HL Deb 22 March 1979 vol 399 cc1327-51

6.5 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Boston of Faversham) rose to move, That the draft Order laid before the House on 19th February, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to continue in operation for a further period of 12 months the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976. The Act will lapse, unless renewed, on 24th March.

Before dealing with the case for renewal, I should like to look first at the contribution made to our deliberations by my noble friend Lord Shackleton in his report on the operation of the Act. All of us who are concerned in any way with this legislation must be very grateful indeed to the noble Lord for the clarity with which he has analysed its workings. He has given us, if I may say so, the definitive work on the Prevention of Terrorism Act. My noble friend had thorough discussions with those responsible for operating the Act, both in the police service and in the Government Departments concerned. He carried out a large number of visits to police forces throughout the United Kingdom to discuss with those on the ground the important work they did in connection with the Act and to see for himself the procedures as they operated and the conditions of detention.

The result is a detailed review of each of the powers in the Act and its operation. But his lucid report has enlarged not only our understanding of how the legislation works but also our appreciation of its effects on the liberties of the subject. It is here that my noble friend has made a particularly constructive contribution. Instead of indulging in the sterile polemics which all too frequently are the only product of discussions about terrorism, he has made some practical suggestions about how to alleviate some of the Act's adverse effects while preserving powers essential to the prevention of terrorism.

My noble friend's recommendations fall broadly into two categories: first, there are those which bear on the consequences of decisions made under the Act and of the procedures associated with it, and second, there are the powers themselves. In the first category, my noble friend has made recommendations on the provision of financial assistance to those affected by exclusion; on the need for a review of exclusion orders; on the improvement of detention conditions and procedures; and on statistics. In the second category, there are two main recommendations: on the one hand, in relation to the powers of detention at ports and, on the other, in relation to Section 11 of the Act; namely, the offence of withholding information about acts of terrorism. I will deal with each of these recommendations in turn.

My noble friend has recognised that the Act may have far-reaching effects. Exclusion may result in the break up of a family and in the loss, for the excluded person, of his livelihood. Two of my noble friend's recommendations were aimed at alleviating some of this hardship: first that there should be a review of exclusion order cases, and second, that financial assistance should be considered for relatives and friends of excluded persons for the purpose of making visits.

I accept that after the passage of time there may no longer be good reason to continue to exclude a person. He may have given up his involvement in terrorism and it is right that we should look again at the decision to exclude. My right honourable friend and I have accordingly given this matter careful thought. We have decided that three years is a sufficiently long period for a person who has genuinely given up a former terrorist involvement to demonstrate that he has done so. What we propose, therefore, is that after three years each excluded person will be asked whether he wants to have his exclusion reviewed, and if he does, to provide certain information about his occupation, residence, and so on during the period since his exclusion. We shall also ask the police to assess whether the exclusion of the person continues to be justified. My right honourable friend will then consider the case and decide whether or not to revoke the order.

We shall make an announcement giving full details of the scheme when it begins, and we shall make sure that the people excluded after that time are told about these arrangements at the time of exclusion. If we do not have the excluded person's current address when his case comes up for review, we must rely on him to approach us.

I hope your Lordships will agree that this is a fair and sensible scheme. Your Lordships will already have realised that as more than three years have passed since the first exclusion order was made, the review will begin with a backlog of cases. So it will not be possible straight away to review every case as soon as it is three years old, but we shall make three years our aim, and shall try to clear the backlog as quickly as possible.

Turning to my noble friend's recommendation about financial assistance, I must admit to some doubts. I cannot accept that exclusion necessarily results in hardship for the friends of excluded persons, and I do not think that financial assistance for them can really be contemplated. I recognise, however, that the family of an excluded person can suffer hardship, but I do not think that the provision of financial assistance towards the cost of making visits would do much to alleviate that hardship. Indeed, there is a danger that by giving such assistance we might encourage members of the family to act as couriers. What may be of more practical value is to offer the family some financial help towards their removal costs to enable them to join the excluded person in his new home. We are looking into this to see whether it is feasible.

My noble friend also looked at ways in which the effects of detention under the Act might be ameliorated, and he made three recommendations with this in mind. He made the valid point that police cells are not normally used, or indeed designed, to house suspects for periods as long as seven days; and my right honourable friend and I accept his recommendation that more thought should be given to matters such as diet, exercise, and comfort.

My noble friend also recommended that there should be greater uniformity of practice in notifying detained people of their rights. He describes in his report how, during his visits to police forces throughout the country, he noticed variations in the way in which people were informed of their rights. As he pointed out, one of the Administrative Directions to the Judges' Rules states that, people in custody should not only be informed orally of the rights and facilities available to them, but in addition, notices describing them should be displayed at convenient and conspicuous places at police stations, and, the attention of persons in custody should be drawn to these notices". I have no reason to believe that these procedures are not followed, but I accept my noble friend's point that the way in which detained people are notified of their rights should, if possible, be the same at each police station. We are considering the best and most convenient way of doing this, and my right honourable friend hopes soon to be able to issue advice on this matter to Chief Officers of Police.

