HL Deb 26 March 1998 vol 587 cc1342-63

3.39 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 3 [Detention orders]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 1: Leave out Clause 3.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my amendment is to leave out Clause 3 and preserve on the statute book the power of internment. We have discussed the matter on a number of occasions, most recently at the Committee stage of the Bill. Although the debate was late at night, I do not think I need repeat too many of the arguments that were made. I can therefore be brief.

It is not our proposition that the powers of internment should be used now while talks are in progress. The problem is that unless the powers are on the statute book, they can never he implemented and achieve the element of surprise that is essential to success if internment is to take place. No terrorist will wait quietly at home while the necessary legislation is passed through Parliament so that he or, in a few cases, she can be picked up when it suits the authorities. So without this power on the statute book, the option to use internment at some stage is ruled out. We believe that the Government should keep that option open.

At an earlier stage, the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats—the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham—said that he supported the removal of internment from the statute book on a number of grounds. He also said, however, that if it was needed in the future, it could be put back on the statute book. I do not believe that that argument is sound. The terrorist would simply not wait while Parliament re-introduced the legislation if that course was then required. If we take the power off the statute book, we are ruling out the option.

We all recognise that the last time internment was tried in the 1970s, the intelligence on which the action was based proved faulty. The policy not only did not succeed; it exacerbated the situation. I believe there is general agreement about that. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, agrees with me. But there are earlier examples of internment in the Republic of Ireland where internment was an important factor in keeping the peace. The fact that it did not work last time should not necessarily mean that we should never envisage using it again in other circumstances. It emerged in Committee, as it has done elsewhere, that other people apart from myself do not find it at all difficult to envisage a situation in which internment might prove to be a necessary policy again.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, explained to me that he could not be here. But he put his view clearly in an article in The House magazine a couple of weeks ago. He said: I hope that some form of selective detention is kept in our armoury against the terrorists in Northern Ireland. Whatever the outcome from the Mitchell talks, the INLA, the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Continuity IRA—the Provos by proxy—will not succumb to any peace overtures and they are still fully armed not having surrendered one gun, bullet or pound of semtex. This method of selective detention may well be needed".

That is the core of our case, expressed by one former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley.

But other arguments were put forward in Committee. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is taking part in the talks process today—and playing a distinguished part. He argued that internment had been on the statute book for 25 years without terrorists being deterred. I accept, as would everyone, that it has not solved the problems. Nothing has, although obviously we all hope that the talks will take a big step forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said—and I entirely accept—that the problem cannot be solved by security measures alone. It is a matter of hearts and minds, supported by security measures. I believe that that is the right way of putting it. I also believe that the existence of internment on the statute book could not be expected to solve the problem alone. Certainly no one is arguing that it does. But the removal of the internment power potentially weakens the chance of getting a peace deal to stick. In any case, I remain sure that the existence of the power, even though it has not been used in recent years, has at times inhibited and made more difficult terrorist operations for fear that it might be used.

As a number of noble Lords made clear in previous debates, there is also the very real issue of human rights. I fully accept that it is a valid argument, but it is not a "knock-down" simple argument which can prevail on the question merely by being stated. The human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland and, for that matter, elsewhere in the United Kingdom are battered by terrorism. The peace-loving public have human rights too. The use of many security measures, including internment but not internment alone, damages some people's human rights in order to secure the human rights of a vast majority of peace-loving citizens.

There is another practical argument which suggests that if we put aside internment now in the course of the Bill it will help to deliver agreement in the talks process. Frankly, I doubt that that is the case. But if it were to be the case, then the power should not be put aside until a settlement is agreed. By all means put it on the table as one thing that will happen as part of the settlement, but to give it away now is giving away one more card in exchange for nothing. Quite a number of cards have been given away in the course of the talks process already—for nothing so far.

Those are the underlying arguments for retaining the power. We are all familiar with the difficulty of obtaining the conviction of ruthless terrorists who can and do intimidate witnesses, sometimes without lifting a finger. Their reputation is enough to achieve that. The latest ghastly murder in the Maze prison apparently demonstrates, if we are to believe what we read about it, the lengths to which the terrorists and their organisations will go to silence or punish those who would stand witness against them or give information. That murder will no doubt have the effect of silencing others as well as the man who was murdered in the course of it. That is what I mean by being able to intimidate people without lifting a finger. Again, all kinds of people will have doubts about giving evidence or giving information reinforced by the murder.

The difficulties of conviction of any terrorist in those circumstances are compounded in the case of the godfathers who mastermind the terror without themselves risking handling bombs or guns. I believe that if the present talks succeed—and we all fervently hope they will—it is nevertheless unlikely in the extreme, as the quotation I gave from the noble Lord, Lord Mason, makes clear, that all terrorists will accept the settlement. Irish history tells us that that will not happen. In any case, this time there is the added factor of the financial rackets. There are far too many individuals whose standard of living depends on the continuation of terrorism and the rackets that terrorism supports. That will make it all the more difficult to bring total peace to the Province.

In Committee and earlier, and on other occasions, various noble Lords have outlined possible scenarios in which internment of the real hardliners might be beneficial. I do not wish to go over the ground again too much; I wish merely to say that peace may need a breathing space. I do not suggest it will definitely be required, only that it may be required. We should retain the power on the statute book just as the Republic of Ireland has done. The Republic knows from history that internment can be helpful and it would be rash of us to assume that it will never be helpful again in the future. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I support Amendment No. 1. When your Lordships addressed this proposal to abolish the powers to introduce internment, we were debating against a background of what one might call a degree of uncertainty over the intentions of the IRA, its supporters and various so-called loyalist paramilitary organisations. Today, 21 days later, that uncertainty has largely disappeared because terrorist attacks have increased, both numerically and in their deadly efficiency.

