HL Deb 17 December 1981 vol 426 cc344-60

3.34 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Gowrie) rose to move that the draft order laid before the House on 2nd December be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, last week we dealt with the economy of Northern Ireland, and this week, in the context of these draft emergency provisions, we can deal with security issues and some political questions. In respect of the latter, may I say how much I am looking forward to the next piece of business and the Unstarred Question in the name of the distinguished ex-Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Moyola. I mention this at this stage because I must apologise to the House that from the point of view of a Minister there is considerable overlap, and that therefore some of the things which I have to say now in moving these draft orders will render superfluous what I might have to say when I come to wind up the Unstarred Question in the name of my noble friend. I do not consider that this really matters because we have come to hear my noble friend rather than me and to gain from his considerable experience and wisdom.

My Lords, I ask the House at this stage this afternoon to renew for a further six months all the provisions of the Emergency Provisions Act which are currently in force. These last six months have been very eventful ones. Last July, when your Lordships' House last approved the renewal of these powers, the Republican hunger strike dominated all our thoughts and there were frequent and violent street disturbances in the Province and outside it. I am glad to say that that hunger strike has now been brought to an end. The deaths of the hunger strikers were accompanied by a sharp rise in terrorist activity and this has by no means ended. In the course of 1981, 98 people have died, 1,315 have been injured; there have been 82 shooting attacks and 383 bomb attacks. And this follows 1980, which, in terms of these grim statistics, was the best year than at any time since the troubles started. These tragic figures demonstrate that violence remains a powerful threat to the lives and to the prosperity of all the people in Northern Ireland.

The hunger strike aroused deep emotions and inevitably caused heightened tension in the Province. It drove the communities further apart, as I imagine it was intended to, and left an unhappy residue of deep mutual distrust. There has been, however, no intersectarian violence since then on a scale which could lead to anarchy, but a number of those concerned with the protection of the community have, I very much regret to say, been murdered. The people of Northern Ireland are deeply worried by these repeated attacks, and so are the Government.

Members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its Reserve, members of the Regular Army and members of the Ulster Defence Regiment form a higher proportion than in previous years of the ranks of those who have been killed. I should like to pay tribute to all the men and women in the security forces who have again given courageous, unstinting service this year. I have seen with deep admiration how they have faced and dealt with an astonishing range of problems, and I have been very much impressed, if I may humbly say so, by their professional skills and by their patient dedication and untiring application to their duties. The Government are in regular contact with the high command of the RUC and with the military commanders who share responsibility with them for protecting the public from violence and pursing the perpetrators of violence. They know we are doing, and will continue to do, everything within the power of a civil society to help them, and they have acknowledged the support and backing which we give them.

Our security policy is based on a simple premise. It is that those who break the laws of our democratic society must be dealt with by the courts. We have repeatedly made it clear that Republican Nationalist politics legitimately pursued are altogether legitimate politics, and so are Loyalist politics. What is illegal is not politics or attitudes or aspirations, but law-breaking. Murder, violence or the threat of violence, theft, can never in a civil society be sanctioned by the appeal that they were not committed in pursuit of personal gain but for some higher or for some political motive. We operate, therefore, within the context of a civil society and a civil system of law, and that inevitably imposes limitations upon us. In gathering the evidence which is necessary for convictions, for instance, those who enforce the law must also be constrained by it and respect it and be seen to do so. In Northern Ireland, with its deeply-rooted fears of inequality and prejudice, and its unhappy history in this regard, fair treatment for all is essential and must be apparent.

In the light of pervasive violence it is of course understandable that people should turn their minds to extra-legal or draconian measures. But I am convinced that this is no way forward where security is concerned. The innocent would suffer disproportionately from any such measures. The police and the army would lose the popular support which they so crucially need to do their job. If the police and the army appeared to be over and above the war, the paramilitarists would set themselves up as defenders of oppressed communities. We are asking people to reject paramilitary solutions to political questions, and we shall not give the men of violence the pretext for claiming popular approval or the chance to claim that the civil system of law is either cynical or unjust.

Within the constraints of civil dealings there is, however, nothing soft, half-hearted or tentative about our approach to security. The Government place no restraint upon the operation of the security forces other than that of the law which it is their job to uphold. If they need further resources we are committed to finding them. The police are the essential civil power: the army acts in support of the police only in those instances and in those places where a particular break-down of order or a sustained breakdown of order makes it impossible for the civil power to function.

