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Mr. Robathan: As always, the right hon. Lady is generous in giving way. Will she tell the House whether she has received information, intelligence or advice from the RUC to the effect that Direct Action Against Drugs is a front organisation for the Provisional IRA; and whether she has received information that Direct Action Against Drugs has carried out several punishment beatings and probably one murder? If she has not received such advice, will she go and walk the streets of west Belfast, where everyone will tell her that Direct Action Against Drugs is the same as the Provisional IRA, and is carrying out so-called punishment beatings and brutal acts of terrorism?

Marjorie Mowlam: I shall turn to punishment beatings in a moment, when I shall respond to the hon.

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Gentleman's point. There have been 960 punishment beatings by both sides since the first ceasefire. I have made it clear that I think that punishment beatings are appalling--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I do not want hon. Members to speak while the right hon. Lady is addressing the House. That is unfair.

Marjorie Mowlam: My point is that the previous Administration realised that these are difficult matters. I have made it clear that punishment beatings have to stop. I shall explain later how I view that matter in the context of the judgment that I have had to make. That judgment has not been easy. I had to judge in the round, according to the four criteria, whether all four organisations should be specified. I shall explain in more detail why that is the case. I have taken the matter extremely seriously, and expect to see progress on decommissioning and other aspects very soon.

Having viewed the matter in the round, as the Good Friday agreement says I should, I have concluded that the three organisations that I have not specified are committed to maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. I have taken into account the four factors. I know that certain hon. Members are dissatisfied with my conclusion, but it was far from an easy judgment. It was inevitably a balanced judgment, in which any specific failure by an organisation has to be weighed alongside all the other available information, and that is what I have done.

There are organisations, particularly the Loyalist Volunteer Force, that have yet to establish a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, but appear to be moving in the right direction. I hope that those organisations will now embrace the democratic process that has been endorsed by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. If they establish and maintain complete and unequivocal ceasefires, I will reassess their position. The process will be under continuous review, so other organisations, such as PIRA, the UDA and the UDF, which have established such a ceasefire, will have to continue to demonstrate that they are maintaining it to avoid being specified in future. That is the crucial test.

Mr. Wilshire: The right hon. Lady speaks of an unequivocal ceasefire. Will she explain how many murders and punishment beatings an organisation is allowed to perform before a ceasefire stops being a proper ceasefire?

Marjorie Mowlam: I have, I hope, made it clear to the House what the agreement asks me to do, including informing the House, as I am doing this evening. The agreement requires me to consider whether organisations are completely and unequivocally maintaining a ceasefire. There are four criteria by which I judge that.

I have to make a judgment in the round, so, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, I cannot respond to hypothetical cases. I will make that judgment when I am given facts. That is the job I have been given, and I am making that announcement in line with the criteria and the information with which I have been provided. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman does not agree with my judgment. I have information that I have presented to the House, and I have other information that it is difficult to present to the House. I assure him that the judgment was difficult, but I have made it as fairly and justly as possible.

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The process will be under continuous review, so it will be possible for groups to be specified and then removed from the list if the position changes. I shall monitor it carefully. I point out, to try to allay some of the fears of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), that the judgment will become more stringent over time, as the Prime Minister said when he announced the criteria, both for specified and unspecified organisations.

The judgment will become more stringent in relation to progress made elsewhere. For example, people do not expect the dismantling of paramilitary organisations overnight, but dismantling must increase over time. Similarly, there should be progress on decommissioning over time. As I have said many times in the House, all forms of sectarian intimidation and so-called punishment attacks must end.

I should like to say some more about that, in answer to the hon. Member for Blaby. Since the first IRA ceasefire was announced, in September 1994, there has been an appalling catalogue of punishment attacks--committed by both loyalist and republican groups. In each case, the RUC has done all it can to find those responsible.

Despite the Good Friday agreement, those attacks have continued. As the RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, has said, members of both republican and loyalist organisations have been involved in violent criminal acts in recent weeks, which the hon. Gentleman listed. In particular, the RUC has said that it is pursuing a line of inquiry that assumes that the recent brutal murder of Andrew Kearney was committed by the Provisional IRA.

