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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert
‘and may by order extend that period for further consecutive periods of twelve months.’.
No. 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out ‘2008’ and insert ‘2012’.
I am delighted that you have dealt a blow to political correctness, Lady Winterton.
As was said during the brief debate on the programme motion, this is a short Bill and therefore you, Lady Winterton, and Committee members will be pleased to know that my remarks will be accordingly brief. I know that, occasionally, those are famous last words and when people begin by saying that, their contribution is anything but brief. However, that is certainly my intention.
The issue relates to the principle of caution. In last week’s debate on Second Reading, the word “caution” was repeated many times. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are of a cautionary nature. A message needs to be sent to the people of Northern Ireland that the legislation will continue not just for the next two or three years, but for a period of time beyond that. We all hope that terrorism comes to an end, does not return and, rather than increasing, diminishes and hopefully disappears. However, we need to ensure that the legislative process is in place to deal with a possible negative outturn.
As was stated in the Chamber, the Government have been prepared to proceed apace when responding to IRA statements and to moves in the peace process. Examples have been given and I do not wish to delay proceedings by repeating them. However, they include the release of Sean Kelly and the removal of watchtowers. All those were precipitative moves by the Government. When considering legislation, we want to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland understand that there will be no such precipitative move in this case. The insertion of “2012” in lieu of “2008” would send out a clear signal that the legislation is intended to be on the statute book for a period not exceeding another seven years and would be there in the eventuality that it was required.
In my opening remarks, I said that the Bill has the support of the official Opposition, as was made clear on Second Reading. We also said that we deeply regret the need for it because we had hoped that paramilitary organisations would cease their activities, which would make the Bill unnecessary. Regrettably, that is not the case and I might go on to detail one or two reasons why in a moment. We regret the need for the Bill, but, nevertheless, we recognise that that need is there.
We desire normality in Northern Ireland. It is one of the many things that people in Northern Ireland want. They want to be treated normally and they want normality in the Province. That has not been the case to date, but it must be the desire of everybody in the Committee and throughout the Province.
Amendment No. 4 is slightly different from our proposal. It would give the Secretary of State the power to continue provisions in the Terrorism Act 2000 until 2012. We sympathise with that, but we propose that the Secretary of State has the power to extend the provisions annually to, for example, 2012 or beyond if deemed necessary. They should be extended annually so that every year we have the chance to consider the situation in Northern Ireland and determine whether it is necessary to extend the period in which the provisions apply.
There can be no doubt that the provisions of the 2000 Act need to be extended. The recent Independent Monitoring Commission report says:
“The involvement of paramilitaries in organised crime goes deep.”
That is a profound statement. It goes on to say:
“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.”
It follows up that statement by saying:
“The criminals are flexible and resilient.”
“Long term” and “resilient” demonstrate why we tabled our amendment and, I am sure, why the hon. Gentleman tabled his. We are not convinced that by 2008 the situation will be normal. The Government could at that point introduce primary legislation to extend the provisions of the 2000 Act, but it could be done better if it were based on our proposal.
We are concerned about the situation in Northern Ireland. There can be no doubt that in certain ways there has been much improvement. We welcome the IRA statement and the statement that followed, suggesting that all IRA arms had been put beyond use. We are worried, however, because we have yet to hear that the proceeds from the Northern bank robbery have been put beyond use. That money is unaccounted for, we do not know where it is and we do not know the purpose of the bank robbery. All we know is that the Government, the Irish Government and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have stated that the IRA was responsible for the robbery. It did not take place long ago, so the proceeds must still exist. Even if the IRA had disposed of all its weaponry, the purchase of more is well within its capability. While that situation exists, we need the provisions before us.
On the so-called loyalist side—I do not like to refer to them as loyalists, but that is the term attached to them—a statutory instrument will tomorrow specify loyalist groups. That can hardly be described as normality. There have been six murders so far this year and 69 shootings and 70 beatings in the period between 1 March and 31 August, and the feud between the Ulster Volunteer Force and Loyalist Volunteer Force continues.
