Northern Ireland (Sentences)
Parliamentary Oaths (Amendment)
8:30 pm

10.14

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

I beg to move, That the draft Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 1998, which was laid before this House on 28th July, be approved. The Good Friday agreement commits the Government to providing for an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners convicted of scheduled or similar offences. The Government introduced legislation to meet that commitment, and that legislation, the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, received Royal Assent last night.

The Good Friday agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland, and it is our duty is to implement it as faithfully and as fully as possible. The agreement will work only if all parties honour the commitments that they have made.

The purpose of the order is to specify organisations under section 3(8) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. The order is important and forms a key part of the scheme provided for by the legislation. Under section 3 of the Act, a prisoner will not be eligible for early release if he or she supports an organisation that is specified.

In addition, prisoners may have their licences suspended and be recalled to prison if they support an organisation, regardless of whether it was specified when they were released.

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Mr Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow, Labour)

If my right hon. Friend has seen Mrs. McBride, ought she not also to take an early opportunity to see Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Fisher or the Scots Guards Association?

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Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

I am aware of that point. I saw the family of the man who was killed in the incident, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence saw the Scots Guards Association. In that sense, both have had their voices heard by Government. I know the interest that my hon. Friend takes in the matter, and I assure him that I am well on the way to reviewing the case, and will make an announcement as soon as possible.

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Mr Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke, Conservative)

Is it not the case that, last year, the Secretary of State informed the release committee that she felt that it was inappropriate for her to become involved in individual cases? The impression that she has given by seeing the McBride family or its representatives is that she has contradicted her stated opinion and consulted one side and not the other in a matter for which, ultimately, she has responsibility.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

The situation changed when I announced that the review was on, and the parents, who were extremely upset at the possible releases, wanted to express their views to me. That does not bias me one way or the other. I discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who has seen the association that is fighting the case for Mr. Fisher and Mr. Wright. I am reading the facts and making my own judgment, not talking to one side or the other in any way. I would have preferred to remain outside both, but, when the Secretary of State for Defence saw the one side, and the parents were very upset, I thought that it would do no harm to hear of the pain that they felt they would continue to suffer.

The conditions that I specified are not the only ones that a prisoner must satisfy. In addition to the requirements regarding the nature and length of the sentence, the commissioners who will make decisions under the Act must consider that the prisoner would, if released, not be likely to become a supporter of a specified organisation or become concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland.

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Dr Norman Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

Can my right hon. Friend estimate the approximate numbers of republican and loyalist prisoners who might be affected?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

There are approximately four to five hundred—probably 420—scheduled offence prisoners in the Maze. Their eligibility is for the commission, under the criteria that I am outlining, to decide. I do not have in my head the numbers of loyalists or republicans. My hon. Friend will understand that the numbers depend on which groups are specified; their prisoners will not be eligible for early release, and the commission will consider each individual case and make its decision.

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Reverend Dr Ian Paisley (North Antrim, DUP)

I think that the Secretary of State said forty-five hundred—[HON. MEMBERS: "Four to five hundred."] I thank hon. Members.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

Some reports say 400, some 500. The figure depends on the organisations that prisoners identify with, on whether they are transferred prisoners under scheduled offences, and on whether they are on remand. There are variations. I think that about 420 will in the end be eligible.

Prisoners will not be permitted to be part of the scheme if they support a specified organisation or become involved in the commission or preparation of terrorist offences. A life sentence prisoner will not be released if he or she would be a danger to the public. The commissioners make that decision.

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Mr David Wilshire (Spelthorne, Conservative)

If a Sinn Fein-IRA murderer is released and Sinn Fein-IRA break their ceasefire, will that murderer be returned to prison?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

If that individual supports Sinn Fein-IRA actively by leafleting, raising money or committing terrorist acts, yes.

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Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

No. I am sorry, but I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman. I beg the forbearance of the House to allow me to make some progress before taking further interventions.

In deciding whether to specify an organisation, I am required to make a judgment on two matters. First, I must judge whether the organisation is concerned with terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland, or in promoting or encouraging it—that is, that it is a terrorist organisation. The second matter follows directly from the words of the agreement, which states:

Prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire will not benefit from the arrangements.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

If the hon. Gentleman will let me make a little more progress, I shall certainly give way.

In deciding whether an organisation has established and is maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire I must in particular take into account the following factors: first, whether an organisation is committed to the use now and in future of only democratic and peaceful means to achieve its objectives; secondly, whether it has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or preparation of violence; thirdly, whether it is directing or promoting acts of violence by other organisations; fourthly, whether it is co-operating fully with the decommissioning commission. Those factors are familiar to many hon. Members, and follow directly from the Prime Minister's speech at Balmoral on 14 May. I can, in addition, take into account other relevant factors, but, in making my overall judgment, I must take account of each of those.

I have considered which organisations I am required to specify under the Act, and have decided to specify the Continuity Irish Republican Army, or CIRA; the "Real" Irish Republican Army; the Irish National Liberation Army, or INLA; and the Loyalist Volunteer Force, or LVF.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) first.

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Mr Peter Robinson (Belfast East, DUP)

During the referendum campaign, the Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland. He indicated that no prisoners would be released unless the organisation of which they were part had given up violence for good. Over the past few weeks, the Provisional IRA has killed one man and brutally beaten another. Why is it not on the list?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall refer to that matter in two or three points' time, when I shall go into some detail and answer him directly. Will the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) wait until then as well?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

Good.

Prisoners who support the organisations that I have specified will not be eligible for early release. I have reached those decisions on the basis of security assessments and following consideration of advice from the RUC; but, in the end, the judgment is mine.

I should like to say a little about my decision in each case as to whether or not an organisation has been specified. The Continuity IRA has been involved in acts of terrorism since 1994, and there are no indications that either CIRA or its political wing, Republican Sinn Fein, has any intention of abandoning violence as a means of pursuing its political objectives. I have therefore specified the Continuity IRA.

The Real IRA has carried out a number of attacks so far this year, which have included car bombings and mortar attacks. There are no indications that the Real IRA intends to call a ceasefire, and I have therefore specified that organisation.

The Irish National Liberation Army is a more established organisation, having been in existence since 1975. At no time since then has it declared a ceasefire. It has been responsible for many appalling attacks, and there are no indications that the INLA is yet ready to declare a ceasefire. Its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist party, has spoken of the possibility of a ceasefire, but there are no indications yet that there is a serious prospect of that being delivered. I have therefore specified the INLA.

The Loyalist Volunteer Force or LVF has been responsible for many murders. In May this year, the LVF declared a ceasefire—a welcome step. It has also named a contact person with the decommissioning body, and meetings have taken place. However, a ceasefire must be demonstrated in acts as well as words. I hope that that will be the case—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—but I have yet to be convinced that the LVF ceasefire is complete and unequivocal; therefore, I have specified the LVF.