This pattern of brutal punishment attacks is wholly unacceptable. It must come to an end. Paramilitary organisations have shown their ability to stop those activities in the past. Now they must stop them for good. As I have said, the judgments that I have made today will be kept under continuous review, and will become more and more stringent over time.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): During the run-up to the Good Friday agreement, there was a period when the Provisional IRA was effectively excluded because of the Chief Constable's judgment and opinion that it was behind the commission of certain acts of terrorism. The right hon. Lady has now told the House that it is the Chief Constable's opinion that at least one recent act is also the responsibility of the Provisional IRA. In those circumstances, how can we justify not placing the Provisional IRA on the list?

Marjorie Mowlam: I chose my words very carefully. I said:


I shall keep the situation under continuous review and, if the situation changes, I shall look at it again. I judge the situation now--and I can judge over time--in relation to the four Balmoral criteria, as to whether, in my judgment, groups are maintaining an unequivocal ceasefire.

I consider the early release of prisoners an essential part of the Good Friday agreement, but it has to be matched alongside others. As we have said so often in the House, the agreement cannot be cherry-picked; it is an overall package, which I believe must be implemented in full.

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I hope that we stick to that. We have all made solemn commitments to try to reach that goal. The future of the success of the agreement depends on it. I commend the order to the House.

10.36 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): This is a very sad day for the House of Commons, a sad day for democracy and a sad day for the rule of law in the United Kingdom. I regret to say that our worst fears about the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill--now enacted--are being confirmed.

You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I described the Bill as fatally flawed when, sadly, the Government and the Secretary of State felt unable to accept an amendment in my name and those of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)--now First Minister in the Assembly. That amendment would have said that any paramilitary organisation had to prove that it had renounced violence in all shapes and forms, and was co-operating with the decommissioning commission.

Instead, clause 2(9) of the Bill says that the Secretary of State merely has to take into account--and tonight the Secretary of State has let the House know that she has taken into account--a series of criteria. One of those criteria is that the organisation is


Another is that the organisation has


    "ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or of preparation for violence".

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for being so frank and honest with the House; I know that the House will appreciate that. She has said that acts of violence are still being committed; she described them as wholly unacceptable. She was absolutely right, as every Member of the House would confirm. She has said that there are very serious deficiencies in so-called ceasefires. I agree with that, as would the entire House, and yet, when we read in the order the specified organisations that are listed as continuing to commit crimes of violence, we find that the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association are excluded.

You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, since the Assembly elections, there have been a series of punishment beatings and worse. I draw two of those to your attention tonight. I drew them to the attention of the House last week when the Northern Ireland Bill was proceeding through this place. First, there is the case of Mr. Andrew Kearney, who was dragged from his flat, knee-capped in a lift and left to die, which he subsequently did. That is believed to be the work of the IRA. Secondly, there is the case of the beating of Vincent McKenna, who was a peace worker in Belfast. He clearly recognised his assailants as being members of Provisional IRA.

In the debate on the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) intervened on the Secretary of State and rightly raised the question of punishment beatings. In her reply she said:


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    The rest of the quote is important. The Secretary of State continued:


    "Like the hon. Gentleman, I find punishment beatings obscene."--[Official Report, 10 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 1084.]

There is absolutely no doubt that the Secretary of State and I share that view. In criticising her, I never question the fact that she finds as deplorable as the rest of the House the punishment beatings that are conducted by the Provisional IRA and loyalist paramilitary groups. Although it is known that that is happening, they have been excluded from the list.

I shall quote from The Irish Times, a newspaper which is usually considered to be a fair and reasonable commentary on events in Northern Ireland. An article on the front page of last Saturday's edition states:


That is the work of the Provisional IRA, and those people are not on the list tonight. Therefore, Provisional IRA prisoners will be allowed early release while the House is in recess, if the order is passed.


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