Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that 80 per cent of the Patten report is completely non-controversial?

Lord Fitt: My Lords, that is the opinion of the noble Lord.

7.4 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, 32 years ago, as a young Labour Party official, I arranged a meeting at St Ermine's Hotel to allow the National Executive Committee of the party to meet five young men from Northern Ireland. They were John Hume, Austin Curry, Paddy Devlin, Ivan Cooper and Gerry Fitt. Over those 32 years I have always appreciated the deep humanity that motivates all the contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in our debates. I suspect, with regret, that when the Patten report is debated in this House we shall find ourselves on different sides of the argument, but let us wait and see.

The Minister started this debate by calling for effective and proportionate legislation. That is the Minister's own test and that should be the test of all sides of the House. The debate is about getting the balance right between sometimes conflicting, but equally important, responsibilities.

There is a clear responsibility on government to offer protection to their citizens from what the Bill terms,

    (a) involves serious violence against any person or property,

    (b) endangers the life of any person, or

    (c) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public".

That duty stands alongside defence of the realm as being the first responsibility of any government.

Balance and judgment come in when Parliament has to decide how much power the Government and their executive arms should be given in order to carry out those responsibilities. Of course, this Parliament has

6 Apr 2000 : Column 1475

another responsibility: to guard against the accretion of too much power by government in such a way as to imperil the civil rights and human rights of the citizen.

I do not think that I over-flatter your Lordships when I say that I know of no assembly in the western world better equipped to get that balance right. We have among our numbers those who have had the lonely responsibility of fighting terrorism, those who themselves have been the victims of terrorist attack and alongside them sit noble Lords who have robustly defended the human and civil rights of individuals and organisations sometimes in the face of hostile public opinion.

Those who have fought terrorism and those who have defended civil liberties have my utmost respect, for in reality they are different sides of the same coin. Whenever there is a terrorist outrage, one always calls to mind Churchill's famous question during the Blitz, "What kind of people do they think we are?"

I listened to the constituency story of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, and to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. One of my most searing experiences as a Member of Parliament was to sit, one Saturday morning over 20 years ago, in my surgery in Stockport and to try to explain to two young squaddies from the Cheshire Regiment why they were in Northern Ireland. They asked the simple question, "Why are we there?" I remember them showing me the card that they had been issued with that set out how they should react if they thought themselves in danger. I remember saying to them that if a dustbin went over in a dark alley when I was on patrol, I would not bother to reach for a card. However, I told them that they were there to save lives and to maintain peace until a political solution could be found to the problems in Northern Ireland.

We ask a lot of our Armed Forces and police when facing a terrorist threat. Their opponents will have no tribunals of inquiry for atrocities committed. There is no appeal to the European Court of Human Rights when a terrorist presses the trigger on an Armalite and carries out an instant sentence of death. Terrorist wars are dirty and unglamorous, and when civil society calls on the Armed Forces, the police and the security services for their protection, we have a duty to provide them with a framework of law that allows them to do their job.

However, that cannot be the end of the matter. In defending our society against the terrorists we must do all in our power to protect the liberties that make our society worth defending. Like the noble Lords, Lord Hardy and Lord Dubs, I remember, coming to this Palace over 30 years ago, when I started work here. There were no gates across Downing Street and there was no security cordon around the front of the building. I feel a twinge of regret as such things represent a victory of a sort for the terrorists. This Palace was open to all. Indeed, when I worked in Downing Street 25 years ago, the main problem for the Prime Minister was trying to get around yet another small boy being photographed on the steps of No. 10 by his proud mother, hoping to emulate the famous photograph of Harold Wilson.

6 Apr 2000 : Column 1476

I am not so naive as to believe that increases in security are not necessary in Parliament, in Downing Street, on the airlines or in other public places, but we cannot and must not let our determination to defeat terrorism become the excuse to impose unwarranted restrictions on civil liberties.

We welcome the Bill. We believe that it is an important piece of legislation which should go through the full and considered process of parliamentary scrutiny, unlike some of its predecessors which have been knee-jerk legislative reactions to certain specific terrorist outrages. That was our criticism of the Government's handling of matters after the Omagh bombing in 1998. So our amendments and criticisms in Committee will be based on the notion that this is a necessary piece of legislation, but one that needs the fullest and most detailed scrutiny by this House.

The debate today has highlighted a number of issues. My noble friend Lord Goodhart listed forensically our concerns about human rights. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I know that my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who could not be with us today, hopes to return to the fray when the Bill reaches its Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, reminded us that although terrorism is an old problem, it has spread to the new technologies in the form of "cyber-terrorism", which also shows the need for our legislation to move with the times.

