§ 4.23 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the legal powers which are necessary as a supplement to the ordinary criminal law to counter terrorism in Northern Ireland. The Bill re-enacts, with omissions and amendments, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991. It is made necessary, first, by the fact that the 1991 Act expires in August this year and, secondly, by the fact that the security situation in Northern Ireland requires that the powers be renewed.
Perhaps I may describe briefly the situation as it existed in the run-up to the terrorist ceasefires of August and October 1994, and since then up to the present time. The ceasefires declared in 1994 saw a significant down turn in some types of terrorist activity. In the 17 months prior to 31st August 1994, 117 people died in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorist activity. In the period of just over 18 months from September 1994 to 17th March 1996, 15 people were killed in Northern Ireland. These figures do not include the recent London murders. During 1994 1387 in Northern Ireland there were 348 shooting incidents and 207 bombing incidents; in 1995 there were 50 and six respectively. However, during 1995 armed robberies continued at an alarming rate—421, compared with 555 in 1994—and the number of punishment attacks rose to 315 over the period 1st September 1994 to 17th March 1996, compared with 238 over the 18-month period in the run-up to the provisional IRA's ceasefire of 31st August 1994.
In response to the ceasefires, the Government relocated more than 1,500 troops to their home bases; they removed several Army bases and security installations; routine military patrolling in support of the police dropped by around 80 per cent.; closed roads at the border with the Republic of Ireland were opened; the majority of orders under the vehicle control zone order were revoked; all Northern Ireland exclusion orders were lifted; and the civilian search unit was disbanded. The Government's response was measured and proportionate. Their response to the breakdown in PIRA's ceasefire has been so, too.
Steps have been taken to reintroduce appropriate security measures; for example, police officers are again wearing flak jackets and patrolling in armoured vehicles; they have increased their patrolling and are carrying long weapons. In addition, two of the three relocated battalions have returned to Northern Ireland to be available to support the police if required.
The Government's view remains that for as long as the terrorist organisations retain their capacity in terms of armaments, organisation and training to renew their campaign of violence with little or no warning, it would be irresponsible to dismantle any security measures on the ground which would not be capable of being reintroduced quickly. The same argument applies to emergency legislation. The Government and the security forces must retain their ability to protect the community from terrorist attack. It is our duty.
I now turn to the Bill itself. Like its predecessors, the current Act has enabled the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland to function effectively and fairly, and has provided the legal basis for the police and Army to take appropriate and effective action against terrorism. At the same time it has provided terrorist suspects with appropriate safeguards.
The Government have consistently made it clear that the emergency legislation will remain on the statute book only for as long as is necessary. The provisions are regularly reviewed independently, at the invitation of the Government. The most recent major review of the emergency provisions Act was conducted by Mr. John Rowe Q.C. in 1994. His terms of reference were:To consider what changes to existing provisions should be made when the time comes to replace the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 in August 1996, taking into account the need to ensure that there are both effective powers to deal with terrorist violence and adequate safeguards for the individual".The Government are indebted to Mr. Rowe for the work he has done and for the clarity of expression of his views and recommendations, as set out in the report of his review. Mr. Rowe's work concluded on 1st October 1994, just one month after the Provisional IRA's ceasefire announcement of 31st August 1994.
1388 The Government, while having made a working assumption that the ceasefires were intended to be permanent, could not accept that they brought about anything more than a fragile peace. This view was reinforced by the background terrorist activities which I have described, and has been vindicated by subsequent events. On this basis, Mr. Rowe's conclusions were considered to be as valid in the post-ceasefire situation as they clearly would be in a non-ceasefire scenario. In shaping the Bill, therefore, much of what John Rowe recommended in his report, has been taken on board.
I shall take a few minutes now to outline the detail of the Bill and to explain in what way it differs from the current Act. The most obvious change is the removal of the confiscation provisions, set out in Sections 47 to 56 and Schedule 4; and the authorised investigator provisions set out in Section 57 and Schedule 5 of the current Act. Broadly similar provisions will be introduced to the ordinary law by way of the Proceeds of Crime (Northern Ireland) Order which will be laid after the Easter Recess. These proposed new provisions will apply to all forms of financial crime including those perpetrated by or on behalf of terrorist organisations. Indeed, in some respects, these new provisions will be stronger than those in the EPA which they will replace.
The EPA Bill is in eight parts and has six schedules. Part I and Schedule 1 contain provisions relating to the scheduled offences; that is, offences which merit special treatment under the Bill. Schedule 1 lists and defines the scheduled offences; Part I makes arrangements for preliminary inquiries in magistrates' courts. It sets out the conditions for granting bail and for the holding in custody of young persons and their treatment on conviction; and it provides for the setting of statutory time limits in scheduled cases. It makes special arrangements for the trial of scheduled offences; namely, the continuance of the system of Diplock Courts, with its associated safeguards.
A number of changes are proposed to Part I. Certain offences have been removed from the schedule. They are those which, in the light of experience, have proved not to be charged in terrorist cases. Other offences have been made capable of being certified out. These include offences under the Theft Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 of robbery with violence and aggravated burglary. Often cases involving these offences could safely be tried by jury as they tend to be committed without terrorist involvement. Part I also includes a new provision which allows for such transitional arrangements as may be necessary in the event that an offence is added to, or removed from, the list of scheduled offences.
New and more flexible provisions have also been introduced for the setting of time limits for remand proceedings. In relation to custody time limits in particular, experience has shown that the current provision, as contained in Section 8 of the 1991 Act, is too rigid to be applied in Northern Ireland. There is in existence a scheme of time limits and this has demonstrated clearly that if a statutory scheme had been introduced in accordance with Section 8 of the Act, a number of potentially dangerous defendants on serious terrorist charges would have been released on bail. The new provisions contained in Clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill 1389 are in a broader form and contain less detail. They permit regulations to be made to set time limits and to specify the circumstances in which time limits could be extended by a court.
Substantial progress has already been made in reducing the time that is spent in custody on remand by those facing serious charges. In a Written Answer on 7th December last year, I reported on the first three years of the administrative time limits scheme to which I have just referred. I referred at that time to a substantial reduction in the average time that is taken to process cases from first remand to arraignment, and to a particularly impressive fall over the past year in waiting times between arraignment and the start of trial.
Part II of the Bill relates to powers of arrest, search and seizure. It provides for the specific circumstances in which the police and Army have power to enter and search premises; arrest and seize without a warrant; search for ammunition and transmitters; search for, and seize, explosives; examine documents; stop and question; and requisition and interfere with private property and public highways. It creates a new offence of failing to stop and be searched when required to do so by a police officer or a member of the Armed Forces. At present, police officers and soldiers have the power to stop and undertake a search for munitions or transmitters, but anyone failing to stop for a search does not commit an offence under the Act and the right of arrest under Section 17 of the current Act does not apply. The Bill corrects this.
Part III and Schedule 2 deal with offences against public security and public order. Part III continues in force the offence of directing a terrorist organisation. It lists the proscribed organisations and provides for offences relating to membership of, or support for, such organisations. The provisions make it an offence to dress in paramilitary clothing and forbid possession of any item intended for terrorist purposes, as well as the collecting or communicating of information likely to be of use to terrorists. They also re-enact an offence relating to training in the making or use of firearms or explosives.
