§ 7.3 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order 1984, which was laid before your Lordships' House on 14th June of this year be approved. I have to say at the outset that this legislation is of crucial importance to the community in Northern Ireland, which continues to suffer vicious criminal attacks from terrorists. Exceptional powers are still necessary to deal with those attacks and to protect the people of the Province.
§ Your Lordships will be aware that on this occasion the issue of renewal is being put before Parliament against a background of a comprehensive and independent review of the emergency legislation. Sir George Baker's report was published in April of this year. I am sure that all of your Lordships wish to join me in paying tribute to Sir George's work, and will have been very saddened, as I was, to learn of his recent death.
§ The review of the emergency provisions legislation was the last public duty of Sir George. It reflects the outstanding qualities of humanity and fairness that marked all his work. His report will, I am sure, stimulate and prompt the most wide-ranging debate both in your Lordships' House and throughout the community. I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate Sir George's detailed conclusions and recommendations thoroughly, in due course. The Government will, I assure your Lordships, take careful note of everything that is said in framing their comprehensive reply.
§ Most of Sir George's individual recommendations have legal and operational implications which will require a great deal of study and consultation, and some can be considered only when the Police and 1398 Criminal Evidence Bill has reached the statute book. However, I can say that the Government are in broad agreement with both the tone of Sir George's report and most of his conclusions and recommendations. Our starting point has always been that we are committed to removing all emergency measures from the statute book as soon as improvements in the security situation allow. But, as Sir George makes clear in this report, there is no scope at present for making wholesale changes to the emergency legislation which currently applies in the Province.
§ I think your Lordships will agree that events since the last renewal of the Emergency Provisions Act have underlined this conclusion. Since 1st December 1983 there have been 51 deaths arising from the security situation in the Province; 28 of these were civilians, seven were officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, six were members of the Regular Army, and no fewer than 10 belonged to the Ulster Defence Regiment. Your Lordships will, I am sure, be aware that two of the Ulster Defence Regiment members who died were tragically killed by a land mine as recently as last Saturday. Until the end of June of this year 311 people have been injured in security incidents, and 124 of them were members of the security forces. Over the same period there were 122 different shooting incidents and 133 explosions.
§ I am sure that the whole House will appreciate from these appalling statistics just what violence confronts the whole community in Northern Ireland, but I am bound to say that the resolve of the Government and of the security forces remains absolute. We are committed to enforcing the rule of law, which is absolutely essential in any civilised society, and we are committed to doing it according to the highest standards of impartiality and justice.
§ Initial responsibility for implementing this policy falls, of course, on the courageous and dedicated members of the security forces. I believe that we owe a heavy debt to the high standards of professionalism and, above all, devotion displayed by the security forces in carrying out their duties under the law.
§ I think your Lordships will agree that it might help if I were to give some figures in order to illustrate some of the success which the security forces are having in tackling terrorism. From the beginning of December until the end of June of this year, 325 people were charged with terrorist-type offences, including no fewer than 77 with murder and attempted murder, and 109 with firearms and explosives offences. Over the same period, more than 7,300 pounds of explosives were found and a large number of devices containing over 4,000 pounds of explosives were neutralised.
§ The security forces know that they have the Government's full support in the discharge of their dangerous tasks. The most tangible expression of this support is in the resources which the Government have made available to the chief constable and the GOC to ensure that their men have what is necessary to carry out their work effectively. For example, we have recently authorised an additional 500 posts for the RUC, and it is hoped that these fresh vacancies will all be filled before the end of this financial year.
§ However, the security forces also need the support of the community. They will never be able to eliminate 1399 terrorism without the wholehearted backing of the people they are there to protect. Terrorists and their supporters know this, and they attempt to undermine public confidence by smear tactics and propaganda campaigns.
§ One such propaganda campaign is directed at the use of accomplice evidence. I would remind your Lordships that there is nothing new about this form of evidence in the United Kingdom, but the decision of some former terrorists to turn their backs on their colleagues has led to cries of, for instance, "betrayal" and, above all, to bitter attacks on all such evidence, no matter what the circumstances of the particular case. But it is for the independent Director of Public Prosecutions to assess the allegations of an accomplice and to determine their value against the background of any other evidence which can be presented. It is for the judge to determine how much weight should be put on that evidence, and he must give his reasoning when setting out his eventual judgment. This process is in the public interest and it is not a matter for Ministers or indeed for political interference.
§ In a sense, the community's support for the security forces and for the judiciary is expressed in the exceptional powers which Parliament has granted in the emergency legislation that is before us this evening. The Act contains additional arrest and detention powers for the police and the army, together with certain exceptional powers of search and seizure. The Act provides for the proscription of certain criminal organizations, and also provides for trial by a judge sitting alone for certain schedule offences, to counter the problems of jury intimidation and perverse verdicts. The Act does not of course alter the central principles of British justice in the Province. The onus remains on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Also, accused persons have the right to take legal advice of their choice and to be represented by their own lawyers in open court, and there remains the right of appeal against conviction or sentence on matters of law and fact.
