HC Deb 15 March 2000 vol 346 cc333-50

9.—(1) The Secretary of State may at any time refer the case of a person detained under a detention order to an Adviser and, if so requested in writing in accordance with sub-paragraph (2) by a person so detained, shall do so within fourteen days beginning with the receipt of the request.

(2) A person detained under a detention order shall not be entitled to make a request for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)—

  1. (a) before the expiry of the period of one year beginning with the date of the detention order; or
  2. (b) within a period of six months from the date of the last notification under sub-paragraph (5) below.

(3) On any reference under this paragraph, an Adviser shall consider the case and report to the Secretary of State whether or not the person's continued detention is necessary for the protection of the public.

(4) Paragraphs 6(3) and 7(2) to (4) shall apply for the purposes of a reference under this paragraph as they apply for the purposes of a reference under paragraph 5.

(5) Where a case is referred to an Adviser in consequence of a request made in accordance with this paragraph, the Secretary of State shall, after receiving the report of the Adviser, reconsider the case of the person to whom it relates and, if he decides not to release that person, shall notify him of his decision.

(6) A notification under sub-paragraph (5) shall be by notice in writing and signed by the Secretary of State.

10.—(1) The Secretary of State may, as respects a person detained under an interim custody order—

  1. (a) direct his discharge unconditionally; or
  2. (b) direct his release (whether or not subject to conditions) for a specified period.

(2) The Secretary of State may, as respects a person detained under a detention order—

  1. (a) direct his discharge unconditionally; or
  2. (b) direct his release subject to conditions or for a specified period, or both.

(3) The Secretary of State may recall to detention a person released under sub-paragraph (1)(b) or (2)(b) and a person so recalled may be detained under the original interim custody or detention order, as the case may be.

(4) Where a person is released under sub-paragraph (1)(b), any period during which he is not in detention shall be left out of account for the purposes of paragraphs 5(1), 6(2), and 8(3).

11.—(1) A person required to be detained under an interim custody order or a detention order may be detained in a prison or in some other place approved for the purposes of this paragraph by the Secretary of State.

(2) A person for the time being having custody of a person required to be detained as aforesaid shall have all the powers, authorities, protection and privileges of a constable.

(3) Subject to any directions of the Secretary of State, a person required to be detained as aforesaid shall be treated as nearly as be as if he were a prisoner detained in a prison on remand and any power of temporary removal for judicial, medical or other purposes shall apply accordingly.

(4) A person required to be detained as aforesaid who is unlawfully at large may be arrested without warrant by any constable or any member of Her Majesty's forces on duty.

12. Where a person required to be detained under an interim custody order is unlawfully at large, the interim custody order shall not cease to have effect under paragraphs 5 or 8 while he remains at large; and, upon his being taken again into custody, those paragraphs shall have effect as if the date of the interim custody order were that of his being taken again into custody.

13. Any person who—

  1. (a) being detained under an interim custody order or detention order, escapes;
  2. (b) rescues any person detained as aforesaid, or assists a person so detained in escaping or attempting to escape;
  3. (c) fails to return to detention at the expiry of a period for which he was released under paragraph 10(1)(b) or (2)(b); or
  4. (d) knowingly harbours any person required to be detained under an interim custody order or detention order, or gives him any assistance with intent to prevent, hinder or interfere with his being taken into custody,
is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or a fine or both.

14.—(1) Any document purporting to be an order, notice or direction made or given by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this Schedule and to be signed in accordance with this Schedule shall be received in evidence and shall, until the contrary is proved, be deemed to be duly made or given and signed.

(2) Prima facie evidence of any such order, notice or direction may, in any legal proceedings, be given by the production of a document bearing a certificate purporting to be signed by or on behalf of the Secretary of State stating that the document is a true copy of the order, notice or direction; and the certificate shall be received in evidence, and shall, until the contrary is proved, be deemed to be duly made and signed.

15. The Secretary of State may make such payments to persons released or about to be released from detention under this Schedule as he may, with the consent of the Treasury, determine.'.

Mr. MacKay

The new schedule and the new clause would, quite simply, return internment to the statute book. Let me say immediately that I do not necessarily see the need for internment at present, and I do not necessarily advocate internment at any particular time. However, I sleep easier in my bed, and I think that the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic do as well, knowing that internment is readily available for the Secretary of State at any given time.

The House will be aware that from this Dispatch Box, I, and others, rigorously opposed the Government's decision, nearly two years ago, to remove internment from the statute book. We thought that that was ill advised, ill conceived and unnecessary. We have since noted that our friends in the Republic have not followed suit. Internment remains on the statute book in the Republic of Ireland, and rightly so.

