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Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuing) (No 2) Order 1980

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 11 December 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

6.24 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd December be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) (No. 2) Order 1980, which was laid before the House on 26th November, be approved. In the six months since we last debated the renewal of the emergency provisions for Northern Ireland I am pleased to say that the overall level of violence in the Province has continued to decline; yet death and violence still occur, bringing tragedy and grief for the victims and their families. The terrorists and their violence are now more alienated than ever from the people of Northern Ireland, whose economic, social, and political needs are made worse, and pushed further from realisation, by the division and destruction wrought by terrorism.

As we progress towards normality we must expect the path to be rough in places. The terrorists will not easily abandon their discredited cause. We must expect them to seek any desperate means to revive their flagging fortunes. One way is to create fear and suspicion within and between communities. The Provisional IRA has attempted to do this with a ruthless campaign of murder in the border areas around South Fermanagh and South Armagh; and in recent months so-called loyalist terrorists have carried out a number of equally abhorrent murders. I condemn totally all those who commit these dreadful crimes, for which there can be no possible justification. Furthermore, let no one be in any doubt that the security forces will continue to act with determination and impartiality against all who break the law, whatever their political or religious persuasions. The same applies with equal force to those who take the law into their own hands, as some have recently threatened to do.

The return of normality is shown most clearly by the way in which the security forces are dealing with terrorism. They are not using the draconian measures advocated by some; they use the due process of law. This involves painstaking investigation, the gathering of evidence, the bringing of charges, and the proof of those charges in courts. This process, which is undramatic but relentless, is the very essence of policework, and it is increasingly the Royal Ulster Constabulary, supported where necessary by the Army, who are pressing home this fight against terrorism. It may not make many headlines, but it is a most effective form of attrition, gradually eating into the heart of terrorism. So far this year 539 people have been charged with terrorist crimes, including 62 with murder.

I know that this House would wish me to pay tribute, as we have done before, to the professionalism, courage and dedication of the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and RUC (Reserve), the Regular Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment, who daily continue their fight against violence and inhumanity on behalf of us all. I am also encouraged by the continuing number of successes against the terrorists by the security forces in the Irish Republic. Cross-border security co-operation is an essential component of our counter-terrorist effort.

Your Lordships will know that we are debating the renewal of these emergency provisions in the face of another threat of violence from the Provisional Irish Republican Army. It is the threat posed by the hunger strikes. That threat is not only to themselves; it is to the community from which, for a horrific list of crimes of violence, they have properly been banished. They seek by this means to force the Government to concede the legitimacy of their evil cause and to grant prisoner-of-war status to the convicted and sentenced republican criminals in prison. In this of course they must inevitably fail.

Thus failing, the terrorists hope to use the threat of the hunger strikers' deaths to precipitate widespread violence and bloodshed in the Province, and thus to promote the chaos and fear on which they thrive. This is a callous and ruthless exploitation of human life, to engineer confrontations within the community and with the security forces. So far the demonstrations in support of the hunger strikers have been peaceful. The Government believe that this support is misguided, but while the demonstrators behave lawfully their right to protest will be protected. The police will continue to control the demonstrations with the tact, discretion and common sense which they have demonstrated so far.

However, we must take account of those who at some time will seek to create violence from these peaceful demonstrations. I would ask the demonstrators to think hard about those who may try to manipulate their sincerely-held feelings for evil and violent objectives. As tension rises, let us hope that the suffering and endurance of the last 11 years, and the positive gains which have been made, will not be swept away by the hypocritical rousing of emotions by men who regard death as a mere tool in their workofdestruction.

As for the hunger strike itself, your Lordships will be aware that seven men are in the seventh week of refusing to take food at the Maze Prison and that they were moved to the prison hospital on 2nd December so that closer medical surveillance could be maintained over them. Three women prisoners at Armagh also began to refuse food on 1st December. So far no one's condition is giving cause for concern, but if they persist in their fast, it may not be long before we begin to see signs of deterioration in the health of the men.

