HL Deb 15 June 1993 vol 546 cc1531-58

10.4 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Arran) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th May be approved [31st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the order before your Lordships this evening will continue in force the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991. The debate also gives an opportunity for your Lordships to review those powers in force. The Act contains, among other things, modifications to the criminal justice system, additional powers for the police and the Army, certain specific offences directed against terrorism and valuable powers directed at terrorist finances. I must say, with regret, that its provisions remain necessary for the coming year.

In order to assist your Lordships in your consideration of the powers in force, we have once more my noble friend Lord Colville's Report on the Operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991. I most warmly thank my noble friend for his thorough and thought-provoking work, and understand with great regret that this is his last. My noble friend Lord Colville has decided to step down this year to allow a "fresh pair of eyes" to take his place. I know that all your Lordships will wish to join with me in paying tribute to the work that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, has done on our behalf and on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.

I shall return to the recommendations that my noble friend makes in his report after I have reminded your Lordships of the reasons why the powers contained in the Act remain necessary. Last year there were 75 murders by republican and so-called loyalist terrorists. There have been 32 murders already this year to 8th June. There were also numerous attempted murders and examples of intimidation and extortion. Between 20th and 23rd May the IRA carried out four bomb attacks—two in Belfast, one in Portadown and one in Magherafelt. They caused an estimated £22 million worth of damage, affecting schools, one for the mentally handicapped, and hundreds of private dwellings. The existence of terrorists prepared to perpetrate such crimes explains the reason why the Act is still needed. It has indeed contributed to the arrest and charging of one of those alleged to have been responsible for the attack on Magherafelt.

The security forces will pursue the perpetrators of these and other terrorist crimes relentlessly. They will continue their tireless and successful—if necessarily sometimes unpublicised—efforts to disrupt and prevent terrorist operations. The powers in this Act are essential to enable them to continue to do so. The Royal Ulster Constabulary, supported by the Army, including the Royal Irish Regiment, will continue to receive the full support of the Government in their efforts to defeat terrorism within the law. They deserve our respect and admiration.

The Act provides extraordinary powers for dealing with terrorism. It is right that they should be exercised with the greatest possible degree of sensitivity. Both the Government and the security forces fully recognise the importance of this, and seek to maintain the highest standards. This is not easy, and I was particularly pleased to note my noble friend Lord Colville's view that in general the sensitivity of the RUC and the Army was greater than ever in 1992.

I turn now to the most important of my noble friend Lord Colville's recommendations. His prime recommendation is that the Act should continue in its current form for a further year. The Government wholeheartedly endorse that view. My noble friend examines once more the matter of delays on remand of persons awaiting trial. Your Lordships will recall that during the debate on this Act last year the Government announced the introduction of a scheme to monitor and reduce delays. This work is continuing and is bearing fruit. When the results of the scheme are known, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will decide on how to take the matter forward. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, specifically recommended that Section 8 of the Act —which permits the Secretary of State to set statutory time limits for scheduled offences—be allowed to lapse and that instead time limits for all persons on remand be introduced. This recommendation will be considered together with those results.

My noble friend Lord Colville draws attention to the allegations which have been made that solicitors representing persons arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act are systematically intimidated. If such abuse occurs—and without evidence the allegations cannot be proved—it must cease. Like my noble friend, I call upon anyone who has evidence to substantiate such allegations to make it available so that there can be a full investigation. If they feel unable to do so they should desist.

My noble friend Lord Colville has recommended that the Government reconsider the case for and against the video recording of interviews with suspects detained under the emergency legislation. That is not a new recommendation and the matter has been discussed on many occasions between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable. It remains the view of the Chief Constable that video recording would not be a suitable measure for the conditions that exist in Northern Ireland. He believes that those who would otherwise co-operate with the RUC—and by so doing save lives—would be reluctant to do so for fear that their own lives would be put at risk. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State remains unpersuaded that it would be in the overall interests of justice to introduce video recording in those circumstances.

My noble friend Lord Colville deals extensively with the whole ambit of the Act and makes further recommendations. I am confident that many noble Lords will draw upon his words for support during this debate.

The Government have never shirked their responsibility for dealing with terrorism and never will. Part of that responsibility is met by ensuring that the law effectively protects the rights of all citizens —including the right to life. The measures in the order before your Lordships' House seek to protect that right.

I am confident that this evening your Lordships will reaffirm the commitment of all right-minded people to defeat those who seek to gain their ends through violence. In renewing this Act we shall be sending a message to the terrorists, whatever they might call themselves—loyalist or republican—that they will not win. What they can do is cause grief, to those who have been maimed, to those who have lost loved ones and to those whose homes and businesses have been destroyed. I have seen the suffering borne resolutely by many people in Northern Ireland, and we are determined that it should be brought to an end. The Act, which will continue to be applied resolutely but with appropriate sensitivity, is vitally important to that task.

We all profoundly hope that one day this Act will no longer be necessary. In the meantime, I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th May be approved [31st Report from the Joint Committed—(The Earl of Arran.)

10.12 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, I support the order. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that it should be approved for a further year. I also agree with his view, and that of Her Majesty's Government, that the power to reintroduce internment should remain. It is a reserve power of the utmost importance which I hope can be used without further legislation and acrimonious debate on the Floor of the House if it is needed.

I notice that another so-called commission has reported its findings on the situation in Northern Ireland, with whose authority I do not know. Therefore, I doubt whether it has much standing. I refer, of course, to the report by Professor Torkel Opsahl of Oslo—the Opsahl Commission. Among many recommendations the report recommends the political participation of Provisional Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland constitutional talks and that the Government should open informal channels of communication with Provisional Sinn Fein with a view to testing the party's commitment to the constitutional process. Professor Opsahl blames the emergency provisions Act for keeping Provisional Sinn Fein out of the political mainstream and alienating the Catholic working class. However, on page 3 of his report the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, opposes that point of view.

I do not suppose that the Government will be pleased with the Opsahl criticisms of anti-terrorist legislation and especially the call to end the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein. I notice that already the Unionists, who oppose any recognition of Provisional Sinn Fein, have stated that the report is utterly repugnant to the Unionist community. In addition, the Alliance Party regards the report as dangerously naive.

However, I am pleased that the Opsahl report stated that Provisional Sinn Fein must renounce its justification of violence before any talks. I suppose that the Irish watchers, the Dubliners and nationalists will gleefully discuss the report, but already the reaction is that it is doomed. I shall be interested in the Government's views on the report. The group is obviously well meaning but the report is not a stepping-stone to peace. Indeed, it raises hackles unnecessarily.

Mentioned also in the Colville Report is the interference and critical comments by an American-based organisation, Helsinki Watch. On page 64 the noble Viscount states: I have dealt with allegations of harassment by the Security Forces, which nobody would attempt to defend as a matter of principle. The ensuing condemnation by Helsinki Watch of crimes committed by terrorist organisations will equally attract wide support. It is less easy to endorse their statement: 'that the RUC has largely abandoned normal policing in many troubled areas and that the paramilitary groups have filled the resulting vacuum with brutal alternative criminal justice systems. The Northern Irish authorities have de facto delegated authority to the paramilitary groups and must share the blame for their abuses". That is absolute nonsense. It is totally untrue and Her Majesty's Government should come out publicly and say so.