Let me briefly explain why I believe that it is in the interests of all law-abiding people that the Secretary of State, in extremis, has recourse to internment. I know that the Minister of State, who will be replying to this debate, will agree with me that we all hope and pray that the process moves forward. It is going through a difficult period at present, but we have had choppy water before, and we will have it again. We hope that in the not-too-distant future there will be a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. We hope that that lasting peace will include the paramilitaries—both so-called loyalist and republican—and their political parties, which signed up to the Belfast agreement, renouncing violence for good, decommissioning all their illegally held arms and explosives and playing their full role in the democratic process: that would include being Members of the Assembly and, in the case of Sinn Fein, resuming their ministerial positions in the Executive.

If those happy circumstances were to occur, history dictates that almost certainly splinter groups, both so-called loyalist and republican, would break away and say that the cause had been let down. They would not join the process and would not give up violence.

In the last few weeks, by and large, the guns have been silent and there is no certain evidence that those who signed up to the Belfast agreement have resumed serious violence. We know that there have been beatings, mutilations and kneecappings, but let us leave those to one side for the moment. There have not been other terrorist acts by those who signed the Belfast agreement. [Interruption.] I am very happy to give way to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), but I would prefer that he did not intervene from a sedentary position.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Has the right hon. Gentleman acquitted the Ulster Volunteer Force of the two murders in Armagh?

Mr. MacKay

That will be for the security forces and the judiciary to decide. No one has been convicted of those crimes yet.

I am saying that the guns of the mainstream paramilitaries are silent at present. Long may that continue, but the splinter groups are very active. As we know, and as the Minister and his security advisers will confirm, Continuity IRA was responsible for a bomb that could have killed many people in Irvinestown only a few weeks ago. Mercifully, attempts on two separate Army barracks, at Ballykelly and at Dungannon, were thwarted. If the security forces had not been vigilant, there could have been a huge loss of life.

If the process reaches a happy and logical conclusion, those splinter groups will become even more aggressive and violent. They will be capable of destabilising the process. In those circumstances, the Secretary of State and his opposite number south of the border may well think it wise to reintroduce internment temporarily. I will not second-guess whether they would be wise to do so, because we will not know the exact circumstances until they happen. I am convinced that that rather blunt instrument, which did not work in the 1970s but worked extremely well in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and in the 1957–62 campaign, and was used effectively by both the De Valera and the Lemass Governments in the south, is worth having in any Government's armoury.

The previous Secretary of State foolishly said, "Don't worry. I will reintroduce legislation on internment if necessary." That was one of the more preposterous suggestions that she made at the Dispatch Box. Clearly, internment works only if there is an element of surprise. If internment is on the statute book, it can be used at extremely short notice. Primary legislation—even emergency legislation—takes time, as you are aware Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Finally, the men of violence would certainly sleep less easily at night if they believed that internment was possible. They would be constantly on the run, under threat and destabilised and surely hon. Members on both sides of the House would want that. Therefore, I urge the House to make good the Government's mistake in taking internment off the statute book and to return through this legislation by supporting the new clause and the new schedule.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

I apologise for missing the first couple of minutes of the speech of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). I spoke with the right hon. Gentleman before the debate and had a clear picture of what he intended to do, and I understand his reasoning.

The Liberal Democrats take a different view on the issue. While I understand the right hon. Gentleman's logic and his argument that Ireland still has internment, which is correct, the act of using it in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was tremendously provocative. If we reintroduce it now, we will be sending all the wrong signals to Northern Ireland, especially to the nationalist communities.

The right hon. Gentleman correctly said that surprise was an important element in the use of internment. However, to reintroduce it to the Northern Ireland environment at this time would be a very active step and might be detrimental because of the tensions that it would generate in the nationalist communities. More tensions are the last thing that we need while the Assembly is suspended. As the right hon. Gentleman noted, internment did not work in the 1970s. In our judgment, it would not work in the current Northern Ireland environment—even if there were to be a further deterioration of the situation.

The right hon. Gentleman prefaced his comments with many "ifs". It is true that if those circumstances occurred, the security situation would be serious. At that point, we should have to consider what to do about it. However, my fear is that if we were to introduce internment, it would prompt some of those "ifs" into reality. It would provide some of the hardliners in paramilitary organisations with the opportunity to point at Westminster and claim that there had been a breakdown in faith through the reintroduction of practices that were almost universally condemned as detrimental to the Northern Ireland political environment in the 1970s.

Although Ireland retains internment on its statutes, that does not provide an accurate comparison because in Northern Ireland, internment means something different. Furthermore, it is regarded as a clumsy and fairly ineffective means of state—or Westminster—control over nationalists. I hope that the matter will not go to a vote, but if there were to be a vote on the new clause, my party and I will be obliged to support the Government.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

In supporting the new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), I should like to go back to those halcyon days when I was young, and when one or two Ministers had less grey hair. In 1972, Operation Motorman brought about the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland. Many of my friends were involved in that operation, although I was still a callow youth at university. When I was in Belfast in 1975, internment was still much on people's minds, because it had ended only within the previous nine months.