These issues underline our welcome for this opportunity to debate terrorism legislation in a non-crisis phase. We welcome the end of exclusion orders. Furthermore, we welcome the promise of annual reviews. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, we believe that these matters should be discussed in annual debates.

However, I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on the issue of internment. Having broadened the scope of the legislation, is it really sensible to say that we also need arbitrary powers? Internment is a quick fix, it is not a solution. If terrorism breeds fear, internment breeds resentment. Internment cannot be used for ever; and when internees are released, one still has to deal with them within the rule of law and the political process.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, we welcome the unity of purpose expressed in the Bill in its fight against terrorism; its permanency, although subject to review; the fact that it covers all the elements of terrorism; and that it is national, but deals also with terrorism outside the United Kingdom.

A number of speakers have paid tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. The Minister must have been reassured by the noble and learned Lord's opening remark when he said that it was an "impressive Bill". I was reassured by his closing remark when he said that his was a "slightly lukewarm" response. Somewhere in the middle of a speech which I believe that all noble Lords should study carefully, the noble and learned Lord listed some of the concerns to which we shall return in Committee and which will bear close examination so that the Bill can be improved.

6 Apr 2000 : Column 1477

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, pointed out that it is very difficult to define adequately "freedom fighters" and "terrorists" because the judgments are so subjective. I recall flying to Kenya with Jim Callaghan to ask for the help of Jomo Kenyatta when we were dealing with Idi Amin. A decade or so earlier, Jomo Kenyatta had been the leader of one of the most feared and hated terrorist organisations.

I thought that it was typical of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to remind the House that in a civilised society, even terrorists have human rights. However, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, was a little unfair when he accused this country of being the "weakling of Europe" as regards its resistance to terrorism. I do not believe that that comment would go down well with those boys in Stockport or the constituents of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy. I believe that through successive governments this country has shown a strong commitment to the defeat of terrorism. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord that one of the problems we have had to face in Northern Ireland is that intolerance and extremism have never been the preserve of one side alone. Indeed, I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lady Miller warn us robustly against the danger of blurring the line between terrorism and legitimate protest. On the subject of robust voices, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, added his own.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, seemed to be urging us down a path that would, in my opinion, escalate violence without adding to security or promoting a political solution. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, demonstrated that this House will show proper concern for human rights. But I was pleased that he, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Park, associated himself with the opinion that there is no room for what I would describe as the "Bayswater Road patriots"--those who are willing to fight for the freedom of their country only from hundreds or thousands of miles away while living in reasonable comfort and enjoying our freedoms and protection.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, drew on his experience and made several valuable points about the freedom of the press. We shall certainly return to that matter in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, spoke with a distinctive voice, but one with which I fear that I must profoundly disagree. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, made a number of points, but one with which I strongly agree was her comment about "internal housekeeping". That is not something that we should accept in any part of our country.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, epitomised the sheer sense of duty and commitment I have seen in every Minister who has ever served in the Northern Ireland Office, across all parties. Again, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, to ponder that when he accuses us of being weaklings.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, put into perspective from his own experience the question of association with opponents of tyrannical regimes. Again, I put it

6 Apr 2000 : Column 1478

to the Minister: we are not going after the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, or my noble friend Lord Avebury in this legislation.

I am afraid that I have before me a list of 10 issues that we are likely to raise in Committee, but I think I shall spare both the Minister and the House a detailed discussion of them. As I said earlier, we seek to raise these points not because we want to wreck the Bill, but because we believe that the best element of the Government's fulfilment of their promise to bring forward this legislation is that, perhaps for the first time, we shall be able to examine anti-terrorism legislation with a cool eye to see what is needed, which rights are infringed, how civil liberties will be protected, and thus get the balance right.

Earlier in my remarks I asked Churchill's question, "What kind of people do they think we are?" I believe that the answer is the same today as it was when Churchill asked that question over half a century ago. We are a tolerant people, jealous of our liberties, proud of our democratic institutions and the rule of law. We can be persuaded and influenced. We have a long history of providing safe havens for those from less tolerant societies. But such characteristics do not come with our mothers' milk. They have to be learnt, one from another and generation to generation. The liberties which underpin them have to be safeguarded with eternal vigilance.

