HL Deb 17 July 1980 vol 411 cc1992-2007

5.24 p.m.

Lord ELTON rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th July be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to extend for a further period of six months the powers conferred on the Government by Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978, and the other provisions therein, rendered necessary by the terrorist emergency in the Province. When that Act was passed, Parliament recognised that the powers it conferred on the Government were exceptional and that they could be justified only by exceptional circumstances. Every six months, therefore, the Government are obliged to return to Parliament and to show that these exceptional circumstances continue to exist.

Anyone who reads the papers, let alone anyone who lives in the Province, is well aware that circumstances there are still exceptional in that terrorist organisations are still seeking to pervert justice and the overthrow of the state, and I doubt if any of your Lordships would suggest that these provisions were no longer necessary. But to say that and add nothing more would, I think, be to give a misleading and unduly depressing impression of what the Government and the security forces between them have achieved since I last came before the House for an extension of these powers.

During this year, until yesterday, there have been 181 explosions, but 90 explosive devices have been neutralised; 115 illegal weapons have been taken; 1,2708 rounds of ammunitiion, 1,445 lbs. of explosives and 203 detonators have been seized by the security forces. During the same period, 289 persons have been charged with terrorist offences, including 37 for murder and 28 for attempted murder. Convictions for scheduled offences up to the end of June numbered 363, including 13 for murder and two for attempted murder. I should explain that the apparent discrepancy between the last two sets of figures results of course from the fact that convictions during the period relate for the most part to charges brought earlier.

If we are engaged in a war of attrition, that suggests to me that it is the forces of violence that are being eroded. But there has been a price to pay. So far this year, casualties among the security forces have amounted to 124; seven have been killed and 65 wounded in the RUC and RUC Reserve. For the UDR, the figures are five and 12 and, for the Army, four and 31. I cannot stress too highly the courage and devotion to duty of the full-time armed services and of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and this is a proper occasion for me to place on record the Government's gratitude to them for all they have done.

It is also a proper time for me to remind your Lordships of the loyal and invaluable services of the Ulster Defence Regiment and of the exceptional devotion to duty of the part-time members of that regiment, who combine very exacting and often night-long tours of duty with the conduct of their normal civilian jobs. The 10th anniversay of the foundation of the regiment was marked by a garden party at Hillsborough at which their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Kent were able to mark, in a most gracious and welcome manner, the high regard in which the service of all members of the regiment is rightly held.

It has for long been the declared aim of Her Majesty's Government to return the maintenance of law and order in Northern Ireland to more conventional methods. We are all working for the day when policemen will again be able to keep the peace unaided. In October 1979 the permitted maximum strength of the RUC was increased from 6,500 to 7,500. Since then, there has been a net increase in strength to 6,773, and the Government remain committed to transferring control of security increasingly to the police force.

If the terrorist assault on society was an honourable affair, it would be directed only against those equipped to defend themselves. However, it is not, and I ask your Lordships now to consider the prison service of Northern Ireland. Prison officers do not arrest terrorists or other criminals; they do not try them or convict them; nor do they fix their sentences. Their duty is merely to keep them in their care for as long as the courts direct. Nor are they an armed military force; they are civilians. In the last year, eight prison officers have been killed by terrorists, callously murdered, often in their own homes. I believe it does enormous credit to the prison service that its members continue steadfast in their duty and that they have not been provoked by these assaults, nor by the propaganda attacks made against them, into improper conduct towards their charges.

Your Lordships will have noted with satisfaction, though not with surprise I think, that the European Commission of Human Rights recently dismissed as inadmissible the complaints of four prisoners engaged in the "dirty protest" at Maze Prison. They claimed they had been subjected to inhumane or degrading conditions. The Commission explicitly recognised that the conditions they complained of were self-inflicted and could be remedied very swiftly by the prisoners themselves, who persist in rejecting measures aimed at improving them.

I have spoken of the casualties in the struggle against terrorism. I should not like to leave the subject without a word of sympathy to those who have been bereaved and a word of gratitude to those who steadfastly support their loved ones in this long and vital struggle. They too are an essential part of the strength of our society. They stand very high in our regard and sympathy. One cannot in a speech offer any tangible comfort to those from whose lives a son or a husband has been snatched by the bloody hand of masked injustice, but at least one can offer recognition and sympathy, and that I am sure your Lordships will wish to do. In this context I must tell your Lordships that 29 civilians have been killed and no less than 248 injured by terrorist action up to 16th July this year.

