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Before the Secretary of State moves on to more details about the normalisation programme that he has undertaken with his colleagues, will he just confirm and clarify that there is a world of difference
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between consulting the pro-agreement parties about the joint declaration and having agreement from the pro-agreement parties?
Mr. Hain: I understand the point that that hon. Lady is making in defence of the Ulster Unionist party, which has played an honourable role in bringing forward the peace process. I doubt whether we would have been where we are today in terms of the statements of 28 July and 26 September on an end to the IRA's armed campaign and the decommissioning of its arsenal had it not been for the courage shown by the then leader of the UUP.
When I published the normalisation programme on 1 August, I made it clear that my priority is the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland. That is the first duty that I have as Secretary of State. Nothing will be done to jeopardise that. The completion of the normalisation programme must be subject to an enabling environment being sustained. That is why I am bringing legislation before the House today instead of letting the provisions expire next February. The Bill provides that the part VII provisions will continue in force until 31 July 2007. Because I will not take chances with the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland, the Bill also contains the option to extend the provisions for up to one year thereafter until July 2008.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has called for the repeal of part VII and schedule 9 of the Terrorism Act 2000, relating to the working of the Diplock courts? Obviously, it is very important that in times gone by families and jurors were protected by having a single judge making decisions in that way. However, it has been suggested that one step towards normalisation might be to have one judge instead of three judges, so that confidence in the judicial system could be greatly enhanced among people on all sides.
Mr. Hain: I am sure that Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland will agree that there is now confidence in the legal system right across the communities. Of course I take account of the statement that the Human Rights Commission made earlier this year, but I take particular account of the advice from Lord Carlile, the independent assessor who has considered these matters in great detail. We want to look very carefully at what happens in future in every respect and monitor the progress that has occurred over recent years. The number of Diplock trials is now so small that some of the hon. Lady's concerns no longer apply.
Dr. Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State will recall that I asked him whether Lord Carlile's letter indicated where he thought threats might still come from. As if by magic, copies of that letter have now appeared, and I see that it did in fact say:
Mr. Hain: I think that that point is rather different from the one that the hon. Gentleman raised earlier, but I am happy to agree that that is indeed contained in Lord Carlile's letter. I am advised that there are now copies of the letter in the Vote Office as well as in the Library.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Many Conservative Members will support the legislation because we believe that it is beyond belief that the complete arsenal of Sinn Fein-IRA has been decommissioned. That view is shared by tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State explain why he is not prepared to be more transparent about the decommissioning of the IRA's complete arsenal? Why cannot the statement made by General John de Chastelain and the two witnesses be made more transparent not only to the people of Northern Ireland but to the people of this country, who believe that Sinn Fein-IRA may be merely playing a waiting game to see whether it can gain more of what it wants by doing what it has done, but that that was not a complete decommissioning of its arsenal?
Mr. Hain: I understand the hon. Gentleman's points about transparency. In an ideal world, that would have been ideal. Unfortunately, we may not have got the decommissioning that we thought. It is not for me to determine the exact arrangements. There is an international independent commission headed by General John de Chastelain and eminent colleagues who are also internationally respected right across the world, as well as, on this occasion, two independent clergymen who witnessed what happened. That should give some confidence to the process.
Lembit Öpik : On Diplock courts, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for ensuring that we have all received copies of Lord Carlile's letter. Lord Carlile does not commit himself unequivocally one way or the other on Diplock courts, although he states:
Mr. Hain: As I have said, Diplock courts operate very rarely indeed. The situation is transformed from years ago, when terrorist attacks occurred almost every day. We will continue to examine the matter, and I will consider trials involving paramilitaries, where juries could be subject to intimidation. However, I do not want to prejudge the outcome of my considerations by commenting on any particular model.
: I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State, who has been very generous in taking
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interventions this afternoon, and rightly so. Will he clarify whether the Diplock courts will continue if the security situation has not improved in two years' time and an extension is required in three years' time? There is no guarantee that the security situation will improve, which is why we are debating this legislation this afternoon. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment that Diplock courts will continue?
Mr. Hain: It is because there are no guarantees of an absolute, final kind that we are introducing the Bill, which will allow us to continue to use the powers in current legislation after next February. We have used those powers, which act as a powerful deterrent to, for example, dissidents who want to up the paramilitary ante. Let us see where we are in two years' time, and if a further year of renewal is required, we will make a judgment and the House will decide the matter by Order in Council.
Lady Hermon: The Secretary of State must clarify the issue, which is crucial and impinges on other provisions in the Bill. I am sorry if Democratic Unionist party Members are exasperated, but the matter requires clarification. Under the Bill, breaches of control orders, which have been available in Northern Ireland since spring this year, will be regarded as scheduled offences and will be tried by Diplock courts. Control orders have recently been introduced throughout the United Kingdom to deal with international terrorists and, presumably, domestic terrorism, too. If Diplock courts are not available, is the Secretary of State saying that we must re-examine how we deal with breaches of control orders?
Mr. Hain: As I have said, I am confident that we are seeing an end to paramilitarism, and it is extremely unlikely that control orders will prove to be necessary in a normalised environment in Northern Ireland. However, the option of issuing control orders in response to an exceptional situation in the interests of public safety would be available to any future Secretary of State, myself included.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for clarifying the procedure. He has said that a statutory instrument will be used if the provisions must be extended into a third year. If we must extend the provisions for an extra year beyond 2007, would it not be more appropriate for the whole House to vote?
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