HL Deb 16 March 1995 vol 562 cc980-97

6.51 p.m.

Baroness Blatch rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 2nd March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am sure that all Members of the House join me in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, to our debate. We look forward very much to what he has to say.

This is the first occasion the House has had the opportunity to consider the future of the prevention of terrorism legislation since the IRA and loyalist cease-fires. While the issues which we have to address will be familiar to those who have studied the annual debates, the context and the mood this year are quite different.

Since 31st August many of the restrictions introduced in response to the terrorist threat have progressively been removed. The closure orders on border roads between Northern Ireland and the Republic have been rescinded. There are far fewer troops on the streets of Northern Ireland. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced earlier this week that an army unit is to return to Great Britain where it will remain available to redeploy to Northern Ireland at short notice if required. I must emphasise that the decision was taken purely on the basis of the operational judgments of the police and military commanders, reflecting the improved security situation. Last week the searching arrangements in the centre of Belfast were discontinued. Here in London the police have been able to start to redeploy a number of officers who were previously devoted to security duties. The new climate of hope was perhaps most vividly illustrated by the visit which Her Majesty was able to make a week ago to Belfast and Armagh.

The cease-fires have brought long overdue relief to our police and security forces. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for the enormous weight of responsibility which they have borne over the past quarter of a century. Our fervent hope is that the violence has stopped not merely for now but for good. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced on 21st October that we were prepared to make a working assumption that the cessation was indeed intended to be permanent. That, however, is not the same as saying that it will be permanent. We still have a long way to go before we can be sure that the republican and so-called loyalist guns have fallen silent for the last time and that no more will the destructive potential of IRA bombs be unleashed in our towns and cities.

The security changes which have occurred in response to the cease-fires have had two things in common. The first is that they have not been political gestures designed to promote the peace process but a prudent and well judged response to changing threat levels, arrived at in the light of the professional views of our security advisers. The second is that they have each met the test of ready reversibility. By that I mean that nothing has been dismantled which could not extremely rapidly be put back in place if the cease-fires were suddenly to break down.

The paramilitary organisations retain all their previous capability. Their arsenals are intact; their command structures are in place; recruiting, targeting and fund raising have continued. It would, in the Government's view, be sheer folly to erode our own capabilities until we can be confident that the end of terrorist violence from Northern Ireland is itself irreversible.

It is against that background that the Government have had to consider the future of the legislation which we are debating this evening. In recent years there have been those who argued that the very title of this legislation—the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act—is misleading. According to its critics it has neither prevented terrorism nor can it any longer be said to be temporary.

In its simplest form the first of these arguments is that since terrorist violence has continued for more than 20 years since the introduction of the initial legislation by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, it has manifestly failed in its objective of preventing terrorism. The truth, of course, is that it has never been part of the Government's argument that Northern Irish terrorism could be brought to an end by legislation and security measures alone. Political development and economic and social policies in Northern Ireland have all had their part to play. But let us not underestimate the impact on the terrorists of our determination, year after year, to stand resolute in the face of the most extreme provocations.

Can it seriously be suggested that the IRA's campaign would have ended any earlier if we had abandoned this legislation? Would the threat of terrorism have been reduced if we had decided to curtail the exceptional powers conferred on the police by this legislation?

It has also been argued that legislation which has lasted for over 20 years has, in reality, become all but permanent despite the annual process of renewal to which it is subject. The Government reject that view. Our firm conviction is that the Act remains, in substance as well as form, temporary.

We have consistently acknowledged that the legislation contains some wholly exceptional provisions which could not be justified but for the fundamental threat to national security from Irish terrorism. The exclusion order power and the provision for executive detention for up to seven days are the most notable examples. The Government have never had any intention that they should become permanent features of our law. Moreover, we have always refused to accept that Northern Irish terrorism is a permanent fact of life.

Undoubtedly the Act involves some encroachment on civil liberties but any dispassionate observer would, I believe, be struck by the enormous restraint which we have shown in this country over the past two decades in the face of the most determined assault on our civil liberties and human rights from the terrorists themselves.

The police and Armed Forces have had to operate within the law and where they have stepped outside it they have been liable to disciplinary proceedings or prosecution. Evidential standards have had to satisfy the scrutiny of independent prosecutors and an independent judiciary. Those accused have had all the normal entitlements to legal aid. The prosecution has had to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. There has been the full panoply of appeal rights and independent complaints procedures—arrangements which have been substantially strengthened in recent years.

No nation faced with a grave challenge to its national security can refrain from taking some exceptional measures. I believe we are entitled to derive some satisfaction from the fact that we have resorted to so relatively few. But now is the moment to look forward rather than back. We need to consider for how much longer, in the new situation, we may need to retain some or all of these exceptional powers. We shall also at some point need to examine what permanent counter-terrorism legislation, if any, might be needed if Northern Irish terrorism were finally to disappear but if, as seems likely, we were still to face a continuing threat from international terrorism.

