Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978

(Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1985

HL Deb 12 July 1985 vol 466 cc450-72

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell) My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1985, which was laid before your Lordships on 3rd June of this year be approved.

I shall this morning be reviewing the security situation in Northern Ireland because that is the background against which we ask your Lordships to review the powers in the Emergency Provisions Act, and I shall also set out the Government’s response to the late Sir George Baker’s review of the operation of the Act.

Whatever political and economic developments there may be in Northern Ireland, security will remain the Government’s first priority. Our objective is to bring the terrorists’ brutal campaign of violence to an end as quickly as possible, though any realist would accept that there can be no short-cuts to achieving this. Steady progress is being made, however, in both deterring violence and in bringing those who perpetrate it before the courts. While statistics bring absolutely no comfort to those who have lost relatives or friends at the hands of terrorists, the figures show that, to date, violence in 1985 is broadly comparable to violence in 1984, which saw less violence than any year since 1970. This is not a cause for complacency, but it sets the present situation in context.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary has borne the brunt in recent months. Since January this year 19 RUC officers have been brutally murdered by the terrorists. The force has continued to act with courage and, above all, great professionalism in the face of these attacks, and deserves our respect and admiration. I should also like to pay my tribute to the regular Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment who give the RUC such valuable support.

The Government and the security forces will strive to eradicate terrorism, but we cannot do this alone. We depend on support from the general public, and we shall continue to look for ways of winning and sustaining that support from both parts of the community. Many opportunities already exist, such as the Government’s proposals for a more independent element in the way complaints against the police are examined and the encouragement which is given to both parts of the community to serve in the security forces in local police liaison groups or on the police authority. The Government will continue to keep the criminal justice system under close review to ensure that it is fair and effective and strikes the right balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of society to be protected from violent crime.

But the Government and the security forces must look to the public, and in particular to political leaders in the Province, to play their part. There can be no room in such a small society, beset with economic and social problems, for inflammatory statements and actions. Both sides of the community must show a willingness to accommodate the other if the Province is to make any real progress.

An area where leaders of opinion can display the imagination and responsibility that is so much needed is in the conduct of marches and parades. These have become a source of increasing tension and friction, and now require the deployment of considerable police resources which could be put to much better use in countering the terrorist threat. The Government fully support the Chief Constable of the RUC in appealing to the organisers of parades from both communities, “traditional” or “non-traditional”, to show a greater understanding of the difficulties, and more flexibility over their choice of route. I very much hope that common sense prevails in Portadown today, and that the law is kept.

As for the longer-term, the Government will be looking at Northern Ireland’s public order legislation as it affects the control of parades and demonstrations, especially in the light of the recently published paper of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on public order laws. We shall be considering whether there are changes to the present arrangements which would help to alleviate the difficulties we are witnessing at present. But I imagine that, whatever decisions are taken on this legislation, we shall ultimately have to look to the citizens of Northern Ireland to show flexibility and a spirit of reconciliation.

Another area where the Government would ask for more understanding is in the Anglo-Irish talks which are in progress. We are holding these in the hope of security benefits for both communities, not least from a security standpoint. We depend greatly on the co-operation that we receive from the Irish authorities in border areas, and I want to pay tribute to the efforts which the Garda already makes. These efforts have saved lives. But the Government should like to see more intense co-operation at all levels to help counter the border threat, and we hope that ways can be found of extending the present inter-force contacts. We all have much to gain, and the terrorist has most to fear, from better co-operation and a close understanding with the Irish on security matters.

I should like to turn briefly to the recommendations made by the late Sir George Baker in his review of the Emergency Provisions Act. As your Lordships know, the Act gives the security forces and the courts additional powers to counter the terrorist threat. Sir George concluded that there was little scope for fundamental change to the Act, but considered that in some areas it could be adjusted and that some powers could be relinquished. The Government have already made it clear that they accept the broad thrust of Sir George’s review, and I shall now set out the main conclusions which we have drawn and which will be incorporated in a Bill to be brought before your Lordships in due course.

We do not propose to revoke the detention provisions of the Act, which remain on the statute book though not in force, although Sir George recommended this course. The Government cannot foresee the powers being used in anything other than a major but short-term crisis and we very much hope we shall not face such a situation. But if one were to arise in a recess when we had dropped this power, the Government believe that we would be unable to offer the people of Northern Ireland the protection which they would need. The Government have therefore decided that the prudent course is to retain this reserve power.

Sir George concluded that restoration of jury trial was not possible in present conditions, but he recommended that Schedule 4 to the Act should be amended to increase the Attorney-General’s discretion as he put it to certify cases out of the scheduled mode of trial. We accept this recommendation, although it is possible that the list of offences to which such discretion will be extended will not be precisely that proposed by Sir George. The discretion to certify cases out will remain with my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General.

Sir George made a number of recommendations in respect of police arrest powers. We propose to meet the spirit of these recommendations by repealing the arrest power in Section 11 of the Emergency Provisions Act. This would leave the RUC to rely on the powers contained in Section 12 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1984. Under the latter provision, of which the RUC have been making increasing use, a person may be held initially for up to 48 hours rather than the 72 hours allowed under Section 11 of the Emergency Provisions Act. However, the 48-hour period under the Prevention of Terrorism Act may be extended by a period or periods not exceeding five days on the authority of the Secretary of State. So far as the Army’s arrest power is concerned, no final decision has been taken on the need for or the form of any modifications to Section 14 of the Emergency Provisions Act, but we intend that a power of arrest should be retained.

The Government, like Sir George Baker, endorse the present practice of the courts in bail applications and propose to recast Section 2(2) to move the onus in bail applications towards the prosecution. Section 2(4) should be repealed as Sir George recommended and Section 2(5) widened to include members of the RUC and RUC Reserve.

The practice of the courts in respect of the admissibility of confessions was endorsed by Sir George Baker. The Government support that view and are proposing to reflect in Section 8 the principles which the judges now apply.

The last of the major changes recommended by Sir George Baker was that the temporary provisions of the Act should be reviewed annually by Parliament and should have a maximum life of 5 years without reenactment. We regard his recommendation as a welcome restatement of the clear responsibility of Parliament and of the Government to consider afresh whether any emergency provisions should continue, and if so in what form; and we accept his recommendation.

