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Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 1998

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 30 July 1998

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7.25 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th July be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 1998 which was laid before the House on 28th July be approved.

Under the Good Friday agreement, the Government gave a commitment to put in place legislation that would allow the accelerated release of prisoners convicted of scheduled or similar offences. The Good Friday agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland. Our duty now is to implement the agreement faithfully and in full and the Government intend to do that. The legislation that gave effect to that commitment—the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act—received Royal Assent on Tuesday.

This order specifies organisations under Section 3(8) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. Under Section 3 of the Act, a prisoner is not eligible for early release if he or she supports an organisation which is specified. In addition, a prisoner who has been released may have his licence suspended and be recalled to prison if they support a specified organisation, whether or not it was specified when he or she was released.

However, these are not the only conditions a prisoner must satisfy. In addition to the requirements regarding the nature and length of the sentence, the commissioners—who will make decisions under the Act—must consider whether the prisoner would, if released, be likely to become a supporter of a specified organisation or become concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland. A life sentence prisoner would not be released if he or she would be a danger to the public.

In deciding whether to specify an organisation, the Secretary of State is required to make a judgment on two matters. The first is whether the organisation is concerned with terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland or in promoting or encouraging it. The second matter follows directly from the words of the agreement. The agreement states that,

"prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal cease-fire will not benefit from the arrangements".

In deciding whether an organisation has established and is maintaining a complete and unequivocal cease-fire, the Secretary of State is directed by the terms of the Bill to take account of whether an organisation: is committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means to achieve its objectives; has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or of preparation for violence; is directing or promoting acts of violence by other organisations; and is co-operating fully with the Decommissioning Commission. These are factors to be taken into account, not separate tests to be satisfied, and they follow directly from the Prime Minister's speech at Balmoral on 14th May.

The Secretary of State can take into account any other relevant information in deciding whether an organisation has established and is maintaining a complete and unequivocal cease-fire, but, in making her overall judgment, she must take account of each of these.

The Secretary of State has decided to specify: the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA); the "Real" Irish Republican Army; the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA); and the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

If the order before your Lordships' House is approved, the effect will be that the commissioners may not grant a declaration of eligibility for early release to any prisoner who they consider supports any of these organisations. The Secretary of State has reached these decisions on the basis of security assessments and following consideration of advice from the RUC.

I shall say a little about each of the organisations the Secretary of State has decided to specify. The Continuity IRA has been involved in acts of terrorism since 1994 and there are no indications that either CIRA or its political wing, Republican Sinn Fein, has any intention of abandoning violence as a means of pursuing its political objectives.

The "Real" IRA has carried out a number of attacks so far this year which have included car bombings and mortar attacks and there are no indications that the "Real" IRA intends to call a cease-fire.

The Irish National Liberation Army is a more established organisation having been in existence since 1975. At no time since then has it declared a cease-fire. It has been responsible for many appalling attacks and there are no indications that INLA is yet ready to declare a cease-fire. Its political wing, the IRSP, has spoken of the possibility of a cease-fire, but there are no indications yet that there is a serious prospect of this being delivered.

The Loyalist Volunteer Force, or LVF, has been responsible for many murders. In May this year the LVF declared a cease-fire. This is a welcome step. It has also named a contact person with the decommissioning body and meetings have taken place. But a cease-fire must be demonstrated in acts as well as words. I hope that will be the case, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is not fully convinced that the LVF cease-fire is complete and unequivocal.

Those have not been easy judgments to make. But they are judgments made on the balance of the information—a balance recognised by the right honourable Member for Bracknell in another place when he explained why the previous Government did not exclude Sinn Fein from talks when punishment beatings and murder were continuing. Any specific failure by an organisation has to be weighed alongside all the other available information.

There are some organisations that have yet to establish a complete and unequivocal cease-fire but which would appear to be moving in the right direction, like the LVF. Those organisations must now embrace the democratic process that has been endorsed by the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland. If those organisations do establish and maintain complete and unequivocal cease-fires then the Secretary of State will reassess their position.

Other organisations such as PIRA, the UDA and the UVF which have established such a cease-fire, must continue to demonstrate that they are maintaining it in order to avoid being specified in the future. And this test will, as the Prime Minister said, become more rigorous over time.

In her speech in another place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland drew attention to the fact that punishment attacks had continued during the period of the cease-fires and following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. She made clear that such attacks were not acceptable and that they must stop. If punishment attacks continue, the legislation requires that the Secretary of State take such attacks into account in deciding whether organisations are maintaining complete and unequivocal cease-fires. The Secretary of State will keep under review the list of specified organisations and will not hesitate to add or remove the name of an organisation if that is required.