The three other organisations that I have decided not to specify in this order are the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force. In each case, the advice I have received does show that there have been serious deficiencies. In particular, although all three organizations—or in the case of the Provisional IRA and the UDA, the political party with which they are associated—have had discussions with the decommissioning body, there has been much less progress than I would wish to see.

I take that extremely seriously, and will expect to see the progress on decommissioning that is envisaged in the Good Friday agreement. However, viewing the matter in the round, as I am required to do by the Act, I have concluded that all three of those organisations are maintaining complete and unequivocal ceasefires.

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Mr Andrew Robathan (Blaby, Conservative)

As always, the right hon. Lady is generous in giving way. Will she tell the House whether she has received information, intelligence or advice from the RUC to the effect that Direct Action Against Drugs is a front organisation for the Provisional IRA; and whether she has received information that Direct Action Against Drugs has carried out several punishment beatings and probably one murder? If she has not received such advice, will she go and walk the streets of west Belfast, where everyone will tell her that Direct Action Against Drugs is the same as the Provisional IRA, and is carrying out so-called punishment beatings and brutal acts of terrorism?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

I shall turn to punishment beatings in a moment, when I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman's point. There have been 960 punishment beatings by both sides since the first ceasefire. I have made it clear that I think that punishment beatings are appalling—[interruption.]

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Mr Michael Martin (Deputy Speaker)

Order. I do not want hon. Members to speak while the right hon. Lady is addressing the House. That is unfair.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

My point is that the previous Administration realised that these are difficult matters. I have made it clear that punishment beatings have to stop. I shall explain later how I view that matter in the context of the judgment that I have had to make. That judgment has not been easy. I had to judge in the round, according to the four criteria, whether all four organisations should be specified. I shall explain in more detail why that is the case. I have taken the matter extremely seriously, and expect to see progress on decommissioning and other aspects very soon.

Having viewed the matter in the round, as the Good Friday agreement says I should, I have concluded that the three organisations that I have not specified are committed to maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. I have taken into account the four factors. I know that certain hon. Members are dissatisfied with my conclusion, but it was far from an easy judgment. It was inevitably a balanced judgment, in which any specific failure by an organisation has to be weighed alongside all the other available information, and that is what I have done.

There are organisations, particularly the Loyalist Volunteer Force, that have yet to establish a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, but appear to be moving in the right direction. I hope that those organisations will now embrace the democratic process that has been endorsed by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. If they establish and maintain complete and unequivocal ceasefires, I will reassess their position. The process will be under continuous review, so other organisations, such as PIRA, the UDA and the UDF, which have established such a ceasefire, will have to continue to demonstrate that they are maintaining it to avoid being specified in future. That is the crucial test.

Photo of Mr David Wilshire

Mr David Wilshire (Spelthorne, Conservative)

The right hon. Lady speaks of an unequivocal ceasefire. Will she explain how many murders and punishment beatings an organisation is allowed to perform before a ceasefire stops being a proper ceasefire?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

I have, I hope, made it clear to the House what the agreement asks me to do, including informing the House, as I am doing this evening. The agreement requires me to consider whether organisations are completely and unequivocally maintaining a ceasefire. There are four criteria by which I judge that.

I have to make a judgment in the round, so, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, I cannot respond to hypothetical cases. I will make that judgment when I am given facts. That is the job I have been given, and I am making that announcement in line with the criteria and the information with which I have been provided. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman does not agree with my judgment. I have information that I have presented to the House, and I have other information that it is difficult to present to the House. I assure him that the judgment was difficult, but I have made it as fairly and justly as possible.

The process will be under continuous review, so it will be possible for groups to be specified and then removed from the list if the position changes. I shall monitor it carefully. I point out, to try to allay some of the fears of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), that the judgment will become more stringent over time, as the Prime Minister said when he announced the criteria, both for specified and unspecified organisations.

The judgment will become more stringent in relation to progress made elsewhere. For example, people do not expect the dismantling of paramilitary organisations overnight, but dismantling must increase over time. Similarly, there should be progress on decommissioning over time. As I have said many times in the House, all forms of sectarian intimidation and so-called punishment attacks must end.

I should like to say some more about that, in answer to the hon. Member for Blaby. Since the first IRA ceasefire was announced, in September 1994, there has been an appalling catalogue of punishment attacks—committed by both loyalist and republican groups. In each case, the RUC has done all it can to find those responsible.

Despite the Good Friday agreement, those attacks have continued. As the RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, has said, members of both republican and loyalist organisations have been involved in violent criminal acts in recent weeks, which the hon. Gentleman listed. In particular, the RUC has said that it is pursuing a line of inquiry that assumes that the recent brutal murder of Andrew Kearney was committed by the Provisional IRA.

This pattern of brutal punishment attacks is wholly unacceptable. It must come to an end. Paramilitary organisations have shown their ability to stop those activities in the past. Now they must stop them for good. As I have said, the judgments that I have made today will be kept under continuous review, and will become more and more stringent over time.

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Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield, Conservative)

During the run-up to the Good Friday agreement, there was a period when the Provisional IRA was effectively excluded because of the Chief Constable's judgment and opinion that it was behind the commission of certain acts of terrorism. The right hon. Lady has now told the House that it is the Chief Constable's opinion that at least one recent act is also the responsibility of the Provisional IRA. In those circumstances, how can we justify not placing the Provisional IRA on the list?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam

Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

I chose my words very carefully. I said: In particular, the RUC has said that it is pursuing a line of inquiry that assumes that the recent brutal murder of Andrew Kearney was committed by the Provisional IRA. I shall keep the situation under continuous review and, if the situation changes, I shall look at it again. I judge the situation now—and I can judge over time—in relation to the four Balmoral criteria, as to whether, in my judgment, groups are maintaining an unequivocal ceasefire.

I consider the early release of prisoners an essential part of the Good Friday agreement, but it has to be matched alongside others. As we have said so often in the House, the agreement cannot be cherry-picked; it is an overall package, which I believe must be implemented in full. I hope that we stick to that. We have all made solemn commitments to try to reach that goal. The future of the success of the agreement depends on it. I commend the order to the House.

10:36 pm
Photo of Mr Andrew MacKay

Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

This is a very sad day for the House of Commons, a sad day for democracy and a sad day for the rule of law in the United Kingdom. I regret to say that our worst fears about the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill—now enacted—are being confirmed.

You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I described the Bill as fatally flawed when, sadly, the Government and the Secretary of State felt unable to accept an amendment in my name and those of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)—now First Minister in the Assembly. That amendment would have said that any paramilitary organisation had to prove that it had renounced violence in all shapes and forms, and was co-operating with the decommissioning commission.

