HL Deb 18 December 1975 vol 366 cc1629-41

Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE rose to move, That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Regulations 1975, laid before the House on 11th November, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order before your Lordships' House provides for the renewal of the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1974 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Act1975 for a further period of six months from 25th January 1976.

Noble Lords will recall that the Act of 1973 contains provisions for the trial of terrorist type offences, for evidence in such trials and for special powers for the Security Forces. The atmosphere of mistrust and intimidation which led the Commission headed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, to recommend the trial of scheduled offences without a jury, is still with us. We still need these courts which are widely regarded as being fair, effective and appropriate in all the circumstances. They enable the Government to pursue their policy that terrorism, in common with all other crime, should be dealt with by the rule of law, imposed impartially and fairly through the courts.

Although intimidation continues, I am glad to report that there is growing support and co-operation from the public in bringing the terrorists to justice. This can be shown by the fact that 135 people have been charged with murder so far this year, as compared with75 during the whole of last year. Since last January 451 people have been charged with firearms offences and 318 travelling gunmen have been apprehended and charged.

I do not think that I need justify to your Lordships' House the need to continue in force the provisions for evidence, such as the reversal of the onus of proof for the possession of firearms, or the powers for the Security Forces. These are in daily use, and without them the successes I have already mentioned could not have been achieved. Although most of the provisions of the 1973 Act have continued unchanged, some were amended and others added by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Act 1975, which followed upon the Report of the Committee chaired by my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner early this year. For example, the Security Forces had clarified their powers to stop and question suspects, and were given new powers to search for and seize radio transmitters. But perhaps the major feature of the 1975 Act is the new Schedule 1 which replaced the quasi-judicial Commissioners system of detention previously enacted by order and incorporated with minor amendments in the Act of 1973. The Gardiner Committee had been critical of these procedures and the Act of 1975 replaced them with a new advisory system where the sole responsibility for making detention orders was placed with the Secretary of State.

Noble Lords will of course be aware that the last detention orders were discharged on 5th December 1975. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already explained on several occasions his reasons for releasing the remaining detainees; not least of these was the long felt resentment, particularly in the minority community, and the propaganda value of detention to Para-military organisations. While detention played an important part in dealing with organised violence, it did not end violence. From the end of June 1973 until December 1974, for example, there were never fewer than 500 persons detained, but violence continued during this period. The Government realise that some of those released from detention may return to their former ways, as do some convicted prisoners on release. The conviction rate for released prisoners in England and Wales overall is nearly 50 per cent. So far, the known reconviction rate for released detainees is vastly less than this, and long may it remain so. One cannot hold persons indefinitely, but if long periods of incarceration are necessary, they should be awarded by the courts. Of some 2,000 persons released from detention since August 1971, only just over 100 have been charged with terrorist type offences.

Although detention has ended, my right honourable friend has clearly indicated that in extreme circumstances he would not hesitate to use the powers again, and that is why we are asking that the provisions remain in force. The system proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has worked well and we seek no changes to it. If detention has to be used again, responsibility will lie clearly at the door of the terrorists.

It is our wish and our policy, however, to look to the courts and the rule of law and to a situation in which the police can once more assume their full responsibility for the maintenance of law and order. To this end, everyone in Northern Ireland must play their part in helping police to bring the terrorist to book. Already, since detention has been phased out, there have been encouraging signs of increased co-operation with the police from the community. The Army has played a magnificent role with great courage and wise restraint, and it will remain as long as the police need its support. But in the end, it is the police to whom we must look.

Finally, my Lords, we seek to renew the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1974, which provides a temporary provision for the Secretary of State to give a direction for a young person to be kept on remand in prison in order that he may not escape, or to ensure his safety or the safety of others. Noble Lords will be aware that training schools and remand homes in Northern Ireland were not designed to contain young persons who are determined to escape, and on 15 occasions before the last renewal of this Act it was necessary for the Secretary of State to direct that a young person be remanded to prison. Although I am pleased to report that such a direction has not been made during the last six months, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it would be premature to allow this power to elapse now.

I have already explained that we need to continue in force the emergency provisions I have mentioned. Terrorism, violence and general lawlessness are still prevalent in Northern Ireland and we are continually exploring new avenues to combat these evils. Accordingly, there are before your Lordships' House today new regulations under the Emergency Provisions Act and it might be convenient if I were to describe these now.

My Lords, the effect of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Regulations 1975 is to require motorists and others in charge of vehicles in Northern Ireland to ensure that when they leave their vehicles unattended, the doors are locked, the windows are closed, the ignition key is removed, and the vehicles are rendered incapable of being driven. There are a number of exemptions, but the only one which affects the ordinary road user is that exempting vehicles left in locked premises, the key of which has been removed. For the purpose of the regulations a vehicle would count as unattended unless there is atleast one person of 15 years or more in attendance upon it. It will be permissible to leave the windows slightly open to allow air for a child or a pet left inside, provided they are closed sufficiently to prevent any intruders gaining entry.

