Baroness Gardner of Parks: Perhaps the Committee will allow me at this very late moment to add that the Patient's Charter is very strictly enforced through the National Health Service Executive and, at the moment, the regional health authorities which keep monitoring the results all the time.
Lord Robertson of Oakridge: I thank all Members of the Committee who have spoken in the debate for their interesting contributions. I am grateful to the Minister for his contribution. Perhaps I may pick up one point which he made early in his speech. He said that the two amendments would bring the medical treatment under the law. That is not quite right. The Bill brings the medical treatment under the law. The amendments merely make it clear that the Bill has done that.
Lord Carter: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this extremely helpful debate. Their contributions have underlined the need for the discussion we have had and the need for the ministerial assurance that we received. I know I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we are extremely grateful to the Minister for the very full reply he gave and for the assurance that we needed. He referred to medical services. We are talking about health care services, including community care and the whole range. I think it is clear now that our concerns have been allayed and that there is no need for the amendment. However, we needed to have the debate to make sure that it was not needed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Lucas: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begins again not earlier than 8.15 p.m.
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Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1995
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the emergency provisions Act contains most of the legal powers necessary to counter the paramilitary threat in Northern Ireland. It 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 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.
Seeking its renewal for a further year is not simply a reflex action on the part of the Government. It is a carefully considered decision having regard to the advice of our security advisers and also the admirably thorough and dispassionate report of Mr. J.J. Rowe Q.C., to whom we are all indebted. He concludes that renewal for a further year is indeed necessary. We, regretfully, endorse his conclusion.
I should like to explain why that is our view. We have, for the first time in very many years, a situation in which the terrorist organisations on both sides are not killing people and destroying property. That is to be much welcomed, and the benefits are already apparent. Northern Ireland is now a confident place; there are increased business opportunities and less unemployment. There is an atmosphere of hope which has been sadly lacking in the past. We have a wonderful opportunity to build on this, to look to the future and draw a line under the past 25 years of suffering.
The Government have recognised the ceasefires in many important ways. I shall quote just a few. Military activity has been greatly reduced and two major Army units have been relocated from Northern Ireland. All the roads which link Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic are being reopened. Many security installations have been removed; and it is no longer necessary for police officers and soldiers to operate the vehicle checkpoints which used to cause such disruption to people seeking to go about their business. We are glad to have been able to take these steps and, as the ceasefires continue to hold, more will be possible.
But we have no confirmation of the peace. The paramilitary organisations on both sides remain in being and they retain the capacity for violence. Not a single weapon or item of equipment has been voluntarily given up. The terrorists are still recruiting new members, developing new methods of operation and gathering
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information on potential targets. They still engage in the most brutal forms of intimidation; savage beatings remain commonplace as they seek to enforce their own brand of discipline; and let it not be forgotten that not all the groupings have called a ceasefire.
The powers we are debating today provide a deterrent against this kind of activity and a means of countering it. They are also a reassurance that the Government are determined to see a permanent end to terrorism. They are being used much less frequently than before, and we all wish to see the trend continue, but our judgment is that they should remain in existence for the time being.
But we do not wish to keep them in place for ever. The Government have always looked forward to the day when they will no longer be necessary. Section 69 of the Act provides a mechanism whereby specific provisions can be suspended and brought back into force by order if necessary. Section 34the power of executive detentionis already subject to suspension. We hope that it will prove possible for further provisions to be moved into the same category, and we will keep this matter continually under review in the light of developments. This is another recommendation from Mr. Rowe which we are entirely happy to accept.
Let me look still further ahead. It is only right that there should be a wide-ranging look at all the options for permanent counter-terrorism legislation once a lasting peace is established in Northern Ireland. I can now say that the process will include a fully independent review of the continuing need for this Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It is, however, a matter for judgment when it would be right to start this. I have already explained why we have to be careful. It is likely that we shall have to conclude that it will be premature to mount such a review in time for the legislation which will be necessary to replace the current Act when it expires completely in August 1996. If that is the case, next Session's Bill will be explicitly time-limited pending the introduction of entirely new legislation to deal with any residual terrorist threat to the United Kingdom.
This Government are therefore absolutely committed to overhauling the emergency legislation when circumstances permit and a lasting peace has been confirmed. The only question in our minds is when it will be safe and sensible to begin the process. The answer to that question is, sadly, "Not yet".
