HL Deb 26 June 1975 vol 361 cc1636-50

6.49 p.m.

Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE rose to move, That the Draft Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1975, laid before the House on 9th June, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Order extends the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1974 for a further period of six months to 25th January 1976. It is a matter to be much regretted that emergency legislation of this nature is still necessary in Northern Ireland. But there can be few people who do not recognise that events in that troubled province remain such that the provisions of the normal law are insufficient to deal with armed and ruthless terrorists.

Although this Order continues in force unchanged the provisions of the Emergency Provisions Act, it is not the intention of the Government that this Act should remain unamended. The Government have always had doubts about some of the provisions within the Act, and it was for this reason that a month after taking Office the Secretary of State appointed a Committee, under my noble friend Lord Gardiner, to consider what provisions and powers, consistent to the maximum extent practicable in the circumstances with the preservation of civil liberties and human rights, are required to deal with terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland, including provisions for the administration of justice and to examine the working of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973; and to make recommendations. I am glad to say that some of the measures introduced in the Act, about which we voiced misgivings when in Opposition, have not in practice proved to be as unsatisfactory as we feared, and indeed the Committee under my noble friend have recommended their retention. Other measures have not been so satisfactory and the Government intend to amend them in the light of the recommendations of my noble friend's Committee. Indeed, a Bill—the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill—is before Parliament to give effect to this. As, however, it would be impracticable to expect the Bill to become law before the existing provisions expire at midnight on 24th July, this Order has been laid to extend the existing Act for a further six months, to allow the Bill to be fully debated in Parliament.

It would be possible to give effect to some of the measures in the Bill by means of an Order. But this would be to deprive Parliament of the opportunity to debate and amend, taking into account all the provisions of the Bill. The Government have thought it right, therefore, to retain the Act in toto to allow Parliament the fullest consideration of the new proposals. Emergency legislation is distasteful and, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, needs to be scrutinised in the most careful manner. I hope, however, that the new provisions will amend the existing Act well within the six months period. As a matter of fact, I understand that the Second Reading in another place is scheduled for tomorrow.

As I have said, a Bill to amend the Emergency Provisions Act is before Parliament, and its provisions are based on the recommendations of the Committee which sat under the Chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Gardiner, and it would not be proper on this occasion for me to discuss the recommendations or the provisions of the Bill. We shall have time for that when the Bill comes before this House. I should however like to take this opportunity of thanking my noble friend and his colleagues for the depth in which they studied the security situation in Northern Ireland. Clearly they were convinced that emergency powers were necessary at the time they prepared their report.

Although the security situation has changed since then, in particular since the Provisional IRA announced a ceasefire on 22nd December, terrorist violence has not ceased. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State explained in another place on 16th June, the nature of violence has changed in as much as the ceasefire has brought into sharp focus a great deal of violence in and between the communities. So far this year there have been 106 deaths. I am glad to report that during that time 53 people have been charged with murder, 60 with attempted murder and 568 with terrorist-type offences as a whole.

It is true that the ceasefire has brought about a reduction in certain types of violence, particularly shooting incidents involving the Security Forces. The Government have responded to this by lowering the profile of the Army other than in those areas in which there is a high incidence of killings, and by releasing a substantial number of detainees. Since 22nd December the Secretary of State has himself released 276 detainees. But it would not be justifiable to the community in Northern Ireland to end the provisions for detention until it is clear that there has been a return to peace and an end to terrorism, particularly the vicious intimidation that prevents law abiding citizens giving information to the police and appearing as witnesses in the courts. Moreover, while violence and intimidation continue it is not possible either to expect the courts to function effectively without special provisions, or the Security Forces to be able to act without the necessary powers.

