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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment--not to support the direct use of those provisions, but to support their continued presence on the statute book. I echo the reasons for their continued presence which have already been given by many noble Lords. I support what the noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Merlyn-Rees, said about accepting that in exceptional circumstances we might have to have internment whether or not such provisions were reintroduced. I find just one flaw in that--and that is the flaw exposed by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt.
By all means the peace process may have broken down and the Government may have had to come back to explain to both Houses of Parliament why we are in an entirely different situation, but the only way in which internment has worked in any country is when it has happened extremely quickly and without warning. It is not that we want to use internment, but when we talk about "exceptional circumstances", I am afraid that many Members of your Lordships' House will agree with me that, sadly, Northern Ireland has been full of "exceptional circumstances". The one thing none of us can do is to predict what will happen next. If those exceptional circumstances do not exist, we do not have to worry about them, but if they do exist, it would be ridiculous and futile to come back to the House purely to ask for internment.
Lord McConnell: My Lords, on previous occasions, I have put forward my arguments in favour of the amendment and I do not therefore intend to weary your Lordships by repeating them again. I want simply to say that I strongly support the amendment.
However, why at this stage, after so many years, is this proposition suddenly being brought forward? Confidence-building measures have been suggested. I might be tempted to say "appeasement to terrorists". Is this yet another item by which we attempt to curry favour with them, who always give nothing in return? I refer, for instance, to all the talk we heard about disarmament. As far as I know, not a single gun has been turned over, and the Government quietly forget the undertakings that were given in the past.
It has been suggested that internment could be reintroduced if necessary. I am afraid that I would label that "naive" because, as has been pointed out, success in a detention operation depends on surprise and on the fact that the terrorists do not realise that the police are coming to bring them in. However, if legislation were brought forward, we would be giving them a month's or even a couple of months' notice to get across the Border and thus escape any detention that may be coming. It is not sensible to say that that is feasible.
Lord McConnell: My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says, but one should look at the history of Eamon De Valera who established order in the Irish Free State by widespread use of internment or detention--or whatever one likes to call it. There have certainly been examples of it working.
One of the advantages of internment or detention is that it enables the police to get the godfathers who sit back in comfort and safety, organising the atrocities and sending out other, more gullible men to carry out the murders and the bombings. It is hard to break them in a court of law, but the police know exactly who they are and all about them. If there were internment or detention, they could quickly be put out of circulation.
I must emphasise that I am not recommending the introduction of detention. I do not think this is the time for it or that the current situation warrants it. What I am saying is that it seems foolish and weak for it to be removed from the statute book.
A lot of trouble is caused by the use of the word "internment"; I much prefer the phrase "selective detention". It is, I believe, a precision instrument which should be used carefully for particular purposes. Unfortunately, it was completely wrongly used in 1971 and caused all the damage which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, outlined. In other places where it has been used properly, it has been successful. I refer particularly to its use in the Republic of Ireland which understood how it should be used and the benefit that can come from it.
I fear that noble Lords are almost certainly correct in saying that we have a lot of trouble coming to us in the next few months, whatever the outcome of the talks. We must also take into account something that Mr. Adams said recently in his own area:
I wish to ask the Minister whether the Government understand that they have a first duty of care for the protection of all citizens against terrorism from whatever cause and, following from that, that they have the duty to provide whatever powers may be of use in the continuing battle against terrorism.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, this issue has been the subject of much lively discussion in the course of the passage of the Bill. Both sides of the argument have been rehearsed again this afternoon. I have listened carefully. The case for retaining the provision as a last resort has been forcefully put. To summarise the views of those who wish to retain the provision, the Government are urged to think again because it might be needed as a last resort, when of course it would have to be used selectively and with appropriate planning and attention to detail; the Republic of Ireland retains the power; so should we; we should keep our options open; it is a high-risk strategy to do otherwise; it is effective as a deterrent because it is feared by terrorist groups and now is not the time to remove it, given the cautious hopes and expectations that a negotiated political settlement is imminent.
I believe that it is a question of balancing objectively the arguments and counter-arguments. The Government's very clear view is that the case for retaining internment is not made. I have described the Government's position on previous occasions; and it is worth repeating. The internment powers have not been used since 1975. They involve a decision by Government to deprive individuals of their liberty without trial and the normal safeguards which the law provides for the protection of the accused. Their use raises human rights issues. The ability to detain people without trial has never been seen as a means of achieving stability within the community. The effect of using the powers would be quite the reverse. It would increase community tension and cause serious damage to respect for the rule of law. It would strengthen the terrorist organisations. Ultimately, it would prolong the very violence which it was intended to prevent or lessen, as several noble Lords have said.
I refer briefly to some of the comments made this afternoon. The Government accept that there is a number of terrorist organisations, both republican and loyalist, operating in Northern Ireland that do not subscribe to the ceasefire; indeed, at the moment they are pursuing a policy of trying to undermine it. I do not believe that their actions would be changed one iota by keeping the internment provisions on the statute book. Several noble Lords who support the amendment have said that the removal of these powers would weaken the chance of achieving peace and give in to terrorist blackmail and that these powers make the terrorist think twice. The Government do not believe that those arguments have sufficient substance to make them change their policy. We do not believe that the organisations currently engaged in terrorism would be influenced by the retention of internment on the statute book.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, said that there was a need to secure the human rights of the vast majority. Of course, the Government agree with that. However, we do not believe that to keep internment on the statute book will in any way improve the human rights of the vast majority. We have to use other means to achieve that. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made a rather pessimistic assessment of the prospects of success in the peace process. Even if nothing is certain, I reject his assessment of success. I believe that he referred to
The Government are certainly not playing the terrorists' game. The Government reject that suggestion absolutely. We are trying to ensure that we move towards peace through a process of negotiation by which all parties have subscribed to the Mitchell principles of peace and the rejection of terrorism.
I am grateful for the supportive comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I very much hope that the House will accept his assessment. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, said that this was the wrong moment to remove the powers, and she spoke about the need to decommission. Certainly, we want to see progress towards decommissioning, and as yet there has been no progress. Frankly, I cannot make the connection between that proposition and the suggestion that internment should be retained on the statute book. I do not believe that there is a connection between the two. I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Merlyn-Rees, for his very informed comments based upon his experience as Secretary of State. His contribution was helpful and I welcome it.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to internment during World War II. I am not sure that that is particularly relevant to today's discussion. As I understand it, many of the people interned during World War II were the most fervent opponents of Nazism. I am not sure that history judges that particular exercise as having been successful. We locked up people who were our closest allies. They had fled from Hitler because of persecution and we locked them up in the Isle of Man.
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