§ 7.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield) rose to move. That the draft order laid before the House on 20th April be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, before we discuss tonight's business, I wish to refer to the tragic accident last Thursday when 29 people lost their lives in the Chinook helicopter which crashed on the Mull of Kintyre. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to join me in offering our deepest condolences to the families of those who died so tragically. This is a huge loss of extremely dedicated and outstanding people from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Northern Ireland Office. It has obviously been a blow to our efforts to combat terrorism, but the work of those fine people is continuing as they themselves would have wished. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.
§ Your Lordships have regrettably become all too familiar with the need to renew, year after year, the temporary provisions of this emergency provisions Act and its predecessor.
§ This Act is temporary. It must be renewed each year and in August 1996 it will cease to have effect completely. By then, if it remains necessary, an entirely new Act must be in place. The Government's consideration of the need and content of such an Act 1293 will be informed by a fundamental review of the present Act's provisions and their operation. This will be undertaken by Mr. John Rowe QC and has already been announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Mr. Rowe's report will be published.
§ This evening we already have Mr. Rowe's first report on the operation of the Act in 1993. It was published on 16th May. We are most grateful to him for taking on this responsibility in succession to my noble friend Lord Colville, who discharged it with such distinction for seven years. Regretfully the Government endorse Mr. Rowe's conclusion that the powers conferred by the Act remain necessary for a further year.
§ Since your Lordships last debated the renewal of the EPA 84 people have died as a result of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland, of whom 11 have been members of the security forces. Tragically, of those killed, 32 have been murdered this year alone. I am sure we all remember the ghastly events of October last year which included acts of mass murder perpetrated by paramilitary organisations from both sides. But each of the 84 deaths has led to personal grief and sorrowing and all are totally without justification or sense.
§ The powers contained in the Act are there to give the RUC and the Army the capability to disrupt the activities of the terrorists and to bring them to justice. On 1lth January this year, for instance, 11 rifles and no fewer than 1,000 rounds of ammunition were recovered from a house in north Belfast. Two people were subsequently charged. In early March in east Tyrone three people were charged following the recovery of 500 kgs of home-made explosive and a variety of bomb-making equipment. These successes and many others, which undoubtedly saved lives, depended on the powers contained in the Act. Since your Lordships last debated its renewal, 408 people have been charged with terrorist offences. This year alone, 208 people have been charged, including over 100 loyalists and 74 republicans.
§ I wish to pay a heartfelt tribute to the work of the RUC and the armed forces. These men and women cheerfully and courageously day in and day out face risks which most of us can only guess at—and not only when they are on duty. Many of them are equally at risk when they are at home with their families, or going about their leisure activities. We all owe them a great debt.
§ I should like briefly to touch upon one or two issues of particular current interest. As discussed last night, the law must achieve a balance between the community's right to be free from terrorism and the protection of individual rights. This is the aim of the Act. If we get it wrong we play into the terrorists' hands. Short-term victories might be achieved by draconian measures but at the risk of forfeiting the support of the decent people on whom we depend. The law needs to be kept under continual review, and we must not shrink from amending it where necessary. One example of this is the power of the police to obtain samples from suspects for forensic analysis. It is of vital importance to be able to undertake DNA analysis. In order to make it easier for the police to obtain the necessary samples we made use 1294 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill currently before your Lordships to classify beyond doubt plucked hair as a non-intimate sample for PACE purposes.
§ Your Lordships will also be aware that consideration is being given to finding a means of admitting in evidence material obtained under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. The possible risk to intelligence-gathering must be weighed against the potential benefit in terms of securing additional convictions. Although we are not as yet persuaded that the case for change has been made out, the matter remains under careful consideration.
§ The holding centres, or police offices, at Castlereagh and elsewhere play a central part in defeating terrorists. Perhaps that is the reason why they have in the past been the focus of controversy. This we are determined to eliminate, while maintaining their effectiveness. We now have codes of practice in relation to the detention and questioning of suspects. I am well aware of the arguments in favour of some kind of recording of interviews. They have been cogently put by, among others, Mr. Rowe, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC—whose first annual report as independent commissioner for the holding centres was published on 14th March—and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I know that my noble friend Lord Colville is also an advocate. But it remains the strong view of the Chief Constable of the RUC, who is the Secretary of State's principal security adviser, that in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland any electronic recording of interviews would inhibit still further the chances of lawfully getting admissible information that would lead to convictions and the protection of life. My right honourable friend is bound to attach special weight to that opinion and thus is not currently minded to depart from the status quo.
§ In a democratic society such as ours it is necessary for people to have confidence in the way in which members of the security forces discharge their awesome responsibilities. It is wrong of me to pretend that friction does not occur, although soldiers and policemen are extensively trained to avoid it wherever possible. It is therefore necessary to have adequate complaints mechanisms. Such mechanisms can never be perfect, and will always be criticised, but I believe that in Northern Ireland we have some of the most sophisticated systems in the world. For the police, there is the independent commission for police complaints, whose sixth annual report was published last week. That is a fully independent body with wide-ranging powers. Its chairman, Mr. James Grew, is also the current chairman of the international association of such organisations. This is a tribute not only to him but to the body over which he presides.
§ At the end of 1992 the post of independent assessor of military complaints procedures was created. It is filled by Mr. David Hewitt, a respected Belfast solicitor. His first annual report has been published and documents the extensive procedures which are in place. It also makes suggestions for improvement, which the Army in Northern Ireland are currently examining with a view to implementation.1295
§ There is no excuse for terrorism. The Joint Declaration announced by the British and Irish Governments in December 1993 pointed clearly the way towards peace. If the provisional IRA and the loyalist terrorist organisations desisted from violence there would be no need for the Act. But while the violence persists these emergency provisions will be necessary. They must be maintained and applied resolutely but sensitively for the protection of all those who wish to live their lives free from fear. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th April be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, first I should like to join the noble Baroness in offering from these Benches our great sympathy to the relatives of the victims of the Chinook tragedy and our gratitude for their selfless and dedicated public service.
