HL Deb 20 December 1982 vol 437 cc887-97

5.16 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie My Lords, I beg to move: That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 1st December, be approved.

I invite the House to renew for a further period of six months all the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act which are currently in force. In doing so, I recognise that there are those noble Lords who have anxieties about the regularity of the six-monthly renewal of this legislation, who feel that it is anomalous and that it has gone on too long. On this occasion I think the House will be aware of evil deeds done lately in Northern Ireland. These culminated in the incident at the Dropin Well Inn at Ballykelly a fortnight ago, an incident which we can only describe as a form of genocide or mass murder.

Since my Statement to your Lordships' House a fortnight ago, just one person, a brave girl, of those many who were injured in this bombing, has died, but 18 people still remain grievously wounded in hospital. The Chief Constable of the RUC has set up a team of some 40 detectives under a detective chief superintendent to investigate the incident. I can assure your Lordships that the security forces will continue to do everything that is necessary under the law to bring to justice those responsible for this as well as those other evil deeds that the Province has witnessed during recent weeks. I know that the House will join me now. as they did when I made my Statement on 7th December, in extending the Government's sympathy to the relatives of those who have died and to the many who have been injured in those horrible events.

Whatever may be our instinctive feelings of revulsion at this and other recent acts of terrorism, the renewal of emergency provisions legislation is one which the Government do not seek at all lightly. There is no doubt in our view that the situation which confronts the community in Northern Ireland is exceptional and abnormal. The provisions of the Act exist only because paramilitary crime exists there; and they need remain only so long as paramilitary offences continue. Moreover, they represent only those measures which are strictly necessary to deal with so unique and specific a threat—no more and no less. It is vital there should be powers to counter so specific a threat to the ways in which a free and open society like ours settles its differences. This Act, as your Lordships know, sets the legal framework in which we can try to cope with the threat.

Terrorist activity and terrorist methods have affected both loyalist and nationalist families in Northern Ireland. They are felt within each community as well as between communities, and they are felt too by those who try to build bridges across the community divide. The effects of terrorism have also been felt tragically here in Britain since I last sought the approval of the House to the renewal of this legislation. They have been felt, too, in the Republic of Ireland, whose open society, like our own, depends on the ballot box and is also under threat from the Armalite. So security policy, both in terms of its operation and in terms of the climate in which it has to operate, remains the priority of the Government's overall policy for Northern Ireland.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in his historic address last month to the Northern Ireland Assembly: I cannot stress too strongly the implications of political movement within the Province and outside it for security policy. A continuing political vacuum in the Province is in the long-term simply a victory for those who reject the political process and try to determine political ends by violent means. We are determined that they should not prevail. A continuing political vacuum in the Province says to the world that the men of violence are having their way and that the Province can only be governed by temporary and expedient measures. We are determined that such a counsel of despair be proved wrong. The evolution of legitimate politics in Northern Ireland, slow and often frustrating as it may be, is the greatest moral weapon in our armoury against violence and crime.

The operation of the Government's security policy continues to rest on the fair and impartial enforcement of the law. It is the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding who have the operational responsibility to deploy forces and act against terrorists. I need hardly remind your Lordships—but it is not always fully appreciated in Northern Ireland—that the security forces themselves can be, and indeed at the present time some of them are, subject to prosecution if they exceed the limits which the law lays down.

The present policy of the police taking the lead and the army assisting in support, where necessary, in bringing offenders to justice through the courts has, despite recent tragedies, achieved a considerable reduction in violence in recent years. It is not in my view fair to the security forces themselves to overlook the overall trends, though it is understandable that in the aftermath of evil actions and personal tragedies we are often tempted to do so. In the Government's view, continuing to work within the constraints of an open society offers the best hope for the future.

If there were a single measure or group of measures that could bring paramilitary crime to an end, then the Government would of course take them. Unhappily, there is no such instant solution. Conditions for a long-lasting end to violence cannot be so easily achieved. Any pause created by taking indiscriminate and draconian powers—for instance, internment without trial—would fall into the very trap which paramilitaries of all persuasions are baiting for us.

