The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord and ask a question. Does he agree that similar pressure should be exerted upon the Protestant paramilitaries?
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I agree. That applies to all paramilitaries. The semtex is particularly dangerous. It should at least be given up as a starter in the disarming process.
It is easy to understand that Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness are in difficult positions. They have now to persuade the IRA brigade commanders that they must give up explosives and weapons. The Government have been sympathetic to their position. They have shown by action that they wish to help towards peace. All the roads have been reopened. The Army has been reduced, and security has been very obviously relaxed. To make further concessions without receiving anything substantial in return will lose the Secretary of State and the NIO all credibility in Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland generally, we now need time as well as peace in which to build intercommunity relationships and mutual confidence. I am glad to say
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1958
that there is already evidence of such work. The security forces are supporting it and giving all the help that they can. Great efforts are being made to avoid confrontation and aggression. Police divisional reports show that they are moving as fast as circumstances will allow towards assisting intercommunity activities, and they are moving to concentrate upon racketeering and drug trafficking. It is sad and reprehensible that the chairman of the police authority, a salaried government appointee, should condemn publicly the Chief Constable's report before it was even made public. If the allegations have foundation, there are much better ways of handling such matters.
The Minister paid tribute to the work of the police. In the past few days pressure in Northern Ireland has been rising to bursting point. I would say that the Province could explode, because word has been passed down that the widows of the police, Army and intelligence officers who were killed in that crash on the Mull of Kintyre more than a year ago will be entitled to only £100,000 compensation because those officers were not on duty at the time, and the helicopter could be regarded as a common carrier. Therefore under the Geneva Convention £100,000 is the limit.
That is outrageous. I have never felt such a general sense of outrage. I was glad to hear that there has been some change of heart on that during the day. I hope that is true and will be acted upon quickly. The only way to deal fairly with those poor people is to treat each individual in accordance with her needs. Some have more young children than others, greater educational needs, and so on.
The Secretary of State's announcement that he will review the emergency provisions is welcome and important, but I suggest that he should commence the review now when the need, the problems and the difficulties are fresh in everyone's mind. I trust that the Secretary of State will not make the mistake of importing solely experts from outside who come over for a short time and tell us what we should have. It is vital that we have some local people on the review body, and there are many engaged in community work who are well placed to give advice from ground level.
It would be wonderful if in one year's time we were to find that the emergency provisions were not necessary. But, even if it becomes clear that we should be free of terrorist violence, it must be recognised that there are tightly run, well-organised, and technically proficient organisations on both sides which will not go away. They will involve themselves in every racket and money generating scheme, including drugs, that they can think of. They can be expected to continue to pressurise witnesses and to pervert the course of justice in every possible way. It is certain that at least some of the emergency provisions will continue to be necessary for some years so that the police and the courts can put those evil gangs out of business. I am sorry to mention that, but it is the situation on the ground. I am sure that such people will not go away just because there is peace.
In the coming months, it will not be easy. There are various pressures afoot, but the ceasefire must hold without the Government giving any more concessions. The new sense of hope throughout Northern Ireland can
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1959
be felt. Of the many good things happening, one is the drive to increase employment opportunities, something in which most of industry and the interested bodies are involved. The work to increase employment and the opportunities for employment is being enthusiastically and competently led by the Minister responsible for the economy, the noble Baroness, Lady Denton. Her work has been widely commended and appreciated.
What we need is time for everyone to understand the benefits which peace can bring so that, although we may suffer from some terrorist activity, the terrorists will have no support whatsoever and no safe houses.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, after that admirable speech I hesitate to speak, but I shall. It is now 18 months since the Joint Declaration, and some 10 months since the IRA declared a ceasefire; qualified, however, by Gerry Adams a month later in September when he said that the violence might be resumed,
"two or three years up the road".
On 9th December last year an exploratory dialogue began between NIO officials and representatives of Sinn Fein. One of the objects of those talks was to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence.
I think the public expected that such discussions would lead to practical arrangements to enable the IRA, as well of course as the Loyalist paramilitaries, to hand over its arms, and, above all, the large quantities of semtex explosive and such weapons as rocket launchers, neither of which could be considered defensive weapons needed to protect the brave soldiers of the IRA against, for instance, the police.
Such arrangements were, and are, all the more urgent since it is universally accepted that Sinn Fein cannot take part in the necessary dialogue with the other political parties and with the Government, which forms part of the democratic process, until they can come to the table without an Armalite held behind their backs.
On 10th May this year negotiations took another step with the initiation of exploratory talks between Sinn Fein and a Government Minister, Mr. Ancram, and in May also the Secretary of State found himself shaking Mr. Gerry Adams by the hand in the US and, according to Mr. Adams yesterday, had a useful meeting.