I should like to touch upon one other set of recommendations contained in the review. We have studied carefully those recommendations of Sir George which relate to pre-trial procedures, including his recommendation for a time limit of 12 months on the period between committal and trial. We are considering this and other possible ways of reducing the length of time between first remand and trial. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided to mount field trials on a system of statutory time limits in England and Wales and we in Northern Ireland will be watching progress with interest to see whether there is scope for applying similar measures there.

We are also giving thought to the proposal by Sir George Baker that some way should be found to increase the maximum remand period in scheduled cases to 28 or 30 days. At present all such persons have to be produced before a magistrate once a week. He—I think that clearly refers to the magistrate—has no power to grant bail and can only remand the accused persons for a further period. Thus the process is largely, in Sir George Baker’s words, “meaningless” and “a waste of time, money and resources”.” Following the precedent in England and Wales, we are already considering separate legislation which would extend to 28 days the maximum period for which, if he agrees, an accused person may be remanded in custody. There would be attractions in amending the Emergency Provisions Act so far as to remove, in respect of scheduled cases, the requirement for a person to give his consent. Taken together, these two sets of changes would give magistrates the discretion to remand persons accused of scheduled offences for up to 28 days. We believe that this would save a good deal of unnecessary court time and other resources—resources which could be better used in minimising the length of time between first remand and trial. Defendants who did not make weekly remand appearances would still have regular access to their solicitors and indeed to other visitors, and could make bail applications.

In the short spell of time available today I have not been able to do justice to every one of the recommendations of Sir George, but I hope that what I have set out will enable your Lordships to appreciate the broad thrust of our response to his review. The Government believe that these small but important modifications are steps worth taking. I cannot say when the amending Bill will be introduced, but I assure your Lordships that it will be during the life of this Parliament.

The Motion before your Lordships today seeks the renewal for a further six months of the special measures in the Emergency Provisions Act upon which the security forces and the courts rely in responding to crimes of violence. Renewal of the Act is far from an academic process, for Northern Ireland sadly continues to face a vicious terrorist campaign which has resulted and which continues to result in a tragic loss of life. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, some improvement has been achieved, but we are not in a position to relinquish these essential measures, which undoubtedly save lives. Therefore I invite your Lordships to agree to extend the life of the 1978 Act by a further six months. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd June be approved. [24th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Lyell.)

Lord Prys-Davies My Lords, Northern Ireland has lived with emergency legislation for a long time. I well recall my noble friend Lord Fitt telling the House that throughout his lifetime in Northern Ireland he had lived under emergency legislation. I thought that a fairly sobering and revealing observation. Thus this debate on the renewal of the present emergency legislation is obviously not without precedent.

The three core elements of the present emergency legislation are arrest, interrogation and the special Diplock courts. In the three areas the ordinary criminal procedures or processes have been substantially modified by legislation. We often speak of a policy of countering terrorism with the criminal law, but we must constantly bear in mind that terrorism is being countered not with the ordinary criminal law, but with the emergency powers which are above and over the ordinary law of the land.

We do well to remind ourselves that the power of arrest is exercisable even when no specific offence is suspected. I read that one academic writer has discovered that about 90 per cent. of those arrested are not charged. He concluded that the primary purpose of many of the arrests was intelligence gathering and surveillance. When the writer went on to describe this activity as an abuse of the power of arrest, it seems to me that he must have been wrong, because Parliament has decreed that it is lawful to make an arrest even when no specific offence is suspected. That gives us an insight into the nature of the emergency powers.

Nevertheless, we have to ask ourselves whether it is desirable or necessary that the police, the security forces and the courts should be given the powers incorporated in this legislation. This was the question that troubled the Labour Opposition in the other place when they were moved to vote against renewal of the emergency legislation. We are in some difficulty in answering the question of whether or not the powers are desirable or necessary. We do not have sufficient material before us to enable the House to form a judgment. That point is made clearly in paragraph 83 on page 75 of the tenth Annual Report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, which reads: “Throughout the years scrutiny of the EPA has been hampered by the paucity of officially published statistics. The general statistics published by the Secretary of State on a regular six-monthly basis offer a general guide to the security situation in Northern Ireland but not the operation of the EPA. If the legislation is to be effectively monitored, the Commission recommend that it should not be left to diligent Members of Parliament to extract this information hut that more material be published in the same way as it is for the PTA following Lord Shackleton’s recommendation to this effect”.” The paragraph goes on to particularise the information that should be readily available.

That report was published last February. But a year earlier, Sir George Baker had already accepted that it was important that as much information as possible should be made readily available. He recommended that the Northern Ireland Office should attempt to provide the equivalent of the Home Office and Northern Ireland Office PTA quarterly statistics. That, I think, is contained in Recommendation 70 of the Baker review. Perhaps the Minister can correct me, but my impression is that the Secretary of State indicated last October that this recommendation was acceptable to the Government. However, it was not referred to in the Minister’s speech this morning.

In discussing the renewal of the legislation we have to place on record that there are complaints that the legislation has compromised the police, the security forces and the courts. This was brought out in one opinion poll. If, however, we have little confidence in opinion polls it was also brought out in the study undertaken by Mr. Walsh when he occupied the Cobden Trust research scholarship at Queen’s University, Belfast. Thus, a long period of remand before trial is easily perceived by some people as being a form of internment de facto. Again, the finding that 40 per cent. of the business of the Diplock courts is concerned with non-terrorist cases is worrying. A law that is perceived by a large sector of the community to be unfair may help to fuel discontent, lawlessness and violence. There is a feeling that the EPA may be counter-productive. Even in a case-hardened Province such as Northern Ireland, the feeling that it can be counter-productive because it is perceived to be unfair is another factor that led the Labour Opposition in the House of Commons to vote against renewal of the legislation.

I believe that many Members in the other place voted against renewal as a form of protest against the delay on the part of the Government in announcing their conclusions on all the Baker recommendations and the delay in implementing those recommendations that are acceptable to them. The Minister has this morning stated the Government’s conclusions on some of the recommendations. But even now we have to await the Government’s response to all the 74 recommendations. Clearly, we shall have to read the Minister’s speech carefully; but it appears to me that the thrust of his observations this morning was foreshadowed in the last debate that we had in this House on the renewal of the legislation. I shall give one or two examples. We wish to know whether the Government have come to a conclusion on the need to introduce the tape-recording of interrogation in the police station. Again, is the power of arrest to be amended by imposing a requirement of reasonable suspicion of a specific offence? That would be invaluable because it would potentially increase the scope of judicial review.

