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Commons Chamber

Volume 181: debated on Monday 19 November 1990

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House Of Commons

Monday 19 November 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Social Security

Low-Paid Workers


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will review the Government's policy towards helping those in low-paid employment.

A range of improvements designed to help the low-paid have been implemented in both the tax and social security systems. As a result of our policies, families now keep more of their earnings. Moreover, family credit now provides considerable extra help to boost the incomes of well over 320,000 working families

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is often no incentive for single-parent families to go out and earn money, especially in low-wage areas such as south Devon where they are often better off staying at home and doing nothing than going out and finding paid work? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should be encouraging the work ethic and making it more worth while for those who wish to work to help themselves?

Yes, indeed I do. My hon. Friend will be aware that within the past month, or just over a month, we have improved the earnings disregard in respect of in-work benefits—housing benefit and community charge benefit —with an eye on precisely the problem that many lone parents face. My hon. Friend will be aware also that a major ingredient in the child maintenance proposals that we published in the White Paper at the end of last month is directed to the same end

Does the Secretary of State recognise that, while these measures may be welcomed and should be supported, the Government should be doing more to ensure fair pay and perhaps a national minimum wage to help those on low pay? Is not it a fact that low pay does not save jobs and that increases in productivity achieved by farm workers and others on low pay have not saved their jobs?

The most likely result of any minimum wage policy of the kind that the hon. Gentleman appears to be advocating, and that his party is thought to advocate, would be the destruction of a considerable number of jobs. The right course is to concentrate on encouraging employment and on reducing taxation and national insurance contributions so that people can get a good return from their work

May I welcome the Secretary of State to the Government Dispatch Box on the first occasion on which I am asking a question on social security from the Opposition Front Bench? I hope soon to be answering such questions. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's previous answer, will he explain why all other members of the EEC are able to present national minimum wage levels when he says that if we were to do that—the next Labour Government will be doing it—we would be destroying jobs?

Without entirely endorsing all the hopes and aspirations that the hon. Gentleman expressed in his introductory remarks, I welcome him to the Opposition Front Bench. I am sure that we all look forward to his being on the Opposition Front Bench for many happy years.

Perhaps lurking in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is the reason why Britain has been more successful than virtually any other country in Europe in creating new jobs.



To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he will reconsider his decision financially to penalise mothers who refuse to name the father of their child

We have no plans to change the proposal that, where a caring parent has no good cause not to claim maintenance for the children but refuses to assist in obtaining it, there should be a power to make a reduction in the income support allowance for her own personal needs. Such a decision would be taken only after full and careful consideration of all the circumstances and would of course be subject to the normal rights of appeal

Does the Secretary of State believe personally that it is right to cut the income of lone mothers living on benefits who, for their own good reasons, refuse to name or pursue for maintenance the fathers of their children? Surely, a much better system is to make it easier to claim maintenance, to create an incentive to do so and then leave it to each individual woman to decide in her own circumstances what is best for herself and her child.

In my view, the Government's proposals are an outrageous invasion of privacy——

I have asked two supplementary questions, and I am making one minor comment.

This is the usual harassment. I started with a supplementary question.

The Government's proposals—[Interruption.]Conservative Members are embarrassed by them and do not wish to hear what I have to say

Order. This is Question Time. Hon. Members must let the hon. Lady finish

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Government's proposals are an outrageous invasion of privacy and have caused real fear among many women who have left difficult relationships. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman——

Order. That is a little unfair. The hon. Lady said that she wanted to ask two questions; she cannot have three bites

Now that the Tory wets are developing some spine, will they stand up for what is right? I have great respect for the Secretary of State and I find it hard to believe that he believes in these outrageous proposals

As I have said on a number of occasions, it is no more right that a caring parent should be able simply to choose not to claim maintenance than it is right for the absent parent to choose not to pay it.

We have put forward a carefully balanced set of proposals, which include incentives. As a result of the mechanisms that we are setting up, it will be much easier to claim maintenance. However, we thought it right to include the possibility of a sanction, with all the usual rights of appeal, if someone unreasonably refuses to co-operate

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that many families who maintain their children find it difficult to makes ends meet and that it is outrageous to expect them to maintain the children of those who simply do not want to name the fathers?

The White Paper acknowledges, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) will acknowledge, that there will be circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to expect a name to be given and we shall set up careful procedures to assess different cases. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is right to suggest that to permit circumstances in which people could, with no good cause, simply pass on the bill to the taxpayers—including other families with children—would be wrong

The Government's White Paper refers to exemptions for families with previous unhappy experiences—for example, rape or incest—and that is right. Will the right hon. Gentleman go further and help the House to understand what the Government have in mind for such exemptions? For example, would a caring parent who had been granted a divorce on the ground of unreasonable behaviour involving violence have the right to withhold the name of the other parent?

She might. As is the practice in other parts of the social security system, we expect that well-trained officers would give full and careful consideration to all the circumstances. What would not be right, and what few people believe would be right, would be to bring about circumstances in which someone had only to say that she feared violence from the absent father for that absent father to be let off, or for the absent father only to make a threat of violence for that father not to be pursued for maintenance

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the first responsibility for maintaining children lies with the parents, and that the role of the state applies only where parents cannot or will not fulfil their obligations? Is not it remarkable that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) should ask such questions? Does not her failure to acknowledge the principle that I have enunciated show that she has a view of family policy that is unsustainable?

I agree with my hon. Friend about where the basic responsibility lies and the proposals in the White Paper reflect it much more clearly than ever before

According to the Government's figures, 95 per cent. of mothers immediately and voluntarily give information about the father. Why do not the Government do something to get contributions from that group of fathers so that mothers can have some of the freedoms to which the right hon. Gentleman referred?

In the interests of accuracy, I should make it clear that we think that that figure may be a bit on the high side because it is drawn from a particular sample——

Yes, but we think that the sample might have gone a bit astray—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] I thought that it might be sensible to put that on the record. We think that the proper figure is about 75 per cent. That is based on the best information that we have from our local offices.

Whatever the figure, as I said when I introduced the White Paper, the more that caring parents generally think it right to co-operate, the weaker is the case for ignoring those who choose not to co-operate.

Lone Parents


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the cost of income-related benefits paid to lone parents and their children in the latest year for which information is available and in 1978–79

Between 1978–79 and 1989–90, the amount of income-related benefits paid to lone parents and their families increased from just under £650 million to nearly £3,000 million

Does my right hon. Friend agree that from any point of view that represents a massive increase? Can he confirm that only three in 10 lone parents currently receive regular maintenance payments from their partners? Does not that indicate that the Government's new proposals for securing more effective maintenance of children should be implemented with the utmost urgency?

I can confirm that only about one third of caring parents receive regular maintenance payments. The proposals in the White Paper, "Children Come First", are directed at increasing that proportion as a matter of urgency

Will the Secretary of State confirm that many lone parents have been widowed or are in families where there has been long-term sickness? Does he agree that next year, one quarter of a million of families will be denied the full value of the extra £1 benefit for the first born? Those families will suffer a net cut in their allowances of 4·7 per cent. by April 1991 compared with April this year. Will not the right hon. Gentleman confess that the changes in child benefit were a cynical attempt by the Government to buy back maximum political benefit at minimum cost? Will he also confess his shame at having cut that money from families most in need—those that have suffered as a result of long-term sickness or bereavement?

I cannot accept phrases such as "a cynical attempt" and "minimum cost" when we are talking about additional expenditure of public money to the extent of well over £250 million. As to the interaction between an increase in child benefit and other benefits, be they national insurance or, more notably, income-related benefits, the policy being pursued is in line with that which has been followed for many years

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition should speak in support of child benefit rather than disparagingly about the increases that are secured?

Care Homes


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received regarding the proposed £5 increase in income support payments to care home residents.

A number of bodies and individuals, including the National Federation of Housing Associations, Age Concern, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, have written to us about the proposed increases

Is the Minister aware that the average increase in private care home fees in the Wakefield district this year is 17 per cent., compared with a 3 per cent. increase in income support payments that the Government announced recently? Has the Minister examined the evidence sent to his Department by Age Concern, showing that a number of elderly retired people are having to return to work, to earn money so that they can contribute towards the care home fees incurred by even more elderly relatives? Is not it scandalous that, in addition, the Government propose to withdraw housing benefit from vast numbers of care home residents?

This year, after a tight survey period, we devoted the largest-ever increase to helping those in residential care and nursing homes. The Government are to be congratulated on that achievement. The limits on residential care homes rose by £45 per week between April 1985 and August of this year—by 41 per cent. against an inflation rate of 35 per cent. As to changes in housing benefit rules for those in residential care homes, they will apply almost overwhelmingly to those who have capital of between £8,000 and £16,000

Would the Minister like to remind the House what these increases are, as the question only mentions £5? Also, will he tell us how many people are benefiting?

Thousands of people will benefit as a result of these increases. The uprating has cost some £230 million and the increases range from £5 per week increase to £45 per week. This year we have rightly devoted the most significant resources to those people in nursing homes who have had the greatest increase in costs

How can the Minister possibly justify a mere £5 per week increase in income support for residents in residential homes when the Price Waterhouse survey shows that the average running and capital costs of such homes are £172 per resident per week, whereas he has increased income support to only £160 a week. How can he justify only increasing income support for nursing homes to £255 per resident per week when Price Waterhouse reveals that the average running and capital costs in those homes is £350 per resident per week? Is not it clear that the haemorrhage of bankruptcies and closures of homes will continue and that the Government, having encouraged homes to be built in the first place, will carry the responsibility for the inevitable eviction of frail and elderly people?