§ The Government fully recognise that emergency powers do not represent the answer to Northern Ireland's problems, and they will continue to do everything within their power to develop the political and economic fabric of the Province in order to reduce and eventually to eliminate the tensions and the problems which lie at the root of this violence. We look for assistance from every reasonable and responsible quarter to that end, both within Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and have been encouraged by the strength of the Republic's commitment to tackling the terrorist violence, which is as much a threat to them as it is to us. The close and effective working relationship between the two police forces on both sides of the border remains a valuable element in the fight against terrorism. We whole-heartedly approve this co-operation and are ready to look realistically at practical ways of developing it further.
§ Despite the efforts that are being made to remove the need for these extraordinary measures, I hope your Lordships will accept that, for the time being, the emergency powers must continue. They are still needed to sustain the confidence of the community in the rule of law and in the willingness of this 1400 Parliament, where the ultimate responsibility lies, to support the security forces and the courts who are upholding that rule of law.
§ I ask, therefore, that your Lordships agree that the powers in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 which are currently in force should be allowed to continue. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved—(Lord Lyell.)
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, this six monthly opportunity to debate the renewal of the Emergency Provisions Act has always been taken to be an opportunity also to review the actual operations of the provisions. From these Benches we have always stressed that the emergency provisions must not carry on indefinitely, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has mentioned, we now have before us the report of the review conducted by the late Sir George Baker. We would like to join in the expression of regret at his passing and pay tribute to his work. All may not agree with the conclusions and recommendations made by Sir George in his report, but the report indicates a task well done, and no one who reads the report can do other than see that it has a very personal style.
Before continuing I should like to join the Minister in a tribute to all sections of the security forces. The Minister referred to the fatalities and injuries during the last few months, but once again I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the separate report which was presented to the New Ireland Forum on the cost of violence over the last 15 years. I shall not go into the details but the figures, frankly, are frightening, when one sees them. Both communities have suffered. In fact contrary to what some people generally believe, from the figures given it would seem that the fatalities of persons born in Northern Ireland have weighed more heavily upon the Catholic community than on the Protestant community. There is also to be considered the massive cost of security activities, compensation, and the adverse effect there is on industry.
May I say just a few words about RUC. The increase of 500 in the strength of the RUC, which was announced in April, would seem to be an indication of encouragement for more authority to be given to the police. That is all to the good. I note in the chief constable's annual report which was presented in March the emphasis that he makes on building closer ties with the community and developing greater contact between the police and the public. In fact in his own foreword there is a very encouraging statement when he mentioned that during the current year, 1984,steps will be taken towards establishing more formal and mutually beneficial links and relationships between the police at sub-divisional level, locally elected representatives, and other responsible organisations and groups, towards the enhancement of the quality of living and the reduction of crime and socially deviant behaviour".I wonder if the noble Lord the Minister can make some comment, as we are now well over half way through the year, as to how that work which was intended to be carried out during 1984 is progressing.
This aspect is also emphasised in the report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights which was presented to Parliament in February. I see 1401 that Chapter 3 refers to aspects of the Emergency Provisions Act. Paragraph 10 states:Violence has now become recognised as endemic.In the light of questions which were dealt with in your Lordships' House the other day, it is significant to read part of paragraph 10 of that chapter:A significantly greater burden of responsibility in combating acts of terrorism now rests with the police rather than the army and, although social and economic deprivation is not the root cause of terrorism in the Province, we are in no doubt that the security forces' task has been made that much more difficult by the increased deprivation which provides a fertile context in which terrorism can flourish.".In a previous debate on a similar renewal order I referred to the activity on community relations carried out by the RUC. The chief constable's report outlines considerable work carried out in this direction. The activities appear to be very varied. I note that the 1,051 Blue Lamp Discos were attended by some 128,000 young people. Seven thousand participated in rambles sponsored by 24 district councils. One thousand attended 36 summer camps with a similar number at 111 follow-up weekend camps.
Could the Minister say how far all this activity is cross-community, or, if it is not practicable for it to be cross-community in that respect, how far does it involve young people of both communities; and is there any assessment of the benefits of this activity?
