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Lord Glentoran: That was a slight misinterpretation of a point that I made. I made the point that the Irish Government have retained the right to internment. I did not suggest that they had made recommendations or suggestions that we should do the same. But I made the point that they cannot use that power if we do not have it available, and I gave several examples of how it may want to be used.
Lord Richard: I hear what the noble Lord says. But I do not think the point is given greater force by repetition, if I may put it that kindly. It seems to me that the argument was that the Irish have the power; the British do not have the power; and that somehow that creates an imbalance and a difficulty which we should put right. I do not believe that. I have not detected any great sense of urgency on the part of the Irish Government that this imbalance should be corrected and that this anomaly should be removed.
The final point I would make is simply this. I cannot imagine--I can imagine some things, but this is in the category of those that I find difficult to imagine--anything more provocative to the republicans or the nationalists in Northern Ireland than the reintroduction of internment by the British Government. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to say that Sinn Fein is now part of the establishment in Northern Ireland and therefore it would not be directed at it; it would be directed only at the dissident fringes. I do not believe that is how it would be received at all in Northern Ireland. It would be received, if it were to be reintroduced, with great joy on the part of some dissident unionists and absolute rejection on the part of most nationalists, moderate and extreme.
I hope that the Opposition will ponder very hard indeed before they go down the road which appears to be indicated this afternoon. This is not a time and this is not an issue upon which this House should divide.
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, puts his case clearly and simply. He says that his proposed amendment is in the interests of safety because the Irish Government have that power and they could not use it if we do not have the power. He said that having this amendment could be a very valuable weapon "tucked away" in this Bill.
First, as regards the position of the Irish Government, the Irish Government have commissioned a wide-ranging, independently chaired review of their offences against the state legislation, including the internment powers. That review is in accordance with what was agreed in the Good Friday agreement. So with the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, the fact that they did not repeal the powers immediately after the Good Friday agreement is not necessarily as strong a point as he suggested.
I understand that it may be some months before the review reports. The offences against the state legislation is complex and covers a wide range of police powers and court procedures. So it is more than simply a matter of considering the internment power. It is right to say that the Irish have the internment powers now. Whether they are retained remains to be seen. Obviously, I cannot speak for the Irish Government.
Finally, the Irish Government have exerted no pressure whatever on the UK Government to introduce those powers. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said--in my view, rightly--that the Irish Government were wise in a number of areas in that respect. The fact that they are not pressurising us in any way to reintroduce internment brings its own message.
Secondly, he says that having this provision would be a very valuable weapon "tucked away" in this Bill. We need to examine that proposition very carefully indeed. The Government's position remains that while
Perhaps we may, for a moment, take stock of where we are today. We are in the very welcome position that devolution has recently returned to Northern Ireland. It is hoped that the implementation of the Good Friday agreement, in full, is in sight. Indeed, this Bill is a reflection of the Government's commitment under the agreement to remove emergency powers as soon as it is safe to do so.
In that context, we need to consider very carefully indeed the value of the amendments. In our view, they would mark a significant backward step at a time when we are normalising the security situation in Northern Ireland.
In advancing his argument, I think that it is incumbent on the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, to answer a few points. What signal would it send out at this time to return these powers to the statute book? In what way does he think it would build security and confidence in our security policy? I reject the proposition that this measure is necessary to protect the democratic institutions. We have a firm and fairly applied security policy in Northern Ireland which must be recognisably within the rule of law if we are to maintain public confidence.
We need to consider also in what circumstances the powers would be used. We cannot and should not legislate for hypothetical situations. Again, I feel that it is incumbent on the noble Lord to set out his position on this point. When does he say that those powers would be used? It is not sufficient, as was said in another place, to advocate the reintroduction of those powers on a just-in-case basis or to rely on the argument that the powers send out a useful warning signal.
To put it bluntly, if we reintroduce those powers we must be prepared to use them. The amendments take us in the opposite direction to the policy of normalising the security situation in Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, their use would require a derogation from the European convention.