What has been achieved since August last year by the British Government, Sinn Fein and the IRA? The great and undeniable blessing, for which every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland and their friends everywhere give thanks, is of course 10 months without a bomb or a killing, apart from two murders by the IRA. It will be said:
"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war",
but there are limitations to that. For what have Sinn Fein and the IRA achieved, and let no one accept the pretence that they are not one body?
The record of all but one of the Sinn Fein negotiating delegation demonstrates an active IRA past. I wonder how Tony Lake would feel if he had to negotiate as a British Minister with a man who openly regretted that his attempt to blow up a British Prime Minister had failed.
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1960
Sinn Fein has secured powerful US support, despite the fact that it represents only one-third of the nationalist vote in the North and a derisory 3 per cent. in the South. But it wishes to create and dominate a united Ireland in its image. It is widely compared with the ANC in South Africa. I personally believe that it is an insult to Nelson Mandela to put Gerry Adams on the same plane. It is as though we were to receive and fête in this country Louis Farakan, or the leader of the Conservative Party in New York state, as serious political contestants for the US presidency.
Sinn Fein now has an office in Washington and the right to raise funds. It has now opened another office in Brussels whose stated aim is to inform the European Union and to persuade it to play a greater role not just in financing the peace processperhaps, in passing, I may remind the House that we are one of the two net contributors to the EUbut in the political search for a just solution. Meanwhile, we are dismantling checkpoints, withdrawing troops and allowing Sinn Fein to move further and further into negotiation. We are publicly examining the role of the RUC in the knowledge that Sinn Fein's declared objective is to replace it with a people's militia of the IRA's choice. I do not know what effect that must have on police morale.
We are accepting the continuing punishment beatings by paramilitaries on both sides. We know that the IRA continues to recruit and target future candidates for killing. It was said in the debate on this measure in another place that there is reason to believe that the IRA is accessing computer records in the Housing Executive and the Inland Revenue. I refer your Lordships to col. 528 of Hansard of 12th June.
Strangest of all, we are taking, it seems to me, very little trouble to use that useful weapon, the truth. Gerry Adams has said publicly that the question of decommissioning was never raised with him in his talks at the White House. President Clinton said that it was. Is President Clinton indeed going to come to Northern Ireland this autumn to rejoice in his contribution to the peace process? That would be a vintage exercise in cynicism and on a par with the Irish Government's many equally helpful intrusions into our affairs. Lately we do not seem to have heard much about Clauses 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution, nor about Dublin's careful retention of the Offences Against the State Act while urging us to give up the measure that is before us tonight.
Yet, for all this assiduous diplomacy from the US and from Dublin, and no doubt soon from Brussels, not one ounce of semtex has been handed over and Mr. Adams is now claiming that we are jeopardising the peace process by our unreasonable demands. The unionists are, of course, said to be cast with us as the villains of the piece, responsible in their bigotry and their unreasonable dinosaur attitudes for the breakdown of the peace process once the IRA and Sinn Fein have extracted the maximum advantage in terms of concessions by us, which are not reciprocated. Yet it is the unionists who actually made proposals in February this year for an international commission to work out ways of handing in illegal arms.
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1961
I presume that that was never taken further by the Government because today's Times reports that Sir John Wheeler is saying,
"the Government would find ways of helping paramilitaries to decommission their weapons within the law".
The same item reported Gerry Adams as saying that the IRA would not hand over weapons before a political settlement. He also said in the Irish Times this week that:
"Even a symbolic gesture of decommissioning arms would symbolise an IRA surrender and is hardly a reasonable or justifiable demand by the British".
In heaven's name, what have the Government been talking to Sinn Fein about since 9th December last year? Did Gerry Adams tell President Clinton that the IRA would not lay down its arms until after a political settlement? And if he did not, what precisely does President Clinton believe that he did to advance the peace process by choosing to believe and to give freedom to raise funds to a man who would not know the truth if it hit him in the face? On second thoughts, he said one truth in yesterday's article to the Irish Times. He said that Sinn Fein cannot deliver an IRA surrender.
Why, therefore, are we wasting time talking to Sinn Fein if it cannot deliver. Why, incidentally, do we allow the word "decommissioning" to be used about the surrender of illegal arms? Its use makes it easy for the IRA and its supporters to create a false parallel by demanding decommissioning from the British Army; in other words, withdrawal from a part of the United Kingdom. There is no parallel between the legitimate Armed Forces and the illegal arsenal of the IRA, just as there is no parallel between Private Clegg doing his military duty and the IRA killing for choice.
I recognise the fact that negotiations cannot be successfully conducted in public and that the Government cannot be expected to show their hand. However, I believe that it is high time that we had a debate in this House on an issue of such paramount national importance as Northern Ireland and its future before Gerry Adams' description of it as a six-counties statelet under colonial rule becomes accepted terminology in the White House and elsewhere.