The Opposition, both in the other place and from this Dispatch Box, have stressed time and again the need for a review of the Emergency Powers Act. These pressures were resisted by the Government until 1982, when the Secretary of State announced the setting up of a review. But it was not until a year later that the Secretary of State was able to announce that Sir George Baker would be carrying out the review. As the Minister said, the report of the review was published in April. We did not necessarily expect that the Government would be able to make announcements on its decisions very quickly on all the recommendations, but in a Written Answer on 10th April, at col. 139 of the Official Report of the other place, when referring that day to the publication of the report, the Secretary of State said:The Government are giving careful consideration to the report's recommendations. Parliament will have opportunity to express its views, and the Government will take them fully into account, as they will views expressed elsewhere".But there has been no debate in another place, and there has been no debate in your Lordships' House. But Parliament is now being asked once again to approve an order renewing the provisions without such a debate, and without any indication of the Government's attitude to the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report.
A few moments ago, the Minister said that the Government accepted most of the recommendations. There are many recommendations, and I shall be interested to know which they do not accept. The noble Lord said also that it is hoped to be able to debate the report in due course. On the last occasion we debated such an order, I said that I hoped that it would be the last time that we would have a renewal order presented to us without there being any changes arising from a review.
I must emphasise that the Labour Opposition—and 1402 certainly other oppositions—have always rejected terrorism and lawlessness; that is beyond any question. They have had total and complete opposition to violence to achieve political ends. But Parliament has been faced with a difficult choice. Should it once again approve an order for renewal without there being any changes, without any indication of whether there will be changes, and without any indication of what those changes might be? Or should it register a protest against continuance of the present provisions?
The Opposition in another place took the latter stance but appreciated that that could be misunderstood. In fact my honourable and learned friend Mr. Peter Archer said in a debate on this renewal order in another place that some Members would, no doubt, try to distort the Opposition's attitude as being unmindful of the victims of violence and an encouragement to those who engage in violence. There must be balance between the maintenance of law and order and the maintenance of civil rights. That view was expressed by the Secretary of State during that same debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, echoed those same sentiments this evening.
The Opposition do not propose a complete repeal of the Emergency Provisions Act. They recognise that Northern Ireland is not yet in a position to return to what we would regard as normality. But there is no doubt that some changes to the emergency provisions must be sought. That view is expressed also in the report of the Advisory Commission on Human Rights. In dealing with emergency provisions, paragraph 11 of that report states:We also agreed that these measures should remain in force only while strictly necessary in the exigencies of the situation, while they continue to be effective, and while their aims cannot be achieved by use of the general law. It is also important to ensure that emergency powers do not make unacceptable inroads into civil liberties and that effective safeguards exist to minimise the possibilities of abuse".The commission also complain of the piecemeal review of special legislation: the Prevention of Terrorism Act; the review of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe; the Emergency Provisions Act, and the report which has not yet been debated; and also the likelihood of some of the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill being enacted for Northern Ireland. Indeed, in its written evidence to Sir George Baker the commission urged the need for an authoritative statement of the law governing all the operations of the security forces in Northern Ireland.
This is not the occasion to open a full debate on a review of the Emergency Provisions Act, which this order is extending, or to debate any changes we might wish to see arising from Sir George Baker's review. And it is not customary for your Lordships to oppose an order approved by the other place. Therefore, I have not been placed in the position of having to decide whether we should support or whether we should oppose this order. But we must once again express the hope that another renewal order will not be presented in six months' time. We trust that before then, the Government will have announced quite clearly their attitude to the review report of Sir George Baker; that Parliament will have debated that review; and that we will know clearly what the Government's proposals are and what changes there should be.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, curiously enough, the noble Lord opposite has sat on the Front Bench for a number of orders but this is the first time I have been here to put our side of the case to him. I want belatedly to wish him every success and to congratulate him on adding his name to that growing list of not wholly undistinguished Peers who have all served over there in their time. He is very welcome and I hope that he does not find the strains and stresses too great—I am sure he will not.
The noble Lord the Minister said that this order was of crucial importance. Of course it is. When the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench says that Parliament faces a difficult choice, I do not think that it is a difficult choice at all. I believe that anyone who did not agree at this particular moment to renew the emergency orders and the continuance of the Emergency Provisions Act needs his head examined. The very figures which the noble Lord has given makes that perfectly clear. It is fair to say that the figures were worse in my day—this was some 10 years ago—by about double. Even so, it is entirely intolerable that this should go on. As to the idea that one can do away with emergency orders, one could by all means possibly alter some of them. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, when he says that we are looking forward to hearing what the Government have to say about the Baker report and to learning whether the Government think that modifications can be made which will do anything for the necessarily squeezed civil rights of people who live in conditions of regular violence.
I should like to add our appreciation of Sir George's work and our sorrow at his death. It is a very good report and I look forward to discussing it when the Government have considered it. I do not wish to rush them because the report is so important; and as it is obvious that most of the provisions must continue anyway, the Government could take a fairly long time to consider the report carefully.
The increase in the strength of the RUC is encouraging. I should like to ask the noble Lord the Minister whether this time—as is usually the case—that provision includes a decrease in the military support available. If he does not have the answer, perhaps he will write to me. In my day, whenever we increased the strength of the RUC we usually succeeded in reducing the Army support.