I am very much aware that some of your Lordships support the Government's intention of returning the keeping of the peace to normal methods, and feel that we have clung for too long to some of the exceptional powers conferred under the Act. For these Section 12 of the Emergency Provision Act has in some way become symbolical. Section 12 is the section under which the Secretary of State has power to detain suspected terrorists without trial. It is a power that has not been exercised since 1975, but I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Plant—whom I am glad to see in his place for this part of the debate—for one has urged that it should not be renewed. I am happy to tell your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government do not now propose to renew this power. However, I must add that, while I hope that this gesture will be welcomed, it is in itself to some extent symbolical, since the statute does provide for its reinstitution should the need arise.

A moment ago I referred to the noble Lord, Lord Plant, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Lord, who, for the past three-and-a-half years has presided over the work of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I should also like to extend good wishes to his successor in office, Mr. David Bleakley, who took up his post at the beginning of this month. This is an important role, and our gratitude to both the noble Lord and the gentleman in question is in order.

I return to the principle consideration before your Lordships, which is that terrorist violence continues, though it continues somewhat abated, and that for that reason it is necessary to extend the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 for a further period of six months. Last week your Lordships took note of the steps that the Government are taking to return the government of Northern Ireland to normality.

This afternoon I have indicated some of the steps that we are taking to restore peace-keeping to normality. I would add one gloss to what I have said already. The statistics that I have quoted, and the policies to which I have referred, relate to the Province as a whole. Now that is all very well for your Lordships sitting in a comfortable Chamber, and it gives a fair, overall picture of what is going on, but, if the picture is to have a proper perspective, I must add this: general statistics and broad policies seem remarkably irrelevant when your house has just been demolished by a bomb, or your friend or a relative has just been shot down on his doorstep. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridae, made the same point last week. Terrorists are aware of this when they select their targets and they are aware, also, of the pyschological effects of either concentrating targets in a particular area, or moving the focus of their attention from one district to another.

It would be quite wrong therefore to suppose that the whole population of the Province feels a hundred per cent. secure, and it would be even more misguided to believe that Her Majesty's Government are complacent about the current state of affairs. Her Majesty's Government are indeed aware of the stress generated by terrorism and of its other effects. I hope that I have said enough to show that they are resolute in their intention to defeat terrorism, and that that resolute determination is producing results. But it will also be clear to your Lordships that the powers to continue the struggle conferred upon Government by the Act of 1978 must be extended. My Lords, beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th July be approved. —(Lord Elton.)

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the warm way in which he has paid tribute to the security forces and to the police in Northern Ireland in his remarks in introducing the order. Without any reservation I wholeheartedly join with him in what he said regarding the security personnel, as well as the industrial security personnel who do a terrific job. I am sure that we all join with the noble Lord in recognising the terrible strain imposed on the families of prison officers and members of the security forces who behind the scenes experience much suffering in trying to keep up morale.

I also wish to associate myself with all those who from time to time have publicly expressed dislike of this legislation, and to welcome the Government's decision to lapse Section 12 and Schedule 1 to the Act. As I understand it, while the section is not in fact being taken off the statute book, the lapsing will have an important consequence in that, if it were to be used again, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would have to justify his actions before Parliament, albeit retrospectively. This aspect of the matter introduces an important new element of democratic control, which we wholeheartedly welcome.

Sometimes the legislation has been used to greater effect to attack the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, rather than to defend them. I should like to say much more, but I know that the noble Lord, Lord Plant, wishes to take part in this debate on the order. I wish to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Plant, for his work as chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I had the pleasure of working with him on that commission for a number of years, and I know how much effort he put into trying to achieve some stability and dignity in Northern Ireland affairs. Certainly this side of the House joins in welcoming Mr. David Bleakley, whom we all know, to the position of chairman of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. Mr. Bleakley will certainly have the support of this side of the House for all the objectives that he might wish to pursue in order to uphold his remit as chairman of the commission. I consider that this legislation is long overdue; the reform is supported from this side of the House.


My Lords, it was with great satisfaction that I heard that Her Majesty's Government had decided to bring to an end detention without trial, at any rate for an experimental period. When I first went to Northern Ireland with the present Home Secretary, who was then First Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, we encountered there the need felt for the system of detention without trial. I then thought that it was a great trouble. It was a blunt instrument, sometimes alas! indiscriminately, used and sometimes illegally used, as a result of which many claims were made by persons of little merit. Because there had been illegal use of the power, the Treasury had to make very substantial payments to persons who were completely worthless, but who were able to bring their claims because of the illegal operation of the power.

