§ 5.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th January be approved.[9th Report from the Joint Committee.]
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the draft order has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments which did not comment on it. The provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act are temporary in two ways: first, because the Act will not remain in the statute book for more than five years, and secondly, to remain in force during that period, it has to be renewed, in whole or in part, every 12 months. The effect of the order would be to keep the whole Act in force for another year from 22nd March.
§ Terrorism, which lies at the heart of our debate tonight, is the use of violence for political purposes. That violence may be directed against the forces of law and order, leaders or representatives of the state to which the terrorist is opposed, or ordinary members of the public who happen to be standing by when a bomb goes off. Whatever his targets, the terrorist's primary aim is to bring about political change. But one of his secondary aims is to provoke a government into reacting savagely to his activities so that he can claim that it is oppressive and undemocratic. It is vital, therefore, that in their fight against terrorism, democratic societies use only right and necessary forces and powers, and use them justly and fairly. One of those powers in our own society is the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the renewal of which we are to debate now.
§ I need hardly remind your Lordships that prevention of terrorism legislation was introduced in 1974 in response to atrocities committed by Northern Irish terrorists on the mainland. Some of the powers available to the Secretary of State under the Act only apply to acts of terrorism designed to influence public opinion of government policy with respect to affairs in Northern Ireland. One of these is the power to proscribe terrorist organisations. Another, about which I shall have more to say later, is the power to exclude from Great Britain, Northern Ireland, or the United Kingdom a person who the Secretary of State is satisfied is or intends to be concerned with acts of terrorism related to Northern Ireland.
§ In Northern Ireland, the number of deaths from terrorist incidents mercifully declined between the mid-1970s and the beginning of this decade, but it has remained tragically constant for the last four years. The 61 people who died in terrorist incidents in the Province last year testified to the necessity of continuing the campaign against terrorism there. The Prevention of Terrorism legislation continued to play its part in that campaign.
§ In Northern Ireland in 1986, 1,309 people were detained under the Act; that is, on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. In 483 of these cases my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland used the power given by the Act to extend the period of detention beyond the 48 hours 1237 allowed on the authority of the police by between one and five days. On the mainland, 147 people were detained under the Act in connection with Northern Irish terrorism, 37 of them for more than 48 hours.
§ We are all aware, however, that it is not only terrorists whose objectives centre on Northern Ireland that threaten innocent lives on the mainland. We also have to face the menace of international terrorism. Thus, since 1984, the powers of detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act have applied to those suspected of involvement in international as well as Northern Irish terrorism. In 1986, 55 people were detained in England and Wales on suspicion of being international terrorists, 20 of them for more than two days.
§ Your Lordships will understand that I cannot tell the story behind many of these detentions under the Act, either with respect to Northern Irish or to international terrorism. Some of them led to those detained being charged, and the cases are still sub judice. But I should like to refer, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary did in another place, to one particular instance of action taken against international terrorists under the Act which could not—and I wish to emphasise this point—have been taken against them under any other legislative powers.
§ Six people of various nationalities were detained in late September and early October of last year on suspicion of membership of Abu Nidhal, an international terrrorist group. Of these, three have now been deported; my right honourable friend the Home Secretary agreed that two should be allowed to make a supervised departure from the United Kingdom; and the sixth is currently detained awaiting the outcome of an outstanding appeal against deportation. It has been suggested by those who believe the Prevention of Terrorism Act is unnecessary in the fight against terrorism that the Immigration Act 1971 provides sufficient powers for the authorities to proceed against international terrorists. I can assure the House that the case of these six demonstrates how mistaken that view is. Five of them had been in the UK for several years, arriving between 1978 and 1984. All were given leave to enter and all of them had valid leave to remain in the UK at the time they were detained: four as students, one as a visitor, and one by virtue of marriage to a British citizen. With one possible exception, they had not contravened our immigration law.
§ It is true that once the Secretary of State has decided to deport someone, as he did in four of these cases, and they have been served with notice of that intention, the Immigration Act provides a power to detain that person. However, this detention can only be in order to proceed with the deportation, (allowing for any appeal rights); it cannot be used to investigate suspicions about the person detained to allow my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to decide whether or not that person should be deported. Nor, when informaton was received that indicated the six might be members of Abu Nidhal, was it possible to arrest them under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act on suspicion of a particular offence. Thus the police had no alternative but to detain them under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and indeed it proved 1238 necessary to do so for the full seven days. We can only speculate on the possible consequences if these six had not been stopped in their tracks. I submit to your Lordships that this case amply illustrates the necessity that the Prevention of Terrorism Act detention power should continue to be available to the police.
