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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 1. When your Lordships addressed this proposal to abolish the powers to introduce internment, we were debating against a background of what one might call a degree of uncertainty over the intentions of the IRA, its supporters and various so-called loyalist paramilitary organisations. Today, 21 days later, that uncertainty has largely disappeared because terrorist attacks have increased, both numerically and in their deadly efficiency.
Known terrorists have been the perpetrators and the excuse given is that, after a fashion, they have obtained leave of absence from their parent bodies. In the eyes of the Northern Ireland Office therefore those parent bodies appear to have clean hands and are admitted to the talks on the same basis as democratic parties.
The same difficulty applies to weapons. When forensic tests prove that certain weapons were used by the main body in former months, but such weapons are no longer under the control of the IRA quartermasters, again it is said that such weapons are on temporary loan to the sub-contractors and I understand that the same farce now applies to Semtex. The terrorist seconded from the main contractor borrows the quantity necessary to devastate a shopping centre or police station. The main contractor--the parent body--says, "Tut, tut" just loudly enough to convince the Northern Ireland Office that its team at the talks qualifies for full membership of the so-called talks process.
This is not just a farce. It is a deliberate strategy to compel governments and democratic parties to yield to terrorist blackmail by means of what one might call the "hardball-softball" game in a most deadly form. One of these days this sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom must resolve to stop playing the terrorist game.
There is reason to believe that we would have the support of the Irish Republic. In the interval since your Lordships debated this topic, this aspect of the Bill, a reliable opinion poll was taken in the Irish Republic which proved that 40 per cent. of those interviewed favoured not just retaining the powers of detention, but implementing the powers to detain without delay. It is not just the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland therefore who find incomprehensible the decision of Her Majesty's Government to cast away the power to intern known terrorists; our neighbours in the south of Ireland are equally bewildered.
On 5th March when we last debated this serious issue, the general public at that time were conditioned to believe that there was some opposition to surrendering detention powers because it might damage the bright prospects in the current talks. At that time I warned against universal acceptance of that kind of artificial hype. As I have said over recent weeks, that hype was monstrously unfair to those engaged in the talks. At that time I simply could not understand how presidents, prime ministers, the press and the media arrived at that conclusion around the middle of March. Now I know the answer: it is contained in a paper which was issued to the participants and possibly also to the news industry--it was printed in one newspaper--from the office of the independent chairman of the talks.
In 11 paragraphs in that paper termed, "Heads of Agreement", each paragraph began with words such as, "There was broad agreement"; "general consensus"; "widespread agreement"; "general agreement"; "general recognition"; "widespread support" and "substantial support". Not only are those phrases at variance with the experience of the parties involved in the talks, but the general public have the sense to see that they could not possibly be accurate. As such, those phrases are doing hideous damage to the entire prospect of success in the talks. I am afraid that, as one shrewd observer currently participating in the talks remarked yesterday in the meeting at the prospect of reaching agreement before the end of May, the prospects of success are no more than 5 per cent.
Your Lordships therefore need have no fear that what has been hyped as "success within two weeks" would be damaged by more realistic steps to contain terrorism. There is everything to be gained by Her Majesty's Government staying their hand (that is all we are asking) on this proposed surrender to terrorist propaganda and recognising, as did successive Irish Governments, that they have a duty to retain the capacity to protect the citizen.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I shall be brief because we rehearsed the arguments on this issue at earlier stages of the Bill. This afternoon on these Benches we are and shall be supporting the Government on the removal of Clause 3 for detention orders or, as they are commonly described, internment powers.
We need to be clear what it is about internment that is not basically acceptable except in special circumstances. It is that it does not conform either to the rule of law or to the maintenance of civil liberties and human rights as practised in civilised countries throughout the world. Therefore it can and should only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, made as persuasive a case as can be made for the retention of detention orders in the Bill. I should like to make one or two further observations. It is said that civil liberties and human rights are not respected by the violent thugs, whether they call themselves republicans or loyalists. That is true; it is unarguable. But I am unclear that, by simply saying they do not respect human rights therefore let us not respect them either, that can be a tolerable argument in a democracy based on the rule of law such as our own. It implies the logic that eventually this awful conflict makes us become like the enemy--and the enemy is a serious and substantial one.
The question is whether there is any argument which is strong enough to make us want to overrule the rule of law and the maintenance of civil liberties. In that regard the issue must, first, be a pragmatic one: does internment work? It is impossible to say that it has never worked in any society of any kind. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, there probably are successful examples of internment bringing to a speedy end unacceptable levels of violence. But in Northern Ireland the truth is that it did not work. That is something that the noble Lord acknowledged and was acknowledged by both the Conservative and Unionist spokesmen in another place. It did not work because it made martyrs, and the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. It simply did not work. We are therefore left with the deterrent argument; that somehow, by being on the statute book, it deters people from bombing, maiming and killing. I do not think so. There have been 2,500 deaths since internment began; there have been bombings and mayhem since internment began; as a deterrent therefore it is not very good.
We are now faced with the question that the Government put in front of us--rightly, in my view--of whether we should withdraw detention orders. I believe that we should, while recognising that we are not precluding their reintroduction should there be a situation in the future which demands it. That involves
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, said that so far nothing has really happened in the peace process and the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, gloomily picked up the observation of one of his colleagues that there is a 5 per cent. chance of success. That would be said by many observers to be too pessimistic about what is currently going on. First, by any standards substantial progress has been made, not least because at long weary last the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP are talking to each other and are trying to get a better system of relations. That is progress by anyone's standards.
Secondly, it must be acknowledged that, if we get something that is put to a referendum in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland and the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland approve what comes out of it, there will be an entirely different situation. There will no longer be a question, as there has been, like a running sore on the face of Northern Ireland, of the respective legitimacy of the points of view of the two communities. There will be a new situation in which the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic have spoken. If then there are people who feel constrained--if one looks at Irish history, this may happen--to keep shooting when the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the republic have said, "This is the peaceful settlement we want", it may be that internment will have to be contemplated. But that would be a new situation, a special situation, in which the infringement of civil liberties might be tolerated because the alternative would so plainly fly in the face of the new start that people want north and south. In those circumstances, even from these Benches where we have been traditionally worried about infringements of civil liberties, we too would have to think quite hard. But that would be a new situation and a special situation. So standing here today I have to say that we shall be supporting the Government.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I hesitate very much to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, whom I greatly respect, but I strongly support the amendment. It is the wrong moment to repeal powers of internment. It is a critical moment since it is only too likely that, whatever formula Sinn Fein produces, there is a strong chance that the IRA itself and its many surrogates will revert to more violence after the talks. They have said all along that they will give up not an ounce of Semtex even if there is a settlement. Their idea of decommissioning is only the decommissioning of the British Army and the removal of the RUC. It seems to me that they will wish to bring a lot of pressure to bear to destabilise an already rather volatile situation, and we ought not to give up--the Irish Government, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, certainly have not--any possible machinery which might cause the men of violence to think twice. They and the Loyalist terrorists
No less than a month ago Kofi Annan said that diplomacy backed by strength is the best diplomacy. We ought not to be giving up that strength at this moment. We are talking about the power to do something. We are not talking about doing it, but having the power, and being known to have the power. I feel strongly that, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, himself said, we have to think also of human rights. But we have to think of the human rights of the victims, to whom we have a duty. They need protection. This is one of the few ways in which, in a world where we are losing out a lot to terrorists, we can still do something. It seems to me that any repeal should only be part of a peace settlement that sticks.
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