HL Deb 09 July 1981 vol 422 cc876-94

7 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 15th June, be agreed to. As I have said at every renewal of these powers since I assumed my present post, I propose their renewal only because they meet an essential need in the prevailing circumstances in Northern Ireland. I do so again today but with even more conviction. Since your Lordships' House last approved the renewal of the provisions contained in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, terrorist groups have shown ample evidence of their intention to continue their brutal campaign of murder and intimidation. In January, this House learned with horror of the murder of Sir Norman Stronge, a former Speaker of the Stormont House of Commons, and his son, at Tynan Abbey; the same month gunmen forced entry to the home of Bernadette McAliskey and shot her and her husband.

There have, of course, been other murders which have not attracted so many national headlines but which have desolated the families of the victims and caused a burning resentment in the community from which they came, whichever it was. In February terrorists boarded and sank the collier "Nellie M" in Lough Foyle. More recently we have seen weapons of open warfare, such as mortars and rocket launchers, being used. One night's bombings in Dungannon caused damage estimated at some £75,000. Your Lordships will be well aware of these and other incidents; but it would be wrong of me not to pay my own tribute to the five young crewmen of the Saracen who lost their lives in South Armagh, protecting law abiding citizens in the community there, when a culvert bomb exploded beneath their armoured vehicle, completely destroying it.

However, these events have left largely unnoticed the effort and successes of the security forces, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, referred, in pursuing, arresting and bringing to justice those responsible for such atrocities. There has, moreover, been a distinct shift in emphasis within the security forces' combined effort. Normal policing methods are being extended. Ordinary policemen are performing ordinary police duties in increasing areas of the Province without close support from the army. This has been accomplished without impairing in any way the co-operation which exists between the RUC and the Army. The fact that this programme has been going so well reflects the greatest credit on the RUC and the Army in Northern Ireland and on their commanders.

In reviewing the other progress made towards achieving normality in the Province, your Lordships will be well aware of the recent threat there has been to that progress. I believe that that threat we have been discussing is only a temporary setback. There has, after all, been a gradual but perceptible decrease in the level of violence for almost the whole of the past 10 years. Last year, 1980, saw less violence than any year since 1971. By comparison with that year, the number of shootings in 1980 had been reduced by almost two-thirds, the number of bombings by almost three-quarters, the number of deaths by more than a half and injuries by more than two-thirds. The first four months of this year also witnessed that same downward trend. The events of the last two months have sadly brought a temporary halt to this process. We have already discussed the question of the hunger strike, which has brought about that change.

Although spasmodic, and never as widespread or as popularly supported as the media has sometimes portrayed, there had been outbursts of communal violence, and these outbursts did sometimes become very vicious indeed. It is very much to their credit that the security forces have contained and dealt with these disturbances so resolutely and, if I may say so, with such exemplary restraint. I say this with particular feeling because terrorist gunmen exploited fully the cover provided by the street disturbances.

We must all regret very deeply the injuries and loss of life suffered by all our security forces. But let me say most emphatically that the lives of countless others have been saved by their efforts, by their courage and by their self-sacrifice. What they have done has not been done in vain; nor will it be forgotten. What is going on in Northern Ireland is not a war and it lacks the glamour of warfare; but it requires of our forces an even higher degree of self-discipline in the face of extreme provocation. It also requires both vigilance and courage to be sustained for much longer periods than those which are usually demanded in the conditions of warfare. The conduct of our security forces under these circumstances, and most particularly of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its reserves, has been beyond praise.

I should also like at this point to ask your Lordships to spare a thought for the Ulster Defence Regiment. The regiment has not been deployed to contain violence on the streets, but its members, also, have been constantly engaged against the terrorists. They also have to bear a burden that is different, and more exacting, than that borne by soldiers fighting a war. Indeed it is, in one sense, more exacting even than that borne by soldiers of other regiments now serving in Northern Ireland. Many members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, like many members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, are denied even the respite from danger that comes with home leave from the battlefield. This is quite simply because their homes are in the thick of it.

The events which I was describing a moment ago do show that the terrorists can incite young people to violence on the streets; but they should not be seen as a permanent setback. Indeed, the violence has demonstrated how many there are who will not let themselves be used by the terrorists for their own ends. It has shown that the vast majority of the minority community want nothing whatever to do with those responsible for the violence and destruction of recent months.

The proof of the value of the security policy followed by successive Governments is becoming increasingly clear. Those who break the law are being dealt with according to the law. This applies to rioters, hijackers or those who commit more serious offences, such as murder and wounding. Since 1st March, a total of 582 persons have been charged and a further 444 summonsed in connection with offences arising out of the rioting. Furthermore, in the first six months of this year alone, 472 persons have been charged with serious terrorist-type offences. It is deplorable, of course, that there should be so many offences but it is reassuring that they can be so thoroughly pursued.