The Minister has said that the Government are giving consideration to the need to cut down delay between arrest and trial. I am still not clear, however, what specific instructions the Government are giving to the security forces on this issue. Of course, the Minister speaks of the Government producing their response and legislation in due course. We have been waiting 14 months for the legislation. One agrees clearly that the task is to maintain a fair balance between the need for security and the liberty of the individual citizen. I have no wish to overstate the risks to individual liberty inherent in complex emergency powers. Nor do I wish to under-estimate the difficult and dangerous role of the security forces in their pretty thankless job in the Province. I join with the Minister in paying our tribute to the security forces. One is, after all, conscious of the murders and the killings and the threats of persistent violence. One is conscious that men and women in the Province live in their own homes and walk the streets in fear.

But in making proper allowance for the needs of security we on these Benches consider that we would be failing in our duty if we did not on this occasion give expression to our reservations about the EPA, particularly as the amendments which the late Sir George Baker considered necessary over a year ago to make the legislation acceptable have still not been implemented. The best hope we have is that they will be implemented in due course. If we are concerned about human dignity, we must be concerned that the best offer that we have is legislation in due course.

Lord Hampton My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his introduction of this order. I shall attempt today to outline the reaction of the Alliance parties. As always, we pay tribute to the efficiency and bravery of the security forces. I note the Minister’s comments about marches, and I shall not repeat what I said about this on Monday, and I was particularly interested in the proposed Government reaction to Sir George Baker’s report, and an amending Bill duly to be introduced. I shall also follow up some of the points of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies.

It must be accepted that the campaign of terrorist violence by Republican and Loyalist paramilitary organisations continues and makes the continued use of emergency powers inevitable for the foreseeable future. Since 1969, we are told, nearly 2,500 people have been killed through terrorist activity (a figure equivalent to 88,000 on the mainland), and some 30,000 people have been injured. At the same time we regard emergency powers as but a part, albeit a necessary part, of an overall strategy designed to secure a political settlement in Northern Ireland and thereby internal harmony.

It is essential that the emergency legislation should not work against this overall strategy, and legislation must be strictly necessary to combat terrorism, and hence acceptable to the law-abiding population in the province. As a protection against the possible abuse of power the Alliance is strongly in favour of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland and some further measures to protect the citizen against maladministration. We accept that there are often propaganda campaigns by terrorist groups designed to discredit the British Government, and it is essential that justice should be seen to be done without cause for genuine grievance.

The two main Acts we see to protect the security of the state are, first, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 and, secondly, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. The first was introduced in 1973 and amended in 1978, and it is this that we are considering today. It contains additional arrest and detention powers for the police and the Army together with certain exceptional powers of search and seizure. It provides for the proscription of certain criminal organisations such as the Provisional IRA and the UVF, and allows certain scheduled offences to be tried by Diplock courts—that is, a judge sitting alone.

The second Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, mentioned, was a response to the Birmingham bombing. It is concerned with special powers of arrest and detention, for controls at seaports and airports, and for exclusion and deportation orders against those involved in terrorism.

It should be understood that the emergency legislation does not alter the central principles of British justice which continue to be applied in Northern Ireland, and the responsibility rests on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. There are, however, some departures from normal judicial standards in the emergency legislation which can interfere with accepted standards of civil liberties. It is essential that these should be seen to be the minimum compatible with the fight against terrorism.

It is with great regret, therefore, that we feel it necessary to accept the impossibility of jury trial for terrorist offences in the near future. The House does not need me to expand on the problems caused by the intimidation of jurors and the impossibility of fully protecting them. Therefore, in Diplock courts trials under a single judge are held without a jury, with all the difficulty of the judge having to warn himself against taking too much notice of uncorroborated evidence.

We appreciate the difficulty of the availability of suitably qualified judges, but can see great advantages where a panel of three judges could preside over trials. This would also bring practice in Northern Ireland into closer harmony with that in the Irish Republic, and this would be a particularly significant contribution to the harmonisation of antiterrorist legislation. I should appreciate the Minister’s comment on this point.

It may surprise many people to learn that uncorroborated evidence given by an informer or accomplice is accepted in the criminal courts of the United Kingdom, with the exception of Scotland, and also in the Irish Republic. I do not think we see any basis for denying the prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland this weapon in cases of terrorist crime. Nonetheless, an apparent miscarriage of justice can have an extremely counterproductive effect.

We want three judges, if possible, then, and we also seek two further safeguards. First, in what are termed “supergrass trials” the maximum number under trial should be cut from even the limit of 20, which Sir George Baker recommended in his report, to a maximum of six. Secondly, there should be a reduction in the delays before suspects are brought to trial.

In 1983 the average time between remand and trial for prisoners refused bail and charged with terrorist offences was as much as 322 days. This is tantamount to sentence without trial, and there is an urgent need of reduction. Both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to this. We believe that the aim should be something closer to the ruling in Scotland, where there is a maximum of 110 days custody before trial. We also believe that many cases which have no observable connection with serious terrorist offences should be made once again triable by jury. Again, this has been referred to.

It is essential, I repeat, that so far as possible justice should be seen to be done. We believe that a standard of “reasonable suspicion” rather than “suspicion” should be required before the special powers of arrest or search under the emergency legislation can be used. We believe that closed circuit television is a valuable safeguard against alleged ill-treatment of suspects; that every interview in a police station in Northern Ireland with a suspected terrorist should be tape recorded for use as possible evidence; and that confessions should be admissible as evidence only if it can be clearly shown that they have not been the result of physical violence or threats by the police.

In addition we should like to see members of the Northern Ireland Police Authority given the right to observe the interrogation of suspects and to visit prisoners on remand. We also believe that where miscarriage of justice is later confirmed the person wrongly committed should be compensated as a matter of right. Perhaps the Minister can comment also on that suggestion.