First, the increase of £5 per week this year should be set against an increase of £ 10 per week April and a further £5 per week in August, so the increase in the past year has been of the order of £20. We have produced the largest-ever increase in funds. Expenditure overall, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has increased from £10 million per year, which the Labour Government were spending when they went out of office, to £1·27 billion under this Government. We have shown our care for people in those circumstances and have demonstrated it with cash.

Pensioners (Investment Income)


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how much the average pensioner's income from bank and building society deposits has changed since 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security
(Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the income which pensioners receive from savings more than doubled between 1979 and 1987

Can my hon. Friend say whether there has been a similar encouraging increase in income from occupational pensions in that period? How does this compare with the previous period—1974–79—when we were enjoying a Labour Government?

My hon. Friend will be equally pleased to hear that average incomes from occupational pensions in the same period grew by 77 per cent. His question about the way in which savings and incomes from occupational pensions behaved during the last Labour Government is the most significant, because such income fell by 16 per cent. during that period

Will the Minister balance the selective figures that she has been given by confirming that under the last Labour Government the percentage of pensions rose from 17·5 to 20·5 per cent. of male average earnings, while in the following years under the Conservative Administration they plummeted from 20·5 to a mere 16 per cent. of average male earnings?

What matters to pensioners is the way their average total net income rises. While expressing valedictions and regrets to the hon. Gentleman, I must say that under this Government, from 1979 to 1987 pensioners' average total net income rose by more than 31 per cent. in real terms. That is what the hon. Gentleman should remember.

Arcola Street Office, Hackney


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he next plans to visit Arcola street social security office

My right hon. Friend has no plans to do so, but my noble Friend Lord Henley visited the office on 9 November 1990

Is the Minister aware that if he visited our Hackney social security offices he would see how London claimants continue to receive one of the worst services in the country and how Hackney residents suffer under his Poor Law regime? I draw to his attention the case of Mrs. S. Moore of 156 Evelyn Court, Amhurst road, London E8, who is disabled but was refused a grant for a pair of shoes because they were deemed to be of low priority. What sort of social security regime refuses disabled people money for shoes?

In general, I believe that those within the area of that local office are served well by the staff there. The hon. Lady will not expect me to comment on an individual case that she presents to me across the Floor of the House. The performance targets are being met. I know that the hon. Lady has a harmonious relationship with the management of that office and that the people there do their best to meet the points that she puts to them

There is an Arcola element in my question, Mr. Speaker. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that all benefit claimants at Arcola street and other social security offices will benefit from the work carried out in my constituency by the Information Technology Services Agency, which has been working on a £1·8 billion project to computerise the social security system and thus improve benefits for claimants?

I am sure that Arcola street, where computerisation for the pensions system will come on stream next February and for income support next April, will benefit from the efforts that we have put into operational strategy as a whole.

Pensioners (Mortgages)


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of pensioners make mortgage repayments; and how much of next April's rise in the basic state pension is attributable to rising interest and mortgage rates in the 12 months to September of the current year

As my hon. Friend will be aware, the retirement pension will be increased by 10·9 per cent. from April 1991, once again honouring the Government's commitment to protect fully the value of the state pension against changing prices. The corresponding September figure for the retail prices index less mortgage interest payments was 9·5 per cent. The latest information shows that, in 1987, 49 per cent. of pensioners owned their own homes and 4 per cent. made mortgage repayments

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that the figures show that about 15 per cent. of this year's substantial increase in the pension reflects rising mortgage costs—an expense which fewer than one in 20 pensioners have to pay? Does not that represent a tremendous bonus for the majority of pensioners in this country?

As rising interest and mortgage rates are a reflection of the Government's economic incompetence and have caused misery to millions, is not it brass neck for the Minister to try to make a virtue out of it by claiming credit for a bigger pension increase, which the Government did their utmost to avoid? If the Government are so solicitous about the welfare of pensioners, why have they blocked a bigger pension rise for pensioners in each of the past 11 years by breaking the uprating link with earnings? Is not it hypocrisy for the Government to try to feed that sort of soft question to Tory Back Benchers so that they can pretend that the Government are generous when, in fact, the Government have taken £22 billion off pensioners by breaking the earnings link?

Conservatives need no lessons in economic competence from the hon. Gentleman. I know that he fully understands that the Government have a dual policy on pensions—fully to uprate the basic pension in line with prices, which his Government were unable to do during their period in office, and to pursue other policies that Opposition Members steadfastly oppose, such as to increase choice in pension provision. It is not the Conservative party which wishes to turn personal pensions on their head.



To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he will meet pensioners' representatives to discuss pensions, standing charges, concessionary fares and other matters; and if he will make a statement

We regularly meet representatives from pensioners' organisations. Most recently, I met a delegation from the National Federation of Retirement Pensions Associations

If the Government meet pensioners' organisations in the next few weeks, they will hear from those representatives that pensioners have been robbed of more than £13 per week as a result of the change in the system in 1979 when the Tory Government came to office. That system allows Ralph Halpern to pick up a pension of £9,000 per week while other pensioners in London, Bolsover and elsewhere do not have two ha'pennies to rub together. Why should those pensioners have to pay for their travel while the Prime Minister gallivants around the world on taxpayers' money? Why should they pay standing charges when the people at No. 10 Downing street do not pay a penny piece? There is one law for Ministers in this Government and another for the old age pensioners throughout Britain—get it changed!

Yet again I remind Opposition Members, in particular the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that the Labour Administration most certainly did not honour their promises to pensioners when they were in power. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that during the five years to October 1989, standing charges fell, in real terms, whereas during the previous Labour Government electricity prices rose by 30 per cent. That is a measure of the Opposition's care for pensioners. Under this Government, pensioners' average net income has risen by 31 per cent. in real terms. That is something that the Labour party could never hope to emulate

Does my hon. Friend nevertheless agree that the important point about caring for pensioners is that policies should not stand still and that we should consider all the time how better we can care for them? Will she look at the way in which the Germans and the French are able to provide an enhanced package of concessions for their old people, which makes their quality of life a great deal more agreeable?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I remind him and the House of the special help that has been provided by the Government for older and poorer pensioners. In October 1989, there was the special package, and a few weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made his uprating announcement. In Germany, pensioners get what they pay for. Pensions depend entirely on what people have earned during their working lives. There is no basic state retirement pension. Pensioners have to pay for their prescriptions. They also have to make a 6 per cent. contribution towards their health care. Moreover, the pensions choice that we provide in this country is being looked at carefully not only by Germany but by other European Community member states

What are the Government doing for a particular group of pensioners who are casualties of the Thatcher years? I refer to those people who were put out of work in their middle 50s and who have not worked since. When they reach pensionable age, they find that all that they are entitled to is the basic pension; there is no supplement from their earnings, or other employment. They find life extremely difficult, having been on benefit for many years. As those people are supposed to have made a sacrifice so that we could get British industry back on its feet, is not it time that the Government compensated them so that they can enjoy a decent life in retirement, instead of having to struggle on the basic state pension?

The point of the income-related benefits system is that the basic pension can be topped up by income support, community charge benefit and housing benefit. That provides a very good base for all the people described by the hon. Gentleman.

Family Credit


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the latest estimate of the number of individuals who will benefit from the Government's plans to reduce the number of hours which qualify for family credit from 24 to 15

We estimate that 65,000 families where a parent is currently working between 16 and 24 hours will be better off from being able to qualify for family credit. In the longer term, we also expect the change in the hours rule to encourage more people to take up employment and claim family credit and to be better off as a result

I welcome the extension of family credit to less well-off families. Will not it be of value to parents, particularly mothers, who will be able to go out to work while their children are at school, to the benefit of their families and themselves?

That is precisely the point which we are seeking to meet. We felt that 24 hours was rather a long time for that purpose. I ought to make it clear that, while the change in the benefit rules will be particularly useful to many lone parents, it will also help all families with children.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is another important step towards achieving what must eventually be the objective of all those policies: that people should not lose benefit when they behave in exactly the way that the Government seek to encourage? May we be assured that my right hon. Friend will continue to work towards that objective across the whole range of benefits?

That is an aspect of what I call the "children come first" package, to which I attach particular importance. I assure my hon. Friend that I shall continue to do everything that I can in the same direction.

Social Fund


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the working of social fund loans and grants

The social fund has continued to provide valuable help to a large number of people in greatest need. Since the scheme began almost 2·5 million interest-free loans and over half a million non-repayable community care grants have been awarded at a total value of almost £500 million

The Secretary of State tells the House about his "children come first" policy, but can he explain why my constituents are refused assistance in the form of a grant, for example, when new-born babies come into the family, when people such as the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) want shoes or when my constituents are moved into unfurnished accommodation and need bedding or beds? Against that background, will the Minister explain through me to my constituents how he can justify the fact that some of the poorest people in Britain are told that they cannot have a grant? They are allowed a loan as long as, with their derisory income support, they can afford to pay it back, which, of course, many simply cannot

As I said, a large number of grants have been given, including on many occasions grants to people who applied for a loan but were awarded a grant instead because it was thought more appropriate. We have increased the maternity payment from £85 to £100 and the capital limit has been raised for people aged 60 and over from £500 to £1,000. From January 1991 that will also apply to exceptional cold weather payments. We have demonstrated the flexibility of the social fund and its ability to react to changing circumstances.

As a matter of urgency, will my right hon. Friend extend the use of the social fund to providing assistance for the families of British hostages held in Iraq and for returning refugees who in many cases come to this country penniless?