I also noticed the deeply insulting remarks by United States lawyers on pages 23 and 24 of the report. The noble Viscount states: It does seem necessary, however, to take issue with a remark in the first report"— That is a report by United States lawyers— it appears to be a throw-away line, but it is deeply insulting to the RUC. The US lawyers say: 'In a normal state, in which the police are held accountable, allegations of threats and other abuse by their members should be brought to the police—. He continues: Normal diplomatic courtesy would deter me from making such an accusation against police forces in the USA; no doubt methods and effectiveness of accountability, are State responsibilities and probably come in diverse forms. I can, however, state the position in Northern Ireland. If the complaint is that individual policemen are not subject to the criminal law or disciplinary charges, it is not true". He then lists nine reports and oversights of accountability on the RUC in Northern Ireland. He winds up by stating: Perhaps the distinguished US lawyers might reconsider their stance on RUC accountability". Then, of course, the view of the British Irish Rights Watch also needed examining by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. Therefore, much of his report is taken up by answering unfounded allegations and generalisations from probably well-meaning but interfering and often foreign busybodies. But, rightly so, they have to be answered.

Although the right of silence as an issue is not covered in the noble Viscount's report, and in this order, he states on page 26: One can suppose that officers carrying out the interrogation of a terrorist suspect will frequently find him or her well trained to resist answering questions altogether". Of course—and this so-called right for terrorist killers should cease or else a degree of guilt be recorded at the outset of any trial. I should like the Minister's views on the question of the right to silence for terrorist crimes, especially in Northern Ireland.

What about the question of identity cards? I would hope that in the terms of reference to whoever is the successor to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, he will be given the chance thoroughly to examine the advantages of introducing an ID card system—a national system but one that indicates how its use can hinder the activities of terrorists and more easily help security forces to bring them to book. The Government have often quoted the high cost of introduction, but now they realise that one bomb in the City has cost several times more than the cost of introducing an ID card system. Therefore, why do the Government hesitate? It is inevitable and, apart from open frontiers and all the problems associated with that, the rising crime figures will themselves force the Government into action.

I should now like to raise the question of the Northern Ireland medal. Will not the Government give consideration to a bar on the original medal after an agreed number of tours? No doubt a large number of servicemen will qualify in retrospect, but they have deserved it. More recognition must be given to our troops for their service in the Province. It is a small price to pay for their patience, their fortitude, their skill and courage, and all who have served would certainly welcome it.

I was interested in the ideas of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Edward Heath, of an anti-terrorist supremo, but I do not think that it is on. Indeed, the Prime Minister has troubles enough without a public squabble over power between the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office. But I agree with a higher profile, with an increased use of all the powers in the EPA Acts: stop and search; more searches, compatible, of course, with good manners and courtesy by the troops; more group arrests; detain and question regularly; thwart their planning; scare them across to their rest and recreation areas in the south, all within the law; bring out the Irish Rangers more often; and step up weekend patrols. I urge the Secretary of State to use his powers to the full, but all within the anti-terrorist laws he has been given.

In this respect, I raise the issue of Declan "Beano" Casey, alleged to be a double agent and the startling revelations in this week's Daily Mirror of him being the quartermaster for the Provisional IRA and working for the security forces. Now, what is the truth of the matter? If the Secretary of State says that we are upholding the law in Northern Ireland, does his law include this type and style of operation? Paying informers and having secreted agents within the terrorists' ranks is one thing, but this is an entirely different matter. I think that the air must be cleared and the Government must tell us the truth. Have we used and employed a mass killer? There is no need for an investigation, the RUC and the security forces must know.

Perhaps the Minister may at this stage bring us up to date on the reorganisation that has taken place involving MI5, the Special Branch, our intelligence services, MI6 and the regional police forces. We know, of course, that that is a greater responsibility for the Home Office than the Northern Ireland Office, but we especially wish to know how this new anti-terrorist grouping is liaising with and helping the RUC, the security forces and our intelligence network in Northern Ireland.

Finally, extra means and methods must be continually sought to beat this terrorist menace in our midst. This renewal of the emergency and prevention of terrorism provisions, backed by the report of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, is another expression by Parliament that terrorism, from whatever source, will be defeated. But to defeat terrorism there is a price to pay. There is certainly inconvenience, irritation and annoyance with the police and Special Branch officers. There is certainly some curtailment of our total freedom and civil liberties. But to combat evil men we must maintain the full legal armoury that Parliament has decreed should be available. Therefore, this measure and the report of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, have my wholehearted endorsement.

10.24 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, as we come once again to debate this order, there are one or two new recommendations. Those are the only differences that we have to approach every year in this debate. I recognise that the order must be passed by the House before 12 o'clock tonight and no one would wish to prevent that happening. I think that when there was also an important debate on the Railways Bill scheduled, government business could have been better arranged so as not to leave this most important order to the final two hours of business in this House. Certainly in another place the Government would not get away so easily with that. I recognise that this is a very important order and no one wants to delay it unduly. But, the order is very important to everyone in Northern Ireland. The Government should treat the people of Northern Ireland with greater respect than they appear to be doing by permitting this order to be debated in the last two hours before midnight.

Once again I read, as I do every time that the occasion arises, the report of the debate that took place at the other end of the building. From the names of the people who participated in the debates one could readily see the tribal response to this type of legislation. The loyalist community in Northern Ireland fully supports this type of legislation. The nationalist representatives are opposed to the legislation or at least claim to be. For a nationalist representative in any way to support such legislation could put him in danger of becoming unionist and losing whatever nationalist support he has. Therefore lip service has to be paid in opposition to the measure.

Reading the report of the debate that took place at the other end of the building, I was incensed to see some of the very partial arguments coming not from the nationalist representatives—they are highly predictable—but from spokesmen and Members of the Opposition. The spokesman for the Opposition in another place liberally quoted from a report—I read it before I came to the Chamber this evening—that was published recently: Human Rights and Legal Defense in Northern Ireland: The Intimidation of Defense Lawyers; The Murder of Patrick Finucane.

I can say that that report is absolutely worthless. It was totally biased before ever finger was put on typewriter or pen put to paper in respect of the inquiry that was to be carried out. Early this year I received a telephone call from that organisation (the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights). Its representatives insisted on coming to London to see me. They flew in from Belfast. They wanted to know what I thought about the intimidation of defence lawyers in Northern Ireland. I told them that I certainly did not agree with the brutal and callous murder of Patrick Finucane. I have never agreed with the murder of anyone, whether he was a solicitor or an ordinary individual in Northern Ireland.

I told the two representatives of the American lawyers that I could tell them what their report would contain before they sat down at a typewriter or dictated their deliberations to a typist. I asked them why they were showing such interest in the murder, regrettable as it was, of one defence lawyer, Mr. Patrick Finucane, when they did not want to know or did not care about the murders of Judge William Doyle, magistrate Martin McBurney, Judge Rory Conraghan, Lord Justice Gibson, the daughter of the magistrate, Mr. Travers and the severe disablement of the magistrate, the murder of Billy Staunton, the wounding of Janet McGrath and the murder of Edgar Graham. They were all members of the legal profession in Northern Ireland, murdered by the IRA. Yet the committee of American lawyers expressed such concern about the murder of an individual—the death of Mr. Finucane—by loyalist paramilitary murderers.

