§ Debate resumed.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, we now come back to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, and I should like to start by expressing my personal thanks to the noble Lord the Chief Whip and to the other usual channels for arranging to have this order debated during the afternoon of a normal working day. In expressing those thanks I think it is right for me to re-emphasise why this is such an important order.
As has been said before, it concerns the right to life. It is for the prevention of terrorism and for the protection of innocent people from violence. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said earlier, it affects a large part of the administration of criminal justice in Northern Ireland. Of its very nature it is bound to have a major impact on relations between the two segments of the community. There has been no lack of people who have argued that because of the existence of this Act and its predecessor Northern Ireland may be considered as a failed political entity. I do not share that view; nor do I share the view of those who have argued that pre-trial delays are tantamount to the imposition of detention. Nevertheless these are very serious issues with which we should all be concerned and they do highlight the great importance of the order.
I have the greatest personal sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, speaking from the Front Bench, because we all know that the subject matter of this order is not one with which he is personally concerned. We look back with affection and perhaps regret to the days of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, who did have departmental responsibility for this very difficult subject. Having said that, I am bound to say that the order and the amendments with which we have been presented are very disappointing. It is now nearly two years since Sir George Baker presented to the Government and to Parliament his report on the underlying legislation. No one could say that his report was radical or way out or outrageous in any way. It was 32 a most careful, pondered and considered document. The amendments we have today in no way measure up to his recommendations, which numbered, I believe, 74 or thereabouts.
What we are presented with today does not satisfy bodies such as the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Relations or the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland, and it does not satisfy me. Had the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, come to us and said, "We now have the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We now have the Conference of Ministers. These things, A, B, C and D, will be on the agenda of the conference, and for that reason we cannot have a proper and full amending order today", everybody would have been satisfied. The noble Lord did not say that. In general I should like to point out that, taking the whole subject matter, we have this Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the forthcoming legislation which we have been promised on the lines of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act for England—I should like to ask in that context when this Northern Ireland legislation will be brought forward—and we also have pending, and I hope soon in force, the new police complaints procedure for Northern Ireland. All these four things interact and inter-connect and it would be of very great assistance if they could be brought together in an understandable form so that every one knows what their rights are and where they stand.
My next point concerns future reviews of the operation of the Act. In the parallel field of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, last year the Government appointed one commissioner. Sir Cyril Phillips, to review the operation of the Act. If we could have a similar system for this Act we would be able to have very much more informed debates. Perhaps the Government would consider asking Sir Cyril whether he would review both Acts since they are so closely inter-connected? I should like to ask the Government whether I am right in thinking that the secretariat of the Conference of Ministers will be the identifier in future of thorny issues in this whole field. One can produce many instances of past thorny issues. I am thinking of detention, of plastic and rubber bullets, of strip searching of women prisoners and many other things which have led to great public agitation. Because they were not clearly dealt with when they first raised themselves, they developed into very difficult and major problems, which have proved divisive.
I move on to the question of statistics. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, when speaking in our debate last July, gave a definite undertaking that the Government would be publishing statistics on the operation of the emergency provisions Act. So far as I know, we have not been given those statistics. When will we be given them? If the Irish Information Partnership can produce a certain amount of data on this whole matter, then surely the Government can do somewhat better.
As to the arrest, stopping and questioning of people, I agree very much with what was said by the noble Lord. Lord Hampton. So far as I am aware, nothing was said by the Government this afternoon about the question of reasonable suspicion. It is high time that we were told something on that matter.
33 Mention was made—again by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton—of Diplock courts and the possibility of having more than one judge. That is a very important matter. I should like to return to the suggestion I made last July, of the accused before a Diplock court having the option of going for trial by jury not in Northern Ireland but in, for instance, England or Scotland. That suggestion was rather summarily ruled out by the noble Lord last summer, but I believe it is still worthy of examination.
Considerable mention has been made today of the supergrass question. We know from reports in the Irish Times that that subject will be on the agenda for the Conference of Ministers. Meanwhile, can the noble Lord tell the House whether the detailed paper by Mr. J. D. Jackson of Queen's University that was printed in full in the tenth report of the Standing Advisory Committee is being carefully scrutinised? It provided safeguards for the accused in these matters. I received no reply whatsoever on this aspect last July. Were any of those safeguards applied in the recent Kirkpatrick case? I rather doubt it. Can the noble Lord tell the House how many new supergrass cases are coming up through the pipeline—particularly in view of the number of recent cases in which the judge has dismissed the whole proceedings?