The early release of prisoners is, for many, the aspect of the Good Friday Agreement which is most difficult to accept. But the agreement is a package and all parts of the agreement must be implemented. The Government will meet their commitments and hold the other parties to the agreement to theirs. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th July be approved.—( Lord Dubs.)

7.30 p.m.

My Lords, we always knew that this order would be the most difficult to accept. As the Minister is aware, we approached the Bill with sadness and pain, unable to get out of our minds the atrocities suffered by so many innocent people over the past 25 years.

There is little doubt that the Secretary of State has an awesome responsibility in deciding which organisations are to be specified as "terrorist" organisations for the purpose of the Bill, now an Act. The difficulty for the House is that the Secretary of State's decisions about individual organisations will be based on security advice and briefings. It would not be appropriate for her to share that with Parliament, let alone the outside world.

Nevertheless, I am sure the House will understand why we on these Benches have great concern about why some additional organisations do not appear on the scheduled list of four terrorist organisations. Our concern is that they have been left off for the wrong reasons—not because they have been given a clean bill of health in relation to violence but because the Secretary of State is apprehensive that if such organisations were specified as "terrorist organisations" it would prevent the release of a significant number of prisoners who are known to be supporters of those organisations, and so would lead to the disruption of the progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement.

Part of the problem lies in the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act itself which requires the Secretary of State only to take into account certain criteria when addressing the issues as to whether or not an organisation has established or is maintaining a complete and unequivocal cease- fire.

The terms of the Act are such that it is possible for the Secretary of State to refrain from specifying the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, despite the fact that it is widely believed in Northern Ireland that all three organisations are still involved in violence associated with terrorism. Those three organisations do have a so-called cease-fire, as the Minister said, but only in so far as there are no high profile attacks. But the killing of one person for sectarian reasons is just as unacceptable.

The so-called cease-fire implies a complete cease-fire but, in fact, it is not. Punishment beatings and intimidation continue unabated, making life on many estates frightening and impossible for ordinary decent people.

We know that the Secretary of State has denounced acts of violence as unacceptable and obscene. The Chief Constable said in a BBC interview on 27th July, when referring to those three organisations which are not mentioned in the schedule:
"If they think because their definition of a cessation of violence is a cessation of military operations they must be disabused of any notion that any other acts of criminality are any more acceptable".
We read with horror of the brutal murder of Andrew Kearney, taken from his flat as he nursed his young baby. He was then knee-capped in a lift and literally left to bleed to death. Then we read of the beating of a peace worker in Belfast—Vincent McKenna. He is a peace worker. It is difficult to believe that such appalling atrocities are continuing.

It is the people of Northern Ireland who have put their faith in the Good Friday Agreement. They voted for peace in the referendum, being weary of strife and violence. They deserve our care and compassion. We must not forget that the early release decision was criticised by Families Against Intimidation and Terror. I believe that they will find it impossible to accept the inclusion of the three organisations—PIRA, and UVF and the UDA. If the Act is to work, the Secretary of State must have the confidence of all the people of Northern Ireland. As my right honourable friend Mr. Andrew Mackay, the Member for Bracknell, said in another place, it is wrong that those three are not on the list and it would be wrong for their members to be released.

I take this opportunity to praise the First Minister designate on his efforts and courage in tackling so successfully much severe opposition to building the peace process. I doubt that this order will be seen as a reward and I wonder whether the Minister will comment on that.

My right honourable friend and his colleagues in another place voted against the order. In your Lordships' House, the convention is that we do not. We must therefore content ourselves by expressing our grave concern over the contents of the order.

7.38 p.m.

My Lords, I should say initially that from these Benches, we intend to support the order for two reasons. First, it is important at this stage of progress in Northern Ireland to support the judgment of the Secretary of State unless there is an overwhelming reason not to do so. The edifice that we are trying to build in Northern Ireland still rests on very shallow foundations. I fear that any over-heated rhetoric either in this House, which we certainly have not had this evening, in another place or elsewhere in Northern Ireland can still too easily turn into a hurricane which will blow down the house of peace.

The second reason that we should support the judgment of the Secretary of State as regards the order is that the order itself does attempt to draw the line which has to be drawn between those who have turned to a new way of doing things and those who still stand steeped in a bloody past. We should take the opportunity in this House to appeal to those organisations which have still made no real effort to turn to the future. I do not think that it is enough tonight to say that they clearly stand on one side of the line. It is essential that they, too, recognise the responsibility that lies on them to help secure a better future for Northern Ireland.