The Bill strengthens the current provision in relation to proof of possession of information likely to be of use to terrorists, by providing that evidence of proximity shall be treated as proof of possession unless proved otherwise. This is consistent with the onus of proof applied in the case of prohibited articles such as explosives, firearms and ammunition.
Part IV and Schedule 3 contain the provisions relating to executive detention. These powers are retained in their current lapsed state. Their retention is the subject of some debate; but it is the Government's firm belief that until they are satisfied that peace in Northern Ireland is permanent and irreversible, it would be grossly irresponsible not to ask Parliament to re-enact this power.
Part V deals with the regulation of the provision of private security services. It continues to regulate all private security firms in Northern Ireland offering security guard services. The provision of security 1390 services without a certificate under Part V is prohibited. A new provision in this part allows failure to comply with Part V of the 1991 Act as well as failure to comply with Part V of the new Act, to be taken into account in deciding whether to grant or revoke a certificate.
Part VI deals with persons in custody under the terrorism provisions. It sets out the statutory rights of those in police custody under the terrorism provisions; for example, the right of a suspect to have a friend or relative informed of his detention, and the right of access to legal advice.
At this point it is appropriate to mention the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of John Murray, which has caused the Government to consider whether any amendment is necessary to the Bill to comply with the requirements of the convention.
The Murray case concerned inferences drawn from silence. On the general question of whether inferences may be drawn, the judgment supported the Government in their view that the drawing of inferences was a matter of common sense. But on the narrower question of inferences being drawn at a trial from silence at a time when access to a legal adviser was denied, the court found against the UK.
The Government are considering how best to respond to the judgment. We have reached the view that the implications of the judgment may go beyond Northern Ireland and beyond the emergency legislation. For that reason we do not think that an amendment to this Bill would be the most appropriate response. We have not yet concluded which steps, legislative and administrative, should he pursued to ensure that we comply with our obligations under the convention.
Part VII and Schedule 4 deal with miscellaneous matters. A number of changes are made here. The current Act contains a discretionary power to make codes of practice in relation to the police and armed forces' powers of arrest, search and seizure. That provision had been removed from the Bill, in recognition of the improvement in the security situation brought about by the ceasefires. However, in the light of recent IRA attacks, and the possibility, which we all hope fervently will not be the case, that the security forces' powers set out in Part II of the Bill could still be needed for some little time, the Government intend to table an amendment to the Bill reinstating the discretionary power to make such codes of practice for your Lordships' consideration at Committee stage.
The basis of the appointment of the independent assessor of military complaints procedures has been changed from a mandatory to a discretionary one. This will allow flexibility to discontinue the post in the event that routine military support to the police is no longer needed.
Part VII also contains a new provision which will provide for the silent video recording of all interviews which take place in the police holding centres, and for a code of practice to be drawn up for that purpose.
The case for introducing some form of electronic recording of interviews with terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland has been argued by successive reviewers of the Emergency Provisions Act and others.
1391 The Government, after consultation with the police, have decided to introduce a system of silent video recording. This will add to the already extensive range of protections which exist for individuals being interviewed in the police holding centres. The police are content that the scheme which is proposed will not raise the same security concerns as audio recording, where the concern existed that suspects, fearing for their lives, would be unwilling to assist the police if they knew their co-operation was being recorded. Also, a system of silent video recording would not require a statutory scheme to prevent the disclosure of tapes by or to those who might have sinister motives for seeking to acquire them. Disclosure is a key issue.
The Government have concluded that a scheme which would safeguard tapes to the extent that would be necessary in Northern Ireland to meet the security concerns to which I have referred would be so elaborate and so restrictive as to undermine the benefits of recording the interviews.
Part VIII and Schedules 5 and 6 contain the supplementary provisions: included is a provision which will allow for the powers of arrest, search and seizure conferred upon the police and the Army to be separated, to allow the Army powers to be more easily suspended if during the lifetime of the Act that becomes a realistic prospect. Also included in this part is a new, technical provision to avoid problems caused by the transition from the old Act to the new Act.
Part VIII also contains the provisions for the repeal of the Act in two years' time. The new Act will have a lifespan of two years, compared with the five-year lifespan of the current Act. Following the breakdown in PIRA's ceasefire, the Government have given careful consideration to the arguments for and against extending the life of the new Act beyond two years.
The Government have decided not to make an amendment to the Bill at this stage, but should the security situation in two years' time require the emergency provisions to be extended, they will not hesitate to introduce a Bill at that time for that purpose.
I shall conclude my remarks by looking to the future. Your Lordships will be aware that an independent review is currently underway into the future need for counter-terrorist legislation in the United Kingdom. The review is led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who has the following terms of reference:To consider the future need for specific counter-terrorism legislation in the UK if the cessation of violence connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland leads to a lasting peace, taking into account the United Kingdom's obligations under international law; and to make recommendations".I am sure your Lordships will join with me in very much welcoming the fact that this review is taking place. We look forward to its outcome. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has asked me to convey his apologies to your Lordships that he is unable to be with us this afternoon.
No one can doubt the need for this Bill. The events of recent weeks demonstrate how very necessary it is, much as we all regret it. We remain full of hope that a peaceful settlement will be reached for the people of 1392 Northern Ireland; they deserve nothing less. But there is much delicate work to be done. In the meantime the Government's priority is to protect the lives and the property of the people of Northern Ireland and this Bill will provide the means to do that. I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her usual careful exposition. She and I, together with the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, are used to having a very small congregation late at night; but earlier in the day the congregation is enlarged, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who I welcome to our discussions on Northern Ireland on the occasion of his maiden speech.
The Minister concluded by saying that no one could suggest that this Bill was not necessary. I do not suggest that a Bill is not necessary, but I do suggest that this Bill has defects. The defects of any legislation of this sort necessarily arise out of the emergency circumstances or circumstances where the normal rule of law has in part been impeached or impeded, or where the normal judicial processes cannot work fully and fairly. It is self-evident that there are difficulties in empanelling juries who can try criminal cases in Northern Ireland.
My objection is that the balance has not been properly drawn. I should like your Lordships to consider briefly one or two of the provisions because this is an argument and a debate that has been long lasting. First, I welcome the limitation from five years to two years in the currency and the life of this Bill. Secondly, I wholeheartedly endorse, first, the setting up of the review under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, who is assisted by Mr. Justice Kerr from the Northern Ireland Bench, and, secondly, the fact that it is the noble and learned Lord who has been chosen to chair that review. As is well known and on the public record, we on this side of the House and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats, have been pressing for such a review for a very long time. I hope that it is not ungracious to say that the review has been set up far too late, although we welcome the fact that it has been set up in the end.
I turn now to one or two of the clauses in the Bill. Clause 10 is a welcome introduction of a degree of flexibility. It means that the Diplock non-jury courts can if necessary, and where expedient and appropriate, be held outside the Crown Court sitting in Belfast. The consultations that I have had, which have been quite careful, with legal practitioners in Northern Ireland indicate that they support that course in appropriate cases. I believe that that provision usefully amends the former Act.
Turning to Clause 37, not for the last time we in England and Wales should be able to learn something from the Northern Ireland experience. Clause 37 is of great importance since it prohibits private security services acting for reward unless they are certificated 1393 and licensed. To many of us in your Lordships' House that seems to be a provision that can usefully be introduced into the legislation in England and Wales.