My Lords, this is not the time for a lengthy discussion of these issues. Let me make them clear once more. The object of the protesting prisoners is to secure political status. The Government cannot, and will not, concede that status. But the Government are ready to consider constructively any genuine ideas for further improvement for all prisoners in a regime which is already enlightened and humanitarian, as my right honourable friend's Answer to a Question in another place last Thursday, 4th December, made very clear. The prisoners' claim for political status within the prisons is only part of a wider attempt to discredit those measures which the Government have been compelled to introduce to protect the very fabric of society from terrorism. We are here today to debate those measures and, I hope, to renew them.

However, my Lords, the Government do not seek renewal lightly, without having weighted up carefully the advantages and the disadvantages of each of the emergency provisions, and taking into account the comments and recommendations of responsible bodies, particularly the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, who are rightly wary of the use of temporary emergency legislation. The Government welcome the constructive advice of those who have the same objectives as we do—the return to normality. The terrorists themselves could most quicklybring about the dismantling of the emergency legislation by giving up violence and pursuing their aims by legitimate democratic means. But they dare not. The sterility of their creed of violence is all too evident, and yet by still pursuing it they push continually further out of reach the legitimate aspirations of those they claim to represent.

As I have said earlier, we are making progress towards normality, and a significant step six months ago was allowing the power of detention without trial to lapse. We are continuing to look for further opportunities as the position gradually improves. The measures to be given the closest scrutiny today are all provisions in the Act associated with the functions of the courts. They consist of the terms on which judges consider applications for bail in the High Court, in Section 2; the constitution of the so-called Diplock courts, in Section 7; and the rules governing the admissibility of statements by suspects in the case of allegations of ill-treatment while under interrogation, in Section 8.

So far as Sections 2 and 8 are concerned, we have discussed the arguments in detail in these debates over the last 18 months, and I know that the Govern- ment's case for retaining the provisions in their present form for the time being is well known. Suffice it therefore to say that the position on bail has not changed, except that I notice that the High Court does indeed grant bail to suspects in a considerable number of scheduled cases. Again, I notice that the courts from time to time find reason to stop trials on the grounds that the prosecution have not fully discharged the obligation placed upon them in the Act to disprove the allegation that ill-treatment took place. It is clear to me that the spirit of the concern expressed in this House and elsewhere about Sections 2 and 8 is being taken into account by the courts, which therefore protect the defendants.

When we examine the constitution of the Diplock courts we should do well to remember their genesis. They exist because terrorists sought, and still seek, to pervert the course of justice by intimidating juries from doing their duty. They exist because, in the face of violence, they were, and are, the means considered by eminent jurists to be the most likely to ensure that justice is done in providing the protection of the law for those who are threatened with, and subject to, violence. If that violence and its threat, though diminished, have not been totally removed, then it would not be wise to remove our safeguards. We have managed to make things better, but it would be foolish to think that the job had been finished.

The other provisions of the Act are also safeguards against the use of force to overthrow democratic institutions. They are the minimum weapon required in our armoury to resist the terrorists, who stop at nothing to achieve their purpose. At this particular time, when we see the terrorists making a desperate effort to turn the clock back to public disorder, brutality and sectarian violence, I have no compunction about asking this House to maintain these safeguards and to renew the emergency provisions as they stand. Steadfastness now will bring us closer to the day when we can cast aside these unwelcome but necessary aids in protecting the lives of peaceful citizens against the brutality of terrorism. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd December be approved.—( Lord Elton.)

6.35 p.m.

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his helpful and considered explanation of this Emergency Provisions (Continuance) Order, I would wish to repeat my support for the bipartisan approach to security matters in Northern Ireland. I join with the noble Lord in his tribute to the security forces and their work in Northern Ireland. I think it will be accepted that I am a frequent and, indeed, persistent critic of the Government's economic and social policies, which, as has been stated earlier this evening in this House, are having profound effects on Northern Ireland; but I feel I would be untrue to myself, and indeed to the people of Northern Ireland, if I engaged in nit-picking or a kind of mealy-mouthed support for the Government in any sincere attempts to deal with a very serious and potentially disastrous situation at present existing in the Province.