Known terrorists have been the perpetrators and the excuse given is that, after a fashion, they have obtained leave of absence from their parent bodies. In the eyes of the Northern Ireland Office therefore those parent bodies appear to have clean hands and are admitted to the talks on the same basis as democratic parties.

The same difficulty applies to weapons. When forensic tests prove that certain weapons were used by the main body in former months, but such weapons are no longer under the control of the IRA quartermasters, again it is said that such weapons are on temporary loan to the sub-contractors and I understand that the same farce now applies to Semtex. The terrorist seconded from the main contractor borrows the quantity necessary to devastate a shopping centre or police station. The main contractor—the parent body—says, "Tut, tut" just loudly enough to convince the Northern Ireland Office that its team at the talks qualifies for full membership of the so-called talks process.

This is not just a farce. It is a deliberate strategy to compel governments and democratic parties to yield to terrorist blackmail by means of what one might call the "hardball-softball" game in a most deadly form. One of these days this sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom must resolve to stop playing the terrorist game.

There is reason to believe that we would have the support of the Irish Republic. In the interval since your Lordships debated this topic, this aspect of the Bill, a reliable opinion poll was taken in the Irish Republic which proved that 40 per cent. of those interviewed favoured not just retaining the powers of detention, but implementing the powers to detain without delay. It is not just the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland therefore who find incomprehensible the decision of Her Majesty's Government to cast away the power to intern known terrorists; our neighbours in the south of Ireland are equally bewildered.

On 5th March when we last debated this serious issue, the general public at that time were conditioned to believe that there was some opposition to surrendering detention powers because it might damage the bright prospects in the current talks. At that time I warned against universal acceptance of that kind of artificial hype. As I have said over recent weeks, that hype was monstrously unfair to those engaged in the talks. At that time I simply could not understand how presidents, prime ministers, the press and the media arrived at that conclusion around the middle of March. Now I know the answer: it is contained in a paper which was issued to the participants and possibly also to the news industry—it was printed in one newspaper—from the office of the independent chairman of the talks.

In 11 paragraphs in that paper termed, "Heads of Agreement", each paragraph began with words such as, "There was broad agreement"; "general consensus"; "widespread agreement"; "general agreement"; "general recognition"; "widespread support" and "substantial support". Not only are those phrases at variance with the experience of the parties involved in the talks, but the general public have the sense to see that they could not possibly be accurate. As such, those phrases are doing hideous damage to the entire prospect of success in the talks. I am afraid that, as one shrewd observer currently participating in the talks remarked yesterday in the meeting at the prospect of reaching agreement before the end of May, the prospects of success are no more than 5 per cent.

Your Lordships therefore need have no fear that what has been hyped as "success within two weeks" would be damaged by more realistic steps to contain terrorism. There is everything to be gained by Her Majesty's Government staying their hand (that is all we are asking) on this proposed surrender to terrorist propaganda and recognising, as did successive Irish Governments, that they have a duty to retain the capacity to protect the citizen.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I shall be brief because we rehearsed the arguments on this issue at earlier stages of the Bill. This afternoon on these Benches we are and shall be supporting the Government on the removal of Clause 3 for detention orders or, as they are commonly described, internment powers.

We need to be clear what it is about internment that is not basically acceptable except in special circumstances. It is that it does not conform either to the rule of law or to the maintenance of civil liberties and human rights as practised in civilised countries throughout the world. Therefore it can and should only be considered in exceptional circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, made as persuasive a case as can be made for the retention of detention orders in the Bill. I should like to make one or two further observations. It is said that civil liberties and human rights are not respected by the violent thugs, whether they call themselves republicans or loyalists. That is true; it is unarguable. But I am unclear that, by simply saying they do not respect human rights therefore let us not respect them either, that can be a tolerable argument in a democracy based on the rule of law such as our own. It implies the logic that eventually this awful conflict makes us become like the enemy—and the enemy is a serious and substantial one.

The question is whether there is any argument which is strong enough to make us want to overrule the rule of law and the maintenance of civil liberties. In that regard the issue must, first, be a pragmatic one: does internment work? It is impossible to say that it has never worked in any society of any kind. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, there probably are successful examples of internment bringing to a speedy end unacceptable levels of violence. But in Northern Ireland the truth is that it did not work. That is something that the noble Lord acknowledged and was acknowledged by both the Conservative and Unionist spokesmen in another place. It did not work because it made martyrs, and the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. It simply did not work. We are therefore left with the deterrent argument; that somehow, by being on the statute book, it deters people from bombing, maiming and killing. I do not think so. There have been 2,500 deaths since internment began; there have been bombings and mayhem since internment began; as a deterrent therefore it is not very good.

We are now faced with the question that the Government put in front of us—rightly, in my view—of whether we should withdraw detention orders. I believe that we should, while recognising that we are not precluding their reintroduction should there be a situation in the future which demands it. That involves a speculation that we are all making about, first, whether or not a peace settlement is possible in Northern Ireland on a new political dispensation; and, secondly, if there is, whether there will be those who will continue to oppose it violently.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, said that so far nothing has really happened in the peace process and the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, gloomily picked up the observation of one of his colleagues that there is a 5 per cent. chance of success. That would be said by many observers to be too pessimistic about what is currently going on. First, by any standards substantial progress has been made, not least because at long weary last the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP are talking to each other and are trying to get a better system of relations. That is progress by anyone's standards.