In 1972, internment was not a success—apart, perhaps, from the fact that it provoked support for the terrorists. However, that does not condemn it for ever as a legitimate weapon in the anti-terrorist armoury. On my subsequent visits to Northern Ireland, I found that most people involved in security and in keeping the peace said that it was useful to keep internment in the back locker. Terrorists are frightened of the idea of internment; key people can be locked up for a long time with no justification, thereby ruining terrorist operations.

Internment failed in 1972 because the intelligence that led to the arrest of many people—almost wholly from the nationalist community—was hopeless and out of date. That was what stirred up so many members of the nationalist community and provoked support for the IRA. However, that does not mean that a time could not come when one had sufficient intelligence to nobble top terrorists and remove them from the streets, while one carried out some political activity or sorted out security arrangements.

Despite that lack of success in 1972, the subsequent 28 years have shown us that great strides have been made in the improvement of intelligence and in the knowledge of who, and where, the terrorists are. In 1972, the personnel of Operation Motorman were knocking at the doors of houses that had been boarded up for months or years. They arrested the wrong people; they had no intelligence—frequently, they did not even have photographs. However, things are now much better.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said that the reintroduction of internment would send the wrong messages. However, removing it from the statute book—as we did in 1997, against Conservative opposition—sent entirely the wrong message: that there might never be another occasion on which one might want to lock up dangerous and unpleasant terrorists who had been killing people and against whom one could not, perhaps, obtain a conviction in court.

Mr. Öpik

All the legal powers still exist—they are open to the police and the security forces—to apprehend individuals who are regarded as a threat.

Mr. Robathan

Yes, indeed. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that we can hold people, only in Northern Ireland, for 72 hours.

Mr. Öpik

indicated assent.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman confirms my belief.

5.30 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

Under this legislation, one could possibly hold them for a week.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his knowledge of the situation.

Both hon. Gentlemen who intervened will know that hardened terrorists shrug their shoulders at the prospect of being held for a week by the RUC. They eat rather better than they might have done otherwise; they have a break from alcohol and perhaps from cigarettes. They do not get roughed up, as is occasionally alleged, and these days they have a pretty easy time, although I accept that perhaps that was not always true in the past.

My point is that one day we may need to be able to arrest known terrorists and keep them in detention indefinitely. The message that we are sending by not having internment is that we do not think that there can ever be circumstances in which we will have to return to such action. That sends all the wrong messages to the terrorists, who believe that, yet again, the British Government are giving up more of their powers and their ability to deal with terrorism. Terrorism does not affect most of us in this room, but it affects deeply and permanently the few people who live in Northern Ireland, and it changes the pattern of life of all the communities in Northern Ireland.

Internment was one weapon against terrorists, and I very much regret that it is not on the statute book. I applaud the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell in trying to bring back internment in the Bill, because it would be welcomed by all those who want peace and an end to the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Peter Robinson

I had not intended to speak on the new clause, but lest my earlier intervention be interpreted as a desire to pick a fight with the mover of the new clause, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), I want to clarify my position. I entirely support the new clause, and I do so as someone who opposed internment in 1972 and whose party also did so.

I intervened because I am concerned that we often allow terrorist organisations—which now operate a no claim, no blame policy—literally to get away with murder. Everybody knows that the Provisional IRA has been guilty of a number of killings, including the killing of Charles Bennett. However, if we apply the same criteria as the right hon. Gentleman did, we cannot make that assumption because no one has been charged, even though all the intelligence available to the RUC leads it to that conclusion.

The dogs in the street know full well that the Provisional IRA killed Charles Bennett and a number of others. Equally, they know that the UVF killed the three Quinn children and that UVF members were involved in the killing of two young men in County Armagh. We should not attempt to protect terrorist organisations from the condemnation of the community by allowing them to hide behind the policy of not claiming their acts and therefore getting away with them.

We should take account of the written answers on 17 February to several questions seeking information about the number of terrorist actions since the so-called "peace process" began. The first question asked: how many people … have been (a) shot and (b) mutilated by terrorists since the Good Friday Agreement.—[Official Report, 17 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 617W.] The Minister of State replied that 155 had received gunshot wounds, 456 had been injured in explosions and 1,811 had been injured under the heading "Other", giving a total of 2,422.

When asked specifically about attacks on the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Minister said that there had been 23 attacks by firearms, 45 by explosives, 2,348 by missiles including petrol bombs, six assaults and 279 attacks under the heading "Other". That is a total of 2,901 attacks on the RUC. On the question of the number of casualties as a result of paramilitary-style attacks, the Minister said that republicans were responsible for 46 shootings and 88 assaults, and so-called loyalists were responsible for 79 shootings and 172 assaults.

All that shows that there have been thousands of incidents, which in any other community would be recognised as terrorist related, at a time when we are told that there is a peace process. No one in the House should fool themselves into believing that those incidents are entirely the result of dissident groups. Some of them may well be due to dissidents, but the majority of those attacks are taking place under the direction of the main paramilitary organisations, which have declared a ceasefire.