The strength of the RUC is now 7,280 and that is higher than it has ever been. I am talking now, of course, of full-time members of the constabulary. Its reputation for professionalism and competence is recognised not only in Northern Ireland but in Great Britain and abroad, and that professionalism is helping to establish throughout Northern Ireland that relationship between police and public which is so essential to peace and security.

The House will be aware that the police and the Army are maintaining a very high level of activity at the moment. The police are deploying as many men as possible on anti-terrorist tasks. Regular Army force levels continue to be reinforced by the spearhead battalion. No effort is being spared. I am happy to be able to report that the security forces have had substantial successes which come not only from the work of recent days, but also from the application of previous efforts which have long and carefully been prepared. So far this year, 361 people have been charged with terrorist offences, including 43 for murder and 65 for attempted murder.

I cannot stress too strongly that the security forces need and deserve the backing of both the public and the Government. From the public they need positive support and co-operation, and in particular they need information about incidents and about people suspected of involvement in crime. And they need people who are not afraid to give evidence. No one should harbour their suspicions or withhold evidence, although as I say this I do, of course, acknowledge the fear of retribution for disclosure to the police and that fear is, alas!, very real.

Only when everyone actively repudiates violence will the security forces be able to end it. But active repudiation of violence is only likely to come about when the two communities in Northern Ireland are able to recognise each other's different aspirations and loyalities, when they are able to live together as close and good neighbours and live with the Irish Republic as close and good neighbours. This means political movement. It means give and take; a recognition that neither community is ever likely to sway the other altogether to its point of view. So, although I am confident of the ability of the security forces to contain violence, only a new deal for Northern Ireland and a change of heart within Northern Ireland has a chance of seriously diminishing the violence.

Nor must the security forces be distracted from their main and essential task by people wishing to take the law into their own hands, or threatening to do so; because that, of course, only makes the security forces' job more difficult, absorbs men, material and time, and plays into the hands of those who organise the violence.

For our part, the Government must, of course, provide the resources—legal and material—on which the security forces depend. The Emergency Provisions Act before the House is one of these resources and the powers that it confers are a vital weapon for the security forces. I can well understand the misgivings of critics. These powers are, of course, exceptional even if, tragically, we have had to get used to them, and they must never be taken for granted. But we have only had recourse to such powers in the Act because of the exceptional nature of the threat to civil society. The powers are, quite rightly, subjected to regular and close scrutiny by Parliament.

Nevertheless, I recognise that some people find certain provisions of the Act—and most notably perhaps the so-called Diplock courts—particularly objectionable. But in this and other provisions of the Act we have not strayed from the essential principles of our civil system of justice; perhaps most importantly, we have not strayed from the right to trial in open court and from the assumption of innocence in default of clear proof to the contrary. Of course, I look forward as eagerly as do any critics of the Act to the day when we can safely dispense with this legislation. But I have to conlude that that time has not yet come.

As I have said, progress on improving security cannot be divorced from developments in other spheres—in relations with the Irish Republic, in improvement of the economy and in internal political advance in the Province. Good relations between London and Dublin can only help our security effort. Both Governments recognise in terrorism a common enemy, and this enemy poses just as strong a threat to stability in the South as it does in the North or to the United Kingdom as a whole. We have always attached great importance to effective cross-border security co-operation, and I am very happy to say that co-operation between the RUC and the Garda is excellent and is producing solid results. Further progress in Anglo-Irish relations can, in our view, only help along that road.

I know that many noble Lords are concerned that terrorists should not be able to exploit the border so as to avoid being brought to justice. The Government are determined that fugitive offenders should not escape justice. We believe that extradition is a vital way of achieving this, and we have left the Government of the Irish Republic in no doubt whatever of our view. In the absence of extradition procedures, both Governments have been seeking to make effective use of the extra-territorial legislation. I acknowledge that this has not always produced very encouraging results in the past, but there are signs that this may be changing.

As the House may be aware, the trial began only last Monday in Dublin of two men accused of offences in connection with the Belfast prison escape. The House will also know that one of the results of the Anglo-Irish discussions was the recent meeting between my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General and his opposite number in the Republic about this very problem—the problem of how to deal more effectively with fugitives. They are looking at the problem in depth, and they will meet again.

