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Royal Ulster Constabulary

6. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): If she will publish the terms of reference for the review of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. [40684]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): The terms of reference for the independent commission on policing are given at annexe A to the Belfast agreement, a copy of which is available in the Library of the House. The independent commission offers a sensible, informed way of examining an extremely important issue.

Mr. Wilkinson: Will the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, give a clear and unequivocal pledge that, during the life of this Administration, no individual who has a record of conviction for any terrorist offence will be admitted to serve in the Royal Ulster Constabulary?

Mr. Ingram: Yes.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): One of the results of the peace process--which I hope will be concluded successfully--will be a very significant reduction in the number of RUC officers. Does the Minister agree that many of those officers have served the Province, at great personal expense, exceedingly well? What action is the Minister and the Northern Ireland Office taking to make proper transitional arrangements ensuring that those officers, as they move out of the RUC, are properly resettled?

Mr. Ingram: That is a complex matter, which is predicated on an assumption with which I do not necessarily agree--that there will be an early downsizing or reduction in the RUC force. Any likely reduction will be phased, and based on an assessment of the threat level at a particular time. Last week, the Prime Minister announced £4.5 million for a rehabilitation and training

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trust, which was the beginning of a package of measures targeted on the RUC to deal with the very issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): The Minister will be aware of the formation last week of a new terrorist organisation, called the Real IRA. Is he aware of the significant defections from the Provisional IRA--including, last week, three senior members of the Provisional IRA, one of whom is an experienced bomb maker? Given that continuing threat of violence--as the people of Northern Ireland continue to need the protection of the Royal Ulster Constabulary against the men of violence--does he agree that it would be foolish to tamper with the RUC in the proposed manner, to inhibit the RUC's anti-terrorism role or to undermine the RUC's morale?

Mr. Ingram: The threat level is still high. There is still a very significant security threat within Northern Ireland, which is recognised not only by all right hon. and hon. Members but, more important, by the people of Northern Ireland, who have to face that threat. Those who daily face the threat--the men and woman who serve in the RUC and put their lives at risk to protect the rule of law--also have to be afforded our protection. I give an absolute assurance and guarantee to the hon. Gentleman that there will be no tampering with the RUC while that threat level remains.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): What are the Government doing to prevent any further erosion of the morale of serving RUC officers? Will the Minister assure the House that, whatever the outcome of the deliberations of the commission, there is no place in the United Kingdom for sectarian community policing or two-tier policing?

Mr. Ingram: I have already answered the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question in my response to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who asked a similar question. We are dealing with morale in the RUC, which is why we are addressing directly the issue of rehabilitation and training and why we have already announced a package of measures in that connection. Of course, we are in close discussion with the Police Federation and the Superintendents Association to consider how a fundamental review, for which the Chief Constable has responsibility, could be implemented at some point in the future. We are in close consultation with representatives of the RUC, and that will continue.

Prisoners (Release)

7. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): If she will make a statement on the conditions contained in the Belfast agreement concerning the release of prisoners convicted of terrorist offences on licence. [40686]

8. Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): If she will make a statement on the Belfast agreement's provisions for the release of prisoners. [40687]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam): I referred in my statement to the House on 20 April on the Belfast agreement to the

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accelerated releases which were part of that overall package. The release of prisoners will be considered on a case-by-case basis by an independent body. It is not a general amnesty. Prisoners will be released on licence and recalled to prison if they support an organisation engaged in terrorism or if they engage in terrorism themselves. Prisoners affiliated to groups that continue to engage in terrorism will not be given early release; nor will those who are considered to be a serious risk to the public. We consider those to be crucial safeguards.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Given that some of these prisoners who might be released on licence still might have a significant proportion of their sentences for serious terrorist offences to serve, does not the Secretary of State think that it is wholly necessary--indeed, that it should be a precondition--that the authorities do everything they possibly can to ensure that these prisoners have genuinely renounced violence and any organisation to which they belong that espouses violence?

Marjorie Mowlam: I have no difficulty agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. Prisoners have to have renounced violence and anything else that is not part of a democratic, constitutional way forward. They will not be released unless that has happened. They will be released on licence and can be recalled--they are the crucial safeguards which show that there is a commitment to a peaceful way forward.

Mr. Hunter: What does the right hon. Lady regard as the moral justification for early release? Surely it undermines the rule of law and amounts to capitulation to the threat of terror. How can lasting peace and political stability emerge from an agreement which in part relies on murderers to act as its ambassadors?