The Order before your Lordships' House also extends the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1975, by which the Secretary of State can give a direction that a young person charged with a scheduled offence may be held in custody in a prison if he is remanded to a remand home. When this Act was passed, the Government gave an assurance that the powers would be used sparingly. In fact since the provisions of the Act came into force on 1st August 1974, directions have been made in respect of only 15 young persons. There have been no escapes from secure custody and although abscondings from remand homes have continued, these do not pose the same threat to life which would have occurred were the Act not in force. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1975, laid before the House on 9th June, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, as the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill has its Second Reading in another place tomorrow it would not be appropriate to embark on any lengthy questions to the noble Lord this evening. But I wish briefly to refer to the two main parts of the Order. As I understand the newspaper reports the Secretary of State is not signing any interim custody orders and has not been doing so for some time. It would be interesting to know how many people now remain in detention. If the noble Lord does not have that information with him at the moment, possibly he would he so good as to let me know later. Furthermore, I wonder what split there is among those who remain detained, between Roman Catholics and Protestants. I also wonder what evidence there is of any return to violence by those who are freed detainees.

I was grateful to the noble Lord for speaking for a moment at the end of his speech about the working of the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act. I remember that, during the passage of this Act, there was a certain amount of worry about the working of the training centres in Northern Ireland, and it was hoped that the provision in that Act—that young persons could be held in prison—would relieve pressure on the training centres. It seems evident from what the noble Lord says that this has been the effect and that the Act is working well, and I am very glad to hear that. My Lords, with those few words I certainly support the passage of this Order.

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise in advance for having to trouble the House, which I do not often do these days, at this hour of the evening, but I feel some responsibility in this matter. The Order comes before Parliament in rather unusual circumstances. The Emergency Provisions Act came into force in July 1973 and was to last for a year. Therefore in the summer of last year the Government were faced with having to renew it, or decide what to do about it. Meanwhile a number of criticisms of the contents of the Act had been made and the Government therefore decided that they would like to say to Parliament: If only you will renew it as it is for six months, we shall appoint a Committee and before the end of the next six months it will have reported and we can consider, and Parliament can decide, which of the recommendations of the Committee to accept. Therefore, in June, I had the honour of being appointed Chairman of the Committee, which included the noble and learned Lord, Lord MacDermott, a former Unionist Attorney-General and a former Chief Justice in Northern Ireland; Judge Higgins, a Catholic High Court judge; Professor Buchan, with his wide experience of terrorist conditions in many countries; Professor Kathleen Jones, a sociologist, of York University; Dr. Whyte, an historian from Belfast University; and Mr. Morland, an English Queen's Counsel, who had conducted a lot of cases for the Crown before the Detention Commission.

We were told that the matter we had to deal with was one of great urgency as our Report must be in the hands of the Government by some time in December, because they would have to have it in order to get the Order renewed in January. As your Lordships will appreciate, one of the difficulties of a Committee of that kind is that people are entitled to make representations to it, and they have to be given time to do so. By July many people were going away for holidays. We had no idea how many people would want to make representations to us. In the event we received 157 memoranda and heard 97 witnesses from all the political Parties, the Judiciary, the Police, the Army, religious bodies or individual clergy, universities, and so forth. But, sitting alternate weeks in London and Belfast, we were able to say by December that our Report would be on time.

Then Birmingham happened. I can understand any Government, in the atmosphere in England created by Birmingham, thinking that they would have no difficulty in getting the Order renewed without worrying about the Committee's Report. If I say that they "jumped the gun" I do not mean that they did anything that they were not entitled to do; but instead of waiting until January when they would have had the Report they got the Order renewed in December. Here we are, six months later, and the same position arises; but they have now just published a Bill to give effect to such of the recommendations of the Committee as they agree with. The first thing that I should like to ask is this. What is the intended programme of that Bill? Is it intended that it should come into force this Session, or will it have to wait until next Session? We are practically in July and it will have to go through two Houses. I do not mean any disrespect to anybody. I merely ask: are we going to be faced with exactly the same position when January comes, or will the Bill by then be law?

