HL Deb 08 June 1999 vol 601 cc1401-22

9.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th May be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it would be useful if I gave some background to the issue that we are debating this evening. The United Kingdom's counter-terrorism legislation is under review at present. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government published a consultation paper last December containing their proposals for new UK-wide legislation to replace both the PTA and the EPA. Around 80 responses were received and we are weighing carefully the points made with a view to introducing a Bill as soon as possible. The responsibility for this measure will rest with the Home Secretary and the Home Office.

With the implementation of the Belfast agreement, the Government's firm hope is that when the new counter-terrorism provisions are enacted we will be able to treat Northern Ireland like any other part of the United Kingdom under the proposed new Act; that is, there will be no need for any additional measures specific to Northern Ireland. Of course, the Government will need to make a final judgment about this nearer the time the legislation is introduced.

However, our approach is a clear reflection of the Government's commitment to repeal the emergency legislation in Northern Ireland as soon as it is safe to do so. Moreover, it is in line with our aim steadily to transform the security environment, as appropriate, as part of the process of achieving complete normalisation of all aspects of Northern Ireland society.

The Good Friday agreement sets out the basis for a lasting peace and political accommodation in Northern Ireland. The past year has been characterised by strenuous efforts across the spectrum to implement the agreement in full. There can be no question that political progress has been slower than we would have hoped. But the Government continue to be optimistic about the prospects for Northern Ireland's future. It is not a false or misguided optimism but is based on a hard assessment of what is actually happening on the ground. Parties linked to the main paramilitary groups support the agreement.

Our assessment is that the main groups' ceasefires remain intact, although continued activity, like the outrageous paramilitary assaults, remain a matter for concern. The past years have seen major changes in the paramilitary landscape of Northern Ireland. But, regrettably, the Good Friday agreement has not yet brought an end to the terrorist threat.

On both Republican and Loyalist sides, new groupings have emerged determined to destroy the agreement and cheat the people of Northern Ireland out of their hopes for peace. These groups remain small but sadly their capability is still considerable. The past year has seen a series of brutal terrorist attacks reminiscent of the worst days of the Troubles.

I must refer to Omagh. Just a few months after the agreement Northern Ireland suffered its worst single atrocity, with 29 people tragically cut down in a savage attack directed at a busy market town on a Saturday afternoon. There have been other attacks too, including the murder of Lurgan solicitor Rosemary Nelson by an under-car booby trap. And of course we had the tragic murder of Mrs. Elizabeth O'Neill in F'ortadown at the weekend. Our thoughts are with Mrs. O'Neill's family at this time.

Since the Good Friday agreement, 44 people have been killed by terrorism. There have been 197 shootings, including 80 paramilitary style shootings, 178 paramilitary assaults and 144 bombing incidents, including numerous petrol bomb attacks on police and pipe and blast bomb attacks by loyalist dissidents.

The RUC will do everything in its power to bring those who carry out these vile acts to justice. But to be successful it needs the maximum co-operation of those who may have information about these events. I call again for anyone who has such information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, to notify the police immediately.

I pay tribute to the continued courage and commitment of the men and women of the RUC and to the Armed Forces acting in their support. Both the Government and the people of Northern Ireland know only too well the difficulties faced by the RUC. Unlike any other police force in the UK, the RUC has had to perform a dual role of combating terrorism and maintaining public order, while at the same time investigating every-day crime and upholding the standards of a civilised society, and it has had to pay a high price in doing so. All of us hope that the security forces never have to lose another life as a result of terrorism. Sadly, that has not been the case during the past year.

I pay tribute to the memory of Constable Frankie O'Reilly, murdered last September at Drumcree. Constable O'Reilly, a community police officer, represented all that is good about policing and the many positive aspects of the ongoing, but often unrecognised, work of the RUC. Our thoughts remain with his wife and family and with the families of the other 301 RUC officers who have so tragically lost their lives over the past 30 years.

Despite the difficult environment in which they have to operate, the RUC and the Armed Forces have carried out their duties with consummate professionalism. During 1998, 391 persons were charged with scheduled offences, and in the first quarter of 1999, 63 persons were charged with scheduled offences. The security forces also continue to recover significant amounts of weaponry and explosives—38 firearms alone in the first quarter of this year. Recent significant finds have included pipe bombs and related materials in the County Antrim area. These have resulted in three persons being charged with a range of related offences.

Even given this background, we are determined to move towards a more normal security environment as quickly as we can. Much has already been achieved, including, since the Good Friday agreement, a reduction by two thirds in the amount of Army patrolling in support of the RUC, with the lowest number of Army personnel now on operational duties since 1970. Military installations have also been closed—seven in Fermanagh—and others have been demolished, including the largest military base at Whiterock in West Belfast. But we must ensure that our security policy is always governed by the threat level. I want to make it clear that while the threat remains the Government will not leave the people of Northern Ireland without the protections which the anti-terrorism legislation provides.

I now turn to those protections and the specific legislation that we are considering today. The EPA provides the security forces with powers over and above those in the ordinary law—powers, for example, to deter and detect terrorist crime and protect the whole community. It also provides for a range of protections, including codes of practice governing the detention and treatment of persons arrested under the terrorism provisions, and silent video recording and audio recording of the interviews which the police conduct with suspects. There is also a requirement, and a safeguard, that for the provisions to remain in force they must be reviewed and renewed annually by Parliament. That is the business of your Lordships' House today.