I must return also to the question of coroners' inquests, which I have raised on a number of previous occasions. I am particularly concerned about the shootings that took place in and around Armagh in December 1982—three years ago. So far there has been no inquest. A special inquiry was set up by the chief constable. A deputy chief constable was brought in from England. He went into the matter at great length and with great care, and has produced a report. So far, only the chief constable of Northern Ireland has seen that report. It is said to be on the way to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We do not know whether it has yet reached him. We do not know what the outcome will be of his consideration of that report. We are now three years further on and the material witnesses must be starting to forget what happened so long ago. If there is to be an inquest eventually, of what value will it be? Those are worrying matters.
I cannot avoid mentioning the whole subject of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which the noble Lord touched upon. There is the police authority, which we believe and expect will be strengthened, reorganised and put on a more comprehensive and representative footing. Can the noble Lord confirm that that is so? There is also the question of the recruitment of Roman Catholics into the police, on which I made some quite detailed suggestions last summer. There is the matter of police and public liaison committees on which I have spoken on several occasions. On one occasion back in the time of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I devoted a whole speech to the work of the committee, which has operated so successfully for so long in Derry city and which has the special strength of having among its members representatives of local community organistions. There is the question also of the code of practice, particularly for the arrest and interrogation of suspects, and there is also the taping and possibly even filming of interrogations, which was touched on earlier today.
In conclusion, may I return yet again to the subject 34 of human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, may think that I am the only person who is interested in that subject. That is not so. There are many people, both in your Lordships' House and without, who take human rights very seriously. I submit that if we can reach a stage of affairs in Northern Ireland where human rights are clearly protected by law and respected by Government, then all sides of a divided community will be helped to accept their civic responsibilities as well as their rights. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, gave me a rather dusty answer when I raised that question in last week's debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. I am asking the Government that far greater resources in time and energy be devoted to the question of human rights than has been the case up to now.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, there are one or two noble Lords remaining who wish to speak. Would the Minister like to reply at the end?
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords. I only want to add a couple of notes to the case of the parties on these Benches that my noble friend put extremely well. One point that is worth stressing is that one object of the regulations is to fight terrorism. The risks of terrorism in the next 18 months are certainly greater than they have ever been before. In the first place, the Anglo-Irish Agreement is poison to the IRA. There is no question of its laying off. It will intensify its actions. It is also fair to say that some of our friends on the Unionist side are making remarks that suggest they will not be sorry if some of their strongarm men behave as badly as they did before. The RUC will then have to face in two directions.
I do not think this is the moment to start going back on the absolutely necessary precautions of the Diplock courts. I think that it would be wrong to do so. The moment that there is any easing of the situation, one should go back as fast as one can to normal procedures. However, as the opposite is the case. I am surprised both by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who was speaking, as I believe he always does, with full Labour agreement, and by the noble Lord who has just spoken, who has at least his own agreement. I believe that they are both heavily overdoing the ease of the present situation, which is in many ways looking worse than it ever has done. That is the first point I wanted to make.
I do not believe that one can do very much more than increase the descheduling. I agree with everybody who has spoken, that the Government have not gone as far as they could over descheduling. I believe that they could go quite a lot further. The Cobden report that 40 per cent. of crimes are not connected with terrorism, even if it is only half true, suggests that the Government could go further than they have done. But I should not want to see most crimes wherein one suspects terrorism tried with a jury; I think that you would simply get an awful lot of jurymen who would either lie or, more likely, he murdered. I think that the situation is so had that it has become very important that someone in this House should stand up and say, 35 "For goodness sake, be a bit careful about civil rights". The greatest of civil rights is for a prison officer to be able to walk the streets without it being likely that he will be shot; or for people to be able to go to their door without the possibility of being shot in the presence of their child. Under the Diplock courts, if there is a witness to such an act, then that witness can give evidence in court without being exposed. If there are not the Diplock arrangements no witness will ever come forward. Make no mistake about that.