Instead, clause 2(9) of the Bill says that the Secretary of State merely has to take into account—and tonight the Secretary of State has let the House know that she has taken into account—a series of criteria. One of those criteria is that the organisation is committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means to achieve its objectives". Another is that the organisation has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or of preparation for violence". I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being so frank and honest with the House; I know that the House will appreciate that. She has said that acts of violence are still being committed; she described them as wholly unacceptable. She was absolutely right, as every Member of the House would confirm. She has said that there are very serious deficiencies in so-called ceasefires. I agree with that, as would the entire House, and yet, when we read in the order the specified organisations that are listed as continuing to commit crimes of violence, we find that the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association are excluded.

You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, since the Assembly elections, there have been a series of punishment beatings and worse. I draw two of those to your attention tonight. I drew them to the attention of the House last week when the Northern Ireland Bill was proceeding through this place. First, there is the case of Mr. Andrew Kearney, who was dragged from his flat, knee-capped in a lift and left to die, which he subsequently did. That is believed to be the work of the IRA. Secondly, there is the case of the beating of Vincent McKenna, who was a peace worker in Belfast. He clearly recognised his assailants as being members of Provisional IRA.

In the debate on the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) intervened on the Secretary of State and rightly raised the question of punishment beatings. In her reply she said: It is clear that I will make a judgment on the four factors, in which are included punishment beatings and the instigation of paramilitary activity. That is one of the factors that, in the round, will be part of that judgment. The rest of the quote is important. The Secretary of State continued: Like the hon. Gentleman, I find punishment beatings obscene."—[Official Report, 10 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 1084.] There is absolutely no doubt that the Secretary of State and I share that view. In criticising her, I never question the fact that she finds as deplorable as the rest of the House the punishment beatings that are conducted by the Provisional IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups. Although it is known that that is happening, they have been excluded from the list.

I shall quote from The Irish Times, a newspaper which is usually considered to be a fair and reasonable commentary on events in Northern Ireland. An article on the front page of last Saturday's edition states: In a statement released yesterday, the RUC said: 'Detectives investigating the murder of Mr Kearney are pursuing a line of inquiry that suggests it was carried out by the Provisional IRA.'According to republican sources in north Belfast, it appears that Mr Kearney was killed at the behest of a senior IRA figure from Belfast. It is known Mr Kearney was in a brawl with the IRA man, who was linked to the Shankill Road bombing in October 1993 when 10 people were killed.Eight IRA men went to Mr Keamey's flat in the New Lodge area last Sunday and took over the entire block in what the Ulster Unionist negotiator, Mr Reg Empey, described as a 'military-style' operation.Mr Kearney (33) was cradling his two-week-old baby girl in the flat when an armed gang dragged him out and flung him into a lift before shooting him in both legs. Mr Kearney bled to death. That is the work of the Provisional IRA, and those people are not on the list tonight. Therefore, Provisional IRA prisoners will be allowed early release while the House is in recess, if the order is passed.

Photo of Reverend Martin Smyth

Reverend Martin Smyth (Belfast South, UUP)

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's giving way. Does he accept that the mythology is a misunderstanding of the workings of Provisional IRA? The security advice now to the Minister, as I understand it, is that it has not been centrally directed, and that it has been working on the basis of closed cells doing their own work.

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Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is underlined by the Chief Constable, who said in a BBC interview two days ago, on 27 July, referring to the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force: If they think because their definition of a cessation of violence is a cessation of military operations they must be disabused of any notion that any other acts of criminality are any more acceptable. That is the point.

What worries us is that because the Provisional IRA and the two loyalist paramilitary groups have caused a so-called military ceasefire, so that military and police targets and major so-called spectaculars on shopping precincts and elsewhere are not going on, it is thought by some that there is a complete and absolute ceasefire. There is not.

Life is still hell for many ordinary, decent people on many estates in the Province because paramilitaries are dominating the estates. Punishment beatings and intimidation are taking place. We owe it to ordinary, decent people to make sure that that activity ceases. The one way in which it can cease is if prisoners are not released unless the punishment beatings end. The message tonight, if we pass the order, will simply be that the punishment beatings can continue and the prisoners can be released. The people whom the House will be letting down are those who cannot speak for themselves on the estates. They are largely unemployed or on low incomes, and are not necessarily as articulate as we are. It is the duty of the Opposition to protect these people.

I do not ask the Secretary of State or other Labour Members merely to accept my view. I shall refer to a press release that was issued today by Families Against Intimidation and Terror, an outstandingly brave cross-community organisation which has done much to help in the Province. The press release states: The Good Friday Agreement states that these organisations"— the IRA, UVF and UDAcan only qualify for early prisoner release if their cease-fires are intact. Since the agreement was signed, the IRA, UVF and UDA have all been engaged in acts of violence and have repeatedly breached their cease-fires. Are the Government really accepting a definition of a paramilitary cease-fire which allows paramilitary groups to beat, shoot and intimidate people? What sort of cease-fire is that? We do not believe that these organisations can in any way qualify for this scheme. The press release continues: Many victims of the paramilitaries had problems with this section of the Agreement that related to the early release of prisoners, but nevertheless voted for the Agreement because they believed that it would stop the violence and create no more victims. With the death of Mr. Kearney, the beating of Vincent McKenna, the shootings at Derry and last night's shooting of a man in Newtownabbey, no one could possibly claim that the paramilitaries have ended violence. Families Against Intimidation and Terror concludes its powerful press release with this plea: We continue to support the Agreement"— as we do on the Opposition Benches— but we are saddened that the Government have dangerously compromised it with turning a blind eye to paramilitary violence.

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Mr David Winnick (Walsall North, Labour)

We all condemn the terrible crimes to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. No one in the House, for one moment, would try to justify them; obviously these are crimes that must always be condemned. However, when the previous ceasefire took place, which the IRA was to break—I am referring to 1995–96—the front organisation of the IRA, Direct Action Against Drugs, murdered quite a number of people. The then Secretary of State, now Lord Mayhew of Twysden, said to the House that the ceasefire was continuing, despite the crimes that were being committed by an IRA front organisation. The present situation is nothing new; it is a question of balance and what sort of conclusion should be reached by the Secretary or State in any given situation—[Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for North—East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) is heckling about.

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Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman clearly and precisely. It was clearly outlined in the agreement that the violence had to cease. We thought that that was outlined in the Bill, but not strongly enough. That is why we sought to amend it. We were right to do so in the light of what has happened tonight. Let me say in answering the question—

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Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

Yes, I would like to, if the hon. Gentleman would care to allow me to do so. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has great experience of these matters and I think that he would like to hear my answer.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is clearly this: it was a tough and difficult decision that my Government, and, in turn, the present Government, took about whether they would continue with the talks, when there were clearly punishment beatings taking place. On balance—it was a hard call, but it was probably the right one by both Governments—it was decided that the talks would continue.