The draft order would continue in force for 12 months from 16th June 1999 the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996; that is, most of its provisions. It would also continue in force Section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 as it applies to Northern Ireland; and Parts III and V of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 in so far as they have effect in Northern Ireland and relate to organisations proscribed under the EPA.

In particular, the EPA provides for a schedule of offences deemed to be terrorist related unless certified otherwise by the Attorney-General and for the Diplock court system of non-jury trial with associated safeguards; for additional police and Army stop, question, search, seizure and arrest powers; for road closure powers; for offences against public security and public order; for the regulation of the provision of private security services; and for the regime and protections that operate in the police holding centres. The Act also provides for the independent scrutiny of Army complaints procedures.

Since the Act was last renewed, the provisions relating to membership of proscribed organisations have been amended by the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 to provide for new police evidence and court inference provisions and forfeiture of property powers.

Finally, the temporary provisions of the PTA related to Northern Ireland concern offences associated with the raising of terrorist funds and the investigation of terrorist activities.

Informing today's debate is the recent report of Mr. John Rowe, QC, the independent reviewer, on the operation of the Act in 1998. This report was published on 13th May. This year Mr. Rowe's review has included the temporary provisions of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 in so far as they relate to Northern Ireland. Mr. Rowe's remit is to examine the use of the provisions and to consider whether they are still needed and whether they have been used fairly and properly. The Government are grateful to Mr. Rowe for the time and effort he has put into producing his report.

We note that he records that the measures contained in the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 have not been used and that it is his view that the new evidence and inference provisions are likely to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the Government made clear during the passage of the Act that they were satisfied that the provisions are ECHR compliant. The Government have not altered their view. It is also the Government's view that it is still too early to make a considered assessment of the value of the powers.

Despite his comments on this aspect of the relevant legislation, Mr. Rowe has concluded that the temporary provisions of the EPA should be renewed in their entirety. The Government share that view. Mr. Rowe adds further—I hope that your Lordships' House will be reassured by this—that although some people have said to him that the powers have been used to harass and oppress, his research has led him to conclude that the powers have been used properly.

It is of particular value also that today's debate is further informed by other independent observers. I am happy to say that the recently published reports of the independent commissioners for the holding centres, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and Dr. Bill Norris, and of the Independent Assessor of Military Complaints Procedures, Mr. Jim McDonald, have again provided reassurances that the security forces are using their powers properly. The Government are grateful to Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, Dr. Bill Norris and Mr. Jim McDonald for the admirable work they do, for their considered views and for the reassurances they provide.

The Government recognise and are encouraged that the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland has diminished significantly. Following the Belfast agreement, overwhelmingly supported by the people of Ireland, north and south, we hope and expect the threat to diminish to the point where no special Northern Ireland powers will be necessary. In the meantime, we will not leave the people of Northern Ireland without the provisions that are necessary to deter and detect terrorist crime and to protect the community. That is why the Government are seeking the renewal of the temporary provisions contained within the EPA.

I commend the draft order to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th May be approved [19th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Dubs.)

9.34 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I welcome the fact that Northern Ireland will, in the not too far distant future, be treated like the rest of the United Kingdom and that we will all be covered by the same Act in the prevention of terrorism.

I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order. I support its continuance. We have had debates recently dealing with many aspects of terrorism in the Province. I do not intend to take time going back over them in detail. We have covered: prisoner releases; intimidation; beatings and mutilations; the decommissioning of weapons; the search for the bodies of the disappeared, and many other aspects—most of which show only too clearly that this order is required.

Owing to the ever more horrifying news headlines from Kosovo, the continued beatings and mutilations have not been so frequently reported on this side of the Irish Sea. However, they continue at the same pace and are just as horrific as they ever were. Recently, attention was drawn to them in an excellent debate in the Commons. They featured more highly than they do at present.

There has been no decommissioning of weapons. The infrastructure of the terrorist organisations, both loyalist and republican, remain intact and in place. Yet prisoners continue to be released.

The recent Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act, passed in order to facilitate the recovery of the bodies of "the disappeared", has so far produced little success—only one body. Most of us objected to the Act and doubted that it would work. It looks as though we were right, except in this one case. Every newspaper in the Province reports daily on the negative results of the searches. Virtually every television news report shows the locations and the mechanical diggers at work. Worst of all, the reports show the increased agony and anguish of the families of the disappeared. This issue, and the lack of success, are casting a terrible gloom and despondency over the Province.

For the IRA to set out the terms and conditions for immunity from prosecution in these cases, and for the Government to produce an Act fulfilling the IRA's requirements without the delivery of eight out of the nine bodies is a most cruel blow to the families concerned. I cannot describe what an appalling situation this is producing in the Province and in Ireland as a whole. It affects virtually everybody.

We now come round yet again to the Drumcree-Portadown situation. I condemn what is happening there. The loyalist terrorist groupings have been murdering both Catholics and Protestants. The latest person to be killed, Mrs. Elizabeth O'Neill, was buried yesterday. Everyone will agree that we should send sympathy to the family. The loyalist terrorists continue to attempt to murder others with bombs almost nightly. I fear that worse is yet to come if their political wings have no sanction levelled against them in the near future. Will the Minister tell the House when their political wings will be expelled from the Assembly? How soon will the RUC have the evidence to do so? Fourteen pipe bombs similar to those used at Drumcree last year were found by the Security Forces today in Lurgan. How much more misery do we have to sustain in the Province before the Government take action against the political wings of terrorist organisations on both sides of the religious divide? We, the inhabitants of Northern Ireland, will pay the price for the appeasement of terrorism if nothing is done sooner rather than later.

