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Northern Ireland (Emergency Powers)

Volume 894: debated on Thursday 26 June 1975

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10.45 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th June, be approved.
The Order has been laid to renew the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act 1974, which are due to expire at midnight on 24th July.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many of us regard this as a very important debate. Will you ask our colleagues to leave the Chamber quietly?

Will hon. Members who do not intend to listen to the Secretary of State kindly leave the Chamber as expeditiously as possible.

The order will renew the provisions for six months until 25th January 1976. The House will know, however, that there is a Bill which has been given a First Reading, to amend the Emergency Provisions Act.

When I last sought renewal of these powers, on 5th December, I said that I would do everything possible to introduce new legislation between then and now. It has not been possible for new legislation to be passed, but it is now before the House and we are to debate it tomorrow.

The point of the order is to allow for the fact that the Bill is unlikely to pass through both Houses before 24th July. However, the amendments to the Act proposed in the Bill will have an effect on commencement, and I hope this will be long before the expiry of the six months. Much will depend on the Committee stage. The order, like the Act, is of great importance to the security forces in Northern Ireland.

In seeking approval of the order, I am seeking to cover the transitional period of the passage of the Bill. The new temporary provisions of the Bill, which cover everything except Section 1 of the Act, will also expire on 24th January 1976, so that all the temporary provisions, whether amended or otherwise, will need to be continued by order from that date if Parliament considers them still to be necessary.

The Second Reading of the Bill is to take place tomorrow, and it would not be appropriate for me to describe its provisions in this short debate, but, clearly, the order needs to be considered in that context. In Opposition we had doubts about a number of the provisions of the emergency provisions Act, although we clearly recognised the need for extraordinary powers to deal with the security situation in Northern Ireland. As I said in Opposition on the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill:
"The Government of the United Kingdom, like the Government of Northern Ireland, have a duty to deal with those who shoot and kill, and we are certainly not arguing the contrary. The Government have the right to take extraordinary measures given the situation in Northern Ireland".—[Official Report, 17th April 1973: Vol. 855, c. 292.]
On assuming office, I appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Gardiner to examine the working of the Act and to consider what provisions and powers were necessary, consistent to the maximum extent with the preservation of civil liberties and human rights, to deal with terrorism and subversion. The Bill which the House is to debate tomorrow is based upon the recommendations of its report.

There are, however, a number of provisions in the emergency provisions Act which the committee considered should remain unchanged, and it is only right, therefore, that I should mention these now as the Bill does not apply to them. It is also right that I should justify the continuing need for emergency provisions at all.

As I explained in answer to the Private Notice Question by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on 16th June, the nature of violence in Northern Ireland has changed in the past six months. The Provisional IRA ceasefire has generally held well, and the incident centres have helped to prevent misunderstandings. This undoubted achievement should be recognised by all.

There has been a significant reduction in incidents against the security forces and an overall reduction in terrorist incidents. This has exposed, or perhaps brought to the surface, much interfactional violence and violence between the communities in Northern Ireland, violence which has involved deliberate cold-blooded murder of particular persons. Already this year 100 civilians have been killed by violence for which in many cases there was no apparent motivation, however tortuous or misguided.

It is clear that this new age of violence has not arisen out of political aspirations; it is an outbreak of gangsterism fostered no doubt by the atmosphere of disrespect for the law—and for people's lives—in recent years. There are some in Northern Ireland who give encouragement to these thugs with talk of Armageddon between the communities. Such speculation is used by gangsters to give credibility to their motives and plays into their hands.

In a community which lives with the threat and the fact of violence, a heavy burden rests upon leaders of public opinion. In the past, much of the condemnation of murders and other outrages has itself tended to reflect the division in the community. It is a welcome and realistic development that on all sides in Northern Ireland today there is a denunciation of violence, from whatever source. I have not always noticed that.

It takes political and physical courage of a high order for people in Northern Ireland to condemn those criminals who claim to act, however spuriously, in the name of the cause for which those people stand. In recent days that courage has been shown, not least by some politicians who have unequivocally condemned the violence practiced by those who claim to support them.

The key to dealing with gangsterism is effective policing. I am glad to report again that the RUC is achieving very considerable success and has taken steps to respond to this new situation. This morning the Chief Constable announced further measures to combat the vicious campaign of assassinations, sectarian and otherwise. The RUC's preventive and detective capabilities are being reinforced by the creation of a special centralised CID unit, to be known as the A Squad. This squad would be a strong, mobile, co-ordinated detective squad backed up by the full resources of the special patrol group, able to respond quickly and effectively to situations anywhere in Northern Ireland in support of the work of the local police. This new development has been made possible by an overall expansion of the detective branch of the RUC.

Already this year over 568 persons have been charged with terrorist type offences, and 171 travelling gunmen have been intercepted. One wonders where they were on their way to and how many people would be dead if they had not been intercepted. These figures do not reach the headlines as do figures for the number of persons for whom interim custody orders are signed. If I were to sign one interim custody order there would be headlines. The fact that 568 people pass through the courts seems to be unnoticed, yet that is the most important development in the last few months, and it is a trend which has been growing over the months. The figures demonstrate clearly the success of the RUC in dealing with crime.

There are other encouraging signs in Northern Ireland at present. The monthly average of shooting incidents this year compared with the monthly average for 1974 has fallen from 267 to 137, explosions have fallen from 57 to 26, and killings only from 18 to 17. The Provisional IRA has maintained its cease-fire in general for over six months, and there are signs of the two communities recoiling in horror at continued atrocities. At the same time, however, the monthly average of civilian deaths has risen from 14 to 16, and the indiscriminate violence of the past two weekends has demonstrated that terrorism continues in all its savagery. While terrorism continues, so must the powers necessary to deal with it.