I sat in with the police in Belfast and watched the video tape of the riots just a few weeks ago. I said this on the Floor of the House and I repeat it now: it was shameful to see people who were wearing Orange Order sashes take them off and throw missiles at the police and incite others to do similar. That is wrong, it is an absolute outrage and it cannot be described as normality.
On both sides of the divide, criminality and violence continue. Again the IMC report notes:
“Unreported acts of intimidation are far more numerous than acts of violence, are often traumatic in their impact and are not recorded in statistics.”
As well as recorded violence, there is a background of intimidation. Again, that cannot be described as normality.
Although amendment No. 6 is similar to the amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman, ours is slightly more flexible. I therefore commend it to the Committee.
I welcome you to your position as Chairman of this Committee, Lady Winterton. You may be interested to know that at a debate at the university of Oxford last Thursday on political correctness it was pointed out to me that the term chairman derives not from the “chair” and the male of our species, but from “chair” and the French for hand. Therefore, to be a Chairman is to have one’s hand on the Chair. No greater or more impressive Chair could we have than Lady Winterton—although I seek neither favour nor peerage for having said so.
The Democratic Unionist party amendments would change the date when the provisions of the Bill will fall to 1 August 2012 and therefore extend the period of the orders from the two and a half years proposed to seven and a half years. The Liberal Democrats disagree with that change. We are talking about special provisions for Northern Ireland to deal with a special situation that does not extend to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is right for the Government to keep the situation under review, especially given that we are trying to normalise Northern Ireland rather than entrench the divide between Northern Irish law and that pertaining to the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that we supported the Bill on Second Reading only because the Government seemed intensely aware of the need to time-limit the legislation.
Furthermore, the DUP amendments would enable an annual review by Parliament in the form of a statutory instrument, but such measures cannot be amended. We would not be able to seek to repeal any sections of part 7 of the 2000 Act or modify it in the intervening years. For that reason, we would be minded to oppose the DUP amendments.
Amendment No. 6, tabled by the Conservatives, is similar to the DUP amendment but goes even further by being open-ended. There is no definite date by which the Government would have to come back to Parliament with primary legislation, which makes me uncomfortable. As right hon. and hon. Members know, I am uncomfortable about the extent to which we already use statutory instruments for important legislation on Northern Ireland. I have certainly had the impression that Conservative Members share my concern that substantial pieces of legislation affecting Northern Ireland continue to be an all-or-nothing affair. Therefore, I ask them to think again. Do they really want to add another tranche of statutory instrument Committees to the annual merry-go-round that already occupies so much of our time yet provides us with so little opportunity to amend Government legislation on Northern Ireland? The whole House should have the opportunity to discuss and take decisions on such legislation, not just a few Members on a Standing Committee.
I look forward to what the Minister has to say, but for those reasons we would be minded to oppose the three amendments.
I rise to support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell). The primary motivation for tabling the amendments is the ongoing nature of the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, not just the threat from one particular paramilitary terrorist organisation. We know that, with the statement at the end of July and the further act of decommissioning that we are told took place in September, the threat from the Provisional IRA appears to be diminishing.
In my constituency on Saturday, at the annual festival of racing at the Down Royal race course, we had a clear example of the ongoing threat from terrorism, when the Continuity IRA, one of the so-called dissident republican groups, planted a device, albeit one not capable of exploding, and phoned some warnings through to the race course. As a result, the meeting had to be abandoned. Ten thousand people were there, many of them visitors from the Irish Republic and Great Britain, and significant disruption was caused.
Earlier in the week the national conference of shopping centres at the Waterfront hall in Belfast—a major conference that we had managed to attract to Belfast—was also disrupted by bomb warnings, and the hall had to be evacuated. In the summer the annual oyster festival took place in Hillsborough in my constituency. On that occasion dissident republican groups planted a device, which caused the festival to be abandoned for the day.