To summarise, then, while we believe that the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act are essential to the defeat of terrorism, we are conscious that it is still regarded in some quarters of the Irish Republic, and among the nationalist community of Northern Ireland, as anti-Irish. We should therefore like to see it replaced by legislative provision jointly agreed by the British and Irish Governments, and applicable in both countries.

We would regard this as an important step towards the harmonisation of British and Irish law, and a welcome co-operation in the fight against terrorism. We believe of course that this emergency legislation should remain on the statute book only as long as terrorist activity continues—and Sir George Baker dealt with this—and we accept the need for the present order.

Lord Hylton My Lords, I do not think that anybody could possibly assert that the order we are considering today is in any way similar to any other Northern Irish order which comes before us. The two noble Lords speaking from the Front Benches for the opposition have spelt out clearly why the powers given by this legislation are so serious. If that were not enough, the fact that the Act has had to be reviewed twice by two separate distinguished judges underlines this contention. I should like to suggest that it is most inappropriate for us to be debating this matter at lunchtime on a Friday. I have written about this to the noble Lord the Chief Whip, and I hope that I shall receive support from the other Front Benches concerned with this matter.

Having made that point, I should like to go on to welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said about the Government’s conclusions on the review conducted by the late Sir George Baker. We know that improvements have recently been made over powers of arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, in asking today why all arrests under this Act cannot be subject to reasonable suspicion. What important terrorist has recently been arrested on mere suspicion?

I should like to go on to ask why arrest by the Army in Northern Ireland cannot be limited to terrorist-type offences only. We know what these are precisely; they have been scheduled. Also what is the Government’s response to the 21 detailed and reasonable paragraphs in chapter 5 of the 10th report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights? The two rather short paragraphs in the Secretary of State’s letter to the Commission of the 21st February 1985 are clearly not enough.

The usual tributes have been paid to the security forces and I join most wholeheartedly in these. I should like to say something about the Royal Ulster Constabulary. This force is well known to be predominantly manned by people of Protestant origin or connection and it is therefore of vital importance that the proportion of serving Catholics should be increased. I should like to suggest two possible methods how this process might, at least, be started. First, could there not be secondment of volunteers to the RUC from Catholic officers now serving with British, Commonwealth or Irish police forces? Secondly, could not encouragement be given to young Catholics now in Northern Ireland to join British, Commonwealth or Irish policce forces with a view to returning later to the RUC with some experience and seniority? In general, the powers and the role of the Northern Ireland Police Authority should be strengthened, as was recommended by the Kilbrandon Commission in paragraph 10.13. In particular, the membership of the police authority should reflect both segments of the community.

A network of public and police liaison committees should be set up, and this, too, was a recommendation of Kilbrandon. Experience over the past 15 years of the very successful committee in Derry shows that it is necessary to have local community organisations represented on the committee as well as elected councillors. It also shows that the most senior local policemen should be available to the committee. This experience has, quite surprisingly perhaps, been borne out by that of the Community and Police Consultative Group in Lambeth.

I welcome the police complaints and discipline Consultation Paper of April 1985, particularly the provision for investigating complaints wider than those against individual officers; but will Her Majesty’s Government emphasise ease of access to this procedure and the independence that is needed for any proper complaints procedure?

I now come to the Ulster Defence Regiment, which has obviously played an important part in the security operations up to now. Much has been said both for and against this regiment. I hope Her Majesty’s Government will look seriously at the Kilbrandon recomendation that the regiment should be phased out over a period of time, by natural wastage and by transfers to the British Army and the RUC. This would of course have to be accompanied by a major increase in establishment for the RUC.

There are a number of changes in the law, not only in the principal legislation, but in other Acts of Parliament that may be required. A new offence of the reckless use of force should be created, because the courts are so seldom willing to convict a member of the security forces of murder or manslaughter. This was another Kilbrandon recommendation and has been further spelt out in articles by Dr. Hadden of Queen’s University, in which he cites Australian experience. When will the Government be legislating for Northern Ireland on the lines of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act? This I know has been promised, but it would be most helpful for us to know some more about timing. It is most important that this legislation should provide a statutory code of practice for arrest and interrogation, also for the taping of interrogations, as was mentioned by the noble Lord Lord Prys-Davies.

The law on coroners’ inquests and the reference of cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions may well require amendment. Disputed killings and woundings always cause bad feeling and inquests are now often held so long after the event, when no prosecution is to be made, that they become almost valueless.

I now come to other measures which will not necessarily require legisation. First and foremost there is the proposed Anglo-Irish Joint Security Commission. This would be most beneficial as was recommended by Kilbrandon. I should also like to see an option for persons accused of scheduled offences to go for trial before a jury court in Great Britain, rather than in Northern Ireland. This might help to deal with some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Diplock courts. I should like to see compensation for time spent on remand by persons who were later acquitted or discharged. This would be in line with the letter from the Secretary of State to the Standing Advisory Commission of 18th February which I have already quoted. I believe it would do much to defuse the “supergrass” question and it would be on similar lines to the susbstantial amounts previously paid to persons wrongly held under detention powers.

As to the “supergrass” problem itself, what I wonder is the response of the Government to the paper by Mr. J. D. Jackson of Queen’s University printed on pages 83 to 94 of the Standing Advisory Commission’s tenth annual report? If his proposed safeguards are not acceptable, why is this and what better ones will the Government provide?

As for the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights itself, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his written reply of 9th July in columns 183–84 of Hansard. It is good to know that the commission will be getting some extra staff, but when will they be in post? And why is this matter of adequate staffing still only at the discussion stage?

So far I have spoken about the police and the security forces aided by emergency legislation in the struggle to protect citizens of all persuasions against terrorism. The other approach to the question is through civil and human rights, both those of the individual and those of groups and communities. The well-known “double minority” situation in Ireland, both north and south, makes this approach one of great importance because the Treaty of 1922 left sizeable minorities on either side of the agreed frontier. The minority question in the south has been relatively calm, but that in the north remains, as we know, acute. This explains why a study of human rights and responsibilities has been mounted with the help of the British and Irish Councils of Churches. This is why the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland recently passed the following resolution: “The Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland should agree a bilateral treaty providing for the protection of human rights in both states including specific provisions to deal with the unique problems of Northern Ireland. They should undertake to incorporate the terms of the treaty into their domestic law and due consideration should be given to means of monitoring and enforcement”.” Such a measure would be further strengthened by both countries incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into their domestic law. Since this convention is not drawn in terms of group rights, it would mainly assist individuals by making their grievances justiciable in local courts, thus shortcutting the slow procedures of the European Commission and the Court of Human Rights.