The only other point I wish to make is that the exciting thing at the moment is not this. The exciting thing is that the Government have had the courage to get this agreement. They have also had the courage to say that they will persevere with it whatever happens and whatever threats they receive. Good luck to them! I support them fully. I believe that in two or three years' time, if they stick to their intentions, we shall get the only thing which can produce any of the results for which people are asking today, and that is an assembly which is reasonably representative of the population of Northern Ireland and which can take over some part of the government. That is the only thing which will do any good; nothing else will, my Lords.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, it is rarely that your Lordships' House has an opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland matters in the prime time of this House. When I came in this afternoon I was agreeably surprised to see such a large attendance, which even included three or four Bishops, and momentarily I thought that a great new interest was being shown in Northern Ireland affairs. I had forgotten, for the moment, about the Channel Tunnel. So, now we are back again, as we have been for many years both in this House and in another place. There are a few Members of this House and there are a few in the other place who are interested in Northern Ireland affairs. Sometimes we have a new recruit; sometimes we lose one or two people. That has been the case since the introduction of these provisions in 1973.
My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, quite rightly drew attention to what was said in the committee in another place when this Bill was being discussed in 1973. Then I was very much opposed to the abolition of jury trials. I believed that the system of the jury as it prevailed throughout the United Kingdom, was something that should not be abolished without a great deal of thought. That was 12 years ago. I say now that my misgivings at that time were certainly well held and held in all conscience. But many years have elapsed since then and we have lived through a period of mayhem and murder such as I never believed it would be my misfortune to see in my lifetime. If I have a changed opinion now, that opinion is held in all conscience and in all sincerity. It is not because politics have changed or because I am not the leader of the SDLP and I am no longer a member of the Republican Labour Party. It is because I have lived through this terrible trauma of Northern Ireland. I ask myself and your Lordships' House: does anyone really believe that a jury could have been found which would have acted in the recent case of the supergrass Kirkpatrick? Does anyone really believe that a jury could be picked 36 anywhere from within the whole population of Northern Ireland which would have sat down and deliberated in any of the supergrass trials?
§ Lord O'Brien of Lothbury
My Lords, if the noble Lord would give way, would he accept that nobody who has spoken today has gone beyond suggesting a multi-judge court or the possibility of the accused electing or opting for jury trial in another jurisdiction?
§ Lord Fitt
That is a suggestion, my Lords, which has been made by the noble Lord. As an Irishman, and more particularly as a Northern Irishman and as a Belfast man, I cannot see any accused person in Northern Ireland, whether he be Republican or Loyalist, electing to have his case heard in Kent, Cornwall, Glasgow or Liverpool. It may be all right for academics to say that this is a possibility, but it is something which will not happen.
Again, on the question that we have heard debated here and in another place—the question of terrorism and whether certain offences should be descheduled—what about the man with a gun who is holding up a shop, a supermarket, an off-licence or a bank? When he has a gun in his hands, that is the same sort of weapon that could be carried by a terrorist—and so far as the person at the other end of that gun is concerned, he is facing a terrorist. The terrorist may be robbing a bank for his own personal aggrandisement or he may be robbing it to fill the coffers of the UVF, the UDA or the IRA, but so far as the terrified individual at the other end of that gun is concerned, the gunman is a terrorist, and there is absolutely no way that anyone can assert that the "terrorist" who is wielding that gun should be treated any differently from the person who is holding a gun and collecting money to help his political organisation. They are terrorists in the only sense of the word which is understandable.
On the question of supergrasses, I should have liked to live this last 15 years of my life with the word "supergrass" being heard only in the context of gangsters and robbers, as it was once used in the underworld in London. I should have hoped that that term would never be applicable to the types of individual and the types of murder case which have been heard of in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, I have lived through that period.
We have heard—my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, said it this afternoon, and I read it this morning in the Irish Times and last week in a lot of nationalist newspapers emanating from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland—that some people were totally opposed to the convictions in the Kirkpatrick case, because those people who stood trial and were convicted were convicted on the word of a convicted murderer. That is quite right. But Kirkpatrick himself was convicted on the word of a supergrass, so is anyone going to say that he objects to the evidence of the supergrass which led to Kirkpatrick coming before the court? You cannot accept it on the one hand and not accept it on the other.
As regards the question of jurors and whether juries would be intimidated, we have heard in recent months of the alleged spy trial involving young airforce men in Cyprus. There, deep allegations were made against the 37 defence that they were deliberately picking people who were not well dressed and did not wear pinstriped suits but had long hair and razor blades hanging from their ears, on the grounds that they would be less likely to convict their clients, and how that would be a relatively legitimate course for the defence to take—and a lot of controversy had been aroused by the decisions of the jury in that case.