I support the Government in their attempts to find an acceptable way of resolving the H-block issue. I applaud Mrs. Thatcher for going to Dublin, as I applauded her for having the courage and the commitment to visit the security forces in Northern Ireland, and especially at Crossmaglen, when she became Prime Minister. I cannot stress how important it is for it to be seen that the Prime Minister and her senior Cabinet colleagues are personally committed to finding reasoned and acceptable solutions to the problems of Ireland. Although I share the disappointment of my friends in another place at the way the Government have handled their communications following the meeting with Mr. Haughey, the Irish Prime Minister, I regard this as simply another example of how poorly the Government perform in this field—the field of sensible human and public relations. It is an example of poor communications, rather than an indication that the policy being pursued is at fault.

My Lords, in this House and throughout over 45 years of work within the trade union movement I have advocated closer cross-border and Anglo-Irish co-operation as being in the best interests of the communities of these islands, and I was glad to hear the noble Lord making remarks along those lines. If the day ever comes when Ulster people turn their backs on practical common sense economic matters, such as co-operation on energy, industry, agriculture and many other aspects of life and social problems, they will have betrayed an important Ulster characteristic.

I have also advocated political change by persuasion and peaceful methods, for I believe firmly that the rule of democratic law is paramount. I share with His Holiness the Pope his view on the sacredness of human life and the inescapable truth that "murder is murder". I also accept the democratic principle that Governments must govern, and that despite any undue criticism this Government, I am convinced, like their predecessors, are sincerely striving to find a just and lasting basis for peace in Ireland. I believe we can best help towards these ends by giving support to this part of the Government's work within the context of the parliamentary processes.

As to the relative necessity of renewing this order, I agree with the noble Lord that we must not become complacent, nor deal with it as a mere rubber stamp exercise. However, perhaps the time is coming when we ought to look at the setting up of a judicial review of the Act, as has been suggested on other occasions. Other noble Lords who live in most difficult areas of the Northern Ireland Province may well wish to speak, so I would conclude by saying that in supporting this order I at the same time feel we cannot ignore the past 11 years of cruel and violent acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland, much of which is still continuing. My Lords, for these reasons I support the renewal of the proposals in this order.

6.39 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, should again like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this order, and I welcome very much what he has said. I should also like here to refer briefly to the subject which is so much in the forefront of the news today, the hunger strikers in the Maze Prison. I want to add my support and the support of my party to the way the Government are handling this matter. With my honourable colleague in the other place, Stephen Ross, I visited the Maze Prison earlier this year, and following this may I say how amazed I was to read in a report in The Times yesterday, under the heading,

"Time running out for hunger strike",
that,
"The Maze Prison sprawls across several acres of rich farming country …".
My recollection is that it is a vast complex covering in toto, as we were told, more than 100 acres. This highlights the ease with which the truth can be distorted, unintentionally (as I am sure was the case here) as well as by deliberate fabrication.

The first point that I want to make is that we left after our visit fully satisfied that conditions for prisoners are extremely good, better than in many of the older prisons in the United Kingdom except where, in the Maze, prisoners deliberately choose to make them otherwise. This cannot be said too often. When groups of demonstrators chant "H-Block, Hell-Block, Britain's concentration camp", they are guilty of pure fabrication and an evil perversion of the truth. Such behaviour does nothing but exacerbate the tense situation in Ulster today. The second point is that when well-meaning people plead for more reforms at the Maze "on humanitarian grounds", they are falling for the deceit that I mentioned just now—the implication being that the protesters "on the blanket" and those now on hunger strike are subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. That is not the case. I join in repeating that the grievous discomforts they suffer are self-inflicted.

In an extremely tense situation, the Government must be seen by all who do not deliberately shut their eyes to be both fair and firm. It has been suggested to me that the so-called Diplock courts, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has referred, might be helped if two judges sat instead of just one. None the less, I hasten to declare my great admiration for the courage of those men who undertake the present task. I would also pay tribute to the way that the prison staff continue to carry out their duties in dangerous and frustrating circumstances. I should like to join in the tributes already paid to the troops and to the Ulster Constabulary. One point which made a deep impression on me at the Maze was that over vast areas the prisoners and staff alike are starved of contact with any growing plant or tree. I find myself wondering whether in prisons in general the beauty of nature might not act as the necessary catalyst to break a bitter mood. I recall the words of Oscar Wilde about Reading Gaol:
"The shard, the pebble, and the flint,
Are what they give us there;
For flowers have been known to heal
A common man's despair".
I would describe it as concrete, corrugated sheeting and barbed wire; but the message is the same.