I was interested by the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, concerning discos and rambling, etc. which are of course extremely important. I can only tell him, at a slightly different level, that one cannot get off any golf course in Northern Ireland before 11 o'clock on a Saturday, and there is no obvious religious difference between the players. One finds Catholics playing golf and one finds Protestants playing golf without any particular trouble. I do not know whether the same is true of the larger groups of young people. They may congregate with their own people but I would have thought that they met one another. I have received no sign of the kind of fights which gangs do get into, and so it does not look as though that is very bad.
One question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, concerns what he rather politely described as "accomplices' information". I want to confirm the 1404 fact that however distasteful people who turn against their colleagues in crime and give information against them may be, no police force can work without them. No police force has ever tried. It is only new that that practice is being made a big thing of and that there have been a certain number of, as it were, multiple informers. Information of that kind is crucial to keeping the order and it is important that we should not let that area be whipped up into a campaign against the police and still more against the courts of justice.
Before sitting down, I should like to say that I have an engagement of crucial importance, which may mean that I shall not be able to stay for the last two orders. If I cannot do so, may I say now that I approve of both—and I am particularly pleased with the industrial training order. I am happy to support this measure.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, before my noble friend responds, may I say that the next six months is not the time to do away with or in any way to water down the emergency provisions? There are many other things to be done before we do that. For instance, I have a question for my noble friend, although I have not given him notice of it. Have the security forces made much progress lately in stemming the flow of arms into Northern Ireland, and have they found any more arms caches?
I should like to make another point regarding explosions. One can buy sodium chlorate from any agricultural merchant. I understand that one can buy other chemicals like that in Northern Ireland. It is easy for anybody to make a bomb with one of those materials. Are there regulations in Northern Ireland now so that certain chemicals, fertilisers and especially weedkillers cannot be bought, except on a permit? I can certainly make very nasty explosions with chemical and other materials that one can buy quite freely.
I shall not go on any longer. I should just like to support my noble friend very much and to wish him well in his task. I should also like to pay great tribute to the RUC. A lot of them are marked men. To join the RUC is a very brave thing to do. They deserve a great tribute.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, in 1973 I represented the constituency of Belfast, West in another place. In that capacity I was a member of the Committee which discussed the implementation of the Act. The Committee stage lasted right through May and June 1973, and during that period I voiced many reservations about certain sections of the Act. I deliberately say, "certain sections", because no one realises more than I do that in the awful situation in Northern Ireland we must have legislation of some description to try to apprehend those engaged in the awful campaign of murder and maiming which has lasted for such a long time. It would be very foolish for anyone to say that an Act of this type is not necessary.
In opening the debate the Minister referred to the terrible tragedy of the murder of the two UDR people 1405 in Castlederg last week. My wife is from there and knows the families of those who were killed. She is able to describe, as only someone coming from a small village in Northern Ireland can describe, the atmosphere created when such murders take place, particularly—and I stress this—when it would appear that the landmine was detonated from across the border in the Irish Republic. That added element creates a great deal of fear, suspicion and hatred between the communities in Northern Ireland. That happened only last week. The Minister rightly referred to all the other killings that have taken place.
Throughout the original deliberations in Committee on the Bill I put forward what I considered to be constructive suggestions, which I believed would help in its implementation. I have an inherent distaste for emergency legislation of this type. I was born in Northern Ireland, and when I was born the notorious special powers legislation was already on the statute book. It was an Act of Parliament deliberately aimed at the Catholic minority community. All its clauses were deliberately aimed at keeping that community in subjection. I grew up in that atmosphere, where one felt a second-class citizen, hemmed in by that type of legislation, and I think that it is understandable that most people from the minority community in Northern Ireland have a distaste for such legislation.
That Act was abolished by the then Conservative Government and replaced by this Act. All those who took part in that debate—it was a Conservative Government and a Labour Opposition—said that they recognised the draconian aspects of the legislation and hoped that it would not stay on the statute book for a second longer than necessary. Indeed, that is part of the tragedy. Eleven years later we are still debating the effects of this legislation.
During the passage of that legislation I had reservations about the setting-up of the Diplock courts, where there would be only one judge to hear cases brought on scheduled offences. Before those courts were set up I instinctively knew that they would be open to a great deal of criticism because there would be only one judge. The honourable Member for Antrim, North, Mr. Paisley, who at that time had not long been a Member of Parliament, had the same reservations. He also felt that having only one judge would be open to criticism. He put down an amendment in Committee asking for two judges to be appointed. I had an amendment down asking for two assessors to accompany the judge, which would have taken away a great deal of the criticism. I was ever mindful of the fact that the special courts which they had in the Irish Republic were composed of three judges.