Such measures would offer no lasting solution and would be precisely what the terrorists want. They would appear to lend credibility, for instance, to the myth that the Northern Ireland issue is one of military or colonial occupation rather than an issue of substantive internal differences of culture and allegiance.

As my right honourable friend again said in his Assembly address, our best weapon against terrorism is the co-operation of the public. To be successful, the security forces must continue to win the confidence of the community to act impartially, and win their support to obtain evidence on which to secure convictions before the courts. In this we can be proud that the security forces have been successful, and there is no doubt in my mind, as the prison Minister in Northern Ireland, of the steady increase there has been in community support for the security forces. This can be demonstrated by convictions obtained and disasters avoided. I know that your Lordships will join me in paying tribute to the unremitting, patient and skilled work of the security forces, as well as the courage and sacrifice they continue to display, and the courage—and again often the sacrifices—shown by those who do help them. I am happy to report that leaders of the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly have also placed on record their gratitude and admiration for the work of the security forces. I would add to this my sympathy for the relatives and friends of those who have died or who have been wounded in the service of the community.

It is also against the background of the prevailing security situation that the Government must consider the need for the legislation presently before the House. In this connection, I have to report that the incident at Ballykelly when taken with recent inter-sectarian murders and attacks on the security forces, means that the level of killing this year is sadly higher than comparable periods in 1978 and 1980, although it still remains below that, for example, for 1979 and 1981. The number of other incidents is also lower this year than last. In the period to the end of November this year, there were 361 shooting incidents in the Province and 201 bomb explosions. This compares with 784 shootings and 382 explosions in the same period last year. The weight of explosives used so far this year has also been lower than in 1981. That figure reflects the very considerable successes, both of the RUC and the Garda in taking explosives away from those who seek to use them. Physical injuries have been 506 compared with 1,244 last year.

I cannot conceal that these figures and the terrible murders of recent weeks constitute a setback; but as I said, we do no justice to the patience and resilience of those living in Northern Ireland if we do not also recognise the achievements of the security forces. To the end of November 1981, 508 persons were convicted of scheduled offences on indictment. In the same period this year, there have been 688 such convictions.

None of the achievements of the security forces is without financial cost, and your Lordships will be aware that the Government have agreed to increase by 500 the strength of the RUC and by 300 the full-time reserve. It has also been possible to provide for an increase of 336 civilians in supporting jobs, about 140 of which will relieve police officers for their operational duties. I regard this as evidence of the Government's firmest determination to provide the Chief Constable with the resources he needs to defeat paramilitary crime from wherever it comes. It is underpinned by the commitment of the Government to a security effort that must be justifiable, both nationally and internationally; and it is matched by our efforts to maintain and extend the assistance we receive from other sovereign Governments acting against terrorists.

Regrettably, I have to tell the House that at the moment there is no clear evidence that any of the powers contained in the legislation are no longer needed or no longer used to significant effect in dealing with or defeating violence. The most significant elements of the legislation—the non-jury courts to try terrorist cases, and the powers of search and seizure and of arrest and detention of suspected terrorists—remain the essential tools of the security forces. I deeply regret, of course, that this should be so. With regard to the courts, I am however at least glad to be able to say that there is a consensus of opinion that the non-jury courts fulfil their role without fear of intimidation or favour and have administered the law in the strongest and most fair-minded tradition of British justice.

I am wholly satisfied that the courts can be relied upon to continue to be the guardian of individuals' rights. The security forces for their part cannot enjoy the same degree of detachment. They have been granted powers under the Act which could easily be abused but both the Army and the police take great pains to ensure that the use of their powers do not unnecessarily alter the values in our democratic society which we regard so highly. So long as I have my own present responsibilities, I shall be vigilant in seeing that the custodians of the law also submit to it themselves.

May I in closing turn to the reasons for the Government's decision to establish a review of the operation of the Act. I would not wish these reasons misunderstood. The review has been announced, not because the Government have serious doubts about the way in which the legislation is operating or because the Government believe that the time has come to dismantle the Act. This is—sadly—no moment for doing that. The exceptional nature of the powers dictates that we should from time to time consider whether any changes to them are needed. It would be wrong to do otherwise if paramilitaries of all kinds are to continue to be isolated from the law- abiding public and so defeated.

