HL Deb 02 November 2001 vol 627 cc1633-7

11.11 a.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 17th October be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced on 12th October that he was specifying the UDA, UFF and LVF by virtue of the powers conferred on him by the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. He immediately made this order under the urgency procedure provided by Section 19(3) of the Act and specification took effect from midnight that night.

The Secretary of State is obliged to review the list of specified organisations from time to time in case changes of circumstances require it to be amended. Over the previous weeks and months the Secretary of State had received briefings from the Chief Constable on the activities of all paramilitary organisations. Based on those briefings it was clear that the level and pattern of violence emanating from or inspired by the UDA/UFF merited a decision to specify. On 28th September the Secretary of State had decided to announce his decision to specify the UDA and UFF.

However, at the 11th hour it was communicated to him that the UDA had accepted the damage and violence it had been doing, both to individuals and to the general peace process. It had decided to bring the violence to an end. The Secretary of State made it plain that he was deeply sceptical of any words emanating from that organisation but even at the 11th hour he was prepared to put them to the test: not by words but by deeds.

That scepticism was to prove well founded. While there was an initial period of calm following the UDA's reprieve, on the night of 11th October serious rioting ensued on the Lower Shankill Road following a police house search and arrest operation. The search operation had revealed pipe bombs, pistols, ammunition and bomb-making equipment along with various items of paramilitary paraphernalia. Some 100 to 150 persons were involved in the orchestrated rioting which followed the search, with pipe bombs and petrol bombs being thrown at the police.

The next day, 12th October, on the clear advice from the Chief Constable that the UDA/UFF were responsible for the rioting, and in keeping with his previous warning, the Secretary of State announced his decision to specify those organisations. The decision was also announced to specify the LVF. This was taken on the basis of its actions over the recent period and, in particular, the murder of Martin O'Hagan, a local journalist, who was shot two weeks previously.

The activities of the UDA, UFF and LVF were incompatible with any claims to be on ceasefire and their actions cannot be tolerated by any civilised society. Such acts are morally indefensible and inexcusable. The result of their specification is that: early released prisoners associated with the UDA, UFF and LVF can now have their licences suspended and be returned to gaol if they are believed to continue to support their organisation; the provisions now embodied in the Terrorism Act 2000 relating to charges of membership introduced originally after the Omagh bombing in 1998 will also apply to all three organisations; and any UDA, UFF or LVF person found guilty of a scheduled offence that took place before the Good Friday agreement cannot qualify for early release provisions.

I am sure the whole House will agree that the decision to specify these organisations was absolutely the proper course, indeed the only course of action to take. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 17th October be approved [6th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing the order before the House. I have no quarrel with the Government's decision—which is the main thrust of the measure—to specify the organisations she has outlined. However, we are once again in the situation of which I spoke in your Lordships' House during the passage of the Terrorism Act 2000 and, I believe, during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act; namely, the creation of two classes of terrorism. There is terrorism and there is terrorism and there is terrorism. Both the Prime Minister and the President of the United States have said that a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist and that they will hunt them out.

There is absolutely no doubt in my opinion that those who perpetrate these awful acts all over Belfast and in other parts of Northern Ireland are still carrying out acts of terrorism and intimidation. They shoot young men in front of their girlfriends because they are doing something which a particular paramilitary organisation does not like. These are paramilitary organisations comprising terrorists. Unfortunately, the order, which I hope your Lordships will accept, has no teeth.

It is already some time ago since the Secretary of State made the decision to specify the organisations we are discussing. I ask the Minister how many past prisoners, thugs, have been arrested? What is so different about the awful deeds carried out by the UDA and the UVF in north Belfast as opposed to those which the IRA carries out in other parts of Belfast? There has been some disarmament and there is some agreement on the part of Sinn Fein/IRA to a ceasefire, but they are still terrorists and still harbour terrorists and they should be treated in the same light.

To continue the point about two classes of terrorism, when we passed the Terrorism Act 2000 I said in your Lordships' House that the proscription in Schedule 2 refers only to the IRA. In the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act, as I believe I pointed out at the time, the IRA organisations are broken down into many bits and pieces. Surely that creates a situation of two leagues—the A and the B Leagues of terrorism. My complaint is, first, that the measure has no teeth despite the efforts of my party in another place during the passage of the Act to give it teeth. However, the Government defeated the relevant amendments. Secondly, it perpetuates the concept of two classes of terrorism which I and my party totally reject.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I once again thank the Minister for the explanation she has offered. We appreciate that the purpose of the order is to specify organisations which do not maintain a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. Therefore, this is a good opportunity to condemn the recent spate of paramilitary violence both from republicans and loyalists. Although the Minister has our support, will she confirm that there will be no change in the status of the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA, the Red Hand Defenders and the Orange Volunteers, which have previously been specified?