Such acts cannot be tolerated in our society, and the Government and Parliament are responsible for security in Northern Ireland. The police, backed by the Army, cannot achieve results, and the courts cannot convict those who are guilty, if special provisions in the law are not in force. Moreover, and I wish to place special emphasis on this point, we should be failing in our duty to the police officers and soldiers if we did not give them appropriate powers to act against terrorists and to protect themselves.

I am not proposing any changes in the powers of the security forces in the emergency provisions Act except clarification of their powers to stop and question persons and a new power to search for and seize radio transmitters. The Gardiner Committee considered very carefully the existing powers, and suggestions that they should be curtailed, and came to the conclusion that it would be impracticable to impose further conditions and, in the light of the evidence it received, unnecessary.

We are also proposing to retain the procedure for a single judge without a jury to try scheduled offences on indictment. We entertained considerable doubts about this when in Opposition and proposed that three persons should conduct the trial. The Gardiner Committee reported that it was given details of 482 instances in which civilian witnesses to murder and other terrorists offences were too afraid to make any statement or to give evidence in court. The committee concluded that juries would be equally open to intimidation We were wrong in Opposition. The committee also reported wide agreement among those who gave evidence before it that the system has worked fairly and well. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is also satisfied of the fairness of the present procedure, and accordingly we have accepted the Gardiner Committee's recommendation that no change should be made.

The Gardiner Committee also recommended that the powers of proscription in Section 19 of the 1973 Act should be retained. I agree with the Gardiner Committee that such powers should be retained on a temporary basis for the reasons it gave; namely, that it deters people from providing financial or other support for what are clearly terrorist organisations, and that it would be anomalous to legalise organisations which are proscribed throughout both the Republic of Ireland and the remainder of the United Kingdom. I keep constantly under review, however, the list of pros-scribed organisations. Many considerations have to be taken into account in this continuing review. For example, there is the question of proscribing organisations claiming responsibility for sectarian violence.

We have to be careful here not to jump to immediate conclusions. Prosscription is a remedy against the identifiable group with an organisational structure and a continuing existence. It is not an effective remedy against casual groups, which are prepared to change their names when the going gets rough, to dissolve themselves to suit their convenience and possibly to coalesce, often with different members and in a new guise at a later stage. In these circumstances proscription could be an empty gesture, since legal proof of membership of an organisation that scarcely exists is, naturally, difficult to obtain. The best way to proceed against men of violence who profess to belong to groups such as these is through the ordinary courts. However, I keep this matter under continuous review and will use the power of proscription when it can be effectively deployed.

Although this order continues the provisions for detention, completely new provisions are included in the Bill, and hence I propose to deal with this subject in some detail tomorrow. It would be appropriate for me to say now that, however much I dislike the principle of detention without trial, I am in no doubt that such powers are necessary in Northern Ireland at present. I am not exercising the existing powers at present. Indeed, I have not signed any interim custody orders since 9th February. If the situation requires me to return to "ICO-ing", I shall, of course, inform right hon. and hon. Members immediately, if the House is sitting.

Since the Provisional IRA announced its cease-fire on 22 December, I have personally released 276 persons from detention. If, however, the security situation were to deteriorate rapidly tomorrow, next week or next month, I should need a power of detention, and in the current situation I should not hesitate to use it if that were the only way of removing vicious killers from the streets. But it is only as a last resort that I have used the powers of detention, and that continues to be my policy and that of the Government.

I do not want to return to the use of "ICO-ing" I want to go through the courts, but if there were a military cam- paign with the middle of Belfast burning in the way we have known in the past, we should not be able to stand back.

I now turn to the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Act. This order also extends the provisions of that Act for six months to 25th January 1976. The Act was introduced to deal with the problem of young terrorists on remand who escaped from remand homes. It provides power for the Secretary of State to make a direction that a young person charged with a scheduled offence be held in custody in prison rather than a remand home.

Although the provision is concerned only with a very small group of persons, it is necessary in order to protect the public from further acts by young terrorists, to protect the staff of remand homes from rescue attempts and to protect the young person himself. I gave an assurance that I would use these powers sparingly.

Since the Act came into force on 1st August 1974, I have given directions only in respect of 15 young persons, although at present no directions are in force. Absconsions from remand homes have continued, but the provision is not intended to prevent that. I have used the power only for the reasons I have just given, and none of those committed to secure custody has escaped. This provision is still necessary, regrettably, and accordingly I am seeking its continuance.

I am aware of the feeling that young persons should not be kept on remand in custody for longer than is absolutely essential. As the House will understand the duration of remand is not within my control, but the matter has been discussed with the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. Every effort is being made to restrict the period of remand, and in only one case has it exceeded six months, and then only by a few days.

The powers in the emergency provisions Act are at present essential. They are essential not only because I may need them in order to apply interim custody orders but because they provide the legal basis for the security forces to act against terrorists. There must be a power for police officers and soldiers to arrest terrorists, to stop and question persons, and to search for arms and explosives. The powers are also essential if the courts are to maintain the rule of law, and the powers are essential if the Government and Parliament are to fulfil their responsibilities to the ordinary law-abiding citizen in Northern Ireland.

I am asking tonight for the renewal of the emergency provisions Act. I am conscious that the security situation in Northern Ireland is changing. Nevertheless, what I argued in my White Paper of July 1974 on the Northern Ireland Constitution, that
"the Army cannot, however, replace the police, nor would it be a substitute"
is still relevant in the new unfolding situation.

The Government wish to see a return to effective policing in Northern Ireland, but, new situation or not, I have to be prepared for all eventualities.

11.3 p.m.

