Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dubs: I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Renwick and Lord Sheppard, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for their support of the Government's position on the amendment. I was impressed by my noble friend Lord Sheppard when he spoke about the need for reconciliation. There is, and has been for some years, a lot of reconciliation taking place in Northern Ireland. I have met former republican paramilitaries co-operating with former loyalist paramilitaries in working for the good of their local communities. Some impressive work is going on. All that seems to me to add up to a process of reconciliation. Of course there needs to be more of it. But that surely is one of the positive features in Northern Ireland and one which the previous government and this Government seek to encourage.

I do not believe, in the words of my noble friend Lord Stoddart, that the compromises in the agreement were all one-sided. I believe that that will be hotly denied by many of the Northern Ireland political parties across the political spectrum which were happy to support the outcome of the agreement. I believe that the agreement reflected the views of most of the political parties and of the two governments and is therefore an important document. I make no apology for invoking it in support of, or against, some of the amendments under discussion today.

Perhaps I may clarify one point. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said that to the prisoner being released on licence the provision would be of little value as he would have to be convicted of a further terrorist offence. I am pleased to say that that is not so. A prisoner may be recalled if the Secretary of State considers he is likely to re-engage in terrorism. So the licence is wider in effect than the noble Viscount suggested.

We do not want to allow any suggestion that the Bill is about bartering arms for prisoners. I fear that the thrust of the amendment gets us very close to that position. The Good Friday Agreement is a package which makes provision for prisoner releases and decommissioning as well as a range of other matters; and the Government are committed to implementing the agreement in full. But it does not propose a process of the kind outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit.

The amendment also does not take account of how decommissioning is intended to happen. Several noble Lords made the point. It is for organisations to decommission weapons, not individuals. Of course it will be for individual members of the organisation, or other designated intermediaries, to take forward the decommissioning process. But they will do so as agents of the organisation, not on their own behalf. This is what is allowed for by the legislation and the decommissioning scheme which came into effect on 30th June.

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1005

For these reasons it would not be appropriate to place such a restriction on prisoners as the noble Lord suggests. I call on the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tebbit: I am not having a great deal of luck today. At least I am encouraged on this occasion by the quarters from which both support and opposition came. I should say to my noble friend Lord Cope that the British Army--or, to be more correct, the Army of the United Kingdom--is today doing in Northern Ireland what it has always done. It is seeking to uphold the law and is operating under the political direction of the Government of the day. It has never done anything else. Of course from time to time that means coming into conflict with one group or another, but it is absolutely certain that there is no difference in what the Army is doing now at Drumcree from what it has done in the past. Whether or not what it is doing at Drumcree is a wise act is a matter for the politicians. It may be seen at some time in the future that it was a very unwise act. That is another matter and no doubt will be the subject of debate on another day.

Once again we are told that nothing can be done which would in any way potentially, possibly conceivably, conflict with the agreement. The agreement is sacred because it has been endorsed by the referendum. I have grave doubts about the conduct of the referendum. As I said earlier, I do not like referendums which are conducted under circumstances where those who support one side are fully armed and have a record for using guns and bombs. In the mildest possible terms, that puts some degree of pressure upon the others.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is right--as he so often is, if I may say so: the people of England, Wales and Scotland have not spoken on this deal, this agreement. So we should not preclude the possibility that their representatives in this Parliament might decide to amend in some way the legislation which springs from it. Of course it is right to consider whether we would be wise to do so, what the effects of that would be, or whether we have been backed into a corner where we have little choice, but at least we should remember that we have the right--and that right cannot be taken away from us by virtue of a referendum in one corner of this Kingdom.

I look at page 20 of the agreement, as distributed in Northern Ireland. My amendment does not fly in the face of it. Under the heading of "Decommissioning" it says:

    "All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith ... to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms".
It does not say "but not as individuals". It does not say "This is a purely collective act". It does not say "Individuals are absolved from any responsibility. It can be done only by the organisation". Of what is an organisation comprised if it is not of individuals? Can we all devolve ourselves of responsibility for what is

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1006

done by "the organisation"? Surely not. Surely that excuse has been tried before in many places and condemned by many people.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, reminded us of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. My understanding is that that commission is more likely to threaten to put people in gaol than to open the gaol doors and let them out. That seems to be closer to its powers. I deplore the comparison with South Africa and the disputed Palestinian territories. In South Africa there was no democratic path forward. In the disputed territories in Palestine and Israel there is still no democratic path forward. In Northern Ireland there always has been a democratic path forward. The problem there has never been lack of democracy but the existence of a number of people who would not accept the outcome of democracy.

It is they with their guns who have won the day. They are getting their way with their guns. The noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, is shaking his head. Then why did we not just rely on the outcome of elections? Why did we have to have this agreement, when Ministers of the Crown sat down with known criminals, when terrorists were invited in as friends of democracy? Oh no, the democratic path was rejected by some of the people of Northern Ireland. This agreement derives entirely, completely, absolutely and in every last word from that rejection of democracy and that use of force.