We are now in an entirely different situation. We are asking whether the prisoners should be released, because we have the unique opportunity to stop punishment beatings and intimidation straight away by saying that the organisations' friends and colleagues will not be released. The beatings would stop and, in due course, organisations could be removed from the list and the prisoners could be released.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Walsall, North has any doubts that this is a unique opportunity, because he is very experienced in matters relating to Northern Ireland. If he does, let me take him back to the Assembly elections. In a speech from the Back Benches that was so powerful that she has, I am glad to say, been appointed a Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), whom we congratulate on her appointment, said that IRA-Sinn Fein could turn the tap of violence on and off at will.

Throughout the three weeks of the Assembly elections, there were no knee-cappings or punishment beatings; the people who carry them out were told to cease, because that was in the electoral interests of Sinn Fein-IRA. We know that such a ceasefire could happen again, but I deeply believe that it will not happen if the prisoners whom we are discussing are released. The two issues are inextricably linked.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State has again made it clear that she has complete flexibility in these matters. One of the more attractive parts of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill is that paramilitary organisations can be added to the list, or taken off it, at short notice. That flexibility is essential. It is in the interests of the House to add the UDA, the UVF and PIRA to the list, because I believe that that would halt punishment beatings. Should that happen, I would welcome the Secretary of State removing their names from the list after a reasonable period so that prisoners could be released.

On Friday, the House goes into recess until the middle of October, so I should like an undertaking that no terrorist prisoner will be released during that time if beatings are still going on. Perhaps I have misinterpreted the Bill and the order, but my interpretation is that excluding those organisations from the list would mean that any prisoner who applied who was otherwise eligible because of time served could be released during the recess. Punishment beatings could be going on in one part of Belfast while paramilitary prisoners were being released down the road at the Maze. That would be horrendous. It would also be would be wrong, it could be damaging to the agreement and it would not be in the interests of democracy.

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Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

We should listen carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. All that he is doing is making a different judgment from mine about how to move forward. It is a matter of putting groups on the list or removing them. He suggests that adding organisations to the list would stop punishment beatings, but we do not know that to be the case and I cannot play that kind of game. I have to make a decision on the basis of the available information, which is what I am doing. This is not an easy situation, but I have made a judgment on the balance of the information that I have been given. I have made that overall judgment in relation to all the information that I have.

When we were in opposition, I had to trust my predecessor when he had more information than I had. I did so, and I gave him that trust. When Lord Mayhew was in that position, I backed him—regardless of not having all the information. I am making this judgment on the basis of the information that I have, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is important to stick by the Good Friday agreement.

The right hon. Gentleman said that I could not do anything during the summer if there was continuous review. Well, I can. I can continuously review and decide to specify or unspecify, and then come back to the House after the recess to debate the order. It does not tie my hands in the way that the he suggests.

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Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

May we assume that, if the people who have been arrested are subsequently charged for the murder of Kearney and are found to be members of the Provisional IRA, their organisation will be added to the list while we are in recess?

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Dr Mo Mowlam (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Redcar, Labour)

The right hon. Gentleman is asking me to do exactly what other hon. Members asked me to do. I have said that punishment beatings must stop, and that I will make a judgment as the situation develops. I cannot give him a categorical assurance, because it is my job to consider all four criteria in relation to the Balmoral statement, and to make a judgment on whether the ceasefire is being maintained unequivocally. I cannot make an ad hoc decision now, but I assure the House that I will make it during the summer if it is demanded on the basis of the information with which I am provided.

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Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

All the available evidence shows that punishment beatings, murders and knee-capping are continuing. They are being committed by PIRA, the UVF and the UDA. In such circumstances, it is wrong that those organisations are not on the list, and that it is perfectly possible for their prisoners to be released while the House is in recess. We believe that that is wrong, so, in the interests of the ordinary, decent people across the Province who are being petrified, I urge the House to vote against the order.

10:57 pm
Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell

Mr Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow, Labour)

I speak in anger, and I expect that the Secretary of State will doubtless reply in kind. I do not know how many hon. Members have read the transcript of the trial of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. That trial was a travesty. For example, the judge came to the conclusion that those two young guardsmen could not have thought that they were in any danger. Did he not understand that their colleague, Guardsman Shackleton, had been killed on the very same streets of New Lodge only weeks before? That is just one example, but there are others.

I must not take up the time of the House, but I must tell my right hon. Friend that, for months, we have been told by Secretaries of State for Defence from both sides of the House that this is the business of the Northern Ireland Office. The truth of the matter is that the Ministry of Defence has behaved badly these six years, but that is by the by. It has repeatedly told us, "You must go to the Northern Ireland Office. This matter has little to do with us. We may be sympathetic, but it is up to the Northern Ireland Office."

The fact of the matter is that, if my right hon. Friend, for perfectly humane reasons which I understand, sees Mrs. McBride, she is under a moral obligation to see Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Wright and the Scots Guards Association. I beg her to do so.

10:58 pm
Photo of Reverend Dr Ian Paisley

Reverend Dr Ian Paisley (North Antrim, DUP)

This is a very sad night for Northern Ireland. Those on both sides who have committed atrocious acts of murder and atrocious terrorist acts will be let loose on the community. During the Secretary of State's speech, there was an argument about whether organisations such as the IRA should have come into the talks. There is a great difference between talking to people and letting prisoners out. Let us not introduce that red herring across the Floor of the House on this issue. There is no comparison between the two. We know what happened in the talks. Those organisations were to come into the talks on certain conditions, but two of the parties to the talks did not keep to them. It was interesting to notice that, when the Secretary of State was considering the matter, the IRA could switch off the violence. While she was making the assessment, there was no violence, but, afterwards, the violence continued.

I have in my hand tonight the speech made at Balmoral by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He said: People want to know that if these parties are going to benefit from proposals in the Agreement such as accelerated prisoner releases and Ministerial posts, their commitment to democratic non-violent means must be established, in an objective, meaningful and verifiable way. When has the IRA met that condition? Is the murder of Mr. Kearney a verifiable way to tell the world that it has given up its violence? Do the shootings that took place in Londonderry from the other side verify anything? They tell the world that those people are still linked to violence. They are still carrying out violent acts. I heard it argued that, as punishment beatings had been carried out with batons and sticks, and, thank God, no guns were used, the ceasefire still held. Guns now have been used, so there is not a ceasefire—there is no complete ceasefire and no unequivocal ceasefire. Yet the Government go on with their plan to release those prisoners.

What is more, the Prime Minister made it clear that there can be no fudge between democracy and terror; the agreement has to be implemented in all its parts. The agreement has not been implemented in all its parts. We find tonight that the Government are prepared to fly in the face of what is happening and let those prisoners out.

The Prime Minister, in clarifying whether the terms and spirit of the agreement were being met and whether violence has genuinely been given up for good, said: there are a range of factors to take into account". What are they? He went on: first and foremost, a clear and unequivocal commitment that there is an end to violence for good on the part of republicans and loyalists alike". Have we had that? Have we seen that? Have we heard the IRA leaders yet confirming that? I have heard that the IRA leadership was perfectly happy about its meeting with the Secretary of State, and happy that its prisoners would all get out, but there has been no keeping of the agreement.