We understand why the debates tonight and tomorrow are to take the course decided upon. Indeed, the Secretary of State alluded to the reasons tonight, and logic does not always attend Irish legislation. It might, however, have been more logical for the House to have had a debate long since on the Gardiner Report, which, after some hesitation and delay, the Secretary of State presented to Parliament last January, before proceeding to the anti-terrorist measures.

It would have been more logical to have amended the emergency provisions before extending them. However, the amending Bill will be taken tomorrow, and we are grateful that so important a Northern Ireland measure will be debated in the light of day. In the meantime, the Irish night shift must address itself to this order.

It would be criminally irresponsible for the House to deny or delay the powers which the Secretary of State seeks, but I and, no doubt, other hon. Members would like to ask some questions.

I would first refer to special category status. Lord Gardiner's committee declared this status to be an error, and that is admitted on all sides, but, of course, there are difficulties. If retrospection is ruled out, one can understand that. However, many of us thought at the time, and said at the time, that the Price sisters should not have been moved out of England to enjoy special category status. Visitors to Armagh Gaol learn of the resentment that this excites in what I am tempted to call decent criminals there immured. The difficulty of the Secretary of State is the absence of cellular prison quarters to replace the academy of revolutionary studies at the Maze.

The Gardiner Report was scathing on the inadequacy of cellular accommodation. Hon. Members will have read paragraph 113 of the report, which states:
"The present situation of Northern Ireland's prisons is so serious that the provision of adequate prison accommodation demands that priority be given to it by the Government in terms of money, materials and skilled labour such as has been accorded to no public project since the Second World War."
To date not one brick has been laid. The land has not even been acquired. Surely in a war-like situation some of the niceties of planning procedure could be abbreviated. After all, the Gardiner Report said this at the end of paragraph 113:
"If no Government sites are available, emergency legislation should be passed to give the Secretary of State general powers to acquire suitable sites at once without the delays consequent on normal compulsory purchase and planning procedure."—[Interruption.]
I am only reading to the House the words of the Gardiner Report. I should like to make my speech, if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State will allow me.

It is my hope that these debates will demonstrate that there is no weakening of the democratic will to win. Conservative Members welcome the Secretary of State's robust, affirmative reply to the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) to the Private Notice Question by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on 16th June. The Secretary of State left the House in no doubt that Her Majesty's forces would continue in support of the civil power until normal policing by the Royal Ulster Constabulary is possible throughout the Province. We are grateful to the Secretary of State for that assurance.

The courage, the skill and the patient endurance of the Regular Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Ulster Constabulary—we heard—with interest and we welcome what was said about the new A Squad—must not be thrown away. That would make a mockery of the tributes we pay them in this House, which we renew this evening.

From time to time apprehension has been expressed lest the cease-fire has meant that less intelligence has been gathered and the guard to some extent lowered. During the present year searches for arms and explosives seem to have been mostly of unoccupied houses. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that, when he replies.

In April I understand that 140 lbs. of explosives were discovered and in May 21 lbs., whereas last year the general monthly rate of finds was in four figures. I trust that the explanation is that diplomacy and security have stopped supplies to the terrorists and those gangsters whom it is about time both official statements and the media desisted from describing as either Protestants or Catholics.

The Queen's peace must be restored, otherwise what use is it to discuss a Bill of Rights or United Kingdom standards?

The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in Dublin, Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien has warned of what he called "fake liberals" who:
"protest against all repressive legislation."
However, he said that:
"The laws against crime are necessarily repressive, and armed conspiracy is the most dangerous of crimes."
The order is justified, and we support it.

11.10 p.m.

The Secretary of State has had his task made rather more difficult for him this evening by the order in which he has been obliged to take matters. He has been asking for the renewal of powers unaltered when the whole House knows that it is his intention to ask for very substantial alterations in them. He has, therefore, had necessarily to present one of two halves of the same picture.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that, amended or unamended, the powers which the House, I am sure, will renew this evening arise out of the actual situation in Northern Ireland. It would be absurd for this debate not to concern itself, as indeed, the speech of the Secretary of State concerned itself, with that situation.

The Secretary of State was indeed right when in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) he referred to these debates of tonight and tomorrow as giving an opportunity
"for the subject of the cease-fire and the security situation in general to be fully ventilated on the Floor of the House."
I am sure that the Secretary of State will be among the first to admit that he has received steady, though not uncritical, support during his months of office from right hon. and hon. Members on this bench. We have understood, too, what has been his aim and his strategy in the gradual unwinding of detention. We listened with great interest tonight to the very carefully weighed words with which, within the framework of that policy, to which we give general support, he nevertheless retained the freedom of action which in present circumstances he undoubtedly needs to possess. We noticed in particular that, should there be a reversal in this respect, the Secretary of State would consider himself in duty bound as far as possible to come back to the House.

The Secretary of State has had the satisfaction during his 15 or 16 months in office of witnessing a gradual diminution in the statistical level of violence in Northern Ireland. One always has a certain hesitation in referring to these statistical changes when one knows that even greatly reduced figures cover such a world of tragedy and of crime. Nevertheless, it would be unrealistic not to take note both of the diminution in volume and of the change in character, a change in character which the Secretary of State himself denoted in a rather striking phrase—perhaps a slightly too striking phrase—when he called it "a new age of violence." But it is one of the characteristics of violence in Northern Ireland that it is Protean in its character and is constantly changing in its forms and emphases. That, all the same, ought not to prevent us from recognising the fact of the substantial and continuing general diminution.

What has differentiated the last six months from the periods which have preceding them is undoubtedly that event which we unhappily describe by the name of "cease-fire". I say "unhappily" for it is not an appropriate expression to apply to a reduction in the number of criminal and violent acts. It is a term which is borrowed from an entirely different category of open and honourable warfare, and is already, when applied to the situation in Northern Ireland, a propaganda exercise which, even as we use the word, we ourselves tend to sustain.