It is absolutely possible for Members of this House and for any citizen to disagree in good faith where the line should be drawn. Indeed, the noble Baroness did so this evening. I accept that. However, one of the things that we ought to do is to look in more detail at PIRA because here, in the order, we have four organisations in the list of proscription, but we do not have the provisional IRA—this is the dog that did not bark. What of PIRA? First, we have the terrible murder to which the noble Baroness referred of Mr. Andrew Kearney; and, secondly, we undoubtedly have continued attempts by the Provisional IRA to assert a certain kind of rough supremacy in localities of Northern Ireland by the continuing use of terror in the form of punishment beatings.

However, for the moment I find myself still agreeing with the Secretary of State, although narrowly, that we should afford the benefit of the doubt to Sinn Fein/IRA. There is a slender element of doubt as regards the appalling murder of Mr. Andrew Kearney. I believe that the Chief Constable himself expressed his judgment in very qualified terms. Perhaps I may say, in parenthesis that I think the Chief Constable has in recent weeks earned in every way and at every point the unqualified approbation of all of us who look to a better future in Northern Ireland. Perhaps this would be an occasion to express the greatest confidence that, as long as she is careful to follow the judgments offered by the Chief Constable and by the other security information in balancing the facts as she has to, the Secretary of State will, at the present juncture, be well advised.

Nevertheless, there is a scintilla of doubt about whether Mr. Kearney was murdered by the Provisional IRA. It is well possible that what we are dealing with is an out-of-control cell of some sort. I wonder whether any of us thought, especially those with far more experience of Northern Ireland than I have myself, that this particular army would give up in a totally synchronised and comprehensive way. Yet, of course, give up they now must. Every scrap of authority—or I suppose Mr. Adams would prefer to say "influence"—that Sinn Fein has over the IRA must now be used to stop the killing and the beating for good.

However, more than that, I should stress to the Minister—and I shall be interested to hear his response at the end of the debate—that, before this summer is out, militant republicanism must make its own contribution to confidence-building. For example, those concerned must appoint a representative to General de Chastelain's decommissioning commission which they have yet to do. They must start the process of decommissioning and be seen to do so. Moreover, they must stop these disgusting knee-cappings. If Sinn Fein/IRA do not show the vision and leadership to do these things, I fear that they will be casting a very long and gloomy shadow over the resumption of the new Assembly in September. They will divide the forces of sensible Unionism, perhaps fatally, and prejudice the future reconciliation and working together in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, my attitude in supporting this order is that it represents—indeed, it must represent—a kind of probation for the Provisional IRA to which the leaders of Sinn Fein/IRA, if they are well advised and if they do believe, as we must hope they do, in a different future for Northern Ireland, must now respond.

7.46 p.m.

My Lords, it is with considerable regret that I find myself unable to support the Government in bringing forward the order this evening. I feel regret because I have a most vivid recollection of the difficulty as regards the decisions that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has to take in many fields. Moreover, if I may say so, I also have much admiration and affection for the present incumbent. At the time of the agreement and the conclusion of the talks—sometimes called the Good Friday Agreement—I presumed to write to congratulate her and also the Prime Minister. I am glad that I did so. The Secretary of State is right to interpret the new Act as requiring her to make a decision "in the round", as she put it in a speech last night in another place.

However, I am sad to have to say that, in my judgment, the Secretary of State has got this decision wrong, to an extent that I felt did not permit me simply to take myself away and let it ride. In my opinion, the Secretary of State should have added the Provisional IRA, the UDA and the UVF to the list of organisations which are specified in the schedule to the order. I shall outline the reason why. The practice of administering so-called punishment beatings for political purposes—and this was touched upon in the speeches of my noble friend Lady Seccombe and the noble Lord, Lord Holme—has continued almost unabated since the most recent ceasefires. Each of those three organisations is responsible for some of them. I believe that to be common ground; indeed, it is not an issue as to whether this has been going on, nor is it an issue as to whether or not they are responsible. The issue is whether, notwithstanding that, they should somehow escape specification.

In my view, the significance of that fact lies in this: it disentitles each of those organisations from claiming, first, that it is committed to the use of democratic and peaceful means only to achieve its objectives; and, secondly, that it has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence. They are ruled out from making such claims by definition. Yet such claims represent 50 per cent. of the four Balmoral stipulations with which we are now so familiar and by which it was sought to reassure those of us who were revolted by the idea of accelerating the release of people guilty of hideous crimes. I realise that that sense of revulsion is to be found on all sides.

However, those four stipulations were offered in the Balmoral speech by the Prime Minister and have been held to ever since by Ministers as a reassurance that this benefit was not going to be lightly accorded to people who were guilty of such ghastly offences. So, those organisations fail on 50 per cent. of those grounds and they are the first 50 per cent. in that list of Balmoral stipulations. When we look at the remainder, we see that the first two are surely and undoubtedly the most important. If an organisation is itself employing violence, it matters not whether it is or is not also directing or promoting acts of violence by others. That is the third stipulation.