This is the right and the only way to tackle the violence. I can well understand the frustration of those who have seen newsreels of the members of the security forces facing a barrage of petrol and acid bombs. I can understand their being eager for the security forces to adopt more aggressive tactics. But, my Lords, nothing would delight the terrorists more or earn them greater publicity. The rule of law cannot be upheld by stepping outside it, but only by enforcing it and enforcing it impartially. That is why the discipline and restraint of our security forces which I praised to your Lordships a moment ago is of such vital importance.

Let me now turn for a moment from the conduct of the security forces to that of the general public whom they seek to protect. The aim of the terrorists is quite clear. In the long term, it is the overthrow of the democratic government both in the Province and in the Republic. In the medium term, it is the Province which they seek to destroy and they are seeking to do so by inciting violence. I am not now speaking of the violence of the assassin or the sniper—whether a Loyalist or a Republican—who acts against an individual target. That continues, and it is vicious and deplorable. But what I am talking about now is collective violence on the streets of the sort now becoming all too familiar on our television screens. That violence itself is, of course, both sterile and tragic but it does not achieve the terrorists' essential aim.

To achieve that aim it must not be contained within one community, as it is at present. It must spread, change its character, and become collective violence of each community against the other. Every level of provocation has been tried and every level of provocation has failed to bring about that result. The peace and good order of Northern Ireland depend not only on the vigilance and stoicism of the security forces: fundamentally they depend on the restraint and good sense of reasonable men and women throughout the community, and their leaders have been wise enough to see that if they sought to fight fire with fire all would be destroyed.

On this day last week my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced in another place his proposals to bring nearer the day when Northern Ireland can exercise responsibility for the government of its own people, in terms to which I have already referred. How tragic, therefore, that on that very day the terrorist cause should have received such uniquely valuable assistance from a man who claims to be a Protestant leader. To tell private citizens—and I quote— We have a choice, men, to make; shall we allow ourselves to be killed and murdered by the IRA or shall we go out and kill the killers?". To announce a recruiting drive for a paramilitary force in which—and again I quote— I intend to march thousands upon thousands of men"— that, my Lords, is precisely, exactly and above all what the terrorists want. When Dr. Paisley cries "Havoc!" it is not the terrorists who should tremble. His war cry is what they have been fighting to hear since 1973. When Dr. Paisley cries "Havoc!" it is the whole of the rest of the people of Northern Ireland who are put at risk.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one short question? We understand that the prosecution of Dr. Paisley for that speech is under consideration. Is there any news about that?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the text is still, I understand, under consideration. I cannot, I am afraid, tell the noble Earl any more.

I now return to my consideration of the security forces. Of course, the police and the army must have all the equipment necessary to combat those who wish to overthrow our society and this Government are committed to that. The chief constable and the general officer commanding are satisfied that, at present, they have all they need in the way of both manpower and equipment to cope with all the situations which their forces have to face. But this would be incomplete without the legal powers with which to maintain law and order. It is for this reason that I am asking your Lordships today to approve the renewal of provisions which are necessary to enable the security forces to do just that.

Your Lordships will recall that 12 months ago you thought it right that the detention provisions of the Act should be allowed to lapse. I had no immediate proposals then to allow other provisions to lapse, and I regret that the present security situation does not enable me to make such proposals now. That is not, however, to say that each of these provisions has not been scrutinised very closely. It is not to say, either, that there may not be a case for bringing an independent element to bear on such a review on some future occasion, though the present moment would certainly not seem to be the most appropriate one.

Particular concern has focused from time to time on the system of trial for terrorist type offences in Northern Ireland and, notably, on the absence of juries. It is not, of course, against the system of justice in Northern Ireland that the terrorists are making their appeal, but this House is the traditional guardian of the privileges of the private citizen and it is rightly concerned with how the system operates. That system, which has been in operation since 1973, will remain essential as long as there remains a severe risk of intimidation of jurors. Regrettably, that risk does still remain and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the chief constable believe it to be no less now than it was some years ago. The reintroduction of juries in terrorist trials at present would be a mistake and contrary to the interests of justice. Indeed, it was only the Diplock courts that made it possible to let fall last year the detention provisions contained in current legislation.

But having said that, I must emphasise that, not-withstanding the absence of a jury, the courts function in the same way as any other court of law. The defendant is tried in open court, according to clear and fair rules of evidence with the right to call witnesses and cross-examine those called by the prosecution. The onus of proof rests squarely on the prosecution. There is, moreover, a right to legal aid and to take legal advice and to be represented by a lawyer. There is also an unfettered right of appeal, and that right includes the right to appeal on grounds of fact, which is a right that is not, I understand, available to defendants tried before juries.