There is in the security situation in these last six months one important element which is missing, an element which this House and the Secretary of State can contribute to supplying. It is the hope of hon. Members on this bench that the debates of tonight and tomorrow will help towards that end.

In the debate on the Spring Adjournment I pointed out that there was only one way in which it was possible, as things are now in Northern Ireland, for the full confidence of the public in government to be restored, and that was by open and candid debate upon the Floor of the House and by utterly frank dispelling of misunderstandings and resolution of problems. The Secretary of State knows very well—it is one of his difficulties—the atmosphere of rumour, suspicion, sometimes almost hysteria, which seems to sweep the scene in Northern Ireland and which constantly threatens the movement towards rationality and the restoration of normal conditions. This characteristic has entered upon a special phase in the past six months, since the beginning of the cease-fire, because nothing has yet dispelled the rooted belief that behind the so-called cease-fire there lies an agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the enemies of the State, of which the full details and some of the important conditions have not been disclosed.

I am sure that there is no doubt about the main outlines of the policy which the Government have been pursuing. It has been the entirely rational policy of matching a real situation by a modification in the actions of the security forces. This is something which is entirely rational—indeed, to which there is no alternative—and the consequences of a diminution in violence can only be reaped gradually by the fact that the reactions to violence and the measures of the security forces can in proportion diminish and be relaxed.

But against that background of an entirely rational policy there has persisted and been maintained the belief throughout the Province that there is something else, and that, in fact, like some of his predecessors, the right hon. Gentleman and Her Majesty's Government have entered into agreements, undisclosed, with the Provisional IRA and perhaps with other enemies of the State. It is in the interests of good government in Northern Ireland that tonight I want to take the opportunity to put to the Secretary of State in specific form some of the allegations which have sprung from that belief, because it is only if, on the Floor of this House, the Secretary of State can explode and deny them that we shall have the opportunity to begin to reduce the atmosphere of suspicion, which is only too easily understood amongst a population which has so repeatedly been disappointed and betrayed.

So I proceed to put specifically certain statements to the right hon. Gentleman, statements which have been before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, and which they have understandably found it impossible not to take at face value. I know that he will realise the importance of dealing with them in the only way in which they can be dealt with—openly and frankly across the Floor of this House.

I begin with the killing of the policeman in Londonderry in the second weekend of May. The statement was made following that by the Provisional IRA that that murder—these are its words—was
"'a direct result of breaches in the truce over the past two weeks when two houses were raided by the Army and one by a squad of plain clothes RUC men.'"—[Official Report, 13th May, 1975; Vol. 892, c. 261.]
There is no doubt what those words are intended to mean. Those words are forms of violence, on their part the Government have committed themselves to the Provisional IRA that so long as the Provisional IRA abstains from certain forms of violence on their part the Government will abstain from raiding houses by the Army or carrying out searches by RUC men in plain clothes.

Both those activities are activities which are necessary for security, necessary for the detection of crime and for the prevention of further violence. So the public in Northern Ireland found itself confronted with a statement—admittedly a statement from enemy quarters—which appeared to carry upon the face of it the assertion that there was an undisclosed bargain not to enforce the law upon condition of certain forms of behaviour by the Provisional IRA.

I turn now to a news item which appeared on 20th June 1975 in The Times.The Times of that date quoted a statement issued by the so-called Belfast brigade of the Provisional IRA after the publication of certain photographs, and it said that
"According to Republican sources, tile photographs … are being regarded by the brigade staff as evidence that the Army's plain clothes intelligence patrols are continuing."
The report quotes further from the statement that
"'If Mr. Rees's travelling gunmen continue their undercover activity, the responsibility for a new situation is his.'"
Once again the implication is perfectly clear. The IRA is stating—no doubt falsely but if it is false it ought to be said to be false on the Floor of this House—that as a quid pro quo the Government have committed themselves that perfectly lawful and perfectly proper missions on the part of the Armed Forces will be suspended and will not be carried out.

I turn to a report in The Times the very next day, 21st June, referring to the debate which was to have taken place yesterday—but is more properly taking place here tonight—in that Convention which the Secretary of State earlier today described very correctly as "not a parliament". The report stated that
"The controversial secret talks between senior British civil servants and leaders of Sinn Fein, which have played a crucial rôle in maintaining the cease-fire with the Provisional IRA, are to be debated for the first time next week."
Well, they are being debated now, for I am asking the Secretary of State to say "yea" or "nay" to the allegation—it is a perfectly common allegation which appears in that item dated from Belfast—that
"… secret talks between senior British civil servants and leaders of Sinn Fein…have played a crucial role in maintaining the cease-fire with the Provisional IRA …"
In other words, the Provisional IRA has in part desisted from continuing its crimes because of what has been said to its representatives by servants of Her Majesty's Government.

The last quotation which I offer, still from the same series and on 23rd June, is on the same point. It refers to
"… the spirit of the cease-fire having been maintained—regularly assisted by long discussions between senior British civil servants and members of Provisional Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA."
Have there been long discussions between senior British civil servants and the enemies of law and order and of the State in Northern Ireland? If there have, what have they been talking about for all those hours and on those repeated occasions? May the House of Commons be told what it is that has formed the subject of these long discussions and consultations?

Civil servants are trained to say a great deal in a very short time. They are people who have the aptitude of using words so as to convey a precise meaning in one or two sentences. Why is it, if it is true at all, that these protracted discussions have to take place? What are they about? Are they discussing conditions made between Her Majesty's Government and the Provisional IRA of which this House has not been informed?