On other occasions I felt that there had been too blanket an approach to the use of detention, and therefore I felt that persons had been recruited to the forces of the terrorists by the uses of that power. Not for one moment do I suggest that that was done other than with the greatest integrity; but I think that that was a consequence, and I am very glad that the Government and the Secretary of State, Mr. Humphrey Atkins, have now felt strong enough to renew this particular provision.

As I have understood it, there has always been a great problem in the Province with the security forces on the one side facing incredible danger and hardships, while on the other being frustrated by the law when they thought that they had caught people when involved in terrorist activities. We have always caught to operate the rule of law, even under those terrible conditions in the Province, because martial law, which is the only alternative, is in fact no law, and we have always resolutely put our faces against it.

It has been difficult for the security forces, but it has been even more difficult for those who are responsible for the administration of justice. My noble friend paid a well deserved tribute to the security forces—the Army, and the police. I should like to pay a tribute to those who are responsible for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland: first of all, to the judges, under the Lord Chief Justice, my noble friend Lord Lowry, who throughout these years, with great courage and enormous integrity, have carried out their duties. They have had to carry out their duties at trials without juries, because the circumstances have made it impossible to have juries. They have carried out those duties with great skill and, as I have said, with great integrity.

Secondly, I should like to pay tribute to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Barry Shaw, and his deputy Mr. Barney McCluskey. The difficulties of their task should not be underestimated, because many a time, it may be, when the security forces have felt that prosecutions ought to be brought, the Director has had to make his decision applying the rule of law. I believe their contribution to the maintenance of civilisation in Northern Ireland, in the face of these psychopaths and terrorists, has been a very important one, and I am sure my noble friend would want to join me in paying tribute to them.

That we have progressed to the stage where we have managed to eliminate that which is alien to the philosophies of all of us in this House and elsewhere is, I think a great tribute, not only to Mr. Humphrey Atkins and his Ministers, but to their predecessors for what they did in Northern Ireland. I think that on this occasion, in thanking this Government for being able to remove this section, even if it is only temporarily, we should also recognise the work which has been done by their predecessors.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening in the discussion on the last order. I wanted to say something about the economic situation in Northern Ireland, but on this order I will deal with it very briefly. Let me say first how grateful the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights is to the Government for their having accepted one of our recommendations; that is, not renewing Section 12. I am firmly of the opinion that neither the threat of the exercise of the power of detention without trial, nor the exercise itself, has deterred any terrorism. I am glad that section has gone for many reasons, the most important being that it is another example of the attitude of the Government in going along the road to peace little by little. I believe that this patient approach will shorten that road considerably, by giving the people of the Province to understand that the Government are prepared to take decisions and to repeal certain parts of the emergency legislation.

On three previous occasions the commission made recommendations, both that the power of a judge to grant bail should be looked at again and concerning the admissibility of statements, Section 2 and Section 8. But so far the Government have not accepted those recommendations; neither have they in relation to Section 11 and Section 14. But our point of view has been put very clearly on paper, and the Secretary of State has replied at very considerable length giving detailed reasons why he could not accept the proposals of the commission. However, I believe that what has been done, little as it is, will have a considerable effect.

I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the Strasbourg decision. I have always said that the prisoners in Long Kesh, in H block, are bringing about the difficulties themselves. They are making their own problems. They never have any chance of winning a human rights issue at Strasbourg. But it would be wrong of me not to say that the issue of H block has not concerned me very much on the human rights side. I say that for this reason. There are some prisoners who are in prison in their own clothing. Others, after a certain point in time, have been taking this action of "going on the blanket". Why? Because they lose rights and privileges—and we should not overlook, as I am sure the Government will not, the privilege of remission of sentence. In England and Wales, remission of sentence is one-third, but in Northern Ireland the remission is one-half. So they are giving up a great deal in denying themselves that privilege of remission; and, therefore, something is driving them on. Of course, it may be that it is right what some people tell me—that they want political status because when peace is declared they will then get out of prison, even though they have been convicted of murder.

These are the issues which are at the back of the minds of so many people in Northern Ireland. It is a festering sore. I do not know whether the Government could look again at the question of Long Kesh in the light of the rider from Strasbourg—because it was not a straight rejection. It said that the British Government should try to examine the problem to see whether there was not some way of overcoming the difficulties. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, with his overlordship of education, is tackling the problem there in the right way. I am glad, too, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, has mentioned the judiciary, and the part that they are playing in this fight against terrorism. I join with him in paying tribute to the judiciary.

