|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I do not know how he can say that because he did not communicate that to me. In any event, it gave me the strong temptation to ingratiate myself with your Lordships by removing my name from the speakers' list. I did not do so because I wanted to take the opportunity, in view of the fact that expectations with the public have been so greatly raised, to put on record how wrong it would be for the judiciary to be criticised if they find that all or most of the attempts to secure a conviction by virtue of the advantages given in this Bill were to be laid at their door on the basis, as is so frequently and wrongly the case, that the judges are soft on crime. It is for that reason only that I take up three minutes of your Lordships' time in order to stress that matter.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I follow the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, with a measure of diffidence. Speaking as I do as a comparatively young lawyer, I feel somewhat of a legal "mouse" in the company of the noble and learned Lord and his colleague, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, whose contribution to the debate will be remembered by many of us for many a day. I had the misfortune to visit the dentist last week for some major dental work so, for the reason also of the state of my mouth, I shall confine my remarks to a very few.
I recognise that it is appropriate that this Bill, and in particular Clause 1, applies throughout the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is right that certain provisions in Clause 1 should have been drafted having regard to the different laws of corroboration in Scotland in criminal matters. I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate and his officials for having taken account of certain comments and suggestions which I made informally yesterday and which have resulted in minor amendments to the new subsection (10) of what will be new Section 2A, which is to be found at the foot of page 2.
Nevertheless, it is right to acknowledge that the provisions of Clause 1 amount to a significant diminution of what we would normally require by way of corroboration in Scotland. I very much hope that it will be recognised on all sides that only the very unusual circumstances that warrant this Bill coming forward in the first place warrant us departing from principles of corroboration which all of us in Scotland regard as very important.
I should like to pose three questions to which I hope to hear a reply before the night is over. The first relates to why the procedure which allows inferences to be drawn under subsections (5) and (6) of what will be new Section 2A do not apply to the judicial examination procedure that we have in Scotland. That procedure requires a man to appear before a sheriff after he has been cautioned and charged and to answer questions from the procurator fiscal relating to his defence. It seems to me that silence on that occasion as to a fact which might be material to the offence under Section 2(1)(a) of the 1989 Act might be just as powerful as giving rise to an inference, as would be a failure to answer questions, when questioned by a police officer or when cautioned and charged by a police officer.
I raise my second question to seek some guidance as to the terms of the caution which the Government will deem appropriate before an inference can be drawn under subsection (6). Who will decide what the terms of that caution will be? Will it be the police, or the Secretary of State, or will it be a matter for the courts to resolve in the fullness of time? As I am sure that the Minister will be aware, there are different statutory provisions relating to cautions in England from those which apply in Scotland and, indeed, in Northern Ireland. It would be helpful if this important matter could be clarified.
Finally, perhaps I may raise an issue relating to the cross-examination of a police superintendent who gives evidence of an opinion under subsection (2) of the new Section 2A of the 1989 Act. I welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said about that evidence being open to cross-examination. However, I had some difficulty in understanding whether it would be possible for such a police superintendent to decline to answer questions in the way that my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew indicated earlier. It seems to me that if the police superintendent says that his opinion is based on "sources" and refuses to state who those sources are or what they told him, that might not be allowed in a court of law, which would mean that the trial could not proceed.
It is because I perceive that to be a problem that I believe that it is very unlikely that the courts will rely on the provisions of subsection (2) of the new Section 2A because even if a police officer said, "I base my opinion on having seen the man at the funeral of a member of a particular specified organisation", he could still be asked, "Did you take anything else into account in forming your opinion?", and the probabilities are that in addition to having seen the man at the funeral the officer will have had some security briefing from other sources about which, if he adheres to the terms of his oath, he
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I rise to support in principle the measures now proposed by the Government in this Bill, although in some respects I doubt whether they are, to use the current phrase, "draconian" enough. Here I found a great deal with which to agree in the comments of my noble and learned friends Lord Lloyd and Lord Ackner.
Much has changed in recent days, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said in his opening remarks. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, went so far as to say that the prospects for peace are now perhaps greater than they have been for some time. Perhaps I may observe--I am sorry that this is not in the noble Earl's presence--that as the noble Earl wears the tie of the Irish Rugby Union, he is obviously not totally unfamiliar with lost causes.
The Scots Guardsmen Fisher and Wright were still in prison when I put down my name to speak in this debate. There appeared to be no serious prospect of any move towards the elimination of the stockpile of weapons and explosives still in the hands, and under the control, of the IRA. In passing, perhaps I may express some reservations about the constant use of the word "decommissioning" in the context of the stockpiles. If it is true that the ugly word "decommissioning" is necessary as part of the negotiations and the peace process, I suppose that we shall have to accept it, but we should be in no doubt about what the word "decommissioning" really means. It means--there should be no doubt about it--that terrorist weapons must be, without equivocation, handed in into safekeeping or destroyed. Nothing less than that would constitute any acceptable diminution of the stockpile.
Today, the two Scots Guardsmen have been released and Mr. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein has been appointed as that party's delegate to the international body that will oversee the elimination of the stockpile of terrorist weapons. At the same time, the leader of Sinn Fein has hinted that terrorist violence may no longer be an instrument of republican policy.