We welcome what the noble Baroness said and, if I may say so, the carefully balanced and humane way in which she did so. The House will require little persuasion that the draft order is a regrettable necessity which should be approved. As the noble Baroness reminded us, there is a continuing state of public emergency in Northern Ireland where terrorist murderers continue to seek to achieve their aims by denying to both communities the most basic human rights through sectarian killings, indiscriminate bomb-ings and maimings, and other atrocious acts and crimes against humanity which are an affront to human dignity. They claim to do so for political objectives but their real aims are more squalidly sectarian, bigoted and greedy.
I pay tribute to the courage and integrity of the police service, the armed forces, the security forces and the independent judges in Northern Ireland who seek to pursue justice for everyone in dire circumstances. Given the situation in Northern Ireland, it is obvious that there is a continuing need for these exceptional powers to combat terrorism while seeking to achieve a lasting peace based upon a political consensus. But, obviously, as the noble Baroness also recognised, it is essential that the powers should be no more than those that are really necessary, exercised effectively, sensitively, fairly and with a proper sense of proportion. I particularly agree with what the noble Baroness said about the need for a proper balance. There must also be adequate safeguards against misuse of the powers. One important safeguard is the independent review and scrutiny provided by Mr. John Rowe QC and his predecessor, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, the independent commissioner for the holding centres and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland. I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to each of them for their vital and distinguished work. Another essential safeguard is parliamentary scrutiny and accountability, which this debate permits.
Without going through a long, detailed shopping list of points, perhaps I may raise just four matters. I shall be grateful if the Minister deals with them in her reply. I shall take most time—because I am disappointed by 1296 what has been said on this aspect—in discussing the question, already raised by the noble Baroness, of the taping of interviews with terrorist suspects.
Perhaps I may briefly recall the background. Section 61 of the 1991 Act gives the Secretary of State the power to make codes of practice in connection with the questioning of people suspected of scheduled terrorist offences, including the power to ensure that all police interviews are audio taped or video taped. As the Minister indicated, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, recommended in his 1990 review that video recording of interviews should be introduced at holding centres because that would allow allegations of brutality to be controverted and would enhance public confidence in the police. The noble Viscount found the tape recording of interviews to be more problematic as it might interfere with the co-operation of suspected terrorists and the disclosure of sensitive information.
Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, in his first annual report, which was published in January this year, said that he had,no hesitation in concluding that in 1994 public confidence can be secured only if there is in place a form of surveillance over, and a method of accountability for, the conduct of non-uniformed police officers conducting interrogations in the interview rooms of the Holding Centres".He therefore recommended—and I shall return to his recommendation later—that every interview be tape recorded, and recommended both audio and visual recording, but particularly audio recording.
For its part, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in its report expressed its regret,that its considered advice that silent video recording would be introduced in the Holding Centres remains; unheeded. The Commission believes that the cost involved in judicial, lawyers and court time and the delays in bringing cases to trial due to protracted statement challenges cannot be justified".In his report, Mr. John Rowe QC concluded that interviews should be recorded on audio tape. He wrote that,the absence of recording causes disadvantages. If a suspect has confessed and implicated accomplices, and if he pleads Not Guilty, at his trial he mounts a challenge of the interviews and makes complaints about the interviewing officers, alleging that they fabricated his words, or assaulted him and forced him to say the relevant words, or induced him to do so. And so objection is taken at the trial to the admissibility of the interviews, and many days can be spent on this. The business of the courts is inordinately burdened with these applications. That in turn causes lengthy waiting periods for other cases to be heard, and contributes to the long remand periods I have mentioned. Those remand periods, and lengthy custody, are causing concern in the community".I appreciate, as the Minister indicated, that it is the strong view of Sir Hugh Annesley, who as Chief Constable is the principal security adviser to the Secretary of State, that in the circumstances of Northern Ireland any electronic recording of interviews would inhibit the chances of lawfully obtaining information leading to the conviction of terrorists or to the saving of people's lives. I appreciate that very great weight must be given to the views of the Government's principal security adviser. But it seems to me, on a careful reading, that Sir Louis Blom-Cooper has dealt with any conceivable objection in an ingenious and original scheme that appears to secure a fair balance and at the same time meets the very problems to which Sir Hugh referred.
1297 In essence, what Sir Louis suggests is that every interview is tape recorded and that at the conclusion of the interview the recording is given immediately to a police officer not below the rank of superintendent in the presence of the detainee and the detective officers. It would be kept sealed in a secure place for a maximum of three years in respect of those detainees who are charged with terrorist offences, and three months for detainees who are released without charge.
Disclosure under the Blom-Cooper scheme would be allowed only when a detainee sought to challenge the admissibility of a statement alleged to have been extracted from him improperly. No one except the detainee or his lawyer would be able to initiate the process of disclosure. On an application to the High Court, a judge, directed by the Lord Chief Justice, would order the release of the relevant tape to the judge for his viewing in private in his chambers. If the judge considered that there was prima facie material to support a claim for inadmissibility, then disclosure could be ordered to the Crown and to the detainee's legal advisers.
Then there is a process which is entirely responsible and sensible whereby, before disclosure could be ordered, the High Court judge would be required to take further steps on the process of adjudicating on disclosability, inviting the Crown to make submissions against disclosure on the basis of justification and the interests of security. The Crown might also withdraw evidence if the judge found against the Crown's submissions.
Sir Louis suggests that as an application for disclosure may be considered as a prerequisite to any challenge to the admissibility of a confession statement, there should be in place a statutory provision providing that where an accused wishes to challenge the admissibility of a statement but does not pursue the disclosure of a recording, it would be open to the court to draw an inference from this fact capable of corroborating the Crown's assertion that the statement had been obtained without impropriety. Again, where disclosure was refused it would be necessary to differentiate between grounds of refusal.
