Clause 1

Part of Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 16th January 2007.

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Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon UUP, North Down 5:00 pm, 16th January 2007

I am most grateful to the Minister for trying to explain why the clause is constructed as it is. I take the view that there is no such thing as a good terrorist or a bad terrorist. There should not be a distinction between home-grown terrorism in Northern Ireland or on the island of Ireland and vicious, nasty, murderous terrorists, such as al-Qaeda. We have seen what they can do. We saw, not far from here, in London on 7 July the absolute havoc that they can wreak.

Two al-Qaeda suspects have been arrested and charged in Belfast. I am sure that the case is sub judice and so I will not say anything more about it. These organisations are ruthless and have murderous intent. They have no comppassion for their co-religionists or anyone else in the pursuit of their political aims. In my book, when we have a lengthy list of proscribed organisations in the 2000 Act, I do not want the distinction that we have non-jury trials only for those home-grown terrorists. They are not better terrorists. Terrorism is terrorism, as far as I am concerned.

I appreciate the Minister’s efforts, valiant as ever, to explain why the clause has been constructed as it has and why it focuses on home-grown terrorism, but it is just not an argument that I can buy into. I am sure that he did not mean this, but he said that the whole provision is to protect juries. With the greatest respect to him, and he knows that I hold him in the highest esteem, the whole provision is not just about protecting  juries. It goes much wider than that. The Liberal Democrats alluded to this when we did not adopt their amendment, although the Minister is going to consider it. There is a risk that the administration of justice might be impaired. That is wider than the intimidation of juries; it means the intimidation of witnesses.

It is difficult to ask people to come forward and appear in a jury in a small jurisdiction with international press coverage. We have a lot of press coverage in Northern Ireland for a hole host of reasons, sometimes the wrong reasons. We have a lot of media attention. It takes a very courageous man or woman to step in as a witness in the case of an al-Qaeda terrorist who has committed atrocious crimes in Northern Ireland or who has been associated in some other terrorist activity in Northern Ireland which might affect all of the United Kingdom.

We have an opportunity in this Bill. As the hon. Member for Foyle said, we do not want to have to come back to amend it. So let us get it right when we have the chance to do so. Let us not just legislate for the present. Let us take into account what the Prime Minister told us at the end of last week: it will take at least a generation to defeat this kind of international terrorism.