On the first question we have been greatly helped by the independent review conducted by Mr. John Rowe QC. I am sure noble Lords will want to join me in thanking him for his comprehensive and illuminating report. It is greatly reassuring to have his considered view that the powers were properly and fairly exercised during 1994. They were, moreover, used extensively. There were 1,564 detentions under the Act in 1994, all but 61 of those in Northern Ireland. Over threequarters of those detained were released within 48 hours but 357 people had their detentions extended. Perhaps the most striking statistic is that 348 of those 357 cases occurred before the IRA cease-fire on 31st August. In the last four months of last year just nine people had their detention extended beyond 48 hours, all of them in Northern Ireland. Since 1st January there have been just nine further cases, five of them in Great Britain involving international terrorism.

Moreover, the periods of detention have come down sharply since the cease-fires. There were only 25 cases in the whole of the United Kingdom last year where persons were detained for the full seven days permitted under the Act and in none of those cases was the seven-day period authorised at the outset. On each occasion, shorter periods were granted and the police had to come back and show subsequently that further periods were justified because of the complexity of the investigation. Since 31st August no one has been detained for more than 96 hours in total except in the case of those arrested in connection with the Newry post office murder.

Mr. Rowe's clear conclusion is that while the use of detention powers had declined dramatically, it would be premature at this stage to conclude that they could be dispensed with. The Government endorse that conclusion. We also endorse Mr. Rowe's arguments, which are very much in line with those eloquently set out by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in last year's debate, that it is not practicable to introduce a judicial element into the arrangements for authorising extensions of detention.

Retaining the possibility of detention without charge or judicial involvement for up to seven days does mean that for the time being the strictly limited derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights, which we entered following the Brogan case, must remain in force. We very much regret that. We are, however, wholly satisfied that it is too early yet to be confident that the emergency which necessitated it has come to an end.

The other highly exceptional provision examined in some detail by Mr. Rowe is the exclusion order power. Again, his conclusion is that this has undoubtedly helped to frustrate terrorist attacks and that it should at this stage be retained. As with detentions, the use of the power has declined sharply since the cease-fire. When we debated this legislation last year there were 80 exclusion orders in force, 71 made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and nine by my right honourable friend the Northern Ireland Secretary. The case for all the orders has been reviewed since the cease-fire and, as a result, just 40 orders now remain in force.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has concluded that it would not be prudent to go further since, in the view of the police and the Security Service, there are still a number of people whom it would not yet be safe to allow unimpeded access to Great Britain. If all exclusion orders were to be lifted now there would be nothing to stop any of those people coming here well before a possible breakdown of the cease-fire, perhaps to make preparations for renewed attacks. The mainland would, as before, be a key target in the event of renewed terrorist violence.

Mr. Rowe's conclusion was that these and the other powers in the Act should all be renewed for a full 12 months. He nevertheless noted that a further order could be tabled at any time to suspend one or more of them if circumstances so warranted. He recommended that the Government should keep this possibility in mind. That we shall do. These are exceptional powers. But, equally, we owe it to the people of this country not to expose them to unnecessary risk. Keeping the powers in force, but using them as sparingly as possible, seems to us to be the correct approach at this stage while the present uncertainties remain.

So far, I have, like Mr. Rowe, simply been addressing the immediate future. Undoubtedly, if the cease-fires continue to hold, and if we make progress on the decommissioning of arms and explosives, other questions will arise. It may be that we should then be able to dispense with one or more of these powers. Similar possibilities would arise with the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, which we shall be considering in three months' time following a further independent review by Mr. Rowe.

In addition we should also, in due course, need to address the longer term issues. On these the Government retain an open mind. There will certainly need to be a wide-ranging look at all the options. Some of the existing legislation, for example related to terrorist funding, may well need to be incorporated into permanent legislation. There may also need to be other powers and offences, over and above those currently provided in the general law, for dealing with the continuing threat from international terrorism, vividly illustrated by the bomb outside the Israeli embassy last July.

Quite how and when any such review should be undertaken is something on which the Government wish to reflect further. We are clear, however, that the priority for now must be to do everything in our power to turn the present Northern'Ireland cease-fires into a lasting peace. Until we have made further progress down that road it would be premature to consider what statutory framework might be needed once the requirement for temporary legislation has disappeared.

The Government would very much welcome a return to the all-party consensus which used to exist on the need for counter-terrorism legislation. For the moment it seems that that measure of agreement may still be just beyond our reach. But we greatly welcome the widespread measure of support in your Lordships' House for our attempts to bring a lasting peace to Northern Ireland. If they succeed, then we shall all be witnesses to an historic achievement which has defied the many courageous attempts that others have made down the years. In the meantime the Government will continue to attach the highest priority to the protection of our people. I commend the order to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 2nd March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Blatch.)