Say that we did have jury trials, however. When I stand in this House, as I did in another place, I believe that I am fortunate in not having been a member of either of the two major political parties. I have given my wholehearted consent and approval to almost every action of the Labour Party since I first came into the building in 1966. But had I been a member of that party I am certain that I should have been told, "That may be against party policy. It would be helpful if you did not say that". There were also Conservative governments in my time in the other place and I did not feel in any way inhibited about what they would expect me to say.
There will be no vote in this debate today, but I can still speak with the authority (for want of a better word) of having spent my life in Northern Ireland and seen the many terrorist acts. In the rarified atmosphere of this House we can say that it would be nice to reinstate jury trials in Northern Ireland. To that I shout "Yes", but it would be totally impossible in the present atmosphere. A jury could be intimidated, and how would one know that? A juror will not tell all his friends. A juror may be woken up in his home at night or threatened at any other time of the day with a gun pointed at his head. He may be told that if he finds the accused guilty the next time the trigger will be pulled. It is highly unlikely that he will tell the police or the security forces, because he will be frightened. He will comply with the wishes of his intimidator and find the accused not guilty.
If he is a man with tremendous courage, a great respect for the law and an abhorrence of terrorism and everything connected with it, he may find the accused guilty and he may be killed. Then we should meet in this House and a Statement would be issued in the afternoon that a juror in a supergrass or other trial had been killed. We should all express our sympathy with his wife and other relatives, but that would not bring him back. My sympathy, concern and compassion are for the victims of terrorism.
I do not go out of my way to make it easy for the terrorists by calling into question the purity of the law. We must not contaminate the law that we have had for a thousand years on the ground that it may do some injustice to some terrorist, who everybody in Northern Ireland knows will have been up to his neck in terrorist activities. Does anyone sitting in this House really believe that any of the accused in the supergrass trials are Sunday-school teachers or good citizens who have never been involved in such things? Everyone in Northern Ireland knows in his heart of hearts that if they were not involved up to the neck they were involved at least up to the elbows. That is the way I see it, speaking from experience.
However, in all sincerity I think that the Government should look at the possibility of having three judges rather than one in the Diplock courts. I think that that would do away with many of the 38 criticisms. My noble friend said that over the past 12 years young entrants to the legal profession have experienced the Diplock courts and that is not a nice experience. Even the judges know that it is not a nice thing that they should have to act under that constriction. That is true.
But I have another concern. In another place in the debate someone said that a new judge had been appointed, and he was lauded to high heaven for having the courage to accept an appointment in the Diplock courts. Praise was heaped on him. To say the least, his standard of living would not be terribly affected by accepting the appointment. I looked at my papers today. Fifty-four people were killed in Northern Ireland last year, 23 of whom were young RUC men. One RUC man was killed in the first five seconds of 1986 and his young colleague was badly maimed. I was in Northern Ireland recently and I visited the widow of a young RUC man who was brutally killed in the early hours of the morning. We both agreed that her husband's death was just another statistic; he is one of the 23. The world has forgotten about them. I think that far too much attention is paid in the legislation to the rights of the accused and far too little sympathy and compassion shown for the rights of their victims.
We shall have this legislation for some time. I say this to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies in the most friendly way possible. I repeat that all my political sympathies have been with the labour and trade union movement in this country, and I hope that they will continue to be in the years that I should like to see lying ahead. But I read the report of the proceedings in another place on 16th January, when Mr. Archer, the Labour Party spokesman on Northern Ireland said this at col. 1319 in criticising the Act:I come now to the question that I have been asked. In 1973 we on these Benches said that we were not persuaded by those arguments. But, when the provision was on the statute book, it seemed sensible to see how it worked. For some years it did not appear to give rise to any serious anxieties. Perhaps that was precisely because it did not seem to be achieving its stated purpose of increasing the conviction rate".Some cynics in Northern Ireland will say that the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979, having to operate, as they did, with continuing terrorism in Northern Ireland, did not find it necessary to change the legislation, but when in opposition the Labour Party sees all sorts of difficulties. I hope that that is not true. The murder and mayhem in Northern Ireland go way beyond any party political division on this side of the Irish Sea.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, alluded to the continuing situation in Northern Ireland. He said that if human and civil rights were instituted it could lead to an end to the violence. That proves that he is an Englishman and I am an Irishman. What he said is not true. The last thing that the IRA wants is the institution of human and civil liberties in Northern Ireland. It uses whatever means it can to bring its campaign to a successful conclusion and bring about the unity of Ireland on its own political terms. It does not want to see the acceptance by the overwhelming majority of the people in Northern Irland of civil and religious liberty.