I do not think it is at all the business of a Committee to be very particular about which of their recommendations are accepted. But I have in mind, and I understand, that very shortly the Second Reading of this Bill will be taken in another place, and there is no one in that House who was a member of the Committee. I think therefore that I ought to say whatever I think my Committee would wish me to say in the circumstances. I say "my Committee" because except for one point, which is not now relevant and on which Lord MacDermott had a reservation, all our recommendations were unanimous.

My Lords, the first point that my Committee would wish me to raise is not a long point; it is what we said about the Press or the news media. We said in paragraph 73: The view has been expressed to us that the news media must bear a degree of responsibility for the encouragement of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland. Interviews with terrorist leaders on television and radio and the practice of some newspapers in accepting advertisements from paramilitary groups may provide propaganda platforms for those whose aim is the violent overthrow of lawful government. There is a tendency, which exists elsewhere, towards sensational reporting of shootings and bombing incidents which lends a spurious glamour both to the activities themselves and to the perpetrators. In addition there are ill-founded and false allegations against the security forces. There can be no question of introducing censorship in a free society in time of peace. But this does not mean that nothing can be done. We recommend that it be made a summary offence for editors, printers and publishers of newspapers to publish anything which purports to be an advertisement for or on behalf of an illegal organisation or part of it. Then we said: In the present situation, we suggest that the Press Council should closely examine the reconciliation of the reporting of terrorist activities with the public interest. Finally, the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority should re-examine the guidance they give to programme controllers or companies about contact with terrorist organisations and the reporting of their views and activities. The main point in our minds—and this was not the view of an ordinary, ignorant Englishman like me, but of our Northern Ireland members as well—was that it was not right that a body like the IRA, which is an illegal para-military body, should be able to publish its advertisements in that name in the newspapers. We were not blaming owners and editors, because if they refused they might have got a bomb. They could not say: "I am sorry, I cannot do this for it is against the law"—because it was not! The only dissent of any kind, or comment, was that if they are stopped from advertising under the name of the IRA the same people will do so under the name of the Sinn Fein. But, my Lords, the Sinn Fein is a lawful political Party. Is there not a difference between that and a paramilitary group—whether it is the IRA or a Protestant group—which is trying to overthrow society by force? We find it somewhat offensive that they should be allowed to advertise in the public press. I do not know whether my noble friend can tell me what the Government view was about that. I note the complete omission from the Bill of the Committee's opinion on it.

The second point is also a short one. If I understand Clause 3 correctly, it is proposed that scheduled and nonscheduled offences can be tried together. We agreed with that, provided that it was done with the consent of the accused. If I understand the draft Bill aright, it says nothing about the consent of the accused. The point is that terrorist offences are tried—and we recommend that they should be continued to be tried—by single-judge courts and subject to some limitation on them as to evidence and so on; whereas non-scheduled offences are still tried by jury. If they are tried together in what is usually called the terrorist court, this means that, without his consent, a man is being tried on a nonscheduled offence and is deprived of the right to be tried by jury.

Thirdly, in relation to the timing of the detention order, we found that there is a very long period after an interim custody order before the man came before the detention commissioner. It is a real hardship if a man is put in custody for months, loses his remuneration, probably loses his job and is then told, "There is nothing against you. You can go." A large number are released on the first hearing. We recommend a very tight timetable, and this I see is very much extended by the Order. I hope that in mentioning these points I am not causing any discomfort—I almost said "upsetting" but that is the wrong word—to my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge. I do not expect him to reply to these points tonight. They are, in a sense, signals to the other place who have no representative of the Committee there.

