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That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 20th April, be approved.
The House has become too familiar with the need, year after year, to renew the temporary provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1991 and its predecessor. The Act has a five-year lifespan. Therefore, unless it is wholly re-enacted before August 1996, its provisions will cease to have effect completely. By then, I shall have published a report from Mr. John Rowe, Queen's counsel, following a fundamental review of the Act's provisions and their operation, which I have already commissioned and which is due to begin next month. We need immediately, however, to note that the Act's temporary provisions--as defined in section 69--lapse on 15 June unless the order is approved. Regretfully, I must advise the House that their renewal is certainly required.
I intend to leave as much time as possible for hon. and right hon. Members to speak. Therefore, some points on which I do not touch, as well as those raised in this debate, may fall to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to deal with when he replies or in correspondence.
We already have to assist us Mr. Rowe's first report, published on 16 May. I am most grateful to him for taking on this responsibility, in succession to Lord Colville QC. In endorsing his conclusion that the powers conferred by the Act remain necessary for a further year, it is right that I should express the Government's regret that this should be so. Yet in asking the security forces to uphold the rule of law, it is our duty to see to it that the law itself is sensibly adapted in response to the challenge thrown down by the terrorists. This is a matter of great importance to the Government and, accordingly, we very carefully keep the law under review. Against the need to meet that challenge, we have to balance the need to maintain the essential fairness of the law recognising, among other considerations, that unfair law, perceived to be oppressive, does not gain public acceptance and soon becomes law that works against its purpose.
I deal now with some of the recent atrocities of those who bear the responsibility for the continuing need for these provisions. Since the last renewal of the Act, 84 people have died as a result of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland. Eleven were members of the security forces, and 32 of those killed have been murdered this year alone. The memory of atrocities such as the Shankill road bombing and the Greysteel murders in October last year remain etched vividly on all our minds. However, every bit as evil, although less widely recalled, are the individual murders which leave their indelible imprint on shattered families and fearful communities.
The past few weeks, and indeed the past few days, have seen hideous examples : the young soldier killed in Keady, County Armagh on his first tour of duty ; the elderly woman shot dead near Dungannon and the young students murdered in Armagh ; the Northern Ireland Electricity cleaner shot dead in front of his wife on his way to work,
Column 264and the police station cleaner killed by a car bomb that injured his wife and son and placed his three-year old daughter's life in the balance ; the abduction, so-called interrogation, and cold-blooded murder of a young Royal Irish soldier, and the killing of a 19-year-old security guard in Belfast. The callousness of those who carry out these and similar acts beggars description. It induces a cold determination in us all to eliminate such evil rather than waste time with the vocabulary of condemnation.
It is to meet the challenge presented by such crimes that we need to renew the temporary provisions of the Act. The Act provides modifications to the criminal justice system, including the mode of trial for terrorist-type offences ; arrest, search and seizure powers for the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army ; and covers certain specific offences such as belonging to a proscribed organisation. It also provides valuable powers directed against terrorist finances. It contains significant safeguards for those who may be affected by the special provisions.
It is also right, I think, to refer to the power to order executive detention. This power, although not currently in force, is retained in the Act. There is, the Government firmly believe, a need to retain it in the Act. If the extremity of circumstances should warrant it, we shall not shrink from activating it. To abandon it, as the Labour party has in the past so regrettably proposed, would be, in our view, an act of high irresponsibility. To vote against previous renewal orders for that purpose was always bad logic as well as bad judgment. The power to order detention can be removed only by primary legislation.
Legal provisions of this character are of themselves of course not enough to secure the Government's primary objective in Northern Ireland, which is the defeat and elimination of terrorism. However, they are shown by experience to give the RUC and the Army the capability to prevent and disrupt a great many attacks that would otherwise have occurred and to bring to justice, week in, week out, many of those responsible for terrorist crime.
I now give some examples of such operations, all drawn from the Belfast area. They are of a character replicated elsewhere in Northern Ireland. In February, a group of people was intercepted in east Belfast : two AKM rifles, a hand-gun and a MK15 coffee jar grenade were recovered and six people were subsequently charged with terrorist-related offences. The following day, a mortar was recovered from a house in north Belfast, preventing an attack on a nearby RUC station, and three men were charged in connection with the incident. More recently, the police searched a house in west Belfast and recovered weapons, sledge hammers and other terrorist equipment and made four arrests. Only last week, a man appeared in court charged under section 27 of the Act with directing a terrorist organisation. All these cases are, of course, now sub judice.