Finally, that leaves the single question of full co-operation with the decommissioning commission—which is, of course, important but is also, in each instance, a question open to argument. I regret to say that it is not realistic in my view—nor, therefore, credible—to claim that, in these circumstances, any of the three organisations to which I have referred is maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. Yet that is the test, of course, for whether their prisoners are to be eligible for accelerated release.

In conclusion I add three observations. These organisations have sought to claim that punishment beatings should be seen not as military operations, which they have forsworn, but as something called civil administration. I feel that has to be rejected with contempt. I believe that to be common ground on all sides in this House on this issue. We cannot conceivably permit any justification for dreadful things which recently have led to a murder, but are bad enough, in all conscience, when someone receives what is called a "six-pack"; that is, three shots in each knee, or in the leg.

Mr. Flanagan, the chief constable, has already been cited tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, as having drawn attention to this language which is used by the PIRA in particular, and of course rejected it. That is the first observation with which I wish to conclude. The second is that these organisations have shown that when it suits them they can bring violence to a synchronised halt, to use the expression articulated a moment or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. Before and on the occasion of President Clinton's visit, nothing like this happened, nor before elections. Therefore they have shown that they can stop this. I cannot accept any claim of inability to exercise control.

My third point is that it would not have been necessary to specify these three organisations, or any of them, for a long period. It would have been enough to have specified them and made it clear that if they did once again bring punishment beatings to a halt, but did so in circumstances and in a context in which they could credibly claim that they were demonstrating that a true ceasefire was their intention, an amending order could have been introduced rapidly and their prisoners could have become eligible for the benefits of this extraordinarily difficult Act. Of course if those organisations had been added to the order, they would have been given a credible, powerful and real incentive to bring violence to an end because their prisoners would not have been released, and their prisoners might have been expected to have something pretty powerful to say in that regard.

As I say, I regret that I cannot speak in favour of the Government today and have to speak, in conscience, against them. I do not think that I can be accused of having been unhelpful or forgetful of the difficulties that I experienced for five years. This is the first occasion—I hope it will be the last—when I shall feel obliged to record my dissent from the judgment of the present Secretary of State.

8.3 p.m.

My Lords, I find myself in broad agreement with what has been said from the Benches opposite on the part of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, speaking as he does from a great deal of practical, sober experience of the realities of the situation with regard to terrorism, as opposed to many of the fancy theories which are put around nowadays.

I find it distinctly odd that the order specifies some sub-contractors, but not the main contractors, although all of them have breached the ceasefire conditions in one form or another. IRA/Sinn Fein spokesmen, alone of all the main contractors, have been issuing veiled threats and warnings in regard to the consequences of their inclusion in what one might term the "dishonour roll". The behaviour of IRA/Sinn Fein has been just as vile as that of other such bodies, not just as regards beatings, knee cappings and all forms of intimidation, but, as has already been mentioned by three speakers opposite—and by the Minister—as regards the recent assassination of Mr. Andrew Kearney. Mr. Kearney was an IRA operator who fell foul of the commander of the third battalion of the IRA based in the Ardoyne who himself ordered the execution of Kearney. Yet this farcical list omits the IRA/Sinn Fein, which the Prime Minister had described earlier as one and the same organisation.

In many ways this order is more repulsive than a general amnesty. There is no point in the Government denying that this is a selective amnesty, applying not to organisations which have ceased terrorist activities, for there has been no real cessation of violence, designed to put the public in fear. That is a phrase borrowed from some of the earlier legislation. This selective amnesty applies to practising bodies, no different in form from those listed in this order—that must be accepted by all of us, and I believe that it has been accepted up to a point—for the simple purpose of bribing them (that is, the organisations not on the "dishonour list") into participating in a structure the like of which has never been devised in any part of the world to my knowledge. That is why on an earlier occasion in your Lordships' House I described it as somewhat exotic. But this evening's order has made it malignant as well as exotic because the bribe is intended to go far beyond entering into participation in the agreement. It will be renewed with bonus every time terrorists threaten to withdraw from the scheme of things.

It is therefore dishonest to imply that if terrorist activities can no longer be ignored, those offending bodies will be added to the four listed in the order. I understand that the Secretary of State has the power to do that. But we have to be realistic—all of us in your Lordships' House have a reputation for being realistic—when we say that nothing of the kind will happen. Weasel words will be used by various people about the quality of proof; about waiting for charges to be laid; then awaiting convictions; and then awaiting numerous appeals without end. We have all of this charade because the already flimsy apparatus might be endangered and we cannot possibly contemplate any such thing happening. It is small wonder that certain elements in government and in government service are admitting that they were forced to go too fast too soon.

