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Baroness Denton of Wakefield: I shall be brief. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has probably forgotten more about Northern Ireland than I will ever know and I have enormous respect for his views. We who base ourselves in London can never understand all about this matter. However, I believe there were matters of non-consequence in the noble Lord's speech. He said that internment was counter-productive as regards terrorism. How do we know how many terrorists were put off by the threat of detention? How do we know that the eruption into violence was because of detention and not because of a million other factors? There are always a million other factors in Northern Ireland. There is often an impression that human rights are a matter for terrorists. Human rights are a matter for innocent people too and they have a right to be protected. Those people in Northern Ireland who are innocent and wish to have peace and who are at risk--as we have seen again this week--have a right to be protected. At this stage I support the provision of my noble friend.
Lord Dubs: I acknowledge the emotions the issue of internment arouses. We have heard some powerful speeches this evening on both sides of the argument which clearly reflect the strength of emotion that the issue arouses. Those emotions are a reflection of the community divisions and the fears which exist in Northern Ireland. I have listened carefully to the arguments put forward passionately by those Members of the Committee who are in favour of retaining the provision. While the Government acknowledge the very real concerns of those who argue in favour of retaining the provision, we are not convinced that the case for retention is made. I have not been persuaded by the arguments we have heard this evening in favour of retention.
Clause 3 repeals the powers in Section 36 of, and Schedule 3 to, the 1996 Act to detain without trial persons suspected of being terrorists. The powers have existed in lapsed state since 1980 and have not been used since 1975. They involve a decision by government to deprive individuals of their liberty without trial and without the normal safeguards which the law provides for the protection of the accused. Their use would only ever have been justified as a last resort. The ability to detain people without trial has never been seen as a means of achieving stability within the community. The effect of using the powers would, I believe, be quite the reverse. It would increase community tension, and cause serious damage to respect for the rule of law. I believe that it would strengthen the terrorist organisations, as was said so elegantly by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. It would create in the minds of terrorists political prisoners. Ultimately I fear that it would prolong the very violence which it was intended to prevent or to lessen.
I fear that if we were to use detention in the circumstances of Northern Ireland it would enormously strengthen the terrorist organisations which would depict themselves as martyrs. I doubt very much whether any democratic society can implement internment in such a way that it can be kept secret until the last minute, and that we can then somehow catch all the people that it is intended to catch. On pragmatic grounds I do not believe, frankly, that it has the potential to be effective.
There is the important argument that we are trying to set standards of human rights, standards of the rule of law, which would be negated if we went down that particular path. I fear very much that we would be helping the terrorists both on the republican and the loyalist side if we were to do that.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said that we might need some breathing space and might use internment during that breathing space. I find it hard to follow that argument. I fervently hope that the talks process will be successful. Yes, there are some terrorists in Northern Ireland who do not want an outcome and who use terrorism as a threat to the talks. Of course, it is a threat to the talks. But I do not believe that in the circumstances of a successful outcome to the talks, supported by the majority of people in Northern Ireland and, I hope, in the Republic, we would then consider using internment to catch the minority of those who were formerly terrorists and who still want to practise terrorism. I do not believe that that is the way we would go forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred to how long it would take to find the guilty. I do not think that he meant in the context of internment but in dealing with any possible resurgence of terrorism. If, in a system of the rule of law, it is hard to find the guilty, it is even harder to find the guilty in a swoop on people's homes at five o'clock in the morning in the hope of catching those people in bed. I fear for the effects it would have. I do not believe that it would protect us or the people of Northern Ireland in any sense. I believe that the minority of people there who support terrorism would take comfort from government measures such as that.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, gave the House a very good history lesson about how it all went wrong. Do we not all know that? But, as I said, the circumstances are different. The Minister finds the existing provision hard to justify. We cannot think what is the justification for removing it. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, it did not stop terrorism over the past few years. If the threat of internment meant so little, it definitely did not increase terrorism. Therefore to keep the provision may not be to increase it. I merely want to make that point clear after what has been said.
Lord Dubs: I understand what the noble Viscount says. If I follow him accurately, he suggests that he does not advocate the use of internment but wishes to keep the power as a last resort. The point is that the Government believe very clearly that there are no circumstances in which we would wish to use the power of internment. Therefore no purpose is to be gained by keeping it on the statute book. It is a power that denies many of the traditions which characterise this country--the tradition of the rule of law, of a proper judicial system whereby people are found guilty through a process in the courts. It suggests that an arbitrary system can somehow achieve good. I repeat that the Government can see no circumstances in which we would wish to use these powers.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I apologise for interrupting the proceedings again. The noble Lord said that in no circumstances would the Government contemplate using this power. Does that mean that they would not contemplate coming back to Parliament for a restoration of the power?
Lord Dubs: That is rather a hypothetical question. It relates to what might happen in certain unforeseen circumstances. I prefer to consider the situation in Northern Ireland as it is now, and as it is likely to be in the near future. Let us leave the distant future to look after itself.
Yes, there have been some very tragic murders and bombings in recent weeks. They are to be absolutely condemned. But even in those circumstances, no one has seriously suggested that we should use the power of internment. I am absolutely certain, as are the
Lord Cope of Berkeley: Our debate has been relatively brief, given the importance of the subject. However, it has shown the strength of feeling on this matter and the strength of the arguments against the clause.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I did not, and would not, rely on the example of the 1970s. The example that I mentioned of the border campaign of 1956 is a much better example; but there are other, earlier examples, particularly from the Republic of Ireland. Those examples teach us, among other things, that one of the keys to the success of internment as a measure is the overwhelming support of public opinion. That is one of the key lessons to be learnt from the cases where it has been used successfully. That is why it was important that the loyalist terrorists were mentioned during the course of the debate. That would be a key in the sort of circumstances that we were outlining.
It was argued that the threat of internment has existed, but nevertheless terrorism has continued. Both those statements are correct. I do not think that any of us can say what the situation would have been like in relation to terrorism or how it would have been different had particular measures, including this one, not been on the statute book over the past few years. It is my firm belief that, particularly at times when internment has been one of the measures suggested for immediate use and when it has seemed at least possible that the Government might use it, it has disrupted the command and control of terrorism to a great degree, if only for a few weeks until the threat recedes. It certainly leads to terrorist commanders having to take measures, such as moving constantly and never sleeping in the same bed, which are extremely disruptive to their efforts.
As the debate has taken place so much later than was anticipated, I believe that we should not press the matter to a vote at this time. It may be that other Members of the Committee who cannot be here this evening may wish to join in the debate at a later stage of the Bill. I believe that it is premature to remove this power from the statute book.