Some of your Lordships have, I know, been concerned about the provisions for bail under the legislation which I am now asking you to extend. Your Lordships were anxious about availability of bail to those charged with scheduled—that is to say, terrorist—offences. The last year for which I have figures is that ending on 31st March 1981. During that period, 39 per cent. of applications for bail by persons charged with such offences were granted—

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend a question? Following the point about trial without jury, since so much wrong criticism comes from Southern Ireland because of a misunderstanding, ought it not to be on the record that, in addition to the system in Northern Ireland, a similar system of trial without jury for terrorists exists in Southern Ireland?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that intervention. It was not my intention to give a panorama of the policies south of the Border, but I am sure that that will be useful. I have, I hope, anticipated some of your Lordships' points on this order. We have already gone on longer than we had intended this evening. Therefore, I do not propose to extend my speech. Rather, I should like to try to deal as swiftly as I may with points which noble Lords may raise. But I hope I have made it clear that it is necessary that this order is accepted by the House, in order that we may continue to keep the peace in the province of Northern Ireland. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th June be approved.—(Lord Elton.)

7.15 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his very explicit introduction of this order. While I paid tribute earlier to the security forces, I join him again on this occasion in the warm tribute which he has paid to all the security forces in Northern Ireland, and in his support from the Box for their families and relatives.

I should like to make just a few brief remarks concerning the order. The basis of the order was enacted in 1973, some eight years ago, and some would even claim that its genesis is in the emergency special powers legislation which was introduced some 60 years ago. While I would not wish to go so far as to dub this renewal debate as a ritual, I believe there is a growing feeling, both in this House and in another place, that new approaches to the procedural arrangements for examining the working of this emergency provisions legislation is now publicly necessary.

When this order was debated in another place a week ago, on 2nd July, my honourable friends and colleagues Mr. Don Concannon and Mr. Tom Pendry sought earnestly, and, in my opinion, with reasoned argument, to persuade the Government to undertake a review of the effective working of these emergency provisions. The arguments and views expressed in the debate reflect and concur with the views publicly expressed and published by responsible bodies and informed public opinion; such bodies including the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Peace People and the Joint Conference on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland.

I understand that other noble Lords, who are better able than I am to deal with the legislative and other aspects of the proposed review of the order, are proposing to take part in this debate. But one point which I wish to make clear, in conclusion, is that I agree with the noble Lord the Minister on the need to uphold some aspects of the emergency provisions legislation. In no way am I asking for a dismantling of the Emergency Provisions Act, nor do my friends and colleagues, or those who have been associated with this request for review, seek any dismantling of the order and its effectiveness. However, I will withhold my approval of the order until I hear the Minister's reply.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for so clearly explaining the need for the renewal of this order. From these Benches, I should like to be associated with the praise for the courage and efficiency of the security forces, and to say that we support the renewal of this order.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for explaining the background to this second order. I am particularly grateful to him for being able to give us some points of good news, and hopeful news, at what is otherwise a rather sombre moment.

Northern Ireland, as a political entity, is 61 years old. During most of that period it has been found necessary to have special powers, emergency provisions or public order Acts. The administration of the law arouses widely differing expectations in Northern Ireland. In view of those facts, and of the many changes—and, I would add, improvements—that have occurred since 1974, will Her Majesty's Government consider appointing a new version of the Gardiner Committee with wide terms of reference? Here I somewhat follow what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, said.

May I also ask what would be the Government's attitude to a permanent voluntary commission of inquiry into the adminstration of justice? Such a commission would have to have adequate funds and a research capacity. I would just stress that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive and could be complementary. Another possible approach might be to appoint a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to look into this whole area. That, I think, might be preferable to the somewhat hurried and brief debates which we have twice a year on the renewal of the orders.

I come now to a number of rather detailed points, of which I have given notice to my noble friend, and I appreciate that on the more long-ranging and medium-term matters, to which I have just referred, he may well not be able to answer me tonight. But I hope that he may be able to give me a little encouragement on some of the detailed matters. The first is the question of arrest and interrogation. Very great improvements are universally acknowledged to have happened, since the publication of the Bennett Report and the appointment of the present chief constable of the RUC.

However, your Lordships may be aware of research carried out by the Cobden Trust which shows that some people—maybe dozens, maybe hundreds, one does not know exactly now many—have been arrested and questioned without specific suspicion of criminal or terrorist activity. Arrest for "screening", as such matters have been described, is as obnoxious as the earlier Army practice which became known as "head checking". One understands that such practices may be seen as harassment. They may therefore help terrorist recruitment, especially of young people and teenagers. Will Her Majesty's Government make sure that the practice of arrest for "screening" is ended?

Turning to interrogation, will Her Majesty's Government ensure that the training of police interrogators is constantly improved? Will they also try to see that the public are made aware of what are their rights under interrogation? One such right is that of access to solicitors. Do Her Majesty's Government think that it would be practicable for suspects to have access to their solicitor after a shorter period than 48 hours, which I think is the present practice? And will the Government make sure that meetings between suspects and their solicitors can be held other than in the hearing of the police?

I come now to the admissibility of confessions. As regards Section 8 of the Emergency Powers Act, will the Government restore the rules about confessions being voluntary ones to the position which existed before 1973?