Secondly, it must be acknowledged that, if we get something that is put to a referendum in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland approve what comes out of it, there will be an entirely different situation. There will no longer be a question, as there has been, like a running sore on the face of Northern Ireland, of the respective legitimacy of the points of view of the two communities. There will be a new situation in which the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic have spoken. If then there are people who feel constrained—if one looks at Irish history, this may happen—to keep shooting when the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the republic have said, "This is the peaceful settlement we want", it may be that internment will have to be contemplated. But that would be a new situation, a special situation, in which the infringement of civil liberties might be tolerated because the alternative would so plainly fly in the face of the new start that people want north and south. In those circumstances, even from these Benches where we have been traditionally worried about infringements of civil liberties, we too would have to think quite hard. But that would be a new situation and a special situation. So standing here today I have to say that we shall be supporting the Government.

4 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I hesitate very much to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, whom I greatly respect, but I strongly support the amendment. It is the wrong moment to repeal powers of internment. It is a critical moment since it is only too likely that, whatever formula Sinn Fein produces, there is a strong chance that the IRA itself and its many surrogates will revert to more violence after the talks. They have said all along that they will give up not an ounce of Semtex even if there is a settlement. Their idea of decommissioning is only the decommissioning of the British Army and the removal of the RUC. It seems to me that they will wish to bring a lot of pressure to bear to destabilise an already rather volatile situation, and we ought not to give up—the Irish Government, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, certainly have not—any possible machinery which might cause the men of violence to think twice. They and the Loyalist terrorists should know that the power to intern still exists. There will be time to repeal it when we have achieved a settlement. But to do so now must surely send the wrong signal.

No less than a month ago Kofi Annan said that diplomacy backed by strength is the best diplomacy. We ought not to be giving up that strength at this moment. We are talking about the power to do something. We are not talking about doing it, but having the power, and being known to have the power. I feel strongly that, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, himself said, we have to think also of human rights. But we have to think of the human rights of the victims, to whom we have a duty. They need protection. This is one of the few ways in which, in a world where we are losing out a lot to terrorists, we can still do something. It seems to me that any repeal should only be part of a peace settlement that sticks.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I very much agree with one part of the speech of the noble Baroness in that if there is to be a settlement—I put that in inverted commas—the chances of breakaway groups from the various paramilitaries will be very real. It has happened before and it may well happen again. I hope that both the Irish Government and the British Government, in whatever hopes they have for the peace process, are planning what to do if that happens. When it happened before it led to a civil war in the south of Ireland. More people were killed in that civil war than ever were killed when the British were there. The violence was horrific. So there is always that danger which has to be taken into account. However, I support the Government in what they are doing and I shall try to explain why.

This is not the time for a great historical survey, but right through the last century legislation in the form of orders was brought before this House and another place by various governments to deal with the Irish situation. After the civil war of 1922 there was the emergency provisions Act in Northern Ireland and this Bill is a lineal descendant of it. That is where internment came in. However, internment was ended by the Conservative Government in 1972 after direct rule. There is no internment. I do not wish to be pedantic about it but it would be as well to use the word "detention" because it is more meaningful. It means a particular way of doing things and it is not internment. By using the word "internment" we are playing into the hands of the IRA and its various groups. They use the word "internment" because it is the old way of doing things, and that is what generates in their community strong feelings. What we have here is detention. Different forms of carrying out detention were introduced in 1972 and 1973.

Internment was badly carried out. That was not just down to weak intelligence. When I arrived there in 1974 it was my intention to end the use of detention. When I was walking around I asked various people who ought to have known the answer, "Who thought of the use of internment?". The police said, "It wasn't us". The Army said, "It wasn't us". The blame was then put on the devolved government of Northern Ireland. When I asked them, they said, "It wasn't us". It was badly done and it was badly conceived. It led to a great escalation of violence in Northern Ireland and it would happen again if it were used.

The noble Lord, Lord Orme, and I ended the use of detention. In the meantime, I must have locked up with my own fair hands the best part of 400 people. One sat with a policeman or with someone from the intelligence branch asking for the justification. I always asked the question, "Why not the police?". The plain fact was that the police were not in the Catholic areas. There was practically no use of detention in the Protestant areas because the police were there. So it was not enough for me to end the use of detention by this time; it was to play the part of a Secretary of State through the use of the resources of government to improve the police. The RUC, unlike then, is now one of the best police forces in the United Kingdom in arresting people and bringing them before the courts.

Internment is the least good way of dealing with violence. The use of the courts raises problems. I am the last one to plead that one has to have jury trial in Northern Ireland for the most serious cases because the lives of the jurymen and jury-women would be put at risk. It is easy enough for those in Northern Ireland with police protection to talk. In one form or another my family and I have had police protection for 20 years. But jurymen and jury-women and judges would be put at risk.

The argument we are having today is not whether internment should or should not be used; it is whether internment should remain on the statute book. I noticed that the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, announced yesterday that the recent bombs in Northern Ireland were not the work of the IRA. He would not have been able to do that in my day. He would not have had the information. But the chief constable said that they were not the work of the IRA. So the police must know far more than they knew 20 years ago. There is an extremely good Special Branch in Northern Ireland.

Let us look at the scenario. Let us suppose within the next few weeks, months or years—because this power is not going to be handed over to a devolved administration—the Secretary of State is informed by the chief constable and others that there is a danger of great violence breaking out. That is the time to come to both Houses of Parliament and justify detention. If the argument of the government of the day is that one has to return to detention, it would also include a complete change of policy. The three political parties in this country for the past 20 years have not played politics about Northern Ireland. It is much too serious. There are soldiers on the streets and, in the old days there were soldiers in one's own constituency, so one does not play about as so much politics is playing about. It is a different scene.