My real criticism of the Bill derives from Clause 53. That provision empowers the Secretary of State to introduce a regime, underpinned by a code of practice, which relates, among other things, to the silent video recording of interviews. The Minister paid full tribute to the work of Mr. John Rowe QC. As long ago as February 1995 Mr. Rowe said in his report that audio recording, not silent video, was the very least that should be provided, and that if a video recording was made as well it would be so much the better. Mr. Rowe had considerable experience of Northern Ireland. His recommendation was very clear. I regret to say that I have heard nothing from the Minister to persuade me that Mr. Rowe is wrong and the Government are right.
Mr. Justice Kerr of the Northern Ireland bench tried a case that began in August 1993 and finished in December 1994. A very substantial part of that trial was taken up by the voir dire as to whether or not confessions or admissions had been made and whether or not they were admissible. The Minister has said that there is no efficient mechanism that the Government can devise to safeguard the improper disclosure of audio tape recordings. A long time ago Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, at the request of the Government, examined this point. I studied his carefully researched and argued report on a number of occasions. He concluded that a closely prescribed procedure for the disclosure of tape recordings only to those detainees charged with terrorist offences, and who at trial challenged the admissibility of statements, would be a safeguard. In his report there are many safeguards, with which I will not weary your Lordships, that persuade me that audio recordings can be kept in the circumstances of proper security.
What is the purpose of an audio recording? It includes at least the following. First, it avoids endless trials about who said what to whom in what circumstances, namely, the voir dire. The single most effective measure under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which limited trials in this country both in duration and expense, was the introduction of audio recording. Secondly, it is much more efficient as a true record of what was said. It includes questions which a trial judge or jury need to consider: the shade of meaning, the nuance of voice, the tone of voice of the question and the way that the answer is given. Thirdly, it makes the conviction of the guilty more and not less likely. Fourthly, it improves police performance. All senior police officers to whom I have ever spoken about this matter underline that proposition. It improves the quality of the interview and the evidence derived from it. Not least, the audio recording is a very powerful, sometimes fundamental, safeguard to the honest, honourable policeman who is falsely accused of misbehaviour and misdeeds in the circumstances of the interview. Therefore, it is a source of regret that the Government have felt unable to introduce audio recording as opposed simply to silent video recording. Silent video recording is an improvement but a very limited one.
1394 Clause 55 refers to the right to compensation. After all these months and years, is the Minister able to say whether the Government have at last reached any conclusion about the future of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme in Northern Ireland? Some may say, unkindly, that that is not a question directly referable to the structure of this Bill, but at least I had the modest decency to give the Minister notice that I would yet again put that question.
All in all, we regret the necessity for legislation, which sometimes can be draconian in either its structure or use. Emergency circumstances require deviations from the norm. However, I suggest that the Government ought to have gone further with audio recording as a safeguard to interviewees as well as police officers.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for her customarily clear and cogent presentation of the contents and case for this Bill. It comes at a sensitive time when in Northern Ireland we are poised in limbo between peace and violence. We on these Benches had it in mind—I put it in the past tense since it preceded the terrible events at Canary Wharf—to table an amendment that this Bill should be for one year only in the first instance. We felt then that the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, might overtake it and there would be a chance to have a comprehensive look at a new peaceful situation in Northern Ireland. Unhappily, that is not assuredly the case. The noble Baroness is quite right to remind us of the prevalence of punishment beatings and armed robberies, quite apart from the murders of five people in Belfast by Direct Action Against Drugs, which may well be a cover name for terrorists, and various horrendous incidents in London.
Broadly speaking, the Government can expect our support for the Bill. However, I do not believe that it got off to a very good start. Curiously, the Government did not consult the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in advance of the Bill. The Minister will recall that the commission had received specific assurances from the Government that it would be consulted in such matters. The commission has strongly criticised the Government for their lack of consultation and expressed deep concern that the Bill has been brought forward in this way with so few changes. When the noble Baroness replies, can she tell us how to avoid this problem? There is no point in having a standing advisory commission on human rights if it is not consulted. In fairness, the Bill in another place has made good progress in Committee. The Government have made several concessions. Although some of them are technical matters, it demonstrates a welcome flexibility of approach.
Since we regard the 1991 Act and now this Bill as a regrettable necessity, some of the changes are welcome. For instance, the consolidation of terrorist funding provisions in Part VII and Clause 5 are admirable. The Minister will recall that we called for that from these Benches. The provisions relating to terrorist funding are put into a special proceeds of crime order, which will come before us soon, together with similar provisions 1395 in the PTA. It is extremely important that we take a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to the question of the sources of money for terrorists.
I turn to the issue of the video taping of police interviews. I agree with a great deal of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I do not intend to repeat it, save to commend to the Government the report of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper. The report is overwhelmingly persuasive on the case for audio taping. However, as far as it goes, silent video taping is a step forward. I suspect that when the noble Baroness referred to others who had been pressing for it she had in mind the fact that for the five years during which I had been privileged to speak on these matters from these Benches I had asked the Government why there could not be taping of interviews. I believe that it is better to have video taping than nothing, though we should move towards audio taping.
I refer to the question of custody time limits in Clause 8. I congratulate the Government on having almost eliminated the backlog of criminal cases pending and succeeded in reducing custody times a great deal over the past 18 months. However, although the Bill makes it possible to set custody time limits none has yet been set. Perhaps the Minister could let us know when this could happen. I am glad also to see that the omission of the Ulster Defence Association (Clause 30) from the list of proscribed organisations was purely a drafting error. I believe that everyone in the House would want to congratulate the former Loyalist paramilitaries on their attitude to the provocation by the Provisional IRA and on not responding to it. That has been impressive and admirable, but those people who might take up arms on the Loyalist side must be clear that should they return to violence they will be afforded treatment no different from that which we currently provide for Republican terrorists.
Finally, I have two points of concern. The first is the issue in Clause 47 of the right to silence. Clause 47 restricts rights to a solicitor in the first 48 hours of police questioning. The police have to put in writing the reasons why a solicitor is not allowed. However, with the change introduced since 1991—that inferences of guilt can be drawn from an interviewee's silence—having a solicitor present becomes that much more important. It is possible that we may want to come back with an amendment on that point with which of course the European Court of Human Rights will concern itself.
My other point of concern relates to Clauses 20 and 23 under which inspectors are allowed to authorise searches. Selectively, that is a useful power, but I cannot for the life of me think why it has been extended from chief inspectors to inspectors. There are 166 RUC chief inspectors and 501 inspectors. Why do we need to increase by a factor of three the privileged group which has been given powers previously reserved to magistrates? I fail to understand why that is necessary. With those provisos, and no doubt we shall return to those questions on subsequent occasions, I give the Minister the assurance that, in general, we shall be supporting the Bill.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Glentoran
My Lords, it is with some nervousness that I am making my maiden speech in your House during this sensitive debate. I live in Northern Ireland and I have spent a great deal of time in the past 20 years working for the public good in the Province. I hope that I may be able to continue some of that work in your Lordships' House in the future. I am very proud to have inherited this peerage from my father and grandfather, who was the first Baron, both of whom spent a large part of their lives involved in Northern Ireland politics. Indeed, they spanned the full 50 years which was the duration of that Parliament, but as far as I can ascertain neither spoke in this House.