§ No one denies however that this and other powers available under the Act are some of the most serious that can be exercised by the executive in this country. They should only be available to it if Parliament is convinced that there is still a need for such measures in order to combat terrorism, that they are being used properly and that the curtailment of individual liberties is the minimum necessary. This is why the Act has a limited life and is subject to annual renewal. Furthermore, in accordance with an undertaking which the Government gave to your Lordships at the Bill's Report stage, the operation of the Act is subject to annual scrutiny by a person appointed by right honourable friend the Home Secretary, but independent of him.
§ I am sure that your Lordships would want me to express the gratitude of this House to Sir Cyril Philips, who carried out this scrutiny for 1984 and 1985. He felt unable to continue this task after his appointment as chairman of the Council on Tribunals. The Government are grateful that my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross accepted my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's invitation to succeed Sir Cyril. He brings to this important work not only all the necessary abilities but also a wealth of relevant experience as a practising barrister, a former Minister of State at the Home Office, and a former UK representative on the UN Human Rights Commission.
§ The report prepared by my noble friend was placed in our Library on 29th January. In preparing his report, my noble friend has visited police forces, especially at air and seaports. He has had discussions with officials in London, Belfast and Edinburgh and there examined files relating to exclusion orders, and to extension of detention under Section 12 of the Act or Article 9 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Supplemental Temporary Provisions) Order 1984. Last but not least, my noble friend has welcomed representations from interested parties, in writing or face to face. These representations were invited by means of a parliamentary Answer last October and when my noble friend visited Belfast last month by means of newspaper advertisements, which, as he says, the BBC chose to augment by a radio interview. I believe the House will agree that my noble friend's report is detailed and perceptive. I am sure that his work will focus and inform Parliament's consideration of the operation of the Act last year.
§ In general, my noble friend's report shows that the operation of the Act gives no cause for concern. He does, however, make one suggestion in particular that I know the House will expect me to respond to today.
§ My noble friend suggests that tighter security at the ports (and presumably inland) might make it possible to dispense with the power of exclusion—if not this year then by the time the Act is next due for renewal in 1988. I need hardly remind your Lordships that Sir Cyril Philips made a similar suggestion last year: namely, that for several reasons, the time was right for 1239 Parliament to consider afresh the need for Sections 4 and 5 of the Act (under which people can be excluded from Great Britain or Northern Ireland respectively) and that, if these sections were to be kept in force, the Government might undertake not to make any exclusion order under them against people who had not previously been subject to such an order. I know that during your Lordships' debate on the continuance order last year several noble Lords urged the Government to adopt Sir Cyril's suggestion, if not immediately, at least within the coming year. However, my noble friend Lord Glenarthur told the House that, while the Government would not quarrel with the view of Sir Cyril Philips that the power of exclusion was objectionable in principle, it did not believe the time had yet come to jettison it.
§ Before explaining the Government's reaction to the proposal this year by my noble friend Lord Colville, I should say something about the operation of the exclusion power, particularly during 1986. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary gives personal consideration to every application by the police for an indivdual to be excluded from Great Britain (or from the UK if he is currently in Great Britain). Under the Act, the Secretary of State needs to be satisfied that the person in question has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism (or might attempt to enter Great Britain with a view to being so concerned) before making an exclusion order against him or her.
§ Thus exclusion is not justified if the person merely associates with terrorists or belongs to a certain political organisation. My right honourable friend looks for evidence that he or she has been personally and actively involved in terrorism (though not necessarily by planting a bomb or pulling a trigger) usually within the past three years. Moreover, the Act allows someone who has been excluded to make representations against the order, and their case must then be referred to one of the advisers appointed by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, with whom the person excluded is entitled to an interview in most circumstances.
§ Thirteen cases were referred to an adviser in 1986, and 10 of the people concerned were interviewed. My right honourable friend accepted his adviser's recommendation in each of these cases, and revoked three exclusion orders.