7.5 p.m.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, I have been told that it is customary to start by asking for the indulgence of the House. I do so, not merely for that reason but because I may well need it. I have also been told that I must be non-controversial. But I find it hard to see how safeguarding the public against terrorism can be classed as being controversial; I think it is a matter upon which all noble Lords must agree. Some of the details of how it may be achieved may be considered controversial, and therefore I shall keep to general principles—although on some future occasion, when I am relieved of this constraint, I may possibly be more direct in putting my views.

I take my facts from an impartial source to which the noble Baroness has already referred; namely, the report from Mr. J. J. Rowe QC which was presented as recently as 3rd February this year. In dealing with the present situation, he draws attention to the fact that terrorists still have arms and are capable of using them. This is true of all brands of terrorism and not just one particular group. The report finds that extortion is still going on: there is still racketeering by terrorists and money is being collected for their funds.

This Act, as has already been stated, applies to the whole United Kingdom, and not merely to Northern Ireland. International terrorism is on the increase and we must be protected against it. Let us remember Lockerbie and other incidents that have taken place in London itself. Let us also remember that terrorism need not be political. It may be of the Mafia type— and often is—concerned with drugs, protection rackets, money laundering and the like. Sometimes, indeed, there is merely a political facade to cover such activities.

The Act is not perfect; and Mr. Rowe has made many valuable suggestions which might form the basis of more permanent legislation. These should be—and I know that they will be—considered by the Government over the next year. But, as the noble Baroness has already said, it would be the utmost folly to cast this Act aside before we have something better to put in its place. I join with her in paying tribute to the fearless work that has been done by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Army and other agencies of enforcement. It may be that many of the provisions in this Act are not used. We have legislation dealing with treason, espionage and matters of that nature which is seldom used. But that is no reason to repeal those measures. They may well be needed from time to time.

The present order does not continue all the provisions of the Act. Indeed, some are being relaxed from time to time. But I am glad to see that Section 27(6) (b) and (c) is being retained, which allows provisions that are not in force to be brought into force swiftly, by order, if and when they are needed.

We all hope and pray for a permanent peace, but that will not be advanced by removing the Government's means of protecting the lives and security of all the people in the United Kingdom. Were we to do so, we would be failing in our duty. I have indeed great pleasure in supporting this Motion to approve the renewal of the order.

7.10 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I am glad that to me falls the honour of welcoming on behalf of the Whole House the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on the occasion of his maiden speech. That speech has already given us ample evidence of the wealth of experience and wisdom that he brings to our proceedings. His judgment, his cogent views, his dry wit, his brevity (which is not often found in your Lordships' House) and his breadth of knowledge and experience both in legal affairs and in government in Northern Ireland, have brought a most valuable dimension to the debate on a vital question. We look forward to hearing him speak again in the future and, I hope, to a wider audience at this critical time in the affairs of the union.

I wish to support the renewal of this order in the strongest terms, and to make two points. The first relates to the legal position. The Dail in Dublin decided last month to rescind the State of Emergency (originally declared in 1939 and revived in 1976) and this has been hailed as: designed to recognise the ceasefire and underpin the peace process",

and, in the words of the Irish Times on 7th February: to encourage the British Government to begin a dismantling of emergency powers in Northern Ireland".

I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will be aware, though it has received little publicity in this country, that the Irish Government, while revoking the State of Emergency, has quietly retained the Offences Against the State Acts. It was very briefly proposed last year to consider winding up the Special Criminal Court (the Dublin equivalent of the Diplock court in this case, where three judges of varying status sit without a jury) and reviewing the Offences Against the State Acts; but this was strongly and successfully opposed by the Garda and it will not now happen.

These Acts provide the Irish Government with powers to intern without trial, to ban organisations, to establish military courts and operate the non-jury special criminal courts I have mentioned, and they confer extensive powers of search, arrest and detention. It ill becomes a government whose people have hardly suffered at all at the hands of IRA terrorists to encourage us to dismantle our own legal safeguards, designed to protect our citizens throughout the union, when not one ounce of semtex has yet been handed over. I hope that we shall resist pressures which are a clear example of double standards. It is on a par with the protests about exclusion orders, carried out according to the law of the land, while the IRA itself excludes families (as recently as last month) from Northern Ireland, ordering them out of the country on pain of injury and telling them not to return to their homes.

My other point is—and in this case there is a parallel between Dublin's policies and ours—that the only valid argument for repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Order, which confers emergency powers only, would be that it would enable it to be replaced by permanent legislation, legislation which would enable the government of the day to introduce emergency measures if necessary.

This is what the Offences Against the State Acts enable the Irish Government to do. They have argued that the Acts must remain in place to allow them to combat the drugs epidemic and armed crime. That is true for us, but in our case there is the added threat of international terrorism (not excluding the IRA). I hope therefore that we shall maintain the present provisions unless and until they are replaced by more permanent legislation which could be used at need.