Since 75 per cent. of detainees discharged from the holding centres in Northern Ireland are not charged with any criminal offence and since challenges to admissibility of confessions made by the remaining 25 per cent. are comparatively infrequent, the incidence of the process of disclosure would be comparatively small. Sir Louis says:I can see only advantages to such a scheme, in terms of credibility of the interrogatory process and the protection of the security services and their informers among the terrorists and those who possess vital information about the scourge of terrorist activity".The process, he argues, would dramatically reduce the reliance upon the voire-dire process and save a great deal of time. He stresses that the process is an adjudicatory one to be performed judicially and to be carried out not forensically but out of public sight and, in the later stages, ex parte. He adds that as it relates to the task of tackling terrorism within criminal justice, the formula proposed requires, in his words, 1298detailed study, agitated discussion and animated debate among all those involved in the administration of justice".With great respect to what the noble Baroness said, it seems to me that he deploys a formidable case in the interests of the police service and the security service as well as for detainees and the administration of justice in giving effect to this well-thought-out scheme. I very much hope that the door is not shut on Sir Louis's proposal. That is the first main point that I wish to raise.
The second point I can deal with much more briefly. It concerns time limits on the periods of remand. Section 8 of the 1991 Act gives the Secretary of State the power to limit the amount of time that prisoners may remain on remand. According to Mr. Rowe's report, in 1992 the average time between remand and hearing of terrorist offences in Northern Ireland was 57 weeks. In 1993 it was 65 weeks. That is clearly far too long.
I appreciate that a scheme to reduce delays is currently in operation. I ask the Minister what progress has been made in trying to tackle the quite serious problem of inordinate delay and when the Government expect to be able to introduce a new scheme of reasonable time limits, as envisaged by the Secretary of State in his speech in the other place on 8th June 1993.
The third matter to which I should like briefly to refer is Diplock courts. Section 10 of the Act relates to trial of scheduled offences being conducted by a court without a jury. In his report Mr. John Rowe said:Jury trials in terrorist cases cannot be reinstated, at any rate for the foreseeable future. That is the clear view I hear from practically every person I have consulted about it, and that is the conclusion I reach".The arguments deployed are that terrorist organisations intimidate witnesses and are likely to intimidate juries, and that jurors would be partisan and favour or penalise defendants according to their inclinations.
From these Benches we accept with great regret that a return to trial by jury is not a real option in current circumstances. But there is a problem, irrespective of the independence and bravery of the Northern Ireland judiciary —again I pay tribute to its quite magnificent record of achievement—of a lack of public confidence in the Diplock court procedure. Therefore I wonder whether the Government will consider making provision for those trials to be conducted by three judges instead of by a single judge. That would surely improve both the operation of the law and public confidence in the administration of justice in the circumstances tragically obtaining in Northern Ireland.
The fourth point concerns the confiscation of the proceeds of terrorist-related funding. It is clearly a crucial matter. A substantial number of shootings, including deliberate maimings, are directly related to Mafia-like racketeering practices of both loyalist and republican terrorists. The legislation to tackle that racketeering is diffuse and cries out for consolidation and clarification. In last year's debate in the other place the Secretary of State said that he believed that there were ways in which the law could be further improved. I should be grateful if, in her reply, the noble Baroness could indicate in what ways the Government feel that the law can be improved and whether reforms are contemplated.
1299 Lastly, there is the power to proscribe terrorist organisations under Section 28(3). The recent shootings in Dublin were carried out apparently by the already proscribed Ulster Volunteer Force. But the UVF now appears to be under the direction of the umbrella group, the Combined Loyalist Military Council. I should be grateful if the Minister could indicate whether it is contemplated that that umbrella group will also be proscribed.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, as the first speaker from the Labour Benches it falls to me—not unhappily from my point of view—to express my sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives in the Chinook accident. I am sure that the whole House wishes to extend its sympathy to the families of the people who lost their lives in such a dreadful way in pursuit of public service.
I also thank the noble Baroness for the way in which she comprehensively introduced the debate on the subject of Northern Ireland. I am sure that it is for her, as it is for all of us, difficult to contemplate what is happening in Northern Ireland.
I have been involved in these debates for 10 years. In the early days people misconstrued my contributions. I have been accused of supporting the IRA. I must put it on record that I do not support any of the so-called para-military groups involved in the problems of Northern Ireland. We must make a distinction between support for people who hold particular views and understanding those people and why they hold those views. It is with that distinction in mind that I rise to speak in this debate.
We are faced with a conflict between peoples who hold very strong views. On the one hand, there are the Irish republicans who feel that they are discriminated against and are penalised by the involvement of Britain in Ireland—with some justification unfortunately in the historical context. On the other hand, there are the Irish unionists who feel that they are under attack and would face further attack within a united Ireland—with some justification in the historical context, one could also argue.
It is also worthwhile to place on record the fact that over the past few years both British and Irish Governments have taken action and tried to take action to counteract discrimination and that fear of discrimination which exists in so many people's minds. But palpably it has not been enough. We still have the provisions of the prevention of terrorism Act. I single out as particularly obnoxious detention without charge and the exclusion powers; in effect, banishment or internal exile by executive decree.
I should like to mention also the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein. That hands an amazing propaganda advantage to those who do not want to be involved in democratic politics when they can say, "Even if we stand for election and are elected, the British Government try to stop us speaking". It also gives them the ability to argue, "Our message is so powerful that 1300 the British Government cannot allow it to be broadcast". It is sad that we still see those propaganda advantages handed to those who damage society in such a way.
As the saga of the Anglo-Irish Joint Declaration unfolds, including the news that our Government, through intermediaries, have been in contact with Sinn Fein and the IRA, I, and I am sure others, have been saddened that there has been no attempt to reduce or eliminate some of the propaganda weapons that we hand to the men of violence. It is because I see the prevention of terrorism Act as a propaganda weapon used against the forces of non-violent politics that I am against it.