Those may not seem like big events or to represent a significant threat in the wider scheme of things, but they disrupt the life of Northern Ireland, they damage our economy and the positive image of Northern Ireland that we are trying to promote, and they are evidence that there remains a threat from terrorism.
Even if, in the recent words of Gerry Adams, the Provisional IRA is of a mind that the war is over—if it ever was a war—and even if the loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, follow the position adopted recently by the Loyalist Volunteer Force and decide to stand down their active service units and also to decommission their weapons, which one hopes they do, the dissident republican groups, mainly the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, have been clear: their campaign continues. They refute absolutely the political agenda pursued by Sinn Fein. They have made it clear that they regard Sinn Fein as, for whatever reason, having betrayed the true republican vision. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein has had to settle for a great deal less than a united Ireland—indeed, even for partition. Therefore, the threat is there. That is why we as a party believe that it is prudent to extend the life of the Bill beyond that envisaged by the Government. For the foreseeable future, and certainly beyond the period stated in the Bill, there remains a threat from terrorism.
Let us not forget that the Omagh bomb, which was the worst atrocity in the terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland, was perpetrated by the Real Ira, one of those dissident groups that is not on ceasefire and continues to be a real threat to stability in Northern Ireland. That is why we believe that the amendments to extend the duration of the legislation to 2012 are prudent. They send out a clear signal, to the dissident groups and to the loyalist paramilitary groups that have not yet made the necessary moves to establish a peaceful society, that the Government will protect the people of Northern Ireland, uphold the rule of law and take whatever special measures are necessary to protect our community. That is why we support the Bill in principle, but believe that its lifespan should be extended to the period proposed by the amendments.
It has been a helpful discussion. It has covered a number of areas and touched on critical issues relating to the enabling environment, security normalisation and the way in which we should proceed constructively and optimistically and whether that is reasonably based.
The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) rightly referred to the appalling incidents at the race course on Saturday and to the interruption of the oyster festival at Hillsborough in the summer. I happened to be the duty Minister on both those weekends, so I was in the Province when those incidents happened. There is no question but that such incidents are hugely disruptive, but the judgment we must make is whether those interruptions justify preventing us from moving forward with the enabling environment to create security normalisation. Our judgment is that, however appalling the actions and however strongly we condemn them—we absolutely and unreservedly do that—we should not interrupt the progress towards the goal of security normalisation, which we would if we acceded to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry. I shall explore some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman when speaking to his two amendments.
The amendments would allow the Secretary of State to make an order continuing part 7 in force for a period ending before 1 August 2012. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the pace of security normalisation and the continuing need for the provisions, and I want to put on record that I share his sense of caution about how we should proceed, but we must make a judgment about how we exercise that caution and the signals that we would send out.
Of course we recognise that we have a duty to protect the safety of everyone in all communities in Northern Ireland, and that leads us to be cautious, but we must distinguish between being cautious and allowing that caution to damage the optimism that I believe genuinely exists and on which we are making progress. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are committed to a programme of security normalisation culminating in the repeal of these provisions, we do not take the enabling environment for granted. Therefore, the Bill contains provisions to extend the life of part 7 for a further year after 2007, and that will be used if the enabling environment is not sustained and security normalisation is not possible within that time frame.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) seeks in his amendment to put the part 7 revisions on a semi-permanent footing by allowing the Secretary of State to extend them for consecutive periods of 12 months without a final end date. We are committed to repealing part 7 as part of the security normalisation programme, which means that there is an end date in sight for the provisions, and that is right. The hon. Gentleman referred to the IMC, which has a vital role in verifying the commitments made in the IRA’s statement on 28 July. The IMC will produce an additional report in January 2006 to enable us to see what progress has been made on the ground.