I told those lawyers, "I can tell you exactly what you are going to put in your report. You are going to make a damning indictment of the RUC and the security forces. You are going to write a book of evidence to try to justify your claim that the RUC is a sectarian, political force and that the UD regiment"—as it was then—"is the same".

They took offence at that and said that they did not like me predicting what they were going to do. I can tell them now from this House that at the time I was telling them that, I had turned on a tape recorder in my office, and that recording can be heard by anyone who is interested. They asked me how I was so sure, and I was able to relate to them how, a few years ago, there was a Lord Mayor of New York called Ed Koch—he was a German Jew. He had made many sympathetic speeches in support of Irish Republicanism and had taken part in many Irish-American marches. Then someone persuaded him to come to Northern Ireland and see for himself.

He came to Northern Ireland and met members of the RUC; he met the Chief Constable and members of the Army and security forces. He went back to New York and told those who were prepared to listen that everything was not black and white; that he had been to Northern Ireland and seen a different side of the story; that almost 300 RUC men had been killed in the most brutal circumstances and that the same thing applied to members of the British Army. What happened? The Irish-American lobby led by Noraid and the Cardinal Archbishop O'Connor of New York, immediately denounced Mayor Koch for coming back and expressing such cold-blooded sentiments. What happened? He lost the majority in the following election because he had given his opinion of what he had seen with his own eyes in Northern Ireland.

I said that there was no way that those lawyers could go back to whoever they were reporting to and say anything remotely favourable about the RUC. That is exactly what happened and every word of the report confirmed what I had predicted to them. I therefore find it difficult to believe that the spokesman for Northern Ireland on the Opposition Benches in the House of Commons could speak so liberally and give such credibility to an organisation such as that masterminded by Noraid in the United States of America.

Again, the spokesman for the Opposition said that there was no confidence among the nationalist community in Northern Ireland for members of the RUC. He gave as his reason for that lack of confidence the fact that the RUC was 92 per cent. protestant. There is a very good reason for that; namely that the IRA has taken great delight in murdering RUC men, and particularly those who are Catholic. If any Catholic in Northern Ireland wants to be a member of the RUC he certainly cannot live in what is referred to as a "nationalist" district. He has to leave his friends and relatives who are perhaps living in that environment.

The IRA shoot, murder, maim and kill Catholic members of the RUC, so inhibiting any other Catholics from wanting to join. Then it is said that it is a sectarian force and the spokesman for the Opposition stands up and reiterates that sentiment in Parliament. The SDLP, the party which I formerly led, does exactly the same. The major Opposition party in Northern Ireland—the major nationalist party—refuses to give support to the RUC. It says, "We will support it when it is acting impartially". Who is to say what is partial and what is impartial?

One spokesman for the SDLP, who is now extremely prominent in its ranks, told me that he would not like to recommend any of his constituents to join the RUC because they are liable to be killed. What a lame excuse for preventing people from joining the RUC. In other words, "I will not recommend Catholics to join the RUC because they may be killed, but it is all right for Protestants to be killed". It is wrong to take such an attitude to law and order.

One of the recommendations made by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that has been rejected by the RUC is that there should be videotaping at interrogation and holding centres. I fully support the Opposition in another place that videotaping should take place. I also agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mason. I believe that the right of silence should be looked at. I know from experience in Northern Ireland that both loyalist and republican terrorists can say nothing when they are taken into detention centres. The controversy about whether or not to abolish the right of silence would be taken care of if there was videotaping of the questioning of a suspect. The judge who finally heard the case would have the videotape of the interrogation and would be able to see with his own eyes the suspect who had said nothing. I am not too sure what would be done with the tape, or whether it would be shown only to the one judge in a Diplock court. I could not see it being shown to a jury, but it certainly could be used to let the judge see what was happening in the interrogation centre. Incidentally, the American lawyers, who have just made criticisms, also recommend that videotaping should take place.

The Father of the House in another place said that we were very short on intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland. I believe that to be true. He went on to suggest that we should gather intelligence in pubs and places frequented by terrorists. It would be a very brave man who attempted to go into pubs or other centres in clearly recognisable republican areas. There are no-go areas. One recalls Captain Robert Nairac who went into a pub in Newry at the beginning of the troubles and was identified as someone seeking intelligence. He was taken out and brutally and foully murdered.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mason. I know that this matter causes grave concern. I have been in constant telephonic communication today with Northern Ireland. There is a good deal of concern being voiced in relation to Declan Casey. I agree that the Army and security forces have to get intelligence in whatever way they can. However, under no circumstances should any member of the security forces, be it the Army or police, condone the murder of anyone in Northern Ireland—even though it brings about a situation where more intelligence can be obtained. I understand that an individual has been arrested today. Perhaps if he is charged soon the case will become sub judice. Before that happens I believe that a government Minister should come to the Dispatch Box and tell us whether or not there is any truth in the allegation that the RUC allowed this man to carry on as a quartermaster in the IRA, issuing to people arms which would be used to kill members of the security forces. That is one of the most serious allegations to emerge from the present security situation in Northern Ireland.

I believe that the option for internment should be retained. One cannot refuse to vote for the order on the single ground that it contains the option. Internment is still on the statute book in the Republic of Ireland, and it may be that sooner rather than later it will have to be introduced on both sides of the border. I recognise that there is some urgency in passing the order this evening. I see the Government Whip on the Front Bench. In deference to him, I shall limit my remarks; but quite a lot can be said about this legislation. It is draconian legislation. We have had a whole series of special powers and emergency provisions. I came across something today called the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, dated 9th August 1920, in respect of which the British Cabinet discussed what it called "authorised reprisals". Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, who was then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, told the Prime Minister in September that if there had to be murder, then the Government should do the murdering.

Legislation of this type is not new. I hope that it will be used in a way that will not affect the ordinary, common, decent people in Northern Ireland but that it will be gauged in such a way that it will harm, and perhaps finally eradicate, terrorism from our midst.

10.40 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing this order and also my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross who has produced his report for the last time.

I agree with much of what has been said so far, but I take issue with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on video recording. Your Lordships' House should be well aware that it is the view of the RUC chief constable, the professional head of the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland, and of the experts whom he commands, that it would damage the fight against terrorism. That point should at least be given some thought.

This year I am thankful that we also have the chief constable's report, for a change, in time for this debate as some of it is relevant to the order. He alludes to what I think is the most important single fact—that regardless of the success of emergency legislation and the hard work of our security forces, the concepts of democratic policing and the due process of the law rest on the proposition that there will be full and active participation by the community in support of both". I would suggest that a large part of our business society has opted out of its social responsibilities in respect of the future of our province. This would probably be better for discussion during the debate on the extension order of the Northern Ireland Act in a few weeks' time. However, the lack of leadership and example from this quarter should not be underestimated in our problems at present.