In addition, my noble friend recommended that steps should be taken to ensure that the fullest possible records of interviews with people detained under the Act are kept. As he pointed out, this is important for at least two basic reasons: a full record would help to protect the police against allegations that their questioning was in any way unfair, and it would also reassure the person detained that if he were to make a complaint, all the information would be available. We have therefore accepted this recommendation as well. My right honourable friend proposes to issue guidance to Chief Officers on the best way of implementing these three recommendations, which we believe will lessen some of the adverse effects of detention under the Act.

My noble friend considered in some detail the powers which the police have at ports to examine and detain travellers. They may detain a person at a port for up to seven days on their own authority, and that period may be further extended on the authority of the Secretary of State. There has been criticism of the fact that a person may be detained by the police for as long as seven days without the reasons for detention being examined by any independent authority, and my noble friend made two recommendations aimed at meeting this concern. He recommended that the total period of detention permissible at a port should not exceed seven days, and that the police at a port should have power to detain on their own authority for only 48 hours, the authority of the Secretary of State being required for a further period of detention of up to five days. My right honourable friend and I have accepted these recommendations, and my right honourable friend has made an order—the Prevention of Terrorism (Supplemental Temporary Provisions) Amendment Order 1979—implementing them. He has also set in hand arrangements for implementing my noble friend's recommendations about the way in which statistics about the use made of the Act are compiled and presented. My right honourable friend has arranged for the publication of the relevant statistics at quarterly intervals.

I come now to the one recommendation which my noble friend made which my right honourable friend and I find we cannot accept. This is his recommendation that Section 11 of the Act, which makes it an offence to withhold information about acts of terrorism, should be dropped. Noble Lords may remember that this section was introduced in 1976 as a result of an Amendment put down in another place. The Government did not initially believe that it was necessary, but were persuaded by the arguments put forward at that time. We have therefore taken careful account of these arguments when considering my noble friend's recommendation. One of the things which seems to have influenced him in making this recommendation was the fact that this section has been little used in Great Britain, but this is one of the reasons why, after careful thought, we have decided not to advise the dropping of Section 11. We think that more time is needed to see how effective it really is. We have also sought advice from the police. They believe that Section 11 is useful, and it will not have escaped the attention of noble Lords that a number of people have been charged under this section in connection with the recent bomb attacks. My right honourable friend has accordingly decided that Section 11 should be retained for the time being, but that, if the Act is renewed, the question should be re-examined next year.

I come now to the Act itself, and the question of whether it should be renewed. Before deciding on this, your Lordships will, I know, wish to have the customary report on the use which has been made of the Act. Between 29th November 1974, and 28th February this year, 3,862 people in Great Britain were detained under the Act—2,685 at ports or airports, and 1,177 elsewhere. In this period, my right honourable friend and his predecessor approved extensions of detention beyond 48 hours with respect to 379 persons detained inland, and made 166 exclusion orders. One hundred and twenty-three people were removed under this legislation to Northern Ireland, and 27 to the Republic of Ireland. Six persons were already outside Great Britain when the orders were made. Twenty-six people made representations under the legislation against their exclusion orders. Seven persons had their orders revoked as a result of these representations, and five for other reasons.

Before concluding my report on the use made of the Act, I turn briefly to the question of criminal charges. Up to the end of February 1979, 58 people detained under the Act were charged with offences or conspiracy to commit offences under the Act, and a further 203 were charged with other offences. In addition, eight persons were charged with offences under the Act after being detained under other powers. I should, however, introduce a note of caution here. Some critics have pointed to the relatively low number of charges as evidence of the fact that the Act is not effective. But this ignores the point that the Act is primarily a preventive measure, and that, where the police have evidence of the commission of a substantive offence, they would normally use other powers available to them to arrest and detain the suspect. It cannot be said too often that the powers contained in this Act are exceptional, and that we should not allow ourselves to be lulled into accepting them as a permanent part of the criminal law. That is why it is entirely right, in my submission, that we should be required every year to think very carefully about whether these powers should be renewed. I certainly hope that in the not too distant future we shall be able to dispense with them, but that time is not yet.

