HL Deb 24 July 1979 vol 401 cc1856-61

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Amendment) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved. In discussing the order the House may find it convenient to consider at the same time the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Amendment) Order 1979. With your Lordships' agreement, following this debate I shall be moving that this order, also, should be approved.

My Lords, the effect of these two orders is to proscribe the Irish National Liberation Army throughout the United Kingdom. They do so by adding the name of the INLA to the appropriate Schedule to each Act—Schedule 2 to the Emergency Provisions Act 1978 and Schedule 1 to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976. As a result, it is now an offence to belong to, or to profess to belong to, the organisation, to solicit or invite financial support for it, or knowingly to make or receive financial contributions on behalf of the organisation.

The INLA is stated to have links with the Irish Republican Socialist Party, a political group which broke away from the Official Sinn Fein in 1974. INLA have, however, gone beyond the mere expression of political views. They have admitted guilt for a number of shooting and bombing attacks in Northern Ireland, in which members of the security forces have been killed. Your Lordships will also know that INLA have publicly admitted that members of their organisation were responsible for the death of Mr. Airey Neave. He was a public figure, highly respected and personally known to many Members of both Houses of Parliament. The revulsion of feeling caused by that horrible deed was therefore acutely felt in Westminster. Your Lordships will realise that every time a private individual is cold-bloodedly slaughtered by terrorists there is a revulsion of feeling affecting his or her immediate circle of family, friends, relations, colleagues and members of his community, and that that revulsion is just as acute and just as important.

The Government believe that an organisation which thus invokes terrorism as a means of furthering political ends has no claim to a public platform in the same way as political groups which deploy lawful methods. While there is no doubt that the INLA is a much smaller organisation than the Provisional IRA and is of less significance, public confidence in the maintenance of law and order is nevertheless undermined by the lack of any legal restraint on the existence of such an organisation, or on seeking recruits or financial support for it. Proscription imposes restrictions on the activities of the organisation in terms of recruitment and fund-raising. It also enables the police to prosecute activists on charges of membership of an illegal organisation.

My Lords, this Government, like the previous Administration, have no wish to inhibit the freedom to express political views properly. But a line can and must be drawn between political and criminal acts. There can be no doubt that, by its admitted involvement in terrorism, INLA has crossed that line. Proscription of INLA has the support of the police and Army in Northern Ireland, and of the police in Great Britain. I believe it will also have the massive support of public opinion in the United Kingdom. The Government are satisfied that it is the right course to take, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 2nd July, be approved.—(Lord Elton.)

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for the way he has explained the details of these two orders. On this side of the House we wish to declare that we concur with the remarks that he has made and will support the orders.


My Lords, I think there is little that I should add on this point. We feel that we must support the inclusion of the INLA in this order. It goes against the grain, for we like to support the liberty of the individual, but we accept that the circumstances are too grave to allow it. We support the order.


My Lords, I should apologise for intervening today. When we had the debate on 9th July on what I might call the principal order I made some remarks which were, no doubt, ill-prepared, unclear and which certainly failed to persuade my noble friend the Minister. I tried then to suggest that there should be drafted one emergency law applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom. This might be either in replacement of the Emergency Provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act or it could be in addition to both of them. I hope that I shall be in order in trying to clarify that suggestion a little.

Such legislation, first of all, would be normally dormant except in "areas of civil disorder". That is the key concept. That concept, I believe, is comparable to the concept in French law of état d'urgence. Secondly, such a law should be capable of rapid activation with the consent of Parliament and subject to any other necessary safeguards. Its purpose would be to enable our constitutional democracy, to cope with violent minorities using terrorism or other illegal means without destroying the very principles of civilisation for which democracy stands.

The aim of the legislation that I have in mind is to make possible a graduated response by the Government. Perhaps I should give some examples. I think that, obviously, a different response is needed to, say, an oil spillage at sea as compared with an attempt by terrorists to take over a nuclear establishment; or, in the Northern Irish context, a different response may well be appropriate in Crossmaglen or the Shankill Road or Ballymurphy from that required in more peaceful and more law-abiding areas. If I could say something about the reasons for introducing such legislation, I would suggest that in the past it has not always been clear to the army which civil authority it should be supporting; it has not always been clear—and probably is still not clear—which police functions the army may assume in cases of need. I gave some examples on 9th July of someareas of military activity of doubtful legality. I accept that all or most of these were not per se illegal but they have undoubtedly given rise to uncertainty both within the army and within the civilian population.

