Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:42 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney 11:42 pm, 26th June 1985

The hon. Gentleman has not raised this matter with me before. If he will give me details of time and place, I shall of course look into what he says.

I should like to turn to our discussion of the recommendations made by the late Sir George Baker in his valuable review of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. The Act gives the security forces and the courts additional powers to counter the terrorist threat. Sir George concluded that there was little scope for fundamental changes to the Act but considered that in some areas it could be adjusted and that some powers could be given up. I have already made it clear that we accept the broad thrust of the review, and I should now like to set out briefly our main conclusions, which w11 be incorporated in a Bill to be brought before the House when the parliamentary timetable permits.

Sir George recommended that the detention provisions of the Act, which remain on the statute book although not in force, should be repealed. As I said in December, I cannot foresee these powers being used in anything other than a short-term crisis of major proportions. Obviously, we hope that we shall not face such a crisis. After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that if such a crisis were to arise in a recess when we had dropped this reserve power, it could be difficult to offer the Northern Ireland people the protection that they would need. I have thought about this matter carefully, and I have decided that the prudent course is not to accept this recommendation but to retain the detention provisions on the statute book.

I have carefully considered the recommendations in the report about the types of offences that would be brought before non-jury, or Diplock, courts. I think that we all want a restoration of jury trial for all offences in Northern Ireland. I am sure that Sir George was right in concluding that restoration of jury trial is not possible in present conditions. I therefore propose that, in accordance with Sir George's recommendations, schedule 4 to the Act should be amended to increase the Attorney-General's discretion to certify cases out of the scheduled mode of trial. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General considers that it is right to retain this discretion for himself, although Sir George recommended that it should be delegated to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We shall frame our proposals in the light of my right hon. and learned Friend's decision. The list of cases to which such discretion will be extended is not precisely that proposed by Sir George, but in substance I accept his recommendations and they will be included in the Bill.

I have decided not to accept the recommendation that a judge should have discretion to dismiss the jury in a jury trial and continue in the schedule mode, that is without a jury. We believe that, in those circumstances, retrial of the case is the better course.

Sir George made a number of recommendations about police arrest powers, which, broadly, would have had the effect of duplicating the police arrest powers contained in section 12 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) 1984. We propose to meet the spirit of these recommendations by repealing the arrest powers in section 11 of the Act, leaving the RUC to rely on those contained in section 12 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. That will be a considerable simplification for all concerned. Persons arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act must be charged or released within 48 hours, rather than the 72 hours allowed under section 11 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, although the former period may be extended by a period or periods not exceeding five days. Extensions beyond 48 hours require specific authority from the Executive and thus remain under close ministerial control. The change that I am suggesting will mean that the initial period of arrest without ministerial involvement will, in all cases, be 48 hours, and the maximum period will be seven days. So far as the Army's arrest power is concerned, no final decision has been taken on the need for or form of any modifications to section 14, but I intend that a power of Army arrest should be retained.

Like Sir George, the Government endorse the present practice of the courts in bail applications. I suggested in December that, as the practice seems satisfactory, there might be no need to amend the law. But, having thought about it again, I think that it would be right to change the law. I therefore propose that section 2(2) of the Act should be recast to move the onus in bail applications towards the prosecution. That would be in line with the present practice of the courts. Section 2(4) should be repealed, as Sir George recommended, and section 2(5) widened to include members of the RUC and RUC reserve.

The practice of the courts in respect of the admissibility of confessions was endorsed by Sir George Baker.