It is good to see that my noble friend's report, in the introduction in paragraph 1.3 and later on, compliments the security forces on their training and the care that they take in their operations. I can tell the House that there has been a vast improvement over the past few years. The soldiers in most areas are much more "civilian friendly", if one can call it that. There is less pointing of weapons at those going about their daily business and fewer blackened faces in quiet urban areas. The Army should be complimented on its improvements.

Those of us who went on a defence visit last year saw the vast changes on the border, especially in Fermanagh. Recently I visited the Newry check-point. I was delighted to see that the changes are very extensive and have very much improved local public opinion—and that includes the nationalist public opinion, one of whom passed the comment that he would not still be in Newry if it were not for the check-point. I am delighted to see that among other building projects, the military wing of Musgrave Park hospital is well on the way to being rebuilt after the tragic bombing of more than a year ago. I know that my noble friend, in wearing his other hat as health Minister, has contributed greatly to that. I thank him for it.

I should like to comment briefly on a few sections of the report in a little more detail. In paragraph 1.6 and Chapter 2 my noble friend draws attention to custody times on remand. I realise that one should always wish for shorter lapses in time—and with the number of judges, it may be difficult to improve it. But in Northern Ireland we are fighting a hearts and minds battle, and perceptions and opinions are all important. We must seriously try to cut down the length of time taken to deal with these cases. They go on and on in the newspapers and on the television. People watch it daily and it continues to stir up animosity unnecessarily.

In paragraph 2.5.2 my noble friend mentions the problem of members of the security forces held on remand for long periods. That is unacceptably bad housekeeping and we are taking far too long doing our dirty washing in public. In public it must be, but we know the effect of allegations against our security forces on the media and especially in the United States.

There is also a contrast drawn by the report of those who are on duty and those who are off duty. Can the Minister give us an assurance that there will be an improvement even if it means appointing more judges? Closely connected to that are the rights of any individual under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Any person, while giving a statement to the police and who is cautioned, has the immediate right of access to a solicitor. On the civilian side there is no problem. But on occasions problems can arise for our soldiers in Northern Ireland. There is a flying lawyer in Lisburn who is available for serious cases or where terrorism is involved. However, there are less serious cases where a soldier may be cautioned as a result of an allegation of, for instance, minor assault while searching a car.

The flying lawyer may not be available for a number of reasons, but there is no system presently in place to supply a local substitute. Who will pay for a local solicitor and who will it be? Without legal advice in the first hour a soldier is in danger of putting himself at a severe disadvantage and subsequently being convicted of a criminal charge due to his personal inexperience. Can the Minister give an undertaking that British soldiers in particular will not continue to suffer through the lack of facilities provided already by PACE, a right of every citizen in the United Kingdom?

Paragraph 3 deals with so-called intimidation of defence lawyers. I do not wish to go deeply into the matter but we are dealing with professionals in law. Who better to know that allegations can only be substantiated and investigated if evidence is provided? So why is it missing? It is my understanding that the RUC has received no evidence. Until it is provided I cannot support the hue and cry over that subject.

I turn to paragraph 4.9 dealing with compensation for operations by the Armed Forces in the Province. I find that £5.5 million is a fairly horrific figure. I am not happy with the possible auditing of these claims. For a start, they are handled by an amazing number of agencies—six. I shall read them out but if noble Lords understand them they understand more than I do. They are: MoD ACO Northern Ireland; DoE as agents of NIO; Police Authority for Northern Ireland; the Compensation Agency, NIO; PL/LS Claims 3 London, whoever they are; the Guardian Royal Exchange plc (under contract to PL/LS Claims 3 London).

Can my noble friend tell your Lordships' House what cross-referencing, if any, is done to ensure that the claims for one occasion are not put forward to, and rewarded by, more than one agency or maybe more than two? I also understand that 75 per cent. of the claims' value is due to helicopter activity. Allegations of chickens committing mass suicide, or similar claims, are often not notified for up to a year. I am sorry. I live in a farming community and although there are some problems, I do not believe that they are on this scale. Looking at the figure of £4.1 million, it would indicate a mass slaughter of our farm animals. That is not so. My own house, due to its location, seems to be used as a reference point for helicopters flying to Fermanagh. Between 10 and 40 go over it every day. My sheep and cattle pay little or no attention and in fact perhaps they enjoy the company.

There are a lot of people learning a lot of tricks and if we are not prepared to do something they are going to get away with it. Will the Minister undertake to pass on to his honourable friend Michael Mates the requirement for a little more evidence? Surely today, with the tachograph in lorries and satellite navigation, it must be possible to verify or invent a system which will provide evidence of flight timings, locations and heights.

I would also like to draw attention to some of the Government's in-house spending; in particular, charges paid to civilian contractors in the Province. I know that, due to the security situation, these must inevitably be higher than they might otherwise be. For example, recently I heard of a case where a military van (a civilianised one) was involved in a minor accident where a bumper and an indicator light were damaged. The bill levied was for over £600. Out of interest, I rang my local VW dealer and asked for a quote, to include fitting. It was under £100 for the bumper and £20 for the indicator. Even if the bumper bolts were frozen on with rust, the likely labour charge would have been under £50. That one accident could have cost a third of what it did. Somebody could have sent the van to Stranraer and done the work cheaper on the mainland. Being a minor accident and only one out of over 700 last year, the total—dare one say it—of excess payments for this sort of work must be astronomic. In days of increased accountability, moves must be made to reduce these expenses which are occurring across the board.

If your Lordships can bear with me for a couple more minutes, in the light of Sir Edward Heath's speech on this order in another place, I should like to look at the future of legislation and agencies to help in the fight against terrorism. As I understand it, we are due for a new Act in 1996, and I believe that the Government should be looking at the options now in preparation for that. They may say that they are, but it would be rather nice to think that a group of people whom we know are looking at the options.

Last year in this debate I mentioned that I thought that the agencies involved should have increasing accountability to the democratically elected Parliament, and not only through the Chief Constable who is accountable only to the law. I am not trying to undermine police primacy, in which I resolutely believe, but I do believe that it may be right when society on this side of the Irish Sea—as well as that in the Province—is threatened by the scourge of terrorism, as we are at the moment, for a new, fresh look to be taken at it. It is the Government's responsibility—as elected Members and as an elected Government—to lead and direct. Perhaps Sir Edward Heath's proposal is not far wrong, although we might not need a Cabinet Minister responsible purely for the fight against terrorism.

On that note and due to time being short—I am not quite sure what would happen if midnight passed without us finishing—I should like to reinforce the fact that I support the order.

10.52 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, I wish to offer my whole-hearted support to the order which will renew the emergency and prevention of terrorism provisions for another year. I have read the report by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, on the working of these provisions during the past year and cannot but admire the careful and skilful way he has reviewed a variety of difficult and sometimes contentious matters. I find myself at ease with all that he says. His recommendations cannot be ignored and I trust that each one will be carefully considered. I am pleased to note that he is able to acknowledge the care being taken to avert the danger of clumsiness or over-reaction in the use of these powers. He notes that care and training are bearing fruit. I trust that this care will continue because it is important that all sections of the community should respect the forces of law and order.

I join others in regretting that the noble Viscount has made his last report because his successor will find it difficult similarly to grasp the many difficult issues at stake.

