HL Deb 09 November 1992 vol 540 cc36-9

4.48 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Arran) rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 10th August be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made this order proscribing the Ulster Defence Association on 10th August, it came into effect on 11th August and is subject to approval within 40 sitting days.

The Ulster Defence Association is the largest of the so-called Loyalist paramilitary organisations current-ly operating in Northern Ireland. It was originally formed in 1971 and during this period reputedly had a membership of about 20,000. Today, however, there are estimated to be around 1,000 members.

The decision to proscribe the UDA was not taken lightly. We had to judge carefully all the available information about this organisation against our well-publicised criterion for proscription; namely, that an organisation is actively and primarily engaged in the commission of criminal terrorist acts. That criterion has been used in all recent proscription decisions and was spelled out by the then Minister of State during the Committee stage of what is now the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991.

After careful consideration my right honourable friend concluded that the UDA is a body which is actively and primarily engaged in criminal terrorist acts. He also concluded that the self-styled Ulster Freedom Fighters, at whose door, on their own admission, lies the responsibility for many outrageous attacks on members of the minority community, and which is already proscribed, merely provides a cover for acts directed, organised and carried out by the Ulster Defence Association.

I would remind your Lordships in particular of the brutal killings in the betting shop in the Ormeau Road in January of this year and of Mrs. Philomena Hanna in April and of Leonard Fox and Gerard O'Hara in September. They were despicable, cowardly crimes which were rightly condemned throughout the community, and which we condemn again today.

Once a judgment had been made about the UDA my right honourable friend felt it right to take prompt action to proscribe the organisation because any organisation which is constituted primarily for the purpose of planning and carrying out terrorist acts has no legitimate place in our society. It would clearly have been wrong to delay acting to deprive the UDA of its cloak of legitimacy. My right honourable friend therefore made the necessary order using the urgency procedure.

As a result of the order, it is an offence to be a member of the UDA from the time it became a proscribed organisation. 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, or to solicit or invite any person to become a member of this organisation or to assist in the holding of a meeting to support or further its activities.

Proscription may not, in itself, directly prevent terrorist acts. But it will make life much harder for terrorists: for example, by preventing them openly recruiting members or raising funds. It makes a clear and unambiguous statement of the Government's and society's abhorrence of those whose primary aim is to terrorise others either under the mistaken belief that this serves to defend their own community, or for more cynical reasons. It will serve as a clear warning to those who might otherwise be seduced by the organisation's propaganda. The message of this order is, in short, to say to those who continue to be a part of the UDA or to support it, "You are involved with an organisation which is a conspiracy to perpetrate acts which are repugnant to society. You put yourselves beyond the law by having anything to do with it. You must take the consequences if you do not break with it."

The UDA has joined the IRA, the INLA, the UVF and the rest on the list of proscribed organisations. Like them, it will remain there until it ceases its barbarous crimes—crimes which only increase the Government's determination to heal the present tragic divisions within Northern Ireland, and to achieve a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands; something which all of us in your Lordships' House support. I have no hesitation in commending this order to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 10th August be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee]. —(The Earl of Arran.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, this order is brief, precise and clear. Its effect has been fully explained to the House by the Minister. We on this side of the House fully support it.

The Minister has also assured the House that the decision to ban the UDA was not taken lightly. I do not question the validity of that statement at all. Indeed, the decision to ban an organisation should not be taken lightly. But for at least 18 months before August last the press reports and the appalling pictures coming out of Northern Ireland suggested very clearly the sinister role which the UDA was then playing in the affairs of Northern Ireland—whatever may have been its original role when it was founded. It appeared to many of us that the Government were not in need of further evidence that the Ulster Defence Association was actively and primarily engaged in terrorist activity. The case against it had become unanswerable.

As the Minister has explained, the Government made use of the urgency procedure. We believe that that was a perfectly proper use of that procedure. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the Government for the prompt steps which they took on 10th August to inform the Northern Ireland spokesmen of the decision as soon as it was announced. That was appreciated.