It is no good the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, shaking his head. Everybody knows what has happened. Governments have been bombed to the conference table. That is what the IRA was for and that is what the violence in Northern Ireland has been about. Rejecting not necessarily this amendment but other amendments which may be better drafted will of course send a message to Northern Ireland. The message will be "Hang on to your guns, boys. Hang on to your guns. It will not cost you anything".

We are constantly told that this agreement is a seamless garment. It is an object of such perfection and beauty that it cannot be changed for the better in any respect. We were told that the Government intend to see it implemented in its entirety. I remind Ministers that part of that determination to see it implemented in its entirety is the obligation which will lay upon the Government to see that within two years all terrorist arms have been decommissioned. I hope that in two years' time I shall be able to stand in this House and say that my unworthy suspicions were ill-founded. I shall rejoice in the knowledge that all terrorist arms have been decommissioned. I doubt that I shall be called upon to do that--and, of course, the prisoners will all be out. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 11, at end insert ("or of an organisation proscribed under section 1 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment. I am seeking more of an explanation than an argument as to how the Bill is intended to work. I want to know

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1007

how proscribed organisations fit into the scheme proposed by the Bill. Amendment No. 24 to Clause 9 has similar effect to Amendment No. 6 as regards the release on licence provisions.

I am seeking to explore the relationship between the term "terrorist organisation", which is the term used in the Bill, and the organisations which are proscribed organisations within the meaning of the PTA. The matter was dealt with in one sense by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on Second Reading when he said on more than one occasion that the Bill is not intended to have any effect on whether an organisation is proscribed. He said:

    "The provisions in relation to proscription in the Emergency Provisions Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act are unaffected and will remain in place. No organisation which is currently proscribed will be de-proscribed as a consequence of this Bill becoming law. However, it is possible for an organisation to be a proscribed organisation but not be a terrorist organisation as defined by this Bill. This is because the Bill focuses on whether an organisation has established and maintained a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, whereas the EPA and PTA look to the nature of the organisation".
A sentence or two later, the Minister continued that,

    "the Secretary of State must consider ... whether an organisation is 'concerned in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland, or in promoting or encouraging it'".
That is precisely the language of the PTA.

Later, he said:

    "I am talking about prisoners who satisfy the test that they are not associated with an organisation that is not on ceasefire. The key test is that they are not associated with an organisation that is not on ceasefire. If a terrorist",
and the Minister did use that word,

    "happens to be a member of the Provisional IRA, and the Provisional IRA is on ceasefire, then that prisoner would qualify".--[Official Report, 29/6/98; cols. 488-490.]

That was extremely helpful and the Minister was in his usual helpful mode in that regard. But it does not seem to me to explain the drafting of Clauses 3 and 9.

The foundation of my concern is the statutory basis for proscribing organisations under the PTA. The IRA and PIRA were both proscribed in Schedule 1 to the Act and other organisations have been added since by order. The test is that the organisations in question appear to the Secretary of State to be concerned in or in promoting or encouraging terrorism occurring in the United Kingdom and concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Section 1 of the PTA also gives the Secretary of State the power to remove an organisation from the list of proscribed organisations. That is a power which she would presumably exercise when it appeared to her that an organisation had so altered its activities that it was no longer concerned in promoting or encouraging terrorism. That is part of the test in this Bill.

Therefore, the dilemma is: how is it possible to be satisfied under Clause 3(5) that a prisoner, if released, would not become a member of a terrorist organisation or would not become concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism and yet at the same time accept that the same prisoner is and

6 Jul 1998 : Column 1008

intends to remain a member or supporter of an organisation that warrants retaining its designation as a proscribed organisation?

On the one hand, the four commissioners authorising the release are required to hold that the prisoner is unlikely to be involved in terrorism or with an organisation concerned with it; and, on the other hand, the commissioners are being permitted to reach that view in respect of an individual prisoner--the Minister described him as a terrorist--who is or intends to become and remain a supporter of a proscribed organisation, proscribed exactly because of that organisation's concern in or involvement with the promotion or encouragement of terrorism.

It is extremely difficult to see how anyone can be satisfied that an individual who was and proposes to remain a member of an organisation that the Secretary of State thinks it is necessary to proscribe and to continue to keep proscribed, when released, is not likely to be concerned with those same acts.

I have looked at the terms of the agreement and these amendments would not infringe its terms. However, what I suggest in these amendments is not specifically provided for but nor is there any mention of it. I do not wish to press the amendments if they are not compatible with the agreement, but it seems to me that it would be helpful if the Minister could explain to the Committee what is encompassed by the term "a complete and unequivocal ceasefire". Does that preclude any terrorist activities such as the training of members, the acquisition and stockpiling of weapons, the surveying of possible targets and, for that matter, the disciplining that proscribed organisations have carried out over many years? Or is it limited to the actual carrying out of acts of violence against third parties, whether civilian or military, by shootings, bombings and so on?

If the Minister were able to confirm that the broader intention is the correct one, that would help us all. Certainly, the speech made by the Prime Minister at Balmoral, to which reference has already been made, suggests that the broader construction is the correct one and we certainly hope it is. Indeed, there could be an argument for defining "ceasefire" in the Bill as well on the lines of the Prime Minister's Balmoral speech. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page