With regard to those who come from the Gulf and their relatives, we have liaised carefully with the Gulf support group. The response of the social fund has been first class. All flights from Iraq are met by officials from the Department of Social Security. People are given advice on how to pursue their claims with their local offices. Our officers sit alongside other advisers from the Foreign Office to make sure that the social security system plays its part; it also enables refugees to settle in Britain

Does the Minister recall his reply to my letter about chronically sick and disabled people, among others, who have returned to the United Kingdom from Kuwait and Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait? Can he now update his reply and, in particular, say today whether the total resources of the social fund will be or may be increased to allow for those wholly unexpected new calls on its help?

Of course, we review the budget and the claims on the social fund during the course of the year. There is no reason to suppose that the claims resulting from the crisis in the Gulf will alter the overall level of the budget this year

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the former system was a licence to print money, under which youngsters would leave home, obtain a house on demand and present the DSS office with a shopping list of 140 items that were paid for on demand? Now they must have a loan. They must justify it and pay it back interest free. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in return some other people receive benefits of the same amount of money, which is laundered from person to person? That is good news for taxpayers' money, is it not?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the abuse of the single payments scheme and its entirely open-ended growth could not have been afforded by any Government. We took the right steps to alter the system to the new social fund, which is operating fairly, quickly and flexibly.

Social Security Systems


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what lessons he estimates may be learned from a study of other countries' systems of social security; and if he will make a statement

We can learn a great deal from a study of each other's systems, but we need to remember that they are set in different societies with different traditions and different economic backgrounds. In the European Community Social Security Ministers have agreed that the exchange of information and discussion of problems should be encouraged. In the wider context, Ministers maintain contacts with many countries—for example, recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the United States of America to look at child support arrangements

Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to study the Swiss system with its much greater emphasis on individual, family and local community responsibility for welfare? May I recommend that she reads "Cradle to Grave" by Ralph Segalman and David Marsland?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind suggestion. I am not very familiar with the features of the Swiss system that he describes, but comparisons between the British social security system and those of other countries of the European Community conclude with a flattering picture of the United Kingdom

What possible justification can there be for our present social security system, under which those with a small income, in some cases no more than £54 a week to live on, are expected to pay more than £10 a week in rent because of changes in Government regulations? Is not that absolutely disgraceful? I have notified the Minister of many such cases involving my constituents. Is it a wonder that so many pensioners cannot give a damn whether the Prime Minister or the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) wins? What they want is the defeat of the Tory Government and a Labour Government in office

That is possibly the most ingenious question that we have heard so far this afternoon. Well done to the hon. Gentleman. The safety net that is provided by income support, and which is also supported by housing benefit and community charge benefit, together with the state pension, provides an excellent system of support for pensioners.

Church Commissioners



To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, if he will estimate the financial consequences for the commissioners of the trend in ordinations in the past three years

Mr. Michael Alison
(Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners)

There is no clear trend in ordinations in the past three years sufficient to suggest any significant change in the balance of the Commissioners' expenditure in future years

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the trend would be more encouraging if women were allowed to become fully frocked priests? Does he accept that just as Rabbi Julia Neuberger has been a distinguished theologian, many ladies could become caring, efficient parish priests? When does my right hon. Friend believe that the first lady Prime Minister will appoint the first lady bishop?

When my hon. Friend refers to women priests, he should be aware that there is likely to be a Measure on the ordination of women presented to Parliament in about 1993. My hon. Friend referred to women Prime Ministers. Perhaps I can say that there will be an opportunity to confirm a woman Prime Minister at a rather earlier date. I should put it on the record that no Prime Minister since Gladstone has made such an open and avowed Christian commitment as our present Prime Minister, or done so much for the Church

As the right hon. Gentleman used to be the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister and she might finish up on the barbed wire tomorrow night, will he in his capacity as a Church Commissioner recommend her to take on one of those jobs because she might need some extra work?

As usual, the hon. Gentleman makes constructive suggestions and helpful comments in the direction of the Church. It would not be out of character or beyond possibility for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister perhaps to wish to offer herself for ordination at a much later date. It is perfectly possible for her to complete a long tour as Prime Minister, which I hope she will, perhaps retiring at 70, and then to offer herself for ordination. She would be most acceptable in the Church of England.

Church Commissioners (Abolition)


To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, whether he has received any representations about the abolition of the Church Commissioners; and if he will make a statement

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the feeling that it would be better to devolve that responsibility to local churches and parishes rather than for all the decisions to be made in London? Does he agree that that would involve the Church in a much more positive way in the affairs of the community?

I am bound to say with great respect to my hon. Friend that I am slightly suspicious of his question, because in the previous Session he sought to have the Church Commissioners left intact but removed to the constituency of Bolton, North-East. Now that that has been ruled out as a possibility, he is suggesting that they should be abolished altogether—I imagine because my hon. Friend suspects that they might be moved to the constituency of, say, Henley or Finchley. I believe that the Church Commissioners are best left as they are. They find only one third of the costs of financing the Church of England; the rest must come from the dioceses and the man in the pew. I think that they do a good job as they are

Is not there a serious point here—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] As it is beyond the wit of man for some hon. Members to appreciate a serious point if it is dangled in front of them, I shall still address my question assuming that it raises a serious point. Given that the Church has published a report to say that it is important for the Government to increase investment in inner-city areas, what serious consideration has been given to moving the Church Commissioners out of their plush offices in Westminster into one of the inner-city areas?

That question, which is serious, has been considered before. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, however, that the Church Commissioners, for better or worse, acting through me as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, must have regular traffic with the General Synod, which is located in London and, above all, with this House, where Church Measures must be endorsed. It would be impracticable to discharge our duties fully to the House if the Church Commissioners were to be located in the hon. Gentleman's constituency or any other. I suspect that there would be hot competition for the location of the Church Commissioners and I believe that they are best left at Westminster.

House Of Commons Commission



To ask the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what representations he has received from those persons responsible for catering in the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman who represents the House of Commons Commission is also a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. How does he react to the fact that the catering staff of the House of Commons have not had a single pay increase in the past seven years that meets the level of inflation? This year, when inflation is nearly 11 per cent., they will get a pay increase of 7 per cent., but the London weighting allowance has been frozen for the past three years. Does he really think that the House of Commons Commission is doing its job properly? How does he defend it?

The House of Commons Commission is required by statute to keep the pay of its staff in line with the civil service and that it seeks to do. If the hon. Gentleman has detailed evidence of the way in which the pay rates are out of line—much of the press comment on that subject is wildly inaccurate—I hope that he will bring it to my attention

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee has just written to each and every hon. Member about the Christmas gratuity collection for the House of Commons staff? Opposition Members may table questions about the lot of the staff, but if they gave a little more generously this year than they did last year, the staff might be well treated

I hope that hon. Members will respond generously to that appeal, but, however much is raised, that does not absolve the Commission from the responsibility that it seeks to carry out to pay its staff properly.

Christmas Bonuses


To ask the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, if there are any proposals to pay Christmas bonuses to Palace staff

No, Sir. However, as the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) pointed out, for many years hon. Members have made donations to a Christmas appeal for the staff of the Refreshment Department made by the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee

Given how mean hon. Members are with regard to gratuities and tipping [Interruption.]—I tip all the time—it is no wonder that the staff are having such great difficulties in making ends meet from the money that they receive. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the enormous pressure that there will be on the Refreshment Department at Christmas time, in particular when Conservative Members will be buying large quantities of goods from the souvenir shop and buying dinners for their constituency association members, in a vain attempt to prevent their deselection in view of the fact that they backed the wrong side? In view of that enormous pressure, would not a large bonus be appropriate this year?

Hon. Members in all parties are regular and extensive users of the facilities of the House, including those for the purchase of various items. I hope that the Tea Rooms are doing exceptionally good business while so much canvassing is in progress during the Conservative leadership election. However, it is not by way of extra subscriptions or appeals that the Commission seeks to ensure that its staff are properly paid; it is adhering to widely accepted pay rates.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, while Conservative Members might be spending large sums of money on gifts in the shop, a large number of Labour Members will be spending their money in the bars? I hope that they will spend a large amount on buying drinks for the bar staff.

I do not go to the bars very often, but I am led to believe that Members of all parties are to be found in them.

House Of Commons



To ask the Lord President of the Council what plans he has to improve telecommunications between Westminster, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John MacGregor)

The Services Committee has been asked to consider a package of measures designed to strengthen links between this House and the main European Community institutions. Those proposals include arrangements to enable hon. Members to communicate more easily by telephone and post

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can he give me any idea of the time scale of the conclusion of the discussions about these arrangements? My constituents in Fylde feel strongly that some good British common sense should reach the Commission and other European institutions early on, so that we can have our say before some of the more half-baked ideas creep out of Brussels and sadly become reality

I hope that the time scale will allow the discussions to conclude reasonably soon. As for the form of the arrangements, they are likely to involve exchange numbers for the main European institutions being made available for direct dialling by Members of Parliament. It will be possible to go beyond the initial 12 once the software on the Palace of Westminster's own exchange is upgraded

Before such improvements are made, would not it be better to try to improve communication within the Cabinet? Is the Minister aware——

Order. The hon. Gentleman's point is miles away from the question. That is not very good

If we are to improve communications with the European Parliament, it might be useful for the Cabinet to be able to communicate better than it can at present. Should not we bear in mind what was said yesterday by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) about what occurred in the Cabinet over the Westland affair?