That is not the only advice that we take. We also take very seriously the advice of the Secretary of State’s chief security adviser, the Chief Constable. Again, it is worth bearing in mind that all the progress that we are making and the legislation before the House is based not only on IMC reports but on other intelligence and security advice, which is led by the Chief Constable. It is in the context of that collective advice that we believe that it is right to put this legislation on the statute book in its present form, while recognising that there are no guarantees. That is why it is right to give ourselves the option of being able to renew the legislation for a further year.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I made clear on Second Reading, if we had to renew the legislation for a further year and if during that time it became apparent that despite our ambition for the enabling environment to achieve security normalisation the security situation in Northern Ireland had not been achieved, we would not play fast and loose with the security of people in Northern Ireland.
However, we believe that substantial progress has been made and, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, we should operate in a climate of optimism. If we give way to the activities of dissident republicans and their appalling behaviour at the race course on Saturday, if we let them win the day and if we withdraw the proposals and give way to the amendments, we would cede the ground to those people. We cannot do that. There is undoubtedly still a problem with activity by dissident so-called loyalists and republicans in Northern Ireland, but if we measure the activity and the crime—crime is the right word—of those individuals in comparison with that committed just a few years ago, we see that the activities are different and the scale far diminished.
It is probably relevant to remind all members of the Committee of Whiterock. I was there and I saw the appalling violence that took place, but again we must put it in context: it was nothing like as bad as historically it has been. That does not mean that we should condone the actions of those involved at Whiterock, but we should put it on the record that the activities that took place that evening were carried out by dissident individuals.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury referred to the way in which the loyalists’ reputation has been traduced by being called into question over Whiterock. I think that those criminals should be called “so-called loyalists”. They do not remotely pertain to the decent behaviour of upstanding members of the Orange Order, many of whom I met yesterday again to discuss the events of Whiterock in looking forward to next year’s parade season. We must distinguish between the activities of a few individuals on both sides of the community who wish to prevent us from making progress in Northern Ireland and the will of the overall majority of the people of Northern Ireland to live in a secure environment. I believe that the measures in the Bill allow that, allow the enabling environment and allow us to move towards security normalisation, but let us take nothing for granted.
I said that we wanted normalisation, but the fact that the Bill has been introduced suggests that the situation is not normal. The Minister says that we cannot allow certain dissident groups to get in the way of progress, but the introduction of the Bill means that, regrettably, that is what we are doing.
I know that the Minister is not depending simply on the IMC report, but, given the quote I gave, which made it clear that intimidation is strong, does he think that in the near future we will be able to appoint juries that will not be intimidated? That is not the only aspect of part 7, but it is probably the main part of it.
I do not wish to indulge the Committee too much by discussing Diplock courts, which I think is what the hon. Gentleman is referring to when he talks about jury intimidation—we shall probably have time for an adequate debate on that later—but of course we recognise the problems of intimidation. That is why, in the next few days, we will have the opportunity to debate our proposals for what should succeed the legislation that allows Diplock trials to take place.
However, the actions of a few should not prevent progress for the many in Northern Ireland. In the spirit of bipartisan co-operation, we have worked collectively as political parties to make huge progress in the past few years. It is essential that we keep the drive for that progress on fast track. It is legitimately on fast track, but that is not to say that we should be irresponsible. For that reason, in renewing the legislation, for which, regrettably, we still need special provision in Northern Ireland, and in having a sunset period, we have struck the right balance. Equally, we recognise that we may not get to the desired position in time. Our optimism may, sadly, not be well placed, in which case we can renew the provisions for a further year.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on Second Reading, the people of Northern Ireland must recognise that we have the optimism to make progress on that enabling environment and on security normalisation. However, if at the end of the period we have not achieved that normalisation, and if the intimidation that the hon. Gentleman worries about is still prevalent, we shall put in place measures to protect the people of Northern Ireland.