Noble Lords will recall the incidents of last December and this January. Little imagination is needed to realise the terrible devastation which could have been caused, particularly by the bombs planted on Canvey Island and at Greenwich. On those occasions, fortunately, no one was killed or seriously injured; but we cannot rely upon such good fortune to protect us from the activities of that minority which appears to think that the answer to the problems of Northern Ireland lies in the killing and maiming of innocent people. We must make it quite clear that the Government will never give in to blackmail. The most effective way of doing this is to ensure that the police, on whom we rely for protection, are given the powers which they need to detect and apprehend those responsible for these attacks. This is an appropriate point, perhaps, for me to place on record our warmest thanks to the police for the selfless determination and skill with which they combat the threat of terrorism in this country, and also the bravery and proficiency of the bomb disposal officers, members of the Fire Service and all others involved in combatting or dealing with the effects of terrorism.

My Lords, there are some who have criticised this Act on the grounds that it infringes civil liberties. That is a valid point, and it is one which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has always accepted. However, it is his duty, and ours, if I may say so, to seek to achieve a balance between the need to preserve civil liberties and the need to protect the lives and property of the overwhelming mass of the law-abiding citizens of this country. Indeed, I would remind noble Lords that in preventing terrorism we help to preserve the basic civil liberties themselves, to which my noble friend referred in the concluding paragraph of his report. Those are the rights to stay alive and to go about one's business without fear. I believe that the implementation of my noble friend's recommendations will make a useful contribution towards the protection of civil liberties, and I believe that the renewal of this Act will make an equally useful contribution towards the protection of the public. I would therefore ask noble Lords to support me in the Motion for renewal. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Order laid before the House on 19th February, be approved.—(Lord Boston of Faversham.)

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, just before the noble Lord rose to move this Motion the House had been dealing with all the stages of an emergency Bill. I had forgotten that in November 1974 your Lordships, having debated a Green Bill on the Thursday, were here at five past nine on the Friday morning in order to pass on to the Statute Book the original 1974 Act; and this was done amid the revulsion that attended the bombings in the public-houses in Birmingham and similar evil horrors that the Provisional IRA had committed. One thing has not changed from that day to this, and that is that in all quarters of the House, whatever the views of noble Lords may be on other things, we do not doubt that we have to have adequate powers to deal with terrorists who behave like that, and who behave in the way that we have seen them behave since.

It is difficult, of course, when this matter comes up year by year, to say anything very original, but there is one thing that has to be done on each occasion. We will have to surround it with all our usual phrases—and there are some extra things to say this year—but there is one thing that has to be done, and that is that we have to judge, as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, has just said, whether we should extend these powers for a further year. The reason for that, of course, is that even in 1974 there was no disguising the fact that the powers in the Act as we now have it, and as it was then, encroach very substantially upon important personal liberties; and, so, every time we extend it we have to look to see whether there is a true justification for doing so, either in the existing form or with modifications—and the justification is the one issue, really, that is paramount before this House this evening. It has been explained to us by the noble Lord today, and of course it was explained yesterday in another place by his right honourable friend; and for both those careful expositions we are all very grateful.

The order has survived a searching scrutiny, taking many hours yesterday in another place, much of which was rightly dealing with points arising on individual cases, where honourable and right honourable Members had had constituency problems which they had had to deal with, and where, of course, a number of honourable Members from Northern Ireland also had a good deal of great relevance to say. I am extremely pleased to see my noble friend Lord Brooke-borough in his place to contribute from that quarter here, although the rest of us may have had, perhaps, less daily contact which may inevitably occur and which have to be carefully examined—and I know they are carefully examined—there is the point that the noble Lord has just made, that the other personal liberty is also at stake: the liberty not to be shot dead or blown up by some callous and wholly inhuman terrorist with distorted values, if you can call them values at all.

My Lords, to whatever depths those against whom we struggle may sink—and one would think it would be difficult to sink much lower than they do—the one thing that, as responsible legislators, we must be very careful of is this: We must assume and maintain only the minimum powers that are needed to fight back against them. So, if there are improvements to be made in the machinery that we have devised, then there is no time like the present to examine them and to put them into effect; and I was very pleased to hear what the noble Lord said (which, of course, was an echo of what was said yesterday) about the improve- ments that are being made—and there in his place is the noble Lord to whom we are all indebted, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whose careful inquiry has led to the identification of these points and the ability to put them right so quickly.

Of course I join, as I am sure the whole House joins, in the thanks to him for taking a good deal of time and trouble, and using, I would think, a good deal of imagination, and certainly a great deal of assiduity and energy, in finding out what it was that was wrong and making practical suggestions about how to put it right. He had to accept as part of his terms of reference the need for this legislation. We do not have to do so in this House; because the day after tomorrow it runs out, as the noble Lord has told us, unless we agree. But, of course, in practice on a matter like this your Lordships can only judge upon the basis of what well-informed people tell us. On this occasion, what they all say is unanimous. The noble Lord's right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in another place said yesterday that these powers are still essential for the task for which they were introduced. He says so; he says that the police say so; and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that the Royal Ulster Constabulary say so. I think the police force in this country say so—but that was last year; and I notice that my honourable friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds who is up to date with the news from the police, yesterday said that the police in both parts of the United Kingdom still say so. I was interested to see—and perhaps it is a little wry comment—that even the Provisional IRA have acknowledged that these powers are indeed frustrating their aims in this country. That, surely, is tribute enough.