In reviewing these provisions there are a number of questions which must be asked. How effective are they in helping to eliminate terrorism? Is any progress being made in the battle against terrorism and, if not, what steps should be taken to improve the situation?

I am sorry to have to advise your Lordships that the general view in Northern Ireland is that the security situation is as bad as it has ever been and has the potential for getting worse. This is due to the fear and uncertainty which pervade all sections of the community. Everyone is suffering in some way—some, of course, very much worse than others—and everyone except the terrorists and their immediate supporters want the whole horrible business ended immediately. After almost 25 years of active terrorism, citizens in Northern Ireland have a right to ask the Government how they intend to improve the security situation.

Sectarian murders are all to frequent. We are suffering repeated bombings of our towns and cities, seemingly at the will of the IRA. All government Ministers seem able to do is to appear on television, standing in the rubble of the latest atrocity telling us that the IRA will never win. People are becoming tired of that. They see no sign of improvement.

Your Lordships may be surprised to learn that the situation has become markedly worse since the talks about talks started almost three years ago. There appeared to be a withdrawal from offensive action against the IRA and speeches by Secretaries of State suggested that there was little will to maintain the Union in accordance with the wishes of the majority. Those things have been destabilising. There is no doubt that they have been factors leading to the horrible upsurge in activity by the so-called loyalist terrorists. Those mindless people have reacted in a ghastly manner which is univerally condemned.

It is no use Ministers denying that the will to fight the terrorist has been lost or that there is no reason for people to have such perceptions. The fact is that such perceptions are general, and I can understand why.

We now have a situation where fear and uncertainty at dangerous levels exist throughout the community. The nationalist community lives in fear of murderous attacks by so-called loyalists. The Unionist community fears for its future and everyone is at the mercy of the IRA which appears to bomb and shoot as it will. That is all a recipe for further deterioration in the situation unless the danger is recognised and action taken.

It is time that the Northern Ireland Office set to work seriously to decide what further should be done. It is not easy, but we are tired of being told that nothing more can be done, because the forces of law and order must work within the law. We all know and accept that. But now we have the chief constable urging that steps be taken to amend laws which the terrorists are able to evade with impunity. We have a situation where members of the security forces meet those whom they know to have committed murder, but they cannot arrest them because they know they cannot convict them. They may meet in a newspaper shop or at a checkpoint where soldiers or police are often subject to taunts, such as the streetwise equivalent of, "He, he, he, you can't get me". The chief constable has now made public his recommendations for amendments to the law which he considers would be helpful. Those and other matters must be attended to urgently.

The security problem in Northern Ireland is more difficult to deal with than in any other European country, because we have a long border across which terrorists can move with impunity and live in comparative safety outside the jurisdiction. The Garda Siochana commands respect and has worked hard to unearth explosives and arms, but there is a limit to what it can do for social and political reasons. South of the border the leaders and godfathers and their whereabouts are known. There is little indication that the Government are pressing Dublin to find better ways of restraining those people south of the border.

It is not possible to speak of those matters without paying tribute to the security forces and the way they carry out their duties. We recognise that they prevent many bombs being taken to their target and prevent many murders. Unfortunately, too many are still being committed. In particular I must mention the almost miraculous way in which police and Army manage to get people out of their homes or out of offices and buildings before the bombs go off. We all know that sooner or later luck will not be on their side and there will be massive loss of life. On this side of the water recently we have sadly had experience of the consequences of large bombs and are aware that brave action by police and others has avoided wholesale casualties.

Every thinking person in Northern Ireland appreciates that action on the security front is not the end in itself. Movement is also required on the political front. Unfortunately, there seems to be a belief in some quarters that agreement in political talks would stop the IRA. We are not all stupid in Northern Ireland; we know that terrorism now has a momentum of its own. It is closely coupled to racketeering on a massive scale. Leaders of the IRA will be enjoying the power they wield and enjoying the financial rewards from rackets of all kinds. They will not stop until they are forced to.

Almost everyone in Northern Ireland wishes the Secretary of State well in his efforts to make progress on the political front, but I hope that this time his objectives will be limited to what is achievable. Some progress was made in the previous talks, but they had no chance of success because the impossible was being attempted. An aspiring mountaineer does not start with Everest; he tests himself on a local hill. Our politicians would be well advised to start similarly.

I hope that the Minister, when winding up, will be able to assure us that every effort will be made to make real progress on the security front. If the terrorists can be restrained and contained, political progress will be much more likely. We all seek the time when it will be no longer necessary to bring this order before the House.

In conclusion, I can do no better than to repeat the words of Mr. Beattie, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, at last week's annual conference. He said: Together, the police service, the judicial system, the community and the Government more obviously armed with the political will to win, we can and will succeed in ending this misery".

11.2 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful not only for the way in which the noble Earl introduced the debate but for what has been an extremely interesting and valuable series of speeches from noble Lords from all parts of the House. During the course of my remarks I shall try not to duplicate what has been said, but I should like to pick up two particular points.

First, I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that this is not the way to conduct Northern Ireland business. That is so not only in the proximate sense of those who manage business in the House not always putting us on at the fag-end of other discussions late in the day, coming up like Cinderella against the deadline of midnight, but also in the more general sense of the report issued yesterday by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights; that we do not conduct Northern Ireland business as well as we should. I hope that the Government will pay attention to that not only in the temporary sense of now but in the longer term. So long as we do not have devolved government in Northern Ireland but are governing Northern Ireland from Westminster we must look to ourselves in Parliament. We must make sure that we give the attention and the time that the problems of the Province demand.

Secondly, I wish to refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mason, in his interesting speech. He may have been a little hard on the Opsahl Commission. Its conclusions are a mixed bag and I agree with some but disagree with others. However, the value of the commission is that it represents a kind of civic initiative. That is to be welcomed in Northern Ireland where too often the conventional political parties seem to be locked in a time-warp of their own. We should welcome anything which can spur new thinking and get people involved in solving their own problems in Northern Ireland.

On the substance of the order, it must be common ground among us in the House that we are fighting a deadly battle in Northern Ireland. It is a battle between civilisation and mindlessness; it is a battle between rational debate and increasingly vicious violence. Now we have the growing boldness of the loyalist paramilitaries who are also fighting that battle on two fronts. Those people who are fighting that battle day by day on our behalf are generally young men. They are on the city streets and along the country lanes of Northern Ireland operating under very great strain. They are subject to tensions at which we can only guess, sitting in this Chamber. The fact that they do so, whether they are policemen or soldiers, whether they are the RUC or the Army, with propriety even when provoked and with restraint in times and conditions of great uncertainty and, on the whole, with respect for the law, is something of which we and they should be very proud.

We must allow the security forces to be as effective as possible. That is why we on these Benches are unequivocal in our support for the renewal of the special powers contained in the order and why we accept the new powers including—and perhaps particularly welcome—the provision to deal with terrorists' finance.