What is more, the Prime Minister said that we must be sure that the so-called war is finished … gone". Go and tell the people in sorrow in Belfast tonight about what has happened in these past few weeks, and they will tell you that the sorrow has not gone. Evidence about that has been read from the Front Bench tonight. The Prime Minister expressly said: the ceasefires are indeed complete and unequivocal: an end to bombings, killings and beatings". The Secretary of State gave us a list of what is happening. On the basis of the list that she mentioned, she should be saying to the House, "We cannot go ahead with releasing anybody until such time as the terms have been kept and have been seen to be kept, and they have not been kept."

In an aside, I might say that I do not think that the Scottish guardsmen should be treated in the way that they have been treated. We should not be talking about a law to release terrorists in the same breath as we talk about men who did not go out to kill. They were only young men doing their duty. They may or may not have failed in certain parts of their duty, but they are in no way on a par with what we are dealing with here tonight. I say that with all the strength that I can.

People in Northern Ireland are worried, because those who are coming out of prison are experts. They know how to make and use mortar bombs, and they know how to carry out desperate deeds of violence. The question for the House tonight is simple: can we afford to release such men into the Northern Ireland community? I say that we cannot afford to release them on to the streets of Belfast, or the streets of any town or village in Ulster. They should be kept behind bars until their organisations meet the criteria set for them by the Prime Minister.

We hear much talk about what was voted for in the referendum. What the people voted for was what the Prime Minister said, and that has not been kept to. The Secretary of State has given us evidence of beatings and killings, and of the association of these people with those beatings and killings. On that basis, she should say, "I am sorry, but I must tell them that they have not met the criteria that we have set and, until those criteria are met, it will be dangerous to let those people out on to the streets."

The Secretary of State was asked whether, if a prisoner who belonged to a certain organisation was released from prison and that organisation returned to violence, the prisoner would be recalled. The Secretary of State said that would happen only if the prisoner were no longer associated with the organisation—but he would have been released from prison precisely because of such an association. He would have no credentials for release apart from his membership of the organisation. Does the Secretary of State think that he would cease to be a member of it after his release, or that the IRA would be stupid enough to let him be released in such circumstances? It will have a tight control on every one of its members who is released from prison.

I say that if an organisation reverts to violence, all its freed members should be put back in prison. That is the way in which the system should work if we are to secure peace in Northern Ireland.

From the beginning, those of us who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland have told the House what has been repeated here tonight. We have not been heated, but I say now that we shall see greater acts of violence if this continues. The people will say, "We could get our prisoners out anyway. We do not need to worry." But we have a great deterrent. The greatest deterrent that the Government can offer is to say to the IRA and other groups, "Unless you meet the criteria, your prisoners will not be released." That would show us their attitude, and that is what the Secretary of State should do: she should use that as a deterrent to stop the violence in our country.

11:08 pm
Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara

Mr Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I was enthralled by the rigorous defence of the Belfast agreement that we heard from the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). I never knew that we had such a firm defender of the agreement and the principles contained in it, and I welcome the fact that he has joined its supporters. Indeed, we should all welcome his raising of the very issues raised by the Prime Minister as being part and parcel of the agreement, and his demonstration of support for every issue in it when lesser mortals might have fallen by the wayside.

As I listened to the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), I wondered whether he was the same person who spoke on behalf of his party in the autumn of 1995 when the previous Government introduced the Bill that was to become the Northern Ireland (Remission of Sentences) Act 1995. Colleagues may recall that that was during a ceasefire when, although punishment beatings and other evil and dastardly acts were going on, prisoners were being regularly released under the terms of legislation that was presented by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, now Lord Mayhew. What is the difference between what was happening then and what is happening now, apart from the more rigorous conditions that the Government are imposing on the releases? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about that.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell was right when he said that such matters must pose difficult problems for the Secretary of State, as they did for Lord Mayhew. Decisions about releases and attempts to form an overall view of the situation cannot be easy. Such matters must be given the same consideration and accorded the same weight, and the understanding of my right hon. Friend's judgment must be the same, as that which was given when we were in opposition when the then Secretary of State, in exactly the same situation, introduced the Bill that was to become the Northern Ireland (Remission of Sentences) Act. That is the least that we should be entitled to expect from the right hon. Member and his right hon. and hon Friends.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara

Mr Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

Perhaps I may be allowed to finish this point. On second thoughts, I shall give way now and return to my speech.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacKay

Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman was shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He says that the bipartisan policy should be total and that the Opposition should always offer a blank cheque. Why, year after year, did he fail to support the renewal of prevention of terrorism orders? On some occasions, he led his Opposition colleagues into the No Lobby. Does not that make his assertions somewhat flimsy, to say the least?

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara

Mr Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

Far from it. We are not comparing like with like. We are debating the wisdom or otherwise of releasing prisoners, something which happened under the Northern Ireland (Remission of Sentences) Act and is likely to happen under the current legislation. While internment, which was the biggest recruiting sergeant that the Provisional IRA ever had, was still on the statute book, it was my duty to try to alter the Government's attitude and to tell my colleagues that we had to do it. If we had time, I could go through the other blunders that were committed by the previous Government and that helped IRA recruitment. Bloody Sunday is one that immediately springs to mind, and there were others.

When I listen to Opposition Members, I sometimes feel that perhaps they do not want the Belfast agreement to succeed. I also sometimes think that they are striking poses in relation to that agreement because, if their proposals were carried through, the whole edifice would fall. I understand that from the dissident Unionists, from the Democratic Unionist party and from the United Kingdom Unionist party, but the attitude that has been taken by Her Majesty's Opposition on this matter seems specifically designed to weaken the whole of the Belfast agreement and to bring it down. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bracknell is sitting there with a sneer on his face and muttering away. I shall give way to him if he wants to say his piece. I see. From the comfort of a sedentary position, the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland can twitter away but, when challenged, he is not prepared to say anything.

I come back to the point that I started on. My right hon. Friend has had to take an important decision. It deserves the support of the whole House. It cannot have been easy for her, but the success of the Belfast agreement depends on that decision's success and on her judgment of those matters, as do so many other things.

11:15 pm

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

Before us is a list of the four organisations that have yet to abandon violence; I think that we can all agree on that point. I use the word "yet" because I am basically an optimist and I sincerely hope that, in the months to come, they may conceivably give up violence, with the other organisations, and wake up to the political realities of the 1990s. Evidence is abundant that the one way to make progress in Northern Ireland is to participate peacefully in the conduct of Northern Irish politics.

We can all agree that those who still seek to promote themselves through violence should not benefit from the peace. Again, I do not imagine that there is a single person in the Chamber who would question that point, or the fact that, if they do not accept the agreement, the agreement cannot accept them. However, I am confident that the list that has been drawn up by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was based on comprehensive advice from the general officer commanding and the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

I am also confident that the Secretary of State's view is that the right organisations have been included and the right organisations excluded. In simple terms, it is a rather poor demonstration of bad faith for anyone in this Chamber to question the idea that the Secretary of State has sincerely attempted to make the best decision that she possibly can with the information that she has at her disposal.