Perhaps I may first say a few words about the release of the two Scots Guardsmen. This is a welcome development which is, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, long overdue. Congratulations are due to all those who have campaigned for the release of the two soldiers, including many Members of your Lordships' House. It is worth saying that at this stage we must guard against the kind of bogus moral equivalence which leads some people to apply the same criteria to the actions of the guardsmen as they apply to the actions of the terrorists against whom they were fighting. That is insulting to the soldiers, to their regiment and to the members of the security forces which have for many years risked their lives in protecting the people of Northern Ireland against
We have heard a few heartfelt rhetorical questions about how to define "terrorists". I do not think that it is too difficult. People who murder and maim men, women and children indiscriminately in pursuit of their political aims are not freedom fighters; their aim is not to liberate; it is to terrorise; and they are quite simply terrorists, murderers, and they should be treated as such. Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, on the other hand, were doing what they perceived to be--and what they were trained for--their duty. In my view, they have already paid more than in full for the error of judgment that they may have made in discharging that duty, and their release brings a very small measure of sanity to the current situation. My noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall, who is unable to be here today, has asked me to say that what I have said reflects also his views on the two guardsmen.
I turn now to the release of prisoners convicted of terrorist offences and the elimination of the stockpile of terrorist weapons. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to that problem. It is a worrying situation and it seems to me that as matters stand at present, what now seems to be contemplated is a process by which convicted terrorists will be released into a situation in which the structure of the IRA remains intact; the security arrangements in Northern Ireland are being reduced; and at the same time pounds of Semtex, thousands of rifles, handguns, mortars, flame-throwers and other weapons remain available to those who choose to use them, as indeed they were used in the recent atrocity in Omagh.
In my view, the Government should approach that dangerous phase of the Northern Ireland situation with great care. Carefully crafted words by the leader of Sinn Fein and even the appointment of a Sinn Fein negotiator to the disarmament process are not enough. There should be real and visible movement towards the elimination of the stockpile of weapons and explosives before, or at least at the same time as, the wholesale release of convicted terrorists. I believe that that was behind some of the comments made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Henley.
Whatever views we may hold here on the mainland about this matter, we should not forget that it is the future of the people of Northern Ireland which is at stake here. We must bear in mind that whatever we may feel about it, there can be no lasting peace or stability in Northern Ireland without the existence of a measure of trust between the political factions. The Unionist leadership made that abundantly clear. I quote from a statement made yesterday by one of its leaders:
As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has rightly said, the problems of Northern Ireland, indeed all problems of terrorist violence, cannot be solved until the terrorist organisations are confronted, defeated and stamped out. There is no other solution for Northern Ireland or any other form of terrorist confrontation.
Having said that, I support the basic objective of the legislation now before the House. I express the hope, with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we are now moving towards a situation in which Mr. Gerry Adams' declaration that violence must be a thing of the past becomes a reality and not mere rhetoric. We have had quite enough of that from all directions.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, after the tragedy at Omagh, I felt it was necessary that something should be done. Therefore, I was glad to hear that Parliament would be recalled to deal with a Bill and I heard it described as "draconian". That brought me back from a holiday in Portugal to be here today. But when I read the Bill this morning, I wondered why I had come. My lay opinion was reflected clearly in the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that in his experience and judgment Clauses 1 and 2 would not lead to any additional convictions.
I then heard the quite remarkable speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. He set out the matter clearly and succinctly. It was well worth coming any distance to hear him today. He has blown out of the water any idea of fiddling about and trying to somehow get regulations enforced which will allow the judiciary to somehow twist the rules. He has expressed the matter very clearly today and has made it quite clear that the rules cannot be twisted in judicial matters. So that is that.
But back in Northern Ireland we have all had enough of this. We need terrorism to be stamped out and quickly. There is no doubt in my mind that it is north, south and everywhere. At last the Government of the Republic of Ireland realise that too. One of the problems over past years has been that they have not understood the need to support Northern Ireland and have not co-operated in a helpful way. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said something about that.
At last we have a situation where the Government of the Republic of Ireland seem determined to rid us of terrorism. We now have a new situation and I hope sincerely that we shall pass this Bill. It will not make much difference but I hope that it may lead to real progress because, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, there is no alternative but to stamp out those people. Nobody has yet put a letter into the letterbox of the IRA to say, "You are going to be finished. You have had invitations and gifts of all sorts which have not made much difference".
In Northern Ireland we have all known that terrorism would not be stamped out until the two governments worked together completely openly and wholeheartedly with police and security intelligence forces working together. When that happens, it will be relatively easy. Intelligence and firm information are available and it is known who are the people responsible. When that happens, there is only one solution which is not a judicial fudge; that is, internment or executive detention. That moment must come if we are ever to rid ourselves of terrorism. I can see hope that that may come in the near future with the two governments working together.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I too am concerned that such important legislation should be going through this House and the other place with such haste and inadequate procedures for scrutiny. I join in the view that Clauses 5 to 7 concerning conspiracy to commit offences overseas should not have been included in the Bill. There is no urgency in relation to those clauses. The Government have been considering the matter for over a year and the clauses should have been laid and debated in the normal way. The provisions of Clause 5 are extremely complicated and wide ranging. They cover the particularly difficult law of conspiracy and the complex area of extra-territorial jurisdiction. It is my respectful view that those clauses should be removed and placed before Parliament in the next Session.