§ Under the 1974 and 1976 Prevention of Terrorism Acts, exclusion orders remained in force unless and until they were revoked. The present Act gives new orders a limited life of three years, and provides that all orders made under the earlier legislation will expire on 21st March this year unless they have already been revoked. Consequently, almost all those earlier orders have now been reviewed, the majority of them, 157, last year. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary decided not to renew 103 of those 157 orders (even though in about half of those cases the police had applied for a new order), but in the other 54 cases he made new orders, because he was satisfied that those individuals still constitute a threat to the safety of Great Britain. He also made nine new orders excluding people from Great Britain, one of which was revoked on the recommendation of an adviser two months 1240 later. Thus, while 211 exclusion orders made in Great Britain were extant at the end of 1985, only 114 were in force at the end of 1986. In Northern Ireland, where my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland exercises the power, there were 26 orders in force at the end of last year.
§ The exclusion provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act still serve to restrict the freedom of operation of over 100 individuals who my right honourable friends are satisfied are implicated in terrorism. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, says in his report that such usage is not sufficient to stem the tide of protest against what he calls a system of internal exile. The Government do not accept that, because a power is—quite rightly—used sparingly, it follows that it can be done away with. Moreover, my noble friend says that the deterrent effect of the exclusion power is not to be underestimated even if it cannot be quantified.
§ The crux of my noble friend's argument against the continuation of the exclusion power is, as I understand it, that this would be less acceptable to public opinion than a marginally more intrusive use of the powers which the order gives to the police to interview, and if necessary detain, travellers at ports and airports. This may be so, though my right honourable friend the Home Secretary receives complaints that the use of these powers is already too intrusive. However, what the Government must also judge is whether a more stringent use of port powers, or any other measures that might be put in the place of the exclusion power, would be equally effective in frustrating terrorist activity. We are not at present convinced that they would be. If those who might otherwise be subject to exclusion orders had free movement throughout the United Kingdom, it seems to us that the police would need both a capacity to detect that movement and to be able to keep the person under surveillance in order to make sure that he did not fulfil the terrorist objectives which could be prevented by exclusion. Having said all this, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made clear in another place that we will look seriously and thoroughly at the possibility of replacing the exclusion power before the Act is next due for renewal.
§ I should now like to turn to the other major power available under the Act: that of detention on suspicion of involvement with terrorism. I have already indicated to your Lordships the extent to which this power was used last year in respect of Northern Irish and of international terrorism, and given you one example of how vital it was in one of the latter cases. In his report, my noble friend discusses the criticism that, because such a small proportion of those detained are charged with offences under the Act this legislation is ineffective. He points out that the Prevention of Terrorism Act itself creates few offences, of a not particularly serious nature, and that charges under other legislation following detention under the Act should also be taken into account.
§ Last year, in Great Britain 18 per cent. of people detained under the legislation were charged with a criminal offence. In Northern Ireland, the figure was 28 per cent. Furthermore, nine people, as I have said, were excluded from Great Britain, and eight had deportation orders signed against them, following 1241 detention under the Act. The essential point which is made by my noble friend but so often missed by critics of the Act is that these are pre-emptive powers. If the police use them to prevent a terrorist crime being committed, then obviously no one can be charged with that crime. We surely should not have to wait for the bomb to explode before the police can take action.
§ My noble friend refers to another criticism of detention—and port examinations—under the Act; namely, that these, "are often 'fishing trips' to gather information rather than an exercise directed at people who might themselves be terrorists" (paragraph 7.3). As my noble friend says, to detain a person under Section 12 of the Act merely in order to collect information would clearly be an abuse of the section. The power of arrest and detention under Section 12 arises where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting a person to be guilty of certain specific offences or that he is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
§ The power of arrest under Section 12 is therefore available in cases where the police do not, at the time of arrest, have evidence which would justify criminal charges, but where they have reasonable grounds to suspect the person arrested of involvement in acts of terrorism. The police may expect to develop their suspicions to the point where they have evidence to justify charges or to consider applying to the Secretary of State for the exclusion of the person concerned under Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the Act, or, if appropriate, for their deportation.
§ The detention of that person under Section 12 is the process by which the arresting officer's suspicion can be clarified. The person concerned may be questioned, forensic evidence may be sought. The obtaining of information is an important and inevitable feature of the exercise of the powers but is not the purpose of the section. Even if the person concerned is not charged, excluded or deported, the process of questioning and investigation may nevertheless provide the police with information, of a variety of different kinds, which may be of value in the prevention of terrorism. That is quite inevitable. How could and should the police erase from their memory, and reject from all subsequent consideration, something which they may learn in such a case? But information gained in that way is essentially a by-product of the powers in Section 12.