The Opposition are right to table the new clause, and it deserves support. As I said, I opposed internment in 1972. It was ham-fisted and it was carried out at a time when insufficient up-to-date information and intelligence were available to the security forces. I agree entirely with the policy of selective internment, of which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and I have approved for many years. Under that policy, the security forces can, on the basis of firm information available to them, pick up ringleaders if there is no other course through the normal rule of law. In those circumstances, internment is justifiable.

The new clause does not even ask for the introduction of internment, so there should be no alarm in the Chamber. It asks only that the instrument be available if the circumstances merit its use. It deserves the support of the House. Internment would be a weapon available to the security forces, should circumstances dictate its need. However, as an instrument it is useless unless there is a will on the part of the Government to take whatever measures are necessary against terrorist organisations.

I do not find that the Government have the will to deal with terrorist organisations. That will can be demonstrated by introducing measures under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. Under that Act, the Government could take action today, because it places on the Secretary of State a duty to stop any further prison releases if an organisation is not co-operating fully with the decommissioning body. General de Chastelain has indicated in writing to the Government that the IRA is not co-operating with the decommissioning body, and, on that basis, the Secretary of State should be taking action. He should consider other criteria that, on their own, allow him to take action.

The Government refuse to do that because their policy is to appease terrorism, do a deal with terrorism and reach agreements with terrorism. That is the weakness in their whole policy. When dealing with terrorism, there is only one policy that works—zero tolerance. The Government do not adopt that policy; their policy is one of appeasement.

Mr. McNamara

I had not intended to speak in the debate, but I find the last words of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) appalling. I do not believe that appeasement is the policy of Her Majesty's Government, any more than I believe that it was the policy of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) or his successors, as they sought to bring the terrible tragedy of Northern Ireland to a peaceful conclusion. I therefore rebut the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

I think that I am the only Member now in the Chamber who was a Member of this place when internment was introduced. I am certain that I am the only Member now in the Chamber who voted against it after we had an opportunity to debate it. I voted against it along with about 100 Labour colleagues, because we felt that internment was wrong.

We are fighting people who refuse to accept the concept of the rule of law. We shall not defeat them by ourselves doing away with the rule of law; we shall defeat them by bringing people before properly constituted courts and putting them on trial, where their guilt or innocence will be proved.

I find it strange that people forget the debacle of 1971, when internment was introduced. They seem to go back to the halcyon days of 1956 to 1962, or some others. They do not accept, or they refuse to accept, that the campaigns in those days were very different from what was happening in Northern Ireland in 1968, after the attempts to crush the civil rights movement by the then Stormont Government.

The earlier campaigns were inspired mainly by those outside the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. The present campaign, whether we like it or not, is mainly indigenous to Northern Ireland. That makes it very different. When the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), accepted the advice of Brian Faulkner that internment was the answer, that led to the tragedy of it becoming an enormous recruiting office for the Provisional IRA. Secondly, it was an anti-internment march that led to Bloody Sunday. Thirdly, there was the handling of the hunger strikers. Those three classic mistakes between them managed to inspire the Provisional IRA, and enabled it to draw recruits into its camps at times when it was not having the support of very many people in the community of the north of Ireland.

I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) tabled the new clause. The circumstances as described by him and by the hon. Member for Belfast, East are similar to many circumstances that existed in Northern Ireland after the Government of the now Lord Callaghan phased out internment. With the legislation on the statute book, they could have reintroduced internment at any time if they had wanted to. They chose not to do so because they realised the psychological impact that internment would have if it were reintroduced in Northern Ireland.

It is easy to say that the dogs in the street know who is guilty. The problem is that we have not yet been able to translate the barking of the dogs into English, so we do not have the evidence. If everybody knows, why do we not have the evidence? Once we start a process of doing things on the basis of suspicion and saying, "This is our evidence", we are on a slippery slope right along the line. Moreover, we would have to derogate from the European convention on human rights, which I understood the Opposition supported when its provisions came before the House, especially article 5—the right to a fair trial and that there should be lawful arrest and detention only. That means that a person is arrested or detained so as to bring him before a properly constituted court, as is laid down in article 5.

We would be in real difficulty if, for even one moment, we were to consider doing what the Opposition suggest that we do. We are right to congratulate the Government on keeping the undertaking that they gave the Opposition that we would repeal the internment provisions and would not put them back on the statute book.

5.45 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I do not think that any Conservative Member has worked harder than my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) to try to advance what the Government are trying to do in Northern Ireland, and to offer support for that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) for reminding us of some of the circumstances in Northern Ireland, but the truest words were spoken by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).

Most of us in England—or in this country, England, Scotland and Wales—grapple even to begin to understand the dilemma, the hatreds and the causes that have brought Northern Ireland to the centre of everyone's attention. Yet the truth is that we are a land of liberty. This is a great democracy and we struggle and thrash around in the face of irreconcilables. What does one do when people do not accept the authority of the words or views of a state's citizenry? It is a true dilemma that seems to be more immediate and more urgent across the surface of the globe.