Terrorism will never be completely absent. There will always be those who prefer the bomb or the bullet to the ballot box; that is why we need this legislation. But the terrorists, too, should ponder Churchill's question, because never in our long history have we been coerced or terrorised away from doing our duty. Our duty tonight and in Committee is to produce a Bill which gets the balance right between defeating terrorism and defending our liberties. As I have said, I know of no assembly in the world more fitted to that task.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, this has been a lengthy, highly intellectual and wide-ranging debate. My first encounter with terrorism was in 1958 in Cyprus. I saw terrorism again in the 1960s in Borneo. Now I am finishing 30 years of working and living with terrorism in Northern Ireland. Whatever anyone may think or say, terrorism has been with us for many years and, sadly, is part and parcel of life in this universe in the year 2000 and for a long time to come.

I am delighted, therefore, that the Government have brought forward this Bill. It is necessary, and most of what it sets out to do is excellent. Noble Lords from all parts of the House are at least agreed on that. In fact we have agreement on most of the Bill's contents. It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, expressed so neatly, that we disagree, but there are areas in the Bill where some of us wish to change the emphasis and correct the balance.

There are serious concerns about the definition. Most noble Lords have discussed that in one way or another. There are also concerns about the extent of

6 Apr 2000 : Column 1479

the Bill and the powers that it gives to the police, the judiciary and the executive. In particular, I noted the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, in relation to Clause 1(2), the overseas part of the Bill. To balance that, we should remember that the largest single act of terrorism that has taken place in the United Kingdom was the Lockerbie bomb.

There have been many suggestions for improving the Bill, which it is our job and our duty in this Chamber to do. I do not propose to comment on all the contributions of noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, did that extremely well. I should like, however, to make a couple of points.

Terrorism on the cybernet was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford. It is very much with us. I spoke with some colleagues yesterday who are specialists in protecting companies from such acts; it was frightening listening to what they had to say. It needs to be taken very seriously.

The question of human rights will be with us all the way through the Bill. I wish to restate where my party stands. The Conservative Party has never shirked its duty in government or in opposition to take the toughest stand against terrorism and to give the police and Armed Forces the powers they need to protect the public. While our deliberations are going on and while we are trying to balance the Bill, we must not forget that.

We support the Bill. It contains powers which are essential to fight terrorism from wherever it comes. However, there are aspects of the Bill which cause us concern, some of which I have mentioned. They include the decision to transfer the power to grant extensions of detention from the Secretary of State to judicial authority. A number of noble Lords spoke on that, including my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. We believe that that is not right. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made clear, a Bill of this nature risks running into serious human rights problems. I hope that the Minister is right when he assures us that the Bill will not fall foul of the ECHR.

We accept the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, in his review of the anti-terrorist legislation, that it is common sense to bring the emergency provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act into one piece of permanent United Kingdom legislation. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will give us more of his expertise in Committee.

The capabilities of the paramilitaries do not need to be mentioned. Everyone in this House knows only too well where those capabilities lie and how fearful they can be. We believe also that parliamentary scrutiny must play a part in this Bill. The provisions it replaces came before Parliament every year. That should not be necessary. However, we are pleased that the Home Secretary has agreed to present to Parliament an annual report on terrorism and on the functioning of this Bill when it becomes an Act. I hope that we will find a way during our discussions of ensuring that both Houses are given an opportunity to debate that report.

6 Apr 2000 : Column 1480

We too are not happy with the definition of terrorism as it stands and look forward to discussing in Committee how it might end up. The current definition does not cover adequately the relationship between terror-linked violence and crime. Terrorism is about achieving religious or political ends through fear; through the incitement of terror. That is a balance we must try to reach. We agree with the Government that the time has come to remove the exclusion orders. Their usage has significantly declined and there is clearly no further purpose in them.

We also fully support the Northern Ireland temporary provisions--the so-called "Diplock courts"--as a wholly exceptional arrangement. Along with my noble friend Lord Vivian, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, I agree that, unfortunately, the situation is such in Northern Ireland that those provisions should be retained.

We have had a certain amount of discussion on extensions of detention and where the authority for that should lie. My noble friends Lord Cope and Lord Vivian and my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and I feel that the proposal in the Bill to transfer the power to approve applications to extend the length of time a suspect can be held in detention without charge from the Home Secretary or Northern Ireland Secretary to judicial authority is wrong. We remain unconvinced that that is legitimately a judicial function rather than an executive one.

The decision to extend detention under the PTA and the EPA is usually based on intelligence material in the hands of the executive; it cannot be considered appropriate for judicial consideration. I am sure that most of us in this Chamber are well aware that those sorts of decision often depend on sensitive information from intelligence sources that cannot be allowed to go public for fear of risking people's lives and all that follows from that. By giving the power to judicial authorities, the judiciary would inevitably be seen as part of the investigation and prosecution process, which could bring into question the independence of the judiciary.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page