To add insult to injury, the very people who gave such service to our nation, not only in Northern Ireland but in other theatres, are not to be given anonymity in the Saville inquiry. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, believes that the soldiers do not warrant anonymity. Yet he is more used to trials involving fraud and financial affairs, and may not have much experience of the ways of violent criminals, even in England. Their violence and technology is nothing compared with that of the IRA. The vast majority of the people in the United Kingdom feel that these soldiers are being betrayed by their Government on this issue. I ask the Minister a question which I know we have asked before, but there are many people, including those involved in law and legal services, to whom many of us have talked, who do not quite agree with the opinion expressed previously by the Minister. Why cannot the noble and learned Lord. Lord Saville, be instructed to grant anonymity?

In conclusion, I support the continuance order. We wish the Government every success in the near future. But they will have to act on certain issues and do so quickly.

9.39 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I thank the Minister most warmly for his thoughtful and full introduction. He has given us some reassurance on the Government's determination to support the security services. However, I remain deeply concerned that it is still far too early to proceed to normalisation because it is only too likely to prove IRA-speak for neutralising the RUC. I beg the Government not to go too far for cosmetic political reasons.

Life in Northern Ireland is not normal and it is a long way from being so. I very much support the renewal of this order because it is both necessary and right to review the legislation. I cannot but note, however, that since the 1998 Act was rushed through both Houses after the tragedy of Omagh, when we were told how tough the Government intended to be on terrorism, no one seems yet to have been prosecuted, although, I am sure, serious inquiries are being pursued. I realise that these things cannot be done just like that. Nevertheless, there is that Act. We have not seen much in the way of results, except that I was reassured to hear the Minister tell us about the number of successful searches and other acts that the RUC has been able to carry out.

However, the major object, the capture of serious terrorists, has not happened. The only further legislation we have had to pass has been designed to ensure that the murderers of the disappeared are to be protected for their acts rather than indicted. It has been a terrorists' charter. I look forward to the report which the 1998 Act requires the Government to lay before us at least once in every 12 months.

The marching season is upon us and a loyalist faction at least as hateful as the IRA, though far less powerful, has foully murdered a woman whose only crime was to be part of a Catholic family in a Protestant enclave. It is in the interests of the IRA, and indeed of the extremists among loyalists, to foment trouble and then blame any breakdown of the executive on David Trimble, and thus to obscure the real issue: that of Sinn Fein/IRA's determination to enter government still with their guns beneath the table.

The importance of this legislation is that, I hope, it continues to empower the RUC and the security forces generally to act when the evidence is available to bring terrorists to justice. It is especially necessary for the RUC to be seen to be fully supported by the Government at this critical time. I noted the Minister's remarks in that connection with great pleasure, especially since Sinn Fein/IRA would dearly love the Patten Commission to report in favour of the abolition of the RUC and its replacement by a people's police.

The RUC cannot but feel threatened. It might be worth remembering that the IRA is responsible for killing, according to statistics collected by INCORE (the Initiative on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity), in the years 1969 to 1998 no less than 610 people under 25 and 73 over 25 compared with 29 under 25 and six over 25 by the RUC. The loyalist groups killed 132. It is worth noting, too, that the IRA was responsible for the largest number of deaths among both the under-18s and the under-25s and are responsible for 58.8 per cent of all deaths. Civilians represented 45.6 per cent of those under 25 and 79 per cent of those under 18. The IRA makes war on women and children.

A substantial number of Catholics were killed by republican paramilitaries, their own people. Today the punishment beatings and shootings continue, to which the Minister rightly alluded, and which have run into thousands over the years, as does the exiling of whole families. Imagine that happening in the UK, nobody even noticing it and no one daring to complain or seek redress from the law of the land.

The recent brave revelations by the families of the disappeared are an example of what has gone on all these years but can never be said. We cannot abandon people who are already terrorised within their communities to the tender mercies of authorised paramilitary policing, thinly disguised as community policing, in the name of normalisation.

I hope that the Government can, if possible, somehow use this legislation to make more examples and to demonstrate both to the law-abiding general public and to the forces of law and order, and not least to the terrorists, that they support the security forces and believe in their value and commitment.

To give one example, at a time when we are blithely sending the Parachute Regiment to Kosovo, it seems hardly the moment to throw some of their comrades, who only did their duty, to the IRA wolves in the Bloody Sunday inquiry for the sake of that mantra "transparency", when we well know, if the judge does not, the consequences—death for them and their families. The same is true of witnesses from that admirable and courageous force, the RUC, and the RUC reservists. Some of the latter are now tetraplegic and paraplegic because they did their duty.

To sum up, I urge that we retain and renew any powers that we have to bring terrorism, if not to book, under control. I hope that the intention to bring it under a general UK law does not result in weakening it, because so many of the provisions that are needed in Northern Ireland in the present circumstances would not even be considered likely or possible in this country: otherwise, the ordinary man and woman in the streets of Northern Ireland will believe that the terrorists always win.

The present black comedy that the IRA is conducting at the expense of poor, unfortunate members of their own community, those whom they claim to be there to protect, is, thank God, doing them little good. It does not enhance the reputation of the two governments either, since they are seen to have been cynically and successfully manipulated. We must not allow that to happen at the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

I support this legislation but I hope we shall endeavour to make sure that anything which succeeds it can be equally effective in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, where normalisation, I fear, is a long way off.