When one looks at what has happened since December and the announcement of the Anglo-Irish understanding, we have seen a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of statements; we have seen the change in the Irish broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, but we have seen no movement from the British Government. It is sad that apparently there have been no efforts to reinforce the positive advantages of the Anglo-Irish declaration in the eyes of Irish republicans. While I will not seek to divide: the House tonight, to vote against the order, I make this plea to the Government: that they be more bold; that they be more resolute; that they be more positive in their pursuit of an understanding that can lead to peace in Northern Ireland.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord Cooke of Islandreagh
My Lords, it is regrettable, as the Minister said, that the order for emergency and temporary provisions has to be renewed for another year. However, there is no doubt that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland understand that the provisions are essential and I firmly support the approval of the order.
The horrific accident last Thursday, about which the noble Baroness spoke so movingly, in which 25 of the most senior people involved in the prevention of terrorism lost their lives, caused great distress throughout Northern Ireland and I join many others in offering my heartfelt condolences and sympathy to the bereaved and also to the colleagues and many friends of those who lost their lives. Those men were in charge of the difficult and demanding work of finding the best way to counter terrorist activity, always within the law. Their loss must be serious and I hope that the security forces will be able to rebuild those important teams quickly. There is no doubt that those dedicated men, devoted to service to the community, prevented the security situation being very much worse than it has been. Sir Hugh Annesley, in his talk to the bereaved yesterday as the remains of some of those who died were brought home, spoke of that point.
When studying the provisions of the order one cannot help but be struck by the number of independent inspectors who examine the working of the provisions. The Minister listed them so I need not repeat them, I wonder whether any other country has quite so many checks against abuse of the order. I read the first report undertaken by Mr. John Rowe, QC, which was thoughtfully and sincerely set out.
As regards the general working of the order, living in Northern Ireland I have noted that the handling of 1301 checkpoints and patrols has improved in the past year or so in the sense of causing the least annoyance and possible aggravation to those who are stopped and questioned. There is no doubt that great efforts have been made by the police and the security forces generally to handle those awkward and time-consuming affairs in the best possible way and their efforts must be commended. It is obvious that there will always be complaints in that sort of work. Some of the complaints are believed to the extent that the patrols or checkpoints suffer from extreme aggravation at times and it is not surprising that occasionally awkward incidents occur.
It is generally accepted that special powers alone will not end terrorism; there must be supporting political action. After all, the objective of terrorism is to force change and unless political steps make it absolutely clear that force will never achieve its objective, terrorist atrocities may continue. Only some days ago Archbishop Robin Eames felt it necessary to say that many people in Northern Ireland now believe that violence pays. The Archbishop is the last person to make such a statement without knowing it to be the fact from his many contacts at all levels in the community. If we cut through the fog of reasons and excuses for violence in Northern Ireland, the essence is that the IRA believes that it can bring about a so-called united Ireland by force. Unfortunately, some self-styled loyalists seem determined to prevent that by force. In both cases force usually means some ghastly atrocity without sense or reason. The response of Sinn Fein/IRA to the Downing Street declaration makes clear that they continue to believe that they can continue their objective by force.
The Government will say that they have repeatedly said that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for so long as the majority wish. That is true; they have said that. But that statement leaves open the question of how long the majority may wish to remain in the United Kingdom or whether something may change the minds of the majority. All that has led to uncertainty, as have statements such as, "The Government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland". There have also been statements from the Republic of Ireland which have at the least been unhelpful and which have not been countered. Those things erode the force of government assurances and alarm the majority in Northern Ireland.
It should now be obvious that the substantial majority will have nothing to do with a united Ireland in the foreseeable future; and by "foreseeable" I suggest a period of at least 25 years. In Northern Ireland we want peace, not a peace process, and it is high time that the Government stopped hesitating. The way to bring peace, which we all want, is for government to rebuild democratic government in Northern Ireland and make it clear that Northern Ireland will be governed fairly and with equal regard for all as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
The noble Baroness the Minister, in reply to a Question by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, only a fortnight ago, said very firmly that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. That reply has been well received. The very fact that this Question was 1302 asked indicates the uncertainty which exists and which encourages the IRA to believe in force. I know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is well aware of that uncertainty and is conscious of the dangers which that uncertainty can bring.
Time is not on the side of law and order and action that will be successful must be swift. Only yesterday the chairman of the police authority spoke of the growth of drug dealing and racketeering and forecast that the terrorists, supported by the bomb and the bullet, were becoming addicted to the high life they now lead on the money they make from drug dealing and racketeering. I urge that government action will soon make it obvious to everyone that the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom will remain firm. If government will move positively in this direction then the order which we will approve tonight will show better results when the order comes up again for renewal.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, first, I pay due credit to Mr. Rowe, QC, for his excellent first report. Before commenting on the EPA and the fight against terrorism, I, too, would like to express my sympathy to the families and relatives of all those killed in the Chinook crash last week. First and foremost it was a human tragedy, and the thoughts of every law-abiding person in the Province and elsewhere are with the bereaved and would only wish to share the burden of the great sadness and grief in those 29 homes throughout the United Kingdom. There is universal sorrow, and wherever I have been in the past few days the first topic of conversation has been expressions of horror and sympathy from, I may say, both sides of the religious divide. It has especially affected those of us from the Province because the fact is that, were it not for our problems, these exceptional people would not have been where they were at that time.
It is also shaming that some of those public figures in Northern Ireland who have been most vocal in questioning, with implied criticism, as to why these people were all together and why they were flying at all, are the very people who all too often stir up emotions on the extremes of the sectarian divide. That is a contributory factor to the violence and the latter is the reason why such a group has to get away to formulate policy. What was being done was normal good business practice and sound man management and the critics and some of the media should have the intelligence to accept it as such.