Then, my Lords, one might say that perhaps it has been successful, that all is now well and we can relax our guard. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, has reminded us of Greenwich and Canvey Island. Without being in any way alarmist, and without knowing whether or not it is at all true, there have been threats in the multiple elections that we have coming up this year—whether the IRA have picked it up from the terrorists in Rhodesia or vice versa, I do not know— that we shall be subjected to disruptions in that event. On the "tape" outside, there is a suggestion—and again I have no idea of its authenticity—that the disgraceful and lamentable killing of our Ambassador at The Hague may have some connection with the Provisional IRA, even upon the basis that it is now so difficult for them to operate in this country that they have had to attack British targets abroad. That is no comfort to the wretched family of Sir Richard Sykes, but it may show that the provisions that we are discussing are still all too necessary for us to have as part of our internal machinery —if, of course, there is anything whatever in this suggestion.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has recommended the changes to which the noble Lord, Lord Boston, has referred. I am agreeably surprised that, for all the care in his scrutiny, he found so few matters on which to recommend changes. In that event, it must be all the more worthwhile to take advantage of the opportunity to take up all the suggestions that he makes except for the one about Section 11 of the Act. He did not know—and I am sorry that for the moment he has had to leave the Chamber—and he cannot have known, that not only had the Royal Ulster Constabulary used the powers in Section 11, I think, over a period of time; but he certainly could not have known that some of the people arrested as a result of recent bombs and who live in or around Braintree, have been charged under this very section. This has happened since his report was published. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, having now returned to his seat, perhaps I may repeat that since he recommended that Section 11 should have been dispensed with there have been the events which have led to people being charged in Essex under this section. One would think, therefore, that its usefulness for at least another year has been reinforced.

My Lords, I would support the Government in what they have decided to do here, particularly as the whole of this procedure is being kept under review all the time. I would not go so far as to say with its author, the honourable Member for Islington South and Finsbury, that this should be a permanent part of our criminal law. I agree entirely that it should be reviewed again and its usefulness reconsidered. But, for the moment, it would seem that is still serving a useful purpose and I support what the Government say about that. I would also support—and I think that this is all one needs to say about this at the moment—the rapid acceptance of the Bennett recommendations about various events that have come to light in the interrogation procedures. This seems to me to be exactly the right reaction that we should give to a report of this sort. Beyond that, one cannot possibly go in advance of any investigation as to conceivable offences that might have been committed and which have been investigated in that way. I welcome the quick response that the Government have made to these suggestions and I welcome also the inquiry which is being made into the allegations recently put forward by Dr. Irwin.

My Lords, there is only one thing I should like to ask the noble Lord. It arises from paragraphs 146 and 148, towards the end of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. It is really the relationship between the procedures when people are detained under these powers and are interrogated and the similar procedures under the Judges' Rules which would apply when a charge is anticipated under the ordinary criminal law. I can quite see that the Judges' Rules are of no direct relevance when there is not going to be a charge laid, because there is no question of the admissibility of any statement since there would be no court appearance and no judge to rule it inadmissible. I am not entirely sure, as I read this passage in the noble Lord's report, and I am wondering whether he is saying there has been any departure from what would be the Judges' Rules procedure either as to records of interviews or access to solicitors; and, if so, whether this is something which ought to he remedied. I suspect that he is not; and that he is merely saying that, although the Judges' Rules do not strictly apply, they are being complied with and should be complied with.

So far as access to solicitors is concerned—and I have looked up the book, not being a criminal lawyer myself—I note that there is a period of time where a suspect is not allowed access to his solicitor if it would hinder or interfere with the course of the investigation. I suppose that must be only for a certain length of time. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Boston, can confirm that I am right in thinking that these procedures are being followed as if the Judges' Rules apply; and that it is only that the noble Lord is recommending a few particular adaptations to a case where there will be no trouble but merely, perhaps, an exclusion order, if that is approved.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount leaves that point, I think that he ought not to assume that he is right in drawing the conclusion that he has drawn as to what I actually meant.


My Lords, that is an interesting comment. Therefore, there may be more point than I thought in the question that I put to the noble Lord, Lord Boston. If it can be cleared up at some time, I think it right that it should be cleared up; because the Judges' Rules were invented for a purpose, and the purpose was a civilised one and one relating to fairness. If there is something that underlies the noble Lord's remarks in these paragraphs, I would hope that it would be explored.