The IRA, through its political front Sinn Fein, is at the moment talking. It loses nothing by that. It still retains the power to resume its terrorist activities. Until it has publicly, finally and verifiably relinquished its power to kill and to destroy, we should retain the power to protect our people. An unexploded bomb was recently found in a large and always-crowded bookshop in Oxford: if it had gone off many young people would have been killed. I do not know whether it was an IRA bomb, but until the IRA has identified and defused all the bombs it has placed and relinquished its killing power, it seems to me that we should keep protective legislation in place.

Let me say here with what relief I heard the latest statement from the Secretary of State in the other place on the conditions for ministerial talks with Sinn Fein/IRA, though they are still, in my view, not categoric enough, while the IRA maintains its arsenal, continues to train, recruit and target, is still seeking arms and funds and meanwhile continues its brutal beatings and punishments within nationalist areas. I believe we must face the fact that Sinn Fein, the political front of the IRA (Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have both been members of the Army Council), brokered the cease-fire in order to internationalise itself, to secure United States and European support. As Gerry Adams said at the recent Sinn Fein meeting in Dublin: In the USA and in Britain, the European Union and internationally, solidarity work must aim to bring maximum pressure on the British Government to adopt a policy of disengagement based on Britain becoming positive persuaders for ending the union … We need to build an all-Ireland struggle … This includes the need to uphold Ireland's right to sovereignty over the entire island. The British assertion of a claim of sovereignty over a part of our country must never be accepted".

He also said that the struggle was not ended but was in another phase. He said: We want to see an end to partition. Our strategy between now and the end of partition must be based on the widely accepted view that there can be no internal solution".

He rejects the veto by the majority. Martin McGuinness on the same occasion said: What is our agenda? Let us spell it out so that there can be no misunderstanding. We want the end of British rule over every part of our country. The British Government has got to relinquish its illegal territorial claim over the six counties. They have got to leave our country for good".

Both he and Gerry Adams reminded their audience that the IRA is a confident, united, unbroken and unbeaten army. Finally, he claimed that Sinn Fein has no weapons. It went to Stormont on the basis of its electoral mandate. Only this week, Martin McGuinness said: It is not realistic or sensible to expect in the present peace process that Sinn Fein should go to the IRA and demand that the IRA decommissions its weapons before Sinn Fein goes into talks with British ministers".

When the IRA talks of "decommissioning", it means that the British Army must give up its arms and go. If Sinn Fein has no power to influence the IRA, would we be negotiating with a party which commands 9.8 per cent, of the vote in Northern Ireland and 3 per cent, in the South? Would an American President, even given the charms of the Irish vote, be receiving Mr. Gerry Adams as virtually a world leader? I should say that, although Sinn Fein is in fact the political wing of the IRA and that is its only claim to credibility, I find it surprising, to say the least, that anyone can believe that Sinn Fein expects from that political base to secure through the ballot box its objective—clearly stated—to "get the Brits out", to end partition and to unite Ireland. It will not, and it must know that.

Sooner or later, therefore, the threats to return to violence will begin. When they have achieved their maximum credibility as doves, they will be hawks again, having ensured that we and the unionists get the blame—always supposing that international pressure does not secure for them what 25 years of violence did not. And they have not done badly out of their strategy so far. It is interesting, to say the least, that they regard the framework document as: a clear recognition that partition has failed, that the British Government has failed and that there is no going back to the failed structures of the past".

Finally, I believe the Rowe report on the Prevention of Terrorism Act gives wholly cogent and well-founded arguments for the maintenance in place of the present legislation. I was very glad to hear the Minister speak in those terms. We should listen to what it. says.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, at the outset I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for coming to this House and making his intervention in this debate. He and I have known each other for many years as political opponents in Northern Ireland. He in fact was a Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland, which is approximate to a Home Secretary here in the United Kingdom. He was also in charge of emergency legislation, which was known then as the Special Powers Act in Northern Ireland. Since I was born in Northern Ireland, up to the present moment we have always lived under the cloak of emergency powers and emergency legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, made a constructive speech. I find it interesting that of the six speakers in the debate, four are what one would call newcomers. They have never taken part in a Northern Ireland debate. I am quite happy to see that they are to speak because the more people in this House and in another place who take part in the affairs of Northern Ireland the better it will be for all concerned.

Although this is a debate about the extension of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, it cannot be entirely isolated, or isolated under any circumstances, from other considerations in Northern Ireland. People will be aware of the framework document which has been brought to this House only by way of a Statement. Perhaps this is not the right time to discuss it; we should have a debate later on. The framework document should have warranted a much more serious debate in this House and in another place. The framework document will determine to a great extent whether or not terrorism continues to exist in Northern Ireland.

I listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, who devoted her remarks to the terrorism of the IRA. Let us never forget that there are other terrorists in Northern Ireland. Some of those who are now going to the Northern Ireland Office in their navy blue striped suits have viciously murdered people in Northern Ireland. Some of those murdered have been my closest friends. I find it very difficult to take when I see pictures on television of people who have been found guilty and have served prison for carrying out the most vicious murders now being taken by the hand. That goes for the IRA and the loyalist murder gangs in Northern Ireland.