I turn to the primary provisions in the Bill which have arisen out of the outrage in Omagh. In my practice at the Bar, I have acted in many of the leading Irish cases over the past 15 years. Indeed, I was counsel for Paul Hill, one of the appellants in the Guildford Four appeal. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, is right to say that those are not normal trials for many different reasons. I can say as counsel that there are few sights more shocking to a lawyer than the photographic exhibits of the carnage caused by bombing or the horrifying first-hand accounts of anguished witnesses. Those memories remain with us for ever.
There are also few experiences more salutary to a lawyer than seeing at close quarters the effects of miscarriages of justice often arising because suspicion was allowed to fill evidential gaps; where there was misplaced belief in guilt operating in the background. It is not only the individuals who suffer in such cases. The repercussions for the rule of law are profound. The loss of public confidence is almost tangible when one speaks to audiences in the aftermath. The corrosive effect within the system is immeasurable. It is an understandable and instinctive response to acts of terrible violence to seek ways to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Society is entitled to take measures to act against rejectionist organisations who are not prepared to be involved in any dialogue. But this legislation is not the way. We must not dilute or play with the evidential rules within our system as the previous speaker suggested. The strength of a democratic society committed to the
Another evidential concern is that the corroboration suggested may be in the form of inferences to be drawn from silence. For those of us who have been involved in these cases this must be set against the background of terrorism where fear can silence people. Intimidation is frequently a feature of life where terrorism's writ runs. There is considerable danger in drawing an adverse inference from silence. Laws of this kind leave a legacy on the statute book even if they are in existence for only a certain period to deal with what is supposedly an emergency. Such laws have a corrosive effect and become a template for legislation in other areas of crime.
Holding fast to principle is crucial to the integrity of our legal system. We cannot put legal principles at the service of political expediency. I regret that that may be what we are doing in this Bill. The playwright Robert Bolt employed a powerful image in his play "A Man for All Seasons" based on the life of Thomas More. In that play More describes having his principles in his hands as if cupping water. He asks where we are once we open our fingers.
The Prime Minister and others feel that this is a necessary step in the sensitive choreography towards peace. I share the belief that compromises and concessions are imperative in that process, but legal principles should not be conceded. To change the rules because we are dealing with people we abhor is to corrode the system for us all.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said that there was overwhelming pressure to introduce legislation in the aftermath of the Omagh atrocity. That is the key to this debate. We are here because of public pressure, or the feeling, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, that something should be done; that the communities in Northern Ireland look to us to take action; and that the whole country expects powerful and draconian legislation to catch the terrorists and bring them to justice.
However, I believe that it is unwise to enact any criminal legislation in the aftermath of a particular offence when very strong emotions have been aroused. That is the last time when one should be considering legislation of this kind. Amnesty International has pointed out that measures taken in the immediate wake of atrocities are rarely effective, frequently lead to miscarriages of justice and undermine public confidence in the rule of law. It is far more dangerous when those measures are rushed through in 48 hours.
The circumstances of this Bill may be unique. As far as I have been able to ascertain, certainly in the past 70 years, the House has never been recalled from a Summer Recess to deal with criminal legislation. Since 1931 there have been only two instances that I have been able to identify of recall to deal with legislation of any kind: first, in 1939 the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act was passed immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War; and, secondly, the National Service Act was similarly enacted in September 1950 over a single day's proceedings on the outbreak of hostilities in Korea. Therefore, these proceedings appear to be without precedent. Although the Government will get their way this evening, they have set an example that may permanently impair the rights of Parliament, which I strongly deplore. I hope that anyone who believes in the supremacy of Parliament and the control of the Executive by Parliament also accepts that view.
If the Omagh atrocity showed that there was a gap in the law then it should be considered properly and in the normal way, allowing for consultation with the judiciary, the legal profession, magistrates, human rights NGOs and the public at large. To introduce legislation in the middle of the Summer Recess which allows no time for Members to study the text--still less to obtain the advice of outside experts--is intolerable.
I am very grateful to the Minister's office for faxing the Bill to me at 19.30 hours on Tuesday evening. I was unable to apply my mind to it because I did not have the other statutes referred to in the Bill or the Notes on Clauses. The Library did its best to find those references for me yesterday afternoon, although all of the staff had been moved out of their normal accommodation into temporary lodgings in the Salisbury Room. I finally assembled all of the documents in the middle of yesterday afternoon only to find that there was a page missing from the Notes on Clauses. That is just a small symptom of the haste with which these matters have been dealt with.
The Omagh atrocity, shocking though it was, did not reveal any new threat to the peace and order of Northern Ireland which had not existed before. As has already been pointed out, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, predicted when the Good Friday agreement was debated that that would not be the last time that we would hear of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Various splinter groups have not renounced violence and there may well be further terrorist crimes from time to time. But the number of people who are still actively committed to the use of terrorism is much smaller and the security forces should be able to concentrate their attention on those individuals, many of whom have already been identified. The task is to collect evidence against them sufficient to bring charges, and that should be easier with fewer suspects to target.
One consolation of the Omagh tragedy is that it has highlighted the solidarity of the Irish people, in both north and south, behind the peace process. If anything, the atrocity has redoubled their determination to reject violence and to that extent has reduced the case that might otherwise have been made for additional legislation. If terrorists do not have any support in the community they are more likely to be caught and punished under the ordinary law. The Omagh tragedy may also have helped pave the way for the statement by Mr. Gerry Adams that the war was over and the decision that has now been announced by Sinn Fein that they will take part in decommissioning talks. Those are the keys to permanent peace in Northern Ireland, indeed throughout the whole island of Ireland, not the stacking of odds against accused persons in order to secure convictions.