In those circumstances the Houses should be called together and told that there is an urgent need to have detention. At the same time there would have to be an indication of a fundamental change of policy. There will be no more playing around with peace processes and talking together. It will all be over. It would be a very serious matter and that would be the time to come to the House and ask for detention, but not leave it on the statute book. It has not been used since 1975. The IRA and the Protestant para-militaries know it is not going to be used. So there is no great change. What is at issue is whether detention should be on the statute book. I strongly believe that the government of the day would have to come to both Houses and say that there has been a great failure and a great change of policy, whatever that might be. Internment or detention would be part of it. For that reason I support the Government.

Lord Monson

My Lords, if internment was not already on the statute book, now would obviously not be the right time to introduce it. I believe that that partly answers the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. But to abandon the existing power to intern now after it has been in place for so many decades and at a time when terrorist organisations are acquiring more and more powerful weapons and explosives and are clearly willing and eager to use them would surely be the height of folly.

Thousands of bewildered Italian waiters from Soho and elsewhere, together with thousands of equally bewildered German-Jewish and Austrian-Jewish refugees, were interned by this country in the Second World War; so it is not strictly the case that internment denies many of the traditions which characterise this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, claimed on 5th March (Hansard; col. 1398). Moreover, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asserted on 12th January that internment, is fundamentally a process that is against the rule of law and undermines democratic principles".—[Official Report, 12/1/98; col. 909.] If that is really the view of Her Majesty's Government, why are they and the Liberal Democrats not angrily demanding that the Republic of Ireland repeals its own internment laws which are still in place despite the fact that the Irish Republic has suffered less than 1 per cent. of the deaths and the destruction that the North has over the past three decades?

Of course, internment should only be used after the most scrupulous intelligence evaluation. That answers one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. Even then it should be used very sparingly and, ideally, never. But as in the Republic of Ireland it should be kept in reserve for circumstances of exceptional danger which may involve massive loss of life.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I have taken part in debates on internment over many years. I have very vivid memories of the effect that internment has. It was introduced on 9th August 1971. In its aftermath in 1972 came one of the most vicious years that we have had in Northern Ireland. Nearly 500 people were murdered in Northern Ireland. That atmosphere was created because of the way in which internment had been carried out. It was put into effect solely against the Catholic community. There were very few, if any, Loyalists interned at that time. They had not engaged with the same viciousness and force at that time, but they were still a part of the terrorist game in Northern Ireland.

In 1971 internment was flagged up. Everyone in Northern Ireland knew, particularly in Belfast, that internment was to be introduced. It was leaked all over the place. I remember speaking to an Irish Times reporter the day after internment on 10th August. He told me—and it was reported in the press—that he had spoken to an IRA man the previous week. He had said, "When are they going to introduce internment? We need it". The terrorists wanted internment because they realised that it would build up support for them in Northern Ireland.

Not only that, but when internment was introduced the terrorists left behind on the streets of Belfast the young people who were the car burners and the wreckers. They were young people driven by emotion. Those organising terrorism were all in the Republic. They had all left Northern Ireland and many of them are still in the Republic today.

If this measure is deleted today—and I agree with the Government in their attitude—but intelligence reports show that internment should be reintroduced, will the Government have a late sitting in this House or the other place? Because once that happens and internment is reintroduced by an Act of Parliament, the same people will again go over the border. At the present moment those .who escaped internment and detention are living in the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, many of them have been charged with terrorist offences. We had an edict from the High Court in Dublin saying that those offences were politically motivated and therefore those involved were not liable to extradition to Northern Ireland. But, to say the least, actions of that sort do not build up confidence in the Unionist or Protestant community in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, and my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees were quite right. If internment is reintroduced it will be in an entirely different atmosphere. A significant section of the Loyalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland are determined to wreck what may emerge from the peace process. In that situation we would have to be given a guarantee that no succour or support will be given to the people who have gone from Northern Ireland into the Republic. The Irish Government would have to act against those terrorists if they escape over the border.

Can that guarantee be given? I know that for security reasons the Minister cannot tell the House all the knowledge that he has at his disposal, but surely the RUC knows those engaged in terrorism at the moment. They cannot arrest them because they do not have the evidence against them which would enable them to be brought before the courts.

As regards the Republican breakaway groups in East Tyrone and South Armagh, they have said that they will totally reject any success emerging from the peace process. So should we keep on the statute book the means for detention?

I have one little doubt in my mind, which I have been seriously concerned about over the past year. We hear the new phrase, "a confidence-building measure". Is it the Government's intention to do away with internment or detention because they realise it does not work, or is it a sop and a confidence-building measure? That is what the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland believe it to be. That is why Unionist spokesmen are totally opposed to the deletion of this power. They believe that it is yet another in the long line of confidence-building measures that we have had to live through over the past year. That is the doubt that I have. I hope that I am wrong and that the Government are acting in this way because they realise the ineffectiveness of internment.

I urge the Government to reconsider this matter before there is any terrorist activity. Indeed, we may not have to wait too long before we see a vicious tirade against the peace process. If the bomb in County Louth had gone off last week or if the mortar shells that were fired in County Armagh the other day had succeeded in killing any policemen, there would be no peace process. Any such actions by the terrorists would effectively kill any peace process which is now taking place at Stormont.

