HL Deb 10 February 2003 vol 644 cc547-52

8.38 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd January be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, my ambition, which I hope shortly to succeed in achieving, is to take longer than one minute.

As your Lordships will see, the Government have decided to renew almost all of Part VII. When the Act was introduced it was made quite clear that the Northern Ireland specific provisions in Part VII were to be temporary. Indeed, that temporary nature is embodied in the legislation itself. So we must be in no doubt that the provisions in Part VII set Northern Ireland apart from the remainder of the United Kingdom.

We have a commitment to removing Part VII. It is a crucial aspect of our commitment to the Belfast agreement and the peace process which sustains it. But that obligation to remove the temporary nature of Part VII is not unqualified; we have other responsibilities. We have an unquestionable, non-negotiable responsibility to protect the people of Northern Ireland in so far as we can from violence and terror. I agree with what your Lordships said in relation to the earlier order. The police cannot do this alone. If the community does not will it, it will not come about. I suppose that we need both politics and security measures.

We have seen steps towards peace. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, pointed to recent history. I agree that many aspects of it are gloomy and depressing. But I remind your Lordships of the number of those who were killed in what are inelegantly called "security related incidents" last year. There were far too many; but the figure must be compared with the hundreds who were cruelly killed not very long ago in Northern Ireland.

We do not have a normal security situation. There are the punishment beatings that have been referred to; there is sectarian rioting, alleged intelligence gathering, and dissident groups whose purpose is to see that peace fails. We have therefore decided to offer to your Lordships the conclusion that we need to renew most of Part VII.

We have relied in great part on the advice of security advisers. We rely significantly on the police service and the Army. We have to pay careful attention to their careful, measured, proportionate, professional judgments about what is required.

Some sections will lapse, but only on the basis of a careful appreciation of the advice to which I referred. Subsections (1) and (2) of Section 97 allow the Secretary of State to confer port and border control powers on the Army by specifying members of the Armed Forces as examining officers. This power has never been used and its use has never been sought. The police service believes that in the current situation there is no operational requirement for retention, and the Army thinks that little would be lost by allowing it to lapse.

I turn, secondly, to paragraph 36 of Schedule 4. That allows the Secretary of State to make a restraint order in place of the courts. It is many years since this power was used and the police do not see any current operational need for it. They would seek restraint orders through the courts. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, whose work we deeply appreciate and are grateful for, has recommended that paragraph 37 also be allowed to lapse. We shall give this further thought. Some questions still remain. The Secretary of State intends to launch a consultation on that provision.

Likewise, paragraphs 19 to 21 of Schedule 5 allow the Secretary of State to authorise in place of the courts a search of premises in the investigation of terrorist finance or direction offences. This is in order that the police might avoid having to disclose sensitive material or techniques to the courts. It is many years since the power was used. The police see no current operational need for it. They are content to seek such warrants through the courts.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer, agrees with the Government that these provisions may safely be allowed to lapse.

The noble Lord has also raised the possibility of allowing subsections (3) and (4) of Section 67 to lapse. These subsections set out the limitations on granting bail in terrorist cases in Northern Ireland. We want to look at the possibility. It is a complex issue and we want to avoid unintended consequences. We shall therefore consult before making a decision.