Developing Anglo-Irish relations can benefit Northern-Ireland in other ways and I hope that the new Anglo-Irish inter-governmental council, which will give institutional expression to the relationship between the two Governments, will do useful work in promoting co-operation especially in economic matters. The Government have repeatedly emphasised that none of these discussions or arrangements poses any threat to Northern Ireland's position as a constituent part of the United Kingdom. On the contrary, Northern Ireland has nothing to fear, and a great deal to gain. We also must recognise that very large numbers indeed of citizens of the Irish Republic live in the United Kingdom, both in Northern Ireland itself and in Great Britain. It is quite absurd to claim, therefore, that the Republic has no special relationship with us, or no claim to take an interest in our affairs.

With regard to political advance, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I are satisfied that direct rule, while it may be many people's second best, is not an acceptable long-term answer. Nor can there be any question of integration or a return to the old-style Stormont. Either course would be likely to offend one major section of the community in Northern Ireland without fully satisfying the other; it would not therefore contribute to peace, stability and reconciliation, or to improved security. It seems clear, however, that representatives of both parts of the divided community do desire the tranfer of powers to locally elected representatives in the Province, if that can be achieved, so that they can have a greater say in the running of their own affairs, and that is the Government's aim. It is the most likely means of finding Governmental arrangements for Northern Ireland acceptable to both parts of the community and as a method of easing tension. There are several possible ways of making this transfer of powers and we are examining them at present, and until that time, until we come forward with proposals, of course direct rule must continue. But I emphasise just once more that it is not satisfactory as a permanent system of Government for the Province.

As we said last week, the Government are also anxious to see economic improvement in the Province. We are very concerned about the high level of unemployment and we are doing a great deal to encourage job promotion and investment in Northern Ireland. There are some encouraging signs, but much more inward investment is needed if we are to make the progress we need to create new, stable and lasting employment. But it must be realised that the activities of the para-militaries, and indeed the recent tensions created by extremist politicians on both sides of the sectarian divide, have made it very difficult to attract such investment. Unless we can improve the image of the Province, or until the Province takes its own image into its own hands, ordinary men and women in Northern Ireland will continue to lose their jobs. Let us be quite clear that violence and the lack of political movement are reducing job opportunities and possibilities and are undermining standards of living, and those who have suffered most in terms of unemployment are the very people whom para-militaries on both sides claim to be defending.

Given world recession and accelerating structural changes, the Northern Ireland economy would in any case be facing grave difficulties, and again we dealt with that last week. What it least needs are self-inflicted wounds. I am nevertheless determined to do everything within my power to improve the economic conditions in the Province. But, of course, there is much more which people in the Province can do to help themselves, and community discord is the road to poverty and not to prosperity.

All these factors—the economy, political development and the relations between the United Kingdom as a whole and the Republic—are important for Northern Ireland's future. Our immediate concern today is the security forces' fight against threats to civil order and the powers they require for that fight. I hope, as I am sure we all do, that one day I shall be able to tell the House that these powers are no longer needed. But for the present I have to say that they are essential, and I invite the House to give us them.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 2nd December be approved.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

3.56 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for his clear and helpful explanation of the order. Your Lordships will be aware that this renewal measure was debated in another place during the early hours of yesterday. At the outset I wish to join with the Minister in his praise for the security forces in Northern Ireland and in his words of sympathy for those who have suffered through bereavement and injury caused by terrorism during the six months since we last debated these emergency provisions.

As we recall some of the tragic instances during that period, we are compelled to admit that terrorism has remained a powerful threat to the lives and property of all Northern Ireland people. Tragically, intimidation, fear, distress and bereavement caused by terrorism is a constant factor in our daily lives in Northern Ireland, a factor to which the Minister referred, which has created distrust between the communities, has prevented active community co-operation and has stultified efforts towards employment prospects and economic development.

The noble Earl indicated that there is a measure of overlap between this order and the subsequent debate. He dealt with a number of matters on which I wish to comment, but I shall do that when that debate takes place shortly. Meanwhile, dealing with the order that is before us, I welcome the way in which the Minister dealt with the reluctance and reservations that have been expressed; Government Ministers and members of the official Opposition together with other elected representatives have expressed similar reluctance and displeasure that it is necessary to continue to provide these emergency powers in Northern Ireland.

For those reasons, I consider it important to mention some of the basic principles against which any emergency code of law should be evaluated. One such principle was firmly and clearly upheld by the committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, which reported in January 1975, the principle being: A democratic society has the right, indeed the need, to defend itself when subjected to serious and sustained terrorist violence". In paragraph 21 of the Gardiner Report (Cmnd. 5847) the committee observed: The continued existence of emergency powers should be limited both in scope and duration. Though there are times when they are necessary for the preservation of human life, they can, if prolonged, damage the fabric of community and do not provide lasting solutions". I am glad the Minister dealt at some length with that aspect of the order.