There has been, and will be, no relaxation in the security forces' efforts of this character.
Column 265illustrations of success, but is it possible to be told the number of occasions on which legislation against terrorist financing and the organising of terror has been used ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : It is used all the time. It is used to secure very considerable disruption of terrorist financing and of the vehicles by which it is sought to conceal the financing operations on which terrorism depends so heavily. There have been few prosecutions, and I think that that is the point that the hon. Gentleman seeks to make. These cases take a very long time to prepare. If they were insufficiently prepared, the hon. Gentleman and others would be rightly critical of the failure that would result.
The scale of the remorseless erosion by the RUC of the paramilitary forces on both sides is not always recognised. Last year, 372 people were charged with terrorist offences. This year alone, 171 people have been charged, including more than 100 loyalists and 57 republicans. Persons who, after due process of law, may ultimately be convicted of terrorist offences are not some kind of political prisoner, of which we have none in our country. Their conduct is made criminal by the statute book or by the common law. The sentences that their conduct attracts will usually ensure that they stay in prison for many a long year. They are heavy sentences indeed.
Noting the scale of those highly significant and valuable successes, I therefore take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedicated work of the security forces. They face cruel and callous criminals who stop at nothing, including torture. They face them willingly, always acknowledging that they themselves must operate within the law. They know that, as the rule of law requires, their own actions will be carefully and impartially scrutinised by authorities that are independent of the Government. Immense discipline and restraint, as well as courage, are called for from the security forces- -police and military--as well as from the prison service. For the very high standards that they achieve, I believe that they deserve our warm gratitude and admiration.
I refer now to the co-operation that the security forces receive from across the border. It is sometimes suggested that the quality of security co-operation with the Republic could be enhanced. Achieving the most effective security co-operation possible is vital to our joint opposition to terrorism. I am therefore glad to report to the House that the quality of the co-operation that we receive from the Republic is, in the words of our Chief Constable, "at an all-time high".
Throughout this year, the Garda Siochana on the ground has continued to make very significant finds of arms and munitions, has taken part in a number of co-ordinated operations and made arrests. This work is greatly appreciated. Both Governments, however, constantly strive to find ways of improving the effectiveness of security measures, through the mechanisms of the intergovernmental conference and elsewhere. As recent events have shown, the terrorist threat is not confined to the north, and the co- operation between the two police forces will continue to be two-way traffic.
I return to the legislation itself and to the general reports on facets of its operation that I have commissioned and already published. First, I refer to the holding centres and the question whether interviews with terrorist suspects should be recorded. The holding centres, or police offices, play a central part in bringing terrorists to justice ; perhaps that is why they have attracted controversy in the past. We
Column 266want them to be demythologised. Accordingly, on 1 January this year, codes of practice concerning the detention and questioning of suspects came into effect under section 61 of the Act.
At the end of 1992, I appointed Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC as independent commissioner for the holding centres, which was a new post. I am most grateful to him for his diligent and inquiring work since then, as I am also to his deputy, Dr. Bill Norris. Sir Louis' first annual report to me, now published, is characteristically thoughtful and I am grateful for it. All should be pleased to note that he
"found absolutely nothing that might give anyone the slightest cause for concern about the care and treatment of detainees held in the custody of uniformed officers of the RUC".
I shall now touch on some of the issues that Sir Louis raises. He advocates, as does Mr. Rowe, some form of audio or video recording of interviews. I readily acknowledge the strong arguments in favour of either video or audio recording. They have powerful judicial support, and hold out the prospects of some obvious and valuable advantages, not least in shortening or eliminating at trial challenges made to the authenticity of alleged confessions.
However, one of the key tests is whether it could be absolutely guaranteed that such a recording could not later come to be seen or heard by someone who had a punitive motive. I myself am not sure that such guarantee would be regarded by suspects as reliable. It is the strong view of Sir Hugh Annesley, who, as Chief Constable, is my principal security adviser, that in the circumstances of Northern Ireland any electronic recording of interviews would inhibit still further the chances of lawfully obtaining information that would lead to the conviction of terrorists or to the saving of other people's lives. I have discussed the matter with him at length, and I am not prepared to take a serious risk of that character. I am bound to attach special weight to the opinion of Sir Hugh Annesley, who leads the RUC with such distinction, and I am not currently persuaded to accept the proposal.
