New Clause 1 — Independent Members: Declaration Against Terrorism

Part of Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 26th March 2003.

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Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 3:00 pm, 26th March 2003

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government must make it clear, by their deeds and words, that they take seriously breaches in the ceasefire and the agreement. They must show that they will respond to such breaches in specific and concrete ways; otherwise, we will never get implementation of the agreement or respect for the ceasefire. It is no use expressing horror and shock if nothing happens. As I have said over and over again—most recently last week—one of the Government's fundamental errors is that they have done absolutely nothing about even the most egregious breaches, such as Florida, Castlereagh, Colombia, Stormontgate, and now this arms cache. The Government's reaction has been the opposite of what it should have been: they have said, "Oh, my God, we'd better offer them something more. What new concession can we dream up to try to appease them and buy them off?"

That is absolutely regrettable, and hopeless. When this phase of Northern Ireland history comes to be written, the Government will bear a terrible responsibility if, as a result of their disastrous tactics, the agreement—sadly—fails to achieve implementation and consummation. I therefore agree very much with Rev. Martin Smyth, and I am grateful for his intervention.

I turn now to the specifics of the new clauses and amendments in this group. As I have explained, we will oppose with all the means in our power new clause 2 and new schedule 2, to which we will come later. We have tabled two amendments to new clause 2. The Secretary of State has courteously responded already to amendment (a). That amendment would extend disqualification from five to 10 years. The right hon. Gentleman understands the reasoning behind the amendment, but it is not a matter of essence. I shall not ask the House to take time to vote on it, as we have so many other important issues to discuss this afternoon.

Amendment (b) to new clause 2 would restore disqualification for those with suspended sentences. I listened to the Secretary of State with a genuinely open mind, to see whether he could dissuade me from my initial inclination to seek to put the matter to a vote. However, he has not persuaded me. He did not choose to mention the fact, but he knows that some very serious offences are followed by sentence suspension in Northern Ireland. I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I agree that there may well be some more suspended sentences for serious crimes if the on-the-run problem can be resolved within the context of the complete and definitive settlement. That would be a judicial resolution, with people required to come before a court and enter a plea of guilty, and the court required to reach a determination and a verdict. I therefore do not believe that we should just set aside people with suspended sentences from eligibility for disqualification, if I may put it that way. I believe that that matter is sufficiently important to ask the House to vote on it.

New clauses 9 to 11 are tabled in the names of Mr. Trimble and Lady Hermon. We strongly agree with them, and we look forward to supporting them in the Lobbies if it is decided to put those proposals to a vote. We feel especially strongly about new clause 11: however short the time, I hope that we have the opportunity to vote on that new clause.

Rev. Ian Paisley and his colleagues have tabled new clause 13. In some ways, I share the Secretary of State's confusion about it. I have read the new clause two or three times, and it seems at certain points to be restrictive, and at others to be rather a weakening proposal. It provides that people may be disqualified for any offence at all. We do not want people to be excluded from serving on DPPs because they have committed a traffic violation or parked in the wrong place. I am not sure that anyone would qualify for any position in public life if that sort of disqualification applied.