The history of detaining people by internment has, by and large, been very unhappy throughout the globe. If anything, it concentrates the passions on both sides. I follow the argument of the hon. Member for Hull, North, which is rare, when he says that the process of law and the rule of law is what we are about.

Mandating and detention depend on knowledge, but knowledge without the standards of proof that would bring people to court. These processes are bedevilled by the informer, and sometimes the paid informer. As often as not, they provide the opportunity for settling old scores. Over the years, we have seen that awful injustices have been done when informers have been employed. The intent is to pacify and remove from society a danger and a threat. However, let us reflect on our own circumstances, because our appreciation of liberty and the rule of law must derive from how we would react if we were placed in circumstances where, through malignancy, people gave false information about ourselves. The circumstances could be construed in such a way as to give, however fleeting it may subsequently turn out to be, some appearance of reality. Would we not be enraged if our son, our brother or a member of our family were incarcerated by that means?

By and large, decent people take the judgments of the courts and the authority of Government to indicate that the individual so identified is naturally, rightly and effectively detained. I am extremely unhappy about setting aside—

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Is the hon. Gentleman not arguing from the specific to the general? Is it not the case that people have been convicted through the courts, at times—rarely, thankfully—on the basis of false information? Is it any more likely that those who are leading terrorist organisations would be wrongly interned if internment were introduced? Where is the difference between the protection of society through internment and through the courts when it comes to that odd case of wrong information?

Mr. Shepherd

My fear about the processes of detention used under provisions such as the new clause and the new schedule is that the powers granted are general. A court specifically identifies through due process the case for the prosecution and the case for the defence; by and large, society has trusted that process for a long time. The history of detention is unsatisfactory, unhappy and, in some cases, tragic.

Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the potential for internment opens up the possibility of a presumption of guilt being made? Does he also agree that those who are interned might be regarded by some as either guilty or very guilty, and that that would have more to do with the weight of evidence rather than the quality of evidence involved? Does not justice stand on the quality of evidence?

Mr. Shepherd

I notice that, in the new schedule, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell allows for the intermediation of an adviser. If I understand it correctly, the adviser is to play an almost judicial role. If so, my argument is that the due processes of court should be used.

Mr. McNamara

Is not the whole point of the adviser to ensure that the person interned does not see the evidence against him, and so is not in a position to refute it? Even though representations may be made to the adviser, he sees only one side of the case, and the burden of evidence is not seen by the person who is interned. On the question of errors made in court, does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if such errors are made—many have been—society recognises that and, to the extent that it can, compensates those who have been wrongly accused and later had their conviction quashed?

Mr. Shepherd

Yes, but internment is generally used against a whole class of people—it does not result from individual assessment and weighing of evidence. From that usage emerge great tensions and hatreds—one need only look at the example of the Boer war to realise that. Across the world, we have seen the containment of sections of populations and witnessed how the hatred and revulsion already present in the community so detained is clarified by the act of general internment.

I do not imagine that the powers in the new clause and new schedule will be used, but it is important that we understand that the history of internment can give us no confidence in its utility—nor can the need to rely on informers, sometimes paid informers, or the appreciation that the information given is often provided for reasons other than to serve justice. The truth in life and democracy is that, even if a man or woman has been convicted in the past of an act that we loathe, that does not mean that that individual is guilty of that with which he or she is subsequently charged, independent of the original act.

Mr. Robathan

My hon. Friend makes a powerful and typically high-principled argument, but it is important that we understand the circumstances in which internment might be used. I have said before that I do not like internment, but I understand from newspaper reports—I do not necessarily believe them—that the head of the Garda in the Republic has said that he knows perfectly well who the Omagh bombers are, but that he cannot convict them. Yes, the process uses informers, which is unpleasant, and of course some people will be wrongly interned, as they have been in the past; but when one sees the reasons why witnesses will not stand up and testify against murderers such as the Omagh bombers—those reasons being intimidation and threats of murder and maiming—one has to face up to the fact that internment, preferably not used, might be a weapon worth having.

Mr. Shepherd

I do not doubt that the head of the Garda is a sincere and honourable man, but I have heard of many people who have asserted that they know all manner of things—they know the guilt of others. However, our process is not about individuals knowing the guilt; we require a higher standard than that.

That is the crisis the House always faces when it deals with terrorism. We fear terrorism because it strikes at the very existence of Parliament, and in our fear we reach for instruments. However, we do so in advance of events. The powers in the new clause and new schedule are meant to be reserve powers, to be used if necessary. My point is that that is not necessarily appropriate or helpful. The notion that we can take the power to confine people based on the assertion, "I know it's them", is an extraordinarily draconian response. In a democracy such as ours, such a power should be invoked only in time of war, when the very survival of the nation is at stake.