So far, Sinn Fein and the IRA have outmanoeuvred us over and over again in securing international support and in edging their way into the political process without making one single concession. They have not even given to the grieving families the details of where those they have murdered lie buried. And now they are on the offensive again, blaming us for the stalling of the peace process. Already an Irish Times leader is speaking of,
"worrying rumours that elements of the provisional IRA in South Armagh and in Fermanagh, South Tyrone, have begun to grow restless at a perceived lack of progress".
Next there will be an incident which Sinn Fein, totally divorced as it claims to be from the IRA, will greet with pained regret and attribute to the intransigence of the British.
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1962
Moreover, Sinn Fein continues to persuade the world that it is the only authentic voice of all the nationalists in the North when it is not. I doubt whether any of those Catholics would wish to see a united Ireland run by Sinn Fein and the IRA.
I may be thought to have painted too black a picture. I do not wish not to recognise the courage and good will which the Government have shown and their patience and wisdom in being seen to consider and entertain all points of view and reject none. That has been noted in America, at least outside Tony Lake's office, where the Oklahoma bomb has made people think rather differently about men who make their point with bombs.
But there comes a time when justice must also be done to the legitimate wish of the whole population of Northern Ireland to see a permanent end to violence so that a political solution can be found. The condition that the Government have made is not a whim but a reasonable condition. That is why we must continue to insist that the IRA gives up its semtex. Meanwhile, we must maintain the proper safeguards afforded by the measure before us tonight. We have a right and a duty to protect the peace.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, in 1966, when I was first elected as Member of Parliament for West Belfast, Northern Ireland saw its first sectarian murder. It was carried out by a loyalist paramilitary organisation, the UVF. A young barman, Peter Ward, was shot and killed.
During the 30 years which have elapsed since then, Northern Ireland has seen more than 3,500 terrible murders. I urge the noble Baroness in any discussions that the Government may have with Loyalist paramilitaries or IRA paramilitaries not to forget the deep feelings of hurt which still exist in Northern Ireland among the relatives of those people who were most foully murdered. I am in touch with many of those people. Indeed, some of my closest friends were murdered. The relatives find it most distressingI know that I doto see people who served a sentence in prison as convicted murderers now in their pinstripe suits walking up to the Northern Ireland Office and shaking hands with British Government Ministers. Many people in Northern Ireland resent bitterly the place which is now being given to the loyalist paramilitaries and the Sinn Fein IRA paramilitaries.
They have claimed the credit for bringing about the peace and ceasefire in Northern Ireland. They are not entitled to it. The people who are really entitled to the credit for showing great resolution and courage are the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland. If anybody is to win a Nobel peace prize, it should be awarded to the population of Northern Ireland and not to any single individual, because it was those people who suffered so greatly.
Since I arrived in this House, this is the first time that there has been peace in Northern Ireland. I certainly reinforce what has been said by the noble Baroness in relation to the security forces. The police, the army and other members of the security forces are entitled to a great deal of credit for the present circumstances. It was
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1963
because of their actions and the support which they received from the overwhelming majority of the population in Northern Ireland that the paramilitaries eventually decided that for however long they wished to carry on their campaign and however many more murders they committed, they were never going to win. That was an extremely telling factor in the paramilitary organisations calling a ceasefire.
Although there has been peace to a certain extentpolicemen and members of the security forces have not been murderedthere is still no great peace in Northern Ireland. Guns have not been fired but 131 very brutal, vicious beatings have been carried out by both sets of paramilitaries. The victims of those brutal attacks do not see any peace in Northern Ireland.
When I was a young boy, I remember going to Russia on a convoy and we were issued with balaclavas. It was the first time that I saw a balaclava. We wore them to protect us against the weather on those convoys. Little did I know that I would live to see the day when a balaclava would mean something entirely different; that it would be worn by murderers, both loyalists and the IRA, to hide their faces from justice. The same may be said of baseball bats. As a country, Northern Ireland is not well-known for playing baseball and I do not know from where the people obtain the bats. But again, I never thought that I would see a baseball bat being used as a weapon of war. That is a weapon which is used now to intimidate anyone who does not agree with the loyalist or republican paramilitaries.
In any discussions that the Government have with the paramilitaries, I urge them to insist that the beatings must stop. There can be no peace or involvement with the paramilitaries while they are still supporting such activities in Northern Ireland.
I was extremely concerned to see the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic trying to establish a link between the Private Clegg case and that of the paramilitaries. There is absolutely no link. I do not defend Private Clegg here. He has received massive support, particularly from British Army personnel. But it may well be that they are not aware fully of all the circumstances which existed on that night when that young girl was killed.