Of course damage has been done to the intelligence agencies, but I believe that reorganisation and vast improvements in inter-agency co-operation during the past few years will have lessened the possible dire consequences. I am quite sure that all information held by these people was duplicated and is retrievable but what we have lost is their exceptional leadership, vast experience and judgment.
Coming to the subject of the order, I am disappointed that for the second year out of three the chief constable's report is over six months late. When we are discussing the operation of the emergency provisions it seems fairly ridiculous that we do not have in front of us the 1303 only single report on the operation of the provisions in practice. So we are all pulling as many facts as we can, be they from our own memories or whatever.
I am glad to see that Mr. Rowe largely endorses the use of the EPA as it stands. His comments on Part I of the Act, on page 16, referring to the length of time on remand are very important. Many people are concerned about this timelag and even the guilty have a just complaint. Sound justice has to be efficient and without undue delay.
On page 26 Mr. Rowe discusses the option of a charge of manslaughter or murder for members of the security forces who may have killed someone while on duty. I am happy to see that he thinks that it,would seem to be dangerous to impose special criminal offences for security force personnel".I am also pleased that, in line with the government of the Irish Republic, Mr. Rowe believes that the power of internment should be kept. I am sure that that subject will be brought up by the Front Bench opposite in a few minutes.
Statistics are few and far between because of there being no further reports. It is interesting that in the first five months of 1993 there were 1,628 complaints against personnel in the security forces. In the first five months of 1994 there were 1,351. That is an improvement of nearly 20 per cent. I think that the Army in particular should be congratulated on its improvement in handling people meeting the public. Another statistic is relevant. Complaints for damage caused by security force activity in 1993 numbered 3,883, of which 3,342 were cases related to helicopter activity. I am quite sure that helicopter activity does not begin to cause the damage that people are complaining about. Many of the complaints are totally unverifiable because of the locations where they appear to occur—be it South Armagh or Derry—and because they refer to animals aborting or dying and various other things. I would ask my noble friend the Minister to pass on the request that the military should speed up their attempts to make these incidents more verifiable since they normally account for expenditure of more than £4.5 million.
The EPA is absolutely vital in containing terrorist violence but the security forces themselves cannot defeat the terrorist in a military manner. It is interesting to look at what has occurred since the Downing Street declaration. Immediately after the declaration there was a softening of attitude toward the security forces in the harder nationalist areas where people believed that if there was a prospect of peace they would benefit by a reduction in intimidation and violence. Perhaps the IRA sensed this because violence continued with sectarian killings, including two of our local policemen in Fivemiletown just before Christmas. Also, as a result of violence by so-called loyalists, attitudes in the average nationalist areas hardened again. But what all this showed is that the general attitude is: please give us peace and we, the average Catholic and Protestant, will respond.
Then of course we get a ceasefire from Sinn Fein and the IRA. I have to say that many of us do not even notice that kind of ceasefire within the Province. We often get periods of time when there is no violence for a few days.
1304 However, during the ceasefire, there is no cessation of racketeering, intimidation, and the big one—planning the next bombing or shooting incident. Within a very short while—a few hours—of the last ceasefire ending there were two incidents; first, a bomb attack at Old Park RUC station; and, secondly, a very large bomb at Aughnacloy permanent vehicle check point. There may be those who are naive about this, but do not include us among them. The planning and positioning of arms and terrorists did, I assure your Lordships, take place during the ceasefire.
I think that Sinn Fein and the IRA cannot decide what to do at present. The violence is not continuing because it is achieving anything; it continues because terrorists like these have no policy other than death and illicit financial earnings, and they cannot think of how to respond to any declaration or peace initiative. To swap violence for democracy, which they have been given the opportunity to do within the declaration, means defeat. They are not politicians; they are terrorists. The SDLP would win convincingly if it came to the democratic vote. As for taking the opinion of their terrorist membership before deciding what to do, what good will that do? Ninety per cent. or more of them do not shoot or bomb. They live off the fraud, racketeering and so on which can only continue as a result of weapons and explosives being used by under 10 per cent. of their membership. Do you expect them to tell the gunmen to stop? I do not believe that they will do so. I point out that the loyalist terrorists are equally murderous, if not even worse. They have in fact killed more people recently than the republicans. However, without making excuses—I condemn both groups equally—it is probably true to say that if Sinn Fein and the IRA stop, the loyalists would also stop. Until then I support the continuance of this order.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I listened with some fascination to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, as several of the points which he raised were ones on which I myself in the past have spent a certain amount of time. However, I shall resist the temptation to follow him because I only want to touch briefly on two points which I have already put to the Secretary of State in correspondence. I believe that they are of sufficient public interest just to be mentioned in this debate.
Ever since last year, and as the South African and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts moved slowly towards negotiated settlements, there has been intense specula-tion concerning peaceful ways forward for Northern Ireland. Obviously, the republican movement is anxious to avoid internal splits, but we have to recognise that Sinn Fein has kept everyone waiting for an extremely long time while murders continue. First, if that party has nothing to offer after the European parliamentary elections I would like Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government to consider implementing selective internment. That would lock up the known organisers of terrorism and paramilitary activity.
1305 However, I believe that it would only be effective if it came into being simultaneously north and south of the border.
Secondly—and here I address myself to Her Majesty's Government only—I would like to see choices being put before the electors of Northern Ireland thus continuing the good work that was begun by the OPSAHL Commission. I believe that it should be possible to define constitutional options which would be put to the voters. A series of referenda might be necessary through which the less popular options would be eliminated. This method has been used successfully in Newfoundland in the past and I believe also in New Zealand. Such an expression of popular preference in internal constitutional arrangements would give powerful guidance to the political parties whose responsibility it would remain to negotiate the details of the system that appealed most to a majority of both the two main political and cultural traditions.