I defer to those hon. Members who represent the people of Northern Ireland. Mine must appear a highly abstract argument to those who are confident that they know who the bad ones are and who face them every day. Perhaps they are right, but the House should require a higher standard than that. That is why I am extremely cautious about the new clause and the new schedule.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

I start by saying that if my voice gives up in the middle of my speech it is because I have been suffering from flu for the past few days; I may have to pause now and then to take a sip of water.

Because of its history, internment is an extremely sensitive issue on both sides of the Irish border, as our short debate has shown. I have listened carefully to the debate, which touched on some profound issues.

I shall deal first with the points raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who repeatedly makes the charge that the Government are involved in a form of appeasement of terrorism. I can rebut that by pointing out that there are 15,000 British soldiers and more than 12,000 RUC officers in Northern Ireland. They are not involved in appeasement. They are acting according to the wishes of the Government and to protect human rights and human life.

When the hon. Gentleman makes such allegations against the Government, he never offers anything positive. A genuine democrat would set out the way forward, but the hon. Gentleman never does that. All he does is spray around allegations, label people as criminals without evidence, and charge the Government with appeasement. There is no foundation for his allegations and I ask him to reflect on those brave men and women who serve in Northern Ireland in the armed forces and the RUC. They do not see themselves as appeasers—[Interruption.] As usual, the hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position: I shall give way if he wishes to intervene.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Is the Minister referring to the "chinless wonders" mentioned by the Secretary of State?

Mr. Ingram

We are trying to have a serious debate, but the hon. Gentleman is dragging it down. I do not know whether he was present at today's Question Time when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expressed his regret about having made that comment. I believe he described it as a gaffe; well, everyone makes gaffes. The hon. Member for Belfast, East makes gaffes whenever he makes his allegations against the Government and against the brave men and women who serve in Northern Ireland.

6 pm

Mr. Robathan

This is a serious point. I do not necessarily accuse the Government of appeasement, although I am pretty worried about it from time to time. The Minister prays in aid the brave men and women serving in the RUC and the Army. I can tell him that in the autumn, when the present Secretary of State took over, three battalions of Foot Guards out of five were serving in Northern Ireland under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I can tell him categorically that they are fed up with what he said at the weekend. It may have been a flippant gaffe, but it reveals a lot about the Secretary of State's thinking.

Similarly, enforcing all the Patten commission's recommendations is undermining the morale of the brave men and women of the RUC—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying a little too far from the new clause.

Mr. Ingram

I am prepared to defend the Secretary of State in all that he is trying to do to achieve peace. All his energy is directed at trying to bring about a new future for Northern Ireland. He has apologised for that comment, and we should let the matter rest. To return to it constantly serves no useful purpose.

If it were in order, I would also be prepared to debate the Patten report and the way in which that was envisaged in the Good Friday agreement, which I thought the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) supported. As usual, he wants to cherry pick. He supports the bits with which he agrees, and rejects the rest. We cannot move forward on that basis.

The Government acknowledge that different views on internment are held by people inside and outside the House who have Northern Ireland's best interests at heart. However, the Government stand firmly by their position, because we have yet to be convinced that internment represents an effective policy in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 21st century.

Right hon. and hon. Members are aware that executive detention powers were removed from the statute book during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998. The issue was further debated that same year in the context of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, which was passed in the wake of the Omagh bomb.

It may be helpful if I refer to the Prime Minister's words on that occasion. He said:

We had to make a judgment about internment. We have made it clear that we do not rule anything out for ever, but my judgment is that the history of internment as it operates here and in the Irish Republic is different. All the way through, we are trying to take carefully targeted measures that allow us to deal with these terrorist groups, but do not provoke such a backlash in other parts of the community that they undermine the fight that we are trying to secure. I agree that that is a matter of judgment, but that is our judgment; although, as I say, we rule nothing out for the future, should things be necessary.—[Official Report, 2 September 1998; Vol. 317. c. 697–8.] The case presented by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) for the Opposition was predicated on the possibility or even the probability of failure. He argued, as he has done previously, that the peace process, which he genuinely wants to reach a successful conclusion, could none the less have certain ramifications, such as the fragmentation of the paramilitary groups.

If we send out a message that fragmentation is inevitable and that it will be on such a scale that we will have to take such punitive action in the future, the right hon. Gentleman is implying the failure, not the success, of the peace process. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that he is being realistic, but we must deal with the implications.

Under the Good Friday agreement, the Government are committed to moving towards normal security arrangements in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible, consistent with the level of threat. That includes the removal of Northern Ireland specific temporary legislative powers as soon as it is safe to do so. Obviously, the reintroduction of internment, even if its immediate use were not advocated, would be a negative step in the context of that objective.

I believe that those who advocate the return of the powers proposed in the new clause have a responsibility to be frank and tell the House when they would propose using them and against whom. There are a number of profound questions which it is right to pose at this point. How would those who argue for the return of internment guarantee that those powers would be used against the right people? On what basis would people be rounded up?