However, may I ask the noble Earl if the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights have submitted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recommendations or views on the emergency provisions in the current overall situation? Or has the Secretary of State invited that commission to provide their observations on emergency legislation? I raise the point because the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights is comprised of prominent Northern Ireland citizens and the scope and functions of the commission include an advisory role in respect of emergency legislation. While the legal aspects and the libertarian dimensions of the emergency provisions will continue to give rise to conflicts and problems, I consider it important that we react effectively to terrorism without over-reacting and causing irreparable harm to the belief and trust in the rule of law. For those reasons I believe it is vital that these renewal debates should be entered into with the utmost concern by all, and I welcome the very forthright and frank way in which the Minister has presented the order to us today. With those remarks, from these Benches I support the approval of the order.

4.1 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Earl for his introduction to the order. I have consulted the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland before speaking today and I should like to pay tribute to its courtesy and helpfulness. Some of what I want to say I have held over until the next debate. It is certainly regrettable, but I believe that it has been necessary, that the emergency provisions should be continued by the acceptance of the order. So far as possible the burden for maintaining law and order should rest, as is present policy, with the police, with the army held in reserve and to be called on only in emergency. Internment is very often counter-productive. The Diplock courts are unfortunately still necessary—the Minister touched on this aspect—and I believe that critics should be reminded that there are, I understand, no jury trials in the Republic of Ireland, either. They have problems with intimidation of would-be witnesses and juries similar to those in the Province.

Protestants, in particular in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and all along the border, deserve our very greatest sympathy and support, and there is a considerable body of opinion that feels that, far from the emergency provisions being eased, security should, and must, be tightened up without further delay. There is also—and the Minister has touched on this, too—a very real need for maximum co-operation with the Dublin Government over extradition. Border troubles in no way help Eire, either.

I should like to join in the sincere tributes that are once again being paid to the work of the security forces. I repeat, that in the present climate I do not see that we should do other than pass the order for the continuation once more of the emergency provisions in the Act of 1978. But it is right that we should reconsider the position at regular intervals, and my party is certainly not uncritically enthusiastic about this continuance.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, it is with complete conviction from this Bench that we support the renewal of the order. It is perfectly clear that this is no time to consider, even for a moment, easing up on the emergency provisions, just when it looks possible that things might be getting a little better. The noble Earl's most interesting introduction gave us some good news about the strength of the RUC, the level of activity, and various successes. Both noble Lords who spoke before me said something about the Diplock courts. I hope that nobody considers for one moment that one get justice in Northern Ireland without the restrictions of the Diplock courts. Even with the Diplock courts, I have seen people unable to give evidence through sheer fear, and in my opinion dispensing with Diplock courts should not even be discussed at this stage.

The two previous speakers both said that they are reserving some of their remarks for the next debate. I am in the awkward position of having last week said what I wanted to say, and so I shall not reserve anything, but I assure your Lordships that I shall not repeat what I said previously, beyond saying—I speak for my party here—that we are entirely behind the Government's present position, with the exception of secret talks with the South, which we think were a fatal mistake. However we believe that there is a very great deal to talk to the South about, and with an open agenda nobody could possibly worry about it.

I should like to say a few words on the administrative position. For the last seven years, during which time I have been concerned with Northern Ireland, it has been our custom to have the appropriation and emergency orders taken together, and sometimes, when any noble Lord particularly interested wanted it, to enter into a more general debate and not curtail it to the exact contents of the orders. I think it is a great pity—and it was in protest against this that I made my speech last week—that we have separated them today, because the noble Earl's speech this evening covered quite a lot of what happened last week. They should go together; and if I had known that the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, was going to ask an Unstarred Question, I would have kept my speech back.

I hope this can be looked at. We do not want to have a series of debates on Northern Ireland in this House—they are apt to do as much harm as good—but I do think that we want to have the opportunity once every six months or so for anybody who feels that they must say something to say it. So I hope the noble Lord will look at that point. Meanwhile, we support the emergency provisions fully.

4.6 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I should like to begin by welcoming the speech by my noble friend Lord Gowrie. I should like to say that as far as I am concerned it was the best speech I have heard made by a Government Minister. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, will not take this in any way as an affront, but it was quite the best speech that I have heard delivered from the Front Bench. It showed a tremendous understanding acquired in a short time. I certainly welcome my noble friend's translation to his position in the Northern Ireland Office and I look forward to co-operating with him very much. I want to get that out of the way first because there are considerable areas in which I might disagree with him when it comes to the next debate. I should also like at this point in time to say that I am fully aware of the importance of having the closest possible co-operation with the Irish Government in Dublin on security matters and, indeed, on other matters. Again, I say that because at a later date I shall be fairly critical of the Dublin Government's approach on extradition.