That brings us back to the beginning of the so-called cease-fire itself and the announcement of 11th February with the setting up of the incident centres. I may not be quite as stupid as those who require several hours of coaching by senior civil servants to understand Her Majesty's Government's policy in Northern Ireland; but I must confess that I have still not fathomed the precise function of the incident centres.

I might remind the House of the words in which they were described in the announcement of 11th February:
"… if developments occur which seem to threaten the cease-fire, these incident centres will act as a point of contact in either direction."—[Official Report, 11th February 1975 Vol. 886, c. 208.]
"Developments which seem to threaten the cease-fire", to you and me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would seem to be renewed acts of violence. The only thing which, on the basis of what we have been told, threatens the cease-fire is that acts of violence are resumed. If a cease-fire is unconditional and if the Government, as they assert, are free in every respect to continue to carry out their duty of maintaining the law and the security of the population, the only thing which can threaten the cease-fire is that it is broken by those who perpetrate violence. But, then, if actions of violence are again perpetrated, what is the purpose of a point of contact "in either direction"?

Very well. The Provisional IRA apparently rings up and its representative says "We did not do it." Well and good: they did not do it. In that case, nothing will happen to them. Is that the only point of these incident centres, to work "in either direction"? Clearly not. The only point of information passed "in either direction" is that there are reciprocal and mutual undertakings and that if Her Majesty's Government were under a misapprehension as to who was responsible for a breach of the peace, they themselves might inadvertently fail to fulfil some of the undisclosed conditions which they have undertaken towards these criminals.

I find it impossible to reconcile what has been said so far about these incident centres with the policy of Her Majesty's Government as it is known. Not only I but the population at large in Northern Ireland find that reconciliation impossible. That was the reason why shortly after the debate on 13th May a perfectly absurd and irresponsible statement made by a reverend gentleman in Northern Ireland stirred up a whirlwind of speculation, of wild talk, of anxiety and of fear. That was a result of this background of unresolved suspicion that Her Majesty's Government have not fully disclosed the conditions which they made as a basis for the improvement in the level of violence in Northern Ireland.

I believe in the candour of the right hon. Gentleman. Of course I do. I entirely believe in his candour. Indeed, if we could not believe in that there would be no purpose in the debate. But I say to him that a vital element today is missing in Northern Ireland which we can supply—and that is confidence, which at present does not exist, in the bona fides of the Government and in the openness of their dealing with both the public at large and the various enemies of the State in their different forms.

I do not expect that in the ambit of this debate the Secretary of State will respond to the question which I have put to him. But I say to the Secretary of State that tonight and tomorrow he has an opportunity such as he has never had before—and he has it in the proper place—to dispel misunderstanding once and for all, to destroy unfounded rumours once and for all, to kill the lying whispers that civil servants are in constant conclave with the Provisional IRA, and to root out these causes of mistrust which not only delay all the developments which we want to see in Northern Ireland but are themselves a contributory cause to the continuing violence in this present phase.

I ask the right lion. Gentleman to respond to the challenge in the spirit in which it is meant, and to do it before the end of the debate tomorrow.

11.33 p.m.

I cannot fully accept or follow the logic of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He opened his remarks by saying that he agreed with the legislation to be passed tonight and to a further extension of all the emergency powers legislation. I opposed that legislation at its inception, and at subsequent intervals when it became renewable I again voiced my opposition. But if the right hon. Gentleman agrees to the Secretary of State having all these powers under the emergency legislation he must realise that he is giving significant powers to the Secretary of State to use in whatever way he wants, without coming to the House and telling us, or making an excuse, or telling us what motivated him in employing them.

If we do not give the Secretary of State such powers, we can retain them in some other way. But we cannot give him those powers and tell him to come to the House every time he uses any facets of the legislation involved.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is suspicion, mistrust and fear in Northern Ireland about the so-called IRA cease-fire. But I agree from a different point of view. It appears that the British Government are prepared to accept a cease-fire in Northern Ireland provided that no members of the security forces are killed and that there is no aggressive action against the security forces. Aggressive actions against the security forces are called acts of terrorism, but when innocent people daily lose their lives we hear that there are gangsters afoot and criminal elements abroad. Members of the Provisional IRA who engage in war against the security forces are called terrorists, but anyone else who engages in sectarian violence is called a gangster or a criminal. In my view, anyone who engages in killing, whether it be the killing of a soldier, a policeman, a member of the UDR or an innocent civilian, is a terrorist.

The Secretary of State rightly drew attention to the diminution of violence since the coming into operation of the IRA cease-fire, but there has been an increase in brutal and callous murders since the beginning of January this year. The Secretary of State told us that the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland has set up a force which will be concerned with the tracking down of sectarian murderers. It is rather late in the day for that. The Chief Constable should have been concentrating all his efforts on tracking down these murderers when they first started committing these crimes. Only last weekend three Catholics and and three Protestants were murdered.

On the question of detention I am prepared to stand by my own logic. When detention or internment was first introduced it concerned people who were allegedly on the Republican side of the political fence. Even at that time some Opposition Members—notably the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—opposed internment or detention. Then there was a demand right across the political spectrum for the release of detainees. On the Loyalist side there were fewer detainees and consequently there were fewer to release. Now they are all released, so we do not hear objections to the continuation of detention emanating from the people who allegedly represent the Loyalist cause.

The Secretary of State has coined the phrase that he will bring detention to an end when he is convinced that there is a sustained and genuine cessation of violence. When he first coined that phrase I asked him whether he was prepared to consider detention for those who were perpetrating acts of violence.

The right hon. Member for Down, South concentrated on two alleged incidents—the killing of a young policeman in Derry and the killing of a soldier in Armagh. Everyone has cognisance of the killing of the young policeman in Derry because of the statements from the IRA which followed it. I regret those incidents and condemn those who are responsible for them.