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, would the noble Lord say what the position was prior to 1973?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, not without notice, I regret. However, the position was slightly different from what it is now, I think. I come now to the question of complaints against the police. It seems that the Police Complaints Board has been to some extent ineffective because of the double jeopardy rule. The recent Rafferty Tribunal was, I understand, frustrated by lack of co-operation from the police. It may be worth while noting at this point that, between 1970 and 1978, there were over 3,000 complaints made to the board, but that these resulted in only some 19 prosecutions of police officers and in not one conviction. May I ask Her Majesty's Government what their view is of the suggestion that in future there should be an independent complaints commission with power to carry out its own investigations and to order its own prosecutions?

In introducing the order, my noble friend the Minister referred to the Diplock courts. There is known to be considerable disquiet at the possibility that judges sitting alone in these courts may become case-hardened. Colour has been lent to this theory by the fact that the acquittal rate in contested cases in the Diplock courts fell from 30 per cent. in 1974 to 20 per cent. in 1978, and, I believe, was 22 per cent. in 1979, while acquittals in jury trials in Northern Ireland have ranged from 38 per cent. to 61 per cent. during that period.

The other worry, which I have already touched on, is about over-reliance on admissions and confessions. Would Her Majesty's Government agree that all trials should be by jury except when the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General certifies that the alleged crime was carried out in pursuit of terrorism?

Lord Elton

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to enlighten me on that point? It will not be opportune at the end of the debate. My noble friend is asking that some high-ranking legal officer should certify that a crime which has not been proven was in fact committed in pursuit of terrorist aims? That seems to be rather a tall order. Is that what my noble friend means?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, in legal terms it may be a tall order but when there is an intention to prosecute it must surely be known why a prosecution is being brought: whether it is a civil matter, or a normal law matter, or a terrorist matter. I accept that there may be borderline cases.

Would Her Majesty's Government consider carrying out two parallel experiments, with very careful monitoring of the results? Would they accept that a percentage of trials for scheduled offences should be tried by a judge, assisted by two lay assessors, and that a similar percentage should be tried before three judges sitting together? This latter system would be very similar to that at present in force for such offences in the Republic of Ireland, and I understand that it is thought to be favoured by many members of the Northern Irish Bar.

I turn now to a new suggestion which I do not think has ever yet been deeply considered. Will Her Majesty's Government consider amending the list of scheduled offences so that minor offences of a terrorist type are tried before juries? For instance, offences for which the maximum sentence is five years' imprisonment, or less, might perhaps be removed from the scheduled list. If this experiment were to fail, it could rapidly be ended. If, on the other hand, it succeeded, it could then be enlarged.

I come now to the prison system, to which considerable reference has already been made. It is widely accepted that Northern Ireland probably has some of the best prison buildings in the world and a prison service in a very high state of morale. Will Her Majesty's Government therefore turn their attention to improving the internal administration and workings of that system? The object, I suggest, should be to improve communication at all levels and to do more to prepare prisoners for a useful and peaceful life on release.

Will the Government consider reforming the present boards of prison visitors? At present they have both welfare and disciplinary functions, and this dual role is often seen to be in conflict both by board members and by prisoners themselves. Would the Government consider creating a genuinely independent body to oversee welfare matters and prisoners' rights and responsibilities, leaving matters of discipline to others?

Finally, there is the matter known as joy-riding. By this I mean the deliberate taking and driving away of cars and other vehicles, very often by children as young as 9 to 13 years of age. It has resulted in at least nine deaths in recent years and is a very definite problem in Belfast. It is of course liable to assume a terrorist colouring when a joy-rider fails to halt at a security checkpoint and is then fired upon. One sympathises very greatly with the security forces in this predicament, for how indeed are they to distinguish between the joy-rider and the terrorist get-away car? Will Her Majesty's Government institute inquiries into each case of shooting at joy-riders? That might be a start. Will the Government also give thought to the appropriate penalties for persons convicted of joy-riding? Intermediate treatment and community service orders may be particularly suitable.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Gardiner

My Lords, I, too, should like to add something on the same point. The amendment which was before the other place and which was moved by the honourable Member for Mansfied, Mr. Con-cannon, who had himself been Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office, called for a wide-ranging inquiry into the workings of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. This was not only supported, of course, by the Opposition—that is to say the Labour Party—including the right honourable Member for Cardiff, South-East, Mr. Callaghan, but also by the Liberal Party, and I think by one or two Conservatives. It was based on the very strong feeling that it really is time that we looked to see how these provisions are working out in practice.

Anybody who has been concerned with the administration of justice knows that in any system of it what is going on ought to be monitored from time to time. My only complaint (if that is not too strong a word) about the work of the Law Commission is that they have perhaps tended to concentrate too much on the substantive law and not enough on procedural law, which is often equally important. That is the general proposition.

Secondly, I would say it is even more important when the administration is one of emergency provisions. The reason for that is, first, that emergency laws tend to go on and on. That is true all over the world. Once you have them, they tend to go on and on. Only about three weeks ago I spent a couple of hours leading a delegation of five English lawyers, all old members of Amnesty International, to see the Ambassador of the Argentine. We ventured to see him because we knew what had gone on in the Argentine, particularly with regard to lawyers, about 100 of whom have disappeared altogether and many are in detention. When a deputation went from the American Commission of Human Rights to the Argentine a couple of years ago they were told, "It is all right. We have won the war against the terrorists. Everything will now return to normal, and soon"—"soon" was the word they used—"soon those in detention will either be released or be tried in our ordinary criminal courts, or they will be allowed to leave the country". We wanted to ask why that had not happened.