Will the new arrangements include the Council of Europe, which is much wider than the EEC and the European Parliament?

I am not sure that the European institutions have been fully sorted out yet; however, I shall bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.

Scottish Affairs Select Committee


To ask the Lord President of the Council what response he intends to make to the recommendation of the Procedure Committee in its report on the Select Committee system in the last Session of Parliament concerning the appointment of a Scottish Affairs Select Committee

As the hon. Member knows, I cannot anticipate the Government's considered response to the report. I shall be replying to that and the other recommendations made in due course

Is not it a ridiculous indictment of the Government that they cannot find enough Conservative Members to man that important Committee? The Scottish Office covers many diverse areas of public life in Scotland, including housing, transport and agriculture. Is not it more rather than less important for there to be a Select Committee that oversees the work of the Scottish Office, irrespective of whether its members are Welsh, Irish or even the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell)? Will he again consider getting Conservative Back Benchers to man this important Committee, so that the work of the Scottish Office can be properly overseen?

I have already said that I shall examine that matter again, but I am equally well aware that there have been several difficulties affecting the issue throughout the lifetime of this Parliament and I am not very hopeful of progress. The hon. Gentleman has raised many points relating to Scotland. As he will know some of those subjects are dealt with by other Select Committees, and the Scottish Office frequently gives evidence to those committees

To follow on from the question of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Members such as me with seats in the south who would be happy and proud to serve on a Scottish Select Committee, because it would enable many of us to spend a great deal more time in Scotland than we are able to do at present?

I am not sure what sort of time my hon. Friend has in mind, but I shall consider his point

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, at an earlier stage, some of us devoted much time to using our good offices in an attempt to resolve the difficulty? Will he encourage the reactivation of those discussions, to ensure that at least three component parts of the four parts of the United Kingdom enjoy and benefit from the oversight of a Select Committee?

I do not think that I can go further than I have today. I have been looking into the history of the progress of the matter during the lifetime of this Parliament

Does the Leader of the House accept that it is a pretty unfortunate precedent, particularly from a Government on the way out, not to establish democratic machinery simply because it is not in the Government's interests to do so? In this, one of his earliest performances as Leader of the House, will he at least establish clearly that his responsibility to the House is not simply to do what is convenient for the Government, but to do what is in the established, democratic traditions of the House, and set up the Select Committee?

I do not think that it was all one sided. Having looked at the history of it, I believe that there were differences of view on the matter at various times on both sides of the House. As I said, I shall look into it. I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's belief that this Government are on the way out—quite the reverse.



To ask the Lord President of the Council what consideration has been given to reintroducing the textline facility into the branch library

The reintroduction of textline in the branch library is not being considered because the suppliers of the standard textline service have now given general notice that that standard service is to be withdrawn altogether

I understood that it was Reuters that increased the price, which led to the removal of textline. Its facilities are available in the House of Commons Library. Will they be removed in the future? If facilities for hon. Members and their research assistants were removed, it would be as useful as hon. Members going round the Library with paper bags over their heads

Apart from the fact that the service is being discontinued, there was a possible 400 per cent. increase in the Library charges over three years as a result of changes. In view of that, the Library Sub-Committee of the Services Committee concluded that the benefits of continuing the textline service could not be justified against the cost. The Library fully recognises the desirability of having some means of access to press material and is considering several alternative options.

Register Of Members' Interests


To ask the Lord President of the Council what representations he has received on the rules for the Register of Members' Interests; and if he will make a statement

Is the Lord President aware that the register is being abused almost every year? Does he know that 19 Tory ex-Cabinet Ministers hold 59 directorships between them and are raking in more than £1 million, not one penny of which is recorded in the register? Before there is a new batch of Tory ex-Cabinet Ministers in a few weeks' time and then another batch when we get into power, is not it high time that we got rid of the system, each Member of Parliament had only one job and we put an end to moonlighting?

I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's last point, because it is for hon. Members to decide what they should do. As is clear from what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question, there is a great deal of talent that can be put to use outside the House and I do not think that it would be right to put a stop to that. The register is a matter for the Select Committee, which is looking at some possible changes to it

There is no doubt that many Conservative Members scrupulously enter everything with which they are connected on the register—it has got me into trouble. Does the Leader of the House accept that when we declare our position as unpaid consultants, we are often accused locally of having our fingers in too many pies because we have been scrupulously honest in placing everything on the register? There are many Opposition Members who should be making entries, but are not. However, I shall not name them today.

One of the matters that the Select Committee on Members' Interests is considering is whether to define the requirements of the register more precisely, so that hon. Members' interpretation of the rules is more consistent. That might help to deal with some of the points that my hon. Friend raised.

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman intended to make any specific accusation. [HON. MEMBERS:"He did."] Order. If he did, he should draw the matter——

Sit down, please. If the hon. Gentleman has any such evidence, he should properly draw it to the attention of the Chairman of the Select Committee and not bandy it across the Floor of the House.

Televising Of Parliament


To ask the Lord President of the Council how many complaints have been received about the televising of the House

I am not aware of any recent complaints arising specifically from the televising of the House's proceedings that fall within my direct responsibility or that of the Select Committee on Broadcasting. Naturally, hon. Members raise from time to time a variety of matters relating to the effect of televising on the work of the House and the Select Committee and the Supervisor of Broadcasting are always willing to consider them sympathetically

I thought that it was most unfair of "Spitting Image" to portray the right hon. Gentleman as someone who was so little known in the country that he had to walk round with a personalised paper bag over his head. As it is clear that the electorate and hon. Members very much like the televising of Parliament, and to help the right hon. Gentleman perhaps to become the best known Leader of the House, could the Committee now consider the possibility of gavel-to-gavel coverage of our proceedings so that people can watch what they want to see rather than what broadcasting journalists think they ought to see?

I know that that point has been raised from time to time and the Select Committee can consider it again.

Statutory Instruments, &C

With the leave of the House, I will put together the two motions relating to statutory instruments.


That the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1990 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Merchant Shipping (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Order 1990 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Patnick.]

Points Of Order

3.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not having been here when question 27 to the Church Commissioners was called. Will you consider whether the Sessional Orders also apply to London Underground and its lack of investment in the Victoria line which led to a plague of collapsing wheels and to my having to spend an inordinate time at Finsbury Park station awaiting the arrival of a train that did not come? My constituents and I would be delighted if you, Mr. Speaker, would pass that on to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who could in turn pass it on to London Underground.

I do not think that the Commissioner would reckon that that came within his responsibilities. In any case, the hon. Gentleman very nearly made it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you a constitutional question? If a Prime Minister is dismissed—a prospect which, in this case, I should warmly welcome—is there a requirement upon the House to divide at any stage?

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not asking you about a particular case, although it is true that I qualified my opening remarks. I am asking you whether, in the event of a Prime Minister being dismissed, the House would be required to divide at any stage

The question is hypothetical, but my predecessors have regularly ruled that advice on procedures and other such matters is not given by the occupant of the Chair

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Notwithstanding the advice that you cannot give, will you confirm that the ballot that is to take place tomorrow night is about the leadership of the Tory party and that, in this quaint little place of ours, it does not have anything much to do with who is Prime Minister? Knowing the Prime Minister's character and traits, there is half a chance that, if she were defeated, she would still come to the Dispatch Box and act out the role of Prime Minister. She might even force the Cabinet to reconsider the whole affair. It is not a matter of who is Prime Minister but of who is the leader of the Tory party. It might eventually be a matter for the Queen, and on that issue I am not very well informed. I do not know whether you are, Mr. Speaker

I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that I believe that there is a contest for the leadership of the Conservative party

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for civil servants, who are supposed to be impartial, to involve themselves in giving briefings in the Tory party leadership campaign? Mr. Bernard Ingham is being used by the Prime Minister not as an impartial civil servant but as someone giving press briefings rubbishing the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). Is that in order?

I understand that Mr. Bernard Ingham has been giving press briefings for about 10 years

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that the Queen calls on someone to take on the responsibility of Prime Minister? Do you therefore agree that, regardless of any ballot being held for the leadership of the Tory party—and much canvassing is taking place on the Conservative Benches as well as outside—it is entirely for Her Majesty to decide who will be Prime Minister? Therefore, it is likely that the present Prime Minister will continue in office regardless of any leadership ballot

I cannot answer such questions. First, I am not in any way involved because I have no vote, or anything like that. I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question, but I understand that discussions of this kind are going on and no doubt we shall hear more about them

This point of order is on a totally different subject. You may have heard on last night's news that a substantial number of Conservative Members have threatened to resign the Whip if the vote goes in a certain way. At what point do you, Mr. Speaker, or the House, get an opportunity to decide whether whoever emerges as the Tory party leader can command a majority in the House? That should be a matter for the House rather than for the market

Orders Of The Day

Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.37 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time

I have selected the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition

The Bill is presented at a time when we have recently had further tragic confirmation of the ability of terrorists, both republican and so-called loyalists, to bring death and misery to men and women not just in Northern Ireland, but throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. I do not want now to rehearse the details of the present security situation, in which so far this year 71 people have died in Northern Ireland alone as a direct result of the security situation. They were mostly civilians, but the total included 11 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and 15 members of the armed forces, including eight from the Ulster Defence Regiment.

All of us are all too familiar with the litany of suffering caused by terrorists seeking to promote their political objectives by violence and the threat of violence—violence all the more atrocious because it is so completely futile. Each of us also, as we take part in the debate, will recollect particular incidents which have made an especially deep impression on us personally and which must inevitably influence our approach to the issues that we are debating.