In the meantime, I should like to place on record my unstinting admiration for the work of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Army and the other security agencies over the years. Many have paid the ultimate price; and many others, and their families, will continue to suffer in years to come. We hope that their task of upholding democracy is very nearly over and that the police force can continue to develop in the service of the whole community.
I should like now to say something about the holding centres at Castlereagh and elsewhere which have played such a central role over the years. The Government have been keen to eliminate the controversy which has sometimes surrounded them. We have in place an independent commissioner, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, who has now produced two annual reports. We have codes of practice concerning the detention and
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questioning of suspects. From the beginning of this year, Sir Louis has been able, subject to certain conditions, to sit in on actual interviews.
We can now go further. Having consulted the Royal Ulster Constabulary, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced in another place earlier this week that he was prepared to introduce, in the Bill to replace the present Act, and if the security situation still rendered it necessary, a scheme to enable interviews to be electronically recorded. We all hope that by then such a scheme will no longer be necessary and that procedures will suffice for all suspects; but if recording in the holding centres is still appropriate, it will be introduced.
Northern Ireland has changed remarkably over the past year. I believe that among most people there is a will to consolidate the existing situation and to secure a lasting political settlement. All our efforts are bent towards that end.
But I have to tell the House today that in our considered judgment the powers contained in the emergency provisions Act must remain in existence for the time being. I do not say it with pleasure and I trust the time will soon come when it is safe to dispense with the Act. I hope and pray that terrorism has had its day, but until we can be certain that the threat has been entirely lifted it would be utterly irresponsible of us to drop our guard and this Government will not do that. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Denton of Wakefield.)
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the comprehensive and lucid way in which she introduced the renewal of the order. The order comes up for consideration this evening when the situation in Northern Ireland is quite different from what it was in previous years when such orders were debated. All of us in Northern Ireland have now enjoyed a ceasefire for almost 10 months, and we earnestly hope that it will be permanent and irreversible.
The ceasefire was fully taken into account by Mr. Rowe QC in his interesting and detailed report on the operation of the emergency provisions in 1994. In his report, he faced up to the realities of the situation in Northern Ireland, and I can understand and agree with his recommendations. I wish to support the renewal of the order for one more year. In my view, there is no other way.
As I have said, we have enjoyed a ceasefire for 10 months, but it has been marred by two murders and a continuation of the bestial and brutal punishment beatings which have been perpetrated by both sets of paramilitaries and in which 131 people (mostly young men) have had their limbs bashed with concrete blocks and bars and have been seriously injured. Unfortunately, that is only one indication of the determination of the paramilitaries to maintain control over what they regard as their areas. Everyone hopes that the ceasefire will be permanent but, as yet, there is no general feeling of confidence that it will be.
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As the Minister said, the paramilitaries, and in particular the IRA, have not been stood down. In certain areas, they are actively continuing to target individuals, who find that their movements are being watched and, on occasions, that they have been followed on their journeys home. The recruiting and training of the IRA is continuing. Weapons are being moved about. All that is generally known, and is mentioned by Mr. Rowe in paragraph 13. In addition, some groups are stepping up their racketeering and there is evidence of involvement in drug pushing which is becoming very serious. In the Republic of Ireland, there has been a spate of kidnappings of wealthy business people, ransoms have been paid, and a figure of £1 million has been mentioned. There has been little publicity, but it is clear that the IRA is determined to keep its cash boxes full.
On the wider front, Sinn Fein has been conducting a high level and clever campaign demanding to be fully recognised as a constitutional political party. It has been redefining words and phrases. For it, "demilitarisation" means removal of the Army, disarming and disbanding the Royal Ulster Constabulary but not giving up any of its own explosives and arms. In the name of "democracy", it requires Brits out; it does not recognise the wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Its "democratic" objective is for the island of Ireland to be governed from Dublin by a government of its choice. It blames everyone else and in particular our government for holding up what it calls the "peace process". It has obtained concession after concession. It is now talking to Ministers. They have shaken hands all round, but there is no suggestion that the IRA will surrender arms or explosives.
There is widespread feeling in Northern IrelandI can say an almost universal feelingthat Sinn Fein and the IRA have had concessions enough. They must now deliver if they are to be treated seriously. If they are sincere about peace, they should at once give up all their semtex.