I am an Ulsterman, and when I am at Twickenham I cheer for the boys in green. However, I served as a regular soldier with the Grenadier Guards for 12 years and competed in two Olympic games for Great Britain. I am an Irishman whose sovereign is the Queen and whose colours are the Union Jack.
While I was doing some research for this speech, I read the maiden speech made in another place in April 1969 by a fervent young Ulster civil rights leader of the day. Having read it, I asked myself: What has changed since then? Some cynics outside the House might say, "Nothing". This is very far from the truth. Our speech-maker of the day was demonstrating about social injustices such as housing allocations, which at that time were in the control of the district councils. It should be remembered that in 1969 in Northern Ireland only ratepayers had a vote for local council district councillors. That disfranchised all those living in public authority housing. She complained of the lack of equal opportunities in the workplace, and the perceived hypocrisy of successive Stormont governments. Today, that has changed significantly. Sadly soon after she made that speech the democratic process was highjacked by the terrorists. But in response to the public demand of the day Stormont was suspended by the Conservative Government in 1972 and direct rule was imposed from Westminster. Later in the same year the district councils were reorganised and their powers significantly reduced. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive was set up to tackle the serious housing difficulties of the time. One of the results of that is that we now have some of the finest public authority housing in the kingdom, and housing as an issue is off the political agenda.
Proportional representation was introduced for all elections, and today everyone over the age of 18 has a fair vote. The Fair Employment Commission is now in place to ensure equality of opportunity in the workplace for all, regardless of creed or culture. However, it must be said that there are still concerns over inequality of unemployment. That will only be solved by further inward investment in the west of the Province. I have known and admired many of the Ministers of the Crown who, at great risk and sacrifice to themselves, have been responsible for the positive changes which have taken place over the years. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to pay my tribute to them today.
The real issue preventing peaceful progress towards prosperity both north and south is terrorism. To be successful the terrorist requires a sympathetic 1397 indigenous population and a considerable degree of external funding. I do not believe that the IRA is short of funds, but I do believe that it is running very short of credibility. As a result of the many measures and actions taken by successive British Governments, usually with a good measure of support from the Opposition of the day, and now linked for the first time to the unequivocal stance taken against Irish terrorism by both the Irish and American governments, we are faced with a real opportunity for peace and progress in Ireland. Irish people everywhere have demonstrated their desire for peace, but neither culture has shown any desire or willingness for a change of sovereignty. In many local authority areas in the Province there is evidence of a coming together for the betterment of the community, and there may even be signs of a pragmatic form of power sharing. It is my belief that the border will not disappear in my lifetime, but its significance will steadily reduce. It is ironic that while borders across Europe have been coming down, the Irish border, as a direct result of the actions of the IRA, has had to be not only strengthened but fortified.
An acceptable method of replacing direct rule from Westminster must be found. I submit that it is important to raise the intellectual level of debate among the elected representatives from within the community in the Province. That I believe must start at district council level. It is with those local authorities that I believe the future lies. Once the threat of terrorism subsides and local politicians are again able to concentrate fully on the social needs of their electorate, those same politicians must be given the responsibility and authority to enable them to play a full part in the democratic process.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will forgive me for suggesting that the democratic process in Ulster will have to be rebuilt from the bottom up and not from the top down. In conclusion, I believe that there is now a real possibility of putting the border issue and the terrorist on the back burner. That will only happen if the resolve of this Parliament and those of the Republic of Ireland and the United States remains constant. In the meantime, we must remain constantly vigilant against the terrorist with all the powers necessary available to those charged with the defence of this realm against terrorism.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord McConnell
My Lords, I begin my congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on a fluent maiden speech. I knew his father and his grandfather. I am glad to see him now a Member of this House. I hope that we shall hear from him many times in the future. He is well known, not merely for his business ability but for his public service. He brought great credit to us all by taking part in the bob-sleigh race in the Olympic Games. If he can negotiate the perils of that, he will be able to negotiate any lesser perils he may meet in this House.
I stated on Tuesday on the order for the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act the reasons why I consider it necessary to continue anti-terrorist 1398 measures. I quoted Mr. J. J. Rowe's report in which he put the matter very cogently. I do not intend to repeat what I said. Indeed, the Minister has already given us many reasons in her speech.
Therefore, I intend to refer to a few clauses in the Act rather than to attempt an exhaustive review of it. First, there is the renewal of the provision whereby scheduled offences are tried by a judge without a jury; in other words, terrorist offences. They have become known as the Diplock courts because that course was recommended by Lord Diplock and his recommendation was followed. The reason for that is that jurors were being intimidated. Unfortunate citizens were called onto a jury panel through no wish of their own and were then subjected to intimidation by people who wanted them to find a not guilty verdict. It was unfair to the jurors and very bad indeed for the system. I am glad to see that the Diplock courts are to continue. In those cases, the judge must give a reasoned judgment as to why he has reached a decision either to acquit or convict the accused. I support that.
I am glad to see also that Clause 20 renews the powers of the Army and the police to carry out searches for munitions and radio transmitters. Clause 21 means that a full report must be given of all activities carried out under Clause 20. If any questions arise as regards that behaviour, the report can be referred to.
I am glad to see that Clause 21(6) creates an offence of failing to stop for the Army or the police. It was quite ridiculous that that was not an offence. However, that has now been cured, and quite rightly so.
Clause 29 is concerned with people who direct the activities of terrorist organisations. That is very important. There are people who sit back in safety elsewhere and direct operations while letting some other unfortunate person run the risk of being caught with the bomb or whatever it happens to be. Culpability is even greater on the part of the people who are directing the operations and hiding behind other people who are carrying them out. It is essential that that should be an offence because, if those people can be rooted out, a large part of the problem would be solved.
I am glad to see it is to be an offence to dress up to show membership of a terrorist organisation. It is sheer provocation on the part of people who, not merely at paramilitary funerals but at parades and so on, try to stir up trouble by wearing their paramilitary uniforms of one kind and another. It is extremely important that that should be prohibited.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, referred to Part V of the Bill and said that he thought that that should be extended. That provides that private security firms must be registered. He said that that should be extended to England and Wales. I would go even further and say that Scotland should also be subject to the provision. It should apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. It is far too simple to say, "Oh no, this is not a terrorist organisation. This is a security firm". That is a poor bluff, and the registration of such firms will prevent that because they will have to prove that they are legitimate.
1399 I offer my support for the Bill. I join with others in saying that we look forward to the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, which I hope will guide us and help us in the provision of future legislation.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I strongly support the powerful arguments advanced by the Minister in support of the provisions of the Bill. I believe that it is important not only as an issue of law but also for the reassurance which the forces of law and order and the general public in Northern Ireland must derive from the recognition that they still need protection.
To take an instance relevant to the Bill, though in fact raised during our discussion of the regulations last week, I have heard exclusion orders dismissed as internal exile and a threat to the human rights of the person so excluded or detained. But the Government have a duty to defend the rights of potential victims where the person so excluded or detained is believed to intend violence against the public.