We have had the Anglo-Irish Agreement since 15th November last year. I have strong reservations about 39 the agreement but I desperately wish it to succeed. I say from this House, three or four days before an election takes place in Northern Ireland, that it is now time for the SDLP and its nationalist electors, who have achieved so much from this agreement—it has been a notable victory for Irish nationalism in the North—to say that it withdraws its objections against the RUC. These young men, every time they put on their uniforms, are showing far more courage than a judge who has been appointed to the High Court. There has been reference to the courage of the newly appointed judge.
Many of these young men are Catholics. Many of them have been brutally murdered. It is now time for the SDLP, having achieved a considerable victory by way of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to say—knowing, as only those who live in Northern Ireland do, the terrible trauma that engulfs that community every time an RUC man or, for that matter a UDR man, is killed—that it supports the security forces. If that was to happen, there would be no need to reintroduce this Act in six months' time. I only wish to God that it would happen.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, are the resounding finale that we always obtain from the noble Lord to a debate in which great attention has been paid to the remarks of all who have spoken. No one has spoken more from the heart than the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I should like to start by straightaway thanking the noble Lord for his robust support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and everyone concerned with security. Let us not forget the liberty that is so dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and, indeed, all of us. The robust remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, will go out from your Lordships' House tonight, and they will, I am sure, be very much welcomed. I am grateful to him for the tone of his remarks.
It is fair to say that when we debate Northern Ireland issues your Lordships' House is not always packed to the doors. I shall certainly see that the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on the timing of the debate are passed on to my noble friend the Chief Whip. Those of your Lordships who attend and contribute in all sorts of ways to a debate such as that taking place today are the regulars. I say this intending no disparagement. We are grateful for the attention that they always give. Everyone makes helpful and constructive points. This afternoon has been no different.
I know from the various comments that have been made that there is some disappointment that we have not yet been able to bring forward a Bill to amend the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. I can only reiterate that we will bring forward a Bill when the parliamentary timetable permits and—I give this undertaking—certainly in the life of this Parliament. But our central message this afternoon is that we are determined to deal with and ultimately to defeat terrorism within and through the law. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will bear that in mind, as, I am sure, all your Lordships will. I add as a 40 rider that this will be done with the minimum necessary use of emergency powers such as those we are discussing.
Beyond that, I would ask all constitutional politicians not to look for differences but to look for the common ground. No one has put this more succinctly than the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I believe that most people in Northern Ireland want a greater say in their own affairs; but most also want to see better employment prospects, and most have no time whatever for the terrorists. If the people of Northern Ireland can build on the things that we have in common, I am sure that the ultimate goal of peace and stability can be achieved. The Anglo-Irish Agreement, mentioned, I think, by every noble Lord who has spoken, is very much welcomed; and it can, of course, assist in this process. We hope that it will.
I should like now to try to answer as many as possible of the points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, spoke in his usual forthright and robust style. I should like to thank the noble Lord and, indeed, everyone, for their tributes to the security forces, to the judges and to all who are concerned, or play some part in upholding law, order and liberty in Northern Ireland. I shall certainly see that the kind remarks that have been made are passed on to the relevant quarters.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned, so far as I can recall, the lowering of standards. I believe that those were his words. My notes refer to a departure from traditional standards. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the vast majority of criminal cases heard on indictment in Northern Ireland are heard before a jury. I would also remind the noble Lord and, indeed, all noble Lords, that the procedures in those cases are not affected by the emergency provisions in the Act we are discussing, nor by the continuance order, nor by the amendment order. It is only cases involving terrorist type offences that are tried before a court sitting without a jury. In such cases, there are compensating safeguards. The judge must prepare a written judgment. And there is, of course, an unrestricted right of appeal.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, together with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and also, so far as I can recall, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised the question of what are called supergrasses. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made strong reference to these particular gentlemen and, indeed, this particular method. So far as supergrasses, or this method of justice, are concerned, the evidence of former accomplices, as defined by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in the case of Mr. Kirkpatrick, is admissible in courts in Northern Ireland in the same way that it would be admissible in courts in Great Britain or, let us not forget, in courts in the Irish Republic. The responsibility for assessing the accuracy and the reliability of evidence given by former accomplices rests with the courts. It is not, luckily, a matter for Ministers, let alone a non-lawyer like myself, this afternoon. I would, however, remind your Lordships that the courts are required to assess whether the evidence amounts to proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that all the normal safeguards apply—such as trial in open court, the right to cross-examine 41 witnesses and the right to be legally represented at state expense. In scheduled and non-jury cases, additional safeguards apply to compensate for the fact that the court sits without a jury.