And yet we must acknowledge that these are special powers to be used exceptionally and sparingly. When they are used they must be employed with the greatest care. For we are fighting other less tangible battles at the same time: a battle for the confidence of the ordinary members of the public in Northern Ireland that that deployment of force is for their benefit and that their rights as individuals will be respected; and we are fighting also to make our case heard as a nation before the Bar of world opinion that Great Britain, even at gun point, remains a bastion of the civilisation that it is purporting to defend. Any deviation from the highest standards thus cannot be tolerated. That is why it is right for Parliament to ask the Government to keep under continuous and scrupulous review the provisions of both the prevention of terrorism legislation and the emergency provisions legislation.

In Parliament we have been materially assisted in that task of keeping the Government up to scratch by the annual reports of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. On behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches, I should like to say how much we have valued his excellent reports and how sorely he will be missed. The appointment of Mr. David Hewitt as independent assessor of the military complaints procedure and the wise deliberations of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper as the independent commissioner for the so-called holding centres will help to bridge the gap but I ask the noble Earl to tell us how he sees their work being integrated with that of the successor to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. Perhaps he will tell us when the appointment will be made of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper's promised deputy and, indeed, when we might expect to hear in Parliament who is to be the successor to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville.

I move briefly to the improvements and these are some of the issues raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. First, as regards video taping, the noble Earl will know that I have been consistent in pressing from these Benches for the video taping of interrogation interviews. It seems to me that the case is now overwhelming. Mischievous accusations against the police would become incredible if interviews were video taped. Justice would be seen to be done. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, explained, the issue of silence would be much more easily handled. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, has, yet again, asked for that. The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights has asked for it. I personally believe that it is probably acceptable to the Army. Are the Government not allowing themselves to be over-influenced by the RUC as the sole arbiter of this matter? As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said, that is the view of the chief constable and he has made that more than plain. But I wonder whether the time has now come for the Secretary of State to take a broader view. If he cannot agree to videotaping, then why not audiotaping which I understand Sir Louis Blom-Cooper prefers. The Government no longer have any excuse for sitting on their hands in regard to the matter.

That takes me on to the question of Castlereagh. I await the first report of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper with keen anticipation. However, it must be said, both on anecdotal evidence and according to the Commission of Justice, that there are serious reasons for concern about Castlereagh. Indeed, that was one of the reasons that led to the appointment of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper. One of the issues to which the report of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, refers, and to which attention has been drawn during the debate, concerns allegations, most of which I do not take very seriously either. However, I do take moderately seriously allegations of British Irish Rights Watch of vicarious harassment of solicitors through their clients.

If I understand them correctly, those allegations focus principally on Castlereagh. If the British Irish Rights Watch passes on those anonymous complaints, as suggested by the noble Lord, it will be important for the noble Earl to be able to tell us, first, whether they will be investigated by the RUC and a report back made. I think that the belief is that that will happen; I hope so. Secondly, if the names of the complainants are revealed, we must have some assurance that, in sacrificing their anonymity, they should not in any way be victimised. I believe that the shadow of Mr. Pat Finucane hangs over those allegations and that, therefore, we must take them seriously. Incidentally, I am curious as to whether this would be an appropriate matter for the independent commissioner to investigate? I shall be interested to hear the noble Earl's response in that respect.

I wish to deal briefly with Army complaints. I was very glad to hear that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, thinks that the system has improved. Indeed, I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, with his great experience, thinks that on-the-ground actual relationships are improving. We also hear that from other quarters. But I wonder whether the noble Earl would care to comment in particular on the apparent doubling of complaints of assault from 170 in 1991 to 344 in 1992. Is that a matter for concern?

Then there is the issue of custody time raised by other speakers. The noble Earl said that the Government are waiting for results; that is, waiting, in a sense, for statistics. However, it is important to know what they intend to do because the statistics will not be very encouraging. The fact that the average number of days between arraignment and the first day of trial seems to be roughly double in Northern Ireland to that in England and Wales, even if it is calculated slightly differently, puts the whole system in the position of being questioned by those who want to attack it. It really is not something of which we can be at all proud.

Finally, I should like to make one of two general points. I think that our success in dealing with paramilitaries and terrorists in Northern Ireland depends, crucially, on intelligence gathering, on intelligence co-ordination, on analysis and on interpretation. It was striking that the former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, expressed his concern that our intelligence is not as effectively integrated as it should be. The noble Earl may recall that I raised that concern with the Government last year. We have the police, the Army, MI5 and other special units involved in Northern Ireland. To put it no higher, there seem to be some very rough edges between the agencies.

Last year we had the case of Brian Nelson. Now we have the one referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Fitt and Lord Mason of Barnsley, of Declan Casey. He was acknowledged by the chief constable to be an agent of the RUC. Yet, by his own claim, he was involved in fatal attacks on security services. Perhaps I may add my voice to those of other noble Lords who have urged the noble Earl in his response to address the issue very directly. It is a matter of the greatest possible concern.

However, more generally, it seems that each agency is running its own informers. I believe that we are in a hit of a competitive mess: where there should be integration there is too much competition. I realise that it is difficult for the noble Earl to comment in much detail but I would welcome his acknowledgement that some overall political and strategic leadership needs to be given in this area in the future. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to that point.

Finally, I hope I may contribute a perspective from these Benches to the order as a whole. This is necessary legislation but I do not believe it should be used as the thin end of the wedge for a more general diminution of civil liberties in Northern Ireland.

Two issues have been referred to in this debate—internment, for which there are powers in the order, and the issue of silence of the accused. All the evidence from the past shows that internment is counter-Productive. We on these Benches would not be able to support it unless, conceivably, it were to be in the context of a settlement in Northern Ireland and an all-Ireland use of internment. As for silence, it is one thing to infer guilt from silence—that is not an unreasonable assumption on occasions—but it is quite something else to talk about the criminalisation of silence. In my view that would be alien to the whole British tradition of justice. Both of those matters would constitute serious infringements of civil rights and we on these Benches would consider them steps too far.

There is much to be miserable about as regards policy in Northern Ireland but one of the satisfactory things is how, on the big issues, we have been able to maintain good cross-party consensus. If the Government want to continue to look for Liberal Democrat support, I hope they will be careful in taking what I would call steps too far along the road of limiting civil liberties. The balance that we have to strike is a delicate one between the harsh needs of a difficult situation and the enduring claims of civil liberties. So far, so good. I hope we can continue to be with the Government.

11.17 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, the House has been discussing this order for an hour and a quarter. Notwithstanding the timetable of pressures which has been referred to, I believe that this has been one of the best discussions we have had on this legislation during the past eight years. We have had the benefit of contributions from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, two Members who live in Northern Ireland, whose families are in the Protestant tradition in Northern Ireland and who have a record of distinguished service to that tradition. They have raised matters that fall within their direct experience.

My noble friend Lord Fitt is a former leader of the SDLP and the Northern Ireland Assembly. He has seen the legislation in a somewhat different perspective but again he speaks with great authority. My noble friend Lord Mason has spoken with the authority of a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who can draw upon the source material available to a Secretary of State. I am particularly grateful that he has taken part in this discussion this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, and I are almost in partnership on this matter and I have to say once again that I probably agree with almost everything that he has said this evening. My noble friend Lord Blease is sitting behind me. He has not spoken this evening but he has always ensured that I am fully aware of what is happening in Northern Ireland. I join with all noble Lords in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for his review of the operation of the Act during 1992 and for setting out the grounds for its continuance for another 12 months. I appreciate that the noble Earl has brought us one or two glad tidings.