Moves such as those I have just mentioned could well be supplemented by a Bill of minority rights, specific to Northern Ireland and by the creation of Human Rights Commission for Northern Ireland. Such a commission could supervise the new treaty and any Bill of minority rights and perhaps act as the local instrument of the European Commission. It could embrace the expanding functions of the Standing Advisory Commission, the Fair Employment Agency, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commissioner for Complaints. It might have responsiblity for the new police complaints procedure.

I urge the Government to think long and hard about human rights and group rights. It is important to remember that the present troubles were sparked off by grave dissatisfaction over basic civil rights. There are some who still feel that these basic rights have not yet been achieved in all their fullness. Others may be beginning to worry about what might happen if the present majority in time becomes a minority. What protects one group now may well in time be of help to another. A major investment now in human rights, with encouragement for their corresponding responsibilities, would be more worthwile than current expenditures on security and prisons, although, obviously, it could not immediately replace them. I hope that it is not altogether too naive and too idealistic to suggest that a new Anglo-Irish Treaty, coupled with the European Convention, a Bill of minority rights and a Human Rights Commission would generate such confidence that Ulster political leaders would be obliged to agree upon a measure of devolved administration.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs My Lords, it is several years since I have spoken in this particular debate on this highly important subject; and although my noble friend on the Front Bench has made a very clear statement and a very clear analysis, with which I entirely agree, I should like to take this opportunity to make a few rather more general points about the security situation in Northern Ireland. I should like to take the opportunity to stand back and take stock of what changes have taken place in the security of Northern Ireland, of the vulnerability of the position there, of what is being done about it; and, finally, what changes I should like to see put in motion to improve the security situation there.

First, as the Minister and other noble Lords have said, the causes of unrest are still there. At this very moment, the annual celebration of that great Orange victory of 1690 is going on and we can only hope that it is going on surrounded by a peaceful atmosphere. Secondly, a few weeks ago, another forum for dissension and for aggravation was created when the Provisional Sinn Fein achieved the necessary support in the May local elections to install themselves in many of Northern Ireland’s council chambers. There can be no doubt that this has provided an additional framework in which the Provisional Sinn Fein can carry on the campaign of disruption which they find a most useful way of stopping the Government’s operations in the North.

Finally, as a background to this highly vulnerable situation, we have economic and social grievances which provide a recruiting ground, particularly among the young, for para-militaries of both persuasions; and, at the same time, we face the ongoing problem of how to resolve the political issues that give rise to such a sick and distorted sense of mission in order to isolate those men above. Although some of the factors making up the Northern Ireland scenario have changed, we still face a situation which is highly vulnerable and potentially explosive. It is for that reason that it is so important that we ensure that the measures that we take to safeguard law and order are the right ones and that they may maintain an all-important balance of being effective without at the same time being counter-productive. This is what previous noble Lords have stressed time and time again.

It is in this connection with that vital need for adjusting the measures we use to maintain security that I should like to make a few very brief points. The first point has already been made. It is with regard to the recommendations made by Sir George Baker over a year ago. I am grateful to the Minister for having set them out so clearly. I had the great privilege of meeting Sir George while he was drawing up this report and to discuss the changes that he might recommend. I must confess that, in the same way as other noble Lords, I had hoped very much that he would make a more radical change; and the recommendation that I made, in the same way as the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches, was that although the jury system clearly could not be reinstated, at least there should be a panel of three judges and that this should bring it more in line both with Dublin and with our own system of justice. One can never leave the important point that the objective of any legal system is for it to inspire the confidence of the people who it serves. Yet we know there can be no doubt that many members of the minority community do not trust it. In fact, the Belfast Telegraph of 6th February went so far as saying that nearly two-thirds of the Catholic community thought the legal system was unfair.

It is for that reason that it is disappointing, as my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies has just said, that after 15 months the Government have still not implemented even the limited amendments to the law which Sir George Baker recommended as necessary. I know that the Minister has promised us a Bill on this, but he has not given us any time at which it will be put forward; so I think that there is every reason for us to show great concern that these important recommendations have not in any way been taken notice of. My other point relates to the same area of concern but it is about the other important development in Anglo-Irish affairs which has taken place in the last year. That is the report that came from Dublin, the New Ireland Forum Report, which was followed by the recommendations made by the Kilbrandon Committee. I was fortunate enough to sit on that committee.

There is no doubt that the New Ireland Forum Report and the Kilbrandon recommendations were not specifically focused on the emergency provisions but they were largely concentrated on building up and improving the security measures of the Province and they made some important recommendations regarding law reform and law enforcement. Although I know that this is not the moment to discuss the details, either of the New Ireland Forum Report or of the Kilbrandon recommendations—although I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton has mentioned them—I think this is a highly relevant moment to express concern that, in the same way as with the Baker Report, there has been no positive reaction from the Government towards any of the ideas which came out of these two very important exercises in Anglo-Irish relations.

As I said at the beginning of my few remarks, no one could place a higher importance to safeguarding the security and the safety of the people of Northern Ireland than I. Therefore, I accept the importance of the special measures taken to do so; but I cannot accept that at the same time we should not work towards establishing a wider framework in which to improve and strengthen our security measures. This leads me to my last point which is in regard to the closer relationship and the greater co-operation that we believe has been put in train between Dublin and London. Here, I should like to stress that with the realities of the present Northern Irish situation coinciding with the Dublin initiative, carrying as it does a greater measure of mutual trust, understanding and co-operation, I really believe that all this seems to provide a vital opportunity to achieve progress in establishing peace in Northern Ireland.