May I pay what is now the customary tribute to the forces of law and order. I probably see them more than anybody else in this House except for two of my noble friends, but I certainly am terribly involved with them every single day, and nobody could have a greater admiration for them than I have. The security situation in the last few weeks has improved as a result of the arrival of the spearhead battalion, the parachutists, but what we should like to know is what happens when they go at the end of January, which is their present programmed time for leaving.

Until the spearhead arrived, the situation in County Fermanagh—and I am describing Fermanagh because the noble Earl has described the rest of the country—could never have been worse. We have had 66 murders and only two solved; and we have had over 50 of them in my own area, with a Protestant electorate of only 2,000—and they are the people who have been under attack. At the time of the murder of the Member for Belfast South I had spent the whole week either in a house comforting my neighbours or in a cemetery burying them, or at a cenotaph.

I wish I could describe accurately the life of my neighbours who are in the forces, and of my other neighbours—because we are all at risk. For 10 years we have not opened the front door without first identifying the people calling. We have to watch every car. We take their number if we do not know who they are, and we refer that number to the police to find out who they are. We watch every cross-roads on our way home; and when I say that when a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment goes out on service at night his wife pleads with him not to do so, I think your Lordships can get some idea of the strain that there is on these people. It was against this background of 11 murders in 11 days that there was the great rush and call for the third force.

Your Lordships saw on television the masses of people who took part in a one-day strike—the people who marched. Unfortunately, this has been described as massive support for the leader of the DUP. This is not so at all. Vast numbers of people took part in those demonstrations as an expression of frustration.

If we who took part had not done so, then we should have isolated ourselves from our own people.

Perhaps I can tell you that on 18th November I went to a meeting of not fewer than 100 or more than 150 people in County Fermanagh, people taken from all walks of life, solicitors, auctioneers, farmers, lorry drivers, excavator drivers, the whole lot, a good cross-section. There was not one area of Fermanagh, the whole area, which was not represented by somebody. It was an organisation, much maligned, called the Orange Order. At that meeting, there was an absolutely clear determination that that order would have nothing to do with illegal forces. There is no support among responsible people for that "Third Force" or for anything approaching it. May I describe what might happen? What am I going to do, coming back from such a meeting at night to be met by a hooded man? I have but one course open to me; to take him on the front bumpers. That is what will happen; and that, I believe, is what certain people want to happen. They want somebody to get murdered so as to produce a confrontation.

The Government would do well to try to use this surge of energy of people wanting to help in some way, if they can. When we were in power we looked at some method of forming something like a home guard, something like the UDR but not quite at such a high level of commitment. The level of commitment of these people is quite staggering. In 1970 in the Lisnaskea area 200 people were in the UDR; now there are 60 and they are out three or four nights a week all the year round and the strain is horrific. I say to the Government: Please look to see if there is someway in which to harness this energy. I have been describing the tension on the Protestant side, but the tension among the Roman Catholics is also very great. They are scared stiff at the present moment, and anything that can be done to reassure them should be done.

I should like to turn to the question of fugitive offenders. I was delighted to hear my noble friend say that the Government were determined that no fugitive offender should get off scot-free without a trial. We in Fermanagh have had all these murders. We know who has been committing them and where they live across the border. We know who they are and what they say—and they say it clearly in public places. The correct way, as the noble Earl has said, is to have extradition. I find the approach of the Irish Government to be hypocritical. They wring their hands and say, "If only it was not illegal, we would have extradition. But, "they say," unfortunately Article 29 of Clause 3 makes it ultra vires if we were to amend the Act."

The first thing about that is that this is not certain to be true; because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, disagree with two Irish lawyers. Therefore, it is a matter for the Constitution in the Irish Republic to play its part. Let the Irish Government show their determination by amending the law on extradition and then submitting it to the Supreme Court to see if they believe it to be ultra vires.