Other issues were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his report which we shall want to explore with some care and caution—for example, the possibility of resident magistrates granting bail in terrorist cases, and the possibility of extending the list of protected groups in Section 103 to include part-time as well as full-time prison officers. Both proposals seem to have a good deal of virtue in them, but we want to give them careful consideration following consultation.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will keep a careful eye on the workings of Part VII. His efforts are invaluable. They have shown the value of independent scrutiny on a forensic basis, not a partisan basis. For the moment, we come to the conclusion that these temporary provisions, subject to the lapsed provisions, need to be reviewed. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 23rd January be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for explaining exactly what is in the order. I admire the work that has been clearly been done behind the scenes to look into the needs of this particular Part VII before formulating the order. I have nothing to say to challenge the noble and learned Lord on anything that the Government have done. I am relieved that the risk factor has been kept at a fairly sensitive level and that risks have not been taken in this legislation, in my view and in that of the Government.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, we, too, support the order. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for spending time on explaining what the Government will do with two recommendations in the Carlile report that they have not as yet accepted. Those recommendations relate to allowing resident magistrates to hear bail applications and the suggestion that the distinction between scheduled and non-scheduled offences should no longer obtain. Bearing in mind that the Government intend to reconsider those recommendations again and hold consultations, I am satisfied. I support the order.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, although there has been a degree of unreality about the situation in Northern Ireland and here, in the capital of the United Kingdom, all who contributed to earlier debates will have gone a long way to correcting that. However, others must also contribute to reality and face the facts. That is not the practice of a great many people in a position to influence thinking and attitudes, especially in Northern Ireland.

For example, is it not passing strange that governments—plural—of the United Kingdom should be granting what one might call "annual last chances" to various terrorist organisations in Ireland, while the same governments in and of the United Kingdom should deal with similar terrorist organisations elsewhere in a far more robust fashion, both nationally and internationally?

There is one common response to all forms of terrorism. Over the past 30 years, in the immediate aftermath of each atrocity, there has been an assurance from all governments that the murderers will be, hunted down and put behind bars". I quote the words because I believe that they must be on a tape somewhere and played automatically the morning after. It might be prudent if such statements were discontinued now that they are seen to be entirely bogus. There are those who will always see to it that they are bogus.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, I thank the Lord Privy Seal for his full explanation of the order. One could not detect any embarrassment about this subject. However, I should remind the House that the background is one of policing and security in Northern Ireland. Some parts of the order are not innocuous, although that impression may have been given.

We work in a new background in Northern Ireland, in which there is a great shortage of police on the ground. The Patten report decimated the size of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Instead of being 12,500 or even 7,500, as Patten recommended for normal peaceful times, we are below 7,000. Therefore, the Army, which is there to support the civil power—to support policing in Northern Ireland—is more necessary than ever. In fact, last Wednesday night the Army had to be used in the Shankill Road, in Larne and in Carrickfergus in support of the Police Service of Northern Ireland because of the small manpower available within that police service. Therefore, I find it interesting that it has been decided that, given the strength of the police service at the ports and along the border, it is no longer necessary to have personnel within the Army specified as examining officers.

The Irish Army is on the border supporting the Garda Siochana but for the first time this order states that Her Majesty's forces—that includes the Royal Irish Regiment, the former UDR—can no longer act as examining officers along the border because there are sufficient police in Northern Ireland to do that.

There is a tremendous contradiction here. Who is getting it wrong? Has the Chief Constable said that he has adequate manpower, because he has told the Northern Ireland Policing Board that he has not? Are the Government saying that it is no longer necessary for the Army to operate along the border? Or is it simply the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, who is saying that? We need to have answers to those questions. Who will take responsibility for the decision to withdraw the Army and the Royal Irish Regiment from border areas? Will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal tell us, as members of Her Majesty's forces will no longer be examining officers at the border, how far inside the border they still have the power to be examining officers?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I must learn from the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, as the longer I speak, the shorter the debate. I shall do my best not to be seduced into the paths of unreason.

It is important to bear in mind what I said about the Army. As I said, Section 97(1) and (2) allows the Secretary of State to confer port and border control powers on the Army by specifying them as examining officers. That is to say, members of the Armed Forces could be designated to stand at airports and docks examining people arriving in Northern Ireland, just as police officers and customs officials may at present. The provision is important. This power has never been used and its use has never been sought. The police service—we pay the closest attention to the present Chief Constable and his predecessors—believes that in the current situation there is no operational requirement to retain this power. That being so, it is not a proper function of government to continue with it. It has never been necessary for the Army to have Section 97 powers to patrol the border. It can use its own stop and search powers. In fact, the Army has never used the Section 97 powers.

On Question, Motion agreed to.