My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Viscount. I do not want to take part in the debate. Quoting from the introduction to the report, on the subject of police powers and procedure I say: The more I searched for certainty of fact and unanimity of opinion as to what powers do or ought to exist, the more elusive these things became".


My Lords, the mystery does not become clearer as the noble Lord intervenes. Possibly, the noble Lord, Lord Boston, would like to look into this and let me know. I would suggest that the mere absence of a possible charge and trial ought not to make a fundamental difference to the methods under which suspects are interrogated and otherwise dealt with. This is, indeed, part of the spirit of Lord Shackleton's suggestions. If there is something that could be explored, I shall leave it to the noble Lord and I shall not pursue it this evening. Having said that, I accept that we have to renew this order for another year and that the noble Lord has made out his case. He has certainly convinced me, and I would be prepared to advise those on this side of the House that until 1980 we must continue to have these powers.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, these periodic proceedings for the extension of the Prevention of Terrorism Act inevitably cause heart-searching problems for people of liberal minds. There is the obvious conflict which I do not need to stress between the threat to civil liberties which is posed by this Act and is posed increasingly as it tends to drift through constant renewal into a state of semi-permanence, and the equally obvious threat that is posed to our liberties by the appalling and outrageous acts of the terrorists.

In that situation, it is not very helpful to approach this whole problem in terms of deep-seated political principle; the matter has to be approached in practical terms. Each provision has to be looked at to see to what extent it is effective. In so far as it is effective, I believe that it should be supported; in so far as it proves to be either ineffective or excessive, it should be opposed. The great virtue of the wholly admirable report by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was that it provided such a very clear picture of the actual working of each section of this Act in turn. It did so in such a way as certainly to convince the Liberal Party in both Houses of Parliament that there is a formidable case for supporting the approval of the continuation order which is before your Lordships today.

At the same time, there are obviously matters which arise out of that report and the working of the Act to which consideration will have to be given in the very near future: the whole question, for example, of the power to proscribe certain organisations. I strongly suspect that has proved to be no more than a cosmetic power; I doubt if it has achieved anything of any practical value. It has perhaps served to increase to some extent the morale of the population who are at risk from the terrorists and that of course is in itself a worthwhile object but perhaps one that ought not to be exaggerated.

As to the powers of exclusion, I note with approval that the Minister and his right honourable friend have agreed that there should be periodic reviews of such exclusion orders as have been made. There is inevitably a demand that there should be some form of judicial review or appeal procedure where exclusion orders are being made. Noble Lords will have read with great interest what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said about that matter. I believe that he is absolutely right: exclusion orders have to be recognised for what they are, as executive acts. As with deportation orders in certain spheres, any attempt to impose a form of judicial review on top of what is and must be an executive, administrative act is bound to fail.

The third area with which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, dealt was the operation of Section 11. I respectfully support what he had to say, and I differ from the view which the Government have decided to take. This view was expressed by myself and my colleagues when the Act first came into force. It seems to us that there was something unrealistic, particularly in the circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland, in making it a criminal offence for a person to fail to disclose information about his neighbours' activities. We doubt whether that is an effective provision, and we certainly press the noble Lord for information as to its effectiveness when this matter comes next to be considered.

As to the powers of detention, there is no doubt on the figures that they have been to some extent effective and any effectiveness, bearing in mind the appalling consequences that might follow from one of these acts of terrorism, does—and I say it with some reluctance—justify the sweeping powers of detention that are given under this Act. They are sweeping without being novel. We tend to talk as though it is quite impossible under our ordinary law for people to be detained in custody before they are charged for a period of three, four, five or six days. It has frequently happened in numerous cases in the ordinary criminal law. It is not the novel power that it is sometimes said it is.

One sympathises with the agitation which has taken place that people who are detained under Section 12 should have immediate access to legal representation. One's instincts say that this is obviously desirable; it is obviously fair and it is obviously just. Yet, again, I cannot help thinking that the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on this matter are justified. Not to put too fine a point on it, there is no doubt that there are now a very small number of lawyers who are practising who are prepared to become politically committed alongside their clients, and one is obviously worried as to the dangers that might arise from allowing people who have been detained under Section 12 immediate contact with lawyers who might be prepared to take action out of sympathy for the cause for which those who are detained stand.