But there is a second method which is even easier for them and that is, that under Section 28, Clause 3, the Trish Constitution, like all other written constitutions, can be suspended; and the operation of an amending Act could be made immune to challenge. The basis for this is that the Irish Government has got to declare that there is an emergency, and—surprise, surprise!—there is an emergency. It was declared in 1976 and still exists. If the Irish Government are really sincere about their wish to help these fugitive criminals, all they have to do is to implement the constitution which says that a resolution passed in each of the two houses will make the amended extradition law immune to challenge, and then we have extradition. I find that all the talk about rapprochement is a little hollow unless we have determination on this matter of extradition.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I interrupt? Would the noble Viscount be surprised to know that some at least of the higher authorities in the Northern Ireland police take the view that extradition would not make the slightest difference? I am speaking after attending a conference which dealt with many of these matters recently.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lord, I thank the noble Lord for his interruption but it does not alter my conviction nor the conviction of by far the majority of people in Northern Ireland who consider that a gesture on the part of the Irish Government for dealing with fugitive criminals would be a matter of the highest political importance.

The great point about extradition is that it does not require the type of evidence that is necessary under the Criminal Jurisdiction Act. That is the basic reason. The Prime Minister, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, was interviewed on a television programme and he really accused the British Government, the Northern Ireland authorities, for not submitting the evidence for the Criminal Jurisdiction Act to operate, because it has hardly operated. But I must also agree with the noble Earl in his welcome of the trial of Ryan and others. This is a big step forward.

The basic reason that there is no evidence to put forward is because the police, the Royal Ulster constabulary, cannot interrogate in the South of Ireland. If the Irish Government do not want to have extradition, the minimum that they should do is to allow our police, under the supervision of the Garda, to actually conduct the interrogation, and vice versa. Once that is done, then we can look forward not only to dealing with criminal fugitives but also to a better relationship between the two peoples of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. I welcome this order and I thank the noble Earl for his introduction.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I think that there is general agreement that the one problem that most impedes progress in Northern Ireland is the continuance of murder and wounding. It is not enough to condemn violence, as many people have over a long period of time. It is not enough to behave in a constructive and non-violent way while murder still inspires fear and fear blocks progress. What is needed is information. I briefly mentioned this in our debate last week.

Freely given information is needed on both sides of the border and from both the main communities in Northern Ireland. This alone will make possible justice for past crimes and prevention for the future. I have already appealed outside this Chamber to some of those whose leadership might help to increase the flow of information. It is against this background that I have to ask today whether the Army is in all cases using the best methods for obtaining information.

I have with me written details of a recent case in Belfast which I will give to the noble Earl the Minister after this debate. The case tends to show that a man was arrested at 6.30 a.m. in his father's house and held for four hours. This was not because he was a suspect or even because he was thought to be a potential witness, but rather with a view to inducing him to find out and provide future information. There are fears that this may not be an isolated incident. I question whether the procedure used was within the law and, even if it was within the law, whether it was a wise one and not possibly counter-productive.

I have given notice to the noble Earl the Minister that I would raise this point. I do not expect an instant answer but I should be grateful if the matter could be looked into, because it is the kind of thing which is so liable to bring both the Army and the emergency legislation into disrepute. This is but one small example of why Parliament must be eternally vigilant and why we cannot just allow orders such as the one that we have here today to pass on the nod.

I suggest that we must go further and insist that there should be an independent review of the working of the Diplock courts and of the whole of the emergency laws. This was argued most cogently on 9th July last by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, at columns 884 to 887 of Hansard. In reply, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that Her Majesty's Government did take this suggestion very seriously. Today I hope that the Government may be able to indicate how they see the possible and practical timing of such an inquiry, which has been asked for already and which I know several speakers will also be mentioning later.

4.22 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I too would like to thank the Minister very much indeed for his explanation, which I found of great interest, very clear and very fair. I am extremely grateful to him for giving it. I should like also to take the opportunity to express my very great admiration and respect for all those people who are involved in administering the law in Northern Ireland and who in doing so are running such appalling risks.

I should like to make just one point about these emergency provisions in support of what my noble friend on the Front Bench said and what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has just said: that is on the question of a judicial inquiry into this Act. I think there can be no doubt that we are all very well aware of the circumstances which necessitate these special powers, and they have just been described in tragic reality by the noble Lord, Lord Moyola. We know full well that the present situation does not justify the return of the law as we know it, but some of us feel very sincerely that the time has come when an inquiry into the workings of the EPA would be justified. Surely this is a reasonable and sensible request and surely we owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to give more than a cursory review to a system which so closely affect their everyday lives.

