|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
As I have said, if the enabling environment is not sustained, we should not hesitate to take the option of extending the provisions for a further year. We will not leave the police and other agencies without the tools that they need to protect the people of Northern Ireland.
In addition to those assurances, it should be borne in mind that the UK now has some of the strongest and most effective permanent counter-terrorism legislation
31 Oct 2005 : Column 636
in the world, which applies as much to Northern Ireland as it does to the rest of the UK. As I said earlier, the House will consider another terrorism Bill later in the week.
As well as maintaining the part VII provisions for the normalisation period, the Bill makes some small but important reforms to counter-terrorism arrangements. The first reform will allow the Attorney-General to remove any case from the Diplock system if he believes that it does not relate to terrorism in Northern Ireland. Currently a small number of offences must be tried under Diplock regardless of whether they are related to Northern Ireland terrorism or not.
Diplock courts were brought in because of the penetration of paramilitaries in the community in Northern Ireland, and the risk of intimidation that that created. They should not have to be used in cases in which that risk does not arise, and the Bill corrects the anomaly.
The proposed changes will also give the Attorney-General discretion in regard to all the offences in schedule 9 to the Terrorism Act 2000, allowing him to deschedule any offence that is not deemed to be relevant to terrorism in Northern Ireland. Lord Carlile has said
The Bill provides that should any individual breach a control order in Northern Ireland, the case could be handled as a scheduled offence if appropriate. It also creates a power to make any necessary interim provisions to ensure a smooth transition to normalised arrangements.
A measured approach is necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the criminal justice agencies under normalised conditions, and I believe that that is what we have achieved with the Bill. Security normalisation is a goal for which we must strive. We all want Northern Ireland to be a safe place. But normalisation can only occur if the conditions are right, and we will not take chances with the safety of the people of Northern Ireland or the effective operation of the justice system. That is why the Bill extends the provisions for a further period rather than letting them expire in February next year, and keeps open the option of retaining them until 2008.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I begin by associating the Opposition with the Secretary of State's words of thanks and appreciation to Lord Carlile of Berriew. There is no doubt that his annual reports on the operation of the part VII powers provide a very thorough and impartial analysis, which I think all Members who take an interest in these matters find very valuable.
I agree with the Government that it is right to extend the part VII powers further, and if there is a Division tonight I shall encourage my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government. I also agree with the principle that we should continue to treat them as exceptional powersas measures that are justified by the gravity of the security situation in Northern Ireland. I therefore think it right for these exceptional measures to continue to be subject to a time limit, to the need for regular parliamentary scrutiny and renewal, or indeed to both.
31 Oct 2005 : Column 637
When I first read the Bill, I was concerned by what seemed to me to be an implicit message from the Government that after 2008 at the latest, none of the powers would be needed. I feel that the House has been given a degree of assurance by the Secretary of State that the Government recognise that that might not turn out to be so, and that certain exceptional powers might continue to be necessary after 2008. That appeared to be borne out by the Independent Monitoring Commission's most recent report.
It commented on the Loyalist Volunteer Force and, although I, too, welcome last night's statement from the LVF, we shall judge it by what it does and what it ceases to do from now on rather than by the statement that it put out over the weekend.
Mr. Donaldson : I can appreciate the hon. Gentleman's scepticism, which is shared on these Benches, about statements by paramilitary organisations that have a history of murder and mayhem. However, will he join me in expressing gratitude to the church leaders and representatives, community leaders and political representatives who worked hard on the ground to bring about both an end to the feud between the UVF and the LVF, which resulted in four tragic deaths in the summer, and the LVF's statement that it is standing its units down? Does he agree that precisely that sort of positive pressure from the Unionist community can lead to results? He will note that the LVF's statement was issued without any concessions being made to it.
Mr. Lidington: I am happy to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the clergymen and community leaders. In the two years that I have held my current responsibilities, it has been borne in on me that, although the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland is frequently attributed to differences in religion, on the ground, clergymen and religious leaders of all denominations often lead the way in trying to build trust between people from different communities.
Mr. Hain: May I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's point and agree with those that the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) made? The leadership that clergymen and community leaders have shown in difficult conditions is exemplary. They have produced an outcome and I hope that the influence of their outstanding leadership can be extended to the activities of the UVF and the UDA.
: Coming from Belfast, North, which has suffered terribly because of the feud, I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and of other hon. Members. Does the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) agree that it is tragic that so many people have had to die this summer because of that feud?
31 Oct 2005 : Column 638
In my constituency, the family of Craig McCausland are still looking for justice for the murder of their loved one. The Government, the police and everyone must continue that quest for justice on behalf of the bereaved families. Although I welcome the positive development, the quest for justice must go on.
Mr. Lidington: The quest for justice must certainly continue and no Government of any political colour could ever believe it right to neglect the raw grief of victims and their families. The sense of loss and injustice remains for many years after murder or attack by terrorists, whatever the paramilitary organisation.
The IMC commented on not only loyalist but republican paramilitary groups. It described the so-called Real IRA as "violent, dangerous and determined". Given the events of recent months and the responsibility of the Provisional IRA for the majority of the murders in Northern Ireland over three decades of the troubles, perhaps the IMC's most significant comments were about PIRA.
I take slight issue with the Secretary of State's commentwhich I paraphrasethat no one could deny that there had been a fundamental change in the security situation in Northern Ireland over the past few months. I certainly hope that the IRA's statement and the act of decommissioning will herald such a fundamental transformation, but I am still waiting for additional evidence of it.
The attitude of the British Government towards the normalisation programme and towards other measuresparticularly those that the republican movement itself wants to see happenshould be conditioned by those words of caution and scepticism uttered by the Independent Monitoring Commission.
Before we can be convinced that the transformation that the Secretary of State described is complete, we need clear evidence of further changessome practical and some ideological in character. On the practical side, we need to see the decommissioning not only of weaponsimportant though that step undoubtedly wasbut of the paramilitary organisations and the paramilitary command structure. If the republican movement has fundamentally changed, and if that change is indeed permanent and irreversible, it should have no need of a private army. If, on the other hand, the republican movement tells us that it needs the structure of the IRA in order to impose discipline on its followers and to ensure that everyone is signed up to the move towards democracy, what does that tell us about the hearts and minds of its many followers? At the very least, it surely leaves a question mark over the extent and genuine nature of the move by the republican movement towards democracy.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|