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Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, I very much agree with one part of the speech of the noble Baroness in that if there is to be a settlement--I put that in inverted commas--the chances of breakaway groups from the various paramilitaries will be very real. It has happened before and it may well happen again. I hope that both the Irish Government and the British Government, in whatever hopes they have for the peace process, are planning what to do if that happens. When it happened before it led to a civil war in the south of Ireland. More people were killed in that civil war than ever were killed when the British were there. The violence was horrific. So there is always that danger which has to be taken into account. However, I support the Government in what they are doing and I shall try to explain why.

This is not the time for a great historical survey, but right through the last century legislation in the form of orders was brought before this House and another place by various governments to deal with the Irish situation. After the civil war of 1922 there was the emergency provisions Act in Northern Ireland and this Bill is a lineal descendant of it. That is where internment came in. However, internment was ended by the Conservative Government in 1972 after direct rule. There is no internment. I do not wish to be pedantic about it but it would be as well to use the word "detention" because it is more meaningful. It means a particular way of doing things and it is not internment. By using the word "internment" we are playing into the hands of the IRA and its various groups. They use the word "internment" because it is the old way of doing things, and that is what generates in their community strong feelings. What we have here is detention. Different forms of carrying out detention were introduced in 1972 and 1973.

Internment was badly carried out. That was not just down to weak intelligence. When I arrived there in 1974 it was my intention to end the use of detention. When I was walking around I asked various people who ought to have known the answer, "Who thought of the use of internment?". The police said, "It wasn't us". The Army said, "It wasn't us". The blame was then put on the devolved government of Northern Ireland. When I asked them, they said, "It wasn't us". It was badly done and it

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was badly conceived. It led to a great escalation of violence in Northern Ireland and it would happen again if it were used.

The noble Lord, Lord Orme, and I ended the use of detention. In the meantime, I must have locked up with my own fair hands the best part of 400 people. One sat with a policeman or with someone from the intelligence branch asking for the justification. I always asked the question, "Why not the police?". The plain fact was that the police were not in the Catholic areas. There was practically no use of detention in the Protestant areas because the police were there. So it was not enough for me to end the use of detention by this time; it was to play the part of a Secretary of State through the use of the resources of government to improve the police. The RUC, unlike then, is now one of the best police forces in the United Kingdom in arresting people and bringing them before the courts.

Internment is the least good way of dealing with violence. The use of the courts raises problems. I am the last one to plead that one has to have jury trial in Northern Ireland for the most serious cases because the lives of the jurymen and jury-women would be put at risk. It is easy enough for those in Northern Ireland with police protection to talk. In one form or another my family and I have had police protection for 20 years. But jurymen and jury-women and judges would be put at risk.

The argument we are having today is not whether internment should or should not be used; it is whether internment should remain on the statute book. I noticed that the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, announced yesterday that the recent bombs in Northern Ireland were not the work of the IRA. He would not have been able to do that in my day. He would not have had the information. But the chief constable said that they were not the work of the IRA. So the police must know far more than they knew 20 years ago. There is an extremely good Special Branch in Northern Ireland.

Let us look at the scenario. Let us suppose within the next few weeks, months or years--because this power is not going to be handed over to a devolved administration--the Secretary of State is informed by the chief constable and others that there is a danger of great violence breaking out. That is the time to come to both Houses of Parliament and justify detention. If the argument of the government of the day is that one has to return to detention, it would also include a complete change of policy. The three political parties in this country for the past 20 years have not played politics about Northern Ireland. It is much too serious. There are soldiers on the streets and, in the old days there were soldiers in one's own constituency, so one does not play about as so much politics is playing about. It is a different scene.

In those circumstances the Houses should be called together and told that there is an urgent need to have detention. At the same time there would have to be an indication of a fundamental change of policy. There will be no more playing around with peace processes and talking together. It will all be over. It would be a very

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serious matter and that would be the time to come to the House and ask for detention, but not leave it on the statute book. It has not been used since 1975. The IRA and the Protestant para-militaries know it is not going to be used. So there is no great change. What is at issue is whether detention should be on the statute book. I strongly believe that the government of the day would have to come to both Houses and say that there has been a great failure and a great change of policy, whatever that might be. Internment or detention would be part of it. For that reason I support the Government.

Lord Monson: My Lords, if internment was not already on the statute book, now would obviously not be the right time to introduce it. I believe that that partly answers the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. But to abandon the existing power to intern now after it has been in place for so many decades and at a time when terrorist organisations are acquiring more and more powerful weapons and explosives and are clearly willing and eager to use them would surely be the height of folly.