Sir Louis also made other recommendations. We are happy to accept his proposal to reorganise the medical services in the police offices. The proposal for a legal advice unit is also attractive, but that is not entirely ours to dispose. We have asked the Law Society of Northern Ireland, whose co-operation would be vital, for its views. I understand from Sir Louis that he wishes to progress his work on this issue still further. He intends, I believe, to produce a separate interim report on the proposal in the autumn ; I look forward to that.
Sir Louis also criticises the physical conditions in Castlereagh. I have to agree that they are unsatisfactory, and I am aware that the Police Authority for Northern Ireland is actively pursuing a solution to the problem.
I now return to Mr. Rowe's report, and to complaints against the police and armed forces. Police officers and soldiers move and work in the community, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. It would be remarkable if there were not what Mr. Rowe describes as abrasive incidents. The security forces are trained to avoid them, but everyone is human and it is important that there should be sound mechanisms to deal with any complaint when one occurs.
For the police, there is the Independent Commission for Police Complaints, whose sixth annual report was published last week. The commission is a fully independent body, with wide-ranging powers, and is
Column 267acknowledged as a world leader. Its chairman, Mr. James Grew, is currently chairman of the international association of such organisations. That is a tribute not only to him but to the body over which he presides.
The Army, too, maintains extensive and sophisticated complaints procedures. At the end of 1992, I appointed, under section 60 of the Act, Mr. David Hewitt, an experienced and respected Belfast solicitor, to be independent assessor of military complaints procedures--another new post. His first annual report to me was published last month. I believe that now, for the first time, a thorough and impartial account of those mechanisms is in the public domain. With it came recommendations for improvement. The GOC, Sir Roger Wheeler, has said that he is examining these very carefully with a view to their implementation, and I look forward to having further discussions with him.
Mr. Rowe also draws attention to conflicting views on the law as it affects soldiers or police officers who have killed terrorists, or people believed to be terrorists. I know that many people, including some in eminent positions, regard the present law as unsatisfactory. The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland has lent his support to a change in the law in a recent judgment upholding the conviction of a soldier for murder. Sir Brian Hutton, whose view naturally commands the highest respect, stated his belief that the law would be fairer if a conviction for manslaughter rather than murder were possible where a soldier or police officer had killed a person, not from an evil motive, but because, his duties having placed him on the scene armed with a weapon, he had reacted wrongly to a situation that suddenly confronted him.
Police officers and soldiers are required to operate in areas in Northern Ireland where there is a grave threat against them. They do that in order to uphold law and order and to protect the community. The fact that almost 1,000 members of the security forces have been killed during the current terrorist campaign is evidence enough of the risks that they face.
They are, in certain circumstances, under a duty to use their weapons for the protection of themselves or of others. They must make up their minds in a trice. In so doing, they are offered no more and no less protection under the law than that available to any citizen. However, I think that such a change in the law would soon be criticised. It would be said that the Government were intent on protecting members of the security forces from facing the charge that they allegedly ought to face--that of murder. "One law for the security forces and another for the rest," would be the criticism. Yet it has always been the policy of successive Governments that members of the security forces should be bound by the ordinary criminal law. I believe that that is a sound principle, and one which attracts public confidence. After the most careful consideration, I do not find myself persuaded that the overall interests of justice would be served by a change of that character.
The Act needs to achieve a balance between safeguarding the rights of the individual and providing condign measures against terrorists and the organisations that sustain them. So, in the context of the debate, it is relevant to recall that the Chief Constable of the RUC has
Column 268put to me certain proposals for law reform. I have considered those most carefully, in consultation with the RUC and according to the criteria that I have mentioned. Naturally, I have also taken into account judicial opinion in Northern Ireland. I shall deal with those proposals briefly now.