There are nearly 300 Republican prisoners in detention. Other people have been involved in violence throughout the period. The right hon. Member for Down, South referred to the statement issued by the Provisional IRA relating to the death of the young policeman in Derry. We could also have a list of statements which have emanated from the UVF relating to recent murders and pub explosions in Northern Ireland. The so-called Protestant Action Force has claimed responsibility for a number of recent murders.

The Secretary of State said that it was hard to pinpoint these organisations, because they may be using phoney names or identities. I hope that he does not mean they do not exist. I believe that there is such a body as the Protestant Action Force, which has claimed responsibility for a number of murders. If the Secretary of State is prepared to keep continuing surveillance on the activities of the Provisional IRA, he should be prepared to pay equal attention to all those other so-called Loyalist groups which are engaged in violence.

I oppose the order purely and simply on the ground of detention. I recognise that in a war situation, when lives are being taken needlessly, it is necessary for any Government to have some form of emergency legislation. Indeed, I am sure that every reasonable person in Northern Ireland would accept that. But I do not accept that in the present situation, with a diminution of violence being perpetrated by the IRA, there is any reason whatsoever for continuing with detention as it is in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. He said that he wants a sustained cessation of violence in Northern Ireland. But he will not get it. If he means that there has to be a week, a month or two months without any incidents, the Loyalist organisations can make certain of creating incidents and so ensure that no more detainees are released.

Is it not a fact that during the period about which the hon. Gentleman is talking we have had a large measure of violence in Northern Ireland coming from some of the groups to which he has referred, and yet the Secretary of State has been releasing detainees? What brought a halt to the releases was the murder of the policeman in Derry. But now the releases have been resumed.

I should like the Secretary of State to indicate whether he has a final date in mind for bringing detention to an end? If the cease-fire by the Provisional IRA continues for another one, two, three or four months, shall we see the complete rundown and end of detention in Northern Ireland?

Detention is the main reason why there is still opposition to the emergency powers. Many people have relatives who have been interned. I could quote statement after statement made by hon. Gentlemen representing the Loyalist cause in Northern Ireland when there was internment without trial of Protestants. They should not be allowed to change their attitude to internment because there are now no Loyalists in detention and all those who are interned belong to one particular sect.

11.43 p.m.

I should not like to say anything which will make it more difficult for the Secretary of State and those responsible for the governing of Northern Ireland in this critical stage that we have reached, but some things needs to be said on behalf of the people of the Province. Unfortunately, the time is short and the hour is late—soon it will be early—and we have another order with which to deal. However, some points need to be underlined.

First, we have had a serious law and order situation in Northern Ireland for some time. The people of Northern Ireland feel that both Governments—this legislation was brought in by the Conservative Government—have not acted with speed in this situation. We had the Diplock Report and, as a result of that report, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973. That measure was hotly debated in Committee. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and members of the present administration in Northern Ireland were members of the committee along with myself. I think that there were 22 Divisions, and in all the Divisions which took place when I was present the hon. Gentleman voted against. That is the position according to the record that I have checked in the Library.

It is most important for the record that the position is made clear as regards the parts of the legislation that deal with a variety of matters that we shall be discussing at a later stage. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not forget that on behalf of the then Opposition I made it abundantly clear that we supported detention in its amended form. I made it clear that the State could not sit back and let events take their course, and that we were not prepared to put the security forces at risk.

Yes, but there was opposition in the Committee. It will be remembered that at that time there were elections taking place in Northern Ireland and that some of us were absent from the Committee. We were probably not present when the Committee dealt with the schedules. The Commissioners were appointed at that stage.

I am not trying to make a political point; I am only pointing out that there was opposition. One would have thought that when the party which opposed that legislation came into power it would have moved with some speed. On the first occasion when renewal took place the Attorney-General gave a promise. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement of 9th July 1974 is available but I shall not quote it. The Attorney-General said that he would ask the House to allow the order to continue for a further six months. He gave the undertaking that the Gardiner Committee would make its report as quickly as possible. We know that the order was then renewed for a further six months. We are now renewing it for another six months.

The point I am trying to make is that this is a matter of great urgency. The law and order situation in Northern Ire- land is serious. The people of Northern Ireland consider that there has been a dragging of feet on the part of both Governments. The hon. Member for Belfast, West, said that the police should have been on the job of trying to deal with the difficult situation that has arisen in Northern Ireland. It is not only a difficult but a dangerous situation. The acts that have been committed are of the most atrocious and abominable nature. I understand the fear that is felt in many sections of the community. They do not know when the travelling gunmen will strike.

It should be said that the community that the hon. Gentleman represents is not in favour of the Royal Ulster Constabulary policing its areas. That attitude has caused difficulty for the RUC. It is difficult for the police to deal with the atrocities that take place in an area where they are not welcome and where they can be stoned and probably assaulted I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is a difficult situation. In the present situation it would be a great thing if all public representatives joined together and backed the forces of the Crown, especially the RUC, in their efforts to deal with a tragedy. This is a very difficult matter, and the police have a difficult task. That needs to be stated.

I trust that the new force or squad arranged by the RUC will be able to act effectively in all parts of Northern Ireland and will not be debarred by communities in Northern Ireland insisting that there should not be police in their areas. The Secretary of State wrote to me recently and pointed out that there were some areas in which normal policing was impossible. This resulted from the attitude of the community in those areas. That makes it difficult for the police to deal with a terrible and disastrous situation. This week I spoke to a high-ranking police officer who said that if everybody who had been shot at during the weekend had been killed, 15 people would have died over that weekend. That is a very serious matter.