It was not an entirely innocent operation carried out by the paratroopers that night. That car was driving away when the shots were fired. When the paratroopers realised that they had made a mistake and that they should not have shot at the car because it was driving away from the scene, one of the soldiers laid down and his comrade broke his leg so that he would be able to say that the car sped past him and they thought that it contained terrorists. Therefore, that was a deliberate cover-up of an incident which should never have taken place. The Clegg case should be treated on its own merits. In reading all the newspapers which have been demanding Private Clegg's release, the British public should be made aware of the circumstances in which that murder was carried out and in which that young girl was killed. They should be made aware of the feelings of distress which exist among her parents, relatives and the people of Northern Ireland. However, any attempt to
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1964
bring about a link between that case and the loyalist and republican paramilitaries who are now demanding release should be resisted bitterly by this Government.
There have been reports in the Irish newspapers of terrorists in prison who wish to be released in conjunction with moves that are taken on the Clegg case. One of the IRA prisoners is a Brendan McFarlane, who blew up the Bayardo bar in the Shankill Road some years ago. Three women shoppers passed by the pub when it was blown up and he used a machine gun on them and killed them. Five people were killed in that incident. The IRA wants to link that case with that of Private Clegg. There is absolutely no comparison.
Another prisoner, Doherty, is also supposed to have a link with the Private Clegg case in seeking remission. He killed Captain Herbert Westmacott and when the army surrounded him after he had killed Captain Westmacott, the very, very brave IRA soldier demanded that a Catholic priest should come to get him out of his difficulty, and the priest was sent for. There is nothing very soldierly or courageous about that.
Another loyalist prisoner is seeking release in the same connection. He brutally and foully murdered a number of people purely and simply because they were Catholics. Those people should not be linked in any way with the Private Clegg case. I urge the Government to resist any attempts to do so. Moreover, it should be noted that if a policeman or a Garda is killed in the Republic and is sentenced to imprisonment, the killer is not given any remission. He stays there and is not released on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.
Therefore, I suggest to the Government that, in any dealings that they have with the republican or loyalist paramilitaries, in particular the IRA, they should demand something from them before they make any further concessions. They should be demanding the return of the bodies of the people whom the IRA have murdered over a period of years. Their relatives have been seeking desperately to find out where the bodies may be so that they can begin the grieving process.
After all, if the IRA or loyalist paramilitaries are asking for a transfer or release of prisoners on humanitarian or compassionate grounds, what could be more humanitarian or compassionate than the return of the bodies of those people who were murdered so foully by those paramilitary organisations? That is one point on which I feel extremely strongly and I urge the Government not to make any further concessions to paramilitary organisations until they see the return of those bodies and the paramilitary punishments stopped.
The second thing that I should like to bring about has been referred to already by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke. I know that it is not a matter strictly for the Minister but it is in relation to the Chinook widows, as they have become known. Thirty nine members of the security forces, who laboured all their professional lives to bring about peace in Northern Ireland, were killed in that terrible accident in the Mull of Kintyre. They had devoted their whole life to trying to stop the activities of murderers' organisations in Northern Ireland. They lost their lives. Many of them left wives and young children. Some weeks ago there was a leaked report from somewhereand I know not wherethat the
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1965
Ministry of Defence had decided to limit the amount of compensation which would be paid to them. In accordance with a provision in the Warsaw Convention, the ministry had decided that it was a civilian rather than a military plane. Where did that come from? That caused great disquiet among everyone in Northern Ireland that the ministry would be so vindictive as to attempt to limit the amount of compensation. Today we are informed by way of a parliamentary Written Answerand that is not the best way to give informationthat there may be a change in the situation.
I talked to one of those young widows, who has three young children. She asked, "Gerry, do you think it is fair that, while my husband was a chief inspector and earned £30,000 a year, the only compensation that I can get is three years of his salary?". If that is the attitude of the Government, it would be a total and absolute disgrace that would never be accepted by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. I only hope that the reply in today's Written Answer is indicative of the fact that the Government will be far more generous in treating the dependants of those people who spent all their professional lives trying to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
In that respect, the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland recently made a speech in which he said that, since the cease-fire had come aboutwhich was brought about in no small way by the activities of those who lost their livesthe Government were saving £1 million a month. I believe that the Government should be prepared to be very generous to the widows and orphans of those men who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances.
At present, we have an atmosphere of peace in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I was there last week and I was delighted to experience it. I hope that it will continue. In fact, it has enabled a book to be written entitled Peace in Ireland. It has been written by David Bleakley, who was a former Northern Ireland MP and served with me in Stormont. He has analysed the reasons why there is a cease-fire and why peace will be an ongoing process. I urge my noble friends in this House to read that book. It is written by a man who lived in Northern Ireland, who understands the politics of the Province and understands the feelings of both communities. I was absolutely delighted when I saw the book for the first time at last to realise just how close we are to maintaining peace in Northern Ireland.
I should like to repeat the three points that I made this evening. First, a very generous attitude should be shown by the Government towards the widows and orphans of the Chinook helicopter disaster; and, secondly, no linkage whatever should be made between the Clegg case and the release of paramilitaries. Thirdly, the Government should insist, before any concession whatever is made to loyalist paramilitaries or republican paramilitaries, that the punishment beatings should be stopped, and that those responsible must identify the places where the bodies of murder victims lie and ensure that the bodies can be returned to their relatives.