I agree that we should make it easier for the police to obtain from suspects samples for forensic analysis. It is vital to be able to undertake DNA analysis, and by means of a Government amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, currently in another place, plucked hair will be classified beyond doubt as a non-intimate sample for the purposes of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. More work on forensic analysis generally is being undertaken in the context of the report of the Royal Commission on criminal justice. The Chief Constable believes that if means could be found of admitting in evidence the product of warranted interception of communications, obtained under the Interception of Communications Act 1985, that would valuably help to secure the conviction of some terrorists who might well otherwise go free. I have much sympathy with that idea. It is a serious and weighty argument, and one to which I and others need to give full and careful consideration. I am mindful also of the considerable success which has attended the use, notably in the United States, of wire-tap material.
However, the provisions of the 1985 Act were intended to maintain the complete secrecy of the system of organised interception. It was considered then that the system could be irrevocably damaged, both as a method of protecting national security and of dealing with serious crime. For example, in some circumstances, even to allow someone to discover that he was the subject of interception might make it impossible to pursue an investigation. Anything that disclosed the pattern of use of interception could also be damaging.
Accordingly, although the Government are not as yet persuaded that the case for change has been made out, we are continuing to examine most carefully both the way in which cases develop, and the balance of advantage and disadvantage in any changes, in the uniquely difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland.
Sir Hugh Annesley has further suggested that a suspect's so-called right to silence be amended by the adaptation and extension to all terrorist crime of the provisions concerning authorised investigators contained in the recently introduced section 57 and schedule 5 of the Act. That would make it a criminal offence for a suspect to refuse to answer questions in certain circumstances. The powers in question derive from provisions designed for use against fraud. They enable the RUC to obtain the expertise of particular individuals for the skilled questioning of suspects in complex fraud cases, with criminal sanctions for unreasonably refusing to answer. After careful consultation about the proposal to extend them, I do not believe that so important a change in a basic principle of our criminal justice system should be commended to Parliament.
A further proposal would significantly narrow a court's discretion to acquit in cases of possession. That would involve amending the Act to require the court to make the necessary assumption of knowledge in such cases unless it were shown to be incorrect or the court were satisfied that there would be a serious risk of injustice. I am, however, not convinced that it would achieve the desired effect, and
Column 269I am concerned that it might also increase the risk of miscarriages of justice. I therefore believe that the potential benefit would be outweighed by the practical and theoretical drawbacks.
The people of Northern Ireland continue to face, with great steadfastness and resolution, evil campaigns of violence that are pursued with political motivation. They not only need to have confidence in the resolution, fairness, impartiality, courage and sensitivity of our security forces and those qualities in our security policy ; they also need to have confidence in the effectiveness of the law with which the security forces are called on to counter the men of violence. As Mr. Rowe says in his report, the community's right to be free from terrorism is as important as any individual's rights, and that well describes the competing interests which the House must bring into judicious balance.
I greatly hope that the Opposition will nerve themselves in the interests of Northern Ireland not to vote against the order. The iniquitous crimes of terrorists continue to necessitate the renewal of the Act's temporary provisions, and I commend the order to the House.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : The renewal of the emergency powers has, sadly, become an annual ritual in the House. What were originally intended as temporary measures have now been in existence for 21 years. Powers that can be justified in an emergency cannot be justified as a permanent feature of the criminal justice system in a liberal democratic society, and that is why we examine them each year.
This debate provides an opportunity for the House to assess the security situation in Northern Ireland and the Government's new initiatives. It also provides an opportunity to comment on some of the interesting statements made by the Secretary of State about some of the Chief Constable's requests for additional powers.
Despite the joint declaration and the strong momentum behind the peace process, the level of violence has escalated recently. The rate of killings in Northern Ireland this year is as depressingly high as it was in 1993. No community in Northern Ireland has escaped the impact of paramilitary activities.
There can be no excuse for such callous disregard for human life. It should not be forgotten that we would not be here debating this renewal order if all the paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland brought the killings to an end, with the permanent cessation of violence. We regret that the call of the leader of the Ulster Unionist party for the loyalist paramilitaries to end their campaign has not received an immediate and positive response.
In response to Sinn Fein's questions on the joint declaration, the Government made four important points. First, the Government of Ireland Act 1920 can be on the negotiating table ; secondly, no party has a veto over Government policy ; thirdly, there is no need for Sinn Fein to accept the joint declaration, only to renounce the use of violence for political ends ; and, fourthly, there is recognition of Sinn Fein's electoral mandate. Given that response by the Government, there can be no justification, if ever there was--which I deny--for continued IRA violence. They should lay down their arms and come to the conference table.
