Clause 11 - Suspension and revocation of licence

Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East 2:15 pm, 15th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 33, in clause 11, page 7, line 16, at end insert

‘or if the person who holds a licence later glorifies the offence for which the licence was issued.’.

I shall be brief. I hope that other Committee members will move their amendments just as quickly. They did not follow the precedent I set on the previous occasion.

The amendment relates to whether and in what circumstances a licence should be suspended. It indicates that for the purposes of suspension if a licence holder is responsible for glorifying the act to which the licence applies, the licence should be suspended. That does not seem unreasonable to me, and if anybody thinks that such a thing is unlikely, they do not know the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. They have not seen Michael Stone and Johnny Adair going to the Ulster hall after their release, Keenan after his release, the Colombia three being cheered at Sinn Fein conferences, and how quickly the three accused of being in the Stormont spy ring were trailed before the press.

Let us be clear: such things will happen. Rita O’Hare and others will be brought back from the places where they are hiding at present. They will be trailed in front of the press and justify their actions, just as happened in those previous cases. Is that the message that the Minister wants to go out? He said that one of the purposes of this legislation was to draw a line under the past. Surely the victims should not have to endure not only seeing justice denied, but being tormented by those who have already inflicted suffering on them. The amendment would prevent the glorification—a term with which the Government are familiar—of the offence, and that is an issue about which the Government feel strongly. I hope that they will consider the amendment appropriate, and accept it.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 2:30 pm, 15th December 2005

I am grateful for way in which the hon. Gentleman moved the amendment. I entirely understand the sentiment behind it and share much of it. The prospect of individuals returning triumphantly to Northern Ireland, receiving a hero’s welcome and parading their activities is unattractive, and would certainly prove galling to victims and the community at large.

I understand entirely the sentiments that have driven the hon. Gentleman to table the amendment. There is a place for restricting the glorification of terrorism—indeed, ensuring that we do just that is a key part of the Government’s proposals this Session. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Terrorism Bill that was recently before the House seeks to do exactly what he wants: to prevent the glorification of terrorism.

My difficulty is that, although I share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment, I do not think it appropriate that we should rely on this Bill to curb such glorification specifically in respect of offences in Northern Ireland. There is a place for restricting the glorification of terrorism, but I remain of the view that it is best dealt with by the Home Office anti-terrorist legislation, which applies to Northern Ireland and has recently been considered by the House.

I remind Members of the exact terms of the legislation that has already been considered by the House. It states that

“the statements that are likely to be understood by members of the public as indirectly encouraging the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences include every statement which ... glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences”.

I believe that that meets the obligations that in the amendment.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

The issue is unquestionably the same, but the outcome will not be if the Minister relies on the Terrorism Bill. I spoke on that very clause. Glorification would be a lesser offence. If someone’s licence for a life sentence was suspended, they would be in for life. The Minister is not suggesting that the House will pass legislation that will put somebody in prison for life for the offence of glorification.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I do not wish this Bill to cut across the Home Office legislation, which covers the offence of the glorification of terrorism. That would be confusing. If individuals were to return and glorify in their actions, I would be revolted, as would all decent, honourable Members. However, as I believe that Home Office legislation will cover that, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

I am unconvinced. People will come back, and they will cause offence, and the Minister will again have allowed the victims to be further insulted and pained by not having taken action.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The hon. Gentleman made the point that the Terrorism Bill will not have the same effect as the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, but there is another point to consider if we do not agree to the amendment. The Terrorism Bill will not, in practice, be applied in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

Unquestionably, we will have somebody suggesting that it should not be applied, after consideration in the round. The Government used that term the last time a similar case came to court. Therefore, I am afraid that I am not convinced. If the Minister wants to do something for the victims, he should include that in the Bill. If he does not, he will be putting his finger in the victims’ eye once again.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 19.

Division number 40 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 11 - Suspension and revocation of licence

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 18 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 82, in clause 11, page 7, line 21, leave out ‘appeals commissioners’ and insert ‘Court of Appeal’.

Amendment No. 83, in clause 11, page 7, line 22, leave out ‘commissioners think’ and insert ‘Court thinks’.

Amendment No. 84, in clause 11, page 7, line 23, leave out ‘they’ and insert ‘it’.

Amendment No. 85, in clause 11, page 7, line 24, leave out ‘they’ and insert ‘it’.

Amendment No. 86, in clause 11, page 7, line 25, leave out ‘commissioners’ and insert ‘Court’.

Amendment No. 87, in clause 11, page 7, line 25, leave out ‘their’ and insert ‘its’.

Amendment No. 89, in clause 11, page 7, line 42, leave out subsection (10).

Amendment No. 90, in clause 12, page 8, line 4, leave out ‘appeals commissioners’ and insert ‘Court of Appeal’.

Amendment No. 91, in clause 12, page 8, line 5, leave out ‘appeals commissioners’ and insert ‘Court of Appeal’.