§ The Government welcome the opportunity provided by the annual review, and by the debates on the continuance order in this House and in another place, for a thorough scrutiny of this legislation. The Government believe it should only remain on the statute book if Parliament is satisfied both that the powers it gives continue to be necessary, and that they are being properly used. I have described the continuing threat from terrorism, be its origins far from us or nearer to home. My Lords, I know we are all agreed that this threat must be combated and contained. The Government's contention is that this legislation must remain in force to assist in that task. Therefore I commend this order to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th January be approved.[9th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(The Earl of Caithness.)1242
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, the House will want to thank the noble Earl for the way in which he has introduced this order which comes before us year by year with, as he has rightly said, a heavy responsibility upon this House. I believe I am quoting his very words: he said that Parliament should permit powers under this Act to continue only if it considers that those powers are necessary.
It would help so much in my view—and I have respectfully submitted this before—if year by year in exercising these rights which we have and which are so important we were allowed to look separately at the various parts of the original Act that we are called upon to continue. There are various parts to that Act, as your Lordships will remember, and Part II, for example, deals only with exclusion orders, a matter to which the Minister referred in the course of his speech.
Despite the fact that the Minister says—and his right honourable friend also says it in another place year by year—that these powers must not be continued if Parliament does not think they are necessary, we cannot say that certain powers are not necessary, such as exclusion powers, because we either say that the order shall not be passed, in which case nothing passes at all by way of continuance, or we have to say that we are in favour of the order, in which case everything continues.
Again on this occasion especially I ask the noble Earl to consult his right honourable friend and say whether, in their joint view, it is consistent with what is repeatedly said year by year, that we should consider these powers and pass them only if necessary, if we have no opportunity whatever of dealing with the powers separately.
It is a great difficulty. Speaking from these Benches—and I make this absolutely clear—we know, as do the Government, that to go outside the normal boundaries of our criminal law hits at our great fountain of justice—if I may mix my metaphor—which all of us hallow and which has been hallowed over the centuries. But we are all prepared to do it if there are exceptional circumstances; and indeed they exist when we have to meet this ghastly plague of terrorism with which our century has been afflicted.
Having said that, one goes on to the next thought that the Government must consider. The noble Earl said, and said quite rightly, that an annual scrutiny takes place in order to help the Secretary of State and Parliament as a whole to do their job in considering whether there should be a renewal. The noble Earl was absolutely correct when he paid a well deserved compliment to his noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who is held in such respect in your Lordships' House.
What is the situation for Parliament, if the annual scrutiny is to be there in order to guide the Secretary of State and Parliament, if the Secretary of State, certainly for the last two years if not before, adopts the recommendations which say that the powers should continue but ignores, or certainly does not favour, the result of a detailed scrutiny when doubt is cast upon the continuance of certain powers?
1243 Your Lordships may well wish to know the background against which I am speaking today in regard to the serious responsibilities that rest upon every one of us. I can do no better than quote from the report on the operation in 1986 of this Act by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, of his scrutiny. I quote from page 36, paragraph 7.2:The PTA is extremely unpopular with the Irish community in Great Britain, and, as with all the emergency legislation, in Northern Ireland too. I heard from one staunch Republican who denies the right of Westminster to legislate for the Province at all. Others denounce terrorism whether domestic or international but say that the legislation has cast a blight over the Irish population in Great Britain and is counterproductive in Northern Ireland, because, among other things, it alienates the population and discourages the public from any attempt to help in rooting out terrorism. It creates martyrs and tends to cause misplaced sympathy for people who on any rational view have committed terrible crimes. It is not for me to advise whether it would be possible to abolish all emergency legislation in Northern Ireland, and rely on the ordinary criminal law; but it is a suggestion seriously made to me. The EPA has just been renewed in January 1987 with all party support".I reflect with your Lordships on the background of the effect in Northern Ireland that has been summarised in the paragraph I have just read and on Irish people in our own country. That does not mean that an order carrying out certain parts of the Act should not meet with the favour of all your Lordships. But I repeat, what is the point of scrutiny when Sir Cyril Philips last year said that the exclusion orders should be among the first powers to go and recommended that no new exclusion orders should be made? The Home Secretary said that he did not accept the recommendation that no exclusion orders should be made.