The proposal as to Section 13, the ports control, that time limits for detention should be modified, has been accepted by the Government, and we welcome that. Perhaps in a sense it was hardly necessary to refer to the separate sections of the principal Act today because the only choice before us today is whether to renew the Act; there is no choice as to amending any particular provisions within it. On balance, I am in no doubt that we have no alternative but to renew the Act as a whole. I hope that there will not be a similar order brought forward next year but that the Government will instead do what they did in 1976, which was to reintroduce the Act as a substantive Bill so that full and detailed consideration can be given to every part of it. Some of the amendments may then be brought forward which have been postulated in Lord Shackleton's report to which I referred today.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Government in the extension of this Act. Before I go into it, I should like to join in the tributes which have been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for his report. His experience in Northern Ireland goes back nearly 40 years, and nobody in this House has more practical experience and more sympathy with the problems in Northern Ireland than the noble Lord. It gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to him, his report and those who wrote it. It is so clearly written that nobody could misunderstand it.

I should like to discuss this Act in the context of Northern Ireland and especially in the context of the Bennett Report and the now notorious television programme which was used to do "one-upmanship" on the Northern Ireland Office presented by London Weekend Television. With all the fuss that has been caused by the apparent attempt to discredit a doctor, a lot of points have been lost in the smoke. I think that it is necessary to state absolutely clearly, as my noble friend Lord Colville did, that the emergency which existed at the time this House passed the original Act is still in existence today. In Northern Ireland we are still virtually at war with the terrorists. I do not want to detain the House tonight by paying a long tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to the Armed Forces and the UDR, but I cannot let it go because parts of the Bennett Report have in fact appeared to criticise the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I do not believe personally that any other force could have stood for 10 years with such a blameless record as they have.

At this moment not only the security forces and the police but also the ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland have been deprived of civil rights for 10 years. It is their civil rights—and even their right to life—which are being denied to them by the terrorists. It seems to me that, in the public discussion that has been going on, that fact has been forgotten; that it is the rights of the ordinary person in Northern Ireland and to a lesser extent, thank goodness! in this country, which have to be protected. If I draw your Lordships' attention to one or two events which have happened only in the last few days, it is because I feel very strongly about them.

Let us take the case of one man, Sergeant McConkey, who is aged 28; he comes from a place a short distance away from me and I know the family extremely well. He is now lying in hospital with no legs, one arm off and nearly blind. That surely is a deprivation of civil rights. Last week a little girl aged 9 was shot and wounded on her way to school, and only a few days ago some civilians were wounded and two soldiers were murdered in an indiscriminate attack by mortars in Newtown Hamilton.

I feel very strongly that when we discuss these matters with reference to the Bennett Report and to the suggestions, as yet unproved, that the interrogators of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have been assaulting prisoners, we should consider the assaults on Sergeant McConkey and on all those soliders, and compare their injuries with the bruises which terrorists may have suffered as a result of interrogation. We must get the context right.

But, having said that we must get the context right and must look after the ordinary citizens and the security forces, of course we have a secondary duty. That is to see that no illegitimate force is used by the authorities on somebody under interrogation. A proper balance really must be kept, however, and in the discussion about the Bennett Report, and indeed almost one could say in the Bennett Report itself, I feel that this balance has not in fact been kept. In our efforts to prevent power being used by the interrogators to assault or in any way affect the civil rights of suspects, we must not make arrangements which will blunt the instrument of interrogation. If the conviction rate goes down, the murder rate goes up—I have seen this in my own country—and you end up with sectarian murder in the place of justice. That is the issue. Sectarian murder at the moment is not a major issue but if we blunt the instrument of interrogation we shall definitely run back into that situation.

Interrogation is not a matter—and people are inclined to forget this—of beating a confession out of someone. With all the experience we have, that is counter-productive. But neither is it a question of a cosy tea-time chat or a well-conducted seminar. Even a child who has pinched a lump of sugar does not find the interview with its mother or father prior to confession a very pleasant thing. Certainly interrogation in a serious crime must create a much greater tension than exists in the questioning of children. It is a question of psychological pressure to elicit information. People are talking about confessions as if they were the only thing that is wanted from these suspects. The fact is that these IRA operators are all well known and they are all known to be involved: what is missing is the evidence to convict. At the present moment, it is just as important to get information about the whole of the terrorist organisation as it is to get a confession. So I am quite confident that the question of assault can be fairly dealt with, but in doing so we must not blunt the instrument.

There are two recommendations in the Bennett Report which, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others who are directly involved, will in fact blunt that instrument. The first is the recommendation that nothing should be done to cause physical exhaustion to the suspect. To enforce that literally is impossible, because what is the definition of "physical exhaustion"? I do not know whether or not the Government have accepted that recommendation, but to do so would nullify the advantage which this Act gives in allowing seven days' interrogation.

I know that my noble friend Lord Colville does not agree with me, but believe that an even worse recommendation—which has been accepted—is that every 48 hours a suspect can have a comforting visit from a solicitor. My Lords, the solicitors involved in these cases are for the most part experts, politically involved, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said, in the aims of the IRA. Can there be anything more comforting than to have every 48 hours—just when the tension is perhaps about to produce the information that is required—a visit from a solicitor who is an expert in these matters? It seems to me ironic that police in this country can still use that seven days' detention without any hindrance while the police in Northern Ireland, where the revolution is still very much alive, are denied that.