The much lauded Good Friday Agreement has brought no comfort or respite to decent citizens residing in many housing estates which are under the heel of paramilitary bodies. We simply fool ourselves and we are false to those who are enduring that kind of torture if we ignore that and pretend it is not happening. To their shame, the draftsmen of the agreement—and all those who, with money and improper pressure, not excluding a degree of blackmail—obtained a temporary approval of what was packaged as a master plan for peace. That was how it was sold. That was how it was accepted by a great many people until about three weeks ago and then the tide started to turn. All such salesmen now look the other way and deliberately ignore the brutal treatment of innocent citizens.

I can understand why all this shameful legislation is being rushed. There is a realisation that if the trap is not closed on democratic principles, the accelerating swing in public opinion will, I am afraid, become more and more evident. What the authorities simply do not realise is that, when convicted killers are seen to return to their old haunts—and habits—the tide of public revulsion will sweep away all the sandcastles and make-believe devices.

However, we can take some heart from the evidence that the greater number of Ulster citizens, whatever their faith, and even those who have no faith at all, are devoting their attentions to the further refinement of solid, sensible structures of governance—for there was, and is, an alternative. I have sound reason for believing that the landscape will look very different indeed when your Lordships return from the Recess.

8 p.m.

My Lords, I have three questions to ask the Minister. The first is factual. Is the Real IRA another name for the 32 Counties movement? If so, should it not be on the list? And why is Direct Action against Drugs—a known IRA front which has carried out many murders—not been included? Or is it covered by the blanket which protects the PIRA?

My second question concerns the IRA itself, the present parent body and only begetter of all the nasty children it has spawned in the shape of the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA and so on. When is a ceasefire not a ceasefire? Only a few days ago, all the evidence, soberly assessed by the RUC and supported, according to the Irish Times, by republican elements themselves, pointed to the PIRA as the murderers of Andrew Kearney. I shall not discuss that murder because other noble Lords have already given the details. There was also a peace worker, Vincent McKenna, who was badly beaten by assailants whom he recognised as PIRA men. In April, the PIRA kneecapped an old man of 79 and left him to die. He was the wrong man, but no one heard them apologise. How much more must the IRA do before the Secretary of State abandons her assessment that PIRA and the UDA and the UVF are "maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire"?

Does a ceasefire mean only what the IRA, which purports to be a military formation with discipline instead of a collection of thugs, would call a military ceasefire? I thought the Prime Minister was equally unequivocal when he ruled out punishment beatings and killings and any kind of violence. Certainly, ordinary people thought that that was in the agreement. But, of course, we must not cherry pick. The Secretary of State has, I fear, in this issue—for excellent reasons, I recognise—double standards.

The LVF, like the IRA and equally nasty, has declared a ceasefire and has named a contact with the decommissioning body. But it has, as was pointed out in another place, been responsible for many murders. The Secretary of State says of the LVF ceasefire that "a ceasefire must be demonstrated in acts as well as words", and she "has yet to be convinced that the LVF ceasefire is complete and unequivocal"; and therefore she has specified the LVF. I have no quarrel with that. But why is not sauce for the LVF goose sauce for the IRA gander?

Of course, as the Secretary of State explains, the political party with which PIRA is associated—a delicate way to describe that two-headed hydra, Sinn Fein/IRA—has had discussions with the decommissioning body. Was Sinn Fein explaining how its other half would never decommission even an ounce of Semtex?

Why does the Secretary of State, who actually said on 10th June that the four factors on which her judgments for specification would be based included punishment beatings and the instigation of paramilitary activity, seem to think that, like the European Union in Kosovo, if she says often enough that punishment beatings have to stop, they will go away? They will not—unless and until the IRA has reason to think that every punishment beating delays the remotest possibility of releasing its prisoners.

We have been told that the Secretary of State does not barter prisoners against decommissioning. But surely, negotiating over prisoners in the interests of victims and the population at large, which actually believed that the Belfast Agreement meant the end of violence, is a different matter. Why is she not listening to FAIT (Families Against Intimidation and Terror)? I echo its question: "Are the Government really accepting a definition of a paramilitary ceasefire which allows paramilitary groups to beat, shoot and intimidate people?" The interesting thing is that PIRA did not do that at all during the elections—in the matter of being able to give orders and have them obeyed, the IRA is not deficient. So it is not possible to say that those beatings and killings are unauthorised. They are a calculated campaign on the part of IRA members to remind "their" constituency that nothing has changed, that they are still in charge.