A point on which all my Committee felt very strongly indeed was the question of prison accommodation. I venture to mention this in particular because this is something which will still be with us when, as we all hope, detention ends. What the Committee said was: The prison system in Northern Ireland has a most important role to play in the maintenance of law and order. We do not believe that it is fulfilling that role adequately at present and, to be blunt, we were appalled at certain aspects of the prison situation. The prison system of Northern Ireland is inevitably under considerable strain. The prison population has risen from 727 at the beginning of 1968 to 2,848 on the 30th November 1974: details are in Appendix E. Prior to 1968 Northern Ireland had only one prison for men, the Crumlin Road Prison built over 100 years ago in the middle of Belfast; Armagh Prison for women is of similar age and in the middle of the city of Armagh. Even before internment began in 1971, Crumlin Road Prison had proved inadequate for all the male convicted prisoners. With detention came the emergency building of a temporary prison at Long Kesh, now the Maze Prison, with accommodation in huts in large compounds rather than in individual cells; subsequently a further temporary prison of a similar type was built at Magilligan. The result is that 71 per cent. of male prisoners—1,881 out of a total of 2,648—are now in temporary prisons of the compound type rather than in conventional cellular accommodation. Prisons of the compound type, each compound holding up to 90 prisoners, are thoroughly unsatisfactory from every point of view; their major disadvantage is that there is virtually a total loss of disciplinary control by the prison authorities inside the compounds, and rehabilitation work is impossible. The sleeping accommodation for those confined in the compounds is in Nissen hut dormitories each holding a maximum of 30 beds. At Magilligan each prisoner has a cubicle, but at the Maze only a few dormitories have been fitted with partitions and most are of the open type. But in neither prison is there accommodation of the cellular type found in permanent prisons. Each compound contains several dormitories, dining and recreation huts, and an open space for exercising, all surrounded by a high wire fence which can easily be breached by determined men. One of the reasons why I mention this today is because we really anticipated the burning down of the Maze which actually took place. If conditions should change for the worse the public, we thought, ought to be alerted that this might happen again at any time.

The Report goes on: Strong security fences guard the outside perimeter, and watch-towers are placed at numerous points. The Army guards the perimeter and entrances and has a general responsibility for security. We believe that the prison staff, who are in charge of the prisoners, do their best with the limited manpower available, but the layout and construction of the compounds make close and continued supervision impossible. The dormitories are locked at night, but otherwise the prisoners in each compound are very much left to their own devices. There are no facilities for organised employment. Each compound is virtually a self-contained community which keeps the premises it occupies to such standard as it finds acceptable and engages, if it so wishes, in military drills or lectures on military subjects."— I am reminded of one Army officer who referred to it as the terrorists' Sandhurst,— A development during the present emergency was the introduction in June 1972, following a hunger strike at Crumlin Road Prison, of a special category status for convicted prisoners. In practice this has meant that any convicted criminal sentenced to more than nine months' imprisonment who claims political motivation and who is acceptable to a compound leader at the Maze or Magilligan Prisons is accorded special status. There were on 30th November 1,119 prisoners in this special category out of a total of 1,771 convicted prisoners. They are allowed to wear their own clothes and are not required to work. They receive more frequent visits than other prisoners and are allowed food parcels, and can spend their own money in the prison canteen. They are segregated in compounds according to the para-military organisation to which they claim allegiance, in the same way as detainees. The housing of male special category prisoners in compounds means that they are not closely controlled as they would be in a normal cellular prison, discipline within compounds is in practice exercised by compound leaders, and they are more likely to emerge with an increased commitment to terrorism than as reformed citizens. The special category prisoners regard themselves in much the same light as detainees, expecting that an amnesty will result in their not having to serve in full the sentences imposed on them … Although recognising the pressures on those responsible at the time, we have come to the conclusion that the introduction of special category status was a serious mistake;… We then pointed out that as long ago as early 1971 the then Government had been warned of the urgent need for a new prison. Sir Charles Cunningham reported on it to the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in January 1972. Then we said: Responsibility passed to the Westminster Government with direct rule in March 1972 and on 1st January 1974 to the Northern Ireland Office as a reserved function when the Northern Ireland Executive was set up. During that time not one brick has been laid towards the building of such a prison, and the Secretary of State's announcement on 18th Novem- ber 1974 revealed that a site at Maghaberry had only just been decided upon. There will be a further delay while a public inquiry is held into its compulsory acquisition. The present situation of Northern Ireland's prisons is so serious that the provision of adequate prison accommodation demands that priority be given to it by the Government in terms of money, materials and skilled labour such as has been accorded to no public project since the Second World War. Specifically we recommend that the Government find suitable sites on which building can start immediately on both the proposed temporary cellular prison for 700 and the permanent prison for 400–500 … At present the prison population is still rising rapidly. It went up by 786 (or 50 per cent.) in 1973, and has risen by a further 489 (or 21 per cent.) so far this year. We were not impressed by the attitude of complacency of those we saw from the Northern Ireland Office who are concerned with prison building. In the conditions which existed when we sat, the burning down of the Maze might well have happened at any time. The position today, six months after we have reported, is that not one brick has been laid on another.