I also join with my noble friend Lord Blease and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in paying tribute to the security forces. I have seen at first hand the tremendous work that they are doing. They lean over backwards to see that human rights are not infringed. But, of course, people are human, and when a friend is killed by their side then sometimes tempers get out of control. We have to understand that; but there is no doubt that the security forces in Northern Ireland are, as I believe, an example to security forces facing similar problems elsewhere in the world. I believe that the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield did a great deal to help the situation, and I regret that he had to resign.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has paid tribute to the prison officers. I have seen some of the families of prison officers who have been shot. The wives of these officers have told me how they are fearful during the whole of the day, with their husbands away, but, sadly, how they are more fearful when their husbands are at home, because it is then that most of the killings take place. These are problems which are of tremendous difficulty. What you do to give extra morale to the prison officers, I do not know. It is a thankless job. There are as many officers in the prison service who have been killed as there have been in the police force, and this is something which the Government will have to examine with a view to seeing what extra protection can be afforded to the prison officers.

The economy in Northern Ireland—I shall be very brief on this issue—is being studied at length by the Government, but the question of low pay is one of the problems that is bedevilling all the Government's efforts. It has been admitted by the Northern Ireland Office that infant mortality in Northern Ireland is the highest in Europe. That of itself must do something to excite opinions among the working class in Northern Ireland. They feel helpless; but I am sure that Parliament has always given a great deal of help and comfort to the people in Northern Ireland, who are struggling along this road to peace.

Finally, I would say this: I had great comfort and help from the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. It is one of the movements that has created a bridge between the two sections of the community and I hope that it will continue its battle to bring about peace. After three-and-a-half years, having had the opportunity of talking to a wide range of people in Northern Ireland, I am now firmly of the opinion that the road to peace is now shorter than it was when I first went to Northern Ireland.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his introduction of the continuation order. I should also like to say how pleased I was, and how pleased the people in Fintona were, when the noble Lord went down to Baronscourt after a huge bomb had been exploded in Fintona. He jumped in his car and went off to see them and talk to them.

I mention this, not only because I want to congratulate the noble Lord on what regard as a very true and proper reaction, but also in slight contrast to problems which we have had in Newtownbutler. For 12 months we have had a most vicious campaign to eliminate a population of Protestant people in that area; it has been absolutely nothing else. For 12 months I have brought people down to see, and to try to impress upon them, the increasing dangers involved in security, as was obviously going to be the case. Really, it has not been easy to get Ministers to come down to make clear how much they care. It is a question of caring when, among a population of a few thousand, 10 people are killed. The feeling that people are caring is of great importance, and I think that now, if the noble Lord is correct, the security situation has improved, our Ministers should get out and come down to these areas which are under very vicious attack to reassure the population that the Government do in fact care. Certainly the noble Lord showed that he cares.

The Criminal Jurisdiction Act, which passed through this House in 1977, has at last been used in the Irish Republic. There are at least two warrants there. One was executed and three very dangerous men were apprehended. My noble friend Lord Vaizey said that the people who are committing these acts are beyond reform. In one case a man is wanted for 15 murders and 25 attempted murders. The staggering total that these people on the wanted list carry to their names is unbelievable. They do it for kicks; they are beyond all reasons. There are many such people living in the Irish Republic, and when I spoke to Mr. Haughey I promised that I would make clear that the people of this type who are living there by and large are Ulstermen making use of the South as a safe haven. Can we get the Government to encourage our police to issue as many warrants as they can under this Act now that it is beginning to be used? I would certainly endorse all the congratulations which have been passed to the various forces, the judiciary and members of the public.

I should now like to strike a slightly unusual note in saying that I personally deplore the removal of the power to detain. I deplore it because the whole attitude of Government on the will to win is the most important factor in beating the terrorist. This is an illusory removal, in that the power is still there, subject to a positive order, and I believe this is the wrong way to do it. If it is unnecessary to have detention, we should not have detention or the power to have detention. I believe it is still necessary to have detention. What are we trying to do when we remove this power? At the present moment we are trying to satisfy two political parties—the DUP, whose leader disapproves of detention, and the SDLP who disapproved of detention. So for a political end we are carrying out, or semicarrying out, the task of removing the power to detain.