The need to align our law with that of the Republic is an argument of a political rather than a legal nature. The two Bills are in any case different in some material respects. The Irish Bill contains nothing equivalent to the admissibility of a police officer's opinion about the membership of the accused of a proscribed organisation. The reason is that that provision has been part of Irish law under the Offences Against the State Act since 1972. Therefore, for the past 26 years the law in the UK and Ireland has been different. Only now is it suddenly found so urgently necessary to bring it into line that we have to return in a panic. But return for what?
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in his devastating critique of Clauses 1 and 2, said that he does not believe that any additional convictions will be secured by means of those clauses. I am informed that in the Republic of Ireland the use of the testimony of a police officer has led to some wrongful convictions which have subsequently been overturned. I should have thought that that is the last thing we want to happen as a result of this legislation if it is to be ancillary to the success of the peace process.
As to the human rights aspects, Ministers know that according to Amnesty International the provisions infringe a number of international standards to which this country is a party. The UN Human Rights Committee, for instance, has already criticised the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, under which inferences could be drawn from the silence of the accused, which it said contravened Article 14 of the
There is also the case of Murray v UK, where the European Court of Human Rights found that the 1994 Act violated European conventions. The Minister dealt with that matter in his earlier remarks by saying that giving the accused the right of access to a solicitor at the moment when he is arrested and later when he is charged will remove the threat of any proceedings in the European Court or under the Human Rights Act when that comes into force in our domestic law. I must tell the Minister that that is not the opinion of Amnesty International, which states that between the moment of arrest and the moment when the accused is charged it is possible for him to be 48 hours without access to a solicitor and that that would give grounds for proceedings under the Human Rights Act or in Strasbourg. I understood the Minister to say that there was a possibility that solicitors might be allowed to be present during questioning. I should be grateful if he would amplify those remarks. It seems to me essential that if we are to avoid further proceedings in the European Court that provision should be introduced.
The Irish Bill contains no provisions analogous to those in Clause 5 of this Bill dealing with conspiracy to commit offences outside the United Kingdom. I agree with those who have said that there is no argument whatsoever for introducing that matter into the emergency legislation that is before us in the middle of the Recess, and if Parliament were really in the business of controlling the Executive we should simply not have tolerated this abuse of power. No doubt the Government will get their way in the end, because there is competition to see who can be toughest on terrorism, and words like "draconian" and "harsh" are bandied around as if they were terms of approval. Of course we want to make matters as difficult as possible for the men who commit dreadful crimes such as the bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, but it is not suggested that those atrocities were planned in Great Britain. What we have here is a large number of exile groups who are opposed to the governments of countries which have tortured and imprisoned them.
I fear that this Bill will give the police and security services carte blanche to go on fishing expeditions against every opposition group they can think of, but particularly where the government of that country are pressing us to get tough with their exiles. This is the beginning of the end of the tradition that we have valued so strongly in Britain of giving shelter to the victims of oppression. By this legislation we should make
We shall return to this matter at a later stage. Meanwhile I can only say that I am deeply disappointed that a Government who have made so much of their commitment to human rights should introduce legislation of this character at all and, even worse, that they should give Members of both Houses no time to prepare and should drive the legislation through both Houses in 48 hours.
Lord Bridge of Harwich: My Lords, in the aftermath of an earlier atrocity, comparable in many ways to the recent atrocity at Omagh, I with a jury tried six men for murder who later became well known as the Birmingham Six. The evidence in a long trial seemed very compelling to me and to the jury, who unanimously convicted the six men of murder. Sixteen years later, on a second reference by the Home Secretary of the case to the Court of Appeal, a division of the court--presided over, if I remember correctly, by my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd--received new evidence which persuaded it that the evidence on which the Birmingham Six had been convicted was not safe and that therefore the conviction had to be quashed. Perhaps that makes me unduly sensitive about the possibility of miscarriages of justice. Despite all that has been said, I retain a sense of unease about the provision in the Bill that would make the opinion of a senior police officer that a man charged with membership of a proscribed organisation is such a member admissible in evidence. I echo the disquiet expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.
If this provision is to have what the Government describe as its intended effect of facilitating convictions which would not otherwise be obtainable, then it can do so only at the cost of securing convictions that will be inherently unsafe. I know that my noble and learned friends Lord Lloyd and Lord Ackner say that it cannot do so, it is futile. I hope that they are right, and I shall return to that point shortly. But let us consider the possibility that they may be wrong.
We can forget about the case where the police officer's opinion is the only evidence, because the Bill has excluded that. We need only consider the case where the police officer's evidence, with some other evidence, will facilitate a conviction which the other evidence by itself would not achieve. The illustrations given by the Minister in his opening remarks were of cases in which the police officer's evidence could be cross-examined effectively. But those were all cases where the police officer's opinion was based on matter which could be put before the court in the ordinary way; that is, evidence which could be led and to which the police officer's opinion that it established the defendant's guilt added precisely nothing.
I hope that my noble and learned friends are right and that the Northern Irish judges at the lowest level, who will be concerned with these cases, will quickly come to the conclusion that it would be wholly wrong to place any reliance on the untested evidence lying behind the police officer's opinion. That is all that gives the opinion any weight.