At that time a Labour Member, who is now my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, put forward an amendment which provided that the judge should be supported by two barristers who had at least 10 years' experience and other qualifications that he laid down. That amendment was carried. Mr. Paisley voted for it. That proves that right across the board there was a feeling that the provision of one judge sitting alone would be inadequate and open to criticism.
I have been in politics long enough to know that what people say in opposition they do not necessarily 1406 say when in government. That was in 1973. My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, in his then capacity, had put forward the proposition that the judge should be accompanied by two other persons. In a few months, from May and June 1973 to February of 1974, the Government changed and there was a Labour Government in power. I should have thought that he could then have influenced the Government to appoint two persons to help the judge in fulfilling the objectives he talked of when he moved the amendment in 1973. That did not happen. In 1974 the Labour Government did not take the opportunity to do what their spokesman had previously urged. The Labour Government was in power from 1974 to 1979, and there was a debate twice a year. As I say, what parties say in opposition they do not necessarily carry out when in government.
I think that this should be said. I refer first to the tragic death of Sir George Baker. I met him only briefly, but I have read his report. I certainly agree with those who say that a great deal of the man's humanity and compassion seems to have gone into the writing of that report. I hope that at the earliest possible moment both Houses have an opportunity to debate it, because at the moment we are debating the extension of this legislation in something of a vacuum.
I want to put on record something which I have just read in the debate which took place in another place on 5th July. Almost the concluding words of Mr. Nick Scott, the Minister replying to the debate—given at column 578 of Hansard—were:I hope that we shall soon be able to debate the Baker report in its entirety, but I do not decide the business of the House. As I understand it, had the Opposition wished to debate that report before the House rose for the summer recess, it could have been arranged. However, there was not that sort of pressure for the debate, which is why the House will debate it in the Autumn.Therefore, I wonder whether the Opposition in another place really wanted a debate on the report of Sir George Baker. That is a question which should be answered, because I believe, as I have said, that we are debating this order in a vacuum. Many new recommendations have been put forward by the late Sir George and both Houses should have a debate on them at the earliest possible opportunity.
There are only three very small—they are not small; in fact, they are major—issues that I should like to bring to the attention of the Minister. The first is that there will be sustained criticism of Diplock courts unless and until there is an increase in the number of persons sitting in trial of scheduled offences. There are a number of cases that are now being heard before Diplock judges which have absolutely nothing at all to do with terrorism. People are being charged with nonscheduled offences before Diplock courts. The Diplock courts, set up as they were to deal with specific cases of terrorism, should not be asked to hear other cases which are completely out of that category.
It is a justifiable criticism that there are very long remands in Northern Ireland. When people are charged with serious schedule-type offences, they should be brought before the courts at the earliest opportunity. The Secretary of State said in another place that the average time spent on remand was 46 weeks. But 46 weeks is far too long, and that average does not tell the true story. People have been kept on remand for nearly two years before they have been 1407 charged. Where people are charged with such serious crimes the Government cannot afford to say that 46 weeks is not too long. It is far too long and, as I said, the average does not tell the whole story.
My next point arises from my knowledge of personal cases. I put forward such a case in 1973. Northern Ireland is a very small community. There is a tribal atmosphere—a majority tribe and a minority tribe. For example, if a young boy of 18 or 19 years of age is detained by the police on suspicion of having been involved in terrorist crimes he can be held for a week. Under this legislation it is three days, but an application can be made under the PTA to hold him for a week. If he is held for a week under emergency legislation, whether this legislation or the PTA, he is not able to go to his job for a week. Therefore, he is absent from his place of employment. If, on being released, he goes back to his place of employment and says that he was detained under emergency legislation at a detention centre but has now been released, knowing Northern Ireland as I do, I know that there is nothing which will erase from the mind of the employer the thought that there is no smoke without fire—particularly if the employer happens to be of the Protestant or Unionist tradition.
That young boy has been branded even though he has not been charged with any crime. His employer will think that the police were not able to get the evidence hut they would not have had him in a detention or interrogation centre for a week without cause. That young lad is left with a stigma. Within a very few weeks the employer will find an excuse —and excuses are not hard to come by in Northern Ireland—to dismiss that employee on the grounds that he could be a terrorist suspect. I said that in 1973, and in all the years that have elapsed since then I have come across perhaps a score of such cases—and I certainly do not need to exaggerate the number—of young men who were similarly caught up.
I believe there should be some means of compensation for those people for the week they were detained, even if they did not get the sack. Some means should be found to compensate those young men who have not been found guilty of any charge for the week they have been out of circulation.