On the general position in Ulster today, I can only repeat my conviction that the bitterness and prejudice will take a very long time to heal. Everything that is possible must be done to bring the two sides together; for this is, of course, a problem which in the end the people of Ulster alone can resolve. We must not become impatient too easily if the path proves difficult. Finally, I should like to say that I was depressed to see on television some of the principal speakers after the recent Cambridge Union debate unable even to agree whether it was better to look forwards or to look back. I should have thought that it was clear that while we must certainly look forwards, it is likewise essential to look back—to look back and to try to understand. For true understanding brings forgiveness, and reconciliation is the only solution to the problems of Ireland, Ulster and the Republic, today.

6.42 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to join in the tributes to my noble friend Lord Elton on his introduction of this order and to say how impressed I was with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Hampton and Lord Blease. I think that together they covered an enormous amount. The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, was filled with compassion, sincerity and a good deal of determination. I appreciate that very much. I should like to join with my noble friend—and I hope that when he refers to me in his speech this time he will still call me his "noble friend", for I noticed the omission; but I feel it was a sin of omission rather than of commission—in assuring the House that so far the size of the demonstrations by the H-block supporters, the "Smash H-block" people, has been very small. There have been occasions in real Republican areas where only 50 people have turned up. This is a great tribute to the leaders in the area. Nobody knows, unless they go to those areas, of the intimidation and the appalling pressure that people in those areas are under. It is a very finely-balanced position at the moment. Every-thing should be done to make sure that there is no confrontation and nothing to produce a different frame of mind. I should like also to join with others in paying tribute to the forces, to the judges and to those who administer the law. They have a dangerous task and they do it with great fortitude and can be subject to no criticism.

Statistics show an improvement; but murders are still continuing and therefore that makes this order essential. There can be no relaxation and my noble friend has made it clear that there will be no relaxation. But in our area the problem still is very acute, with people able to come across the border for about 12 minutes—and that is about the limit at the moment. Last Friday, I had something to do with the evacuation of a farmer of 400 acres which he abandoned because of fear. That is the level to which the terrorists have succeeded in their prime intention of terrorising; that is the purpose and object of a terrorist. I shall probably appear to be not quite as hopeful as others about this; but I feel that it is right in this House to put the matter in the perspective of those—to use that horrible phrase—"at the grass roots", those totally involved in the local community, a community under attack but also with a considerable involvement in the business world, my friends in the whole of Northern Ireland.

There really is major tension in the Province of Ulster at this moment. It is not a figment of anybody's imagination. It is a tension of anticipation in case something goes wrong. I should like to start off by welcoming the initiative of the Prime Minister in trying to improve the links between the South and the North. To that extent, I welcome it very much. Let nobody think that this is a new departure; it has been going on for over 50 years. The Unionist Governments of Northern Ireland have co-operated in many, many economic and industrial spheres. There is no question about the welcoming of measures of this sort.

My Lords, without wishing to be too acrimonious, why then was it necessary for a Conservative Government to bring Stormont to an end?

My Lords, I can only tell you that I think that that was one of the tragic mistakes of a misguided Government. That would be the opinion of many people. I should like to feel that at the meeting of the Prime Minister and Mr. Haughey the question of extradition was raised, because a very serious decision was made in the courts of justice in Dublin. Noble Lords will remember that we passed a Criminal Jurisdiction Act and, under that, the idealists believed that a man who committed a crime in the North of Ireland and was apprehended in the South would then be tried by those courts. We had a case which went before the courts, one only, and that case, before it went down, was examined by the Attorney-General and by the DPP in Northern Ireland and was passed to the Attorney-General and the DPP in the Irish Republic. The evidence was there, as far as they were concerned, for a prima facie case. It came before the judges who dismissed it without even going so far as to try it. I am not suggesting that the men were guilty, but I am suggesting that what the judiciary said in Dublin was, "No matter what the Government have done in passing that Act, we will not work the Criminal Jurisdiction Act". My Lords, something should be put in its place to achieve the same effect.