Since that is so, I do not need to spend time explaining why the Government will not rest until Northern Ireland is cleansed of the abomination of terrorism. I do not need to justify to the House why the Government seek to maintain the rule of law, or why we have a duty to ensure that all the people of Northern Ireland must be free to express their political opinions without inhibition, fear of discrimination or reprisal, or why we have a duty to defend the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland against those who try to promote political objectives, including a change in the status of Northern Ireland, by terror

Like all my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have always strenuously opposed terrorism and condemned the IRA and its sister organisation on the opposite side of the sectarian divide. There is no justification for terrorism. I oppose the campaign of terrorism that has been going on for 20 years. Ireland is no more united now than it was on the day in 1970 when the IRA started its bombing activities. However, is not it essential that, while those who are found guilty by the courts of such crimes should be imprisoned, those who are found guilty but are seen to be innocent should be released? Therefore, would not it be acting in the interests of the rule of law that, if the Birmingham Six are not guilty—hardly anyone believes that they are—they should be released as soon as possible? That would improve relations between Ireland and this country

The hon. Gentleman's intervention was more like a speech. Even if he had made that point in a speech later in the proceedings, it could well have been out of order in the context of this Bill.

Nor do I need to persuade the House of the need to ensure that the police, supported so long as is necessary by the armed forces, have the resources that they require to undertake their difficult and dangerous work on behalf of the whole community, or why we need to provide in Northern Ireland a legal framework within which the security forces can act to defeat terrorism. Nevertheless, simply because the crimes committed by terrorists are so heinous, because they are such an affront to human decency and to the civilised values that we share with our friends throughout the world, and because these terrible deeds move us to great and justified anger, I should like to make clear to the House the Government's strategy to defeat terrorism and to explain how the Bill is an integral part of that strategy.

Indeed, it is because I regard it as essential that the House and the wider public should be in no doubt what our policies are for eradicating the scourge of terrorism that, as right hon. and hon. Members will recall, I issued a statement to coincide with the introduction of the Bill setting out the general principles that inform the Government's security policy in Northern Ireland.

The House will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, if I do not go through that document in detail now, although I commend it to right hon. and hon. Members for further study. I would draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to one sentence in that statement, for it is perhaps the most important of all:
"the Government is determined that terrorism will be defeated through the even-handed and energetic enforcement of the criminal law".
There is something so fundamental here that I believe that I should explain why the Government are in no doubt that our response to terrorism must be conducted within the framework of the rule of law. It is, quite simply, because our adherence to the rule of law, in the face of the most atrocious provocation, as well as to democratic procedures and the principles of justice that sustain our civilisation, demonstrates why terrorism should not win and why it cannot win. For terrorism, by its very nature, represents a relapse into barbarism and savagery that unites the entire civilised world in determined and unquenchable opposition.

For these reasons, too, we believe that, so far as possible, our response to the terrorist threat should be based on the ordinary criminal law of Northern Ireland. This means that the courts and security forces are constrained by the law. Suspects will be treated as innocent until proved guilty; they will be prosecuted on the basis of proper evidence adduced in open court and tested to proper standards; and witnesses for and against the accused will be produced for open examination. In short, those accused of involvement in terrorist activities will be accorded essentially the same treatment, both in terms of prosecution and defence, as other persons suspected of ordinary crimes. They are tried and, if found guilty, punished for those crimes in a way that ensures that justice is both done and seen to be done. This reflects the deep truth that terrorist methods, whatever their purported objectives, are simply criminal—and should be tried as such.

Nevertheless, successive Governments have recognised that some modifications to the ordinary law are needed to deal with the terrorist emergency in Northern Ireland. This will hardly surprise right hon. and hon. Members, since it is one of the terrorists' main objectives to bring this about, as part of their campaign to undermine the basic institutions of the state and to provoke the authorities to measures that will be judged oppressive and cause us to lose the confidence and support of the community at large. That is why Governments have sought consistently to limit these departures from the normal criminal law, both in extent and in time, and to ensure that such exceptional measures as are needed are strictly proportionate to the terrorist threat.

At the same time, we need to ensure that the police, and the armed forces in their support, as well as the institutions of government generally, and the legal system in particular, are equipped under the rule of law to respond effectively to the terrorist threat—to have the power, so far as possible, to deter and interdict terrorist operations, to reassure the population, and, above all, to enable the police to bring the successful prosecution of terrorist criminals before the courts

The right hon. Gentleman speaks with such sublime confidence that everyone who is found guilty of terrorism is guilty that I find his speech extremely worrying. In Northern Ireland, there are the Diplock courts, with their lack of juries and many other things of that nature, and in this country we now realise that many who are innocent have been found guilty of various offences and have been in gaol for 15 or 16 years. Does not the right hon. Gentleman worry about this to some extent? What is happening in Northern Ireland is possibly even worse than what is happening in this country

The hon. Gentleman takes up a matter which was introduced by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and which does not relate specifically to the Bill. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has drawn attention to the workings of the Diplock courts and, if I understood him rightly, he cast aspersions. I wish to reject those aspersions from the Government Dispatch Box

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for intervening a second time. Does not he see the relevance—[ Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) would stop mumbling. He has not spoken about these matters previously

The hon. Gentleman does not give anyone a chance to speak

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely important that there should be full faith in the rule of law in this country and that the Dublin Government, as well as the Governments of other countries, including the United States of America, should understand that if a miscarriage of justice occurs, as with the Guildford Four and almost certainly with the Birmingham Six, it will be put right within our democratic system? Is not this relevant to trying to persuade people from abroad that the campaign against terrorism is one which we take extremely seriously and that if miscarriages of justice occur they will be put right at the first opportunity?

I repeat what I have already said to the hon. Members for Hillsborough and for Walsall, North. In the hope of deflecting the hon. Member for Walsall, North and dissuading him from making a further intervention, I shall respond by saying that, while I and no doubt every other hon. Member regret any miscarriage of justice, we can take pride in the fact that the resolution of cases where there has been a reversal of previous judgments has been conducted within the normal process of the law and not as a result of any direct political intervention.

In practice, I hope that the House will readily understand that a permanent balance has to be struck between maintaining the ordinary procedures of the criminal law, along with effective procedures to guarantee individual rights and liberties, and such departures as are strictly necessary to enable us to confront and ultimately defeat the special character of the terrorist challenge.

Should not it be emphasised by the Secretary of State that the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six had jury trials? They were not found guilty under the Diplock court procedure. Will the right hon. Gentleman repudiate the assertion that has been made about Northern Ireland?

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for intervening and supporting me and confirming what I have already said to the hon. Member for Hillsborough. The hon. Member for Antrim, North is correct.

Although the Government do not rule out any workable and lawful measure——

I shall finish this sentence first.

Although the Government do not rule out any workable and lawful measure that may be necessary to defeat terrorism, we are convinced that if a lasting peace is to be achieved in Northern Ireland it will be secured in the long run only through sustained and vigorous application of the criminal law against all wrongdoers, from whichever side of the community they come

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this subject, will he tell us what progress is being made in investigating violations of the law as it applies in Northern Ireland by the armed forces in the past and what investigations have been made into the shoot-to-kill policy that has been applied by the security forces in Northern Ireland? Does he agree that we all want to bring peace to Ireland and that to do so there must be a political strategy and a political dialogue? Can he give us any news on how that is developing?

Seductive though Opposition Members may be, I have some idea of the length of the speech that I must deliver in support of the Bill on Second Reading. Perhaps a discussion on political developments should wait for another day. The hon. Gentleman asked a leading question. There is no shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland, and there never has been one. As he well knows, all allegations about such episodes have been investigated.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland, and that it is operated by the Provisional IRA? They are the only people who operate such a policy

I agree factually with my hon. Friend, but for the purposes of this debate I am defending the Government's policy. If I make some progress with the Bill, it may assist the House.

The essential purpose of the Bill is to re-enact, with amendments and additions, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts 1978 and 1987, together with part VI of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, following the report by Lord Colville earlier this year. The Bill would usefully bring together in one piece of legislation all the anti-terrorism provisions that apply uniquely to Northern Ireland.

I have explained that our strategy is to defeat terrorism by the resolute application of the rule of law. From that premise, it follows that our duty is to ensure that the law is effective for that purpose. As I explained when the Bill was introduced on 8 November, for the moment and for the foreseeable future that law must contain provisions that recognise the exceptional threat terrorism continues to pose. That is the purpose of emergency legislation. We must provide the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the armed forces, as well as the courts, with the legal means that they need to protect the community effectively and to defeat terrorism. At the same time, we must continue to provide appropriate safeguards for those accused or suspected of terrorism. I attach no lesser value to the latter than to the former. We must have both in our legislation and I believe that, taken as a whole, the Bill represents an appropriate response to both concerns.

Emergency legislation is, by its very nature, something out of the ordinary. Because of its exceptional character, it has to be kept under constant review. Parliament recognised that when it decided that the current emergency provisions Acts should have a fixed, five-year life, expiring in May 1992, and that the principal provisions should be subject to annual review in both Houses. Right hon. and hon. Members will note that identical procedures are recommended for the Bill before us, should it be enacted. I would add only that, when the need for a particular provision no longer existed, it would remain the policy of the Government to repeal it or allow it to lapse as a step towards greater reliance on the ordinary criminal law

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. He will recall that the European Court of Human Rights expressed grave reservations about the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. Is he satisfied that the Bill will meet the requirements of that court on holding prisoners without access to legal representatives?

