous emergency provisions Acts primarily because internment remained on the statute book. We have now introduced this measure, and I ask for the amendment not to be put to a vote, so that we can conclude our consideration of the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 118, Noes 223.

Division No. 119] [8.11 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Baldry, Tony
Amess, David Bercow, John
Arbuthnot, James Blunt, Crispin
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Boswell, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Brazier, Julian Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Luff, Peter
Burns, Simon Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Butterfill, John MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Cash, William McIntosh, Miss Anne
Chapman, Sir Sydney MacKay, Andrew
(Chipping Barnet) Maclean, Rt Hon David
Clappison, James McLoughlin, Patrick
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Madel, Sir David
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Maginnis, Ken
Collins, Tim Major, Rt Hon John
Colvin, Michael Malins, Humfrey
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) May, Mrs Theresa
Donaldson, Jeffrey Moss, Malcolm
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Ottaway, Richard
Duncan, Alan Page, Richard
Duncan Smith, Iain Paice, James
Evans, Nigel Paisley, Rev Ian
Faber, David Paterson, Owen
Fallon, Michael Prior, David
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam Robathan, Andrew
Fraser, Christopher Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gale, Roger Ruffley, David
Garnier, Edward St Aubyn, Nick
Gibb, Nick Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gill, Christopher Shepherd, Richard
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Soames, Nicholas
Gray, James Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Green, Damian Spicer, Sir Michael
Greenway, John Spring, Richard
Grieve, Dominic Swayne, Desmond
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Syms, Robert
Hammond, Philip Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hawkins, Nick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hayes, John Thompson, William
Heald, Oliver Trend, Michael
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Trimble, David
Horam, John Viggers, Peter
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Walter, Robert
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Wardle, Charles
Hunter, Andrew Waterson, Nigel
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Wells, Bowen
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Johnson Smith, Whittingdale, John
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Key, Robert Willetts, David
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Woodward, Shaun
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Leigh, Edward Mr. James Cran and
Letwin, Oliver Mr. Stephen Day.
Abbott, Ms Diane Betts, Clive
Ainger, Nick Blears, Ms Hazel
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Blizzard, Bob
Allen, Graham Boateng, Paul
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Atkins, Charlotte Brinton, Mrs Helen
Austin, John Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Baker, Norman Buck, Ms Karen
Banks, Tony Burden, Richard
Barnes, Harry Byers, Stephen
Bayley, Hugh Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Beard, Nigel Canavan, Dennis
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Casale, Roger
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Caton, Martin
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bermingham, Gerald Chidgey, David
Best, Harold Chisholm, Malcolm
Clapham, Michael Hoon, Geoffrey
Clark, Dr Lynda Hopkins, Kelvin
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Howells, Dr Kim
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hoyle, Lindsay
Clwyd, Ann Hurst, Alan
Coffey, Ms Ann Hutton, John
Cohen, Harry Iddon, Dr Brian
Colman, Tony Ingram, Adam
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cooper, Yvette Jamieson, David
Corbett, Robin Jenkins, Brian
Corbyn, Jeremy Johnson, Miss Melanie
Cranston, Ross (Welwyn Hatfield)
Crausby, David Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Darvill, Keith Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Keeble, Ms Sally
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Dawson, Hilton Kemp, Fraser
Denham, John Khabra, Piara S
Dismore, Andrew Kingham, Ms Tess
Dobbin, Jim Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Doran, Frank Laxton, Bob
Dowd, Jim Lepper, David
Drown, Ms Julia Levitt, Tom
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Linton, Martin
Edwards, Huw Livingstone, Ken
Efford, Clive Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Etherington, Bill Lock, David
Field, Rt Hon Frank Love, Andrew
Fisher, Mark McAvoy, Thomas
Fitzpatrick, Jim McCabe, Steve
Fitzsimons, Lorna McCafferty, Ms Chris
Flynn, Paul McDonagh, Siobhain
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McDonnell, John
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McIsaac, Shona
Fyfe, Maria McNamara, Kevin
Gapes, Mike McNulty, Tony
George, Bruce (Walsall S) MacShane, Denis
Gerrard, Neil McWaltter, Tony
Gibson, Dr Ian McWilliam, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Mallaber, Judy
Godman, Norman A Mallon, Seamus
Godsiff, Roger Marek, Dr John
Grant, Bernie Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michael, Alun
Grogan, John Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Moffatt, Laura
Hanson, David Moran, Ms Margaret
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hepburn, Stephen Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Heppell, John Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hesford, Stephen Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Hill, Keith Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Southworth, Ms Helen
Olner, Bill Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Öpik, Lembit Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Organ, Mrs Diana Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Palmer, Dr Nick Stinchcombe, Paul
Pendry, Tom Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Perham, Ms Linda Stunell, Andrew
Pickthall, Colin Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pike, Peter L Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Plaskitt, James Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pope, Greg Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pound, Stephen Timms, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond Tonge, Dr Jenny
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Touhig, Don
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Purchase, Ken Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Quin, Ms Joyce Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Radice, Giles Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rammell, Bill Vis, Dr Rudi
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Wareing, Robert N
Rendel, David Watts, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara Whitehead, Dr Alan
Rooker, Jeff Wicks, Malcolm
Rowlands, Ted Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Winnick, David
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Salter, Martin Wood, Mike
Sawford, Phil Woolas, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian Worthington, Tony
Shaw, Jonathan Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Shipley, Ms Debra Wyatt, Derek
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Janet Anderson and
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Jane Kennedy.

Question accordingly negatived.

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