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Lord Eames: My Lords, I welcome the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, introduced the debate tonight with his usual clarity and care. Not for the first time, as someone living and working in Northern Ireland, have I had occasion to thank him for the care in which he has exercised the office given to him. Tonight has been no exception.
I, too, regret that this legislation is necessary, but necessary it is. The balance to which the Minister alluded between the protection of democracy and allowing democracy to be a democracy is very narrow, as we know from our history. The terms of Mr. Rowe's report should be of some satisfaction to Her Majesty's Government in so far as it reassures us that in his opinion the exercise of what could be described by others as draconian legislation has been fair and above board.
Nevertheless, we must be very well aware that there are those who are only too ready to misuse the concept of civil liberties in criticism of the way in which a democracy attempts to protect itself. I am conscious that this is a very difficult argument to refute, particularly when it comes with consistency and is based on false information and propaganda. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity for Parliament to review this legislation at regular intervals, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, reminded us.
I also welcome, on behalf of those of us in Northern Ireland who seek the peace that so much of this is geared to produce, the fact that Her Majesty's Government are preparing a Bill to come before us at a future date. I personally would like to see the very word "emergency" eradicated from our dictionaries. We have memories of the arguments for and against the special powers Act in Northern Ireland and the opportunity which the existence of that legislation gave to those who wish to undermine our concept of democracy. Therefore, I hope that we shall live to see the day when legislation such as that before us tonight is totally unnecessary.
My mind goes back to the aftermath of the atrocity at Omagh in which the British and Irish Governments acted together to introduce legislation which would enable the forces of law and order to try to bring more speedily to justice those who have been responsible for that atrocity. The key to all this, as I am sure the Minister will agree, is the role of the courts and the fact that at times it is so immensely difficult to produce the necessary evidence to gain convictions. Nothing in the order, or in accompanying legislation, or in the Bill which will eventually come before us must be open to the interpretation by anyone that it is removing the priority given to the courts of our land and the need for evidence and witnesses which will allow convictions.
The fact that that has not happened as yet in the case of the aftermath to the atrocity at Omagh is something which we regret. It is also something which obviously must not be taken as any form of denial of the careful,
The other aspect to which I wish to refer briefly is the fact that when we talk about terrorism we inevitably think of Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, explained, the legislation before us tonight is meant to extend the whole concept of the prevention of terrorism right across these islands. I hope and pray the day will come when we can debate legislation such as this without particular reference to my homeland. I hope the day will come when we can debate it in terms of what it does and does not do to a democracy free from the threat of the sort of things that we have seen in Lurgan in the past few days. I am glad that the Minister referred to the murder of Rosemary Nelson.
But we must not forget all the other Rosemary Nelsons. We must not forget all the other events which have scarred my native land and the land that was represented by some noble Lords this evening. I would beg that in consideration of this necessary legislation, we pay due attention to the fact that, at times, democracy demands legislation of this nature. However, we should never be driven by the terrorists to a point where what this Parliament stands for in terms of the freedom of the individual and the nature of democracy is eroded to the extent that the terrorist has won. The ultimate victory of the terrorist--and I believe this was very much part of the Minister's thinking--will come when the whole concept of democracy is eroded to the extent that we are defending something in which we do not ourselves believe.
Therefore, I thank the Minister on behalf of many people in Northern Ireland for the care that he has shown in dealing with his various portfolios. In this instance, I thank him in particular for the clarity with which he has brought this very difficult subject before the House.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments that have been made, and the support expressed for the Government's proposal before the House this evening. I shall deal with some of the specific questions that have been asked.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested that this would be the last time that the order would be renewed. I said that it would be one of the last occasions. We hope to introduce legislation at the earliest suitable opportunity, but it is too early to say yet whether that will be in the next Session.
The noble Earl referred also to the European Convention on Human Rights, as did the noble Lord, Lord McNally. As has been said, it is important that we take full account of our obligations under the ECHR in drafting any new and permanent legislation. I am happy to give the assurance that we shall certainly approach the new legislation in that light.
I do not believe that we can take that matter very much further this evening, in particular the doubts raised by John Rowe's report. We may differ a little as regards the emphasis given by that report and possibly by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The Government have taken
More generally, in the speeches this evening we heard some useful and interesting comments about the proposed new legislation. It would not be sensible for me to respond in detail because we are talking about a consultation process that has just been concluded and which the Government will have to assess in detail before bringing forward their proposals. We shall certainly make sure that we take on board comments made in this short debate this evening to inform the Government's thinking about the new legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked me a specific question about staffing. By that I take it that he meant staffing at the ports by special branch officers. Perhaps I may give him a few figures with the assurance that the Government are aware of the problem and they do not intend to weaken the strength of that provision at the ports. For 1996-97, there is a figure of 742; the following year, it was 797; the following year it was 897; and for the period 1999-2002, we are talking about a figure of 960. Therefore, if anything, the figure has increased in the past three years and will increase further. Therefore, the noble Lord can feel assured that we shall not neglect the need to have adequate protection at the ports in terms of the issue which he raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Eames, and other noble Lords referred to the balance between our need to have legislation which can deal with terrorism and the need to protect our civil liberties. As I said in my speech, it is clearly a balance which is important to bear in mind but not always easy to strike. However, we are seeking to do just that. If we go too far in the direction of having tough anti-terrorist legislation, that may detract from the value that we place on civil liberties. If we do that then, as the noble Lord said, that gives credence to the terrorists themselves. Therefore, we must make sure--and I use his words--that we have a democracy which is worth protecting and not one which we have undermined. We have certainly taken that point close to our hearts throughout our approach to the PTA and even more so in relation to the new legislation which we propose to bring forward.
I thank the noble Lord for his generous comments. I reciprocate by saying that I found his speech deeply moving and very important as it comes from detailed experience of having lived with that problem for many years. Some of us have seen it more at a distance than close to. Therefore, the views of anyone who has lived with the problem clearly command enormous respect. The Government certainly listen to such views.
In particular, I take to heart the noble Lord's hope, which we all share, that the day will come when Northern Ireland will not be the reason that we have anti-terrorist legislation; that Northern Ireland will have a period of prolonged peace with the terrorist problem going away; and we shall merely confine ourselves to the wider international aspects of terrorism. I hope that