The second matter that disturbs me is that under the order the RUC has had a raw deal. Its members have been treated as terrorists and attempts are being made to bring them before courts dealing with terrorists and there has been a refusal by the courts to give them bail. Section 3 of the Act which we are being asked to renew says:
"… a person … charged with a scheduled offence shall not be admitted to bail except by a judge of the High Court …".
Subsection (5) provides for exemption to be made for members of Her Majesty's Forces, but there is no similar exemption for members of the RUC. Those members have been refused bail in magistrates' courts. It does not help the RUC to carry out its duties when it is treated differently from other members of Her Majesty's Forces.

Furthermore, under these provisions members of the RUC can be refused trial by jury. This is a matter about which RUC members are most anxious. Could the Secretary of State when bringing in amending legislation give the members of the RUC the same rights as are accorded to members of Her Majesty's Forces to put them on a par in this legislation with members of Her Majesty's Forces? It seems unfair to me that a member of the RUC can find himself at a grave disadvantage in this respect.

There are many other matters with which I should like to deal, but I must give the Secretary of State an opportunity to reply, and there are a number of other hon. Members who want to take part in the debate.

I hope and pray that the situation in Northern Ireland will be dealt with effectively by the members of the RUC and by the new squad. Policing is effective only in the Protestant areas. A large number of those responsible for crimes are being brought before the courts, but they are being brought from areas where police are operating. What is the use of proscribing an organisation when no members of that organisation are being brought into court and charged with membership of that organisation?

This is an important point. To prove membership is one of the most difficult things from a legal point of view. It is a matter which we should discuss in Committee.

The Secretary of State will know that representations were made to the Gardiner Committee on this point—that if a person was asked if he was a member of an organisation and refused to answer, that should be taken as an acknowledgment that he was a member. There are people in detention who have publicly declared that they are members of the IRA. Why cannot they be brought before the courts? People are asking why these men are being released from detention and not being taken to court. There is an imbalance here. Those in Protestant areas are being prosecuted, while those in Republican areas are not being prosecuted. I see that the hon. Member for Belfast West takes the point I am trying to make.

I have had some very hot disagreements with the Secretary of State, but we realise the seriousness of the situation, and I hope that when he replies we shall hear what has taken place between the Government and Provisional Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. The people of Northern Ireland are sick of seeing a member of the brigade staff of the Provisional IRA, Mr. Loughrin, on television making statements that he is in touch with high-ranking civil servants at Stormont and that he is having conversations with them. I appeared on television with Mr. Devlin, a colleague of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, and this member of the brigade staff sat opposite us. He informed us—two elected representatives—that he was having conversations with civil servants in the Secretary of State's office. That cannot be tolerated in the present situation in Northern Ireland.

11.57 p.m.

The House will endorse the plea of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) for a strengthening of the RUC's rôle in relation to the kind of violence the cease-fire has highlighted, but the House will be surprised that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) did not seem to welcome or accept the existence of the cease-fire and the degree to which it has led to a reduction of one type of violence. It is right that the House should probe the price, if any, paid for that cease-fire, but the conduct of Ministers is a better guide to that price than the braggings of members of an organisation linked to the Provisional IRA whom one would not be inclined to believe in other circum- stances. I do not see why we should give any greater credence to remarks made by them on television.

Some of the points put to the Secretary of State have already been answered in statements, but he may need to reiterate them tonight.

I and my colleagues in the Liberal Party have always detested internment, and I am sure the Secretary of State is not exempt from that feeling. We have always regarded it as a propaganda weapon for the IRA, and the IRA has successfully used it as such in the minority community. I would not accept renewal of the emergency powers if I did not recognise that steps were being taken to reduce the reliance on detention and to use the courts as a means of bringing people to justice.

I have reservations about the Bill which will be debated tomorrow, but against the background of the Government's clear determination to move away from detention, and the major features of the Gardiner Report and the way that the Government are to proceed with them, I shall not seek to oppose the renewal of the emergency provisions. Against the background of the need to provide stability within which the Convention can hold its discussions, and the background of the intention to attempt to move to United Kingdom standards of law and order, we would be wrong to do so.

One feature of the Gardiner recommendations concerned convicted persons escaping from arrest. It was recommended that the offence committed by these people should be added to the list of scheduled offences. The question of escape does not seem to be covered by tomorrow's provisions, and the right hon. Gentleman did not mention the matter tonight. We should be grateful if he would deal with the question of convicted persons escaping and of others helping them to escape in view of the scale of that activity.

Proscription does not appear to be even-handed. I recognise the difficulties to which the Minister has referred, the problems of proving membership. The existence of those problems has not prevented us from retaining a situation in which one section of those involved in violence has been subject to proscription while others, also conspicuously involved in violence, have not. That does not present the situation of even-handedness with which the Minister has sought to justify the use of proscription, and it does not augur well for the acceptance by the minority in the community of such things as the writ of the RUC. The Minister cannot leave this situation where he has sought to leave it.

Several hon. Members rose——

12.3 a.m.

In view of the time, I must now reply to the debate. I know that other hon. Members wanted to take part and have been prevented by the time factor. That is in the nature of these one and a half-hour debates. I hope that those hon. Members will have the opportunity to speak tomorrow in the debate, when we shall cover a great deal more ground.

The tone and attitude of the speech by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) coincides very much with my own. He said that he is against detention and that our policy is for ending it. During the existence of the Assembly last year, and about a fortnight after I took office, I was in Royal Avenue, Belfast. I met the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Paisley) and the then Chief Executive there. The centre of Belfast was burning and the people of the city were shouting demands for something to be done to stop their city burning.