Column 270Like the Secretary of State, we express our support and admiration for the work done by the security forces, the prison service and the judiciary, as they seek impartially to uphold the rule of law. Those men and women deserve acknowledgement for coping with the continuing stress and danger associated with their work--and, indeed, sadly, after they have ceased their full-time service. We also welcome the continuing high level of co-operation between the RUC and the Garda Siochana.
In its present form, the emergency provisions Act confers on the security forces wide-ranging powers which represent a marked departure from the usually accepted standards in a democracy. The Labour party recognises the justification for some emergency powers to counter the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. However, we cannot support this order while the power of internment remains on the statute book and the Government still refuse to implement measures recommended by their own advisers and bodies, such as the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights.
The power of internment is an infringement of fundamental human rights. It is totally unacceptable. The power of the Executive to imprison without charge, let alone trial, undermines the founding principles of any democratic country. The legitimacy of the state is based on the rule of law. The power of internment grants the Executive the right to suspend the rule of law. Such a right weakens the integrity of the state, and thereby strengthens the terrorists.
Speculation after every terrorist atrocity over the possibility of the reintroduction of internment only fuels paramilitary violence and suggests that somehow there is a quick fix--an immediate solution to a continuing problem. Further, because of the history of internment, it heightens the levels of alienation and distrust, which again plays into the hands of the paramilitaries. The Government should take heed of Sir George Baker, the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights and Lord Colville, and repeal the power.
This debate takes place against the background of four major reports--two by John Rowe QC on the emergency provisions Act and the prevention of terrorism Act, and the annual reports of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, the independent commissioner for the holding centres, and David Hewitt, the independent assessor of military complaints procedures.
Fears concerning possible abuses at the holding centres have contributed to disillusionment with the process of justice in Northern Ireland. We welcome the fact that, in his report, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper recognises the need for proper safeguards to be introduced in order to build confidence in the security forces and to provide police officers with protection against false allegations of physical and verbal harassment.
Yesterday, I visited the Castlereagh holding centre. I am indebted to the RUC officers for their the courtesy and help in explaining their procedures and practices to me. I looked at the battery of small television screens monitoring the interview rooms. I think that there were only eight
Column 271interviews taking place in this instance with 16 screens to be monitored. I therefore concur with Sir Louis Blom- Cooper's assessment :
"If there is, at any one time, more than a handful of interviews taking place--and frequently there are as many as eight to a dozen in action--it is difficult to understand how any inspector of police, however vigilant and undistracted by other duties . . . can be alerted to an untoward incident which might take place in the interview room."
Sir Loius Blom-Cooper argues that, as a result,
"it is well nigh impossible to monitor the screens effectively". He therefore concludes that a system should be introduced whereby "every interview would be tape-recorded, both audio and visual, but particularly the former".
I listened with care to what the Secretary of State said about the views of the Chief Constable. He must keep those views very much in mind. Sometimes, chief constables must be overruled, and this is one of those occasions when that is necessary, both in the interests of apparent justice and in the interests of defeating terrorism. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper joins a wide body of opinion in favour of some method of recording interviews at holding centres. For example, John Rowe states :
"I hold the firm view that interviews with terrorist suspects should be recorded by audio tape."
He also accepts that video recording is "desirable" in certain circumstances.
The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights has already supported the introduction of silent video recording, and is considering the call for audio recording. Lord Colville also called for the introduction of video recording.
Sir Louis Blom-Cooper outlined a system to protect tape recordings of interviews. His proposal that the disclosure of tapes should be a judicial decision is in line with what Labour has argued. If such a procedure is felt to be undesirable, however, it should still be possible for the Government--despite the Chief Constable--to accept in principle the introduction of audio and video recording and to establish a small working party representing the Bar, the RUC, the Law Society and the judiciary, to propose a system that would be satisfactory.