If they are in difficulty with it, there is one way in which that difficulty could be removed here and now, today. Now that Hansard is available to be quoted in the courts, if the Minister who replies to the debate on behalf of the Government goes on record unequivocally as saying that it is not the Government's intention that any judge in Northern Ireland or any jury in England, if the case were brought under the other clause, should place any reliance whatever on a police officer's opinion, in so far as it is based on evidence or information which cannot be examined in court, if that is stated unequivocally from the Front Bench on behalf of the Government, it will resolve the problem. I hope it will be so.
Lord Dunleath: My Lords, following the outrage and tragedy of Omagh, I believe that some comfort could be gained from seeing the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland standing together and at last, after 29 years--and here I am at one with my noble friend Lord Cooke and the noble Lord, Lord Howell--pledging to do everything in their power to catch out the terrorists responsible. Once the Taoiseach had announced the recall of the Dail to introduce new and draconian measures to counter terrorism, it was inevitable that Parliament here would also be recalled. I am grateful that this is the case, and while I would disagree with those in another place and some noble Lords that it is a knee-jerk reaction or that we are acting as a rubber stamp, nevertheless I am extremely disappointed that the Bill could not have been published earlier and thus more time been available for its consideration.
I thought there might have been one answer through IT, and I decided to have a go at surfing the Internet. I am no expert on it. My elder son who is expert was back at school, so I had a go. I clicked on the button for House of Lords and the first thing I am afraid I found was a rather distasteful picture of almost naked young men disporting themselves. It was obviously the wrong place. It brings the House into disrepute and I do not know whether anything can be done about it. I tried again and reached the Parliament website, I believe it is called. I trawled all through it, but unfortunately could find no draft of the Bill whatever.
When the outrage occurred, I was on holiday in England and the first I knew of it was on buying the Sunday newspapers. My immediate reaction was to telephone as many of my friends as I could in the Omagh district, and I was relieved to hear that none of them had been caught up in the bomb. However, that modicum of relief was quickly dissipated when I returned to Northern Ireland on the Monday and began to learn at first hand of the horrific injuries suffered by many of those in Omagh on that Saturday afternoon.
While in no way wishing to appear insensitive or to take anything away from the unbelievable medical expertise that exists in Northern Ireland, the often expressed view for some of those unfortunate people is that maybe it would have been better if they had died.
It is against that background that I find it quite unbelievable to hear that a number of Members in another place voted against the measures before us today in the belief that they might infringe the civil liberties of terrorists. What about the civil liberties of the victims of terror?
I consider it a privilege that I have the opportunity to play a small part in the setting up of the John Keegan Trust, in memory of the acclaimed Northern Ireland actor who died earlier this year and whose objectives are to help those suffering from loss. The victims of loss in Omagh and their relatives will need all the help they can get.
Returning to the Bill, I too ask why internment is not brought back onto the statute book. I am not convinced that it will ever be needed. We all know why it did not work in the 1970s. Those failings do not exist today. Re-introduction would have to be in conjunction with it being applied in the Irish Republic, where I understand it is still an option, for it to work effectively. It would be unacceptable if delay occurred while legislation was enacted, if it were decided that internment was an option.
On the other hand, I am pleased to see that an international element has been introduced into the Bill. I well remember the unsuccessful amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Monson in the sentences legislation. As recent events in East Africa and elsewhere have shown, terrorism is a truly international problem.
I also welcome the notion of the confiscation of assets of terrorists who are convicted. I noted earlier on that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, questioned the situation with regard to homes or farms owned by the terrorists. I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Williams
As I mentioned before, like many other noble Lords, while I am concerned at the haste with which the Bill has been introduced, the limited time for consideration and the inevitable flaws and omissions that will result, I have no hesitation in supporting its broad objectives.
Lord Kennet: My Lords, I shall be brief because in practice, in terms of future history, all that needed to be said about the Bill has already been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I hold the belief, which I think is not widely shared, that there is only one respect in which this Parliament is superior to others in the world. That is the presence of the top layer of the judiciary in the Legislature, where they can remind us, day by day, of the reality of what happens to justice when we have conceived the idea of it here and they have to put it forth into the reality of people's lives. I found his case completely convincing, but would hesitate to judge what the Government ought to do at this late stage in the history of the proposals.
There has been a lot of talk in the debate about the unprecedentedness, the oddness, the outrage almost, of calling the two Houses together in the middle of the Summer Recess. I think there is something in that. What is happening now that was not happening a month ago? What is happening now which we can be sure will not happen a month hence? At either of those times, the House would have been here in the course of nature and the Bill could have been rationally studied and taken at the normal pace.
I have searched for events which might provide an answer to that question. The obvious one is the outrage at Omagh--which is a very big and terrible one--but, after 30 years, it was not different in nature from such things which happen all the time on a smaller scale. It may sound harsh to say that but one must be ready to hit with everything that one has got as long as it does some good. I speak to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on this.
It might be to do something pleasant for President Clinton when he comes to Northern Ireland. How glad we are that he is coming and that it is now possible for him to come because of the measures that have been taken in the United States to put a stop to the free collection of money for terrorism. The answer may lie here. I do not know how Ministers' minds work now; it is so long since I was one.