I believe that the present Chief Constable in Northern Ireland is the best that we have had—certainly in my lifetime. I urge him to be very wary of those whom he may suspect, without evidence, of taking part in terrorist activity, and to keep a very close eye on them in the run up to any agreement that may be found.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment—not to support the direct use of those provisions, but to support their continued presence on the statute hook. I echo the reasons for their continued presence which have already been given by many noble Lords. I support what the noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Merlyn-Rees, said about accepting that in exceptional circumstances we might have to have internment whether or not such provisions were reintroduced. I find just one flaw in that—and that is the flaw exposed by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt.

By all means the peace process may have broken down and the Government may have had to come back to explain to both Houses of Parliament why we are in an entirely different situation, but the only way in which internment has worked in any country is when it has happened extremely quickly and without warning. It is not that we want to use internment, but when we talk about "exceptional circumstances", I am afraid that many Members of your Lordships' House will agree with me that, sadly, Northern Ireland has been full of "exceptional circumstances". The one thing none of us can do is to predict what will happen next. If those exceptional circumstances do not exist, we do not have to worry about them, but if they do exist, it would be ridiculous and futile to come back to the House purely to ask for internment.

Therefore, I plead with the House to leave the provisions on the statute book. As was said at earlier stages, leaving something on the statute book which has been there for so long will most certainly not mean that there will be fewer or more terrorist attacks in the meantime. I support the amendment.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, on previous occasions, I have put forward my arguments in favour of the amendment and I do not therefore intend to weary your Lordships by repeating them again. I want simply to say that I strongly support the amendment.

However, why at this stage, after so many years, is this proposition suddenly being brought forward? Confidence-building measures have been suggested. I might be tempted to say "appeasement to terrorists". Is this yet another item by which we attempt to curry favour with them, who always give nothing in return? I refer, for instance, to all the talk we heard about disarmament. As far as I know, not a single gun has been turned over, and the Government quietly forget the undertakings that were given in the past.

It has been suggested that internment could be reintroduced if necessary. I am afraid that I would label that "naive" because, as has been pointed out, success in a detention operation depends on surprise and on the fact that the terrorists do not realise that the police are coming to bring them in. However, if legislation were brought forward, we would be giving them a month's or even a couple of months' notice to get across the Border and thus escape any detention that may be coming. It is not sensible to say that that is feasible.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said that he had not heard of any country in which detention had been successful. I recommend him—

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. In fact, I said exactly the reverse. I said that it may well be that there are countries in which it has been successful.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says, but one should look at the history of Eamon De Valera who established order in the Irish Free State by widespread use of internment or detention—or whatever one likes to call it. There have certainly been examples of it working.

One of the advantages of internment or detention is that it enables the police to get the godfathers who sit back in comfort and safety, organising the atrocities and sending out other, more gullible men to carry out the murders and the bombings. It is hard to break them in a court of law, but the police know exactly who they are and all about them. If there were internment or detention, they could quickly be put out of circulation.

I must emphasise that I am not recommending the introduction of detention. I do not think this is the time for it or that the current situation warrants it. What I am saying is that it seems foolish and weak for it to be removed from the statute book.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, I find it interesting that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, pointed out, the best cases for leaving the provisions on the statute book have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Merlyn-Rees and Lord Fitt. Both suggested that we may well have a completely new situation when the talks are finished whether or not agreement is reached and that urgent action may be needed. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said that if such action is needed, it is essential that it be carried out quickly and without warning. If we take these provisions off the statute book, how can we introduce such action without giving warning and thus making it quite useless? That point has been clearly made.

A lot of trouble is caused by the use of the word "internment"; I much prefer the phrase "selective detention". It is, I believe, a precision instrument which should be used carefully for particular purposes. Unfortunately, it was completely wrongly used in 1971 and caused all the damage which the noble Lord. Lord Fitt, outlined. In other places where it has been used properly, it has been successful. I refer particularly to its use in the Republic of Ireland which understood how it should be used and the benefit that can come from it.

I fear that noble Lords are almost certainly correct in saying that we have a lot of trouble coming to us in the next few months, whatever the outcome of the talks. We must also take into account something that Mr. Adams said recently in his own area: you cannot have a lasting peace while Britain maintains a hold over this part of our island". He did not say what he meant by "lasting". Did he mean a week or a year?

I wish to ask the Minister whether the Government understand that they have a first duty of care for the protection of all citizens against terrorism from whatever cause and, following from that, that they have the duty to provide whatever powers may be of use in the continuing battle against terrorism.

4.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs)

My Lords, this issue has been the subject of much lively discussion in the course of the passage of the Bill. Both sides of the argument have been rehearsed again this afternoon. I have listened carefully. The case for retaining the provision as a last resort has been forcefully put. To summarise the views of those who wish to retain the provision, the Government are urged to think again because it might be needed as a last resort, when of course it would have to be used selectively and with appropriate planning and attention to detail; the Republic of Ireland retains the power; so should we; we should keep our options open; it is a high-risk strategy to do otherwise; it is effective as a deterrent because it is feared by terrorist groups and now is not the time to remove it, given the cautious hopes and expectations that a negotiated political settlement is imminent.

These arguments have been made by a number of noble Lords this afternoon and previously. Many who have spoken do so from positions of considerable knowledge and experience of Northern Ireland. In urging the House to support the retention of Clause 3, I wish to make it clear that the Government acknowledge and do not seek to diminish the concerns of those who argue for internment to be kept on the statute book. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of what internment means. It means a knock on doors at five o'clock in the morning; it means entering people's private homes, identifying individuals, whisking them away and locking them up. That will have to be done across a fairly large part of Northern Ireland. I suggest that no matter how secret the process, inevitably, people will be alerted to it and we will have the same outcry as that which arose when internment was last introduced. Frankly, I find it difficult to understand how internment can be introduced in the way suggested by many noble Lords.