The IRA itself has not hesitated, in the midst of the ceasefire, to serve its own version of exclusion orders in terms of ordering a man and his family who have become persona non grata in its eyes to leave their homes in Northern Ireland and never to return on pain of death. Though there can he no comparison between the duty of proper and lawful behaviour laid upon a government and the savage rule of the jungle operated by the IRA, yet the victims make that equation and have a right to see themselves being protected from potential harm. Any deterrent action, properly applied within the law, which forces the IRA to abort an operation for lack of a courier, a bomber or a carrier of bomb-making equipment seems to me well worth it.
In the context of the threat to peace which the IRA continues to pose and of the Statement made earlier this afternoon, I should like to take the opportunity to comment on some related issues. One is the frequent and wholly unsustainable comparison made by some between Sinn Fein/IRA in Northern Ireland and the ANC in South Africa, and, even more offensively, between Gerry Adams and that great man, Nelson Mandela.
Sinn Fein, a minority party representing only a tiny fraction of the electorate, has the right to vote and to elect representatives to Parliament, and thus to put its case through the democratic process. The fact that Gerry Adams, having been so elected, chose not to take his seat because he did riot recognise the authority of Parliament, nor of the Crown, does not alter the fact that Sinn Fein has always had the democratic mandate. The ANC, representing the large black majority in South Africa—the majority—did not have the vote and was deprived of a democratic and peaceful way of advancing its case: it had no choice but to have recourse to action outside the law as it stood then. There is no comparison between those two cases, and it angers me to hear a shoddy and devious small-time politician and thug compared with Mandela.
1400 My next concern is that I hope very much that our Government and the Irish Government will not be in danger of going too far to placate an implacable opponent. I was reassured greatly by what my noble friend said, but a very small minority which happens to be armed with Semtex and a large arsenal of modern arms, must not be allowed to marginalise the vast majority which includes not only the unionists but a significant number of nationalists or republicans.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, no doubt the noble Baroness is aware that there is a large Protestant paramilitary force in Northern Ireland.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
Yes, my Lords; I am well aware of that fact. The Protestant paramilitaries have not resumed their operations. They were the first last year to suggest that an international organisation might set up the decommissioning process and look into it. I do not believe that there is any fair comparison between the two.
Even Mitchell McLaughlin, speciously complaining recently of the disenfranchisement (by which he meant the refusal by both Governments to talk to or engage directly with Sinn Fein) only claimed that there were,between 35 and 40% of the nationalist population in the North—those who supported his Party",who were being "disenfranchised". So Sinn Fein knows that it represents only a third of the nationalist constituency, which is, in turn, heavily in the minority in the whole voting population. Its disenfranchisement can end just as soon as Sinn Fein/IRA (two sides of the same coin) decides that it is to its advantage to declare an end to the latest ceasefire and to make the necessary commitment to peaceful negotiation, and power through the ballot, not the bullet.
Yet on all sides the unionists and the many others who reject Sinn Fein/IRA are likely to be, as my noble friend Lord Brookeborough so justly said, presented as the villains, destroying the peace process and obstructing it; and, indeed, actually presuming to say that they will not sit down to negotiate with those who have not explicitly rejected IRA violence and who bring their guns to the table. That is called the veto and is apparently regarded as a sinister obstructionist tactic. Would noble Lords expect the lamb to come to the wolf for slaughter without protest? Moreover, the political representatives of the majority—I emphasise the word "majority"—have names and faces. Do we know the names and faces of the IRA council who presume to decide the fate of Northern Ireland, and, indeed—let us make no mistake—of the South, too, if they had their way?
I deeply hope that the Government will not risk throwing away the substance for the shadow. The majority of the people of Northern Ireland must not be treated as the guilty parties and the blame laid on them if negotiations fail—for fail they may well do, for the simple reason that Sinn Fein/IRA's demands are not such that they can ever be met. On the other hand, the wholly reasonable pre-condition, much hated by Sinn Fein/IRA, that the majority, and the Governments, and the US Government, wish to make is 1401 that Sinn Fein/IRA should reactivate the ceasefire, and for good, and discuss and begin to implement decommissioning as the first act of the all-party talks.
If the IRA gave up all its Semtex—something that the loyalist paramilitaries have never had—that would be a significant start. Such a precondition is surely essential to normal political negotiation. But the talks will fail, right as I suppose both Governments are to press ahead and hope for a miracle, because Sinn Fein/IRA's declared political agenda is one which neither Northern Ireland nor the Dublin Government could accept.
Let us hear what the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams—that man who says he has no control over the IRA but still demands to be heard, and is heard only because he is the IRA—had to say in an interview just a week ago. He speaks of:an alternative strategy to bring about political and constitutional change which was developed in dialogue initially between myself and John Hume, and then with the Irish Government"—that was the Government of Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring—and with key elements of Irish American opinion … This political approach involved a democratic consensus to deal with the causes of conflict in the context of a number of clearly defined democratic principles".That is all perfectly respectable. He goes on:From Sinn Fein's perspective [for that read Sinn Fein/IRA] these principles are:that is very respectable—
- (a) peace, to be sustained, must be based on a just and lasting negotiated settlement
- (b) Partition has failed
- (c) present structures are therefore inadequate to sustain peace and must there be changed
- (d) an internal settlement is not a solution
- (e) Partition and the British jurisdiction breach the principle of national self-determination
- (f) the Irish people as a whole have an absolute right to national self-determination and must be able to exercise this right freely and without external impediment
- (g) the exercise of the right to national self-determination is a matter of agreement between the Irish people alone
- (h) it is for the Irish and British Governments, in consultation with all parties, to co-operate to bring this about in the shortest possible time and to legislate accordingly
- (i) The unionists can have no veto over the discussions involved in this, nor over the outcome of those discussions. There is a need to engage northern unionist and Protestant opinion on the democratic principle of national self-determination, assure them a full commitment to their civil and religious rights"—and persuade them of the need for their participation in building an Irish society based on equality and national reconciliation;(j) a solution—a negotiated settlement—requires change, political and constitutional. The effect of this change would be to bring about the exercise by the Irish people of our right to national self-determination(k) an agreed unitary and independent Ireland is the option desired by us(l) an agreed Ireland [perhaps he meant a united Ireland] is only achievable and viable if it can earn and enjoy the allegiance of the different traditions in this island by accommodating diversity and providing national reconciliation".1402 Stripped of the verbiage, that adds up to a united Ireland under Sinn Fein/IRA control: Brits out, and the domination by a small minority, in both ends of the island, over the majority, who will have no veto on those interesting proceedings.
In the same long article, Gerry Adams said:there should be no demands which cannot be delivered, such as decommissioning, no commitment to political formulae which are elevated to political principles before negotiations have even begun, as happened in the Forum (on Peace and Reconciliation) on the issue of the nationalist veto"—a report which Sinn Fein/IRA rejected—and no further false trails with negotiations which have the effect of providing potential or actual stalls and diversions".The diversion provided by Canary Wharf is, of course, not in that category.
I have inflicted those long quotations on your Lordships because we hear all too seldom what the beast itself is saying. The apologists for Sinn Fein/IRA present the case rather differently, and certainly more opaquely. But that is why the majority parties in Northern Ireland are unhappy that Strand 1, Northern Ireland's own business, is being remorselessly entangled by the Irish Government and the SDLP with Strand 2 (all Ireland) and Strand 3 (the two Governments). That is probably why the Irish Government have said nothing for many months about their own commitment to take Articles 2 and 3 out of their constitution and give up their so-called constitutional claim to the Six Counties. I respect the position taken up by the Taoiseach, but the Irish Government, I fear, represent an Achilles' heel in our struggle with the IRA.