We then come to this year's report from the noble Earl's noble friend, Lord Colville of Culross. What has he to say about exclusion orders? I shall not read a large portion of what he said to lead up to his conclusion, but if the Minister thinks that I am being unfair in the part that I select, I invite him to stop me immediately and I shall read any other portion that he wants me to read. I am reading from paragraph 2.3.6 on page 10 of the report:Vigilance against terrorist inroads would have to be ensured as well from Northern Ireland as from the rest of the world … In my view this would be more acceptable than a system of internal exile; any resultant criticisms would have to be considered sympathetically but in the light of the abolition of a power which the public may have seen as necessary to restrict the movement of Northern Ireland terrorists and contain their activities, but which now is not sufficiently used to stem the tide of protest. The deterrent effect is not to be underestimated, even if it cannot be quantified; but the police have other powers to prevent outbursts of Northern Irish terrorism in Great Britain".The Secretary of State in another place a year ago said clearly that the term "internal exile" was quite inappropriate and misleading in regard to the exclusion order. How strange that the very words are used by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, in his scrutiny this year. Does it not mean that the Secretary of State is ignoring the advice which he is supposed to be seeking? Ought not your Lordships draw his attention to the matter by what is said in this debate?
There will be no vote against this order so far as I am concerned on behalf of my noble friends, but we ask the Secretary of State to take another look at the way 1244 he is behaving in the face of the reports he is receiving from quite independent and very responsible sources.
I move on to Section 11 of the Act which has been drawn to the attention of your Lordships year by year. I remind your Lordships that it is most extraordinary so far as our criminal law is concerned. It provides that if a person has information which he knows or believes might be of material assistance and he does not give it to the authorities, he commits a crime if that be proved and if he has no reasonable excuse for not giving it. He is liable to a quite substantial term of imprisonment on conviction.
From time to time and from all parts of the House doubt has been cast upon the wisdom of including this power in the continuance order. But we have no right at all, unless we throw out the whole order, to say that this power ought to be removed. The only reference made to it in the report of the noble Viscount is on page 6, where he draws attention to the fact that there were:a few charges under s. 11 (withholding information about acts of terrorism). There have only been 25 charges under the latter section or its equivalent since 1974, leading to 13 convictions".Ought we not year by year, until this Act ceases in a couple of years' time to have the right to debate these separate powers and to agree to continue with certain of them but not to continue with others? However, we are helpless in view of the way this has been presented to us.
I now pass to what may seem to be a very small matter, though it is not small to the people concerned. The noble Viscount in regard to exclusion orders pointed out that what now happens is that if somebody is sent back by way of removal of an exclusion order—it may be from England to Ireland or from Ireland back to England—he is handed the grand sum of £2.50 to find his way. I drew the attention of the House last time to this mealy-mouthed behaviour which can cause so much distress to somebody who wants to join his family. After all, the exclusion order has been released and presumably that means that there is no more danger for the community. He has £2.50 in his pocket to travel to wherever he has to travel and to have some subsistence meanwhile. Is that what your Lordships would want to happen?
The reply given last time was that this is a practice that exists and it will be looked into; but I know of no way in which this has been altered in the meantime and no further explanation has been given. Perhaps the noble Earl will give an explanation when he replies.
One of the most important parts of the recommendations made by the noble Viscount was not referred to, unless I missed it, in the noble Earl's speech to the House recommending the continuance order to your Lordships. That was the feeling that he had, and he expresses it very cogently. It is illogical, untidy and not very good legislative practice to have a temporary Act which has a lifetime of another two years and which deals with both international terrorism and the troubles that we unfortunately endure in regard to Ireland and the terrorism arising from that country.
He rightly points out by inference that in regard to international terrorism there are arrangements which are to be made internationally; that we wish to tell other nations, especially in Europe, what our 1245 legislation is and to suggest, I have no doubt, that there should be co-operation in regard to that legislation so that it is European-wide, if not worldwide, among civilised powers.
Unfortunately that would seem to be a matter which is not of a temporary nature at all and so there ought to be permanent legislation, it may be he says, to deal with international terrorism. But it is a separate issue to deal with the political problems of Ireland and what arises out of them, with a prayer which I suppose all of us would utter that it is a temporary matter and a matter upon which we legislate year by year, especially as we are dealing with our own United Kingdom in that regard. I was surprised that the noble Earl did not refer to this at all. If he did, and I did not hear him, I apologise at once. But I hope that in his reply he will say that that matter is being given very careful consideration by his right honourable friend and himself.