The ambassador's first reply was that Mrs. Thatcher had refused to see the most eminent Americans as to what was going on in Northern Ireland in the field of human rights because she said that Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, it was a home affair, and she was not going to discuss it with foreigners. I was able to tell him on the following Saturday that from the human rights point of view I was going to make the same points at a meeting in Belfast, and the ambassador, a man of great charm, being a lawyer I think understood the points we were making.

There is always a tendency, once you have an emergency law, for it to go on. One of the main reasons for that, I feel sure, is that, perfectly naturally, security forces never want to give up any of the powers they have.

Equally naturally, no politician ever likes to take the risk of abandoning some powers which the security forces say they need. I thought it was a very brave act on the part of Mr. Rees to accept the recommendation of the Gardiner Committee to give up detention without trial. I am sure he would never have felt able to do it if he had not had strong recommendation from an all-party independent committee.

It was only 18 months after publication of the Diplock Report that the Gardiner Committee was appointed to investigate and see how the Diplock reforms were working out. That was considered to be a sensible thing to do, but it is now nearly seven years since the Gardiner Report was made, seven years since there has been any independent inquiry of any kind as to whether or not these things are working properly. In these circumstances, it seemed to me to be extraordinary that when this amendment was put down, asking for a wide-ranging inquiry, the Secretary of State, who, very properly of course, moved the first resolution and then made another speech at the end of the second resolution, did not deal with it at all. He left it entirely to the Minister of State, Mr. Alison. Mr. Alison said, "The Northern Ireland Office knows best. We don't want anybody doing research work outside the Northern Ireland Office. We will do the research work in the Northern Ireland Office. Anything you want to know, come and ask us. If the Act has to be altered we will do the alteration. You can always put a Question down in the House or write a letter".

If it is thought that this is a caricature of what he actually said I can assure your Lordships that it is not. On 2nd July, at column 1096, he spoke about the annual renewal as being a regular parliamentary inquiry. He then said, "It goes on all the time; correspondence between Members and Ministers, Parliamentary Questions. Whatever we may think of the merits of these provisions there is no difficulty in establishing how they are working. We can furnish the figures. There is no problem in discovering how the Act is working. We know the facts about the workings of the Act. We know—and can inform the House at any time—about the workings of the Act. There is no problem in establishing the facts. I can give many other examples of how the Act is working. I shall not weary the House with all the facts that I could adduce".

Referring to the wide-ranging inquiry asked for, he said, "Such an inquiry is unnecessary. It is positively undesirable in present circumstances. My approach in referring to the facts is neither pedantic nor disingenuous. I do not oppose inquiries into some of the specific areas covered by different sections of the Act. There have been such inquiries in the past and on the whole they have done some good. Lord Gardiner's inquiry in 1975 into aspects of prison practice is a case in point". I am much obliged to him, but why lie should call it an inquiry into prison practice, I do not know. It was an inquiry into the whole of the workings of the Act. "Lord Diplock's Committee of Inquiry resulted in Section C emergency provisions Act bearing on the court and mode of trial for scheduled offences".

It seems to me an extraordinary reply to say that everything is to be left to the Northern Ireland Office—that does not satisfy people—and from time to time there is an independent inquiry. If it was right after 18 months after their introduction to set up the Gardiner Committee to see how the Diplock reforms were working, as it is now nearly seven years later, is it not time for there to be a review by some form of inquiry?

Recently I took the chair at a meeting in Belfast of about 100 individuals coming from a number of organisations but not as delegates—as individuals—mainly from the community of the Peace People and from the Corrymeela Community and from the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights and other members of bodies concerned with human rights and civil liberties. What they all gave were just the sort of examples which were being given this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I am grateful to him because I need not now repeat them. If he will forgive me for saying so, I think on one point he was slightly wrong in regard to there being over 3,000 complaints against the police, which he said had resulted in only 19 proceedings, 16 acquittals, one nolle prosequi and I think two convictions, both of which were reversed on appeal—perhaps it comes to the same thing.

There is no doubt so far as the Diplock courts are concerned; when the Gardiner Committee was sitting the proportion of acquittals by Diplock courts was just the same as acquittals by juries. It is now very much changed. Whether they have become case hardened or not I do not know, but I feel quite sure that there is a case for a review. And, apart from one resolution which the conference passed, which said that they would go on with their research work and have another meeting, the only other resolution they passed called for a judicial review of the workings of the Act.