The Minister referred several times to an enabling environment. He seems to be implying that the amendments may in some way negate the processing of that enabling environment. Will he outline the representations he has received from Northern Ireland against the Bill’s provisions and, therefore, against the enabling environment? Have any political representations been made about the renewal of the provisions?
We have had representations on a number of issues relating to the Bill. I should like to clarify that I am not remotely suggesting that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to work towards an enabling environment. I am putting on record the fact that, in our judgment, the timing of the measures is appropriate and proportionate as a response to the climate in which we operate and in which we shall operate in 18 months’ time. If that is found to be wanting and we need to extend the provisions of the extraordinary measures for Northern Ireland, the Bill makes provision to do so. The right signal is sent by keeping the proposals and resisting the amendment.
Thank you, Lady Hermon—I mean Lady Winterton. [Laughter.] I was thinking of an absent friend, and a press release I might issue later.
I hear what the Minister says and I understand the desire to create an enabling environment. Sometimes that is born more out of hope than expectation. However, I shall explain where we are coming from.
I hope the Minister accepts that we represent the majority. I do not mean a Unionist majority, but the majority who wish to see a peaceful environment in Northern Ireland. We are not in the mindset of simply having legislation in place for the sake of it. Nevertheless, we believe in the provisions because of the threat that we perceive exists not just now but in the future.
We have carried out assessments of various groups and the prospects of them moving to a peaceful engagement. The Minister will understand that there is no evidence of debate taking place among the two dissident republican groups to indicate that either is moving towards a ceasefire or a cessation of violence. With that in mind, there is a need for a safety net.
The legislation does not hurt anyone in Northern Ireland. It does not get in anyone’s way. It will not lead to a situation in which someone goes down the road and encounters a roadblock. It will not put a watchtower on top of a hill. It will not lead to a heavily protected police base being placed beside a Gaelic Athletic Association pitch. It is just a piece of legislation. It is the law. It is a safety net.
I am not convinced by the Minister’s argument that we have to remove the safety net after a period of time in order to create the enabling environment. Perhaps because my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry and I have been through the worst of the past 35 years in Northern Ireland and have seen false dawns, we have reason for being sceptical. The Minister will appreciate that our motivation is not to extend legislation for the sake of it, but to provide a safety net should it be needed. I accept that in his role as Minister with responsibility for security he will have access to information to which I do not have access.
The safety net is in the provision for a further 12-month extension. In asking hon. Members to resist the amendment, we are also giving the guarantee made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and myself. If we have to ask for the safety net by an affirmative resolution, we would be signalling to the House that we were not making the progress that we expected to make. As we have repeatedly said, if, at the end of the period, it is important for people in Northern Ireland to continue to have special security measures, we will not play fast and loose with their lives.
We do not think that we will need the safety net, which is the 12-month extension. If, at the end of that period, special provisions in Northern Ireland are still needed, we have given the guarantee that people in Northern Ireland will have them. We believe that we will not need to make special provisions, and we hope that we shall not have to use the safety net.
The Minister offers some reassurance. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry and I were in the dark about what might happen beyond the 12-month safety-net period, as the Minister describes it. He has stated that the Government will consider the need for further special legislation. Nevertheless, we simply do not know where we will be at that point.
The extension of the legislation to 2012 is still prudent. It sends out a signal to dissident groups in particular that the Government retain the will to take whatever steps are necessary to deal with the threat that emanates from dissidents. In those circumstances, it is necessary to send out that signal.
I want to ask the Minister for clarification on one point. Given that vote, it is clear that he wants the clause to stand part without the Conservative amendment, which would give us the opportunity to review and renew the legislation annually. That seems to be the opposite of what the Government are attempting in other legislation with the 90-day internment, as I would call it, or detention, as the Minister would call it.
That point is relevant because I am trying to work out the logical consistency between what the Government are trying to do in this Bill and what they expect their Back Benchers and the rest of us to do in considering other terrorist legislation. What is the logic behind those two apparently inconsistent positions?
