I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 28, at end insert—
'(fa) section 108 (evidence)'.
These amendments would repeal section 108 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This issue was raised and discussed at some length in Committee and I have no desire to rehearse those arguments now, but I do want to discuss one or two of the points that the Minister made in Committee on the use of hearsay evidence. Section 108 has not been used in the seven years in which it has been available to the authorities in Northern Ireland. In responding to an amendment tabled in Committee, the Minister said that five potential cases were in the pipeline, but that we would not know whether section 108 was effective in that regard until it had been tried out. Seven years down the line, and given that we are seeking to repeal as much terrorism legislation as is safe to repeal, I wonder whether we should be trying to implement more such legislation. We have managed without section 108 for seven years.
I remind the Minister that he said in Committee that
"our decision is based on the advice of those who have to deal with terrorists . . . the Chief Constable and those who wish to put away the terrorists and prevent them from carrying out the atrocities that they would otherwise carry out. This provision, like the 90-day provision, is to protect the general public."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E,
I certainly agree that it is good to take advice from our police and security services, but our job is to strike a balance between convicting terrorists and protecting the basic freedoms that we enjoy elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Of course, the Minister made those comments before the 90-day proposal was voted down. I respectfully suggest to this House that section 108 should be dealt with in a similar way.
These amendments seek permanently to repeal section 108 of the Terrorism Act 2000. I entirely understand Lord Carlile's views on this provision and I have carefully considered whether it should be retained in part 7 of the 2000 Act. Obviously, this is a question of judgment, and judgment is based on weighing evidence and advice, including that of the Chief Constable and Lord Carlile.
Lorely Burt referred to what I said in Committee about the 90-day provision. It is interesting to note that earlier today the Liberal Democrats drew on the advice of Lord Carlile, who did not entirely agree with them about the 90-day provision. There again, the Liberal Democrat policy of pick and mix is one that we well understand.
I am mindful that section 108 has yet to be used in a case. However, it is an exceptional provision and it was never envisaged that it would be used regularly. I am sure that the hon. Member for Solihull is aware of that, but I remind her of the very special circumstances that caused section 108 to be introduced. They still obtain and are the subject of continued investigation, and we must be very aware of them. The hon. Lady has demonstrated this afternoon her real concern to identify with what people feel about OTRs, but we must do the same in respect of the people of Omagh and accept the advice from the security advisers to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Lord Carlile has often given excellent advice, but we judge that, on balance, section 108 should be retained.
Is not the Minister guilty of adopting a somewhat contradictory approach? In the previous debate, he said that we should have an early deadline because progress was being made and we should be optimistic. However, he now says that we should disregard Lord Carlile's advice and retain section 108 on the ground that it may be needed at some point, even though it has never been used in the past seven years. Moreover, he said in Committee that it was important to retain the option as paramilitary activities overlap further with acquisitive crime. That is exactly the argument put forward by hon. Members on these Benches in the previous debate, and the Minister argued against it. Is there not a clear contradiction in that?
Absolutely not. Despite the sedentary intervention from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire—and I thank him for his encouragement—I shall try and explain why my approach is not contradictory.
First, it is worth bearing in mind that one reason why the section has not been used is that cases have collapsed. Secondly, I am not contradicting what I said earlier about the expiry of the special provisions. Section 108 will expire if the enabling climate allows—if it does not so allow, the provision will not expire. It is as simple as that.
We believe that it is right to retain section 108. It is worth noting that a largely similar provision has operated successfully in the Republic of Ireland since 1972. That provision is set out in section 3(2) of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1972. The basic principle underlying it is essentially the same as that underlying section 108, namely, that it allows for the opinion of a senior police officer to be admissible in evidence in a trial on membership charges. The provision has been successfully used in the Republic to secure convictions for membership of illegal organisations for over 30 years. Only last year, for example, Liam Campbell was convicted of membership of the Real IRA. Although that case is from a different jurisdiction, it offers clear evidence that such a provision can and does work.
I know that the security advice to which I have referred contradicts Lord Carlile's recommendation, but it maintains that section 108 remains a useful provision for the PSNI to have.We understand from the PSNI that there are a number of cases in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland in which section 108 could be used. The individuals involved have been charged with membership of an organisation that is specified, and the police are willing to make a section 108 statement.
Finally, I urge the hon. Member for Solihull to think about the conditions that led to section 108 and about the people in Omagh. The amendment could undermine a prosecution case. When deciding about pressing the amendment to a Division, she should think carefully about the consequences if it were to succeed. What would be the effect on possible prosecutions? Would it help us to achieve normalisation? Would it allow the enabling environment that I mentioned earlier to come about? This is a very serious issue—it is not just about following up a recommendation in a report. It is genuinely about whether or not cases that could come to court could be jeopardised by the hon. Lady's proposal.
If those prosecutions were assisted by section 108 and resulted in convictions for membership of a proscribed organisation, there will be clear evidence of its usefulness. It remains the case that because it has not yet been tested, we do not know. However, the risk of accepting the amendment is huge. We have concluded, therefore, bearing in mind the ongoing cases, that section 108 remains potentially useful, and we do not wish to handicap the police or those investigating the cases. However, as I have stated, like all part 7 provisions, section 108 is an exceptional provision, targeted at the specific terrorist threat that exists in Northern Ireland. Thus we are committed to its ultimate repeal, as with all part 7 measures, when the security situation allows. That assumes an enabling environment that we may see by the end of July 2007, but if we do not the Bill allows us to continue the provisions for another year. In the event that the security situation then, as judged by the Secretary of State, is not one that would allow the Bill to disappear, we would be able to consider what appropriate steps may need to be taken. However, it is still our belief that by that time the general provisions of counter-terrorist legislation for the whole of the UK will suffice for Northern Ireland as well.
On that basis, and bearing in mind the specific cases of which I have spoken, and thinking of the people in Omagh, the hon. Lady should think again about whether she wishes to divide the House. If she chooses to do so, I urge the House to resist the amendment.
Does the hon. Lady accept that in the unlikely event that the amendment were to be accepted, she could prejudice the cases that I mentioned? What would she propose as an alternative to enable those individuals to be brought before the courts?
"I am totally unpersuaded by the arguments for its retention . . . Section 108 could be repealed without any measurable disadvantage to the cause of public protection from terrorism. It is a provision that lies uncomfortably in the broader context of normalisation and the Good Friday Agreement."
I accept Lord Carlile's observations and I agree that section 108 lies uncomfortably with normalisation, but we are having to renew this legislation because we have not yet reached normalisation. I repeat my question. If the hon. Lady were to succeed in amending the Bill, what would she use to bring those individual cases that I have mentioned to court?
The Minister has referred several times to the people of Omagh and the incidents in 1998—the principal cause of the introduction of the legislation. However, that was seven years ago and we are now trying to move towards normalisation.
I have just explained to the hon. Lady that we have been advised by the police that the provision could be useful in ongoing cases in allowing people to be brought to court. Omagh may have been seven years ago, but it has taken a long time to collect the evidence. If the consequence of the hon. Lady's Division is to prevent those from individuals going to court, is she prepared to accept responsibility for that?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are trying to pass responsibility for judgments about justice to the Liberal Democrats? The mistake the Minister makes is to assume that the police are responsible for forming legislation, when actually politicians must be responsible for ensuring that justice prevails. That is why Lord Carlile must be taken seriously on this matter. I am sure that that is exactly what my hon. Friend was about to say.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who took the words right out of my mouth. His comments summed up what I wanted to say.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The purpose of the Bill is simple. It will continue in force the vast majority of part 7 provisions until July 2007. The counter-terrorism provisions are targeted at the particular threat that still, regrettably, arises in Northern Ireland. Without the Bill they would expire in February next year. There have been significant developments in the past few months that give us confidence that security normalisation can be achieved within two years. However, we are not at that point yet, and it is therefore right that we extend these provisions until the end of the normalisation programme.
It might be possible for the Minister to argue, although I would not accept his case, that there have been noises from the Provisional IRA, but on what basis does he argue that there is any indication among the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the Real IRA or the Continuity IRA that they are bringing their so-called war to an end?
Let us not be pejorative or trivialise the historic statement made on
The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that he should take no lectures from anyone who was not elected in Northern Ireland. I understand that, but, with the responsibility that we have, we judge that there have been significant improvements in the security situation in Northern Ireland, and on that basis we have reached the judgment that it is appropriate to renew the provisions, but only until July 2007. We recognise that the situation by then may not allow them to expire, so the safety net of a further 12 months is required.
Let us not forget the assurance that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have given in the House and elsewhere that if the extension for a further 12 months is required, and if in the summer of 2008 the security situation does not allow for the provisions to cease to have effect, the Secretary of State will review the situation again in order to provide reassurance to people in Northern Ireland.
The counter-terrorism provisions are targeted at the particular threat that continues to arise in Northern Ireland. There have been significant developments, but we think it is right to extend the provisions until the end of the normalisation programme. Many members have stressed the need for caution in our approach, and the Government entirely agree with those who urge caution. That is why we are not dispensing with the powers in February, and why the Bill includes a power to extend the provisions for a further year, should that be required.
