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Column 192makes a contribution in the Chamber--but I disagree with his implication that we should exclude a party in Northern Ireland from any future constitutional talks about the way in which the Province is to be governed. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's frustration with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. I. Paisley) ; I feel it myself. I think that the hon. Member for Antrim, North should not persist in his preconditions for the resumption of talks, but that should not in any way prevent his party from taking part in the talks which I very much hope the Secretary of State will begin as soon as possible.
I have listened with interest, and some disappointment, to the debate. As on previous occasions, we have heard, unfortunately, the Government rehearsing their all-too-familiar arguments in respect of emergency legislation. During this debate--and probably more so in the debate on renewing the Prevention of Terrorism Act--some Conservative Members seemed to imply that the Labour party is somehow soft on terrorism because we have legitimate differences with the Secretary of State on the issue of emergency legislation.
Hon. Members who have known us for long enough will know that my hon. Friends and I find that attitude contemptible. I wish to place on record, on behalf of the leader of my party and the shadow Northern Ireland team, that we utterly condemn terrorism, whoever the perpetrator. Some Conservative Members do the people of Northern Ireland a disservice by suggesting that the House is not totally united in its abhorrence of terrorist atrocities.
Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree, in terms of the legislation and its application, that on the streets of areas like west Belfast, Strabane, Newry and ordinary towns and cities, it is important that the security forces and the police treat young people with dignity? To do otherwise is morally wrong and counter-productive, because in such circumstances the security forces become the recruiting sergeants for the Provisional IRA and the UDA.
Mr. Stott : I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) , who represents an area where there is an inordinate level of security force activity--not just once a week, but practically every day. I will have more to say about that later.
Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), I pay tribute to the security forces in Northern Ireland--who deserve all our support--and to the prison service and the judiciary, who inevitably have to carry out their duties in a very hostile environment. Without their commitment the situation in Northern Ireland would undoubtedly be far worse. Every Member of the House is elected to represent the interests, and protect the freedoms, of his or her constituents. It is also the responsibility of each right hon. and hon. Member fully to justify any curtailment of those civil rights. As the Opposition have consistently stated, the Labour party accepts that there may be a case for emergency powers in order to maximise the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland. It believes, however, that certain provisions in the order are unacceptable--and unacceptable use of emergency legislation does more to undermine democratic credibility than to combat terrorism.
Column 193As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, the Labour party has long called for the visual and sound recording of interviews. He explained that measures can be taken to ensure that material of a sensitive nature is not released. This method of interview would not only protect the suspect, but furnish the security forces with evidence that could be used to refute any allegations made against them--which I feel is very important. The Government allow this practice in the rest of the United Kingdom ; why are they not prepared to allow it in Northern Ireland? The Labour party believes that the Secretary of State should ensure adequate safeguards for both the accused and the accuser. Should the Government--after the Secretary of State's careful consideration of the matter--refuse to introduce video or audio taping of interviews, many people in Northern Ireland will be legitimately entitled to ask the Government what they have got to hide.
It is not only the failure to provide adequate safeguards in interviews that denies the people of Northern Ireland access to basic human rights ; what the Labour party cannot accept are the powers contained in the legislation and in the Prevention of Terrorism Act which enable the Government to detain suspects in Northern Ireland without charge.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, if an Executive erodes the basic rights of a substantial swathe of its own citizens--however admirable its objectives may be in doing so--the limitations that it seeks to place on democracy serve only to hurt the majority of law-abiding citizens. The Government are suspending the rule of law against which the terrorists are so vehemently fighting. In a democratic society, such a move represents a victory only for the tactics of terror.
It is because of these and other fundamental differences--which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) set out in graphic detail--that we cannot support the legislation as it stands. The continuing problems in Northern Ireland have, sadly, not been met by an adaptable or appropriate response from the Government. Twenty years ago, temporary measures were hurriedly introduced in an attempt to tackle the desperate situation in Northern Ireland. Now, 20 years later, advanced media techniques continue to bring, with disturbing clarity, the murders of innocent people and the carnage of bombed towns into our living rooms. That should send the strongest possible signal to the Government, who have presided over this tragedy for the past 14 years, that the annual review of tired legislation is not enough and is clearly not working.