I am glad that the noble Lord restated that the people on hunger strike are convicted criminals, some of them proud of the crimes that they have committed. And in their name other crimes are daily being committed. We in Ulster, who have been the victims, feel that some publicity should be given to the horrific injuries that have been committed on our people. I welcome most sincerely the Government's intention, which is becoming clearer and clearer, to stand firm against the hunger strikers. It is far less dangerous to stand firm than pursue any other course. But there is no denying that there is tension in the two areas of Northern Ireland, the two communities—and I wish to God there was only one community, everybody united in loyalty to Ulster!

In the Roman Catholic community the issue is: Can the IRA intimidate the population there to support the H Block people in a way that can produce a sectarian clash? In the Unionist population there has been and is a genuine distrust of the operations of the Northern Ireland Office. On three separate occasions since the beginning of the hunger strike that suspicion has been fanned. The first one was on the announcement that prisoners could wear civilian-type clothes. The Northern Ireland Office somehow managed to mislead Cardinal O'Fee, Bishop Dailey, myself and lots of other people that this was not a concession against blackmail. It was so close to the start of the hunger strike that it is difficult not to say that it looked like a concession. Now things are being made clearer; but at that point—supporting the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, on communication—it was bad communication.

The next thing that happened was the Written Parliamentary Answer by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. It was represented as an initiative. Dublin accepted it as an initiative. Certainly the leader of the SDLP accepted it as an initiative. But nobody was present in Northern Ireland to go on to the media to explain exactly what was in that statement. It was published here and everybody had a chance of smashing it before it could even be read. Certainly so far as I was concerned I rang up at an early stage to find out what it meant, because what I believed it to mean was disastrous. In point of fact it turned out to be nothing of the sort. That is the second question. The misinterpretation is due to bad preparation, and that is not a good thing in the state of Northern Ireland.

I should like to say how much I welcome the appointment of Mr. John Concannon, the right honourable Member for Mansfield, and his remarks, in which he said in "Yorkshire government" terms:
"It is time we spoke plain English".
In Northern Ireland we do rather long for the plain English of the former Secretary of State and the Minister. It seems to me that the language is being couched in terms which are subject to misunderstanding.

I believe the problem is tied up not in what the Government are doing but where they are aiming their information. I believe that at the present moment they have been too worried about the reaction in Dublin, the United States of America and London. Too little thought has been given to the reaction to their statements in Northern Ireland. This has produced increasing mistrust. In the summit meeting, Mr. Haughey has been repeating, time and time again, that the institutions which are to be examined will lead inevitably towards a united Ireland. It is not unreasonable for us to contend that, when we have the present silence about what was discussed, this situation again feeds our suspicions.

Something requires to be done to reassure the Unionist opinion, and I believe that the Government now have to repeat the assurance under the 1949 Act with a further definition to say that no kind of diminution of the sovereignty of the Westminster Government over Northern Ireland will be considered or contemplated without reference to a referendum. I genuinely believe that this is necessary and it has a great deal to do with the stability at this particular time.

The fear and apprehension is very bad and can lead to violence. That fear and apprehension is based on a lot of experience. We have only to remember that our feeling in the North of Ireland is that the Foreign Office, which has been called by somebody a nest of vipers—and I certainly would not put it that way, but I think the honourable Member for South Antrim called it that—would like to slip, slide or in some way move us into an inevitable position of a united Ireland. This is why the Member for North Antrim, the Reverend Ian Paisley, can feed on these fears. It is therefore important that this position should be put right with a repeal of the 1949 Act. If he is to be prevented, the Government have Rot to take a firm stance.

My Lords, I see that the time is going on. I consider that the Dublin Government and the media are quite wrong at the moment to fan the fear that there will be sectarian violence. There will be no sectarian violence if the Government take a strong, clear line, as they appear to be doing at the moment. But they must speak with an absolutely clear voice in order to make sure that there is no sectarian clash. All of this will help the place where the real battle is, and that is a battle for those Roman Catholics in the Republican areas who are being subject to such intimidation and such pressure from the IRA and their associates. Let us keep absolutely calm. Let us have no more initiatives until this thing is out of the spotlight. If we are firm, if we are quiet, there will be no sectarian violence.

6.58 p.m.

My Lords, I had not intended to speak tonight. I do so since I cannot remain in my seat because the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred in the course of his remarks to the discredited cause of the Provisionals, and later to what he called the evil cause of the Provisionals. This focuses attention on a problem that is felt by many of us who believe in that cause but who condemn violence with all the strength at our disposal. After all, the cause of the Provisionals is a united Ireland.

