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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, the House has rehearsed the arguments about these provisions at earlier stages of the Bill. I content myself by saying that in general we on these Benches accept the sad fact that legislation of this kind is still necessary in Northern Ireland. Given the determination of some malevolent minorities to try to undermine civilised life, let alone the peace process, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that this Bill should pass.
One event very germane to emergency provisions has occurred since we last discussed this measure. I refer to the publication by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, the independent commissioner for the holding centres, of his annual report submitted to the Secretary of State on 23rd March. As this is very relevant to emergency provisions, I take this opportunity to put two questions to the Minister. In light of the criticisms of the United Nations to which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has referred, it is good to read the conclusion of Sir Louis that there is still not the slightest cause for concern about the care and treatment of detainees held in police custody by uniformed officers at the holding centres. Given the authorship of that report, I believe that we can all have confidence in that conclusion.
At the same time, Sir Louis poses two fundamental questions. As I do not know when noble Lords will have a chance to raise them with the Minister, perhaps I may deal with them now. First, Sir Louis asks whether, with the advent of recording of interviews with suspects and the end of unsupervised questioning by detectives, there is any longer a sound basis for distinguishing between the regimes for terrorist suspects on the mainland and in Northern Ireland. He asks, rightly in my view, whether arrests under Section 14 of the PTA, wherever they occur, should be PACE-regulated; in other words, whether they should be treated as they are on the mainland and whether the holding centres should again become police stations. That is his first question. We should take it seriously.
The second is one of which those noble Lords who live in Northern Ireland will be well aware. It is a longstanding question. Why has the Castlereagh holding centre not been replaced? That is a matter to which the previous Northern Ireland Secretary, whom I am delighted to see in his place, referred. He hoped that it would be replaced, but it is not even a priority in the current RUC building programme. Much of the international criticism of our human rights regime in Northern Ireland--much of it misplaced--is based on the much, and rightly, criticised Castlereagh holding centre. The chief constable wants it closed. Everyone wants it closed. What are the Government going to do about it?
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, at an earlier stage I did not question the Government's judgment that there will, unfortunately, be a continuing need for emergency legislation. I support the two noble Lords who have spoken and the continuance of the present
The benefit of that would be that it would prevent individual government departments from attempting to placate terrorists to an extent which sometimes brings the entire Government into disrepute. I shall not dwell again on the unwise concessions contained in the Bill--concessions which come at a most critical time in the so-called peace process--but in recent months I have cautioned against that stock phrase which is designed to apply pressure to politicians. It runs, "Please get around the table to find a solution to end the violence". "Please get around the table to end the violence", is misleading because the last four words, "to end the violence", constitute a form of subtle blackmail and are downright misleading.
Whatever hope there may be of finding a solution or an agreement, that can have no effect whatsoever on eradicating terrorism--the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, made that point adequately--because no political arrangement can possibly deliver what the terrorists demand unless--I underline "unless"--Her Majesty's Government are prepared to ignore the ballot box and the principle of consent of the greater number of people of Northern Ireland--Protestant, Catholic, other faiths, no faiths at all--who just want to co-operate and live in peace with one another, and, broadly speaking, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, live within the UK, the larger unit.
In that context, I caution Her Majesty's Government against a repetition of the 1973 Sunningdale conference where the Northern Ireland delegates to that conference were starved of food and sleep until they cracked under pressure and accepted completely unreal propositions which, in the cold light of day, they could not sell to their supporters and could not deliver. At the very first test of electoral opinion--namely, the general election of February 1974--they, those Ministers, those delegates and the policies that they mistakenly approved were all swept away.
The Irish Government would appear today to be in full retreat from what was thought to be their position on certain crucial issues. It must be understood that whereas Her Majesty's present government are electorally secure for the next four years, Irish governments are always at the mercy of proportional representation elections, and, even when they are in coalition, they rest on a precarious single figure majority. I believe that the present government have no majority at all.
That being the position, they would not dare to offend even a small segment of their own supporters. So governance by what I would call the revolving door involves a perpetual risk to any North/South ministerial body with executive powers in which the policies and greed between North and South, if they were to happen, would be perpetually at risk of a general election in the Irish Republic, which seems to happen on an almost annual basis.
The relevance of this emergency legislation is that what I call the high-wire-act process in Northern Ireland has been going on for the past two years. It is only now that they seem to have stopped dancing around one another and debating high-minded political philosophy that they have got down in the final fortnight to talking about the real issues. But of course the weekly increase in terrorism over recent weeks--the car bomb on its way to London is the latest--is caused by the uncertainty, all the hype and all the tension which exists, because it is quite untrue that such terrorism is the work of groups trying to destroy what is called the peace process.
I trust that such false propaganda will now cease because the real motive is to stake out claims to territory and influence. That truth has to be faced, and courage and resolution will be required by all of us--not least all of us elected or appointed to the Parliament of the UK. No credibility must be attached to the allegation that the collapse of the present circus will create a vacuum. I do not know whether the Prime Minister is aware--I hope that the message will be conveyed to him that there is widespread support for his current policies of extending the reality of decentralising from Whitehall and making more efficient the governance of the various parts of the UK--that he will have that support in streamlining the governance of all parts of the kingdom.
The Prime Minister has provided, after all, what many of us in Northern Ireland and many present who held positions of responsibility in Northern Ireland regard as a working model for that which would work in Northern Ireland , because applied to Northern Ireland that would enable all the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to co-operate in providing a real service to those who elect them. That is the most reassuring message that any elected representatives can transmit to the people who elect them.
However, it will do much more than that--this is the vital matter which I am sure the Prime Minister and his Government have in mind--it would build mutual trust between those elected to an extent which would pave the way for real, solid progress towards a future where violence would be deprived of its life support.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, this is not the time to repeat the reasons why many of us cannot accept the retention of Clause 3, which relates to the removal of internment. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, commented on the notion that people getting together around a table and agreeing at talks would lead to peace. That has been put about for years as being the end to all our problems. It has been said that all we have to do is reach agreement and then we shall have peace. The noble Lord said what all of us who have been born and brought up in Northern Ireland know--that that certainly will not be the case. There are
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