Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Sir Norman Fowler: I think that what the hon. Gentleman is arguing is that the Government's measures are an alternative form of internment, which is not exactly what I thought the Government were proposing. Although no one but a fool would say that there were not difficulties with internment, there were some successes. However, it is foolish to give away the power at this stage and not to have it even as a reserved power.

Mr. Mullin: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

The Bill is being introduced in the shadow of Omagh. If there is a chance that deaths and injuries can be avoided in the future by such a Bill, it deserves support. I do not intend to double-guess the police and security advice going to the Government on this issue. I suggest that one way forward is to take advantage of the 12-month review provision and to ask the Government to provide the fullest possible report in time for the debate in 12 or six months'

2 Sept 1998 : Column 764

time on the workings of the Bill in practice. We have an amendment that makes that point, to which we shall return in Committee.

Mr. Sayeed: Before we persuade ourselves that a Bill such as this will deal with the Continuity IRA, Real IRA, the INLA or whoever, can we remember that it is in the power of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and the others in the army council of the IRA to tell those perpetrating this form of terrorism to stop or take the consequences?

Sir Norman Fowler: Telling them to stop is entirely what those people should be doing.

That brings me to my next point. There is an issue in the debate which is even more fundamental--decommissioning. In her article in The Observer, the Secretary of State said:

She went on to say that that was why President Clinton's visit was so important. President Clinton's visit is important, but, by itself, will not be conclusive.

I agree with the Secretary of State that our aim should be to provide reassurance and to help the people of Northern Ireland to feel more secure. However, I would have thought that those objectives would be more likely to be achieved if we could make clear and identifiable progress on the surrender of explosives and arms. In other words, we should dismantle the apparatus of terror.

It is no reply to say that, at Omagh, it appears that stockpiled explosive was not used. I agree with the comments of the leader of the Ulster Unionists in the Second Reading debate of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill:

What is clear is that the presence of explosives and firearms poses an immense threat. What would bring the greatest reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland is prisoner releases going hand in hand with the decommissioning process.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler: No.

Self-evidently, that is not happening. This is not a case of making new conditions. It is keeping to the principles that were clearly set out by the Prime Minister in his speech in Belfast in May--namely, that there should be

Therefore, I welcome the news that Sinn Fein will be working with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning, but the reassurance that is wanted is that progress is being made with the surrender of explosives and arms. Nothing would do more to provide the sense of security that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wishes to achieve than that.

Mr. Cash: I agree with the sentiment that my right hon. Friend expresses, but does he agree that a substantive

2 Sept 1998 : Column 765

point needs to be examined in these proceedings? We must ensure that there is compatibility between the arrangements for early release under section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 and this Bill, so that we get a proper, parallel and mutual arrangement. In that way, no person would be given early release and then go on to use weapons that have not been decommissioned, ensuring that there is a proper security arrangement in the interests of the Republic of Ireland and this country.

Sir Norman Fowler: That is what we all want. There are tremendous difficulties with the prisoner release process, but I will leave it as I have set it out. Basically, what the Conservative party wants will come as no surprise to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), who will reply, because we have made this point before. We want the two processes to go hand in hand. Public support depends on that.

We want the peace process to succeed and we will do our utmost to assist that. We want to bring as much reassurance as possible to the people of Northern Ireland and we believe that the proposals that we have made over past months will assist that process. We want the surrender of explosives and arms. We want, above all, in considering the Bill, to make it less likely that there will ever again be a recurrence of the terrible events in Omagh a few weeks ago. It is on that basis that we support the Second Reading of the Bill.

6.52 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I welcome the modifications that have been made to the Bill since we first heard about it a week ago. It was said then that people could be sent down for up to 10 years on the word of a single police officer. Had that still been the case, I and, I am sure, one or two other Members could not have voted for it. I am glad that incitement has also been removed from the Bill.