I would urge the Government and the Northern Ireland Office to be very careful and to check out the bona fides of these people who would claim to represent the people of Northern Ireland. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the IRA has said through the mouth of Gerry Adams that it has an electoral mandate. The same cannot be said of the loyalist paramilitaries. They have absolutely no electoral mandate and it is highly unlikely that they will ever have one if the matter goes to a democratic vote in Northern Ireland.

I cannot support the order, yet I find myself in the position of not opposing it. There is still a need for emergency legislation while the terrorist situation remains as it is in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that there are now in existence 40 orders excluding people from entering Great Britain. I have always been opposed to exclusion orders. The one thing which can be said about the exclusion orders operated by this Government is that if a person breaks the terms of that exclusion order and is found to have re-entered Great Britain he can be fined or sentenced to a term of imprisonment. But the IRA has many more than 40 exclusion orders operating in Northern Ireland. There are many young Irish boys who have been told to leave Northern Ireland and to leave the island of Ireland and to go to Britain or elsewhere. They have been told that if ever they return they will face execution by the IRA. So, if there is any question of doing away with exclusion orders which exist under the PTA, the British Government must make representations to the IRA to do away with its exclusion orders.

In Belfast at the moment radio and television programmes have been broadcast about a young married woman by the name of Helen McKendry. In 1972 she lived in the Davis flats area of West Belfast. I was the MP for the area at that time. She was the mother of five young children. One night, masked men, members of the IRA, went to her house, abducted her and left her five very young children alone in the house. She has never been seen again. Repeated calls have been made to the IRA at least to tell those children, who have been grieving since 1972, what has happened to their mother; whether she is alive or dead; and if she is dead, how her death came about. But there have been no answers from the IRA.

At the moment, there is a great feeling of anger, not only within loyalist circles but within Catholic circles, about the way some members of the IRA and their spokesmen have been hailed almost as world statesmen. I am a Catholic and I was born into the nationalist tradition in Northern Ireland. But I bitterly resent the welcome and the red carpet that President Clinton has laid down for Gerry Adams, a man who was very closely associated with terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland. I could ask President Clinton from this House whether his attitude would change if 396 American policemen had been killed by this terrorist organisation—because 396 RUC men were killed. I could ask him whether he would be welcoming Gerry Adams to the White House tomorrow, St. Patrick's Day, if he knew that nearly 500 of his soldiers had been killed—as nearly 500 British soldiers have been killed in Northern Ireland over the past 25 years.

The intervention of the American President and the welcome which he has given to this member of Sinn Fein/IRA will cause great resentment among the Unionist Protestant population in Northern Ireland. I have repeatedly said in speeches in this House and in another place that there are two communities in Northern Ireland. One cannot ever hope to bring about peace if one negates and isolates one of those communities and makes all one's concessions to the other community. I am a Catholic. I am of the nationalist tradition in Northern Ireland. But I believe that far too many concessions have been made to the IRA to force it into continuing this cease-fire.

The more concessions that are made to one section of the community, the more passions will be inflamed in the other community in Northern Ireland. We are still at a very delicate stage. No one can say with any degree of accuracy how long the cease-fire will last. One desperately hopes that it will last into the future. However, as has already been said, the IRA still has vast amounts of arms in Northern Ireland. The British Government are quite right not to engage in full-time discussions with Sinn Fein, which is the voice of the IRA, until—what term does one use? —all the arms, a sufficient amount of arms, or as many arms as they can get their hands on, are handed over. The IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries must be seen to be handing over their arms. If there is to be a cease-fire, there is no need for arms to be held by any of the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

I was in the House of Commons in 1974 when the legislation was introduced by a Labour Government. For many years after there was a consensus in the House of Commons between the two major parties. Latterly, there has been a divergence of opinion. The Labour Party now takes the view that it cannot support the continuation of the Act while there are exclusion orders. I have never approved of exclusion orders but I think that the Government have shown by their revocation of a number of those exclusion orders only last week that there is intent to do away with those parts of the Act which have caused such great concern to members of the Labour Party.

I would not support this legislation because I believe that there are parts of it which are unnecessary. But I would not oppose it because I believe that it still has to be maintained until we are absolutely sure that the murder gangs have ceased to exist in Northern Ireland.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on a speech which was authentic, robust and straightforward. I am only one of many of your Lordships who greatly look forward to his contribution to future debates. Perhaps I may also say that I listened with respect, as I often have done in this House and in another place, to the sober reminders of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, of the anxiety, pain and anger that remain in Northern Ireland. I understand and have some sympathy with his feelings about current events in the United States and the intervention of the White House.