I know that there is nothing we can do to change the Secretary of State's initial choice of those organisations to be specified. However, I beg the noble Lord the Minister to urge her to consider whether her Nelsonic approach to the activity of the IRA, in the interest of preserving the Belfast Agreement, does not risk losing the peace, because ordinary people will feel that their rights and deeds are being utterly ignored. That may be, alas, exactly what the IRA wants.

Finally, I have one other, rather painful point to make. Before making it, I wish to say that I, like my noble friend, respect the Secretary of State very much. But I wish to register my incredulous outrage on learning from the debate in another place yesterday that the Secretary of State has seen the McBride family, but not the families of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, and that she chose to do that, "because they were extremely upset at the possible releases and wished to express their views to me". She then went on to say that that did not bias her one way or the other. She "thought it would do no harm to hear of the pain they felt they would continue to suffer". She evidently thought that that was quite fairly balanced by the fact that the Secretary of State for Defence, who has no standing whatever in the decision to be taken on the guardsmen's case, had talked to the Scots Guards Association. Is that equal? What about Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Wright? Have they no feelings? Most important of all, does the Secretary of State really think that she can now say, as she did, that she is "reading the facts and making her own judgment, not talking to one side or the other in any way"?

8.7 p.m.

My Lords, I speak in considerable sadness and sorrow. News of this order broke in Northern Ireland on Tuesday at about midday. It was met with incredulity. No one could understand how the order could have been thought up. There was shock on Tuesday. Yesterday, there was much discussion about it and more than concern—depression regarding the effect that it will have in so many directions.

The Secretary of State said that she has judged that the terrorist organisations not specified in the order are committed to maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. How can she so declare when she admits that the RUC Chief Constable has said that members of both republican and loyalist organisations have recently been involved in violent criminal acts. She was also aware that the RUC assumed that the recent murder of Andrew Kearney was committed by the IRA. The man in the street knows it. I doubt whether one law-abiding citizen in Northern Ireland will accept the Secretary of State's judgment. Everyone knows that the IRA murdered him. How can she ignore that?

In another place last night, the Secretary of State repeated that her judgment was "in the round". I wonder what that phrase means or how it is relevant to this matter. This was a very specific judgment. After this, I am afraid that I do not expect any law-abiding citizen in Northern Ireland to have respect for our Government.

I feel it necessary to list some of the damage that is almost inevitable. This order will make it even more difficult to get the assembly off the ground, unless, as I hope, the Secretary of State changes her mind and makes a revision of the order very shortly. Everyone now knows that the Secretary of State will say, unless she changes her mind quickly, that to be consistent with this provision members of Sinn Fein are entitled to become Ministers in the Assembly. Unionists cannot possibly be expected to sit in the Assembly with unreconstructed terrorists.

This order will make it even more difficult for the first minister designate to deal with his critics because they have been proved right. They have been saying all along that this would happen. I am afraid that some of us were perhaps innocent and believed that it could not happen in this way.

Sinn Fein/IRA will hail the order with delight. They know that it will put the pro-Union parties in turmoil and that has always been one of their objectives. Now our Government are helping them. Sinn Fein/IRA, in the view of everyone, has so far made no effort to show its commitment to peace. Surely the Secretary of State, by designating all the terrorist parties in her order on the 28th, should have sent out a strong message to Sinn Fein and the others that they must do much more to persuade her and other people that they must commit themselves to peace and stop all punishment beatings.

I wonder whether it is possible to realise how much, at home in Northern Ireland, there is a complete state of revulsion against these so-called punishment beatings. They must stop before anyone will believe that these groups are committed to peace. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, they can stop when they want to and they have proved it. They can do it again if they want to.

I believe that this order is almost a disaster in its present form. It has sent entirely the wrong signal and no one can understand why on earth it should have been made. I fear for the summer. I hope that the Minister will take back to the Secretary of State a plea quickly to find good reason to amend the order.

8.12 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, got it right, I think. One of the first things she said was that the Secretary of State has an awesome responsibility under the legislation. It is an awesome responsibility and probably the most difficult one that any Minister in any government has had to exercise for many years.

What we are considering tonight is the way she has felt she has to exercise her judgment as regards a number of specific organisations. I appreciate that some noble Lords feel that she has not exercised her judgment in the way they would wish. Some noble Lords wish that she had included one or perhaps even three organisations in the list covered by the order.

I have to say that the Secretary of State has to make judgments on the basis of information based on advice from the chief constable and security information. She has to make those judgments based on information which by its very nature cannot be made readily and publicly available. She has, therefore, to make decisions which may on the face of it seem hard to understand. But she has the information. Previous Secretaries of State, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, will have been in the same position. They had to make judgments based on information which they alone possess. I remind the House that under the last government, the Labour opposition fully respected the judgments made by the government at the time about those issues. We respected the judgments made and we accepted on trust that if the Secretary of State felt that he was making the right judgment about releases of prisoners and similar matters, as an opposition we had to go along with it as an act of faith because he was in a better position to know. I only ask whether a similar way of looking at it could apply today. All I ask is that we should be judged as a government with the same confidence in the difficult decisions as we gave the previous government.