Clause 5 and the following clauses are rather strange in this: they include something which has not been mentioned until now. Subsection (14) says that none of the duties imposed shall apply to servants of the Crown. Reading that straight through with an open mind, one
There is a question of international discrimination about this. If a minor British civil servant or British diplomat, for instance, is immune to the penalties provided in this Act, how can diplomats or civil servants of friendly governments working in London not be immune in the same way? You see how the mind may explore unfamiliar avenues.
I forgot to mention the events which have happened in the last month, the two atrocious attacks on the American embassies in East Africa, which are the foulest sort of terrorism. It is a horrible crime to wish to blow up peaceful diplomats. It is even more horrible to kill innocent bystanders to ten times that number.
There may have been American pressure on our Government to do something to help catch those guilty of that action. We have to remember that terrorism is something that may be carried out not only by hard core criminals who have never been near a government office, but also by governments. The examples are legion in the modern age. It is regrettable that the United States has been--and, I would contend, is still--among the terrorist governments in the world.
Let me give two examples to substantiate that claim. The CIA laid mines in a Nicaraguan harbour in the 1980s, meaning to damage the then Nicaraguan government. A British ship was blown up by one of these mines. The United States was taken to the international court in The Hague, which decided against it and said that it was an act of terrorism or piracy or whatever.
I do not wish to assert that the following has happened, but it is possible that it has. More recently, the American reaction to the blowing up of the embassies in East Africa included the sending of Cruise missiles in a successful strike against a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum. It has been loudly announced from Washington that there was very good evidence that this factory was producing chemical weapons or precursor chemicals for chemical weapons. Our Prime Minister has loudly endorsed that view of what must have happened, and applauded the American action.
However, the German Government--who also applauded the American action--have now been given the lie by their own ambassador in Khartoum. He says that this interpretation is nonsense. He has known this plant since he attended its opening. It is completely open in all its functions and it is not making chemical weapons. Our own ambassador--although he has not belied his Government's stance on this matter--was also present at the opening and should have an independent opinion of what this plant was up to.
If any government are to exempt their own servants from the penalties laid down by the law against terrorism, let them watch out for possible claims that that exemption should be extended to the employees of friendly governments operating in our midst.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, will this Bill, presented as draconian, allow the RUC and security forces to act effectively against not only the Real IRA--the chosen scapegoat of both the governments and of Sinn Fein/IRA--but eventually enable us to catch the leaders of the Provisional IRA? The PIRA is not a proscribed organisation but it is the directing force. There is a real danger that we shall end up enjoying only limited powers against the foot soldiers and not the generals--unless of course the proposed new Section 2A(2)(b) within Clause 1 does cover the PIRA. I shall be happy if the Minister tells me that it does. I hope so. Otherwise both governments, concerned to build more bridges for the IRA, may end up powerless to act against the real hierarchy of violence. It suits both the IRA and Sinn Fein/IRA, its political wing, to disown the alleged mavericks, but they and other groups like them will surely rise and be supported and funded, not only by the Galvins of Noraid but by the Provisional IRA army council facilitating or turning a blind eye to their access to semtex and other sophisticated weapons.
Mr. McGuinness has been appointed to speak for Sinn Fein/IRA with the decommissioning commission. We were told by the Secretary of State in the context of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill as far back as July that the political party with which PIRA is associated was even then having discussions with that body. What were they talking about then? What does "co-operating fully" mean? What has changed now? What formal public authority has been vested in Mr. McGuinness by the IRA, which alone holds the weapons and controls them? We have been told often enough by Sinn Fein/IRA that they have no guns and no authority.
The Dublin Government already has many of the powers now to be vested--although, I fear, emasculated--in the RUC. They have pointed out that they cannot use internment, which they already have, because we have abolished it north of the border. The Irish Taoiseach speaks of the legislation only too often in near IRA speak. For instance, he stresses how imperative it is for the governments to get on with the de-escalation of security measures rather than forcing the pace on decommissioning. By that Mr. Ahern means the security measures in the Belfast agreement--the removal of security installations, the removal of emergency powers, the reduction in the numbers and role of the armed forces to a level compatible with a normal, peaceful society. He was urging that two or three days after Omagh where indeed the security installations had been removed at the frontier and the Army had been withdrawn to barracks, leaving the way that much freer for the bombers.
I suggest that the governments are in danger of regarding enacting legislation as synonymous with action, at least so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. The Dublin Government allowed Mr. Galvin to go to Dundalk to talk about fundraising for the Real IRA a week after Omagh. Will President Clinton be asked about that? I shall be glad to know what measures are being taken by the Americans. Mr. Adams and PIRA are very happy with the situation when they know quite well that nothing which can actually impair the power of the IRA itself can happen and where the Unionists, urged by the Government to be statesmanlike and to be grateful for what the IRA have said through Sinn Fein, will have to let them into the government without a single ounce of semtex being given up and with the IRA prisoners freed without any demeaning bargaining--for that is evidently what the Secretary of State regards it as--over decommissioning as a quid pro quo. All that will happen is that Mr. McGuinness will appear with a list of requirements for the withdrawal of troops and the emasculation of the security forces. The IRA has said many times that that is what it means by decommissioning. The deadline set for the end of the amnesty period in the decommissioning Act is 27th February 1999. Is there the faintest prospect that Mr. McGuinness, let alone the IRA, will have produced anything by then? I doubt it.
