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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:28 am on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley Central 12:28 am, 26th June 1985

I believe that the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the emergency provisions played a part in this week's dramatic good news about police operations. I wish to place on record my thanks to and praise of those Scotland Yard and special branch officers who, through diligence, patience and skill, frustrated the IRA's planned carnage at our seaside resorts. There is no doubt that police intelligence and skill, backed by our anti-terrorist legislation, has saved hundreds of lives.

If we are to combat those evil men, we must maintain the full legal armoury that Parliament has decreed should be available. There is no doubt that if our security forces had not been equipped with those legal powers, once again we would be mourning the deaths of scores of innocent British and American tourists in London. But there are many examples of terrorists slipping through the emergency provisions net. Even the present legislative controls do not stop them.

I am also pleased at the appointment of Sir Kenneth Newman, who has been given the supreme task of overseeing the hunt for other terrorists, for bomb workshops, and of eliminating the worrying possibility of one or more bombs having been placed in hotels with delayed timing devices. There is no man better equipped for that job. I know from working with him that he has the intelligence, the experience and the steel to pursue that task with the vigour that it deserves.

The Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army visit Britain in their various guises, observed at the Irish exits under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts. They visit friends and relatives, mingle in the groups of football spectators to the west coast matches, attend boxing in London, and occasionally divert en route to leave a message in a covert drop, to awaken a sleeper here and there, to assemble an active service unit, to collect and store bomb-making equipment, to establish safe houses and so on. All the time in our midst some terrorist activity is taking place by the Irish terrorist groups and their friends in Great Britain. Therefore, constant surveillance is absolutely necessary. The maintenance of these emergency provisions is an arm of the law which must be continued.

Our security and intelligence officers, manning the air and sea ports of Northern Ireland, need the right, and thus the backing of Parliament, to watch faces, track their movements, and recognise the mug shots of wanted men, especially those who managed to remain free after the mass escape from the Maze prison—that college of higher learning in Irish nationalism, military discipline and terrorist activity. Yet, even some of those men have escaped the emergency provisions net. Therefore, when we hear or read of some outcry at a port in Northern Ireland or Great Britain concerning one or more persons being held and protesting their innocence—they may well be innocent—we must recognise that the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 and the emergency provisions in operation will cause some nuisance and inconvenience.

Some do-gooders will rise in anger at this intrusion into our peaceful, democratic way of life. I do not complain when they say that our civil liberties have been breached again. But what if, in that batch the special branch has collared, there are a couple, whom it has held under suspicion, who were wanting to effect a post drop, to awaken a sleeper, or to activate an active service unit? In the time that they can be held under the emergency provisions legislation in Northern Ireland or the prevention of terrorism legislation in Great Britain, it will be a failed mission. If there is no evidence against them, their return home is being frustrated, but their mission will have failed.

No doubt that has happened time and time again. There is no telling how many lives have been saved as a result. Some completely innocent people may have been held with them, perhaps even as a shroud when one in a group of travellers is a suspect. That is the price that we have to pay when terrorism and terrorists abound within our shores.

It is also important to understand that the emergency provisions and the extension of arrest time legislation give the police the time to check the forensic evidence that they have available regarding prints on guns and bomb-making equipment, and to match that evidence in the time available. I ask my parliamentary colleagues not to relax these laws. They are more important now than at any time since their inception. There may be fewer terrorists in total, but there are proportionately more hard-line callous men. The INLA wanted to prove that its way of getting rid of the British was the best. It decided, therefore, to ignore the giving of warnings to the security forces and to deal out damage and death on a massive scale, adopt a higher profile and be not concerned about the propaganda backlash. The hawks in the Provisional IRA are now bent on the same path—one evil group trying to outdo the other. It is like a competition in mass assassinations. Now, it is not just public buildings with HMG stamped upon them or hotels, with evacuation warnings given, that are attacked, but carnage on any scale and affecting anyone. That is the major change.

A great deal of that carnage coincided with and flows from the Maze break-out—17 hard-bitten killers and mass murderers on the run who have no qualms about blasting bodies to pieces and, what is more, schooled from their Maze prison experience better than their counterparts. No doubt a steely bitterness is in their veins. The Brighton bombing was an example of that, as was last week's planned wholesale carnage.

In the light of all that, I ask my colleagues not to parley with Provisional Sinn Fein. I believe that that organisation, the councillors in particular, is the political agent of those Provo terrorists.

I have noticed that some of my colleagues have met Gerry Adams, one of the godfathers of terrorism. I remember that, shortly after that meeting in the 1983 recess, we had the Maze break-out. Adams would have known about the planned break-out at the time of that meeting. He must have been inwardly smirking at the thought of meeting true democrats on the eve of that planned murderous break-out.

I am aware that further meetings have taken place. Many Provisional Sinn Fein councillors are former Maze men. They are not ordinary criminals as we understand them, having served the sentence and wiped the slate clean. They have been retrained, rested, and refurbished, but they are more political, and let us not be kidded by the political activity with which they attempt to cloak their terrorism.

It is not just ballot box and bullet now, frightening as that is; it is ballot box and mass slaughter. Since the intervention of PSF in the local political scene, the militant element has clearly been given a free rein. One of the reasons for that is that no more elections are pending for a while. It is not unduly worried about public opinion.

I am of the opinion that those PSF councillors should also be banned from entering this parliamentary building. It is an extraordinary measure, but it should be taken against those known supporters of terrorism. They should be banned because their memories will be long and their feelings bitter and I believe that they will use any political contact for entry into the United Kingdom's most revered democratic institution.

The emergency provisions legislation can be used for that purpose. Those men are known. When they leave Northern Ireland for Great Britain our parliamentary security teams should be informed, provided with their mug shots and should bar them from entering the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. Their main purpose will not be to make political contact with known friends, or even to take advantage of appearing politically respectable. Instead, they will minutely scrutinise the security screens, the checking-in methods, the layout of rooms, the Ministers' sectors and where Members of Parliament, former Ministers and Ministers tend to congregate. Some of those men will have been trained for just that purpose. I say do not give them a chance. After Mountbatten, Brighton, Harrods, the penetration of these precincts on two occasions and the horrifying latest scare, we must make sure that those Provisional Sinn Fein agents of Provo terrorism are banned from this building. It will be a prime target, especially if they are seeking revenge.

In the light of what I have said, for the sake of all our peoples, and so that my party is not misunderstood, I urge my colleagues not to vote against the order tonight.