Marjorie Mowlam: I accept that lasting peace is what we are looking for. Equally, I accept that it is a difficult, complex problem. As I said in answer to the previous question, it is part of an overall agreement. I know that the hon. Gentleman understands that more than most. He, too, has been to the Maze and talked to prisoners. He, too, put forward schemes a couple of years ago, saying that we should look at the early release of prisoners who are members of organisations maintaining a credible ceasefire. I hope that he understands that it is not easy. Others have tried: when the previous Government examined this issue, they changed the remission system, and they had 240 prisoners out before we took over government.

In addition, if the present scheme continued, without our introducing any change to the previous Government's scheme, half the prisoners would be out in two years anyway. These schemes were not changed during the Canary Wharf breakdown or during the breakdown of the ceasefire.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Is my right hon. Friend aware that we all appreciate the pain felt by members of both communities at the prospect of the release of prisoners? We also realise the important part that prisoners from both communities play in seeking to achieve peace and in the Belfast agreement. It must be recognised that, painful though it is, it is necessary and

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proper in respect of reaching agreement, and that the terms and conditions set out by my right hon. Friend will properly and effectively achieve equity for all concerned.

Marjorie Mowlam: There is no doubt among hon. Members, many of whom have friends who have suffered at the hands of terrorism in Northern Ireland on both sides of the divide. I spent this morning with the families of victims who had been killed or injured. No one can underplay the pain and suffering of those families. As I said in the House on 20 April, it is not an easy part of the package or of the Good Friday agreement, but, on balance, the political parties of Northern Ireland have signed up to it.

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked--

Irish Referendums

Q1. [40709] Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): When he last met the Taoiseach to discuss matters relating to the referendums being conducted in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): The Taoiseach and I last met on 2 May. Obviously, we speak regularly on the phone. We fully agree that the Good Friday agreement represents new hope and, indeed, the only way forward for the people of Northern Ireland.

Dr. Godman: May I offer my sincere compliments to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) for their remarkably successful visit to Northern Ireland last Wednesday in support of the yes campaign? I am confident that my right hon. Friend will continue to support the courageous stance of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Will he give an assurance that the suffering and pain of all the victims of the troubles will be acknowledged and addressed by the Government? He will know of the moving testimonies that we heard this morning in response to the Bloomfield report. Northern Ireland needs a resounding yes vote next week, but the victims of the suffering need an assurance from the Prime Minister this afternoon, and that is what I seek from my right hon. Friend.

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for all his work over a long period. I am happy to join him in thanking the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) for coming with me to Northern Ireland last week. I also thank the other political parties for their support and help. I warmly welcome Sir Kenneth Bloomfield's report and his 20 recommendations on acknowledging the suffering of victims of violence. We have already made it clear that Government funding of some £5 million is available to take effective action on the report. The victims of violence have suffered enormously. We do not forget their suffering. I believe that the peace agreement provides the best way forward to ensure that there are not more victims in future.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): The Prime Minister will know that the recent behaviour of Sinn Fein-IRA has

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increased concern in Northern Ireland that it will take the benefit of inclusion in the assembly and prisoner release without accepting the matching obligations to show by its actions, including decommissioning, that there is a genuine peace. Will he make it clear that those obligations, which are clearly set out in the agreement, will be made effective and reflected in forthcoming legislation?

The Prime Minister: Yes--I intend to make it clear that the commitment and the obligations in the agreement must all be fulfilled and that no one can choose to fulfil some parts of the agreement and not others. Especially after the events at the weekend, it must be clear and demonstrated, as the right hon. Gentleman has pressed me on many occasions to make clear, that if people are to take their places on the Northern Ireland Executive and participate in the provisions on prisoner release, we must be sure that violence is given up for good. We must demonstrate that clearly.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Like the Prime Minister, we are anxious to achieve a substantial yes vote in the referendum next week and we continue to join him in doing everything possible to bring that about. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is not made easier by the release of hardened IRA murderers to strut around at the Sinn Fein conference at the weekend? Will he ensure that there will no further episodes of that kind?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has already made that clear. I entirely agree with the comments that have been made by many people, not least the Irish Taoiseach, who said that he totally condemned the triumphalism that we saw on our television screens. However, I still believe that the agreement is the right way forward, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. Let me make it clear that the agreement must be taken as a whole; it is one package--it cannot be divided up--and all the provisions must be met in full.


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