I am afraid that we have got into a situation where people in Northern Ireland have become, to some extent, a prisoner of their own rhetoric. As I understand it, there is opposition to what people imagine is being proposed on the basis that it draws some form of moral equivalence between the forces of law and order and those people who went out, illegally armed, to commit terrorist offences. It does nothing of the sort. The only equivalence that anyone can or should read into such measures is the basic equivalence before the law that applies to everyone.
I have made this point before, and I am afraid that I am going to keep making it until one day more people accept it: already, in the form of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, such equivalence is quite clear. What that Act provides for is that if somebody has been convicted of not just one grave offence but even multiple murders, they might well be given a life sentence, but under that legislation no one will ever serve more than two years of that life sentence in jail. That has sometimes been thought to be something that applied to paramilitaries and terrorists but not to the armed forces, but in repeated debates on this subject it has been established very clearly and unambiguously in ministerial statements from the Front Bench that it applies to everyone. That does not create moral equivalence between the people it applies to; it simply creates the same equivalence before the law that applies to every British citizen, whether virtuous or villainous.