I repeat: this House is united in its abhorrence of terrorism. This House is united—if it is not, it should be—in its decision to obey the duty of Parliament to secure the safety of innocent citizens in our land. We realise that in these troublous times extraordinary rights may have to be taken; but if Parliament is to exercise its proper duty it ought to have those powers dealt with separately, as I indicated. I hope that will be the position next year.
All of us must experience regret, and must have the reservations I have mentioned. There is no point in having a scrutiny in this thorough way year by year by an independent person without Parliament not only listening carefully but, unless there is very good reason to the contrary, carrying out the recommendations. Subject to those reservations, there will be no vote from these Benches—and I talk with responsibility in regard to my own Front Bench—against this order, upon which a vote has already taken place in another place.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord Meston
My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Wigoder, I should like to join in thanking the noble Earl for his detailed introduction of this important order. I would also wish to join in paying tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for his report on the operation of the Act during 1986. As one would expect—from the brief opportunity I have had to study it—the report is a lucid and stimulating document which provides clear guidance to this House and also, perhaps more importantly in this context, to the Government. I would certainly join in asking that the Government pay particular attention to the call for rationalisation in the final paragraphs of the report under the heading "Broader considerations."
It seems entirely right that we should have an annual opportunity to consider this legislation. It is peculiarly an area where the law has to strike a balance between civil liberties and the protection of the community from the horrors of terrorism. From these Benches, we say that the balance must come down in favour of the protection of the community. It is on that basis that we support the order, subject, of course, to the annual process of scrutiny by Parliament and to the report of the noble Viscount. This is quite properly a temporary 1246 statute—a concept with which the House is peculiarly familiar as a result of recent debates on other legislation. We must see how it works in the coming year and we must look carefully at it again after the expiry of the period of one year when it has to be reconsidered for renewal.
I join in questioning the effectiveness of Section 11. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has told your Lordships, that section creates the offence of a failure to disclose information. I would ask how many prosecutions there have been. I see from page 6 of the report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred, that there have been only 25 charges. I do not know whether that means 25 actual prosecutions. I would also like to know what has been the heaviest penalty imposed following any successful conviction under that particular section. With those comments, I would join in welcoming the order.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Earl, the previous speakers and also the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for his very illuminating report. I do not want unduly to prolong the debate; so I shall not elaborate on the horrendous damage that the Prevention of Terrorism Act does to our constitution and to the civil liberties of the citizen. I shall highlight some aspects of the report by the noble Viscount and then explain the positive effect of doing away with the Act.
Detention under the Act should be based on reasonable grounds for suspicion of terrorist involvement. In practice, as the noble Viscount recalls, it is probably based on the instincts of a police officer. I ask: is it right that instinct should replace reasonable grounds? In practice, detention is being used for general intelligence gathering, for intimidation of particular political groups and for the prevention of political demonstrations of opposition. Also in practice, the way detention operates causes real hardship and anxiety for those detained and for their friends and relatives. To have a situation where people can literally disappear and the police present a blank face to inquiries is very chilling, reminiscent, as it is, of the dirty war in Argentina and the current scene in some central American countries and in South Africa.
When we consider exclusion orders, I am sure we are all grateful at last for the official recognition that this means a sentence of internal exile with political Ministers as judge, jury and executioner. The report makes clear that the Act and the way in which it is implemented actually supports the arguments that may be used by some people to justify acts of violence for political purposes. By having this Act and using it, we deny the validity of our argument that all acts of violence committed for whatever reasons are criminal acts and that their perpetrators are criminals.
I should like now to look at the effect of doing away with the Act or, more accurately, letting it lapse by not renewing it. To start with, we must make clear—and I am sure the whole House will join me in this—that we do not condone violent acts for any purpose whatsoever. The first practical effect of refusing renewal will be to free police manpower from their effective political role under the Act and enable them 1247 to concentrate on the prevention of crime and the taking and bringing before the courts of criminals who conspire to commit criminal acts or who have perpetrated criminal acts. We shall also release government Ministers from their role as directors of police operations and their role as judge, jury and executioner of internal exile.
Let us rely on our courts—not politicians—to deal with criminals. We can then make a clear distinction between politics and crime. We consider that crime is for the police and the courts, and that politics is for the people and their elected representatives. Let us in this House say to all the elected representatives of the people, "It is your job to listen to the arguments of your opponents and if you disagree to argue your case. But do not try to use the law or a position of political power to silence your opponents, because that way will only provide the seedbed in which violence for political ends can flourish."