That is one of the criticisms which I made then; the other criticisms related to the judges and the length of time on remand before trial. Those criticisms are as valid today as they were then. I urge the Government to look at those criticisms and to initiate as quickly as possible a full-scale debate on the recommendations of the late Sir George Baker. Only when we have done that will we be aware of what is the Government's real attitude to this legislation.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the debate on 5th July in the other place. I suggest he refers to Hansard, at column 567—I am not allowed to quote it—where the spokesman for the Opposition made it quite clear that the Opposition had repeatedly pressed for a debate and that the Leader of the House had said that there would be a debate but had never named the day.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, may I say regarding employment that my family have always been Protestants in Northern Ireland—actually Unionists—but we did employ some Catholics. We also endowed the local Catholic Church in Antrim.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, we are debating this order at a time when Yorkshire and certain other Midland counties in England have been suffering from very severe public disorder. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House are concerned about these particular disorders and it is my very strong desire that every Member of your Lordships' House should also be concerned about the troubles and disorders of Northern Ireland. I say that if only because it is so essential that a democratic society should defend itself by democratic means.
The order we have under consideration is not one concerning the licensing of dogs or the better control of fish-frying. As the noble Lord speaking for the Government pointed out in introducing the order, it is very clear that this is a matter which concerns life and death. I therefore regret that it is being discussed in a thinly attended House at an unsocial time of day. I very much hope that it will gradually and eventually sink in, through the usual channels, that it is most desirable that the discussion of these orders should be promoted to what I might call prime parliamentary time.
There are at least six or seven strands of conflict which are going on all the time in Northern Ireland. One of these leads to attacks on the institutions and the personnel of government. I hope very much that the noble Lord, when he replies, will be able to point out, as Government spokesmen have pointed out on many previous occasions, that the maintenance of law and order and the prevention of terrorism are only a part of the Government's total response to the situation. There is a very great deal more involved than just this one aspect.
I should like to go on to explain why I consider that the subject matter of the order is of such importance. I do so because it seems clear by now that the whole sequence of events between the commission of a scheduled offence and the eventual release of a sentenced person has a very important bearing on community relations. It is, I think, a fact that the two sides of the community in Northern Ireland have rather different conceptions of justice. The majority has a tendency to look at it as merely the punishment of guilty persons. On the other hand, the minority tends to look at these matters in terms of fairness and equality between everyone. It is in this context that over the last five years or more there has been great interest in the whole subject of Bills of Rights and of the European Convention on Human Rights and the possibility of incorporating that convention into the law of the land.
My view is that these points which affect the rights of individuals are, of course, important but they are not the whole story. We are also concerned with the rights of minorities and of groups of people, as I attempted to point out in a letter in The Times on 13th July. We need, I suggest, the Protestant minority in the whole of Ireland and the Catholic minority in the North of Ireland to sit down, work out and make clear what they consider to be their vital interests. 1409 What are the things that need to be safeguarded in any situation in the future? It would be good if they could also consider at the same time whether these kinds of rights do not possibly entail corresponding duties. It would be good if we could be told what are the non-negotiable values of each minority and where they draw the border line between the values that they are not prepared to give up and those things they are interested in but are able and willing to discuss and bargain about.
Every speaker this evening has mentioned the major event of this year, which was the review conducted by the late Sir George Baker. I should like to join in the tributes that have been paid to him. All who are concerned about these matters, and particularly those who gave evidence to his review, will be grateful for the care that he showed and for the comprehensive nature of his recommendations. I was glad when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, say that there would be a debate and that the Government were in broad agreement with the recommendations. Can the noble Lord give any indication of when this debate might take place and what might be the Government's programme, timetable and intentions as regards the legislation that will be required to implement a number of Sir George's recommendations?
I should like briefly to welcome what Sir George had to say about reasonable grounds of suspicion for arrest, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, mentioned, the delays in bringing trials to court and the delays over inquests. I welcome also the recommendations about tape recording of police questioning and the descheduling or certifying out of certain offences, so that they can go forward for trial by jury. I should like to welcome what Sir George said about harmonising the Emergency Provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the need in Northern Ireland for something equivalent to the current British Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I agree very much with Sir George's conclusion on young persons who are detained at the Secretary of State's discretion.
However, when we come to the matter of the future scrutiny of the two Acts, I would go so far as to dissent from the learned judge. He said, I think in paragraph 445, that Parliament is probably the best forum for scrutiny of the legislation. I would have thought that the very limited nature of the renewal debates that we have periodically, and the fact that it has been necessary to appoint two individual persons to review each of the Acts, show how unsatisfactory Parliament can be as a scrutinising body. I would much prefer the appointment of a small number of Privy Counsellors as a permanent review body for both these Acts as they affect Northern Ireland. If Privy Counsellors could be appointed in this way, they could receive classified information not available to ordinary people. They could listen to complaints from groups, rather than individuals, and they could consider issues that might be referred to them by Ministers.