The regulations will be made under the power contained in Section 24(1) of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973. Consequently, failure to observe their provisions will render a person liable to the penalties set out in subsection (2); that is, on summary conviction a fine not exceeding £400, or imprisonment for no longer than six months, or both.

Regrettably, the regulations will impose a further burden on motorists in Northern Ireland. Most prudent motorists already regard the few seconds spent in locking the doors, closing the windows, and removing the key as time well spent when they leave their cars unattended. But the immobilisation provision will require motorists to go further than this. In fact, most cars produced since 1972 have included as standard a device which automatically prevents the car from being driven when the ignition key is taken away, usually by locking the steering column.

Other vehicles will have to be immobilised with whatever device the owner decides is most appropriate. The acquisition of such equipment will, of course, involve those who do not possess it in some degree of expense. Any means of rendering the vehicle incapable of being driven will be acceptable, however, which means, for instance, that if a motorist wishes to achieve this end by removing a part of the engine, thereby avoiding any expense on the purchase of equipment, he will be able to do so.

Imposing as they do, a requirement on law abiding motorists, noble Lords will wish to know why the Government have felt impelled to introduce these draft regulations now. The reasons are two-fold. In the first place, the stealing of cars, which is widespread enough in Great Britain, is even more of a problem in Northern Ire land. The number of thefts there, at over 500 a month, is two or three times that in areas of Great Britain with a comparable population. This is but one aspect of the general tendency to lawlessness which exists in Northern Ireland at present; a tendency to which my right honourable friend has referred on several occasions recently, and one to which the Government's policy is directed. The regulations will make the theft of cars more difficult and hence, it is hoped, reduce crimes of this nature. A significant advantage will be to free police time from car theft inquiries for other activities of greater importance.

In addition to this general justification, however, there is a second and more particular reason why the Government consider these regulations to be necessary at the present time. This is the use to which stolen cars may be put in the furtherance of terrorist violence. Terrorists need a means of getting quickly to the scene of their intended crime, and of quickly making their getaway. They may also need a means of conveying their guns or explosives to the locality in question. The car bomb is a particularly terrifying manifestation of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Clearly the terrorist will not normally use his own vehicle because it provides a means by which he can be traced. The stolen motor car, therefore, is a prime terrorist weapon. In October alone, stolen cars were used in at least 24 serious terrorist incidents, including four murders, four attempted murders, eight bombings, four arms offences and four armed robberies.

Although these regulations will not prevent a determined terrorist from stealing a car, my right honourable friend is satisfied that it will make it appreciably more difficult and increase the probability of detection. I feel sure that the motorists of Northern Ireland will be pleased to co-operate in these arrangements in the knowledge that by taking these extra precautions when leaving their vehicle unattended they may be preventing the commission of some terrible crime. The parts of the regulations which require the locking of vehicles, the closing of windows and the removal of the ignition key will come into force a fortnight after the order has been made. So as to give vehicle-users time to make any necessary arrangements, however, a further three months will be allowed before the immobilisation provision comes into force.

My Lords, these regulations are a further step in the continuing fight against violence and lawlessness in Northern Ireland. They illustrate the Government's determination to take all measures available to them to reduce lawlessness and defeat terrorism. My recollection is that on active service in the war this was normal practice, and the position of the ordinary motorist in Northern Ireland is now approximately that of being on active service. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Regulations 1975, laid before the House on 11th November, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

2.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his explanation of this order. The Emergency Provisions Act 1973 and the Emergency Provisions (Amendment) Act of this year both received, in their time, considerable debate in your Lordships' House, but the fact of the matter is that at the moment we really have so many Northern Ireland orders and Bills that it is just possible to forget the exact provisions of each particular piece of legislation, and the statement which the noble Lord made in the first half of his remarks was, I thought, particularly useful. As to the statement which the noble Lord made in the second half of his remarks, on the other order dealing with the immobilisation of vehicles, may I say that I accept and support it completely.

The Emergency Provisions Act 1973 set up, the House may remember, the single-judge courts and the procedure for the detention of terrorists, and I think it is right to bear in mind that Lord Gardiner's Committee, which looked at the matter of detention again, found that the single-judge courts had been working well in Northern Ireland—and we know that increasingly terrorists are being brought before them. In his statement, Lord Donaldson gave some figures of the number of people who, charged with murder, have been brought before single-judge courts. If the noble Lord has any figures for those who have been, not only charged but also convicted of different crimes before the single-judge courts, I certainly would be interested to hear them.

