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Mr. Peter Robinson: I had not intended to speak on the new clause, but lest my earlier intervention be interpreted as a desire to pick a fight with the mover of the new clause, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), I want to clarify my position. I entirely support the new clause, and I do so as someone who opposed internment in 1972 and whose party also did so.

I intervened because I am concerned that we often allow terrorist organisations--which now operate a no claim, no blame policy--literally to get away with murder. Everybody knows that the Provisional IRA has been guilty of a number of killings, including the killing of Charles Bennett. However, if we apply the same criteria as the right hon. Gentleman did, we cannot make that assumption because no one has been charged, even though all the intelligence available to the RUC leads it to that conclusion.

The dogs in the street know full well that the Provisional IRA killed Charles Bennett and a number of others. Equally, they know that the UVF killed the three Quinn children and that UVF members were involved in the killing of two young men in County Armagh. We should not attempt to protect terrorist organisations from the condemnation of the community by allowing them to hide behind the policy of not claiming their acts and therefore getting away with them.

We should take account of the written answers on 17 February to several questions seeking information

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about the number of terrorist actions since the so-called "peace process" began. The first question asked:

The Minister of State replied that 155 had received gunshot wounds, 456 had been injured in explosions and 1,811 had been injured under the heading "Other", giving a total of 2,422.

When asked specifically about attacks on the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Minister said that there had been 23 attacks by firearms, 45 by explosives, 2,348 by missiles including petrol bombs, six assaults and 279 attacks under the heading "Other". That is a total of 2,901 attacks on the RUC. On the question of the number of casualties as a result of paramilitary-style attacks, the Minister said that republicans were responsible for 46 shootings and 88 assaults, and so-called loyalists were responsible for 79 shootings and 172 assaults.

All that shows that there have been thousands of incidents, which in any other community would be recognised as terrorist related, at a time when we are told that there is a peace process. No one in the House should fool themselves into believing that those incidents are entirely the result of dissident groups. Some of them may well be due to dissidents, but the majority of those attacks are taking place under the direction of the main paramilitary organisations, which have declared a ceasefire.

The Opposition are right to table the new clause, and it deserves support. As I said, I opposed internment in 1972. It was ham-fisted and it was carried out at a time when insufficient up-to-date information and intelligence were available to the security forces. I agree entirely with the policy of selective internment, of which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and I have approved for many years. Under that policy, the security forces can, on the basis of firm information available to them, pick up ringleaders if there is no other course through the normal rule of law. In those circumstances, internment is justifiable.

The new clause does not even ask for the introduction of internment, so there should be no alarm in the Chamber. It asks only that the instrument be available if the circumstances merit its use. It deserves the support of the House. Internment would be a weapon available to the security forces, should circumstances dictate its need. However, as an instrument it is useless unless there is a will on the part of the Government to take whatever measures are necessary against terrorist organisations.

I do not find that the Government have the will to deal with terrorist organisations. That will can be demonstrated by introducing measures under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. Under that Act, the Government could take action today, because it places on the Secretary of State a duty to stop any further prison releases if an organisation is not co-operating fully with the decommissioning body. General de Chastelain has indicated in writing to the Government that the IRA is not co-operating with the decommissioning body, and, on that basis, the Secretary of State should be taking action. He should consider other criteria that, on their own, allow him to take action.

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The Government refuse to do that because their policy is to appease terrorism, do a deal with terrorism and reach agreements with terrorism. That is the weakness in their whole policy. When dealing with terrorism, there is only one policy that works--zero tolerance. The Government do not adopt that policy; their policy is one of appeasement.

Mr. McNamara: I had not intended to speak in the debate, but I find the last words of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) appalling. I do not believe that appeasement is the policy of Her Majesty's Government, any more than I believe that it was the policy of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) or his successors, as they sought to bring the terrible tragedy of Northern Ireland to a peaceful conclusion. I therefore rebut the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

I think that I am the only Member now in the Chamber who was a Member of this place when internment was introduced. I am certain that I am the only Member now in the Chamber who voted against it after we had an opportunity to debate it. I voted against it along with about 100 Labour colleagues, because we felt that internment was wrong.

