Mayhew keeps up his guard

Anti-terrorism legislation renewed . Lord Chief Justice attacks fees reform
Click to follow
Indy Politics
Conceding he was at risk of being upbraided for "spoiling the party", Sir Patrick Mayhew yesterday detailed the grisly crimes and terror-readiness of the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries as he secured the renewal of emergency law and order provisions for Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State promised there would be a powerful independent review of the continuing need for the Emergency Provisions Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act once a "lasting peace" was established. But he told MPs the Government was "not going to drop its guard prematurely".

The EPA, renewed last night by 286 votes to 190, expires completely in August 1996 and ministers are likely to look at replacing it and the PTA with permanent legislation to counter all terrorism.

Labour, as usual, opposed renewal. Mo Mowlam, the party's spokeswoman on Northern Ireland, said she agreed with Sir Patrick's analysis but not his judgement. There should have been a more positive response to the changed situation, including a staged move from Diplock courts to jury trials and an immediate review of anti- terrorist legislation.

Challenged by Tory backbenchers as to the signal Labour was sending, Ms Mowlam said it would be a "very odd" one if having voted against the EPA when there was terrorism on the streets, it voted for it when the terrorism had ceased.

Sir Patrick announced what he called "modest but none the less useful" changes enabling more prisoners to be temporarily released on compassionate leave in Northern Ireland. But he insisted the move was not linked to the decision he must make on whether to free the paratrooper Lee Clegg, jailed for the murder of a teenage joyrider at a Belfast road block.

He said he was considering the recommendations of the Life Sentence Review Board on the Clegg case and would consult the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge as necessary.

"As the law requires, Pte Clegg's case will be treated in accordance with this established practice solely on its merits. There is no question of one law for the security forces and another for the rest, as Pte Clegg's prosecution and conviction themselves plainly demonstrated."

Pressed by Julian Brazier, Conservative MP for Canterbury and leading Clegg campaigner, for an assurance there would be no questions about what would be the "impact on certain parts of the community" of the soldier's release, Sir Patrick insisted these matters were not dealt with "by reference to political expediency".

But the Ulster Unionist David Trimble said he was sure Clegg's sentence had been extended by political considerations and without them he might already be free.

Like other unionists, Mr Trimble laced his comments on the EPA with digs at Sir Patrick and other ministers for "embracing" the IRA. Robert McCrea of the Democratic Unionists said Sir Patrick had insulted the people of Northern Ireland when he "took the bloody hand of the cold-blooded terrorists like Gerry Adams".

Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP, said that despite the handshakes and "concessions" to IRA-Sinn Fein, Mr Adams had given up nothing. "He holds on to the largest killing machine in western Europe."

In fact, Sir Patrick had emphasised just this aspect in support of renewal. Paramilitaries on both sides of the divide went after money by robbery and extortion and were increasingly involved in drug trafficking. Since the ceasefire last August, there had more than 131 "horrific" punishment beatings - 62 attributed to loyalists and 69 to republicans. Terrorist organisations also continued to train teams for operations, to research improvised weapons, identify targets and maintain their stock of weapons and explosives.

To contrast this with the professed assurance that peace had come for good was said to be unhelpful, Sir Patrick observed. "But what is really need to move the peace process forward is the ending of actions which rupture or menace that peace."

The Government narrowly defeated a challenge in the Lords to its US- style "no win, no fee" plans - allowing lawyers to double charges in successful cases - after fierce criticism from lawyers led by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor of Gosforth.

Voting was 105 to 100 against an amendment tabled by Lord Ackner, a former law lord. Peers went on to approve the Conditional Fee Agreements Order and Regulations without a vote.

Lord Taylor condemned the proposed 100 per cent increase as "outrageous", and issued a warning that this "alien creature should not be allowed to run amok".

The new rules allow lawyers and their clients to agree a system of payment by results in cases of personal injury and insolvency and, in the European Court of Human Rights.

A nil fee would be possible where the case was lost, and a bonus of up to 100 per cent on the lawyer's normal fee in cases where it was won.

But Labour's Lord Mishcon, a prominent solicitor, maintained that the new rules eroded the dignity of the profession. "I don't want that to happen to my profession. I don't want to be turned into a bookie."