My Lords, I of all people fully recognise that there must be a great deal of intelligence that cannot be revealed. But we are talking about what everyone sees happening. It does not require any intelligence to inform people that citizens are being murdered. That is the point I was making. I entirely accept that there may be a great deal of other knowledge which it would be quite improper for us to expect to know. But it is what the public sees.

My Lords, I understand that. The murders that have taken place are to be utterly condemned, whoever committed them. I understand that there is and has been for a long time an utter disgust in people in Northern Ireland and all parts of the United Kingdom at some of the dreadful murders and other acts of violence—punishment shootings and beatings—that have taken place.

However, the Secretary of State will still have more information. It is not sufficient to say that there has been a murder because it must also be a murder in relation to political purposes. That is not in the legislation, but I think it is the way one may describe it colloquially. Indeed, there was the expression of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, when he talked about punishment beatings for political purposes. Again, the Secretary of State has to depend upon advice that she is given, not just as to the facts of the punishment beating or punishment shooting but as to who did it and perhaps even the motive behind it. I suggest those are difficult decisions to make.

Perhaps I may try to deal with the specific points but not necessarily in the order in which they were made during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said that the legislation was being rushed through. We are not rushing it through for the sake of public opinion, as he believes, but simply because as part of the Good Friday Agreement certain undertakings were made as to getting the legislation through quickly. The date has gone, it was supposed to be done by June. We did our best to do it as quickly as we could and it was to meet our obligations under the agreement, not because we are trying to do something as regards public opinion.

I turn to the opening speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. I now refer to satisfying some of the factors, the tests, which I believe she commented on. She suggested that some of the organisations might remain off the list even if they failed to satisfy some of the factors indicated. The test is the test in the agreement. That is: whether an organisation has established and is maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. The factors are relevant to that assessment but do not determine the assessment. It is taking all of them together that is the basis of the decision the Secretary of State makes.

Perhaps I may deal with the IRA, the UDA and the UVF, to which reference was made. Those organisations are not named in the order. In each case, my right honourable friend considered whether the organisation should be specified on the basis of the test in the legislation. She considered the information available in relation to the four factors which she was required to take into account. In each case noble Lords have said that there are failings. For example, although there have been discussions with the Decommissioning Commission, there has been much less progress than is desirable. As everyone has acknowledged, the punishment attacks have regrettably continued. But viewing the matter in the round, as the Secretary of State is required to do by the Act, she has concluded that all three of the organisations are maintaining complete and unequivocal ceasefires. It is on the basis of that judgment that she has decided that those organisations should not be specified in the order.

I turn to the appalling murder of Andrew Kearney. The RUC has said that it is pursuing a line of inquiry which assumes that the recent brutal murder of Andrew Kearney was committed by the Provisional IRA. As is widely acknowledged, that murder was an utterly barbaric act which has no place in civilised society. I join all noble Lords in utterly condemning it.

The Secretary of State has had to take into account the information she has available about the murder in deciding whether to specify the Provisional IRA. However, as I indicated, on the basis of all the information available to her—"all the information"—she decided not to specify PIRA. That is a decision which must be made in the round. The Secretary of State is required to take account of such punishment attacks in keeping under review the list of organisations that are specified. As noble Lords will know and as I indicated, her criteria and her judgments will become more rigorous as time goes on. It is an ongoing process, not a one-off decision.

My Lords, perhaps the Minister can help me. If one person or more than one person who is a member of PIRA is charged with the murder of Andrew Kearney, will that mean that PIRA will be placed on the schedule?