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) spoke about malicious information. People could be rounded up wrongly and interned as a consequence. Intelligence is not necessarily perfect. We cannot always guarantee that the information available to us would stand up in a court of law. We may have well-founded suspicions and a good knowledge base, but they may not stand examination in court.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) pointed out that the law courts could get it wrong. If the courts get it wrong, it is more likely that, as the hon. Member for Aldridge—Brownhills commented, executive detention provisions would get it wrong as well.

Let us consider that possibility. What would be the consequences for civil order in Northern Ireland? Everyone admits that the last time internment was used, it failed. Now some argue that it would be more likely to succeed because of better intelligence. However, they forget about the reaction within the community from which people would be swept up.

Those who argue for the reintroduction of internment must tell us what would be the consequences for civil order and the implications for the peace process, which would be in the process of evolution. In advocating that approach, the right hon. Member for Bracknell must deal with those questions.

There is a further fundamental question. Do those who advocate internment genuinely believe that its introduction at this stage will help the peace process? Will it assist the republican and loyalist communities if those who advocate a peaceful progress towards democracy and away from violence now acknowledge the possibility of failure somewhere down the line? The right hon. Gentleman must answer that. Does he believe that the new clause would help the peace process or deflect us from it? He did not deal with that in his contribution.

It is important that we legislate on the basis of a reasoned assessment of the security situation. We are not in the business, and Government should never be in the business, of legislating for hypothetical situations. Unless there is a clear-cut case for taking the powers suggested, to do so would be a backward step now or in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Maginnis

The Minister has access to enough high-grade intelligence to know that the Real IRA was responsible for the Omagh bomb, and that a man called McKevitt is the leader of the Real IRA. How will the Minister deal with the terrorist organisation that McKevitt is putting together, before that organisation, made up of cells, is so big and so efficient that the whole of society is once again in jeopardy? He must address that question, side by side with the question of internment.

Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman is right about the level of intelligence that I receive. With the exception of the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), I receive the highest level of intelligence in the House. However, I will not confirm or deny that intelligence, or confirm the allegations of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone at the Dispatch Box, because I could thereby jeopardise any possible court action against individuals, or even groups if decisions on proscription or specification were made relative to other legislation.

We have to tackle the new growth in dissident groups. That is a matter for the security forces, not politicians, although we have to deal with it in some forms. However, the criminal justice system—including the police, the prosecution authorities and the courts—ultimately and rightly brings people to justice, not politicians.

I have tried to present counter-arguments. We had the same debate when the Government removed executive detention, known as internment, and on subsequent occasions. We have returned to the subject because the right hon. Member for Bracknell and the Conservative party want to have the debate without proving conclusively that they would achieve the objective that I share with the right hon. Gentleman—a peaceful future in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman must make his case on that point: will the new clause help or hinder the process? We conclude that it could hinder the process. The right hon. Gentleman has to prove that it would help the process. He has not done that. I therefore ask him not to press the new clause to a vote.

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

The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 330.

