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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there was nothing complacent in my answer. I said that there was no evidence of a widespread problem and that when the cases, which are now sub judice, are resolved, we will look carefully at what comes out of them to ensure that we addressed any issues that arose about the security of the system. I am very concerned that we should not give the impression without evidence that somehow we have a problem with our voting system, which has stood us in very good stead for a long time.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, will the Government consult the Commonwealth Secretariat about the possibility that it might put together an observer mission that would include some representatives from African countries?
Lord McNally: My Lords, without accusing the Minister of complacency, is there not a danger that, in the desire to turn around the decline in turnout in our elections in recent years, we may put at risk the integrity of our system? Are there plans properly to evaluate the new voting system? An increase based just on making voting ever easier does not increase the quality of our democracy. We need democrats to make democracy work and we need better education, especially of the young, in the civic responsibility in a society such as ours to exercise their vote.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord said about the need to educate people. We need to ensure that people understand the importance and value of votinghow incredibly important it is to exercise your
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right to votebut, alongside that, to recognise the way in which our young people, in particular, operate and find different ways to enable them to exercise that right. The Internet and technology generally is involved. We must be clear that those go hand in hand with integrity in the system.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, every Member of your Lordships' House and every political party in this country demand the best integrity in all of our elections. Noble Lords have spoken about widely held views that there is corruption or a lack of integrity in elections. Is my noble friend aware that that itself casts doubt on the election process? Just before an election, it sounds as though people are crying foul before they have even heard the result.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we must take great care in what we say. We must be sure that where allegations are made, they are investigated; and that where things are discovered that need to be put right, they are put right; but we should be very cautious of suggesting that things are badly wrong when they are clearly not.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a major international dimension to this? The Russian Government are complaining about observers from the West always going to observe elections in eastern Europe and not having proper mutuality. Is it not therefore very much in our interest to ensure that we encourage observers from other countries to come here?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I cannot comment on the Russian Government, but it is very important that we offer the opportunity to discuss with colleagues in emerging and fully fledged democracies the ways in which we exercise our democracy. That is a healthy debate and an important opportunity that elections provide and I am sure that that will be much welcomed.
What consideration they have given to the application of powers under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 to those individuals suspected or identified by the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the security services of acts of terrorism within the Northern Ireland context.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be considering carefully the application of the powers of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 to
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Northern Ireland. However, it is an exceptional piece of legislation aimed at exceptional circumstances and we would not expect its provisions to be used routinely. Our aim is that if individuals are suspected of involvement in terrorist acts, the police will seek to gather the evidence necessary to secure a conviction in court.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Lord President for that response, which I find encouraging, in as much as the Secretary of State is giving the matter consideration. However, in Northern Ireland, we have much more than reasonable suspicion that people, both loyalist and republican, are involved with terrorist gangs that carry out all forms of criminality, including murder. The Justice Minister in the Irish Republic has even named two Members of the other place as serving members of the IRA army council. Do Her Majesty's Government have any intention of using control orders against those who, according to the police and security forces, pose a terrorist threat in Northern Ireland? In the light of last week's legislation, if not, why not?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think I made the Government's position absolutely clear in my Answer. Control orders will be used sparingly and only where necessary in the interests of public safety. We have made it absolutely clear that where individuals are suspected of involvement in terrorist acts the police will seek to gather the evidence necessary to secure a conviction in court. That remains the Government's preferred method. I cannot, of course, speculate on possible applications in individual cases but, as I said, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider the matter very carefully.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, will the Lord President take this opportunity to dispel a growing feeling that the pursuit of alleged terrorists in Northern Ireland is less forceful than it is in England and Wales? Furthermore, will she speculate in an informed way about when we may expect some arrests following the McCartney murder and the Northern Bank robbery?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, does not really expect me to speculate on those matters. The Government are absolutely clear that the McCartney family deserve justice. We will continue to call on all those with information to come forward to assist the investigation. Justice means proper investigation and proper judicial process.
I have already answered questions about the Northern Bank raid investigation across the Dispatch Box. The noble Lord will be aware that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is undertaking a major investigation into the Northern Bank robbery, including the kidnapping and hostage-taking. More than 45 detectives are involved; more than 200 interviews are planned or have taken place; and 600 actions have already been logged.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's comments and her resistance to the questions from the
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other side of the House. Will she confirm that it is much better to give the police in Northern Ireland time to conduct their investigations in order to bring people before the courts if at all possible? The worst thing that we can dojust when public opinion is moving more strongly than ever before against terrorists and criminals in Northern Irelandis to give the people who perpetrated those crimes a sense of being victims. That would mean that we would lose the political argument, which at present is going very much on the side of the Government and the ordinary people there.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Dubs that the police need to be given time to conduct investigations. They also need to be given the resources, and we have been assured that they are available. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, nodding, because I know that she frequently asks that question. I can also tell my noble friend that the strong line being taken by the family in the McCartney case in seeking to secure justice is being supported by the people of Northern Ireland, who are themselves putting pressure on the criminals in that regard.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, will the Minister clarify the position? Her noble friend has congratulated her on resisting the suggestion, but I thought that I heard her say that the Secretary of State was considering those matters. Is it not the case that, whether in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, obviously the Government would prefer a proper prosecution to take place? But is she saying that in cases where it is not possible, depending on the gravity of the situation, the Secretary of State is considering the possible use of such orders?
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