I return for a moment to Lord Carlile, that touchstone of debate this afternoon. He agrees with us that
"the duration of the powers proposed in the Bill is justified on the merits and proportional".
The House should be in no doubt that the first priority for the Government is and always will be the safety and security of the citizens of Northern Ireland. We will ensure that the police and other agencies that have provided and continue to provide protection to the people of Northern Ireland have the tools necessary to do the job. That includes, for the foreseeable future, section 108. As a matter of principle, we believe that if the police want that as a tool for prosecutions, it should be available to them, as it is in the Republic. It is important to note that they will continue to have at their disposal the permanent provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000 and other legislation. This framework collectively gives the UK the strongest and most effective counter-terrorism legislation in the world.
Before closing, I would like to express my thanks to all those involved in proceedings on the Bill. I thank those who have joined the debate in the Chamber and I pay credit to the constructive manner in which it has been conducted. I am grateful to all hon. Members who served on the Committee for the manner in which they made their contributions. The Committee considered the Bill quite rapidly, and that is testament to the almost universal support in the House for its primary purpose, which is to continue in force the provisions beyond February 2006.
We have also managed to explore and discuss some important issues of detail about the legislation, not least what ought to replace Diplock courts in the future. I am extremely pleased that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will consider that later next year in a pre- legislative scrutiny exercise, as set out by the Secretary of State this morning in his letter to the Chairman of the Committee. Despite the comments of Lembit Öpik, he should take it on trust that this Secretary of State will ensure that the Select Committee scrutinises those powers.
Absolutely; there is no question about that. It is important to consider the context. The Secretary of State wants us to achieve bipartisan support. Peace in Northern Ireland will be achieved only by consensus, and it is in that context that the Secretary of State wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee today.
The Government recognise that a serious risk of jury intimidation remains in a small number of cases. I can assure the House that we will put in place whatever arrangements are necessary to ensure the continuing effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The only question in our minds will be whether it can be done better. The standard by which everyone should approach the pre-legislative scrutiny of Diplock courts next year is whether the system can be bettered.
Finally, I should like to express our gratitude to the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act. He considered the Bill in a letter submitted to me that was placed in the Library of the House. His letter and his reports on the operation of the Act have played an invaluable role in informing our debates on the Bill.
The Bill reflects both the confidence that the Government have in the normalisation process and the prudence that is required when dealing with the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland. I commend it to the House.
I begin by returning my thanks to the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with the Bill. I raised a couple of issues in Committee, which by their detailed nature required him to write to me, and he duly did, explaining the situation fully. As a result, I did not pursue the matters further.
I think that I can speak for a number of hon. Members when I say that there is some confusion about how the Government assess the situation in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, we have the on-the-runs legislation, which suggests that the bad situation that we have had in Northern Ireland for so very long is coming to an end. On the other hand, we have Bills such as this, which by their very introduction would suggest that the situation in Northern Ireland is not as it should be.
The Opposition regret the need to introduce the Bill. We wish that we had normality in the Province. On every occasion I have visited the Province over many years, it has been made clear that one of the very things that people want is to be treated normally, both politically and with regard to the security situation. However, we accept that it is not possible at the moment to move towards that.
As a number of hon. Members have said, particularly those from the DUP, there is great concern at the fact that the violence continues. The nature of the violence has changed, but the violence continues. I quoted the recent IMC report in Committee, and I shall quote it again:
"The involvement of paramilitaries in organised crime goes deep."
That is a great concern. The report continues:
"We have concluded that because of this paramilitary involvement organised crime is the biggest long term threat to the rule of law in Northern Ireland . . . The criminals are flexible and resilient."
Those words are sufficient to chill most people. Such comments are very worrying, and I think that they persuaded DUP Members to press their amendment, which suggested that the provisions of the Terrorism Act should be extended not only to 2008, but to 2012.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way in his excellent summing up of the Bill's progress. The organisations involved in racketeering, protection rackets and intimidation include not only off-limits paramilitary groups such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, but some of the mainstream terrorist groups. Does he agree that it is particularly depressing when the Government make massive concessions to such groups, as they are under the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill?
My hon. Friend is right that the situation involves violence of all kinds and criminality on all sides. A week or two ago, the UVF was specified by statutory instrument, which is not the sort of progress that we want. My hon. Friend is also right to mention the involvement of the mainstream—if that is the right word—paramilitary groups.
Conservative Members accept that in some ways the situation in Northern Ireland is greatly improved. We welcomed the first IRA statement and the statement suggesting that all IRA arms have been put beyond use. As I said last week, however, we are worried about a number of aspects of the process. We are worried because we are yet to hear whether the proceeds of the Northern bank raid have been put beyond use. What has happened to that money? It is my understanding, which I think that the Secretary of State confirmed from a sedentary position last week, that the Government continue to hold the IRA responsible for the Northern bank raid. I think that the Minister is nodding—it is very gentle, but I think that he is nodding. I understand that the Irish Government and the police in Northern Ireland still hold the IRA responsible for that bank raid. Although the IRA's present arms may have been put beyond use—I have been assured that a substantial quantity of arms has been put beyond use—where has the money gone from the Northern bank robbery? Is it not possible that further arms will be bought?
I thought that I was doing so, but I accept your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I agree with the Government on the case for the Bill, because the situation in Northern Ireland is not normal or even close to normal. I would have liked the Bill to be extended to 2012, as has been proposed. I have already mentioned the fact that some Conservative Members have a theory about the 2007 or 2008 deadline—in my notes, "deadline" is in inverted commas, because it is not an official term—because a number of things could culminate in 2007 or 2008. If the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill were to get through Parliament—in its present state, I am not convinced that it will and hope that it does not—people who were previously involved in terrorism and who may not be within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom would return to the streets of Belfast and wider areas of Northern Ireland. The emergency measures that we are discussing could end in 2007 or 2008. Although it is not for me to speculate, the Prime Minister could be planning to retire then, having wrapped up the whole issue of Northern Ireland in terms of special measures.
If this proves to be appropriate because it reflects the improved situation in Northern Ireland by that time, I will be as pleased as anybody, but that may not be the case. I hope that it will, but I am not persuaded. I would have preferred the Government to accept the facility to extend the legislation proposed in amendment No. 1. The amendment that I tabled in Committee would have extended the legislation on an annual basis, but the Government were not prepared to accept that either. I wish that they had, because we would have felt more secure that the special provisions would remain in place.
The Minister said that if the Government judge in 2007 or 2008 that the situation in Northern Ireland is not normal, they will take action. Given the other things that will be happening in 2007 and 2008, including new Assembly elections, I am not sure whether they would introduce the necessary legislation at that point, but I do not want to drive the nails out of sight on that matter.
Conservative Members deeply regret that the situation in Northern Ireland is not such that this Bill can be done away with, but we accept that it is necessary. That is why we have supported the Government on Second Reading, in Committee and here today.
First, I want to thank right hon. and hon. Members for their continuing kindness and support, and their empathic approach, following the death of my brother. I recognise that while this is a personal tragedy for me, what we are really debating today is a whole raft of personal tragedies that have taken place in Northern Ireland as a result not of destiny or nature, but of the deeds of men and women who resorted to terrorism. I should like us to remember that despite the formal and objective way in which we must debate these matters, we are really dealing with matters of the heart and trying to ensure security and closure for individuals who have suffered through no fault of their own. That is why the legislation is so important and why I am grateful to the Minister for having taken a serious and responsible approach in responding to the points that we have made, even if he may have sometimes disagreed.
I congratulate the Minister on his erudite and entertaining approach, even though we have sometimes had to endure the slings and arrows of bitter words. Only this afternoon, he accused the Liberal Democrats of being a pick-and-mix party in terms of our policies. Were I a vicious man, I would point out that at least I am not pick-and-mix in my party affiliations. Nevertheless, I salute the hon. Gentleman for his prudent judgment through the years, which has propelled him to a position of power. As I look forward to the Liberal Democrats sweeping to power in 2009, I assure him that his experience will be valued and that we can talk about that in confidence.
The main issues were debated again on Report. Those that vexed us most were hearsay evidence and Diplock courts. My colleagues and I remain unpersuaded of the Under-Secretary's case in defence of maintaining the power. His strongest argument related to the Omagh victims and the potential for five cases in the pipeline to require the use of hearsay evidence. As my hon. Friend Lorely Burt pointed out, that is not strong enough.
Lord Carlile, who has no interest in compromising the progress towards prosecution of those responsible for the Omagh bombing or any other terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, could not have been clearer about hearsay evidence. His comments have been quoted already, but the words are so clear that it is worth repeating them. Lord Carlile stated:
"I am totally unpersuaded by the arguments for its retention . . . Section 108 could be repealed without any measurable disadvantage to the cause of public protection from terrorism. It is a provision that lies uncomfortably in the broader context of normalisation and the Good Friday Agreement."