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1966
Lord McConnell: My Lords, I support the Minister in her introduction of the measure. The noble Baroness made a very lucid speech that included many points with which I entirely agree. However, I should first like to make two points. I want to see a lasting and enduring peace in Northern Ireland, and I condemn all terrorists no matter what ideology they pretend to be serving.
The situation is now greatly improved. But, as previous speakers said, there is still terrorist activity and those concerned are getting money from robbery, from intimidation and from drug trafficking. In another place the Secretary of State said that from 31st August to the end of May there were 131 horrific so-called "punishment" attacks. I believe it is time that people realised that we are not dealing with a few idealistic people; we are dealing with a determined Mafia which is prepared to go to any lengths.
The threat to civil liberties does not come from the measure we are considering; it comes from terrorism itself, the structure and organisation of which appears still to be largely intact. I am glad to see the continuation of the Diplock courts which, as noble Lords know, are courts where a judge sits alone without a jury in certain criminal cases. I believe that that is important, not merely to ensure that justice is done but also because it would be most unfair to jurors at the present time to be brought in to try cases of that nature. I have in mind ordinary men and women, members of the public, who are selected at random and asked to perform a public duty. To expose them to intimidation and threats would be most unjust.
I support what has been said tonight about the accident at the Mull of Kintyre. I do not know the exact position. However, I have read the leaks and I simply hope they are not true. I say that because I do not believe that this House would wish to see the relatives of such men who were performing a valuable service shoddily treated. When one looks at the damages that some receive for defamation and then at what might well be offered to the widows and children of those men, it seems pretty unbalanced.
There has also been an agitation led by Mr. Gerry Adams to release those who are euphemistically termed "politically motivated prisoners"; in other words, men who have committed crimes of the foulest kind and have been rightly sent to prison. All this is at a time when the IRA and other such organisations are still retaining arms. The idea of letting out men who previously used arms and who might well return to use them again when they become available is an affront to common sense. We have already made too many concessions of that type. It is time that it stopped. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, made a very valid point when he said that we must remember the relatives of those who have been murdered and what their feelings would be if those murderers were let out on to the streets.
I do not believe that it would be any service to the community if we were to remove such measures of protection. Indeed, we would not be performing our duty to the people of Northern Ireland if we did so. Let us remember that most of the measures will not be used if
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1967
they are not needed. They are only there in case they are needed and because they can be brought into operation swiftly. As I said, I support the Minister in her task of putting the measure through the House.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly make a statement about the very good speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, and the excellent steps taken by the Government to continue with the prevention of terrorism Act. I do not believe that there should be any time limit at all on it. The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, said "one year". I do not believe that it is in the favour of the whole of the British Isles to have any time limit.
It should be remembered that we all appreciate how many people have died in Northern Ireland. We have not heard a single mention of how many people died here; how many people were blown up outside Knightsbridge barracks. It is essential for all of us to understand that here in England, we have had people from Northern Ireland coming to the mainland and blowing the blazes out of us. I would say to the Conservative Party, "Remember Brighton". We must not have any limit on this measure. We understand that Mr. Adams is in Northern Ireland and also in the United States regularly. Let the United States understand, by the terrible thing that happened in Oklahoma, that it is not fair on any nation that the IRA or any form of terrorism is given any leeway. A penny from the United States seeped into this country in one way or another brings in arms. We must continue with this Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, this debate has inevitably aroused extremely strong emotions. We have heard some eloquent and moving speeches tonight. I thank the noble Baroness for her introduction of the order. All those of us who work with her know what a consistently constructive role she plays in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
We have heard much about the need to be careful and to be cautious. As will become apparent, I share those views but I think it is probably right from these Benches to be clear about one thing. Anyone who cares, as I certainly do, about fundamental freedoms and basic human rights, or even anyone who places himself or herself in the long and honourable tradition of British civil liberty, will find many of the measures in the EPA intrinsically objectionable.
We are all much indebted to Mr. Rowe for his report. He himself states that the EPA cuts down some civil rights which the ordinary law provides. Such provisions as searches of people's homes, searches in the street, the absence of trial by jury, and other emergency provisions can only be justified, as the title of the Act itself suggests, by an emergency; otherwise they cannot be justified. Therefore the test is whether they are now necessary to protect the safety and the liberty of the citizens of Northern Ireland against an armed terrorist minority who threaten their safety and deny their liberty. That is not an easy question to answer definitively in the new situation.
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1968
On the one hand, as many noble Lords have said, there is a blessed ceasefire which begins to look increasingly permanent and there is some political progress, albeit horribly slow and grudging. On the other hand there has yet to be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said, either a symbolic or a substantial surrender of arms of any sort by the former terrorists. There is a continuing and nauseating series of so-called punishment beatings, to which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in his habitually eloquent remarks, referred. There have been 131 since the ceasefire; 69 of them republican and 62 loyalist.