I do not know whether any of your Lordships read an important article in the Sunday Times of 7th July 1985 by Peter Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins, having commented on the ups and down over the last year in the relationship between the Governments and Prime Ministers in Dublin and London, stressed the importance of courage on the part of both, and he ended his article in the following way: “We are inhibited in our dealings with The Irish Problem by a fear of making things worse. Even words can be as dangerous as bombs in Northern Ireland. The risk of a bloodbath of Protestant violence cannot be brushed aside. But nor can the unhappy situation of the north be allowed to continue indefinitely, for the sakes of the poor people who live there and because we are all threatened by the terrorism that breeds there. With the chance of making some real improvement in that deplorable situation the time has come to stop appeasing Ulster. The Protestant majority has been guaranteed time and again that Northern Ireland shall remain part of the United Kingdom until its citizens decide otherwise. But that gives no special entitlement to override the national interest or to prevent us from making whatever arrangements we choose with a friendly foreign power.” That is an important statement made in a newspaper which after all is not known for its terrifically progressive views. I should like to identify myself very closely with what Peter Jenkins said, because unless there is some movement, and a movement which must carry the people of both traditions along with it, we will never get beyond making this cursory examination of the Emergency Provisions Act and making it an annual fixture in Westminster. Indeed, it might still be going on when Lord Fitt’s children are getting older. I feel very strongly that that alone would be very much to the detriment of all the people of Northern Ireland and that we must work towards a wider framework in which to achieve the peace and stability that they want to see.

Lord Fitt My Lords, my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies was kind enough to say in his remarks that during all the years of my lifetime I have always lived under emergency legislation. The Northern Ireland state was created by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and on its creation it brought with it the 1920 Special Powers Act. That Act was renewed annually from 1920 until 1928, and at the end of 1928 the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland said—and of course I am paraphrasing: “It seems to be a bit of a farce going through this ritual every year and renewing this legislation which is so necessary to bolster and support the Unionist Government, so we might as well make it a permanent fixture on our statute book and at some time in the future it may become necessary to repeal it”.

As we all know, that Act had to be repealed by a British Government in 1972 and 1973. It was replaced by the Act we are now discussing. I was a Member of the other House at the time and I instinctively rebelled and voted against this particular legislation when it was originally being enacted in the House of Commons. I did so because I had had the experience of living under the Special Powers Act and I read into the draconian provisions of this particular Act something which I could see would never be conducive to bringing peace and political harmony into political life in Northern Ireland.

I voted against it then and in all the years that have elapsed I have had no reason to regret doing so. Since then we have gone through the ritual in another place every six months—it used to be every year—of continuing this Act on the statute book. Normally in the other place it was done by way of an order, and the orders were normally taken after ten o’clock at night. But there were occasions when this legislation was dealt with on a Friday afternoon and there were occasions, normally in the run-up to a Recess when the business of the House is rather more flexible, when it was debated perhaps on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday in the prime time of the House of Commons.

I have to say, regretfully, that on the days when this legislation was being debated in prime time it did not in any way enlarge the attendance. No matter what time of day this legislation is being debated, it is not going to bring in hundreds or even scores of people to listen to the debates. Indeed, I notice that a record has been set up here today. There is a noble Baroness sitting on the Government side of the House—the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. She has sat through the whole of this debate. That is something that should be written into the record, because there are very few noble Lords or MPs connected with the other side of the House—indeed, there are very few people in the building—who would sit through what we call Irish debates. It is noticeable also that when Welsh or Scottish Questions are being taken in the House of Commons the Benches are not lined with all kinds of English representatives who are showing an all-consuming interest in what is happening in Scotland or Wales.

I have myself had cause to complain about this, but I am not in the least surprised. Let us face facts: there are about a dozen, if that is not an exaggeration, noble Lords and Baronesses in this House who are interested in the Irish question. There are six at least who have spoken today, and they will speak in the next debate and in the following debate. It may be that we will perhaps enlist a few supporters. That is the way politics work in this building.

I hope that some people in the island of Ireland will take note of my remarks, because there seems to me to be a need for a devolved government in Northern Ireland. I believe that if there were a devolved government reactivated at Stormont in which both sections of the community could participate, at least we could say there would be a much better attendance. It may well be that nothing very much more constructive would come out of debates there, but at least people would be discussing their own destinies in the land in which they live.

I have lived in this part of the United Kingdom for the past two years and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said, my five daughters are now living in England. Fortunately for them, they will not have to live under legislation such as we are discussing now for Northern Ireland. But in fact, like every other citizen in the United Kingdom now, they are living under draconian legislation—the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I have opposed that Act also every time it has been renewed in the House of Commons, and when we forced Divisions I sometimes had five, sometimes 10, dedicated supporters in the “No” Lobby with me. The voting figures that we had then were derisory and I certainly have no intention of putting any figures like that on the record of this House.

However, when we are considering opposition to this type of legislation we must remember what happened two or three weeks ago. I know I cannot go into the matter in great detail because the cases may be sub judice, but the Prevention of Terrorism Act was used to arrest people and they have been charged with conspiring to create a number of explosions in seaside resorts throughout this country. If it were necessary to use that Act to apprehend and arrest those people, then I would withdraw any objections which I ever had to the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

I believe that had those people not been arrested, or had those acts been carried out, great carnage would have taken place in this country—because they are resorts which are inhabited mostly by British working-class people; they are not like the South of France, where members of the affluent society go on holiday; they are working-class seaside resorts. Had there been a number of explosions which had taken place and which killed a number of ordinary working-class English people, as in the Brighton bomb—and we saw what happened there less than a year ago—can anyone contemplate for a single second what would have been the consequences? What would have been the consequences if the British Cabinet had been killed by that Brighton bomb?

Is there any IRA Republican activist anywhere in these islands who does not believe what the consequences would be if there were similar explosions at these seaside resorts? Not only would there he great anger in this island but I would suggest that if those attempts at murder and maiming had been successful the consequences for relationships between these islands would forever have to be put in abeyance. I say to those people who were responsible for the act in Brighton, and to those contemplating other acts, that they should think seriously of the consequences of their terrible actions.

As I say, I have opposed this Act. I can regretfully disabuse the Minister of something he said in his opening remarks. There has been trouble in Portadown today. I listened to the 12 o’clock news on the local radio station, and there have been four or five different riots taking place in Portadown. That does not surprise me, given the high tension and the atmosphere. One can only hope that the riots were not major riots; and, more particularly that when the bands are returning home this evening—because that is the dangerous time—the position will not get out of hand.