The other reason I disapprove of it at this moment is that there is rising violence in the Irish Republic, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility—because they still retain that power—that if two more lots of two garda were tragically shot they would use their power to detain. And if that violence then spread to us it would be right and proper for us to re-use the power to detain. When one has suspended a freedom it is always difficult to know exactly when one can put it back. I recognise the dilemma, but I believe that this is the wrong moment to do this. If we were going to do it, we should have done it properly and removed it altogether.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I welcome the general acceptance and, indeed, the general welcome which has greeted the lapsing of the Section 12 power. I think the noble Lord, Lord Blease, referred to Sections 1 and 12; it is actually Section 12 to which I refer. There are reservations held, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has alluded to them. I do not think it is necessary for me to go further than mention the very cogent speech made by my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson to show that there are overbearing reasons why it is a good thing that this power should be treated as it has. To those who are in doubt I can say that there is absolutely no slackening of the will to win, and I think that I have already given evidence of the fruits of that will when I introduced this debate.

In concluding it, I would perhaps reassure my noble friend Lord Brookeborough by saying that the Government are in the position of somebody who has not discarded a weapon but has laid it down. In order to take it up it is necessary to go through a democratic process. Since a great part of what we are trying to do in the Province is to reactivate democratic processes I think that that is something which one should not regret. But I do urge my noble friend Lord Brookeborough that he will not see this as a weakening of will; nor is it a giving in to some subversive and subtle pressure not apparent on the surface. Quite simply it is my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's assessment of the situation that we have reached a position where this weapon does not need to be in his hand. We are fighting a very strong campaign against terrorism. We are making progress. We have not won it, but we do not need this particular provision immediately available. I am sure that that was the right decision.

The noble Lord, Lord Plant, then came into the debate, and I really must apologise to him for having dissuaded him from inserting into the earlier debate the economic part of the remarks he had to make. I am sure the House was correct in being indulgent in listening to them at this stage. He also welcomed the lapsing of Section 12 but regretted that Sections 2, 8, 11 and 14 had not also been allowed to lapse.

Section 2 deals with the limitation of power to grant bail. This really is a necessary provision because without it, as I understand it, courts are not in a position to take into account the likelihood of somebody who is charged going out and committing crimes similar to those with which he is charged, when they come to consider whether or not he should have hail. While I sympathise with and deeply respect the noble Lord's views on these matters, I think your Lordships will agree that under present circumstances it is not sensible to allow on to the streets people who are charged with terrorist offences if there is a likelihood of their going to do the same thing again. Section 8 deals with the admissions by persons charged with scheduled offences. Again, I feel that the implementation of the Bennett Report as well as the recent judgment given in the European Court give one grounds to feel that the miscarriages of justice which it is alleged might take place under cover of this section are not taking place. Section 11 is not lapsing. I do not think I can expand on that.

Section 14 relates to powers of arrest by security forces. I wonder if we are clear on this. We are talking about the Emergency Provisions Act which is a Northern Ireland instrument. Some of your Lordships may feel that the limitation of powers of arrest and holding before charging, which are commonly talked about in Northern Ireland and which are of much longer duration than this, are now in question. The noble Lord will know—and I will remind the rest of the House—that we are not here discussing the Prevention of Terrorism Act which is the Act under which these prolonged periods of arrest for interrogatory purposes are permitted. I will not follow that further. The noble Lord made a plea, which in this debate I can only take delivery of, on the subject of the economy and of low pay—which are the subjects I addressed in the last debate and in answer to a question by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, earlier. To that he added the consideration of infant morbidity. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my honourable friend in another place who is responsible for health and social services. That is the proper place for those comments to be delivered.

I thank again my noble friend Lord Brookeborough for his kind remarks to me. On this occasion, they were not followed by the expected onslaught, so that he has now got me thoroughly confused about how things are conducted in Northern Ireland, after all. I take his point. He wishes members of the Government to be out and about and in touch. I do not have to hand a record of the extent to which I and my colleagues have been out and about and in touch. I have made formal visits to 11 district councils and, apart from that, to a very considerable number of institutions. I think that that is the proper thing to consider, as well as visits to places which have been recently assaulted and which he was kind enough to say that I did right to visit. I think that it was a good thing that I did for not only would I like to hearten anybody who it is in my power to hearten under tragic circumstances, but I learned a great deal about the astoni- shing resilience and the courage of those in the Province and of people suffering in both communities. There was a commonality of suffering—which is something which one does not always see in this problem. I was deeply moved and learned a great deal. That is probably as much as your Lordships would like to take from me at this stage when we have live more orders to go, not all as long as this. If there is any point that noble Lords have raised and which I missed, I shall write to them on the subject.

On Question, Motion agreed to.