And since it must follow as the night follows day, that should we reach the stage of joint party talks with Sinn Fein at the table (which, as we have heard, can happen only if the IRA resumes its ceasefire for good and does something about decommissioning) even then, it seems in the highest degree unlikely that the IRA will achieve its political aim of a united Ireland by democratic means through the ballot box. So, finally, that is why we must keep our guard up and why the Irish Government have probably never relinquished their own emergency powers, including their own version of the Diplock courts.
Let me end by saying that, though the talks may be destroyed by Sinn Fein/IRA, I believe, along with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that the grass-roots in Northern Ireland have been growing fast and growing together. They may yet succeed in finding a settlement; but it will be in spite of, not because of, the IRA.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I should like, first, to welcome my noble friend Lord Glentoran and congratulate him on a really excellent maiden speech. I look forward to hearing him speak often, especially on business topics. It is very good to have another Northern Ireland voice in your Lordships' House, even if it means that, for once, the Scots will have to wait, until we have finished, to discuss their wildlife.
1403 In support of the Bill, I do not intend to go through in detail what has happened during the past year, and more particularly since Christmas. Suffice to say that we now have all the proof that we needed, but did not actually want, that Sinn Fein/IRA will switch on and off their ceasefires to suit themselves when they please. To those who say that, given a ceasefire, we would no longer need such legislation, I would point out that during the 18 months of the ceasefire the security forces have shown how quickly they can adapt their operations to a period of reduced violence. They were commendable and professional in their performance. That showed that this legislation is only an infringement on people's freedom during periods of terrorist activity. The people of Northern Ireland require that protection; and they will require that protection regardless of whether we gain a so-called prolonged ceasefire. There is a big difference between a ceasefire and peace.
Noble Lords should be aware of the feelings of horror and revulsion, and the sympathy for the victims felt by everyone outside Sinn Fein/IRA in Northern Ireland when they heard of the first bomb at Canary Wharf and the subsequent ones. I have never seen so many ordinary people so stunned in Northern Ireland. For days they were simply horrified. Not only did they feel sympathy for the people of Canary Wharf and others, but, although everyone said that such an event might occur, they honestly did not believe that it could. Ordinary families are yet again worried about the bomb and the bullet.
Perhaps I may address two of the changes in the Bill: first, the video recording of interviews; and, secondly, the removal of provisions for countering terrorist finance. There are strong arguments against video recording; and we have heard some strong arguments for it. Those arguments have been well adduced in previous debates both in your Lordships' House and in another place. I shall not insult your Lordships' ability to read by taking half an hour to wade through them as did another place. However, I hope that this change in the legislation will not be detrimental to intelligence gathering. Let us remember that 80 per cent., or four out of five, of all planned terrorist operations did not take place because of intelligence and/or security force activity.
Who will have access to the video recordings? What happens when the defence calls for them? To whom will they be shown? What happens when evidence from an interview is used not against the person giving the evidence in the interview but against another defendant? What happens—I can assure noble Lords that it has occurred—if a person wishes to give information and does so by causing himself to be lifted so that he can be interviewed in order to supply that information? I do not suggest that the arguments against video recording should mean that recording does not take place. However, some measures have to be laid down in law, or at least in strong guidelines, as to the use of these videos because their use could become dangerous.
The second item I wish to mention is the removal of provisions for countering terrorist finance from the EPA and transferring those powers to the Proceeds of Crime Order (Northern Ireland) which we have learnt will be brought forward after Easter. The important aspect is 1404 that by producing an order rather than having the provision in the Bill the Government are ensuring that the measures cannot be amended. It does not mean to say that they will not be amended, but by the time the order reaches this House and another place there will be no amendments to it. Can my noble friend reassure this House and the people of Northern Ireland that the provisions will be transferred complete? I hope that she will do so as they are extremely important in the fight against terrorist funding.
In respect of these provisions, we should all understand what the IRA has been doing during the ceasefire apart from reorganising, bearing people up, developing new weapons—some quite sophisticated; I refer to mortars and such like—and intimidation. In addition, they have been running the largest organised crime syndicate outside Europe, perhaps outside the mafia. These terrorist finance provisions are vital in their entirety.
It is worth looking at one of the factors which enabled the IRA to stay intact and prepared during the ceasefire to restart terrorism at a moment's notice.
During the period between the Downing Street declaration and the ceasefire, the IRA reorganised their methods so that their terrorist financing of criminal activities could continue without the back-up of guns for intimidation. We all know that they then moved onto baseball bats and various other weapons.
Since then their criminal activities in this direction have, if anything, increased. The Minister brought that out at the beginning of the debate. While members of the IRA no longer met each other to plan shooting and bombing incidents, they continued to meet to organise their everyday criminal activities and to discuss other things. If, however, they had ceased to operate in that way of their own accord, or if the security forces had managed to stop them, I believe that through lack of reasons to meet at a low level in their structure their cohesiveness might not have survived. It might have become all too pointless to have frequent meetings about very little. Had that occurred, a restart of terrorist operations after calling off the ceasefire would have been much more difficult and there would have been a severe lack of funds—as indeed there was at the time that the ceasefire was called.
For that reason, we must not forget these terrorist financial provisions. We must insist that the Government carry them in totality into the new order. If anything, the Government should consider strengthening them. I know that the RUC and the security forces have been doing everything they can to wipe out terrorist-related crime. Sadly, even with all their efforts, they have not succeeded. If they had, it would have had a large bearing on the possible restart of terrorist violence.
Lastly, perhaps I may make one comment on the review of the PTA and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I look forward and earnestly hope that sooner rather than later there will be a single Act for the United Kingdom as a whole to cover the fight against terrorism from wherever it may come. The 1405 key to its success must be its acceptance in times of total peace and its ability to be of some use during a time of terrorist activity. Should there be an outbreak of terrorism, we must do away with timewasting re-enactments, amendments and arguments which prompt shouts from the ill-informed about infringement of civil liberties and human rights. Let it be a good Act, capable of remaining in place for a long period. I wish the noble and learned Lord success. Meanwhile I support the new Bill and look forward to its eventual replacement in a new climate of peace.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I support the Government as regards the Bill. I do so with a certain diffidence because I am an outsider. My only connection with the issue was in 1973 when, as a civil servant, I was not too far away from the bomb in Whitehall, and rather close to the later one in Brighton when I was a journalist.
However, I believe that it is necessary for ordinary people in this country who are not directly connected—I see myself in that context—to support what I believe are the tremendous efforts of by our Prime Minister, John Major, the Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton, and President Clinton to deal with the problem. It is interesting to note that the Second Reading of the Bill in another place was on 9th January, a month before the breaking of the ceasefire. I read that debate carefully and it is interesting that the reasons given even then, when outsiders did not realise that the ceasefire was likely to be broken, were compelling. The situation has now greatly changed.