I believe that it is a question of balancing objectively the arguments and counter-arguments. The Government's very clear view is that the case for retaining internment is not made. I have described the Government's position on previous occasions; and it is worth repeating. The internment powers have not been used since 1975. They involve a decision by Government to deprive individuals of their liberty without trial and the normal safeguards which the law provides for the protection of the accused. Their use raises human rights issues. The ability to detain people without trial has never been seen as a means of achieving stability within the community. The effect of using the powers would be quite the reverse. It would increase community tension and cause serious damage to respect for the rule of law. It would strengthen the terrorist organisations. Ultimately, it would prolong the very violence which it was intended to prevent or lessen, as several noble Lords have said.

I refer briefly to some of the comments made this afternoon. The Government accept that there is a number of terrorist organisations, both republican and loyalist, operating in Northern Ireland that do not subscribe to the ceasefire; indeed, at the moment they are pursuing a policy of trying to undermine it. I do not believe that their actions would be changed one iota by keeping the internment provisions on the statute book. Several noble Lords who support the amendment have said that the removal of these powers would weaken the chance of achieving peace and give in to terrorist blackmail and that these powers make the terrorist think twice. The Government do not believe that those arguments have sufficient substance to make them change their policy. We do not believe that the organisations currently engaged in terrorism would be influenced by the retention of internment on the statute book.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, said that there was a need to secure the human rights of the vast majority. Of course, the Government agree with that. However, we do not believe that to keep internment on the statute book will in any way improve the human rights of the vast majority. We have to use other means to achieve that. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made a rather pessimistic assessment of the prospects of success in the peace process. Even if nothing is certain, I reject his assessment of success. I believe that he referred to 5 per cent. I feel that the chances of success are very much higher. Nothing is certain; there are many difficult steps in the peace process still to be taken, but I hope that that pessimistic view is not shared by other noble Lords.

The Government are certainly not playing the terrorists' game. The Government reject that suggestion absolutely. We are trying to ensure that we move towards peace through a process of negotiation by which all parties have subscribed to the Mitchell principles of peace and the rejection of terrorism.

I am grateful for the supportive comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I very much hope that the House will accept his assessment. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, said that this was the wrong moment to remove the powers, and she spoke about the need to decommission. Certainly, we want to see progress towards decommissioning, and as yet there has been no progress. Frankly, I cannot make the connection between that proposition and the suggestion that internment should be retained on the statute book. I do not believe that there is a connection between the two. I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Merlyn-Rees, for his very informed comments based upon his experience as Secretary of State. His contribution was helpful and I welcome it.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to internment during World War II. I am not sure that that is particularly relevant to today's discussion. As I understand it, many of the people interned during World War II were the most fervent opponents of Nazism. I am not sure that history judges that particular exercise as having been successful. We locked up people who were our closest allies. They had fled from Hitler because of persecution and we locked them up in the Isle of Man.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I simply pointed out that there were precedents for internment carried out by the United Kingdom.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I do not deny that there are precedents but there are not many successful ones.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, asked why it was intended to do this now. The Bill is before us. The Government made this commitment when in opposition. We do not see it as a confidence-building measure but a commitment made some time ago when in opposition having assessed the situation in Northern Ireland and decided that this was not an appropriate measure to keep on the statute book. I am grateful for the comments made by my noble friend Lord Fitt, and I thank him for the general support that he has given the Government on this particular proposition.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, believed that this should be referred to as "selective detention". I do not argue about terminology, but "internment" has been its description up to now. The Government fully accept that they have a responsibility to protect all citizens. In the circumstances of Northern Ireland, which have been difficult for many years, governments of both parties have done their best. The Government are determined to protect all citizens in Northern Ireland and elsewhere but we do not believe that the connection between that proposition and support for this amendment has been made out.

I hope that noble Lords will not divide the House on this amendment. Our intention to seek to remove the internment provisions was clearly signalled before the election. If noble Lords were successful in deleting the clause it would leave the Government with no option but to seek to overturn the amendment in another place. It is the Government's view that the arguments for repealing the internment provisions are overwhelming. They far outweigh the arguments for retention. The Government cannot see any circumstances in which they could defend the use of the power. It is outdated and draconian. The Government consider that its use would play into the hands of terrorists who would revel in its longer term effect both on the Government and in terms of recruiting to and strengthening the terrorist organisations. Internment would inadvertently but in large measure operate against the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, and therefore against the interests of us all.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, hanging over the debate has, of course, been the experience of the 1970s. That is not surprising. It has hung over every debate on detention. The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, told us that he had been unable to discover the Secretary of State whose idea it had been to introduce internment in the 1970s. In doing so, I fear that he demonstrated proof of the old saying that success has many parents but failure is an orphan.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, told us that the problem arose because of the way in which internment was carried out; that, in particular, it was carried out against Catholics only, and that it did not apply in the Republic simultaneously which made it too easy to avoid.

The scenarios we have suggested at earlier stages of the Bill when debating this subject did not envisage the detention of Catholics only. On the contrary, we have constantly made it clear—I did in my earlier remarks—that it is terrorists of both persuasions, if that is the phrase, who did not accept the peace process for whom we thought it might be necessary.