That is why your Lordships will recall that I announced earlier this year the Government's intention to establish an independent review of the legislation. The precise terms of reference of the review have not been decided, but as a practical and operational link exists in Northern Ireland between the Act and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976, the review will need to take account of the conclusions of the inquiry now being undertaken by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, into the operation of the 1976 Act. I understand that the noble Earl hopes to complete his work in the early part of next year. That will then clear the way for the review to begin its heavy task in earnest. It will, of course, involve a number of hearings in Northern Ireland and the collection and analysis of evidence from those with an interest in the operation of the Act. The Government expect that the review will take at least six months. The Act itself is complex and the issues it raises are of fundamental importance. Therefore it is equally important that the review should be conducted by a person of high ability and standing. The Government hope before long to be able to announce the name of the person chosen to conduct the review. For the present, the only clear evidence available to us is that of continued terrorist activity and the need for effective powers to counter it. The order before the House this afternoon proposes the retention of these measures for a further period of six months. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st December 1982 be approved.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

5.32 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will join with the expressions of the noble Earl regarding the Ballykelly outrage and will share the expression of sympathy to the relatives and to those who are still suffering grievous injury, It is impossible to attempt to justify or explain away such a monstrous crime. As Mr. Gerry Fitt asked in another place: What motivates people to carry out such an horrific act? I would add: What kind of society can eventually be built upon an outlook that engages in such acts? The noble Earl also, correctly, paid a tribute to the police and security forces, and I am sure that the whole House will join in that tribute.

The Motion to review the order every six months provides an opportunity for a periodic review of the operation of the emergency provisions and, as has been stressed on previous occasions, this must never become just a formality. Therefore, although we recognise the necessity for extraordinary measures, we must not reach a situation where these provisions are accepted as the normal course of events.

The noble Earl dealt with the inquiry into the provisions of the Act, on which he made his announcement when we last dealt with the review of the provisions last July. I know the attention which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is giving to his own review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. As one of the advisers to the Home Secretary on certain aspects of that, I know of the attention which the noble Earl is giving to it. However, before we are asked to consider another review of the emergency provisions in six months' time, I hope we shall learn that the review will be well under way and that it will be concluded at an early date, because we must not be in the position of having the promised review dragging on. I am not suggesting there is anything which necesssarily has to be changed in the emergency provisions but, as the noble Earl says, there is concern in many quarters and it is time now that we reviewed the provisions so as to ensure that they are relevant to the present situation.

We readily accept the position that until that review is concluded the police and the security services must have the emergency provisions of the present Act. We agree it is essential that the services, the police and the security forces should have the necessary resources to do their work. We therefore welcome the intention, as the noble Earl has stressed this afternoon, to recruit a further 800 full-time officers into the RUC and the RUC Reserve and a further 300 persons into full-time civilian support. I believe that this reflects the intention to give more and more responsibilities, as far as can be allowed, to the police services, and I am pleased that the noble Earl stressed that aspect.

It is also essential that the police should receive the full support of the entire community. In that regard, I wonder whether the noble Earl can confirm the report which was given this morning, that discussions have been taking place on important security matters between senior police officers of Northern Ireland and the Republic? If so, that will be a great encouragement and it will be generally welcomed by all your Lordships, together with the decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic only recently on the question of extradition in one particular case.

Those two factors may be of great importance to the future position in Northern Ireland. I am certain that no noble Lord will accept that the present position can continue for decade after decade. Steps have to be taken. Meanwhile, regretfully we recognise the necessity for the renewal of this order and we look forward to an early announcement concerning the individual who is to conduct the review into the emergency provisions and, in particular, the terms of reference. It would be helpful if the terms of reference could be given at the earliest possible opportunity.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing and explaining this order, and I should like to pay a belated tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, with his personal experience of the Assembly's working. No one can be happy that what were introduced in 1978 as emergency provisions have to be renewed yet again at the end of 1982. But. alas! the terrorists have virtually decided the matter for us, and we on these Benches do not intend to join the small but vociferous band who have proclaimed their opposition in the other place.