Amendment No. 92, in clause 12, page 8, line 8, leave out ‘appeals commissioners’ and insert ‘Court of Appeal’.

Clause 13 stand part.

Schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

The amendments relate to the debate under clause 8 on trial by the Crown court, rather than a special tribunal. We believe that these cases should be tried in the same way as any other terrorist offences, by the criminal justice system of Northern Ireland as it exists. If the cases were to be heard by the Crown court, there would be a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal, and the amendments reflect that. This is the simplest way to ensure that there would be full judicial procedure and to give assurance that the system itself is as impartial as a legal system should be.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I hope to be as speedy as the hon. Gentleman. The role of the appeals commissioners is different from that of the Court of Appeal, and its functions would not sit comfortably in that court. Whereas the Court of Appeal hears appeals against a conviction or sentence passed by a lower court, the   appeals commissioners will have the task of reviewing the Secretary of State’s suspension of a licence. The appeals commissioners have a different role.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

Will the Minister clarify one small point that crops up from clause 11? He just said that the Secretary of State will be obliged to—must—give notice of the suspension of a licence to a happy recipient of one of these ghastly licences. How much notice will be given to that person? Will it be seven days, so that he can go the nearest airport and fly back to Benidorm? Will the Minister confirm that it will be a licence with notification from the Secretary of State that will allow that person to leave Northern Ireland before any further proceedings are taken?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The notification will be established in the rules under the scheme, when it is published in due course. The decision about the period of notice has not yet been taken by the Secretary of State. This is a matter not for the legislation, but one that we shall consider when we establish the rules for the scheme.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

The Minister just confirmed that the net effect of the Bill will come under clause 6: when a person has a certificate of eligibility, there will be a stop on gathering further information. When individuals are notified by the Secretary of State that their licence has been suspended, that means that they can wave their certificate on their way out of Northern Ireland and out of the jurisdiction once again. Is that correct?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

That is not my understanding, but I am again straying from the original point of the amendment.

To confirm what I said earlier, I say to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire that the commissioner’s principal role will be to review the decision of the Secretary of State to suspend the licence. If, on consideration of the evidence, the commissioners disagree with the Secretary of State’s decision, the licence must be confirmed. If the commissioners decide that the Secretary of State’s decision was correct, the licence will be revoked. That is different procedure from that of the Court of Appeal. I do not agree that the two procedures are comparable. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

I understand the Minister’s comments, but I do not accept them because, if minded to do so, the Government could have used the existing court structure. It also seems that they have twisted in the wind a little on their reasons for introducing such a provision. One the one hand, they have argued against certain changes that the Liberal Democrats proposed for the Northern Ireland judicial processes on the basis of cost while, on the other, they have decided to set up a parallel structure to accommodate on-the-runs legislation.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

Unusually, I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect. Underneath everything else and in the midst of reaching for the preposterous to excuse the outrageous in respect of earlier amendments, the Minister might have a point in   relation to this amendment. [Laughter.] I accept that that is a hard concept to entertain, but surely the reality is that the certification commissioner or the appeals commissioner will be determining not guilt or innocence, but whether the licence has been breached. The role of the Court of Appeal is to deal with questions of guilt or innocence, so we are—

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Order. Interventions should be brief.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Just before the hon. Gentleman intervened, I was about to say that I want to move the Minister to agree with me. To give him the space to do so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

I shall be very brief. Before we leave clause 11, I wish to push the Minister on anything written in black ink on this green paper that concerns a person whose licence is suspended following notification from the Secretary of State.

The Minister said that the Government have not even worked out how much notice will be given of a suspension. What provision can he point to that tells the Committee and the wider public in Northern Ireland that an OTR who has come back and benefited from this huge amnesty cannot, when notified by the Secretary of State of suspension of their licence, walk back out using any local airport, or cross the border into the Republic of Ireland, so that we never see their heels again?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 2:45 pm, 15th December 2005

When a licence is suspended, the individual will be detained in pursuance of his sentence. The matter will then be considered by the appeals commissioners, just as sentence review commissioners do in respect of the early-release scheme under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

I am intrigued by the Minister’s response. He will know that under clause 7 we examined the fact—and it is a fact—that an OTR who benefits from the scheme cannot be arrested or detained once they have a certificate of eligibility. Taking clause 7 together with clause 11, it must follow that once a licence is suspended, clause 7 will prevent detention or arrest of that individual. Is that the case?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I hope that my response answers the hon. Lady’s point; I am trying to understand it as she has raised it. My understanding is that the certificate will lapse on conviction. I repeat that when a licence is suspended, the individual will be detained in pursuance of his sentence. The matter will then be considered by the appeals commissioners, in the same way that similar matters are considered by the sentence review commissioners in respect of the 1998 early-release scheme.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down

I am grateful for that clarification. I still do not wish to support any particular clause in the Bill, so I will therefore vote against this one.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 12.

Division number 41 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 11 - Suspension and revocation of licence

Aye: 15 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Nos: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.