That is as clear as any independent arbiter could be that the requirement is not effective.
In response to the Under-Secretary's reasonable question about who would take responsibility if hearsay evidence were not allowed and the progress of justice were thus thwarted, I would say that it is the wrong question. We will not get a prosecution on the basis of hearsay evidence—that is Lord Carlile's point. The question is counter-productive—in other words, it is not neutral. The inclusion of hearsay evidence risks the far greater danger of creating martyrs, resentment and false prosecutions. I do not want to put words into Lord Carlile's mouth, but I would present those explanations to people who challenge me about why I resist the use of hearsay evidence.
The evidence of history supports my point. If hearsay evidence were so important, it would have been used at least once in the past seven years. Furthermore, the Under-Secretary argued against new clause 1, which proposed three judges instead of one in Diplock courts, on the basis that existing procedures were effective. He cannot use that argument in that instance while simultaneously rejecting it when I say that the existing procedures have been effective without hearsay evidence. There is a contradiction in the Government's case for hearsay evidence.
In essence, I believe that including the provisions for hearsay evidence may protect the general public against individuals by banging them up, but they do not protect the general public against injustice. That is at the heart of our concerns about the provision.
The Under-Secretary asked us to identify with the plight of the Omagh victims. I met Michael Gallagher and his colleagues yesterday at four hours' notice. It took the Prime Minister five years—half a decade—to meet the representatives of the Omagh victims. He therefore needs to be careful when he accuses Opposition politicians of not taking the plight of the Omagh victims seriously.
We had an extensive debate on the case for three-judge courts. The Liberal Democrats did not get what we wanted but we got something significant, for which I am grateful to the Under-Secretary. We now have a specific commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny and, I assume, true bipartisan debate about what should replace Diplock courts. The problem with the word "bipartisan" is that it implies two parties. Recent history suggests that, when two parties are involved, they are the Labour Government and Sinn Fein. I hope that, when the Under-Secretary talks about bipartisanship with regard to replacing the Diplock courts, he will ensure genuine cross-party debate, involving the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionists, the Alliance party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and, of course, Sinn Fein.
The Government often make the mistake of believing that some consultation with one party means that they do not have to engage in full consultation with all parties. I will bank what the Minister has said, but we really want to see the evidence of cross-party consultation taking place before we will be comfortable.
The Minister has also given us an explicit commitment that the measures on pre-legislative scrutiny will not share the expiry date of the existing Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. I obviously hope that the Ministers will not move on—the Minister before us today is a very likeable chap if you meet him socially, and he does a pretty good job in the House as well. It is a long and painful process to educate successive Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. Each time that process comes to a conclusion, the Minister is up to speed on the intricacies of what has gone on over the past eight years, only to be moved on. So we have to start again, the same mistakes are made by the new Ministers, and we all have to go back into a mentoring role to ensure that the Ministers have the basis of information that they need for such a specific technically and historically loaded subject.
The Minister before us today has given us something very important. He has given us an assurance that the pre-legislative scrutiny with regard to Diplock courts will not be dependent on those in ministerial positions in the Northern Ireland Office at the moment, but that the responsibility for that pre-legislative scrutiny will be carried ex officio by the Ministers there. I am grateful for that; it is an important assurance. There is no loss, cost or defeat for the Government in having made that commitment, and I look forward to the inclusion of a process of scrutiny that was lamentably absent from the on-the-runs legislation.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government said that there was a huge urgency about the on-the-runs legislation? If they are offering the concession of pre-legislative scrutiny on the Diplock courts, why on earth could they not do the same for the on-the-runs provisions? It makes no sense whatever that they did not; frankly, it is downright inconsistent.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I believe that all Opposition Members publicly—and perhaps Labour Members privately—recognise that a deal was done unilaterally between the Prime Minister and Sinn Fein, and we are all trying to pick up the pieces. If I am honest, I do not blame the Minister or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the difficulty with the on-the-runs, but the lesson for this Bill is that if the Government are going to make promises of cross-community, cross-party scrutiny of legislation before its publication, those promises must be kept; otherwise, the Government will reap the kind of resentment, bitterness and resistance that resulted from the on-the-runs legislation. To the credit of the Minister, he has given us assurances, in a sober and measured way, that go a little bit further than what I have heard before to reassure me that those commitments will be kept.
I want to finish on the matter with which we began our Second Reading debate. It is the contradiction between how the Government choose to approach terrorism in Northern Ireland and terrorism on an international basis. I support the Bill in its present form—with the reservations that I have highlighted—sufficiently to vote for it, should there be a Division tonight, but I find it extraordinary that there is no joined-up thinking between the Government's attempts to normalise life in Northern Ireland and what they are seeking to do to normalise life in the post-9/11 world in which we find ourselves. It is perhaps a vain hope that we can educate the Government to see those contradictions, however, because I believe that they would secretly admit that there is an utter contradiction in providing concessions to and negotiating, sometimes directly, with the paramilitary organisations in the Province, while thinking that suppressing the opportunity to terrorise is the answer to the problem in the rest of the United Kingdom and the world.
The Minister is an educated man and he is experienced in these matters. He has steered this legislation effectively, if not always in the way that I would like. Is there nothing that he can do to educate those in the Home Office and the Foreign Office so that they understand that the lessons from Northern Ireland provide a more powerful and effective solution to undermining the motives of terrorism than any effort to suppress the opportunities to terrorise ever did?
I think that we have ended up with a flawed but usable piece of legislation. My great regret is that the lessons of Northern Ireland and the many hundreds of hours that each of us has spent debating them are not transferred to the wider debate about terrorism. We can win the peace in Northern Ireland, but there is every risk that we will lose the war on terrorism elsewhere.
My party supports the principle as set out in the Bill. We did not divide the House on Second Reading for that reason. Nevertheless, we are disappointed that the Government have not accepted the amendments that we tabled, particularly in relation to the duration of this legislation. I outlined earlier, as did my hon. Friends, why we felt that the lifetime of the legislation should be extended beyond 2007–08.
There is no doubt—I think that this is accepted by the Government—that there is a continuing terrorist threat in Northern Ireland—hence the need for this legislation. Undoubtedly, we will continue to differ over the extent to which that should influence the continued provision of special measures to deal with the terrorist threat. I understand that the Government are pursuing a policy, which is about trying to create a normal society in Northern Ireland. We want to see that normal society because it affects our constituents, the way in which they live their lives and the way in which they do their business. We have made some significant progress, but we must not remove the safeguards that are necessary to ensure that society in Northern Ireland is protected. For as long as the threat remains, the need for the protection provided by this legislation remains.
As I understand it, the Minister did not go as far as to say that there was an acceptable level of violence in Northern Ireland. He quoted figures from 1972 and everyone knows that, because of the carnage that occurred in that year, it was the worst year of what has become known as the troubles. To advance his argument, no doubt the Minister will take the worst of Northern Ireland and seek to measure that against where we are today. There is no doubt that there is a major difference, but that does not mean that we have reached a level where the need for this legislation has been removed. Where is that level?
If by 2007–08 there has been further progress, and perhaps some of the other paramilitary terrorist groups have moved to decommission weapons or declare an end to their criminal and violent activity, which would be welcome, it is highly likely that there will remain organisations such as the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA and perhaps some of the loyalist paramilitary organisations that have not reached the stage of declaring an end to their violence and criminality, or decommissioned their weapons. That is the reality.
What will be the position in 2007 if the Government extend the legislation for a further 12 months and then it ceases to exist? There will then be pre-legislative scrutiny and we will consider what measures may still be required. Why go to the trouble of bringing forward new legislation when we already have adequate legislation? We want to take on board the safeguard of extending the life of the legislation and building in periodic reviews. We feel that that would have been a more prudent way to approach the issue. I regret that the Government have not taken that line. The Government need to address the issue. Do they have in their mind a level at which the legislation will be repealed or cease to exist, and yet there is a continuing terrorist threat? We have seen that those organisations that continue to engage in or prepare for acts of violence are just as capable of threatening witnesses and juries and interfering with and seeking to undermine the judicial process as the organisations that perhaps are progressing towards a more democratic and peaceful situation.
We are still dealing, however, with the legacy of the violence of those organisations. Arrests took place just yesterday, as my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell mentioned, in relation to the village of Claudy. We commend the PSNI for its ongoing investigative work to find and bring to justice those responsible for the atrocity in Claudy. We note, however, that the arrests yesterday included one of Sinn Fein's Assembly Members, Francis Brolly. We are therefore still dealing with the legacy of republican involvement in violence and acts of terrorism, and that will continue to have an impact.
Sinn Fein does not support the police, and does not recognise the legitimacy of British justice in Northern Ireland. Let me quote what was said by Martin McGuinness, the Member of Parliament for Mid-Ulster, who still does not take his seat in this House, after the arrest of Francis Brolly:
"This is a blatant example of political policing and we will be taking it up with both governments."