My Lords, the 1975 Amendment Act strengthened the emergency powers which were given to the Security Forces for search and seizure of various types of equipment useful to terrorists, for dealing with the recruitment of terrorists and for those who manufacture explosives, and I support the renewal of those provisions. I think it is right to remember, just at the end of the year, that this was what the 1975 Act did: it strengthened the powers of the Security Forces—something which none of us would wish necessarily to do but which we all believe is right at the present time. That is another thing which this order is continuing.

But, of course, the main purpose of the 1975 Act was broadly to implement the recommendations of the Committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, concerning detention. Those new provisions would make the detention procedure an executive act with as many safeguards as possible written in to protect the position of the suspected terrorist. I was interested to hear the noble Lord say that the system proposed by Lord Gardiner has worked well. Indeed, I hoped that this would be so when we passed the 1975 Amendment Bill, but I was not aware that the system which was proposed by the noble and learned Lord's Committee and which was provided for in the Amendment Act had in fact ever been used at all by the Secretary of State, and perhaps the noble Lord could clarify that point.

My Lords, I understand the Secretary of State's reasons for his policy concerning detention. I have previously voiced the reservations, which are widely held, about the possible consequences. But let us recognise that the Secretary of State has the best information and the best advice available. Certainly I recognise that he is attempting to bring terrorism to an end and believes that this policy will contribute to that result. However, two questions, I think, arise from the Secretary of State's current policy. First, do the Government agree that the ending of detention may make it difficult to bring to justice those who organise terrorism but are very careful not to get involved actively in it? Such people are always very careful to steer clear of the law. They are also the sort of people who would be able to bring their influence to bear upon witnesses—something which the Diplock Report spoke about and which lay behind the reasons for many of the Diplock recommendations.

Secondly, do the Government for see any problems over those detainees who openly identified themselves, while they were in detention, with a proscribed organisation? I am aware that the noble Lord's right honourable friend has looked at this problem already, and I hope that Lord Donaldson may be able to give an undertaking today that if their behaviour while in detention is not evidence of membership of a proscribed organisation under the Act, now that such people have been released from detention neither they nor anyone else will be permitted to violate the sections in the Emergency Provisions Act which relate to proscribed organisations.

I welcome, particularly, if I may say so, the noble Lord's statement that the Armed Forces must continue to remain in force in Northern Ireland until normal policing can be re-established. With Christmas only a short time away, perhaps it is right for us to remember that there will be a great many soldiers in Northern Ireland who are a long way from their families and friends at Christmastime doing a difficult job to the admiration of us all—and I endorse what the noble Lord said from the Government Front Bench. The RUC, of course, has made considerable progress in crime detection recently, and in attempting to extend the influence of the police, and I think a great deal of that is due to the tireless work of the Chief Constable, Sir Jamie Flanagan. I regret that he is to retire, but I accept that his appointment was planned to extend only to the end of 1975, and I am sure that everyone who is concerned with the work of the Security Forces in Northern Ireland will welcome Sir Jamie's agreement to continue in office until his successor is appointed.

My Lords, taken together, the three Acts which this order will continue, and the previous order concerning the security of vehicles, represent provisions which normally in the United Kingdom we should have no wish to introduce, but which we are determined to support while the need for them continues.

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lords on these Benches I should like to support the various proposals made in these orders, and also to assure the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that we support the ending of detention. It is very unfortunate it had to be imposed in the first place, but it is very good indeed that at last the Government can see their way clear to ending it and to restoring the normal processes of law—a much better thing to do. In continuation of what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has said, I should also like to draw the attention of the House this Christmastime to our forces in Belfast. I am sure we all wish to send them a message of good will and of complete support of them. Nothing in these orders, I think, would in any way derogate from our complete support. The regiment to which I belonged (and still belong, in a sense), the Royal Regiment of Wales, have had several tours of duty in Belfast, the last, recently concluded, for 18 months. Through discussing it with members of the regiment and from the regimental magazine I know only too well of their various terms of service there and how difficult these tours are; especially for the battalion in Belfast where they were on constant guard. That is a real burden. I am glad that this time, unlike other times we have been there, no soldier was killed and the regiment marched out as they marched in, with their soldiers intact. That was a very good thing.

So far as the last order to which the noble Lord referred is concerned, namely, that regarding motor cars. I must say that I was rather surprised that this procedure was not established before. I cannot believe that in a case like Northern Ireland, whether Belfast or any other place, people can go around leaving their motor cars unattended and unlocked with out any method of rendering them unable to be used. This is something we all had to do in the last war when the distributor head had to be removed. I am rather surprised at the apologetic tone that the noble Lord used. I should have thought that no one in Northern Ireland would have objected to that.