I could not act through the police and I could not act through the courts. To have stood back in the face of what was happening and to have done nothing would have been wrong. Governments face dilemmas in seeking to deal with urban guerrilla warfare, with brigades, battalions, intelligence officers and so on. It is not easy to take the view that since the matter cannot be taken through the courts it would be better to do nothing. In those circumstances the situation would simply deteriorate even further.

I would prefer to leave the hon. Member's point about the Gardiner recommendations concerning escaping persons until tomorrow, because we are specifically not dealing with that matter tonight. There are difficulties about proscription. The list of proscribed Republican organisations contains a number of youth and women's groups. Although at first glance the list appears to be lop-sided, this is not the case.

The hon. Members for Antrim, North and Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) spoke of the time taken to deal with the report. We received the Gardiner Report at the end of last year. Translating that into legislation after full discussions with the security forces and the lawyers was a long job. It would have been foolish, given the complaints about the Diplock arrangements, to have gone haphazardly into legislation. It takes time. That is why the Bill comes up tomorrow.

I was making the point that we might, perhaps, have had a general debate on the report rather than on the legislation.

I think that I offered that in the Northern Ireland Committee but it was thought that the debate should not take place. I do not press the point. It could have been done in Committee had that been required.

The special category status is an administrative status. I shall have something to say about it tomorrow, and about prison accommodation generally. If on the first day that I took office I had set about building prisons we would not have been able to use them until the end of this year. It takes time. After the Cunningham Report in 1971 no action was taken. In that sense I inherited a situation. I will give details tomorrow of the new accommodation that is coming later in the year.

I come now to the rôle of the Army, particularly in dealing with explosives. From the advice I am given, in the cease-fire situation, whatever complaints there are, it is unlikely that explosives are hanging about. When explosives move into an area it is a sign that something is about to happen. They do not keep. It is not surprising that the amount of explosives found has fallen. Some of it was old explosive material, found in empty houses. When the scent of explosives is around we know that something is about to happen two or three days later.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) comprehended what I have tried to do over the past 15 or 16 months, particularly with detention and the new type of violence. He dealt, quite properly, with the ceasefire. On 14th January, 11th February and 12th March and other occasions I have reported to the House on the nature of the talks with the Sinn Fein. I have carefully made sure that everything that has been discussed or explained has been reported to the House. In the first report on 14th January I talked about "a lasting peace". I mentioned what could happen if there was a permanent cessation of violence. I said that the Army could make:
"a planned, orderly and progressive reduction".
I said that there could be no time scale and added:
"I shall have to be convinced that any relaxation and reduction of Army activity will not have to be paid for in lives lost and property destroyed. Once I am so convinced … in the later stages of this response to a permanent cessation of violence, the Army could he reduced to a peace-time level."—[Official Report, 14th January, 1975; Vol. 884, c. 201–2.]
On 11th February I spoke on the same point, about the reduction in the rôle of the Army, both in numbers and in scale of activity. I said that once I was satisfied that violence had come to an end there would be a de-escalation of searchings by the Army in certain areas. Such activity was required only in the face of bombings and so on. I made it clear that the searches in every house and the counting of heads would not be required in those circumstances. It is not required in this situation. That is not to say that the Army are not there, that there are not vehicle check points, that people picked up or wanted in the courts are not dealt with.

As I explained to the House, and it is worth saying again, I do not want there to be any illusion. I have stuck clearly to what I have said in the House of Commons. My officials have had meetings with various organisations to follow up the statements made to the House and the publication of the Gardiner Report.

There have been a number of meetings with. Provisional Sinn Fein. I want to be sure that Government policy is clearly understood, and it would be wrong if there were no chance for Government views to be explained and clarified fully. There is no question of bartering the future of Northern Ireland away. I recall my words:
"My officials have been under instructions to expound the Government's policy and to outline and discuss the arrangements that might be made to ensure that any cease-fire did not break down."—[Official Report, 11th February, 1975; Vol. 886, c. 207.]
I have said that explanations have been given to the meetings. I have carefully reported to the House all that goes on and all that has been done.

In that case, can we take it that there have been no meetings since the meetings when these matters were explained at the time when the cease-fire came into force? Once explained, they did not need to go on being explained hour after hour, did they?

Discussions go on with the Protestant para-military groups and they discuss the Government view of the situation.

It is not. It may be that the right hon. Member for Down, South does not understand the Irish mentality. At least, after 15 months I begin to comprehend it. It is different and needs explanation.

There are no arrangements for bartering away Northern Ireland. Policing is important. The cease-fire is not a truce. The fact that there has been a cease-fire since the turn of the year has been the main momentum which could flower and develop. It is vitally important to Northern Ireland that the Provisional IRA has had a cease-fire, and I welcome it. I hope that it will develop, because it is the only way, at the end of the day, in which we shall get peace in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) made a point about intention. It is no good arguing that in one part of Belfast there is use of this Act and in another there is not. If the police are not there, there is no other way of making arrests. Unless the police have the evidence to go through the courts, the alternative is to sit back. There is a dilemma, and that is the reason why there is a smaller number of Loyalists than Republican detainees. That is the nature of the situation. It is clear. It may not be pleasant, but it is true.

With regard to policing in general, all I can say is that in Northern Ireland this legislation will not be necessary in the long run if we get genuine policing. That is the Government's aim. The Army have done an excellent job.

Will my right hon Friend agree that the vast majority of recent murders have been not in Republican areas but in other areas?

If my hon. Friend is saying that in recent months most sectarian murders have been from Loyalist sources he is right. Hon. Members from Northern Ireland have admitted and said so. That is a fact. However, it does not mean that by the nature of sectarian murder there is a lack of policing. The matter is difficult. Policing matters.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on, the motion, Mr. Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 ( Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th June, be approved.