It was reported in the press last week that the INLA had vowed they would carry on a merciless campaign against the security forces. I am not clear into what category they would put the Ballykelly bomb outrage or the London bombings in the summer, but it is at least certain that through their activities it has been assured that for many people this will hardly be a happy Christmas. It is a harsh tragedy for the victims, but it is also for the perpetrators of these crimes—for when the excitement of action has faded away they will at the end of the day find themselves answerable, in all conscience, for what they have done. It could be much better put from the Bishops' Benches, but I believe that is the message which must be shared by all Catholics and Protestants. Those who talk of terrorising the terrorists are merely saying they will deal with evil men by further evil deeds. Such a policy is self-defeating, and the dangers are obvious to all who are prepared to stop and consider.

The other day I quoted in your Lordships' House some well-known words of Arthur Hugh Clough: Say not the struggle naught availeth.". I was gently teased by a colleague for repeating what is so well known, but I make no apology. My visits to the Province have convinced me, time and again, that there are many honourable people beavering away for a better life in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that in the end their efforts will succeed. But it will need much effort, much courage and goodwill.

I accept that it is essential to realise that today in Northern Ireland, as the Secretary of State has so clearly put it, there are no straightforward panaceas and no short cuts. It is not the differences between religious denominations or social heritages that will count in the long run; it is the struggle of good over evil. We wish the people of Ulster well, as also of course those serving in the security forces and who may be away from family and home this Christmas. They are certainly not forgotten.

It has been said that the most significant elements in the legislation we are discussing are the practice of non-jury courts, the powers of arrest and detention of suspected terrorists that have been conferred on the security forces and the prescription of organisations involved in terrorism. We cannot feel that any of these arrangements is good, but in the present circumstances, as the noble Earl has said, they are necessary.

At the same time, in the summer we were promised a review of the Act, but nothing so far has happened. It is clear that the Government are first awaiting the report of Lord Jellicoe on the more general Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976. Can the Minister, who referred to it—and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—give us any information about when it is estimated the review of the emergency provisions Act will be completed?

It was argued by some Members in the other place, as it is by some people outside, that present Government policies have failed. That is just what the terrorists want us to believe, and I do not accept it. At the same time, while satisfied that the so-called Diplock courts are acting impartially and without fear or favour, I cannot overlook the words of Mr. Gerry Fitt in the other place—a man whose courage and sincerity, I repeat, has my sincere respect. He said that he opposed this type of legislation because innocent people are caught in its tentacles. He joins some whose judgment I less respect in voting against the order. It re-emphasises the need for a review of the Act as a matter of some urgency. In the meantime we support the continuance order.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, we have no hesitation whatever in agreeing immediately and without reservation to renewing this emergency order. The noble Earl said that there was not a single factor in the order which was not of current use to the forces of law and order, and to reduce opportunities for the forces by one single factor is absolutely intolerable. So we have absolutely no hesitation whatever in supporting the Motion.

I agree with my colleagues in saying how pleased we are with the increases which have been announced in manpower. Here I should like to raise one small point. It always annoys me very much when I read rude or derogatory comments about the RUC. There was a very tiresome observation in the papers the other day about how they are under orders to shoot to kill. I hope the noble Earl will tell me whether I am right in what I describe, but in the case of the two Irish National Liberation Army men shot in a car the other day, it is alleged that the car raced through a check-point and that the car was known as belonging to the Irish National Liberation Army. Both the people who were killed were accused, though not of course proved guilty, of a number of murders. If that is true, my view is that the RUC should shoot to kill. I think it is frightfully important when fighting a battle with really dangerous gangsters, on whatever side—exactly the same applies to the UDR when they get going—that the RUC and their colleagues should not be inhibited in any way. I hope the noble Earl will support me in this slightly violent outburst and later confirm whether the conditions under which the shootings took place were as I have said.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I hope it will be in order for me to give what might be called a postscript to the words of my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, if I make a special reference to the Ulster Defence Regiment. I hope it will not be considered invidious if I do so. The noble Earl will be aware that the Ulster Defence Regiment came into being as a result of one of the recommendations of a report of the committee, of which I was chairman, which reported to the then Government of Northern Ireland in October 1969. As your Lordships know, the Ulster Defence Regiment has suffered severe casualties over the years in individual losses while, for the most part though not always, they were off duty. With few exceptions, as your Lordships will be aware, they are a part-time force and they are exceptionally exposed to danger when not on duty but doing their ordinary work, if they have work to do, and when they are in their homes.