Some of the other changes in the past week have been helpful, but I still have grave misgivings about the Bill. As others have already remarked, it bears all the signs of having been conceived in haste and I fear that we may repent at leisure, as we did with internment and the prevention of terrorism Act, both of which did little or nothing to combat terrorism but instead helped to alienate a generation of Irish people and created fertile soil for the recruitment of a new generation of terrorists.

One thing puzzled me in the speech of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), and I would have made this point if he had allowed me to intervene. I am genuinely mystified by his party's attachment to or nostalgia for internment. It was catastrophic. It had a disastrous impact.

Many of the people who were put away were not terrorists in any shape or form. Enormous abuses occurred. The quality of the intelligence used was very poor, to put it mildly, and it led to the recruitment as terrorists of a lot of people who previously did not feature on the records. Happily, we are not going back down that road, but the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield would be wise to study the tea leaves a little more carefully.

Mr. Robert McCartney: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's view on what happened in 1972, but does he

2 Sept 1998 : Column 766

agree that the quality of current intelligence and the nature of the situation are now completely different? Such conditions no longer prevail.

Mr. Mullin: I accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman says--

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Mullin: May I just get the second sentence out of my mouth? I agree with the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), but the quality of intelligence has not necessarily improved as much as everyone here believes. The security forces rounded up Iraqis during the Gulf war, but they all had to be released without charge--the security forces got it utterly wrong again. The hon. and learned Gentleman laughs, but that is a much more recent example.

I agree: we are dealing with a very small number of people and it should be possible to identify them. The quality of intelligence available should be very good now, given the number of defections that have occurred, but the only point that I was making was in response to the ones that were made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, who harked back to the golden age of 1972, which, as the hon. and learned Member for North Down and I agree, was not quite such a golden age.

Mr. White: In 1972, it was said that intelligence was much better in the 1970s than it had been in the 1950s during a previous IRA threat. Every generation, it is said, has learnt the lessons of the past and its intelligence is much better, so what have we learnt that is going to be an improvement this time?

Mr. Mullin: As it happens, I do think that the quality of intelligence is much better. It darn well should be--goodness knows we have had long enough to learn a few lessons.

I have three concerns about the Bill. First, I am not convinced that it will be effective; indeed, it could have the opposite effect to what is intended. During my search for the real Birmingham bombers, I interviewed a number of young men who joined the IRA in the mid-1970s. When I asked why they had signed up, they invariably gave one of two reasons--Bloody Sunday or internment.

Those who advocate more repressive solutions should bear in mind the lessons of history. I agree with what the Prime Minister has said. We should not be imprisoned in the past, but we should take a bit of notice because this is a road down which we have travelled.

If people are interested in catching terrorists--as I am; indeed, in one or two instances I have had better luck than the security services, even though they were armed with the vast panoply of powers that they tell us they need--there is no substitute for patient detective work, leading to convictions based on credible evidence. We have had some successes recently in relation to bombings on the mainland; that is the way to proceed.

My suspicions are always aroused when anonymous members of the security services are quoted, as they were a few days ago in The Daily Telegraph, as saying that they "know" who the terrorists are and would have no trouble putting them away, if only the namby-pamby

2 Sept 1998 : Column 767

politicians could be persuaded to dispense with the safeguards that we used quaintly to associate with civilisation. That is what the security services said before internment and it was a disaster. Much of their information was mistaken. I fear that that could happen again.

My second misgiving relates to the climate in which the new powers will be exercised; this is perhaps the most important point that I have to make. They will be exercised in a jurisdiction where interviews with terrorist suspects are not yet audio-recorded. That is incredible because they are audio-recorded over here.

I am not satisfied with what I have heard from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on that point. He is being given the runaround, the source of which, I suspect, comes from Northern Ireland. I am sure that he knows where to look for the source. I do not accept that there are so many difficulties--indeed, I know that there are not. The difficulty is political and it is easily resolvable. The Government could easily concede the point this evening. I do not understand the obstacle.

Next Section

IndexHome Page