I conclude with this quotation from the noble Viscount's report:it is never possible to prove a negative, so nobody can tell how well [the Act] works".I believe that the Act encourages violence for political ends. I believe that such violence is criminal and should be treated as such. At the end of this debate, I will seek to divide the House and I invite noble Lords who share my beliefs on this issue to join me in opposing the renewal order.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, this order is short and unamendable and, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has already said, it is a question of all or nothing; either we accept it or we reject it. For those reasons, I should like to look at the report recently made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who is gathering ever-increasing experience in human rights matters. He was, I thought, particularly thorough on the police aspects of this question. I am very glad that he mentioned the conditions of suspects held for examination or interrogation, and that he further went on to discuss for how long and in what circumstances persons should be held incommunicado. My only regret about the report is that it contains no list of those persons and organisations who gave written or oral evidence, and I should like to ask the Government whether they would consider printing the names of those people in the Official Report.
I come now to exclusion orders and I am glad that the noble Viscount did not shrink from using the words "internal exile" to describe exclusion either from Great Britain or from Northern Ireland. It is perhaps ironic that we should be debating the continuance of these orders so soon after the release of Dr. Sakharov from internal exile in the Soviet Union. I am very glad that the noble Viscount said,there is no doubt that hardship can occur in these cases",and I very much hope that the Government will look most carefully at his paragraph 2.38, which deals with the human treatment of excluded persons.
I should like to ask—and just one sentence of the noble Earl's introductory speech gives grounds for, I think, a little hope—will the Government abolish the 1248 power to exclude in 1988? Can they give us that assurance? I ask for that assurance even if orders which will then be in force have to remain in force for those persons affected. It has, after all, been the unanimous view of Sir Cyril Philips and the noble Viscount, as well as of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland, that these orders should no longer be allowed to continue. I refer the Government to the 12th Report of the standing advisory commission and in particular to pages 13 and 14.
That brings me to port powers, and on page 31 of the report we find mention of some loopholes to which I have tried to draw attention in your Lordships' House in previous debates on this subject. The existence of these loopholes throws some doubt over the whole of the rest of the elaborate and expensive powers and checking procedures.
Finally, I was very pleased indeed to read the final chapter of the noble Viscount's report which is headed "Broader Considerations". This takes the long-term view and does not hesitate to mention such things as "fishing trips" and plain intelligence gathering. I agree with the noble Viscount that we need minimum permanent powers to guard against and combat international terrorism, as well as separate and distinct temporary powers for dealing with terrorism arising from Northern Ireland wherever that may appear, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.
I should like to ask the Goverment: can they make any comment on this section of the report today? If not, will they at least start preparing for new legislation on a better footing than this Act, which, as we know, emerged from one particularly horrific incident in 1974? Will the Government also examine and take into consideration comparable legal systems in other European countries?
§ 6.8 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have taken part in the interesting debate on this subject that we debate annually, and particularly for the measured tones in which the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon, Lord Meston and Lord Hylton, made their remarks.
If we are to continue to fight against terrorism in connection with the affairs of Northern Ireland, and on the wider international scale, we must have the powers that Parliament has granted us in the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The fact that there have been no Irish Republican terrorist incidents on the mainland during the last year or so does not signal any change of heart or lack of commitment on the part of those terrorist organisations which have made such murderous attacks in the past. Anyone following events in Northern Ireland will know that there has been no decrease in terrorist violence over there.
It was only in 1984 that some of the powers in the prevention of terrorism legislation were extended to cover international terrorism. The fact that for the past two years about a quarter of those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or the supplemental order were detained in connection with international terrorism shows, sadly, how right Parliament was to take that course of action.
1249 The Act is not used selectively in respect of any one group of people or to harass any section of the community. Its function is to prevent acts of terrorism occurring in this country, and the Government firmly believe it achieves its purpose.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked whether we could have separate debates on each part of the Act. The Government take the view that the Act should be renewed as a whole. In those circumstances, he will understand that it is difficult to debate each section of the Act individually.
§ Lord Mishcon
I wonder if the noble Earl will admit that we cannot carry on a debate on this subject now. However, there is little point in introducing an order, as the noble Earl did so eloquently, by saying that Parliament has to be satisfied that each power is necessary if Parliament cannot debate each power.