In connection with the review to which the noble Earl referred in introducing the order, if the Minister feels able to do so, I should like him to confirm for your Lordships and for the information of everyone that the UDR is doing an essential defence job, and is doing it exceptionally well. Secondly, in the review to which he has referred, will those who are undertaking it consider any possible measures to give additional security to the members of the Ulster Defence Regiment in view of the dangers to which they are exposed? I do not need to put this in the form of a question, but, finally, would it not be in order (and I hope it will not be considered invidious) if a special message was sent to the members of the Ulster Defence Regiment of our admiration and support at this time?

5.48 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, taking up the immediate point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whose work in this field I am glad to acknowledge, I should like a clear message of support to go from the House to the work of the UDR and the courage and determination of its members. I am not certain whether the review of the workings of a particular piece of legislation, which is what we are concerned with in the Motion before the House, is the appropri-ate place for that. It is appropriate to do so in debate, and I do so most gladly now. I am not sure whether it would be appropriate in the report itself.

I am grateful to the House for the general level of support which the order has received. On the points which were put to me, both the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Hampton, asked about the timing of the review. I hope the review will begin its work in earnest as soon as that is practical. I acknowledge that I also promised this review earlier this year. In fact it makes some sense that we see what the outcome of Lord Jellicoe's review is, so that there is not needless duplication. In this field there is bound to be some overlap. I wish the review to be a thorough one and I would not wish to hurry it unreasonably by laying down absolute timetables for completion. I suspect, however, that the work will last for at least six months.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me about the meeting between the chief constables. This was part of regular ongoing meetings which take place at various levels to discuss matters of common policing interest. It is a further indication of the very close professional relationship which exists between the RUC and the Garda, which was highlighted by the discovery by the Garda earlier this month of a large quantity of explosives packed into five beer kegs near Lifford. Given their trials, stresses and tribulations it is not always easy for the people of Northern Ireland to understand just how badly affected the Republic has been by the recent troubles; and how determined they are to squeeze terrorism out of the system and to achieve a political settlement of the situation which terrorists can so easily exploit.

My Lords, on the very significant, in my view, decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic in the McGlinchey case, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that this is an encouraging sign and can bode only well, not only in the context of cross-border security but also in terms of relationships between the people North and South of the Border. Of course, while it is not anything to do with me, I can say that I will watch the development closely. It certainly seems to me to be a most significant event and I hope that everybody in Northern Ireland will pay attention to it.

I say, absolutely in terms, to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that there are no special squads within the Royal Ulster Constabulary with special instructions to shoot terrorists on sight. There are special squads designed to prevent terrorism and to deal with the threat it presents throughout the Province. The recent incidents in County Armagh which the noble Lord mentioned and which led to the loss of six lives are currently under investigation by the police. I am confident that the police inquiries, which are thorough and painstaking, will unearth all the relevant facts. These will then be considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions. There will also be a coroner's inquest. Until this process has been completed it would be inappropriate for me to say anything else. However, I go back to the remarks which I made in opening the debate on the order: I remind noble Lords (if they need reminding, which I doubt) that the law covers all of us—those of us who are paid to maintain it as well as those who live under it or those who violate it. We absolutely deplore any unnecessary deaths, wherever they may occur.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, can the noble Earl explain what orders are given to the army and to the police as to when they are permitted to shoot and kill motorists who drive through any kind of checkpoint?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, it has nothing to do with motorists or checkpoints. The security forces are allowed to kill only if by so doing they can prevent loss of life. The orders are quite clear in that respect. We are dealing with self-protection by an officer of his men, or whoever is giving the order to his men in these conditions.

As I said earlier, I regret having had to come before your Lordships again for a renewal of this kind of legislation. We would all much prefer that there was no need for it. Unfortunately, those circumstances do not yet exist.

On Question, Motion agreed to.