One of my great regrets has been that the English people do not have the opportunity to celebrate what happened in 1690, because that was an English revolution. It had absolutely nothing to do with Ireland. It was a family row between a son-in-law and his father-in-law. King William, the son-in-law, was brought over from Holland to boost his father-in-law, who was King James II. Unfortunately, they fought their last battle in Ireland in 1690, and we have had to live with the awful consequences of that ever since. I do not see anybody in Scotland, England or Wales out marching today, and demonstrating about the glorious victory that was achieved in the English revolution of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. We have been left with those consequences.

Whether or not it takes this legislation or public order legislation, I think it is right that in 1985 the Northern Ireland Office seem to be grappling with the problem that we have had with us for centuries—that is, either the re-routing or the banning of marches which can be highly provocative and in fact have been throughout all the years that I have lived in Northern Ireland. Every terrible crisis that we have seen and witnessed over the past 21 years has been preceded by a demonstration or a ban of some description. In 1964 we had the advent of Paisleyism, who said that he was going to ban a march if the Minister of Home Affairs did not do so. That led to the Divis Street riots. In 1966 there was the Republican commemoration, in which I myself took part, which led to a great deal of rioting as well. In 1968 we had the demand for Civil Rights preceded by a march. In 1972 we had the Bloody Sunday murders taking place after a march had taken place; and all the marches that have taken place since. I hope that the Government will persist in trying to grapple with this problem that we have had with us for so long.

On the reinstatement of this legislation today, I can only say I would hope that, irrespective of the sparse attendance in your Lordships’ House, and indeed irrespective of the sparse attendance that they have in another place when Irish affairs are being discussed, that should not be used as an indicator to show that the British Parliament, or your Lordships’ House, are not concerned about this type of legislation. It is the duty of the Government at all times to be looking at this legislation no matter how many people there may be in attendance. I would hope that the Government would be able to given an undertaking in response to the eminently reasonable remarks which have been made from the Front Bench here today by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. I think that the objections that he has voiced would also be voiced by all those who believe in the democratic concept in Northern Ireland.

I would only wish to mention one further point, which I think is a major one. That is about the supergrass trials in Northern Ireland. I have said before that the supergrass trials have taken many dangerous men out of circulation. I realise that it is not the way of British justice to engage in such trials, and I understand the reason for the Diplock Courts. I understand that jury trials could not at this moment in time be re-instituted in Northern Ireland because juries would be under massive intimidation. But there is something wrong with supergrass trials when one solicitor and his wife who is a barrister undertake the defence in a supergrass trial in which there are 29 people involved. I hear from very genuine circles that the cost to the state of that supergrass trial amounted to £500,000 which was earned by the solicitor and his wife in the defence of those charged at that supergrass trial. There is something wrong with that. There is something wrong with the fact that so many accused people could be defended by what was in effect a man-and-wife team. I would agree with the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, that there should be a limit set on the number of people who can be charged in one case in a supergrass trial.

With those remarks, I would not myself want to divide the House but I would want to put on record my continuing dissatisfaction with this type of legislation. The sooner it can be removed from the statute book the better it will be for all in these islands.

Lord Hylton My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask him: does he appreciate that we English will be celebrating our glorious revolution on its tercentenary in 1988; and that some of us hope that the tercentenary occurring in 1990 will be celebrated with equal harmony in Ireland?

Lord Fitt My Lords, I am glad to hear that. I wish to God we could celebrate it only once every three hundred years. We do it every year.

Lord Lyell My Lords, as all your Lordships who have attended this debate have seen, we have had a short but, I believe, a very valuable debate, and in the last seconds an excellent and humorous interchange between the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I hesitate to intervene on these tercentenaries. We have had a debate on various issues which are of the very greatest importance to everyone in Northern Ireland.

I believe that it is the people in Northern Ireland that the Emergency Provisions Act is designed to protect; and it is your Lordships’ House which shares with the other place the responsibilities for ensuring that effective anti-terrorist legislation is available to the police and, above all, to the courts. Sir George Baker took the view that it was right to ask the question: Is it reasonably foreseeable that repeal or amendment of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act may deprive yet another man, woman or child of the right to life or the right to live free from fear? He came to the view that, while there was scope for some modifications, the basic powers were still essential to meet the terrorist threat. The Government agree that, while that threat has receded a little, it would be irresponsible for us to curtail the measures at our disposal just now.

With that opening paragraph, I should like to attempt to answer a number of points which your Lordships have made in the very interesting and constructive contributions this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked a number of questions. I think he started with a thought on recommendation No. 70 by Sir George Baker. The noble Lord seems to indicate assent. Certainly, I confirm to your Lordships that the Government intend to publish detailed statistics on the operation of the Act as Sir George Baker recommended. I cannot give any indication about timing, but I give the assurance.

The noble Lord also mentioned one thought in his mind, which had crossed my mind in previous incarnations; that is, the tape recording of police interrogations. We take the view that this is not necessarily something which should be considered solely in the context of terrorism. We are therefore proposing to look at this in the context of a possible amendment to the normal law which follows the precedent of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 for England and Wales. I hope that that will be some consolation to the noble Lord.

He also asked about the delays between first remand and trial. This is not solely a matter for the security forces, but it is a matter which concerns my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. They are all concerned to eliminate what I would call avoidable delays. Indeed, I seem to recall mentioning field trials, which were not to be held out in the open, as your Lordships might have thought. We are examining the length of time between first remand and trial in all cases in England and Wales and are seeing what can be done. As a result of these examinations, we hope that we may learn something which will be applicable to the situation in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also raised the question of the recommendation of Sir George Baker that the Royal Ulster Constabulary should arrest on reasonable suspicion. When Section 11 of the emergency powers Act is repealed the RUC will rely on Section 12 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This, of course, contains an arrest power which is based on reasonable suspicion, and therefore we hope that that will indicate that the spirit of Sir George Baker’s recommendation will be met.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked whether the powers which we have in the Act are desirable or necessary. I am sure he will agree that Sir George Baker concluded after his extensive review that with minor modifications they were needed, and still are. I invite your Lordships to agree that, in the interests of preserving our criminal justice system against what are clearly seen as threats and intimidation by terrorists, as well as in the interests of protecting the entire community in Northern Ireland, these powers are essential. If the situation were to change, the Government would be delighted to do away with the Act; but I am afraid that we cannot safely do so at present.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised one or two points. I hasten to add that there was no collusion, but there were at least two points which were in commonality with those raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. We are very grateful for her speech and for her support. But the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the question of the Diplock courts and their composition. I think they will find that Sir George Baker believed that what he called a plurality of judges would not necessarily result in a fairer trial. In reaching that view he was echoing the recommendations of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Diplock and Lord Gardiner.