May I mention one last point? We have taken a great deal of trouble in thinking out what ought to happen on release. A lot depends on whether detainees who are released are going to return to the same environment, be subject to the same influences and conduct themselves in future as they have done in the past. Many who have lived in appalling conditions cannot be regarded as normal if they have been there for some time. How they are treated when they come out is therefore important. In the interests of time, I will not read the Report, but we recommended a release board.

In the case of detainees, you cannot consider their past record because nothing has been proved against them. In many cases, no one will ever know whether they were guilty of the reason why they were detained. Most of the evidence for the Commissioners is from informers—first hand, second hand and third hand evidence. Informers cannot be cross-examined, because their lives would be in danger. Although for sensible reasons it is given the appearance of a trial, regarded as a trial, it is really a farce. But many detainees have changed their attitude and wish to take a different mode of life.

What help are they going to get from the community? We advised a release board which could consider not only the evidence against them, but their present state of mind. The Commissioners consider this when they have an application for release before them. The father and social workers, and so on, are consulted. Secondly we recommended, a halfway house, not exactly like Norman House, but a small house with a small staff, to which a detainee on being released could go for 36 hours. At the moment, this is all done in an hour. One moment they do not know whether they are going to be detained for the next three years, and then the next moment they are suddenly told, "You are released" and, within an hour, they are left outside the gate. No arrangements are made about transport, and they are not told anything about conditions in the outside world. A number of members took a great deal of trouble in working out a scheme. There ought to be a place to which they could go for 36 hours, where they could have a medical examination, and where they could have their social security rights explained to them. They could consider what they were to do so far as work was concerned —there is plenty of room in the training centres in Northern Ireland—and it could be seen how far they were prepared to go to other districts, et cetera.

Therefore, my Committee will be disappointed that there is to be no release board of that kind, no halfway house and no social service conditions for people to help them. I have mentioned these points not with a view to having a violent argument, but because those are the ones that my Committee will be most disappointed about. As there is no member of the Committee in the other place—both Houses will discuss these matters shortly—when they discuss it perhaps the other House, through the media upstairs, might wish to know what my Committee's reaction to the new Bill might be.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a great disappointment when one has spent a lot of time and made a lot of recommendations, if they are not immediately acted upon. I am disappointed that my noble and learned friend, who did such a splendid job, should have taken quite so long going through the things that were in the Report, which were not denied and which the Northern Ireland Office have been struggling desperately to put right. One would think the whole subject was treated with total neglect from the way my noble and learned friend spoke. This is not the case. I spend nearly all my time thinking about these matters, and very often my thoughts, with the help of others, have been based not only on things said by the Committee, but also on improvements, because we know a great deal more about them than the Committee possibly could. If your Lordships take, for example, resettlement—the idea of a house, like the Norman House, for 36 hours—of course this was thought about before, and it was followed up when my noble and learned friend and his Committee put it up. The answer from those who are dealing with these people was that as soon as a man knows he is going to be released, wild horses would not keep him in a house for 36 hours. It is a nonsensical suggestion. We all thought it rather a good one, but when we looked at it on the ground we rejected it. Inevitably, many others fall into that category.