What possible objection can there really be to a judicial review? This might only be, so to say, one man and a dog. It is not a long affair, but all those most closely concerned with race relations and seeing the actual results of the system of justice in operation evidently feel that there should be a review. I very much hope that the Government will reconsider this matter and adopt a rather different approach from that in the speech made by the Minister of State.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I do not want to go over the ground we covered in the earlier debate but I should like briefly to make a few points. In the last debate I spoke of the security forces. I think it is worth pointing out that my understanding is that the proportion of Catholics in the security forces is quite high, and, if I may say so, the bravery of the Catholic communities serving in the security forces is even greater than that of the Protestant community. I understand that something like half the soldiers in the Irish regiments are Catholics, something like 10 per cent. of the RUC and something like 7 per cent. of the regiments are Catholics. I often think there are only two places in Northern Ireland where there is integration; one is the trade unions and the other is the security forces.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I feel, the noble Lord having raised that point, that it would not be putting the position quite rightly if it were left there. In fact, it has been very disappointing that there has been such a total inability to recruit Catholics over the years. I am not saying anything about the British Army, but as far as the local security forces are concerned it has been an utterly disappointing feature.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I hope the House will note how charitable I am in giving way to the noble Earl, as he was not in the earlier debate. Of course, it is too low, but the point I was making was not about the proportion but about the bravery of the Catholics who serve in the security forces.

I want to refer to the speech of my noble friend Lord Hylton about the emergency powers. It is, unfortunately, true that emergency powers in Ireland, both North and South, have been a feature of both states for a very long time and it is not as unusual as it might seem. It is true to say that something well over 95 per cent., most cases, in Great Britain are tried by non-jury courts. It is for very good reasons, in both Ireland North and South, that it is very difficult to have jury trials in cases involving security because of the intimidation of juries. But I do believe there is a distinction between the North and the South. I understand in the South they have three judges whereas in the North we have one. I do think that this is a point that one might pay attention to.

This is the central point I wish to make in this brief intervention—and I may have to ask the indulgence of my noble friend the Minister if I leave before the end of the debate for reasons which he knows. I think that the point the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has made is of great importance. If these emergency powers are going to be renewed month in, month out, year in, year out, it is important that they should be reviewed, not necessarily because they are being mishandled but because of their impact on the minority community and on our reputation. I am not entirely sure that I am in favour of judicial review. However, I do think that my noble friend's suggestion of a Select Committee of this House might well bear further examination. I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench if he would be good enough, before he comes back to the House for renewal of this order next time, to consider saying at the same time that the Secretary of State is prepared to have some kind of inquiry.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I wanted very briefly to support what has been said up till now and to take this opportunity of giving my support to the Motion which was put forward by Mr. Concannon. I must also admit that I am very surprised and bewildered. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be able to tell us why this request has been refused. After all, it is not a demand to change the EPA. There is no suggestion of that. It is a reasonable request to set up an inquiry to ascertain that these provisions still contain the right ingredients to maintain that very delicate balance of containing the existing security situation without offending the sensitivities of people who are affected by these laws. Also, as my noble friend Lord Gardiner said, such a review would serve to take away that air of permanence which is the most insidious feature of emergency legislation.

Surely it must be true that we owe those in Northern Ireland more than this cursory review of a system which so closely affects their everyday lives. I, too, have had representations from many of them over there, especially from the community of the Peace People. I should like to see a serious review in this connection, and I want to stress my belief in the importance of such a review. We know how difficult it is to find the right guidelines for the administering of the Province, but in my view we should always try to build these guidelines on the firm ground of justice and humanity and wisdom. An inquiry into the present structure of law operating in Northern Ireland would establish that these guidelines were indeed still being respected.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, while I do not think anything extreme has happened, I do think that we ought to take into account when debating these things the effect it is likely to have on the rest of the world. For my sins, I sit as a member of the European Parliament, and over the last two months we have had three inspired debates on this topic—inspired by people who were intent upon giving a wrong impression, of painting a wrong picture as to the truth of the operation of law and order in Northern Ireland during these very difficult times. I believe we ought to be very careful that we are not adding to the uncertainty of true recognition of the part we are playing in these dangerous times by the way in which we present our speeches.

I was disturbed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Hylton, the sort of things that he put in the form of a question; it was implied that the intimations behind them were fact. I recall the debates which nearly swayed big votes against us in the European Parliament, which could have been very damaging. Perhaps I ought not to say this, but I got the impression for one fleeting moment that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was not making his own speech, because when he referred to what happened before 1973, and he was questioned as to what was the difference he wanted, he obviously had not done the research, before making that point, as to what he really had in mind. I believe that is rather a sloppy way of approaching something which carries with it the dangers that this issue carries with it.

I would not disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, if the time is opportune and right to have an inquiry, so that we can satisfy ourselves as well as our friends as to what is really going on. But nobody knows better than Lord Gardiner that one has to be very careful about the timing of such a thing, standing alone, good though it may sound. At a time when certain things are being questioned in a dangerous and a deliberately distorted way, having an inquiry can give the impression of weakness to people who do not delve as deeply as Lord Gardiner does into what is behind it; and that would do much more damage than the good done by having the inquiry, although I concede the good that could come from one if the time and the atmosphere were opportune.