It is with a profound sense of regret that we are unable to find a consensus on this most important matter. I fully understand the position taken by some Northern Ireland Members on the question of emergency powers- -they and their constituents have been in the front line of terrorist atrocities for over 20 years--but when emergency powers such as those contained in the order erode people's basic civil liberties, and given the corrosive effect that that has
Column 194on the vast majority of both communities in Northern Ireland, the Labour party cannot, regrettably, support renewal of this order. 6.48 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Mates) : The House has had the opportunity to give full consideration to the powers in place to continue the fight against the terrorists in Northern Ireland-- powers which remain necessary and will be used resolutely as long as terrorism persists.
Many interesting and worthwhile points have been made during the debate. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) welcomed, as I did, the prospect of a change to the extradition laws in the Republic of Ireland. An undertaking has been given and we look forward to that becoming less of a thorny problem as a result of the change in the law. The hon. Gentleman said that the only reason why he advised his party to vote against the legislation was that internment was on the statute book, and the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) gave some other reasons.
The requirement to have internment available has to be there. It is not just in Northern Ireland, but in the Republic of Ireland. It is a legacy of the days when it was used on both sides of the border. My right hon. and learned Friend has no intention of introducing it in the present circumstances, but not to have it there as a fallback if circumstances demand it would be neglectful and the Government are not prepared to allow that to happen.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) talked about the independent assessor. On that matter he is plain wrong. He will see that the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 says :
"The Independent Assessor--
(b) shall receive and investigate any representations concerning those procedures ;
(c) may investigate the operation of those procedures in relation to any particular complaint or group of complaints ;
(d) may require the GOC to review any particular case or group of cases in which the Independent Assessor considers any of those procedures to have operated inadequately".
Therefore, the powers that he complained were not there, are there.
Mr. McNamara : With respect, the Minister has misquoted me. The substance of my complaint is that the independent assessor may look only at procedural matters. He may not look at the substance of the complaints. That is still the position and it is what Lord Colville says. Looking at the procedures is not sufficient.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) made a notable intervention. He asked about the difference between the problems we face and the problem faced by other European countries. I can answer that in one word. It is the border. The border provides an opportunity for terrorists to move between two police forces and two legal systems. That is what makes the problem so difficult.
The figures for the past 10 years show that the RUC's border subdivisions, which have only 19 per cent. of the Province's population, have had 40 per cent. of all the deaths as a result of the security problems. They have had
Column 195over 50 per cent. of all the explosives used and almost 30 per cent. of shootings. That is the uncomfortable and difficult fact. It does not mean that we are not working as hard as we can, with the security forces and the Government in the Republic, to try to overcome the problem, but to fail to mention it would be to ignore one of the real issues we face in trying to come to terms, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup put it, with the terrorist problem in Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned a central anti-terrorist body. There has been a great deal of argument about that over recent months. It is chiefly a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Father of the House said that it needs to be looked at by a higher level of Government. I can assure him that during the 13 months in which I have been doing this job it has been given a great deal of attention by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Committee on Northern Ireland, which is a new feature since the general election. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the Prime Minister is taking a close interest in this matter, as are senior members of the Government of the Republic. It is through that increased co-operation and determination that we look to more success in the future.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) echoed some of the Chief Constable's words about the changes in the law and mentioned the remarks of the chairman of the Police Federation this morning. He may be aware of what the chairman of the Police Federation said, but I am not sure that he knows what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said in reply. His words will be on the record and will be reported tomorrow, so I shall not repeat them.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the intimidation of lawyers. Our position on that is clear. If it is taking place, it is wrong. It is unacceptable and we will not tolerate it. However, if it is taking place, we must be given evidence. The problem is that it is repeated from body to body, the most notable being one from the United States, and it is alleged as if it is a proven fact. If it is happening, we would like to have evidence. It is intolerable in any society, especially ours. However, such evidence has not been forthcoming and, until it is, we can do nothing but condemn it if it is happening and long for the day when evidence will be produced.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley objected to the phrase : "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
He may find that phrase objectionable, but he agreed to it before the talks began. It was on the basis of his agreement that the talks took place. As he knows, the talks lasted for some months and made more progress than he suspected would have been the case at the start.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) gave us a familiar diatribe against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, calling it a concession to violence and saying that it was the concession of joint authority. Once again I must tell him that he is wrong. The agreement states specifically that its provisions imply no derogation from the sovereignty of either state and nobody has said anything like the remarks that the hon. Gentleman claimed have been made.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) mentioned the case of one of his constituents and the report of what had happened in court. It is a tragic case.