There is one last point. Yesterday the Prime Minister, rightly in my view, drew the attention of the American Press to the people who are supporting this violence in Northern Ireland; in other words, those who contribute a million dollars a year to funds which, whatever they may be called, support the terrorists. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether there is to be any follow up of this. It seems a most extraordinary amount of money. As the Prime Minister asked, what would the Americans say if we from this country supported terrorists —perhaps the Black Panthers, although I am not sure that they are terrorists—in North America and if they suddenly started murdering innocent people and throwing bombs around in Detriot, Chicago, New York and other places? What are the British Government going to do to follow that protest up?

Presumably the Prime Minister's words cannot be left there. The money must come through some channels; it must be converted from dollars in the United States to whatever currency there is in Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland. This money cannot flow there on the wings of a dove; it must come through financial channels. Cannot we impose some blockage in those channels and also obtain the support and assistance of the US Government and other Governments concerned to deal with this matter? It is absurd that we should make all these provisions today when the means by which these terrorist acts are carried out seem to me to be unimpeded in any way. I hope I am wrong; and if I am, the noble Lord can put me right.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for his full explanation of these orders. I wish briefly in particular to welcome as the lesser of two evils—because it is an infringement of individual freedom—that part of the regulation dealing with unattended vehicles, in view of the very lage number of serious crimes that are committed by terrorists using stolen vehicles in Northern Ireland. There is one small aspect that worries me and I hope that the noble Lord can reassure me. I think he said that among other things it would be criminal offence to leave a car window open by as little as half an inch, unless children or animals were present in the car. This seems hard on the motorists if there is repetition of the summer that we have had, with temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees. I wonder whether there could be any flexibility on this point, providing of course that the car is well secured by other methods.


My Lords, I would point out to the noble Lord that you very seldom get temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees in Belfast.

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the general support that noble Lords have given to these two orders. Perhaps I can deal with some of the points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, asked about the number of convictions as opposed to numbers charged. This is a very important point. The figures I have are satisfactory. They correspond pretty well to the trials which went on before when we had the judge sitting with the jury. We seem to be losing nothing in the way of convictions there. The noble Lord also asked about the use of the Gardiner detention procedure. When I read the notes that were supplied to me I wondered about that. The answer is that there have been no new ICOs made since that date. There were quite a large number not yet passed out of the ICO stage into detention orders. The new procedure was used for those. So the mark was not so meaningless as the noble Lord expected.

May I say a word or two on the ending of detention. The noble Lord spoke about the difficulty of dealing with the men behind the scenes and whether dealing with them would be more difficult now that detention had ended than it had been before. The answer is, No. It has always been extremely difficult to deal with those men who organised but did not openly commit crimes for which they could be caught. This will not in any way be changed. It is difficult to prove membership of a proscribed organisation which is the only way you can get at these people. This is still open to us. I do not believe that the ending of detention will make this more difficult.

I am glad to have the opportunity of agreeing with the noble Lord in his appreciation of Sir James Flanagan's performance as chief constable. Not only do we in Government admire him, but most of us are extremely fond of him personally and know him well. The Secretary of State made quite clear in another place recently what really unattractive kinds of lies were being told in Northern Ireland about what he is supposed to have been doing. I think I need not say more in this House. My right honourable friend made it quite clear that the normal procedure was being followed and that he and the Government admired and thanked the chief constable for the outstanding work he carried out in the period. I do not think that more than that need be said.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, supported the end of detention perhaps with less hesitation than we sometimes get from the Benches opposite, and particularly in another place. We have not had this hesitation from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I am glad that the Liberal Party is fully behind this Government in this matter. I should like to echo what the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said about the troops. They do a marvellous job. It is a rough job but now it is being spread out widely enough not to be so bad as it was 18 months ago.

I join with noble Lords in wishing the troops as happy a Christmas as Northern Ireland can provide—which may not be saying very much. In regard to the point about motor cars and the rules not being made earlier, one must not forget that for a long time it has been an offence in many parts of industrial Northern Ireland to leave an unattended car. Also there are many areas where you cannot do so because barrels prevent it. So this is an improvement on an existing situation rather than something working from scratch. It is high time it was done and I am glad that noble Lords will accept it. I resent the suggestion that I was apologetic about it; I was trying to be polite, which is quite different.

The noble Lord raised the question of money from the United States. This is being dealt with at a level so far above mine that I had better not say anything about it. There is not the slightest doubt the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, a number of our high statesmen, and high ranking American statesmen, have spoken strongly about this. The difficulty is money is given for something like the Red Cross and it is then abused. I do not say it is abused by the Red Cross; but money is given for charitable organisations and the money is used for wrong purposes. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to the difficulty of defining an offence—when a window is opened a quarter of an inch or half an inch. There is a difficulty here. It is reasonable that there should be a "loophole". If you have a child or a dog in a car, it should not be necessary to insist on total closure of the windows. I do not think I can take it further than that.

My Lords, I should like formally to commend that the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Regulations 1975 be approved. I will follow that with the Northern Ireland Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.