My Lords, with respect, the prime aim of the Provisionals is the overthrow of the Government on both sides of the island. The unification of the island is incidental to that. The noble Lord should make it clear which is the cause to which he gives his support.

My Lords, I think that I made it absolutely clear. I said that the cause to which I gave my support was that of a united Ireland, the achieving of a 32-county Republican Ireland. That is a cause which I support and which I do not believe to be either evil or discredited, although I condemn with every strength of feeling that I can express the methods that are being used for its achievement. Having said that, now I am on my feet I will only add that I deeply hope that violence will continue to decrease and that this may be the last time on which this temporary order of 1978 will again have to be renewed.

7 p.m.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, and other noble Lords present—perhaps not a majority tonight or on most occasions in this House—I certainly share the ideal which I have expressed many times in this House and elsewhere, of a united Ireland. I condemn, as I have condemned many times in this House, all violence from the Provisionals or the UDA. Perhaps I could just call for the attention of the noble Lords opposite—could they listen to me for just a moment? I should like them to bear in mind that the UDA, who are still a legal body by some odd quirk of the arrangements, have committed many murders, so do not let us talk as though all these murders were committed by the Provisionals. All murders on whatever side they come—and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Elton, condemned all murders— should be condemned.

There are other things I can agree with including the tributes paid to the Security forces. I am not saying any of these things for the first time. I agree reluctantly with, and I share the hope of, the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, that this will be the last time it will be necessary. I agree with the tributes paid to Mrs. Thatcher on her expedition to Dublin. I agree with what I hope will be the outcome. We can all agree with what we hope will be the outcome but none of us knows what the outcome will be and therefore we can cherish these hopes.

Now I come to the terrible issue, this tragic issue. I did not think there was enough sense of tragedy in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. It is a tragic question, the question of these people. I agree that political status should not be conceded. It is a great pity that a man for whom I have great respect in this country, the Conservative Minister at the time, conceded it originally. But I agree that it cannot be conceded now. On the other hand, if these people die it will be a tragedy which will not be forgotten perhaps for centuries. I do not think the noble Lord should take too happy a view of what victory would amount to in this case, supposing the course of the Government prevails and these people simply die on hunger strike. I did not notice in the House tonight sufficient recognition of what that is going to mean in the long future.

The Government have made some attempts to introduce more humane methods. I do not want to quibble, but if they introduced more humane methods presumably that meant that methods were not humane enough before, otherwise there would be no need to introduce more humane methods. But there is still room for still more humane methods and I hope they will be explored. I am not saying that the Government are not doing all that is possible: I do not know. I just do not know what they are doing.

I am very glad that some official went there yesterday to try to explain the situation, and I hope that everything possible will be done to avert a tragedy. But I get letters, as I daresay do other Lords—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Blease, who knows so much more about Northern Ireland than I do. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, will also get letters. Some of them are from parents and relatives of people in the H block. And I join my words to those of many much more respected people, for example, the leading clergy, who implore these hunger strikers, and particularly their relatives to try to persuade them, to give up the strike.

My words may not be of a great deal of importance, but I should like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to realise that the sort of language he used, if it were ever retailed to the parents, would stiffen the resolve, probably produce a good many more on hunger strike. The noble Lord, with his historical knowledge, must realise that there is an element of nobility when people are willing to lay down their lives for a cause, even if it is a bad cause; and if the noble Lord cannot realise that he is not the sophisticated and civilised man I think he is—

May I just finish my remarks? There is plenty of time and the noble Lord may go on talking afterwards as long as he likes and I shall be pleased to listen to him. I am saying that the noble Lord should realise that there is an element of nobility in what these people are doing at the moment. They are dying for a cause and I do not think one should despise them for that. I say all that, and at the same time join my words, which are likely to be slightly more effective, if I may say so, than the words of a Minister who spoke about them in the way the noble Lord has spoken about them. I join my plea to their parents to persuade these young people to give it up.

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, he said there was an element of nobility in people who were prepared to die for a cause even if it was a bad cause. Would he say the same about Hitler's Wehrmacht?