I intervened in my noble friend's speech when he was referring to terrorist trials without juries. It was at that point when I heard the deliberate critic—one who has held office in his own country but is proud to express his anti-British sentiment; I believe he is very much in a minority—make that point in the European Parliament about terrorist trials without juries that one felt the atmosphere of the whole of that Parliament change. There were 400 people sitting and listening and one felt how the mood went, away from our British defence, in favour of that, until it was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, a Member of your Lordships' House, that the one who was making the criticism of trial without jury in terrorist cases had himself been a Minister in the Southern Irish Government where they do precisely the same. One felt the atmosphere change back when it was found that he had tried to lead the Assembly down such a wrong and distorted road.

I cannot help feeling that the queries of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, were put in a way which might have caused damage. As I have said, the points, which he put in the form of questions, when repeated by others in the form of facts, are damaging. He referred to 3,000 complaints and only 19 prosecutions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, put that right and showed that the whole process of the law had been gone through and that right had been done so far as the application of the law can do it. Exactly the same situation applied when there were more acquittals from juries than when there was a judge alone. That can be interpreted by people who want to be dangerous as suggesting that a judge has not carried out his functions as objectively and as impartially as he ought to have done, as we know under our system he does.

That is what I mean about the danger in what could seem to be an innocent speech. One has only to turn the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, round, even slightly, and state them as facts instead of putting them in the form of questions for the damage to be irremediable. I agree that emergency legislation seems to go on, but in this particular case, sadly, the emergency seems to go on. Until we can see some reasonable chance of it being ended, I do not believe that we ought, even in the process of giving further powers for another year, to use language which might make the task of those who represent this country in trying to bring about a durable and a fair peace in that damaged part of the country, more difficult by using any form of loose words. It was only because I had experienced this and the effect that it can have on other countries, who do not feel so deeply and who are not so intimately connected as we are, that I wanted—if I may put it this way—to voice some slight criticism of the tone and the way in which it was presented.

Lord Blease

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, has he not made a case for the need for an inquiry? There is a need for public confidence to be reassured. An inquiry would do exactly what he claims is necessary.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, I thought I said that I rather agreed with that and that I had much sympathy with the desire expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, for an inquiry; but I added the extra remark that, however good the inquiry may be and whatever good may come from it, one must be careful over the timing of it. One must be careful that the timing does not give an impression of weakness or an admission of guilt which could do even more harm than the good which could flow from the inquiry. I was really supporting the plea made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, for an inquiry, provided that my noble friends took into account the dangers that wrong timing could carry.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I should like to intervene for just a moment on the subject of the Diplock courts. It is, of course, true that no jury courts exist in the Republic of Ireland, but two blacks do not make white. It is as much to be regretted there as it is, in my opinion, in the North. To listen to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, speaking about the operation of those courts, one would almost feel that it was an advantage not to have a jury. I do not believe that to be the case. I think that the fact that terrorists are convicted in such courts already puts them into a special category.

I should like to support the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that at any rate these courts should no longer be used for the trial of such minor offences as would carry a maximum penalty of about five years. I think that that would be a start. I hope that that action may be taken by the Government and that it will be gradually extended until the no-jury courts cease to exist.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, a number of points have been raised during this debate, in which the greatest interest has centred on that which was first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, focused upon in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. It is the question of an independent judicial review. I can assure the noble and learned Lord and all those concerned that the Government take very seriously the suggestion that there might be an independent judicial review.

I take the point that there is an inertia in the administration of an emergency, if you so like to phrase it. As the noble and learned Lord said, there are circumstances in which the dispassionate thinking of an independent body or person of that sort can assist the Government in taking difficult decisions. It was, indeed, in precisely that spirit that the noble and learned Lord himself reported, for example, on the question of detention. He regarded detention as tolerable in a democratic society only in extreme circumstances. He wanted it ended at the earliest practicable opportunity, but he went on to say that he found the question of the timing of the withdrawal rather difficult. Perhaps I may quote paragraph 149: We think that this grave decision can only be made by the Government. Only they can decide the time, taking into account a wide range of political, social and economic factors as well as the security situation". I have to echo that, and I must remind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, that what we are discussing is not the propriety of an independent judicial review, but the proper time to have it. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, put the point in a very forthright manner.

But much the same argument as applied to the subject of the noble and learned Lord's report applies to the EPA as a whole, though its other measures are far less extreme than detention. We want to see these temporary provisions ended. It is not a question of administrative convenience; it is not a question of the Government having their arm twisted by the security forces. Some independent judicial consideration may be desirable in deciding how they should be ended. For example, some might be ended sooner than others; some might, with adaptation, be appropriate for permanent legislation. I shall certainly draw all that he and other noble Lords have said to the attention of my right honourable friend, but these are emergency regulations, and what I said in the first two paragraphs of my speech puts it beyond doubt that the emergency continues. So we need the emergency regulations. It is only a question of adapting them at the proper time and lifting them when the emergency is over.

I do not think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, would himself suggest that the time to remove this legislation is now. The hard fact is that in current circumstances we face daily reminders of the need for these provisions. My right honourable friend would not want to set up a review and in consequence have to settle its terms of reference until the future was a little clearer.