I hope that the Government will resist any pressure that is brought to bear by Sinn Fein-IRA to interfere in any way with the judicial process or the police investigation into the matter. Even with the progress made and what the Minister described as the historic statement made in July by the IRA, Sinn Fein still does not support the police or accept the rule of law in Northern Ireland—
I accept your direction, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point is that the need for this legislation relates to the environment in which we are operating. We do not accept the Minister's argument that we are likely to have an enabling environment in two years' time that will mean that the legislation can be repealed. Part of that enabling environment is whether or not people support the police and the rule of law. If they do not support the police and the rule of law, their predisposition to interfere with the judicial process, threaten, bully, cajole and perhaps engage in acts of violence against jurors and witnesses in legal proceedings is still there. The safeguards of the legislation therefore ought to remain extant. The Government ought to take that on board.
I do not know what progress we are likely to make over the next two years. Certainly, I hope that Sinn Fein will finally accept the police and the rule of law in Northern Ireland, but we are not there yet. I do not therefore share the Minister's confidence that by 2008 at the latest we will have an enabling environment whereby the provisions of the legislation will no longer be necessary.
Lembit Öpik mentioned the visit to London yesterday by the victims of the Omagh bombing. We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has at long last met those people. They are entitled to a hearing and have real concerns, which we understand, and I hope that the Prime Minister will consider carefully the points made by that delegation yesterday.
One of the things that struck me about that delegation was that its members seemed to welcome the fact that those who had been convicted, or might be convicted in future, of involvement in the Omagh bombing would not be subject to the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, and would therefore not be able to bypass the judicial process. I believe that we are creating two standards of justice in Northern Ireland, based on an arbitrary line in the sand that was drawn on
I alluded earlier to the victims of violence. It is important for them to have confidence in the judicial process. The Bill makes special provision to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done, which is important, but let me also mention one of the omissions from it. The Minister said that the police must have the necessary tools to take on and defeat terrorism, but one of the most important tools that they desire—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me simply make the general point that it would have strengthened the Bill had provision been made for the admissibility of phone-tap evidence in judicial proceedings in Northern Ireland against terrorist suspects. That could transform the potential for the police to secure further convictions in cases involving acts of terrorism. I regret that, to date, the Government have not acceded to that reasonable request, which has come from the police throughout the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, I accept your direction, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall leave the issue for another day.
As for the future, we hope that there will come a day when there will be no need for legislation of this kind. That is our desire. We believe, however, that that day will come only when people can feel confident that the threat from terrorism has been removed once and for all. Confidence is necessary for the judicial process to operate properly and effectively. We are not there yet, and I am not convinced that we shall be there in 2007 or 2008, which is why we sought to extend the lifetime of this legislation.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire made a valid point, albeit in a slightly different context. The Government cannot continue to operate double standards in terms of how they take on the threat of terrorism. They cannot continue to believe that that is the right approach, and that it sends out the right signal to terrorist organisations not just in Northern Ireland but all over the world. When al-Qaeda and its affiliates see the way in which the Government deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland, they see weaknesses that they will try to exploit in the future. When enacting legislation—not just for Northern Ireland, but for the United Kingdom as a whole—the Government must be careful not to fall into the trap of the double standard.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there will unquestionably be unintended consequences from the legislation that we enact in Northern Ireland, which will inevitably filter into the mainstream? Neither we nor the Government have seen those consequences, which is one reason why taking two parallel and contradictory approaches is so dangerous to the Government in the context of international terrorism versus Northern Ireland terrorism.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I have to say that, on the same day as the First Reading of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, the Government were asking the House to support a measure that sought to extend the period of detention to 90 days—a clear example of the double standards operated by the Government. One cannot adopt double standards in dealing with terrorism—[Interruption.]
I assure the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire that, despite all his efforts to lead me astray on this issue, I am not following.
To conclude, it is important that the legislation remains on the statute book for as long as it is necessary to afford the people of Northern Ireland the protection that they need from terrorism and the threat of terrorism.
It is always a privilege to follow Mr. Donaldson, who speaks with a huge amount of passion, experience and conviction. I also want to say to Lembit Öpik that the words that we expressed on his tragic family loss were genuine, and it is touching that he thanked us for them. There has been a considerable amount of Northern Ireland business over recent days and it struck us that it was courageous of him to make his contributions.
I heard what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said about the Minister, and I would also like to thank the Minister for his contribution to the debate. Sometimes junior Northern Ireland Ministers are young high flyers on their way up and at other times it can be a dumping ground for Ministers who are going nowhere. This Minister has demonstrated that he is almost certainly in the former category because he has shown a great deal of interest in the Bill and demonstrated his expertise in guiding it forward. I have not always seen eye to eye with him and we have crossed swords a few times on general issues, but I believe that we can put our differences behind us. As the Opposition, we want to work with the Government to find positive ways of helping the people of Northern Ireland.
I regret the fact that the legislation is necessary, but necessary it most certainly is. If we reflect on the activities of Sinn Fein-IRA and of other mainstream terrorist and paramilitary organisations, there is obviously historic significance in what has been achieved. As the hon. Member for Lagan Valley pointed out, there has been a move towards normalisation, but I remain concerned that the infrastructure of those organisations is still in place. They have also been involved in various activities involving criminal gangs, racketeering, protection rackets, fraud, smuggling—cross-border smuggling, in particular—drugs and so forth. We all know that many of the terrorist bosses who indulged in the most repugnant forms of terrorism and killing have now taken to making serious money through those rackets. Some of them are very rich and are building an enviable lifestyle on the back of such racketeering.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point.
When I was involved in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at the start of the last Parliament, I had the opportunity and privilege of visiting the Province on several occasions. We were also able to look at the cross-border observation towers, the argument in favour of which was security and the prevention of terrorist activities. Of course, they fulfilled another role—the prevention of cross-border smuggling, a hugely profitable business on which the Select Committee produced a report. [Interruption.] I note that the Clerk is suggesting, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I might be going a tiny bit off piste; I shall endeavour to stick to the subject. However, the context of this Bill is the prevention of terrorism, so how these terrorists are financed is, in my judgment, of paramount importance.
What about the other terrorist organisations that were mentioned a moment ago, such as the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and fringe organisations on the loyalist side? They have given no indication whatsoever that they want to end their terrorist activities. There are still a number of very dangerous organisations in the Province and they could strike at any time. I shall deal with the expiry argument in a moment, but I want to point out that I am worried about withdrawing our forces from Northern Ireland and scaling down the military presence there. To do so is understandable at a time when the British Army is so stretched, but surely now is not the time to disband the two Territorial battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment; that is absolutely crazy.
The normalisation argument, about which the hon. Member for Lagan Valley made some very good points, is an important one, but a price has been paid and concessions have been made. I find utterly repugnant the concession made in the form of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. At a time when the Government are saying that we need legislation to put in place the framework for combating terrorism, they are also introducing a unique Bill that gives terrorists an extraordinary set of amnesties.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here for a while, so he will have heard the previous ruling by Madam Deputy Speaker. The Bill is narrowly drawn—I shall not read out its title, but it is brief and very tightly drawn—and I ask the hon. Gentleman to stick to the content of it.
Order. I understand the feelings and emotions involved in such debates, but I am afraid that there can be no "buts". This is a Third Reading debate and we will stick to it.
I obviously accept that rap across the knuckles, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall now move on to the question of expiry, which is an integral part of our discussion.
We supported the amendment tabled by the Democratic Unionist party for a very simple reason. The Government were being over-optimistic and over-ambitious and the deadline in that amendment was much more realistic. Given that this legislation is before us now, it surely makes a great deal of sense to use this opportunity to provide extra security into the future.If former on-the-run terrorists are to return to Northern Ireland, they will be coming back at exactly the time when this legislation could well expire. That is very worrying indeed. The Government tell us that they have a fully joined-up approach to dealing with terrorism, but they are introducing this Bill, which says one thing, and another Bill that says something completely different hot on the heels of this one. That is why we supported the DUP amendment, and we hope that the Government will think again, particularly when this Bill goes to another place.
The Diplock courts are an important part of the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland. Many of us have reservations about such courts and we have had a good debate about them, although what was said by Liberal Democrat Members did not make any sense. The Minister said that he would need compelling evidence about whether the system was working and could be improved—but, if it cannot be improved, he should stick with the status quo.
The hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Solihull (Lorely Burt) proposed a system in new clause 1 that would involve three judges rather than one. However, I believe that pressure would be brought to bear to ensure that two of the judges came from the different parts of the community, with the result that the third would have to try and hold the ring. Although the Northern Ireland judiciary is supremely professional, that would put the judges in a very tricky position, and that is why we were right to vote against the new clause.
If that is logical, why does the hon. Gentleman not believe that the single judge in a trial would be put under similar, if not greater, pressure?
In some ways, that is a fair point, but I do not want to get into a long debate about it as I see that the Clerk is again casting a few glances in your direction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to be told off for a third time—if I got another yellow card, I fear you would ask me to shut up once and for all.