Division No. 108] [6.11 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Hamilton, Rt Ron Sir Archie
Amess, David Hammond, Philip
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Hawkins, Nick
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hayes, John
Atkinson, David (Bour"mth E) Heald, Oliver
Baldry, Tony Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Beggs, Roy Horam, John
Bercow, John Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Beresford, Sir Paul Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Blunt, Crispin Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Body, Sir Richard Jenkin, Bernard
Boswell, Tim Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Key, Robert
Browning, Mrs Angela King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Burns, Simon Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Butterfill, John Lansley, Andrew
Cash, William Letwin, Oliver
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Clappison, James Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Corrnack, Sir Patrick MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Cran, James McIntosh, Miss Anne
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Day, Stephen Maclean, Rt Hon David
Donaldson, Jeffrey McLoughlin, Patrick
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Madel, Sir David
Duncan, Alan Maginnis, Ken
Duncan Smith, Iain Major, Rt Hon John
Evans, Nigel Maples, John
Faber, David Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fabricant, Michael May, Mrs Theresa
Fallon, Michael Moss, Malcolm
Flight, Howard Nicholls, Patrick
Forsythe, Clifford Norman, Archie
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fox, Dr Liam Ottaway, Richard
Fraser, Christopher Page, Richard
Gale, Roger Paterson, Owen
Garnier, Edward Pickles, Eric
Gibb, Nick Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gill, Christopher Prior, David
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Randall, John
Gray, James Robathan, Andrew
Green, Damian Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Greenway, John Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Grieve, Dominic Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Ruffley, David
Hague, Rt Hon William St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan Trend, Michael
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Tyrie, Andrew
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Viggers, Peter
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Walter, Robert
Spicer, Sir Michael Wardle, Charles
Spring, Richard Waterson, Nigel
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wells, Bowen
Steen, Anthony Whittingdale, John
Streeter, Gary Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Swayne, Desmond Wilkinson, John
Syms, Robert Willetts, David
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wishire, David
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Sir Teddy Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Thompson, William Tellers for the Ayes:
Townend, John Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
Tredinnick, David Mr. Keith Simpson.
Ainger, Nick Casale, Roger
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cawsey, Ian
Alexander, Douglas Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Allen, Graham Chaytor, David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Chidgey, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clapham, Michael
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ashton, Joe Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Atkins, Charlotte Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Austin, John Clelland, David
Baker, Norman Clwyd, Ann
Ballard, Jackie Coaker, Vernon
Barnes, Harry Coffey, Ms Ann
Beard, Nigel Cohen, Harry
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Coleman, Iain
Begg, Miss Anne Colman, Tony
Beith, RT Hon A J Connarty, Michael
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cooper, Yvette
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Corston, Jean
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Cotter, Brian
Bennett, Andrew F Cousins, Jim
Bermingham, Gerald Cranston, Ross
Berry, Roger Crausby, David
Best, Harold Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Betts, Clive Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Blackman, Liz Cummings, John
Blears, Ms Hazel Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blizzard, Bob Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Darvill, Keith
Borrow, David Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Davidson, Ian
Bradshaw, Ben Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brake, Tom Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Breed, Colin Dawson, Hilton
Brinton, Mrs Helen Doran, Frank
Browne, Desmond Dowd, Jim
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Drew, David
Buck, Ms Karen Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burden, Richard Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burgon, Colin Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Burnett, John Edwards, Huw
Burstow, Paul Ennis, Jeff
Butler, Mrs Christine Fearn, Ronnie
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Field, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Fisher, Mark
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Flint, Caroline
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foster, Don (Bath)
Cann, Jamie Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Caplin, Ivor Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Gapes, Mike McCabe, Steve
Gardiner, Barry McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McDonagh, Siobhain
Gerrard, Neil Macdonald, Calum
Gibson, Dr Ian McDonnell, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McFall, John
Godman, Dr Norman A McGuire, Mrs Anne
Godsiff, Roger McIsaac, Shona
Goggins, Paul Mackinlay, Andrew
Golding, Mrs Llin Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McNamara, Kevin
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Mactaggart, Fiona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McWilliam, John
Grocott, Bruce Mahon, Mrs Alice
Grogan, John Mallaber, Judy
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hanson, David Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Harris, Dr Evan Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Healey, John Maxton, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hepburn, Stephen Meale, Alan
Heppell, John Merron, Gillian
Hesford, Stephen Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hill, Keith Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hinchliffe, David Miller, Andrew
Hood, Jimmy Mitchell, Austin
Hope, Phil Moffatt, Laura
Howells, Dr Kim Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hoyle, Lindsay Moore, Michael
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Moran, Ms Margaret
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Hurst, Alan Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Iddon, Dr Brian Morley, Elliot
Illsley, Eric Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian Mountford, Kali
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mullin, Chris
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Oaten, Mark
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Olner, Bill
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) O'Neill, Martin
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Öpik, Lembit
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Organ, Mrs Diana
Keeble, Ms Sally Pearson, Ian
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pendry, Tom
Kelly, Ms Ruth Perham, Ms Linda
Kemp, Fraser Pickthall, Colin
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Pollard, Kerry
Khabra, Piara S Pond, Chris
Kidney, David Pope, Greg
Kilfoyle, Peter Pound, Stephen
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Primarolo, Dawn
Laxton, Bob Prosser, Gwyn
Leslie, Christopher Purchase, Ken
Levitt, Tom Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Quinn, Lawrie
Linton, Martin Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Livsey, Richard Rammell, Bill
Llwyd, Elfyn Rapson, Syd
Lock, David Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Love, Andrew Rendel, David
McAvoy, Thomas Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rogers, Allan Sutcliffe, Gerry
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rowlands, Ted Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Ruane, Chris Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Ruddock, Joan Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Timms, Stephen
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Tipping, Paddy
Ryan, Ms Joan Todd, Mark
Salter, Martin Tonge, Dr Jenny
Sanders, Adrian Touhig, Don
Sawford, Phil Trickett, Jon
Sedgemore, Brian Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Shaw Jonathan Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Sheerman, Barry Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Shipley, Ms Debra Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Short, Rt Hon Clare Tyler, Paul
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Tynan, Bill
Singh, Marsha Wallace, James
Skinner, Dennis Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Watts, David
Smh, Angela (Basildon) Webb, Steve
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Welsh, Andrew
White, Brian
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Snape, Peter Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Soley, Clive Willis, Phil
Southworth, Ms Helen Winnick, David
Squire, Ms Rachel Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wise, Audrey
Steinberg, Gerry Wood, Mike
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Woolas, Phil
Stinchcombe, Paul Worthington, Tony
Stoate, Dr Howard Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wyatt, Derek
Stringer, Graham Tellers for the Noes:
Stuart, Ms Gisela Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Stunell, Andrew Mr. Mike Hall.

Question accordingly negatived.

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