The noble Lord must consider the significant down-side to what may be a short-term security gain if those powers were used. As has been acknowledged throughout the course of the debate, it is widely accepted that the last operation of the internment powers led to significant recruitment by the terrorist organisations. It does not necessarily follow that better intelligence and targeting of the powers would avoid similar consequences today.
We must also consider the effects on the wider community. Of course, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland would not be tempted to join a terrorist organisation in any circumstances. But what
I appreciate that the amendments are tabled with a genuine concern for the maintenance of a good security situation in Northern Ireland. But in this climate, we do not believe that the amendments are helpful. In fact, they would be damaging. As I said at the outset, our position remains that we would never say "never", but we believe firmly that there is no call for these provisions at this time.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that, when in opposition, he had supported the policy of the Conservative government. But that is not entirely true of the Labour Party in another place, as I have good reason to recall.
But it is also the case that, from these Benches, both in this place and another, throughout the past several years since 1997, we have supported the Labour Government in what they have done. We have done so with hope at all times, sometimes with a heavy heart and sometimes by giving advice, both privately and publicly, as to how we thought matters should operate. But, nevertheless, we have given a great deal of support. That does not necessarily mean that we should for ever support the Government in whatever they do without making any differences at all.
But this is a particular difference which we are now considering. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, spoke of the European convention derogation and so on. I believe that for a number of years the Northern Ireland situation has been, and still is, a potential public emergency threatening the life of the nation--I use the words of the convention. After all, the basic objective of Sinn Fein/IRA concerns the integrity of our national territory. It is about whether part of our national territory should be taken away and put under another jurisdiction against the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants there. That is what this argument is all about. In my judgment, that is a threat to the life of the nation which is supported, from time to time violently, by a very small number of people but, nevertheless, a number capable of doing a great deal of damage.
I should not object to at least some modification of the detail of the amendment; for example, the affirmative order to which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred. But that does not go to the nub of the question. I am not arguing about the precise detail of the amendment before us.
As has been pointed out, we have seen them in action this time round, as it were, in Omagh, and on Hammersmith Bridge just the other day. Irish history tells us that that has happened on almost every occasion when there has been an agreement of some sort in the past. It is highly likely that we shall be faced with small groups capable of extreme violence.
Those are the circumstances in which internment may be necessary because of the great difficulties--of which we have had 30 years' experience, if not more--which exist in convicting terrorists in the normal courts of law, even as modified--the Diplock courts and so on. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew pointed out, they threaten the rights of those people who get mixed up in their ghastly acts; as, indeed, their own rights are threatened by this amendment and the powers that it represents.
None of us supposes that what we are suggesting by way of this amendment should be used next week, next month or whenever. We are not suggesting a precise scenario or that the power should be effective at once; we are suggesting that it should be a reserve power and that it should be retained. It is in fact retained because it is still in primary legislation, even though it was not renewed the last time out, as it were, by secondary legislation. We need to retain the power because, unless it is in primary legislation, it cannot be used.
Internment would not be a success without a number of factors being present, some of which have already been mentioned; for example, it would not be a success without the co-operation of the Republic of Ireland. Moreover, as we have heard, it would require extremely good intelligence and its operation needs to be absolutely sudden. It cannot wait even for accelerated primary legislation to pass through this and the other place. Should the Government wish to do so--they have done so occasionally--the fastest that we can pass any Bill and put it on the statute book is about a day, or so. But a day is enough for the individuals concerned to vanish, go underground and make the internment ineffective in the first instance. Indeed, it would probably continue to be ineffective. That is why the power needs to remain, so to speak, under the counter.
There is another effect to which I have drawn noble Lords' attention on previous occasions when we discussed the matter. I refer to the fact that the very existence of the power makes operations more complex for evil groups, because the very thought that it might be introduced makes them take precautionary measures which make their lives more difficult.
The Minister said that the Government would "never say never", but, if we do not have this power in the Bill, we are in effect saying "never" to internment because we could not introduce it as primary legislation and expect to be able to use it the following day. For all those reasons, I believe it is important for us to retain the power on the statute book. I commend the amendment to noble Lords and wish to test the opinion of the Committee.