This Bill is about the victims of violence, and its potential victims. We must think about their plight, and about how so many families in the Province and on the mainland have been destroyed by terrorism. However, there is an extraordinary contradiction in the Government's approach. They say that they need this Bill and we support them wholeheartedly, even though we feel that the expiry period is too short, yet they have also introduced the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which makes concessions that many people across the UK find extraordinary.
The Government admit that we are some way from normality, but the debate has exposed the lack of joined-up thinking on their part. Their approach to combating terrorism in the UK lacks consistency. This Bill applies to Northern Ireland, but other measures are proposed for the mainland that are draconian in the extreme and that will impinge heavily on civil liberties.
Mr. Field has compared the differing approaches being adopted in Northern Ireland and on the mainland in a very succinct and eloquent way. There is hope in the Province that life is returning to some form of normality, but the terrorist organisations have a great deal of financial muscle as a result of the proceeds of illegal activity. For example, the proceeds from last year's bank raid have never been accounted for, but that money is ready to pay for more arms if need be.
My hope for the future is coloured by my fear of those organisations' financial muscle. My hope is also coloured by my fear and my knowledge that there are organisations out there that are not part of this so-called peace process. My hope is also tinged with revulsion, dismay and disappointment at the Government's double standards and lack of consistency in their approach to terrorism, in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.
I wish that the Bill was not necessary, but it is and we must ensure that it is passed tonight. I would also like to see the changes that I have mentioned, if at all possible.
I wish to continue where my hon. Friend Mr. Donaldson left off. In looking at the double standards in the Bill, I will try not to wander from the path, as he did, or be led astray by Lembit Öpik. I shall resist interventions from the hon. Gentleman, because I am so easily led astray.
The Bill illustrates the schizophrenic approach of the Government to terrorism. The Minister called the Liberal Democrats the pick and mix party, but what we have seen in the past couple of weeks from the Government—and this Bill is part of it—is a pick and mix policy on terrorism. One week, it is jelly babies, the next week it is fudge, and then we get cloven-tongued rock. Last week, the jelly babies were handed out, with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. This Bill is a fudge in its approach to terrorism, and yesterday the Prime Minister offered some rock to the victims of Omagh by saying, "We will never give an amnesty to the people who carried out the Omagh bombing." We have heard similar hard words before about Provisional IRA terrorists, but unfortunately those promises have not been kept.
The Government's approach has had an effect on Northern Ireland, because it has sent out the wrong signals to the terrorists and led to continuing terrorism in Northern Ireland. Terrorists need hope, and I believe that the Bill gives them that hope. On several occasions, the Minister mentioned the normalisation process. In the next breath, he spoke of the continuing threat of terrorism. We cannot have normalisation if we have a continuing threat. That is what the Bill is all about. In a couple of years' time, we are supposed to ease the regulations and restrictions, and change the way in which we deal with terrorism.
As a member of Belfast city council, I saw the effect of such an approach on terrorist representatives. I remember a Conservative Minister coming to address the council and being told by one of the Sinn Fein members, "You'll go home in a box, like soldiers have gone home in boxes." Of course, the Minister asked for the meeting to be stopped and the member to be put out, but his parting words were, "You'll talk to us someday." It is ambivalence that gives hope to terrorists and that is what this Bill will do. It gives terrorists hope that they will be listened to. It gives them hope that they will be able to escape justice.
The prospect that in a couple of years time Diplock courts may go and we may revert to jury trials also gives hope to terrorists who escape justice by intimidating witnesses. Their hope is that at some time in the future they will also be able to intimidate jurors. Rather than dealing with terrorism and leading towards normalisation, as the Minister hopes, the measure will ensure that Northern Ireland is condemned to more years of terrorism and continues to need such legislation because of the continued terrorist threat.
As other DUP Members have said, we do not want to wallow in self-pity about how bad Northern Ireland is. The accusation sometimes thrown at Unionists is that we do not want things to change. I want things to change. I want a vibrant economy in Northern Ireland. Unlike the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I believe that Northern Ireland can stand on its own two feet and that it is viable. I want to be able to give that positive message to investors from Northern Ireland or outside, but when there is a continuing terrorist threat we cannot be sure that the necessary stability will prevail. If the picture for Northern Ireland is to be positive, an unrelenting message must be sent to terrorists: we will introduce legislation that will ensure that they are crushed and dealt with and that does not offer the hope that the Bill gives them.
As a member of the Policing Board, I know of the continued terrorist threat. We receive reports from the Chief Constable every month. Some Members have mentioned the changing nature of terrorism. We may no longer experience headline terrorist incidents—the massive bombs in shopping centres or the shooting of policemen and Army personnel—but there is constant low-level violence. It may not make the second or even third page of the newspaper, yet it corrupts, contaminates and destroys society: the inter-faith violence organised by terrorist groups, the criminality perpetrated by terrorist groups, the intimidation of witnesses carried out by terrorist groups and the control of local areas by terrorist groups are ongoing. That is why we continue to need legislation.
Those charged by the Government with monitoring terrorism have indicated that they see violence continuing in the long term, yet the Bill offers the prospect of normalisation within a short period. It will be music to terrorist ears that there is a weakening and a willingness to take a route that enables them to achieve their aims and escape justice.
The amendments proposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell are essential, not because I want special legislation to have to apply to Northern Ireland for a long time, but because I believe it is necessary. The terms of the Bill are a mistake. They will give hope to those who continue to engage in terrorist acts. In a year or two, this measure, along with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill and others that have been mentioned—I promised that I would not wander—which have been introduced as an incentive and a reward to terrorists, will not have achieved normalisation. The pick and mix, jelly baby approach that the Bill and other legislation represent will unfortunately condemn Northern Ireland to a longer period of terrorism rather than bringing normalisation.
I intend to touch on only one key aspect of the Bill. First, however, I say that I hope that the Minister is right and that the Government's judgment is right. It is in the interest of all hon. Members, especially those on these Benches, that Northern Ireland sees normality and that we reach that stage by August 2007. I am sure that Social Democratic and Labour Members, one of whom has been with us for part of the debate, would agree with me. If Lady Hermon had been in the Chamber for any of this important terrorism debate, I am sure that she would have agreed with me, too. When she comes back—at some stage—perhaps she will confirm that.
I have heard several accolades directed towards the Minister, all of which were worthy, I am sure. However, I honestly believe that the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland could do a better job than him. They are the people who should be dealing with Northern Ireland issues, not because they are wiser, more erudite or more sagacious than the Minister, but simply because they have a knowledge that he can never have as he is not part of that community. I thus hope that his judgment is right.
I can do nothing but agree with the Government about extending the special provisions. It would be rash if they did not maintain the powers in the Terrorism Act 2000, so it is right for them to do so. However, I was unconvinced by the Minister's attempt to indicate the rationale behind choosing the date of August 2007. He was unable to tell the House what was in the words, behaviour or record of the organisations that I have listed—both republican and loyalist—that gave him hope that in a few years we might be on the road towards, if not at, normality.
My hon. Friend Sammy Wilson made a valuable speech because he is well placed to know the circumstances of the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. As he indicated, he is a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. He regularly receives briefings from the person who is best placed of all to know what the terrorist threat is. The existing threat in the community is clear to not only people at that level, but those of us on the ground.
On top of that, my hon. Friend rightly pointed out that the Government set up an independent body to assess the extent of the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland. They charged that body with the responsibility of assessing the behaviour of every paramilitary organisation in Northern Ireland. I have read the last report of the Independent Monitoring Commission. Nothing in the report indicates that the IMC expects that by 2007 we will have reached the stage that the Minister judges we will reach.
As a constituency Member who is aware of what happens on the ground in his constituency, I have to say that the paramilitary organisations are still maintaining territorial control in their areas—that is a fact. There is no indication that they will release that control; indeed, there is every indication that the Government are even assisting them to maintain it. They may have attempted to change their authority in the community but, whatever their guise, as paramilitary organisations they maintain control, whether through the Government proposals on community restorative justice or through proposals on community associations. They intend to keep stretching their tentacles into the community. Nothing in the behaviour of those organisations leads me to share the Minister's hope.
I have seen the problems created at interfaces when paramilitary organisations are in control. Nothing in their criminal activities suggests that they are about to give up paramilitary control, not only of the area but of the community as a whole. If all the signs on the ground and the views expressed to the Policing Board by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland are mistaken, and if the IMC, which has the same sources as the Minister in the intelligence services and in the police, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has got it wrong, I hope that the Minister will tell us and show us additional evidence to demonstrate that the date that has been picked is a proper one. I do not believe that it is, but let us look at the consequences.