Many references have rightly been made during the course of the debate to the annual review which has been conducted by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. Indeed he has conducted all the reviews since 1987. Sadly this will be his last review. I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland, parliamentarians and also the Government, are immensely indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, for his services to Northern Ireland. We on the Opposition Benches wish that the Government had accepted more of his recommendations, but so be it.

It seems to me that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, has shown himself at all times to be an acute, well-informed observer. He has always been concerned to strike that difficult balance between the requirements of security and the requirements of the rule of law. At the same time, as a former diplomat, he has also been concerned to maintain the United Kingdom's standing within the international community. In this century, the international community cannot be ignored. For all those reasons I wish to be associated with the tributes which have been placed on the record by the Minister and other Members of your Lordships' House.

Sadly, it is the conclusion of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that the Act should be renewed. I would not wish to challenge that finding. At the same time the noble Viscount has made important recommendations, which are summarised in paragraph 1.6. Those have been referred to by almost every speaker this evening. My colleagues in another place have made it clear that we support those recommendations, apart from the suggestion that Section 8 of the PTA should be allowed to lapse.

We on this side of the House are particularly grateful that the noble Viscount has once again called for the introduction of video recording of interviews under Section 14 of the PTA. I regret very much that on that important recommendation the Secretary of State was not encouraging. Indeed, his words were repeated in this Chamber this evening. We believe that he is quite wrong in his response to that recommendation. I very much hope that the opposition of the chief constable of the RUC will be rigorously tested, but I am not confident that that will happen. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, and my noble friend Lord Fitt spoke strongly on that point. As I said earlier, I agree with almost everything that has been said on that issue.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, also stressed the importance of cutting down the long delays which are building up before people in custody are brought to trial or have access to solicitors within 48 hours. We are reminded by the statistics that in 1992, 1,795 people were detained under the Act and only 35 were charged under the legislation and 424 with other offences. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, confirmed in his opening speech that the Government are making real efforts to tackle those serious mischiefs, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that we are looking for results.

When the 1991 Act was before the House the opposition parties voiced their anxiety about two of the new provisions which were so widely worded. Those are referred to in paragraph 12 of the report. Fearing that the new powers could be abused, I am comforted that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, has found that they are operating without trouble, at least so far.

For my part, I am grateful that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, broadened his report by dealing in Section 3 with the three reports published in 1992 and 1993 which have been critical of the alleged violations of human rights in Northern Ireland. As we have heard, those reports are Human Rights and Legal Defense in Northern Ireland issued by an American organisation and Defending the Defenders submitted to a sub-commission of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights by the British Irish Rights Watch. The noble Viscount is right to draw attention to the fact that that report is sponsored by two leading Silks. Then there is Belfast Observations written by American lawyers and addressed to the US Congress. My noble friends have referred to those reports.

There is now a growing body of international human rights covenants and international opinion which cannot be ignored. Given the international commitment, quite apart from our own commitment to human rights, it is proper that my colleagues in another place placed the focus on those reports. I urge upon the Minister the need for the Northern Ireland Office to reply in full to the criticisms contained in those documents. I believe that it would be a huge error of judgment for the Northern Ireland Office to remain silent.

The recommendations of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, are not the only ones on the desk of the Secretary of State. I see from the chief constable's press conference on 25th May last that he is pressing for at least eight new provisions. We are told by the chief constable that those are currently being examined at what he describes as, the most senior level within the Northern Ireland Office which incorporates the RUC and other experts". Those are his words. The chief constable regards his proposal as "essential". Some of his measures are subtle, while others need to be made more specific. Tactically they may be very useful to the RUC—and that point has been made by a number of my colleagues today—but one has also to say that they would be very hard to justify since they seem to offend against the deepest principles that can be shown to inhere in the rule of law.

When do the Government anticipate receiving final advice from the Northern Ireland Office Committee, to which the chief constable has referred? If that in-house committee accepts the chief constable's proposals then the Government must be encouraged to consult on their merit with their own advisory committee, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, the Bar Council in Northern Ireland and the Law Society in Northern Ireland, and they should also seek the opinion of the person appointed to review the emergency legislation.

I mean not the slightest disrespect to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville—as I am sure he will appreciate—but I cannot help feeling a shade uneasy about one piece of information, referred to in paragraph 1.3 of the report, suggesting that the emergency Acts are now a permanent feature of the Northern Ireland landscape. The sentence which causes me trouble states: One experienced counsellor reminded me that by now people have grown up with the Act and become used to it". Surely our duty, certainly on these Benches, must be to challenge the finality of emergency legislation. One fears that the renewal of emergency legislation year after year for 20 years, and its gradual expansion, is a creeping programme leading to its assimilation, lock, stock and barrel, into the permanent law of Northern Ireland.

The point has not been made tonight, but it often has been made, that the history of Northern Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries was dominated by the use made of emergency laws, although they were then referred to as special laws. The original EPA of the current series was brought in in 1973. It was an emergency Act, as the name implies, intended to be for one year only but containing a renewal provision. It contained 31 sections and five schedules. By now four new versions of the legislation have been enacted. The current Act was passed in 1991. It is almost three times the length of the 1973 Act.

Perhaps I may take up a point made by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. If we look three years ahead when the Act will expire, in the absence of a political settlement, there will then be a sixth EPA which may be even tougher than the current one. My Lords, time flyeth and 1996 will soon be upon us. Since 1973—it is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh—despite the steady growth in the number of emergency provisions, 3,053 people have been killed in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorist action. I note that there has not been any appreciable decline since 1977. Last year alone, as the Minister explained in his opening speech, there were 75 deaths. According to one analysis of the statistics which I have seen, more people are getting away with acts of terrorism than before. Peace is, as ever, out of reach.

One is therefore bound to pause and wonder what has been achieved by the emergency legislation. I believe that the Government must ponder over the series of thoughtful questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh. Twenty years is long enough for an emergency. One is tempted to ask whether in any way they have been wasted years.

Where did things go wrong, if they did? Those are some of the difficult and awkward questions which are now being asked. I believe that that was probably the question which prompted the former Prime Minister to intervene in the debate on the order in another place on 8th June. I also believe that it is a question which emerges in the speech of the Member for Belfast East and possibly also that of the Member for Newry and Armagh. It was possibly present in the mind of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, this evening. So the time has surely come for a full review of the operation of the emergency legislation since 1973 and its effectiveness.

A full review going back to 1973 or possibly 1969 could be undertaken within two years. If it were launched within the next few months, the report could be available well before the Act expires in 1996, so we would be grateful if the Minister could give us an indication of what are the Government's present intentions in this respect.

Earlier this evening, like other Members of your Lordships' House, I received a copy of the Press statement issued by the Northern Ireland Standing Commission on Human Rights urging reform of the system of legislating for Northern Ireland. That point has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I believe that the thrust of the main proposals is acceptable, but obviously the small print requires detailed consideration. This is possibly a matter that we shall have to come back to later on.