The Earl of Caithness
The noble Lord underestimates his powers of persuasion. The noble Lord has referred to a number of powers under the Act and his words will be studied very carefully by my right honourable friend. I am sure that he will welcome any constructive suggestion on this piece of legislation, as with any other legislation. We have discussed the provisions of this Act with the Irish. They are aware of, and they understand, the problems we face. In fact, Irish governments have themselves introduced special measures to deal with the scourge of terrorism.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, mentioned exclusion orders. The Government have always recognised that the power of exclusion is an exceptional power and one which infringes normal civil liberties. We do not take issue with the view that it is objectionable in principle. That is why I said that my right honourable friend is prepared to look seriously at whether or not the time has come to abandon the power. But I must make it clear that the Government would not be prepared to abandon the power if there were any question in so doing of putting lives at risk or putting the safety of our country into jeopardy.
I understand the strength of feeling on this subject. However, I must point out that people who are excluded are excluded for a very good reason—to prevent acts of terrorism. The people excluded from Great Britain are not, by virtue of the 1984 Act, people who have lived here all their lives. If they have lived here more than three years, they will not be excluded. I hope that that answers one of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.
I was surprised by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, who said that he was glad that we had officially accepted the words "internal exile". If he had listened to what I said, he would know jolly well that I had not accepted that, and nor have the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, drew attention to the sum of £2.50. Any released prisoner who is travelling to a destination within the United Kingdom, including one excluded by order from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, receives a discharge grant. This is an advance payment in lieu of social security benefit to which the released prisoner would be entitled in any 1250 case. For this reason, discharge grants are never payable to released prisoners whose destination is outside the United Kingdom.
On the rare occasions when a prisoner is to be excluded from the United Kingdom on discharge, his fare will be paid and he will receive a subsistence allowance. The amounts involved are small. However, I must stress to your Lordships that these allowances are intended solely for the period of the journey. It is for such a person's own government to pay his expenses in that country. Also, that person will have on him the money that was in his possession when he was detained. My noble friend, in his report, did mention a second case.
Turning to the queries raised concerning Section 11 by the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Meston, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, again raised the criticism of not being able to debate individual parts of the Act. This is an exceptional piece of legislation because it deals with exceptionally serious problems. Section 11 covers one of those problems. Perhaps I may write in detail to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, on the point which he raised. However, I can say to him, in answer to part of that point, that the published statistics show that the heaviest penalty imposed following conviction under Section 11 was a term of imprisonment between one and five years.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked me three questions. I am grateful to him for giving me advance notice of them. He asked, first, whether the Government would publish a list of those who made representations to my noble friend in the course of his report. As I said earlier, my noble friend received quite a number of representations from individuals and organisations. I cannot list them in full because some of the representations were given in confidence, and it would be wrong for me to do so. However, there were representations from the Irish Embassy, the National Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish in Britain Representation Group, the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas and West Midlands Prevention of Terrorism Research, among others.
The noble Lord also asked about the exclusion power. However, I dealt with that in answering an earlier question by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.
Finally, the noble Lord asked whether we had any comment on the final section of my noble friend's report entitled "Broader Considerations". That was a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary referred to that section in his written response to my noble friend dated 5th February. He said that it was too soon to formulate any proposals for legislation to replace the present Act. However, he accepted my noble friend's view that we need to consider the structure of controls against terrorism, both Northern Irish and international. Therefore, the views of my noble friend will be important in the Government's consideration of the future of counter-terrorism legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, asked whether we were aware of the horrendous effects of the Act. I would say, "We are aware of the effects of the Act; is the noble Lord aware of the horrendous effects of terrorism?" Had it not been for the Prevention of 1251 Terrorism Act, we would have not been able to deal with the six members of the Abu Nidhal group to which I referred earlier.
It is a paradox that in order to ensure our freedom against the scourge of terrorism the Government have had to seek powers which are in themselves severe. But I believe the House has seen today that the powers given to the authorities under the PTA are used sparingly and reasonably. The Government believe that the continuing threat from terrorism means a continuing and regrettable necessity for the Act. That is why I ask the House to approve the renewal of the Act for another year.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Wells-Pestell)
The Question is that this Motion shall be agreed to. As many of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the Contents have it. Clear the Bar.
Tellers for the Not-Contents have not been appointed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 51. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Contents" have it.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.