If such a system had been operating in previous years, it might well have defused a number of well orchestrated campaigns that have been conducted on such divisive issues as detention, interrogation, the use of rubber and plastic bullets, prisoners' rights, shoot to kill, or the employment of super-grasses. These 1410 campaigns have, I think, had very wide, even worldwide ramifications. They have affected the thinking of many otherwise unprejudiced people.
I conclude with just three fairly brief questions. Can the Government say tonight that they will give the most serious thought to possible future convictions that may rely on the uncorroborated word of one person, whether this be the confession of an accused person, or the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice? As to the use of firearms by the security forces, which is another thorny question, will the Government consider most seriously chapter 5 of the 1982–83 report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights? Finally, there is the important question of public and police liaison, touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. Will the Government look at the committee system that has functioned on the whole extremely well over a long period of years in the city of Derry and see whether this could not be extended rather quickly to other police districts in Northern Ireland?
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, we are very grateful for the interest that has once again been shown in debating what are unique powers in the annals of our history, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. Indeed, these are exceptional powers. No doubt, those of your Lordships who have been interested in these debates over the years will be accustomed to some of the answers that I shall give this evening. But I hope that I shall provide some spice and some variety in replying to some of the very interesting points that have been raised by your Lordships during the course of the debate. We are very grateful for the interest that has been shown by noble Lords who have spoken, as well as by those who merely have listened. I shall pass on to the usual channels the comments and the good wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on the timing of these debates. I have no doubt that they will read his remarks in the Official Report.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was the first to speak. We are very grateful for his support and for his kind words in relation to the late Sir George Baker. The noble Lord asked a number of questions. He, and I believe every one of your Lordships who spoke, asked about a possible debate on the recommendations, or the Government's views on the recommendations, in Sir George Baker's report. In the course of my opening remarks I stressed that the recommendations contained in Sir George Baker's report require continuous study and consultation. I am sure your Lordships will agree that some of these recommendations can be considered only in conjunction with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, and, indeed, can be considered only when it has reached the statute book.
Therefore, I could not give an undertaking—it would be wrong if I tried to do so tonight—as to when the Government will be able to give any response in detail to the report, let alone when any necessary legislation will be introduced. But I hope that before long there will be time to debate the report in your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked one or two other questions. The first of these related to what he called cross-community work carried out by the Royal 1411 Ulster Constabulary. As he is aware, and as I have found in my short career so far in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary spend much time—indeed, much of their own free time—and much effort in encouraging young members of the minority (the Catholic community) to take part in sports and all kinds of other leisure activities alongside children of the same ages, from the same areas, of the other religious persuasion—those from the majority community, the Protestant youngsters.
I am afraid that we do not have figures for this type of cross-community activity, but we are encouraged to think that the number of young Catholics involved is increasing steadily. I shall pass on to the Royal Ulster Constabulary the comments and the helpful encouragement of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I am sure they will be very grateful that their efforts, which of course are all part of their duties of policing and looking after the communities, are so much appreciated in your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who was kind enough to pay me a brief tribute—I am very grateful for his remarks—had one query about the increase in the number of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers. I have to say to him and to your Lordships that the increase in the number of officers in the RUC will not be offset by a reduction in the number of troops. I would stress that over recent years there has been a steady decline in the number of troops. At present we are on a sort of plateau of just over 9,000 full-time troops. I stress to your Lordships that the situation is kept under constant review.
My noble friend Lord Massereene asked me two or three questions. In regard to the flow of arms, I am able to tell him that the security forces are working very closely with their counterparts on the movement of arms and explosives. I am pleased to be able to tell him that we are having increasing success. I have some statistics and figures which are quite encouraging as to the numbers; those are apart from the figures that I mentioned in my opening remarks. The statistics seem to show that we are having increasing success, above all in neutralising explosives and in discovering explosives; so that these types of crimes are cut out very much at source.
My noble friend asked about home-made bombs. My noble friend beside me was tempted to call these, "Massereene cocktails", but probably that would be libelling unreasonably my noble friend; perhaps his cocktails are better judged in the bars of your Lordships' House. The problem of the conversion of fertilisers into explosive materials—what we would call home-made explosives—is a major one. We are continuously examining this problem to see whether there can be any change in the composition of fertilisers on sale in Ireland to neutralise the harmful nitrogen element. I am not able to go into further detail on the chemical make-up of home-made explosives. Certainly I would not do so in your Lordships' House. I am not qualified to do it. Those of your Lordships who have heard me before have realised that in my time at school I was no chemist, and since then I have not progressed any further.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, raised the very sad case of the Castlederg murders. He will be aware, as will your Lordships, that that was not the only tragedy to 1412 strike at the families concerned, or, indeed, at that community. The noble Lord mentioned that his wife came from Castlederg, and those of your Lordhips who study the map will see that it is on the far side of Northern Ireland from Belfast. It goes to show that these terrible tragedies strike home all over the Province.