9.47 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I apologise for speaking in the gap. It is due entirely to my ignorance of the fact that a Speakers' List was formed for this evening. However, I think that the Minister and the Table are aware that I am going to speak this evening.

I thank the Minister for his usual clear and careful explanation behind the reasons for this continuance of the order. He has highlighted the ongoing catalogue of terrorist outrages that are still continuing in Northern Ireland. In particular, I wish to associate myself with the generous tribute that he has paid to the courage and dedication of the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

It is with regret that I can but support the Motion that is to be adopted for yet another year. I say "with regret" because Northern Ireland is far from being at true peace. A little over two weeks ago, the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill was passed. Since then, one body has been returned by the IRA. We have seen the distressing sight of the Gardai trying to locate other victims on a beach car park in County Louth, in County Monaghan and elsewhere. We have seen distraught relatives at these locations, waiting and hoping that the remains of their loved ones will be found. Ten or more days later, nothing has yet been found, despite all the diligence of the Gardai.

One must ask whether the IRA has given deliberate misinformation to the commission or whether they really do not care or cannot remember where the bodies of eight people were dumped by them. This must be set against earlier comments from the IRA that some bodies, including that of Captain Robert Nairac, would never be found.

This callousness of the IRA and their treatment of the disappeared 25 or so years ago has finally hit home and there is a wave of revulsion throughout Ireland today. For once, even Mr. Adams may be discomfited. I hope that Sinn Fein will feel the depth of this anger at the ballot box on Thursday.

Last week, Mrs. Elizabeth O'Neill was murdered in Northern Ireland by loyalist thugs. It would appear that her only crime was to be the Protestant half of a mixed marriage. Mixed marriages are taken for granted in this country. In parts of Northern Ireland, love crosses the religious divide at extreme peril.

Yesterday, a pipe bomb was discovered at a Roman Catholic primary school in Ballymena. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough referred to further pipe bomb discoveries today. The marching season is now almost upon us, with the Drumcree situation from last year still not resolved and no signs as yet of any compromise on contentious marches this year. Finally, and most significantly, no more has been seen from Sinn Fein/IRA on the decommissioning of weapons.

The Secretary of State yet again urges David Trimble and the Unionist Party on the one hand and Sinn Fein/IRA on the other to be flexible and to go that extra yard for peace. As my noble friend Lord Molyneaux has said before, David Trimble has gone the distance—he has been flexible, he has compromised, he has made concessions, he can go no further. Sinn Fein/IRA, on the other hand, have not moved an inch.

With this in mind, I was profoundly depressed to read Kevin Toolis's article in The Times on 3rd June where he wrote: The long, slow but necessary betrayal of Ulster's Protestants … has at last begun". He went on: David Trimble has the unenviable task of managing political defeat as the options for Unionism draw ever tighter. By persuasion, guile and ultimatum the British Government has determined on a course to force the Unionists into a political accommodation with their fellow Irishmen. And it is now too late … for Tony Blair to draw back. Power in Ulster is trickling from the Crown towards nationalist Ireland and the future Irish Taoiseach, Gerry Adams". I do not agree, it may not surprise the House, with all that he says and in view of recent events, Mr. Toolis may or may not have got it quite right. But it is against this background that I support the continuance for another year of the Northern Ireland emergency and prevention of terrorism provisions.

9.51 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I, too, apologise to the House for not putting down my name to speak. I was taken unawares by the timing of the order.

On the face of the order, which 1 support, there appears the word "Continuance" and in the Explanatory Note the word "continues" appears twice. Those expressions are, of course, accurate because this is an annual parliamentary exercise. We are continuing the emergency and prevention of terrorism orders for another 12 months, as we have been doing for decades. On such occasions, both Government and Opposition spokesmen have expressed the hope that continuance will not be required at the end of the period. Previously, hope could not be entirely discounted. But this year hope is very much a pipedream—for, as has already been explained by my noble friends, terrorism in all its sordid forms is on the increase. It is mostly conducted by bodies which support the agreement. There is a message of sorts there for some people. Mr. Adams asserts that the political vacuum is the cause, ignoring the fact that he alone can honour the spirit of the Good Friday agreement and start the whole mechanism.

However, as my noble friends have said, two weeks of shame on the IRA has transformed the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. The world now sees that Sinn Fein/IRA deceived the two governments into thinking that they could and would locate the bodies of the disappeared. They lied to persuade Her Majesty's Government and Parliament to produce legislation to grant immunity to murderers and now, most unforgivably, they callously inflict untold suffering on the nationalist families of those they had tortured and murdered.

The shattering lesson of this sordid episode is that Sinn Fein/IRA can never be trusted again. The Prime Minister must remain true to his promises of a year ago and reject demands from all who would have him apply pressure on David Trimble to trigger a Northern Ireland executive on the basis, and solely on the basis, of Sinn Fein/IRA undertakings, which the world knows will be dishonoured once they have their feet under the Cabinet table.

9.55 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, in a debate such as this it is inevitable that there will be a certain amount of repetition. I was a Member of another place in 1973 when the first Act of this kind was placed on the statute book. It has been soul-destroying to live in Northern Ireland while this catalogue of tragedies has continued and to see this legislation amended, added to and subtracted from every year. To many people it seems that this measure and the Prevention of Terrorism Act has not had any real effect.

My reason for entering into this debate this evening is to try to tell the House something of the horror that has engulfed Northern Ireland since the passing of the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill by this House. I have been in Northern Ireland in the past eight days. Irrespective of our opposition to the measure, we and the Government had hoped that the IRA would designate where these bodies lay and that they would be identified at the earliest possible opportunity.