Of course, difficulties remain. I believe that it is common ground that, in practice, the order will not deter those members of the former UDA with the will and the determination from going underground and from continuing to plan and execute further violence. Indeed, there are signs which suggest very strongly that the UDA may be continuing with its terrorist activities. The evidence since August seems to signal "business as usual" on the part of the UDA. I have also come across the name of another organisation which appears to be active in the Province. It calls itself the "Red Branch Knight". This organisation has claimed responsibility for a number of acts of violence since last August. To the best of my knowledge, this organisation was previously unheard of—at least by members of the general public. I wonder whether the Minister can say anything at all about this worrying, although foreseeable, development.

I conclude by confirming, if confirmation is required, that we fully support the order.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, from these Benches in August when the order was brought before us, I supported the order and I support it now. Last night a woman, Donna Wilson, in Annadale was murdered by 10 men with baseball bats and pickaxe handles in a way that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which must in all conscience be hardened enough by now, described as "particularly brutal". It is said that this was a paramilitary, Protestant, loyalist killing. Such a horrible act defames the good name of Protestantism and the good name of loyalty. Thugs are thugs and killers of women are sadistic murderers who are outside the civil system whatever labels they may put on themselves.

Generally, the Government must be vigilant about the potential abuse of power, such as that embodied in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. Therefore, the power to proscribe under that Act should never be treated lightly. It is an emergency provision and it inevitably raises questions about freedom of association and about the tendency to drive organisations underground. There is a potential attraction for ill-informed, young and impressionable people. Disturbingly, there is some evidence that paramilitary violence is now in the hands of young, impressionable people, motivated by ideas of glory. However, in this instance I am quite clear that it is time to remove the veneer of respectability which legality, as it were, confers on an organisation which has been responsible for such atrocities as the Ormeau Road betting shop murders to which the Minister referred.

In his annual report for 1991, the Chief Constable of the RUC wrote: Republican and loyalist gangs demonstrated that they can and do match each other in fanatical hate, blind bigotry and sectarian savagery". It is therefore particularly important that the Government are not seen to differentiate between acts of this sort of violence whatever quarter they may come from. I was slightly concerned that in April the Minister of State, Mr. Mates, described IRA violence as "pro-active" and loyalist violence as "re-active". We need to move away from this division. Violence feeds upon violence in such a way that it is now impossible to detect the original source. It is all to be deplored and it is to be hoped that this order can help the security forces in that difficult role of curbing it.

Finally, perhaps I may advise the Minister and the Government that, as we take these onerous security measures, it is important to recognise that we need to maintain the Government's twin-track policy of political progress as well as intensified security. We must get the balance right. From outside it is difficult to tell what progress has been made in the talks, but they are still continuing and have obviously reached a critical juncture. I simply urge the Minister when he replies to tell us what he can about the progress of those talks because it is in that context that we on this side of the House are prepared to support necessary and rigorous action on proscription.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, at the opening of this debate I described the UDA as having no legitimate place in our society. I am particularly grateful therefore to the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Holme of Cheltenham, who have spoken so clearly and so thoughtfully on this subject. It is often difficult to believe that there are people who can carry out such atrocities on fellow human beings. The Ulster Defence Association consists of such people. I welcome the condemnation of the organisation in today's debate. It would be preferable if such orders were not necessary but until we can bring those who join such organisations to see the futility of their violence and so to renounce it, we have no alternative but to use all lawful means to disrupt and frustrate their efforts and eventually to defeat them.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, questioned the effectiveness of such an order. I say to him, as I said at the beginning of the debate, that proscription cannot guarantee the prevention of terrorist acts but it does provide sanctions against terrorist organisations and their supporters and denies them any legitimacy under the law. It also sends a clear message to those involved in such organisations that they are putting themselves beyond the law and thus must take the consequences. The Government believe that proscrip-tion thereby has a useful deterrent role to play in the fight against terrorism. The noble Lord then mentioned the Red Branch Knights. This is a hitherto unknown Loyalist paramilitary group and is believed to be made up of elements of other Loyalist groups.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, mentioned the heinous and barbaric crime last night to Donna Wilson. It is as yet too early to make a definitive or authoritative statement on this matter. Of course the RUC will pursue the perpetrators in order to bring them to justice.

In conclusion, we believe there is ample justification for the decision to proscribe this organisation. Therefore I have no hesitation in commending the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.