Certain points need constantly to be emphasised which many people in this country do not understand. I am sure that your Lordships do, but I hope that I shall be forgiven for mentioning them. The first is the fact that Sinn Fein and the IRA are one and the same organisation. That can never be said too often. I recommend to noble Lords who have not read it a good analysis in the Sunday Times on 18th February in which some of the personalities are exposed. The article showed that the main negotiator for Sinn Fein, Mr. Martin McGuinness, was until 1991 the so-called chief of staff of the IRA army council. Another leading member of the Sinn Fein negotiating team, Gerry Kelly, is not a member of Sinn Fein but a so-called observer. He was given two life sentences for his part in the Old Bailey bombing of 1973. He escaped and was re-arrested in Holland and extradited, but the authorities were not allowed to return him to life imprisonment. He was given a five-year sentence and released. Those are the kinds of people who are playing Sinn Fein/IRA musical chairs.
One must bear in mind that there are different components of Sinn Fein/IRA. There are some genuine nationalists and we can all salute and respect them. Then there are the old hat, highly political Marxists from the days when the group saw it as possible that one day there would be a united socialist Ireland. Gerry Adams was very much part of that tradition. I well remember as a journalist covering Labour Party conferences, going 1406 to meetings which were on the fringe and in which Gerry Adams took part: anyone who reads the text of his speeches then will know what motivates him.
Then there is the most unpleasant lot, dangerous in a direct sense, the psychopaths who enjoy the process of killing and maiming. Every country has a few and if an organisation like Sinn Fein/IRA can recruit them they go to it like bees to honey. As my noble friend Lord Brookeborough said, the main group is the Mafia, the criminal element. It is interesting that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland referred to them in his Second Reading speech on the Bill and to the robbery and extortion for the purpose of acquiring funds. He denounced the so-called Direct Action Against Drugs Group as a flag of convenience for the IRA. I suspect that it is probably closer to merely one Mafia gang battling with another for drug territory. I hope that it is understood in the United States that it is a quasi-Mafia organisation. We should underline our tribute to President Clinton who has been cruelly betrayed by the breaking of the ceasefire.
I wish to raise some specific points. First, I ask my noble friend what arrangements were made when prisoners were prematurely released during the ceasefire, in terms of the possibility of recalling them? I see that my right honourable friend referred to changes to remission rates in prisons. That was before the ceasefire was broken. Can such people be recalled? Recently I asked a parliamentary Question for Written Answer about how many such prisoners there had been. I received a curious letter from the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Prison Service who said:Since September 1994 more than 2000 prisoners have been released from prisons in Northern Ireland and the information you are seeking could be obtained only at disproportionate cost".In another context, I have been trying to obtain information on the extent to which computerisation of the administration of Her Majesty's prisons in the United Kingdom has progressed. It has made some progress in Britain, but it was remarkable to learn from that Written Answer that there is apparently no central record of who is in prison in Northern Ireland. That should be put right quickly. I should have expected something better than the statement that 2,000 prisoners had been released in answer to my Question. I cannot believe that they were all terrorists.
I wish to say a word about the elections. My noble friend will be more aware than I that traditionally in areas where Sinn Fein/IRA exert control there has been much abuse in the past of the electoral system, with widespread multiple voting. I was recently told by someone involved in the 1980s that there were records of people voting 15 or 16 times. One cannot blame the people inside the polling station because they would have been too intimidated to challenge it. It is a similar situation to the Diplock courts which have been referred to. Perhaps we should consider, in the light of the election coming shortly, special measures to prevent that happening. For a long while I have thought that for many reasons we should have a proper system of national identity numbers, with or without identity cards. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord, 1407 Lord Lloyd of Berwick, is undertaking the inquiry into prevention of terrorism, and perhaps that is something which he could consider.
There are two other points which may be regarded as presumptuous, but if I were living in Northern Ireland, I wonder what I would feel about it. Is there any reason why, for the crucial election, we could not introduce a simple system of the dye-marking of hands so that people could not indulge in multiple voting? Alternatively, would it be worth considering having neutral observers at the elections? I would favour them to be Americans because they have a crucial role to play in the peace process. Some people in Northern Ireland might say that that would be outrageous, but all I am concerned with is to try to find methods of, step by step, getting the peace process to work as effectively as possible.
I believe that the people of Britain will welcome the Bill but they would complain if there were loopholes which could not be stopped up. They have been angered by the acts of terrorism and deeply saddened by the brutal results. They have no sympathy for Sinn Fein/IRA, but they would no more be intimidated by such actions than they would expect their government to be intimidated. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Cranborne made it clear that there is to be no compromise on the crucial matter of signing up to the Mitchell agreement and having a ceasefire before there is any question of Sinn Fein taking part in any talks.
I believe that the legitimate nationalist aspirations of the population of Northern Ireland are already well represented in another place by the duly elected people from the various panties who really represent the population. We must strip away the idea that Sinn Fein is a political organisation. In particular, we must strip away any moral justification put forward from time to time. When the Pope visited Ireland some years ago, he encapsulated the deep truth in three words: "Murder is murder".
If Sinn Fein/IRA fail, as I suspect they will, to meet the conditions necessary for them to take a further direct part in a democratic peace process, they will find themselves relegated to the status of a gang of organised crime and will be so treated by people in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, the United Kingdom as a whole and the United States. I strongly support the Government in bringing forward this legislation.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, the ending of the IRA ceasefire and subsequent atrocities carried out in London have rightly cast their shadow over this debate. The people in Northern Ireland know only too well of the blight, suffering and pain caused by terrorism. This Bill, which is designed to re-enact the provisions of the current Act, will permit the RUC and the Army to hinder and frustrate the work of all those whose aim is to kill because they cannot get what they want through the ballot box. I thank the House for its support for that aim.
In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Glentoran. I congratulate him wholeheartedly on a splendid maiden speech. I can still recall the nervousness with which one 1408 approaches such an occasion. I particularly welcome another voice from the Province. I think noble Lords on the Benches opposite will share with me the warning that it will involve late hours. Today is most exceptional for Northern Ireland business. We are very pleased, indeed delighted, to hear my noble friend list some of the aspects of Northern Ireland that are to be praised. There is much there, and that is a message that we perhaps do not get across as often as we should. I agree wholeheartedly, too, with my noble friend's view that the terrorists are running out of support. The ceasefire was welcomed and treasured. Its loss has certainly left any credibility they had completely out of the window.
I also support my noble friend's comments on the cross-Border activity that is happening, day in, day out, in business and education. I am sure that he will share my personal aim that the deficit in trade between north and south can be turned into a plus, and we are determined to do that. Although it may sound strange that I should want to talk myself out of a job, I also support wholeheartedly the delegation of powers. There is a democratic deficit in Northern Ireland. We all acknowledge it and wish that it were not so. I am pleased to say that, with the development of local economic development councils and associations, there is real evidence of the role that they can play, and do play, very constructively. I also praise the consultation in which they are involved. It goes deeper than anything that is possible from the centre. The House gives a very warm welcome to my noble friend Lord Glentoran.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for adding to my list of items considered better done in Northern Ireland. It gets longer, and I am delighted about that. I am always conscious that, were I to ask the noble Lord to dance, it would not be on legal territory. However, I will deal with his question. As he said, I have been given fair warning, over many months and now indeed years. I repeat: the Government believe that the innocent victims of violence in Northern Ireland are entitled to fair compensation paid within a reasonable time. That remains our policy. There are currently no firm plans to change the scheme in Northern Ireland. Given the noble Lord's interest, I assure him that he will probably be the first to know were they mooted.