On the positive side again, military activity to assist the RUC is now running at only 25 per cent. of its pre-ceasefire levels. On 12th June the Government were able to announce that the first border checkpoint was demolished. Yet again, as other noble Lords have said, on the negative side of the equation there is stillsome would argue there is even moreextortion, racketeering and criminality to raise money. Therefore, there is a difficult balance to strike and I have a great deal of sympathy with government Ministers who have to make these decisions. My own judgment is that the situation is still extremely fragile and dangerous and will remain so. However, day-by-day, I do not believe we are any longer looking at a full-blown emergency. We should ask ourselves this question. Faced with the situation today as if it had just come about rather than being the product of 25 bloody years, would we really be introducing today such draconian legislation? The answer is, "Probably not". On the other hand, we do not start with a clean sheet. We have to start, as so often in life, from where we are.
In the circumstances we on these Benches will support the Government tonight for two reasons. First, we believe that change should run just behind the security situation rather than running well ahead of it. Secondly, we think that these powers should be reviewed independently, comprehensively and objectively rather than being suddenly removed by this House or by Parliament in a political spasm which would neither be prudent nor give the right signals. On the question of the right signals I would say to the noble Baroness that we believe it would be the greatest possible folly to allow any of these powers to become bargaining counters in a so-called negotiation with Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness, or for that matter with the former loyalist paramilitaries. They are either objectively needed or they are not. We would much rather see a comprehensive and independent review ending in a substantial reduction of special powers in the new situation and perhaps consolidation with a much reduced Prevention of Terrorism Act than any piecemeal series of ad hoc bargains. The noble Lord who spoke before me referred to the question of timing, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cooke. I say that the review should start sooner, say on the anniversary of the ceasefire, in time to influence the 1996 legislation. I hope that when the noble Baroness responds she can give us some idea of timing and of whether we have to wait until 1996 for the start of a review.
I wish to raise one or two specific points about the order. I welcome the fact that, as Mr. Rowe recommended, and as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, before him recommendedas the noble Baroness will know, I have consistently pressed for this in the House
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1969
we are now going to have taping of terrorist suspect interviews. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can tell me whether the term "electronic recording" includes video as well as audio. Why cannot this start right away rather than when the current Act is replaced?
I move on to the question of internment. I am slightly confused here because Mr. Rowe, in his previous report, called for an entirely new EPA which would combine the current EPA and the PTA without powers for internment whereas in his latest reportthe one we have before us nowhe is calling for the Act to be renewed as it stands (as we know) but for internment powers to remain lapsed. I would say from these Benches that we believe that internment powers in Northern Ireland are, and have been proved to be, counter-productive and that they should not remain on the statute book.
There is the question of the so-called Diplock courts, to which several noble Lords have referred. I am quite clear that the time has not yet come for the trial of scheduled offences by jury. However, there continues to be considerable public disquiet in Northern Ireland about Diplock courts as they are currently constituted. We on these Benches have consistently called for three judges to sit, not one. I believe that there are now compelling reasons why that system should be introduced. Mr. Rowe, in his report, argues that a move to a three-judge Diplock court would result in three times the number of interjections, and that consequently with the weight of business the courts could not cope. But, of course, since the ceasefire, the weight of business has fallen considerably. There are now 130 scheduled cases awaiting trial whereas there were 382 in September 1994. I myself believe that interjections in cases of such considerable gravity are not necessarily a bad thing; after all, that is what judges are for. However, I wonder whether the Attorney-General might not decide, perhaps with the onus on him to explain, which cases need Diplock trials rather than those which do not.
Turning to the question of terrorist funding, I believe this to be an exceptionally serious issue. I wonder whether the Government will consider the consolidation of all legislation dealing with terrorist funding. As the noble Baroness will know, since August 1994 nearly £1.5 million has been stolen during armed robberies on behalf of proscribed organisations and there have been vicious attacks, to which noble Lords have referred, directly related to loyalist and republican racketeering activities. Therefore, when Parts I, II and III of the emergency provisions are no longer needed there is likely still to be, sadly, large-scale financial crime in Northern Ireland. We must have adequate legal measures to combat that. While Sections 82 and 83 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 go some way towards strengthening anti-racketeering powers, we believe that current legislation needs to be consolidated.
I move on to the question of custody time limits, which I have raised previously in this House and with the noble Baroness. Mr. Rowe suggested in his February report that if a time limit were to be introduced from the time of remand to committal it should be reduced from 38 weeks to 10 weeks, in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. With the time spent in custody on remand decreasing now
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1970
that there is a lighter burden of cases in Northern Ireland, would it not now be practical to have normal custody time limits? As a matter of information, the number of suspects being questioned about offences connected with terrorism has reduced by two-thirds since the ceasefire.