Let us not pretend that we all have the same quality of information before us. The Secretary of State, by the very nature of her job, has access to more insightful and more detailed information than others. [Interruption.] I hear a Conservative Member say that that is absurd.

Mr. Öpik:

I am confused. I give way so that the hon. Gentleman can perhaps explain what he means.

Photo of Mr John Bercow

Mr John Bercow (Buckingham, Conservative)

I simply said that the hon. Gentleman was guilty of subservience. I certainly did not suggest that he was in any way suggesting that our position was that the Government's attitude was absurd. I said that his position towards the Government was subservient.

Mr. Öpik:

rose—

Photo of Sir Alan Haselhurst

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Deputy Speaker)

Order. We have a very limited amount of time for an extremely serious debate. Sedentary comments, whether from the Front or Back Benches, do not help.

Mr. Öpik:

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is appalling that any Opposition Member should imply that any one of us is here to be subservient to the Government. I grew up in Northern Ireland and one reason why I feel so strongly about this is that it affects the lives of individuals with whom I grew up. I sincerely hope that, by helping to try to make the right decision tonight, I might make the life of those people a little better. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the good grace to accept that view.

Mr. Öpik:

I give way for the last time and then I must go through my speech very quickly because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

Photo of Mr Peter Robinson

Mr Peter Robinson (Belfast East, DUP)

Has the hon. Gentleman been in contact with his sister party in Northern Ireland, the Alliance party? Has he spoken to Glyn Roberts, a representative of Families Against Intimidation and Terror, who takes an entirely different view from his own? Is there a split?

Mr. Öpik:

I do not know whether it is relevant to the debate, but let me assure the hon. Gentleman that I am speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats tonight. I certainly encourage him to speak to any parties with whom he wishes to speak if he wants their views. I must now make progress and, for the sake of time, I shall take no more interventions.

I want to make two brief points—one about the LVF and the other about the UVF. First, will the Secretary of State confirm that, in her view, the less than whole-hearted declaration from the LVF that accompanied the ceasefire is the key reason why that organisation has been specified; and that if its representatives can reassure us that they are no longer willing to engage in acts of terrorism or violence, they can benefit from the order? Secondly, I would welcome clarification that the Secretary of State regards the UVF as having the potential to benefit from the order as long as its representatives continue to show a genuine commitment to the ceasefire; more to the point, if evidence comes forward that they are not adhering to it, they can, I trust, be easily specified and will not benefit from the order. In essence, it works both ways. If I understand the order correctly, it is not a one-way ticket for organisations to enjoy prisoner release and then return to acts of violence and terrorism.

I have had discussions with others outside the Chamber and I recognise that it would be difficult—in some cases almost impossible—to re-imprison anyone. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that this is a two-way process and that the mechanism exists to withdraw the privilege afforded by the order.

It appears that the official Opposition are entering the debate in rather bad faith. I say that as they have gone beyond questioning the outcome of the assessment made by the Secretary of State and may be suggesting some other motive. I am disappointed by that. Obviously, hon. Members are entitled to differ with the Secretary of State's view, but we should all assume that the Secretary of State and the Government are acting in good faith. I always made that assumption in respect of the previous Government.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacKay

Mr Andrew MacKay (Bracknell, Conservative)

As I am the only hon. Member who has spoken for the official Opposition, will the hon. Gentleman say at what point in my speech I questioned the Government's good faith? I am disagreeing with the Secretary of State on a matter of judgment, nothing else. It is uncharacteristically unfair of the hon. Gentleman to misinterpret me.

Photo of Sir Alan Haselhurst

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Deputy Speaker)

The right hon. Gentleman is not conducting a conversation with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. pik). He should be addressing the Chair.

Mr. Öpik:

The right hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable request. I am not casting aspersions on his position, but I was unhappy with a specific phrase that he used. He began his speech by saying that this is a very sad day for this House and for democracy. If he is merely questioning the judgment of the Secretary of State, why is it a sad day for democracy? Ultimately, the judgment may be wrong in his view, but it does not entitle him to imply a failure of democracy in the House.

I am in danger of straying far from my purpose tonight. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is assured of my good will towards him as an individual. I am just concerned that he is mixing up his views on democracy with questions about the judgment of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Let me move on to a point on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The punishment beatings must stop. If they do not, it behoves the Secretary of State to reconsider whether some organisations currently excluded from the list should be included. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) on that point.

Nevertheless, step by step, yard by yard, we must find ways of making progress. We will have to take some risks as we move forward. Is this order a risk? Yes, it is a risk; but which is the bigger risk: not proceeding in the spirit of the agreement or taking the risk of approving the order? Let us not pretend that there would be no opportunity cost if we voted down the order; of course there would be. Many would feel that we had acted in bad faith with regard to the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Öpik:

I do not have the time to do so. I have nearly come to the end of my comments. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will attempt to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is not only a question of the risk. In the real world, we are dealing with people's lives. There is a risk of harming the democratic peace process if we do not act responsibly and attribute good faith to the very people whom we need to convince to stay in the political process.

Mr. Öpik:

I am sorry; I feel that I cannot do so.

The public will take a very dim view if political cynicism is allowed to take over from the profound need to drive this matter forward. The public are also desperately in need of seeing us act in a non-partisan, non-party political way in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I personally feel that, given the necessarily limited evidence and the Secretary of State's assurances, the best way forward is to take the risk of agreeing to the order.

Mr. Öpik:

I will not give way.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Mr. Öpik:

I appeal to the official Opposition to think again about their pessimism concerning the order. I appeal to all hon. Members to think very hard before they consider voting against the order. Tonight is a sad night only if we make it so. It is only a divisive night if we choose to obscure the issue before us with other considerations. It is a night for sombre reflection, judgment and the courage to see beyond our personal party political views toward the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. Above all, it is a night to remember that, if we fail to create the circumstances for peace, we will also be guilty of obstructing the process.

To break with the past is to take a risk. The Liberal Democrats feel that that risk is worth taking. In supporting the Secretary of State's decision, we hope with all our hearts that she is right. Let us not pretend that anything besides history will prove us either right or wrong.

11:27 pm
Photo of Dr Norman Godman

Dr Norman Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

Down the years, I have had a thoroughgoing detestation for the activities of the so-called volunteers of the Provisional IRA. I think that Opposition Members would confirm that they have heard me say that I regard as absurd and obscene the Provisional IRA's claim to be conducting a military campaign in a mature parliamentary democracy.