I believe that the Government first began to give consideration to this legislation on the recommendation of intermediaries from the Government of the Irish Republic. They acted through intermediaries. Evidently, the Government of the Republic had been told that the IRA was now prepared to designate where these bodies lay. I accepted the bona fides of the Minister, even though I opposed this measure. He honestly believed that by this time those bodies would be located and identified.

On the morning of the Saturday before last I was in Belfast and listened to what I regarded, and will continue to regard, as one of the most horrible, poignant, sad interviews that I had ever heard in my life. It was an interview conducted by David Dunseith five years ago with Helen McKendry whose mother Jean McConville was taken away in 1972 and murdered by the IRA. I only hope some means can be found by which that recording can be played on every radio station throughout the United Kingdom. That broadcast brought to mind all the horrible events that have overtaken Ireland in the past 30 years. One listened to Helen McKendry detail every minute and second of the past 27 years since her mother was taken away and brutally murdered.

Having heard the story, one began to question what had happened. All of these people were murdered in the Republic of Ireland, not in Northern Ireland. That gives credence to the unionist case that the IRA had a bolt hole to run to which was not available to the loyalist murderers. I then began to talk to people. I wondered whether when Jean McConville was taken over the border she was sitting in a car looking into the eyes of her murderer or she was already dead. The same applies to the others because they were all murdered in the Republic. That broadcast caused a convulsion of sympathy throughout Northern Ireland right across the religious and political divide.

In Northern Ireland I have lived through some of the most terrible tragedies: the La Mon killings, Bloody Sunday and Enniskillen. I can keep going. However, I have never felt such a wave of revulsion sweep over the Northern Ireland community at what has happened since the passing of this legislation, and no bodies have been forthcoming. Can the Government put pressure on the intermediaries who first gave them the information? The amendment which was very nearly carried in this House provided that if those bodies were not returned by 30th June the amnesty which was being granted to the perpetrators of these murders should be rescinded. If the Government had again to consider the legislation they might look with some sympathy on that amendment.

The noble Lord will know that every newspaper, unionist, nationalist, columnist and contributor in Northern Ireland has expressed with varying degrees of sadness what has been happening. The people of England have not had to sit night after night, as has been illustrated by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, watching diggers trying to dig up a car park with the nine sons and daughters of the murder victim present hoping that their mother's bones would be dredged up. That is still going on and will continue to go on because I do not believe that the IRA will be in a position to detail where those graves are. I believe that it knows where the graves are. The people who carried out those murders must still be living. The people who took those individuals across the border to be murdered must still be living. They have already been granted anonymity. They have already been told there will be an amnesty. The murderers of those people could go to the various sites which have been spoken about and could say, "There it is", without fear of prosecution.

If members of the IRA have any compassion or sympathy in their souls for what they have done to Northern Ireland, they should avail themselves of this opportunity to identify those bodies once and for all. The hurt that exists in Northern Ireland at present is hard to describe.

In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned that since we last discussed emergency provisions there has been Omagh, the murder of Mrs. O'Neill, and other tragedies. One cannot remember all the tragedies. But the noble Lord forgot to mention that one of the most awful murders that has taken place since we last discussed this legislation was of the three young Quinn boys in Ballymoney. One is inclined to forget all the horrible murders that have taken place.

The measure which was passed is now embodied in this legislation, after the Omagh tragedy. In pushing through the amnesty Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that there would be a partial amnesty granted to those members of the republican movement who would detail where the graves were, but that if the Government were to find out from other sources where those graves were, they would be able to prosecute the murderers. I should like the Government to tell us that this legislation, which I support, will be used to hunt down the people who carried out these atrocious murders all those years ago.

I agree with the noble 'Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, that one is terribly frightened at the number of pipe bombs which have been found in Northern Ireland over the past few days. A pipe bomb was found in a Catholic primary school in Ballymena. Had that bomb gone off it could have killed more than the number of children murdered in Dunblane some years ago. It shows the length to which extremists will go to defeat what they regard as their opponents and to attain their own political ends.

This legislation, and any other that is necessary, should be used within the next week because we are coining to the dangerous time in Northern Ireland's political history; the Drumcree march. Every effort should be made and every weapon given to the RUC to ensure that both sets of murderers, and particularly the people who are in control of pipe bombs, do not cause the carnage which they will undoubtedly cause if they are not taken off our streets.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that he has made a powerful and very emotional speech. However, does he agree that some progress has been made? During the past year, nine times as many people have been charged with terrorist-type offences as have been killed by terrorists. Is that not a step forward?

10.6 p.m.

Viscount Slim

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for catching my eye and allowing me to say a few words. Of course I support the order. It is only right that most of us in the House do so. You can have an order, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, if you do not use it and its powers you have only a piece of paper. If the Government continue—their predecessors were much of the same ilk—the doctrine cif appeasement as they have done throughout the past few years, this order is of little value. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, if you have got something in your hand, use it to stop what is today a Sinn Fein/IRA mafia which demands its dues and completely dominates many sectors of the commercial world and the people of Northern Ireland.

That is an issue which I have not heard your Lordships discuss previously in great detail. I sometimes think that the Government do not wish it to be discussed.

The point about the order is that in the hands of any government—your Lordships know that I am not concerned with Right, Left, Liberal Democrat or anything of the kind but with good, strong, positive government when it is needed—it should be used. If you have a piece of paper, use it. It is ridiculous to pass such orders and do nothing.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, had a point. We have the power; do we have the guts to use it? I say to the Minister, who has a most unenviable job and undertakes it with great compassion and skill, that when he is given something he should use it in a way which will bring peace and a little happiness to a very troubled part of our land.