I was interviewed by my noble and learned friend's Committee for quite a long time—I suppose two hours—and we talked about practically nothing else, except the fact that special category would be a mistake. There was not a single person in the Northern Ireland Office, the Prison Department, the Probation Service or the Judiciary who did not know and agree with this. It is very interesting, but it went on and on. We have had it again today. Of course we think special category is wrong, but we do not know how to get out of it. We are trying very hard, but it is an extremely difficult problem. I do not think it is particularly helpful to raise it here, when it is reasonably put in the Report which we have all had and it is going to be discussed tomorrow.

However, my noble and learned friend has done a marvellous job. I wrote to tell him that I thought it was a splendid Report. I think it was wrong on one or two points, but inevitably any Report of this kind must be. I think the speed and energy and devotion given to it was most remarkable. I am particularly sensitive to the suggestion that the prison building programme is a complacent affair. I know fairly well what it was like before I got there, because I know the people concerned. They are not complacent, but they have some appalling difficulties.

For example, Maghaberry is an ideal site for a prison. We had an 11 days' inquiry, and we have now waited for over two months but still do not have the Report. We may hear tomorrow that we cannot go there at all. After examining many other sites, we came to the conclusion that this was the best one and did the least harm to people, so we went for it. There is nothing easy about this. My noble and learned friend speaks as if there has been neglect, as if people could easily have built a major prison two years ago. But two years ago, my Lords, they were extending Long Kesh as fast as they could, as best they could, to try to keep murderers from killing other people in the country. Anyone would think they had a stable situation. But I must not go on like this. I feel that people who have worked as hard and under such difficulties deserve slightly less criticism than they had this evening.

There are only one or two points which I can answer now. My noble and learned friend was kind enough to say that he did not expect me to answer. I hope we shall have a debate in this House when the Bill comes through, when all these matters can be properly gone into. As to whether the Bill can get through in this Session, it is certainly the Government's intention that it should, but of course the Government do not have absolute power here and clearly it will be difficult. Personally, I think it will go through; I think it must. This is not to say that I am making any kind of promise.

My noble and learned friend raised one point about the timing. I was very much in sympathy with the general point made by the Gardiner Committee, which was that people who are ICO—taken in on an interim custody order—should have a very tightly-packed timetable. It should not be up to the administration to delay dealing with them, and therefore I was in favour of the general principle which my noble and learned friend put down. I have forgotten the exact date; I think it was 72 hours and 14 days, and then I think three weeks. The Government have gone a long way towards that in the Bill. They have extended that on the basis of practicality, through dealing with people who are doing the actual job. They have not extended it for any other reason. I hope he will accept that. In principle, of course, we agree.

Of course everybody knows that compounds are no way to keep people in prison. If my noble and learned friend will forgive me for going on a little longer, he did us less than justice in saying that not one brick had been put on another. We have two blocks of cellular accommodation well forward at one side of the Maze at the moment, where the site was ours so that we did not have to wait for an inquiry. We hope that these will be occupied by 1st October, and that will give us an opportunity to do something about a subject which he did not mention today but very properly mentioned in the Report—the extreme difficulty of dealing with juveniles. But we must not have our debate in advance of the day. When we have the debate I will be happy to cross swords at some length with my noble and learned friend—not for the first time. Meanwhile, I should like to say again that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and all of us were enormously grateful for my noble and learned friend's work, and for this document which is something we are all working on. Certainly, six months seems rather a long time but my noble and learned friend knows how these things are. People have to be consulted; lawyers are never quick, curiously enough, and I do not think it has been too bad. They will get their provisions before Parliament tomorrow, and, though it would have been much better done in three months, I should like to think he will feel it is not too bad that they have done it in six. My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said. He asked a couple of questions which I have forgotten, but I will write to him when the time comes. I hope your Lordships will accept this.

On Question, Motion agreed to.