The Minister suggested that there is no need to worry—if the Government have got it wrong they will not leave the people of Northern Ireland undefended. They will introduce legislation and take whatever steps are necessary to provide security. I do not doubt that the Minister and the Government would do so in those circumstances. However, their action could have unintended consequences. The Minister is sending out a message at a time when it is dangerous to do so. Paramilitary organisations, particularly the Provisional IRA, have always attempted to test the Government to see how much they can get away with before the Government take a stand against them. They are testing the Government at present. My colleagues and I require an end to paramilitary and criminal activity—that is an essential component in progress towards the devolution of powers in Northern Ireland. Those paramilitary organisations want to test what level of criminal and paramilitary activity the Government expect, but if there is anything other than zero tolerance the Minister will let the community down badly. The Bill gives paramilitary organisations the message that what they are doing is all right. It says, "We are content with it, and we are even establishing legislation in the expectation that you will maintain this situation in Northern Ireland."
It is not all right, but the criminality of paramilitary organisations continues every day in Northern Ireland. It does so not just at the lesser level, such as threatening the local grocery store if the owner does not make his weekly donation, but in the structured efforts of the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary organisations to exert their authority on any building proposals in their area. It is evident, too, in drug dealing and the sale of counterfeit goods in their area. All those things are still going on in those communities, but the Minister has introduced legislation that suggests that the Government are comfortable and happy about the way things are going. They are so happy, in fact, that they are content to include a stop date of 2007 because things are going in the right direction.
That is the wrong message for the Government to send out. They should hold out until they have complete cessation of all paramilitary and criminal activity. That comes back to the issue that my colleagues and I have fought since 1998. We believe that the Ulster Unionist party was wrong to accept the IRA's bona fides, and should have held out to achieve a complete end to all its activities. The Ulster Unionists let the IRA in and hoped that they would toe the line. Those are the same tactics as the Government are using now—"bring them along with you". Our view is that the Government should hold out until the IRA has met the standard. That is the only criterion that those people will understand. I hope the Minister will recognise that he needs to send out a clear message that no level of violence or criminality will be acceptable, and if any level of it exists, the legislation will be continued.
I join in thanking the Minister for the way in which the debate has been conducted, even if at times during consideration of the amendments we have been at odds. I also pay tribute to all the other Members who took part in debate. It was highly productive and constructive that two of the three Northern Ireland parties were present for and took part in the debate. For that we should all be grateful.
The need for the legislation is undoubtedly considerable. I could liken the legislative process to the position of house owners or tenants. If we felt that we were under threat or there was evidence of threat to our property, we would put up defensive mechanisms. We might not like to put up fencing or take other protective measures to ensure that our properties were secure, but we would know that those measures were essential. The Bill may be viewed in a similar light. None of us looks forward to renewing the legislation, but we know that it is essential.
We welcome the Minister's assurance that pre-legislative scrutiny on the Diplock courts will be granted to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, but, as several hon. Members have pointed out, it is unfortunate that the Secretary of State has not said that there should be pre-legislative scrutiny of the even more important Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. Similarly, the Minister made an impassioned plea for the retention of section 108.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that even if there is pre-legislative scrutiny, there is no guarantee that the Government will take the outcome on board? I cite the fact that we have been told in Wales that the four police forces are to be merged into one, but that there will be consultation. To date, we have been given no indication whatever that the Government intend to take the consultation as useful feedback and alter their plans. One thing the Minister could do is give us an assurance that the pre-legislative scrutiny will be taken seriously by the Government and has some chance of altering the legislation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Yes, when the Government indicate that pre-legislative scrutiny should take place on that or other issues in order to test the waters and find out whether there is a consensus, having established that a consensus exists, they disregard it. We remain to be convinced on the matter of Diplock. We will see then whether there is a consensus and what the Government do in response to that.
I draw attention to the apparent double standard. I listened to the Minister trying to explain his version of the absence of double standards with regard to section 108, and his impassioned defence of its retention on the ground of caution. He said that the Government were wary and did not want to be perceived as anything other than strong against terrorism. Their attitude to our amendment was, on the ground of caution and to be strong against terrorism, that the life of the legislation should be extended for a further four years. I am afraid that the Minister failed in any respect to square that circle.
There is an undoubted need for this Bill, despite its faults and with the caveats that we have pencilled in on numerous occasions. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was in Northern Ireland on Monday and Tuesday, and its members from all parties were able to see the continuing need for this legislation. Only yesterday, the Committee went to an interface and I was able to point out to some members the tangible, brutal realities of continuing attacks on properties. They are not simply a product of 1973, 1983 or even 2003, but they are the tangible reality of 2005, and, unfortunately, may well be the tangible reality in 2007, when the Minister seems to believe or hope, as we would all hope, that we will have reached the point where this legislation will not be required.
I wish to conclude on the issue of the level of expectation. Unfortunately, I get the distinct impression from the Minister that while he hopes that there will not be the need for this legislation to be renewed 18 months hence, that may be the case. All of us, without exception, hope that it will not need to be renewed. I would hope that we would not need this legislation tomorrow. But the issue in Northern Ireland is where we are likely to be in the foreseeable future. If the Government and the Minister believe that in 18 months the legislation will not need to be renewed, and at that point it has to be renewed, I and my hon. Friends would contend that that would do more to deflate people and to indicate that there is yet more negativity in store for them than if the legislation were renewed and was found subsequently not to be needed because the expected and hoped-for normality had emerged.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell, and I join him and others in thanking the Minister for his contribution to this debate and other hon. Members for the way in which the debate has proceeded. It has been very useful in drawing out some important issues.
I want briefly to put on record that we should be grateful that we are not faced with the prospect of debating the immediate end of the emergency provisions in part 7 of the Bill. Certainly the Government's approach on other issues has been one of reckless disregard for caution and the facts on the ground, and they have proceeded prematurely to take a number of decisions on normalisation, disbandment of the RIR and other issues that I will not pursue in this debate, whereas on this Bill they have taken the view that it should continue in place for at least 18 months, with the possibility of renewal thereafter for a year. Nevertheless, we still believe that the Government should reconsider that. I have not heard any really convincing argument today or previously that would have prevented the Government from allowing the legislation to remain in place, or even taking on board the Opposition's proposal for annual renewal of the legislation, rather than arbitrarily putting in place a fixed deadline, which means that the legislation comes to an end at a fixed date without any real evidence that by that stage any of the paramilitary organisations that have been referred to in the debate will have gone out of business. Earlier in the debate, the Minister said that the paramilitary and terrorist situation had improved greatly in terms of bombings, killings and shootings in Northern Ireland, for which we are, of course, grateful.
The Minister needs to be reminded of the most recent IMC report: the seventh report, which was issued on
The most recent IMC report, which was published in October, formed the basis for much optimism on the part of the Government. However, it serves to remind us of the continuing threat posed by all those organisations, not least the Provisional IRA. Given the nature of those organisations and their continuing activities, in our view it is premature to include an end date of
My hon. Friends the Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) have referred to the continuing violence, agitation and disturbances at the interfaces in Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere. Those of us who represent constituencies that contain interfaces—my constituency probably contains more of them than any other in the Province—are only too well aware of the role played by people in the provisional republican movement and other paramilitaries in continuing to keep tensions extremely high, in exacerbating violence, in stirring sectarian fears and in exploiting and manipulating situations on the ground.
Many people on this side of the Irish sea may regard those activities as trivial by comparison with the violence over the past three decades in Northern Ireland. However, the people who live in communities that contain interfaces—in my constituency, Tigers Bay, Glenbryn, the White City, Twaddell avenue and other areas that I could mention—are suffering continually because of the ongoing violence, threats and attacks against them. Yes, such attacks are not one-sided, but their weight is directed against the Protestant and Unionist community. One has only to visit those areas to see vacant houses and dereliction because Protestant and Unionist families have been forced out as a result of the activities of republicans and paramilitary organisations from that side. We therefore believe that the legislation should be extended beyond the deadline that the Minister suggests.
The other reason for doing so is that these organisations are deeply involved in criminality, as well as terrorist activities at a number of levels. I will not rehearse all the various examples of that criminality, but one need only look at the report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee which cited the involvement of paramilitaries in drug dealing, fuel laundering and so on. The extent of that involvement in criminality means that it will not be got rid of quickly or easily. It beggars belief that anyone could think that it will all have disappeared in 18 months' time. It will not, and that is very clear even from the standpoint of today.
We have seen the strenuous efforts that have gone into tracking down those involved in the Northern bank robbery that took place last December. The IRA was clearly involved—that is the settled view of the Chief Constable and authorities on both sides of the border. Imagine what would happen if, after the legislation has left the statute book, the police are able to gather evidence and bring people to court to face charges. Is the Minister seriously telling us that a trial in the case of the Northern bank robbery, for instance, could be run before a judge and jury in the normal way without any fear of intimidation or harassment of jurors? That does not square with the facts. The McCartney family are currently the subjects of intimidation, with witnesses being threatened and the family having to move out of Short Strand because of intimidation and threats. Last week, a friend of the family said that they had been threatened by the Provisional IRA. At some point in the future, charges may be brought against individuals for their involvement in that crime or for covering it up. Is the Minister seriously telling us if that happens after July 2007 such a case could be run in a normal court with a judge and jury? Intimidation is already taking place and threats are being issued. The Minister suggests that that would not happen in the context of a jury trial, but of course it would. That is why we find it hard to understand why he and the Government are so set on a cut-off date that has no basis in logic or fact and is wildly optimistic.