I am becoming slightly persuaded that the whole thing is a bit of a hoax and that really the Government's intentions are eventually to give Ireland away; to have nothing more to do with it arid to make wonderful speeches about everyone being nationalistic, independent and having one Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and others have said, there is a feeling of betrayal. Any government which goes in for betrayal will be very much taken to task. I say to the noble Lord, let us pass this order, but let us hope that somebody somewhere will have the guts to use it

10.10 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, it saddens me greatly that events in Northern Ireland over the last few clays show that it is necessary to support the continuance order before the House today.

Yesterday morning, hours before the funeral of Elizabeth O'Neill—I believe that all noble Lords echo the sentiments expressed by the Minister and many noble Lords—another pipe bomb, with the potential to kill and maim was discovered at a primary school in Ballymena. It is not possible to describe the horror of that act.

Those are just two incidents out of many which have occurred in recent weeks and months. There is absolutely no justification for the terrible spate of violence we have witnessed in Northern Ireland, not just in recent days, but indeed since the signing of the Good Friday agreement last year. Recent reports have indicated that there have been some 144 bombing incidents since 10th April 1998 as well as countless paramilitary beatings and other such attacks, each one of them abhorrent in itself. That continuing sectarian violence has caused the implementation of this legislation.

This legislation, regrettably, is still necessary. My Liberal Democrat colleague in another place argued that, when considering this legislation, we must balance the rights of the public and civil liberties with the rights of people accused of terrorist crimes. If those crimes are committed, some members of the public will lose their lives or be caused serious injuries, yet as civil democrats we cannot support the removal of some fairly fundamental rights from an individual for less than fundamental reasons.

The considerable evidence in the Rowe report and elsewhere suggest that this legislation has saved lives, and will continue to save lives in the current circumstances. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, suggested that this legislation is not used. That is far from the case. However, it does not offer terrorists some distorted justification to carry out their crimes by claiming that their rights have been limited. There is no justification for the paramilitaries to perpetuate the kind of violence that has been seen in Northern Ireland. This legislation is, in our view, still necessary.

Many noble Lords have mentioned the consequences of passing the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act. As someone who was quoted in the press as a lone voice in support of that piece of legislation, I have not changed my position, even after the results that we have seen. I do not lay the blame for the non-retrieval of the bodies at the door of the Government. We supported the Government because we believed that this was a humanitarian Bill. I want to echo the words of the noble Lords, Lord Fitt and Lord Dunleath, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in saying that we also suffered the wake of revulsion about the way in which the IRA failed to live up to their promises.

I was hopeful, when the first body was discovered, that others would be found, because the purpose of the legislation was to return the bodies to the families so that they could be buried with dignity. I find it incredible that those people who were acting as intermediaries, with the legislation in place, could not come in person and point to the spot. The press need not have been looking over their shoulders, but the offer should be made. It is not too late for that to come about.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in a powerful speech during the passage of that Bill, used the articles in the press as an indication of what the IRA was up to. Having read the press cuttings, I am sure that the wave of revulsion expressed has affected everybody north and south of the border. I believe that it will have a detrimental effect. I believe that Sinn Fein cannot wash its hands of this. It must be accountable. It claims to be a democratic organisation. It will have to answer to the voters. I hope that Sinn Fein is punished in the forthcoming elections.

Mention has also been made of the public inquiry. I still understand the reason that the Minister gave for the Government's inability to intervene in a public inquiry—that is, because it must be independent. The Minister said that he was quite sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, would probably take account of the feelings of the House and also the feelings expressed widely throughout the country, but I feel uneasy that he still is not looking to introduce anonymity for those who will give evidence.

I look forward to the day when it will not be necessary to renew these orders. It will then be necessary to ensure that in the process of replacing the temporary legislation we do not allow unnecessary powers to remain in operation and that the proper means for scrutinising the operation of such powers are in place. I am sure that the long-term aim of the people of Northern Ireland is the complete normalisation of society there and for Northern Ireland not to have exceptional powers which are not granted to the rest of the United Kingdom. The Good Friday agreement has given Northern Ireland the chance to resolve for good the exceptional circumstances that make this legislation necessary. My sincere hope is that this chance will not be wasted.

10.15 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I too am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order that he has given us tonight and we, of course, support it. I join with him in his well-justified praise of the security forces for their outstanding and persistent efforts in providing as secure an environment as possible. When we return from the Summer Recess we can look forward to examining the conclusions of the Patten Commission. I hope that the unique contribution that the security forces have made will be properly recognised.

We on these Benches believe that the Belfast agreement, signed on Good Friday last year, offers the prospect of a genuine and lasting peace in Northern Ireland. There is now a real chance that the politically motivated violence and sustained terrorist campaign that have characterised the past 30 years may well be over for good if we can put in the last few pieces of the jig-saw puzzle.

However, nobody need be in any doubt of the difficulties that lie ahead. The peace that currently exists in Northern Ireland is in many respects an imperfect or partial peace because the main terrorist organisations, complete with their command and control structures, remain firmly intact. They are continuing to target potential victims and recruit and train members. The terrorist organisations have yet to make a start to the decommissioning of their illegally held arms and explosives as they are required to do under the Belfast agreement. All the main terrorist groups have been engaged in savage mutilations, beatings and bombings, the most recent being Mrs. O'Neill. That is confirmed by Mr. John Rowe in his most recent report.

