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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in moving his amendment. The leitmotiv behind the Government's rhetoric as they have pushed the Bill through both Houses of Parliament has been clear. They have assumed that peace is on the way. Indeed, as part of the almost inevitable success of the peace process, the Bill has to be passed pretty well unamended if the conditions precedent to the achievement of that eventual peace are to be fulfilled.
I have to say, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, that that assumption is, to put it at its lowest, a heroic one. I shall not weary the House by repeating what has been said many times during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, but we know that peace in the Province is at best illusory. Furthermore, it is clear from the rhetoric of Sinn Fein/IRA that those on that wing of terrorism, as opposed to the so-called loyalist wing, think that the Bill does not fulfil their understanding of the peace agreement and they reject it. Therefore, it is at least questionable for the Government to say that the Bill will nail down an important part of the peace process. If one of the principal terrorist organisations does not accept its provisions, I think that the Government seem to have taken leave of reality to a degree remarkable even by their own very high standards in that respect.
I also shall not weary the House by quoting verbatim from the statement issued by my right honourable friend Mr Patten shortly after the publication of his report. As your Lordships know, I quoted it in extenso at Second Reading. At the very least, my old and right honourable friend seemed to be saying that the implementation of the full provisions of his report should perhaps be delayed until peace had actually been established in the Province. I have endeavoured to make sure from my right honourable friend that he actually meant that, but so far there has been no public elucidation on his part as to whether he did or not. However, it must be said, as noble Lords will have noted if they were unfortunate enough to listen to what I had to say at Second Reading, that what he said could at least be easily interpreted in that way. If that is so, I have to agree with my right honourable friend that it would be most unwise of the Government--and not only because of what Sinn Fein/IRA are saying--to implement the provisions of the Bill until peace had been established.
It is also worth reminding ourselves, not only for reasons of the peace process itself but also for straightforward policing reasons, that it is most unwise at this juncture to reduce the anti-terrorist capability of the RUC. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, shakes his head. I hope that he is not shot or has a missile sent at him as a direct result of reducing that anti-terrorist capability.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am not quite sure what the noble Viscount is getting at. All I was trying to say with that shake of my head was that that is not the Government's intention. The Government are as determined to defeat terrorism as they ever have been.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am sure that the Government are determined to do it; in which case I am very sorry that their determination is not translated into practicality. It seems to me that throughout the passage of the Bill endless examples have been given of how that anti-terrorist capability is being undermined. Some of them were given by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, a few moments ago. If a police force is set up to police a peaceable community, which by and large some of our communities still are in Great Britain, it is at least sensible for that police force not to gear itself up, as a primary objective of its activities, for anti-terrorist operations. But it seems foolish for it not to do so in the present circumstances in the Province.
The people who will suffer are primarily the law-abiding inhabitants of the Province from both sides of the sectarian divide. Terrorists are active not only because they are members either of 32 Counties Real IRA or Sinn Fein/IRA but also as, sadly, people who destroy the honourable name of loyalist by their own terrorist activities on the Protestant side of the divide. It is clear that the people of the Province will suffer if the provisions of the Bill are brought into operation before real peace breaks out. But other people will suffer too. It is all of us on this side of the water. It is entirely thanks to the RUC that we have not faced at least one "spectacular" in the past week. Who is to know whether there is not another spectacular in preparation as a kind of Christmas present from the Real IRA for those of us who might be tempted to shop anywhere but Harrods, but at least somewhere in London.
Back in May of this year I was privileged to accompany a delegation to Dublin. It consisted of the very associations which the noble Lord, Lord Laird, made the subject of his amendment and which the Government rightly and so generously accepted. We were delighted to be received by the Taoiseach, who gave us a great deal of his time. He spoke at a party I ventured to throw at Buswell's Hotel in Kildare Street and endorsed the courage of the RUC. It is perfectly plain that in practical terms the republic itself regards the RUC as one of its first lines of defence against terrorism.
If we undermine the anti-terrorist capability of the RUC by implementing the provisions of the Bill fully and before true peace has broken out in the Province, we will make ourselves more vulnerable not only in the Province but in the rest of the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the island of Ireland. If that is so, I have no hesitation in saying that the House should be clear who to blame--and that is the Government. After all, it is the Government's primary duty to ensure that Her Majesty's subjects are at least safe when going about their ordinary business. It is not up to the Government to make that less likely. The reverse should be the case.
If we are to have an RUC--a police force--that is capable, it should not only enjoy the kind of morale that will follow from keeping the cap badge, but in practical terms its real capability should not be undermined until peace has broken out and it can become a police force more like the police forces that operate in my home county of Dorset and elsewhere.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment. What we have really been discussing in relation to the Bill is operational reforms and, to a certain extent, operational reforms which are intended to act as a carrot to the other side; namely, to the terrorists, both loyalist and republican. Quite frankly, we have been told that if we give up the present composition of our police force--relinquish its emblems and so forth--and give up any claims on prisoners, then we shall get something in return. However, it is quite clear that the SDLP and Sinn Fein, along with all the others, have stated that there shall be no return on this. Therefore, the process is not working.
I should like to clarify two points. First, it is assumed that the present terrorist violence taking place is all the work of dissident groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA. But that accounts only for the recent overt bombing campaigns from which we have lately suffered. I am entitled to mention the bombings again because I live 10 miles away from the "barracks buster" that was found two days ago. Although these groups are referred to as so-called "splinter groups", at what point do the splinters become larger than the remaining groups? This is becoming a realistic notion. Noble Lords may comment that, "Of course he would say that", but it is a realistic point. Those groups are much more powerful than is commonly thought and I am extremely proud that last week our police force stopped that bomb from coming to London.
Secondly, I shall refer to the kind of violence of which not much is seen or discussed because fewer statistics are produced on it. I shall not go over the details, but noble Lords will know that such violence takes place all the time. That violence comprises the intimidation, beatings, fraud and other violent acts being committed by both sides--loyalist as well as republican. I should make that clear. While the bombs seem to be emanating from the Real IRA or Continuity IRA and thus are probably republican, the kind of violence to which I now refer is being perpetrated by both sides. Indeed, it may be even worse on the Protestant/loyalist side. However, on the republican side, the people involved in this level of criminal activity may not necessarily form part of the Real IRA or Continuity IRA. An FBI report recently pointed out that the vast proportion of criminal acts of a very serious nature--I do not refer here to domestic wife beating and so forth--committed in urban areas are being carried out by organisations and by people who still form part of the Provisional IRA, the UVF and the UDA. Let us not think that all we suffer is a little violence emanating from splinter groups. Outsiders only have to consider the bombings, which
If the Chief Constable is happy with the operational changes being proposed in the Bill, then why not--for once--say that the terrorists will get the cosmetic side only when and if the remainder of such activity stops?
Lord Smith of Clifton: Perhaps I may begin with a simple observation. No government Minister in any western liberal democracy could certify that all terrorism has been exorcised from his or her country. One of the reasons why we have the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1998 is precisely because that guarantee cannot be given, so there is a basic and in-built absurdity in the amendment.
Arguments can be advanced in support of both sides of the debate on this issue. As the unionists say, the current peace is too fragile to implement these far-reaching reforms. But, as Patten and the Government say, one reason for the fragility is precisely the lack of policing by consent. Progress towards implementing Patten is one of the keys to creating a more robust peace. Of course there are no guarantees that the proposals contained in this Bill will result either in quick or complete success, but delay is definitely not an option. On the contrary, it would be likely to fracture the existing fragile situation. For that reason alone, I oppose this group of amendments.
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