Many worrying references have been made this evening to the so-called double agent. The Minister will have heard of the peculiarly sinister allegations. I believe we are entitled to an assurance that the testimony of Mr Casey in the Daily Mirror will be investigated by an independent person so that we can get at the truth. But I say no more as I understand, like my noble friend Lord Fitt, that Mr Casey was arrested this evening.

This is where I now wish to return for a few minutes to the chief constable's press conference. He acknowledged at that conference: I don't think that the RUC, however well assisted by the Army, can produce a long-term solution in Northern Ireland. The solution in Northern Ireland will have to be a political solution … that holds the in depth support of the majority of people on either side of the divide". We must therefore rightly return to the political arena. In that context, I happen to believe that some of the proposals of the Opsahl Commission, whose report was published last week, have a relevance, though I acknowledge that they may appear to be academic in the eyes of some people. I think it is right to ask the Minister whether the Government intend to pursue the recommendations, or some of them. It would be helpful if the Government would give us an indication of how they see the report at this stage.

The politicians in Northern Ireland have been the subject of immense criticism in the past few years. I believe that it is right that we should recognise that many have also shown exceptional courage. That is true of Members of this House who have lived or are living in Northern Ireland. In that context, I recall the words of the chief constable at his press conference, acknowledging that currently there is a residual threat to the lives of all politicians in Northern Ireland. That is a sobering thought.

Finally, on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches, I want to express our sympathy to those in Northern Ireland and indeed in Great Britain who have suffered at the hands of the paramilitaries, and to express our deep gratitude to all those who have struggled over the years to maintain the rule of law.

11.35 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, this evening your Lordships have had the opportunity to give your profound consideration to the powers that are available under the Emergency Provisions Act to fight terrorism. A number of particularly valuable and interesting points have been made during the debate. I shall pick up on them straightaway.

I was particularly grateful for the extract that the noble Lord, Lord Mason, read from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Colville. I am sure that his words will be heard by those who need to hear them. He also mentioned the matter of talking to Sinn Fein. Our line, as the noble Lord, Lord Mason, knows very well, is clear. While Sinn Fein endorses violence, we cannot engage with it as if it were a normal democratic party. If it wants to be treated like one, it will have to behave like one. It cannot have it both ways. But I can assure the noble Lord that the relations between the RUC and the security authorities on the mainland are of the highest quality and the relations in Great Britain are for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It would be inappropriate for me to go further on that matter tonight.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason, and many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, referred to Declan Casey. The Chief Constable of the RUC issued a statement early today. The use of informants is absolutely essential to the fight against terrorism. Casey was an informant and the allegations in a national newspaper, including his alleged involvement in matters hitherto unknown to the police, are being fully investigated. The RUC is determined that the full truth should be established and the result of the investigation will be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

As regards the Opsahl Report, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, as well as by the noble Lord, Lord Mason, my right honourable and learned friend received a copy of the long and detailed Opsahl Report when it was published last week. It is being considered in the usual way. We always listen with considerable interest to the views of others. I cannot say any more than that at present.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason, also advocated the introduction of ID cards. The security forces do not consider identification to be a problem. The introduction of cards would impose a bureaucratic burden on everyone. Given the existence of free movement over the border with the Republic and across the Irish Sea, they would in all probability not be effective.

I listened with great interest to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, on the right to silence. That issue was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and other noble Lords. My right honourable and learned friend keeps the law against terrorism under continual review. The chief constable's proposals are receiving the closest attention in that context. There is a careful and sensitive balance to be struck between measures to secure the conviction of the guilty and measures which may enhance the possibility of some innocent people also being convicted.

I have noted what the noble Lord, Lord Mason, said about the desirability of a bar to the medal for service in Northern Ireland. He will understand and agree that this is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Indeed, I shall draw those remarks to his attention.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I refute immediately any government complacency on leaving this debate to so late in the evening on this day of the week. I can assure him and the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, that it was not intended in any way to be disrespectful. It went through the normal channels and we fully realise the circumstances in which it has been debated.

I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and in particular his reminder of the way in which members of the legal profession suffer at the hands of the IRA. We owe them a great deal for the way in which they uphold the rule of law.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough raised the matter of the length of time that soldiers spend on remand. During my opening speech I said that the Government are committed to reducing the length of time that those accused of scheduled offences spend on remand awaiting trial. Members of the security forces are subject to the same criminal justice system as members of the public, and hence suffer the same delays. The improvements brought about by the recent scheme will benefit them equally.

My noble friend raised a further point, mentioned also by my noble friend Lord Colville, which is the subject of compensation for Army damage. The Government have noted the concern of my noble friend Lord Colville regarding the considerable increase in compensation payments made as a result of security force activities, and will be giving consideration as to whether procedures need to be amended. It is our position that compensation payments are limited to bona fide cases and that procedures must be cost effective. My noble friend asked further more detailed questions, to which I hope he will permit me to reply in writing.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, made a grim assessment of the security situation in Northern Ireland. I can assure him that the Government and security forces are never complacent and are bearing down on terrorism. As I mentioned originally, much work necessarily goes unpublicised. I can give the noble Lord the assurance he seeks, that security is the first priority of the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, referred to the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Colville—that video recordings of interviews under the PTA be considered —and urged that they should be introduced forthwith. That was also a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I have already referred to the chief constable's view on the subject. In the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, where terrorists are under strict instructions from their organisations not to co-operate with the authorities in any way, it has been his firm view that such a move would inhibit further the chance of obtaining information to secure convictions and protect life. The keeping of a record of interviews, with the fears of disclosure that it would engender, is seen by him as likely to tilt the balance too much in favour of the terrorist organisations. In the circumstances, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is not persuaded that the introduction of video recordings would be in the overall interests of justice.

The noble Lord, Lord Hohne of Cheltenham, asked about the appointment of a deputy to Sir Louis Blom-Cooper. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering whom he might appoint. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked whether or not the Government intended to set up an inquiry before the next EPA. My honourable and learned friend intends to appoint a successor to my noble friend Lord Colville, to whom we are all most grateful. It is our intention to invite him to produce a review of the legislation in advance of any new Act. That would be in addition to normal reviews of the operation of the present Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked also about the Government's response to the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Colville. I addressed the important ones in my opening speech and further ones in my winding-up speech, when I examined several more. I can say that, as always, we are examining them closely and shall be taking appropriate action in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to the chief constable's press conference. I dealt with that in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Mason. The contents and balance of the law against terrorism are kept under review. Changes to the law are made when necessary and desirable, but only after careful consideration. We need to be certain that the law is effective but also proportionate and capable of being applied fairly.

I am conscious that I have not replied to all the questions. I hope that your Lordships have by now learnt that I shall do so in the very near future. I should like to say in commending the order to your Lordships this evening that the powers contained in the Act are there because the Government consider them necessary to bring to an end the work of sophisticated and deadly terrorist organisations. They have been enacted for the protection of life and limb in Northern Ireland. We believe them to be a proportionate and necessary response in a democratic society to the lawless use of violence by those from both sides who seek to impose their minority will on the people of Northern Ireland.

I ask your Lordships to support the Motion to continue the powers. In so doing we shall be sending the terrorists the message that Her Majesty's Government will not waiver from their commitment to defeat them once and for all. I commend the order to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.