I turn now to the question of remission. The question of prisoners is one of the most sensitive of all. I should be very surprised if it is not more important for the former terrorists to deliver results in terms of prisonerstheir core constituencythan in any other respect. I do not believe that there can be any question of a general amnesty, for the reasons of hurt which several noble Lords have described. However, that should not stop us bringing the treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland more into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. I warmly welcome the extension of compassionate leave by the Secretary of State, which is apparently contemplated as the first of a number of measures to deal with prisoners in Northern Ireland.
Would it be possible to address the question of a pre-release programme? Currently prisoners get pre-release parole in the last year of their sentence. Could that be extended to allow prisoners to be eligible in the last 18 or 24 months of their sentences? The current Christmas and summer release schemes which allow prisoners home for fixed periods could be extended. I believe that that is an area in which the Government could show humanity without in any way condoning the actions of people who are in gaol for horrendous offences.
Finally, like other noble Lords I should like to mention the role of the RUC. The RUC is responding to the ceasefire in a most impressive way. It is worth noting that the percentage of Catholics now applying for jobs in the RUC has risen from 12.2 per cent. to 21.5 per cent. That is a notable step forward in commanding the support of the whole community for the RUC and making it what the IRA does not want it to be, the police force of the whole community. The RUC is having to respond to major changes in its role and deployment, which is difficult for any organisation, in a most constructive way. It is rising well to the challenge. It is appropriate, and I wish to join with other noble Lords, to express appreciation of what the RUC has achieved.
It is Parliament's duty to assist a very difficult, step-by-step return to a decent civil society in Northern Ireland. That is certainly something that the long-suffering people in Northern Ireland deserve. It will require both imagination and prudence. I hope that the Government continue to exhibit both.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. She knows that. I believe that I reflect a generally held view that we would all welcome tonight a definitive, generous answer to the question of the Chinook compensation. It is grossly unfair and unsatisfactory that the dependants and grieving relatives should be left in limbo.
There is other business to follow this debate and others wish to speak in that business.
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1971
A long time ago, in 1992, the Secretary of State made his notable Coleraine speech:
"In the event of a genuine and established cessation of violence ... the emergency legislation would have served its purpose. Normality could return".
The philosophy behind that speech must be that the present provisions are a distortion of legal and political activity. They distort political life. They can be justified only on the basis of proved and demonstrated state necessity. The real question is whether that proved necessity still remains in that form.
In his report, to which I pay tribute, Mr. Rowe indicated that any new EPA should not contain the power of internment. Is that the Government's view? Sir Louis Blom-Cooper has further recommended the electronic recording of interviews with suspects under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Mr. Rowe agrees. Is that to be put in hand?
Will the review, which is so urgently needed, be fully comprehensive? I urge the Government to take at least three steps in that regard: firstand I respectfully concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, saidto announce that the review is to commence in the immediate future, as there is no time to be lost and no useful purpose to be served in putting it off; secondly, to entrust that inquiry or review to a senior judge, not a senior lawyer; and, thirdly, to consider carefully whether the assistance of at least one assessor with intimate knowledge of Northern Ireland should be obtained so that that assessor could sit with the judge to assist in the work of sifting evidence and coming to a conclusion.
There has been a significant but not complete fall in terrorist violence. There are serious questions as to whether the full continuation of this legislation is causing serious wounds to political and judicial life. There is no sensible reason for believing that the Diplock courts could be done away with overnight. I have spoken to no one who has any knowledge or sensible regard for the administration of law who believes that. But doing away with Diplock courts must be the terminus of our endeavours.
Bearing in mind the general good will and the support that we have given to the Government on the general conduct of business in Northern Ireland, we should avoid the tendency to put off the general review of the PTA and EPA. We would end up yet again with legislation which was not properly considered and, more to the point, not justified or necessary.
I mean no disrespect to the importance of this occasion, but we have discussed these matters in similar circumstances on many previous occasions. The rule should be that no infringement of a citizen's liberties, no impeachment of anyone's civil rights should be tolerated by this House without clear, demonstrable reasons for retaining all the sections or re-enacting them in due time.
I believe that there is general agreement that the review needs to start immediately. It does no service to the people of Northern Ireland to put it off until 1996.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, we have had a most valuable debate this evening. As a Minister for
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1972
Northern Ireland, perhaps I may say that in this House we compensate for our limited numbers by the quality of the contributions made by each and every noble Lord on this issue. Like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, I am conscious of the business which follows, but I also recognise that this is a crucial issue for Northern Ireland.
I shall seek to address many of the points raised. I shall read carefully the Official Report. If I have missed any points, I shall write to your Lordships.