It is over 20 years since my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich moved in your Lordships' House that it should take note of the Government's proposals for what became the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Bill itself was taken the following day at 9.20 a.m. and it passed through all its stages and received Royal Assent by 9.35 a.m. As the House knows, today's draft order is the lineal descendant of that legislation in 1974 and until very recently it was impossible to claim, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has demonstrated, that the circumstances that brought that initial legislation about had significantly changed.

The 1974 Bill was taken urgently through both Houses of Parliament in the wake of the Birmingham bombing. My noble friend referred in his speech of 28th November 1974 to, a series of increasingly vicious terrorist attacks and said that the Bill would, powerfully reinforce the security forces". It was for that reason, as he put it when speaking in this House, that Parliament was being asked for powers that involved, some encroachment on the liberties of individual citizens". — [Official Report, 28/11/74; col. 1501.] There was widespread support for the legislation across the House. My noble friend Lord Wigoder asked three very pertinent questions. First, did the proposed legislation match up to the emergency? Secondly, was the encroachment upon our liberty that was inevitably involved the very minimum that was necessary for the purpose? And, thirdly, had every possible step been taken to ensure that such encroachment was in no danger of drifting into becoming the permanent law of the land? As I said, there was concern in your Lordships House in combating terrorism. But there was also concern that any encroachment on the liberty of the individual should be minimal and temporary. The House then agreed where the balance should be struck and over the years, with some heart-searching, that balance has been endorsed.

As the Minister says, the context and mood—I believe those were her words—are quite different this year. There is a new climate of hope and we should rejoice that that is the case. I believe that it follows that we should ask ourselves whether the balance, which was the right balance for 20 years, is the right balance today and whether the full liberty of the citizen should not now be restored. I do not doubt for a moment what the Minister said and that it has always been in the minds of your Lordships that "temporary" meant temporary. But "temporary" for 20 years is almost permanent in the eyes of many. We should not allow ourselves to ignore the danger that one could become the other.

In the debate on the Address in 1993 and again last year, I said that the whole House should congratulate the Prime Minister on the initiative he had taken in Northern Ireland and wish him well. The peace process is a remarkable achievement and a huge relief to us all. Indeed, we are so near to it that we may not fully recognise the magnitude of what has come about. I hope very much that the Government will stay cool and stick to their strategy despite the irritations, setbacks and disappointments which are bound to happen.

But if the peace process is succeeding—and I believe that we agree it is, bearing in mind the depressing and, I accept, wholly justified warnings made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park—do we really need this legislation? My conclusion is yes; it remains a regrettable necessity.

In the first place—I believe that this is a very important point to make—I agree that its future has no place in the negotiations in the peace process itself. That is a separate matter. Secondly, I agree with Mr. Rowe that terrorist activity of a very important kind, to which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred, continues in Northern Ireland and it is foolish to pretend that there is no risk of a resumption of the sort of terrorism we suffered for 20 years or more.

Thirdly, although this is a different matter, and again following Mr. Rowe, there is the international terrorism to which Britain is vulnerable. It would be irresponsible to abandon legislation at the present time. But that cannot be the end of the matter. I was rather disappointed by the words the Minister used. She said that in due course we shall have to address the long-term issues. Quite how and when such a review should take place we wish to consider further. That is not unreasonable in itself, but I cannot see why a full review now of the policy and not existing legislation cannot be undertaken without prejudicing present legislation. It is a review which will be required and I do not know why it has not been embarked on yet. I wish to make clear to your Lordships that we on these Benches believe that such a review should be undertaken without delay.

Having said that, the order must be judged on its merits. It would be trivial and perverse to oppose it because the policy review has not yet been promised. Equally, as I said, there is no case for postponing the review because we support the order tonight. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a clearer indication of when the review will be undertaken. I hope—and I would like to believe that it will be reflected in all the speeches on this occasion—that there will be unanimity in this House that the order deserves to be reviewed.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech. Everyone agrees that terrorism is foul. Over the years I have both prosecuted and defended in bombing cases and therefore I hope that no one need tell me about the pernicious nature of the activities in question, nor indeed how skilful, dedicated and dangerous the work is to prevent, detect and prosecute such crimes. I have every admiration for those who labour in that field in all sorts of different ways; not least, in my opinion, the judiciary in Northern Ireland.

But the vice of terrorism has more than one face. It has the immediate effect, of course, of death, injury and damage. It leaves widows bereft and children with no father. It lives and thrives, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, have pointed out, on fear, secrecy and intimidation, which still continue. Now, as earlier speakers have indicated, it sometimes claims to dress itself in fine clothes, but murder and maiming remain murder and maiming, whatever motive is claimed to drive them.

But there is a different and more insidious result and consequence that we ought to bear in mind and we ought to guard against it. We have to be very careful about possible corruption and pollution of the rule of law; the taking to itself by the state of unchecked power, the exercise of which is capable of being arbitrary and immoderate.