We have also made clear on previous occasions that the co-operation of the Republic of Ireland would be essential to success if internment were to be introduced. I think there has been agreement from every speaker, except the Minister, that it is possible that after a settlement—if a settlement is not accepted—it might be necessary to revert to this policy, with all its difficulties; that it would have to be supported in the Republic of Ireland; and that it would have to be done in as fair a way as possible, and so forth. It would need the best possible intelligence, and we are agreed that the intelligence is much better now.

If it may be necessary to use the power after a settlement, it is important to retain it on the statute book because of the difficulties of giving a warning by introducing a Bill into this House or another place and ensuring its passage through Parliament before taking action. I believe therefore that we should keep powers of detention on the statute book. I seek to press the amendment.

4.42 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 132.

Division No. 1
Aberdare, L. McConnell, L.
Abinger, L. Milverton, L.
Ashbourne, L. Molyneaux of Killead. L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Monckton of Brenchley. V.
Berners, B. Monson, L.
Blatch, B. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Brabazon of Tara,L. Moore of Wolvercote, L.
Brookeborough, V. Mountgarret, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Napier of Magdâla, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.] Nelson, E.
Carnock,L. Newall, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Northesk, E.
Cochrane of Cults, L. O'Cathain, B.
Cooke of Islandreagh, L. Onslow, E.
Cope of Berkeley L Park of Monmouth, B.
Davidson, V. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Prior, L.
Denham, L. Rees, L.
Ellenborough, L. Renton, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Romney, E.
Elton, L. St John of Fawsley, L.
Erne, E. Seccombe, B.
Erroll, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Gainford, L. Strafford, E.
Gladwyn, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Harding of Petherton, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Harrowby, E. Sudeley, L.
Holderness, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Howell of Guildford, L. Tebbit, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Vivian, L.
Jopling, L. Westbury. L.
Kintore, E. Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Leigh, L. Wise, L.
Lyell, L. Wynford, L.
Acton, L. Castle of Blackburn, B.
Addington, L. Chorley, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Clinton-Davis, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe.L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Currie of Marylebone, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. David. B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Davies of Oldham, L.
Berkeley, L. Dholakia, L.
Blackstone, B. Diamond, L.
Borrie, L. Dormand of Easington. L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Dubs, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Ezra,L.
Burlison, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Falkland, V.
Calverley, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Carlisle, E. Fitt L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Gallacher, L.
Geraint, L. Montague of Oxford, L.
Gilbert, L. Newby, L.
Gladwin of Clee.L. Nicholson of Winterbourne, B
Goodhart, L. Nicol. B.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Orme,L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Peston, L.
Hamwee, B. Pitkeathley, B.
Hanworth, V. Prys-Davies, L.
Hardie. L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hardy of Wath.L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Haskel, L. Rea,L.
Hayman, B. Rendell of Babergh,B.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Rochester, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Roll of Ipsden,L.
Hoyle, L. Russell, E.
Hughes, L. Sainsbury, L.
Hughes of Woodside. L. Sandberg, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Sandwich, E.
Ilchester, E. Shore of Stepney, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor] Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Smith of Clifton, L.
Jeger, B. Stallard, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Judd, L. Strabolgi, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B. Symons of Vernham Dean. B.
Kilbracken, L. Taverne, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Levy, L. Tenby, V.
Longford, E. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Ludford, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.[Teller] Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Tope, L.
McNair, L. Tordoff, L.
McNally, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Maddock, B. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Mallalieu, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Merrivale, L. Whitty,L.
Meston, L. Wigoder, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Williams of Elvel.L.
Mishcon. L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Monkswell, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.51 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause 6, insert the following new clause— EXCLUSION OF EVIDENCE (". In subsection (4) of section 9 of the Interception of Communications Act 1985, after paragraph (b) there shall be inserted— (bb) an offence under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 including a scheduled offence within the meaning of section 1 of that Act;".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this matter has been discussed a number of times in this House and in another place. The question before us is whether evidence obtained from tapping telephones should be allowed to be used in court. At present, such evidence cannot be used in court. General bugging evidence can be used, but evidence obtained from telephone tapping cannot.

In Committee the Government made clear that they are considering the matter. In fact, it has been under consideration since 1976 when it was first recommended to the then government. It has been considered since May by the present Government. Six months ago, we were told to expect a decision before long. Three months ago, we were told that the Government were still thinking about it. The purpose of tabling the amendment is to discover how the Government are getting on with their consideration.

I shall not rehearse the arguments which were made at length in Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the clinching argument in favour of the amendment is that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in his report, stated that he could find no other jurisdiction in which evidence obtained by telephone tapping could not be used. Presumably, that is no other jurisdiction in the civilised world. Surely, that is telling.

Of course, there are cases when we are right and every other country is wrong, but I do not believe that this is one of them. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, speaking in Committee, took the opposite view; that every other country was out of step. I believe that in this case we are out of step and that this valuable power should not be denied to the forces of justice.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I shall speak briefly. I have become increasingly sympathetic to the amendment. I wait with the same eagerness to hear how the Minister's consideration is developing.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, for the same reason, and bearing in mind the fact that the Government have given us a slice of prime time, I wish formally to support the amendment.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. When the proposal was put forward previously, it was argued that the measure would not stop terrorists communicating between each other and that they would find a way around the difficulty. There is a whole raft of measures within the EPA which restrict terrorists from doing certain things and which permit the security forces to counter certain of their actions. For instance, there is a right to stop and search people for illegal items. Certain items, on their own, may not be used as weapons but put together with other items they may be used for munitions. That means that terrorists cannot so easily carry around broken down weapons.