The use of former accomplice evidence has not debased the judicial system in Northern Ireland. I go further. I believe that the courts have demonstrated their integrity and, above all, their determination to uphold the highest standards of justice in the way that they have dealt with these difficult cases. In the circumstances of Northern Ireland, where people are fearful of giving evidence—this is why the words of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, bear very heavily with us—against men of violence, evidence from former accomplices is, unfortunately, all too frequently the only way in which criminals can be brought to justice. I am confident that the evidence given by former accomplices has had a major impact on the ability of various terrorist organisations to maintain (and I can only call it this) their sordid and base campaigns of violence, and as a result many lives have been saved and the perpetrators of very many serious crimes have been brought to justice.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also raised the question of bail. I think it would not be for me to go into great detail this afternoon except to say that my right honourable friend the Member for Witney, who was the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, explained in June last year in another place that the Government intend to put the onus in bail applications in the scheduled cases, which mostly concern us this afternoon, on the prosecution rather than, as at present, on the defence. Judging by all that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and everything that has been discussed, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, would accept that.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also took me up on the failure to delegate the power to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. I covered the reasons for this in my opening remarks. I reiterate again that I think that the Attorney-General's advice reflects the gravity with which the Government regard this as the exercise of the power of certifying out. I really would not want to go further than that this evening. I am sorry that I cannot take it further, but if the noble Lord would wish to raise this point again we might perhaps cover it in detail on another occasion.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, for his remarks, for which I am very grateful. I am once again grateful for his support of the security forces and all that they do. The noble Lord raised several points. One was the need for more than one judge in the Diplock courts, reflecting on the need for more than one as a limit on the number of defendants. The Government accept the arguments of Sir George Baker (which repeated those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner) in favour of trial by a single judge for terrorist-type offences. This procedure has a number of advantages over any proposals for multi-judge courts, whether it be three or perhaps more. There are also substantial compensating safeguards, including an unrestricted right of appeal to the normal three-judge appeal court in Northern Ireland.
For the same reasons I have to admit that we see difficulties in restricting the number of defendants in 42 what we call the scheduled cases, particularly as this would have the unwelcome consequence of increasing waiting times between the first remand and trial.
The noble Lord, Lord Hampton raised this point. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised many points, and I think that this was one: about regular scrutiny of the emergency provisions Act by an Assembly Select Committee. I explained this on the last occasion we were debating this Bill, and indeed the order. The Government see substantial difficulties in any such proposals to keep the exercise of the EPA powers under permanent review. All the current powers in the Act, unlike those in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, are already open to public scrutiny. Most of them are subject to judicial review. But any review both would find itself in what I think your Lordships would agree would be substantial difficulty if it was invited to comment on issues which were before the courts. I am sure that that is not an area into which we, or indeed any non lawyers, should venture. I believe that it would be very improper if we were so to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, also raised the question of the figure of 40 per cent. of the scheduled suspects who had no connection with terrorism. I think it was in connection with the Cobden Trust. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, also raised that point. I have to tell both Lord Donaldson and Lord Hampton that we have studied the booklets very carefully. I have to say that we do not find entirely convincing the method of calculation producing the 40 per cent. figure. This concerns a differing of opinion between the noble Lords and myself. But that sets out the Government's views, I hope succinctly.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, the figure that my noble friend gave was 40 per cent. I said that even if it was half that figure it would still be significant. Does what the noble Lord is saying contradict that?