We have done our best as a party, here and in another place, to be non-partisan in our approach to these problems. I regret to say that that approach has not always been fully reciprocated in another place— although that is not true of this House because my experience of dealing with the Minister who is responsible in this House for Northern Ireland has always been most courteous and co-operative.

There are three matters of deep, I should say of fundamental, dispute between us and the Government. I refer first to the power to make exclusion orders—that is, internal exile—without judicial sanction. I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. The noble Lord and I have often spoken together in debates on Northern Ireland matters. I refer, secondly, to the extension of detention without charge for up to seven days without judicial authority. Thirdly—the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, also referred to this and I agree with him—I refer to the overarching requirement for setting into motion now a comprehensive review of anti-terrorist legislation.

I shall deal first with the report of Mr. John Rowe QC, who has been both a friend to me and a professional colleague over the years. It can be seen from Appendix A that he asked me for my views as part of his work of inquiry. I have to say that I profoundly disagree with certain of his conclusions.

I shall deal first with exclusion orders. As a first principle, I contend that no state claiming to be civilised ought to interfere with the liberty of its citizens except in circumstances of proved and demonstrated necessity. As a second principle, I suggest that any infringement of such liberties should be controlled by the judiciary, not by the Executive. It is somewhat depressing that 350 years after the Civil War I need to restate those principles.

I should like to quote from paragraph 21 on page 9 of Mr. Rowe's report, which states: The Secretary of State may make an exclusion order if he is satisfied that the person is or has been concerned in terrorism or is attempting or may attempt to enter the particular place for the purpose of terrorism". That means that whichever Secretary of State is relevant for that particular purpose shall alone decide.

From 1st September 1994 to 31st December 1994, six orders were allowed to lapse. There is no mechanism at all whereby anyone can determine why the exclusion orders were made, whether they were properly made or, just as important in some cases, whether they were correctly allowed to lapse. I should like to emphasise the following words from page 10 of Mr. Rowe's report, where he stated: I have looked at the general exclusion picture of 1994, but not made a judgment about each case as to whether it was justifiable or not".

I suggest that if one considers those words, one can see the present dangers which we wish to avoid.

I believe that a judicial component, could be fashioned and introduced despite Mr. Rowe's conclusion. I know perfectly well—I believe that I understand fully—that the judges in Northern Ireland do not wish to become involved. But judges are involved in delicate matters. They carry out regular reviews of security matters and review the interception of communications. They hear public interest immunity applications often—frequently in secret—without the defendant being present and sometimes when the defendant does not even know that an application has been made. Those are not perfect safeguards, but they are better than none. I trust the judges on questions of personal liberty more than the Executive. I believe that the recent lamentable saga of Matrix Churchill justifies and fortifies my view.

I turn to the issue of detention for questioning. The Minister mentioned the murder at Newry. Of course, in those circumstances there are present powers to deal with offences of murder. After all, let us not forget that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act empowers a magistrate to authorise the additional detention of a suspect in appropriate circumstances. That is judicial involvement and the principle of it is asserted and upheld. I recognise, of course, that terrorist information is delicate. A designated judge or judges may be needed; but that a judge is needed is, I believe, beyond dispute.

I turn now to paragraph 40 on page 19 of Mr. Rowe's report, where he states: I analysed the facts of cases which were said to be arrests on reliable intelligence and I found that most of them"—

I emphasise the words, "most of them"— had some factual support". That means that some—a minority, I agree—had no factual support at all.

Mr. Rowe continued: The factual support I speak of might be proximity to the particular incident or some circumstantial evidence which might not be proof or even admissible"— I query the value of circumstantial evidence which cannot be admissible. The quotation continues: but which gave rise to suspicion and lent some colour to the intelligence". That is dangerously near to totalitarianism. I repeat that Mr. Rowe referred to evidence which is supported by material which gives rise to "suspicion" and lends "some colour" to the intelligence.

I submit—I am sorry to do so—that when one looks at the Rowe conclusions one is driven to the conclusion that one needs a judicial component. The value of a judicial component is two-fold. It tries to secure the reasonable avoidance of the injustice of imprisonment without cause. If one has a judicial framework, it provides a discipline of external scrutiny and that discipline is very important to any one of us (in uniform or out; with a judicial robe or not) who exercises such an important power over the liberty of his fellow citizens.

I turn now to the need for a review. Mr. Rowe's review is limited. It deals with only two things, as he himself recognises. The first is whether there is a need for the Act to continue, and the second is how the powers have been used. The "working assumption" to which the Minister referred, that the ceasefire is intended to be permanent, does not, says Mr. Rowe, require me to ignore the fact and reasoning I have set out".

Of course, I recognise that a working assumption can be no more than that when it is based, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, indicated, on only a very small experience in temporal terms.

I believe that the Secretary of State for Home Affairs has conceded that he accepts that there is a need to look very carefully and to have a review as to what powers we will continue to need for the long term". The Minister suggested that earlier. I agree absolutely with the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, to this aspect. There is no need to wait while we think about the general terms of reference of the review, about the timescale for the review or about the status of the person or persons who ought to carry it out.