Lastly, in the Bennett Report, there is a recommendation to install television in interrogation rooms. Unless we go the whole hog on the installation of television and install it not only in interrogation rooms but also in the cells of the suspects we shall fail to get the advantage which we should get—which is to see to it that false accusations about the police are stopped. It is in the cells after interrogation that the suspects in fact inflict a lot of the damage upon themselves; and then we have these rumours. I think the installation of television should go even as far as the lavatories, because if they find a television set in their cell they will inflict the damage somewhere else. I should like to have an assurance from the Government on that particular situation.

It has been said time and time again that in this particular battle we are fighting for the minds of people. I was interested to see that the Irish Ambassador in Washington drew attention to this matter. His remarks were not very widely reported in the British Press but what he said was that immense damage would be done by the misrepresentation of the Bennett Report in America and that it would increase the flow of funds from America to the IRA. About a week ago I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, the question of the public reputation of this country in America, with regard to Northern Ireland. All the reports that I get are that we stand very low; and, indeed, the other day we saw Senator Kennedy making remarks which I do not think were appropriate. I think that the situation in America is extremely serious. We have very bad publicity there on these issues of H Block and interrogation.

Even before the Bennett Report was published, the attack on our institutions had already begun. The now notorious London Weekend Television programme was shown. It is such a biased programme because it is only when a programme is biased that it sells well. It has sold to something like 160 stations throughout the world. Nothing could be better, if you want to make money out of a television programme, than to make sure that it is sold throughout the world, and you will get it sold in such places only if it is biased against the institution.

I know that the Secretary of State agrees that this programme was a highly articulate, efficient and skilful piece of IRA propaganda. In the first instance, it was calculated to discredit the police, and, in the second, to discredit the Army. In the section of that film which dealt with the Army, there was no mention at any time of the casualties that the Army have suffered—290 killed and some 3,000 wounded. There was no mention at all of any of that. So far as the public is concerned, anybody seeing that film in a country outside this will have no knowledge of the hundreds of hours a week that the Army have to spend in protecting the lives and civil rights of ordinary citizens.

Lastly, the film attacked the courts. How much easier it would have been for that attack to succeed had we in this House not persuaded the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that the courts of Northern Ireland should rest in his able hands. It would have been an ideal opportunity for them if the courts now rested in the Northern Ireland Office, and I feel so glad that the noble and learned Lord saw fit to accept the responsibility.

I do not want to inhibit the media from discussing topics. Indeed, this is a very relevant topic for them to discuss. But the television service is a kind of semi-monopoly, and in those conditions it should observe some balance, particularly when the Constitution of the country is under attack. It was, to me, a most peculiar situation, that a highly talented journalist of known Republican-Marxist views— she has declared it absolutely publicly—should have been entrusted with the task of organising a report which involved the inclusion of a section of recent Ulster history.

Those who did not see the programme should note that the history started in 1968 and went up to 1972—Bloody Sunday—but it went no further. We did not have the La Mon disaster, when the IRA incinerated a whole restaurant full of people. We did not see the killing of two youths the other day, on their way to a dance, who were blown to pieces by the IRA. No, my Lords, we could not have that. First, it would not help to sell the programme; and, secondly, it would justify the powers for which the Government are asking today.

But taking the Bennett Report and this film together, I feel that the Secretary of State—and he is a man I much admire for his handling of these affairs—must have realised in advance that this assault was about to come. In the Northern Ireland Office, they have a very close feel and knowledge about what is going on, what television programme is coming up and what is the content of that programme; and it was, and is, in my view, the Government's duty to put the case for the security forces. This ought to have been done, and done in advance of the attack by this television programme.

I wonder—and I have considerable experience from being in charge of the Department of Information in the Govern- ment of my noble friend Lord Moyola in 1971—whether there is a case for reviewing the set-up of information, and for having what I would describe as a director of truth, because what we must have is a positive policy of telling the truth; not a policy of denying lies, which is what we are doing. If we always deny lies, we can never catch up, because once the lies are ahead the truth never overcomes the lies. There has been much experience gathered in the last few years about the psychology of anti-terrorist warfare, and I wonder whether there is a case for appointing somebody, such as Dr. Clutter-buck or Professor Wilkinson, to advise the Government on a long-term basis about getting ahead of the game and telling the truth.

I end with a quotation from Milton, who said: He who seeks to overcome by force alone hath overcome but half his foe". Nothing is truer than that, so far as our information service is concerned. I support the Government.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to my noble friend Lord Brookeborough, I feel that I must rise very briefly to say a word in support of what he said about the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and against the propaganda to which that force is now liable to be subjected, in so far as that has a bearing on this order.