I remember that in July when the renewal debate took place in another place the Minister intimated a review of the Act and suggested that the Government had doubts about whether major parts of it were working properly. But, in my view, doubts are nothing to be ashamed of; there should always be doubts where powers such as these exist, powers which have departed from the usual democratic process as we know it. The exclusion of doubt brings an element of permanence to the Act, and perhaps such an air of permanence is the most insidious feature of emergency legislation.

Furthermore, the Government have brought movement and a more forward look to so many of their other policies regarding Ireland, so why should their attitude to the Emergency Provisions Act not equally reflect that same sense of movement? It is not a question of modifying the laws but merely of ensuring that they are still best adapted to suit the present circumstances. Such a review would thus ensure that the laws continue to contain the right ingredients which are necessary to maintain that delicate balance of containing the existing security situation without offending the sensitivities of the people affected by those laws.

It must be true to say that in any democratic state the only way terrorism can be defeated is by encouraging the ordinary law-abiding citizen to play his full part in security. As the Minister himself said, terrorism can only be stopped by the united efforts of the security forces and the community, and anything which stands in the way of public confidence in the law stands in the way of the defeat of terrorism.

An example of how these laws must offend the sensitivities of ordinary, law-abiding families in Northern Ireland lies in the section under which security forces can enter any premises without warrant, at any time of the day or night, to search for arms or explosives. The need for such searches is self-evident, but the resentment and bitterness felt by the families concerned, should such searches prove fruitless, must be very great. We ourselves have seen what happened in Brixton, and this happens in Northern Ireland very much more.

The chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary cannot do without the support of the community, and I am sure that all of us here in your Lordships' House share the same admiration and respect for the way in which the chief constable is committed to a police force which is not only highly effective but earning the trust of the minority community as being an unbiased force with strong leadership. Perhaps a deeper look into the laws which mainly affect this particular community might contribute towards reinforcing that trust even further.

4.26 p.m.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I welcome this order and I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Gowrie on his introduction to this debate. It is very important that we should remember that tone is as important as content in the speeches which come from the Government about Northern Ireland. In this case, I thought that his eloquence and sincerity were so apparent and so important that it will bring very great reassurance to our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.

One always hopes that this will be the last occasion on which this emergency legislation is continued, and I share the feelings of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, about the danger of frequently renewing this draconian legislation. I must say that I tend to share her feelings that, if it were to be done several times more, it would be absolutely vital that there should be some kind of judicial review of this legislation, because it is not consonant with a long-term policy towards the Province.

Nevertheless, we have to remember that, as the Minister said, 98 people have already been killed in Northern Ireland in 1981—and 1981 is not yet over. Ninety-eight people is a lot of people. It is twice as many people as are present in this Chamber at the moment, just to give one an idea of how many people have lost their lives in this year alone. Nevertheless, having said that, and taken to heart those appalling statistics, I must say that such evidence as one hears from those qualified to speak suggests that the security situation is gradually improving. I know that it sounds very heartless to say that, after what my noble friend Lord Brookeborough so eloquently said. But the truth is that the situation is improving. It is, perhaps, two steps forward and one step back, but there are signs that it is getting better.

The police are taking over from the army in more and more areas. The reputation of the police is steadily rising, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, quite rightly said. They are a splendid and superb body of people under a quite magnificent chief constable. I cannot help feeling that, as that gradual progress takes place, so it is not too cold-hearted to say that, in some respects, the situation is improving on the security front.

I was particularly glad to hear, as part of the sign that that is the case, my noble friend Lord Gowrie say so forcefully and eloquently that there is no such thing as a political crime. There is crime, and crime must be dealt with by the police force. The moment we begin to start talking about political offences, political crimes, terrorism and so on, we are actively conceding part of the case of the IRA. They are not a political organisation. They are a criminal organisation, and what they are committing are vile, odious crimes.

As was so rightly said, one reason why things are getting better is because of a greater flow of information. It is probably paradoxical that one of the consequences of the hunger strike and the murder of Mr. Bradford has been a sense of shock in both parts of the community in Northern Ireland. As a consequence, more people are taking the brave step of talking to the police and trusting the police. They are telling them about what is going on.

I have been very pleased indeed to read and to hear the remarks in recent weeks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Those remarks are most important and most helpful. We must say how grateful all those of us who are interested in Northern Ireland are for these forceful, fearless words of the bishops in the Roman Catholic community in the North. The fact that the Roman Catholic bishops have felt able to speak out quite so strongly is, I believe, a sign that opinion throughout the whole of Ireland (in the South as well) is hardening.