Here again, it would be helpful if both governments would give at least tacit approval to this means of achieving a settlement. Such a strategy combining measures against terrorism on the one hand and, on the other, in favour of constitutional politics seems to have much to commend it. I shall, of course, quite understand if the noble Baroness the Minister does not feel able to comment very much on these matters tonight.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, on behalf of the party which I represent, I extend both tributes to the dead and sympathy to the living who were concerned with the helicopter accident in Scotland. I agree entirely with what the Minister said that we all need to bear in mind the indescribable stresses which public servants labour under and the fact that on this occasion it was public duty that brought them to their death. We have to honour their memory. I agree that some of the criticism of the fact that so many were in one helicopter might better, with a sense of decency, have been left unsaid in the press and elsewhere. It is not just their memory but those of countless others that we have to bear in mind as we approach our work tonight and the care that we must all give to the people of Northern Ireland generally.
But care is not simply the unquestioning approval of purportedly temporary powers. After all, these temporary powers have now been renewed for 21 years. I propose that we have a duty to safeguard those who are subject to criminal and murderous attacks. They remain that however they are dressed up for public or overseas consumption. The Minister well knows of my personal concern about the threat to proper compensation in Northern Ireland if the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board scheme, as presently constituted, is done away with. This abolition has already occurred in England and Wales. Some weeks ago the Minister was good enough to assure me in your Lordships' House that no such abolition or diminution would occur in Northern Ireland without the fullest consultation. I would welcome a further reassurance this evening that nothing will be done or is within the contemplation of the Government to limit compensation payable in Northern Ireland.
1306 Perhaps I may give one example. If any of those who died in the helicopter crash had been severely injured, perhaps permanently paralysed, by gun or by bomb on a street in Belfast, at present he would have full compensation on the usual personal injury scale, for personal injury, loss of amenity, loss of wages and of permanent medical care—and, as we all know, the latter could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. A very significant part of that compensation has now been abolished in England and Wales. Awards in many cases will be substantially lower than formerly. On this particular occasion, I wonder how the Government would feel able to justify taking away any element of that compensation from the public and public servants in Northern Ireland.
I should like to turn to one or two aspects of the legislation in practice, paying tribute, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to the quality of the review which was put forward earlier by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I read the statement on security policy which was issued by the Secretary of State as recently as March of last year. The first aim is:'To maintain the rule of law".That is a deeper concept than simply a statement that the law must be obeyed. It means significantly that the content and mechanisms of any law in any part of the United Kingdom must conform to the standards of a civilised society and of course now must conform to the terms of the relevant articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, we have to bear in mind freedom from arrest without due cause, the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression save in the most exceptional circumstances of pressing public and political necessity.
A number of recent reports are relevant. I mention the helpful report of Mr. James Grew as chairman of the Independent Commission for Police Complaints for Northern Ireland. It was printed on 18th May of this year. There is a salutary text on the cover which states:When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of liberty attained that wise men look for".Mr. Grew fairly attributes that to John Milton. His report identifies certain quite serious problems; in particular delays in convening tribunals about disciplinary complaints. No such tribunal has sat this year. I would suggest that that is grossly unfair to police officers because they are left in uncertainty. It is unsatisfactory to complainants and is generally damaging to public confidence. I should be grateful for some indication that Mr. Grew's caution about delay has been heeded by the Secretary of State.
There is also the more limited point—still of importance —that there has been a failure to upgrade the posts of chief executive and deputy chief executive for five years past within the complaints authority. I do not know whether the Minister can help us on that this evening. If not, I would welcome a letter from her in the usual way.
I turn now to Sir Louis Blom-Cooper's report of 31 st January this year and in particular to his description of Castlereagh as a holding centre. In another place, Mr. McNamara referred to his visit to Castlereagh. The Minister of State, Sir John Wheeler, welcomed that 1307 visit. I am bound to say that that shows an openness on which the Government should be congratulated, and I happily do so. The real problem at Castlereagh is the closed circuit TV supervision. No sound accompanies the pictures and, as Sir Louis reports, there are too many monitors for effective supervision. He therefore concluded that the supervisory exercise was "of very limited value". If the value is limited, it derogates from public confidence in the proper administration of the holding centres, which, as is well known, has been severely dented over the past few years.
The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights stated in July 1993 (this is an important citation which I give verbatim):'The Commission urges Government to introduce video recording as soon as possible in the holding centres in Northern Ireland. It remains the view of the Commission that the case for this course of action is unanswerable and has, effectively, remained unanswered".The citation from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper's report has already been given in full by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and I do not repeat it. However, if I may, I should like to echo the strength of support which my noble friend expressed for the Blom-Cooper scheme. The scheme is carefully considered. It has been worked out in the detail which my noble friend Lord Lester indicated, and draws a very important distinction between the mechanism of recording and the consequences of such recordings. That has been a difficulty and a problem that has underlain perfectly understandable police anxieties. We are not dealing only with prospective defendants, but also with prospective witnesses who may have much to hide from their colleagues in unlawful organisations.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, urged the Government on 20th May to give serious consideration to the introduction of video recording all interviews under Section 14 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Mr. Rowe's view has already been indicated. He generally favours it.
I hope to say, without being partisan, that I find the Minister's response this evening and the perhaps more full response (for obvious reasons of time) which the Secretary of State gave in another place not convincing and unsatisfactory. Like my noble friend Lord Lester, I hope that we shall hear something more positive—not necessarily this evening, but within the next three months or so. It is well known that our policy is against Executive detention and against internal exile. That was substantially the basis upon which the Labour Party in another place voted against the continuation of this order.
What is troubling to many of us is that at the moment the Blom-Cooper recommendations, the recommendations of the Standing Advisory Commission, the Colville recommendations and the Rowe recommendations are, if not being ignored, at least being set aside.
