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Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, it is, of course, extremely disappointing that we are still here today debating the necessity for the Bill as it touches on terrorism matters in Northern Ireland. But, as we have heard, it is still important to ensure that terrorism is fought wherever it appearsand, sadly, Northern Ireland has known its full horror for far too many years. That is why we are here to extend, yet again, the provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000 to Northern Ireland, and specifically Part VII of the Act which applies only to Northern Ireland, as the Minister outlined at the beginning of his speech.
As we have heard, the provisions are temporary. We have seen them before, always hoping it would be the last time. They are also time-limited, as my noble
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friend Lord Smith of Clifton reminded us. We therefore agree that they need to be extended once again, otherwise they will expire on 18 February.
Progress is being made, slowly and painfully, but with some amount of good will here and there. It is to be hoped that politicians of all persuasions will work together so that these provisions may not be necessary for much longer. Perhaps this is a na-ve and wishful thought but it is the only way in which this part of the legislation will eventually be repealed.
"Serious political parties can have no truck with organised crime or gang violence. This needs to be accepted without demur on a permanent basis by all parties in Northern Ireland. Those who oppose judge alone criminal courts there weaken their case dramatically by any involvement in the activities of ruthless criminals to whom intimidation of others is second nature. I cannot emphasise too much the importance of that observation".
As it stands, those Part VII provisions extending only to Northern Ireland are to remain in force until 31 July 2007. If by then it appears to the Government that normalisation has taken place, then Part VII will be repealed, as we have heard. Of course, if normalisation has not taken place, then Part VII can be extended by order for a specified period up to 1 August 2008. Let us hope that will not be necessary.
The Bill also makes provision to add to the list of scheduled offences under Part VII of the 2000 Act other offences created by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005; to repeal certain provisions which are not currently in force; and to retain parts of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2004 until July 2007, ensuring that breaches of bail on scheduled cases are dealt with in a similar way to non-scheduled cases and also to those cases to which my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton referred.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the Bill is to retain the Diplock courts, a matter which has already been referred to. Sections 65 to 80 and Schedule 9 deal with this part of the Bill. This court system dates back to 1972 and it is indeed regrettable that we still have to refer certainalbeit very seriousand specific cases to such courts. These special judicial arrangements are for prosecutions relating to paramilitaries and the special situation in Northern Ireland. They may still be necessary to deal with cases of witness and jury intimidation, but until normality is reached the Government feel it is still necessary to retain them. It is vital, therefore, that Parliament keeps a very careful eye on how these courts are operating. We expect to hear more about this at a later date.
Section 108, which has been referred to, is a concern of ours and I look forward to the Minister's response to my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton, who raised the matter in his speech. For how long will this legislation stay on the statute books without its ever having been used?
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This has been a short but important debate for the people of Northern Ireland and for their safety. But, as I said at the beginning, it is regrettable that the Bill has had to be brought before your Lordships' House. I reiterate that we hope it will be the last time we have to deal with these matters.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for bringing forward the Bill today. I want to open by expressing on behalf of my party our almost unqualified support for the Bill. It gives the House an opportunity to take stock of all that has been achieved in the progress towards a peaceful Northern Ireland during the past decade, and particularly in the past five years since the Terrorism Act 2000 was passed.
The Belfast of today is far removed from the Belfast of 10 years ago. The police and the Armed Forces are no longer being routinely attacked and bombings have almost ceased. More recently, the statement by the IRA on 28 July this year, as has been said by other noble Lords, confirming that it would complete the decommissioning process was long overdue but has been welcomed, albeit cautiously, by most people. As I made clear in a debate in this House two months ago, that statement was only a first step on the road to building the trust and confidence that are necessary if we are eventually to see a restoration of devolved government. It is in the context of the start of the process of the restoration of trust and confidence that I suggest to your Lordships we consider the Bill, rather than view it as a concluding of the peace process.
We have yet to witness on the ground a complete cessation of military activity, whether by the Provisional IRA, the dissident republican paramilitaries or, indeed, loyalist terrorist organisations. It is against this backdrop that any measures to extend the Part VII powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 must be examined. The provisions of Part VII of that Act provide the security forces and the courts with the wherewithal they need to tackle terrorism and protect the people of Northern Ireland. We entirely agree with the Government that they are still vital and necessary in maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. Sadly, violence has not ended in the Province and still blights the existence of the people of Northern Ireland. As the seventh report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated on 19 October:
"Paramilitaries exercise control over and exploit communities which they say they protect and from which they claim support. Their hold needs to be loosened so as to help create a 'culture of lawfulness' within which the normal democratic principles of law enforcement and human rights apply".
We recognise that normalisation has to begin and we support the attempt that this Bill signifies to create the enabling environment. For the two-year normalisation programme to progress, the Bill sets up a two-year timeframe by allowing the Part VII powers to be extended until July 2007 or, at the very latest, 2008. It is at this point that we differ from Her Majesty's Government on the question of how far into the future these powers should be extended.
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The Government seem to view July 2007 as the time after which they believe the IRA involvement in terrorism will have effectively ceased. But this view seems to meI know I am known as a pessimist by the Government Front Bench in these mattersto be overly optimistic. There is no guarantee that dissident republican organisations will have ceased their activities and the loyalists show no sign of decommissioning or ceasing their illegal activities. The threat from terrorist-related activities may, unfortunately, continue well beyond 2007. Therefore, one might question whether it is a little premature to place the criminal justice system of the Province on a par with the rest of the United Kingdom in 18 months or, at best, two and a half years.
It would be far more satisfactory if this type of legislation was not used as the driving force behind the normalisation programme but rather used to follow and support the programme. Amendments were proposed in another place that would have left the Government with more flexibility by allowing them to extend the legislation annually up to 2012. This approach would be preferable to us, as it would give greater comfort to the people of Northern Ireland and the special provisions could easily remain. If the Bill remains in its current form, all that the people of Northern Ireland will have to rely on is the possibility of the Government deciding to take action in 2008, as the Minister stated that they would intend to do. I hope that the Minister will give this House a firm assurance that the Government will come to an objective and fair decision on the need for these powers when their expiry time draws near.
We look forward to debating in Committee the details of the provisions relating to Part VII, as mentioned by noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches. But at the outset of the Bill's passage through this House, it is right to mention one important aspect of those powers: the use of the so-called Diplock Courts. Despite concerns raised by, for example, the Northern Ireland Civil Liberties Group Committee that the risk of intimidation of jurors is not as great as the Government may suggest, we believe that it is vital to retain non-jury courts where there remains any possibility of concerted intimidation of jurors. Until such time as the terrorist infrastructures are dismantled for good, it would be folly to remove this unfortunate but necessary component of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.
At the same time, I emphasise that conducting trials on indictment without a jury is not something which in any other circumstances I or my party would normally support. Given our support for the current Diplock system, we therefore fully support also the measures in Clause 3 to add the new offences created by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 to the list of scheduled offences under Part VII of the 2000 Act.
The necessity of this Bill is regrettable but undeniable. In principle, the Government are right to introduce it. I look forward to discussing the exact details and the Government's precise intentions in Committee. The situation in Northern Ireland still
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requires extraordinary measures. In extending the time scale for these measures to remain in force, this Bill should be supported.
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