I accept what Sir Hugh Annesley said about guaranteeing security, but nothing is secure in that system, and audio recording of terrorist interrogations takes place in Britain, where we do not find that too strong an argument against it. We also know that procedures are being considered in Britain, in principle, for the introduction of video safeguards again for the interrogation of terrorists ; therefore, guaranteeing security does not seem to be a powerful argument in Britain.
In Paddington Green police station, all interviews of terrorist suspects are audio-taped and soon will be video-taped. If it is possible to ensure reasonable safety in Great Britain, I fail to see why it cannot be done in Northern Ireland.
There has been a change in the RUC's argument, as the Secretary of State reported. Its earlier argument would have been that, if the tapes fell into the wrong hands, people could find out sources and hints of intelligence, or that sources of information might dry up. In fact, the RUC defeats that argument by saying, in answer to criticisms on other matters, that, once a detainee is released into an ordinary prison, he or she is debriefed.
Column 272Two other main points arise from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper's argument. First, as the Secretary of State said, his proposal for a permanent, full-time legal advice unit for detainees in holding centres deserves further consideration, and I am glad to hear that Sir Louis will give it. It is clear, however, that whatever unit is established would have to be run independently by the Law Society and be seen to be independent of the Government.
Membership of such a unit would in no sense have to be restricted to exclude certain solicitors. It would have one advantage, in that, if it were adopted, it would be right to expect an end to the use of 48-hour deferrals of access to a solicitor. That represents a severe curtailment of the fundamental right of access to legal advice. If such a unit were established, although solicitors would go into the compound to interview, their permanent office should be outside, as a symbol of the fact that they are independent of Government. I am also concerned about persistent rumours of unsubstantiated allegations that certain solicitors pass on information that they receive from their clients to paramilitary organisations. Those insinuations may bring the authorities into conflict with United Nations basic principles on the role of lawyers, which state among other things :
"Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions." If such actions are taking place, evidence should be supplied to the Director of Public Prosecutions, as it would be a criminal offence, or to the professional conduct committee of the Law Society, as it would also be a professional offence. If there is no evidence, however, the allegations should stop. Unsubstantiated attacks on the reputations of solicitors attending clients at holding centres cannot be allowed to continue. Such attacks represent a serious breach of the principle that every individual has a right to a proper defence by a lawyer of his or her choice.
Video and audio taping would have one slight advantage, in that they help to prevent the allegations made by some detainees that their solicitors' connections with paramilitary organisations are said to prove their guilt.
Secondly, I have witnessed the extremely poor conditions within the Castlereagh holding centre to which Sir Louis referred in his report. He asserts :
"the whole centre is not conducive to the civilised administration of a process of holding persons in police custody for the purpose of interrogation".
I agree. He also states :
"The absence of any realistic space for exercise in the open air . . . and the absence of any clock or watch and the denial of reading and writing matter are serious deprivations".
I understand that exercise in the open air would be difficult, but the others could be complied with immediately.
Furthermore, RUC officers stationed at Castlereagh are also forced to endure appalling working conditions. We support the proposal that the police authority should urgently get on with finding other premises.
Northern Ireland is a deeply divided society, and a significant section of the population refuse to accept the legitimacy of the forces of law and order. In such circumstances, the impartial upholding of the law is crucial, and the lack of confidence in the security forces which exists among some groups cannot be ignored. While the majority of the security forces in Northern Ireland maintain, and have maintained, the high standards expected of them, often in the face of tremendous abuse and the temptation to retaliate, it nevertheless must be
Column 273recognised that there are occasional abuses of power. This further damages confidence in the community, and reinforces the sense of alienation. Even with safeguards to protect citizens, abuses of power are still almost inevitable.
John Rowe reports that the number of complaints against the police in 1993 was 2,956, yet only 1 per cent. of those were substantiated. Rowe asserts :
"the small number of complaints substantiated causes resentment in the community".
Such a low level of success damages the credibility of the independent commission. I support the commission's call for a change in the legislation to enable it to call in cases for investigate without the need for a complaint or referral by the Secretary of State, the Chief Constable or the police authority.
The Secretary of State said that he would not accept what the Lord Chief Justice said about a new, or lesser, crime to be indicted against members of the security forces who kill somebody in doubtful situations when they are on duty. I confess that I believe that there is still a lot to be debated in this area. One can see the problem facing the serving soldier.