Column 196However, for the security forces, the car was stoned by a group of youths. Those responsible were quickly arrested. They were brought to trial on various charges, including manslaughter, for which the available penalty is a sentence of life imprisonment. What happens thereafter cannot be the responsibility of the RUC, the Government or the Northern Ireland Office. It is a matter for the courts. The courts are independent. They heard the evidence and took a decision, which is as the hon. Gentleman stated. That is not something for which we can be blamed.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) raised the takeover by the IRA of Cullaville. It was not seen by the security forces in the tower because that area is in dead ground. Had the security forces seen it, they would certainly have reported it and something might have been done about it. However, it could also have been a come-on. The hon. Gentleman is experienced enough to know that the IRA is up to all sorts of ruses such as that. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the security forces saw it and did nothing does them a disservice and is not the truth.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Markethill and the complaint that he said that he has raised with me. He did not mention the constituent's name. If he provides me with the name, I shall have the case looked into and write to him. Without that knowledge, it is difficult to say anything here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) talked about the delays in justice. We have been working hard on that. The working party looking into the delays has made a great deal of progress in identifying where they are. There will be resource implications which we will have to look at when the time comes. I hope that as a result of the work that we have done in the past nine months we can reduce considerably the delays in bringing people to trial, as that is a bad part of the administration of justice now.
My hon. Friend mentioned the terrorist finance unit, as did many other hon. Members. We are well on the way to achieving some success there. It is a complex matter and it is better to proceed slowly and succeed than to proceed in haste or under pressure and to fail. Therefore, I must ask hon. Members to be patient.
I must tell the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) that we are not gung-ho when we bring these provisions to the House. The day that my right hon. and learned Friend and I feel that we do not need to ask for the provisions to be renewed will be the happiest in our time at the Northern Ireland Office. We do this because it is fundamentally necessary.
The hon. Member for Mossley Hill was rather too gloomy when he said that life is livable in Northern Ireland. It is a great deal more than that. A great deal of life in Northern Ireland is very good and for many people life is normal. Their spirit is remarkable, but their life, jobs and prosperity are better than some would have us believe. I do not want the message to go out that all is gloom there because as far as I am concerned it is certainly not.
The application for the powers may cause inconvenience, but at the end of the day we shall have to implement them resolutely and, given the circumstances, as sensitively as possible in pursuit of the Government's first aim in Northern Ireland--the eradication of terrorism.
One day it may no longer be necessary, but until that time comes the legislation must remain in place. That is why it is impossible to understand why the official
Column 197Opposition cannot support us. They bring one or two minor points to our attention, but without the legislation the terrorists would have far greater opportunities to wreak the havoc that they have been wreaking, and it is the duty of all hon. Members to support us in the Lobby.
It being Seven o'clock, Madam Speaker-- proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion, pursuant to Order [21 May].
The House divided : Ayes 314, Noes 204.
Division No. 289] [7 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Durant, Sir Anthony
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Gardiner, Sir George
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Grylls, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hampson, Dr Keith
Hannam, Sir John