Enemy propaganda, such as that of the Provisional IRA, has been able to feed on such uncertainty. I submit that we should do everything possible to remove it. I should like to emphasise that I am not suggesting a new emergency law for the reasons given by the Northern Irish Peace Movement in paragraph 6 of their proposals on the Emergency Provisions Acts. An equality of misery, as one might call it, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is not a desirable thing. However, I think that it is very significant when there is substantial agreement between, on the one hand, the advocates of peace and, on the other, distinguished members of the security forces.

In the past I have ventured to ask the Government what would be their view on certain novel security measures in Northern Ireland. I was thinking of, and mentioned, identity cards, widespread finger-printing and access by the security forces to some civilian records. I recognise that there are considerable difficulties in the use of any of these steps. But I urge the Government not to rule them out and to see whether there are lessons to be drawn from the Malayan emergency that may be relevant to the use of such measures in Northern Ireland.

In conclusion, I should say that I was amazed to find the following statement in a letter from my noble friend Lord Elton, for which I am grateful: The Government are satisfied that the effective operation of the security forces is not being hampered by lack of necessary information". This, I thought, was fine of the most remarkable and surprising statements that I had heard for a very long time. Why, if it is true, have unacceptable violence and armed insurgency been able to continue for very nearly 10 years? Why have the murderers of the late Mr. Neave not yet been arrested? Why is it necessary today to ban the Irish National Liberation Army? Good intelligence, I think it is universally accepted, is the key to successful counter-insurgency. It has been said that one informer is worth at least two infantry battalions. I beg the Government to ponder that remark and to do their utmost to win over, to use and to recompense, when necessary, as many informers and defectors as possible. This I believe to be the best and surest way in which to defeat the men of violence.


My Lords, I do not know whether this is the right time to ask a question, but, as we have seen, the other place has rejected, possibly rightly, the possibility of reintroducing capital punishment and I wonder if the noble Lord could say that there was any hope that the Government might introduce in its place a really genuine life sentence for acts of terrorism? We have seen only yesterday the case of an ex-murderer who had emerged from prison and who has already started a new life of crime. I think that a real life sentence would be the only hope.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord Hampton, for the cautious welcome they gave to this essential measure. I am obliged to my noble friend Lord Hylton for his disquisition on the état d'urgence as it might apply here. I cannot say that I follow him now that he has made the situation clearer. I wonder whether he is not perhaps in some respects under some misapprehension. The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which is, after all, half of what we are talking about today, already applies to the whole of the United Kingdom—which is what he wants. Indeed, so does the proscription of the INLA, which is what we are having this little debate about. That applies equally to the whole of the United Kingdom.

Much of what he seeks is already to hand. I do not think that it is really prudent for the noble Lord to suggest that we should want the sort of emergency legislation which is necessary in the Province to be ready to hand permanently in the rest of the United Kingdom. I suspect that this is applying equal measures to unequal situations, and I would think that there was something constitutionally undesirable about that. I shall however—now that the noble Lord has declared himself more fully and with marginally more notice than before—undertake to look at this matter; but I cannot give any grounds for enthusiastically awaiting my reply because I do not think that it will be very favourable.

The noble Lord then went on to quote from a letter that I wrote to him in reply to other matters after the last debate. It would have been to the advantage of the House if he had not started the quotation in the middle of a sentence. If I may give the whole passage, it reads: As regards your suggestion that the security forces should have access to DHSS census and other records… and then it goes on: the Government are satisfied that the effective operation of the security forces is not being hampered by lack of necessary information". The noble Lord was addressing himself in his speech specifically to that area and it was that area in which I replied. I am under no illusions whatsoever about the crucial importance of intelligence in any military operation whatsoever and its enhanced importance in internal security of the type with which we are dealing now. I am not aware that Her Majesty's Government, or any of my colleagues, are less than enthusiastic in pursuing it. I do not wish to deal further with the question of how far supposedly confidential documents are made the subject of public inquiry. I am satisfied that what can properly be done is being done and that, if there are innovations which will improve what is being done, they will be pursued. I hope that the noble Lord will be contented with that reply.