I should not bring this legislation before the House unless I had such confidence in it. If a case were to arise under the convention, it would take its course and the Government would defend their policy.

As I said, it would remain the Government's policy to repeal legislation or to allow it to lapse when the need for it no longer existed. That time, however, is not yet. For the reasons that I have already given, I wish that it were and, for those same reasons the House may be sure that the Government would not be bringing forward this Bill now were we not fully persuaded that its provisions were entirely necessary. Right hon. and hon. Members will have noted that Lord Colville concluded that the basic measures currently available to the police, the armed forces and the courts remain necessary. There will, of course, be an opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to debate the merits of the various proposals in the Bill over the coming weeks. I simply make the point now that the ordinary criminal law and trial procedures are not in all respects adequate to deal with the special problems of terrorism as they now exist, so additional measures remain sadly necessary. That is not, of course, a phenomenon unique to terrorist crimes; it is recognised equally in the case of drugs and fraud, for example, for which special legislation exists. The Government therefore have no hesitation in bringing forward this Bill. It is central to our common fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland.

As I turn my attention now towards the detail of the Bill, I should like to express the gratitude of Her Majesty's Government to Lord Colville for what we regard as a thorough, incisive and constructive report. As the House will know, Lord Colville has now been reviewing the emergency provisions Acts for some years, as well as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989, and his expertise is apparent for all to see in his report. I commend him for his report, which was valuable to Government and, I am sure, will be valuable to the House generally in its deliberations. I should also like to thank all those others, including the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights and the Irish Government, who have given us the benefit of their advice.

As will by now be apparent to the House, the greater proportion of the Bill, in line with Lord Colville's recommendations, is a straight re-enactment of existing provisions. That should be clear to right hon. and hon. Members from the explanatory and financial memorandum. I therefore hope that the House will bear with me if I do not devote too much time to those sections of the Bill that would essentially re-enact the existing provisions. Naturally, I recognise that simply because a provision is being re-enacted does not mean that it does not merit debate. But as the existing provisions are very familiar to the House, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members would regard it as a better use of our time if I were to concentrate on the new provisions rather than those which are already established.

It may assist the House if I give a brief outline of the structure of the Bill, highlighting the new powers about which I will say more later. Part I of the Bill replaces, without significant amendment, part I of the 1978 Act. It continues the category of scheduled offences and makes provisions for trials on indictment for scheduled offences to be conducted by the court without a jury. It provides that bail in such cases can be granted only by the High Court or Court of Appeal and contains special rules on the admissibility of confessions by persons charged with scheduled offences, and for reversing the onus of proof in relation to offences of possession of firearms and explosives. Part I also provides for the granting of remission for persons convicted of scheduled offences and for the reactivation of the remitted portion of earlier sentences. Those provisions are currently found in part VI of the prevention of terrorism Act 1989.

Part II of the Bill replaces, with amendments, part II of the 1978 Act. It confers powers on the police and armed forces to enter premises without warrant, to search for munitions, radio transmitters and receivers, and for persons unlawfully detained, and for the purpose of arresting terrorists. It provides the police and armed forces with powers of arrest and seizure; powers to stop and question, and to search persons in public places; and powers of entry and interference with rights of property and with roads. The power of seizure for the armed forces is provided for the first time. That part also creates a new offence of bypassing closed border crossing points and a new power to allow the police and armed forces to examine documents and other recorded data.

Part III replaces, with one significant addition, part III of the 1978 Act. It continues the category of proscribed organisations for Northern Irleand, and offences relating to membership of and support for such organisations. It also creates offences relating to the unlawful collection of information likely to be useful to terrorists; training in the making or use of firearms and explosives; and the wearing in public places of masks, hoods or other articles to conceal identity. This part also creates a new offence of possessing items intended for terrorist purposes.

Part IV, together with schedule 3, re-enacts the power of executive detention. Part V replaces, with amendments, part III of the 1987 Act, and makes provision for the regulation of security guard companies in Northern Ireland.

Part VI replaces, without amendment, part II of the 1987 Act. It contains statutory rights for persons arrested and detained under the terrorism provisions in police custody to have a person informed of their arrest and whereabouts, and to have access to legal advice. It also makes new provision to allow the police to take fingerprints without consent from terrorist suspects, in line with the law in Great Britain.

Part VII replaces, without amendment, existing provisions in the 1978 Act and the prevention of terrorism Act 1989. It provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations for promoting the preservation of the peace and the maintenance of order. It re-enacts the provision that widened the grounds on which the Secretary of State may reject applications for licenses for new explosives factories and magazines, currently found in part IV of the prevention of terrorism Act 1989. It provides for the payment of compensation by the Secretary of State in respect of property taken, occupied, destroyed or damaged by members of the security forces. This part also contains a new power to enable the Secretary of State to make codes of practice governing the exercise of the emergency powers by the police and armed forces. Part VIII contains supplementary provisions.

That, is a brief outline of the contents of the Bill. Generally speaking, and with certain exceptions that I will come to in a moment, the re-enactment of the various provisions, either with or without amendment, is in line with Lord Colville's recommendations.

I should now like to spend a few moments examining some of the new or otherwise prominent provisions of the Bill. I propose, therefore, to deal in turn with executive detention, the proposed new offence of possession of items intended for terrorist purposes, the proposed new power to examine documents and the proposed new powers in relation to border crossing points.

I suspect that the first thing that may have struck many right hon. and hon. Members when they first read the Bill was that the provisions relating to executive detention have been retained. Here we have not accepted Lord Colville's recommendation. I make no apology for this. The Government are determined to keep available a comprehensive range of responses to terrorist violence in the Province. Although the precise circumstances in which detention would be reintroduced are not at present identifiable, and while there are no current plans to do so, the Government continue to believe that the outright repeal of the provisions would be mistaken, especially as, should the introduction of internment ever be needed, it may well be needed quickly, which would not be possible without the necessary powers on the statute book. Also, it may be of interest to right hon. and hon. Members to be reminded that the Republic of Ireland has an analogous power of internment available to it.

I shall now turn to some of the new provisions in the Bill

I have never voted against the emergency provisions legislation, on the grounds that I operated it and that I have no right to change my mind when I am in opposition. However, I am of a mind to vote against the Bill tonight because of the issue that the Secretary of State has just passed over—executive detention—which has not been used since February 1975 and was ended at the end of 1975. There must be a better justification for including this important issue in legislation if it is not being used. If the Government wanted to use it, they should come back to the House of Commons and justify it because, as Gardiner showed, the legislation I inherited was not good—it sullied the law and had an effect abroad. Surely there must be a better justification than merely saying, "One might need it." One could not possibly introduce detention on the same principle as before

I am familiar with the arguments for and against executive detention, with which the right hon. Gentleman will also be familiar, and to which he has in part alluded. The fact remains that, if one wished to deploy those powers, it would need to be done promptly and in such a way that terrorists had no warning that one was proposing to do it. The powers on the statute book require the Government—by the procedure of order—to justify what they have done after the event. If one had to go through parliamentary procedure before engaging in executive detention, the purpose of that detention would be lost. As I said a moment ago, the circumstances under which it might be used are remote. The Government's view is that it should be retained on the statute book.

In chapter 2 of his report, Lord Colville examined difficulties confronting the police and armed forces in Northern Ireland and considered the case for additional powers to—and I quote his report—
"assist them to counter the changing and more sophisticated methods of operation now adopted by terrorists".
One such difficulty referred to by Lord Colville is that the terrorists are increasingly using and adapting for use as components in their improvised weapons and bombs a range of everyday articles which have otherwise innocent, lawful purposes. He says that it was put to him that
"there are now various articles which, though harmless in themselves, are so closely associated with terrorist activities that possession of them, in circumstances giving rise to reasonable suspicion of connection with terrorism, should be a new offence: the onus of disproving the suspicious circumstances should lie on the possessor".
He illustrates the argument by referring to adhesive tape, plastic drums, bell-pushes, coffee grinders, kitchen scales and nylon fishing line which, though innocent items in themselves, can, he quotes
"also have very sinister applications".
Lord Colville therefore recommends that, to remedy the current deficiency whereby persons caught in possession of items of use to terrorists, in suspicious circumstances, can evade prosecution, a new offence should be created of
"going equipped for acts of terrorism".
The Government have accepted that recommendation in principle and acted upon it. The Bill therefore contains a new offence of possession of items intended for terrorist purposes, in clause 29, modelled on Lord Colville's proposal. We believe that this will assist in the bringing of prosecutions against those who are responsible for acquiring, storing and using the equipment on which the terrorist campaign depends, as well as those who are intent on using it themselves.

In chapter 2, Lord Colville also examined the difficulty confronting the police and armed forces over the examination of documents. He explained, in paragraph 2·6(d), that
"messages, information about targets and other useful material may have to be reduced to writing on inconspicuous pieces of paper or innocent-looking documents, as being the only safe means of communication."
There is thus a clear mischief to be remedied. There have been many examples in recent times of terrorists storing information in writing or other forms. Lord Colville's solution to this problem was to recommend that we should wait and see how the existing law, in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, develops. He made no recommendation for a new power. However, the Government regard this as such a damaging omission that it would be unsafe to leave it uncorrected. As the law now stands, the advantage lies very much in the terrorists' favour and the Government have decided that action was necessary, both to make the terrorists' life more difficult and to increase the police's and armed forces' chances of obtaining hard evidence.

