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Lord Goodhart: I cannot speak for the Irish Republic in saying why it retained that power of detention. The Irish Republic, like ourselves, is party to the European Convention on Human Rights. In the circumstances, since plainly there is no immediate threat to the nation, any exercise of the power of detention by the Irish Republic would not pass the European court.
Lord Desai: I rise briefly to say that one argument against the noble Lord's amendment is that internment did not work last time. It will add problems to the present delicate situation and we are better off without it.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: It seems to me that those who have held office, especially myself, go back to that period of office to illustrate any point they want to make and I am sorry not to be able to avoid that today. However, perhaps the Committee will indulge me for a brief time.
It was always in the back of my mind when I had the privilege of implementing the policies of the government in which I served that a number of extra miles could justifiably be travelled, and I believe that those miles have been travelled to beneficial effect. But it was also in my mind that at the end of that process we would probably be left with a hard core of extremely evil, violent, fanatical people. I am afraid that recent events have shown that the latter part of that expectation has been fulfilled.
Of course, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about the undesirability of having to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights if that were necessary, but he reminded us, fairly, that we have already done that and had that derogation upheld by the court. To do that impinges upon the human rights of liberty. But it also impinges upon the human rights of liberty, and indeed of life, if one happens to be a visitor or townsperson in Omagh when the Continuity or Real IRA explodes a bomb which kills or maims oneself or one's family. Not for the first time, therefore, we must strike a balance.
I welcome the close relationship that the present Government have, and indeed my government had though I am sure that that has been developed by the present Government, with the Republic of Ireland. That relationship ought to enable the Minister to answer the question already alluded to this afternoon as to why the Republic of Ireland retained internment on its statute book. After all, it has made much wider use of detention than the United Kingdom ever did in Ireland, and it must be said much better use--that would not be difficult for the reasons already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Glentoran. But in the legislation introduced following the Good Friday agreement, it was notable that the republic did not take the opportunity to remove from the statute book the power to detain within its jurisdiction. Why not? The answer will have an important bearing on the decision of the Committee if there is a Division on that question today. I hope therefore that the Minister can give us an answer. No doubt the question has already been raised with him and it will not be a breach of confidence for him to tell us.
It is axiomatic that, if detention is to be of any use at all, it has to be available on both sides of the Border to be implemented at one and the same time. I am aware of the disadvantages of detention. In considering the amendment I was troubled by the undoubted discord that it would occasion at a time when there are propitious signs for advance. But I always believed it to be right to retain it, for the reasons I have tried to advance. Indeed, I opposed its removal by the present Government two or more years ago. Unless I hear a compelling response from the Minister, recognising the disadvantages, I feel that the balance now lies in favour of restoring detention.
Lord Dubs: We have debated the question of internment in this Chamber on more than one occasion in the past three years. On each occasion it was felt appropriate not to restore that power. I am not persuaded that anything has changed which suggests that it should now be brought back. After all, the devolved Assembly is back in operation--it met for the first time yesterday following the restoration of powers to the Executive. At this time of all times, to say that we will take powers possibly to use them in circumstances undefined would be provocative and would be misunderstood in the whole of Northern Ireland. It would be seen as a signal of the Government's possible intention to give effect to internment.
I think the onus is on the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and those who support him to indicate the circumstances in which a power of this kind could be used. It is hard to find any. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, had the power of internment at his disposal during the years he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Yet--and perhaps he can tell us--I am not aware that there was any occasion during his time in office, and indeed during the time of two or three of his predecessors, when it was thought appropriate to give effect to the power of internment. If it were not necessary in the days when the IRA was unleashing its campaign of bombs and murder, I do
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: The noble Lord has invited me to intervene. I was in the process of travelling the extra miles and those extra miles have now been travelled to very beneficial effect. Still we have the very evil hard core. Next time it may not be two pounds under Hammersmith Bridge; next time it may be an attack which replicates or even goes further than what occurred in Omagh. That is the only kind of occasion for which it would be appropriate.
Lord Dubs: I understand what the noble and learned Lord is saying, but I still do not agree that it would be appropriate to use internment in such circumstances. Over the years we have had terrible outrages--with perhaps not as many people killed and injured as at Omagh--yet it was not thought appropriate to intern the perpetrators in so far as they were known to the Government and to the intelligence services. Today, we mercifully have only a small number of individuals involved in terrorist organisations that are not on cease-fire and it seems to me that it is therefore not the time to use such an onerous power against them, nor indeed has it been suggested today that we should use it.
I ask again: in what circumstances would the noble and learned Lord suggest that we use such a power? Without that guidance, it is hard to think of a situation when we, as a country, would wish that power to be used in our name, unless the noble and learned Lord is suggesting that that power would be used immediately.
For a country that believes emphatically in the rule of law to abdicate that belief in legislation on the supposition that at some unstated point in the future we might wish to use it is not the right way forward. I believe the Government are right to resist reintroducing the power of internment. At the moment, there is no reason for us to have that power on the statute book and I hope that the House will resist the amendment.
Lord Marlesford: The noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Goodhart, said that when the power was used in the 1970s it was counterproductive; that it was a recruiting sergeant for violence; and that it was later not used. Surely the answer to them is that we have moved on a very long way since then in two important respects.
First, the main protagonists on the nationalist side--Sinn Fein/IRA--has agreed, by joining the Executive and by taking part in the power sharing, not to continue with terrorist tactics. Secondly, the co-operation and collaboration between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland is at a level totally different from what it was in those early days. It seems to me that the answer which should be given by the Minister is not only as to why the Republic of Ireland has thought it necessary to
Lord Richard: I did not intend to take part in this debate at all but I am bound to say that, having listened to some of the speeches that have been made on the other side of the House, I am profoundly disturbed at the possibility that this Committee may divide on the issue.
I make one point from my past experience, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, did from his. I sat on that side of the House when we were in Opposition and gave strong support in almost totality for the policies which the then government were promulgating. It was not an easy thing to do. From time to time I was considerably disturbed at the fact that my party had pledged that sort of support for the then government, of whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, was such an ornament. However, we did it, and I find the idea that, at this time when events in Northern Ireland are at a stage of such delicacy, the Conservative Opposition are going to divide this House on the issue of whether internment should be restored a staggering proposition.
I make two other points on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, started his speech by saying that the Irish Government still have this power and that therefore we should have it. I am not actually aware--I may be wrong because I am not privy now to the intelligence sources that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in opposition obviously is--that the Irish Government are agitating very hard that the British Government should reintroduce this provision. I have not heard very much coming out of Dublin to say that there is this imbalance across the Border which necessitates us now to reintroduce a policy which has proved a failure in the past. It was a failure.
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