I fear that on the issues of audio-recording, the noble Lord and I must continue to disagree. The decision is based on advice taken from those with great knowledge of security matters in Northern Ireland. Given that advice, the Government have sought to achieve a balance which will provide additional protection for individuals and for the police, assist the efficiency of the courts, while at the same time not undermining the vital work of the police in obtaining information from interviews.
Given the key role that the holding centres play in the fight against terrorism and the vital information which interviews there provide—not only in terms of bringing guilty people to justice, but in gaining information to forestall or disrupt terrorist operations and save lives—we have obviously to listen very seriously to the advice of the chief constable on the potential impact of audio-recording on police operations.
1409 Those interviewed in the holding centres know that the terrorist gangs outside will attempt to discover what has happened at the interview and will not hesitate to use any means in their power to obtain the recording of what was said. The effect on persons being interviewed would be to create fear, irrespective of the safeguards in place, that such tapes might fall into the wrong hands.
The different circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland—the small size of the population; the extent of terrorist influence, which, as we heard too often this afternoon, has not gone away; and the vulnerability of individuals and their families in certain areas to attacks and intimidation—mean that the particular arrangements are required in the circumstances. I assure the noble Lord that we have given very careful consideration to the proposal by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, very rightly praised the work of the committee in another place. The extensive scrutiny that it gave to the Bill has benefited it considerably. The noble Lord also praised the success of the loyalist paramilitaries in holding their ceasefire. I found it interesting that, during a recent visit to the United States, every Irish American was keen to tell me how well he or she knew the loyalist groups now. It is good that another voice is being heard.
The noble Lord was concerned that SACHR was not consulted. I assure him that there has been no intention to deny the commission sufficient opportunity to present its views or to make sufficient representation on the emergency legislation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who of course meets the chairman and members of the commission frequently, has written to them about their concerns. The Government value the views of the commission and the contribution it makes. I know that it will make considered representations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in the course of his review. In Northern Ireland, we look forward to the commission's review of the fair employment legislation, which is a very heavy task for it to take on.
On the issue of the availability of legal advice in holding centres, I hear the noble Lord's comment that he may bring an amendment forward in Committee. The Government are committed to examining the judgments, and we shall ourselves be bringing forward views, though not in the course of this Bill.
The noble Lord also raised the question of remand delays and time limits for persons in custody under the Bill. We envisage in the longer term statutory time limits, applying both to scheduled cases as provided for in this Bill and non-scheduled cases, for which further provision will be required in other legislation. But we do not believe that such limits can properly be introduced immediately. The criminal justice system must first deliver a more consistent performance. Otherwise, we should either set limits very high, or risk the release of potentially dangerous people. The problems are complex, and I shall be happy to set out more fully our approach to the question when the House considers Clauses 8 and 9 in Committee.
1410 The noble Lord also raised the matter of changing the authority from chief inspector to inspector. I assure him that this is simply a practical issue. There appear to be benefits in promotion in that chief inspectors do not have a continuous presence at police stations; whereas inspector grades work a 24-hour shift system. Mr. Rowe spelt out the disadvantages that can result, and the amendment will ensure that there will be no inadvertent delay preventing the RUC carrying out their duties. That is why the Government accepted Mr. Rowe's recommendations.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, showed yet again how much experience and background he has of these situations in Northern Ireland. He well understands the implications of the matters we are bringing forward, and I am extremely grateful to him for identifying them to your Lordships' House.
My noble friend Baroness Park of Monmouth again showed a great knowledge of the issues and rightly drew attention to the horrific total lack of knowledge which would lead to a comparison between Mr. Adams and Mr. Mandela. I am sure my noble friend would be delighted to know that there is much distancing going on in the United States from Mr. Adams, and certainly an increasingly critical media coverage of some of the statements, which in the past, outrageous though they were, had not been challenged.
I am sure my noble friend will also be pleased to know that the Taoiseach identified very clearly that there is no diminishing of responsibility for the Canary Wharf bomb by discussion. The only people responsible were the members of the IRA council, and that was said loud and clear. Of course, the issues of the renunciations to constitutional claims made in the framework document continue to hold.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough raised the disbelief of people in Northern Ireland at the breakdown in the ceasefire. There was almost silence in the Province after that, as people failed to understand that the new and treasured peace had been broken. I would like to assure my noble friend that the concerns he raised on the protection of the silent video recordings are very much in the Government's mind. The precise arrangements for making tapes available will be set out in the codes of practice which will be published for consultation. We envisage that they will be made available to the court on request as needed, but, I can assure you, not without that protection.
I would also offer assurance that measures to transfer the provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Order, which will be available to deal with terrorist finance, will be broadly similar to the provisions in the current Act. They will provide additional powers of investigation, capable of being used in all circumstances in which authorised investigator provisions can be used. In some respects the new provisions will he stronger. Financial investigators appointed under the Proceeds of Crime Order will be empowered to obtain information from banks, whereas an authorised investigator under the current EPA cannot. There are minor differences. Investigators will be appointed by the courts, not by the 1411 Secretary of State, but I would assure my noble friend and the House that there will be no weakening of the powers to deal with terrorist finance.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford apologised for speaking as an outsider. I think that needs no apology whatsoever because, regrettably, people are at risk in Great Britain as they are in Northern Ireland. It would seem that innocence and total non-involvement in these matters are no protection. My noble friend was right to praise our three leaders. No Prime Minister has taken more risks for Northern Ireland than John Major.
The bipartisan approach to the policy is also much welcomed in allowing us to go forward as hard as we can, and the Taoiseach and President Clinton made their absolute abhorrence of violence very clear in the recent Saint Patrick's Day celebrations. I say "day" with some hesitation because in America it seems to be Saint Patrick's week celebrations. They certainly lost no opportunity to make it absolutely certain where they, and I suspect the whole of America, stand.
My noble friend raised the question of prisoners. Can I assure him that the Act gives the Secretary of State the power to suspend this scheme should circumstances require it. The matter remains under review and the legislation to suspend can quickly be brought before the House. The Act also gives the Secretary of State the power to recall any prisoners on licence who present a risk to the safety of the public or are likely to commit further serious offences.
I will take up the question of his Written Answer and endeavour to make it more comprehensive. I share his view that the light-hearted comment that is sometimes made in Ireland, that one should vote early and vote often, is not a joke which can be admired, and I can assure him that much caution will be taken to ensure that there will be no duplication of votes.
There are few things in politics which unite all politicians, but there is one subject in your Lordships' House on which I am absolutely certain we are all of one mind. It is that the terrorist will not win. If he renounces the gun and turns to the democratic path, with all that that entails, he may take his place at the negotiating table. That, I may suggest, would take more courage than some of the activities in which terrorists now indulge.
We, as a government, and I am certain, as a House, will never permit the bomb and the bullet to take the place of the ballot box. This Bill gives the necessary powers to the police and the security forces for as long as they are needed to protect the public, while at the same time preserving people's individual rights. It is one that has served the people of Northern Ireland well through the darkest days and I thank your Lordships for your support this afternoon. I ask that this Bill be given a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.