Right hon. and hon. Members will notice that the new power, which is found in clause 22, is tied explicitly to clause 30, the offence of collecting information useful to terrorists. As the law stands at present, it is an offence, under section 22 of the 1978 Act, which clause 30 replaces, to collect information about members of the judiciary, the police, the armed forces and the prison service and others, which would be useful to terrorists, yet there are no powers for the security forces to look explicitly for such information. The new provision is intended to remedy that anomaly. However, the Bill is drafted in such a way that searches under the new power would be limited to the extent reasonably required for ascertaining whether information likely to be useful to terrorists was present. In the Government's view, neither this new power nor the new offence of possession will be applied in such a way that any law-abiding member of the public would have any reason to fear. The decision to prosecute in the case of the new offence would rest with the independent Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland; the exercise of the new power of examination would be determined by joint operational directives to be issued by the Chief Constable and the GOC.

In chapter 13 of his report, Lord Colville drew attention to the problem of the illegal reopening or bypassing of closed border crossing points. As right hon. and hon. Members know, there has been a concerted campaign to reopen or bypass crossing points over the past 18 months. The Government recognise that the closure of border crossing points can cause inconvenience to local communities, but I assure the House that these crossing closures are vital in the interests of security. To quote Lord Colville,
"not only are the security forces extremely sensitive to the dangers from such illegal vehicular access, but their apprehensions are shared by many of the civilian population, in border areas".
The illegal reopening or bypassing of closed border crossings can therefore present the most serious risk in security terms because they can allow terrorists to move weapons or explosives across the border or to mount attacks. Given these dangers, it is imperative that certain crossing points remain closed. The Government have therefore inserted a new offence in the Bill, relating to the bypassing of closed border crossings. This will reinforce the offence in the existing legislation of interfering with closed crossing points. We have also created a new power to enable members of the armed forces to seize equipment used in the illegal reopening or bypassing of such crossings. Such a power is already available to the police, but, such is the nature of patrolling in border areas, they are not always present. Hence the need to close a loophole from which only terrorists and their fellow travellers benefit.

I turn now to the subject of codes of practice. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the Government published in July a non-statutory guide to the exercise by the police and armed forces of certain powers under the emergency legislation in Northern Ireland. We are currently monitoring the effectiveness of that guide. Representations were made to Lord Colville, as they have been in the past, that an alternative approach would be to have statutory codes of practice and Lord Colville recommends that we take an enabling power in case the guide proves inadequate. The Government accept his recommendation and such powers are therefore to be found in clauses 48 and 49.

There are also a few other matters arising out of Lord Colville's report on which I should like to comment. As right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, another of Lord Colville's recommendations was that interviews with terrorist suspects should be recorded, without sound, on video and that consideration should be given to trials in tape recording such interviews, in parallel with the current trials in Great Britain. The House will want to know that the Government have considered these proposals very carefully. We acknowledge that there remains concern about police interview procedures with terrorist suspects and recognise that the introduction of sound or video recording could have a beneficial effect on confidence in those procedures, as well as allowing allegations of ill-treatment to be controverted.

Nevertheless, we have concluded, after the most careful consideration, that it would be wrong to proceed with Lord Colville's recommendations, although I would remind the House that, if we ever reach a different view, the change could be made without legislation—under the terms, for instance, of the kind of code of practice to which I have just referred. The Government believe that the introduction of video recording could seriously jeopardise the usefulness of the interview process, which remains crucial to the police in their efforts to deal with terrorism effectively. Nor do we believe that video recording would, in itself, remove completely the scope for allegations to be made

Is the Secretary of State suggesting that interviews that take place in police stations as a result of detention under the emergency legislation are a substantial means of obtaining information in Northern Ireland? I thought that one of the elements that we had to protect in Northern Ireland was that the emergency provisions should be implemented only where there was accurate suspicion about a person's involvement and that one should not trawl for information. That must be made very clear to the Secretary of State

The hon. Gentleman is of course justified in intervening on a matter which I understand causes him concern. However, the Government have made up their mind on an issue on which the Bennett commission of inquiry into interrogation procedures in Northern Ireland passed a view a decade ago. We closely examined whether there had been any changes in the pattern both of activity and policy during the intervening decade. The Bennett commission recommended that video recordings should not be introduced. We decided, on the basis of what had occurred during the intervening decade, that at this stage we would not be justified in changing the law, although, as I said a few moments ago, we should not need the Bill in order to do that.

As for audio-taping, we do not believe that the time is right to conduct trials in connection with terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland. The police in Northern Ireland have little experience with tape recording, even in ordinary cases, at present, but we shall obviously study carefully the results of the trials involving terrorist suspects currently under way in Great Britain.

There is also the question of ensuring effective complaints mechanisms to which, like the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding, I attach the highest importance. As I explained in my statement on security policy, the public have a right to expect the highest standards of behaviour from police officers and members of Her Majesty's forces. Activity or actions falling short of those standards will never be condoned. Indeed, the Government believe that anyone who has a genuine cause for complaint about the conduct of a police officer or a member of the armed forces should use the procedures that exist for the investigation of such complaints. It is against that background that we are paying special attention to what Lord Colville has to say on this subject in chapter 5 of his report and we shall return to this subject as the Bill progresses.

Effective action to curtail and disrupt the financing of terrorism is a vital element in the Government's strategy for defeating terrorism. Accordingly, the law in this area was substantially strengthened by the enactment last year of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. That Act created three new offences in connection with the handling of funds intended for terrorist use. First, it relieved banks and other financial institutions of their obligations to confidentiality where a terrorist connection was suspected. Second, it gave new powers to the police, acting with the express authority of a court or, in Northern Ireland only and exceptionally, of the Secretary of State, to search premises and examine records, including financial records in appropriate cases. Third, it provided new powers of restraint and confiscation for the courts in connection with the new offences.

These new powers have already proved valuable, particularly in relation to investigation. However, as Lord Colville indicated in his report, there may be scope for further tightening of the law in this area and, while I would not wish to speculate further at this stage, the Government have not ruled out the possibility of further changes

Many people are concerned about the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. Does the Secretary of State think it right that those who have been before the courts in this country, originally arrested under that Act and subsequently released by the court because no case was found against them, should be made the subject of a banishment order signed by the Secretary of State to prevent them from returning to England, Wales or Scotland? Does the Secretary of State think that that is a due process of law which ought to be on the statute book of this country

The decision that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary would take in those circumstances would be based on the facts of those cases. I am aware that there have been such cases. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not hesitate to raise them as and when they occurred. However, I do not regard the process as inappropriate in terms of the activities against which the legislation is directed.

Finally, the House will wish to know that I intend, shortly, to bring forward a proposal for a draft Order in Council to give effect to certain of Lord Colville's recommendations that would more appropriately be dealt with by that form of legislation than by this Bill, since their effects are not confined to the emergency law. These are the recommendations in paragraph 7.3. about remands into police custody and paragraph 16.4. on the copying of documentary exhibits. My intention is that this order should be made at about the time that the Bill will receive Royal Assent.

I have given a lengthy explanation of the general background to and the detail of the Bill. I hope that that has been helpful to the House. I simply conclude by reaffirming the Government's determination that the people of Northern Ireland should be protected from terrorism. Her Majesty's Government will continue to take whatever measures are necessary, within the framework of law, to purge terrorism from Northern Ireland and we regard this Bill as making a vital contribution to the achievement of that goal. It is, naturally, not the only weapon in our armoury against terrorism: we shall, for example, continue to co-operate closely on security with the Government of the Republic of Ireland and our other friends abroad. We shall also continue to implement effective measures in the political, social and economic fields, which are designed to promote equality of treatment, economic prosperity and stable democratic institutions—measures which are both good in themselves—but which will also complement and reinforce the work of the security forces, about which the hon. Member for Islington, North asked me earlier.

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether, in keeping with what he says about co-operating closely on security with the Government of the Republic of Ireland, he had full discussions with Mr. Collins on this Bill? Mr. Collins has savagely attacked him and repudiated him

I do not detect in the hon. Gentleman's question the total constructiveness and support which I usually associate with his interventions. I detected an element of mischief in that inquiry. I should be the first to acknowledge that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I had a purposeful conversation about the legislation and that we did not necessarily see eye to eye on every point.

The Bill is nevertheless a most important part of that armoury, for we believe that it represents a fair and proportionate response to the current terrorist threat and that it will provide the courts and the security forces with the legal resources that they need to combat terrorism effectively, while still providing reasonable safeguards to protect the rights of individuals who fall under suspicion. It is, above all, a Bill which should be welcomed in principle both by the House and men and women of good will in Northern Ireland and elsewhere who share our determination to write an end to the chapter of terrorism in the history of Northern Ireland.

Finally, I should like to pay tribute to two groups who should be in our thoughts during this debate: first, the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the armed forces in Northern Ireland. They remain the first line of defence for the whole community against the terrorist threat and I pay an unreserved tribute to their continuing courage, dedication and professionalism. They have shown a resolve to tackle terrorism from whichever section of the community it comes and they have demonstrated by their actions in upholding the law that they are worthy of the full support of all sections of the community in the Province. A similar tribute is deserved for the judiciary, court staff and members of the prison service.

Secondly I pay tribute to the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, who continue to demonstrate a remarkable and outstanding resilience in the face of the most extreme provocation. I should like to leave them with this message: the Government treat with the utmost seriousness their duty to defend all the people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist, against those who try to promote their political objectives, including a change in the status of Northern Ireland, by violence or the threat of violence. We shall continue our efforts, taking whatever measures are necessary within the law, for however long it takes, until terrorism is eradicated in Northern Ireland. Terrorist violence serves only to strengthen our resolve

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will take every action possible to stop the obscene funerals of IRA terrorists being shown on television and being allowed to take place in the Province?