The security forces are also allowed to search houses. That restricts people from keeping illegal items at home, making it more difficult to safeguard them. They must be kept outside. The security forces are also allowed to stop and search cars, making it more difficult for people to transport illegal items. A few years ago legislation was passed giving a right to search documents for communications, information on possible terrorist targets, car numbers and so forth. Although it allowed for legal and religious confidentiality, the measures were introduced in order to restrict communication between terrorists.

At present the security forces are allowed to use evidence gained from eavesdropping. That means that terrorists must be careful whom they meet and when they meet. They must check that the room is not bugged. Low and behold and despite all that, we allow them to telephone each other and to have what might be teleconferencing from different locations without meeting.

The proposal, if enacted, would restrict the activities of terrorists. As one sees from incidents which have taken place in Northern Ireland, the more difficult it is to commit acts of terrorism the more likely it is that a terrorist will make a mistake. Terrorists are very sophisticated and therefore the security forces need them to make mistakes. The proposed measure does not infringe human rights. It is used in every other country. People are monitored and it is known who they meet, where they go, what they do and what they carry. Yet we allow them to sit back in their homes and to talk away, no doubt with modern facilities. With video conferencing they can plan their activities and we can do nothing.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said that there was no evidence that information gained from such legislation would be helpful. I am sure that the security forces in this country and in other countries would find it useful. I also believe that the measure should be introduced ahead of other legislation because it is vital to have it in place now, not only to counter acts of terrorism but in order to support the peace process.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, the new clause, if enacted, would have the effect of allowing evidence from intercepted material acquired by virtue of a warrant under the Interception of Communications Act to be adduced in court if it is related to an offence under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, including any scheduled offence within the terms of the 1996 Act.

Questions about the use of intercept material in evidence were raised in another place in October last year following an announcement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about the Government's plans for permanent counter-terrorism laws. In response, the Home Secretary said: There is much to be said on both sides of the argument about whether intercept evidence should be adducible in court".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/10/97; col. 1033.] On the one hand, considerable difficulties exist in obtaining evidence on which to charge and convict terrorists, and many other countries use intercept material to prove guilt and to secure convictions otherwise unobtainable. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, evesdropping evidence is admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings and this sits awkwardly against the fact that intercept material is not.

On the other hand, if intercept material were used in court, the interception capability would become exposed and as a result criminals—in this case terrorist criminals—would find ways to circumvent the interception methods. In this respect, it is relevant to refer to the report in 1957 of the Birkett Committee which states: With regard to the use to be made of information discovered, we feel that that should be confined to the authority empowered by the warrant to discover it, and it should not be disclosed to private persons or to private bodies … We are told that in practice the Home Office insists that the power should be exercised for the purpose of detection only, primarily on the ground that the use of the information so obtained, if used in court, would make the practice widely known and destroy its efficacy in some degree. At paragraph 121, the report states: We are strongly of the opinion that it would be wrong for figures [of numbers of interceptions] to be disclosed by the Secretary of State at regular or irregular intervals in the future. It would greatly aid the operation of agencies hostile to the state if they were able to estimate even approximately the extent of the interceptions of communications for security purposes. Also, the use of intercept material would result in pressure for increased disclosure by the prosecution.

Concluding his remarks in another place on 30th October last year, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said at col. 1033: I continue to consider the matter carefully and will be happy to take advice from hon Members, particularly those who have experience of the matter. The Bill has provided the House with further opportunity to debate the issue. Noble Lords have spoken eloquently and persuasively in favour of the change which the new clause would bring about.

In his place, on 5th March, during the Bill's Committee stage, I reassured the House that the matter of the interception of communication, as it applies in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole, remained under active consideration by the Government. Given that, and given the complex nature of the considerations, which it would be very unwise to rush to a conclusion, I explained that it would be premature to proceed with an amendment to the Emergency Provisions Bill. On that basis, at that time the noble Lord, Lord Cope, graciously withdrew the amendment previously tabled. Clearly, as he said in his very brief speech, he is anxious to see evidence of my assurances. That is to be expected.

I have gone into this matter in considerable detail since the Committee stage. I can advise the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is fully seized of the importance of the matter and is taking a close and personal interest in it. He continues to consider actively the wider issues and, as part of those wider issues, the question of the use of intercept material in evidence.

It is important to underline that this amendment would have consequences not only for Northern Ireland but for the United Kingdom as a whole. That is why it must be considered in that context. One consequence of material gained from interception being used in Northern Ireland would be that interception capabilities within the United Kingdom would be exposed to some degree and ways of avoiding interception would become more obvious. That knowledge of ways to counter interception would be available not only to terrorists but also to others, including major criminals such as drug traffickers. That would have a direct effect on anyone making use of intercept material elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Police and Customs would still be unable to make use of the material in evidence, yet obtaining intelligence from interception would become more difficult. Those consequences can be put into perspective by what I say next. On 1st April 1980 the then Home Secretary, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, in a Statement on the interception of communications, said: It is estimated that in 1978 about 62 per cent. of the seizures of heroin and about 56 per cent. of the seizures of cocaine were due to interceptions, and there are results of a similar nature for 1979. I do not think that anyone can afford to neglect the importance of such seizures to the whole life of the nation". Your Lordships will understand why the Government do not wish the matter of interception to be dealt with piecemeal. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, argues that we should proceed but, as I have explained, the Government are not yet ready to draw a conclusion in respect of Section 9. In the circumstances, I prevail upon the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I did briefly think of making a long speech setting out all the reasons why I remain in favour of the amendment. However, as the Minister has said that the matter is under active consideration by the Home Secretary and, I hope, by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and her colleagues on that side of the water, if I can so express the matter, I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, and I shall have to contain ourselves for a little longer while the consideration proceeds. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.