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Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Minister has not attempted to give examples of cases covered by the categories of offences committed by ordinary criminals, if I may adjust my phraseology in response to the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. The Minister has not made out the case for the involvement of the Attorney-General as well as I would have hoped. However, at this hour of the night I shall not press the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I believe that this is the most important debate of the evening. We seek to delete Clause 3 and retain the possibility of internment. If the clause as it appears in the Bill were approved internment would no longer be possible in any circumstances. Surprise is essential for the effectiveness of internment, and if those powers are not on the statute book the Government are deprived of that weapon.
We all accept that internment was not effective and had some very damaging effects last time it was tried in the early 1970s. We can argue about the reasons for that, although I believe it to be generally accepted that the principal cause was that the intelligence on which arrests were made was very poor. However, that it did not work
The Irish Government are perfectly well aware of that. They probably have more experience than us of fighting the IRA, and they have just as much reason to take tough measures for the protection of their society. Internment was used even in de Valera's time during the war when in the rather unusual circumstances existing at the Curragh there were IRA, German and British internees in pursuit of the neutrality of the Irish state. It would be a great irony if, following a settlement, the Irish Government wanted to reinforce that settlement by internment but the British Government had dispensed with the power by this clause in the Bill and took very high risks for their citizens and the settlement itself. For that reason, I believe that it is unwise to include Clause 3 in the Bill.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I too support the retention of the power to intern for the following reasons. I believe that internment should be selective and should be a clinical operation designed to break up the command and control structure of any terrorist organisation. That is the key to success at any time in the future. It will probably be exercised in future by an Irish government, as opposed to the rather hamfisted way that it was introduced under the Stormont regime. It is for that reason that successive Irish governments have retained the power to intern. It was said that when Irish governments exercised that power, their methods were excessively ruthless. Maybe it is because of that that they were effective. Despite that, they had public and universal support.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has said, there is a general perception that Her Majesty's Government have parted company with the Irish Government and decided as a--and I quote the two fatal words--"confidence-building measure" to coincide with the major objective of militant republicanism. Considering that the two governments are co-operating in the so-called peace process, I find it very odd that the Irish Government did not feel that they too had to make a confidence -building concession.
If the Government contend that this move is not a so-called confidence-building measure, then the decision becomes even more baffling. It comes at a stage in the talks when there is a near farce being played out in the form of a little gentle tap on the wrist to those terrorist bodies who break the ceasefire. They find
There is a far more serious question. If, by a miracle, the whole apparatus provides some kind of agreement--and they all hope earnestly, against past experience, that some form of agreement can be reached--no matter how deviously worded an agreement were drafted, it would not be accepted by militant republicans, possibly not even by the main body, the IRA, and certainly not by the rapidly increasing number of sub-contractors to the IRA who will immediately return to full-scale murder.
The revolving door will then have been jammed and whatever sanctions the Government have at the moment to protect the trusting general public will have been removed. Do the Government then fall back on the discredited clap trap about bringing the murderers before the court--and how often have we heard that over all the years? If so, how long will it take, first of all, to find the guilty, and how many will they murder in the meantime?
In such a situation the two governments may consider isolating the godfathers, some of whom are posing as political leaders. The two governments might conclude that swift, selective internment might be necessary. We will then have a curious situation where the Irish Government can act, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has said, within a matter of hours; the British Government will have to introduce legislation and, while the parliamentary machine grinds slowly, terrorists could flee into the United Kingdom from the Irish Republic until the "Today in Parliament" programme informs them that it is no longer safe to stay in the North and they will have to go to a third country.
If that situation appears ludicrous and ridiculous, it will match the derision with which it will be viewed by the long-suffering public, not just in Northern Ireland but in the rest of the United Kingdom. Sad to say, they too will suffer from this lack of resolve.
Lord McConnell: It seems extraordinary to me that, in the face of what is happening and what may well happen in the future, the Irish Republic should retain its right to intern and the UK should abandon its right. It is, as has already been said, an essential part of internment that it be a surprise to those who are to be interned. One reason--it may not be the only reason--that it failed the last time it was put into effect was that the news leaked out, and the main people to be interned quickly left the jurisdiction before they could be collected.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I can be brief because I agree with what has been said, and much of what has been said comprises all that can be said in support of the Motion. We all agree that the best hope for the future of the people in Northern Ireland and, indeed, in the whole of that island, lies in a fair political settlement, founded upon consent. All our hopes, and no doubt the prayers of many of us, are directed to that end.
But one would be rash to suppose, even if that long-desired outcome came about, that there would be an end thereafter to politically motivated violence in Northern Ireland. Terrorist crimes will surely be seen again. If there is no such settlement, one may suppose that the probability of that happening increases.
To retain the power to detain without trial is a legitimate weapon in the legislative armoury of any democratic state that is confronted with what confronts us in this country and in that part of this country which is Northern Ireland, because the ruthless terrorist, with ever-increasing destructive powers at his or her command, is always going to be at an advantage in any state which applies the rule of law to itself--an advantage which the terrorist can and does exploit with catastrophic consequences. No state should have to subject its citizens, year in and year out, to that.
If lawful detention without trial as a last resort can bring relief from that danger, then it should be retained as part of the armoury. I believe that it can bring relief, for it has long been more feared by terrorists than any other measure at Her Majesty's Government's disposal. I believe that Her Majesty's Government knows that. It is, at any rate, not established that it could not bring relief. If that is the case, any responsible government should retain that power.
However, as has been said already this evening, how significant it is that the Irish Government, who have had longer experience of the IRA even than ourselves, should be retaining that power. I am aware of no declaration that they, in their turn, wish or propose to get rid of it. They have had more experience of the IRA even than we have. We speak not only of the IRA, because it should not be forgotten that the largest single mass murder of a terrorist nature committed in the island of Ireland, at least in recent times, was at Loyalist hands near Dublin some 20 years or so ago.
I believe that the Irish Government have made more and better use of that power to detain than we have. They have given no indication that they will give it up. As has already been said, when it was last used in Northern Ireland, a mess was made of it. But that should not blind us to its value as a last and efficiently applied resort against intractable terrorists with increasing power to wreak terrible evil.
If a political decision and settlement had been reached, then one could visualise more readily the Irish and British Governments wishing to make common cause of that last resort to pick out the command and control structures of those who would by then have shown themselves unwilling and, indeed, refusing to accept a democratic outcome and thus to have deprived themselves of what little support they have in this democracy at present. Unfortunately, the Bill deprives the British Government of that ability. That is why I support the Motion: it will keep open that option. I hope that the Government will consider this matter very carefully.
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