We are fighting people who refuse to accept the concept of the rule of law. We shall not defeat them by ourselves doing away with the rule of law; we shall defeat them by bringing people before properly constituted courts and putting them on trial, where their guilt or innocence will be proved.

I find it strange that people forget the debacle of 1971, when internment was introduced. They seem to go back to the halcyon days of 1956 to 1962, or some others. They do not accept, or they refuse to accept, that the campaigns in those days were very different from what was happening in Northern Ireland in 1968, after the attempts to crush the civil rights movement by the then Stormont Government.

The earlier campaigns were inspired mainly by those outside the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. The present campaign, whether we like it or not, is mainly indigenous to Northern Ireland. That makes it very different. When the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), accepted the advice of Brian Faulkner that internment was the answer, that led to the tragedy of it becoming an enormous recruiting office for the Provisional IRA. Secondly, it was an anti-internment march that led to Bloody Sunday. Thirdly, there was the handling of the hunger strikers. Those three classic mistakes between them managed to inspire the Provisional IRA, and enabled it to draw recruits into its camps at times when it was not having the support of very many people in the community of the north of Ireland.

I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) tabled the new clause. The circumstances as described by him and by the hon. Member for Belfast, East are similar to many circumstances that existed in Northern Ireland after the Government of the now Lord Callaghan phased out internment. With the legislation on the statute book, they could have reintroduced internment at any time if they had wanted to. They chose not to do so because they realised the psychological impact that internment would have if it were reintroduced in Northern Ireland.

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It is easy to say that the dogs in the street know who is guilty. The problem is that we have not yet been able to translate the barking of the dogs into English, so we do not have the evidence. If everybody knows, why do we not have the evidence? Once we start a process of doing things on the basis of suspicion and saying, "This is our evidence", we are on a slippery slope right along the line. Moreover, we would have to derogate from the European convention on human rights, which I understood the Opposition supported when its provisions came before the House, especially article 5--the right to a fair trial and that there should be lawful arrest and detention only. That means that a person is arrested or detained so as to bring him before a properly constituted court, as is laid down in article 5.

We would be in real difficulty if, for even one moment, we were to consider doing what the Opposition suggest that we do. We are right to congratulate the Government on keeping the undertaking that they gave the Opposition that we would repeal the internment provisions and would not put them back on the statute book.

5.45 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I do not think that any Conservative Member has worked harder than my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) to try to advance what the Government are trying to do in Northern Ireland, and to offer support for that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) for reminding us of some of the circumstances in Northern Ireland, but the truest words were spoken by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).

Most of us in England--or in this country, England, Scotland and Wales--grapple even to begin to understand the dilemma, the hatreds and the causes that have brought Northern Ireland to the centre of everyone's attention. Yet the truth is that we are a land of liberty. This is a great democracy and we struggle and thrash around in the face of irreconcilables. What does one do when people do not accept the authority of the words or views of a state's citizenry? It is a true dilemma that seems to be more immediate and more urgent across the surface of the globe.

The history of detaining people by internment has, by and large, been very unhappy throughout the globe. If anything, it concentrates the passions on both sides. I follow the argument of the hon. Member for Hull, North, which is rare, when he says that the process of law and the rule of law is what we are about.

Mandating and detention depend on knowledge, but knowledge without the standards of proof that would bring people to court. These processes are bedevilled by the informer, and sometimes the paid informer. As often as not, they provide the opportunity for settling old scores. Over the years, we have seen that awful injustices have been done when informers have been employed. The intent is to pacify and remove from society a danger and a threat. However, let us reflect on our own circumstances, because our appreciation of liberty and the rule of law must derive from how we would react if we were placed in circumstances where, through malignancy, people gave false information about ourselves. The circumstances could be construed in such a way as to give, however fleeting it may subsequently turn out to be, some

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appearance of reality. Would we not be enraged if our son, our brother or a member of our family were incarcerated by that means?

By and large, decent people take the judgments of the courts and the authority of Government to indicate that the individual so identified is naturally, rightly and effectively detained. I am extremely unhappy about setting aside--

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