However, even in the event of the agreement succeeding—we hope that it does—the terrorist threat will remain high for some time. The history of Irish republicanism in particular is littered with splits. For example, the Provisional IRA itself was born out of a split with the old Official IRA in 1970. The Omagh bomb in 1998—the single worst atrocity in the past 30 years, in which 29 people were murdered—was carried out by a republican splinter group. The prospect of an IRA split remains very real indeed. It would be folly to underestimate the ability of a breakaway IRA, in addition to other groups, to destablise Northern Ireland.

A return to violence by republicans would almost certainly lead to a breakdown in the loyalist ceasefires which have held since October 1994. In the years immediately preceding the ceasefire the UDF and the UDA, in addition to various groups using cover names, were responsible for more murders than their republican counterparts. Should they too return to violence, the full range of powers contained in the current emergency provisions legislation, and perhaps more, will be required.

That said, the outlook today is definitely more optimistic than at any point since the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969. I hope that the process of normalisation will continue and that we can then move to permanent UK-wide security provisions alluded to by the Minister. We on these Benches certainly look forward to the Bill that the Minister mentioned and the advent of the conditions that will make it possible.

Several noble Lords mentioned the regular ritual of extending the EPA and other legislation and the fact that nothing changes. But matters are changing, and for the better. I have been in Northern Ireland many times since my appointment, but I have yet to see the Army on patrol, let alone arresting anyone. That applies especially to Belfast. Progress is being made, but there are still challenges and I hope the Government can meet them.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and others raised the issue of the Bloody Sunday inquiry. When the Minister winds up he will no doubt suggest that anonymity for witnesses is a matter for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville of Newdigate, and his inquiry. It may well be that the Government cannot instruct the inquiry—I believe that was the position of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. However, the Minister and his right honourable friends have responsibility as they themselves set up the terms of reference for the inquiry. If they had added a few simple words such as, "without jeopardising the safety and security of witnesses", they would have avoided the current difficulties. More importantly, it would have increased the chances of the inquiry identifying any new evidence relating to that fateful day.

But who knows what the effect of this inquiry will have on the members of the Parachute Regiment. They are just about to engage in hazardous operations, but at the same time their predecessors' safety is being disregarded by the Government. A large proportion of today's paras were not even born at the time of the Bloody Sunday events. What comfort can the Minister offer to your Lordships and members of the Armed Forces that suitable arrangements will be made for former members of the security forces giving evidence to the inquiry?

Many noble Lords raised the issue of the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill, and nobody made a more passionate contribution than the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. We on these Benches made our feelings clear when we debated the Bill. My greatest practical concern then, never mind the moral issues, was that the relatives would be tormented due to the terrorists not releasing the relevant information. I feared that they would try to extract further concessions from the two governments. My concerns almost immediately became reality, but not for exactly the reasons I expected.

It was always recognised that in some cases location would be extremely difficult. But we are now, facing a humanitarian challenge greater than the one that the Bill was supposed to overcome. Whether the terrorists are now facing a public relations disaster for the reasons anticipated by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, at the Committee stage of the Bill I know not. It is certainly hard to understand the terrorists' motivation if the information that they had available was always so hazy.

During the passage of the Bill the Minister challenged the House—or it may have been the Committee; I cannot remember—to say what was the alternative to the Bill. My noble friend Lord Cranborne had the courage to answer. He said, "Do nothing", or words to that effect. In the current situation does the Minister now regret not taking the advice of my noble friend?

10.23 p.m.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, despite reservations about some aspects of what is happening in Northern Ireland, I am grateful that every noble Lord who spoke supported the renewal of these provisions. However, perhaps I can deal with some of the specific points which arose during the debate, although they do not arise directly under this order. It is a tradition of this House that we tend to go wider than the subject under debate on occasions such as this.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough? asked about sanctions being taken against political representatives of paramilitary organisations. Some terrible things have certainly happened recently, and I described some of them in my opening speech. But we need clear evidence and the ability to link the people who perpetrated these offences to specific organisations which in turn are linked to political parties represented in the Assembly. That evidence is not easy to come by. I am certain that the RUC will leave no stone unturned in its pursuit of those who committed these dreadful acts, and of course its inquiries continue. Indeed the Secretary of State keeps under continuous review the state of the ceasefires. But there are paramilitary organisations which are not on ceasefire, and there are some which are on ceasefire but which do not have political representation in the Assembly. So it is not as easy as the noble Lord suggested, but can assure him that the RUC acts diligently.

Of course we would like people in the community who have evidence to come forward with it, that is always the wish of the police. I can assure your Lordships that the RUC has been very diligent in pursuing the many inquiries about what has happened recently.

The noble Viscount and other speakers, including the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned the Saville inquiry. I repeat that I understand the concerns and I also repeat that any decisions made by that inquiry are a matter for that inquiry alone. I do not think it would be appropriate for an independent inquiry to be, as it were, compelled by the Government to act in a particular way. I do not think it is proper for the Government to comment on the workings or the decisions of the inquiry. Of course the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, will be aware of this debate tonight and of everything that has happened recently and I am quite sure he will consider what has been said here. However, I would ask your Lordships to accept from me that an independent inquiry has to be independent. The previous government did not tell the Widgery inquiry how that inquiry should proceed, and we do not believe it is appropriate in this particular instance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred to the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 and said that it had not been used. We have the legislation on the statute book, as does the government in the Republic. It is there to be used by the RUC and the Gardai as and when appropriate. We have given the police additional powers in that Act, and it is up to them to decide whether or not they wish to use those powers in any particular instance. In any case, the fact that they have not been used yet does not mean that they will not be used in the future. I think it is too soon to make judgments about the value of legislation which has only recently reached the statute book.