I know that we Scots Members of Parliament have largely been immune from such activities, even though we have young constituents in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I recently met members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Across that narrow stretch of water that divides the west of Scotland from Northern Ireland, members of families in my constituency have suffered death and injury. However, for some curious Celtic reason, the Provisional IRA took the decision not too extend their so-called military campaign to Scotland. There have been one or two incidents, and we have had lots of incidents of Protestant or loyalist extremists running guns and explosives across to Northern Ireland, as every hon. Member from Northern Ireland knows. Some of those extremists are still—rightly and properly—serving time in Scottish gaols.

I wish to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that back in 1972—as someone with recent military experience—I knew that something had gone dreadfully wrong on that dreadful Sunday.

Photo of Sir Alan Haselhurst

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Deputy Speaker)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind the fact that there is very little time left and he is straying rather wide of the matter before us.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman

Dr Norman Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde, Labour)

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is the easiest thing in the world for the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), to offer comprehensive solutions to problems that appear to bedevil the administrators. The Secretary of State has to make enormously difficult decisions.

I deeply deplore the dreadful punishment beatings that continue to take place in Northern Ireland. We must do as much as we can where those dreadful, vicious people are concerned. I will support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's courageous decision, but I urge her to keep under surveillance the people who are conducting those dreadful beatings. May I tell the Secretary of State that there is a great deal of sympathy for Guardsmen Fisher and Wright? Many of us deal in our surgeries with people who come to plead on behalf of those two young soldiers. I wish to remind my right hon. Friend of that concern for those two young soldiers, who—as I have said in the past—were rightly and properly gaoled for what they did to that young man, McBride. I shall support the Secretary of State, but we need to keep a close watch on what is going on over there.

11:31 pm
Photo of Reverend Martin Smyth

Reverend Martin Smyth (Belfast South, UUP)

I appreciate the interest of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) over the years, but I would suggest that if the security services kept a watchful eye on those being released, the media and others would immediately start screaming, "Intimidation". That should be borne in mind.

There is a degree of hypocrisy. The Loyalist Volunteer Force—I have no time for it—has had a ceasefire, and has renewed that claim. It is one of the two bodies that have appointed people as executors who are prepared to liaise with the decommissioning committee. The interesting thing is that the Ulster Volunteer Force is the other. Yet the security forces and the police have said that the UVF has been responsible for the blast bombings.

We have had it reported in the press—without any correction from the Chief Constable—that the culprits around Carrickfergus who have been causing the depredation there were members of the Ulster Defence Association. It seems to me strange, meanwhile, that a judgment is being made about other organisations which are not to be acceptable—the LVF, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Continuity IRA and the real IRA. We accept that judgment, but the Provisional IRA battalion in Ardoyne was clearly responsible for the murder of a person in Belfast. The UDA is continuing its depredations—elements of the UVF likewise—and it has been judged to have been acting in a way that would allow the release of its prisoners.

Some people outside may be acting as calmly as they can and trying to keep a lid on the situation because they have already heard from some of those in the prisons that, if they do not get out, their throats will be slit. That is not scaremongering; it is the reality of what is going on. We should not convey the message that we are prepared to let convicted offenders out without any prior response from them.

I am speaking from my conscience and for my people. Most of my people did not vote for terrorists to be released or for their representatives to be in government in any shape or form. Those who keep talking about the Belfast agreement as the Good Friday agreement might have a point of connection: Good Friday was when the innocent was crucified and the prisoners were released.

11:35 pm
Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter

Mr Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke, Conservative)

There is a shameful and sordid predictability about the schedule to the order. The same comments may be applied to the UDA and the UVF, although I am less certain of the evidence in their case, but the omission of the IRA from the schedule, although predictable, further undermines confidence in the Government's handling of the process and in the Secretary of State's objectivity and judgment.

The core of the argument is straightforward: there is no compelling, unambiguous or unequivocal evidence that Provisional IRA falls outside the two subsections of clause 3(8) or that it complies with any of the requirements of the four subsections of clause 3(9). PIRA should be included in the schedule.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State and the Minister—the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram)—made much of the four clarifications in the Prime Minister's speech at Balmoral on 14 May. They were ultra-selective in their quotations. The Prime Minister's speech was much more precise than the requirements in the Bill or in the order. He talked about an end to bombings, killings and beatings. There has been no end to those beatings; everyone knows which organisations are involved, and they should be included in the schedule.

Some of us needed no further evidence, but the order has provided us with it. What started as a peace process has turned into a process of appeasement, and we should all be ashamed of it. It is too late now—the Act is the Act—but would that we could have nothing to do with the Act or the order.

11:38 pm
Photo of Mr Andrew Robathan

Mr Andrew Robathan (Blaby, Conservative)

Guardsmen Fisher and Wright still languish in gaol, having been sent by the Government to protect this country. Like every policeman and service man on the streets of Northern Ireland, they went out to do their duty. They made a grievous error, but for them to be still languishing in gaol when we are talking about releasing convicted murderers who went out to do murder is a disgrace. If the Secretary of State cannot reply now, will she write to me to say when she will make the decision on whether they are to be released?

About a year ago, I said to the Secretary of State at a meeting of the British-Irish parliamentary body that all the concessions were coming from one side. She said that I had got it entirely wrong, that it was a peace process, and concessions had to be made by all sides. Once again, all the concessions have been made by the Government and none by the Provisional IRA, which has killed someone within the past fortnight and is carrying out punishment beatings. No one doubts the good faith of the Secretary of State, but the path to hell is paved with good intentions. She is making a fudge to keep Sinn Fein on board by failing to put the Provisional IRA—loyalist parties as well, but I home in on the IRA—on the list of specified organisations. If she wants peace to succeed, she must make a stand and say that the Provisional IRA and its political side, Sinn Fein, cannot take part in the peace process until they subscribe to all the parts of the peace process to which they have signed up.

11:40 pm
Photo of Mr Jeffrey M Donaldson

Mr Jeffrey M Donaldson (Lagan Valley, UUP)

I want to home in on the criteria that the Secretary of State has used to reach her decision. The Belfast agreement states that there must be a complete and unequivocal ceasefire for organisations to benefit from it. What does that mean? When the Prime Minister came to Balmoral during the referendum campaign he spelled it out clearly when he said that a complete and unequivocal ceasefire is an end to bombings, killings and beatings, claimed or unclaimed; an end to targeting and procurement of weapons; progressive abandonment and dismantling of paramilitary structures actively directing and promoting violence". None of the terrorist organisations of which I am aware in Northern Ireland meets those criteria. There are murders, beatings and bombings. If they are not carried out by those organisations, one suspects that they are done with the assistance of their members. There has been no abandonment and dismantling of paramilitary structures by the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association or the Provisional IRA. Not one weapon has been decommissioned by any of the terrorist organisations. The Provisional IRA has so far failed even to appoint someone to liaise with the decommissioning commission. Under the terms of the legislation, how can the Secretary of State argue that the Provisional IRA is co-operating with the commission? It is not co-operating or decommissioning, and violence is continuing.

The Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland and wrote some pledges for the people of Northern Ireland. He gave them his word. He wrote: Prisoners kept in unless violence is given up for good. Are not the murder of Andrew Kearney and the beating of Vincent McKenna violence? Violence has not been given up for good. If the prisoners are to be released in circumstances where violence continues, the Prime Minister has broken his pledge to the people of Northern Ireland.

I appeal to the Secretary of State. Last weekend, the Truesdale family, whose brother Norman was murdered by the Provisional IRA, invited the Prime Minister to watch the video of his murder so that the Prime Minister could get some of the hurt that they feel because his murderer is going to be released on to the streets. I invite the Secretary of State to watch that video. Perhaps the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) has watched it and understands. I spoke to the family yesterday. They live in fear because the man who murdered their brother lives just up the street. When he is released, he will be in the heart of their community. They live in fear because of what is being proposed. The Minister may think that that is unfair, but he must understand how people feel. The feelings and fears are real. People in Northern Ireland do not understand why, when violence and murder continue, murderers will be released on to the streets. I ask the Government to think again.

11:43 pm
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Mr William Cash (Stone, Conservative)

I have never witnessed so much nervous twitching as I did while the Secretary of State listened to the Opposition's arguments. This is the biggest sell-out that I have seen in my time in Parliament. The release of the prisoners and the arrangements to allow members of the Northern Ireland Executive to take part in running Northern Ireland when they unquestionably have guns, either on or under the table, is one of the most abhorrent—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 219, Noes 86.

Division No.353][11.44 pm
AYES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Doran, Frank
Ainger, NickDowd, Jim
Alexander, DouglasDrew, David
Allen, GrahamEfford, Clive
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Ellman, Mrs Louise
Atherton, Ms CandyEnnis, Jeff
Atkins, CharlotteEtherington, Bill
Austin, JohnFitzpatrick, Jim
Barron, KevinFlynn, Paul
Battle, JohnFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Bayley, HughFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Beard, NigelFoulkes, George
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretFyfe, Maria
Benton, JoeGapes, Mike
Bermingham, GeraldGeorge, Andrew (St Ives)
Berry, RogerGerrard, Neil
Best, HaroldGibson, Dr Ian
Betts, CliveGodman, Dr Norman A
Blackman, LizGodsiff, Roger
Blears, Ms HazelGoggins, Paul
Blizzard, BobGolding, Mrs Llin
Borrow, DavidGriffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Hain, Peter
Bradshaw, BenHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Burgon, ColinHanson, David
Caborn, RichardHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Healey, John
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Canavan, DennisHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cann, JamieHepburn, Stephen
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Hesford, Stephen
Chaytor, DavidHill, Keith
Chisholm, MalcolmHoey, Kate
Clapham, MichaelHood, Jimmy
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Hoyle, Lindsay
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Hutton, John
Clelland, DavidIddon, Dr Brian
Coaker, VernonIllsley, Eric
Coffey, Ms AnnIngram, Adam
Cohen, HarryJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Coleman, IainJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Colman, TonyJamieson, David
Connarty, MichaelJenkins, Brian
Corbyn, JeremyJohnson, Alan (Hull W& Hessle)
Cotter, BrianJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cousins, JimJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Cox, Tom
Crausby, DavidJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cunliffe, LawrenceKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Keetch, Paul
Dalyell, TamKidney, David
Darvill, KeithKilfoyle, Peter
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Dobbin, JimKingham, Ms Tess
Kirkwood, ArchyReid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Kumar, Dr AshokRogers, Allan
Ladyman, Dr StephenRowlands, Ted
Linton, MartinRuddock, Ms Joan
Livsey, RichardRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Love, AndrewRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McAllion, JohnSalmond, Alex
McAvoy, ThomasSalter, Martin
McCabe, SteveSavidge, Malcolm
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)Shaw, Jonathan
McDonagh, SiobhainSheerman, Barry
Macdonald, CalumShort, Rt Hon Clare
McDonnell, JohnSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McFall, JohnSkinner, Dennis
McGuire, Mrs AnneSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McNamara, KevinSmith, John (Glamorgan)
McNulty, TonySoley, Clive
Mactaggart, FionaSquire, Ms Rachel
McWalter, TonySteinberg, Gerry
McWilliam, JohnStewart, David (Inverness E)
Mahon, Mrs AliceStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Stuart, Ms Gisela
Martlew, EricStunell, Andrew
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelSutcliffe, Gerry
Meale, AlanTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Milburn, AlanTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Miller, AndrewTemple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, AustinThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Moonie, Dr LewisTipping, Paddy
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)Touhig, Don
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Morley, ElliotTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Mowlam, Rt Hon MarjorieTwigg, Derek (Halton)
Mudie, GeorgeTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Mullin, ChrisVis, Dr Rudi
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)Ward, Ms Claire
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Wareing, Robert N
Olner, BillWebb, Steve
Öpik, LembitWhite, Brian
Pendry, TomWills, Michael
Pickthall, ColinWinnick, David
Pike, Peter LWise, Audrey
Plaskitt, JamesWood, Mike
Pope, GregWoolas, Phil
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Worthington, Tony
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, KenTellers for the Ayes:
Quin, Ms JoyceJane Kennedy and Mr. Robert Ainsworth.
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
NOES
Amess, DavidFabricant, Michael
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Flight, Howard
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Beggs, RoyFraser, Christopher
Bercow, JohnGarnier, Edward
Beresford, Sir PaulGill, Christopher
Boswell, TimGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaGray, James
Brady, GrahamGrieve, Dominic
Brazier, JulianHammond, Philip
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Hunter, Andrew
Burns, SimonJack, Rt Hon Michael
Cash, WilliamJenkin, Bernard
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clappison, JamesKey, Robert
Donaldson, JeffreyKirkbride, Miss Julie
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Duncan Smith, IainLeigh, Edward
Evans, NigelLetwin, Oliver
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterSpicer, Sir Michael
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Spring, Richard
Loughton, TimStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McIntosh, Miss AnneSwayne, Desmond
MacKay, AndrewSyms, Robert
McLoughlin, PatrickTapsell, Sir Peter
Maples, JohnThompson, William
Mates, MichaelTredinnick, David
Maude, Rt Hon FrancisTrend, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianTyrie, Andrew
Moss, MalcolmWardle, Charles
Ottaway, RichardWells, Bowen
Paice, JamesWhitney, Sir Raymond
Paisley, Rev IanWhittingdale, John
Paterson, OwenWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Pickles, EricWilkinson, John
Prior, DavidWilletts, David
Randall, JohnWilshire, David
Robathan, AndrewWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Woodward, Shaun
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Sayeed, JonathanTellers for the Noes:
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)Mr. Nigel Waterson and Mr. Stephen Day.
Spelman, Mrs Caroline

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 1998, which was laid before this House on 28th July, be approved.