Of course, a great deal of this improvement in the collaboration of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the Garda to which the noble Earl referred, is due to that very remarkable man, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, the Prime Minister of the Republic. But I do not think that it is only due to that courageous and brave man. Opinion on all political sides in the Republic is quite clearly hardening against the IRA and is rejecting their claims to share in the system of beliefs which led to the establishment of the Republic. It would be unwise for any Government to rely upon the sympathy and friendship of just one great statesman. Even great statesmen lose elections. It is just as important that support for this policy should come from the other side of the Dail as it does from Dr. FitzGerald.

In that context, while I warmly sympathise with what my noble friend Lord Brookeborough said about extradition, I do not think that extradition is "on", for two reasons. First, it would be very difficult indeed, in the political situation in the South, for the South to get extradition through. I quite agree that under the present constitution it is perfectly possible. However, I do not think that it would be feasible. And I am not entirely sure, for the reasons which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, hinted at, that even if a full extradition treaty were at work it would be possible in fact to use it. That being said, I still appeal to my friends in the South to realise how important something of this kind is if they are to convert the ordinary people in the North to the view that the Republic is serious in their wish that this type of crime should be extirpated.

The great bulk of what most of us have to say will arise on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Moyola. Therefore, I will bring my remarks at this stage to a close, and say once more to my noble friend on the Front Bench how greatly I welcomed the tone and the content of his speech.

4.34 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am most grateful for the extremely helpful way in which the House has debated this sad necessity to go for the order again. I am sure that the welcome—and the responsible and sympathetic way in which it has been made—will commend the House very much to the Province. We in Parliament sometimes are under the illusion that everybody in the country is hanging on our lips. They may or may not be. But on these occasions they certainly do in the Province. I am sure that what is being said here today will go down there extremely well.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked me about the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. They are currently examining certain aspects of the emergency provisions Act—in particular the operation of the non-jury courts. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State hopes to receive their report in the early part of the New Year. We shall give serious consideration to their conclusions in the context of our own continuous review of the operation of, and the need for, emergency provisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has rather echoed her noble friend in this regard.

I have listened carefully to those who have argued that the time has come for the Government to arrange for a review of the emergency provisions Act. I respect these arguments as indeed I respect the concern that over the years the Act might have become temporary in name only. That is why my colleagues and I keep a close eye on the operation of these powers. I have some doubts as to whether an inquiry would tell us much that was new about the way in which the Act is working. I accept that a review might have advantages if there was any evidence that the legislation was ineffective, or alternatively that the security situation had improved sufficiently, to a point where we could consider reducing or dispensing with the powers. As my right honourable friend made clear in another place, the high level of violence in recent months makes these special powers no less necessary now than hitherto. In my view, this would not be the time to give the men of violence any impression that our resolve was weakening, or to raise the fears of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens by calling this legislation, which I think has become accepted as necessary, however regrettably necessary, altogether into question.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, reminded us, very fairly if I may say so, underscoring a point I should like to make in my own remarks, that it is not just the United Kingdom which has suffered in having to make changes to its civil procedures as a response to terrorism but the Republic has had to make changes as well, as I well know. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough asked me about troop movements and the rest. These are, of course, fundamentally operational concerns. Spearhead is there because the GOC requested it and we have met his request. Obviously it would he for him to say, rather than for me, how long he will need it. I hope that I can leave that there, except to reiterate to my noble friend the remarks I made in my opening speech—that we are totally, 100 per cent. responsive to requests made to us by the chief constable and by the GOC.

My noble friend Lord Hylton mentioned that he was going to bring to my attention a case which caused him some concern in terms of the procedures. If he will send the details to me I will of course have the case examined as a matter of urgency. I altogether agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, that ordinary people have to get involved and have to help with security. Our hands are tied not by a lack of resources or lack of will but by a lack of co-operation sometimes. The other side of the coin in encouraging ordinary people to help is that there should be movement and development within the Province. I am grateful for what my noble friend Lord Vaizey said, in reminding us that the situation was improving in some respects. This time last year, or until the hunger strike started, there was a very substantial improvement indeed—but of course, we have had some reverses since then.

The overall level of violence is still considerably lower than it was in the early part of the last decade. But that gives us no grounds for complacency and no grounds to relent in any way. I am obliged to register—and I say this with great sadness—that even if the incidence of violence is down overall, the tensions, the fears and the entrenched positions have, if anything, hardened rather than weakened with that improvement. So, we have a very long way to go in dealing with this most desperate and urgent of all the problems which the United Kingdom faces.

On Question, Motion agreed to.