Many major issues were raised. I thank noble Lords for recognising that the decision that we have taken is not one that any of us welcomes having to take, but is a necessary decision. Perhaps I may assure the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, that we are not in the business of making concessions. We are reacting to a new climate. We are reacting to a change which those of us who live in Northern Ireland can so easily experience now. I was delighted to hear that that was what the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, found on a recent visit. However, no action that has been taken is irreversible. Decisions have been taken from the point of view of security, not on political grounds.
Noble Lords have great concern about the timing of the review. It is important. It must be independent. The nature of its constitutionobviously the views expressed tonight will be taken into accountis an important issue. If your Lordships wish to add to those views, we shall be happy to hear them.
However, if we were to start now the process would involve "if" and "as" and "when". It is important in considering the value of the review that we should be in a more stable situation. The moment the time is considered right, decisions on the review can be taken.
That applies to many of the points raised tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, recognised the privilege of my job in Northern Ireland. Jobs are the best cement for peace. We continue to use every effort we can to cement that peace.
I can well understand the frustrations expressed by my noble friend Lady Park. Perhaps I may assure her and noble Lords on the other side of the House that we do not accept punishment beatings. We and the police work tirelessly to try to bring those to an end. They must come to an end. I find it terrible that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, can actually quote a league table of beatings. It is totally unacceptable.
Whatever my noble friend's frustration, arguments with words are infinitely better than killings. We have constantly to be aware of that. I understand her frustration when our European money is being used to support an office for Sinn Fein in Brussels. My own personal frustration is that, as Sinn Fein travels the world fund-raising, I wish that it would seek to persuade its "friends" to look at inward investment in Northern Ireland. If Sinn Fein could attract people to invest and create employment in Northern Ireland, we should see some evidence of value; there is no such evidence at present. However, we were grateful to President Clinton for his insistence at the Washington Conference that decommissioning is important.
I am sure that my colleagues will be equally pleased to hear of the recognition of the work being done by the RUC. Continuing peace will require the police service to
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1973
adapt to new circumstances. The chief constable, the police authority and the Government welcome the opportunity that that will provide, and the way in which there is already response from the RUC. The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, rightly draws attention to the importance of the fact that more Catholics are applying to join the force. We need to make progress.
I say this categorically to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on the issue of Private Clegg. That matter will be treated independently according to the requirement of the law. There can be no question of the outcome being bartered, balanced against or whatever. Everyone in Northern Ireland is subject to rule of law. There are no exceptions. Nor can exceptions be made in any circumstances. I hope that that will reassure the noble Lord.
Perhaps I may take up another point which many noble Lords raised: the reflection of the enormous concern in the Province for the position of the widows of those people so tragically killed in the Chinook disaster. I am sure that I express the view of every single person in this House in sympathising very greatly with those incredibly brave women and their families. I had the privilege to attend the memorial service. I have rarely seen such courage and strength as was displayed on that occasion.
I am delighted to say that the story which caused so much concern is, like so many leaks, half a story. The legal advice to government was that the Government's liability in respect of passengers is limited by the Carriage by Air Act Order 1967. I can assure your Lordships that the Government's view is that the limits set out in the order are too low. Therefore MoD will consider compensation claims in excess of the Act's provision. Therefore the story was not as presented.
Perhaps I may also point out that the Prime Minster has pledged to take a personal interest in the Chinook widows' compensation claim and has said that he will set out in writing the thinking behind any compensation made to the widows of those who died in the helicopter crash. I hope and believe that that should totally reassure your Lordships on that issue.
My noble friend and others questioned the negotiation on decommissioning of arms. We are pressing to achieve three aims: a willingness in principle to disarm progressively; a common practical understanding of the modalitiesthat is to say, what decommissioning would actually entail; and, in order to test the practical arrangements and to demonstrate good faith, the actual decommissioning of some arms as a tangible confidence-building measure and to signal the start of a process. That is essential, it is important, and there can be no going back from it.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, so accurately, that the peace belongs to the people. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, joined with him in pointing out how deep is the pain of so many people in Northern Ireland. There can be no hurrying of the time that it will take for those wounds to heal and for forgiveness to enter into thoughts. It is not for us to try to speed that up; it is for individuals. But perhaps I may agree with the view expressed tonight that the return of the bodies in situations where families are not aware of the resting place of their loved ones would help greatly in the process.
15 Jun 1995 : Column 1974
I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, too, that the savings madeI may question the figure he quotedare being used in Northern Ireland. I am pleased that some of that fund is being used to build a community work programme for the long-term unemployed. That is a commitment that we have made.
The Government are delighted that this House recognises the risk that would probably extend to juries in the current climate. We would not wish that risk to continue. I stress that there are no political prisoners in Northern Ireland, only criminals.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for pointing out that the pain is not limited to Northern Ireland: many in the United Kingdom have suffered just as grievously. That should not be forgotten and their contribution and that of their families towards showing that violence is no answer to any question is evidence of how far we have gone. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that innocent people have human rights too. When we consider the situation, the protection of the innocent is not always taken into account.