Thousands of bewildered Italian waiters from Soho and elsewhere, together with thousands of equally bewildered German-Jewish and Austrian-Jewish refugees, were interned by this country in the Second World War; so it is not strictly the case that internment denies many of the traditions which characterise this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, claimed on 5th March (Hansard; col. 1398). Moreover, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asserted on 12th January that internment,

    "is fundamentally a process that is against the rule of law and undermines democratic principles".--[Official Report, 12/1/98; col. 909.]

If that is really the view of Her Majesty's Government, why are they and the Liberal Democrats not angrily demanding that the Republic of Ireland repeals its own internment laws which are still in place despite the fact that the Irish Republic has suffered less than 1 per cent. of the deaths and the destruction that the North has over the past three decades?

Of course, internment should only be used after the most scrupulous intelligence evaluation. That answers one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees. Even then it should be used very sparingly and, ideally, never. But as in the Republic of Ireland it should be kept in reserve for circumstances of exceptional danger which may involve massive loss of life.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I have taken part in debates on internment over many years. I have very vivid memories of the effect that internment has. It was introduced on 9th August 1971. In its aftermath in 1972 came one of the most vicious years that we have had in Northern Ireland. Nearly 500 people were murdered in Northern Ireland. That atmosphere was created because of the way in which internment had been carried out. It was put into effect solely against the Catholic community. There were very few, if any, Loyalists interned at that

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time. They had not engaged with the same viciousness and force at that time, but they were still a part of the terrorist game in Northern Ireland.

In 1971 internment was flagged up. Everyone in Northern Ireland knew, particularly in Belfast, that internment was to be introduced. It was leaked all over the place. I remember speaking to an Irish Times reporter the day after internment on 10th August. He told me--and it was reported in the press--that he had spoken to an IRA man the previous week. He had said, "When are they going to introduce internment? We need it". The terrorists wanted internment because they realised that it would build up support for them in Northern Ireland.

Not only that, but when internment was introduced the terrorists left behind on the streets of Belfast the young people who were the car burners and the wreckers. They were young people driven by emotion. Those organising terrorism were all in the Republic. They had all left Northern Ireland and many of them are still in the Republic today.

If this measure is deleted today--and I agree with the Government in their attitude--but intelligence reports show that internment should be reintroduced, will the Government have a late sitting in this House or the other place? Because once that happens and internment is reintroduced by an Act of Parliament, the same people will again go over the border. At the present moment those who escaped internment and detention are living in the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, many of them have been charged with terrorist offences. We had an edict from the High Court in Dublin saying that those offences were politically motivated and therefore those involved were not liable to extradition to Northern Ireland. But, to say the least, actions of that sort do not build up confidence in the Unionist or Protestant community in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme, and my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees were quite right. If internment is reintroduced it will be in an entirely different atmosphere. A significant section of the Loyalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland are determined to wreck what may emerge from the peace process. In that situation we would have to be given a guarantee that no succour or support will be given to the people who have gone from Northern Ireland into the Republic. The Irish Government would have to act against those terrorists if they escape over the border.

Can that guarantee be given? I know that for security reasons the Minister cannot tell the House all the knowledge that he has at his disposal, but surely the RUC knows those engaged in terrorism at the moment. They cannot arrest them because they do not have the evidence against them which would enable them to be brought before the courts.

As regards the Republican breakaway groups in East Tyrone and South Armagh, they have said that they will totally reject any success emerging from the peace process. So should we keep on the statute book the means for detention?

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I have one little doubt in my mind, which I have been seriously concerned about over the past year. We hear the new phrase, "a confidence-building measure". Is it the Government's intention to do away with internment or detention because they realise it does not work, or is it a sop and a confidence-building measure? That is what the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland believe it to be. That is why Unionist spokesmen are totally opposed to the deletion of this power. They believe that it is yet another in the long line of confidence-building measures that we have had to live through over the past year. That is the doubt that I have. I hope that I am wrong and that the Government are acting in this way because they realise the ineffectiveness of internment.

I urge the Government to reconsider this matter before there is any terrorist activity. Indeed, we may not have to wait too long before we see a vicious tirade against the peace process. If the bomb in County Louth had gone off last week or if the mortar shells that were fired in County Armagh the other day had succeeded in killing any policemen, there would be no peace process. Any such actions by the terrorists would effectively kill any peace process which is now taking place at Stormont.

I believe that the present Chief Constable in Northern Ireland is the best that we have had--certainly in my lifetime. I urge him to be very wary of those whom he may suspect, without evidence, of taking part in terrorist activity, and to keep a very close eye on them in the run up to any agreement that may be found.

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