Northern Ireland needs to see really effective action taken against the Real IRA and its godfathers who are at present protected by a ceasefire which is irrelevant while its surrogates can bomb and kill. This is why it is so important that the RUC should not find itself possessed of nothing but a blunt instrument in this legislation and one which it will be vilified for using. Much as I respect those noble Lords whose first concern is human rights--of course we must be concerned about them--I hope they will remember that in Northern Ireland, where jurors and witnesses are systematically threatened and intimidated, their rights are at stake as much as those of the accused. If the Act ends up with too many restrictions on action, the legislation, a rather toothless dragon anyway, will not deliver any kind of peace, which is why so many of us place the destruction of weapons so high on the agenda.
I wonder whether we might if necessary consider a concentrated action north and south of the border, backed by both governments, to seize and destroy the weapons' dumps. Forget about the people; take the guns away. Remove the guns and we will reduce the men of violence to their proper level as thugs and criminals. Then honest men will be able to testify to their crimes in greater safety. I very much hope that stronger legislation will be provided, but I frankly think that it will remain toothless.
Viscount Runciman of Doxford: My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, I initially put down my name to speak in the mistaken belief, as it turns out, that we were being asked to look at measures which might seriously compromise the burden and standard of criminal proof, to say nothing of European legislation. I should still like to endorse in principle
Some of what I had intended to say was said better and with more authority by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who I am delighted to see has arrived back in the Chamber just in time to hear me pay those respects to him, so I do not need to repeat that. But I should like to add a slight gloss, prompted by the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, who drew our attention to the fact that the Scottish law on corroboration is different from that which applies in England and Wales. I believe that its provisions, as I understand them, or as I remember thinking that I understood them, are very pertinent in terms of trying to predict what will and will not happen if prosecutions are brought under Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill before us.
As I understand it, the essence of the Scottish law of corroboration is that no one can be convicted on information coming from a single source only. There must be two sources. They must corroborate each other and they must be separate. To the extent that that will continue to be a requirement on the Crown if it is to prove its case, I hope that that will have the practical effect of encouraging the investigating and prosecuting authorities to look seriously for what, if it came before the court, could and should be counted as effective corroboration in cases of this kind.
I dare say that the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd and Lord Ackner, will say to me that in practice they will not be able to do that, so that this does not alter the conclusion--I say again that I entirely share the views which they have expressed--that convictions will not be obtained solely on the basis of the innovations contained in the Bill; and where they do I have little doubt that the conviction would stand a very high chance of being overturned on appeal. In that case I can fairly be asked what I think ought to be done.
Some people have spoken persuasively for the case for internment as such. But that is not what we are being asked to debate today. That is not on the agenda. It raises issues of a different kind. I shall say no more than that, if we were asked to consider internment, I, and I am sure many others in the House, would think very hard before opposing such a suggestion if we believed that there was a serious chance that innocent lives could be saved. But, as it is, we are being asked to consider
If, therefore, he is right about that and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd and Lord Ackner, and I, for what that may be worth, are right about what will or will not happen in practice, then the point Ministers should take is the one that was made later on in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I should merely like to add one comment, which he could very well have made with more authority than I but did not make himself, that the difficulties which he so eloquently described as confronting the investigating and prosecuting authorities are familiar also to those who investigate and prosecute cases of serious and violent crime which have nothing to do with terrorism. This is not an unfamiliar problem. I could enlarge on that if it were relevant, but it is not. I shall try to keep within the eight-minute time limit.
There are things which can be done. There are some things which have been done since the recommendations of the Royal Commission which I chaired were acted on, as they were, which increase the chances of securing convictions without in any way abrogating the rights of suspects and defendants. We are here dealing with questions not only of admissibility--I again endorse what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick--but also of resources. As he was speaking, I was reminded of what I learnt those few years ago about what can be done and is done in the United States in cases of this kind. Given the resources, by which I do not necessarily mean only the financial resources, but these things do cost money, and given the whole apparatus of serious law enforcement under a federal budget with which the authorities in the United States are able certainly with some success to deal with opponents at least as formidable as those whom we have in mind, there are measures which could be taken which would increase the chances of achieving what everyone who has spoken, and I am sure everyone in the House, would like to see achieved in terms of the objectives with which the Government have made the case for so-called draconian measures. If what the Government wish to do is to consider whether the existing provisions for dealing with outrageous crimes of this kind are inadequate, it is quite right that they should look at ways of strengthening them. The ways to do that were outlined so eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and not simply by passing--and I am happy that we should--Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill.
Lord Bridges: My Lords, my brief contribution will comprise one general observation and two specific questions. I begin with the observation. I fully understand the Government's reasons for introducing the Bill. Looking back over the history of the Irish question for the past 25 years, there has been a remarkable continuity of policy between successive British governments. I am happy to pay tribute from the Cross-Benches because I believe that the success of the Belfast agreement--it is a success as far as it goes--
The two specific matters that I put to the Government relate, first, to the process of proscription and, secondly, to the new offence in Clause 5. As regards proscription, I am puzzled by the words used in Clause 1, new Section 2B(1)(b), which states that an organisation is specified if it,
Perhaps I may take an imaginary and not, I hope, too frivolous example. Let us imagine the case of a police officer patrolling the streets of Londonderry. It comes to his notice that on a Friday evening there is a group of young men on bicycles who go around the alehouses and pubs and make disobliging remarks about the public authorities. Being a conscientious officer he records this in a file note when he returns to the police station. That is looked at by a superior officer who makes further inquiries and finds that the young men are riding bicycles without lights and a lot of them are left-handed. It is not entirely imaginary to suppose that a file will eventually arrive on the desk of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland proscribing the young men who ride bicycles in the Bogside. That may be an absurd fantasy, but odder things have happened, and not only in Ireland. They should be subject to some process of law; namely, that proscription is not something which is made on a nice, clean piece of paper, but is capable of judicial examination. That is my first point.