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I hope not. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson makes. May I write to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, on this point? I take the point of the noble Lord and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, but I do not think that your Lordships would wish me to go too deeply into this. I mean no discourtesy. I think that it would be the wish of your Lordships that, having studied everything that has been said by the two noble Lords on this particular pamphlet, I write to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised a number of points. Some of them I had heard before and some I had not. I shall try to answer them. Indeed, I tried to answer some of them in July. The noble Lord asked first about the Government's intention to strengthen the police authority for Northern Ireland. I would assure the noble Lord, and indeed the House, that the Government are very conscious that a body which is as important as the police authority in Northern Ireland should be truly representative of the whole community there. The Government will continue to make very determined efforts to ensure that this is so and continues to be so. As part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement we have undertaken to consult the Government of the Irish Republic on appointments to this body. I think that this is a new departure since I spoke in July.
43 The noble Lord also raised one other point about bringing forward police and criminal evidence legislation so far as Northern Ireland would be concerned. The introduction of legislation in Northern Ireland, which parallels—whether 95 per cent. 98 per cent. or completely—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in England and Wales is, I have to tell him and I am sure he would accept, a very complex business. However, I give him this assurance: that work is well in hand on this legislation. It will be brought forward in due course. I hope that those last three words may indicate something to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord raised with me in July, and has raised again, the need for statistics. I assure him that we are working on the production of the data base which will allow the ready production of the appropriate statistics which he would want, and which I am sure will be of use to us. But our studies are continuing with regard to to a proper and significant data base.
The noble Lord also raised the question of the paper by Mr. J. D. Jackson, QC, on the safeguards in supergrass trials. This was mentioned in the SACHR report. I think that the noble Lord said that it was in paragraphs 83 to 94. I have to let him know that most of the safeguards in Mr. Jackson's paper were, and indeed are, already in force. If there are any details I can certainly pick up any gaps and let him know.
The noble Lord has raised this question—and indeed raised it with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—about allowing a trial in GB. I have to tell him we do not believe that this is appropriate in these cases, or indeed in any others. I think that it would involve a completely new departure to decide where one would opt for trial.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton also raised the question of liaison committees between police and public. I am sure that he would be interested to know that recent RUC proposals for truly representative local liaison committees have been held up by the recent disruption of council business in Northern Ireland, which I am sure is a story which will be well known to all noble Lords who are involved with, and study, Northern Irish affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also asked me about the question of a new offence of, what he called, reckless use of lethal force. I hope I have that right. Certainly the Government are not convinced that the case for creating a new offence has been sufficiently made out. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and your Lordships will be aware that the present law on the use of force enables the courts to give fair and detailed consideration to each case on its own merits. Very often, as the noble Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, of all people, will be aware the merits of these cases are not such as we have them in civilised conditions, as we speak this evening. It is necessary for the courts to give fair and detailed consideration to every single case on its merits, and, of course, to reach an appropriate verdict.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised a point about inquests. He referred to a number of cases which have come to your Lordships' notice and which have been widely discussed in the media and in the press in Northern Ireland. I am able to tell the noble Lord that 44 evidence which is given at inquests is not under oath and we do not believe that it could be reliable. Therefore, it would be quite inappropriate to hold an inquest while there was still a possibility of criminal proceedings arising from the incident in question. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioning that as a rider when he raised the particular point about these incidents which, as far as I am aware, are still under discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also raised the question of reasonable suspicion. I mentioned this matter to your Lordships last July, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will accept that my remarks still stand. The Government intend to propose the repeal of Section 11(1) and (3) of the Act, leaving the police to rely on the emergency arrest powers contained in Section 12 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which already requires what we call "reasonable grounds for suspicion" before the power can be exercised. We intend that the other powers in the Act to arrest and to search dwelling-houses should also be exercisable only on the basis of reasonable suspicion. I hope that I have covered all the points which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a typically robust speech. I am sure that all your Lordships noted his forthright call for all sections of the community to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and all those—and, once again, these are matters dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and to all of us—who support liberty, life and freedom under the law in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, will go out from your Lordships' House tonight, and we are grateful for his support.
I say again that the order which we are discussing this evening is an unfortunate necessity. The amendment order reflects the desire and the intention of the Government to amend the legislation, and we shall do this whenever we can and as soon as we can. I ask your Lordships to accept the first Motion in my name on the Order Paper.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.