My Lords, I should think that was probably true, yes. I think there were a great many brave men who fought in the German army.

7.5 p.m.

My Lords, may I reply briefly to this interesting debate? I should like to thank the noble Lord for his welcome for what I have asked the House to do and for his confirmation that the party opposite intends to pursue a bipartisan policy in this direction. The noble Lord, among his remarks, wondered whether the time for a judicial review of the powers was not approaching. My principal concern, as I have made clear already, is that the resolve of the Government in this situation should be apparent. That has led me to a strength of language which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has regarded as intemperate. I will return to it. I should like to echo the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, on the courage of the judiciary, congratulations which were also echoed by others.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, also provided us with an extremely welcome intervention and spoke with the authority of somebody who is not in Government but who has actually been there and seen the prison and the conditions which, he rightly says, are better than many elsewhere in the United Kingdom and indeed in many countries in Europe. He reminded us that the conditions from which the prisoners are suffering, whether relating to the blanket, the "dirty protest" or the hunger strike, are self-inflicted.

My Lords, may I intervene? The noble Lord made it extremely difficult for me a little while ago to visit the Maze prison. It was only after persistent efforts that I was allowed in. I was allowed to see the prisoners in the H block but I was not allowed to see the conditions; so it has been made extremely difficult for noble Lords to see what has been going on.

My Lords, I can only regret the noble Earl's feelings on this matter. I am not aware of the circumstances. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough then widened his view to Fermanagh and drew attention to the question of extradition. He referred to a particular case but, as he will understand, the judiciary in the Republic, as in the North, is quite independent of the Executive and it would be wrong for me to comment on their decisions. The decision on whether or not to mount a prosecution is, of course, entirely one for the appropriate authorities in the Republic. I am sorry I cannot follow him further in that.

Really, we are talking about two things: a sense of confidence in the Government's resolve and their clarity of vision and the question of humanity in dealing with a passionately difficult situation. I have to reiterate, in spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said, that the people in prison have committed crimes which it is difficult for any humane person to condone. Of course one must respect the courage of somebody's convictions if they are prepared to follow them to the lengths that they do. That does not alter the fact that the convictions are utterly mistaken and bear the most terrible fruits—
"and by their fruits shall ye know them".
I do not take a happy view of what might ensue from what the noble Earl imputes to me, regarding it as a victory if these people were to die. What triumph is there in that? The victory we seek is that of humane common sense, enjoined by the clergy of the church to which the noble Lord belongs and endorsed by all of us. But this is not the way to pursue either reconciliation or victory. If we are talking about the unification of the island of Ireland, then let us stop talking about victory, because nothing sets it further away than violence, my Lords. Every effort of these people puts their declared objective further afield, and that is why I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, that the avowed aim, the ultimate aim, of these people, is the destruction of the State—and there is nothing worthy in that. So though I respect the courage of conviction, I cannot respect the use of violence, death, maiming and other reprehensible proceedings in proceeding down a course which self-evidently will destroy the objective it sets out to gain in the public eye. The public eye, that sees in this a great triumphal march towards the unification of an ethnic Ireland, does not only overlook the ethnic claims of the majority in the Province. It also overlooks the ineluctable logic of history that, by the clash of arms in this situation, you only determine and strengthen the resistance of those who feel threatened by it.

The danger which we seek to avoid is that those threatened people—and they are threatened on both sides of the divide—shall not feel it necessary to take violence into their own hands for their own protection. It is the function of the State to protect its citizens, and for that protection it is necessary to renew this order, and to renew it with an air of resolve, which I think your Lordships will endorse.

My Lords, may I just point out to the noble Lord that I, myself, had to spend five years of my life engaging in violence at the behest of the Sovereign of this country, who decorated me for what I did, and that when it comes to violence in this case I condemned it as vociferously as he did.

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's wish to make his position clear. I am aware of his gallant past. I do not wish to belittle him or his achievements. But there is a difference in the violence of a State, or of two States, which is the delegation to the nation, or the State, of that which is evil in the hands of the individual, and which is the justification for the protection of that State's existence. But when elements within that State, whatever party they belong to, break that monopoly and take it into their own hands, that is a crime, and if we do not accept that it is a crime we destroy society. I think your Lordships were on the point of coming to a decision on this matter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.