HL Deb 01 May 1990 vol 518 cc976-9

7.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Skelmersdale) rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 28th March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order, which proscribes the Irish People's Liberation Organisation, was made by my right honourable friend on 28th March, came into effect on 29th March and is subject to approval within 40 days.

The Irish People's Liberation Organisation is perhaps one of the less well known terrorist organisations outside Northern Ireland. Unlike other terrorist organisations its activities have been confined solely to Northern Ireland and, compared with the Provisional IRA, for example, it is comparatively small and has accounted for only a relatively small portion of terrorist attacks. But it is no less deadly or ruthless for that and it has been responsible for some of the most cruel and callous incidents since 1987 when it came into being as an off-shoot of the Irish National Liberation Army, itself a proscribed organisation.

Much though I find it distasteful to do so, I think I must of necessity remind the House of why the Government take such a serious view of this organisation. It came to prominence in November 1987 when it was responsible for the murder of Mr. George Seawright, a former DUP councillor and a former Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was also responsible for a particularly nasty shooting attack in the bar in the Craven Street Orange Cross Social Club in Belfast in February last year when customers were sprayed with bullets and one man died. In November 1989 it was also responsible for the murder of Mr. Robert Burns and only six weeks ago it murdered Mr. Billy McClure in front of his wife.

It was against the background of these events, which showed beyond any doubt that the IPLO is an organisation which has no compunction about killing, that my right honourable friend made the order which we are considering today. Indeed, since the order came into effect the organisation has continued to be active. As the House will know, members of the organisation were intercepted recently by the security forces in the garden of a police reservist's home, on what was later described publicly as "active service". One of their number was killed; weapons were recovered from the scene.

It is abundantly clear that any organisation which has such a total disregard for human life can have no place in a civilised society. It must, and will, be subject to the full rigour of the law. As a result of this order it is an offence to be a member of the IPLO, where activities take place after the moment of prescription. It is also an offence to solicit or invite financial or other support for the organisation or knowingly to make or receive any financial contributions for it. It is also an offence to solicit or invite any person to become a member of the organisation or to assist in the holding of a meeting to support or further its activities. By the same token, as the broadcasting notice issued by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary prohibits the direct broadcasting of any representative of a proscribed organisation and certain other specified organisations the IPLO is now so prohibited.

This order is therefore a clear and unequivocal statement to the IPLO and to all who regard the use of violence, of whatever intensity, as the only way to bring about change in Northern Ireland that such methods are wholly unacceptable. Moreover, they are futile. The future of Northern Ireland lies not in the hands of those whose aim is to destroy life and make people's existence a misery but with those who are seeking to bring people together and to create better prospects for themselves, their families and future generations. The Government are working unremittingly to these ends. We regard the order as a fully justified response to the activities of the IPLO. I therefore commend it unreservedly to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 28th March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee) .—{Lord Skelmersdale.]

7.45 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for explaining the order and for giving the House some information about the IPLO. He also reminded us of the statutory consequences of the act of proscription. A heavy penalty is imposed on a person who belongs or professes to belong to the organisation; on a person soliciting support, financial or otherwise, for the organisation; or on a person who carries out its directions. As I understand it, the order adds to the list of the organisations proscribed under the 1978 Act. There are now eight such organisations.

I fully support the order on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, but it is right that I should mention that some fair-minded people have always expressed and continue to express reservations about the general principle of proscription. They believe that it is an inadequate means of dealing with the problem. They would seek—I emphasise the word "seek"—to place even greater stress on bringing to justice those who actively conspire to use violence in pursuit of political ends. They fear that the organisation might be driven underground and they doubt whether proscription achieves a great deal in practical terms, pointing out that the IRA and the six other organisations were proscribed in 1978. The IRA is still flourishing.

Again it is argued that proscription might even attract some measure of sympathy for the organisation that is proscribed unless the power is exercised with great care and after weighing up all the factors. On the other hand, proscription properly exercised, after weighing up all the factors, is a clear public expression of condemnation of the use of violence for political ends. Moreover—and this is possibly more important—it may act as a deterrent to members or potential members and to supporters or potential supporters of a proscribed organisation. The deterrent will obviously work through in a way which cannot be measured with any accuracy.

We approve the order. Its introduction gives us an opportunity once again to join the Government to condemn violence in the Province. In the proper discharge of my duty I should like to ask the noble Lord two questions. I am grateful for the information he has given about the IPLO. Can he go a little further and tell the House how many members the organisation has? Are the Government able to give an estimate of its membership? We wish to know, if the information is available, how many of its known members or former members have been found guilty of scheduled offences. With those two questions, we support the order.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his attitude to and reception of the order. In answering his general point I would say in return that by creating offences one stops public demonstrations and marches on behalf of organisations which use these despicable methods to achieve their objectives. Rather than giving them publicity, one removes from them by proscription the possibility of publicity.

In my opening speech I described this matter as distasteful. So it is. I am therefore especially grateful to the noble Lord, who spoke so lucidly and thoughtfully on this question. It is often difficult for us to appreciate the fact that there are people who are prepared to murder and maim other human beings simply because their views are different. The Irish People's Liberation Organisation consists of such people.

I welcome the noble Lord's condemnation of the organisation. I should much prefer it—as, indeed, would he—if the order before us this evening were not necessary. However, this Government will not be deflected from the fight against terrorism. Today's order is part of that battle, which we shall surely win by the tripartite advances of the security forces, improved economic and social conditions and efforts to achieve political progress.

In answer to the noble Lord's questions I am able to tell him that, as I said in my opening speech, the Irish People's Liberation Organisation is a terrorist organisation which broke away from the Irish National Liberation Army in early 1987. INLA is already a proscribed organisation. I am afraid that by the very nature of terrorism it is impossible to estimate the membership of any particular organisation. I do not think that the noble Lord will be very surprised at that response.

In conclusion, I believe that I have amply justified my right honourable friend's criteria in proscribing this despicable organisation. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to give their approval to this Motion. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.52 to 8.35 p. m.]