The Minister tells us that we should be reassured by the fact that if we reach that point in time and it is felt that the legislation is still necessary, the Government would have no hesitation in coming to the House to propose that it should continue. He would presumably base that on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, primarily, and on other security advice. Having listened to what the Minister said about that, I am not reassured by one iota. Our belief in the Government's willingness to take on board the Chief Constable's security advice was gravely undermined over the summer by the atrocious behaviour of the Secretary of State, who was prepared to re-imprison one Sean Kelly on the basis of the Chief Constable's recommendation that he was involved in terrorism and acts of violence, and yet released him six weeks later, against the Chief Constable's explicit advice, because Sinn Fein was demanding it as the price of its statement the very next day.
What confidence does it give the people whom I represent and the people of Northern Ireland generally if the Under-Secretary claims that he will take police advice and listen to the Chief Constable, when evidence from the summer shows a clear decision by the Government to reject the Chief Constable's advice when it came to a choice between protecting the people in my constituency and appeasing Sinn Fein? For those hon. Members who do not know, Sean Kelly is a mass murderer—a child killer who murdered nine people on the Shankill road in 1992.
Apart from the atrocious Bill to allow an amnesty for IRA terrorists, one reason for the grave lack of confidence in the Unionist community is the feeling that everything is done to make concessions to the Sinn Fein-IRA movement and that normal processes are put to one side. That is clearly shown by the case of Sean Kelly and one of the reasons why we can take no assurance from the Under-Secretary's comments today.
I conclude by reinforcing the point that has already been made about the contradictions in the Government's approach. Lembit Öpik spoke about the difference between the approach to terrorism in Northern Ireland and that to terrorism internationally. Whatever the merits of that argument, there has been a different approach to different terrorists even within Northern Ireland. Some terrorist organisations and groups are regarded as the good terrorists and others are regarded as the bad terrorists. Ministers hailed and praised those who signed up to the Belfast agreement as unsung heroes of the peace process, only for them to be rearrested and flung back into jail a couple of month later for being up to their necks in violence and all sorts of terrorist activities. The Government have applied a clear double standard to terrorism even within Northern Ireland.
However, as several hon. Members have pointed out, the most glaring contradiction in the Government's approach is shown by their caution towards the Bill and insistence on retaining the provisions for 18 months because they are not convinced that the time is right to remove them, and their introduction last week of the most appalling Bill that has been presented to the House in recent years. The latter measure will give an amnesty to IRA terrorists and others. The Government also want to reinstate allowances and money for Sinn Fein-IRA and other groups.
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is conscious that he is straying a little. I think that he said that he was about to conclude his remarks.
The point has been made and the Under-Secretary will note what I have said. In his response, I hope that he will take on board my point about the Chief Constable and the fact that people are not convinced by the Government's claim that they will follow what he says on the matter.
I join my hon. Friends and other hon. Members in commending the Minister for the gracious manner in which he has treated the debate. Although we do not agree with his summary of the facts, we have exchanged our opinions. We trust that, even yet, we may get further helpful statements from him in the closing moments of the debate.
The debate was helpful because something remarkable occurred. In the middle of it, Lembit Öpik confessed to having sought to lead my hon. Friend Mr. Donaldson astray. The hon. Gentleman stood up and acknowledged what he had done. For years in Northern Ireland, we have been trying to get those who have committed vile atrocities and done wrong to the people of Northern Ireland to admit to what they have done. We have been trying to get them to confess their actions, repent of their deeds and crimes and take responsibility for them. But of course, that is the very opposite of what the Government are demanding of people.
We have seen this happening over the years. For years, members of Sinn Fein-IRA have been responsible for some of the most vile deeds against humanity, yet they will not acknowledge those deeds; they will not confess or repent, or take the democratic path in the fullest possible sense.
While I certainly took full responsibility for attempting to lead Mr. Donaldson astray, I did not say that I was sorry for trying.
The first stage of repentance is acknowledgement. It is a step in the right direction if someone at least admits that they have done wrong. We can then lead them further down that road.
The Bill is an acknowledgement that there is a terrorist problem: it is called the Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill. We are acknowledging the fact that there is still terrorism in Northern Ireland. Many hon. Members have recognised the wisdom of exercising caution, prudence and due care when considering the situation in Northern Ireland, but there is confusion in the Government's position. They try to emphasise the normality—which, of course, they say originated in the Belfast agreement—and the fact that we have moved forward.
The Minister tried to illustrate that normality by noting the vast difference between the 1972 statistics and those of today. Those of us who lived through 1972, 1973 and beyond know that there is a difference, but I would say to the Minister that, when we consider the impact of a terrorist act on any family, even one incident is an incident too many. We must never acknowledge that there is an "acceptable level of violence", to use a phrase coined by a Member of Parliament many years ago. I do not believe that there is an acceptable level of terrorism in a democracy. We are far from normality in Northern Ireland. I tried to outline earlier just how far from normality we were. We do not have as many shootings now, but there is still intimidation, and terrorist activities take place day after day.
The Minister acknowledged that section 108 would be needed for the foreseeable future and must be kept. He tried to corner the Liberal Democrats on that point, using Omagh as an illustration. I have to say to him that it is very dangerous to use Omagh in that way. I represented that constituency at that time, as the former Member for Mid-Ulster. Omagh was in the old Mid-Ulster constituency. The Minister must remember that Enniskillen was equally as important as Omagh. Teebane and La Mon were equally as tragic as Omagh. So let us not choose one terrorist activity as an example because it happened to be outside the Provisional IRA's activity. Let us remember that all those other deeds were carried out by the Provisional IRA. I remember well how Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had the audacity to come out and condemn the Omagh atrocity, when they and their colleagues were up to their necks in blood from Teebane, La Mon, Enniskillen and many other atrocities over the past 30 years. We must be careful when we try to corner some Members in trying to identify one incident and not looking at the overall picture.
The Minister said that he would give an affirmative to a future Secretary of State having pre-legislative scrutiny in the Northern Ireland Committee over Diplock-type courts. I am not sure whether the Minister has the power to commit any Secretary of State to that. Surely Secretaries of State will make the decision. We know how they can change and how their minds can change. For example, I remember previous Secretaries of State telling us that no stone would be left unturned in following the terrorists who murdered the people of Enniskillen. I can remember them coming to the House and saying that the terrorists would be hounded down until they were found and that there would be no safe haven for them. We were told that they would face the full rigours of the law. Last week, however, the Secretary of State told us how those very same persons would escape justice and the full rigour of the law. The Minister should be extremely careful about what he tries to tie another Secretary of State to. I suggest that he does not have the necessary power. We hope, however, that he is able to do so, but I am not so sure whether that is a reality. It may sound good if he is trying to suggest that he will be the next Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and wants to tie himself to such a commitment.
My hon. Friend speaks with a huge amount of understanding on these issues. Does he agree with me that what he has just said illustrates the complete and total illogicality of saying that one lot of terrorism is somehow all right, but that if it happens after a certain date, it is wicked, evil and terrible as it has killed people and destroyed lives, and therefore we must condemn it? If that terrorism takes place before that date, should other rules apply to it?
Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. There can be no justification for seeing someone now as a good terrorist. There are those who try to put members of Sinn Fein-IRA into that category, as well as other evil terrorists. Terrorism is an evil upon society and must be condemned.
The Minister must be careful in over-emphasising the statement from the Provisional IRA. We have heard and lived with such statements. New dawns have been heralded, and they can be over-played. I acknowledge that there was a major act of decommissioning. However, I do not believe that all of the terrorist weapons of the Provisional IRA have been decommissioned. There are two different situations. No Member of this place could put their hand on their heart and say that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the Provisional IRA's weapons have been decommissioned. The Minister should be careful not to over-play the statement that has been made. We have heard the same statement for years.
Do not expect any member of the Democratic Unionist party to praise any statement emanating from Sinn Fein-IRA because they have stopped murdering people or because they say that they have stopped killing people. They should never have started in the first place. We need to be careful. The Bill is dealing with ongoing terrorism. There is an acknowledgement that it is necessary to continue the legislation until 2008, and the Government will not accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell to extend that period to 2012. The Minister, however, is not accepting the reality. The IRA is still a well oiled paramilitary organisation, which is up to the neck in criminal activity. Let us remember that such criminal activity, whether oil smuggling along the border or bank robberies, involves the use and threat of the gun, and it is still going on. Let us not give the impression that the Provisional IRA has somehow never shown the gun since the day that that statement was made by P. O'Neill, because it is not true. It is far from the truth, and it is not the reality.