The noble and learned Lord then turned his attention, for the second time this evening, to my honourable friend Michael Alison, the Minister of State. I think that perhaps it is a little unfair to him to say that his approach to the question of a review was a sort of cavalier dismissal—I paraphrase the noble and learned Lord. All the facts that my honourable friend adduced are true. There is a great volume of information available not only to the Government but, indeed, to the noble and learned Lord himself. Again, I shall certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to the resolution of the conference that he attended in Belfast, and I am quite certain that he will pay close attention to what I put before him. That is really all that I can say in this House on that matter.

I come to a number of matters of which, I regret to tell my noble friend Lord Hylton, I had notice of only some, and shall not therefore be able to do justice to a number of the points which he raised. My noble friend was worried about the admissibility of statements taken in evidence. I must remind him that it is only necessary to provide prima facie grounds for supposing that there is any form of duress, and such statements are disallowed. I think that the difference between us, if there is one, is one of terminology so narrow that he will not expect me to do more than to write to him if he wants that expanded. Courts do, in fact, quite often throw statements out. He suggested, as did I think the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, the possibility of some sort of permanent review of what is going on, and he thought that it might take the form of a Select Committee of this House. That is a highly complex constitutional matter. I do not know whether he has looked into it in any depth, but it is something which of course I will take note of, and no doubt my noble friend the Chief Whip will do so too. But I could not guarantee that it would be welcomed, or indeed be productive.

The noble Lord raised the matter of the certification of crimes—I think he should have said alleged crimes, though he did not—by the Public Prosecutor or someone else before they are put into a Diplock court. I am not a lawyer; that must be transparently obvious. There is a difficulty in apportioning a degree of criminality and indeed to apportion motivation to a crime before the court actually hears the case on that crime. In any case, surely when a person is brought before a court they are charged under an Act, and the Act itself determines whether they are charged with a terrorist crime or not. I will write to him on that, but I do not think we are on common ground.

The noble Lord was not happy about the question of the prisoner's welfare, or prisoner's rights being overlooked, and would require a separate body. Her Majesty's Government consider the existing machinery and remedies to be adequate. Prisoners have access to the governor or an assistant governor, to the board of visitors, out of sight and hearing of prison officers, and with a no prior ventilation rule; the use of board papers to the Secretary of State which are also not subject to prior ventilation (these are granted to prisoners for making requests of a kind which the governor is unable or unwilling to grant, or for making allegations or complaints about any matters relating to their imprisonment); to Members of Parliament, and to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and to the European Commission for Human Rights. The Government are anxious to ensure that members of the boards of visitors are selected from as wide a cross-section of the community as possible. We strive to accomplish this but a recurring problem is the time factor involved. Large groups of the community, people with full-time jobs, parents with young families, and so on, feel unable to spare the time necessary.

The noble Lord mentioned the matter of joy-riders. He knows that that is a serious problem. I recognise it. I have been deeply concerned about it. He should know that the security forces open fire only when there is a threat to their lives, not when they suspect that somebody has got through the cordon successfully. He asked that there should be an immediate inquiry in every case. I am glad to tell him that there is one in all cases in which members of the security forces open fire under any circumstances. He referred to an independent commission on police complaints. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said some trenchant things about this. I will only add that the Home Secretary is himself considering this matter following the recommendations in the triennial report of the Police Complaints Board for England and Wales, and that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will then consider whether, and how, any proposals the Home Secretary may make might be introduced in Northern Ireland. I think that is probably what the noble Lord wanted to hear.

On the question of interrogation, he did not make it quite clear what sort of training they were to have; but he may recall that it was a recommendation of the Bennett Report that interrogators would have training, and he should know that in fact that recommendation has already been implemented. As to access to solicitors, at present arrested persons have an absolute right to see a legal adviser after 48 hours. This procedure implements another of the recommendations of the Bennett Committee, and the noble Lord has not actually adduced any reasons why the recommendations of the Bennett Committee were not up to scratch.

I believe he was concerned about whether such discussions, when they were held between a prisoner and his solicitor, were overheard. The answer is, not necessarily. When necessary a senior uniformed officer may be present at an interview between a suspect and his solicitor. There are strict safeguards on the use of any information gained. The police can only take action if the communication between the suspect and the solicitor is of such a nature that unreasonable hindrance or delay would be caused to the progress of the investigation or the administration of justice. Matters of this sort inevitably involve striking a balance between the rights of the individual and the wider interests of society.

I have tried to deal with the points raised. I think it is important to put on record that Her Majesty's Government are not in fact trying to evade the issue of having the Emergency Provisions Act looked into. Her Majesty's Government are anxious that it is done, when it is done, under circumstances which are conducive to its being effective and successful. The first essential for that is of course the terms of reference. I really do not think that the time is proper for that. I think that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is right. Nevertheless, in view of the number of those who have voiced an opinion on this I will of course take to the Secretary of State the things that have been said here on the subject. With that assurance, I hope that the House will be content to approve this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.