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Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:18 pm on 10th December 1980.

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Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest 12:18 pm, 10th December 1980

It is an honour to speak after the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I trust that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not close his mind to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to the effect that the Diplock courts should be reformed.

In 1885, there were difficulties in Ireland. The Home Secretary in the Gladstone Administration, Sir William Harcourt, spoke of an Irish nation in the United States hostile with plenty of money". As my right hon. Friend knows, I spent last week in the United Slates of America and had the good companionship of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who was born in Ulster. We went to New fork, Boston and Washington, and we put the harsh necessity of the legislation we are considering to religious and political leaders, and to the media.

The Irish nation in the United Stales is more numerous than the Irish nation in Ireland. We did not find it generally hostile. The large amount of money that is diverted though that murderous charity NORAID to the Provos has diminished, although presumably the purpose of the hunger strike is to extract new funds. One indicator of a reduction in foreign finance for the IRA is the number of bank raids in the Irish Republic

We found misconceptions of the emergency powers legislation. Misconceptions ire not confined to the United States. Leading articles in quality newspapers argue that if only the Government would show humanitarian concern for the hunger strikers a way out of the difficulty could be found.

All prisons are hateful places. On 4 December, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Mat land), the Secretary of State described a regime in, as the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) acknowledges, the most modem and well appointed prison in Western Europe and the privileges available to prisoners who conform.

As the hon. Member for Belfast, West and others have said, what humanitarian concern did convicted terrorists show their victims? The status that they demand has been declared inadmissible, not only in all quarters of the House but by the European Commission of Human Rights. It is a status never granted in the Republic of Ireland, which, to meet the common enemy of democracy, resorts to the Offences Against the State Act. If, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) reminded us, the demand for special status were conceded, it would surely not be the list demand to be made on appeasing authority.

If these people were given prisoner of war status, the conclusion that one must draw is that they should be tried as war criminals. One thinks particularly of 19 prison officers murdered in cold blood.

We shall, with great regret, renew the emergency powers tonight. We take note of the assurance given by my right hon. Friend that any emergency powers no longer needed will be dispensed with. Despite the emergency powers—and this is not universally understood—the police and the Armed Forces are required to operate entirely within the law and are accountable to the law. Every complaint against a member of the security forces is thoroughly investigated. Police officers and soldiers have been prosecuted in the courts for criminal offences arising out of the way in which they were conducting their duty. Police investigation reports on all complaints alleging criminal behaviour by the police have to be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. As in Great Britain, the Police Complaints Board provides an independent element. All complaints must be referred to that board.

There is a misconception about the Bennett report of March 1979. Some people think that that report charged the RUC with torture. It did not show that the security forces had been guilty of systematic ill treatment of suspects. Indeed, it stated that the RLC, which today is a young, impartial force regaining the confidence of the minority, had been the object of a deliberate, sustained campaign of traducement. Bennett investigated 200 cases of alleged brutality and found only 15 instances in which suspects had sustained injuries which were not self-inflicted while in police custody. The papers relating to those cases have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I am the last hon. Member who would wish to criticise a fine police force, the Garda Siochana, but they can be pretty rough. Whenever there are allegations of police brutality in the Republic or in a European forum, the complaints somehow or other fall by the wayside and we hear no more about them. It is very different within the British jurisdiction.

My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Belfast, West referred to the Diplock courts and trial without jury. The reason for the absence of a jury is well known. In the Republic terrorists are tried by special tribunals, but there is more than one judge. My right hon. Friend should consider what the hon. Gentleman said.

All the verdicts delivered in the Diplock courts remain subject to review by the Northern Ireland Court of Criminal Appeal and presumably, in the end, by the House of Lords, and are subject to a twice-yearly legislative review such as we are having tonight.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to judicial review and went back to 1974. In 1975, the Gardiner committee pointed out that the law … in Northern Ireland gives greater protection to the accused than in most disturbed communities". It went on to assert: Where freedoms conflict, the state has a duty to protect those in need of protection. I thought of the "inalienable rights" of the American Declaration of Independece: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life comes before liberty, and certainly before the pursuit of happiness, whatever that means precisely.

I have studied the document of the Cobden Trust, which has been sent to hon. Members, but I come to the same conclusion as my right hon. Friend: that we cannot at this time return to jury courts. This is not a piece of British ruthlessness; it arises from the circumstances which prevail in the whole island of Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast, West and I took up the case of the late Giuseppe Conlan. When studying the file, I found it remarkable that it was said on his behalf that if he had been tried by a Diplock court the answer might have been different, because the judges in those courts have great experience of the sort of forensic evidence which in so many cases leads to the conviction of terrorist offenders.

Secondly, it was argued that, if there had been no jury in the case, Mr. Conlan might have fared better because the jury was part of a public which was then experiencing the shock and horror of Provo atrocities in England.

The hunger strike was discussed in Dublin by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. I find the communiqueé disappointing in that Mr. Haughey failed to get off the fence and condemn the hunger strikers. I welcome the joint studies on international co-operation. I have argued in speeches and in articles in The Times and in The Irish Times for a still more intimate partnership than the present unique relationship, without prejudice to the national sovereignty either of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or of the Irish Republic. Such a concept of partnership has been given the felicitous acronym IONAIslands of the North Atlantic.

I understand that the meeting at Dublin has in no way affected the constitutional positon of Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that there is no question of a confederation between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. The starting point for cooperation in the islands is that there are two sovereign nations.

In the first Airey Neave memorial lecture on 3 March, the Prime Minister reaffirmed the enduring commitment of the Conservative and Unionist Party to the Union. She said: No democratic country can voluntarily abandon its responsibilities in a part of its territory against the will of the majority of the population there. We do not intend to create any precedent of that kind. In the words that she uttered to a larger audience—the conference of the Conservative and Unionist Party—she and we stand rock firm for the Union.