I give my hon. Friend the assurance that what occurs within the law should be discharged within the law.

Terrorist violence serves only to strengthen our resolve. That message will bear repetition until it has been driven home. The Government are determined that the terrorists will never win. The Bill and the new provisions that it contains are designed to make our task easier.

4.20 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

That this House, whilst asserting the need to maintain confidence in the rule of law and in the administration of justice as the fundamental basis for achieving a just and stable society in Northern Ireland, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to implement the main recommendations of Lord Colville's review of the current legislation by refusing to remove internment without trial from the Statute Book and failing to introduce the video-taping of interviews with terrorist suspects; to introduce the 'certifying in' of scheduled offences; to establish an ombudsman to consider the operation of complaints against the security forces and a statutory duty for the Commission of Human Rights to supervise the operation of the statute; and to consolidate and reform the law relating to the examination of witnesses at Coroners Courts, the use of public interest immunity certificates, and the abolition of the right of silence.
The Secretary of State has already pencilled in for us the difficult background of atrocities, deaths, woundings, maimings, killings and explosions that take place in Northern Ireland. It is always a difficult time and, therefore, always a difficult task to move from the proper emotions that those dreadful atrocities raise within us to an objective examination of the proposed legislation. The Bill before the House reminds us of the extent to which civil liberties and individual freedoms have suffered in the past 10 years as a result of terrorist atrocities.

At the end of his speech the Secretary of State paid a proper tribute to the security forces, the judiciary and the ordinary people of Northern Ireland who have suffered tremendous aggravation from men of violence from all parts of the community. I join him in that tribute. The people who seek to uphold the rule of law in Northern Ireland have a difficult task to carry out. They have been subject to many attacks on them, whether they are ordinary squaddies, members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or members of the judiciary or prison service. We are indebted to them for their tremendous dedication to their job in past years.

The Labour party does not dispute the need in principle for emergency legislation dealing with the problems in Northern Ireland. It is obvious that the IRA and other similar groups take part in the most direct infringement of human rights in the Province, particularly of the basic human right to live. Therefore, the House must agree that the murderous assaults of the paramilitary must never be allowed to win the day.

However, the Bill is not about the iniquities of the terrorists, on which we all agree, but about the correctness of the Government's responses to them. That is where we are in profound disagreement with some of the proposals. Our opposition is one of principle. We believe that terrorism is best met by a firm application of the rule of law. That is what distinguishes the forces of the state from those of violent subversives and the men of violence. Far from weakening the Army and police in Northern Ireland, the need to work within the rule of law is a valuable reminder of their and, therefore, our moral superiority. The IRA would like nothing better than for the security forces to descend to its level and squabble in some sort of lawless gutter. The moment that such a thing happened would be the moment when the IRA and other men of violence had their victory.

The security forces must stay above that fray. They must not slum it in the criminal underworld below. The rule of law is their most important weapon in the fight against terrorism. It is the security forces' rationale. It is the ultimate guarantee that fairness and justice will eventually triumph within the Province. It is not enough, however, merely to invoke the phrase, "the rule of law". We need to ask what those words mean, as few formulas can have become so weakened by unreflective over-use in recent times. The Government constantly repeat their determination to maintain the rule of law, but they rarely explain the principles that underpin that commitment. That is entirely understandable, because discussion of those principles serves only to expose the degree to which the Government have, regrettably, drifted away from them in past years.

The rule of law involves first and foremost the simple notion that we are all—Ministers, the police, the Army, the UDR, the SAS, hon. Members, as well as ordinary citizens —bound by that same law. There should be no special rules for, or treatment of, any class of or groups of persons, no matter how eminent. Of equal fundamental importance is the idea that the law should be certain. It should not leave too much to the discretion of law enforcement officers. It should not be changed simply because parts of it prove inconvenient or aggravating to the authorities. The rule of law is a package of rights, not a menu of options. It is not for the Government to obey only those bits that are palatable and to dispense with the rest.

There may be occasions when it is necessary to depart from the normal circumstances that are associated with the idea of the rule of law. That is always the dilemma of democracy and that is what we are discussing today

Is not the hon. Gentleman talking nonsense? Is not the law what a democratically elected Parliament decides? Therefore, what is proposed here would be the rule of law. What the hon. Gentleman is talking about is human rights. If he is considering whether there should be any diminution of human rights for those who perpetrate, or are suspected of perpetrating, terrorist acts, he is talking about something entirely different from the rule of law

With the greatest respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he may use his definition of the rule of law and I shall use mine—one that the ordinary citizen understands as being the rule of law

The hon. Gentleman and I are laymen. Would he expect the law to be based upon the highest evaluation of human rights? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the law should reflect such an evaluation?

I agree with my hon. Friend and that is why any diminution of those rights must be carefully examined and fully justified. It is not for the Government to obey only those bits of the law that they find palatable and to dispense with the rest.

There may be occasions when it is necessary for the Government to depart from the normal standards that are associated with the rule of law. As I said, that is what we are discussing today—it is our dilemma and a dilemma for democracy. The need for emergency provisions legislation —a fact which we do not dispute—demonstrates that that is the case. Such changes, however, must be few and definite. They must be those that are judged absolutely necessary and must be strictly proportionate to the harm that they are intended to counter. They must be temporary, so that the need for their continuance is regularly assessed. They must be kept constantly under review, so that their exceptional nature is never forgotten. There is not, and never should be, any such thing as an every-day emergency, just as there never should be any such thing as an acceptable level of violence. Special powers should be dispensed with, despite continuing violence, if it is judged that the level of disorder no longer warrants their continued existence. A need in 1978 is not necessarily a need in 1990.

The IRA is still killing and maiming, but it must not be allowed to determine our agenda of what should or should not be in the law. By its actions it should not be allowed to have any veto on modifications to our emergency laws. If there is one word that encapsulates the idea behind the rule of law it is fairness. In a divided community, fairness is the key element in making the legal system function.

If the law is even handed and is seen to be such, it can have a vital role in fostering reconciliation between the communities in the Province. If the law is seen to be equal in its treatment of all, it will be much easier to wean communities away from the violent subversives that some of them presently support. Conversely, if the law is perceived as unequal and partisan, or it is believed that it protects some and punishes others, it will be disregarded and treated as just another alienating emblem emanating from the other side. Therefore, the rule of law should not only give us the standards that make us different from the terrorists, but provide us with a way of demonstrating, our good will and commitment to fair play in the communities where this message needs to be heard most clearly.

As a result of our commitment to a real rule of law, we are compelled to oppose parts of the Bill. We have three main concerns. First, the Bill retains practically all the existing emergency powers contained in the previous Acts, but fails to consolidate all the other emergency law in the Province. Almost all the reforms suggested by Lord Colville in his most recent review have been unequivocally rejected. Secondly, the Bill proposes new laws which are extraordinarily broad and potentially very repressive. Thirdly, many of the crucial erosions in civil liberties that have occurred in recent years do not appear in the Bill. They lurk unnoticed and neglected in other legal nooks and crannies, despite the relevance to the issues with which the Bill affects to be concerned.

In short, the Bill is in many respects repressive by reflex action. It consolidates only those laws that it suits the Government to consolidate, and adds unnecessarily to the plethora of restrictions that already inhibit freedom in the Province. If there is an advocate of liberty somewhere within the Government, his or her voice can hardly have been heard. Certainly the Government did not heed Lord Colville when the broad outlines of the legislation were being sketched.

Our first concern is the complete rejection of practically all Lord Colville's positive recommendations. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Government's total lack of liberal instincts in relation to the problem of internment without trial—or, as it is now called, "executive detention". Lord Colville called for an end to that power, but the Bill preserves it. Moreover, it allows for its introduction without further reference to the House or Parliament. We are assured by the Secretary of State that internment is not currently on the agenda. The memory of the catastrophe of 1971 is still fresh enough in people's minds—and, within it, the making of the Provisional IRA. There is no guarantee, however, that the temptation of the quick but disastrous internment fix will not be yielded to in the future. After a year of peaceful revolution in eastern Europe, and at a time when Britain is rightly critical of detention without trial in other places—Israel's in the occupied territories, for instance—it is ridiculous that this power should remain on the statute book.

The preservation of internment powers is enough in itself to justify the rejection of the Bill. However, Lord Colville's recommendations have been disregarded in many other respects. He recommended that police interviews with terrorist suspects should be video-recorded so that allegations of brutality could be more easily controverted and public confidence in the police could thereby be improved. The cameras are already in place, but no provision for such a recommendation appears in the Bill. It was with sadness that I listened to the Secretary of State's attempt to justify its omission.

Not only has the High Court recently awarded substantial compensation for injuries received in just such an interrogation in Castlereagh, but a member of the bench in Northern Ireland has added his voice to those calling for this elementary reform. It would be possible to introduce it, and to preserve secrecy and protection for those carrying out the interrogation, while ensuring people's basic safety, so that they will not be roughed up while they are being interrogated. To suggest that there might be the odd little corridor where someone could be roughed up, and to use that as an excuse for not having a video camera in the room where the interrogation is taking place, is an argument for having cameras in the corridors, not an argument for doing away with the idea of videoing

Can my hon. Friend think why the Government struggle so strenuously against what to most of us seems such an obvious move? Given the terrible circumstances that we have been living through for so many years, that is almost unbelievable. Has my hon. Friend any idea why the Government are resisting the idea?