I turn now to the anxieties of the chief constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, to whose work I pay a willing and full tribute. He is concerned about a shortfall in the armoury of legitimate weapons to be used against terrorism. He says—rightly, in my view—that the Interception of Communications Act 1985 is producing material which is simply not admissible in the prosecution of terrorism 1308 and terrorist offences. Given proper judicial safeguards and proper legal checks and balances, about which I personally see no difficulty given the experience in, for instance, the United States of America, and given a controlled scheme, I see very powerful arguments in support of the chief constable's view that one ought to be able to use material that has been lawfully gathered as evidence against terrorists. Of course, one takes the point that one does not want to expose to public view —or, indeed, to terrorist view—the mechanisms of particular operations, but there must be cases where significant material is obtained by the interception of communications. That seems to me to be, in principle, an unnecessary hobbling of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and other security forces in the effective prosecution of terrorism.
I turn now to what was said by my noble friend Lord Lester about the judiciary in Northern Ireland. As I have said on many occasions both in Northern Ireland and in your Lordships' House, I have nothing but the highest regard for the judiciary in Northern Ireland and for practitioners—both those at the Bar and solicitors. All have extraordinarily difficult tasks to carry out.
The Diplock courts are objectionable in principle; but having spoken to lawyers representing both defendants and the prosecution in Northern Ireland, I have to say that they have a good reputation for fairness. Therefore, while in principle we would prefer jury trials, I repeat that the judiciary in Northern Ireland is held in high regard not simply in Northern Ireland, but elsewhere for its independence, courage and fairness.
The suggestion of my noble friend Lord Lester that there should be three judges ought to be considered. I think, however, that the response may well be the reasonable one that judges in Northern Ireland are already hopelessly overstretched and that, without further judicial appointments, they simply could not cope.
I think that it is also right to say—I have taken this matter up personally in response to complaints that have been made about delay in "terrorist" trials—that there are very long delays and that judges are concerned. However, one must also recognise that some of the delays are brought about by defendants. Defendants want and reasonably expect—it may be their entitlement under the European convention—to have counsel of their reasonable choice. Self-evidently, the Bar is reasonably small in number in Northern Ireland and terrorist cases tend to last a long time. One has to recognise that many of the delays arise because defendants prefer, of their free choice, to remain in custody with representation of their choice rather than to have a speedy trial with someone they regard as not particularly satisfactory.
I should like to raise two further matters before closing. The confiscation of the proceeds of terrorist activity is extremely important. I believe that both noble Lords who have much more knowledge of Northern Ireland than I have are right that much of that activity although quasi terrorist/political is in fact ordinary, greedy crime. It is important to confiscate the proceeds of it. As my noble friend Lord Lester said, it may well be that we should be considering a tightening and 1309 clarification of those powers, perhaps taking some benefit from the lessons that we have learned about the confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking in another context.
I should also like to endorse what my noble friend said by way of a question. I refer to the question of whether there is to be any further proscription of unlawful terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland. If the Minister feels that it is inappropriate to reply publicly or without further consideration, I for one would wholly respect that. Finally, I do not want to resume my seat without once again thanking the Minister for the enormous care and courtesy that she always applies on these occasions, which are not easy.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the worthwhile debate that we have had this evening. It would have pleased the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that the debate took place earlier than is normal for much Northern Ireland business. It is with great regret that we hear that a broken rib keeps him from being with us this evening. I believe that when he reads the debate he will be pleased with the enormous commitment and quality that was shown.
We are all at one in wishing to see the scourge of terrorism eliminated from Northern Ireland, although at the margin we may differ as to how that can best be achieved. That is not surprising given the need to strike a balance between the rights of society and the rights of the individual. In his report, Mr. Rowe said:The community's right to be free from terrorism is as important as any individual rights",but that leaves us with competing interests in which we have to find a judicious balance.
I should like to reply to the points raised. I shall scrutinise the Official Report carefully, and if there are any points that I have missed I can assure noble Lords that I shall write to them. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, kindly said, there may be points which I may ignore now but to which I may return in private. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, praised—this was repeated by many other noble Lords—the courage of the judges in Northern Ireland. I thank him for those remarks and say how much they are appreciated by the people of Northern Ireland. Their work is greatly valued. He also said—this sums up the matter correctly—that the powers contained in the order should be no more than is absolutely necessary.
The point which gives the noble Lord most concern relates to video recording. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and other noble Lords, also raised this point. I can assure noble Lords that the proposals put forward by many people but, in particular, the careful proposals of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, are not being ignored. They are being studied with great care, and we shall continue to do so. However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is not convinced that there could be an absolute guarantee that a tape would not find its way into the hands of someone with a criminal motive.
We should also respect the firm view of the chief constable that recording would inhibit still further the 1310 chances of lawfully obtaining the information necessary to secure convictions and protect life. He continues to hold that conviction and he is in the front line in the battle against terrorism. Terrorists are under strict instructions from their organisations not to co-operate with the authorities in any way. I repeat that that matter is under continuous and constant examination. We fully appreciate the strength and seriousness of the views on that issue which are presented to us.
We share the concerns expressed about the delay in justice. The report on the second year's operation of the scheme, which is going in the right direction, will be submitted to Ministers in September. We envisage the scheme continuing into its third year, beginning on 1 st July. Through the operation of that scheme, and in all other possible ways, we shall continue to aim to reduce delays. The admiration for the work of the judges in Northern Ireland is much appreciated. We do not accept that the standard of justice is in any way inferior because there is one judge only presiding. We are not persuaded that a change to multi-judge courts would necessarily produce better justice or significantly or permanently enhance confidence in the court system. Nor are we persuaded that the difficulties associated with such a change could be overcome without causing fundamental problems with regard to the listing and allocation of cases of scheduled offences.