Those are deep concerns and troubles to us. We on this side have always recognised—we still recognise and reaffirm—the need for stern powers against terrorism. We have never suggested the contrary, but we do say that we must be guided by principle and the rule of law, not the assumed requirements of the moment. We should always lean away from the unchecked power of the Executive. That is why I have spoken for longer than I normally do. These are important questions. In 10 years' time, when we look back at the powers that have existed for over 20 years, a useful test might be whether we feel that we were justified or that we could have done better by way of judicial safeguard as an element of powers which can be draconian.

7.50 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I opened by welcoming the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, to our debate. I now join with other noble Lords in thanking him most warmly for his maiden speech. The advice he received that he should exercise restraint on this occasion caused him no impediment. He brought to bear on our debate his considerable knowledge and experience. He also reminded the House of the general threat of terrorism, by addressing not just the particular of the order but the wider issue of international terrorism. Perhaps I may also thank the noble Lord and say to him that supporting the Government will not be interpreted on this occasion as controversial. Now that we have heard him, I hope that we shall hear him again, and often.

The debate has been short, but an extremely important one. I have listened with great interest to the points which have been raised. The debate has taken place at a time when the prospects for peace in Northern Ireland are more promising than they have been for 25 troubled years. But the present situation has been made possible only by the Government's, and, in particular, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's determination to pursue the kind of firm and unequivocal security policy which has made it clear to all terrorists that they will not succeed.

The Government have made a working assumption that the cease-fire is intended to be .permanent. We all very much hope that that proves to be the case. But we have not yet achieved a lasting peace, and while the present uncertainty remains we are not going to take chances with people's safety. We are not, in short, going to abandon our defences against terrorism until we are quite sure that it is safe to do so.

I very much agree with the arguments which were put by my noble friend Lady Park. She made telling points about the continuation of the Offences Against the State Acts in the Irish Republic. As she rightly observed, the powers of search, arrest and detention in the Republic under those Acts remain in force. It is interesting to note that the powers that the Dail repealed by lifting its state of emergency have not been used since 1977.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, rightly reminded the House that terrorism in Northern Ireland has come from both parts of the community. Indeed, in the two years leading up to the cease-fire, the majority of those charged with terrorist offences committed in Northern Ireland were so-called Loyalists.

I endorse also what the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Park said about the wholly unacceptable use of intimidation by the IRA to force people away from their homes. That is something which must cease if we are to have a truly lasting peace. Perhaps I may say how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, when he said that people in the United Kingdom will find it hard to understand why the United States Administration have now agreed that Mr, Adams may raise funds while visiting the United States. As the American Government know, Sinn Fein remains inextricably linked to the IRA which still maintains its arsenal; is still recruiting, targeting and training; and is engaged in intimidation and brutal punishment beatings. Not least, the IRA still seeks funds to maintain those operations. The British people will wonder why Mr. Adams is now permitted to raise funds in the US before the IRA has taken one single step towards decommissioning its large stock of arms and explosives.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, described exclusion as "internal exile". Even the recent report from the King's College London Civil Liberties Research Unit recognised that, it would not be strictly right to call it 'internal exile' since excluded persons are not sent to parts of the United Kingdom with which they have no connection". Let us be clear what we are talking about here. The orders which remain in force are against people whose homes are in Northern Ireland or the Republic. They are excluded because, on the best advice available to the Home Secretary, it would not be safe to allow them to come to Great Britain. We should remember that the Provisional IRA has always attached particular importance to striking at high profile targets on this side of the Irish Sea.

q The noble Lord argued also for a judicial involvement in exclusion orders. That is of course a matter that has been examined extensively over the past 20 years by all those who have reviewed the Act independently, including Lord Shackleton; and my noble friends Lord Jellicoe and Lord Colville. None has believed that exclusion orders could properly be a matter for the judiciary. The decisions are executive by nature, and are best taken by Ministers, with all the safeguards that are laid down in legislation.

I understand the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, about the need for a "full review of policy", as he called it. I accepted in opening the debate that the moment would come when we would need to consider what statutory framework might be needed in the longer term. But at this very delicate time, with all the uncertainties, our view is that such a review would be premature. The priorities for the moment must be to press on with the peace process and to keep the need for each of those exceptional powers under review.

The Government are grateful for the wide measure of support which we have received from your Lordships in taking forward the crucially important task of building upon the foundations laid by the Downing Street Declaration to create a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

My aim this evening has been to show why we consider it so important not to lower our guard against the threat from terrorism until we are sure that peace has indeed been established. The Prevention of Terrorism Act is an essential part of our armoury against terrorism, and though we look forward to the time when we no longer need to rely upon its exceptional provisions, I do not believe that that time has yet arrived. I therefore commend the order to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.