My Lords, it is not appropriate for me to answer that question. The Secretary of State is required to take all the factors into account. The noble Baroness indicated one specific factor; there may be others. It would not be proper for her to say that if one thing happened, that will determine whether or not an organisation appears on the list. The Secretary of State has a wider responsibility, under the legislation. It is a difficult responsibility but it would not work in precisely the way indicated by the question of the noble Baroness. That is not the way the Secretary of State would make such a decision. Of course that factor would be taken into account, but other factors also would have to be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked whether PIRA and Sinn Fein should engage in confidence-building before the summer is out. I see the force of the noble Lord's point. I hope I was clear in my speech that we look at PIRA and the other organisations which have not been specified to make progress, to build confidence, on decommissioning, on the ending of punishment attacks and in other ways. We look to Sinn Fein and the other parties to meet all their obligations under the agreement. They must do that. That is part of the agreement and part of the commitment entered into by Sinn Fein—and all the other parties that signed the agreement—and we expect them to stick to that. We look forward to progress on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, made another point in relation to the murder of Mr. Kearney. He was correct to draw attention to the fact that that murder may not have been sanctioned by the leadership of the IRA. However, such organisations cannot divest themselves of responsibility for acts carried out in their name. That would not be an excuse—if one can use the word "excuse"—for such a brutal act. There is a responsibility of the kind I have described. Organisations cannot divest themselves of responsibility for acts carried out in their name.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am trying to reconcile what he said and the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, a moment ago. If the test is a complete and unequivocal cease-fire, and it is proved that there was not a complete and unequivocal cease-fire because members of the Provisional IRA were convicted of murder (if that proved to be the case), in taking factors in the round, as the Minister said, the Secretary of State would not be able to say that this was a breakaway faction—I hope I am following the Minister's logic—but would be absolutely and unequivocally a breach of the cease-fire and therefore it would be difficult to sustain the exclusion of PIRA from the list.

My Lords, as I said in answer to the earlier question, the Secretary of State would take that fact and all other facts and information into account in making a decision. It is not appropriate for me to say that the Secretary of State would make her decision in a specific way based upon, for example, the instance given by the noble Lord. I cannot suggest that that is the way the Secretary of State will decide. She will decide it on the basis of all the information available to her and of course she will take specific instances into account. I do not want to leave noble Lords with the impression that a specific event or incident in itself could determine the Secretary of State's decision. It would not be proper to leave the House with that impression.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, paid tribute to the chief constable, which I totally endorse. The chief constable has done an amazing job in Northern Ireland. He is widely respected for his conduct in a very exacting post. The noble Lord asked whether the Secretary of State will follow the judgment of the chief constable. The Secretary of State will consult the chief constable, but the decisions under the Act are for the Secretary of State alone to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, talked of specified sub-contractors but not the main contractors in terms of the organisations. The Secretary of State has considered which organisations to specify and, in doing so, had to consider whether organisations are separate organisations or part of the larger whole. She has done so and made her judgment on the order on that basis.

The noble Lord asked also about a selective amnesty. This is not an amnesty. The legislation sets out tests which must be applied by the commission before a declaration is made. We do not see that as an amnesty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, asked about the 32 County Sovereignty Committee. That is a political manifestation of the Real IRA. They are both covered by the order. The noble Baroness asked also about Direct Action Against Drugs and why it is not on the list. The Government have said that they consider Direct Action Against Drugs to be part of the IRA.

The noble Baroness asked also why the Secretary of State had been to see the McBride family. The Secretary of State saw the McBride family following the announcement of a further review of the cases of the two guardsmen, Fisher and Wright. She has made it quite clear that meeting them will not in any way affect her judgment as to how she will proceed. It was only after she decided that she would embark on a further review immediately that she felt it appropriate to see the family. But that will not make a difference to the way in which she arrives at her decision.

I understand the difficulties felt by many Members of the House about both the wider legislation and this order specifically. Of course it is difficult. But I repeat: the Secretary of State has had to make difficult judgments based on information which is not in the public domain. The order is required to ensure that prisoners who support organisations that are not established or are not maintaining a complete or unequivocal cease-fire are not released under the sentences Act. It is an important part of the operation of that Act and one of the many safeguards.

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord and am grateful to him for giving way. I sensed a certain reproach. He was being as reproachful as his generous nature permits him to be when looking in my direction and kindly dealing with some, though not all, of the points that I made.

Perhaps I can ask him this. We all accept that there are matters of intelligence which must not be divulged. But there is one matter which is wholly in the public domain and many noble Lords adverted to it tonight; that is, that there are instances in the past where the Provisional IRA demonstrated their ability to turn off punishment beatings when it suited them. Do the Government accept that that is the case? If so, what conclusion do the Government draw from the fact that it has not chosen to exert that power in the present circumstances? Do the Government accept that punishment beatings are continuing virtually unabated?

My Lords, the noble Lord poses a difficult question. In so far as my words were words of reproach, they were couched in the gentlest possible terms.

As regards the substance of the question, there have been times when punishment beatings have declined and times when they have happened more frequently. But it is not easy to draw from those facts the conclusion that somehow on one occasion the IRA stopped them happening and on another it turned a blind eye or sanctioned them. I cannot go along with the noble Lord in drawing that conclusion. These are more difficult judgments than are susceptible simply to the statistics of these very regrettable incidents.

We have probably exhausted all the arguments. I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. This is a very, very important piece of legislation; it is intrinsic to the agreement. The Government are optimistic that this agreement will lead to peace in Northern Ireland. We are taking an important step along that path tonight. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.