As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, rightly pointed out there is the difficulty about the number of judges and the need, which we recognise, to speed up justice. Those are issues upon which we must maintain constant vigilance. We should listen to the views expressed to us by people of great experience and knowledge. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to join with your Lordships in paying tribute to the many people who are prepared to give of their talents and skills to scrutinise the activities in Northern Ireland to ensure that rights under the law are protected.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill further strengthens anti-racketeering powers. Authorised inves-tigators are being given the power to obtain written answers to written questions. Other adjustments are being made. We believe that that is a matter into which John Rowe will wish to look in his fundamental review of the whole area. There is no doubt that we are seeing not an expression of political views but just pure greed and thuggery. There is no scam in which the paramilitaries have not been involved or had control over. It is something of which we are well aware and upon which work is being done. There is sometimes criticism that the number of cases brought under the legislation do not reflect its value. The prime objective is to disrupt that racketeering and take it out of the core of Northern Ireland activities.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised the issue of proscription. We always keep under review the list of possible proscribed organisations. Perhaps I may assure him that non-proscription does not prevent an organisation's members from being prosecuted. Most active loyalist terrorist organisations are already proscribed but we review that constantly. We shall move the moment that we feel that to be appropriate and necessary.
1311 I was delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, offered no support for any paramilitary organisation. However, I cannot understand anyone who believes that a political view justifies the use of violence. I understand his concern over the nature of the Act. We do not wish to give it up. I understand his views on internment and the broadcasting ban. But there is a simple way in which all those matters can be dealt with: it is for terrorists to renounce violence. I have never thought it difficult to say, "I renounce killing". It is a simple phrase, and that is all that is required.
If we are talking about the courage needed for the talks, I should like to pay tribute to the great risk incurred and commitment shown by the Prime Minister in leading the joint declaration discussions. The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, my noble friend Lord Brookeborough and other noble Lords paid tribute to those whom we have so tragically lost. I would like to reassure my colleagues residing in Northern Ireland that there are great skills and talents among those remaining. Although we may have lost the ability of someone to get inside the mind of a particular terrorist, that will not take long to replace.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, for saying that in his personal experience there is improved handling at checkpoints and that efforts are being made by the security forces in their relationship with the community. Of course, political talks must run alongside because this is not something that can be secured by security forces. I repeat wholeheartedly the statement that I made last week that Northern Ireland is part of the Union. I also share with the noble Lord the view that there is a need to give a sense of reassurance in the Province—we recognise the sense of unease— that violence has absolutely no rewards.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough said that it was necessary to ensure that military involvement in the Province had minimum effect on the community and the people living there. Where, unfortunately, there is an effect there is a possibility of compensation. I assure my noble friend that the military are attempting to make complaints about helicopter damage more verifiable and I shall certainly pass on his concerns. My noble friend is right to be cynical about ceasefires which end in incidents which must have been planned during the period of the ceasefire. Again, I say that there is no justification for any death.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, joined in the debate. If he will forgive me, I will accept his invitation not to go into detail tonight. To achieve our aim, which is peace in Northern Ireland, there must be co-operation between both governments and we must continue to look at all solutions. My honourable friend in another place, Mr. Michael Ancram, has continuing talks with parties to try to find solutions. I am sure that the noble Lord will recognise that they are of great value and I pay tribute to my honourable friend.
The noble Lord said that progress in the Middle East is, we hope, achievable. We should recognise that in South Africa we saw miracles brought about by people's commitment. That must always give us hope.
As always, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, brings much to our debates on Northern Ireland and I am 1312 grateful. On this occasion I am particularly grateful for his acknowledgement that perhaps after the helicopter crash some statements were made which did not respect the decency which death demands. I thank him very much for that comment. I believe that we are on common ground in our belief that it is right that the extensions should come to a halt and a full review should be taken of this legislation. We look forward to reading the report of John Rowe, which starts from scratch in bringing about a full review of the situation. The noble Lord also expressed strong anxiety about compensation, a point which he has made previously. I appreciate how much he is anxious about the matter and I assure him that the Secretary of State is considering the implications that the new arrangements in Great Britain might have for Northern Ireland. The Government are fully committed to full public consultation with all interested parties and no decisions have yet been taken. I would not want to speculate on the outcome.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. In case it is thought that that position is not controversial, I wish to express one note of caution. I do not expect the Minister to agree that the real vice is the devaluing English scheme on this side of the Irish Sea. The public on this side of the Irish Sea might well misunderstand: a situation in which much fuller compensation were to be available on common-law principles to the victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland than in mainland Britain. That is a great difficulty and I for one need to be; persuaded that it was right to compensate the victim of a terrorist bomb in Belfast more generously than the victim of a terrorist bomb in London.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, I fully accept the anxiety which the noble Lord expressed. I assure him that we have no illusion that when the matter goes out for consultation there will be controversy and different views.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, commented on matters raised in Mr. Grew's report. We value the report that has been given to us and every single topic raised has been given full consideration. Mr. Grew's organisation brings to the discussions much valuable input.
I am able to answer the noble Lord's anxiety about the upgrading of the posts of the executives. It has been considered most carefully but it has been concluded that the posts are correctly graded. The argument about interception of communications being used as evidence is finely balanced but, as I said in my opening speech, it remains under most careful consideration and we believe that it should continue to do so.
Many noble Lords paid tribute to the work done by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper in his first report. I wish to quote from the report. In conclusion Sir Louis stated:apart from a few expected complaints about the quality of food, I have received no complaints from any detainee about anything that took place while the detainee was in the Holding Centre beyond the confines of the interview room".I believe that that is a tribute to the professionalism of the officers.
1313 I stress that the powers contained in this order are there because they are regrettably necessary. Civilised life in Northern Ireland and the good reputation of the Province is damaged by the vicious and deadly activities of unrepresentative terrorist organisations from both sides of the community. It is right that extraordinary powers should be available in order to allow society to respond to the terrorists.
It is equally right that those powers should be temporary and that they should be such as to command the support of all those who deplore the use of violence.
1314 The Government's first priority in Northern Ireland is to defeat terrorism. These powers are an essential means to that end. We must hope that one day they will no longer be necessary, but until then they must be maintained and implemented resolutely but with appropriate sensitivity. We owe no less to the people of Northern Ireland, for whom, over the past six months, I have come to have the most profound respect and affection. I commend the order to your Lordships.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at ten minutes past nine o'clock.