I was under the impression that, at the intergovernmental conference over a year ago, the matter was referred to civil servants from both sides for discussion. I had expected that there might have been an outcome to the deliberations. Certainly I believe that there is wide scope for debate. I do not think that we can casually, in a few moments, throw over what the Lord Chief Justice has said--as the Secretary of State has done in the debate--without examining it more carefully.
The Labour party warmly welcomes the impressively detailed first annual report of Mr. David Hewitt. While we maintain that the assessor should have powers to investigate the merits of particular cases, and while we regret that the powers relate only to procedure, David Hewitt's research and recommendations deserve careful consideration by the Government.
I was pleased to hear that the commanding officer is looking at the matters carefully--and, I hope, sympathetically--because much of what Hewitt suggested is powerful, and could go a long way towards easing many troubles. The low number of successful complaints, as he has pointed out, remains a matter of concern, because it calls into question the accountability of the armed forces, and reinforces the perception that they are above the law, which we all know and believe they are not.
In 1993, only 16 formal non-criminal complaints--7.6 per cent. of the total --were upheld. Hewitt concludes :
"perhaps as many as 50 per cent. of the denied' and not substantiated nor disproven' cases may have been from individuals genuinely and understandably aggrieved by Army behaviour, at least on the balance of probability, if not beyond reasonable doubt." Hewitt concludes that the low level of successful complaints leads to "widespread dissatisfaction", which he considers to be justified. That is a damning indictment of the present procedures.
Mr. Brazier : As the hon. Gentleman works through his long laundry list of the existing powers with which he agrees and disagrees, would he like to make it clear whether there are any extra powers that he thinks the security forces should enjoy in Ulster to defeat the very real threat from terrorism ?
Column 274which will not alienate the community, and those that, if used, would alienate the community and therefore would be self-defeating. For example, there are powers relating to the laundering of money and matters of that nature which are a very proper part of the ordinary law of the land and of the emergency provisions.
I regret that we have to have trials without juries, but I would rather have contracting in than certifying out. There are others, which I could go through. The principal one which I have stated I do not believe should remain is the power of internment. The Government should also accept the other recommendations that have followed. No one can quarrel with David Hewitt's assertion that the overwhelming aim of the complaints procedure is to give reasonable satisfaction to a genuine complainant. In cases where it is simply the soldier's word against that of the complainant, Hewitt recommends that the complainant should more often be given the benefit of the doubt and an apology should be dispatched on a "without prejudice" basis. I support that proposal.
Also of concern are cases highlighted by Hewitt which fall outside the Army's non-criminal investigation procedure because they have been deemed criminal by the RUC, but where the Director of Public Prosecutions decides not to prosecute. In those cases, no further action or prosecution is undertaken by the Army. Again, I support Hewitt's call for all criminal incidents that are not prosecuted to be made automatically the subject of Army investigation, and a reply made in the same way as with non-criminal formal complaints. That has the added advantage of ensuring that the Army is seen to take an interest, and increases the possibility of disciplinary action if the complaint is upheld.
John Rowe also discussed the need to implement as soon as possible a code for stop-and-search guidelines. Such a code would provide an indication to the police, armed forces and ordinary citizens of what is acceptable in practice. It would prove a useful yardstick against which to measure behaviour when a complaint is lodged, and the reasonableness of a complaint. That should also be supported. The Secretary of State mentioned a number of matters on which he had had discussions, following the list produced by the Chief Constable. On the question of the plucked hair, I presume that the hair would be plucked from the scalp. The power already exists to take a swab from the mouth for DNA purposes. Plucking a hair or taking a swab from the mouth would still be seen as an assault, but plucking a hair would probably be easier than taking a swab from the mouth. I presume that the intention is that the hair would be plucked from the scalp. The circumstances under which that was done would have to be considered carefully, but I regard that as a reasonable matter to go ahead.
I also understand the Secretary of State's difficulty about the intercepting of telecommunications, which could make available evidence that would lead to more successful prosecutions. The problem is, under what circumstances, controls and patterns would such evidence be taken ; how could it be rendered credible ; and what would the protections be ? Would it be done by judicial warrant or the fiat of the Secretary of State ? A political decision in such circumstances would not be acceptable. Equally, however, I understand why the Secretary of State is reluctant to see the prerogative powers cut back.