As I have on my little account’s hat, may I say to the noble Baroness that 53 per cent. of those who pleaded not guilty to scheduled offences in 1984 in Northern Ireland were acquitted in the Diplock courts, and of those who were tried before jury courts and who, above all, pleaded not guilty, 50 per cent. were acquitted. We believe that that is reasonable evidence that a trial before a single judge in Northern Ireland is no less fair or expeditious than before any other form of court.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised a number of very important points, and I am very grateful for the notice that he gave me of them. I hope the noble Lord will accept that I shall not be able to answer them all in detail today. But I assure him that we shall certainly take on board carefully his points and will take them into account, as we have taken into account the point which was made in the Standing Advisory Commission’s recent report.

The noble Lord raised, among other points, the question of recruitment of catholics to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I am sure he will accept that this is a matter for the Chief Constable. All of us know that the RUC are very much alive to the importance of attracting recruits who are catholics. But I do not think it would be appropriate for attempts to be made to recruit only catholics from outside Northern Ireland, because we think that vacancies should be offered to all suitably qualified candidates. If the noble Lord were ever with me, he would find all kinds of accents and backgrounds in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Indeed, in that regard there are three or four people from my old regiment who scare me considerably with stories of my military career.

But the Government share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the police authority should be fully representative of the whole community. We also believe that there should be a regular dialogue between the police and the local community. The Londonderry Committee is not the only forum for such a dialogue, and I know that the police authority is looking at possible machinery for improving liaison between the police and the public.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I stress to him and to your Lordships that without any doubt the Ulster Defence Regiment remains an essential part of the counter-terrorist effort. The Government have no intention of disbanding it in the face of the current terrorist threat. As for any possible changes in the law, the Government see no need to change the present law on the use of force, which seems to us to be capable of coping fairly with all the different circumstances which can arise. I am sure the noble Lord and all of your Lordships will agree that these differing circumstances are very far removed from your Lordships’ House on a lovely summer afternoon. I believe the same is true of the law on coroners’ inquests. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will be pleased to hear that the Government propose to introduce orders in council for Northern Ireland which would have broadly the same effect as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Lord Hylton My Lords, can the noble Lord give any indication at all as to when this will be?

Lord Lyell My Lords, I am afraid I cannot do so now; but we take the point on board. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord that assurance this afternoon. The noble Lord also asked about allowing persons who have been charged with offences in Northern Ireland to be tried in a different jurisdiction—that is, in Great Britain. We see no case for that. As for compensating persons who are held on remand in accordance with the law should they ultimately be found not guilty, again we find no real case for that.

I was interested in the noble Lord’s detailed proposals for preserving civil and human rights in Northern Ireland. I appreciate the force of the points that he made about the sense of security to which his proposals might lead. This is, as I am sure he recognised, a long-term task. I assure him however that it is one to which the Government attach considerable priority and we shall certainly take account of these suggestions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, mentioned the composition of the Diplock courts. I hope I have answered her query on that. The noble Baroness also went some way to suggest that we had not taken into account fully all of the recommendations of the Baker Report. We have taken very careful note of the recommendations; but I am sure she will agree that they require a great deal of consultation with all the agencies that will be affected by and involved in the implementations of all of these recommendations. I have the recommendations before me and there are 74 of them. We are working our way through them and I am sure the noble Baroness will accept that it may take a little while. We have now announced the most important of our conclusions. As I announced, the Government will be introducing a Bill when the parliamentary timetable permits—and certainly during the lifetime of this Parliament.

The noble Baroness also raised the interesting question of the New Ireland Forum Report. Your Lordships will know that the Government take the view that a great deal of the report was constructive and helpful but we have to say that none of the three constitutional options which the report identified could be accepted because they would have changed the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. Indeed, the consent for that from the majority in Northern Ireland simply was not forthcoming. But as I am sure the noble Baroness and your Lordships will accept, the Forum Report also makes clear that it was open for discussion of other views, and in response the Government have had constructive talks with the Irish Government over recent months. I am afraid that we do not yet know the outcome of these talks, but your Lordships will without doubt have an opportunity to debate those at the appropriate time.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to the Special Powers Act. He also referred to marches. I have some information. I will not say that we play the game of “snap” but my information as to the Portadown situation at 12.30 p.m. is that, as we sit here, 3,000 Orangemen are holding a peaceful demonstration in Portadown town centre. We do not know what the movements of these Orangemen, these representatives of the eight country lodges, will be. The noble Lord referred to some trouble. This may be in reference to so called hooligans who purport to support the Orangemen. I understand that they have attacked a television crew and they have thrown stones and bottles at the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I understand that last night 11 members of the RUC were injured—luckily only in a minor way—in Ballynahinch and that there were further disturbances in Cookstown, Maghera, Londonderry and Belfast.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and your Lordships will be quite aware that many thousands of parades take place every year. Hundreds of parades have already taken place this year or indeed will take place along chosen routes. Only a very few have had to be rerouted or have given any trouble at all. But in every case of re-routeing this has been to minimise the dangers of confrontation and violence. The police are anxious to protect the marchers and members of the local community alike.

I hope that I have gone some way to answering the points that have been raised by your Lordships in the course of this debate on the Continuance Order of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. In conclusion, I hope your Lordships will allow me to repeat that the Government’s prime objective in Northern Ireland is the eradication of terrorism. We are making some progress, and with the full support of the community in Northern Ireland we can make yet more progress. But that support will continue to depend on measures which are seen to be effective and seen to be fair as well as on the professional and impartial enforcement of those measures.

We believe that the Emergency Provisions Act, and above all the procedures which are followed by the security forces and the courts, meet those demands and that the proposed changes to the Act which I have outlined to your Lordships today will in due course enhance that position. On that basis, I invite your Lordships to approve the continuance order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Source: UK Parliament