HL Deb 22 July 2002 vol 638 cc125-6

7.50 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th June be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the order will repeal Section 76 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Section 76 sets the standard for the admissibility of confession evidence in cases before the Diplock courts. In repealing Section 76, the standard set by the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 will apply.

Noble Lords will be aware that Section 76 featured in the first report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act. The noble Lord recommended that consideration be given to the need for Section 76 and a consultation exercise was undertaken to gauge views on whether Section 76 should be retained. As a result of that consultation exercise, we are satisfied that Section 76 can and should be repealed.

Noble Lords may wish to raise points and I shall be happy to deal with them. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th June be approved [34th Report front the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing the order to the House. The matter was well debated in another place. The Minister, Jane Kennedy, responded fully to questions put by my honourable friend Crispin Blunt and others, except in one area—that is, in regard to the formal advice that the Minister received from the Police Service of Northern Ireland. When my honourable friend pressed the Minister she replied: The hon. gentleman makes a fair point. Of course we have had formal advice from the police along the lines that he suggests. Indeed, I received a letter from the PSNI that confirms that. I was satisfied with that letter, but I also wished to test the matter for myself. I have had several conversations with those who take a close interest in the operation of the Act".—[Official Report, Delegated Legislation Standing Committee, Commons, 16/7/02; col. 10.] Will the Minister place a copy of that letter in the Library of both Houses. Apart from that, I support the order.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, the order follows the recommendation of the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000 that Section 76 should be repealed to conform with the message contained in the Belfast agreement 1998 that emergency powers should be removed and that there should be a return to normal security arrangements as early as possible, consistent with the level of threat. In other words, this judgment should be made by Her Majesty's Government consistent with the level of threat. As there are now street riots every night in Belfast, as there was a bomb attack on the Police Service of Northern Ireland last week, a terrorist murder and several other armed terrorist attacks in Belfast last night, is the noble Baroness satisfied that this is consistent with the present level of peace in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I should restate to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, the point made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that no level of violence is acceptable. The underlying point of the noble Lord's question is whether the current level of violence would allow us to pass the order with safety and confidence. The small step that we are taking with the order has been given extremely careful consideration. We have consulted on it and the Police Service of Northern Ireland is of the view that the repeal of Section 76 would have no adverse impact on future prosecutions.

While the security situation has improved dramatically we accept that it is not perfect. The issue before us is whether we can safely repeal Section 76 in those circumstances. We believe that that is possible at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, raised the issue of the advice that we get in regard to the current situation. We constantly take advice from security advisers, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are content with the repeal of Section 76.

The noble Lord asked whether a copy of the letter from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which was referred to in another place, could be placed in the Library. I hope that it will be possible to do that. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Kilclooney, to confirm whether it will be possible to place a copy of the entire letter in the Library. I hope that that answers the points that have been raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.