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, the order should be seen as preparation for the overdue offensive against terrorist and paramilitary bodies generally. That offensive must be launched without delay if the people of Northern Ireland are to be rescued from the hideous imposition of intimidation, racketeering, drug trafficking and protection rackets. I am at one with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on that.

The New York atrocity has, to a great extent, made old-style terrorism unfashionable and unprofitable, but all the terrorists groups derive great comfort from having at hand the activities that I have just listed. The order is a mere sideshow. It will do nothing to increase pressure on those organisations already switching to new-style terrorism.

If the Real IRA were to announce that it was prepared to consider putting beyond use some of its weapons, which were transferred from the Provisional IRA not so long ago, would the Real IRA be removed from the list that we are considering today? Secondly, at a time when terrorism is being unanimously condemned world-wide, is it prudent to ignore the activities of any terrorist body whose command and control structures remain intact? Finally, in relation to decisions that will be required of the Secretary of State in future, why do medium-ranked police officers seem required, or maybe compelled, to decide and announce that a given murder was not terrorist-related within a few hours of the crime? It seems passing strange that such hasty conclusions apparently have to be broadcast and announced in advance of any real investigation. If that practice could be discontinued, there might be wider public support for this and similar legislation.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as she has said, there continues to be a considerable amount of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland which is being conducted by paramilitaries who claim—or who have claimed in the past—to be protecting their community, but who are now, as we have discussed recently in the House, exiling them, brutally beating them and treating them with the utmost contempt and cruelty? Is there any reason that the Provisional IRA should not continue to be treated as the other organisations have been treated as long as its members behave like that? We know that it can turn off the tap if it wants to—it has done so before. Has it been asked to do so again? If it has been asked and it continues with what it is doing, should it not be considered seriously as the terrorist organisation that it still is?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, that the Secretary of State has looked at all terrorist organisations and will continue to keep them under review. The Chief Constable is currently reviewing the position of those involved with the UDA, UFF and LVF. In answer to the specific question from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, 10 specified prisoners are currently being reviewed by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State has taken into account the actions of the UDA, UFF and LVF over many weeks, not just the past few days. He has concluded that the scale and level of the pattern are distinctly different from other organisations. However, I always agree with the noble Baroness that all violence is to be deplored.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I reiterate that the status of all ceasefires is kept under continuous review. The judgment is that the PIRA ceasefire has not broken down—quite the reverse. As confirmed by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, the IRA has started the process of putting arms beyond use. I assure noble Lords that we shall act if we have firm enough grounds for doing so. The decision not to specify is evidence of our determination to bear clown on terrorism, not the reverse.

Also in response to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, the Secretary of State is obliged under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to keep the status of all paramilitary organisations under review. He needs to reach a judgment, taking account of the specific terms of the legislation and other relevant factors as to the status of any organisation's ceasefire. Whatever the public belief about the status of ceasefires, he needs to be assured that any decision that he takes meets the criteria that the courts would apply. The UDA and UFF were warned two weeks ago that the Secretary of State would specify them without further warning in the event of further violence.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, for his courtesy in giving me notice of the issues about which he was going to raise concerns. For any organisation to be despecified, it would need to demonstrate clearly by word and deed that it was maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. That is the judgment for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to make, on advice from the Chief Constable. I cannot second-guess that process. Suffice to say that an act of putting arms beyond use would not of itself be sufficient.

It would be imprudent to ignore any terrorist organisation, whether or not it was observing a ceasefire. All terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland are proscribed under the Terrorism Act and remain amenable to the court. Clearly, we want to work towards the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement and develop an inclusive society for all, but the safety and security of the ordinary citizen will not be placed in jeopardy in that process.

The final question from the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, related to the response of police officers to any given murder. As the noble Lord will appreciate, that is essentially an operational matter for the police. When a death is obviously not terrorist-related—such as a domestic incident—it is reasonable for the police to say so. Often, however, the police are responding to media questioning and they answer as they believe appropriate.

I hope that I have answered all the points that have been raised. If any noble Lord feels that I have not done so, I shall seek to reply in writing should they wish me to do so.

On Question, Motion agreed to.