The noble Lord mentioned the deliberations in the 1973 debate about the possibility of providing judges with assessors. Your Lordships will be aware that Sir George Baker considered this, but for a variety of reasons he came down against the possiblity of assessors sitting with judges. I stress to the noble Lord and to your Lordships that this is a matter which we shall be considering in the context of Sir George's recommendations. We shall bear in mind what he has said, together with what was said by all the other fellow debaters of 10 (or was it 11?) years ago and by other honourable Members in other places.
The noble Lord asked about the interval between arrest and trial, particularly under the Emergency Powers Act. He will be aware, and your Lordships will be learning, that questioning under the Emergency Powers Act is limited to 72 hours. Of course, it can be increased to seven days under the quite separate Prevention of Terrorism Act. Whatever the period, there are no grounds for compensating young people who are reasonably held for questioning and possibly for charging. In these cases there is no question of improper behaviour on the part of the security forces. It would be very difficult—almost impracticable—to isolate this activity as one which might warrant compensation, and perhaps to disregard those who are prosecuted and subsequently acquitted after a period on remand. Your Lordship will be aware that in these cases the authorities are discharging their lawful duties.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, also asked me about the interval between arrest and trial. I take note of the long period which he mentioned, but I would stress to him that the period which he mentioned of approximately 46 or 47 weeks is not out of line with the period over the last five to six years. It varies and depends very much upon the level of terrorist activity and, above all, upon the number of cases which lead to arrests. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that we do take note of his comments, but I repeat that the figures are not out of line with what they have been in the past.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who concluded the debate from the Floor of your Lordships' House—if I may put it that way—raised several very interesting questions. I shall try to answer the points which he raised—indeed, he was kind enough to give me notice of quite a few of them. The noble Lord mentioned the timing and I shall pass on his comments as regards that matter. He also brought up the question of a Bill of Rights. I do not have a very great deal of encouragement to give him this evening, but we do not have a closed mind on this particular issue. However, there are several important, practical and formidable constitutional difficulties in introducing a Bill of Rights—and as regards those difficulties, we only have to consult my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. There is the question of whether there should be a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland alone, or indeed, for the United Kingdom as a whole. The 1413 Government have yet to be convinced that, bearing in mind the extensive safeguards which have been introduced in recent years to protect human rights in Northern Ireland, a Bill of Rights is really necessary.
The noble Lord also mentioned various other problems one of which concerned reasonable suspicion, of which he was kind enough to give me prior notice. The noble Lord will be aware that this matter, like all the other recommendations, is under careful consideration. But I draw the noble Lord's attention to Recommendation 40 of Sir George Baker. This suggests that "reasonable suspicion" should replace "suspicion" in Section 14. We believe that there are difficulties in making a change of this nature, but we shall continue to consider what the noble Lord has said and we shall try to deal with this particular point.
The noble Lord also raised the question of firearms and mentioned Chapter 5 of the Report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The noble Lord will be aware that the commission has recommended that the law should be changed to make it absolutely clear what conditions must be satisfied before a firearm is used. Of course, it would be very difficult to cover all situations where the use of a firearm would be justified. One would end up with a very long list, or alternatively we would omit certain situations and that might make it an offence to open fire when such action would, in all the circumstances, be reasonable.
I would stress to your Lordships that the present test applies to all civilians, police officers and, indeed, soldiers throughout the United Kingdom. We believe that it is an important test and it is this. A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime or in effecting or in assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or, indeed, of persons unlawfully at large. The noble Lord will be aware that every case differs and it is for the courts of law to assess the the reasonableness of the action in the light of each individual's personal circumstances. I am sure that the noble Lord would accept that Parliament had the interests of all parties in mind when it decided that this was the most appropriate arrangement.
The noble Lord also asked about police liaison committees. The Royal Ulster Constabulary is very much aware of the need to carry out its duties with sensitivity and it puts a great deal of time and effort into its corn munity relations projects—projects similar to those which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned. These are always carried out at local level and a number of police liaison and local security committees are in existence in Northern Ireland to which local representations can be made. I think that the noble Lord also raised a question in connection with corroboration. I do not think that I shall be able to answer the noble Lord this evening and so, if he will forgive me, I shall write to him on that particular matter.
I hope that I have covered all the points that have been raised by your Lordships in this piece of continuing legislation. Of course, it is not entirely desirable that we should have emergency provisions year after year. But those of your Lordships who have 1414 listened to my opening statement will be aware of the dreadful statistics of violence. We do not live in a perfect world, but we do believe that the order that we have before us this evening is in all the circumstances necessary, and, therefore, in the light of that, I beg to move.
On Question, Motion agreed to.