The explanatory notes mention the taking down of border posts. Along the border, there are many isolated unionist families who are very concerned and worried that they have been left at the mercy of the Provisional IRA and of those who intimidate them. Let us remember that there was a policy of genocide along the border. In the Castlederg area of the Mid-Ulster constituency, there has certainly been a policy of genocide, whereby the only sons of Protestant farming families have been killed, which has moved the border back in reality because there is no son to carry on such farms. When farms come up for sale, the republicans are able to move into more territory, which was their intention. There is therefore a feeling of constant threat, so we need a continuation of the Bill beyond the date suggested by the Minister.
Criminality is engrained in republicanism. Republicans have been engaging in it for years, and it seems that in some family circles it has been going on for centuries. It is endemic within the republican community, which has not given it up. I assure the Minister that the police will find it very difficult to get republicans to move away from that criminality.
My final appeal to the Minister is to think carefully about a closure date for this legislation. When there is peace, true stability and true reconciliation in Northern Ireland, with no more threat of violence from terrorist groups, we will not need this legislation. We long for that day and we hope that it will be soon, but I believe that the Minister's thinking is premature.
I have listened to many points raised today by my hon. Friends. I think that I can safely say that no one would like to see normality in Northern Ireland more than I would.
Four members of my family were murdered at the hands of terrorism. The first one who was murdered was a police officer—he was shot outside Coalisland barracks, and he was in the Royal hospital in Belfast and South Tyrone hospital for 22 years. My other family member was shot outside Coalisland as he made his way to work one Sunday afternoon. We received a phone call at 4 o'clock on the afternoon of his funeral to tell us that another family member had been shot outside the village of Moy in County Tyrone. Some time after that, I got another phone call to tell me that a family member of 40 years of age, to whom I was very close, had been shot in Irish street in Dungannon. He was seven years out of the security forces. I was in the hospital when he bled to death.
No one would want to see normality more than I would, but I must say to the Minister today that we are a long, long way off that. I could not convince my family members that Sinn Fein-IRA had gone away. We have heard today that Martin McGuinness has said that the structures of the Provisional IRA will not be taken down. What message does that send to the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland in both sections of the community who want to move on? It sends a very, very negative message.
I have received several security briefings recently. I received one only last Friday. Perhaps the Minister will confirm what it said—that there has been a dramatic recruitment drive by the Continuity IRA and, to a lesser extent, the Real IRA throughout Northern Ireland. There has certainly been a dramatic increase in my constituency, targeting those aged between 18 and 20. If the Government are so confident that by 2007 we shall all be linking arms and running around with daisy chains around our necks, singing all the peace songs that were sung in the '60s, I am very confused. If the Provisional IRA and all the sister organisations of the republican movement are going into peace mode, why are they recruiting and why are they still targeting the security forces?
As I have said in the House before, numerous members of the Prison Service, the PSNI and the Royal Irish Regiment have been with me in my office, confirming that they have been and are being targeted by the republican movement and want to be moved from their homes. In view of the confidence boost that the Government have somehow obtained, can the Minister please explain why the republican movement is still recruiting? There have been four attempted bombings in my constituency alone over the past few months.
The Minister may already know the facts that I have revealed about recruitment by the republican movement. Will he please tell us whether what I have said is fact or fiction?
By leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to respond to a number of points during what I think we would all agree has been a powerful debate that deserves a response from the Government.
I thank all Members for their constructive approach in both amendments and speeches. I am grateful to Lembit Öpik for his enthusiastic support for the Secretary of State's offer of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of our proposals for dealing with the Diplock issues. I entirely agree with Mr. Robertson that organised crime is now probably the most significant long-term threat. There are a number of measures to deal with it, many—indeed, most—of which are not in this Bill but in other legislation. There are also the powers vested in other bodies, such as the Assets Recovery Agency.
I thank Mr. Bellingham for his generous remarks. I understand his concerns about the on-the-runs legislation. Although I think that they need a response, I am conscious that were I to respond I should be guilty of preying on your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you have already handed out one or two yellow cards to the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, I have no wish to incur a third. Suffice it to say that I believe that the hon. Gentleman has raised significant points that need to be discussed. There will be an opportunity to debate them, and I will certainly discuss them with the Secretary of State, who may wish to write to reassure the hon. Gentleman on certain issues that he raised this afternoon.
Sammy Wilson took us through a veritable sweet shop of fudge, jelly babies and other things. He nevertheless raised some very important points about normalisation, as did Mr. Donaldson. Normalisation is a goal. We do not believe that we have arrived at normalisation at the moment. It is a goal that will be achieved through an enabling environment and we believe that legislation is part of that environment, but we are introducing the Bill because we have not yet arrived at a state of normalisation. We are still very much in the transitionary period of creating an enabling environment. It is precisely because of the continuing threat—albeit one that is, I believe, significantly lower—that we none the less have to review and renew the legislative provisions. There is evidence to believe that the threat is declining. That is why it is realistic to work towards a deadline of 2007, but the Bill contains provisions to push us on to 2008.
Mr. Robinson rightly said—I agree with him—that those elected in Northern Ireland should be taking the decisions. I think that everyone in the House would agree with him and we look forward to him taking up his position in a power-sharing Executive to take those decisions. Then, he will be able to carry those responsibilities forward. We look forward to that moment, but I think that he would agree that it has not yet arrived. Decisions need to be taken and that is why we are taking them this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East also raised the issue of unintended consequences. We firmly require an end to paramilitary activity and criminality and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said unequivocally that there will be zero tolerance of that. However, the Bill must be viewed as part of a process.
Does that mean that any breach of legal behaviour or any indication of organised crime would constitute a breach of the ceasefire? Surely that is the only way in which zero tolerance can be applied.
Zero tolerance means zero tolerance, but as the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge, if we want to make progress these things have to be looked at in the round.
I will give way in a few moments.
We do not believe that being optimistic, which is based on evidence, is incompatible with being cautious. That is why we are renewing the legislation. We think that we should hold out until the standards are reached—and the standard is based, and will be based, on security advice given to the Secretary of State by his security officials, including the Chief Constable.
I am slightly confused. The Minister says that the Government intend to enforce zero tolerance of criminal behaviour. Then, under pressure, he says that it must be taken account of in the round, which does not sound like zero tolerance to me. The irony is that I can see a case for not enforcing zero tolerance, but once again the Government seem to be saying two different things—they say zero tolerance in the Chamber, but they say nothing of the sort in Northern Ireland.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is confused, but I disagree with him entirely. The Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that there will be zero tolerance of paramilitary activity and criminality, which requires an end to them.
Mr. Campbell was right to recognise that no one is happy about introducing the Bill. There is no happiness in having to introduce any prevention of terrorism legislation because of the obvious reason for having to do so. The hon. Gentleman was also right to recognise that it is nevertheless necessary to do so—and the Government firmly believe that it is.
Mr. Dodds echoed that point. There is no disagreement over whether a threat still exists—we believe that there is still a threat—the disagreement is over our degree of optimism that normalisation can be achieved by 2007. We of course empathise with the threats still experienced by Northern Ireland Members and their constituents. Again, our difference is not in understanding them, but in the degree to which, and the cautious speed with which, we believe it is now possible to make progress on security issues.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for East Antrim took us back to section 108. He is absolutely right to expand the frame of reference beyond Omagh, and I entirely agree with him. He is also absolutely right to underline the fact—as I did earlier—that a single incident of terrorism is one too many, and that there should never be acceptance or tolerance of terrorism, wherever it takes place.
That takes me back to the need for this Bill and its provisions. It is about judgment, just as section 108 is about judgment. Perhaps section 108 will never be used. We know that it was enacted against the tragic background of Omagh, and that those dealing with the cases currently under review may wish to use it, even though those cases are not directly related to Omagh. That was the simple point that I explained to Lorely Burt. At the moment, we are being asked to keep section 108 by those who may use it, and we respect that. However, when this legislation can fall—as I hope it can—because we have achieved normalisation through the enabling environment, it will go. That will be a good moment, if it is the right moment.
I hear what was said about pre-legislative scrutiny, the Secretary of State and the binding of future Secretaries of State, but I remind Members with a little humility that the letter written today by the Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Select Committee was concerned with examining proposals in the coming months of next year. The Secretary of State believes, with reasonable justification, that he will still be in post when that moment comes.
Everybody will have yet again been moved by the speech made by David Simpson. The personal stories that he told are unimaginable for those of us who have not lived personally through those tragedies and that history. Of course, because of his experience all Members should take on board his caution. All will appreciate his desire for normalisation precisely because of those four awful, tragic and appalling stories. It is not appropriate, however, for me to comment on the security and intelligence reports on the Continuity IRA, except to say this—I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues and all Members that the security of the people of Northern Ireland is absolutely first on our list and we will not play fast and loose with it. That is why we are introducing these proposals today. We do so not because we want to, but because we recognise that the threat is still there. For the very foreseeable future, we still feel the need to have this legislation in place.
People in Northern Ireland have made huge progress in the past few years. There is more to make and, regrettably, not enough has been made to dispense with this legislation. However, enough has been made to hope, in passing this Bill today, that it will be possible for us to say by 2007 that we no longer need special provisions to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.