It is now a little over nine years since my colleagues and I reported to the then Northern Ireland Government on the police force in Northern Ireland, but I have an abiding memory of a force which was not only individually courageous, but was corporately highly disciplined, forbearing and even-handed in its dealings with the public. I cannot believe that that general impression—that truth, as I saw it then—has altered over the years between, despite the many things that have happened of a terrible nature in Northern Ireland.

I find it perhaps more alarming than intolerable that the high reputation of that splendid force, the RUC, should be tarnished in the public mind by the actions of what must have been a very few officers in that force, and without, no doubt, the knowledge of the great majority of men and women in the RUC. I can only say that this has a very strong bearing on this order, because it must be of absolutely fundamental importance that nothing should be done to undermine the morale of the RUC, on whom the people of Northern Ireland so greatly depend, and I naturally support the renewal of this order.

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say how grateful I am to those noble Lords who have spoken in support of the Motion for this order, albeit with the reservations which we all share. Perhaps I may also join with all those noble Lords who have spoken, in warmly thanking my noble friend Lord Shackleton once again for the tremendous amount of work which he did, indeed, put into drawing up his report. I am sure that we are all immensely grateful to him. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, referred to our Ambassador in the Hague. So far as that situation is concerned, there is nothing that I can add to what my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts said this afternoon, but I am quite sure that we all share in what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said, in our wish to have our feelings of sympathy and distress sent to the family.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I certainly join with them in the tribute that has been paid. As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, indicated, they really are in the front line of these activities and they deserve our strongest praise and commendation for the work that they do. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for what he said about the Motion. Before I come to a rather more detailed point, may I say, so far as his suggestion is concerned, that if your Lordships pass this Motion tonight the Government might consider next year reintroducing the Act as a Bill. I shall certainly see that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, is conveyed to my right honourable friend so that we can bear it in mind when we are giving further consideration to these matters.

A further point which has been raised relates to the Judges' Rules and also to the Bennett Report. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to take two or three minutes to deal, at least in part, with this point. Concern was expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, about the recommendations relating to access to solicitors which were made in the Bennett Report, published last Friday. The question of access is very important. First, may I say that I am able to make it quite clear that the Judges' Rules, the administrative directions to the Police and Section 62 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 all apply to people detained under the prevention of terrorism legislation in exactly the same way as to people who are detained under other powers.

There are two particular points to note about these provisions, and they are these. First, none of them recognises any right for a solicitor to be present when a person in custody is questioned. The right which is recognised is the right to contact or to consult. Secondly, the rights to which I have referred are all subject, in effect, to important provisos. These provisos recognise that there may be a good reason in a particular case for holding a person incommunicado. For example, the police may have arrested one member of a gang and fear that premature disclosure of the arrest may lead to the escape of his associates, the destruction of evidence or attempts to interfere with witnesses. This was a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, alluded in his remarks.

The provisos are not to be applied indiscriminately, but they are essential in particular cases where the kind of circumstances to which I have referred may apply. Clearly the Judges' Rules envisage that the fact of arrest should not operate as a matter of routine to prevent someone obtaining legal advice, if he wishes to do so. Equally, Section 62 envisages that an arrested person shall be able to let a relative or friend or a solicitor know of the fact of his arrest and his whereabouts. As noble Lords know, the general question of access to legal advice is central to the work of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure who are, I understand, commissioning research on these very matters as well as considering the issues of principle involved here. The question of access to solicitors does not stand alone. It needs to be seen in the wider context of the right of silence, the status of the Judges' Rules, the control of police questioning and so on. Evidence which has been submitted to the Commission from various quarters, including the Home Office, attests to the widely divergent views which are held on these questions. On the substance, therefore, I think that we must leave it to the Commission itself to evaluate the evidence before them and to make what recommendations they judge to be appropriate at the end of the day.

The only other thing that I should like to add in relation to the Bennett Committee to which the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, also referred is that it was set up following the allegations of ill-treatment which were made by Amnesty International about interrogations in Northern Ireland of terrorist suspects. No such allegations have been made about the questioning of suspects in Great Britain. The recommendations of the Bennett Report are directed solely at interrogations of persons suspected of scheduled offences—that is to say, the wide range of serious offences contained in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. As we know, the special provisions of that Act do not apply in Great Britain, so I do not see any immediate need, so far as Great Britain is concerned, to import the extra safeguards which the Bennett Committee have recommended for the different situation which exists in Northern Ireland. The implementation of the Bennett Report in Northern Ireland is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I think that those are the main points. Therefore, I simply commend the order to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Forward to