I think that every noble Lord who has contributed to this debate referred to the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act. I am as aware as anyone of the horror that has swept Northern Ireland, and indeed the Republic, at what has been happening. We are all aware of the grief of the families of the victims and of their very visible distress when they see the Gardai searching in a number of locations and, with one exception, finding no bodies as yet.

I understand that and I am bound to say that I cannot help feeling that the publicity associated with it must have been damaging to the IRA and Sinn Fein. I cannot draw any other conclusion about that. I believe it was right for the Government to put forward a measure which had only one aim: we wanted to alleviate the suffering of the families of the disappeared, because those families believed, as we did, that the IRA would come forward with an indication of the location of the bodies.

It may well be—and I very much hope that it will be—that further digging and searching will reveal the bodies, but we acted in good faith and the families wanted us to act in this way. They have been in an intolerable position for far too long. To ensure that the information would be forthcoming, we accepted the principle that no one giving information should be disadvantaged by doing so. However, let me stress that does not mean there is an amnesty.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. We know that the Government acted in good faith, but would he not agree that the IRA have not acted in good faith and that they have betrayed whatever agreement or trust there might have been about this Bill, to the extent that the people involved in these killings have not come forward? We have had intermediaries; we have had "Chinese whispers". Therefore nobody should be surprised that the bodies cannot be found when the people who have been given immunity by the Act should they point out the position of the bodies have not actually come forward themselves. The Government should be doing something about forcing them to do so, either by imposing a time limit or in some other way.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, the digging for the bodies is continuing at various locations in the Republic. I think that it is too early for me to comment on whether the whole venture will be successful, or at least will be helpful—I do not like to use the word "successful"—to the families of the victims. Let us wait for a little longer to see whether the anguish of the families will be relieved by the discovery of the bodies.

I should stress that this is not an amnesty for the terrorists. The legislation was intended simply to help the families. If other evidence comes to light—indeed, because the bodies have not been found, they are not evidence at this stage—as to who committed those murders all those years ago, criminal proceedings could be brought. The Act certainly does not prevent that. I repeat the appeal which has been made on more than one occasion: if anyone has any more information which might help to pinpoint the location of the remains. I urge that person to pass the information on quickly to the commission for the sake of the families.

The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, urged the Government or the powers that be—the security services—to use what powers they have to deal with terrorism. Perhaps I may give the House some figures in that respect for the present year: that is to say, from 1st January to the end of May. These very up-to-date figures are as follows: 112 people altogether have been charged under the various pieces of legislation dealing with terrorism. Of those, 32 republicans and 80 loyalists were charged, and that in a period of five months. So I do not believe that it is right to say that the Government, or, indeed, the RUC, are not acting diligently to bring terrorists to justice. I know that the RUC works very hard in this respect.

It is not a question of the betrayal of the people of Northern Ireland, as the noble Viscount suggested. We are simply working to implement the Belfast agreement, to which the people of Northern Ireland have demonstrated their full support. It is clear in the agreement that the future of Northern Ireland rests in the hands of the people of Northern Ireland; it does not rest in the hands of this Government.

Viscount Slim

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I used the word "betrayal" on purpose because from information that I have there is discussion on this in all quarters not only in this country but also certainly in the north of Ireland in Ulster. I said it hoping that the Minister would refute my statement. I also said it because I think that the Minister and the Government should publicly refute such a statement. There is concern and mistrust from good and honest people. I used the word on purpose so that at a certain stage—not necessarily tonight—the Government would come forth and say that there is never to be any betrayal in the way that I put my statement.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am happy to say it now and I am sure that the Government will go on repeating it at intervals lest there be any doubt. There is no question of any betrayal of the people of Northern Ireland. We have achieved an agreement which gives the people of Northern Ireland the power to determine their own future. Therefore, they cannot be betrayed. It is up to the people of Northern Ireland to make decisions in the fullness of time about how they wish their future to be. Of course, we want to hand over to the devolved assembly and to local Ministers as soon as possible. That is part of the process of the agreement. But there is no question of any betrayal, and I utterly refute the suggestion there might be.

In conclusion, I should say that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to see the agreement work. They recognise that it represents the best hope for a new and peaceful future for them and for their children. There are difficulties to be overcome and the debate tonight has indicated some of them. It takes time to build the trust which is necessary for the agreement and the new institutions to succeed. It is taking a little longer than we had hoped for that trust to be established. But we as a government are determined to overcome these difficulties; so, too, I believe, are the political parties. No one is walking away from that process. I believe that everyone is still committed to making it work. Everyone is still talking about how to achieve the final stage of the agreement with devolution.

But progress is being made; there are ideas on the table and these envisage progress to devolution by 30th June. This is the date set by the Prime Minister and it is his view of the final date by which devolution must take place. It is vital that all the parties face up to the difficult decisions that have to be made in order to implement the agreement in full. That is the position we are in. There are difficulties ahead, but the Government are hopeful that we can overcome those difficulties, and that will be the best way of guaranteeing a peaceful future for the people of Northern Ireland. In the meantime we need anti-terrorist legislation on the statute book. I am grateful for the support that the Government have received tonight for the renewal measure.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-fire minutes before eleven o'clock.