The second point is broader and perhaps rather more fundamental. It relates to the new offence in Clause 5. Again, I can understand the reason for introducing this clause. It was very embarrassing for the French
The point that concerns me is rather different from those which have been mentioned by other noble Lords during this debate. I am concerned about the penalties which the court might impose on such an illegal conspiracy. What worries me is that the court might naturally decide that this was a conspiracy which was detrimental to public order and good discipline and that the people concerned should be locked up in a British gaol for a period of five years. If that were to happen, the whole weight of the terrorist organisation would then be directed at the British Government and British institutions abroad. We should not allow that to happen. In my view, there should be a statement on the face of the Bill which gives guidance to the courts on the action they should take by way of sentence. That should not be incarceration in a British gaol, but expulsion or extradition. What happened was that a group of foreign citizens had been conspiring on our territory against a power with whom we have more or less friendly relations. They have abused our hospitality and we should expel them or, if we have reason to do so, we might extradite them.
It is also relevant to examine the whole question of extradition in this context. I have had some experience of handling extradition cases when working in embassies abroad. It seemed to me that most of our extradition and bilateral treaties were written at the end of the last century. It was one of the first serious international, legal activities which took place. It was seen to be very progressive that one could remove a person from one jurisdiction and have that person tried in another. But in many cases the laws themselves do not really correspond to our current needs. I believe that there has been some talk of a review of our extradition legislation. I very much hope that the Government will be able to do that. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to answer those two questions.
As regards Clause 5, I believe that the absence of any guidance to a court on the avoidance of a prison sentence is so fundamental that I am inclined to sympathise with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and to join him in the Lobby when the time comes for us to consider his Question as to whether Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill. I can imagine few measures which would be destructive to British citizens, their lives and property than to incarcerate these people in gaols in this country.
Lord Desai: My Lords, hard as I try, I find it very difficult to like this Bill. Clauses 1 and 2 have already been dealt with thoroughly from a legal angle by many noble Lords. We know that those clauses are not going to be effective, or, if they are, the convictions will not stand up in a higher court.
But much more than that, I believe that the lesson that we should have learnt from the beginning of the Troubles to the Good Friday agreement is that, while we had to be tough and a lot of the terrorists had to be sent to gaol and our laws became punitive, eventually success was achieved not through law but through the politics of compromise and inclusion. Peace came because we started talking to people whom we used to think of as terrorists. The process was started very bravely by the previous government and it has been continued by this Government. Had we not done that we would not have the prospect of peace that we have today.
This Bill now goes against that trend. We are once again saying that we are going to be tough. There is the danger that if there were a wrong conviction--we have had many examples of such convictions which have had to be reversed--we would create martyrs and recruit more people to the small organisations.
I want to speak against Clause 5. It is hard to see ourselves as others see us. I spent August in Islamabad, Pakistan. After the atrocity in Kenya and then the American bombing of Afghanistan and Khartoum, I could see that, seen from the perspective of a Moslem country and Moslem neighbours, the Americans had no justification whatsoever for behaving in the way they did. They defied international law and because they are a superior power--we live in an unequal world--they got away with it. However, it was not a legally defensible action.
I remember when the Cuban missile crisis occurred the amount of evidence that was put before the United Nations by Adlai Stevenson. Much evidence was submitted on that occasion, but no evidence has been submitted to support the theory that the Khartoum factory produced nerve gas. There is no clear evidence--although there is a strong belief, of course--that the bombing of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam was carried out from headquarters in Afghanistan. Of course the entire Mujahidin movement in Afghanistan, and its leader Osama bin Laden, was created by the Americans when they wanted the Mujahidin to fight the Soviet Union. The bunkers were financed by the CIA, which is why it knew where they were.
It is interesting to note the outrage throughout the Arab world at the bombing. I think there is some justification for that because, although President Clinton said that he was not fighting Moslems, the articles I read and the people I talked to stated that he would of course say that. However, the Americans have bombed Libya, Iraq, the Lebanon and Afghanistan. Therefore they have been selective as regards those countries. I do not want the UK to get involved in that. I very much welcome the comments that have just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that if we pass Clause 5 we shall identify ourselves with an American policy which is meeting with little success across the Middle East. America may have some reasons for doing what it does. We are allies, but we do not have to be so closely identified with America that we lose such freedom of manoeuvre as we have. After all, the policy of the European Union is not identical to the policy of the USA
Others have already remarked that one of the advantages the UK has gained from allowing some dissidents to settle here is that we have been able to maintain good relations not necessarily with present governments but with the future governments of certain countries. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said that he does not believe that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. However, Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela and Menachem Begin--to give just three examples--were all denounced as terrorists but all proved to be successful political leaders of their countries and good friends of the United Kingdom. Therefore there are terrorists who are freedom fighters. It depends which side one is on. At present quite a few Moslem groups who come from countries with rather ghastly governments welcome the fact that they can live in this country. If we drive them out, we shall be subjected to some horrendous attacks which I would very much wish to avoid.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page