They are different positions. We are dealing here with the continuation of existing legislation and special provisions for Northern Ireland. We are doing so in a specific climate and in a specific framework, with an ambition to achieve security normalisation within a specified time and in an enabling environment in which we have identified the number of markers with which we wish to move forward. We are creating a safety net in case we do not achieve the necessary speed, but our ambition is that by the end of the period we can allow the statute to lapse. It is our hope and belief that we will achieve that aim.
I applaud the Minister for his speedy response under pressure, but he will find that it does not hold water. I agree that the clause should stand part of the Bill, because I thought that the Minister cogently argued against the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury. However, that necessarily contradicts what the Home Secretary is doing with other legislation.
The Minister will recall that in the debate on the amendments—which is relevant to the clause stand part debate—I said that we were talking about special provisions to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland. I understand that the Government seek to introduce special provisions to deal with terrorism across the United Kingdom, but the logic would seem to be that either in both cases one should accept the Conservative proposals—which we should then be debating in the context of the clause stand part—or one should reject them in both circumstances.
I do not need to press the argument further, because I support the clause, but I point out to the Minister the profound inconsistency in how the clause is phrased—and in how the Minister guided his colleagues to vote on the amendment—and in how the Prime Minister is seeking to guide his colleagues to vote on the larger issue of terrorism across the United Kingdom.
I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman the importance of recognising the specific proposals in the Bill. Also, in the Terrorism Bill—I am conscious that I seek for your indulgence in being able to discuss that, Lady Winterton—the Government are looking at a specific UK threat from a kind of terrorism different from that being discussed here. The provisions that we are making here relate to an identified set of threats and how they should be handled. There is a continuity in how we will try to do that, but there is also a belief that within 18 months we will arrive at a point where we can allow these special provisions to lapse.
The other Bill, which the hon. Gentleman referred to, quite rightly applies to Northern Ireland, because it may, regrettably, be subject to the kind of horrific terrorist threats that we saw, tragically, in England in July. That Bill and the discussion about the 90-day period to which the hon. Gentleman alluded relate to Northern Ireland, but to a kind of terrorism different from the specific threats that we have identified and are covering here. Regrettably, we continue to identify those threats, albeit to a lesser extent, therefore justifying the need for the provisions in the coming 18 months.
I do not intend to pursue the conversation across the Floor, but one point needs a response. I support the clause for the very reasons that the Minister and I put forward earlier. Now, in attempting to square a circle, the Minister is beginning to contradict the arguments that he made in opposition to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury. Specifically, the Minister has said in the clause stand part debate, quite clearly, that he believes that there are different kinds of terrorism. I do not want to go too far, because I have made my point, but I utterly reject the Minister’s assertion that Northern Ireland terrorism is somehow good, manageable and understandable, while international terrorism—
I want to put it on the record that there is absolutely no toleration on this side of the Committee for the view that any terrorism is good, tolerable or sane. We absolutely and totally reject that hypothesis. It is absurd.
The Minister is digging a bigger hole for himself. He believes that no terrorism is sane. I do not understand why the Prime Minister sought to negotiate with Sinn Fein and the IRA if it is, as the Minister implied, an insane organisation. That simply does not add up. The matter is substantially important to this debate because the underlying logic of the Government’s approach to terrorism is at the core of the points that the Minister made earlier. I am concerned that he is now contradicting the very arguments that I found persuasive in the debate that got us to the clause as it now stands.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman and the Government about the importance of a peaceful resolution involving dialogue with people who were formerly terrorists. My complaint is that the Minister is asking us to accept that all terrorism is insane.
I think I have made the point clearly enough and I do not want to strain your good will, Lady Winterton. However, I want to highlight the absolute contradiction, which the interventions of the Minister and the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) made even clearer. They expect us to believe that all terrorism is insane. If that is so, the clause should not stand part of the Bill.